“Tigers, not daughters” by Samantha Mabry

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Young Readers of Chapel Hill. To be published March 24, 2020.

Tigers, not DaughtersThe four Torres sisters became three when Ana, their older sister, was found dead after falling out of her second floor window on her way to meet a boyfriend. Their father had given up on being involved in their lives when his wife died years earlier, so the three remaining sisters are forced to figure out how to go on without Ana.

As the youngest Rosa has always been a dreamer, spending hours listening to animals. She believes a dead bird and a missing zoo hyena are signs on the one-year anniversary of Ana’s death. She’s determined to figure out what they mean. Jessica coped by trying to become Ana. She has her old room and clothes and dates John, Ana’s abusive boyfriend. Iridian buries herself in her notebooks, writing lurid romance stories, and re-reading a favorite, battered book. As if all this drama isn’t enough, Ana’s ghost decides to haunt them.

The book blathers on through their lives, showing Rosa as air headed and fanatical, Iridian as lazy and clueless about the world around her, and Jessica as alternately weak and strong. My favorite character was Peter, a friend of their next-door neighbor and a co-worker of Jessica. I thought he had the strengths neither sister owned, and loved how he put John in his place.

I was not a fan of this book. I thought it was piecemeal, bouncing from one sister’s thoughts to another, and left open endings – why was Ana’s window broken when she died? Why did the father need money so much? It was also hard for me to believe that Iridian could leave school in 10th grade, and not have anyone there (other than her neighbors) notice her absence to report it to authorities.

Also, in my opinion, the sisters didn’t have to be named Torres, other than to sell a “diverse” book. Since it was set in Texas, the author must have assumed the main characters should have a Latino last name. However, they could just as easily been named Smith or Jones, as there was nothing cultural to happen that went along with the name Torres.

I will leave it up to readers, ages 16 and older, to decide if you want to read it or not. I would rather that I had not.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The inexplicable logic of my life” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 452 p.

The inexplicable logic of my lifeWho am I? The year he turned 17, Salvador’s mind was full of unanswered questions. He had always been able to tell his best friend Samantha anything, as she was like a sister to him, but he felt he couldn’t tell her he didn’t want his wonderful and supportive gay father, who adopted him and who he dearly loved, to know he was thinking of his real father. He’d been getting into lots of fights; leaving him wondering if the anger he felt came from his real dad. Was he an offshoot of his dad? Did he inherit his dad’s anger issues? Who is he really? Sal doesn’t know.

Sal knows he doesn’t want to go to college, doesn’t want to write his admission essay, and doesn’t want his beloved grandmother Mima to leave him. He loves his family but has lots of questions about his place in the world. While Sal tries to figure out some answers to the craziness going on in his head, stuff keeps happening. Death, sadness, grief, anger and sorrow keep entering his life; along with the love that comes from a close knit family and good friends. Why does his life feel so messed up? Who is he really?

Many of Sal’s questions will ring true with teen readers, along with his emotional ups and downs. I was moved to tears by Mima and Sal’s friend Fito’s problems, and loved the strong friendship between Sal and Sammy. The strong and powerful love given to Sal by his dad is an example for all dads to follow. Once again Sáenz pens a winner.

Highly recommended for readers age 14 and older.

“Bonnie and Clyde: The making of a legend” by Karen Blumenthal 5 stars ***

Blumenthal pulls out all the stops in this stirring, factual, and extremely well researched, story of the rise and fall of Bonnie and Clyde. These well know outlaws are carefully tracked as the details of their crime sprees and murders from the Depression era to their own dramatic deaths in 1934 are laid forth in full detail for readers.

Bonnie and Clyde

Period photographs, quotes, descriptions of the poverty brought on by the Great Depression, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, family points of views, the unjust prison systems of the day, their love for each other, and Bonnie’s own words are just some of the ways used to explain why a young couple like Bonnie and Clyde chose a crime ridden life on the road.

Includes extensive back matter for further research.

Mature high schoolers and adult readers interested in learning more about Bonnie and Clyde set in their time and place will find this book to be very satisfying.

Highly recommented.

“Evangelina takes flight” Diana J. Noble

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Arte Público Press. 195 p.

EvangelinaTakesFlightEvangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.

Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.

Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.

I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.

Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?” 

I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.

