Book Review: The Living

the livingTitle: The Living
Author: Matt de la Peña
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genres: Dystopian, Action/Adventure
Pages: 320
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.

But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s  only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.

The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: On the surface, The Living appears to be a typical survival story with the possibility of a romance, but there are intriguing layers to this story that the reader can catch glimpses of along the way. Matt de la Peña is an excellent storyteller, but aside from the action and suspence, he is also tackling both race and class issues. Yes, there is an earthquake and shark infested waters, but those aren’t the only things Shy will need to navigate.

A summer job on a cruise ship sounds glamorous, but for Shy it’s like any other summer job. Shy is a Mexican American from a working class single parent home. He is trying to earn enough money to help out his mom and grandma and have a little left over for himself. He has fun with his co-workers and has fairly light  responsibilities. Occasionally he must deal with obnoxious wealthy people, but it’s not a hard job. Life gets complicated very quickly though. On his first cruise out, Shy witnesses something that inspires nightmares and brings a man in black to follow him around.

This mystery takes second place though when a huge earthquake and the subsequent chain reaction of disasters hit. Shy is in a fight for his life and for those around him. The man against nature portion of this book is excellent and Matt de la Peña really created a believable character in Shy. He is a good kid and tries to follow the disaster procedures for his job, but he is in over his head in more ways than one. I felt like I was right there witnessing the disaster first-hand through his eyes feeling all of his fear and frustration.

Beyond the fight with nature, there are dangers among the people around him too. It’s difficult to discuss without revealing too much, but this book deals with race, class, and ethics on a scale that I was not anticipating. Matt de la Peña discussed a little bit about this in his interview with NPR.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a fantastic read for entertainment purposes, but it also provides a lot to think about. I am very eager to see what de la Peña has in store for us in the sequel.

Review: Chasing Shadows

chasingTitle: Chasing Shadows
Author: Swati Avasthi
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 24, 2013

Summary: Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftops to rooftop. But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…

After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?

In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I can’t say often enough how much I enjoy friendship stories. That being said, Chasing Shadows was a completely different creature than I am used to. Reading Holly and Savitri’s story of friendship, loss and grief was definitely a different experience.

Holly and Corey are twins; Savitri and Corey are dating. The three are a close trio of friends who face risk headlong by freerunning all over the city, off high buildings and through alleyways. When Corey is killed, Holly and Savitri’s friendship is put to the test as Holly seeks closure and vengeance, while Savitri tries to decide her future college path. Both grieve in their own ways, as shown by the two unique perspectives in Chasing Shadows.

Both girls’ grief is affected by more than Corey’s death. Holly’s grief begins to spiral into insanity as her reality begins to blend with the Leopardess comics she loves to read. Savitri’s grief and outlook on life is influenced by her cultural background and the story behind the name Savitri. The blending of influences is illustrated through comic pages interspersed throughout the narrative. While this approach to storytelling felt fresh and different, it also felt at odds with the flow of the story. That, combined with the stylized writing meant to depict Holly’s gradual breakdown, made immersion in the story difficult.

Chasing Shadow‘s innovative approach to storytelling is its main draw and also, at times, its weakness. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys psychological stories, or just wants to read about freerunning.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday.

Favorite Diverse YA from 2013

Narrowing down my favorites for the year was pretty tough. There are so many that I don’t want to leave out. I finally narrowed it down though.

Dystopian

proxy

 

Proxy by Alex London was a fast paced novel that kept me flipping the pages both times I read it. And yes, I did read it twice already. I reviewed it here

prodigy

 

Marie Lu’s Legend series got even more amazing with Prodigy. June and Day are compelling characters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

unravel

 

Juliette from Unravel Me is another character that fascinates me. Tehereh Mafi is weaving a tale that has completely sucked me in and I’m excited for the next installment.

