Favorite Diverse YA from 2013

Narrowing down my favorites for the year was pretty tough. There are so many that I don’t want to leave out. I finally narrowed it down though.

Dystopian

proxy

 

Proxy by Alex London was a fast paced novel that kept me flipping the pages both times I read it. And yes, I did read it twice already. I reviewed it here

prodigy

 

Marie Lu’s Legend series got even more amazing with Prodigy. June and Day are compelling characters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

unravel

 

Juliette from Unravel Me is another character that fascinates me. Tehereh Mafi is weaving a tale that has completely sucked me in and I’m excited for the next installment.

Contemporary Books

Rogue_JKT_FINAL
Rogue author Lyn Miller-Lachmann visited out blog earlier this year and shared a bit about her writing. After learning about the book, I knew I wanted to read it. This is on the younger side of YA with the main character in middle school. I loved that readers see into the world of a person with Asperger’s syndrome, but Kiara is much more than that. She is an X-Men enthusiast, a loyal friend, a movie maker and much more. Kiara is a character that I wished I could meet in person.

yaqui


In Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Piddy Sanchez is bullied. This is a gritty book that tugged at my heart. Fortunately, Piddy has some amazing people in her life. This book brought me to tears, but also brought laughter and smiles. Author Meg Medina was kind enough to grant us an interview and Jessica also reviewed Yaqui on Rich in Color back in May.

 

Historical

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park takes place in the 80s so those headphones are leading to a Walkman not an iPod, thus the historical label. It also earns a romance label. The relationship between Eleanor and Park was simply sweet in contrast to some of the rather horrible things in Eleanor’s life.

If I ever get out of here

 

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here was another fabulous book set in the past – specifically the 70s. I reviewed it on my personal blog here, and we also held a group discussion (with spoilers) earlier this month. Gansworth manages to handle some serious issues like bullying and poverty with a nice balance of humor. Lewis, the main character, is a teenager from the Tuscarora Indian reservation and he is attending a mostly white high school. Watching as Lewis navigates the social life of that school is both humorous and heart-breaking. 

Poetry – Historical

dreamer

 

The Lightning Dreamer is based on the life of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist. Margarita Engle used this novel-in-verse to express some of Avellaneda’s ideas.

Here is a sample:
Beyond these convent gates, books
are locked away
and men
hold
the keys.

 

Graphic Novels – Historical


Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 9.39.08 PMBoxers and Saints is actually two books, but they should be read together. They are both telling the same story during the Boxer Rebellion in China, but from two different perspectives. The first time I read them, I was impressed, but on a second read through, they were even better. I reviewed them here. They are a set of books that should not be missed even if graphic novels are not something you typically read.

Comedy

Asked

Since You Asked was a bunch of fun. I reviewed it here. In it, Holly Kim writes a column in her high school newspaper. She is a bit snarky and has the goal of shaking things up around school. I loved her interactions with her mother and she also has a great group of friends. This one is sure to have you laughing.

Have you read any fantastic books that I might have missed? What were some of your favorites this year? Please share in the comments.
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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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Review: Charm & Strange

charm and strangeTitle: Charm & Strange
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 216
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: When you’ve been kept caged in the dark, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. It’s impossible to see anything, really. Not without bars . . .

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Charm & Strange is a difficult, disturbing read. I can’t say much about it without spoiling the story, but I’ll do my best.

The bio on the dust jacket says that the author is working on a doctorate in clinical psychology, and it’s clear that Kuehn has used her education to her advantage in this book. Charm & Strange combines two narratives in alternating chapters: Drew’s traumatic childhood and Win’s reluctant party attendance, which eventually turns into a mental health crisis. Both narratives leave you with a mounting sense of dread the closer you get to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Drew/Win. There are enough clues that a discerning reader can figure out the key points of the trauma before the official reveal, but that won’t lessen the emotional impact of the events. I spent the time before the reveal desperately hoping that I was wrong and the time afterwards being extremely upset that I was right.

