Review: #NotYourPrincess

Title: #NotYourPrincess
Editors: Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale
Publisher: Annick Press
Genre: Nonfiction collection
Pages: 109
Availability: October
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Review: #NotYourPrincess is another fabulous collection brought to us by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The magic of the book is that the many voices are seen and heard through a wide variety of formats with the design of the book framing the pieces beautifully. In most cases artwork compliments the texts and the words provide context for the artwork. There are images on nearly every spread and it’s a magnificent visual experience.

The stories shared both visually and in text reveal what it means to these women to be Native. They share challenges, triumphs, losses, hopes, family ties and so much more. These are stories that acknowledge the pain of the past, but also point to strength, resilience, and hope for the future. In the essay “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights,” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) explains it this way, “When we begin to understand the colonial legacy and its collateral damage to the minds and bodies of Indigenous women, we can begin to forgive, accept, and heal ourselves from the countless hurtful, damaging ways in which this trauma manifests itself.”

These stories do not ignore the past, but they are very much stories of the present and the future. The many voices sound out against the stereotypes that often prevent people from seeing and recognizing Native women. The women ask to be seen as they are – not as they are expected to be. This is especially obvious in “A Conversation with a Massage Thereapist” by Francine Cunningham (Cree/Métis). The questions the massage therapist asks reveal much about biases people can have. The therapist asks, “What are you?” Indigenous and Cree are answers, but they are pretty much discounted as the therapist responds with, “You don’t really look it.” After learning that the person was raised in the city, “Oh, well, I guess you’re not a real one then?” It doesn’t take long to realize this person has completely succumbed to stereotypes. In “The Invisible Indians,” white-faced, red-haired Shelby LIsk (Mohawk) writes about a similar point of view. “They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.”

There are also many examples of confident young women who are using their strengths. We see young women like AnnaLee Rain Yellowhammer (Hunkapapa, Standing Rock Sioux) who are demanding to be heard. She’s an activist fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and has been raising her voice loud and clear in defense of the land, water, and her tribe.

Lisa Charleyboy describes this as a “love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way.” This is an excellent description. Readers will find love and encouragement here on every page.

Recomendation: #NotYourPrincess should be available in all young adult collections. Get it as soon as it’s available.

Extras:

Excerpt available here

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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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Review: Radio Silence

Title: Radio Silence
Author: Alice Oseman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre:Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Pages: 496
Review copy: Library loan
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.

I just wanted to say—we don’t.

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City—and their friendship—is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

Review: 
They don’t fall in love. This was one of the things I appreciated about Radio Silence. Aled and Frances share a love for the podcast Universe City. They are both creative and enjoy spending time together, but not in a romantic way. Frances’ mother asks if there is something more happening, but they don’t want or need that type of relationship with each other. The book does include some couples, but romance isn’t the focus for the most part. I loved the time spent getting to know the characters and seeing their friendships develop.

From the U.S. cover, you wouldn’t know it, but Frances is mixed-race with a white mother and an Ethiopian father. Frances doesn’t know much about her Ethiopian culture and wishes that was different. That isn’t something explored very deeply, but it’s part of her story.

Another aspect of the story is the issue of expectations around university attendance. Frances, Aled, and their friend Daniel are all on a trajectory leading directly to university. This is something Frances has been highly focused on for years without questioning the plan. As a teacher, I know we encourage students to think about college even in elementary school. This story challenged that expectation in many ways. It also challenged the assumption that academics trump the arts because one will not get you money in the end.

Finally, Frances and Aled both have mothers who are active in their lives. Frances has a mother who encourages independence and experimentation and Aled has one who is quite the opposite. I’m always looking for adults in young adult books who care for teens and treat them with respect so I was happy to meet one of these moms. She also has a unicorn onesie and I have to say that made me smile.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy books about relationships and finding your path. Also, if you like a bit of quirky in your novels. There’s quite a good helping of quirky.

Extras:
Interview with Alice Oseman on Rich in Color
Trailer

Alice Oseman Reads Radio Silence

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Review: Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

Perfect LiarsTitle: Perfect Liars
Author: Kimberly Reid
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: In this YA heist novel, a society girl with a sketchy past leads a crew of juvie kids in using their criminal skills for good.

Andrea Faraday is junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life—and her Perfect Girl charade—begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she’s struck up the world’s least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail—and the first stop on the way out.

If she were telling it straight, friendship might not be the right word to describe their alliance, since Drea and her new associates could not be more different. She’s rich and privileged; they’re broke and, well, criminal. But Drea’s got a secret: she has more in common with the juvie kids than they’d ever suspect. When it turns out they share a common enemy, Drea suggests they join forces to set things right. Sometimes, to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.

