Shine

by Lauren Myracle
First sentence: “Patrick’s house was a ghost.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: This one has drug use and drinking by teenagers and a pretty graphic rape scene. It would be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore if we had it.

Cat’s former best friend, Patrick, has been found at the local convenience mart beaten and tied up to a gas pump, left for dead. The local sheriff is calling it a hate crime, since Patrick is gay, and that it was probably some out of towners who did it. He was right about the hate crime part, but Cat’s convinced it’s someone in the small, southern town of Black Creek, North Carolina. So, she sets out to find out who, which means facing her brother’s friends and her past.

Oh, this was a hard book. It’s a mystery — sort of — but more, it’s a portrayal of what poverty and toxic masculinity can do to people. It turns them to meth, makes them suspicious of each other, makes them feel like they can just take things without any sort of consequences. There’s rape in this — and that was SUCH a difficult scene to get through — and just plain hopelessness. I think Myracle gave it a happy-ish ending in order to alleviate a lot of the general bleak feel of the novel (I certainly was expecting a different ending). I did figure out who committed the crime a little more than halfway through, and I even figured out why, but I kept reading because I wanted to see how it all would play out. Myracle did an excellent job with Cat’s character development — she went from a hurt, scared girl into a more confident one, facing down the boy who raped her and her brother’s friends for their various “boys will be boys” infractions.

It’s just a very hard read, emotionally.

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Ask the Passengers

by A. S. King
First sentence: “Every airplane, no matter how far it is up there, I send love to it.”
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Content: There’s almost sex, references to pot smoking (by an adult), and a number of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

Astrid Jones’ parents moved her from New York City to Union Valley, a wealthy small town somewhere in Pennsylvania (or Ohio; I never quite figured it out) when she was 10. In the seven years since, Astrid has felt like an outsider, and so, as her family slowly dissolves — her father off smoking his pot, her mother to her job, her sister to being popular — Astrid spends her time surviving, trying to figure out if she’s gay, and sending her love to the airplanes that fly above.

Of course there’s more to the story than that: Astrid has a girlfriend she’s keeping secret from everyone, she and her friends get busted for being underage at a gay bar, she explores the philosophy of Socrates, and she and her family try to (maybe) figure out how to be a family.

The thing that struck me most — and this is just because of who I am and my personal experiences — is that King nailed the feeling of being on the outside. Especially when you’re on the outside in a small, conservative, wealthy town. Where everyone knew each other from the time they were little and then you move in and they never really — even if you do have a couple of friends — accept you for who you are because you don’t fit their idea of “acceptable”. There was  LOT in here about appearances and labels and fitting in and caring what other people think of you, and that’s what resonated. I think, especially since this was published seven years ago, that our ideas of LGBT and labels about sexuality have changed (mine have,  at least) and so the fact that Astrid felt that she needed to come out as definitely gay was a bit off-putting: everyone around her pushed her to label herself, whereas I think now we might be more open to her saying “I’m in love with a girl” and not making her label herself as “gay” because of that. But maybe I’m wrong.

At any rate, this gave me a lot to think about. I loved it.

Module 7: The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister

Agell, C. (2010). The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: Realistic beginning chapter book.

Book Summary: At the end of her fourth grade year, India McAllister — named for the ink not the country — tries to figure out friendship, especially since her best friend is a boy and that seems to be an unacceptable thing in fourth grade; whether or not she can like her dad’s new partner, Richard;  and wonders if she will ever have an adventure (until she gets lost in the woods!).

Impressions: The reviews and summaries I read focused mostly on India’s friendship with Colby and her rivalry with Amanda, but I think that short-changes the book. India is concerned with every aspect of her life: her relationship with her parents, especially her dad who’s left and has a new partner, Richard, among other things. I liked how this one was very nondescript with that: India’s dad is gay, and has a male partner, but there isn’t a huge issue surrounding it. I thought Beatrice Bird was delightful, and enjoyed India’s relationship with her pets. And I could understand  her annoyance and confusion surrounding Colby’s sudden hanging out with Amanda, but I think it was less boy/girl friend thing and more just friend thing — if Colby had been a girl, the dynamics and feelings that India has would probably still be the same. It was a delightful story, overall; I loved the diary feel of it, including the sketch drawings.

Review: Reviewer Phelan praised the book, calling it ” rooted in a tradition that goes back to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona stories”, and praised it for being nuanced emotionally, especially around relationships, and called it a strong start to a series.

Phelan, C. (2010). The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. The Booklist. 106 (21), 55, 58.

Library Uses: This one would be good on a display of fun girl characters boys would like, or LGBT families, or just first in a series books. It would also make a good book for a book group for younger kids.

Readalikes:

  • Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker: Clementine is slightly younger than India (eight instead of nine) but this book has the same sort of whimsy and charm that India has. Clementine is a hilarious free spirit and the books are delightful to read.
  • Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary: The true first of the Ramona series, in which we see Ramona tackle kindergarten. The Ramona books don’t have to be read in order, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 or Ramona and her Father are probably more closely like India.
  • Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder: There aren’t many realistic fiction books featuring boys that aren’t also survivalist or some other extreme situation, but Charlie and Mouse is a great example of one. It’s younger than India, but has the same sort of down-to-earth, yet whimsical and often hilarious, feeling that India has.

Audio book: When They Call You a Terrorist

by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Sociology section at the bookstore.

