Book Review: He Said She Said

Title: He Said She Said
Author: Kwame Alexander
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 330
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers
Review Copy: ebook from Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

he saidSummary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! — cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I have yet to read a “hip hop” novel because the genre doesn’t appeal to me, but I thought I’d check out “He Said, She Said” because I know of Kwame Alexander’s work with school kids and admire his Book-in-a-Day program. I know he is a talented poet and children’s author, so I was looking forward to reading his first young adult novel. Unfortunately, Alexander’s novel didn’t sway me into reading more “hip hop” novels.

When I teach creative writing with my students, I encourage them to “show, not tell” by adding dialogue to their short stories. Usually, in a creative work, the use of dialogue adds to the story, moves the plot forward, reveals character, etc. In Alexander’s novel, the overuse of a dialogue backfires and instead leads to more telling, rather than showing. Because Alexander relied heavily on dialogue to tell his story, I never got a sense of setting, of the physical world Omar and Claudia live in. For example, they protest that their school is run down, but there is not a single description of the school. In what way was the school run down? Were the walls filled with graffiti? Were all the toilets broken? Were there broken desks everywhere?  Dialogue in a story is helpful, but all the senses need to be engaged for a reader to really lose themselves in a story and Alexander does not make use of all the senses.

I’m big into writers creating well-rounded characters, flawed characters, characters that make us root for them. Again, unfortunately for Alexander, the male main character, Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls, is extremely unlikeable. The reader is supposed to not like him in the beginning so that we can see his growth, but the change truly comes a little to late. I think Alexander tried to have the reader like Omar earlier, but he would always ruin a moment of Omar’s growth by some gross sexist comment towards Claudia and “getting in her panties”. I understand teenage boys can be that foul, but even in his quiet moments, Omar’s thoughts were the same. It got really annoying after a while. I also felt that Claudia could have been written better instead of written as “the hard to get girl who eventually crumbles to the bad boy’s charm”.  It’s such a bad trope and not very true to life. At times it felt as if the feelings Claudia began to have for Omar came out from no where and not from a genuine place. In fact, both Omar and Claudia didn’t feel very genuine at all. They were one dimensional characters that were often there to occasionally shout platitudes towards fighting the man, and to create a very unconvincing love story.

He Said, She Said is a good premise – two unlikely people finding love while finding a purpose – but in execution, the story is lacking. I feel that Alexander could have relied less on the use of dialogue (literally pages at a time) and spent more time constructing the story. He Said She Said could have used a few more rounds of revision in order to make this a truly engrossing novel.

Recommendation: Skip It.

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Are We Food?

One night as I was reading a novel, a character description, one that I’ve seen in countless stories, struck me as odd. The character in question was described as having olive skin. I know the type of picture that is coming to your mind when I use the words “olive skin”. However, on that particular night, whether I had just had a martini or seen a picture of olives or something, but suddenly the words “olive skin” to describe characters of color just didn’t feel right.

Let’s look at Exhibit A: A picture of people with “olive skin”
oliveskin
Exhibit B: A picture of olives.
olives-herbs-ck-1065517-l
Exhibit C: Do these olives fit?
olives-wallpaper
Do you see what I see? The images don’t exactly match. Now, I do know there are a variety of olives out there and maybe Exhibit C olives could work, but the question still remains, why and how did writers ever come up with using olive as a skin tone? As someone who falls into the olive skin tone category, I’m a bit insulted because my skin looks nothing like an olive. I don’t have greenish undertones to my skin, I have yellow. And really, human beings only have yellow or red undertones to their skin, but that is an entirely different essay on an entirely different type of blog.

