Book Review: Orangeboy

Title: Orangeboy
Author: Patrice Lawrence
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432 pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Through Amazon UK

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Marlon has promised his widowed mum that he’ll be good, and nothing like his gang-leader brother Andre. It’s easy when you keep yourself to yourself, listening to your dead dad’s Earth, Wind and Fire albums and watching sci-fi. But everything changes when Marlon’s first date with the beautiful Sonya ends in tragedy; he becomes a hunted man and he has no idea why. With his dad dead and his brother helpless, Marlon has little choice but to enter Andre’s old world of guns, knives and drug runs in order to uncover the truth and protect those close to him. It’s time to fight to be the last man standing.

Review: I first heard of Patrice Lawrence’s award winning book through an article I received in an email. I saw that it was published only in the UK and since I was spending the summer in London, I made the decision to purchase the book. As the US exports more authors than we import, I was excited to read a YA book from a British author of color and to see the subtle differences between American and British culture. I was not disappointed. I had fun being able to have a visual reference to some of the locations mentioned in the book, and reveled in learning the differences in American and British colloquial language. For example, there was a character description that I was initially confused by. Marlon describes a character with “cane row” and at first I thought it was clothing. Then I realized he was describing hair style and when I googled “cane row” pictures of people with what us Americans call “corn row” came up. It’s these subtle differences that make reading a book from outside the US enjoyable and open us readers to new experiences.

The story itself was a bit slow to get started but once the mystery began to slowly reveal itself and Marlon worked to solve it, then the story really got going. Especially because Marlon made so many stupid mistakes – and I say that in the best way. Marlon is a great character because he is so out of his element in trying to solve the mystery of why he and his family is being harassed/threatened/stalked. He is a sweet hearted geeky kid who learned from his brother’s mistakes and made sure to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately trouble found him, but through it all he was adamant about standing up for himself and his family which made me really love him. However, it was also what made me so frustrated by him because he was way over his head and kept making dumb decisions as instead of getting help he chose to figure everything out on his own. I so wanted to scream at him “tell the police!”, but in reality he couldn’t trust the police either because they just saw him as the brother of a former gangster. Marlon truly was in a tough position and did the best he could with the knowledge he had which was very true to life and really made me connect with Marlon. He was the hero of his story but it wasn’t easy and Marlon had more losses than wins, but ultimately learns what he is capable of.

I have an issue with absent parents in YA, so I loved that Marlon’s mom was involved in his life, or rather at least tried to be. Their relationship was very typical mother/son as it was clear that they were close but with that tiny bit of strained because teenagers have the desire to keep things to themselves and are beginning to push boundaries. I also loved that his mom was a clear advocate for her son which showed the love she had for him and why Marlon wanted so badly to protect his mom in return. Even though his father had been dead a number of years, from an illness, us readers were given a sense of the relationship Marlon had with him as well and the loving relationship his parents had. I loved that Marlon was able to remember his parents relationship and how it shaped the person he became. Marlon also had a very strained relationship with his mother’s boyfriend, Jonathan, but it was clear that Jonathan was trying to help be a parent with Marlon’s mom, but also knew his boundaries. The parent/child dynamics that Lawrence wrote was very real and true to the novel.

Overall I really enjoyed Orangeboy and I want to read other books by Lawrence now (she actually has a new one out!). Additionally, I want to read books by other authors of color from across the pond, so if you know of any please share in the comments below.

Recommendation: Get It Now. FYI… Americans can order books from Amazon UK, yay!

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Review: One Shadow on the Wall

Once in a while we share reviews of books that are not strictly young adult. This is one of those times. One Shadow on the Wall is marketed as middle grade, but it is an excellent story for any age. This review was previously published on my personal blog Reading Through Life.

Title: One Shadow on the Wall
Author: Leah Henderson
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Pages: 438
Genre: Contemporary
Review Copy: Final copy via publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.

Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.

With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

Review: Mor and his family completely stole my heart. Mor hears his father and sees his mother after they have died. He knows his parents would want the children to stay together so he’s determined to do that at any cost. He tries. Oh, how he tries, but the responsibilities are tough. He learns so many things the hard way. Something will go right and then two things will go wrong. It is hard to see him face so many disappointments, but readers will be cheering him on all the way through. 

