“Watched” Marina Budhos

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books. (Random House.) 264 p.

watchedNaeem was 5 years old when his mother died and his father moved from Bangladesh to New York. He waited for his father to send for him, but it took another 6 years before he found himself on a plane to Queens, New York. There, he was reunited with his father and met his new little brother and stepmother.

He loved New York, spending years hanging out and roaming the streets instead of helping his parents in their little store. It’s now his senior year of high school and he expects to go to college, but is told he can’t graduate due to low grades. His future is staring at him bleakly until he gets arrested.

To avoid jail time he agreed to work undercover with cops, as they were sure terrorist attacks were being planned. They felt he could blend in and pick up information at mosques. Naeem thought by working with them he could prove Muslims were regular law-abiding citizens but, the deeper he got into play acting, the more he realized he enjoyed learning about his culture.

As time passed Naeem became more and more anxious. Who was he? Was he a traitor to his people, or was he helping them be seen in a better light? Would his work make the world a better place for his little brother, and for his parents, or would he incriminate innocent people?

“Watched” takes readers into the life of a Muslim family and into Muslim neighborhoods, describing an insider’s view of what it feels like to always be watched and judged by others. It will cause readers to think about their own prejudices and, perhaps, make them think twice before passing judgment on others.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.

 

 

 

“Girl on a plane” Miriam Moss

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Houghton Mifflin. 277 p. (Includes a Postscript and a Q & A with the author).

girlonaplaneAnna’s father works for the Army, and has been stationed all over the world. Since she had to move all the time, schoolwork and making friends became challenging. So, 4 years ago, she began going to boarding school in England. That fateful September day in 1970 started out like any other trip to school. Her parents drove her to the airport, she kissed them and her little brothers goodbye, and boarded the plane thinking about how much she would be missing their stay in Bahrain.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take longer before her plane was hijacked by the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Seeking public support for their cause, they had been regularly hijacking planes, but Anna never thought her plane would be on their list. “Girl on a plane” is Anna’s story of the four harrowing days spent with the hijackers, without much food or water, not knowing if she and the other passengers would get blown up with the plane in the middle of the desert.

“Girl on a Plane” is a fictional story, based on a real life hijacking experienced by the author when she was 15 years old. During the Postscript and Q & A, readers learn of many similarities between Anna’s story and Miriam’s real life story.

I never knew there were so many hijackings in 1970, which made me very upset that the United States never thought to secure their own planes from hijackers. If they had done so back in 1970, 9/11 would never have happened. Yes these hijackings took place outside of the U.S. while we were busy in Vietnam, but one would think that we would’ve thought about securing our planes. Hindsight is 20/20, but knowing what I now know about these hijackings doesn’t make our inaction any easier to stomach.

Recommended for 14 and older.

“The Possibility of Somewhere” Julia Day

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. St. Martin’s Press. 308 pp.

thepossibilityofsomewhereEden has had to work three days a week to help her father and stepmom make ends meet after her dad was laid off, while still managing to keep a 4.0 average in school. Despite her stellar school record, her classmates keep her at a distance because she lives in a trailer. Knowing they see her as trailer trash, Eden created a prickly armor of self-defense focusing all her energies on getting nominated for a prestigious scholarship that could offer her a full ride to college.

As if trying to get good grades and working didn’t carry enough stress Eden finds out that Ash Gupta, an Indian student and fellow overachiever, is also seeking the same scholarship. Resenting his interference, knowing he has rich parents, Eden sets herself against him to do battle but soon finds herself drawn towards him in a way that surprises everyone. Within a short time their racial differences threaten to tear them and their racially divided town apart.

I really enjoyed this book, and saw it as a modern day “Romeo and Juliet.” My heart ached for Eden and her dead end life, knowing she is representative of thousands who find themselves in the same circumstances. Their story of romance is told in a poignant and eye opening manner, which should cause teens to question their own thinking towards interracial relationships.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

 

“Shame the Stars” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Rated 5 stars ***** Tu Books (Lee & Low). 2016. 288 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note”, “Book Recommendations”, “Newspaper Clipping Sources,” and a “Glossary.”)

shamethestarsBefore Texas became a territory and then a state, it was part of Mexico. As happened when European immigrants took control of land occupied by its original inhabitants, the Anglo American colonists who settled in Tejas, Mexico in the early 1800’s decided they wanted the land upon which they had settled, and fought to get it from Mexico. Ultimately the land they conquered became the state of Texas. Just as Native Americans had their lands stolen from them, so too did the Mexicans who had originally lived and farmed their own lands in Tejas for generations.

“Shame the Stars” is set in 1915, and tells the story of Tejano families struggling to understand and survive brutalities inflicted upon them by the Texas Rangers (a group of “lawmen” who randomly killed and raped Mexican Americans, imprisoning them without trail, and stealing their land.)

Joaquín Del Toro and Dulceña Villa are teenagers in love during this tumultuous time in the fictitious city of Monteseco. Though suffering from the devastation brought upon them and others by the Rangers, they refuse to keep their heads bowed low in servitude. They, and many others, determine to make a difference for their people and stand for their rights. “Shame the Stars” is their story.

This book is marketed as a “rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet,” but I feel this simplistic overview is a disservice to McCall. “Shame the Stars” is so much more than this, as the author’s rich and powerful narrative opens the eyes of her readers to an atrocious chapter in the history of the United States that had been a secret for many years. It is closer to the history of Segregation and the crimes committed by segregationists than it is to Romeo and Juliet.

The “Refusing to Forget” Project, started in 2013, created an exhibit of this time period called “Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920.” It was on view in Austin, Texas from Jan. 23-April 3, and was a visual complement to the events in the book.

I sincerely hope McCall’s excellently written and researched book will win an award of some type at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January, as it deserves a place in every high school and public library. McCall is a previous winner of the Pura Belpré award however, since “Shame the Stars” is intended for a much older audience, my fingers are crossed that it will receive a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from YALSA.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received a copy of this book from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.

 

“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.

“Lavina” Mary Marcus

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2015. The Story Plant.

LavinaMary Jacob barely remembers her life before she was 13, growing up in Murpheysfield, Louisiana. She is shocked when her older sister calls to say her dad is dying and wants to see her, as she hasn’t spoken to either of them in years. Despite her misgivings she decides to return home, where she is soon forced to face memories she has tried so hard to forget.

Billy Ray, singer and harmonica player, left his hometown of Murpheysfield, Louisiana in 1963 when he was 15 years old and his mother, Lavina, was killed. Thirty years later he reluctantly returns for a gig and finds out Mary Jacob is in town. He knows she is the only one who knows what really happened the day his mother died, and he is determined to finally get the truth out of her.

In alternate voices Mary Jacob, Lavina and Billy Ray talk about life during Jim Crow. As their connections to each other are revealed, the past begins to blend into the present as the events that changed their lives forever are finally revealed.

“Lavina” reveals the endurance of an oppressed race as well as the complex world that existed between black and white. It will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

Highly recommended for Adults.