Crystal’s Favorites for 2016

I read quite a few books this year so choosing just a few is difficult. There were several historical fiction books that really made an impact on me.

burnBurn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
Candlewick Press
My review

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

moonOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
My review

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Shame the StarsShame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Tu Books
My review

Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.


My favorite fantasy –

lostLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire
My review

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…


My favorite contemporary romance –

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddThe Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Delacorte Press
K. Imani’s review

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?


Favorite collection –
Moonshot SOFT Cover Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol 1. edited by Hope Nicholson
Alternate History Comics Inc.
My review II Excellent Indian Country Today Review with many images

Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!


anotherFinally, it isn’t labeled YA, but I just had to include this book because it was flat out amazing and a good portion of the book is a coming of age story. I think that many YA readers will be grabbing this one.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Amistad

Author Spotlight

Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

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Review: The Secret of a Heart Note

secretTitle: The Secret of a Heart Note
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Review copy: Digital ARC via Edelweiss
Availability: December 27, 2016

Summary: “Love chose me, and I tried, but I couldn’t stop the arrow in its flight.”

As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix elixirs that help others fall in love.

All while remaining incurably alone.

For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa dreams of ditching the hermetic life of an aromateur in favor of high school, free time, and a boy to kiss.

When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, she quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice. It’s a calling.

At once, hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that speaks to all of the senses.

Review: “Most people don’t know that heartache smells like blueberries.” I can’t argue with the opening line of Stacey Lee’s newest novel. Blueberries and heartache were quite unrelated in my mind prior to reading this quirky and rather lovely romance. The fragrances of many items from nature are highlighted and brought to memory many of my favorite scents such as jasmine, cinnamon, and vanilla. It isn’t often that the sense of smell is such a pervasive topic in a novel. I appreciated this deep dive into aromas and I imagine many people who enjoy aromatherapy, essential oils or flowers will find this to be an interesting framework for a story.

Beyond the aromateur aspect of the book though, the characters and their interactions are engaging too. Mim is pushing gently against the requirements and responsibilities imposed by her mother while still showing respect and love. Their relationship is going through growing pains as Mim tries to balance her unusual lifestyle with typical teen activities and relationships. She attends high school even though her mother couldn’t care less about her studies and believes it’s a waste of time. Mim wanted to learn things in school, but she also wants to be out there interacting with her peers.

No matter what she’s doing, Mim gives her best effort even if she manages to totally mess things up in cringe-worthy style on numerous occasions. There were multiple times when I could see how badly things were going to go, but Mim isn’t one to give up or give in easily. At first it seemed a bit contrived, but before long I was won over by her determination and spirit.

The story is a romantic comedy with a touch of magic. The romance was more believable than I expected. Though there was instant attraction, the relationship started as a nice slow simmer and built from there.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a perfect book to snuggle up with this winter. It will bring smiles and the images of blooming flowers while the pages turn.

Extra:
There is a Goodreads Giveaway going on through Dec. 7.

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Native American Heritage Month

Dr. Debbie Reese has compiled an excellent list of Native Reads. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a look. Native American Heritage Month is almost over, but obviously the books are excellent choices all year long. There are suggestions for readers from pre-school through high school. In addition, there is a helpful collection of action steps people can take to make a difference. Here are a few of my favorite titles from her list.

If I ever get out of hereIf I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
Arthur A. Levine Books
Rich in Color Group Discussion

Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?

Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock ‘n’ roll.

