Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II

by Martin W. Sandler
First sentence: “It was a heroic achievement.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some difficult moments, especially for younger readers. It would be in the middle grade history section of the bookstore.

I’ve known vaguely about the Japanese internment that happened during World War II for a while now (though it wasn’t something that was taught in school), but I had never read anything that detailed the actual experience of Japanese Americans in America.

My thoughts? White people are awful. (This is not a new realization. Just an additional confirmation.) My reservations about this book? It’s written by a (very nice) white guy. The book — which goes through the experiences of Japanese in America from the turn of the 20th century through World War II and afterward — seems really well-balanced and fair, and Sandler has done his research. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this is a story that would be better told by someone who had gone through the experience, by someone who could first-hand explain the experiences of racism they had while they were trying to make a living here. Sandler doesn’t really hold those in charge accountable (really: what were the politicians thinking?!) and while he is sympathetic to the plight of the Japanese and forthright about the conditions they lived in, it lacks the emotional punch a Japanese writer could most likely give it.

Still, not a horrible book.

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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.”
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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.

Audiobook: Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
Read by: Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of violence, some of it intense. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Imagine a world in which magic existed, but the non-magic users (who happened to be in power) were afraid of what magic can do, so they (well, he: the king) did everything they could to stamp it out. They killed the magi — adults who were at full power — and suppressed the children of the magi. These children, Diviners, were never able to fully come into their power, they were discriminated against, and their families taxed beyond what they can afford.

This is the world that Zélie, a Diviner, was raised in. She remembered the raids, when her mother was taken and killed and her father (who is not a magi) beaten. She remembers the stories her mother told about magic and the gods, and has all but lost her faith that it can ever come back. That is, until she meets Amari, the daughter of the king that ordered the raids. Amari has stolen a magic scroll, an artifact that, in the right hands, can bring magic back. And she’s on the run. She teams up with Zélie and Zélie’s brother, Zane. And together they are determined to bring magic back.

Except it’s not as easy as that. Amari’s brother, the crown prince Inan, is on their tale, determined to stop them. And nothing — NOTHING — goes to plan.

It’s a huge book, but it’s a fast-paced one; Adeyemi definitely knows how to plot to keep a reader engaged and the pages turning. Or, in my case, a listener listening. It helps that my favorite narrator, Turpin, read this book, and as always, was fantastic at it. It’s such an excellent performance, one that immersed me into the world of Orïsha (and it helped with all the foreign names and places too!) and the story.

And what a story! There were moments that I was afraid Adeyemi would disappoint me (especially toward the end), but she pulled off a spectacular ending, and still left enough undone for a sequel (which I can’t wait for).

Remarkable. And definitely worth the hype.

Ghost Boys

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “How small I look.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 18, 2018
Content: There are some tough issues here, but all the violence is either handled delicately or is off stage. The publisher has it for 10 and up, so I will probably shelve it in the YA section (grades 6-8) at the bookstore, but it would be good for curious 4th and 5th graders.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a white police officer while playing in the park. He had a toy gun, and the officer thought he was being threatened and therefore shot Jerome. If that sounds familiar, it’s intentional.

The book isn’t about the shooting, exactly. It’s told from Jerome’s perspective, after his death. He’s a ghost, hanging around, angry he is dead, and wondering what his purpose is. From there, we learn in flashbacks how he came to be shot, as well as following the preliminary hearing (in which the white officer gets off), and learn about Emmett Till’s murder in Mississippi in 1955. The point of the novel, however, isn’t about the story. It’s about the feelings this kind of murder generate. The sadness and anger in Jerome’s family. The questioning by the daughter of the officer. The sheer number of black boys that have been murdered. But also hopeful feelings: the friendships that come out of a tragedy like this.

While it’s a bit on the heavy-handed side, I think that was done intentionally. Rhodes wants to get her readers — many of whom are young — thinking about why this happens. About underlying racism. About seeing the “other” as, well, not “other”. And I think she wants to get a dialogue going, because if we don’t talk about these things, our culture won’t change and black men and boys will keep getting murdered.

It’s a quick read, and definitely a worthwhile one for kids (and adults!) to read.

