Three books for the last days of August

There are three books out this week that we have our eye on. Which of these are you interested in reading?

monsterThe Monster on the Road is Me by J.P. Romney
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

It starts with the crows. When you see them, you know he s found you.

Koda Okita is a high school student in modern-day Japan who isn’t very popular. He suffers from narcolepsy and has to wear a watermelon-sized helmet to protect his head in case he falls. But Koda couldn’t care less about his low social standing. He is content with taking long bike rides and hanging out in the convenience store parking lot with his school-dropout friend, Haru.

But when a rash of puzzling deaths sweeps his school, Koda discovers that his narcoleptic naps allow him to steal the thoughts of nearby supernatural beings. He learns that his small town is under threat from a ruthless mountain demon that is hell-bent on vengeance. With the help of a mysterious – and not to mention very cute classmate – Koda must find a way to take down this demon. But his unstable and overwhelming new abilities seem to have a mind of their own.

realTell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin
S&S/Atheneum

Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel.

There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments.

Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…

torchA Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill

A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.

In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her, instead.

Book Review: Running Away to Home

rath-coverTitle: Running Away to Home
Author: Lita Hooper
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 145
Publisher: Brave Books/Aquarius Press
Review Copy: ARC
Availability: Available Aug. 30

Summary:  How do you find your way home when your home no longer exists? For 17-year old twin sisters Sammie and Ronnie and their father, Willis, the answer to that question becomes a life raft when they are displaced after Hurricane Katrina.
Identity….Fear….Family
Running Away to Home, a YA verse novel, tells the story of two brave sisters, a repentant father, and the amazing triumphant spirit of familial love.
Loss.…Memory….Family
After leaving New Orleans for Atlanta, Ronnie and Sammie are separated and find themselves living in different parts of the city. Each sister is lured by false promises of love and security as they initially believe the people they encounter.
Love….Change….Family
As a YA verse novel, this story relies on poetry to express the intimacy of sisterhood and the triumphant spirit of its characters. Older YA readers will be moved by this family’s journey in the wake of one of the most memorable historical events our nation has experienced.
Spirit….Strength….Family

Review: With the 11 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina coming up and Louisiana under water again, Lita Hooper’s novel is especially timely. The story of Sammie & Ronnie is a very real one as families were separated as they fled New Orleans and were sent to different cities close by. Many of the stories I heard from Katrina were truly heart-breaking, so I applaud Ms. Hooper for tackling such a painful subject matter.

While Sammie and Ronnie are the main protagonists, Hooper also includes the voices of their father, and the people who “help” both of the girls when they separate. I put “help” in quotations because the people who decide to take in both Sammie and Ronnie only do so to serve their own interests. They lie to both of the girls about FEMA and their families, hence keeping both girls right where they want them. While neither girl is physically hurt, the emotional damage done to both hurt my heart.

While I felt for the girls, I didn’t care as much as I could have because I couldn’t really connect with either characters. Both Ronnie and Sammie felt very two dimensional and I didn’t get a feel of what made both girls who they are. They felt more like composite characters, there just to propel the action of the story, rather than be the heart of the story. It was stated that Ronnie was an studious honor student, and I get that in times of distress people don’t make rational decisions, but easy acceptance of her “savior’s” lies just struck me as odd. Additionally, Sammie was supposed to be the naive sister, however she came across as child-like instead of just a careless teenager. The writing for both characters was so simplistic that I didn’t get a grasp of Ronnie’s and Sammie’s feelings, how they truly felt about being separated from their twin. I feel like Hooper had a chance to go deeper, and for whatever reason, didn’t.

I understand that novels written in verse are tricky things, but I’ve read some verse novels that just floored me. I feel like Hooper could have slowed down some of the events in the novel, such as when the girls get separated, and explore the girls’ emotional response to their situation. This novel was very plot driven, which can be good, when it doesn’t come at the expense of characterization. Ultimately, that is what made the novel feel flat for me.

Recommendation: I was excited about this book based on the premise, but was disappointed in the execution.