Moonshot SOFT CoverMoonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol.1 edited by Hope Nicholson
Alternate History Comics Inc.
My Review

Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!

trueThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

hopcHouse of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle
Cinco Puntos Press

“The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.” Thus begins Rose Goode’s story of her growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma. Skullyville, a once-thriving Choctaw community, was destroyed by land-grabbers, culminating in the arson on New Year’s Eve, 1896, of New Hope Academy for Girls. Twenty Choctaw girls died, but Rose escaped. She is blessed by the presence of her grandmother Pokoni and her grandfather Amafo, both respected elders who understand the old ways. Soon after the fire, the white sheriff beats Amafo in front of the town’s people, humiliating him. Instead of asking the Choctaw community to avenge the beating, her grandfather decides to follow the path of forgiveness. And so unwinds this tale of mystery, Indian-style magical realism, and deep wisdom. It’s a world where backwoods spiritualism and Bible-thumping Christianity mix with bad guys; a one-legged woman shop-keeper, her oaf of a husband, herbal potions, and shape-shifting panthers rendering justice. Tim Tingle—a scholar of his nation’s language, culture, and spirituality—tells Rose’s story of good and evil with understanding and even laugh-out-loud Choctaw humor.


Beyond the many fabulous books Dr. Debbie Reese recommended, I would also add one more:

crazyCrazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth
Curbside Splendor
My Review || Interview with Erika T. Wurth

Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive.

Filled with complex characters overcoming and being overcome by circumstances of their surroundings, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend thoroughly shakes up cultural preconceptions of what it means to be Native American today.

 

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New Releases

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-8-27-23-pm

This week we couldn’t find any new releases starring or written by people of color or people from First/Native Nations. If you know of any, please let us know. We try to provide information about upcoming releases on our Goodreads shelf and here on the blog. You can always click on our Release Calendar tab to see what’s being published from month to month. We love to hear from readers, authors, publishers and others about any books we may have missed. Thanks!

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Review: Lucy and Linh

linhTitle: Lucy and Linh
Author: Alice Pung
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 340
Genre: Contemporary
Review copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Lucy is a bit of a pushover, but she’s ambitious and smart, and she has just received the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to a prestigious school, and a ticket out of her broken-down suburb. Though she’s worried she will stick out like badly cut bangs among the razor-straight students, she is soon welcomed into the Cabinet, the supremely popular trio who wield influence over classmates and teachers alike.

Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet.

As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.

Review: Power is fascinating. Who has power? Who lacks it? Does power actually corrupt? These are certainly some questions to ponder when reading Lucy and Linh. Lucy’s been dropped into a society with all kinds of stated and unstated rules around power and she has difficulty trying to adjust without losing herself.

At this new school, popularity and power is determined by more than beauty, talent and economic status. Perception is everything and Lucy worries so much about making a misstep, that she’s unwilling to reveal her true self. She observes those around her and tries, at least initially, to meet student and staff expectations. As the scholarship student, she is meant to be appropriately appreciative of the honor and is supposed to help make the school look good. Trying to fit into the mold created for her is a challenge though. “It was exhausting to be the sort of person they expected me to be.”

Somehow I was expecting a humorous look at a young girl trying to face down the mean girls at her private school. That’s not precisely what is going on here though. Yes, there are some corrupt girls controlling things at the school and they are operating at a seriously high level of meanness. There are also humorous moments, but overall, this is a fairly intense coming-of-age story that gives time and attention to race and class issues along the way.

Lucy’s grandparents had migrated from China to Vietnam. Her parents then migrated to Australia. This, along with being the scholarship student, earns her special attention. There are some people who only seem to spend time with Lucy because they perceive her as exotic and unusual. By simply talking to Lucy or any other person of color, students also appear to think they’ve proven that they aren’t racist. No matter that they are saying racist things and overlook the many ways teens are alike in their rush to see differences.

Lucy explains this journey in letters to her friend Linh as a way to process what has been happening over the year. The relationship between Lucy and Linh is an interesting one that I won’t go into in detail, but it’s an important one. Another important set of relationships is between Lucy and her family. I appreciated the opportunity to see how they interacted with each other. Lucy values her family and is especially proud of her mother. As she begins to see her family through the lenses her fellow students use, she begins to feel unsettled and uncomfortable in her own home. Things that never bothered her before, like eating on the floor using newspapers for a table, start to seem somehow less than. Lucy starts to feel like she doesn’t fit in either space and she doesn’t like this new way of seeing. Through their conversations and actions though, readers get to see the strengths of Lucy’s family and not just the deficits that her peers are imagining.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Lucy is a character everyone should get to know. She’s working her way through a challenging year showing us all how to hold onto what’s important and reminding us to stay true to ourselves.

