Review: The Day Tajon Got Shot

Title: The Day Tajon Got Shot
Authors: The Teen Writers of Beacon House
Publisher: Shout Mouse Press
Pages: 190
Genre: Contemporary, Issue
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Meet Tajon.

Tajon is sixteen and black.
He’s tall and skinny, and he wears his hair in dreads.
Tajon works hard and tries his best to be good.
He does OK in school. He has plans.
He’s determined.

Tajon is the kind of son who cares about his family.
He’s the kind of brother who stands up for his sister.
He’s the kind of kid who dreams big dreams to get himself and
those he loves up and out of the hood.

Tajon is the one who gets shot.

Meet the authors: Mikiah, T’Asia, J’yona, Reiyanna, Jonae, Rose, Najae, Serenity  Jeanet, and Temil. Ten black teen girls in Washington, DC started writing this book during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. They began with one central question: What really happens in a community when a black youth is the victim of violence by police? Each writer takes on the perspective of a central character – the victim, the police officer, the witness, the parent, the friend – and examines how it feels to be a human being on all sides of this event. Their stories thoughtfully explore issues of race, violence, loyalty, and justice in a community torn apart but seeking connection.

Review: The Day Tajon Got Shot presents Tajon’s story in a unique way. It’s told from many perspectives using many forms of media. It means that we don’t get to know all of the characters in great depth, but we do get to see this one major event from many angles. The writers were careful to show that the characters are not simply good or evil. They show how complex people and situations can be. I enjoyed the mix of photographs, artwork, poetry, prose, and even tweets. The format makes this book appealing to readers who like quick reads. It’s also just interesting to see the different ways the writers chose to communicate. It appears that they staged many of the pictures, but some of the photos seems to have been from actual protests. Some of the images could be troubling for readers who are fatigued after seeing many instances of violence against young Black people. There weren’t any photos of actual wounds, but there were blood stains on the ground and people in frightening situations. The images definitely do the job of communicating emotion. There is also a much too lengthy list of the people of color who were killed by police during the time they were writing the book. For me, that was one of the most difficult parts to read and it really drove home the reason for the existence of this book.

This is the kind of book that would be useful for inspiring discussion and could even be a model for other teens who would like to write or do something in response to current issues. The writers want to help make a change. They have hope and tell about the way things are and the way they think things should be.

I liked how the different parts of the book worked together. All of the pieces supported the story from text formats to the graphics to the layout. The dedication kicks it off, “This book is for all those who are going through loss and pain, who have protested, and who are sick and tired of what is going on.” The next element is a quote from Justice Sonia Sotomayor referencing, “… people who are routinely targeted by police….Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.” The quote is followed by a preface which was surprisingly lengthy. It provides the context for the project though and has helpful information. Some readers may just skip to the artwork and opening poem, “The Evidence” by Camisha Jones, which is quite powerful.

There are photos and brief descriptions of each main character followed by the narrative which alternates between characters with breaks for media. The writing isn’t incredibly sophisticated, but that made sense within this format of brief sections. Also, I appreciated that the voices of the teens hadn’t seemed to be overpowered by adult editing. The authors took risks sharing the realities they see in their own way. They stepped out in the hope and belief that their voices matter and they created a book that will surely inform and affect many readers.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re looking for realistic fiction about current events, especially if you’re interested in the hearing directly from teens.

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Native Perspectives

If you’re looking for some fantastic books written by Native authors, we have two new titles to share with you.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Annick Press

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. In the same style as the best-selling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, humiliation, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women making themselves heard and demanding change. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.

Recommendation: This is a phenomenal collection of essays, interviews, poetry, and various forms of art created by Native women.  They share the past, the present and hopes for the future. They also share pain, anger, connections, triumphs, hope, and so much more. We heartily recommend this book.

More to note:

In October we each read the book and had a discussion you may find here.

You may also find Crystal’s Review here.

For even more about the book, visit Dr. Debbie Reese’s site, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), to read her review.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books

Summary: In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing “factories.”