The gang is on his trail and brings about many of Mor’s difficulties. They also offer safety and protection though. Henderson does a particularly good job of showing how children and teens can get caught up in such a situation. The gang members are individuals and have stories. They have their reasons for having joined and readers see that gang activity may not be as clear-cut as one would imagine. I think there are gang members who never believed they would have anything to do with a gang and yet there they are.

It may not look like it on the surface, but this is a survival story. Mor has a loving community, but he does isolate himself with the secrets he is holding. There are many strong and caring adults that help Mor and his sisters. I appreciated seeing the way they looked out for the children. One in particular is an elder fisherman named Demba. Many of the children make fun of him and believe he is crazy. Mor spends a lot of time with Demba and learns that Demba’s differences are not what they appear. 

Recommendation: This is a fabulous book that may cause a little heartache, but it’s also heartwarming. Mor’s persistence and hope are lovely to behold. It’s a little long for a middle grade novel, but it moves quickly and is well worth the time. 

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Book Review: Saints and Misfits

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S. K. Ali
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352 pages
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

Review: There is so much I can say about Saints and Misfits that I almost don’t know where to begin. I guess at the beginning, which is when we meet the monster in Janna’s life. The moment we met the monster was so unexpected and a hit to the gut. I don’t think I can recall any books where the author puts a traumatic event for the character in the second chapter, but I loved it because it made me realize that Saints and Misfits was a much deeper novel than I anticipated and that it was going to take me on one hell of a journey. The novel moves at a wonderful pace from there as Janna tries to make sense of what happened, while dealing with a member of her community that everyone loves and respects, but Janna is traumatized by. At the same time, she is trying to figure out her feelings towards Jeremy, who actually might like her back. This internal conflict is at the heart of the novel and felt real. Janna is surrounded by family and friends, but holds these two secrets (well one friend knows about Jeremy), thinking she can handle them both, when in reality she can’t, because Jeremy and the monster are friends. Janna often goes from having the good butterflies in her stomach when seeing Jeremy to becoming nauseous when seeing the monster a minute later, but is unable to speak on her feelings to friends and family. Janna is surrounded by love, but at the same time, feels like she cannot express her true self, her true feelings, and feels trapped like so many young women do. I truly felt for her in those moments.

I’ve mentioned that Janna is surrounded by numerous people who love her and that is also an element I loved in the book. I often find in many YA novels that the protagonist is somewhat excluded from their community and/or doesn’t have a good support network. This was not the case in Saints & Misfits. While Janna’s parents are divorced, it’s clear her parents love her in their own way, her brother is working hard to reconnect with her after being away at school, she has a beautiful relationship with her elderly neighbor Mr. Ram, her uncle who is the imam of her mosque, and her two best friends Tats and Fizz. She eventually develops friendships with two female characters, Sarah and Sausun, who are polar opposites, but combined provide Janna the support she needs and ultimately help her find her voice. The fact that Janna is surrounded by such a loving community, while holding her secrets, creates a deeply moving conflict in the novel. It highlights how our community can be a source of strife for people, but at the same time be a place that helps us only if we let it – if we trust others and let them in. It is a beautiful lesson that Janna learns because she believes she is a misfit who doesn’t fit into her community, not realizing that her community does accept her for the way she is. This belief is a common one that many teens have has they search for their identity and Janna’s story is one that will connect with a lot of readers. It’s a beautifully written story that will make readers laugh, cry, and feel like they are part of Janna’s community. In fact, when the novel was over I wasn’t actually ready to leave Janna’s world. I wanted to see where Janna’s growth will take her.

Lastly, I gotta speak about all the kick-ass female characters in this novel. All of them represent the broad spectrum of beliefs/views that women have. They don’t all agree but are respective of each other to accept each other as who they are. With the exception of Janna and Fizz’s argument that ultimately seems to end their friendship, many of the important women in Janna’s life work to lift each other up. Tats is a true friend to Janna, and even though Janna is slow to warm up to Sarah and Sausun, she eventually comes to rely on the older girls for support and advice. Like many teenagers, Janna’s relationship with her mother is a bit strained, but again Janna comes to realize that a lot of her mother’s actions come from a place of love and she learns to be a full recipient of that love. All of these relationships are complex but very real and I loved reading a book that had so many wonderful female relationships.

Saints and Misfits is a wonderful debut novel by S.K. Ali and I can’t wait to read whatever she has coming next.

Recommendation: Buy it Now!