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Author Interview with Sonia Patel

raniWe welcome debut author Sonia Patel to the blog. Rani Patel in Full Effect hit the shelves last month and we were able to review it here. Rani is a young woman trying to sort out who she is apart from the father who has been sexually abusing her for years. She feels strong and in control when she’s rapping, but when she’s with her new boyfriend (a much older man) or on her own, she falls into old destructive patterns. Sonia Patel has created a powerful and intense novel and she’s here to talk about it with us today.

Many readers wonder about the line between reality and fiction. In your author’s note and on your website, I noticed many of the experiences that shaped Rani may have carried traces of your past – starting with her heritage. Can you tell us a little about growing up as a first generation Indian American in Hawaii?

The first word that comes to mind with that question is isolative.

My Gujarati parents, like Rani’s parents, had a traditional Hindu arranged marriage in India. They immigrated to New York and that’s where I was born. My early years were spent there and in Connecticut. Both places had a large Gujarati immigrant community and we spent practically every weekend with other Gujarati immigrant family or friends. This was quite important for my mother who clung tightly to her Gujarati social network and culture. So it came as quite a shock to her when my father decided to move to Moloka’i. Like Rani’s family, we were the only Indian family on the island (compared to the other Hawaiian islands, Moloka’i is the island with the largest percentage of Native Hawaiians) at the time. It was very difficult for my mother to be cut off from her Gujarati connections, especially because my parent’s marriage was rocky. Once on Moloka’i, I basically lost all connection with my Gujarati culture because our family fell apart. Though from the outside, no one could tell. All I knew was that I was glad I was brown because at least I fit in with most of the kids at school, even though when I opened my mouth I couldn’t speak pidgin at first and sounded totally haole (foreign with my mainland accent). The only thing that reminded me that I was Gujarati was the food my mother cooked and the Bollywood films she would watch. Other than that, I felt basically culture-less. Unless you count my father as a culture.

Moving to a more difficult question about your life – what was it like to look back at your own family issues as you worked through Rani’s story?

It was—is—emotionally charged. I’d been writing rap as a way to cope with my issues, then later my experiences with treating patients. This kept things kind of at arm’s length. When I realized I had a story to tell that involved parts of me and parts of teen/women I’d treated and known, things became real. Fast. I couldn’t stop the story from flowing onto paper. The way different teens deal with the effects of family dysfunction and covert and overt familial sexual abuse is often similar. I never had a psychiatrist to discuss and work through my experiences when I was growing up, so I’d been putting the pieces of my life together haphazardly. When I started writing Rani, things came together and made more sense. When I read snippets from the book it still evokes feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, shame, and joy.

Sexual abuse may not be an easy topic to read about, but it’s a reality for a large number of young adults. As you’re sharing this novel, what kind of reactions have you been hearing from readers or potential readers?

Most adults and teens seem to get it. They appreciate that Rani’s father abused her and that the abuse wired Rani’s brain to think, feel, and act in negative ways that set her up for recreating the abuse with other men. They understand that Rani isn’t dumb and though they feel mad at her at times, they have empathy that it’s part of her process in being a trauma survivor. Rani doesn’t have the words to describe the covert and overt incest and family problems so she speaks through her negative thoughts, feelings and actions. Most people seem to get that it takes awhile for her to gain insight into this and so it’ll take time before she can begin to make positive changes in her life.

There are the few readers who think Rani is dumb and too naive. They can’t understand why she drinks, hangs out with an older man who sweet talks her, and basically, to them, seems to set herself up for being raped. They get mad at her and then seem to forget empathy for the trauma induced brain changes that cause her to repeat negative behaviors. A couple of them have said that she’s a tease. It was almost like they were blaming the victim. All I can say to that is perhaps those readers did not truly understand my author’s note at the end of the book. Those readers don’t seem to appreciate that a survivor of covert and overt incest has been a sexual object or in that role for years and that the way they think, feel, and act has been hardwired into their brains. They’ve learned that that is all they are good for. Those readers don’t seem to understand that survivors can’t just become empowered and feminist simply because being raped is wrong. Of course rape is wrong, but a survivor of chronic incest has been conditioned to expect nothing more for themselves and to repeat negative patterns. Until they gain insight, they will likely continue to engage in the same negative behavior. So healing starts with insight and insight can only begin when they find the words and support to describe their traumatic experiences.