Mini-Review & Recommendation: The Marrow Thieves is a powerful book of survival, love, family, and all that matters. What made the book intense for me was how this dystopian story felt very much like it could happen in the near future. Sometimes dystopias feel like they are way off in the future, but this felt horribly close. It drew from the recent past with the many connections to residential schools and the new version of them rapidly multiplying seemingly everywhere. This book may lead readers to question what they are willing to do for their loved ones and future generations. A quote that stood out to me was, “Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to live it.” I highly recommend The Marrow Thieves. These are characters nobody should miss.

More to note:

Dr. Debbie Reese has also posted a thorough review at her blog.

An interview with Cherie Dimaline at School Library Journal “Cherie Dimaline on Erasure, the Power of Story, and The Marrow Thieves”


If you’re interested in more titles by Native authors or about Native characters, here are a few book lists we’ve posted in the past:

Native American Heritage Month 2016

Native American Voices

Native YA Protagonists

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New Release

This week we found one new release and it looks like a fascinating fantasy.

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
Razorbill

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

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Review: You Bring the Distant Near

Title: You Bring the Distant Near
Author: Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Genres: Romance, Contemporary & Historical
Pages: 303
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley & personally purchased final copy
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve Bengal tigers and her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

Review: In You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins created a beautiful story of family, love and identity. Sonia, a writer and reader, mentions Little Women on more than one occasion. I can’t help but make comparisons. These women have so much love for each other and they show that as they work through their individual challenges.

The relationships of Sonia, Tara and their mother Ranee are the primary focus of more than half of the book. These young women and their mother share many things like genes, culture, and having adapted to multiple countries over time. This is the magic of families. We often share so much, but our personalities and individual experiences shape us and our identities become distinct from each other. As the young women are trying to live their dreams, they are also separating from their mother and the past she clings to. By offering this story from so many perspectives, readers are able to see the diversity present within one extended family. Ranee has an obvious bias toward the Black people in their neighborhood yet she rebels against some of the confining requirements from her own culture. She pushes her husband and provides for her family. Sonia uses her voice and pen to fight for women’s rights and Tara focuses on being a star and keeping peace between her sister and mother. All hold onto and honor aspects of their culture that match their own beliefs. They are at work blending the many parts of themselves on a palette and making their unique mark on the world.

Every part of this book made me want to crawl into the story with this family. Even when certain characters weren’t speaking to each other, I could still see the love there and the belief in one another. The original group of women set the stage and then we get to see the children. The cousins add another layer to the story. I loved seeing how tightly each young woman clung to what and who they valued. These are teens who have doubts and fears, but move forward through them. Like with Little Women, I think readers will likely see bits and pieces of themselves within these characters and will want to cheer them on every step of the way. It sounds seriously sappy, but this book made my heart happy.

Recommendation: Get it now especially if you enjoy realistic fiction involving families. I did not want this book to end.

Extras: Our Interview with Mitali Perkins

 

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Group Discussion: #NotYourPrincess

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and MaryBeth Leatherdale is an incredible collection we highly recommend and we’re excited to be discussing it here today.

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Crystal’s Review

Debbie Reese’s Review


Crystal: #NotYourPrincess is visually stunning. I love the attention to detail throughout the book like the use of borders and the pairings of text and artwork. The essay “The Invisible Indians” by Shelby Lisk (Mohawk) was accompanied by photos that illustrated how the stereotypes people have in their head render the actual people in front of them invisible. It made the text so powerful to have both parts. Do you all have any favorite visual pieces?

Audrey: I agree–this collection did a wonderful job of pairing beautiful artwork with powerful words. When I read, I typically don’t find myself backtracking, but I did more than once with #NotYourPrincess so I could go back and forth between the text and the art it had been paired with. My absolute favorite set is the poem “When I Have a Daughter” by Ntawnis Piapot (Piapot Cree Nation) with the piece Memories by Aura Last (Oneida).

Jessica: It’s so hard to choose a favorite — they were all incredible in their own way. Two stood out to me in particular. The first was A Conversation with a Massage Therapist by Francine Cunningham — I saw the picture first and didn’t realize the context until I read the conversation beneath it that portrayed a massage therapist casually throwing around harmful stereotypes during a massage session. The second one was Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood by Pamela J. Peters, which recreated classic Hollywood portraits with Native American actors. Both demonstrated how harmful stereotypes were in the different ways they manifested themselves, whether through media and Hollywood, or through everyday conversations.