 
While I’m focusing on the use of olive skin tones as my point, there is a larger question at work here. Why are characters of color often described using food metaphors? Think about it. We have chocolate, caramel, brown sugar, honey skin. Granted, I have seen white characters as creamy and milk, but there is a large reliance on authors to use food as a descriptor for characters of color. It’s not just non-POC writers who use food, but writers of color as well. We’ve internalized the use of food to describe each other in our communities so often, that it makes sense that we use the same descriptions in our writing. We’ve internalized these descriptions for so long, that we don’t recognize them as potentially harmful. Maybe it’s time for this to change.

 

 
There has been a call by a number of POC writers, specifically in the Science Fiction/Fantasy community, to end using food descriptions as metaphors. Many authors have written blog posts about how to write character of colors and get away from the stereotypical food descriptions. For me, at first I was unsure of how I felt on the topic, but when I was revising my novel I decided to not use food to describe any of my characters. It was a challenge for me, to change my way of thinking, but I am proud that I was able to write good character descriptions without having to use stereotypical metaphors. So, for any writers that read our blog, I challenge you. Try to write your characters without describing them as food (same for using almond eyes to note someone is Asian). Describe your characters differently. Maybe use a different metaphor; I read one that compared a character’s skin color to a brass doorknob. Or, as my mentor suggested, write skin tone in contrast to something different, like their clothing. It’s really up to you. The point is to extend your thinking and find unique and different ways to describe your characters.

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New Releases

Two new releases this week, both of which I’m really looking forward to. The first I’m reviewing for Rich In Color, so look for my thoughts in Dec. and the second book is the sequel to a fascinating dystopian YA novel that deals with angels. I loved Susan Ee’s first novel “Angelfall”, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for some time now. I don’t know about you, but my reading list keeps getting longer and longer. Thank goodness Thanksgiving vacation is next week.

he saidHe Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

Amistad Press

Summary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! (cover image and summary via Goodreads)

world afterWorld After (Penryn & End of Days #2) by Susan Ee

Skyscape

In this sequel to the bestselling fantasy thriller, Angelfall, the survivors of the angel apocalypse begin to scrape back together what’s left of the modern world.

When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige, thinking she’s a monster, the situation ends in a massacre. Paige disappears. Humans are terrified. Mom is heartbroken.

Penryn drives through the streets of San Francisco looking for Paige. Why are the streets so empty? Where is everybody? Her search leads her into the heart of the angels’ secret plans where she catches a glimpse of their motivations, and learns the horrifying extent to which the angels are willing to go.

Meanwhile, Raffe hunts for his wings. Without them, he can’t rejoin the angels, can’t take his rightful place as one of their leaders. When faced with recapturing his wings or helping Penryn survive, which will he choose? (cover image and summary via Goodreads)

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Book Review: Champion

Title: Ch14290364ampion
Author: Marie Lu
Genres: Dystopian, SciFi
Pages: 369
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Review Copy: Target!
Availability: On Shelves now

Review: I wish I could write gushing praise for Champion. I really wanted to say that I loved the novel and everyone needs to run out and buy it right now. I wish I could say a lot of things, but what I truly wish for is a different ending to the book. For me, I might enjoy 80-90% of a book, tv, or movie, but if the ending is not done well, then I usually end up disappointed with the entire product. Unfortunately, I did not like the ending to Champion and it has sullied my entire enjoyment of the novel. I will not say why I didn’t like the book because I’m not one to ruin someone’s reading pleasure and give away the end of the book, so you’ll just have to read it for yourselves.

The rest of the novel, with the exception of the last 20 pages, was tense with almost non-stop action. After all, the entire book encompasses a very short time period (a week, I think) where Day and June are literally fighting for their lives, for the lives of the people of the Republic, as well as trying to find a cure for the new plague. This makes for some very intense moments where Day and June have to make adult decisions that will effect their entire nation. That is a lot of responsibility for teenagers, but as established in Legend and Prodigy, Day and June are not ordinary teenagers. Their relationship begins strained at the beginning of the novel, but they eventually come together and the scene where they finally admit how they feel for each other is one of the best in the book. I cheered for them and hoped against hoped that Day and June would be able to have their happy ending. At that point in the story, it really didn’t look like that was going to happen, so much Kudos to Marie Lu for keeping the reader in such suspense.

