New Releases

Three new books for the first full week of September, and one book that a number of people have been anxiously awaiting, (myself included!). Which of these are you looking forward to reading?

lostLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…
— Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Check out Crystal’s review of Labyrinth Lost here

catThe Cat King of Havana by Tom Crosshill
Katherine Tegen Books

Rick Gutierrez is . . . the Cat King of Havana! A cat-video tycoon turned salsa-dancer extraordinaire, he’ll take Cuba by storm, romance the girl of his dreams, and ignite a lolcat revolution!

At least that’s the plan.

It all starts when his girlfriend dumps Rick on his sixteenth birthday for uploading cat videos from his bedroom when he should be out experiencing the real world. Known as “That Cat Guy” at school, Rick isn’t cool and he knows it. He realizes it’s time for a change.

Rick decides joining a salsa class is the answer . . . because of a girl, of course. Ana Cabrera is smart, friendly, and smooth on the dance floor. Rick might be half-Cuban, but he dances like a drunk hippo. Desperate to impress Ana, he invites her to spend the summer in Havana. The official reason: learning to dance. The hidden agenda: romance under the palm trees.

Except Cuba isn’t all sun, salsa, and music. There’s a darker side to the island. As Rick and Ana meet his family and investigate the reason why his mother left Cuba decades ago, they learn that politics isn’t just something that happens to other people. And when they find romance, it’s got sharp edges. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Not Your SidekickNot Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Duet Books

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

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Book Review: Running Away to Home

rath-coverTitle: Running Away to Home
Author: Lita Hooper
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 145
Publisher: Brave Books/Aquarius Press
Review Copy: ARC
Availability: Available Aug. 30

Summary:  How do you find your way home when your home no longer exists? For 17-year old twin sisters Sammie and Ronnie and their father, Willis, the answer to that question becomes a life raft when they are displaced after Hurricane Katrina.
Identity….Fear….Family
Running Away to Home, a YA verse novel, tells the story of two brave sisters, a repentant father, and the amazing triumphant spirit of familial love.
Loss.…Memory….Family
After leaving New Orleans for Atlanta, Ronnie and Sammie are separated and find themselves living in different parts of the city. Each sister is lured by false promises of love and security as they initially believe the people they encounter.
Love….Change….Family
As a YA verse novel, this story relies on poetry to express the intimacy of sisterhood and the triumphant spirit of its characters. Older YA readers will be moved by this family’s journey in the wake of one of the most memorable historical events our nation has experienced.
Spirit….Strength….Family

Review: With the 11 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina coming up and Louisiana under water again, Lita Hooper’s novel is especially timely. The story of Sammie & Ronnie is a very real one as families were separated as they fled New Orleans and were sent to different cities close by. Many of the stories I heard from Katrina were truly heart-breaking, so I applaud Ms. Hooper for tackling such a painful subject matter.

While Sammie and Ronnie are the main protagonists, Hooper also includes the voices of their father, and the people who “help” both of the girls when they separate. I put “help” in quotations because the people who decide to take in both Sammie and Ronnie only do so to serve their own interests. They lie to both of the girls about FEMA and their families, hence keeping both girls right where they want them. While neither girl is physically hurt, the emotional damage done to both hurt my heart.

While I felt for the girls, I didn’t care as much as I could have because I couldn’t really connect with either characters. Both Ronnie and Sammie felt very two dimensional and I didn’t get a feel of what made both girls who they are. They felt more like composite characters, there just to propel the action of the story, rather than be the heart of the story. It was stated that Ronnie was an studious honor student, and I get that in times of distress people don’t make rational decisions, but easy acceptance of her “savior’s” lies just struck me as odd. Additionally, Sammie was supposed to be the naive sister, however she came across as child-like instead of just a careless teenager. The writing for both characters was so simplistic that I didn’t get a grasp of Ronnie’s and Sammie’s feelings, how they truly felt about being separated from their twin. I feel like Hooper had a chance to go deeper, and for whatever reason, didn’t.

I understand that novels written in verse are tricky things, but I’ve read some verse novels that just floored me. I feel like Hooper could have slowed down some of the events in the novel, such as when the girls get separated, and explore the girls’ emotional response to their situation. This novel was very plot driven, which can be good, when it doesn’t come at the expense of characterization. Ultimately, that is what made the novel feel flat for me.

Recommendation: I was excited about this book based on the premise, but was disappointed in the execution.

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Publishing’s Bondage and Freedom

breaking-chains

With the announcement of “When We Was Fierce” being pulled just days before publication for revision, the YA twitter sphere has been having some deep, profound, and insightful conversations about positive representations and how meaningful they are to People of Color. E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and her publisher’s decision to pull the book highlights that all the conversations had offline and online, all the conference panels, research done by Lee & Low, and all the good work done by WNDB is having an effect. I applaud Charlton-Trujillo and her publishers willingness to listen to the voices of those who were hurt by the book and decided to take positive action.

All of these conversations were in the back of my mind as I attended a panel about the past, present and future of African-American publishing the other night. The moderator decided to frame the panel conversation around a quote from Fredrick Douglass, which also got me thinking about why the types of conversations we’ve been having, and all the work to diversify YA literature is important, and not a trend.