Review: One of the things I appreciated about Perfect Liars was the way details were doled out and how I learned more and more about past events as time went on. While I feel like the pacing was pretty uneven in the first half, things picked up quickly in the second half. I was fully engaged with the mystery, which took me by surprise more than once, and I’m hoping the open(-ish) ending is an opportunity for future books in the series. (I would love to learn more about Drea’s parents, for starters, and more about what the Faradays were like before they settled down in Peachland or assumed a new surname. I also want to see more of the Faraday family dynamics, especially Drea and her brother, who were consistently great together.)

It took me a while to buy into Drea and Xavier’s budding romantic relationship, as I felt like it had very little to go off of early on. The scene at the restaurant was one of the turning points for me as I finally started to feel like there was something of substance between them. (Kimberly Reid touches on race and class issues in the novel, whether that’s anti-black racism or the poor in the criminal justice system.) Once they really start opening up to each other, their relationship was one that I was happy to root for.

Drea is an engaging narrator, and I particularly enjoyed her casual (and often humorous or snarky) observations. I wasn’t as fond of the other scattered and weaker viewpoints we got in the book, though I understand why some of them were absolutely necessary. Drea’s attempts to balance her current image against her family’s past were an interesting push-and-pull act that definitely upped the pressure in her life. This was very apparent in her initial attitude toward the Justice Academy students, particularly since her own family made its wealth off of crime and were simply good (or lucky) enough not to be caught by authorities before they fled town. Drea slowly confronting her own privilege and bias was a great part of the story.

My one major nitpick is that I wish Gigi had been a more plentiful presence in the book, though I can understand why she wasn’t. As it is, she was absent for long stretches of it and got even less screen time than Jason, who was one of the least interesting good guys for me. However, Gigi was always unforgettable when she was on screen. Tiana was another memorable character who I wished had taken up more space in the novel.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Perfect Liars is a solid entry into the YA mystery genre. While I have a few gripes about the pacing and the initial romance, once the mystery kicks into high gear and the characters really start to open up to each other, the book becomes great. I’m looking forward to future books from this author.

Extras
Interview with Kimberly Reid at Rich in Color

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Review: Show and Prove

Show and ProveTitle: Show and Prove
Author: Sofia Quintero
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical
Pages: 352
Review copy: Purchased by reviewer
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: A poignant coming-of-age story about two boys finding their way in the South Bronx in the mid-1980s.

The summer of 1983 was the summer hip-hop proved its staying power. The South Bronx is steeped in Reaganomics, war in the Middle East, and the twin epidemics of crack and AIDS, but Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega have more immediate concerns.

Smiles was supposed to be the assistant crew chief at his summer camp, but the director chose Cookie Camacho instead, kicking off a summer-long rivalry. Meanwhile, the aspiring b-boy Nike has set his wandering eye on Sara, the sweet yet sassy new camp counselor, as well as top prize at a breakdancing competition downtown. The two friends have been drifting apart ever since Smiles got a scholarship to a fancy private school, and this summer the air is heavy with postponed decisions that will finally be made.

Raw and poignant, this is a story of music, urban plight, and racial tension that’s as relevant today as it was in 1983. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

My Thoughts: Earlier this year Lyn Miller-Lachmann recommended Show and Prove. She spoke so highly of the book, I knew it was a must read. It did not disappoint.

Show and Prove allows readers to experience a summer in The South Bronx through the eyes of two young men learning about who they are and what matters most to them. The voices and personalities are distinct and Quintero’s characters have depth.

Smiles has that nickname because he is generally upbeat. He’s an idea man. Over the years he’s poured time, effort, and thought into the summer camp. He sees possibilities. That’s why he feels like he’s been kicked in the gut when Cookie is chosen to be the assistant instead of him.

Nike has an eye for the ladies and works on his break dancing moves to relax. Nike works, but mostly to buy the name brand clothing he loves. He feels trapped by his circumstances and doesn’t know what he can do to escape.

The young men have been friends for years, but have hit a rough patch. This summer is a transition for their friendship.

There is romance here for sure. Nike falls hard. I enjoy the words he used to describe the conversations with his love interest. She, “…asks me questions, and I have to think before I answer, not because she’s testing me and I’m trying to be fly, but more like we’re both digging into each other for treasure.” The romance is a major issue for Nike, but I it’s not the only issue. I appreciated that this is a well-rounded story going beyond that one aspect of his summer. Nike’s family life and friendship with Smiles also have weight along with the racial issues that each face.

I was sucked into the daily lives of Smiles and Nike and wanted the story to continue. I would certainly read another book with this crew.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a wonderful coming-of-age story with engaging characters and an intriguing storyline.

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