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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New Releases

We found three new releases for this week. I’ve been looking forward to reading The Education of Margot Sanchez for a long time and am excited it’s finally going to be available.

Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
Katherine Tegen Books

Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Simon & Schuster

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

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Review: American Ace

American AceTitle: American Ace
Author: Marilyn Nelson
Publisher: Dial Books
Genre: Historical, Poetry
Pages: 123
Review copy: Purchased at local bookstore
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: This riveting novel in verse, perfect for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Toni Morrison, explores American history and race through the eyes of a teenage boy embracing his newfound identity.

Connor’s grandmother leaves his dad a letter when she dies, and the letter’s confession shakes their tight-knit Italian-American family: The man who raised Dad is not his birth father.

But the only clues to this birth father’s identity are a class ring and a pair of pilot’s wings. And so Connor takes it upon himself to investigate a pursuit that becomes even more pressing when Dad is hospitalized after a stroke. What Connor discovers will lead him and his father to a new, richer understanding of race, identity, and each other.

Review: 
It’s funny to think about identity,
Dad said. Now I wonder how much of us
we inherit, and how much we create.

Connor and his family go through some soul-searching as they find out their heritage is something other than what they had always believed. We see the unfolding story through Connor’s eyes. His family has suffered the loss of his beloved Nonna and Connor is concerned about his father’s grief and possible depression. Otherwise life had been moving along as expected. Connor spends a lot of time with his dad as he practices driving to get his license. Things become complicated quickly though when Connor’s father explains that he has no idea who his father was. The journey to discover their family history leads them to new ways of thinking about themselves and the society they inhabit. After learning about their more complicated heritage, Connor sees his school in a new way.

I walked between classes in slow motion,
seeing the ancient intertribal wars
still being fought, in the smallest gestures.
Little things I hadn’t noticed before:
the subtle put-downs, silent revenges.

The story is delivered in nine parts containing five vignettes each. These are made up of two twelve line stanzas written in iambic pentameter. I often forget that poetry can be incredibly mathematical. Such a structure makes for extremely deliberate choices. This format meant there wasn’t much room for explanation. Nelson kept things tight. I appreciate that and so will readers looking for something quick yet meaningful. I almost always enjoy a novel in verse. I like the way Nelson delivers small packages of information and makes every word count. The titles are even important.

In part seven, the text shifts a bit and becomes a paper for Connor’s Honors History class. This brought in something I really appreciated. Photos of airmen from WWII are included every few pages. These added a lot to the story. With the photos, the pilots became something more than history. They became individuals with lives and stories of their own. In the author’s note, Nelson explains about the information for Connor’s report, “I did not invent any of the facts Connor learns….That part of the story is true. And still amazing.”

One thing did shake me out of the story a bit. The setting appears to be the present day since Connor uses google and his father has rapid DNA testing. With Connor being a teen, it seems a little strange that his grandfather is old enough to have been a pilot in WWII. My grandfather fought in the war and my children are older than Connor. It sort of works because Connor’s father has a child and grandchildren from a previous relationship so he was not young when he had Connor. It made me do some math though because it seemed difficult to believe.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you are a fan of verse novels or enjoy historical novels and want something quick. Otherwise, borrow it someday. I truly enjoyed the book, but if I were recommending Nelson’s poetry, I would first hand someone A Wreath for Emmett Till and How I Discovered Poetry.

Extra: Warning – the following interview reveals their family heritage. I tried not to do that here since the publisher’s summary didn’t. If you want to know precisely what history this book explores though, please read this Publisher’s Weekly interview with author

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Crystal’s 2014 Favorites

It’s been a great year of reading for me. Here are some of my favorites and why they stood out for me.

Poetry

howHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Dial
My Review

Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.

* From my review: “Reading How I Discovered Poetry is like looking through a photo album with a loved one while they share memories. Here a laugh, there a tear, sometimes even an admission of mischievousness. Marilyn Nelson has crafted fifty sonnets that begin with the simplicity of a pre-schooler and progress to the complexity of the early teen years.”

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books
My Review

Summary:Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

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.

* From my review: “Story is a ribbon running through the book as she tells the stories from family members and of how she herself breathes stories. In her author’s note she explains that this book is “my past, my people, my memories, my story.” Most readers will be tumbled into their own memories along the way.”

danceA Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen
Nancy Paulsen Books
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. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

* From my review: “Venkatraman’s writing brought me to tears, but also gave me many opportunities to smile. Above all, as Veda found out more about herself and explored her beliefs, readers will be likely to think about their own beliefs and spiritual life.”

noNo Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
Write Bloody Publishing

Summary:Following the success of her breakout poem, “B,” Sarah Kay releases her debut collection of poetry featuring work from the first decade of her career. No Matter the Wreckage presents readers with new and beloved work that showcases Kay’s knack for celebrating family, love, travel, history, and unlikely love affairs between inanimate objects (“Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire”), among other curious topics. Both fresh and wise, Kay’s poetry allows readers to join in on her journey of discovering herself and the world around her. It’s an honest and powerful collection.

