Book Review: American Street

Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic, Magical Realism
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Review: Last week I posted about awesome Black heroines and if I had read Zoboi’s debut novel before then I would have added Fabiola Toussaint to the list. Fabiola is extremely close with her mother and unfortunately, because her mother is detained at customs, she has to navigate her new life in Detroit without her mother’s support. And while Fabiola greatly misses her mother, she has to dig deep within herself to find familiarity with family she has only spoken on the phone with. Fabiola is a bit shy at the beginning of the novel, but through her experiences (and her open-mindedness) she grows and discovers how brave she actually is.

Weaved within Fabiola’s story we get vignettes about the lives of the people in Fabiola’s life, including the story of the house on American Street. These lovely insight to the characters, including antagonist Dray, add to the depth and richness to the characters that live and interact with the ladies of 8800 American Street, and gives the reader a deeper insight into what motives the characters, information that Fabiola must learn. It’s a wonderful literary device that Zoboi uses and is done in a such a way that it adds to the narrative rather than take away from the story.

I absolutely love novels with magical realism, so discovering that American Street was full of magical realism, specifically Vodou and the lwas (spirits), added to my enjoyment of the story. I’m so glad that Zoboi infused her novel with Haitian magical realism because I’ve yet to see a book do Vodou right. Vodou is so misunderstood and is often characterized as evil, when in fact it is the opposite, so I love that the lwas were presented as the religious icons they are. Fabiola’s belief in the lwas is what helps her find strength to live without her mother, adjust to Detroit, and guides many of her decisions. I specifically loved how Zoboi used Papa Legba here and the reveal of who he was was a perfect moment. At that point, just like Fabiola, I was trying to figure out his message and how exactly he was going to help out Fabiola.

Lastly, what makes American Street so truly American is that it is a tale that is told many times over. It is the tale of an immigrant who comes to our country with dreams of golden streets and then must adjust to the reality and contradiction that is America. We get to see ourselves, both the good and the bad, from Fabiola’s eyes. We get to see how wonderful America is and also where we also fail our citizens. But most of all, we are reminded of the hope, the perseverance that all immigrants have (and had) when they arrive here looking for a better life. It is a story that many in our country seemed to have forgotten and need to be reminded of.

Recommendation: This book is available now so run to your nearest book store and pick up a copy.

Share

Mini-Review: March: Book Three

Title: March: Book Three
Author: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Artist)
Genres: graphic novel, autobiography
Pages: 246
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Availability: August 2nd 2016

Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I first learned about John Lewis’s March series through its Free Comic Book Day issue. I read it, got hooked… and then forgot about it for a year. But then a month ago at the library, I found all three books from the series chronicling John Lewis’s life and work in the Civil Rights Movement, and I ended up reading them all in one go. They were that good.

The art is powerful, as is the story of how John Lewis grew up to become an important part of the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and onward as one of the Big Six who organized the March on Washington and the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The books don’t shy away from tough topics and imagery such as racist violence and death, but that made the March series all the more compelling in its accuracy.

March: Book Three focuses on the latter part of John Lewis’s career and work as he struggled with others to gain voting rights for the African American community. It details how he looked for a way forward for the movement in the face of political and local pushback. It’s an eye-opening view into how activism and organizing works, along with the shameful role the American government played in blocking progress.

I honestly believe this should be required reading in school — and in life. Given the recent elections, the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and rampant voter suppression in America via voter ID laws, the March series is more relevant than ever.

Recommendation: Buy it now! And watch this powerful speech by John Lewis during the National Book Awards.

Share

Review: Three Dark Crowns

crownsTitle: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Availability: September 20th, 2016

Summary: Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. If only it was that simple… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Three Dark Crowns is a mirror into the lives of three future queens fated to kill each other for the crown. The triplet sisters belong to three groups, each with their own powers, motivations, and schemes to maneuver their queen to a bloody victory. But of course, nothing goes according to plan.

The world of Three Dark Crowns and the inner lives of sisters Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe are rich and complex. Of course, as a result, there’s a bit of a learning curve in the first few chapters. It takes a little time to figure out what’s happening, who’s who, and everything else, but once you do, it’s easy to sink into the fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking twists and turns of the story.

