Book Review: That Thing We Call a Heart

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart
Author: Sheba Karim
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

Review: After hearing so many great things about Karim’s new novel I was really looking forward to it. It was #ownvoices and had numerous Muslim characters in a contemporary romance, which is sorely needed in the world of YA literature. Unfortunately, I came away with a “meh” kind of feeling with this book. It took me a long while to get into it and connect with the main character Shabnam Qureshi. There was something about her that I just didn’t like. Some of her comments really rubbed me the wrong way, specifically about her weight, which I felt could be triggering to folks. Additionally, she was a little too crazy over Jaime, which is what I just realized I didn’t like about her. When I was in high school, boy-crazy girls drove me batty and that is why I didn’t connect with Shabnam. She is a character of contradictions, however, because even though she is very selfish, she does work to understand her father and help him to become a more active participant in their relationship and the relationship with her mother. The father-daughter moments in the novel were truly sweet and moving.

I feel like the “romance” of the novel was less about Jaime and Shabnam and more about the relationship between Shabnam and Farah. At the beginning of the novel the two are estranged from each other with Shabnam missing her best friend terribly. And I can see why as Farah seems to be Shabnam’s total opposite. Where Shabnam is unsure of herself, Farah is confidence personified. Where Shabnam hesitates to speak her mind, Farah doesn’t hold back. Their home lives are opposites as well as Shabnam is an only child whose parents are in a somewhat happy marriage where as Farah is the oldest of four (If I remember correctly) and her parents are constantly at odds. Even though the novel begins with Shabnam and Farah apart from each other, we are given flashbacks of how their friendship developed. These were two girls who connected over not fitting in, even though they were so different, and ended up dependent upon each other. And that desire for her best friend is why Shabnam chose to re-connected with Farah; she wanted to share her happiness about Jamie. I felt Shabnam was quite selfish for only going to her friend then, but ultimately the girls have a heart to heart and get to the bottom of why their friendship fell apart. It was a moving moment and one that I loved because after Shabnam’s time at the pie shack is over, there are an number of pages left to the book and most focus on Shabnam and Farah rekindling their friendship. Shabnam’s character development is due to her coming to accept Farah for who she is now and that even though her best friend is wearing a hajib, she is still the same complex being before she decided to wear the hajib. Shabnam learns to love her friend for who she is and comes to truly appreciate her relationship with Farah.

The touching relationships Shabnam had with her father and Farah, however, were not enough to make me fall in love with this book. I felt that Jaime was extremely two dimensional, almost a stereotype of the carefree white boy who visits and works with his aunt during the summer. I truly did not see what Shabnam saw that made her fall head over heels in love with him. I didn’t feel any heat or passion that I should expect from a contemporary romance. Jaime and Shabnam’s romance was just kind of blah. There was no rooting for their HEA; in fact, I was waiting for them to break up because that meant that Jaime would be off the page. Clearly, the opposite reaction a romance novel is aiming for. Though, if the point of the romance was the friendship between Shabnam and Farah, then mission accomplished.

 

YA Lit List: Queer PoC Protagonists

It’s that time of year again, when I gather up all the precious Queer PoC YA books around like a magpie hungry for the shiny gleam of representation. Here are 8 books and 1 comic that I’ve either read or re-read in the last half year, or plan to read that star queer PoC characters:
 
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova | Review
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee | Review
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore | Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe*by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | Review

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman | Review
The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie | Review
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde | Review
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate | Goodreads
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One** by Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh (Illustrations) | Goodreads
*Re-read in anticipation of book 2, There Will Be Other Summers (!!).
**The LoK comics, Turf Wars, isn’t out yet, but will be as of June 22nd, 2017. Super excited (yay Korrasami)!

New Releases

This is a release week I’ve been eagerly awaiting. Want and Saints and Misfits have been on my To Be Read list for ages it seems. As always, if you know of any titles we’ve missed, please let us know. Thank you!

Want by Cindy Pon
Simon Pulse

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
Philomel Books

It’s 1999 in Bolivia and Francisco’s life consists of school, soccer, and trying to find space for himself in his family’s cramped yet boisterous home. But when his father is arrested on false charges and sent to prison by a corrupt system that targets the uneducated, the poor, and the indigenous majority, Francisco’s mother abandons hope and her family. Francisco and his sister are left with no choice: They must move into the prison with their father. There, they find a world unlike anything they’ve ever known, where everything—a door, a mattress, protection from other inmates—has its price.

