“Clap when you land” Elizabeth Acevedo

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Hot Key Books. To be published May 5, 2020.

Clap when you landThis novel of verse is dedicated to the memory of the 265 people killed when AA flight 587, headed to the Dominican Republic, crashed into a Queens neighborhood on November 12, 2001. Over 90% of the passengers were Dominican. I lived in New York at the time, and remember vividly how this loss shocked the city so soon after the losses of September 11th.

Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. Her mother died when she was six, and her Papi lives in New York but visits every summer. After he’s killed in a plane crash Camino is beset with grief and worries for her future. Papi paid for private school, but what will happen to them without his monthly checks? When she finds out he has another daughter in New York City Camino is angry because Yahaira had led a rich life while she has to struggle. However, though that girl stole her father, she’s also her sister.

In New York City Yahaira’s father is killed in a plane crash, but sorrow is mixed with anger because she’d found out a year earlier that he had another wife in Santo Domingo. When she finds out he had a daughter there too she’s angry that this girl stole her father, but is happy to have a sister. Against her mother’s wishes she’s determined to travel to the Dominican Republic to meet her new sister, Camino.

In alternating voices, Yahaira and Camino tell their stories of grief, loss, love, discovery and forgiveness as the beauty of the Dominican Republic, and the love its people have for their country, is clearly verbalized. Once again Acevedo weaves a story that will keep readers glued to their seats. I finished it in just a few short hours, feeling a great affinity for all the strong women described in its pages. I won’t be surprised if this book wins a few more awards for its author in the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards.

Highly recommended for ages 15 and older.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“New kid” by Jerry Craft

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. HarperCollins Children’s Books. 249 p.

New kidJordan’s parents, especially his mom, feel that sending him to an expensive private school will be the ticket to his having a “leg up,” which will open doors in his life. Jordan loves drawing and wants to go to art school, but is sent to become Riverdale Academy Day School’s (RAD) newest financial aid student – one of only a few students of color.

Having to negotiate a new world of rich, almost all white kids, feeling judged by the color of his skin, enduring subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism, and a seeming inability to bridge the gap between Washington Heights and Riverdale make it seem as if Jordan and his schoolmates are worlds apart. He wonders how to find commonality and friendship with them without sacrificing the life he knows in Washington Heights. But, through the eyes of his twelve-year-old experiences, Craft’s humor and colorful illustrations depict Jordan’s predicaments in ways that will evoke thought provoking responses from his readers. “New kid” will make an excellent Book Club book.

Awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal at the January 2020 American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in Philadelphia, “New Kid” will go down in history as being the first graphic novel to receive this award. It was also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Author Award.

Highly recommended for ages 9-14.

“Shout” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** Viking (Penguin Random House). 2019. 291 p. (Includes Resources on Sexual Violence and Mental Health for readers.)

ShoutIn free verse, Laurie Halse Anderson tells her story of constantly having to move due to her father’s job, of being poor, of having to attend many different schools, and of being raped by someone she considered a friend at the young age of 13. After her assault Anderson details the many coping mechanisms she used to try to cover the raging anger she now felt, including getting high, cutting classes, and getting drunk. It was only after spending 13 months in Denmark as an exchange student, during her senior year of high school, that Laurie finally began to feel some of the scar tissue within begin to heal.

Anderson’s journey towards healing, and how those healing steps helped her become a writer, are interspersed with outrage towards those who foist themselves on boys and girls, friends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, cousins and anyone who didn’t say “yes” to those advances. She offers strong encouragement and strength towards those who suffer in silence from the pain of sexual assault or rape.

Laurie doesn’t pull punches as she shouts out her outrage, calling out the Principal who cancelled the rest of her appearances at his school, after the first of three sessions “because those things [sex, rape, bodies touching, consent, and violence] don’t ever happen in his school” (p. 187). Censorship of “inappropriate books” also met the steely beam of her eyes, reminding us (and censors) “Censorship is the child of fear, the father of ignorance, and the desperate weapon of fascists everywhere.” (p. 191.)

