Mini-review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

ariTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Pages: 359
Genre: contemporary, romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: the lovely local library
Availability: February 21, 2012

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: When you read a lot, you realize that there are books — and then there are books — the sort that you want to throw at your friends and scream “READ IT! I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS!” This is that sort of book. The plot, characters, style — everything about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is done so well. You really get to know the two protagonists, Aristotle and Dante. There’s friendship, romance, family — everything you could want. The only teensy problem I had was with the ending, which felt sort of rushed and a little forced. But, aside from that, it was wonderful. Talk to me and I will gush about this book for ages.

Recommendation: Buy it now! It’s such a beautiful story.

Share

Review: Team Human

Team HumanTitle: Team Human
Author: Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 344
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Team Human works best if you are familiar with and have a fondness for vampires. Even though I’m only middling on both of those criteria, Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan did a great job of keeping my interest with Mel, their American Born Chinese protagonist.

What I find most fascinating about Mel is how, in a book from Cathy’s point of view, she would fit neatly into the Meddling Second Lead™ role. Most books and Korean television shows have trained me to despise such characters and their repeated attempts to break up True Love™, but I adored seeing the vampire romance play out from Mel’s point of view. The fact that Mel is motivated by genuine concern and fear for her friend (as opposed to romantic jealousy) helps a great deal in this regard. While I was occasionally annoyed by Mel’s insistence that she knew what was better for Cathy than Cathy did, I was still extremely sympathetic to her. In her place, I probably would have acted much the same after my best friend fell in love with and decided to become a vampire (which carried a 10% chance of death and a 10% chance of zombification) in a matter of weeks.

The other character standout was Kit, the vampire-raised human that Mel falls for. Kit’s backstory (and how some of his vampire family treated him) made me rather upset on his behalf and wishing for all sorts of bad fortune upon minor characters. Despite this, Kit was consistently a source of humor and awkward misunderstandings thanks to his lack of knowledge about human society. Some of these misunderstandings were brilliant and hilarious (kissing) and others were disappointingly easy to predict (promising to call).

The world building for this book was unexpectedly delightful, from therapists who deal with vampires who are having trouble transitioning to laws requiring smoked glass in all public buildings to block vampire-killing UV rays. I love that turning people into vampires is a regulated process requiring counseling and you-could-turn-into-a-zombie scare tactics. Mundane details like that really make this world feel like it could exist if vampires were real.

Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding Anna, her mother, and her missing father wasn’t something that held my attention very well. If Anna had been the narrator, I would have been more invested in it, but Mel was constantly distracted by getting in the way of True Love™ or establishing a loveline of her own. While I’m normally not much of a comedy person, I really wish that Team Human had focused more on the comedy/satire of the vampire genre and less on a mystery that I did not find compelling.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Ultimately, Team Human is a quick read, but it doesn’t have much staying power for me. It would be a great beach book for the last part of summer, especially if you are in the mood for some gentle mocking of vampire tropes.

Share

Review: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

open micTitle:  Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Editor: Mitali Perkins
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 127
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: ARC
Availability: September 10, 2013

 

 

 

Summary: Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Take a moment to admire the cover. Go on. Cute, isn’t it?

Open Mic is an anthology with a colorful mix of stories in different mediums. Gene Luen Yang discusses the problematic casting of Avatar: The Last Airbender movie using comics to tell his story. G. Neri lays out a cultural map of Berlin using a blend of humor and free verse poetry to describe a multi-cultural family in a place not quite ready for diversity. Debbie Rigaud creates a snapshot of the relationship between Simone and her great-aunt Ma Tante.

One story in particular stood out to me: Mitali Perkins’ story gave me a glimpse of her teenage life. The story centers around Mitali and her two sisters playing the Game of Guys and being perfectly comfortable with who they were. Recognizing Mitali in her own story, I realized how personal each of the stories in Open Mic were. The autobiographical thread running through the short stories and poems is a story in itself. The story told is, like the title says, a story of life between cultures.

My main complaint is that of length. Only ten stories? The last work, Naomi Shihab Nye’s gorgeous poem “Lexicon,” left me wishing Open Mic would continue on. The value in this sort of anthology is that it’s so rare — an anthology written about and by people who have actually experienced life between cultures. These are voices that need to be heard. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of ten voices, there were hundreds? Thousands? Here’s hoping many more such anthologies will follow.

Recommendation: Get it soon or borrow it from the library when it comes out.

Share

New Releases

We’ve found two humorous contemporary books that will be released this week. They were previously reviewed here. It’s interesting that the covers are both related to eating and they’re yellow too. It makes me wonder how many other diverse books have food on the cover.

family
The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland

Simon and Shuster

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

really
A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Bendan Halpin

EgmontUSA

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

Share

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.

Share

Review: Since You Asked

16068927
Title: Since You Asked
Author: Maurene Goo
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 262
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Netgalley ARC
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: 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.

Review: Holly Kim makes me smile. She has a voice and she uses it — especially with her new column in the newspaper. She and her group of friends ooze sarcasm, with no apologies, to great comedic effect. Aside from snarky Holly, there is laid-back, artistic David (Chinese American), intelligent, sophisticated Liz (Persian American), and sweet, energetic Carrie (of hippie decent). The whole group excels at witty banter and also enjoys complaining, but almost more for the sake of fussing than true hatred. This may be seen especially with the interactions between Holly and her “very Korean” mother.

Holly’s relationship with her mother got my attention. Holly describes her as the “pushy dictator” and earns the “Korean Mom Death Stare” several times. Her relationship with her father is much more relaxed, but way less interesting. The tug of war between Holly and her mother felt very real and it intrigued me. It was a picture of a teenage girl stretching her wings, but it also highlighted the distinctions there may be when you have a Korean mother.

The format of the book is narrative chapters with letters to the editor and Holly’s newspaper columns sandwiched in between. Hearing other voices in brief snatches was a nice way to break up the chapters a bit. The columns were a clever way to reveal a lot about Holly. While she was writing to entertain, she was also getting to express her thoughts and opinion. The teacher in charge of the school newspaper gave her permission to shake things up and she goes after that goal with gusto.

Holly gets herself into all kinds of difficult situations throughout the school year usually as a direct result of being outspoken. That’s what is so endearing about her. When I reached the end of the book, I felt like I was beginning to know Holly and I wanted to see where she would go next. There is certainly an opportunity for a sequel. I wouldn’t be opposed.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you love funny contemporary novels.

Share