Review: Since You Asked

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Title: Since You Asked
Author: Maurene Goo
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 262
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Netgalley ARC
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No, no one asked, but Holly Kim will tell you what she thinks anyway.

Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is the copyeditor for her high school’s newspaper. When she accidentally submits an article that rips everyone to shreds, she gets her own column and rants her way through the school year. Can she survive homecoming, mean-girl cliques, jocks, secret admirers, Valentine’s Day, and other high school embarrassments, all while struggling to balance her family’s traditional Korean values?

In this hilarious debut, Maurene Goo takes a fresh look at trying to fit in without conforming to what’s considered “normal” in high school and how to manage parental expectations without losing one’s individuality…or being driven insane.

Review: Holly Kim makes me smile. She has a voice and she uses it — especially with her new column in the newspaper. She and her group of friends ooze sarcasm, with no apologies, to great comedic effect. Aside from snarky Holly, there is laid-back, artistic David (Chinese American), intelligent, sophisticated Liz (Persian American), and sweet, energetic Carrie (of hippie decent). The whole group excels at witty banter and also enjoys complaining, but almost more for the sake of fussing than true hatred. This may be seen especially with the interactions between Holly and her “very Korean” mother.

Holly’s relationship with her mother got my attention. Holly describes her as the “pushy dictator” and earns the “Korean Mom Death Stare” several times. Her relationship with her father is much more relaxed, but way less interesting. The tug of war between Holly and her mother felt very real and it intrigued me. It was a picture of a teenage girl stretching her wings, but it also highlighted the distinctions there may be when you have a Korean mother.

The format of the book is narrative chapters with letters to the editor and Holly’s newspaper columns sandwiched in between. Hearing other voices in brief snatches was a nice way to break up the chapters a bit. The columns were a clever way to reveal a lot about Holly. While she was writing to entertain, she was also getting to express her thoughts and opinion. The teacher in charge of the school newspaper gave her permission to shake things up and she goes after that goal with gusto.

Holly gets herself into all kinds of difficult situations throughout the school year usually as a direct result of being outspoken. That’s what is so endearing about her. When I reached the end of the book, I felt like I was beginning to know Holly and I wanted to see where she would go next. There is certainly an opportunity for a sequel. I wouldn’t be opposed.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you love funny contemporary novels.

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Mini-Reviews: A Really Awesome Mess and The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong

This month there are several contemporary novels coming to the shelves. Here are two you might want to grab. Both are available for pre-order or you can look for them on July 23rd.

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Title: A Really Awesome Mess
Authors: Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
Pages: 288
Genre: contemporary, issue
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Review Copy: NetGalley digital ARC
Availability: July 23, 2013

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

My Thoughts: Lately there have been more and more co-authored books appearing on the young adult scene. It’s a trend that I appreciate. In A Really Awesome Mess, Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin have worked together to bring us two distinct and intriguing voices. The chapters alternate between an angry Emmy and the roller coaster ride that is Justin. There are some pretty intense issues that the characters are dealing with, but the authors have light hands. They also keep a lot hidden in the beginning so things snuck up on me to be honest. Little by little, I discovered what difficult issues Justin and Emma are working through. But just when I thought things were grim and overwhelming — pigs entered the picture. Seriously. A Really Awesome Mess is like that. Seemingly random bizarreness. That’s what made me smile. Also, the friends Emmy and Justin gather have unique personalities that help the story sparkle. While not everything is plausible, Cook and Halpin manage to provide many laughs in spite of the tough subject matter.

If you like issue books with a large dose of humor, you will want to get this one soon.

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Title: The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong
Author: L. Tam Holland
Pages: 368
Genre: contemporary
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
Review Copy: Edelweiss digital ARC
Availability: July 23, 2013

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

My thoughts: There was plenty to laugh at here. Vee gets himself into complicated and humorous situations over and over again. He makes choices that are cringe-worthy throughout the book. This, of course, is part of the charm. The reader is compelled to find out if Vee is truly going to go through with his next idea. Then, there is the wait for the train wreck that is sure to happen. The book is fairly lighthearted and entertaining most of the time. Vee is trying to figure out who he is and what he wants for himself so it isn’t only about the laughs.