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson
First sentence: “Abigail Caldwell stared at the letter.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the author.
Release date: March 27, 2018
Content: There are some tough issues brought up about racism, especially in the 1950s, but also currently. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though it  may be more interesting for grades 5 and up.

Candice does NOT want to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina. Her parents have recently divorced, though, and their house needs to be renovated in order to put it on the market, and it’s better if they’re not underfoot, so Candice’s mom decides to take up residence in her grandma’s old house in the small Southern town. It’s bound to be a boring, never-ending summer.

That is until two things happen: she meets Brandon, the boy across the street, and she discovers an old letter, detailing a mystery about an inheritance of $40 million. The same inheritance that her grandmother tried to find ten  years ago, and was fired from her job as city manager over. If Candace and Brandon can figure this out, they could not only help the city, but also clear her grandma’s name.

I love puzzle books, even if I’m not entirely smart enough to figure them out, and this was no exception. About halfway through, Johnson references The Westing Game (one of my favorites!), and from then-on, I was using what I knew about that book to figure out the clues. (I did pretty well, too!) So, perhaps this one is better the more you know that one. But, in addition to the fun puzzle solving, Johnson takes us through history. We learn about sharecroppers, and what it was like to be a black person in the South in the pre-Civil Rights era (there’s not a lot, especially for kids, written about that time). He weaves in themes of revenge, justice and forgiveness as well as acceptance and tolerance. It’s a lot for a middle grade novel, but under Johnson’s capable hands, everything comes together seamlessly. He knows how to write kids so they seem real, and address tough issues in a way that they are accessible but not watered down.

An excellent book.

Module 5: All American Boys

Reynolds, J. and Kiely, B. (2015). All American Boys. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Genre: Realistic fiction, Coretta Scott King Honor. Realistic fiction because it is set in contemporary times with no magic or other speculative elements.

Book Summary: All Rashad wants to do is pop into a convenience store and pick up some chips on his way to a party on a Friday night. What happens, though, changes everything. Rashad bends down to pick out his cell phone from his bag, a woman trips over him, and the next thing he knows, a cop has him handcuffed and is beating him. He ends up in the hospital, and — subsequently — the subject of discussion of police brutality in the community, even though Rashad isn’t comfortable with being the center of attention.

Quinn, a member of the basketball team, witnesses Rashad being beaten, and is friends with officer, who has been like a second father to Quinn, since his father’s death. Quinn’s struggle is a decision whether or not he wants to become political and speak out against his friend.

Impressions: Oh, wow. I’d been putting this book off for years, mostly because I thought it was a football book. (Shows you what I know!)  But, this one — especially in the light of all the books dealing with police brutality in the wake of Ferguson (among others) — really packs a punch, especially for me as a white person. I really appreciated the dichotomy between Rashad — who is just grateful to be alive and who is trying to figure out answers why — and Quinn — who has a much more passive decision to make, in whether or not he wants to speak out about what he saw. It really does provide a lot of food for thought, and brings forward white privilege in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen before. While this book was hard to read — both Reynold and Kiely are masters of getting across emotion in as few words as possible — it is an important one.

Review: Magoon praises the book, reflecting on the dissonance between the white and black characters and praising it for the questions it raises with readers. Her final thoughts were: “It is perhaps too easy to call this worthy book timely and thought-provoking. Let us reach beyond simple praise and treat it instead as a book to be grappled with, challenged by, and discussed.”

Magoon, K. (2015, December 8). ‘All American Boys’ by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The New York Times [New York]. Retrieved from:  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/books/review/all-american-boys-by-jason-reynolds-and-brendan-kiely.html.

Library Uses: I would put this one on a display of either books about African American life, Coretta Scott King award winners, or books reflecting the issues in the news. This would also be fantastic for a book group.

Readalikes:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This book is written from the point of view of the friend of a boy who was shot by police. She was a witness to the event, and because of that, her grief was made political. It touches on the topic of police brutality as well as systematic racism in the country.
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone: Through letters to Martin Luther King Junior, the main character looks at race relations in America — he is Ivy League-bound — and the judgement of the media after he has a run-in with a white, off-duty officer.
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: This one is written for a slightly younger audience, but touches on the topic of police violence as well. The main character is shot by an officer, and spends the rest of the book as a ghost as he watches his family and friends deal with his death.

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.