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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Pieces of Poetry

For poetry month I started looking for books to highlight. What I realized is that there haven’t been many young adult poetry books in my life lately. There have been a few books containing some poetry though. Here are some of my favorite novels with at least a little poetry woven into the story:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
[My Review]

Summary: Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Shame the Stars by Guadalupe García McCall
[My Review] [Interview with Guadalupe García McCall]

Summary: Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
[My Review]

Summary: Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.


Some novels in verse are:

Cinnamon Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera

Summary: I want to see what is on the other side of the dust When the towers fall, New York City is blanketed by dust. On the Lower East Side, Yolanda, the Cinnamon Girl, makes her manda, her promise, to gather as much of it as she can. Maybe returning the dust to Ground Zero can comfort all the voices. Maybe it can help Uncle DJ open his eyes again. As tragedies from her past mix in the air of an unthinkable present, Yolanda searches for hope. Maybe it’s buried somewhere in the silvery dust of Alphabet City.

 

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Summary: Like lightning/you strike/fast and free/legs zoom/down field/eyes fixed/on the checkered ball/on the goal/ten yards to go/can’t nobody stop you/
can’t nobody cop you…

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel The Crossover,  soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
[My Review]

Summary: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
[My Review]

Summary: Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient Bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe García McCall

Summary: Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience.


Finally, here are two poetry related books I look forward to reading sometime this year:

The Playbook by Kwame Alexander

Summary: You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?

Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Summary: A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

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Comic Review: Niobe: She is Life

Title: Niobe: She is Life
Author: Amandla Stenberg, Sebastian A. Jones, Art by Ashley A. Woods
Genres:  Comic Book, Fantasy
Pages: 35 pages each
Publisher: Stranger Comics
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: “What becomes of the child who has lost her spirit?”

NIOBE: She is Life is a coming of age tale of love, betrayal, and ultimate sacrifice. Niobe Ayutami is an orphaned wild elf teenager and also the would-be savior of the vast and volatile fantasy world of Asunda. She is running from a past where the Devil himself would see her damned… toward an epic future that patiently waits for her to bind nations against the hordes of hell. The weight of prophecy is heavy upon her shoulders and the wolf is close on her heels.

Review: Before I get into my review, I have to say that the Niobe: She is Life series is the first ever comic book I have ever purchased. I’ve read graphic novel adaptations of books, but never a comic book series and I was unsure of what to expect. That being said, I wonder if some of my feeling of “incompleteness” has to do with the storytelling structure of comics, or with the series itself. Therefore, I’m glad that I chose to buy the entire 4 book series instead of just the first issue, as I got a deeper understanding of the story with each subsequent issue.

Niobe: She is Life drops the reader in the middle of the story as Niobe is literally running for her life. We gather that she’s running away from her father, and that she wants to kill him, but we don’t know why. Intriguing way to start a story, definitely, with the hope that the rest of the series will fill in the blanks. It somewhat does, but also introduces some ideas that make the story a bit confusing. The comic takes place in a fantasy world called Asunda that is filled with all sorts of different humanoid species such as elves, dwarfs, orcs, mythological beings, and gods and goddesses. I was unsure how all the beings related to each other in the world as there was clearly tension between the young men of the monastery that Niobe finds herself in, however the series did hint at some war between the Orcs and the Elves that I wasn’t too sure was over or was still being fought, and this monastery was some sort of oasis for young people without a home. I feel like I would have love to receive a bit more world-building to the series to fully understand the mythology of the world, the different civilizations/peoples that exist in the world and how they all coexist amongst each other. Niobe is often called “She tribe” and aside from her being a young woman, I wasn’t exactly too sure why the young men called her that. Is that how all Elvish young women are called? Small details such as that, which I can understand might be hard to do in a comic series, would have helped with my enjoyment of the series. All of that said, I still did enjoy the series. The writing and storytelling got stronger with each subsequent issue and by the end I was truly rooting for Niobe.

Niobe is a quiet, but headstrong character who is discovering who she really is and what role she plays in the world. Because of her lineage, she is half-Elvish half something to be determined, she hated but at the same time feared. She is willing to stand up for what is right and is a fierce warrior. When Niobe finally accepts her destiny and gives in to her power, it is truly a great moment with a wonderful unexpected twist that I as totally here for. I loved seeing the main character, a woman of color, fully become and own being the hero to save the day. She is a character that fantasy comics so desperately needed so I’m glad that Stranger Comics decided to publish this series.

Lastly, I must mention the artwork..it is absolutely stunning. The colors are bright and rich which visually brings the world of Asunda to life. Not only is Niobe an intriguing story, the series is also a work of art. Ashley A Woods whose depictions of all the different types of people, their costumes, the animals, the deities, etc, are so detailed and beautiful that it makes the world very real. Woods artwork gives Asunda a mystical quality, almost, as there are many scenes where her brush strokes makes the reader feel as if we are looking at an old world before time.

Recommendation: Overall I enjoyed the series and am looking forward to the sequel that is to come. I will definitely by the next series. And if you want to support WofC authors and artists creating powerful heroines, then go out and buy this comic (buy all 4 issues!)

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3 Quick Comic Book Reads

Sometimes, you just want to sit down and read something quick. You’d think that comic books would be the perfect solution, but you know, they can get pretty heavy (see: superhero comics). Here are three comic books by or about PoC that are quick, fun reads:

Jonesy by Sam Humphries, Caitlin Rose Boyle (Illustrations)
A sarcastic teenager with the powers of cupid unleashes her preternatural matchmaking abilities on her school with hilarious and charming results.