I was uncomfortable with some of the terms that Vee used like retarded and lesbos, but these are certainly words that are tossed about in high schools and they fit the context. They were just a little jarring for me. I also found the speech patterns for Vee’s father a little stilted. He often sounds formal and maybe the purpose was to show that English wasn’t his first language or to emphasize how closed off he is to Vee, but it seemed awkward to me.

You will find humor, a bit of romance around the edges, basketball action, and plenty of high school and family drama in The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong. If humorous contemporary books are your thing, get it soon.

L. Tam Holland did a reading of her book last week if you want a sneak peek.

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New Releases

This week we have steampunk, urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and historical fiction to tempt us. Which ones are calling your name?

Cold
Cold Steel (Spirit Walker #3) by Kate Elliot

Orbit

Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue. Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.
— Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Ink by Amanda Sun (Paper Gods)

Harlequin Teen

On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school’s kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they’re near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life.

Somehow Tomo is connected to the Kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan-and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.
— Cover image and summary via Amazon

girl
The Girl of His Dreams by Amir Abrams

K-Teen

Summary: The rules are simple: Play or get played. And never, ever, catch feelings.
That’s the motto 17-year-old heartthrob Antonio Lopez lives by. Since his mother walked out, Antonio’s father has taught him everything he needs to know about women: they can’t be trusted, and a real man has more than one. So once Antonio gets what he wants from a girl, he moves on. But McPherson High’s hot new beauty is turning out to be Antonio’s first real challenge.

Miesha Wilson has a motto of her own: The thrill of the chase is not getting caught. Game knows game, and Miesha is so not interested. She’s dumped her share of playboys and she’s determined to stay clear of the likes of Antonio Lopez–until his crazy jealous ex aggravates her. But when she decides to play some games of her own, Miesha and Antonio find themselves wondering if love is real after all. . ..
– Cover image via Goodreads — summary via Amazon

 

Fairy
Golden Girl (The American Fairy #2) by Sarah Zettel

Random House Books for Young Readers

Callie LeRoux has put her grimy, harrowing trip from the depths of the Dust Bowl behind her. Her life is a different kind of exciting now: she works at a major motion picture studio among powerful studio executives and stylish stars. Still nothing can distract her from her true goal. With help from her friend Jack and guidance from the great singer Paul Robeson, she will find her missing mother.

But as a child of prophecy and daughter of the legitimate heir to the Seelie throne, Callie poses a huge threat to the warring fae factions who’ve attached themselves to the most powerful people in Hollywood . . . and they are all too aware that she’s within their reach.
— Cover image and summary from Goodreads

 

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A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

As the partition of India nears in 1947 bringing violence even to Jalandhar, Tariq, a Muslim, finds himself caught between his forbidden interest in Anupreet, a Sikh girl, and Margaret, a British girl whose affection for him might help with his dream of studying at Oxford.
— Cover image and summary from Goodreads

Reviewed previously on Rich in Color

 

 

 

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When Every Culture Is a Foreign Culture: Writing on the Autism Spectrum

We welcome Lyn Miller-Lachmann today to share about her writing journey both as an insider and an outsider. Lyn is the author of Gringolandia, published in 2009, and Rogue published in May of this year. I was lucky enough to read Gringolandia earlier this week and am looking forward to sitting down with Rogue soon.


Miller-Lachmann

Before I became a published author of fiction for teens, I compiled multicultural bibliographies and edited the journal MultiCultural Review. Except for two years teaching high school social studies and English in Brooklyn, New York, and several more years teaching English as a Second Language in Madison, Wisconsin to refugees and students from Latin America, I had no special multicultural credentials to do this work—or so I thought at the time.

However, I did know what it was like not to fit in—and what it was like to leave home and family for places unknown.

I left at the age of 18. It was a moment I had looked forward to for a long time, because my childhood community was a place where I had been misunderstood, bullied, and excluded. But moving brought its own challenges—meeting new people, learning new ways of doing things, and trying to find a place for myself where everyone already seemed to know the way. My own struggles helped me to understand my immigrant students in Brooklyn and Madison, and I learned a lot from their experiences of adjusting to a new land.

