“Spirits of the high mesa” Floyd Martinez

Rated 5 stars ***** 1997. Arte Público Press. 192 p.

Spirits of the high mesaThrough young Flavio’s eyes, readers are taken on a journey as he remembers the Indian/Mexican way of life spent growing up on a ranch in New Mexico. There everyone depended on the land, the old ways, and on each other. Flavio’s grandfather El Grande was an important man who respected the ways of his ancestors. Everyone turned to El Grande in good times and bad, observing traditions that had been the same for years. He taught Flavio the old ways, and how to work the ranch, but then the Gringos came with electricity.

Electricity made villagers give up traditions in favor of new ways of living. It meant the building of a new sawmill to chop down the forest, which brought more Gringos to build new homes, new roads and changes that would forever change Flavio’s life. Despite everything, El Grande stood firm in his desire to stay with the old ways and to retain his dignity – the most important thing he owned.

This powerful coming-of-age story won the 1998 Pura Belpré Honor Award for Narrative. It’s filled with memories of a time when life was simpler, as well as the love between a grandfather and grandson. It will resonate with readers, as it kept me thinking long after the last page was turned. Though there are many Spanish phrases and words, they are important parts of the narrative.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.

“Step up to the plate” Maria Singh

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Tu Books. (Lee & Low). 276 p.

StepUpToThePlateIt was 1945 and, with World War II going on, all nine-year-old Maria wanted to do was play baseball. Her aunt built planes and women were starting to play professional ball so, when her teacher started an all-girls team at her school, Maria was thrilled. Unfortunately her Mexican mother and Indian father had old-fashioned ideas about what girls could do, so she knew it would be hard to convince them to let her play.

As she learns about teamwork and baseball, Maria also starts to learn about prejudice and racism when her little brother is beat up for being different and a German classmate lashes out at her. When she finds out her father can’t become a U.S. citizen or own the land he’d worked for years, through the confidence earned from playing the game she loved, Maria learns to speak up and make a difference in her world.

This book is an important introduction to the inequalities and discrimination faced by specific immigrant groups, many of which still go on today. Readers are also given insight into the world of adha-adha “half and half,” (Mexican-Hindu families) which also serves to educate. It should be in every elementary and middle school library, and would make for excellent discussions as part of a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

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

“Ball don’t lie” Matt de la Peña

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Ember (Random House). 280 pp.

BallDon'tLiePeople say a skinny white dude can’t ball, but Sticky don’t pay them no mind. He don’t talk much, but lets his mad balling skills do the talking. Once he steps onto the scuffed boards of Lincoln Rec with his boys and a ball, the world disappears. Balling takes him to a place where no one else can go.

Though shuffled from foster home to foster home all his life, and afflicted with a severe case of OCD, seventeen-year-old Sticky has one thing going for him – he can ball. He’s spent years perfecting his shots and, despite setbacks in his personal life, basketball has always been there for him. Sticky’s dreams of playing college ball and making it into the NBA are threatened on the day he makes the worst decision of his life.

“Ball don’t lie” is raw. It’s honest. It’s gritty. It’s a Broadway play waiting to be cast. It’s waiting for you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older, especially reluctant readers.

“Summer of Sloan” Erin L. Schneider

Rated 3 stars *** 2016. Hyperion. 291 p.

SummerOfSloanEver since they were younger, Sloan and her twin brother Penn travelled to Hawaii to spend the summer with their mother and her husband. The summer before her senior year, Sloan found out her best friend Mick slept with her boyfriend Tyler. Sloan refuses to respond to any of their apologetic texts, emails and phone calls, and escapes to Hawaii to forget about their betrayal.

Sloan soon falls for Finn, the extremely handsome brother of her young swimming pupil. When he’s around, she forgets everything – including her own individuality. As she and Finn begin to draw closer together, her feelings for Tyler and the situation with Mick threaten to undermine her new relationship. Realizing she is the only one who holds the key to her happiness, Sloan will have to make decisions that will forever change her mindset and her life.

Schneider’s in depth look at teenage pain, friendship and heartache will hit a cord with her young readers.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Burn baby burn” Meg Medina

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Candlewick Press. 300 p. Includes “Author’s note.”

BurnBabyBurnDuring the summer of 1977 New York City experienced worsening poverty and crime, a massive blackout in all 5 boroughs, a stifling heat wave, and unrelenting fear brought on by the Son of Sam murders. Against this tumultuous background, Medina places the story of seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez.

Her father lives comfortably with his new wife and son in a well-furnished apartment in the City, forgetting about Nora, her mother, and younger brother Hector in their rundown Queens neighborhood where Hector has become a thief and drug addict. Often violent towards his sister and mother, neither wants to admit he’s out of control. On top of everything else her mother lost her job, putting them in danger of eviction. Nora suffers through the lack of food and money, as well as Hector’s abuse and crimes, in silence. Desperate to turn eighteen so she could leave it all behind, she turns a blind eye to everything. However will running away solve her problems or make them worse?

I had a hard time getting through this book, as the plot seemed to drag. I also kept getting annoyed at the poor decisions Nora and her mom continued to make regarding Hector. The book had many historical references to the period. Though some were interesting, it seemed to have too many. In general, “Burn baby burn” failed to ignite a bigger spark of interest in me.

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.

“Four-four-two” Dean Hughes

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books. 268 p. (Includes “Preface,” “Author’s Note,” and period photographs.)

FourFourTwoYuki and his best friend Shig were busy being teenagers when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though American citizens, both suddenly found themselves considered enemies of their own country. Along with thousands of other Japanese American citizens, Yuki and Shig lost their homes and everything they owned when they and their families were forcefully relocated to an internment camp in the middle of a desert.

Eager to gain back the respect they felt they’d lost in the eyes of their fellow citizens, Yuki and Shig joined the army where they were assigned to the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yuki’s story of love, loss, friendship, and brotherhood will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Hughes’ descriptions of the many battles fought by this extremely brave unit, along with the prejudice faced by these soldiers both in and out of the army, will prove to be eye opening to many readers.

Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.