Book Review: Long Division

long divisinoTitle: Long Division
Author: Keise Laymon
Genres: Literature/Contemporary
Pages: 267
Publisher: Bolden
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: On shelves now

 
I’m a Doctor Who fan, but I will admit that the timey-wimey stuff often gets me confused. I loved time-travel stories but I’m usually left scratching my head at the end because I just can’t make it work the linear way my mind wants me to. This feeling, this confusion, is what I had at the end of Keise Laymon’s debut novel. This is not a reflection on him as a writer, but everything on me as the reader.

 
While I was reading the novel, I enjoyed the adventures of the two main characters, both named City Coldson, but divided by 28 years. Long Division is a novel within a novel, and I wondered at the end if 1985 City was real, and not a character in a novel, or if 2013 City was real and not a character in a novel. I really hope that sentence makes sense, but if it doesn’t, that’s the complexity that is Long Division. The ending is a bit vague with the answers, leaving the reader to make up their own minds. I’d like to think both City Coldsons were real, but that would mean…oh my…*scratches head*

 
Moving on, Long Division is a novel about teenagers making sense of the racial inequalities in their world, as well as learning to be responsible for one’s actions, both positive and negative. Because it is a novel with time travel in it, the reader experiences life in 1964, 1985, and 2013. Making each of these time periods distinct, and the characters interactions during each of the time periods, is what Laymon does best. For example, I was a tween in 1985, therefore a number of the references 1985 City makes, how he speaks, is very true to the time period. Conversely, 2013 City reads just like one of my students. Laymon does a good job capturing the myriad of thoughts teenagers will have in a given moment.  This oftentimes led to some hilarious inner monologues and exchanges from both of the young men. Both 1985 City’s and 2013 City’s section are given to the reader in first person, so we are privy to the boys mixture of deep and mundane thoughts. And just like regular teens, these thoughts can go from deep to mundane in the blink of an eye. It was usually at those moments that I laughed the most.

 
The novel takes place over a series of days, but both 1985 City and 2013 City make the transition from boys to men in that short period of time, coming to understand the complexity of the effects of one’s decision and how it can have a lasting impact. I won’t give it away, but there is a moment towards the end where 1985 City has to make a decision that no adult would want, but he handles it with a maturity and grace that is absolutely beautiful.

 
Lastly, Long Division is not a novel where you can sit back and relax. You have to pay attention; notice the social commentary that Laymon drops subtly all throughout the novel. It is a very different type of Young Adult novel, but is one that teens are capable of finding, discussing, and examining the deeper meanings behind the words presented on the page. It is a novel that respects the teenage mind, while challenging them at the same time.

 

Recommendation: Get It Soon

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New Releases

July was a slow month for new releases, but makes up for the lack of diverse books by publishing 4 in the last few days. Plus, a new one from one of my favorite authors, Walter Dean Myers!!

 

everIf I Ever Get Out of Here, By Eric Gansworth

Arthur A. Levine Books

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. –Cover image and summary from Goodreads

dramaWay Too Much Drama, By Earl Sewell

Harlequin Kimani Tru

The toughest lessons aren’t always taught in the classroom… Maya is ready to put the fabulous back into her life—and that means getting her manipulative cousin, Viviana, out of it. Bad enough that Viviana is living under the same roof and tried to claim Maya’s boyfriend, Misalo, for herself. Now she’s going to Maya’s high school and she’s part of the quiz team competing on a TV show…alongside Maya, Keysha and Misalo. 

Maya has no sympathy when Viviana finally starts to feel the pressure of fitting in to her new world. That’s until her cousin does something drastic…and dangerous. Maybe Viviana isn’t as tough as everyone thought. Maya could be the only person who can help bring her back safely. Question is…does she want to?

cruisersThe Cruisers: Oh Snap!, By Walter Dean Myers

Scholastic

The Cruisers are in trouble — again. The freedom of expression they’ve enjoyed by publishing their own school newspaper, THE CRUISER, has spread all the way to England, where kids from a school “across the pond” are now contributors to their own school’s most talked-about publication. When photos start to go alongside the articles written by kids, things get suspicious. Zander, Kambui, LaShonda, Bobbi — and a bunch of students from Harlem’s DaVinci Academy and London’s Phoenix School — come to learn that words and pictures in a newspaper don’t always tell the whole story.

With his signature on-point pacing and whip-smart characters, award-winning author Walter Dean Myers delivers another awesome book about the Cruisers, a group of middle-school misfits who are becoming the coolest kids in the city. — image and summary from Amazon

 

star powerStar Power, By Kelli London

K-Teen

Charly St. James takes on her biggest challenge yet when her television show goes for a ratings sweep by making over the life of a not-so-willing small-town teen with a big secret. . .

