“Letters from Cuba” Ruth Behar

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). To be published August 25, 2020.

Letters from CubaEsther’s father left his family behind in Poland and headed to Cuba, intent on earning enough money to give them a better life. Though he had been working for 3 years, he only had enough money for one of them to make the trip. Esther begged to be allowed to make the trip and, when she arrived, she was entranced. Cuba’s friendly neighbors made her feel welcome, everyone called her a little Polish girl instead of Jew, the weather was balmy, and the sea was breathtaking. It was wonderful!

Esther decided to tell her story in daily letters to her sister that she saved for when they’d be reunited. Though her father had been a peddler before she arrived, Esther was able to earn more money designing and selling her own dresses. As they worked to earn money to reunite the family, she learned about the heritages of the people in their small village. As Nazi beliefs began to invade their village, former slaves, Chinese Cubans, rich sugar mill owners and poor sugar cane workers were united in their belief that Esther and her father should be protected. Through faith and hope, they all learned that love could overcome evil.

This beautiful story told in letter form recounts many parts of Ruth Behar’s own family history, told from her grandmother Esther’s memories of leaving Poland and arriving in Cuba. Though Ruth and her mother were both born in Cuba, and they immigrated to the United States when it became Communist, Cuba is always in her heart. After reading Esther’s story, her memories will stay in her reader’s hearts too.

Highly recommended for ages 11 and older.

PS – I believe “Letters from Cuba” should be a contender for the treasured Pura Belpré Award, to be announced at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January 2021. Remember when Ruth Behar wins an award there that you read it here first!

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

 

“Darius the great deserves better” Adib Khorram

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Dial Books (Penguin Random House); Darius the Great #1. To be published August 25, 2020.

Darius the great deserves betterSince returning from Iran, Darius has felt a bit more confident. He joined the soccer team and came out to his teammates. He knows they have his back, and enjoys the feeling of being part of a team and having friends. He has his first real boyfriend, Landon, and even got his first job in a teashop where he gets to try different flavors. Soccer is going great, they’re having a winning season and Chip is turning out to be a good friend. Everything seemed to be looking up, until things began to go slowly downhill.

His parents started to work more hours, so his grandmothers came to live with them for a while even though they hadn’t spent much time with them in the past. His dad was away for longer periods of time, while Landon kept pressuring him about their relationship. Chip turned out to be a good guy, but his best friend Trent keeps bullying Darius. While his grandfather’s health gets worse, Sohrab is facing trouble in Iran. With all of these issues Darius feels more conflicted than ever, but he finds strength in his friendships, his family and himself.

Readers will definitely relate to Darius and all of his issues, and will feel as if he’s one of their own classmates. I loved reading about Darius again, and can’t wait to see what happens in the next book of the series.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

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

“The only good Indians” Stephen Graham Jones

The only good IndiansRated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Saga Press (Simon & Schuster). To be published July 14, 2020.

Ricky, Gabe, Cass and Lewis were best friends, growing up on the Blackfeet reservation where their families had lived for generations. The Elders tried to teach them about their heritage, but they didn’t feel like traditionalists. The Game Warden was quick with arrests, so meals were poached from the woods. Duck Lake was a hunting area set aside for the Elders, but they knew elk could be found there. Despite grave consequences if caught, they decided to try their luck there but, ten years later, they would forever regret that foolish decision.

“The only good Indians” takes readers through the horrors of being methodically stalked with nowhere to turn but, in between the blood and gore, readers are reminded that reservation life is one of poverty, with tribal members still forced to play cowboys and Indians due to deeply instilled prejudices on the part of the White Man. Though Ricky, Cass, Lewis and Gabe chose different ways to live their lives, on and off the reservation, they were forever drawn together by friendship and a shared heritage that survived before them and would continue long after they were gone.

Recommended for Adults.

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

 

 

“Ghost boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Rated 5 stars ***** 2018. Little, Brown & Company (Hachette Book Group). 214 p. (Includes Afterword,” “Discussion questions,” and Further resources for parents and educators”

Ghost boysTwelve-year-old Jerome is bullied daily at school because he’s smart. He eats lunch in the bathroom, trying to avoid getting beat up. Carlos, a new kid, comes to school and, though he’s never had a friend, Jerome befriends him. The bullies find them in a bathroom and start beating them but Carlos scares them away with a toy gun, which he gives to Jerome to play with because he’s his new friend.

Jerome doesn’t usually play outside because his neighborhood is dangerous, but is excited to do so with the gun. While playing with it, he’s shot in the back by a White policeman and dies on the street. Now a ghost, Jerome sees his families’ grief and watches the preliminary hearing where a judge decides the officer who shot him shouldn’t be charged with wrongdoing – even though he shot him in the back from inside a moving patrol car without warning, and neither he nor his partner offered any aid while he was lying on the ground still alive.

Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, can see and communicate with him and Emmett Till, another ghost boy. Jerome realizes there are thousands of ghost boys who were also killed early in life, and struggles to understand why they’re still wandering the earth. Emmett tells him the story of how he died; helping Jerome realize they’re still on Earth because they’re all bearing witness to the injustices they suffered due to racism. Though upset at her father, Sarah channels her anger into telling the stories of the ghost boys and also bearing witness for them.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, Jerome’s sad and painful story is very timely for the days in which we currently live. It is excellent for a book club or for a whole class, as it has much material that needs to be discussed.

