Review: Romeo & Juliet

romeoTitle: Romeo & Juliet
Adapted by: Gareth Hinds based on the play by William Shakespeare
Genres: Romance, Historical, Tragedy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 134
Publisher: Candlewick
Review Copy: Local library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches —
including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together?In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: When I saw the cover, I wondered what angle Gareth Hinds had as he crafted this adaptation. Was this going to be a West Side Story type? Hinds definitely meddled with the culture of the Montagues and Capulets, but otherwise, he left things alone for the most part. Other than omitting lines, Hinds stayed close to the original text and he kept the setting in historical Verona. He explains at the beginning in a note to the reader, “I chose to cast my retelling of Romeo & Juliet with multiracial characters in order to reflect how universal this story is. It is not a statement about racism or racial conflict.” There is no alteration to the storyline as a result of this cosmetic change. If you could not see the illustrations and only heard the text, you would have no idea that Juliet’s family is Indian. It made me wonder if this graphic novel could  ever be made into an audio book because the pictures add so much to this adaptation. The illustrations allowed for a bit more personality to be shown with the characters and of course inserted cultural identifiers. It also allowed me to keep the names straight from the very beginning since the cast of characters included pictures.

I have read Romeo and Juliet at least five times as a play for classes or for fun. What I loved immediately was the novelty of reading this story as something other than a script. With the illustrations, stage directions are unnecessary and names aren’t required along with every bit of the dialogue. The text flows more easily this way. He also kept the clothing of the families color coded. The Montagues are wearing shades of blue and the Capulets are in various shades of orange. This made the relationships easier to follow especially during the action scenes. The graphic novel format is one step closer to seeing the play acted out. This adaptation will be very accessible for the reluctant Shakespeare reader whether they are a young adult or a not so young adult.

As Hinds pointed out, he wanted to show that this is a story that transcends cultures. Star-crossed lovers can be found anywhere and anytime. Mixing up the culture a bit certainly does help demonstrate that everyman quality. I wasn’t sure how to take that though. It seems to be an example of the “casual diversity” that Betsy Bird spoke of recently. It’s not an issue in the story, it just exists. But it makes me wonder. Are cultures that easy to swap out and should they be? In this instance, as an illustrator he is adding diversity to a text that he didn’t want to alter. It also reinforces his theory that this tragedy could happen to anyone regardless of religious background, skin color, culture or age.

For Romeo’s family, skin tone and hair styles were basically the only racial or cultural markers. They appeared to be of African descent. What I appreciated was that Hinds did not have everyone in the family look pretty much the same. There is a wide variety of body types, faces, and hairstyles. He provided diversity within the culture. With Juliet’s family, Hinds included a few more clues beyond skin tone and facial features, but this was mainly in the area of clothing. The most obvious being that Capulet wears a Sikh turban and Lady Capulet has a head scarf, but there were others. The only truly jarring note was the mishmash of modern and older dress. The younger characters like Juliet were sometimes in more contemporary clothing like her short skirt. It would jerk me out of the story more than any of the other things that were going on in the illustrations. That the time periods of the costumes were not matching was a bit disconcerting. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the story though.

Overall, the illustrations were rich and truly brought out the emotions of the story. I know that I would have loved to have this as an option when I was first reading Shakespeare as a teen. It will likely draw new readers to Shakespeare.

My Recommendation: If you are a graphic novel or Shakespeare fan, I would get this one soon. Otherwise, I would still recommend that you check it out sometime. It is a gorgeous way to experience Romeo & Juliet. You may preview it here.

Looking for Non-Fiction?

For some people, the only kind of reading they want to do involves fiction, but for others, non-fiction is the winner. I generally read more fiction, but I do like a dash of non-fiction here and there – especially excellent narrative non-fiction. Here are a few I have enjoyed or am looking forward to reading soon. Unless otherwise noted, the cover images and summaries are from Indiebound.

howHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

Dial, 2014

Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.

courageCourage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles by Tanya Stone

Candlewick, 2013

Summary: World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, the injustice of discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Enlisted black men are segregated from white soldiers and regularly relegated to service duties. At Fort Benning, Georgia, First Sergeant Walter Morris’s men serve as guards at The Parachute School, while the white soldiers prepare to be paratroopers. Morris knows that for his men to be treated like soldiers, they have to train and act like them, but would the military elite and politicians recognize the potential of these men as well as their passion for serving their country? Tanya Lee Stone examines the role of African Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in a little-known attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of Morris, “proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.”

imprisonedImprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler

Walker Childrens, 2013

Summary: While Americans fought for freedom and democracy abroad, fear and suspicion towards Japanese Americans swept the country after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Culling information from extensive, previously unpublished interviews and oral histories with Japanese American survivors of internment camps, Martin W. Sandler gives an in-depth account of their lives before, during their imprisonment, and after their release. Bringing readers inside life in the internment camps and explaining how a country that is built on the ideals of freedom for all could have such a dark mark on its history, this in-depth look at a troubling period of American history sheds light on the prejudices in today’s world and provides the historical context we need to prevent similar abuses of power.

 

daylightLooks Like Daylight: Voices of Native American and Aboriginal Young People by Deborah Ellis

Groundwood Books, 2013

Summary: After her critically acclaimed books of interviews with Afghan, Iraqi, Israeli and Palestinian children, Deborah Ellis turns her attention closer to home. For two years she traveled across the United States and Canada interviewing Native children. The result is a compelling collection of interviews with children aged nine to eighteen. They come from all over the continent, from Iqaluit to Texas, Haida Gwaai to North Carolina, and their stories run the gamut — some heartbreaking; many others full of pride and hope.

Many of these children are living with the legacy of the residential schools; many have lived through the cycle of foster care. Many others have found something in their roots that sustains them, have found their place in the arts, the sciences, athletics. Like all kids, they want to find something that engages them; something they love.

Deborah briefly introduces each child and then steps back, letting the kids speak directly to the reader, talking about their daily lives, about the things that interest them, and about how being Native has affected who they are and how they see the world. — summary via Goodreads

You may also download a sample here.

open micOpen Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins

Candlewick, 2013

Summary: Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

 

Have you read some outstanding non-fiction by or about people of color lately that we shouldn’t miss?

New Release for the Week

bewareBeware of Boys by Kelli London
Kensington

Summary: Now that Charly’s a star, she wants to give back any way she can. So she’s made The Extreme Dream Team’s newest mission to help three sizzling celebs’ charitable foundation build a super swanky retreat for teen girls who’ve battled an illness. But keeping things running smoothly is next to impossible when too many ideas–and egos–collide. . . — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

If you know of any other releases that we may have missed or of any coming up soon, please let us know in the comments section. Thanks!

Book Review: The Living

the livingTitle: The Living
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genres: Dystopian, Action/Adventure
Pages: 320
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s  only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.

The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: On the surface, The Living appears to be a typical survival story with the possibility of a romance, but there are intriguing layers to this story that the reader can catch glimpses of along the way. Matt de la Peña is an excellent storyteller, but aside from the action and suspence, he is also tackling both race and class issues. Yes, there is an earthquake and shark infested waters, but those aren’t the only things Shy will need to navigate.

A summer job on a cruise ship sounds glamorous, but for Shy it’s like any other summer job. Shy is a Mexican American from a working class single parent home. He is trying to earn enough money to help out his mom and grandma and have a little left over for himself. He has fun with his co-workers and has fairly light  responsibilities. Occasionally he must deal with obnoxious wealthy people, but it’s not a hard job. Life gets complicated very quickly though. On his first cruise out, Shy witnesses something that inspires nightmares and brings a man in black to follow him around.

This mystery takes second place though when a huge earthquake and the subsequent chain reaction of disasters hit. Shy is in a fight for his life and for those around him. The man against nature portion of this book is excellent and Matt de la Peña really created a believable character in Shy. He is a good kid and tries to follow the disaster procedures for his job, but he is in over his head in more ways than one. I felt like I was right there witnessing the disaster first-hand through his eyes feeling all of his fear and frustration.

Beyond the fight with nature, there are dangers among the people around him too. It’s difficult to discuss without revealing too much, but this book deals with race, class, and ethics on a scale that I was not anticipating. Matt de la Peña discussed a little bit about this in his interview with NPR.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a fantastic read for entertainment purposes, but it also provides a lot to think about. I am very eager to see what de la Peña has in store for us in the sequel.