Some of the stories I heard from friends and colleagues became the basis for my YA novel Gringolandia, the story of a Chilean exile teenager trying to reconnect with his father, a former political prisoner and torture survivor. At the time, I questioned my right to write about a culture to which I did not belong. My Chilean friends encouraged me to go for it; they knew I’d done my research. The people I interviewed in Chile in 1990, during the transition to democracy, wanted me to tell people in my country of their suffering as a result of the CIA-sponsored military coup in 1973 that led to the 17-year dictatorship. The novel took me 22 years to write and get published. My fiction-writing career during that time was one of close calls, heartbreak, and misunderstandings. I also found out that, even though I had escaped the place where I didn’t fit in, I could not escape the problems that made it so difficult for me to fit in.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. The diagnosis answered a lot of questions about why I had so much trouble making and keeping friends, fitting in socially, understanding non-verbal communication and “hidden meanings”, and recognizing faces (because I’m not actually looking at people or making eye contact when I talk to them). With Gringolandia already in production, I questioned my ability to write fiction—which requires so much in terms of portraying emotion and social relationships, conveying the meaning of language and gesture, and forging connections with readers. These are all the things I struggle with in daily life.

I then remembered my Chilean friends’ advice. They said I’d done my homework. I had studied a culture that was not my own, thoroughly enough that I could write authentically about it. Perhaps that meant I could study all my characters’ cultures thoroughly enough to write about them. I could approach any culture as if it were a foreign culture—because to me as a person on the autism spectrum, every culture is a foreign culture. I also thought about the people I interviewed in Chile, survivors of a brutal dictatorship. They wanted their stories told so people would understand what they went through.

I had long avoided telling my own story of bullying and exclusion for a variety of reasons: I didn’t want to remember the pain. On some level, I felt I deserved it. I had internalized the dislike others felt for me and thus didn’t believe I could create a likable character similar to the younger me. But after my diagnosis, I realized that my story could help others in my situation, and create greater understanding of people on the autism spectrum, how we think, and the challenges that we face.

For inspiration, I turned to the X-Men. When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the character of Professor Xavier, who used a wheelchair and gathered around him a group of misunderstood and rejected young people who nonetheless had special powers that they could use either to destroy society or to save society. He wanted these outsiders to use their powers for good, and by doing good, create understanding of mutants.

In this way Rogue was born. By setting the novel in the present, I was able to use the newer X-Men character of Rogue as protagonist Kiara’s hero. Rogue is the perfect role model for a teenage girl on the autism spectrum, as she cannot touch or be touched, and she has to steal the memories and emotions of others because her emotions did not fully develop.

Above all, I transferred to Kiara my strongest desire when I was growing up—to have a friend. Like Kiara, I would do anything for a friend—clueless things that got me laughed at (like thinking I could become popular by sitting at the popular girls’ table), naïve things that led other people to take advantage of me, and dangerous things to prove my loyalty. Rogue is the first novel I have written as an insider, and I have sought to present my character honestly and in a multidimensional way. Yes, she’s a young teen on the autism spectrum, but she’s also an avid bike rider who repairs her own bike, a lover of music, and a budding filmmaker. She has a life and interests that are independent of her neurological difference. She also has a lot in common with everyone else in her desire to be connected to other people, to be loved, and to contribute to her community. I’m not sure I’ll write a sequel or another novel with a protagonist on the autism spectrum—a lot depends on how many “friends” Kiara makes—but I am fortunate to have had the chance to write my own story and make something positive of it.


Lyn
Lyn Miller-Lachman authored Gringolandia – published by Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press and Rogue – published by Nancy Paulson Books/Penguin. She is also a reviewer for The Pirate Tree, a blog devoted to social justice and children’s literature.

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Review: A Moment Comes

moment
Title: A Moment Comes
Author: Jennifer Bradbury
Genres: Historical
Pages: 288
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Edelweiss
Availability: June 25, 2013

Summary: As the partition of India nears in 1947 bringing violence even to Jalandhar, Tariq, a Muslim, finds himself caught between his forbidden interest in Anupreet, a Sikh girl, and Margaret, a British girl whose affection for him might help with his dream of studying at Oxford. [cover image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The beautiful and colorful cover caught my eye immediately though it seemed to be trying to go for the exotic look with the peacock feather. Anupreet is beautiful, but of the three main characters, Tariq was actually the one whose story stood out to me. It might have been nice to have him on the cover.