Highly recommended for ages 12 and older.

“Blacktop wasteland” Shawn A. Cosby

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Flatiron Books. To be published July 14, 2020.

Blacktop WastelandBeauregard’s father was involved with shady business dealings but taught him about life and fast cars before he disappeared, leaving his son to mourn his loss. Bug now had a wife and kids of his own, and carved out a life at his own car repair shop. Things were going well until a competitor started taking away his business. Now the bank refused to extend his loan because a developer wanted him to fail so he could take the land. His daughter didn’t have money for college, his young boys needed glasses and braces, his wife wanted a real house, and the nursing home had bills due for his mom’s care. Everything, and everyone, seemed to be conspiring against him.

In desperation Beauregard took on the role of getaway driver for a jewelry store heist. Even though he didn’t trust his partners he needed the money, and they needed him because of his skills behind the wheel. What Bug didn’t know was that a gangster owned the jewels they stole, and what he had planned for him and his family would need him to use every arsenal in his power to survive.

Wow! This good vs. bad guys action packed book is filled with car chases, and flying bullets. Our hero is hurt many times, but gets up and gets the job done. I was on the edge of my seat, turning pages as I read. It would make a GREAT movie, so I hope some movie producers or screenwriters read it and realize its potential.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“The House of Five Fortunes” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. 2016. Lillis and James. Bold Women of the 20th Century #3. 2016.

The House of Five FortunesXiu’s mother bought an opium den, The House of Five Fortunes, in San Francisco after her husband fell ill and could no longer support the family. When she died Xiu inherited it, but was forced to hide the leadership skills she’d learned due to a possessive and tyrannical husband. Her mother had worked hard to make the business a success, even though there were few women business owners in Chinatown, but Xiu passively allowed her husband to hold the reins of her life and her empire because she loved him.

When he was killed Xiu took control again and, with the help of her friend Nuan and Madison a famous actor, they raised The House of Five Fortunes to greater heights. Though there was a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment, that didn’t stop Madison from falling in love with Xiu but, due to her being Chinese, they were not allowed to marry. When random murders began to be committed, the police and local Whites blamed the Chinese. Madison knew Xiu wasn’t safe but, when a massive race riot began in Chinatown, their lives were soon endangered along with all of the town’s inhabitants.

Though this book is in the Bold Women of the 20th Century series, I didn’t see Xiu as very bold. Her mother was strong, but I saw Xiu as weak and easy to manipulate. I thought her mother, Nuan, and Dandan the cook were strong female characters, not Xiu. In fact the strongest character in the book was Madison, and he was a man!

Descriptions of the United States in the 1870’s, life during the gold rush, and the building of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese immigrants were interesting to read. I was saddened to read of the many ways the Chinese were mistreated – ways that are mirrored in anti-Immigrant policies today. Our country may have travelled far during the past 150 years, but many unpleasant reminders from the past still rear their ugly heads.

Recommended for Adults.

“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.

“I belong to Vienna: A Jewish family’s story of exile and return” Anna Goldenberg

Rated 3 stars *** Translated from German by Alta L. Price. ARC. ebook. New Vessel Press. To be published June 9, 2020. Includes Period photographs and “Archival sources and references.”

I belong to ViennaIn 2012 Anna Goldenberg moved to New York to attend graduate school and, while there, felt out of place among American Jews for being an Austrian Jew.  As time passed she missed her Viennese family so much she became interested in her family history. Through relatives who had immigrated to New York, Anna pieced together stories about her great-grandparents and grandparents. As she dove into old family letters and did research, she uncovered information about what it was like for them during the Holocaust, and what they had endured during the Nazi occupation of Austria. As Anna uncovers their stories, and their love for Austria, she uncovers her own mixed feelings about her homeland.

I understand and admire Anna’s need to piece together her family’s past so she could honor them through her future. However I felt the many transitions from memories to the present and back again gave the book a disjointed feeling.

Recommended for Adults.

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

“Hannah’s war” Jan Eliasberg

Rated 5 stars **** ARC. To be published March 3, 2020. 313 p. (Includes Author’s note, Further exploration, and Reading group guide.)

Hannah's warLise Meitner,  a physicist who discovered nuclear fission, is an unknown figure to those of us not part of the scientific world. Eliasberg wrote “Hannah’s war” to get Lise’s story “out there,” and to explain why Hitler’s scientists were never able to produce an atomic bomb of their own.

Hannah Weiss, a brilliant scientist who lived in Germany during Hitler’s brutal reign, has been denied her rightful place among scientists because she’s female and Jewish. When her arrest by the Gestapo was forthcoming she was whisked away to the United States where she joined other scientists to work on the Manhattan Project, (the American race to create a bomb before Hitler).

In time the commanding officer of the Project was informed that there was a spy amongst the scientists, which led to Major Jack Delaney being assigned to the case. His dogged determination to uncover the spy’s identity, and the revealed secrets that follow, are the basis for this historical fiction tale of romance, intrigue, and betrayal during a time that forever changed our world.

I really enjoyed “Hannah’s war,” and know other readers will also enjoy it.

Recommended for Adults.

“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.