Mini-Review: If You Could Be Mine

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Title: If You Could Be Mine By Author: Sara Farizan
Pages: 256
Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBTQ
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: August 20, 2013

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

My Thoughts: Sahar speaks from the heart and won my own heart in the process. Sahar and Nasrin are in such a difficult position, but Sahar refuses to give up without even trying. She looks for ways to change her situation with courage and hope.

I appreciated reading a book set in Iran. Sadly, I did not know many details about life in Iran. Readers certainly won’t become experts, but will at least have a picture in their head of Iranian people beyond what they may have seen on the news.

If You Could Be Mine presents a complicated romance and the coming of age of two young women.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Take advantage of this chance to meet Sahar and the people she loves.

Extras:
Interview with Sara Farizan

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New Release

I just finished reading this unique romance. I’ll be reviewing it on August 28th so check back for more feedback then.

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If You Could Be Mine By Sara Farizan

(Algonquin Young Readers)

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

Author Interview:

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom

Bitter
Title: Bitter Kingdom
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: Epic/Heroic Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 433
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review Copy: Edelweiss Digital ARC
Availability: August 27, 2013

Summary: The epic conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads.

Background Info: If you haven’t started this series, here is a video that will give you an overview of the first book and the general direction of the series.

Review: In the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa is a tentative sixteen year old trying to figure out how to be “the chosen one” for her people and wondering if she’s up to the task. There is also a significant amount of romance involved. In The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s confidence increases as she takes on more leadership and continues to grow into her responsibilities, her abilities and her relationships. Finally, in The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa’s country has been brought to the brink of a civil war. Within the conflict, Elisa has the opportunity to show her many facets: Queen, Godstone bearer, the chosen one, sorcerer, woman, friend, lover, and horse thief. By the way, that last one is not really something Elisa enjoys since horses are one of her fears, but she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Elisa has many talents, but she is not perfect by any means. She makes plenty of mistakes along the way – typically due to her impatience. Fortunately, she loves to learn and most importantly she has a close circle of companions who watch out for her and help keep her on track. What really stands out in all three books is the relationships both romantic and otherwise. Elisa and her travel companions trust each other to the point that they have meaningful conversations that are open and painfully honest at times. Over time, Mara, Elisa’s handmaiden, becomes much more than a servant. They become confidants. This is a tight-knit group, but they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them and they don’t just ignore a misstep. Hector, the man Elisa loves, is not above questioning Elisa when he fears her impulses are in control. They also show their faith in each other, pointing out and applauding strengths.

Though the adventures and discussions are often serious, Carson also allows room for humor. Elisa does sarcasm well and there are even some awkward and funny moments amid the romance. Speaking of romance…wow! I can’t tell much for fear of spoiling things, but if you have read the first two, you know that Carson writes romance beautifully. She balances very realistic situations and concerns with a healthy dose of sensuality. What sets her apart is how she manages to do this without making it all about sex. The focus remains firmly on developing the whole relationship. The physical aspect of the relationship is certainly significant, but it does not overwhelm the other parts.

Unlike some trilogies, this series started out very good and then each book was better than the last. The Bitter Kingdom is a fast paced adventure with chases, fights, sorcery, erupting volcanos, and much more. Rae Carson shared intriguing characters that draw readers into the story and keep them wanting more.

Recommendation: If you have already read the first two books, you will want to get this as soon as it is available on August 27th. If you haven’t, you need to grab The Girl of Fire and Thorns to go ahead and get started. Probably you should just get all three because you are likely to want to read them in quick succession. For fantasy lovers, this is a must read.

 

 

 

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Why We Need Diverse Literature and How to Find It

Why do we need diverse literature?
First, we need to know and understand ourselves. People need literature that helps them see others like them – to know they are not alone. We need literature that reflects many ways of being and ways of living in our world so we all have a chance to see someone like us. Second, to interact respectfully with others in society, it’s helpful to realize that there are people in the world who have another perspective. We can explore our differences and similarities through literature. There is a quote on the Lee & Low website attributed to both Rudine Sims Bishop & Ginny Moore Kruse “A single book can be a mirror for some people and a window for others.” Those mirrors and windows help us understand and connect with people in the world around us, but we need more than just one story. We need a multitude of stories.