Prison life is dirty, dire, and dehumanizing. With their lives upended, Francisco faces an impossible decision: Break up the family and take his sister to their grandparents in the Andean highlands, fleeing the city and the future that was just within his grasp, or remain together in the increasingly dangerous prison. Pulled between two equally undesirable options, Francisco must confront everything he once believed about the world around him and his place within it.

In this heart-wrenching novel inspired by real events, Melanie Crowder sheds light on a little-known era of modern South American history—where injustice still darkens the minds and hearts of people alike—and proves that hope can be found, even in the most desperate places. — Cover images and summaries via Goodreads

Review & Giveaway: The Long Run

Title: The Long Run

Author: Joseph Bruchac

Genres: Contemporary

Pages: 114 pages

Publisher: 7th Generation

Review Copy: Book received from publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: “You are useless, kid. Useless. Why do I have to take care of you? You just hold me back. Useless.”

Travis put his hand on his stomach. He felt the bruise from his father’s blow, but what his father had said hurt more.

Useless.

I’m not useless. I can run. That’s one thing I can do.

“I’m tired of being afraid,” Travis said. He said it softly. He said it to himself.

I can’t stay here, Travis thought. The thought surprised him. But how can I leave my father? Then another thought hit him. It hit him harder than his father’s drunken fists. I have to leave. I have to run. Not tomorrow. Now!

Follow Travis Hawk on a cross-country trek as he escapes a world of brutality and uncertainty and puts his trust, and even his very life, in the hands of total strangers. Travis’s story is one of struggle, survival, risk and resilience, navigating a solo journey of hundreds of miles to seek a safe haven far from the demons of his past.

Review: Before I talk about The Long Run, I want to mention what the 7th Generation PathFinder novels are. The PathFinder novels are all written by Native authors, feature Native teens, and are contemporary or historical fiction. Additionally, the PathFinder novels are designed to engage teens with low reading levels (the books are all written at a 2.5 to 4.5 reading level) who want fast-paced plots and culturally accurate stories. You can find the entire PathFinder catalog here.

The Long Run is a straightforward adventure story, focused on Travis Hawk as he makes the fateful decision to leave his father and the Seattle shelter they live in and travel to his grandparents in Maine. It is easy to empathize with Travis and his sudden decision to run away before his father can wake up. His journey is a hard one (anti-Native racism, lack of money, harrowing encounters), but it is also filled with many uplifting moments and good people. From the man on the bus who shares his food with Travis to the people who pay him for odd jobs so he can continue with his journey, there is a wealth of kindness in this story, too.

As Travis crosses the country, the reader learns more about him and his past while also learning about the people who have stepped in to help him. He meets a wide cross-section of humanity, and the people he spends time with all have their own stories to explore. In fact, I wished the novel were a little longer so Travis could meet more people and so we could learn more about him. The episodic nature of the book generally works well, though it feels a little choppy on occasion.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a teacher looking to diversify a middle or high school classroom library. The Long Run would be a great book to pass on to any teens who like adventure stories and also have lower reading levels.

Giveaway

This giveaway is open to U.S. teachers only. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. One copy of The Long Run is available. The giveaway ends on June 16, 2017.
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LGBTQ Teens of Color Speak Out

To celebrate Pride here at Rich in Color, I thought I’d gather a few teens to talk about the intersectionality of being an LGBTQ Teen of color and the representations, or lack thereof, they see of themselves in books. Spending 8 hours a day with Teens of Color, I was able to gather a few LGBTQ teens for a lively roundtable discussion and one-on-one interviews. The teens are a mix of future, current and former students whose ages range from 13-16. All of the students are very outspoken about LGBTQ issues and are voracious readers, hence the perfect kids to ask about their thoughts on what they want and need from their literature.

First off, teachers, librarians, publishers, anyone who wants to get diverse LGBTQ stories into the hands of teens of color, we all need to step it up. When I asked my students if they had ever read a book with an LGBTQ protagonist, let alone a protagonist of color, all of them, ALL OF THEM, said no. With the roundtable, the “no”s were so forceful that I was momentarily taken aback. These young people, who love to read, had never read a book that featured an LGBTQ character, especially a character of color, as the lead. Instead, they stated, they turned to fan fiction. The reasons they were drawn to fan fiction was that it offers “more perspectives of people like us, more LGBTQ, more options in genres, more points of view,” stated Awesome Kid #1. Then a student remembered reading Alex Gino’s novel, “George”. Awesome Kid #2 was excited to read the book “because it matched how people feel. Sometimes you can feel more feminine and sometimes more manlier. It captures how some us feel sometimes. We feel trapped, in some body that doesn’t feel like ours.” Former student, Awesome Kid #3, fell in love with the Half Bad Trilogy because “it mixes my two of my favorite things – gays in love and magical powers.” While Awesome Kid #3 did love the trilogy, they did not particularly enjoy the heartbreaking ending because it is a trope that is harmful and they wished to see a happy ending in an LGBTQ story.