Contemporary Books

Rogue_JKT_FINAL
Rogue author Lyn Miller-Lachmann visited out blog earlier this year and shared a bit about her writing. After learning about the book, I knew I wanted to read it. This is on the younger side of YA with the main character in middle school. I loved that readers see into the world of a person with Asperger’s syndrome, but Kiara is much more than that. She is an X-Men enthusiast, a loyal friend, a movie maker and much more. Kiara is a character that I wished I could meet in person.

yaqui


In Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Piddy Sanchez is bullied. This is a gritty book that tugged at my heart. Fortunately, Piddy has some amazing people in her life. This book brought me to tears, but also brought laughter and smiles. Author Meg Medina was kind enough to grant us an interview and Jessica also reviewed Yaqui on Rich in Color back in May.

 

Historical

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park takes place in the 80s so those headphones are leading to a Walkman not an iPod, thus the historical label. It also earns a romance label. The relationship between Eleanor and Park was simply sweet in contrast to some of the rather horrible things in Eleanor’s life.

If I ever get out of here

 

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here was another fabulous book set in the past – specifically the 70s. I reviewed it on my personal blog here, and we also held a group discussion (with spoilers) earlier this month. Gansworth manages to handle some serious issues like bullying and poverty with a nice balance of humor. Lewis, the main character, is a teenager from the Tuscarora Indian reservation and he is attending a mostly white high school. Watching as Lewis navigates the social life of that school is both humorous and heart-breaking. 

Poetry – Historical

dreamer

 

The Lightning Dreamer is based on the life of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist. Margarita Engle used this novel-in-verse to express some of Avellaneda’s ideas.

Here is a sample:
Beyond these convent gates, books
are locked away
and men
hold
the keys.

 

Graphic Novels – Historical


Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 9.39.08 PMBoxers and Saints is actually two books, but they should be read together. They are both telling the same story during the Boxer Rebellion in China, but from two different perspectives. The first time I read them, I was impressed, but on a second read through, they were even better. I reviewed them here. They are a set of books that should not be missed even if graphic novels are not something you typically read.

Comedy

Asked

Since You Asked was a bunch of fun. I reviewed it here. In it, Holly Kim writes a column in her high school newspaper. She is a bit snarky and has the goal of shaking things up around school. I loved her interactions with her mother and she also has a great group of friends. This one is sure to have you laughing.

Have you read any fantastic books that I might have missed? What were some of your favorites this year? Please share in the comments.

December Releases

On Mondays we usually post New Releases for the coming week, but to allow for a brief break, today I’m posting all of the releases that we know of for the rest of the month. We will resume our regular New Release posting schedule in January. Watch for these upcoming titles throughout the month.

CyCy in Chains by David L. Dudley
Clarion Books

Release Date: Dec. 17th

Summary: Cy Williams, thirteen, has always known that he and the other black folks on Strong’s plantation have to obey white men, no question. Sure, he’s free, as black people have been since his grandfather’s day, but in rural Georgia, that means they’re free to be whipped, abused, even killed. Almost four years later, Cy yearns for that freedom, such as it was. Now he’s a chain gang laborer, forced to do backbreaking work, penned in and shackled like an animal, brutalized, beaten, and humiliated by the boss of the camp and his hired overseers. For Cy and the boys he’s chained to, there’s no way out, no way back. And then hope begins to grow in him, along with strength and courage he didn’t know he had. Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

ControlControl by Lydia Kang
Dial/Penguin

Release Date: Dec. 26th

When a crash kills their father and leaves them orphaned, Zel knows she needs to protect her sister, Dyl. But before Zel has a plan, Dyl is taken by strangers using bizarre sensory weapons, and Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens who aren’t like any she’s ever seen before—teens who shouldn’t even exist. Using broken-down technology, her new friends’ peculiar gifts, and her own grit, Zel must find a way to get her sister back from the kidnappers who think a powerful secret is encoded in Dyl’s DNA.

A spiraling, intense, romantic story set in 2150—in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms—this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

warriorWarrior by Ellen Oh
Harper Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

Warrior (Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.

Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. — cover and summary via Indiebound

real as it getsReal As It Gets by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
K-Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

She can uncover the biggest celebrity secrets. But now Maya Morgan’s hottest story ever is way too up-close-and-personal . . .

