American Heart

by Laura Moriarty
First sentence: “One thing someone just meeting me might want to know is why I have two first names.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 30. 2018
Content: There are some disturbing situations, including an almost rape and violence against minorities. It will be in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Sarah-Mary and her younger brother are living with their aunt in Hannibal, Missouri, because their mother is one of those Bad Mothers who can’t take care of her children. Her younger brother is okay with this (except for the missing mom part), but it chafes with Sarah-Mary. She has a limited amount of freedom, which chafes. And then, she and her brother meet an Iranian woman, whom Sarah-Mary ends up calling Chloe, who is  on the run, avoiding the mandatory Muslim registry that has been implemented for “our safety”. Her brother begs Sarah-Mary to help get Chloe to safety in Canada, and of course Sarah-Mary promises. And thus begins the adventure.

It’s not a pleasant one, either. Moriarty attempts to focus on the wrongness of profiling people by race or religion (there’s this scene where Sarah-Mary witnesses a raid on a house where the person was harboring Muslims) and touches on prejudice and discrimination. She also make sure that the dangers of two women hitchhiking are amply described.  Nothing “bad” ever happens, but the novel brushes up against it several times, and it’s only through luck, wit, and technology that Sarah-Mary and Chloe get away.

And along the way Sarah-Mary learns the one great lesson that we all need to learn, especially right now: people are people. They all have hopes, dreams, and stories. And that judging a whole religion or race by one person’s actions not only is not fair, it’s wrong. However, the Muslim registry doesn’t miraculously go away at the end of the book, nor does Sarah-Mary’s actions have a larger Meaning, so maybe Moriarty missed the mark on something big here.

Perhaps, though, that’s also the problem with the book. That Sarah-Mary (read: white people) needed a Muslim woman (read: any diverse person of color) to Show Her the Way. As a concept, it’s clumsy, and I’ve read some responses on the book that lead me to think that it might be harmful, reinforcing White Stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, and just the White Savior narrative. I did enjoy this while reading it, but in retrospect, I’m not sure it was the best idea for a white woman to tackle something like this.

 

Advertisements

Ms. Marvel: Civil War II

by G. Willow Wilson, et al
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Other is the series: No Normal, Generation Why , Super Famous
Content: Violence, mostly. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it’s good for teens and up.

I’m not sure if I’m completely up on Ms. Marvel (it’s hard to keep track!)… but I picked this one up, and fell into it. Kamala is having issues at school and as a superhero – she doesn’t have time for her friends much anymore, and Bruno is no longer happy with being her “sidekick”. And then Captain Marvel asks Kamala to be the head of this predictive crime unit, where they take a psychic’s premonitions and then arrest people before they commit a crime. It’s going fine, until one of Kamala’s friends gets arrested for thinking about doing something drastic. Maybe predictive crime prevention comes perilously close to profiling?

Kamala tries to get out of it, but ends up alienating everyone, so she heads off to Pakistan to her family’s home, trying to find herself there. But not everything is quite as simple as it seems.

It helps that each issue is really its own arc, and that you don’t really need to know what went on before, which is good because I’m not sure I remember from issue to issue. That said, this one touched on some really interesting ideas, including profiling, and the costs/benefits of trying to stop crime before it happens. The side trip to Pakistan at the end was interesting, too, as was the Kamala’s parents’ backstory that was threaded throughout the issue. I keep picking these up because I love the story arcs that Wilson comes up with, and this one didn’t disappoint.

Amina’s Voice

by Hena Khan
First sentence: “Something sharp pokes me in the rib.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There is an act of vandalism (against the mosque) that is handled really well, but might be upsetting. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amina is starting sixth grade, the one time that people associate with change. And Amina’s experiencing it. Her best friend Soonjin is becoming a U.S. citizen and is thinking about changing her name. She’s also becoming better friends with their former grade-school bully’s sidekick, Emily. Her uncle is coming from Pakistan to stay with them for three months, and his stricter interpretation of Islam has Amina wondering if her love of music (both playing the piano and singing) is against God’s wishes. And then there’s the fact that she has stage fright, and there’s a Quran competition that her parents are making her enter. Will she survive all this?

Such a delightful portrait of a 12-year-old trying to figure out her place in the world. Khan got pre-teen girls, their anxieties and insecurities, and how they are struggling to find their own, well, voice. I also appreciated the religion in the book; Khan give us a slice of Islam with faithful people, loving parents (and Imam), which is completely relatable to anyone who reads it. This is one of those important books: it’s a great window into an Islamic family and community, and it’s a great mirror not just for Muslim kids but anyone who is religious. But, it’s also a great story, well told.

Very, very good.