In the following TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the “Danger of the Single Story.” Adichie explains that many individuals only know one story about a people and that may lead to stereotyping. When we know only one story about a culture, the risk is that we assign that story to all the people we believe are part of that group. Adichie provides an amazing and at times amusing presentation that speaks to the need for more stories about each other. This video is from 2009, but even if you have viewed it previously, it’s worth a second or even third look. Photographer Matika Wilbur also touches on this idea in her TED Talk. She’s concerned about the single picture that many people may have in their minds about Native Americans due to media exposure. Her current project is photographing individuals from 562 federally recognized Tribal Nations with a goal to “unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues, the beauty of Native culture, the magnitude of tradition, and expose her vitality” (quoted from her blog). She is not only creating portraits, but is collecting their many and varied stories to share. This video is also well worth the few minutes it takes to watch.


Wondering where to find a multitude of stories?
It’s no secret that there is a serious lack of diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Literature. There have been a large number of blog posts and articles recently to that effect. But there are some diverse books being published. They are not in the numbers I would like to see, but they do exist. They can be hard to find, so we have some resources on our blog to help make it easier. In the tabs at the top of this page, we provide a release calendar that displays titles scheduled to be published in the coming months. In addition, we have a resource page with links to many excellent websites/blogs that review and share diverse literature along with links to publishers focusing on diverse materials. We created a Goodreads profile with a growing list of titles and there are also blogs in our blog roll on the right-hand side of the page that focus on diversity.

But how can we know which stories are accurate representations?
Matika Wilbur noted in her TED Talk that some Native American images and stories from the media have been damaging to Native people. As a school librarian, I want to provide many diverse stories for my students, but not all stories are helpful. Just look at some of the early Newbery Award winners. There were a few books with cultural diversity, but several fed into stereotypes (one I highlight below). As an educator, I have to evaluate the resources I am providing to our staff and students. I am clearly not an expert on every culture in the world, but here are a few questions* that help guide me in my selection process for school and also as a reader:

  • Who is the author and what experience or knowledge do they have as they write from this cultural perspective? (This helps me understand the lens the reader will be looking through)
  • If they are not a native of that culture, is it published by a publisher from that culture and/or has it been favorably reviewed by someone from that culture?
  • Are the characters distinct, fully developed and free of bias and/or stereotypes?
  • If there are illustrations, are they free of bias and/or stereotypes?
  • Is it a well developed and engaging story?

It can be helpful to know the lens of the author. In the case of Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children (1926 Newbery winner), the stories were filled with broken English, verbal caricatures and misinformation. I read Shen last year and was horrified. As I investigated his knowledge base of Chinese culture, I found a post from a blogger named Amanda. She pointed to the April 1, 1994 issue of School Library Journal. In it Margaret Chang wrote, “Chrisman had never been to China, did not read Chinese, and claimed to be aided by two Chinese speakers, but gave no sources for the stories in his book” (p 42). According to the book’s description Shen is comprised of “Sixteen stories reflecting the spirit of Chinese life and thought.” Chrisman appears to have taken what he knew about Chinese culture, consulted a Chinese shopkeeper or two in California about some of the details and proceeded to create original stories. He may have even been doing this in some way to “honor” Chinese culture, but this is not a book I will be purchasing or sharing with my students.

I tend to specifically seek out books that are written from an insider’s perspective like No Crystal StairYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Since You Asked, but there are also people born outside a culture who have provided authentic representation. Debby Dahl Edwardson is not Inupiaq (Eskimo) by birth, but she’s been a part of that culture for many years. She has written powerful stories with fully developed, realistic characters in her YA historical novels, My Name is Not Easy and Blessing’s Bead. My Name is Not Easy is a look into the effect of the residential schools on Native students and their families. She did not rely on stereotypes, but created complex and unique characters. On her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Debbie Rees shared Beverly Slapin’s very favorable reviewI would recommend Edwardson’s books without hesitation and there are many other talented authors that learn about a culture and successfully represent it in their novels.

We may not have balanced representation in publishing yet, but there are some fabulous pieces of literature that can be our mirrors and windows. Let’s seek them out and share them.