One aspect of Champion that I really loved was learning more about the world that Day and June live in. In my copy there was a map of the world that showed how the melting of the glaciers affected the entire globe. We learn that Africa is a superpower and that Antarctica is a thriving continent, with a wonderful super-charged technology advanced city and even has their own language. This attention to world building detail thrilled me and I even wondered what the Antarctican language sounded like and where it’s roots where. While Prodigy explained more of what happened to the United States, Champion gives more information as to how the world changed and the former US’s status among the world’s governments. To me, the world that Lu created feels very real and I can imagine our future turning into Day and June’s familiar world.

Overall, maybe my disappointment comes from having Day and June’s story come to an end. I seriously loved Legend and Prodigy, and was eagerly anticipating Champion. Day and June, for me, are one-of-a-kind characters and I grew to really care for them. I cared for each of their individual stories, their heartaches, and I cared for them as a couple. I felt they were a realistic portrayal of a couple who pushes and challenges the other to be better, while at the same time can work together as a team. That type of relationship is uncommon in Young Adult fiction these days, but I hope that more publishers take note on the popularity of Lu’s series and publish more novels where the teens are equals to each other instead of a lopsided relationship.

Marie Lu, thank you for giving us Day and June. I will miss them greatly.

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Diversity: Doing It Right

On Oct. 9, a number of excited students of mine came running up to me with their newly purchased “House of Hades” novel by Rick Riordan, asking me if I had bought mine. I hadn’t, but couldn’t help getting caught up in their excitement at the latest book in the Heroes of Olympus series. After all, I had only gotten into the series because of them. Their enthusiasm for the series and the desire to talk about the books with me is why I started reading the books in the first place. So, when I finally got around to reading the book, I remembered another reason why I greatly enjoyed the books and why I’m currently using “The Lost Hero” in my classroom. Riordan’s books are prime examples of diversity done right.

via Goodreads

via Goodreads

Riordan has come out and said that he wrote the Percy Jackson series for his son and for ADD/ADHD kids to see a reflection of themselves in literature. While he’s never expressly stated this, based on the characters he creates, one can assume he also wants children of color to see themselves reflected in the novels as well. The Heroes of Olympus has 7 main characters, 4 of which are characters of color. Their ethnic breakdown is as follows: African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Chinese and Native American. Though technically they would be considered mixed because they are demigods, meaning one of their parents is one of the Greek/Roman gods. Even still, they are kids of colors who are the children of gods. I want to repeat that…they are kids of color who are the children of GODS!

 
Riordan could have taken the easy way out and not included diversity at all because his characters are the children of the Greek & Roman gods – all characters that we are familiar with, but he didn’t. The novels are set in our modern, culturally diverse world and the characters are reflective of that world. If one knows their mythology, the Greek/Roman gods love to have affairs with humans, so in our diverse world it is appropriate for one to imagine that the Greek/Roman gods would have affairs with all the beautiful colors under the sun. Riordan imagined this world and I’m glad for it. This careful attention to diversity is also what makes the books so enjoyable. Children of all colors can see themselves in the pages, can imagine themselves being able to control fire like Leo, pull precious metals from earth like Hazel, shape-shift like Frank, and influence people like Piper.  Children of color can see themselves as heroes, as they should.

 

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New Releases

This past summer, during a cranky moment, I made a post about the “Diversity Surprise.” Well, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is what somewhat sparked that post. While the main characters may not be characters of color, Roth did an excellent job of filling her futuristic world with a diverse population that accurately represents a world based on today’s population. Despite my snarky reaction, I still enjoyed the series and am excited about it’s conclusion, Allegiant, that comes out on Tuesday.

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

One choice will define you.

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent. (text via Goodreads)

 

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