The Stone Sky

by N. K. Jemisin
First sentence: “Time grows short, my love.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate
Content: There is swearing and some violence, though none of it brutal. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Well… if I didn’t want to do spoilers for the other two books, that leaves me with very little to say, here, doesn’t it?

Impressions: It’s definitely a book on the evils of colonialism, systemic racism, and oppression. No, it’s not overt, but it’s there. It’s also a book about forgiveness, and if not forgiveness, then maybe a sort of peace. It’s a book about parenting, and what children expect and/or need from their parents, which are not always the same thing. It’s a book about resilience and endurance and sacrifice. (No, I didn’t cry at the end, like a coworker suspected I might.)

It’s still a wildly beautifully written book, though I found this one had bits that pulled me out of the narrative more than the other two. And it was a satisfying conclusion. It definitely deserved all the awards it received.

And I’m going to try and read more Jemisin soon.

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
First sentence: “Dark clouds were gathering in the sky, and there was a hint of rain in the morning air.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some drinking and swearing, including mulitple f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Sal is starting his senior year of high school, and he feels like his life isn’t making sense. He’s mom died when she was three, he never knew his biological father, and although he loves his adoptive father and his Mexican family, he still wonders about the family he never knew. His best friend, Samantha has a crap relationship with her mom, and his other friend, Fito’s, mom has drug problems. Sal’s life is pretty tame comparatively, but still. He’s trying to figure himself out.

Actually, the plot of this one is kind of incidental to the book. It’s mostly about relationships: between Sal and his father, Sal and his grandmother, and Sal and Sam. It’s about the dynamics between them all and what it means to be a part of a family. There is discussion of death and making life worthwhile, as Sal (and Sam and Fito) try to figure out how they fit into the world. Even though it wasn’t heavy on plot, it was beautifully written. Sáenz has a gift for language and I enjoy the way he wrote the characters. Sal’s dad, Vincente, is one of the best fathers I’ve read in a very long time. It was delightful spending time with these characters that I came to care about. (Yes, I cried when Mima died.)

Perhaps not the most exciting book I’ve read recently, but I did enjoy it.

Love, Hate, & Other Filters

by Samira Ahmed
First sentence: “Destiny sucks.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some talk of sex, but none actual. There is also swearing, including some f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Senior Maya Aziz has one goal in life: to go to NYU (she’s been accepted!) and get a degree in filmmaking. However, her parents — even though they’re on the liberal end of the Indian Muslim scale — would rather she go close to home — University of Chicago or Northwestern — and get a degree in something practical. It also doesn’t help that they’re trying to set her up with a nice Indian Muslim boy… even if they don’t want her to get married just yet.

Maya just wants to live her life the way she wants to, and she was starting to make headway (even with the super popular white football player who’s interested in her!) when there’s a hate crime in a nearby city, and suddenly her small town isn’t safe — for her — anymore. And things just escalate when her parents’ dental practice building is vandalized Now her parents are refusing to let her go anywhere, let alone to New York to go to school.

Oh this was SUCH a good debut! Ahmed tackles conflict in a religious family, not with just culture but with belief, and she tackles the differences between parents and children — Maya’s parents aren’t bad or controlling; they just feel they know what’s best — and tackles the differences between immigrants and their first-generation American children. But she also addresses racism and prejudice all while wrapped up in a very sweet love story.

She’s definitely a writer to watch.

Words on Bathroom Walls

by Julia Walton
First sentence: “My first doctor said it was unusual for the symptoms to manifest in someone so young.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Adam is a regular teen. Mostly. He has regular teen boy desires, interests… the only difference is that he’s been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The kind that make you see things — in Adam’s case, he sees people and hears voices. He’s on a new trial drug, though, and as part of it, he’s required to go to therapy. He doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t want to talk to the therapist, so the book is a series of diary entries where Adam describes what’s going on in his life, how he’s reacting to the drug, and answering the therapist’s questions, such as they are.

I found the format of the book to be super fascinating: it got us in Adam’s head, while not being mundane or super weird; the entries were made weekly, so Adam was able to reflect on the week. So, while he may have had episodes, the book never took the reader through the middle of them, since the entries were always written afterward. I thoroughly enjoyed being in Adam’s head; he had a super strong voice that came through, and I enjoyed his sense of humor around his mental health. It was also a case in which the parents (hooray!) were absolutely fantastic. They fought for Adam and his rights and wanted nothing but the best for him. The conflict was partially internal — Adam against his mental health — and from his peers, who just don’t understand what’s going on.

