From Twinkle, With Love

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Hello, namaste, buenos dias, and bonjour, Mira Nair!
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, and lots of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Twinkle is a budding filmmaker. She loves looking at the world through the eye of her camera lens, and it’s what she wants to do with her life. She has a YouTube channel (though not many subscribers), and a dream. The rest of her life isn’t so hopeful: she’s not really high up on the popularity totem pole at her prep school, her best friend has begun to ditch her for other girls (who are higher up in popularity), and her parents are often gone. Thankfully, she has her grandmother and her crush on the most popular kid in school, Neil.

Then comes the Midsummer Festival. Popular guy’s twin brother, Sahil, talks Twinkle into making a film — they decide a gender-swapped Dracula — and that fact sets a whole lot in motion.

I wanted to like this. It’s got everything that should hit for me in a summer romance: a cute guy, some conflict, a lot of swoony situations… it feels like a Bollywood film with kissing. I should have loved it.

But, I didn’t. I was talking to a co-worker about it, and she said that Twinkle was annoying — and she was, being so obsessed with being popular and getting her friend “back” that she didn’t realize what was right in front of her — and because of that, she couldn’t get into the book. I think that’s a lot of it. Twinkle was very human, and very much a teenage girl, and I appreciated that. I thought the relationships, at least between the girls, were very realistic. Maybe what didn’t sit well with me was the juxtaposition between the friendship arc and the romance arc. The romance was all very “true love”-y; Sahil’s had a thing for Twinkle since they were 11 and he’s finally on it (that’s what came off as unrealistic to me!) and he’s all “you’re my One True Love”, and I think that’s (for a high school book) what didn’t work for me. I understood the friendships, and Twinkle’s desire not to have things change, but when you put that in the same book as a meet-cute, fluffy summer romance that you’r trying to make weightier with declarations of True Love. Maybe that’s also what didn’t quite sit well with me. If Menon had just kept it fluffy, Bollywood-like (with kissing!), then maybe I would have liked it better.

Advertisements

145th Street

by Walter Dean Myers
First sentence: “The way I see it, things happen on 145th Street that don’t happen anywhere else in the world.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s violence but the stories are short and to the point. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ll be honest here. I’m not a fan of short stories, and I had to read one for class, and I’ve never read Walter Dean Myers, so I picked this one. All the stories surround people on this street in New York (in Harlem?), their lives and experiences. But, as I sit back and think about this, what comes to mind are the stories in Bronx Masquerade. Which means this one just kind of went in but slid right out. I’m pretty sure I looked at the words and turned the pages, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember what I read.

I’m sure that’s not because Myers isn’t a good writer. It’s more I’m not a great reader of short stories.

Bronx Masquerade

by Nikki Grimes
First sentence: “I ain’t particular about doing homework, you understand.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some tough situations, but nothing “objectionable”. The format — short stories with poetry — is great for reluctant readers, as well. It would be in the young adult (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

I read this back during my poetry section of class and was expecting a novel in verse. While I don’t think it’s that, it is a fascinating look into the power of poetry. Set in the Bronx (obviously), the book follows a group of students in an English class as they study the Harlem Renaissance, and then decide they want to try writing poetry themselves. That turns into an Open Mike Friday once a month, which morphs into once a week, as the various students — black, Latnix, and white — learn to express themselves and understand other people throughout the year. Interspersed with commentary from our “narrator” Tyrone, it’s a good look at how poetry not only can help people express ideas and feelings they couldn’t otherwise, it also is a way to understand other people.

I liked how we got a peek into a bunch of different lives, even if that meant we didn’t get to delve deeply into one person. I think the purpose of the novel was to explore connections that poetry makes, not so much to explore one person, and once I realized that, I was able to enjoy the book more. I’ve never read anything by Nikki Grimes before, though I’ve heard a lot about her, and this made me curious. I’ll definitely have to check more of it out.

March (Book Two and Three)

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
First sentence: “Brother John — Good to see you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (book 2, book 3).
Others in the series: March (Book One)
Content: There is a lot of violence, and use of the n-word. It’s in the non-fiction area of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This picks up where March (Book One) leaves off. Lewis is part of student non-violent protests in Nashville in the early 1960s, but soon leaves that to join the Freedom Riders: a group of African Americans who, in 1961-1962, put supposed desegregation to the test. They rode Greyhound buses though the south, stopping at cities in Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, with — as you would guess — pretty disastrous results. They were yelled at, beaten, arrested, thrown in jail, loaded up in cars and left in Klan territory, and the buses were blown up… let’s just say that, in short, white people in the south were TERRIBLE people.

All through this, Lewis (and others) preached the gospel of non-violence (which just makes white people look like terrorists. Really.): they didn’t fight back, they didn’t talk back, they just exercised their right (!) to do what they feel they had a right to do.

The book also follows Lewis through the March on Washington in 1963. (I didn’t know he was there, or even that he spoke! In fact, there’s a side note by him that out of everyone who spoke, he was the only one still living.) It was fascinating, learning about the politics behind that march, and about Robert Kennedy’s change of heart as well.

It’s a well-done graphic novel, one that is still very timely to read. As a white person, it definitely made me more aware of what people went through in the 1960s to get just basic rights, and I’m more aware now of how those rights aren’t still completely equal

March (Book Three) picks up after the church bombing the beginning of 1964 and goes through the march from Selma to Birmingham. My thoughts are pretty much the same as after reading book two: white people are so entrenched in their “way of life” that they can’t abide by change at all. And the thing I kept coming back to was that, in the intervening 54 years, that white people are still entrenched in their “way of life”, we just call it by different things now. It’s still racism. And it still is wrong. This one was difficult to read, and made me think, over and over, that an eye for an eye just makes everyone blind. I hope I’d have the courage to stand up to those who use their power to make others “less than”, those who call others “animals” or “dirty” or “from s-hole countries”, those who want to abuse their power to keep themselves in power… even if it means sacrificing my life. John Lewis and all those who stood by him are true heroes, and I wish there were more people like them now.

