“Jazz owls: A novel of the Zoot Suit Riots” by Margarita Engle

Rated 5 stars ***** 2018. Simon & Schuster. 192 p. (Includes Author’s Note and References).

Jazz OwlsAfter working all day at their cannery jobs in Los Angeles, 16-year old Marisella and her 14-year old sister Lorena dance with sailors at their local USO because they love the way jitterbugging makes them feel. Against the background of their love for dance is a tide of hatred against Mexicans fueled by negative newspaper reports of interracial marriage. The papers call them gangsters and “a Mexican Problem” because of the death of a young boy named Jose Diaz.

Policemen stop them for no reason other than the color of their skin, and because they’re wearing zoot suits. Though they’re Americans with relatives fighting in the war, that doesn’t stop a large group of drunken sailors, soldiers and civilians from invading their neighborhoods, beating young boys, and burning their zoot suits. The police are reluctant to arrest the rioters and enter the fray, arresting and beating Mexicans and blacks instead of those who caused the riots.

The newspapers call the night of terror “The zoot suit riots,” instead of “Sailor riots,” blaming it all on Mexican teens. The anger they feel at such unwarranted treatment bleeds into their terrible working conditions, causing them to join in on the unionization movement.

Margarita’s intensive research gives readers detailed explanations of a previously unknown, dark chapter in our history. The story is told in verse, through several voices, giving varying points of view on the situation. “Jazz Owls” is a good choice for reluctant readers, and anyone interested in learning more about this time period in American history.

Highly recommended for ages 12 and older.

“Holding up the universe” Jennifer Niven

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Alfred A. Knopf. 391 p.

holdinguptheuniverseAfter her mother died when she was 11-years-old, Libby Strout felt so sad and burdened with grief that only food could lessen her pain. Her father used cooking to assuage his own grief, and the combination soon caused her to balloon to 653 pounds.

Jack Masselin spent his life building things from scraps, but nothing could help him build up his own life as everyone, including his own brothers and parents, were strangers.

Libby and Jack meet under unusual circumstances, gradually learning to depend upon each other for mutual support. As high school life threatens to tear them down, the two of them face their worst fears in order to move forward.

Through alternate chapters Libby and Jack tell their stories of feeling different for circumstances out of their control, while learning the importance of unity in the face of diversity.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The walls around us” Nova Ren suma

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Published March 24, 2015. Algonquin Young Readers.

TheWallsAroundUsViolet and Ori became the best of friends the day they took the same ballet class when they were little girls. Motherless and poor, Ori had a generous heart while Violet was both rich and spoiled by her parents. Over time she grew to hate her best friend because Ori was a natural at ballet, while Violet had to work hard to master the dance.

Ori wasn’t the only one on Violet’s list of dancers who stood in the way of her supposed greatness. With dreams of grandeur filling her mind, Violet made sure to get rid of all her competition so everyone would notice her true talent. However, though it took some time, Violet learned wishes didn’t work the way she thought they would.

“The Walls around us” irked me because of Violet. Without giving away any of the storyline let me say I was upset she was able to do what she did and get away with it because no one paid attention to details. I was also upset about the way the author chose to solve that problem at the end of the book, as the solution didn’t make any sense to me.

I gave it 3 stars because the author did a good job getting into the mind of a diabolical, uncaring reprobate. I would have given it a higher rating if said reprobate had gotten a punishment that made more sense.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Loud Awake and Lost” Adele Griffin

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf. 289 pp.

LoudAwakeandLostSeventeen-year-old Ember almost died the day her car went over the bridge. After 8 months of recovery and therapy from her operations, Ember is finally getting to return home. Her parents and best friend Rachel assure her she is back to normal, but Ember feels as if she’s missing something. A few months of her memory have been lost due to temporary amnesia and, when she finds out a passenger named Anthony had been killed in the accident, Ember is determined to try and regain her memories to find out more about why they’d been in the car together.

Little by little pieces of memory come floating up to the surface of her mind, bringing more questions than answers. Rachel, her parents, her friends and her ex boyfriend Holden want her to be the girl she was before the accident, but Ember is not comfortable dropping back into the mold they made for her life. Despite not being able to dance anymore, she wants her own identity and is sure her hidden memories hold the key to her past and her future. From the hints people have been dropping, she is sure Anthony was more than just a friend but can’t put together the missing pieces of their relationship.

While striving to remember Anthony she meets Kai, who shares her dreams of wanting to break out from the mold society has planned and envisions a whole new world for them. Together they begin the romance of their lives, effectively frustrating Rachel, her parents and Holden as Ember feels herself drawing away from them as she draws closer to Kai.

When Ember finally regains her memories, I was shocked at what Adele Griffin had planned out all along, as I had never seen it coming. “Loud Awake and Lost” leads readers on a roller coaster ride of Ember’s emotions as she seeks to find herself amidst the missing parts of her life, and will keep readers eagerly turning pages to discover more of Ember’s memories and insights.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“This Song Will Save Your Life” Leila Sales

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Farrar Straus Giroux. 214 pp. (Includes “Recommended Listening” song list).

ThisSongWillSaveYourLifeSixteen-year-old Elise Dembowski hates herself, and her life. After being ostracized by every single student in her school since fourth grade, and having this behavior continue through middle and high school, she decided to spend her summer studying fashion, song titles and other “cool” trends. Elise was ready to remake herself, and was sure the popular kids would like and accept her if she knew the right ways to be popular. When the taunting and bullying continued, Elise realized she would never be different and could never change. Thus, she felt her only recourse was to kill herself.

With her suicide attempt unsuccessful, Elise was at the end of her rope. Unable to sleep, she began walking the streets late at night where she came upon a weekly underground dance club. Despite being underage she was befriended by Vicky and Pippa, two girls who knew what they wanted in life and went out to get it. They introduced her to handsome Char, the club’s DJ, who took her under his wing teaching her how to mix music and other skills.

Elise soon discovered she had a natural talent as a DJ, along with several friends and a new, albeit secret, life. Looking forward to spending time at the club helped make her miserable days at school more bearable, but it was only a matter of time before online bullying reared its ugly head threatening Elise’s newfound strength and happiness.

Leila Sales paints a true-to-life story of a young girl living on the edge who finds friends who care about her wellbeing. I hope her readers will take seriously the importance of being a friend to someone in need of social acceptance.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

“Let’s Salsa, Bailemos Salsa” Lupe Ruiz-Flores; Illustrated by Robert Casilla

2013. Pinata Books (Arte Publico Press). Unpaged.

Let'sSalsaThis bilingual picture book tells the story of young Estela who didn’t get to spend much time with her mother because of her busy work schedule. After convincing her to try local salsa dance classes at the community center to gain energy and lose weight, they enjoyed dancing and spending time together. When a sign banning all children from participating in the classes was posted one day, Estela was highly upset.

After learning in school about petitions and how they helped move forward the issue of women’s voting, Estela decided to organize a community petition drive of her own. After collecting enough signatures the Mayor approved her request, and a salsa class was established for children. Now Estela, her friends, her mom, and the entire community can lose weight and stay in shape while having fun dancing salsa.

Casilla’s realistic drawings of young Estela, including the full-of-life one on the cover, mesh wonderfully with Ruiz-Flores’ words. Estela’s story may inspire readers to undertake some community action of their own.

Recommended for ages 6-9.