Review: Pig Park

Pig Park
Title: Pig Park
Author: Claudia Guadalupe Martínez
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 256
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Review copy: Digital Copy via Publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: It’s crazy! Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga hauls bricks to help build a giant pyramid in her neighborhood park. Her neighborhood is becoming more of a ghost town each day since the lard company moved away. Even her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow.

As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls into this scheme in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. And then there’s the new boy who came to help. The one with the softest of lips. Pig Park is a contemporary Faustian tale that forces us to look at the desperate lengths people will go to in the name of community–and maybe love.

My thoughts: Masi worries about her neighborhood, the family bakery, and her parents too. She has many issues pulling at her emotions, but she is also a young person wanting to enjoy her summer hanging out with friends and maybe even experience a little romance along the way.

Masi looks at the neighborhood revitalization plan as one way to take care of several things. With everyone working together, she gets to spend time with friends and maybe a special someone along with solving her family’s financial problems. She gets behind the plan and works hard at every task she is given. I found it a bit unrealistic that the adults in the neighborhood signed onto the somewhat sketchy plan so quickly, but as a reader, I decided to just believe it anyway.

The book really focuses on community and their willingness to sacrifice and work for the greater good. It also gives a picture of a few people who are willing to say, do and sell anything to get what they want. There is a huge contrast between the two types of characters. There wasn’t a lot of gray area there.

The family bakery was my favorite place in the story. I wanted to spend more time in the kitchen. The descriptions of so many breads and cookies made my mouth water. I was truly hoping to see a recipe for the Ginger Pigs, or marranitos, by the end of the book. They look like gingerbread, though it is molasses that is giving it a distinct flavor and color rather than ginger. Since there was no recipe and they sounded so yummy, I started looking online and found many recipes for this traditional Mexican cookie, so I may still get to try them.

The main character is fifteen and her romantic interests are only a year or two older. Masi is a sweet and innocent girl and her flirtations are also. She and her friends are mostly together only around the community events. We don’t see them interacting much beyond the neighborhood issues so I had less of a sense of who the other teens were. I would classify Pig Park as a young adult book because of the ages, but it is on the younger side. It would be a great title to offer when people are asking for what they often call “clean reads” for teens.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you work with tweens or middle schoolers and want to add some diverse realistic fiction. Otherwise, borrow it someday. Even with financial issues and a potential family split, it is a fairly light and fun look into a unique urban neighborhood.

** To learn more about the author, you can check out her guest post from earlier this year: Why I Love Small Presses

Author Spotlight: Coe Booth


Photo via Scholastic Press

Earlier this year, I was in Minneapolis to see Andrea Davis Pinkney speak at the University of Minnesota. While I was there, I was lucky enough to run into Coe Booth. I knew of her books, but hadn’t read them yet. We chatted about her newest book set to be released around the beginning of the school year, Kinda Like Brothers. I enjoyed chatting with her, so when I got home, I tracked down all three of her published books. I loved getting to know Tyrell and Kendra. If you haven’t met them yet, you’re missing out.


Scholastic Press

Goodreads summary: Tyrell is a young, African American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her – and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?

My thoughts: Tyrell is a very well written book that kept stomping on my heart. Tyrell doesn’t always make the choices that I wish for him, but I understood why he was doing what he was doing. Booth lets the reader know him so well through his thoughts and actions. He is a kid trying to be a man he can respect and he isn’t getting a lot of help from the adults around him.

I found it difficult to read because it just ripped up my heart watching things go from bad to worse. The choices he has to make and the situations he faces are just so far beyond what I would want teenagers to go through. Of course, as soon as I was finished, I wanted the next book so I could see him grow.




Goodreads summary: Tyrell’s father is just out of jail, and Tyrell doesn’t know how to deal with that. It’s bad enough that his brother Troy is in foster care and that his mother is no help whatsoever. Now there’s another thing up in his face, just when he’s trying to settle down. Tyrell’s father has plans of his own, and doesn’t seem to care whether or not Tyrell wants to go along with them. Tyrell can see the crash that’s coming — with his dad, with the rest of his family, with the girls he’s seeing — but he’s not sure he can stop it. Or if he even wants to.

My thoughts: Once again, Coe Booth made me care about this young man. Tyrell’s heart is in the right place as he struggles to parent himself and his brother since their parents have often been unwilling or unable to do the job. This is one of the major issues in the book. When a young person has to take on so much responsibility, it’s very hard to step back into the role of a child. Tyrell straddles that line between childhood and adulthood and he’s unsteady on his feet,  stumbling around quite a bit. Balancing becomes even more of a challenge when his father actually starts to step back into a parental role. I would love to see another book in this series.