From his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, the quote essentially states (and I’m paraphrasing*), “Reading and writing can move Black folk from bondage to freedom.” Douglass’s quote is powerful and stepped in truth because slaves were purposefully prevented from learning to read and write in order for the slave masters to control them, because an educated slave is a dangerous slave.

As that quote rolled around in my brain, I thought of the very fight that is happening in our industry right now. Authors of color are literally fighting their bondage (lack of representation) to their freedom (inclusiveness in the publishing industry). Reading and writing does not only move Black folk out of bondage but it moves us all. When we have accurate portrayals of the different voices of our world, we all become enlightened to the lives of people who are not like us and become more empathetic people. Our imaginations are powerful and literature is the door that can literally open new worlds.

That can only happen if our literature reflects the wide and diverse experiences of the people living in our beautiful world. That is why #ownvoices is important, why #DVpit is important, and why we need to continue to push the publishing industry to not just say it’s going to make change, but hold publishing houses accountable. It is also why teachers and librarians need to continue to teach and push diverse texts in the classroom.

Those members of the publishing industry who have privilege need to stop putting their heads in the sand and listen to People of Color when we say a book hurts us, when we say that bad representation is worse than no representation, and not claim that we are “censoring” them. They need to stop making it all about themselves and their writing, and actually think about who their audience is. Understand that their audience includes children of color who are learning to fight the mental bondage of living in an oppressed society and are desiring to see positive, accurate representation of themselves. Those of us adults who are fighting for the kids know firsthand what that bondage feels like, and while we have survived it, that hurt child that still lives in our hearts is why we fight so hard. Why we fight for our children’s freedom.

One of the speakers on the panel, Adilifu Nama, one of the members behind the Afrofuturism movement, said, “One of the ways we are able to dismantle ill conceived notions of ourselves is through literature, through the power of our imagination.” This exact reason is why children of color need to see positive representations of themselves in their literature and the way to do that is to make sure that the books that are released do not have demeaning and racists depictions. It is why the publishing industry needs to be as sensitive as Charlton-Trujillo and her publishers were and take the steps to correct their mistakes. There is nothing wrong with admitting you made a mistake as long as you take the proper steps to correct it.

Institutional racism has held us all in bondage for a long time that fighting for our freedom is hard and hurtful, but it is a fight that we must take in order for all of us to truly be free. And if we continue on the path we are walking, correcting our mistakes, putting action behind our words, then we’ll get there.

*I paraphrased because I couldn’t find my book, and what I wrote in my notes from the panel. No shade to Mr. Douglass.

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New Releases

Only one book this week and based on it’s summary, looks like a book that will break your heart and stay with you long after the last page. My kind of book!

All We Have LeftAll We Have Left by Wendy Mills
Bloomsbury USA Childrens

A haunting and heart-wrenching story of two girls, two time periods, and the one event that changed their lives—and the world—forever.

Now:
Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died.

Then:
In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim… it’s being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia is determined to show her parents that that they must respect her choices. She’ll start by confronting her father at his office in downtown Manhattan, putting Alia in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . .

Interweaving stories past and present, full of heartbreak and hope, two girls come of age in an instant, learning that both hate and love have the power to reverberate into the future and beyond.

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Book Review: The Smaller Evil

evilTitle: The Smaller Evil
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres:  Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 256
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from Stephanie herself. Thank You!
Availability: Available Aug. 2nd

Summary: Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

Review: One of the reasons I love Stephanie Keuhn’s books is because they not only are they thrilling mysteries, but they also explore the very mystery of how our mind works in all it’s complicated beauty. The characters in her books are all struggling with living with mental illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, in their daily lives and struggling with all the usual angst that being a teenager brings. And, in Keuhn’s books, things are always never what they seem. And in her 4th novel, the reader is taken on an journey that has them just as confused as the main character Arman, which isn’t a bad thing, it just means the mystery was so well plotted that there is no way the reader can figure it out until the reveal. And I love that in a book.

As I mentioned, all of the protagonists in Keuhn’s books struggle with mental illness, Arman is her most touching yet. Arman suffers from severe anxiety, almost crippling at times, and feels that the Evolve retreat is what will heal him. He is on medication to help him with his anxiety, but it doesn’t really help him at all. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the depression that he feels is so strong that he truly believes he does not have any worth to society, and this completely broke my heart for him. Having the novel be so close inside Arman’s head truly give a glimpse of what someone with severe anxiety and depression goes through, how their own thoughts hamper them from truly functioning sometimes. Arman would often try to pump himself up, but then his self-doubt, which was much stronger than his self-love, would take over and he would not trust any progress he made while at the retreat center. Compounding his low self-worth is that when Beau disappears, no one initially believes him which doesn’t help Arman’s state of mind in the slightest. However, this is also where Arman shows great strength and grows as a character. It is for his admiration of Beau that Arman doesn’t allow himself to let his self-doubt and anxiety take control. Arman knows, desires, to figure out what happened to Beau so he constantly fights with his own brain, his low self-esteem, and really fights to have his voice heard. His purpose drives him, and while it cannot cure him from his mental illness, it does allow to find a way to work with his illness.