Three Dark Crowns is told from the perspective of the three sisters, and it’s incredibly well done. In contrast, I was a bit thrown by a side character’s motivations and actions (Joseph, what?!). Similarly, the romance at times veers toward the classic YA insta-love. But, considering the pace and epic fantasy style of the book, it almost felt fitting.

I pretty much read this through in one go — and usually, I steer clear of dark fantasy, but after the first few chapters, I was ready for the long, 400-paged haul. I’m definitely grabbing the sequel when it comes out!

Recommendation: Buy it now!

Share

Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddTitle: The Sun is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genres:  Realistic/Romance
Pages: 384
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Review: I didn’t know I needed a fun quirky romance story to get my mind of current events until I read Nicola Yoon’s sophomore novel, “The Sun is Also a Star.” I enjoyed her first novel, “Everything Everything” and was looking forward to this second one. I’d heard a lot of reviews say it was “lovely” and “charming” and “heartwarming”, and the cynic in me was skeptical, but it really was all that and more. The novel is also very deep in that it drops a lot of truths, is a wonderful commentary on the complexities of immigrants in the US, addresses racial tension, destiny and fate, all within the span of a day in the lives of Natasha and Daniel.

The novel is told in alternating POV chapters between Natasha and Daniel, which I loved, but also interspersed are little vignettes that give background insight into side characters that have either direct impact on Natasha & Daniel’s lives, or have a small impact on their day. There are also small vignettes that drop knowledge about history, as told in the context of how the topic relates to the characters, for example, there is a whole section about Black women’s hair. At first, when I learned about the vignettes, I was afraid they would take away from the story, but I ended up loving all of them and felt like they were placed perfectly, as if they were a very long footnote. Take in the case of the vignette about Black women’s hair; the section gives the reader background information on the complex relationship Black women have had with their hair since our ancestors were stolen from their land and brought to the Americas. The tone used is not as a boring “The More You Know” type of vignette, but more as a glimpse into Natasha’s thought process of deciding to wear her hair in an Afro and the tension it brings between her and her mother. Yoon also does the same for Daniel and his parents, giving backgrounds into why his father pushes him so, which creates a complex character instead of an “evil archetype”.  The vignettes really connect with the theme that everything we do, every person we interact with has meaning in some small way, and for me, it enriched Natasha’s and Daniel’s world.

I obviously cannot write a review about a romance book without mentioning the love story. Many people critique the concept of “instalove” in YA, but for this novel, it really works. Well, it’s not that Natasha and Daniel have “instalove”, as they definitely have to work on it, but their love story is sweet in the way as you watch two people who meet randomly fall for each other. The love story is also steamy as Yoon definitely did not hold back in the way the two characters expressed their attraction to each other. And for that alone is another reason why I loved the novel. Natasha and Daniel are 17 year-olds on the brink of adulthood, with real adult feelings, and I like that Yoon didn’t try to sugarcoat it. Both where honest about their physical attraction towards the other, therefore the chemistry between Natasha and Daniel felt very real.

Lastly, “The Sun is Also a Star” is beautifully written. I enjoyed Yoon’s prose with her first novel, but it feels like she just went to a whole other level with this second one. There are so many wonderful gems that I ended up highlighting my Kindle, which is something that I never do.  For example, take this line when Daniel is explaining his belief in God. He says, “God is the connection of the very best parts of us.” I just…love the philosophy that Daniel is saying here and the meaning of these words are so profound. I have to admit that I think one of the reasons why I feel in love with both Natasha and Daniel is because of Yoon’s beautiful prose. I feel in love with her words, the way she played with language, the way she dropped knowledge, and the way she made Natasha and Daniel’s love real.

Recommendation: Go buy it in Hardcover so you can add it to your “Books I loved” shelf.

