“Interference” Kay Honeyman

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 27, 2016. Arthur A. Levine Books. 340 p.

interferenceKate Hamilton has spent her life walking a tightrope, as she has had to make sure to never bring scandal on the family name because her father is a politician. When he falls behind in the polls because of something her ex boyfriend did to humiliate her, he take Kate and her mother out of D.C. to spend a few months in his Texas hometown to regroup.

In her quest to get a recommendation to art school to study photography and escape politics forever, Kate winds up volunteering at her aunt’s animal shelter where she meets annoying Hunter, the handsome ex-football player. Joining the yearbook staff to use their darkroom introduces her to handsome Kyle, star quarterback, and shy Ana. With football ruling the school, and politics ruling her home, it’s only a matter of time before football and politics lead Kate into making decisions she’ll soon regret.

Recommended for ages 12-17.

 

 

 

“Piecing Me Together” Renee Watson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Bloomsbury. 260 p. To be published February 14, 2017.

piecingmetogetherJade is starting her junior year at a very exclusive high school located on the other side of her neighborhood. She did not want to leave her old school or friends, but accepted a scholarship because she wanted to learn Spanish and travel with their study abroad program.

As one of a handful of black students at the school, Jade finds that because she is black and poor she is expected to act, speak and think a certain way. She is even expected to participate in a mentorship program offered only to African American girls, causing her to feel that her classmates and teachers disregard her, and are unable to understand why their expectations are hurtful. Prejudices and stereotypes at school as well as in the news cause Jade to create beautiful artistic collages from her self-examinations, as she reflects upon the state of the world for herself and other blacks.

Watson’s thoughtful observations about a young girl finding her voice, while telling her story about what it means to be black, will be an eye opener to many who don’t understand white privilege. I especially loved her poem “Things that are Black and Beautiful” on page 136. I can’t quote it here, because this is an ARC and the author/publisher might choose to change it for the final version of the book, but it is lovely. The beautiful cover art is also striking, while the title of the book excellently conveys Jade’s talent and her actions as she seeks to express herself.

I predict “Piecing Me Together” will win the Coretta Scott King Book Award at the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards, as well as a few other book awards.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Love is the drug” Alaya Dawn Johnson

Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. 2014. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic).

LoveIsTheDrugCarol Bird expects her daughter Emily to look, act, dress and behave a certain way in her rich, private school. As a strong black woman with a very important career, Carol is certain Emily will continue to obey her wishes, date proper boys with a good future, and go on to a college and career of her selection. Emily’s hopes and dreams are secondary to her mother’s, so denying her own inner wants so as to keep the peace has become a way of life.

Alonso, also known as Coffee, is a rebellious drug dealer and chemistry genius at Emily’s school. Though she knows he is bad news Emily has a secret crush, but will never cross the line her mother has set for her relationships. Dating handsome Paul is good for her future, but mixing with Coffee will set that future on end. Emily isn’t ready to take that chance even though she likes how he calls her Bird, as well as his belief in her inner strength.

Emily’s inability to make her own decisions takes a backseat to the news that their city has been hit with a deadly flu virus. An important CIA operative seems too interested in her after she lets something slip at a party about her parent’s work and, within hours of meeting him, she wakes up in a hospital with no memory of what happened with him at the party or Paul’s role in how she wound up at the hospital.

With her parents tied up elsewhere and millions dead around the world, Emily and Coffee are thrown together trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to Emily at the party. With the CIA agent breathing down their necks, and the world as they know it coming to an end, Emily is desperate to find out what she has forgotten. However if she does remember, things may get even worse for the two of them.

I wasn’t a fan of this book as Emily was too wishy washy for me, and the constant evil actions of the CIA agent felt unrealistic. Emily did grow a little backbone with Coffee’s support, but had spent so much time bending to her mother’s wishes it took the entire book for her to find a real backbone of her own.

Books with girls who depend on guys for their strength and story lines that are more myth than truth are not my cup of tea, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Liar’s Bench” Kim Michele Richardson

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. ARC. Kensington Publishing. Published April 28, 2015.

Liar'sBenchIt is 1972 in the small Kentucky town of Peckinpaw where, over 100 years ago, a slave was hung for crimes against her owners. Years later, a bench was built from the wood of her gallows and placed in the center of town, gradually earning the name of “Liar’s Bench.” On this bench, Peckinpaw’s citizens shared their stories and lies with each other.

With this background information, Richardson begins her story of seventeen-year-old Muddy Summer, who found out her mother committed suicide by hanging on her birthday. Muddy refuses to believe her mother would take her own life and, along with her boyfriend Bobby, sets out to find out the truth of her death.

Their journey to discover what really happened to Muddy’s mother takes them through the sordid evil found in men’s souls, which clung to the citizens of Peckinpaw. Evils, which included prejudice against Bobby and his kin for the crime of being Black in a White man’s town, murder, Klansmen, betrayal and more follow them through Peckinpaw. Soon they will discover that what happened in the past bears strange similarities to its present, and that these truths will draw them even closer together as Peckinpaw’s citizens try to separate them.