This book, from one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is small, but it packs a punch. It’s basically Cullors’ life, growing up poor in LA in the 1990s, and how that experience — along with the arrests of her biological father and brother — propelled her to activism and the forming of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I am a white, cis-gender, hetrosexual woman, so I don’t really have a lot to say, really, about this one. Except to stand as a witness to Cullors’ experience and pain and try to be better about my behavior and opinions and actions in the future. I do think this book, much like Between the World and Me is a vitally important one. We, as a society, need to open our eyes and recognize that experiences like Cullors’ are not only valid, but that they should NOT be happening in a first world country. That the world that she experienced is not the world I experienced, and that there is a fundamental wrong happening there.

The audio book is excellent as well. I highly recommend listening to Cullors’ experiences in her own voice; it adds a power to it that may not have existed in print. There is an interview at the end of the book, as well. I recommend sticking around for that.

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

by Becky Albertalli
First sentence: “It’s a weirdly subtle conversation.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s quite a bit of swearing, including a lot of f-bombs, and some teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This one is a difficult one to sum up plot-wise. Simon is gay, but he’s not out. He’s being blackkmailed by another student who found out (accidentally) about Simon’s gayness, because Simon is emailing and flirting with a boy, Blue, online. Their relationship is entirely online, even though Simon knows that Blue is a student at his high school… Blue is just more comfortable with the anonymity.

As the book goes on, Simon juggles being blackmailed, and making and keeping friends, and high school drama, as he falls in love with Blue, and tries to figure everything out.

It’s not a deep or complex plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved Simon and his loveable awkwardness as he tries to figure everything out. (Being a high school junior is hard.) I loved his relationship with Blue, and once he figured it out, their in-person relationship. I liked Simon’s  family — it’s always nice to see a good, functional family in a YA novel — and his friends, and liked that there was conflict between them, but not of the sort that went against their fundamental relationship. It was sweet and wonderful and just happy-making. Which is what I would call this book. Maybe not perfect, but definitely very very wonderful.

Posted

by John David Anderson
First sentence: “I push my way through the buzzing mom and freeze.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some bullying and some mild swearing. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, though it’s probably better for the upper end of that age range.

Eric Voss has found his “tribe”, the people in middle school that he would literally die for. There’s four of them, all of them with nicknames — Wolf, the piano prodigy whose nickname comes from Mozart; DeeDee, an Indian fantasy nerd, whose nickname comes from (you guessed it) D&D; and Bench, who gets his nickname from, well, sitting on the bench on all the sports teams he’s on. Eric himself is Frost, because he wrote an award-wining poem in 5th grade. He doesn’t mind. Frost (he goes by his nickname mostly in the book; they all do) thinks everything is good, until three things happen: 1) the school administration bans cell phones; 2) sticking post-it notes on lockers/walls/people becomes a Thing; and 3) Rose moves in and joins Frost’s “tribe”, at the invitation of Wolf and over the protestations of Bench. Then everything comes to a head, and Frost is left wondering who his real friends are.

It sounds like a simple plot, but it’s an engrossing one. I loved that Anderson caught the angst of middle school, the challenge it is to be the New Kid in the school, and the real desire to, well, fit in with everyone. I liked that the post-it phenomena when viral, and then turned negative, as many things often do. I liked that it was, ultimately, about friendship and fitting in, but there were also side issues like dealing with conflicts at home and how we perceive each other.

I’ve really liked both of  Anderson’s realistic fiction books; he’s got some chops. Definitely worth reading.

Mask of Shadows

by Linsey Miller
First sentence: “The thick, briny scent of sweat-soaked leather seeped through my cloth mask.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: August 29, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, one f-bomb, and lots of violence. I’m pretty sure it’s okay in the YA section (grades 6-8), though with a caveat for younger, more sensitive readers.

Sal Leon is  many things: a refugee from a war, of which they were the only survivor of their people. A thief. Ambitious. Reckless. And set on revenge for the lords who were responsible for the razing of their land. So when they come into the possession of an audition poster for the Queen’s Left Hand — a group of highly trained assassins in the service of the queen — Sal decides to take the chance. But little do they know that the trial is to the death, and that there will be many obstacles in their way.

Okay, so writing Sal as a they is a bit awkward, but since Sal is gender fluid — sometimes a she, sometimes a he, and sometimes a they, as Sal puts it — it makes it kind of difficult to describe. And yet, while the gender fluidity was part of the story (Sal was often annoyed when people didn’t get their gender; they did what they could to help people “get” it, but some characters were willfully obtuse), it wasn’t the whole story. There was so much more to love about the book.  Miller has a fantastic grasp of world building, giving us enough information to help us understand the world, but not going into long tangents about the history (though there is one attached at the end, if the reader is interested). There was magic in the world, but that was banished, which leaves for some intriguing subplots (and maybe some more exploration in the sequel?), but mostly this is a straight up survival book: Sal needs to survive the trials and become the new assassin if they want to enact revenge. It’s written in first person, and Sal’s life/head is a good place to be: they are smart, intuitive and a creative survivor. The book is also populated with a lot of fantastic secondary characters, from the servant Sal gets when they join the trials to the other members of the Left Hand. It’s a brutal book: in a trial to the death, there is bound to be people killed that the reader cares about. All that gives it heft, though, and shows that Miller’s not afraid to tell the story that needs to be told.

An excellent debut novel, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.