K. Imani: This collection, the mix of artwork with the amazing poetry, was absolutely beautiful. For me, I can’t choose between the two poems of “The Things We Taught Our Daughters” and “Honor Song”. I found both to be extremely moving as both talked about reclamation of the feminine and and the power that women have inside of them.

Crystal: In “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) writes, “Patriarchy is quite simply the systematic oppression and regulation of women’s bodies, minds, and spirits. Patriarchy sets the markers and outlines the box of what we can and cannot do; say or cannot say; think or cannot think; express or cannot express; live or cannot live.” Fontaine has clearly delineated patriarchy and the colonial legacy. Her essay, along with many other pieces here, not only explains how we got to where we are, but also marks out a path for the future. I think this is such a powerful text and I’m excited that young women, and specifically young indigenous women, could have this book available to them.

Audrey: I think that path for the future is one of the most important themes in #NotYourPrincess. The women in these pages are resilient, and several times they address past (and current) violence, pain, and other trials. Yet the collection always circles back to the triumph of survival and hope for the future. Fontaine’s essay really cuts to the heart of #NotYourPrincess. So does the opening text of the book, from Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg): “I am always trying to escape—from dangerous situations, from racist stereotypes, from environmental destruction in my territory, and from the assault on my freedom as an individual and as part of the Nishnaabeg nation. As an Indigenous person, I have to escape in order to survive, but I don’t just escape. I hold this beautiful, rich Indigenous decolonial space inside and around me. I am escaping into Indigenous freedom. I am escaping into Indigenous land and my Indigenous body.”

Jessica: I loved how everything was connected together in the book. Patriarchy and colonialism and oppression were all tied together, and then a goal was laid out of not just escape, but escape to a space of freedom and equality. And all this is possible through the strength of generations of women. I’m glad I read #NotYourPrincess all in one go, since it allowed me to see all these themes and works of art flowing together.

K. Imani: The theme of fighting the Patriarchy and colonialism throughout the book made me want to stand up and clap for all of these artists. These are women recognizing their power and owning it. Jessica Deer’s essay, “We Are Not A Costume” was so poignant specifically when she simply states “While someone may think they look supercute as an “Indian Princess” or as “Reservation Royalty” for a fun and harmless evening, they have the privilege of removing that costume at the end of the night. Indigenous women and girls do not. We have to deal with ongoing marginalization and the lingering effects of colonization, like a culture that normalizes violence against us.” I can imagine many young girls reading this passage, find their voice, and speak out against in justice towards marginalized peoples.

Crystal: This book shares so many examples of female role models. There are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and more. I couldn’t help but start to think about the women in my life who taught me what it meant to move through the world as a woman. The book invites such wonderings and offers some awesome role models. I’m eager to see the responses from young indigenous women reading this. I think it could be extremely encouraging.

Audrey: I agree! “What’s There to Take Back?” by Tiffany Midge (Hunkpapa Lakota) was all about her role models of Indigenous womanhood–real role models, not terrible stereotypes like Tiger Lily. Many of the pieces in #NotYourPrincess are about connection with past and future generations and learning from others. I also really enjoyed the piece “Living Their Dreams” with the photo spread of athletes Shoni Schimmel (Umatilla), September Big Crow (Tsuu T’ina Nation), Ashton Locklear (Lumbee), and Brigitte Lacquette (Ojibwe). It’s not often that I see professional athletes held up as role models for young women, so I loved seeing all of them in powerful, confident poses, representing four different sports, and talking about their experiences.

K. Imani: I agree with both of you. “What’s There to Take Back?” was another one of my favorites as well because the examples that Midge gave for true role models were all kick-butt women. I can see so many young girls being inspired by learning about Indigenous women who are out there fighting the good fight and are being awesome. I especially enjoyed the passage titled “Good Medicine” which was an interview with Janet Smylie. I found her story to be inspiring and a wonderful message for young girls who are struggling to know that they can overcome their challenges and achieve.

Crystal: In “Dear Past Self,” Isabella Fillspipe (Oglala Lakota) wrote, “If you have something to say Say it. Life is too short to sit in silence. And stop trying to please other people.” I really wish teen me had heard such things enough times to believe them. This is a message many young women could benefit from.