Jonesy is a self-described “cool dork” who spends her time making zines nobody reads, watching anime, and listening to riot grrrl bands and 1D simultaneously. But she has a secret nobody knows. She has the power to make people fall in love! Anyone. With anything. She’s a cupid in plaid. With a Tumblr. There’s only one catch—it doesn’t work on herself. She’s gonna have to find love the old-fashioned way, and in the meantime, figure out how to distract herself from the real emotions she inevitably has to face when her powers go wrong… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
Review here
The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns. Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Snotgirl, Vol. 1  by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung
Who is Lottie Person?
Is she a gorgeous, fun-loving social media star with a perfect life or a gross, allergy-ridden mess? Enter a world of snot, blood, and tears in this first collection from New York Times Best Seller Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim, Seconds) and dazzling newcomer Leslie Hung! [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

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Review: Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2–4

Title: Ms. Marvel, volumes 2–4
Author: G. Willow Wilson with Jacob Wyatt, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Elmo Bondoc as illustrators
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 112 to 136 pages each
Publisher: Marvel
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary (for volume 2): Who is the Inventor, and what does he want with the all-new Ms. Marvel and all her friends? Maybe Wolverine can help! Kamala may be fan-girling out when her favorite (okay maybe Top Five) super hero shows up, but that won’t stop her from protecting her hometown. Then, Kamala crosses paths with Inhumanity for the first time – by meeting the royal dog, Lockjaw! Every girl wants a puppy, but this one may be too much of a handful, even for a super hero with embiggening powers. But why is Lockjaw really with Kamala? As Ms. Marvel discovers more about her past, the Inventor continues to threaten her future. The fan-favorite, critically acclaimed, amazing new series continues as Kamala Khan proves why she’s the best (and most adorable) new super hero there is!

Review: I reviewed the first volume of Ms. Marvel about a year and a half ago, then got distracted and didn’t read the next three volumes even though I’d already bought them. I’m pleased to say that coming back to Kamala Khan’s world was just as fun as my first plunge into it.

Kamala’s story expanded nicely through these volumes. Her progression through obstacles (and villains) was peppered with a lot of cute, geeky moments. While there were a couple scenes were I think things got too preachy, I didn’t mind too much since I agreed with the messages. Kamala is a great example of a heroine who struggles to handle two different lives she is living but refuses to give up on either.

One of the ways that Ms. Marvel shines is that Kamala has so many important people in her life who she loves. Sure, her superhero moments are grand, but the character beats with her family, friends, and even idols are some of the best scenes. I was particularly fond of a scene with her mother in the fourth volume—you’ll know it when you see it—because I adore un-fridged mothers who love their daughters wholeheartedly. Other side characters got more development and screen time throughout these volumes, which helped give Kamala’s determination to protect her city more weight.

An unexpected downfalls of reading all three volumes back-to-back was that the change in art style between (and even within) volumes was glaring. The lack of a consistent illustrator was very distracting, and it tossed me out of the story every time the switch was made. Some of the artists were better at showing movement and action than others, and on occasion I had difficulty identifying minor characters because they looked so different from artist to artist.

Recommendation: Get them (and the first volume) soon if you’re into comic books. These three volumes are great sequels to the first Ms. Marvel volume. Readers who loved the first volume will be sure to like these, and this series is a good starting point for comic book newbies. I’ve added the next two published volumes to my TBR pile, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kamala Khan’s adventures.

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Review: Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Title: Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Author: Octavia E. Butler, Adapter Damian Duffy, Artist John Jennings
Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical
Pages: 240
Publisher: Abrams Comicarts
Availability: On shelves now

Summary:  More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.

Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.

Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.

Review: Kindred is not generally tagged as young adult, but it will likely be a cross-over title and it was one I wanted to read for our focus on women in graphic novels this month. Dana, the main character, has just turned twenty-six when the main action begins so it’s not about teens, but Dana’s a young woman and is interacting with a variety of young people. It’s a book that deals with slavery through the eyes of a relatively contemporary person and it shows aspects of slavery and racism through multiple perspectives. Dana’s beliefs about slavery are challenged as she lives among enslaved people. Things are not as clear-cut as she had thought. Dana learns about what she’s willing to do to survive and finds herself doing things that go against her ideals.

This book also deals with interracial relationships. The relationship Dana has with her white husband is simply incomprehensible to the people on the southern plantation 30+ years before the Civil War. A white man using the body of a black woman is accepted, or at least ignored by whites, but a white man loving a black woman is somehow shameful. Even in the 1970s, Dana and Kevin’s marriage isn’t fully accepted by some of their own family members. This issue, among many many others, highlights the fact that slavery affected everyone involved and those effects lasted throughout generations.

In some ways, the graphic aspect of this adaptation added to the original story. The visuals keep the pacing quick and definitely bring the action to life. Some of the scenes are extremely painful to see and increase the emotional impact of the events and interactions. In other ways though, this format wasn’t quite as powerful as the novel. For this to work, the text had to be streamlined and while the overall story line remained intact and the main ideas are all there, some of the more subtle aspects were missing or just not as clear. I was glad I’d read both so my brain could fill in some of the blanks. For those who have never read Butler’s works before, this would be a great introduction that would likely lead readers to want more. Those familiar with Kindred will probably enjoy the adaptation, but may find it lacking a little of the depth.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This graphic novel adaptation is one more way to experience an amazingly powerful story from Octavia Butler.

Extra:
Interview with John Jennings & Damian Duffy

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