“The cholo tree” Daniel Chacón

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 248 pp.

TheCholoTreeFourteen-year-old Victor is an aspiring artist and cook in his low income, gang filled neighborhood and, like most kids his age, doesn’t like school. He was very close to his father who was killed when Victor was very young, and holds his mother at an emotional distance. Though not a cholo (gang member) she believes he is one, and doesn’t trust him.

Victor doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and is reluctant to choose a path, despite direction from a teacher he trusts and a very smart girlfriend who gives him some inspiration. As he aimlessly wanders through the life he’s chosen for himself, Victor has to sort through layers of experiences to decide if he already is a cholo. Does he want to be a cholo, or does he want to break free of the mold he created for himself in order to live the way he was meant to live?

Don Quixote-type fantasies intermingled with Victor’s hazy memories of his father, along with stories of his life, are pieced together to show four years of his struggles to discover who he is and what he wants to be. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I did enjoy the author’s portrayal of Iliana as a strong, independent woman. She knew what she wanted, and went for it full speed ahead, the complete opposite of Victor. She didn’t let feelings get in the way of her future, and I admire her for having a goal and sticking to it.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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

“Girl in snow” Danya Kukafka

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Simon & Schuster. To be published August 22, 2017.

GirlInSnowFifteen-year-old Lucinda Hayes is found murdered on a snowy carousel in the park. The police have a list of suspects, but no firm leads. In alternating chapters, three people who are close to the case tell their stories. As they talk readers learn more details about their lives, as well as Lucinda’s life.

Jade hated Lucinda and wanted her gone because her boyfriend was Jade’s former best friend and only true love. To make sure Lucinda disappeared she performed a witch’s spell, and it worked. Did she kill Lucinda with her spell? Cameron loved Lucinda but, though they went to school together, Lucinda never noticed him. He liked spying on her at night but, sometimes, things went fuzzy and he didn’t always remember. He loved her, but did he kill her?

Russ is one of the detectives assigned to the case, even though he’d been partners with Cameron’s father and knows the family. As he tells his story, readers soon realize he is hiding a secret of his own. Each of these three talk about other suspects so, when the killer is finally revealed, readers will be in for a huge shock. Kukafka definitely fooled me.

Though the book has teenage protagonists, there are many themes which tilt the book more towards adult readers. Thus I will recommend it for readers eighteen and older.

Recommended for Adults.

 

“Every ugly word” Aimee L. Salter

Rated 4 stars **** 2015. Alloy Entertainment. 280 p. Includes A note from the author, and Discussion Questions.

EveryUglyWordFuture Ashley has been seeing Past Ashley in a mirror for five years, trying her best to get her to make different decisions without revealing her future. A psychiatrist is the only thing that stands between her release and being able to help Past Ashley with the most important decision of her life, but Doc wants to hear her whole story from the very beginning. With her heart in her mouth, and an eye on the clock, Future Ashley begins to talk.

Ashley is seventeen, and for the last 5 years has been severely and constantly bullied by former friends both in and out of school. She can’t tell her teachers what’s going on, while her mother blames her for everything. Matt is the only friend she has left, but she doesn’t dare let him know she’s in love with him because she doesn’t want to lose him too.

Spending time with Matt, hoping to get a scholarship to art school, and talking to her future self are the only things keeping her sane. Ashley just wants to make it through the rest of her senior year, but Matt’s girlfriend and friends are determined to make her life a living hell. As the bullying intensifies, will Ashley find the strength to fight back or sink under pressure?

Having been the victim of constant bullying up until 11th grade, I found it very difficult to read about Ashley’s tormented life without reacting. It is my sincerest hope that bullies will see themselves in this book, understand how deeply their actions hurt, and that they will STOP. I also hope bystanders see themselves, and know how much they are needed to help someone who’s being bullied so they don’t feel alone. Finally, I hope victims gain strength from this book and realize they are important and valued.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“Still life with tornado” A.S. King

Rated 1 star * ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Dutton Books. 295 p.

stilllifewithtornadoI really didn’t like this book. I thought it was very disjointed, and the storyline dragged. Weird and strange, sort of like a modern “Man of La Mancha,” I was left confused rather than enlightened. The tornado on the cover described me before, during and after reading it – because I felt nothing was truly resolved but, instead, shoved aside and (supposedly) forgotten. At the end everything was suddenly tied up in a neat bow, and life was now good. Huh?! Really?!

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I had been a “not.”

“Rainbow weaver: Tejedora del arcoíris” Linda Elovitz Marshall; illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Rated 5 stars ***** Children’s Book Press. 2016. (Includes “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” and “Author’s Note.”)

rainbowweaverThis bilingual picture book tells the story of Ixchel, who lives in the mountains above Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. She comes from a long line of Mayan weavers, and wants to weave with her mother to help pay for her schooling. Ixchel is too young to weave, and her mother can’t afford thread for her attempts, so she decides to create her own loom and thread from various materials. Her early results are disappointing but she persists and, through recycling colorful plastic bags littering her village, winds up with an item of beauty.

Scans and photos of actual Mayan weavings are used in Chavarri’s drawings. These works, incorporated into her full-page colorful drawings, beautifully illustrate Ixchel’s story and show how Mayan designs resemble rainbows.

Though Ixchel is fiction, a group of weavers in Guatemala create purses, baskets and more from plastic bags and threads, which they sell through cooperatives in the United States and other countries. In the 1980’s an organization called “Mayan Hands” was formed to help these weavers sell their products. Proceeds from the sale of “Rainbow weaver” will not only help weavers, but also help pay for medical care and for their children to go to school.

Recommended for ages 5-10.

“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.

“Orhan’s Inheritance” Aline Ohanesian

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. 2015. Algonquin Books.

Orhan'sInheritanceForced to return to his tiny village in Turkey from the big city of Istanbul for the reading of the will after his beloved grandfather Kemal dies, Orhan is shocked when his ancestral home is left to a stranger named Seda. Knowing his father and aunt would be displaced if this happens, he is determined to travel to the United States and confront the mysterious woman named in the will.

Orhan finds 90 year old Seda living in an Armenian nursing home, stubbornly refusing to reveal her ties to Kemal. Through persistence and an invisible bond that seems to draw them together, Orhan slowly learns the painful secrets hidden in Kemal and Seda’s pasts which forever changed both of their lives.

Kemal and Seda’s hopes and dreams, often reminding me of the famous star crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, is intermingled with the horrors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The more I read the more I could see its sad comparison to the events of the Trail of Tears, and how similar warped thinking by people in leadership led to the Holocaust.

These awful lessons from the past should never be repeated, and should serve as a reminder to beware of those who execrate others based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation – especially those in leadership or those seeking to become a leader. Thank you Aline for educating us, and for reminding your readers to never forget crimes committed against humanity. As George Santayana wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We need to remember.

Highly recommended for Adults.