Audrey: There are so many wonderful lines in #NotYourPrincess, and I hope that this book makes its way into the hands of many girls and women, especially Indigenous girls and women.

Jessica: Yeah, the focus on different generations — past, present, and future — Indigenous women was incredible.

Audrey: One of the quotes that stayed with me after I finished was by Tanaya Winder (Duckwater Shosone): “As Indigenous women writers and artists we are continually trying to exist, live, and love in a world that doesn’t always show its love for us. This means, part of the artist’s call is to turn past traumas on their heads, upside down, inside out, lift it up then put it back down as something changed and transformed so that others can find something beautiful or hopeful in it. For that beauty and hope to exist we as Native American women must dive headfirst into the muck, ugliness, stark darkness of that wreckage. This is what we do–we recast wounds in unending light. And so, light, love, and courage are circles we keep coming back to.” It’s a powerful message, and  I find that a lot of creators from other marginalized groups have embraced similar philosophies when writing about their own communities.

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Author Interview – M.A. and J.L. Powers

Today we welcome and M.A. and J.L. Powers to the blog. We appreciate their willingness to answer questions about Broken Circle, their writing life and more.

What was the inspiration for this world where souls are being shepherded after bodily
death?

M.A. Powers

M.A.: When I began thinking about personifications of death (such as the Grim Reaper) and what it would mean to shepherd the souls of the dead, the first image that popped into my mind was, of course, Charon poling clients across the river Styx in a flat-bottomed skiff. For the newly dead, the river Styx represents an insurmountable obstacle to the afterlife unless they are given, or pay for, help by a knowledgeable guide with a boat. This image turned into a conscious and subconscious working framework for our concept of Limbo, that unique place between life and death where a newly dead soul requires help to navigate.

Our Charon characters, Soul Guides, come from human families loosely based on the legends of supernatural personifications of death such as the Angel of Death, Grim Reaper, and Dullahan. Like Charon, they have special abilities to navigate Limbo and help the newly dead overcome their own personal Styx (an obstacle to accepting death). This “River Styx” for each person (“Limbo”) is developed subconsciously throughout their lifetime.

For us, the concept gave us a great vehicle to explore people’s fears, wants and desires and it is relatable because we all struggle to accept our own mortality. In this world, only someone who has completely accepted their own person, and has become friends with the concept of mortality, could cross Limbo without help from a guide. I feel, as humans, this is a very rare condition. Our refusal to accept death is a refusal to accept our own life and struggle.

The monster Adam repeatedly encounters is rather terrifying. I felt hints of La Llorona there. Was she an influence?

J.L. Powers

J.L.: I’m sure La Llorona was a subconscious influence. I don’t want to say too much about the similarities between La Llorona and the monster character in the book because it includes too many spoilers for readers who haven’t read the book yet. But let me just say that Matt and I grew up in El Paso, Texas, where the story of La Llorona is beloved and much told. As you know, I work at Cinco Puntos Press and our children’s picture book La Llorona is one of our best-selling books so the tale is something that is both extremely familiar and undoubtedly was an influence.

What was your favorite part about writing Broken Circle?

M.A.: First, my favorite part was writing with my sister who is a great idea generator and developer and could make my wild, and often pathetic, stab at writing dialogue pop!

Also, the laughter. We have a similar sense of humor and had laughing fits over parts of the book that may not seem funny to some readers.

Second, I was trained rigorously in biochemistry and genetics. My favorite part of
science was the intellectual pursuit of generating a hypothesis. Hypothesis is just a
fancy word for “scientific fiction production” and is the state of acquiring a handful of
seemingly unrelated and confusing facts and imagining a scenario where they do make sense. Furthermore, you have to propose tests that will confirm or reject this scenario. Although it did have its high points, I was not particularly fond of performing those tests because it was often repetitive and tedious for me.

Writing Broken Circle was a constant stream of generating hypotheses (In our case,
fiction based on world building rules instead of fiction based on a set of known facts)
and did not include any of the lab bench drudgery!

What does the collaboration process look like for you two?

M.A.: It’s a chaotic miasma of interruptions from our children and herky-jerky writing all dependent on babysitting schedules and poop. Yeah, when something smells funny, it’s time to stop writing and get out fresh pampers.

