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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Author Spotlight: Jacqueline Woodson

img_1540Last week, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) hosted the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture delivered by Jacqueline Woodson. What an amazing evening. Woodson talked about some of her recent writing, but also read from some of her earlier works too. She’s written many fantastic books over the years and her words continue to speak to many hearts and minds.

Here are some of the books highlighted during the evening:

Her most recent publication and a National Book Award Finalist, Another Brooklyn, isn’t marketed as YA, but older teens will likely be reading this one. August is an adult, but she’s looking back at her coming-of-age in Brooklyn, so the majority of the book is seen through young eyes. There’s a lot of heartache here, but also a great deal of strength and beauty.

another Summary: 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.


ypl_woodson_Brown_Girl_DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming is generally listed as a middle grade title, but this lovely novel-in-verse defies age limits and has been enjoyed by elementary age students through adults. Crystal’s Review

Summary: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.


melaninGloria Ladson-Billings introduced Woodson and read the beginning of From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun.

Summary: Jacqueline Woodson’s remarkable, award-winning story of a boy coming to grips a sudden change in his family.

Melanin Sun’s mother has some big news: she’s in love with a woman. Now he has many decisions to make: Should he stand by his mother even though it could mean losing his friends? Should he abandon the only family he’s ever known? Either way, Melanin Sun is about to learn the true meaning of sacrifice, prejudice, and love.


softlyIf You Come Softly

Summary: Both Elisha (Ellie) and Jeremiah (Miah) attend Percy Academy, a private school where neither quite fits in. Ellie is wrestling with family demons, and Miah is one of the few African American students. The two of them find each other, and fall in love — but they are hesitant to share their newfound happiness with their friends and families, who will not understand. At the end, life makes the brutal choice for them: Jeremiah is shot and killed, and Ellie now has to cope with the consequences.

behindAnd the sequel Behind You

Summary: This beautiful sequel to If You Come Softly explores the experiences of those left behind after tragedy. It is a novel in which through hope, understanding and love, healing begins.

 

 

 


tellI Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This

Summary: Marie, the only black girl in the eighth grade willing to befriend her white classmate Lena, discovers that Lena’s father is doing horrible things to her in private.

 

 

 


methBeneath a Meth Moon

Summary: Laurel Daneau has moved on to a new life, in a new town, but inside she’s still reeling from the loss of her beloved mother and grandmother after Hurricane Katrina washed away their home. Laurel’s new life is going well, with a new best friend, a place on the cheerleading squad and T-Boom, co-captain of the basketball team, for a boyfriend. Yet Laurel is haunted by voices and memories from her past.

When T-Boom introduces Laurel to meth, she immediately falls under its spell, loving the way it erases, even if only briefly, her past. But as she becomes alienated from her friends and family, she becomes a shell of her former self, and longs to be whole again. With help from an artist named Moses and her friend Kaylee, she’s able to begin to rewrite her story and start to move on from her addiction.

Incorporating Laurel’s bittersweet memories of life before and during the hurricane, this is a stunning novel by one of our finest writers. Jacqueline Woodson’s haunting—but ultimately hopeful—story is beautifully told and one readers will not
want to miss.


These are definitely books to add to your reading lists.

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New Releases

We found one new release this week.

cloudCloudwish by Fiona Wood
Poppy

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn’t even know she’s alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality–keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother’s PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably–possibly magically–comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, Vân Uoc can’t help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end? — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Interview with Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Shame the StarsToday we welcome Guadalupe Garcia McCall to share about her most recent book Shame the StarsI really enjoyed reading this amazing historical romance and was excited to be able to find out more about the book.

Publisher’s summary: 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.

Crystal’s Review


 

The Texas-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution is an intriguing time and place for a novel. How did you come to the idea of that particular setting?