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Review: Summer of Sloane

Title: Summer of Sloane
Author: Erin L. Schneider
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 304
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Warm Hawaiian sun. Lazy beach days. Flirty texts with her boyfriend back in Seattle.

These are the things seventeen-year-old Sloane McIntyre pictured when she imagined the summer she’d be spending at her mom’s home in Hawaii with her twin brother, Penn. Instead, after learning an unthinkable secret about her boyfriend, Tyler, and best friend, Mick, all she has is a fractured hand and a completely shattered heart.

Once she arrives in Honolulu, though, Sloane hopes that Hawaii might just be the escape she needs. With beach bonfires, old friends, exotic food, and the wonders of a waterproof cast, there’s no reason Sloane shouldn’t enjoy her summer. And when she meets Finn McAllister, the handsome son of a hotel magnate who doesn’t always play by the rules, she knows he’s the perfect distraction from everything that’s so wrong back home.

But it turns out a measly ocean isn’t nearly enough to stop all the emails, texts, and voicemails from her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, desperate to explain away their betrayal. And as her casual connection with Finn grows deeper, Sloane’s carefree summer might not be as easy to find as she’d hoped. Weighing years of history with Mick and Tyler against their deception, and the delicate possibility of new love, Sloane must decide when to forgive, and when to live for herself.

Review: If you’re looking for a book to take with you on vacation this summer, look no further than Erin L. Schneider’s Summer of Sloane. It is an engaging contemporary romance that starts off with two bombshell scenes about Sloane’s best friend’s and boyfriend’s betrayals. As a reader, Sloane’s anger, confusion, and betrayed feelings were things I easily sympathized with. I’m glad Sloane had a network of family and friends to help support her while she struggled to figure out what to do with her fractured relationships, though I do wish we had seen more of Sloane’s relationship with her mother and with Mia.

Some of the best scenes in the novel are when Sloane ponders the things she’d lost and tries to figure out where she should go from there. Summer of Sloane is all about the messiness of life, establishing boundaries, and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the people we love deeply are just as deeply flawed. Schneider did a great job of describing the emotional rollercoaster Sloane was on throughout the book and exploring the many ways Sloane was and wasn’t handling everything that had been thrown her way.

The developing romance between Sloane and Finn was fun, and they had a pretty natural progression from acquaintances to friends to significant others. I liked their banter and the way they could get each other to open up with the things they were each struggling with. I was less enthused with Finn failing to give Sloane more space during their rockier moments (to the point where I half wished Sloane would handle him like she had Tyler just so Finn would back off), but I did like where the two of them ended up.

I do have a few nitpicks about the lead-in to the finale, but they’re all spoilery. Suffice it to say, I was bothered by what I viewed as the disparity between Mick’s and Tyler’s resolutions. That isn’t the way I had hoped things would go, and I feel as if Mick got the raw end of the storytelling. In spite of that, I appreciated the generally optimistic tone of the ending and felt that it did well by Sloane’s character.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re looking for a fun summer vacation read. Despite a few specific-to-me nitpicks, Summer of Sloane was a good contemporary romance about love, forgiveness, and growing up. It should definitely make its way into your TBR pile if it hasn’t already.

Extras

Goodreads giveaway (ends July 10)

Interview at Next Page Please

 

 

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Review: Solo

Title: Solo
Authors: Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess
Publisher: Blink
Genre: Contemporary, Poetry
Availability: July 25, 2017
Review copy: ARC & digital audio sample via publisher

Summary: From award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess, comes Solo, a YA novel written in poetic verse. Solo tells the story of seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison, whose life is bombarded with scathing tabloids and a father struggling with just about every addiction under the sun—including a desperate desire to make a comeback. Haunted by memories of his mother and his family’s ruin, Blade’s only hope is in the forbidden love of his girlfriend. But when he discovers a deeply protected family secret, Blade sets out on a journey across the globe that will change everything he thought to be true. With his signature intricacy, intimacy, and poetic style, Kwame Alexander explores what it means to finally come home.

Review: 
Our lips are in the process
of becoming

one
in her hammock,

like two blue jays nesting.
Feeding each other

kisses of wonder.
I’m sure, she answers.

Blade Morrison is completely captivated by his girlfriend Chapel. At the beginning, this book seems like a story of first love. There’s a lot more going on here though. I don’t want to spoil things, but know that this relationship will have a rocky road. Chapels parents aren’t excited about Blade and the Morrison family. Blade’s father has lived on the wild side too long for them to be comfortable with their daughter spending time around him. Blade himself is starting to lose interest in spending time with his family. His father has disappointed him too many times and the scars are mounting up rapidly. Aside from this, there is a family secret that blows Blade’s mind and lands him in Ghana. This is all a lot to deal with in one book, but Alexander and Hess manage it well.