Charly St. James is on top, and she’s determined to keep it that way. That’s why she and the producers have come up with a plan to take The Extreme Dream Team to the next level–by turning loners into VIPs. After all, how can you enjoy your new digs if your life is jacked up?

But when Charly meets her first makeover, Nia, she knows she’ll have to do more than dress her up and boost her self-esteem. Nia is living in the shade of her twin sister, who is luxuriating in a major case of pretty girl syndrome. And the more Charly tries to get Nia to shine, the more her twin sabotages her mission. Good thing Charly loves a challenge, ’cause these twins’ troubles are more than skin deep. . . — Cover image an summary from publisher’s website

 

 

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Review: When You Where Here

hereTitle: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Genres: Contemporary, Literature
Pages: 257
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Won from C.J. Omololu’s Book Giveaway
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (from Amazon)

Review: In a literary landscape where fantasy and dystopian novels are best sellers, it is nice to have a quiet novel. A novel that explores the human condition in a beautiful, yet understated way. A novel that allows the reader to connect with a character as he or she grows and comes to understand meaning in the small things in life. “When You Were Here” is such a novel that examines life after a loved one succombs to cancer. It’s a beautiful story that explores grief and then finding acceptance after death.

What I really liked about this novel is the fact that this touching story is told from a male’s perspective. Having a male narrator/main character in YA literature is somewhat of a rarity and I enjoyed reading Danny’s discovery of the last few months of his mother’s life, especially her time in Japan. Danny is unflinchingly honest about his feelings – his anger that his mother wasn’t able to see him graduate from high school, his love for his ex-girlfriend Holland –  as he works through the stages of grief and in the end discovers himself. By learning to be honest with himself, he learns how to ask the questions he needs from the people who knew his mother and to be honest with Holland. I loved the fact that the character’s spoke to each other instead of a book filled with misunderstandings. It was clear that Danny had a healthy relationship with his mother, told through touching flashbacks, that helped him become the young man who is able to handle becoming an orphan at the age of 18. His maturity doesn’t seem forced, in that children with ill parents are often much more mature than their counterparts. It is because of this attention to character detail that makes Danny feel very real and relatable.

Last week I wrote about creating diverse worlds, even when having main characters who are Caucasian, as “When You Were Here” does. I wasn’t even thinking about this novel when I wrote the article, but the world Danny lives in is a perfect example of a diverse world. The novel begins in Los Angeles and Whitney makes sure to make Danny’s world a reflection of the multicultural city that is Los Angeles. I was definitely able to relate to the city presented in this novel because it is the world I live in. When the novel moves to Tokyo, Whitney doesn’t treat the city as a novelty, but as a real place where people live and work. In fact, Danny loves Tokyo and that love is clearly presented. Danny doesn’t view Tokyo with a tourist’s wonder, but as a citizen of the city and in the end, he calls it home. I do not know whether Whitney actually visited Japan, but she definitely completed thorough research into local customs, beliefs, language as well as most likely asked the right questions about Japanese culture. Her careful attention shows the respect it takes when writing another culture when one is the other and I commend her for it.

While I didn’t read this by the beach, “When You Were Here” is beach reading material and the perfect companion for summer.

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Creating Diverse Worlds

This post is for all you writers out there wondering how to create diversity in your novel. Creating diversity is not just the act of developing a character of color, it is also creating a diverse world. Think about the world that you live in. Who do you interact with everyday? I’ll use myself as an example.

Long_Beach_diversity_of_people_expressed_Long_Beach

Mural expressing the diversity of my city. From virtualtourist.com

I live in Long Beach, CA, one of the most diverse cities in America. My student population is 60% Hispanic/Latino and 40% African-American, but the teaching staff is much more diverse with a good mix of different nationalities. I live in a large condo complex and there is every race and age living in the building. Yesterday as I walked out, I was behind an elderly Japanese couple and there is a mixed race family with two girls that I have seen grow into beautiful young ladies. Our neighbors across the courtyard are Samoan. This is just my complex. My best friend from high school is Puerto Rican and my husband’s best friend is a mix of Mexican and Navajo. Another high school friend, who is Caucasian, married a man who is a mix of Mexican and Japanese. Their daughter is a lovely blend of everything that makes up her parents. Another friend’s fiancée is Filipino, and she herself is a mix of Persian and Jewish. I am sitting in a coffee shop as I write this and the ethnic makeup of everyone in here is a mix of all the colors of the world.

Obviously, I encounter diversity in every aspect of my life, except for in novels. Why is this? I know writers do not write in a vacuum and have lives outside of the computer. Why not have the world you create from the pen, reflect the world the you live in? If you are unsure of how to do that, just spend some time sitting in a restaurant, coffee shop, mall, wherever people gather and watch them. Imagine their lives. What are they doing? Where are they going? What are the relationships with the people they’re with? You don’t have to create full character histories for them, but do remember them when creating the world your characters lives in. Just having a main character of color is not enough; the people the character interacts with should be diverse as well.