Diversity Conversations on Twitter

It’s been over two years since #WeNeedDiverseBooks happened, and a lot has changed since then. There’s greater awareness of the issue of diversity in fiction. Mentorship programs, fiction contests, publishing surveys, and thinkpieces have sprung up since then.

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At the same time, the same old problems persist. Publishing still largely centers the privileged. Cultural appropriation and stereotyping abound in fiction. Book reviews are rife with biases. The list goes on. Fortunately, so does the conversation. Quite a few more hashtags have been kicked off on Twitter since #WeNeedDiverseBooks, all contributing to the larger questions of – What next? How can things change for the better? How do we support creators of color and creators from other marginalized groups so that they can better tell their stories?

Here are a few of the big ones:

#WeNeedDiverseBooks started in May 2014, check out the team behind the hashtag here: weneeddiversebooks.org/

And read Audrey’s reflections on it here: http://richincolor.com/2014/05/a-few-thoughts-on-weneeddiversebooks/

#OwnVoices started by Corinne Duyvis (@corinneduyvis), meant “to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” Read more about it here: http://www.yainterrobang.com/ownvoices/

#DiverseBookBloggers started by Nazahet Hernandez (@_diversebooks) to help foster the diverse book blogger community, read more about it here: http://readdiversebooks.com/a-call-to-all-diversebookbloggers/

#OwnYourOwn started by Kaye M. (@gildedspine) to encourage marginalized voices, read more about it here: http://www.yainterrobang.com/ownyourown/

New Releases

We found one new release this week by Lygia Penaflor. If you know of others, let us know.

jossUnscripted Joss Byrd: A Novel by Lygia Day Peñaflor
Roaring Brook Press

Hollywood critics agree. Joss Byrd is “fiercely emotional,” a young actress with “complete conviction,” and a “powerhouse.”

Joss Byrd is America’s most celebrated young actress, but on the set of her latest project, a gritty indie film called The Locals, Joss’s life is far from glamorous. While struggling with her mother’s expectations, a crush on her movie brother, and a secret that could end her career, Joss must pull off a performance worthy of a star. When her renowned, charismatic director demands more than she is ready to deliver, Joss must go off-script to stay true to herself. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

Perfect LiarsTitle: Perfect Liars
Author: Kimberly Reid
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: In this YA heist novel, a society girl with a sketchy past leads a crew of juvie kids in using their criminal skills for good.

Andrea Faraday is junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life—and her Perfect Girl charade—begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she’s struck up the world’s least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail—and the first stop on the way out.

If she were telling it straight, friendship might not be the right word to describe their alliance, since Drea and her new associates could not be more different. She’s rich and privileged; they’re broke and, well, criminal. But Drea’s got a secret: she has more in common with the juvie kids than they’d ever suspect. When it turns out they share a common enemy, Drea suggests they join forces to set things right. Sometimes, to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.

Review: One of the things I appreciated about Perfect Liars was the way details were doled out and how I learned more and more about past events as time went on. While I feel like the pacing was pretty uneven in the first half, things picked up quickly in the second half. I was fully engaged with the mystery, which took me by surprise more than once, and I’m hoping the open(-ish) ending is an opportunity for future books in the series. (I would love to learn more about Drea’s parents, for starters, and more about what the Faradays were like before they settled down in Peachland or assumed a new surname. I also want to see more of the Faraday family dynamics, especially Drea and her brother, who were consistently great together.)

It took me a while to buy into Drea and Xavier’s budding romantic relationship, as I felt like it had very little to go off of early on. The scene at the restaurant was one of the turning points for me as I finally started to feel like there was something of substance between them. (Kimberly Reid touches on race and class issues in the novel, whether that’s anti-black racism or the poor in the criminal justice system.) Once they really start opening up to each other, their relationship was one that I was happy to root for.

Drea is an engaging narrator, and I particularly enjoyed her casual (and often humorous or snarky) observations. I wasn’t as fond of the other scattered and weaker viewpoints we got in the book, though I understand why some of them were absolutely necessary. Drea’s attempts to balance her current image against her family’s past were an interesting push-and-pull act that definitely upped the pressure in her life. This was very apparent in her initial attitude toward the Justice Academy students, particularly since her own family made its wealth off of crime and were simply good (or lucky) enough not to be caught by authorities before they fled town. Drea slowly confronting her own privilege and bias was a great part of the story.