Chang, M. A. (1994). Chinoiserie in American picture books: Excursions to Cathay. School Library Journal40(4), 42.

*Some of my questions were developed with influence from Full Circle’s Criteria for Authentic Native American Books & Oyate’s comprehensive evaluation criteria

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New Releases

We’ve found two humorous contemporary books that will be released this week. They were previously reviewed here. It’s interesting that the covers are both related to eating and they’re yellow too. It makes me wonder how many other diverse books have food on the cover.

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The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland

Simon and Shuster

Summary: A hysterically funny debut novel about discovering where you come from—even if you have to lie to get there.

When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart.

After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

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A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Bendan Halpin

EgmontUSA

Summary: Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.

Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin’s summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents’ divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.

Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog– and Emmy definitely doesn’t. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.

Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.

A funny, sad, and remarkable story, A Really Awesome Mess is a journey of friendship and self-discovery that teen readers will surely sign up for. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Meet Meg Medina

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In May, Jessica reviewed Meg Medina’s most recent novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Recently, I was able to interview Meg via Skype to discuss that book and more. I’m thankful that she graciously shared a bit of her writing life with us.

What brought you to writing for young people?

I have written for adults and I don’t rule it out completely that I will someday find a story that is more suited to adults, but in one way or another my life has pointed me in the direction of children. I’ve spent a lot of time working with young people of all ages as a teacher, mother and volunteer. There is also something really wonderful about writing for young people. I consider it an honor. You’re learning about everything including yourself at that age and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to stay connected to that piece of yourself. I sort of picture myself in a cave with a lantern and I’m walking through and I just hold it up. I can’t solve anybody’s issues. I can’t make dark things go away, but I can shine a light and I can certainly help someone feel less isolated by the issues of growing up – the problems of growing up.

Also, when I write for young children, when I do a picture book — that is just joyous. Because it’s poetry really — a big story in a small number of words. It’s image. It’s emotion. And it’s the joyous part of being young that I like to capture.

I read an interview you did with School Library Journal and you mentioned that Yaqui Delgado was based on something in your past. Could you share a little about that?

I went to a middle school in New York and one morning a girl in a rabbit fur coat approached me and said someone told her they were going to kick my ass. I said, “Who’s that?” I had no idea. It was this very fierce girl — a Latin girl like me and not like me. What followed was two of the longest years of my life because I was really afraid to go to school. Afraid to go the bathroom. Afraid to be in the hall and run into one of her cronies or her. She never did savage me the way it happens in the novel for Piddy, but that feeling of dread and the way fear and being picked on can really destroy your sense of self, that is very true. And that is what happened to me. I started to make really terrible choices. I started to harden myself, to speak coarsely, to hang out with extremely questionable people, to do really unsafe things. In retrospect, they were really not healthy things for any young woman to be doing. It took years for me to feel better. It just seeped throughout all of middle school into high school. When we are in high school there’s a lot to be angry about. This just compounded it and it took a long time to feel better.

Are you part of a writing group?

Usually I write by myself and I work with my editor, Kate Fletcher pretty closely. I will write something and I have one or two trusted readers who are friends and authors. They give me their feedback, but really, once you have a close relationship with an editor at whatever your publishing house you land, in some ways it’s an audience of one. It’s a conversation between you and your editor of this work. The hard thing about a writing group sometimes is that it’s many voices & many opinions and not all equally great. That’s just the way it is. So I’m careful about that. It’s very easy to be blown off course.

Looking at your books, it seems like family is pretty important to you. I was just curious if any of your family members are kind of peeking out from some of your books.

They’re bleeding all over the pages. It’s bad for them really. Their lives and identities have been stolen. I take pieces of family of friends etc. I shamelessly melt them down to my purposes. I combine them with others and I create what I want. That’s how I really operate.