Goodreads summary: Kendra’s mom, Renee, had her when she was only 14 years old. Renee and her mom made a deal — Renee could get an education, and Kendra would live with her grandmother. But now Renee’s out of grad school and Kendra’s in high school … and getting into some trouble herself. Kendra’s grandmother lays down the law: It’s time for Renee to take care of her daughter. Kendra wants this badly — even though Renee keeps disappointing her. Being a mother isn’t easy, but being a daughter can be just as hard. Now it’s up to Kendra and Renee to make it work.

My thoughts: Kendra is a companion book to Tyrell. I didn’t realize that until I got into the story. Kendra lives in the same neighborhood. Like Tyrell, Kendra deals with very adult situations. What I like about the books is that the characters are so real. They have hard decisions to make and they don’t always take the path that I, as a mother, would choose for them. The choices they make though, make sense seen through their eyes and emotions. Booth lets us in there up close and personal. Her books are not easy to read lightly.

What’s New – Having read these three books, I had to wonder about the coming middle grade novel especially since I teach elementary school students. Coe Booth did not sugar coat things in her young adult novels. She put everything out there. Tyrell and those around him use some very colorful language and several of the topics covered were very definitely teen or adult. In Kinda Like Brothers, Booth still provided realistic characters and situations, but without cursing or mature content. It fits since Jarrett’s mother would never put up with such language and though there are difficult situations, there are also caring adults around.


Kinda Like Brothers
Scholastic Press

Goodreads summary: Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon. But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett’s mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it’s different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother — a kid Jarrett’s age named Kevon. Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends — but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett — and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets. Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it — but what?

My thoughts: [a review copy was provided by the publisher] Coe Booth crafted a unique story here and again made the characters matter to me. I’ve run across quite a few stories about foster children, but this was one of the only times I remember a book that looks at it from the foster family perspective. Jarrett knows all about not getting too attached to the babies that come and go. Having an older foster brother is new though, and is way more difficult. Sharing a room, his friends, and especially his mom, wears him down. Jarrett also has some troubles with school and has a shady habit of spying and eavesdropping. I was rooting for him even when I was groaning at some of his actions.

To hear a little bit about the book, check out the NPR interview. In it, Booth is asked about one of the scenes in the book that especially stood out to me – when Jarrett witnesses a counselor at the community center getting frisked by the police. There is discussion about the fact that Jarrett and the other children at the center will likely experience the same situation because of their skin color. While this isn’t the focus of the book, it certainly gives the reader much to think about.

Coe Booth is a master of realistic fiction and I look forward to reading more of her novels be they young adult, middle grade or any other age she may take on  next.

Three New Books This Week

We found three new books this week, and we’re excited for all of them! Are you planning to get your hands on them soon? We know we are!

Pig ParkPig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
Cinco Puntos Press

It’s crazy! Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga’s neighborhood is becoming more and more of a ghost town since the lard company moved away. Her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow. As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls to haul bricks to help build a giant pyramid in the park in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. Then there’s the new boy who came to help, the one with the softest of lips.

Ashes to AshesAshes to Ashes by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

New Year’s Eve ended with a bang and Mary, Kat and Lillia may not be prepared for what is to come.

After Rennie’s death, Kat and Lillia try to put the pieces together of what happened to her. They both blame themselves. If Lillia hadn’t left with Reeve… If Kat had only stayed with Rennie… Things could have been different. Now they will never be the same.

Only Mary knows the truth about that night. About what she is. She also knows the truth about Lillia and Reeve falling in love, about Reeve being happy when all he deserves is misery, just like the misery he caused her. Now their childish attempts at revenge are a thing of the past and Mary is out for blood. Will she leave anything in her wake or will all that remain be ashes?

Echoes of UsEchoes of Us by Kat Zhang

To change the world, I may lose everything

All Eva ever wanted was the chance to be herself. But in the Americas, to be hybrid—to share your body with a second soul—is not tolerated past childhood. Now Eva and Addie, her sister soul, are constantly on the move, hiding from the officials who seek to capture them. But the tide is changing. A revolution is brewing, and people are starting to question the hybrids’ mistreatment.

Then Marion, an ambitious reporter, offers Eva and Addie a daring proposal: If they go undercover and film the wretched conditions of a hybrid institution, she will not only rescue them, she’ll find a way to free Jackson, the boy Addie loves. It’s risky, and Eva will have to leave Ryan and her friends behind, but if she succeeds, it could also tip the scales forever and lead to hybrid freedom.

As Eva and Addie walk into danger, they cling to each other and the hope of a better future. But the price they might pay is higher than they ever could have imagined.

Book Review: While We Run

While We RunTitle: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Genres:  Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Pages: 327
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Review Copy: Library/Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later.

Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia’s cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust, and when they uncover startling new details about Project Ark, they realize thousands of lives may be in their hands.