Share

Review: The Totally Awesome Hulk, Volume 1

27163012Title: The Totally Awesome Hulk, Volume 1: Cho Time
Author: Greg Pak, Frank Cho (Artist), Mike Choi (Artist)
Genres: Comic
Pages: 152
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Availability: July 26th, 2016

Summary: There’s a brand-new Hulk in town, and his name is Amadeus Cho! Get ready for gamma-fueled entertainment as the kid genius decides he’s gonna be the best Hulk ever -and just possibly brings the entire world crashing down into chaos! Cho is taking on the biggest monsters in the Marvel Universe, but can he handle the danger posed by Lady Hellbender? What will She-Hulk and Spider-Man make of this very different Green Goliath? And what exactly happened to Bruce Banner? With monster mayhem in the Mighty Marvel Manner, all from the wild and crazy minds of Planet Hulk writer Greg Pak and superstar artist Frank Cho, this is better than incredible, it’s totally awesome! [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ll be honest. I went into this knowing next to nothing about the Hulk (or much about superheroes in general) save for what I’d seen in the movie theater. I picked up The Totally Awesome Hulk, Volume 1 purely because it was Korean Hulk! What! Yes.

I spent a lot of the volume trying to figure out how Amadeus Cho fit into the whole superhero world, where he came from, who he was previously, and trying to reconcile it to the hormonal, green monster he was in the story. I think some of the disorientation was certainly due to my total ignorance on superhero lore.

Despite the cluelessness that I brought to the table, I still managed to thoroughly enjoy reading Amadeus as the Hulk. I especially loved his interactions with his genius sister, who helped keep him grounded with snark and remote controlled robot advice. It’s definitely an action packed, mostly light-hearted adventure.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Amadeus Cho as Hulk. I want to learn more about who he is (and was), and I’d recommend it to just about anyone — even if you’re totally clueless about superhero stuff, like me. It’s not hard to dive into, regardless of your background.

I’m loving the trend of more PoC in superhero comics, and hope to see more and more of that. Also on my list is the Superman comics starring Kenan Kong by Gene Luen Yang and more of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. Dipping my toe into superhero comics is going swimmingly so far.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

Share

Review: When the Moon Was Ours

moonTitle: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Magical Realism, Fantasy, LGBTQIA, Romance
Pages: 288
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Review Copy: Received electronic ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Review: Last October I read The Weight of Feathers on a plane ride, so it seemed fitting for me to read Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours while on my trip last weekend. If you loved Feathers, you’ll most likely love Moon as the curses, family problems, and magical realism are all still present. The prose itself is excellent, with many beautiful, sometimes haunting, frequently memorable lines and passages. Moon is a fascinating world filled with women who can cure lovesickness, girls made of water, roses that grow from people’s wrists, boys who paint and hang the dozens of moons, and sisters who can get whatever and whoever they want.

Miel and Sam are the heart of the story, and they are engaging narrators. I loved their perspectives on each other, their relationship, and their trials throughout the book. I always appreciate a romance more when the characters have conflict with each other in addition to conflict from outside sources—it makes the relationship seem more real and makes any eventual triumph all the sweeter. Their romance felt like a natural progression from their friendship, which is no small feat considering their history together isn’t told linearly.

Aracely and Yasmin were also great characters, and the relationships they had with Miel and Sam were both interesting and backed by a great deal of love. I’ve been craving stories with good parents(/parental figures), and Aracely and Yasmin helped satisfy that itch. The Bonner sisters were particularly interesting antagonists, and the way they were alternately chilling and sympathetic made me crave more of their stories. I think McLemore handled their one-entity-in-four-bodies portrayal (and its slow subversion) well.

There were a few points in the book where I felt the story dragged a little (if your tolerance for long descriptive passages is low, it may drag a lot), and I occasionally wished we had a wider view of the world than the one we got. While there are a few plot points I would have adjusted, the story and the characters kept my attention so much so that I was a little sad when I finished.

Recommendation: Buy it now. When the Moon Was Ours is a wonderful successor to McLemore’s debut novel, The Weight of Feathers. Moon would be a great introduction to magical realism for teens and treats romance, sex, and (gender) identity thoughtfully.

Extras
Excerpt from When the Moon Was Ours

“Where Our Magic Lives: An Introduction to Magical Realism”

The Love That Lives Here: On Queer Girls, Transboys, and Sex on the Page

Share