For once, everything in Maya’s life is falling perfectly into place. She’s getting serious media cred uncovering the source of a new designer drug doing major glitterati damage. And the new man in her life is giving Maya all the cool bling and attention she craves off-camera. But the truth behind her scoop is about to cut too close to home–and put Maya and her family in the crosshairs. Soon, she’ll have to decide just how far she can afford to go to save her family, her career. . .and herself. — Cover image via IndieBound & summary via Amazon

Book Review: He Said She Said

Title: He Said She Said
Author: Kwame Alexander
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 330
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers
Review Copy: ebook from Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

he saidSummary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! — cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I have yet to read a “hip hop” novel because the genre doesn’t appeal to me, but I thought I’d check out “He Said, She Said” because I know of Kwame Alexander’s work with school kids and admire his Book-in-a-Day program. I know he is a talented poet and children’s author, so I was looking forward to reading his first young adult novel. Unfortunately, Alexander’s novel didn’t sway me into reading more “hip hop” novels.

When I teach creative writing with my students, I encourage them to “show, not tell” by adding dialogue to their short stories. Usually, in a creative work, the use of dialogue adds to the story, moves the plot forward, reveals character, etc. In Alexander’s novel, the overuse of a dialogue backfires and instead leads to more telling, rather than showing. Because Alexander relied heavily on dialogue to tell his story, I never got a sense of setting, of the physical world Omar and Claudia live in. For example, they protest that their school is run down, but there is not a single description of the school. In what way was the school run down? Were the walls filled with graffiti? Were all the toilets broken? Were there broken desks everywhere?  Dialogue in a story is helpful, but all the senses need to be engaged for a reader to really lose themselves in a story and Alexander does not make use of all the senses.

I’m big into writers creating well-rounded characters, flawed characters, characters that make us root for them. Again, unfortunately for Alexander, the male main character, Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls, is extremely unlikeable. The reader is supposed to not like him in the beginning so that we can see his growth, but the change truly comes a little to late. I think Alexander tried to have the reader like Omar earlier, but he would always ruin a moment of Omar’s growth by some gross sexist comment towards Claudia and “getting in her panties”. I understand teenage boys can be that foul, but even in his quiet moments, Omar’s thoughts were the same. It got really annoying after a while. I also felt that Claudia could have been written better instead of written as “the hard to get girl who eventually crumbles to the bad boy’s charm”.  It’s such a bad trope and not very true to life. At times it felt as if the feelings Claudia began to have for Omar came out from no where and not from a genuine place. In fact, both Omar and Claudia didn’t feel very genuine at all. They were one dimensional characters that were often there to occasionally shout platitudes towards fighting the man, and to create a very unconvincing love story.

He Said, She Said is a good premise – two unlikely people finding love while finding a purpose – but in execution, the story is lacking. I feel that Alexander could have relied less on the use of dialogue (literally pages at a time) and spent more time constructing the story. He Said She Said could have used a few more rounds of revision in order to make this a truly engrossing novel.

Recommendation: Skip It.

Mini-review: Akata Witch

Title: Akata Wakatalskjsljdsitch
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Genres: fantasy, contemporary
Pages: 352
Publisher: Viking Children’s
Review copy: the charming library
Availability: April 14, 2011

Summary: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been meaning to read Akata Witch for a while now since the cover is pretty awesome and everything by Nnedi Okorafor is bound to be great. This contemporary fantasy set in Nigeria has pretty much all the things I love in fiction — magic, friendship, and good food. Sunny, Chichi, Orlu and Sasha have completely different personalities and lives, but that only serves to enhance the camraderie they have. The solid worldbuilding neatly fuses the magical with the ordinary and Sunny’s initiation into the world of free agents, juju, and Leopard Knocks is fascinating to read. I only wish I had read this book sooner. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel Breaking Kola.

Recommendation: Buy it now, especially if you love a good contemporary fantasy.