Jukebox

by Nidhi Chanani
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Content: There are some intense moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Shaheen’s dad is always going on about musicians and records, and she just wants to tune him out. But when he goes missing, she and her cousin, Tannaz, go looking for him and discover a time-transporting jukebox in a record store that Shaheen’s dad was always frequenting.

From there, it’s traveling through time trying to figure out what the jukebox is doing and where Shaeheen’s dad is. Full of historical facts and bits of music, this is a delightful graphic novel! Shaheen starts the book out hesitant and withdrawn, but the idea of finding her dad helps give her courage. it’s fun, it’s a smartly drawn book — I loved the historical bits — and full of music facts. Perfect for anyone who enjoys music.

The Legend of Auntie Po

by Shing Yin Khor
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Content: There is a death, but nothing graphic. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mei bakes the pies for the loggers and workers in a camp in the Sierra Nevadas in 1885. Her father runs the kitchen, and the two of them make a good team. She’s happy enough, even though she’s Chinese and knows that she won’t have the same opportunities as her best friend Bee, who is white. That doesn’t stop her from trying to learn more, from telling stories of the legendary Auntie Po, and from being the best person she can be.

That makes it sound trite because this was a really solid graphic novel. I enjoyed the historical context, knowing that the conflicts that existed between the white people and the Chinese workers were real. But I also enjoyed the larger-than-life feel of it, as well. Is Auntie Po real? Did he help the loggers? Did Mei see her? I also thought the adult characters were pretty great from Hels the foreman to Hao, Mei’s dad.

A really solid book from Khor. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Borders

by Thomas King, illustrations by Natasha Donovan
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Content: There are some moments that might be intense for some readers. It’s in the middle grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

The premise is simple: A boy and his mother want to go visit family in Salt Lake City from Canada. However, when they get to the border, the customs agents want them to declare a country The mother says “Blackfoot” which isn’t an acceptable answer. The rest of the book is the story of them being caught in the space between border crossings and how they get out.

It’s a simple story, but a powerful one. I admire the way the mother stuck to her values: they are Blackfoot, not Canadian, and that should be an acceptable answer for border crossings. The art is clear and realistic but not overly so. It was the story that I really appreciated in this one. I appreciated the back story about their lives, even if the only person named was the sister, and I enjoyed the way this story was resolved. It may not be the most brilliant graphic novel out there, but it is an important and interesting one.

Measuring Up

by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu
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Content: There is some pressure on a character by a parent, which may be triggering for some. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Cici and her family live in Taiwan. She’s happy; she has her A-ma there to keep her company while her parents work and to teach her how to cook. So when Cici’s parents take jobs in America, Cici is heartbroken. Especially since A-Ma isn’t coming. Life in America is strange, and Cici wants to find a way to help A-Ma visit, so she enters a cooking competition for kids. The only problem is that Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese dishes, and not “American”. She learns about Julia Child (yay!) and practices and practices to become better. And yet, she doesn’t want to lose her own identity and heritage.

What a delightful book! I loved the meshing of the immigrant story and food. There is a huge metaphor about how immigrants have to balance assimilation and their own heritage. There’s also a theme about finding your own path and not the one that your parents set out for you. I loved the characters, and how Xu drew them. She also met the challenge of drawing food and cooking, which isn’t easy.

I adored this one.

Across the Tracks

by Alverne Ball and Stacy Robinson
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Content: There are depictions of violence, including lynching. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the early 1900s, due to Jim Crow, the Blacks in Tulsa developed their own community. They had stores, libraries, doctors, and were a thriving community. Of course, because of white supremacy, the white people in town couldn’t have the Blacks getting all successful. They invented a reason to arrest and lynch a Black kid, and then, when the Black families rose up in defense, burned the Black part of town, killing and unhousing families. The Black people built things back, but it wasn’t ever the same, and the white people swept history under the rug.

This is a very good history of that moment in time, highlighting the achievements of the Black people — doctors, lawyers, businessmen, educators — as well as the maliciousness of the white people. The text is pretty frank, and the art reflects that: it’s realistic and descriptive.

I think this is an important graphic novel and one that everyone should read. But, I’m not sure it was a great graphic novel It was lacking something to bring me into the story – perhaps because it was history and not really a story. it lacked a personal element, something to make me really care when the Black part of town burned. (That sounded harsh; I mean I care that white people were awful and racist and destructive. I just meant the story lacked an emotional core, if that makes sense.)

Recommended for the history.

Goliath

by Tochi Onyebuchi
First sentence: “Before his flight to Earth, they had warned Jonathan about the “gangs”.”
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Content: There is swearing, the use of the n-word, violence, and references to sex. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Let’s see if I can figure out a plot: It’s the future, and white people have ravaged the Earth and left it to rot while taking refuge in space. Then one of them, Jonathan, decides that life in space is not worth living and comes back. There he finds that a sort-of community has built around what little there is left. There are still haves and have-nots, but for the most part, people are living.