It’s a really excellent book; definitely a good look at a mental health issue that not many people know much about.

The Size of the Truth

by Andrew Smith
First sentence: “This all starts with my first enormous truth, which was a hole.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: March 26, 2019
Content: It’s odd, and Smith’s reputation for edgy YA might turn some people off, but there’s really nothing in this that a 4/5-6/7th grader wouldn’t like. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Sam Abernathy is known for one thing: falling down a well when he was four and being trapped for three days. It’s not something you want to be remembered for, especially when you are 11 years old and just got pushed up to the 8th grade. No, it’s not something he wanted. He also doesn’t want to go on survival campout weekends with his dad. Or be a part of the Science Club. Or go to MIT to study science something. Or be in 8th grade PE.

What does he want? To cook. But no one seems to hear that.

Yes, this is a very Andrew Smith book: delightfully weird, slightly off-kilter, and yet completely full of heart and soul. There’s a talking armadillo (who may or may not be a figment of four year old Sam’s imagination). There’s another 8th grader, James Jenkins, who Sam’s sure is going to kill him. But what it is really, is a reflection on figuring out who YOU are (and not who your parents or community want you to be) and what YOU want to do with your life. And then sticking up for it.

And it’s absolutely perfect for those fourth-seventh graders who are just trying to figure things out.

I loved it.

The Lost Girl

by Anne Ursu
First sentence: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways they were different.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Iris and Lark are identical twins. And they’ve always been together, from the very start. They’re stronger together, and even though they are different, they help each other out. That is, until this year, their 5th grade year, when their parents (darn them!) decide that it would be better if Iris and Lark are in two different classes. That shakes both girls to their core, but Iris, who’s nominally our main character, is really having a tough time of it. And things get a lot more complicated when she starts frequenting a strange new antique store in town with an odd owner who says there is magic in the world.

I swear I read a tweet by Anne Ursu (who, if you don’t follow on Twitter, you should!) that this book was about girls and friendships and smashing the patriarchy, and I am totally here for all of that. It’s a seriously good book; the parents create conflict by being good parents (which is incredibly unusual) and by trying to stretch their twins in new ways. And it’s uncomfortable (do I really listen to my kids the way they want to be listened to?) and challenging and amazing and wonderful all at the same time. I adored Iris’s loud strength and courage and prickliness and Lark’s whimsical nature and quiet strength. But what I really loved was the way the girls banded together to overcome the conflict. Seriously. Usually in middle grade fiction, it’s the main character Facing the Challenge and Overcoming (maybe with a little help), but very rarely is it a group of kids who work together and are Awesome. Don’t underestimate the power of kids working together.

It’s such a fantastic, wonderful, gorgeous middle grade book.

The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “The summer is made for stoop-sitting and since it’s the last week before school starts, Harlem is opening its eyes to September.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing, a tasteful almost-sex scene, and some talk of smoking weed. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Xiomara is many things: a daughter, a poet, a twin. But she feels like she doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t help that her parents — both from the Dominican Republic — don’t really get along, or that her mother is super religious. Or that her twin, Xavier, is super smart, and goes to a magnet school, while Xiomara is stuck going to the not-really-great neighborhood one. And on top of everything, as she starts her sophomore year, her mother is insisting that she go to classes so that she can be confirmed (I think that’s how it is in Catholic churches?). But Xiomara has questions about God, and religion, and the way her parents treat her.

On the one hand, I can see where Xiomara’s mother is coming from. She wants her daughter to have all the things she didn’t have. She wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps, and to have the faith she did. What she doesn’t take into consideration — and this is the conflict at the heart of this elegant novel in verse — is that Xiomara’s feelings and desires might be different than her own. It’s often the conflict at the heart of young adult books: parents who believe they know better and don’t stop to listen to the desires of their kids. I loved getting to know Xiomara through her poetry, to understand her feelings and the tensions she perceived in her family. And I’m glad that, in the end, there was a resolution that didn’t involve someone dying. That Xiomara realized her parents loved her, even if they didn’t always show it in a way she could understand it.

Acevedo’s writing is gorgeous and her storytelling exquisite. This is definitely worth the hype.