Muddy and Bobby’s Romeo and Juliet type love story is mixed with racial prejudice in the Deep South of 1972, a murder mystery, an historical mystery of an unjustly accused murdered slave, Title IX, and thug like characters committing crimes in town. I felt there was a lot going on in this book, and it could have benefitted from fewer story lines, but I will still recommend it for readers aged 16 and older because some of those story lines need to be remembered so history doesn’t repeat itself.

“Zane and the Hurricane: A story of Katrina” Rodman Philbrick

Rated 5 stars ***** Published February 25, 2014. ARC. Blue Sky Press (Scholastic). Includes a map showing The Path of Hurricane Katrina, a Katrina Timeline 2005, Interesting Facts about New Orleans and the Great Flood and an Author’s Note.

ZaneandtheHurricaneThe horror of Hurricane Katrina, and the sufferings of the people of New Orleans, are told through the eyes of twelve-year old Zane Dupree.

Zane’s father was killed before he was born, so no one is more surprised than he when his mother insists he travel to New Orleans to spend time with Miss Trissy, a great-grandmother he never knew existed. He reluctantly agrees to go as long as his dog Bandit can come, but immediately hates the heat and smells of New Orleans.

It doesn’t take Miss Trissy long to set Zane straight on his heritage, reminding him he’s not “multiracial or biracial” as he’d previously called himself but is mixed. Even though Zane looks white she reminds him his dad’s face is what she sees, not his blond hair or green eyes. Zane had never looked at himself that way before, and this lesson is just the first in many he learns during his stay in New Orleans.

When news of an impending hurricane reaches them, they plan to evacuate. However Bandit runs away, Zane runs after him and is separated from Miss Trissy. When the hurricane hits, he and Bandit are stranded in Miss Trissy’s house as the floodwaters reach to the attic where they have gone for safety. He is rescued by a passing boat but soon learns the hurricane and the flood it generated affected thousands of lives besides his own. Half drowned, starving, and unable to find shelter anywhere, including in the overcrowded Super Dome, he and his rescuers stumble on seeking help that is short in coming.

“Zane and the Hurricane” uses real life events and accounts from real people to tell the story of the people of New Orleans who were abandoned by those in authority who should have helped but didn’t. Their sufferings during and after the storm are recounted for those who may have forgotten, or didn’t know about what happened that fateful day in 2005.

It is an eye-opening read and is recommended for readers aged 10-14.

“Revenge of a not-so-pretty girl” Carolita Blythe

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published April 9, 2013. Random House. 321 pp.

RevengeofanotsoprettygirlThis book was beautiful, touching, raw and emotional, and I feel this title does not do it justice. If it hadn’t already been published, I would have written the author and publisher to tell them they need to not only change the ridiculous cover shot of a girl acting like she’s in a spy novel, but also need to get a title that actually goes with the storyline. Perhaps something along the likes of “Beauty: More than what you see.” or “A Friendship for Eternity” or even “Karma: Do you really want to know?”

Fourteen-year-old Faye lives with her abusive mother in a rundown section of Brooklyn in 1984. She hasn’t quite developed the womanly body or smooth, sophisticated look of some of the girls in her school, and feels plain, flat chested and ugly. Unable to fit in, she falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes a petty thief. Things get out of hand when she and her friends decide to force their way into an apartment to rob Evelyn, an old woman. Caught up in the moment, Faye causes the woman to fall and get hurt.

A few days later racked with guilt and fearing that she might have killed the old woman, Faye returns to the scene of the crime. What she finds and learns in the next few months is more than she expected. Eventually, the crusty old woman and the crushed-by-life young girl form a friendship which teaches Faye responsibility, love, generosity of spirit, patience, kindness and so much more.

I was unable to put the book down, and was quite emotional towards the end. Readers aged 12-16 will learn much from Faye and Evelyn’s experiences and, hopefully, gain a new appreciation for seniors.

“When we wuz famous” Greg Takoudes

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published March 5, 2013. Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt & Co.) 312 pp.

WhenWeWuzFamousIn this gritty, true-to-life urban tale, we learn of love, survival, pain, as well as the power of friendship and resilience through the life of 17-year-old Francisco and his best friend Vincent. Francisco has the opportunity to leave the grit and poverty of Spanish Harlem behind when he gets accepted to a prestigious high school in upstate New York. Despite knowing he’ll be separated from Reignbow, the love of his life, Francisco accepts the challenge, trying to persevere through loneliness and racism while hoping to make a new life for himself. Caught between two worlds, Francisco struggles to fit in and figure out his place in his world.

Meanwhile, unable to accept that the way of life he’s always known with Francisco by his side will change, Vincent decides to do everything he can to get his best friend to return to the hood. He is determined to make Francisco return out of guilt for his safety so throws himself into the life of a gangbanger, finding out too late that life in the streets is not what he’d envisioned. Both boys want to make something of their lives, but their neighborhood, feelings, thoughts and upbringings take them down very different paths.

“When we wuz famous” is extremely realistic, sparing no punches in its narrative, and will draw in urban fiction fans aged 14 and older.