The most visible is Tia Isa Wants a Car, which is a picture book. There is a Tia Isa. She did buy the first family car. She lives with me. She lives downstairs. She, as in the book, she wanted to buy the car and no one in the family thought that she should because she was very nervous not necessarily a quick learner and we were all sure we were gonna die in the car. But she got secret lessons with a bilingual driving instructor and came home one day with this big Buick Wildcat and that car sort of liberated us. We could go anywhere we wanted to go after that. I had no notion I would write about Tia Isa, but when I sat down to write, the line that came to me was “Tia Isa wants a car” and it became a story of a little girl and her aunt conspiring to buy the family car. It’s about the whole notion of the person least likely, the least one among us, told she can’t do something, who does it anyway. That was a good lesson in life that my aunt provided for me and so it was wonderful to be able to honor her with that book. Now, of course, she’s very bossy, like she’ll look at the illustrations and she’ll say things like, “They didn’t get my hair right.”

There have been a lot of articles recently (CBC Diversity, Lee & Low, Betsy Bird) about the state of multicultural publishing. Do you have ideas or suggestions about how teachers, librarians, and/or bloggers can help change this?

I think it’s important, that the books offer the world of the multicultural child, showing the idiosyncracies of their culture as just a natural fact of life as the book examines the normal problems of growing up. It’s really just another lens, but at its core it still has to be a good story about the normal problems of growing up. Wanting friends, difficulty with friends, facing adult problems for the first time, falling in love, distancing from your family you know, all of those tried and true universal things, but superimposed with the lens of a Latino family or an Asian family or any culture but really staying true to what it is to be a child at whatever age teenage, preschool etc. That’s my core belief.

I think it’s important for schools and community libraries and so on to move beyond the notion of using books during Spanish Heritage Month, Cinco de Mayo or El Dia de los Niños. That’s a great time to use papel picado and piñatas, but we’re beyond this. It needs to be literature that is part of literature all the way around. When you are talking about a unit like girls on adventures, you might pick up my book Milagros or Maragarita Engle’s book Hurricane Dancers.

I also like to see partnerships with Latino authors and illustrators. One of the joys of coming to the table now, is there are so many wonderful Latino authors and illustrators making really compelling work and they are very community oriented and interested in youth, in creating a sense of pride, creating habits of reading and increasing literacy in the families and in the communities. They’re willing to come to schools, to skype, to do community shows of illustrations. I have found them to be a wonderful family of people. I would encourage librarians to reach out to Latino authors and illustrators in whatever way you can to come to your school – to visit your school to be part of the conversation. It’s a great idea. Our children need to see these examples of men and women being successful in many fields including the fields of art and literature. I wish sometimes that we would take a bigger view of what we bring to our children in what we call education. Part of education of course, is helping kids to see the possibilities for themselves.

Can you explain your Girls of Summer Program?

My friend Gigi Amateau is a Candlewick author too. Often we have strong girls in our books. Our daughters were getting ready to graduate and we started talking about how books helped us raise them and helped us as mothers and helped them as girls. So just very casually we wondered if we could come up with 18 books that we think are really amazing books for strong girls – and we could. We started talking about them passionately and then we decided to make it a blog. One thing led to another and we’re now in the third year of Girls of Summer. It’s basically this blog where every year we pick 18 of our favorite books for strong girls. We do it for picture books all the way to YA and every Friday we have one of the authors come and do a Q & A with us.

The Richmond Public library has these wonderful librarians. They promote the list and we have our Girls of Summer live launch party there. We bring two of the authors from the list to do a live Q & A. We give the whole list to two lucky winners, an elementary winner and a middle/high school winner. We also have other goofy give-aways like flip-flops and sunscreen — very necessary. The library funded free ice-cream for all of the girls. We had between 180 and 195 people. Mothers, daughters, teachers, librarians and girls of every age and every color and every ethnicity all in celebration of books that in turn celebrate what it is to go from being a little girl to a young woman who can determine what she wants for herself. It’s a beautiful thing. I love that project. I love that it helps the city library. I love that it helps girls in the community. I love that I get to work closely with my friend Gigi. It’s all good. There’s no downside to it, except maybe the work. There’s a lot of work and a lot of reading involved, but it’s all good.

What are you doing when you aren’t writing and working on The Girls of Summer?

This morning I am doing research for a new novel set in New York City in the late 70s during the time that Son of Sam was murdering girls. Isn’t that a cheery thought? I am just pulling together information.

Meg also added that she spends a lot of time with her family.

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To learn more about Meg, her books, and The Girls of Summer, please visit her website.

Photo credit Petite Shards Productions

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