While the book remains tightly focused on Drew/Win, Lex (a former roommate) and Jordan (the new girl) are scene-stealers at school. The failure of Win and Lex’s pseudo friendship is a painful but necessary way of highlighting just how messed up Win is. Jordan’s attempts to befriend Win are equally hard to read, especially since I wanted Win to reach out to someone for help. Lex and Jordan are two decent people caught up in the life of a very broken person, and I admire them for how they deal with Win. They also keep the present narrative from being completely soul-crushing.

Unfortunately, the past narrative is completely soul-crushing. It’s clear from the start that some pretty terrible things had to have happened to Drew in order for him to grow up to be Win, and I had to mentally prep myself for every new chapter. These chapters are the most powerful, especially when the reader starts picking up clues about what is going on with Drew and his family. His brother, Keith, features prominently in this part of the story. The relationship between Keith and Drew (and to a lesser extent, their younger sister, Siobhan) is a heartbreaking one. Keith often acts as a parent for Drew, despite only being a few years older, and watching him struggle to be an adult when he shouldn’t have to be is emotionally draining.

Recommendation: Get it soon, but only if you think you can handle disturbing subject matter. Kuehn wrote an excellent book, but I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to reread it. The book is short and powerful, and it leaves you reeling.

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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.

really

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.

family

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

We have quite a range of choices this week with a flirtaionship, suicide with a bit of poetry, and the Trail of Tears. We also have one that we missed last week. I know Tim Tingle is a fantastic storyteller, so I am definitely looking forward to reading How I Became a Ghost. Have a great week!

nikkiGet Over It by Nikki Carter
K-Teen/Dafina

Summary: The bigger the dreams, the bigger the drama With major industry success and a year of college under her belt, Sunday Tolliver is ready to take her singer-songwriter talents to the next level. But new opportunities also mean totally unexpected drama. Her flirtationship with hot video star DeShawn is turning into much more but the unfinished business between her and ex-boyfriend Sam won’t go away. An explosive campus hazing scandal puts her friends up against a powerful sorority and Sunday’s skills on the line. And reluctantly helping her jealous cousin Dreya save her record deal is a major diva face-off that could end both their careers. Now Sunday will have to take mad risks and trust everything she’s learned to stay true to her fab life and herself. — image and summary from Goodreads.

death
Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Running Press Kids

Summary: Frenchie Garcia can’t come to grips with the death of Andy Cooper. Her friends didn’t know she had a crush him. And they don’t know she was the last person with him before he committed suicide. But Frenchie’s biggest concern is how she blindly helped him die that night.

Frenchie’s already insane obsession with death and Emily Dickinson won’t help her understand the role she played during Andy’s “one night of adventure.” But when she meets Colin, she may have found the perfect opportunity to recreate that night. While exploring the emotional depth of loss and transition to adulthood, Sanchez’s sharp humor and clever observations bring forth a richly developed voice. — image and summary fromGoodreads

tim tingleHow I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle
The Road Runner Press

Summary: Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, HOW I BECAME A GHOST is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the book’s opening line, “Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before,” the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac s talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, HOW I BECAME A GHOST thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history. — image and summary via Amazon

We missed this one last week:
15790891

How to Be a Star (Surviving School #2) by M. Doty

Poppy

Summary: High school is the time to shine.

Tired of playing sidekick to her superstar-athlete best friend, Kimi Chen has decided it’s time to step into the spotlight and snag her own place at the coveted center table of the cafeteria. When her low-budget music video hits the Web and goes viral, forget about being just popular — Kimi is famous! Boys want to date her, girls want to be her, and she is even asked to perform on her favorite TV show. After years of feeling stranded on the bottom rung of the social ladder, Kimi finds that things are finally looking up.

But when fame gets in the way of her friendships, Kimi’s celebrity begins to lose some of its sparkle. Being a star, it turns out, may be more than she bargained for.

Discover the high price of fame and stardom in this second novel in the Surviving High School series, based on the hit mobile game from Electronic Arts. — image and summary via Goodreads

 

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