Diversity on the Shelf

Would you like to add a challenge to your reading life? There are a few reading challenges going on this year that highlight diverse lit. I have joined two that will help add more diversity to my year.

My Little Pocketbooks
Diversity on the Shelf is being hosted by Alysia at My Little Pocketbooks. She has provided an excellent list of resources for finding diverse lit and will be having link-ups throughout the year. She has a giveaway going on right now too. I have already started working on this challenge by reading Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres, Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou and Inheritance by Malinda Lo in addition to some children’s lit. I have started a Goodreads shelf and here you can also see any books shelved with the tag Diversity on the Shelf 2014 by other challenge participants.
latin@s

Another fun challenge is being hosted by Latin@s in Kid Lit. They are encouraging people to read children’s and young adult literature by or about Latin@s. They also provide resource lists and suggestions. There will be link-ups here also.

 

When I started making my plan for what I would be reading this year, one of the lists I checked was the Best Multicultural Books of 2013 to see what I may have missed last year. The list was created by the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature.

 

Whether you join a formal reading challenge or not, I hope that this year you will be reading and supporting diverse young adult literature in any way that you are able. I wish you a fantastic year of reading!

Favorite Diverse YA from 2013

Narrowing down my favorites for the year was pretty tough. There are so many that I don’t want to leave out. I finally narrowed it down though.

Dystopian

proxy

 

Proxy by Alex London was a fast paced novel that kept me flipping the pages both times I read it. And yes, I did read it twice already. I reviewed it here

prodigy

 

Marie Lu’s Legend series got even more amazing with Prodigy. June and Day are compelling characters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

unravel

 

Juliette from Unravel Me is another character that fascinates me. Tehereh Mafi is weaving a tale that has completely sucked me in and I’m excited for the next installment.

Contemporary Books

Rogue_JKT_FINAL
Rogue author Lyn Miller-Lachmann visited out blog earlier this year and shared a bit about her writing. After learning about the book, I knew I wanted to read it. This is on the younger side of YA with the main character in middle school. I loved that readers see into the world of a person with Asperger’s syndrome, but Kiara is much more than that. She is an X-Men enthusiast, a loyal friend, a movie maker and much more. Kiara is a character that I wished I could meet in person.

yaqui


In Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Piddy Sanchez is bullied. This is a gritty book that tugged at my heart. Fortunately, Piddy has some amazing people in her life. This book brought me to tears, but also brought laughter and smiles. Author Meg Medina was kind enough to grant us an interview and Jessica also reviewed Yaqui on Rich in Color back in May.

 

Historical

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park takes place in the 80s so those headphones are leading to a Walkman not an iPod, thus the historical label. It also earns a romance label. The relationship between Eleanor and Park was simply sweet in contrast to some of the rather horrible things in Eleanor’s life.

If I ever get out of here

 

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here was another fabulous book set in the past – specifically the 70s. I reviewed it on my personal blog here, and we also held a group discussion (with spoilers) earlier this month. Gansworth manages to handle some serious issues like bullying and poverty with a nice balance of humor. Lewis, the main character, is a teenager from the Tuscarora Indian reservation and he is attending a mostly white high school. Watching as Lewis navigates the social life of that school is both humorous and heart-breaking. 

Poetry – Historical

dreamer

 

The Lightning Dreamer is based on the life of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist. Margarita Engle used this novel-in-verse to express some of Avellaneda’s ideas.

Here is a sample:
Beyond these convent gates, books
are locked away
and men
hold
the keys.

 

Graphic Novels – Historical


Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 9.39.08 PMBoxers and Saints is actually two books, but they should be read together. They are both telling the same story during the Boxer Rebellion in China, but from two different perspectives. The first time I read them, I was impressed, but on a second read through, they were even better. I reviewed them here. They are a set of books that should not be missed even if graphic novels are not something you typically read.

Comedy

Asked

Since You Asked was a bunch of fun. I reviewed it here. In it, Holly Kim writes a column in her high school newspaper. She is a bit snarky and has the goal of shaking things up around school. I loved her interactions with her mother and she also has a great group of friends. This one is sure to have you laughing.

Have you read any fantastic books that I might have missed? What were some of your favorites this year? Please share in the comments.