In short, “Shout” loudly, lovingly and firmly gives victims of sexual assault the strength to stand firm, to speak their pain, and to rise up from the ashes knowing they’re not alone. The #MeToo movement gave voice to that which had had been hiding in the shadows for too long. However, with her memoir, Anderson takes that movement and puts it on an amplifier, giving knowledge and courage to her readers, infusing them with power and strength so they can also #MeToo and shout out their pain as they heal.

“Shout” is raw and truthful; a description of what happens when a slice of life is stolen from unwilling victims. Anderson’s pain from being a victim of sexual assault is your pain. Her fight to rise above her pain is your fight. Her courage to keep going forward is your courage. Her voice to educate others is your voice. Her healing is your healing. Her shout of victory is your shout.

I am going to predict “Shout” will win the 2019 YALSA Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature at the upcoming American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, along with many other awards. When it wins, remember you read it first on my blog. I will be at that conference, and plan to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY at the ALA Youth Media Awards for Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout.”

Highly recommended for teens ages 14 and older, as well as Adults.

 

 

 

“They called us enemy” by George Takei

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Top Shelf Productions. 204 p.

They called us enemyIn 1942, when George was almost 5 years old, his Japanese-American parents had their bank accounts frozen, and his father lost his business. Ordered out of their Los Angeles home with only what they could carry, they were forced to live in several different internment camps for four years. What was their crime? Their “crime” was that they were of Japanese ancestry and, thus, considered enemies by their own country – the United States of America. They, along with hundreds of thousands of other American citizens, were incarcerated in these camps.

Simple black and white illustrations convey George’s story to readers as he talks about his parents, and what it was like for them to navigate through years of being stabbed in the back by their own country. Their strength, fortitude and creativity were traits that got them through hard times, and enabled little George to feel as if he was on an adventure. Some of his memories of that time came through clearly, while at other times he relied on his father’s memories to flesh out his own.

America’s intolerance towards others because of how they looked during World War II comes across loudly and clearly, especially in the ways our current government has sought to keep out people of different nationalities. Philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This phrase bears repeating because the rhetoric and events unfolding since 2016 in the United States are leading our nation into the gutter, where we spent too much time in years past. It’s time for a new narrative to take over our land.

George TakeiI, along with thousands of other librarians, had the privilege of hearing George Takei share his story and talk about this book before it was released at the American Library Association (ALA) conference in Washington this past June. He was very passionate, telling us his parent’s generation kept their stories hidden from their children because they felt shame in how they’d been treated by their own government. It’s time for their stories to be told.

Copies of “They called us enemy” should be in every public and high school library in our nation, and used in book groups all across the country.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“This promise of change: One girl’s story in the fight for school equality” by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. “Special 2019 ALA Annual Edition.” 310 p. (Includes an “Introduction,” “Epilogue,” “Writing this book,” “Scrapbook,” “Timeline of school desegregation and civil rights landmarks,” “Quotation sources,” “Selected Bibliography,” and “Further reading.”)

This book was published January 8, 2019, but a special edition was given to attendees at the June 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C.

This promise of changeJo Ann Allen and her friends attended a Negro high school 20 miles away from their town of Clinton, Tennessee because they weren’t allowed to attend the all-White school where they lived. Though the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that schools were to be integrated, the law of the land was not applicable in Clinton. Their restaurants, theaters and buses were segregated, and rules that applied only to Blacks continued to be applied.

In 1956, when a judge decreed the town had to integrate the high school, Jo Ann and 11 of her friends became the first Black students to attend the school. They were known as The Clinton 12. Their first few days integrating the school seemed to pass quietly until outside agitators, local protestors, and the KKK arrived. Soon controversy and attacks on the students and Black residents began, as did demands to keep the school segregated.