Since none of my students saw mirrors of themselves in YA literature, I asked them what type of stories they would like to see and their responses were just as varied as the types of books they read. Awesome Kids #3 & 4 wanted less of a focus on “coming out stories and/or discovering sexuality” tropes and focus more on normalizing the character, that being LGBTQ is just who they are. Awesome Kid #4 said, “I would really love to see a book not focus on sexuality or gender identity, cause then I want people to normalize that you shouldn’t really focus on someone’s sexuality. I have friends who are bisexual or trans and I don’t focus on that.” Awesome Kid #3 agrees, saying they want “a story that’s not a big deal of their sexuality, yeah slide it in there, but like don’t make it every single aspect of them. Don’t make it a constant struggle with it [sexuality].” Awesome Kid #5 stated that they would love a book where a lesbian fell in love with a girl who is straight because that is something they experienced and would love to see that conflict brought up in a book.

As their teacher, I of course, asked them about reading books with LGBTQ characters in class. All of them agreed that it would have been helpful, not just for themselves, but for their classmates as well. Awesome Kid #4 stated, “Teens find ourselves through middle school and we get that encouragement from adults, even homophobic adults are like ‘okay, you don’t know, you’re young,’ but it’s not really because it’s so difficult to find yourself and if there was a book out there it would be really useful and make you think it’s not wrong to be like this.” Again, Awesome Kid #3 concurs that teachers should include more stories involving LGBTQ characters, and characters of color, because “[teachers] don’t want to offend or assume someone that’s [gay} in there, but they should always assume. My thing that I always remember, I saw it in a post, is that 1 in 10 kids…there’s about 30 kids in a classroom so 3 kids are hiding a secret, so you never know what someone needs.” All students stated that having teachers read books would have helped them, but the Awesome Kids of the roundtable did express concern about how teachers would handle the immaturity of some of the other students in the class. They also mentioned that in order for the teachers to be able to share books that feature LGBTQ characters, the teachers themselves would need to check their own feelings towards LGBTQ students. Awesome Kid #2 was surprised to find “George” in their teacher’s classroom because they know that some teachers are not supportive. Awesome Kid #2 stated, “I was confused but happy because I didn’t think teachers would have books like that because sometimes they [teachers] aren’t supportive and you can see it how they, the way they look when you bring something up like that, but to have a teacher like Mrs. D have the book made me feel calm.”  Awesome Kids #3 & 4 both stated that if teachers used books that featured LGBTQ characters, especially characters of color, in their classes, it would help open the minds of straight kids and allow them to see past stereotypes and see that LGBTQ kids are the same as any other kid.

Overall, the conversations I had with these Awesome Kids the past few days have been illuminating. This small group of 7 students is just a microcosm of the thousands of LGBTQ Teens of color who are wanting to see representation of themselves in literature. These teens are fully aware of how their media is failing them, but also know what could be done to bring about change. So I ask all of the teachers (myself included), librarians, writers, editors, publishers, anyone who is involved in producing books for teens, to take a good look at where you can step up to work harder to meet the needs of all the teens out there.

New Releases

Happy Monday, and happy early book birthday to Firebrand, out on 6/6 — and happy belated book birthday to Arrow of Lightning! Read more about these books below:

Firebrand (Alternative Detective #2) by A.J. Hartley

New York Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in another adrenaline-pounding adventure

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Arrow of LightningArrow of Lightning (Killer of Enemies #3) by Joseph Bruchac

Months after she has been healed from the Enemy Sickness that afflicted her in Trail of the Dead, Lozen and her family have gathered a community around them in Valley Where First Light Paints the Cliffs and have begun to rebuild. Lozen knows danger still stalks them and she intends to be ready to defend her people, but she hopes to avoid killing another human being–though gemod monsters are not off the table. Miles away, the remaining Ones plot Lozen’s demise, and a threat Lozen thought she’d eliminated comes closer. And a newfound power will complicate everything for Lozen. [Image and summary via Goodreads]