* I didn’t actually review this for Rich in Color because it wasn’t marketed as a young adult book, but it would certainly appeal to readers of YA. Sarah Kay is a young author and many young adults are familiar with her spoken word poetry. I was fortunate enough to see her in Chicago this year and get a signed copy of No Matter the Wreckage. She has a way of stringing the words together in powerful ways. Here’s a sample:

Defying Genre Labels

dreamingDreaming in Indian by Lisa Charleyboy
Annick Press

Summary:A powerful and visually stunning anthology from some of the most groundbreaking Native artists working in North America today.

Truly universal in its themes, “Dreaming In Indian” will shatter commonly held stereotypes and challenge readers to rethink their own place in the world. Divided into four sections, ‘Roots, ‘ ‘Battles, ‘ ‘Medicines, ‘ and ‘Dreamcatchers, ‘ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media.

Emerging and established Native artists, including acclaimed author Joseph Boyden, renowned visual artist Bunky Echo Hawk, and stand-up comedian Ryan McMahon, contribute thoughtful and heartfelt pieces on their experiences growing up Indigenous, expressing them through such mediums as art, food, the written word, sport, dance, and fashion. Renowned chef Aaron Bear Robe, for example, explains how he introduces restaurant customers to his culture by reinventing traditional dishes. And in a dramatic photo spread, model Ashley Callingbull and photographer Thosh Collins reappropriate the trend of wearing ‘Native’ clothing.

Whether addressing the effects of residential schools, calling out bullies through personal manifestos, or simply citing hopes for the future, “Dreaming In Indian” refuses to shy away from difficult topics. Insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully honest, this book will to appeal to young adult readers. An innovative and captivating design enhances each contribution and makes for a truly unique reading experience.

* Here I feel like I’m cheating. I’ve only just begun to read this, but I am still claiming it as a favorite. I’m taking this one slowly and savoring it. The many different voices and perspectives are vivid and speak truths using words, art, and other means. It is visually stunning and I’m thankful that so many people shared their stories.

Graphic Novel

heroThe Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
First Second
My Review

Summary: n the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore.

* From my review: “What I love is that The Shadow Hero has such a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, seriousness, and flirtation. There are action sequences in each issue and several doses of comedy. I didn’t want it to end.”

Contemporary

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Audrey’s Review

Summary: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

* This was a very fun story at a time when I was needing just that. I even got to have a bit of a twitter conversation with Jenny Han about one such bit of fun. I wrote about that here.

howHow it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co.
My Review

Summary: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

* From my review: “This wasn’t an easy book to read. There are many moments of pain to be found and experienced. The worst part is that our news headlines contain similar situations. The story seemed all too possible.”

GreatestWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Our Group Discussion – with spoilers

Summary: In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.

And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should’ve been—where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.

* The strength in this book for me was the strong relationships between friends and family. There are rough patches, but the relationships are key. It doesn’t hurt that there was knitting in the book too. I’m a sucker for knitting books.

What were some of your favorite books this year?

Unless otherwise noted, cover images and summaries are via Goodreads.

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Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl DreamingTitle: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Historical, Poetry
Pages: 336
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

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.

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming gives us a glimpse into the childhood of Jacqueline Woodson and shows us her writing journey. She begins with family stories of her birth. The mix of stories is part of the magic of this book. She acknowledges that people’s memories and stories aren’t necessarily fact, but they are still their stories. There’s a complexity to the many stories that we are told and that we tell ourselves. There’s what happened, what we remember, what we wish happened, and what we reframe with or without our knowledge. Woodson’s first poem ends with a focus on story:

I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers through my veins.

Story is a ribbon running through the book as she tells the stories from family members and of how she herself breathes stories. In her author’s note she explains that this book is “my past, my people, my memories, my story.” Most readers will be tumbled into their own memories along the way.

Somewhere in my brain
each laugh, tear and lullaby
becomes memory.

I really appreciated her poem “grown folks’ stories” because it tells of something that I did as a child. When the grown folks were talking, she and her siblings would sit quietly on the stairs to listen knowing that they could hear all of the good gossip. She seemed to drink up the stories, then retell them to her siblings adding her own twists.

Later, when her brother is on stage singing and they realize that he has real talent, she thinks that maybe there is something inside all of us, “A small gift from the universe waiting to be discovered.” Throughout the book, Woodson lets us see the young girl searching to find her special something. We can see her grow as a person and as writer from that very first letter J she puts on the page for her name to that moment when she finds her voice.

Along with her journey as a writer, she also shares stories that reflect the culture around her as she experiences life in the north and the south. She framed her birth with the people and events of those times including Martin Luther King Jr. planning his march on Washington, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin and Ruby Bridges. She also includes more personal stories like their shopping trips in downtown Greenville. Segregation is over there, but that doesn’t mean things are equal. In some stores or restaurants they may be followed around because they might steal or be treated poorly because of their color. However, the fabric store is an exception because the white woman there knows her grandmother.

At the fabric store, we are not Colored
or Negro. We are not thieves or shameful
or something to be hidden away.
At the fabric store, we’re just people.

Recommendation: Buy it now especially if you love verse novels, memoirs, or history. If you read and enjoyed How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson (reviewed earlier this year), you will definitely want to get this one soon. This is a book that has sometimes been labeled young adult, but more often middle grade. I think that’s because the writing is accessible for younger readers. The ideas and content are truly ageless and will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

— Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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