Excellent.

Amal Unbound

by Aisha Saeed
First sentence: “I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amal has a goal: she loves school, and wants to go to college and become a teacher. It seems simple, but for a 12-year-old girl in a Pakistani village, it’s means everything, She sees her future before her, and feels like she can make a difference.

That is, until one day she decides to stand up for herself… with the wrong person. Jawal Sahib is a member of the Khan clan, the people with the most money and influence in the region. And he’s not a person you cross. So, the next thing Amal knows, her father’s debts have been called in (he took out loans to cover his orange groves), and he can’t pay. So Jawal Sahib takes Amal as “payment”. She’s put to work in the household as a personal servant for Jawal Sahib’s mother, Nasreen Baji. It’s not something Amal wants, but she has no choice. And so, she tries to make the best of a (very bad) situation.

There’s more to the story than that; Saeed not only deals with involuntary servitude but also the treatment and education of women, she touches on corruption in politics and commerce in Pakistan; the Khans are so influential because they have bribed so many people. It’s enough that Jawal Sahib feels that he is above the law, and everyone beneath him is resigned: that’s just the way things are.

It’s a very stark picture of what life can be like in Pakistan, and how many people are just scraping by while a few get rich off their backs. But it’s not a depressing one: Amal is an incredible character to spend a book with, one who really does find ways to make life bearable and who tries to make a difference wherever she goes.

And Saeed knows how to tell a story that will keep younger readers engaged as well.

Excellent.

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “Don’t nobody believe nothing these days which is why I haven’t told nobody the story I’m about to tell you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: While there isn’t any swearing or on-screen violence, the themes are quite intense. I go back and forth as to where this should go. One of my co-workers insists that 10-year-old kids shouldn’t be reading it, so doesn’t like it when I stick it with the Newbery Books (even though it got an honor). I’m not sure it needs to be in the Teen (grades 9+) section, though, so I may compromise by putting it in the YA (grades 6-8).

Will’s older brother, Shawn, has been shot dead. And so, Will believes, it’s his duty to hunt down the person who shot Shawn (and he’s sure he knows who it is) and kill them. After all, that’s part of the rules: Don’t cry, don’t snitch, and always get revenge. But, on the elevator with a gun tucked in his pants, Will encounters ghosts of his past, every single one of whom has been killed by gunshot.

The ending is left open: will Will follow through, or won’t he? But, it’s these conversations with the ghosts — all told in verse — that left me shook. The toxic masculinity is rampant and obvious (at least to me, an outsider): if someone shoots someone who then shoots someone, then (of course) someone else will have to shoot that someone. It’s a vicious cycle that just leaves everyone dead. (What is that adage? An eye for an eye just leaves everyone blind?) It’s awful. And culture, tradition, racism, oppression, expectations… they don’t let these boys grieve the way they need to grieve. (And don’t get me started on gun culture.) I’m not entirely sure that’s what Reynolds was trying to get across, but that’s what I (again, as an outsider) got out of it.

Hopefully, books like these will help bring awareness to this. And maybe we can all stop killing each other just because of the color of our skin.

Module 14: Yes! We are Latinos!

Ada, A. F. and Campoy, F. I. (2013). Yes! We are Latinos. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Genre: Poetry with non-fiction mini-essays.

Book Summary: A series of narrative poems, followed by a brief narrative non-fiction essays about different aspects of Latinx history and culture. These are not based on any one person, but are a composite of the different variety within the Latinx world.

Impressions: I loved this one! I don’t often read poetry collections (and when I do, they are usually the humorous ones. My current favorite is I’m Just No Good at Rhyming) and I didn’t quite know what to expect. What I got were some narrative poems, each telling a story about a different child’s Latinx identity. It served as a reminder that even though we (white people, the media, etc.) lump all Latinx people together, there’s a lot of diversity and richness of heritage within the culture. (And, I was reminded, that they don’t all get along!) I really enjoyed the historical information that came after each poem, which told a bit about the history and culture of the person in the poem preceding. I knew quite a bit of the information already, but it was good to be reminded of the history (and some of it recent history) and how much of the United States was originally Spanish. (And that the Brits weren’t the only oppressive colonizers in the world.) Definitely a highly recommended collection.

Review: While the review was short and more oriented to the plot than any opinions about the book, Leon-Barrera did remark that the book was “refreshing” especially because of the vast representation from the Latinx world. She also wrote, “The vignettes also help to illustrate the meaning of being mestizo–the blending of indigenous, African, and Spanish lineage-mentioned in the introduction and explored throughout.” This was something I noticed but didn’t realize was as important as it is. She also commented on the inclusion of Asians in Latin America, which, she wrote, “is often overlooked in children’s literature”.

Leon-Barrera, M. (2013). Yes! We are Latinos.  School Library Journal. 59 (8), 94.

Uses: This was used as part of our city’s Big Read a few years back. It could also be used in a poetry writing workshop for middle or high schoolers, since these are all accessible, free-verse, narrative poems.

Readalikes:

  • Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle – This is the most obvious read-alike, as it is a non-fiction memoir in verse about Engle’s childhood and her family in Cuba.
  • The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya – Another Cubano novel, this one focusing on the struggle to keep history and culture and family together in America. It’s also a David vs. Goliath book, in that a big developer wants to take out Arturo’s family’s restaurant in order to put in a huge multiplex.
  • Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – A young adult book about Mexican-American culture and the struggles between older generations and their traditions and younger generations.