Works in Translation

I have to admit — I’m a lazy reader. I prefer books that make me laugh out loud over heavy dystopian books that make me think about the evolution of society. I want books with lots of snappy dialogue and easy-to-swallow plotlines. I wish all my books were light summer reads, even if it’s the dead of winter. It’s like how I constantly crave junk food.

Sometimes, though, I crave the kind of language you can only get through translated works.* Now, I’m not about to go back to reading translations of modernist Japanese lit (never again! okay, maybe someday). Fortunately, there’s a few translated Japanese YA lit and middle grade books out there. Here is my favorite one:

brave storyTitle: Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

Young Wataru Mitani’s life is a mess. His father has abandoned him and his mother has been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Desperately he searches for some way to change his life; a way to alter his fate. To achieve his goal, he must navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly. And to complicate matters, he must outwit a merciless rival from the real world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Brave Story is a long read, but worth every minute. It’s the sort of book that has such beautiful and detailed language that I just want to bask in the flow of words — you know, that kind of book. The intermingling of Wataru’s real life and fantasy world is gracefully done. Wataru’s adventure can be a bit puzzling at times, but if you just keep reading, it’ll all come together.

Note: Brave Story is written by Miyuki Miyabe, who is a Japanese author in Japan — not a POC written work from America, England, etc. But a change of pace is nice, isn’t it?

Review: Jumped In

image

Title: Jumped In
Author: Patrick Flores-Scott
Genres: Contemporary & Poetry
Pages: 304
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Review Copy: Digital book purchased by reviewer
Availability: Published Aug. 27, 2013

Summary: Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest—Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option—Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words. — Image and summary via Goodreads

Review: From the beginning Sam pulled me into the Pacific Northwest with it’s gray sameness. The gloom just rolls across the pages with the weather completely matching his mood. Sam slowly reveals the reasons for his negativity. He has plenty of pain in his life, but fortunately, the book also has some light moments so readers don’t sink completely under the weight. Many of the lighter bits happen because of the poetry unit. The teacher, Ms. Cassidy, provides a lot of entertainment as she pulls out every trick in an attempt to catch and keep attention. The poems sometime bring smiles too. In the first poem, Luis compares the way people look at his scar to how people look at a “shriveled viejito grandpa smiling in his tiny Speedo.” The accompanying illustration adds to the humor. The rules of slackerhood also provide a few chuckles. Sam is completely serious about being an invisible slacker and goes to great lengths to fly under the radar of his teachers.

This is not a novel-in-verse but is a mix of poetry and prose. We hear from Sam predominantly in prose, but even that is lyrical at times. We only hear Luis through poetry though. Luis has fewer words than Sam, but every word is chosen carefully and the poems pack a punch. With Sam we see many details and the day to day business of life as he sleeps afternoons away or watches raindrops on the window and mold growing on the sill. The communication from Luis is brief and more direct.

And somewhere deep
Down by my heart and spleen
In my darkest guts
So they can’t see
I lock the worlds of ideas
That make me me.

In August, Edi Campbell wrote a post about Guy Pals. I recalled her post as I read. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but as Edi explained, there aren’t that many books that deal with male friendships though it seems like more are being written right now. I appreciated this look into the life of these boys. Though they certainly didn’t share all of their secrets with each other, they connected while creating something together. Many people can relate to such friendships. Often school friends are based on desk proximity and then grow into something more. I think it is fascinating to imagine the many ways that relationships can develop.

Jumped In is just over 300 pages, but there is a lot of blank space on the pages because of the poetry and the brief chapters, so this is a quick read in spite of it’s page length. The poetry breaks up the narrative and the humor keeps it from becoming too bleak. I have to admit, the title puzzled me for quite some time. “Jumped in” was a phrase that was unfamiliar to me. It’s related to gangs and I was glad that it was eventually explained in the book. With the mix of gangs, school, poetry, Nirvana, and family issues, there are plenty of things to catch a reader’s interest. Finding and listening to the Nirvana songs mentioned along the way added to the experience.

Patrick Flores-Scott has crafted an engaging novel that will likely win many hearts. I finished the book wanting to know more about the characters. I wanted to spend more time in their stories and see them continue to grow. Hopefully we will see more from Patrick Flores-Scott in the future.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a book that will speak to many — though I should warn you, tissues may be required.