Don’t just focus on their ethnicity as well. People of color are more than just their skin. We are as unique and varied with our own special interests (I’m a Trekkie) and when creating diverse characters make sure you are creating a real person, not just a stock stereotype. Even if your main character interacts with a person for just one scene, create a small character profile in your head and then use that as a basis for how you write him/her in that once scene. Or, use the personality of someone you know and think about how he/she would react in the same situation. Think outside of the box and strive to make your world reflect the world you live in.

Now, unless your world is set in a place that is not diverse, say the novel “Spirits Chosen” which was set in a mythical Japan, then obviously your characters will not reflect the diverse world you live in. However, if you are interested in writing fantasy, why stick to the European version of elves and such? Why not look into the ancient history or folklore tales of other cultures? There is such a wide variety of stories from distant places that are just waiting to be told.

chaos

Image via Goodreads.com

Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Chaos” is a novel that creates a diverse world the right way. In fact, it felt as if she were hitting us over the head with diversity, but that is because it is so rare in fiction to find a novel that accurately reflects the culture we live in. The novel is set in modern day Toronto when an odd supernatural event happens, dubbed The Chaos for that is exactly what it is, and the story deals with one characters attempts to survive the event. The novel does have an aspect of fantasy pulling from Caribbean, Asian and European folklore traditions. I recommend that every writer interested in creating a diverse world, read Hopkinson’s book for inspiration.

Go forth and create diverse worlds!

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New Releases

We’re officially halfway through 2013, my friends, and so far the year has released some terrific books featuring characters of color, and books written by authors of color.

July seems to be a slow month as we settle into lounging by the pool or the beach and go on our vacations. This week, we only have one new release, but it looks promising.

the night itselfBy Zoe Marriott
Walker Books Ltd

Ancient Japanese gods and monsters are unleashed on modern-day London in this epic trilogy from an acclaimed fantasy writer. When Mio steals the family’s katana – a priceless ancestral sword – from her parents’ attic, she just wants to spice up a fancy-dress costume. But the katana is much more than some dusty antique and her actions unleash a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. Soon Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, appears to protect Mio – and threatens to steal her heart. With the gods and monsters of Japanese myth stalking her and her friends, Mio realizes that if she cannot keep the sword safe, and learn to control its legendary powers, she will lose not only her own life…but the love of a lifetime.

Picture and summary via Amazon.com

And one we missed last week…

since you askedBy Maurene Goo

Scholastic Press

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.

Picture and summary via Amazon.com

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Review: The Eternity Cure

eternityBefore I get to the nuts and bolts of my review, I must give a loud Thank You to Julie Kagawa. Thank You Julie for making vampires scary again. Your vampires are ruthless and deadly and snarky and a reminder of why vampires have always been popular. Also, Thank You for having a female Asian character in Allison who completely kicks butt. And lastly, Thank You for making her the vampire, hereby ending the “vampire guy/human girl love story” trope.

Obviously, based on my praise for Julie’s vampires, specifically Allison, I loved The Eternity Cure. I ended up reading the first book of the series in order to understand Kagawa’s world, and really loved “The Immortal Rules”, hence my expectations for “Eternity Cure” were very high. Kagawa didn’t disappoint in this sequel of what I believe will be either an amazing trilogy or an intense series. In fact, I hope it’s a trilogy because I don’t know if my heart can take another punch like it did at the end of Eternity Cure…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What makes Eternity Cure such a fantastic read is primarily the work Kagawa puts in creating her characters. Allison Sekemoto is a tough, Katana wielding heroine who has learned to fight for survival. In this second book, the readers continue with Allison as she learns how to balance being a vampire yet still hold on to her humanity. Kagawa’s world is very dark, very self-serving, yet Allison manages to be a bright spot, showing compassion towards both humans and vampires. She is easy to relate to as she makes some hard decisions and struggles with her loyalty to her sire, Kanin, and her desire for Zeke. Speaking of Zeke, the romance between him and Allison does not overpower the main storyline, but is understated, given weight at appropriate moments, specifically when they are not fighting for their lives. Another plus I have to give Kagawa in writing the romance between Allison and Zeke is the fact that Allison is not a passive participant in the relationship – at all. She doesn’t always wait for Zeke to make the first move, many times initiating affection. I found the portrayal of their relationship realistic instead of the passive girl/aggressive boy trope that pervades some many novels. More YA novels need to have this healthy view of relationships and I’m thankful that Kagawa was able to weave such a portrayal in an otherwise dark story.

If you haven’t read either “The Immortal Rules” or “The Eternity Cure”, stop what you are doing (after leaving a comment below first) and run to your nearest bookstore (support your local bookstore) and buy these books! I promise, you will not be disappointed.

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