I really wasn’t looking for an idea. The story’s main character, Joaquín, came to me fully fledged, wanting to tell me his story in the middle of the night. I had gone to bed upset after reading about the lynching of Mexicanos in South Texas during the matanza, the rebellion of 1915, in Dr. Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas. My son, James, had introduced me to the book that night, and I’d stayed up late pouring over the details, looking at the horrific picture of two Texas Rangers proudly sitting on their horses with the ropes still tied around the corpses of two so-called “rebels” laying in front of them. That picture became a postcard. People bought it and sent it to their loved ones. The sadness that overwhelmed me as I thought about all the people who suffered at the hands of the Rangers and their nefarious posses overwhelmed me, and I went to bed dejected that night.

At around 3 o’clock that morning, Joaquín’s voice awakened me. I could hear him talking to me, telling me his story. “Me llamo Joaquín del Toro, and I live at Rancho Las Moras,” he said, and after the third time I heard his voice, I got up, went to the bathroom, put down the toilet seat, and started writing on my notepad, because I thought it was just going to be a small thread, a small poem perhaps, something to get rid of the ghost of those horrible pictures I’d seen online of Mexicanos lynched in the chaparral. Well, it turned out to be much more than that, and five years later, the book is finally done and I’m glad I got up and listened to Joaquín. His story is important to me. His voice lives in my heart.

Do you see connections between conflicts of that time and situations/events in the present?

Oh, yes. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice against Hispanics in this country. The current political climate is riddled with anger and hate and intolerance. But there is a lot of support too. Thank God we have people who see us for who we really are, as hard-working, respectful citizens of this country. I became an American citizen because I love this country. I love it as much as I love my Mexico. American has shaped me as much as Mexico has shaped me, and for that reason alone I love living on the border. I am no different than most of the Mexican-Americans I know, good, honest people straddling two worlds, two languages, two loves.

How did writing Shame the Stars differ from writing your previous novels?

Shame the Stars didn’t take as long as Under the Mesquite took to write. I was working on that manuscript for about 10 years, but it did take longer than Summer of the Mariposas. The reason is that I didn’t have all the details when I started working on Shame the Stars. I had only read Dr. Johnson’s book once, and done some superficial digging around online. I was pretty foggy on the details, so I wrote the first draft, in verse (the original novel came to me in verse) before I lost the passion, while Joaquín’s voice was still fresh in my mind. When I was done with that first draft, over 100 pages of poetry, I did more research. As I researched, the storyline changed. The plot grew and grew, as more and more layers started revealing themselves. When I read through the archived newspapers in the Library of Congress, I found more and more of the storyline in the actual historical events surrounding the “rebellion of 1915.” I included some of those newspaper clippings in the novel, not just as evidence, but to foreshadow events in the novel and build suspense because they are so important to the storyline.

What was your research process like?

I read Dr. Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas, many, many times, making notes on the sidebars, putting sticky notes everywhere, underlining, highlighting, making sure I really understood the conflict, the history of South Texas, what led up to the “rebellion” and the actual matanza. I also went through the archives in the Library of Congress, counting myself lucky that 100 years had gone by and I had access to those newspapers online. I also went to the central library, the orange building in downtown San Antonio, and read other books that dealt with the History of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Most of my research was done online though, from home. Every time I found something relevant, I would print it out, highlight, and write all over it. When I wasn’t at my computer, I would read on my phone. I have so many screenshots and pictures on my Samsung dealing with the matanza, I might never get rid of that phone. Everything I read, screenshot, highlighted, and marked up served a purpose, and that was to inform my writing. Not everything went into the novel, but it helped me to see the big picture, to find my bearings as I wrote about a time and place I could only imagine.

How do you balance writing, presenting, teaching, and the other aspects of your life?

I’m a zombie. I don’t sleep. No, seriously. It just has to do with passion. I’m as passionate about teaching as I am about writing and speaking. I love my jobs. When I was a young mother, I was all about the mothering: the bottles, the little league, the trips to the theme parks. With a soccer-mom van and a book in my hand, I dedicated myself to the boys, James, Steven, and Jason. I loved being a mom. Now, these books are my children. They are, however, more than my life. They are the other means by which I inform students. I look at writing as an extension of my classroom. The way I will keep “teaching” long after I retire from the classroom, long after I’m gone. Teaching is the gift God gave me. Writing is the vehicle. It’s a great life, and I am humbled by the gift of it every day I get to live it.