Our worst interruption was on a Skype call. I put my 9-month- old in the Bumbo on the table and turned my back to get the little table thing to snap her in when I heard a dull “THUNK” and then crying. She had launched herself out of the snug foam leg holes and off the table and was lying in a small heap of brown corduroy and pink onesie on our scratched hardwood floor.

Horrified, I scooped her up and yelled goodbye to Jessica as I rushed off to the emergency room, fearing I had irreparably broken my baby. My daughter was fine! In fact, she had stopped crying by the time I had put her in the car seat but I forged ahead, determined to do penance at the hospital by being “That Dad” who put his kid on the table and turned his back. Obviously, I needed a stiffer penance to get right with the god of muse. The book we were collaborating on at the time has yet to be finished. Karma?

Did you do any specific preparation before crafting the characters who are from cultural backgrounds that are different from your own?

J.L.: Over the years, I’ve become known for writing books about characters who are from cultural backgrounds that are different from my own. The process is similar each time. First of all, I should say that in most cases, it’s sort of organic. I don’t pull a culture from my hat and think, ‘Let me write about XYZ.’ For me, I am writing out of both my personal experiences with cultures I’ve lived within as well as professional knowledge. Just as an example, we have a Latina character in this book, Liliana La Muerte. As I said, Matt and I grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is 75% Latin@ and, specifically, Mexican and Mexican-American. We grew up in a neighborhood where we were the only white kids. In many ways, Mexican and Mexican-American culture is much more familiar to us and safe for us than the white American mainstream culture that we look like we’re supposed to be from. But of course, that level of familiarity doesn’t give us a pass. I try to do meticulous research: reading books and articles, talking to people, traveling as needed, immersing myself as much as possible so that I can present authentic and accurate characters, and asking other people from those cultures to read it and be brutally honest about errors….

Broken Circle is the beginning of a series. Are you able to share anything about the future books?

J.L.: That’s a scary question! We are working on Book 2, and I’m also starting to work on Book ½ (yes, there is a Book ½ in our series, just like the ½ chapters….). One thing you might be interested to know is that Book 2 starts almost at the same place where Book 1 leaves off, and it will end up in Chicago. So Chicago, here we come!

Also, we will explore the world of Limbo and Soul Guides a bit more in-depth as that has been one critique from readers—they’d like to have more information or world-building about those concepts. You’ve spoken, we’re listening, we’ll respond!

I think people should know that we planted some things in the first book that will emerge as bigger plot points in later books, but we tried to plant them in a way that people don’t notice them in the first book. So hopefully it’ll be this wonderful exploration over time….

You’re a blogger at The Pirate Tree. Could you share a little about that work and why you
are involved there?

J.L.: I helped to start The Pirate Tree with other like-minded authors who want to examine children’s literature positively from a social justice angle. This is a very broad mandate. A lot of times, people think that if you’re looking at social justice and children’s literature, you’re looking for issue-driven books. Not so! In fact, I definitely am not interested in books that appear preachy or have a moral attached. Any book can be examined for how it treats the human condition and how it analyzes society and the status quo. And good literature automatically does that. Our goal is to present and celebrate books that we think demonstrate a commitment to developing a more peaceful and just world.

In addition to being an author, you’ve also worked in publishing with Cinco Puntos Press and now you’re starting Catalyst Press. Can you tell us a little about that work and what keeps you working to publish the work of others?

J.L.: I started working with Cinco Puntos in 2002, if you can believe it! And I still work for Cinco Puntos Press. I absolutely love our books, which are some of the most important multicultural books being published today. We have been publishing diverse books since the 1980s—long before there was any kind of movement for it.

And I started Catalyst Press and Story Press Africa because I wanted to publish African writers and African-based literature. There’s a huge gap. Eventually, I want to branch out to publishing other indigenous literature from other parts of the world, but this is where I’m starting because of my own expertise—I have two graduate degrees in African history. And I can’t state often enough how much I love Africans and the continent of Africa….

I love to write, but I also love books altogether. I believe books change the world. So to me it is a supreme pleasure to be able to present important books to the world that might be overlooked by mainstream publishers.

You may find M.A. and J.L. Powers at www.powerssquared.com

M.A.  newborn – J.L. 2 1/2

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