Highly recommended for ages 12-16.

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

 

“Deep in the shadows: Undercover in the ruthless world of human smuggling” Hipólito Acosta

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 319 p. (Includes photographs and an Appendix).

DeepInTheShadowsHipólito Acosta grew up in a tiny Texas town and, in 1975, was hired by the U.S. Border Patrol. After working locally for a little while he was assigned to Chicago, becoming one of the first Hispanic agents to work undercover for the agency. There, either single handedly or with fellow agents, he infiltrated gangs and cartels to root out drug dealers, human smugglers, and sellers of false identity papers. Later in his career, assigned to work in higher leadership roles in the Philippines and Mexico, he continued to set the bar high in his single-minded pursuit of justice.

In simple, understated narrative Acosta details his innovative, yet very dangerous experiences working to uphold his oath to protect our country’s borders. His memoir is loaded with names, dates, and facts, which can be overwhelming at times. It would have been nice if an alphabetical glossary or timeline, with associated page numbers, was included to help readers better associate the details of his career.

Recommended for Adults.

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

“The Warrior” Joyce Swann

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2013. Frontier 2000 Media Group.

TheWarriorElizabeth is a prayer warrior, praying for anyone for whom God has called her to pray, though no one in her family or church feels the same way. After dreaming of a young stranger’s terrible motorcycle accident, she feels as if she must pray. Over the next 10 years she prays for him, recording each prayer encounter in notebooks.

Her daughter Molly, though lovingly raised in a Christian home and given everything money can buy, feels as if all Christians are hypocrites. Choosing to rebel against her upbringing, she leaves home to pursue her own life, which involves breaking all her parent’s rules. Over the years she will have to learn if the happiness she seeks can be found in her newfound freedom.

James grew up in a family who went to church because it was expected, not because they believed. As he grew older, the lure of drugs drew him further away from his parent’s ordinary life. When a judge shows him mercy and he winds up in a Christian support group, James decides to fool them into thinking he’s changed.

As Molly and James struggle through temptations brought on by their own actions, the power of prayer and God’s love are shown as constants. In this overtly Christian novel, Bible verses and sermons give food for thought to those walking the same paths as James and Molly while giving hope to readers who are also prayer warriors.

Recommended for Adults.

“Interference” Kay Honeyman

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 27, 2016. Arthur A. Levine Books. 340 p.

interferenceKate Hamilton has spent her life walking a tightrope, as she has had to make sure to never bring scandal on the family name because her father is a politician. When he falls behind in the polls because of something her ex boyfriend did to humiliate her, he take Kate and her mother out of D.C. to spend a few months in his Texas hometown to regroup.

In her quest to get a recommendation to art school to study photography and escape politics forever, Kate winds up volunteering at her aunt’s animal shelter where she meets annoying Hunter, the handsome ex-football player. Joining the yearbook staff to use their darkroom introduces her to handsome Kyle, star quarterback, and shy Ana. With football ruling the school, and politics ruling her home, it’s only a matter of time before football and politics lead Kate into making decisions she’ll soon regret.

Recommended for ages 12-17.

 

 

 

“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.

 

“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.

“Black-eyed Susans” Julia Heaerlin

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books (Penguin). Published August 11, 2015.

BlackEyedSusansSixteen-year-old Tessa was lucky to be alive, as a serial killer had left her in a grave with several other bodies and bones for over 32 hours. Because of the flowers scattered around the area the dead girls were nicknamed “Susans,” with Tessa the only survivor.

Now grown with a teenaged daughter of her own, Tessa is unable to forget the terror and horror she felt in that lonely grave. The Susans haunt her, seeking justice, while she tries to force herself to remember what happened the night she was abducted. The killer was arrested back in 1995, but someone has been planting black-eyed susans everywhere she has lived over the years, leading her to believe the serial killer is still alive and that she helped place an innocent man in jail. Will he succeed in what he had failed to do when she was just 16 years old?

Through flashbacks and the present time, Heaerlin lays down a clever plot of betrayal, terror, and fear as readers pry back the layers of time to find out what really happened to Tessa and the Susans. The truth, when it was finally revealed, made me gasp in surprise and shock. “Black-eyed Susans” is a gut-wrenching story of suspense and horror, highly recommended for Adult readers.