“Because of the sun” Jenny Torres Sanchez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published January 3, 2017. Delacorte Press. 261 p. (Includes “Author Note.”)

BecauseOfTheSunDani grew up with Ruby, a mother who hated and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her life. She was a mom with an itchy foot, constantly moving from place to place, always with a different man on her arm. She wore skimpy clothes and drank a lot, and Dani hated her. She hated herself for hating her until the day Ruby was mauled to death by a bear and Dani was left alone with her mixed up thoughts.

Sent from Florida to live in New Mexico with an aunt she’d never known, Dani falls into the abyss of despair. She is alone, except for her dark thoughts and the bear that killed her mother, who seems to follow her everywhere. Dani must face her own hopelessness and learn to feel the anguish of others, because only through their pain can she live.

I found this book to be dark and full of symbolism, with some fantastical elements as seen through Dani’s Don Quixote-type imagination. As she constantly wanders in the sun and thinks contemplative thoughts about the bear, I felt that this book would be perfect to dissect in an English class. A high school English teacher would ecstatically tear it apart for her students.

Even though it was a little too complex for me, I will recommend it for ages 16 and older.

“Mama and Papa have a store” AND “La tienda de mamá y papá” written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling

Rated 4 stars **** Lee & Low. 2016. (First published in 1998 by Dial.)

mamaandpaphaveastorelatiendademamaypapaLee & Low republished these out-of-print editions in both English and Spanish.

In 1938, the author’s parents fled their village in China before the Japanese invaded at the advent of World War II. Settling in Guatemala City, they raised their six children in the back of a grocery store, which sold all sorts of sundries.

Through detailed watercolor drawings, the author shares her memories of a typical day spent playing in the store with her brothers and sisters, meeting Mayan Indians who came from their faraway village to buy colorful thread, and interacting with Guatemalan and Chinese patrons. By the end of the book, readers will have a clear idea of what it was like for a hardworking Chinese immigrant family to make their way in a new world.

I would have preferred to have both the Spanish and English versions in a single book, rather than in two different books, as it would’ve been easier for children learning each language to see the opposite language as they practiced.

Recommended for ages 6-10.

 

 

“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.

“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 trial, 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.

“Seeing off the Johns” Rene S. Perez II

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. ARC. 2015. Cinco Puntos Press.

seeingoffthejohnsJohn Mejia and John Robison were baseball stars in the small, poor, forgotten town of Greenton, Texas where everyone knew everyone’s name. These two friends, known as The Johns, had gotten a baseball scholarship to the University of Texas and were leaving the town most people knew they would never leave. As such everyone felt an ownership in the boys, feeling their success and exit from the town was everyone’s successful exit.

When the boys died in a car crash just a few hours later, Greenton was devastated. The only one indifferent to the calamity was 17-year-old Concepcion Gonzales, known as Chon. For four years he had hidden his dislike for the John who had stolen Araceli, the love of his life. With that John forever out of the picture, Chon’s days now turned to thoughts of how to methodically woo back the only woman he’d ever loved.

Set against a backdrop of close knit town prejudices and fears, Perez tells the story of a hard working young man struggling to find his own voice amid a life filled with love, heartache, friendship and sorrow. Though the writing is at times introspective and rambling, Chon’s hopes and dreams are real to anyone who has ever loved and lost.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Sofrito” Phillippe Diederich

Rated 1 star * Ebook. ARC. 2015. Cinco Punto Press.

SofritoFrank Delgado was born in the United States from parents who had fled Castro and the Cuban revolution. All his life he hated his father for being a boring, “typical” American, who didn’t seem to have any interest in life other than work and home, and who seemed to hate anything that had to do with his former homeland.

Frank is part owner of a failing restaurant in New York, (while also failing at relationships and college.) When his business partners convince him to go to a famous restaurant in Cuba to steal a recipe for chicken that had been stolen from his Uncle, Frank discovers that Cuba (and his father) are not what he had thought.

I didn’t find the plot line of “Sofrito” to be believable. I felt the things Frank did to try and get the recipe were very unlikely, his interactions with the secret police were not plausible, and the fact that he fell in love with a prostitute in less than a week was the final nail in “Sofrito’s” coffin. In addition, I am pretty sure Cuban people don’t start every sentence with the curse word “coño.” I lost track of how many times it was said while Frank was in Cuba.

I know this book was more a “take” on the political scene of Cuba and how exiles feel disconnected or connected to the island and its memories, while locals feel very patriotic or hate its leader. However I didn’t like it, as the unrealistic storyline kept me at arm’s length.

Though I wasn’t a fan of “Sofrito,” I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.