As for the mystery surrounding Beau’s disappearance, as well as what is exactly going on at the retreat center, I can’t exactly say without giving spoilers, but I can say that at no point did I even come close to figuring it out. There were moments where I felt Arman’s frustration with being so left in the dark without any clues as to what was really going on in the story. Well, I take that back. There was tension between Beau and other leaders of the retreat center and I saw what that place was in danger of becoming, which added an extra level of concern for Arman because his spirit is in such a vulnerable position, that certain member of the retreat center could exploit if they wanted. Luckily, Beau and Arman’s mutual appreciation of each other was well known, so Arman was never in real danger.

Overall, I’m kind of in the middle with my thoughts on “The Smaller Evil”. It is a slow paced, quiet book that feels different from Keuhn’s previous books that had a lot of movement to it. This novel takes place primarily at the retreat center, and Keuhn does a great job of giving the reader a sense of place with her descriptions, but I feel that because the setting is in one place, the story just moves a bit too slowly. Also, my heart totally broke for Arman so I struggled with reading because I just wanted Arman to get the true help he needed and the retreat center was so not the place. It changes him, as all experiences do, but I wonder how much damage it did as well. This novel grabs your heart for Arman and doesn’t let go. It is a hard read at times because Keuhn does a great job with Arman’s neurosis and you truly, truly feel his pain. Because after all, that is what Keuhn excels at.

Recommendation: Get it soon.

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Covers I Love 2.0

Over on our tumblr, we’ve been re-posting some of our older posts and one of mine, titled “Covers I Love” focused on beautiful book covers with characters of color. Since then, a number of books have out and I thought it would be fun to make a new list of beautiful covers!

pointe1. Pointe by Brandy Colette
One of the things I love about this cover is the colors. The sunset orange of the title mixed with the soft red of the lights throwing the heroine in shadow against the black is just moving. It creates an old world glamour feel with the white smoke at both the top and the bottom. It’s such a quiet cover that masks extremely well the intense story inside.

 

 

 

 

Killer_of_Enemies_FINALquote2. Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
I love this action shot here of the heroine of Bruchac’s dystopian novel. I feel like it captures the essence of the character well and I love that we have a Native American/Indian on the cover. I love the grey feel to the cover as the world that Lozen inhabits does feel like it’s lost all it’s luster and is very drab, while Lozen stands out as a bright spot, just as she does on the cover.

 

 

 

rebellion3. Rebellion by Karen Sandler
Is it any surprise that Tu Books has two books on my list? They clearly know how to do great covers and Oh My Goodness is this one a beauty. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it. I love the blues that give a sense of the cold world that Kayla finds herself in. I also think the model they chose is beautiful and the design of Kayla’s tattoo is beautiful which is a direct contrast of what it really stands for.

 

 

 

shadowshaper4. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
One of the many aspects of this cover that I love is Sierra’s hair. It is a gorgeous natural afro that is enhanced by all the colors of the world. Sierra is an artist, so the use of paint colors swirling around her head, and with her “don’t mess with me” face makes this the perfect representative of Sierra’s personality. And that is why this cover received so much love (and the novel too!)

 

 

 

whilewerun5. While We Run by Karen Healey
Just look at the intensity on these two character’s faces. What I love most about this cover is the juxtaposition of the skin tones of the two characters. It highlights the differences between the two, which is also at the crux of their relationship in the novel. If you look closely, the skin on both is cracked, like dried mud, and that further adds to the mood of the novel of these two characters trying make sense of trauma that has forever changed them and their quest to obtain ownership of their own lives.

 

 

boyinblacksuit6. Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
I’m not exactly too sure what it is about this cover, it’s such a simple & straightforward cover, but it really moves me overtime I look at it. If I had to guess, I think it’s because it captures the essence of Matt perfectly. This is a young man who is thoughtful, as we can see by the turn of the model’s head and the way the hands are clasped together.  The cover also has a wrinkled quality to it which gives a sense of discomfort, which again, is a representative of the themes in this novel. Matt wears a fancy black suit everyday but is life is in shambles.

 

 

summerprince7. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
One night, I had this book sitting underneath a lamp and I noticed that it practically glows. I don’t know what materials the cover designer used, but seriously, this cover is absolutely gorgeous. The gold of the tattoos on June’s arm, in contrast with the green just gives this ethereal, out of world experience, which is exactly what this book is. As one reads, the green does have meaning which makes this cover even more fantastical.

 

 

 

ypl_woodson_Brown_Girl_Dreaming8. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Lastly, I had to include this cover because it is one of my favorite covers ever. I absolutely love the contrasts of blue against brown and this cover that gives us a gorgeous earth mixed with a gorgeous sky and a lone girl between them dreaming, her thoughts in the sky while feet are planted on earth, is everything. The sunlight behind the girl, just illuminating her slightly, adds to the focus on the dreams this young girl has.

 

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