The use of verse helps keep the text to the point. There aren’t tons of wasted words taking up space on the page. The poetry also allows for the rhapsodizing Blade does about his girl. The musical aspect is also a good fit for verse as lyrics are interspersed throughout the book. Music and poetry are a natural fit. There are music references scattered all through the book. I can imagine many readers will find themselves tracking down the songs online as they read to have a soundtrack to the story. I know I did. The publisher also provided a digital audio sample. The audio is likely to end up more popular than the text. Kwame Alexander is the narrator and Randy Preston plays the accompanying original music. The audio is a more complete experience and I am definitely looking forward to hearing it.

For readers who enjoyed Alexander’s The Crossover and Booked, this will be a good follow-up though it has a slightly different style. Once again, there are some weighty topics, but humor is present here and there – enough to take the edge off once in a while.

Recommendation: Get is soon especially if you enjoyed Alexander’s previous verse novels. Alexander and Hess along with Preston have created a solid book that deals with romantic love, love of self, and family love. Solo had me singing, laughing, crying, shaking my head and appreciating my own family.

Extras:

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Book Review: That Thing We Call a Heart

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart
Author: Sheba Karim
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

Review: After hearing so many great things about Karim’s new novel I was really looking forward to it. It was #ownvoices and had numerous Muslim characters in a contemporary romance, which is sorely needed in the world of YA literature. Unfortunately, I came away with a “meh” kind of feeling with this book. It took me a long while to get into it and connect with the main character Shabnam Qureshi. There was something about her that I just didn’t like. Some of her comments really rubbed me the wrong way, specifically about her weight, which I felt could be triggering to folks. Additionally, she was a little too crazy over Jaime, which is what I just realized I didn’t like about her. When I was in high school, boy-crazy girls drove me batty and that is why I didn’t connect with Shabnam. She is a character of contradictions, however, because even though she is very selfish, she does work to understand her father and help him to become a more active participant in their relationship and the relationship with her mother. The father-daughter moments in the novel were truly sweet and moving.

I feel like the “romance” of the novel was less about Jaime and Shabnam and more about the relationship between Shabnam and Farah. At the beginning of the novel the two are estranged from each other with Shabnam missing her best friend terribly. And I can see why as Farah seems to be Shabnam’s total opposite. Where Shabnam is unsure of herself, Farah is confidence personified. Where Shabnam hesitates to speak her mind, Farah doesn’t hold back. Their home lives are opposites as well as Shabnam is an only child whose parents are in a somewhat happy marriage where as Farah is the oldest of four (If I remember correctly) and her parents are constantly at odds. Even though the novel begins with Shabnam and Farah apart from each other, we are given flashbacks of how their friendship developed. These were two girls who connected over not fitting in, even though they were so different, and ended up dependent upon each other. And that desire for her best friend is why Shabnam chose to re-connected with Farah; she wanted to share her happiness about Jamie. I felt Shabnam was quite selfish for only going to her friend then, but ultimately the girls have a heart to heart and get to the bottom of why their friendship fell apart. It was a moving moment and one that I loved because after Shabnam’s time at the pie shack is over, there are an number of pages left to the book and most focus on Shabnam and Farah rekindling their friendship. Shabnam’s character development is due to her coming to accept Farah for who she is now and that even though her best friend is wearing a hajib, she is still the same complex being before she decided to wear the hajib. Shabnam learns to love her friend for who she is and comes to truly appreciate her relationship with Farah.

The touching relationships Shabnam had with her father and Farah, however, were not enough to make me fall in love with this book. I felt that Jaime was extremely two dimensional, almost a stereotype of the carefree white boy who visits and works with his aunt during the summer. I truly did not see what Shabnam saw that made her fall head over heels in love with him. I didn’t feel any heat or passion that I should expect from a contemporary romance. Jaime and Shabnam’s romance was just kind of blah. There was no rooting for their HEA; in fact, I was waiting for them to break up because that meant that Jaime would be off the page. Clearly, the opposite reaction a romance novel is aiming for. Though, if the point of the romance was the friendship between Shabnam and Farah, then mission accomplished.

 

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