Audio book: Disappeared

by Francisco X. Stork
Read by: Roxana Ortega and  Christian Barillas
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of selling and doing drugs, of girls being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade and there’s violence.  It’s not explicit, but it is there. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

This one is hard to describe: nominally, it’s the after-effects of what happens to one reporter in Juarez, Mexico, when she won’t stop trying to find her friend who disappeared one night. Sara has spent the last four months trying to honor her friend, mostly through telling the stories of all the girls who have disappeared over the years in Juarez. But, she hits too close to home, and she sets off a chain of events that puts her and her family — her mother and brother — in danger.

But it’s also the story of her brother, Emiliano, who has fallen for a rich girl. The problem: he’s not. Sure, he works hard, has a small folk art business, helps out his family. But he can’t provide for this girl the way her family wants him to. Not without going into “business” in the one trade that makes money in Juarez: drugs.

I’ve not read all of Stork’s writing, but every time I read one of his books I am reminded what a powerful storyteller he is. He weaves together Sara and Emiliano’s stories in a way that they compliment each other, coming to a head at the climax. He had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I was driving much of the time) wondering what was coming next. And while it isn’t a happy ending, it’s an honest and hopeful one.

And the readers were fabulous. Both of them make the story come alive, helped me connect to this tale.

Highly recommended.

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You Bring the Distant Near

by Mitali Perkins
First sentence: “The swimmers have finished their races and are basking in the sun.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

This one is a difficult one to describe plot-wise. It’s a slice of life, looking at three generations of women in an Indian family as they move to America and make a life here. It starts with the mother, Ranee, and her two daughters, Sonia and Tara, as they move from London to New York in the early 1970s. Each of the daughters reacts differently to coming to America, each looking for their own way to cope. Ranee isn’t as adaptable: she complains about their apartment in Flushing, she complains about her husband sending money home. Then he passes on, and Ranee is forced to adapt to this country as her daughters grow up and get married, one to an Indian, the other to a black American man.

The book then picks up when Ranee’s granddaughters, Anna and Chantal, are in high school. They are dealing with their own issues: Chantal is bi-racial and is trying to figure out her own identity. And Anna, though American, was raised in Mumbai where her mother is a Bollywood star, but has recently moved back so she could go to high school and college in America.

Perkins handles all this admirably; giving us a taste of Bengali culture, as well as the things immigrants do in order to fit in. One of the more interesting parts of the novel, for me, was set after 9/11, when Ranee goes through her own transformation as a reaction to the terrorist attacks. She figures out what “American” means to her. And that sentence may be what’s at the heart of this delightful novel: what does “American” mean? Perhaps it has become an individual expression for everyone, and there isn’t a “norm” anymore. (That was probably always the way it was, but we pretended otherwise.) Which is, as posited by this book, a very good thing.

An excellent read.

Undertow

undertowby Michael Buckley
First sentence: “You can hear them coming from blocks away, a low thrum like the plucking of a bass string.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher (I think).
Content: It’s violent. There is an attempt at a sex scene, but it doesn’t get off the ground. There is some domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d be wary about the 6th grade end of the scale.

In this alternate not-so-distant future, there are these humanoid creatures called the Alpha, which have come out of the ocean and onto the shores near Coney Island, sending the community — and the country — into a tailspin. The Alpha aren’t exactly like humans — they have scales and different coloring, and sword-like things coming out of their arms. It’s not been an easy adjustment for the humans in Coney Island and the surrounding area. In fact, many of them haven’t adjusted at all, choosing instead to fight the “intrusion” of the Alphas on their territory.

For Lyric and her family, the appearance of the Alpha has caused some conflict, because Lyric’s mom is one of them. Sure, she’s been “passing” for 20 years, pretty sure her people abandoned her. But, since their appearance, the other Alphas that have been passing are being targeted. They’re outcasts among their people, and they’re outcasts among the humans as well. And things are getting more complicated: the government is insisting that select Alpha attend school, which just complicates matters more. Especially since Lyric is tapped for one-on-one lessons with the Alpha prince. Fathom.

I’m not doing a very good job describing this one. I suppose it sounds weird, but the thing that struck me most, especially in this political climate, was the whole immigration deal. You could substitute Alpha for any ethnic group, and you’d have a story that’s reflective of the way America currently reacts to immigrants. Sure, it’s exaggerated, but the hate and the discrimination are there. I found it all a fascinating way to deal with the whole issue. Buckley’s also being clever with the Atlantian myths and I thought that the whole Alpha-mythos building was quite unique and clever.

As for the rest of it, it’s a fairly typical YA dystopian. Buckley’s fairly brutal with his characters, which adds a level of intensity. And, sure, there’s a romance and the ending is sufficiently open-ended to make room for the sequel. It was a clever take on this genre, and definitely a fun read.