And honestly, that’s all I’ve got. I was thinking, when I started, that this feels a lot like Octavia Butler’s future, just farther along – the people have left the earth for dead and have gone into space, but it’s just the white people. Like in all good science fiction, Oneybuchi is taking the problems of gentrification and climate change and projecting into the future. It’s a bleak one, too. But, then, he takes a left turn at the section titled “Fall” and he lost me. Up to that point, I was, maybe not really enjoying, but rather, getting, what he was doing and I respected it. But Fall takes the book off the rails. It moves from thirst to first person with a bunch of found documents that are supposed to be news stories (?), and I just didn’t get it. This book is definitely for someone smarter than me, and one who is more willing to follow where Onyebuchi leads. He’s a good writer, but maybe not one for me.

Bingo Love Volume 1: Jackpot Edition

by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae
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Content: There is some mention of sex. It’s in the Graphic Novel section in the bookstore.

It’s the 1960s, and Hazel has met and fallen in love with (over the course of four years) Mari. The problem, it’s the 1960s, and being a Black lesbian isn’t the most accepted thing. So Mari and Hazel break up, go their separate ways. And marry men, have children and grandchildren. But 50 years later, when Mari shows up back in Hazel’s life, they both realize that being true to who they really are is the choice they need to make. They get divorced from their husbands — their families aren’t terribly happy about that — and end up marrying each other, living out their days together.

I really appreciated a positive portrayal of Black lesbians. I appreciated the historical aspect of this: LGBTQ+ people have never had an easy time being out in public, and this was especially true in the past. I appreciated the positive portrayal of someone who was overweight her weight was never an issue, and it was something that contributed to making her beautiful.

I just didn’t particularly like the story. Perhaps it’s because I’m cis/het, but the whole story fell kind of flat for me. Let’s just say I wanted to like thi one more than I actually did.

Cinderella is Dead

by Kalynn Bayron
First sentence: “Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years.”
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Content: There are illusions to domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In the kingdom of Lille, the story of Cinderella is not just a fairy tale, it’s fact. It’s the book by which every young woman is to live their life. Serve their family. Prepare for the ball, which happens every fall, where they are to be Chosen by one of the eligible men in the kingdom, and then live out their lives happily ever after. There are problems with this, of course: there are rules — curfews, limits on autonomy — that work to keep women and girls in line. Our main character, Sophia, isn’t interested in being chosen — she’s in love with another girl, which is strictly forbidden — and doesn’t want any part of the ball. Unfortunately, that’s not allowed. But, at the ball, she can’t take any more, so she runs off — which is a crime. She hides out in the woods, finds Cinderella’s mausoleum, and meets one of Cinderella’s only living descendants, and discovers the story that everyone in Lille is told is actually built upon a lie.

On the one hand, I’m always down for a new telling of a fairy tale. I adore retellings, and this one does have a unique spin. I liked that Sophia, in the end, was able to begin to fix the country — with help of course — and find her own version of happiness. What didn’t sit right with me was the way she got there. I didn’t like that all the men (except for the gay one) were complete assholes on one level or another. I get that you’re drilling down the misogynistic rules, but “not all men”? It sounds bad saying that, but that’s what I felt reading it. I also felt like Bayron felt she needed to have Sophia be gay because to have her in a hetero relationship would be Bad for the Message. (I just didn’t feel like this book was Queer in the way books written by LGBTQ+ authors are.) It’s not a bad book, but in the end, I didn’t love it.

When I Was the Greatest

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “‘Okay, I got one.'”
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Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and talk of teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Allen — call him Ali — lives in Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, and while it’s not the best place to grow up, it’s not the worst, either. He has a mom who works hard and cares a lot about Ali and his sister Jaz. And even though his dad is a bit of a loser, he also cares. The next-door neighbor kids — Needles and Noodles; Jazz game them the nicknames — not so much. They’re brothers, and Needles as Tourettes Syndrome, which makes Noodles simultaneously super protective and incredibly dismissive of his brother.

It’s basically a slice of life story; this is Ali and Noodles and Needles and their lives and interactions. The only conflict that happens is when they invite themselves to a party they are not suposed to be at, and then Needles’ has a spasm and inadvertantly starts a fight.

It’s not my favorite of Reynolds’ books, to say the least. I disliked his portaryal of Tourettes, and while i think he was trying to deal with acceptance of disabilites in the Black community, I think he fell short of the mark. It was good enough to finish, but not good enough to really like.

DNF: The Candle and the Flame

by Nafiza Azad
First sentence: “The desert sings of loss, always loss, and if you stand quiet with your eyes closed, it will grieve you too.”
Content: There was some flirting and talk of marriage in the parts that I finished. It’d probably be in the YA (grades 6-8)section of the bookstore if we had it in.

On paper, this should hit all my “really like” buttons: an orphan that survived a massacre and is trying to make ends meet, a city ruled by djinn, magic, fierce girls, sweeping desert vistas, a diverse city on the edge of destruction.

But in actuality? It kind of fell flat. There was WAY too much telling, not nearly enough showing. So much exposition and it was just moving along at a plodding pace (the opener was really good, though). I wanted to like it, but more than 100 pages into it, I realized that I don’t have enough time in my day to spend on a book that I”m not enjoying. Even if it is for a class.

Oh, well. Maybe there’s a djinn book with a fierce girl as the main character out there that is better than this one.