How much do you share about your writing life with your students?

I try not to get too excited about my own success, especially in front of my students. They need me to be their teacher, not some self-important, stuck-up famous person. Most of them know I am a writer. They google me, so I can’t ignore it either. Mostly, I share my struggles with them as an example of how even published writers have to work hard at writing. When I am teaching them to revise, I share my revision notes from my editor on the LCD projector. I show them what good writing notes to your writing partner look like (Thank you, Stacy Whitman). I show them that a good editor is honest but kind, truthful but respectful. I also show them my revisions. My computer program tracks changes in different colors, so they get to see how the original text in black changed. How I layered in the blue text during revision 1, the purple text in revision 2, the red text in revision 3, and so on. It shocks them to see how much revision work and thoughtfulness goes into writing. So when I ask them to revise a one-page essay, they are less reluctant to do the work.

What’s ahead for you? Are you able to share anything you’re currently writing/revising?

I’m in the process of finishing up the sequel to Shame the Stars, tentatively titled, Estrella’s Long Journey Home. It is set in Monteseco, sixteen years after the rebellion, and follows the repatriation of the del Toros into Mexico in the winter of 1931.


mccall

Photo provider by author

 

Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the award winning author of Under the Mesquite, a novel in verse, and Summer of the Mariposas. Her poetry has also appeared in many publications. McCall was born in Mexico and immigrated with her family to the U.S. at age six. She grew up in Texas and is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.

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Review: Shame the Stars

Shame the StarsTitle: Shame the Stars
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Publisher: Tu Books
Pages: 308
Genres: Historical, Romance
Review Copy: Based on Purchased Copy (though Edelweiss had also provided a digital ARC)
Availability: On shelves now

Publisher’s Summary: 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.

Review: Under the Mesquite and Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s previous books, are fantastic works of storytelling. Her writing is lyrical whether she’s creating prose or poetry. Having read and loved her first two books, I was predisposed to enjoy this newest novel. In addition, as a former resident of Texas, the story immediately caught my attention. Though I lived there for sixteen years, my knowledge of Texas history was sketchy at best so this seemed like an excellent way to find out more about my former home. The story along with the thorough author’s note was eye-opening to say the least.

In Shame the Stars, McCall shares a part of history not often covered in our school history texts. The conflict might be mentioned, but it is highly unlikely that students would learn about the lynchings, executions and other atrocities. This novel is one way to learn some of that missing history. The story begins with Joaquín expressing his frustration at the way tejanos are treated and how their rights are being trampled by the Texas Rangers. Over time Joaquín witnesses more and more injustices by Rangers. They see no need to have a search warrant, they kill without trials and behave as if the law does not apply to them. For Joaquín it seems that danger is surrounding their community and he and his father have very different ideas about what to do about this.

One way Joaquín deals with his feelings is through writing poetry. Most of the story is told in typical narrative style, but every so often a poem, a newspaper clipping, letter or other snippet of text is included. I appreciated the addition of non-traditional texts. These felt like primary sources and made it seem like readers could see a piece of the past.

Beyond this unveiling of history, the story is also a romance. Joaquín has loved Dulceña for years and falls more deeply in love with her as time passes. She loves him too, but makes it clear that she doesn’t want the role of damsel in distress or quiet little lady to be tucked away at home. She’s an intelligent and brave young woman who has dreams of her own and she will not let her dreams be ignored just because she’s female. I appreciated her and the other strong women in this book. There are women leading and fighting for their families and communities in many ways.

The book is often compared to Romeo and Juliet not only because of the great love between the two young people, but also because their families are at odds. The families have been very close in the past, but both fathers have completely different ideas about how to best protect their family in dangerous times. The break between the families is a result of love and protection rather than a hatred for one another and that makes it all the more heartbreaking.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is an intriguing historical romance that will leave readers with much to ponder. Shame the Stars presents a beautiful love story set against a backdrop of deadly conflict.

Extra: Interview with the author from BookPage

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