A suspenseful, page-turning sequel to When We Wake that will keep readers on the edge of their seats and make them call into question their own ideas about morality – and mortality, too.

Review: I have to say this straight out. I LOVED THIS BOOK!! So much that I read it twice and was enthralled the second time. While We Run is just that good. The first time I read it was during summer vacation and I think I read the book in a matter of hours. I couldn’t put it down. Karen Healey’s pacing in this sequel is much better balanced with heavy hitting points mixed with quiet moments between characters that really showcase the relationships in this novel. The themes Healey presents as well, such as the concept of collateral damage, she handles with skill and a deftness that allows explores the grey areas of political revolutions. Many YA dystopian novels that focus on revolution often have an “Us vs. Them” mentality and the fight is usually a “good vs. evil” trope. While Abdi, Tegan, and their friends view the Australian government as evil, through their experiences they eventually learn what it means to have to make those tough decisions and that sometimes you have to lose to win. It’s a very grown up lesson to learn and Healey presents those ideas well.

The one aspect of the novel that I loved the most was Abdi’s voice. In When We Wake, I enjoyed Abdi’s presence in Tegan’s life and found him to be a well-rounded character, love interest for her. While We Run is told entirely from Abdi’s perspective and he is a fascinating character. I felt his voice is much stronger than Tegan’s, more introspective and thoughtful, owning a maturity far beyond his 17 years. He often very blunt with the reader while at the same time hiding information from the other characters. In Healey’s sequel, we get a real sense of Abdi’s inner self, what drives him, and what made him the deep thinker he is. Because he is still a teenager, he does make some stupid mistakes but unlike some YA characters, he does own up to them, eventually. He is also able to take criticism from his friends, internalize it and then work to change his behavior. I have to say that is one quality that I loved in him. Healey also handles instances of racism that Abdi experiences and comments on extremely well. These are usually comments that Abdi keeps to himself and rarely says aloud, and by doing that, Healey captured the internal dialogue a person of color usually has to racist comments or experiences. I greatly respect writers who understand that when writing cross culturally,  characters of color would have to internalize their reactions to racist situations. I feel like Healey did her homework when writing Abdi and it shows; I practically feel in love with him.

I don’t know if there is a 3rd book planned for the series, but I hope there is one. I want to know what happens to Abdi and Tegan next, what their future holds, and how they handle the decisions they made at the end of the novel. The world that Healey created is very believable and one that I’m not ready to leave just yet. In the meantime, I’ll just read While We Run one more time.

Recommendation: GET IT NOW!

Mini-review: Fresh Off the Boat

501854Title:  Fresh Off the Boat
Author:  Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 256
Genres: Contemporary
Review Copy: library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Dear Peaches, America is perfect! Okay, so Vicenza isn’t being totally honest with Peaches, her best friend back in Manila. But what fun is it being the new girl at snooty Grosvernor High? Or rooting through the Salvation Army for unholey cashmere sweaters? Or having culture-shocked, embarrassingly clueless parents?

But Vicenza won’t be friendless, fashionless, or “fresh off the boat” for long — it’s only a matter of time before she sees what’s right before her eyes, and her luck begins to change. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Fresh Off the Boat centers on 14 year-old Vicenza and her struggle to adjust to life after immigrating to America — her struggles seem mostly dominated by her wish to assimilate, be popular, and catch the eye of some cute guy. But, as the book progresses, a story about friendship and family reveals itself. What really got me was the strong depiction of family relationships and friendship. The romantic subplot involving the generic-cute-boy love interest paled in comparison.

This book definitely falls more into middle grade territory and is a fun, lighthearted read. At times, it’s difficult to get past the boy-obsessed viewpoint of Vicenza, but once you do, it’s all worth it.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

New Releases

What a great mix of new releases this week!

Falling Into PlaceFalling Into Place by Amy Zhang
Greenwillow Books

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.

Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force–Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.

Gabi a Girl in PIecesGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Hunt for the Bamboo RatHunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salisbury
Wendy Lamb Books

Based on a true story, this World War II novel by Scott O’Dell Award winner Graham Salisbury tells how Zenji, 17, is sent from Hawaii to the Philippines to spy on the Japanese.

Zenji Watanabe graduates from high school in Hawaii and is recruited into the army as a translator because he speaks perfect Japanese. He is sent to Manila undercover as a civilian to gather information on the Japanese in the Philippines. If they discover his identity, he’ll be executed as a traitor. When captured, he maintains that he is an American civilian despite unthinkable torture. He also survives being lost in the jungle for months. Zenji’s time behind enemy lines is grueling, and his survival is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

This is the fourth book in Graham Salisbury’s highly acclaimed Prisoners of the Empire series, which began with the award-winning Under the Blood-Red Sun.