Extra: Edi Campbell interviewed Patrick on her blog. Beware: there are serious spoilers so maybe read it after you read the book.

Hispanic Heritage Month

As a child, I remember hearing a lot about Black History Month, but until I was a teacher in Ft. Worth, Hispanic Heritage Month wasn’t really on my radar. I had been completely missing out on some incredible literature and a whole perspective of history. The National Hispanic Heritage Month website explains that this month is for “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” It is celebrated between September 15th and October 15th (there actually is a reason for those dates). Here are a few excellent YA titles you could read in celebration.

yaqui

 

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: Jessica reviewed this fantastic contemporary book earlier this year and we were fortunate enough to have an interview with Meg Medina too. This would be a two-for-one because you could also celebrate Banned Book Week with Yaqui after what happened earlier this month.
dreamer

 

 

 

 

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist: I loved this historical novel-in-verse by Margarita Engle that weaves a story around Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, an amazing young woman that I am eager to know more about now. She loved books, hated slavery, wanted equality for women, and spoke out to create change at a time when women were supposed to be decorative poperty. Excellent.

 

0-545-15133-3

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors: “When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be.” — summary via Goodreads

ari

 

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Jessica also reviewed this powerful book earlier this year. If you haven’t yet read it, you will want to grab it immediately. Warning – you may need tissues.

 

under

 

Under the Mesquite: This is another novel-in-verse and it has an autobiographical quality to it that McCall explains in this post at Lee & Low. It is a beautiful story of a Mexican American family maintaining hope through difficult times. Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s second novel is also not to be missed. Audrey reviewed it here. It is a mix of contemporary and fantasy, but again is focused on family.

The Summer Prince

 

The Summer Prince: For a bit of dystopia, you will want to pick up this one. And just like the cover, the book is lush. We had a discussion about it earlier this month. *Spoilers* were included so look carefully if you haven’t read it yet.

**Quick edit here – this is actually not Hispanic, but rather Latin@ since it is set in Brazil. I made that mistake late at night while working on the post, but didn’t catch it right away.

 

cover

 

Gringolandia: This is historical fiction dealing with human rights in Chile. It is also a book about family and how it shapes us. We were lucky enough to have Lyn Lachmann-Miller visit Rich in Color to share about writing outside of her culture.

 

 

 

witches

 

Hammer of Witches: If it’s history with a bit of fantasy that you are looking for, this will fit the bill perfectly. I reviewed it back in April and the author Shana Mlawski also wrote a post for us about Diversity in Fantasy.

 

worm

 

The Tequila Worm: A young teenage girl named Sofia tells of her coming of age in McAllen Texas. She’s part of a close community that loves and supports each other. Sofia works through her feelings for her family and culture as she attends an elite boarding school on scholarship.

 

 

 

 

 

boy

Mexican WhiteBoy: This one is on my TBR list. “Danny’s tall skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face.” — summary via Goodreads

revolution

 

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano: This is another book on my TBR list. “There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.” — summary via Goodreads (By the way, there is a giveaway of this book going on at Vamos a Leer through Sept. 29)

If you still want more titles, School Library Journal had a post in January listing many Resources for Finding Latino Kid LIt, the new blog Latin@s in Kid Lit is a great resource too, the Florida Department of Education created a Hispanic Heritage Month Recommended Reading List, and the Hub also posted a great list this week which included links to other resources. Finally, I found this excellent list of Hispanic Authors on Cindy Rodriguez’s blog. Now, if there were only more hours in the day so we could read all of these!

If you have recommendations, please share them in the comments. Thanks!

Review: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood

jane austenTitle:  Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood
Author: Abby McDonald
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 336
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: April 9, 2013

Summary: Hallie and Grace Weston have never exactly seen life eye to eye. So when their father dies and leaves everything to his new wife, forcing the girls to pack up and leave San Francisco for a relative’s house in shiny Beverly Hills, the two sisters take to their changing lot in typically different styles.
[Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review:  The moment I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to read it. I’m no Janeite, but I’ve got some love for Jane Austen. This book is based on Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility which I haven’t read in a while so… I cheated and reread the summary on Sparknotes. (Shhh. Don’t tell my English professors.)

Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is a pretty fun modern adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. The 18th century gentry of Jane Austen’s time are replaced by two sisters living the rich life in Beverly Hills. At first, I was put off by the super wealthy lifestyle of almost everyone in this book, until I realized how perfectly it matched Sense and Sensibility. After that, I managed to sit back and enjoy the ride. The light tone of the book reminded me of the movie Clueless (a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma!).

A variety of side characters come and go, bringing humor and color to the story. (My favorite was Grace’s lab partner, Harry the Asian skater boy.) I was pretty impressed by the way each of the characters was updated. The younger sister Grace is sensible and cautious, while her older sister Hallie is a drama queen dreaming of making it in Hollywood. I was also put off by Hallie’s constant dramatics and lack of perspective, but, once I decided to just enjoy the book, Hallie stopped being irritating to me and became hilarious.

Overall, the book was a hilarious read. The Gatsby-esque parties and over-the-top characters did take some getting used to, but I had fun waiting for Grace and Hallie’s respective romances to pan out.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you’re planning to swing by the library — especially if you’re a Jane Austen fan or just looking for some light summer reading.

Mini-Review: If You Could Be Mine

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 7.40.31 PM
Title: If You Could Be Mine By Author: Sara Farizan
Pages: 256
Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBTQ
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: August 20, 2013

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

My Thoughts: Sahar speaks from the heart and won my own heart in the process. Sahar and Nasrin are in such a difficult position, but Sahar refuses to give up without even trying. She looks for ways to change her situation with courage and hope.

I appreciated reading a book set in Iran. Sadly, I did not know many details about life in Iran. Readers certainly won’t become experts, but will at least have a picture in their head of Iranian people beyond what they may have seen on the news.

If You Could Be Mine presents a complicated romance and the coming of age of two young women.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Take advantage of this chance to meet Sahar and the people she loves.

Extras:
Interview with Sara Farizan

Review: Eleanor and Park

eleanor and parkTitle: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 325
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: lovely local library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve heard so many good things about Eleanor and Park, so I just had to see for myself – plus, one out of two main characters is a cute half-Korean boy? Sounds like good times to me. (Also, all of Rainbow Rowell’s books have the sweetest covers! Is it sorcery?)

What I loved about the book is that it wasn’t what I expected. From all the hype and rave reviews I’d read of Eleanor and Park, I thought the book was a light and quirky love story — nope. Eleanor and Park have completely different families and lives, but their meeting on a bus (definitely not a stereotypical love-at-first-sight meeting) throws them into each other’s path.

Eleanor and Park’s alternating perspectives give the book a sense of balance. Park might be an outcast for being Korean, but that’s not the end of the story. While Park has a loving (though imperfect) family and a upper-middle class upbringing, Eleanor lives in poverty with her struggling family and abusive stepfather. The stark contrast between Eleanor’s life and Park’s is a strong reminder that oppression and privilege come in many different forms.

Sometimes, though, Eleanor’s view of Park and his cultural identity felt a bit irksome at times, and I had to remind myself that characters are allowed to grow. I read through the book, waiting for Eleanor to grow out of her problematic assumptions and point of view — and I’m not sure she ever did. The portrayal of Park’s family felt a bit off, as well. There were times when I began to question whether it was Eleanor herself who was ignorant and borderline racist, or the book itself that was problematic. (Edit: In retrospect, yeah, it was pretty problematic. No denyin’.)

To be honest, the sudden jump from tentative friendship to full-on romance was almost jarring. I felt that the emotional intensity of Eleanor and Park’s relationship inexplicable and a bit too much. (Then again, I find most romantic expressions trite, so I might just be a cranky cynic.) But, when I read the book in the context of Park’s comment about Romeo and Juliet, I found myself almost believing in Eleanor and Park’s grand and star-crossed love.

Recommendation: Just skip it.

Further Reading:
Rainbow Rowell’s post Why is Park Korean?
Clear Eyes Full Shelves: Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
A relevant take on racism: Angry Girl Review: Eleanor and Park
Ellen Oh: What’s your opinion on Eleanor & Park?

[Edit]:
In which I try to express the importance of asking questions (and not being afraid to call books out on being problematic): Is Eleanor and Park racist? And Other Questions to Ask