Racial insensitivities of the time are chronicled in this extensively researched book and very moving book as Jo Ann tells her story in verse. Readers learn about the few White supporters they had in their quest for integration, as well as the support given to them by their church as well as their families and friends. The extensive back matter lends support to Jo Ann’s story, teaching readers more about their struggle, and the struggle of many Blacks to integrate schools across the South. There is also an important reminder that many schools in the United States remain segregated today, 65 years after the Supreme Court decision of 1954.

Highly recommended for ages 18 and older.

“Words on fire” by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Words on fireRated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published October 1, 2019. Scholastic Press. 322 p. (Includes an “Acknowledgements” section with more information about Lithuanian book carriers).

In 1893 Lithuania was ruled by Russia with an iron fist. The people were expected to turn their backs on their Lithuanian heritage and become obedient Russian citizens. To this end Cossack soldiers roamed towns and villages, ruthlessly arresting, killing, imprisoning, or sending to Siberia anyone found with books written in the Lithuanian language. Despite the law, thousands of book carriers risked their lives to smuggle banned books to their people in Lithuania.

The ban on books, as well as forbidding the Lithuanian language, its schools, and the passing on of its culture were ways for the Tsar to force the people to forget their past and to look towards a Russian future. Reading these smuggled books about their language and culture were ways to give people hope to remember their country as it was when it was free, and to fight against the yoke cast upon them by the Tsar.

Twelve-year-old Audra grew up in this world of oppression, forced to smuggle a book given to her by her mother when Cossacks arrested her parents. At first she hated what books had cost her family but, in time, came to realize the power of the written word. Together she and her friend Lukas travelled the dangerous paths of bringing knowledge to their people, one book at a time, as Cossacks come ever closer to arresting them.

I didn’t know anything about Lithuania’s battle to keep their culture alive through books before reading “Words on fire.” It’s an important part of not only their history, but everyone’s history, as it seems that whenever a conqueror wants to take over a country and demoralize their people they resort to burning/banning books. We need to remember that every book has a reason for being, and we should fight anyone who would want to take them away.

To apply Nielsen’s book to today, the American Library Association (ALA) has a yearly Banned Books Week, because there are still people in the year 2019 who want to keep words of knowledge away from those who need those words of encouragement or hope. We all need to take a stand against censorship, just as Audra, Lukas and thousands of other Lithuanian book carriers did during their silent fight against Russia. They didn’t let the Tsar stand in their way, and neither should we let these modern day oppressors win the fight to decide what people should or shouldn’t read.

Recommended for ages 11-18.

“The rest of the story” by Sarah Dessen

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins). 440 p.

The rest of the storyEmma Saylor’s mother overdosed when she was just a little girl. Now seventeen, she’s spending three weeks with her mother’s side of the family until her father returns from his honeymoon. Though she hasn’t seen them since she was four, her grandmother, aunt, and assorted cousins love her unconditionally. They’d known her as Saylor – the name only her mom called her, giving her the chance to decide if she wanted to be known as Emma or Saylor.

Living in a motel on a lake with teens who all have jobs felt strange, but she pitches in to help while learning stories about her mom that begin to give her a sense of the person she’d never really known. Emma was cautious, and organized things to stay calm, however, she decides to become Saylor at the lake. There she’s someone who comes alive with the help of her new family and the very handsome Roo, whose memories of her mother intertwines with that of his father in his family photo album.

Just as Saylor begins to feel as if she’s part of lake life, her father returns and insists she leave and become Emma again. How can she make him realize she’s also Saylor, and that she’s changed? Learning her mother’s story helped her see herself in a new way, something Roo and her lake family made happen.

I loved this book so much!! Sarah Dessen always writes great stories, and she did not disappoint me. Reading about Emma Saylor and her family made me feel as if I was out on the lake with them, suffering through their troubles and cheering on their successes. Readers are invested, which is a sign of a great writer.

Highly recommended for ages 15 and older.