Throughout the book, music empowers and brings healing to Rani. What is it about hip-hop specifically that can create such change?

For Rani, the power of hip hop was multifactorial. Rap was front and center. The powerful beats and poetry allowed her to express the misogyny she experienced in a way that wasn’t encouraged in her life otherwise. It resonated with her and gave her a sense of the self-worth she still didn’t have. Plus, she was exposed to hip hop during its golden age—when there was tremendous political,social, and musical innovation in rap. Rap was building its identity and this was symbolic of how Rani was also building her identity. Additionally there was hip hop fashion and dance that allowed Rani to create her own identity separate from her abusive father and distant mother.

Does hip-hop still play a significant role in your life?

YES! I can’t imagine my life without hip hop music, rap, fashion (especially my kicks), and dance. I still write rap. It’s still my primary form of self-therapy. I feel the most like myself when I’m writing rap or poetry. Also, when I’m sportin’ my latest fly hip hop outfit. And when I travel, I always look for hip hop clubs. Recently I was in Oakland and got to shake my thang at two such clubs with amazing hip hop music. Overseas, Seoul and Tokyo had a killer hip hop music and dance scene.

Hip-hop is sometimes included in discussions about poetry since there is such attention to the sound and impact of the words. Do you write a lot of poetry and do you have plans to publish a verse novel or volume of poetry? I would totally read either.

Awww! That is so sweet! Thank you. I actually love writing poetry, especially poetry that I can perform. Like rap, poetry helps me express issues that I feel passionate about or issues I’m struggling with. Recently, I performed one at a local slam called Stop Visually Assualting Me (&Yourself)! It’s based on the issues of how many of my teenage girl patients are being lured into a false sense of self-worth by posting revealing body shots on social media. Body reveal in social media seems to be turning into a horrible epidemic that’s hurting the youth I treat. Of course I discuss these issues with my teen patients, but it’s so troubling to me that I had to write about it in a poetic manner.

There are very few young adult novels that address Native sovereignty. What led you to include this in the narrative?

I was fortunate enough to have some amazing mentors in the fight to protect the water of Moloka’i from developers. Some of them were also active in sovereignty issues and actually most locals on the island are activists in one way or another. Whether it’s testifying at hearings. Or protesting. Or choosing to live off the land in ancient Hawaiian ways. My empathy and support has always been towards oppressed and subjugated cultures because I come from one—Indians at the hands of the British, being a colored kid on the mainland, etc. I am honored that I got to participate in much of the activism around the water issues on Moloka’i growing up. That was something my father was involved in, much like Rani’s father in the book.

I had to include those issues because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be depicting Moloka’i’s vibe accurately.

What’s up next for you as a writer?

I am currently working another YA novel. It’s a love story about a trans Gujarati boy from the city and a girl from rural Hau’ula and involves issues of sex trafficking, depression, alcoholism, bulimia, and complex family issues. The story is based on my work with my teen patients. It’s a tribute to my patients who struggle with so many things I wish they didn’t have to…

I wish you had asked me….

If in the past I’d shaved my head like Rani.

Yes.

If in the past I’d dyed the stubble blond like Rani.

Yes.

We’re always on the lookout for great books to read. Have you read anything lately that moved you to laughter or tears?

My kids are into graphic novels and I recently read the Barefoot Gen series again. My son actually introduced me to it. He devoured that series in a couple of weeks and was so moved he wrote to the author in Japan. The author passed away but his wife wrote a nice letter back. I also mentioned the series in Rani and so I decided to read it again. Laughter and tears fo’ shua!

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