Surviving the City

by Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan
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Content: There is tough content about indigenous women who have disappeared. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Miikwan and Dez are best friends. They’ve done everything together from their hanging out after school to their traditional and important Berry Fast. And ever since Miikwan’s mother disappeared, she has needed Dez in her life. But, Dez’s kokum is not doing well, heath-wise, and the state has threatened to put Dez into a group home. Which she doesn’t want, and so she leaves. Which sends Miikwan into a spiral: she can’t lose another woman in her life.

On the one hand, this is an important book: it’s picturing the lives of Native peoples in the city, not on the reservations, showing them balancing the traditional with the contemporary. It highlights the injustices by the government — why should Dez go into a group home because her grandmother’s health is failing? Would that happen if she were white? Or less poor? — and the grave harms done to indigenous women — the book is populated with ghosts of the women murdered and who have disappeared. It’s definitely an important story to tell.

Which is kind of why I wish it were actually told better. Maybe it’s because I am white, but I didn’t feel like the characters were fully developed — Miikwan’s main character trait was that she missed her mother and Dez’s was that she didn’t want to go into a group home. I wanted to know more about their Berry Fast: what was it, why is it important to them? I just wanted more from these characters to balance out the importance of the story they were telling. I also wanted to know more about the ghosts. Could MIikwan see them? Sometimes I felt like she could. I get why they were around, but what was their connection to our characters? And Dez — I just wanted more from her, other than the fact that she was worried about her kokum. What are her interests? She got in trouble in the beginning, was she the one who was always picked on by the teacher? Does she see the school counselor often (I got that impression, but wasn’t sure). There were just so many holes.

That said, I am glad this exists in the world.

The Sword of Summer

swordofsummerby Rick Riordan
First sentence: “Yeah, I know.”
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Content: There’s really nothing objectionable. Some violence (lots of death, mostly) and some more serious underlying issues. I’d give it to a 4/5th grader. I’m undecided about where it should go. It’s currently in middle grade (grades 3-5) with the Percy Jackson series, but I’m thinking about moving it to YA (grades 6-8).

Magnus Chase is a 16-year-old homeless kid (he’s been homeless for the past two years since his mom was murdered) when he discovers that he’s not who he thought he was. He is, in fact, the son of the Norse god, Frey, and he’s been targeted by all of Frey’s enemies. In fact, he loses his first battle and ends up dead, in Valhalla. From there he realizes that he can’t let something as insignificant as death stop him: he needs to find the sword of summer and stop the evil forces from rising. The question is, though, can he do it?

First off, plot and everything else aside, I am SO happy the sassy chapter titles are back! Seriously, I have missed those.

In fact, Magnus’s voice is eerily similar to that of Percy in the first series. No, it’s not as good as PJ and the Olympians, but it’s the closest thing to it since Riordan wrote The Last Olympian. It’s sprawling and meandering and I think that Riordan’s cramming way too much in there (but then again, doesn’t he always?). But the characters are fascinating and aside from the “deaf and dumb” moniker (which Abby called him out on) for one of the characters who was deaf, it was wonderfully, naturally diverse. Sam, the Muslim Valkyrie, is one of my favorite characters. It’s nice to see Riordan being inclusive.

Oh, and Annabeth is in it! (Yes, that Annabeth.) You don’t have to read any of Riordan’s other books to enjoy this one, but there’s always some nice asides (like how a pen turning into a sword is lame) for those of us who have.