My one major nitpick is that I wish Gigi had been a more plentiful presence in the book, though I can understand why she wasn’t. As it is, she was absent for long stretches of it and got even less screen time than Jason, who was one of the least interesting good guys for me. However, Gigi was always unforgettable when she was on screen. Tiana was another memorable character who I wished had taken up more space in the novel.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Perfect Liars is a solid entry into the YA mystery genre. While I have a few gripes about the pacing and the initial romance, once the mystery kicks into high gear and the characters really start to open up to each other, the book becomes great. I’m looking forward to future books from this author.

Extras
Interview with Kimberly Reid at Rich in Color

Publishing’s Bondage and Freedom

breaking-chains

With the announcement of “When We Was Fierce” being pulled just days before publication for revision, the YA twitter sphere has been having some deep, profound, and insightful conversations about positive representations and how meaningful they are to People of Color. E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and her publisher’s decision to pull the book highlights that all the conversations had offline and online, all the conference panels, research done by Lee & Low, and all the good work done by WNDB is having an effect. I applaud Charlton-Trujillo and her publishers willingness to listen to the voices of those who were hurt by the book and decided to take positive action.

All of these conversations were in the back of my mind as I attended a panel about the past, present and future of African-American publishing the other night. The moderator decided to frame the panel conversation around a quote from Fredrick Douglass, which also got me thinking about why the types of conversations we’ve been having, and all the work to diversify YA literature is important, and not a trend.

From his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, the quote essentially states (and I’m paraphrasing*), “Reading and writing can move Black folk from bondage to freedom.” Douglass’s quote is powerful and stepped in truth because slaves were purposefully prevented from learning to read and write in order for the slave masters to control them, because an educated slave is a dangerous slave.

As that quote rolled around in my brain, I thought of the very fight that is happening in our industry right now. Authors of color are literally fighting their bondage (lack of representation) to their freedom (inclusiveness in the publishing industry). Reading and writing does not only move Black folk out of bondage but it moves us all. When we have accurate portrayals of the different voices of our world, we all become enlightened to the lives of people who are not like us and become more empathetic people. Our imaginations are powerful and literature is the door that can literally open new worlds.

That can only happen if our literature reflects the wide and diverse experiences of the people living in our beautiful world. That is why #ownvoices is important, why #DVpit is important, and why we need to continue to push the publishing industry to not just say it’s going to make change, but hold publishing houses accountable. It is also why teachers and librarians need to continue to teach and push diverse texts in the classroom.

Those members of the publishing industry who have privilege need to stop putting their heads in the sand and listen to People of Color when we say a book hurts us, when we say that bad representation is worse than no representation, and not claim that we are “censoring” them. They need to stop making it all about themselves and their writing, and actually think about who their audience is. Understand that their audience includes children of color who are learning to fight the mental bondage of living in an oppressed society and are desiring to see positive, accurate representation of themselves. Those of us adults who are fighting for the kids know firsthand what that bondage feels like, and while we have survived it, that hurt child that still lives in our hearts is why we fight so hard. Why we fight for our children’s freedom.

One of the speakers on the panel, Adilifu Nama, one of the members behind the Afrofuturism movement, said, “One of the ways we are able to dismantle ill conceived notions of ourselves is through literature, through the power of our imagination.” This exact reason is why children of color need to see positive representations of themselves in their literature and the way to do that is to make sure that the books that are released do not have demeaning and racists depictions. It is why the publishing industry needs to be as sensitive as Charlton-Trujillo and her publishers were and take the steps to correct their mistakes. There is nothing wrong with admitting you made a mistake as long as you take the proper steps to correct it.

Institutional racism has held us all in bondage for a long time that fighting for our freedom is hard and hurtful, but it is a fight that we must take in order for all of us to truly be free. And if we continue on the path we are walking, correcting our mistakes, putting action behind our words, then we’ll get there.

*I paraphrased because I couldn’t find my book, and what I wrote in my notes from the panel. No shade to Mr. Douglass.