Writing a book with three distinct points of view and sharing them equally is a challenge and I felt that Tariq stole the show. He is the one who seemed to go through the most inner turmoil and he grew and changed more than the others throughout the novel. All this is in addition to the fact that he is quite the attractive young man. Margaret was more of a bored white rich girl “type” and Anu hung back so much, it was hard to get to know them.

The story itself happens during the partitioning of India. This was a tumultuous and dangerous time. There is upheaval, fear, anger, and resentment from all sides. Readers without much background knowledge will still understand the story, but after finishing the book, they will probably be happy to read the author’s note at the end filling in some of the history surrounding the book.

There are many racial and religious tensions in the book as the British are backing away from this piece of their empire. It is interesting to see the reasons behind the slicing up of the county and the forced migration that occurs as a result. Having privileged one group over the other, the British had complicated the relationship between the Sikh and Muslim people.

In addition to the prescribed roles designated by race and religion, gender roles are another notable aspect of the story. Regardless of culture, the women have very specific roles and must not deviate or face serious consequences. Anu must be hidden away because of her beauty and is always protected. Elizabeth is allowed to be out and about, but in a very restricted manner and has very little choice in what she wears and does outside of her home though she gets away with things inside. She rails against her mother’s rules though by smoking, buying Indian clothing, and flirting with men she knows would not have her mother’s approval. She’s a bit of a rebel, but doesn’t stray too far. This all seems normal for the 1940s though.

I found the events and issues of the time pretty fascinating and wanted to know more, but wished that the story could have been in two voices in stead of three so I could get to know the characters a little better.

Recommendation: If you love historical fiction or are interested in India, you will want to get this soon, but otherwise, borrow it someday.

 

 

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The Worry-Free Vacation

Books are the perfect vehicle for travel. They can take you to your destination in the blink of an eye. You won’t experience  turbulence and they never cause seasickness. Books also deliver you to countries all over the world with no risk of misplacing your passport or getting jet-lag. The best part is that you get to meet characters from many different places and see life from a different perspective.

I had a fun time looking through book lists (mine and those of many others) to find a wide variety of places to visit during my vacation. I have read many of the titles, but was excited to find some new ones too.

I will make my summer reading plan with many of these destinations in mind. I invite you to start planning your trip any time.

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Japan – Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito #1), Ichiro
China (in the past) – Boxers (it will be released in the fall)
China (in the future) – Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)
Nepal – Sold

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India – Sita’s Ramayana, Secret Keeper
Andaman Islands – Islands End
Malaysia – Kampung Boy
Afghanistan – Operation Oleander

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Pakistan – Shabanu
Iran – Persepolis
Cambodia – Never Fall Down
Burma – Bamboo People
Sri Lanka – Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

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Australia – Does My Head Look Big in This?
Palestine – Where the Streets Had a Name
England – Devil’s Kiss
Nigeria – Akata Witch
Sudan – The Milk of Birds

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Ivory Coast – Aya
Egypt – Mara, Daughter of the Nile
South Africa – This Thing Called the Future
Brazil – The Summer Prince
Haiti – In Darkness

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Cuba – The Lightning Dreamer, Guantanamo Boy
Ecuador – The Queen of Water
Mexico – Summer of the Mariposas
Dominican Republic – Before We Were Free

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U.S.A.
Alaska – Blessing’s Bead
New York – No Crystal Stair
Los Angeles – Legend
New Orleans – Orleans
Nevada – Bad Kitty

I was inspired to write this post after seeing Reading Around the World!, written by Sel who blogs at Bookcase to Heaven. Thanks for sharing your idea!

I know there are many excellent titles that I did not have a chance to include. If you think of any that would be a great addition to this list, please let us know in the comment section. Thanks for stopping by and I wish you a pleasant reading journey.

— cover images via Goodreads

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