Ms. Marvel: Super Famous

msmarvelby G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Volume 1, Volume 2
Content: There’s some violence, and there are a few more mature themes, but K is interested in this one and I’d let her read them. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Kamala has a problem. She’s been invited to be a part of the Avengers (not the problem), but between that, school, and home commitments, it’s getting harder and harder to stay on top of things. And so, she doesn’t notice at first when her face appears on the billboard touting a new development in her neighborhood. It’s nothing she signed off on, but it turns out that the development not only plans on destroying her neighborhood, but also is brainwashing all of its tenants. And, with Bruno’s help, hopefully she’ll be able to stop the developers.

That’s the better of the two stories in this latest Ms. Marvel, though the second story (about some clones that Bruno and Kamala make in order to help her get to all of her commitments) isn’t as strong, it does have one of my favorite moments, when Kamala realizes that she can’t do It All. The art — even though I still don’t like the switch between artists and prefer Miyazawa’s rendition best — is fantastic, and I love that the people are really realistically portrayed and diverse!

This series is SO good.

And I Darken

andidarkenby Kiersten White
First sentence: “Vlad Dracul’s heavy brown descended like a storm when the doctor informed him that his wife had given birth to a girl.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of violence, an almost-rape, and some round-about talk of sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I would give it to a 7th or 8th grader who was interested in historical fiction.

Historical fiction, set in the 15th century, isn’t always something that jumps off the shelf at me. But the cover of this one was SO pretty… And, I admit: I was expecting a fantasy. What I got was a sweeping history of the Ottoman empire, of two siblings — children of the Dracul line — and the paths they forged for themselves against odds.

What I got was a fascinating love triangle (brother and sister in love with the same man), one that was built on friendship and trust and where none of them could be entirely happy. It was the story of a girl who refused to be coddled and took power for herself — Lada is nothing if not fierce — in unique and interesting ways. It’s a story of forced immigration and learning to be at home in a new place. (Or not.) It’s fascinating.

But it was also long; the book begins with Lada’s birth and goes for twenty years. It’s sprawling, complex, and not a little meandering. There were a ton of characters to keep a handle on, most of which I didn’t care about. I didn’t care about the campaigns and there wasn’t enough of the politics I found fascinating. Perhaps I’ll read the second (yeah, this is a first in a series), but I don’t know.

There was much to like about this book. I’m just not sure if it was enough.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 2

msmarvelby G. Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Ms. Marvel, vol. 1
Content: There’s violence, again, but not as much as other superhero comics. It’s in the Graphic Novel section, but A (whose 12) loves this. (I bet K would too, except for the romance-y parts.)

I know I should be reading these as they come out (but that would require either webcomic-ing it,or schlepping down to the comic book store), but it’s just easier to wait for these huge eight-book compilations to come out to catch up on the storyline.

I’m still loving this. It’s got some strong, good YA themes, of trying to figure out how to fit in the world and with relationships (both friendships and with boys). I loved the fangirl aspect, especially when Kamala meets Carol Danvers. That was a lot of fun. I liked how she met and fell for a Pakistani boy, who then turns out to be a lackey for a bad guy. Nice. And I liked the themes of acceptance vs. control. And the art — especially in the middle sections, which was drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa — was fantastic.

It’s all great and a ton of fun. Wilson has definitely come up with a modern superhero I can get behind. (Now, when are we going to get her movie?)

Written in the Stars

writteninthestarsby Aisha Saeed
First sentence: “‘Naila, I wish you didn’t have to miss the game,’ Carla tells me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher ages and ages ago.
Content: There’s a (non-graphic) rape and some REALLY bad parenting. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) Section of the bookstore, but if a 12- or 13-year-old were interested, I’d recommend it.

This was one I’ve been meaning to read for a long, long time. I have no excuse for not getting to it, except that I have a LOT of books to read (so much so that I’m actually starting to panic about my piles. There’s just not enough time!) and many things competing for my attention.

But, recently, I picked this one up and gave it a try. And finished it nearly in one sitting. It’s just THAT compelling.

Naila is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, ones who are fairly traditional. While she can go to public school and is not required to wear a hijab, she’s not allowed over at friends’ houses, to date, to drive, and college is still up for grabs. (An interesting side-note: Saeed never spells it out, but the discrepancy in treatment between Naila and her younger brother is both unsurprising and frustrating.) She happens to have a boyfriend, though, one she keeps secret from her parents. And when her secret gets out, her parents react by whisking her away to Pakistan where they go about arranging a marriage for her. Behind her back.

It’s awful.  Seriously: I know that arranged marriages like this happen, and that they’re not always bad, but Saeed makes no bones about it: the way Naila’s parents go about this, in order to “save” her honor from the boy she picked, is just awful. And that’s being mild.

It’s an interesting thing to think about though: the balance between choice and tradition, between religious principles and progressive thought (I’ve been trying to think of a better way to say that, and I just couldn’t), between The Way Things Have Always Been and what individuals want. It was especially interesting reading it as a parent because I could see that while her parents thought they were doing right, they were so, so very wrong. And that’s a tough thing to see.

It’s excellently written, highly diverse (hardly any white people at all!), and an intriguing story. One that I hope many, many others will read.