Book Review: None of the Above

NoneTitle: None of the Above
Author: I.W. Gregorio
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 330
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?
When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.
But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s world completely unravels. With everything she thought she knew thrown into question, can she come to terms with her new self?

Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

Review:  Not knowing much about people who are intersex, I was very interested in I.W. Gregorio’s novel. Being that she is a doctor, I trusted Gregorio to get everything right and to help the reader learn more about people who are intersex, but I also wondered if the novel could end up being an information dump. Turns out I was very wrong. None of the Above is a compelling novel that moved me, yet informed me at the same time. Not once did I feel like a voyeur, “watching” someone’s life who was very different from me. Instead, I was drawn into Kristin’s story and truly traveled on the emotional roller coaster she was on after she learned about her condition.

As Kristin learns about being intersex, so does the reader, but at no point does it feel like an info dump. We’re with Kristin as her doctor explains her condition, as she finds an online support group, as her father goes research crazy about the condition (what parent wouldn’t), and as she befriends a young woman who is also intersex. The information parts of the novel were spaced out just enough between the narrative bits of Kristin’s story that it didn’t feel burdensome. Gregorio also includes the case of the South African runner, Caster Semenya, to help the reader make a real world connection to what being intersex is. In fact, Semenya’s story helps Kristin figure out her new identity because Kristin is a track athlete herself. The sharing of Semenya’s story is actually a nice moment between Kristin and her father, of how much her father loves her, as he’s spending time researching Semenya and her story, wanting to help his daughter get back on the track team. This scene was a wonderful example of a loving parent-child relationship that is not often shown in YA fiction, and a perfect example of how Gregorio incorporated info about being intersex while still telling Kristin’s story.

The heart of any excellent story is a character that the reader can connect with and I really connected with Kristin. She has what seems like the “perfect” life, when suddenly she is thrown a curveball that essentially gives her an identity crisis. And that is where I felt for Kristin the most. The teenage years are all about self discovery and Kristin thinks she has it almost figured out, then she learns she’s intersex. Imagine having to basically re-think your own identity at the time you are trying to find your true self. How would you deal? And that is what makes Gregorio’s novel so good. Kristin doesn’t deal with it well at all, especially as someone she trusted betrays her and informs the entire school of her condition, but instead of getting it right, they think that she is Trans, so everyone thinks she is a boy trying to pass as a girl. The bullying Kristin receives from that is horrible, but very real. I like that Gregorio didn’t hold back or sugar coat the ugliness that Kristin experiences. It’s hurtful and painful, but very true to the story. Kristin reacts as any person would, which again I liked, because a normal person in Kristin’s situation wouldn’t be one to “fight the power” and rebel against her enemies. Kristin retreats into herself, and takes a medical leave from school. She works at becoming her old self again, and works at healing from the hurt her friends and her classmates caused. By the end, I was rooting for her as she came to understand her condition and tried to form a “revised” identity. She is unfinished at the end, and even though I did want more of the story, I felt like the ending was perfect. Life isn’t always a happy ending, but one where we learn from our troubles and use those as growth as we move through life. Gregorio’s ending was much like real life and I greatly appreciated it. In fact, when I was done, I sat with the book in my hands to stay the in moment of finishing an incredibly moving book.

Recommendation: Get this touching novel now!

Fun Fact: As I was writing this review, my computer kept auto-correcting intersex to interest. Shows how the concept of a person being intersex is not widely known.

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Teachers! Choose Diverse Books!

Photograph: Frank Baron/Guardian

Photograph: Frank Baron/Guardian

In the past couple of weeks or so, there have been a couple of articles about the importance parents, librarians, and teachers have in exposing children and young adults to diverse voices. Matt de la Pena’s article, How We Talk (or Don’t Talk) About Diversity When We Read with Our Kids, focused on the little ones and how when we read with our children that instead of focusing on the “otherness” of the story, we focus on the actual story. Next, Lee and Low, in their blog post titled, Why Do We Need Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Schools?, went a step further discussing how diverse books need to be shared in a non-diverse classroom to help the children become more empathetic and open to other view points and ideas. Lastly, Sara Megibow of KT Literay, shared her experience of helping her son’s 4th grade teacher make the classroom library more diverse. In her blog post, Diverse Success Story, she shares her process of how she went about donating the books to the classroom. All of these three articles truly resonated with me as a teacher, and I thought I would add my voice to the discussion, sharing my experience how I go about choosing the books I use in my curriculum.

Last year, I had a conversation with the then 7th grade teacher about his reading list. His co-teacher happened to mention that they were reading books that had only one type of character; I’ll let you guess what type. I just happened to be sitting there and of course, I had to say something. His response, “Well, I wanted them to read the classics.” Argh! And then I let him have it. Okay, not really, just reminded him that our student population was 60% Hispanic/Latino and 40% African American and that it would be a good idea to include different voices into his reading list so the kids can see themselves reflected in the books they read. I reminded him that our goal is to not only teach, but to create life-long readers and when we force our kids to read the classics, we alienate them and turn them off reading. We also do not give them an opportunity to connect the literature to their lives, allowing them to become open-minded, well-rounded students. Needless to say, after that conversation, he changed up his reading list based on my recommendations. My point in sharing this story is that as teachers we MUST be mindful of the books we are presenting to our students. We cannot rest on sharing the “Western Literary Canon” anymore because the canon only represents one type of voice and excludes all others. Sure, you have Maya and Langston and Toni in there, but one would think that there were only great Black writers decades ago. Then again, the canon cannot include just Black and White writers. America is a plethora of diverse voices and our canon should represent all of those voices. That is why teachers should move away from reading straight from the “canon” and work to make a more inclusive reading list.

Group of Friends Smiling
So, about my process. I am lucky that I work in a school where I am able to create my own curriculum. I know many teachers do not have that freedom and are instead required to use a “pre-packaged” curriculum. However, in a Common Core workshop I went to a few years ago, we were informed that “pre-packaged” Common Core curriculum wouldn’t be ready until 2018, which leaves many teachers having to create their own curriculum for the first time. Freedom! I think this is a great opportunity for those teachers to show their creativity in the classroom and create some amazing, and enriching, learning experiences. One of the best ways to create these experiences and to open their students to different points of view is to use diverse books! This requires teachers to be thoughtful and strategic in their planning and perhaps conduct a bit of research. Let me assure you, however, that the results are worth it.

I’ve been teaching 8th grade now for about 8 years, so my curriculum is pretty much set, though I do change it up every year, adding books, changing books, changing units. Shoot, this year alone I changed one and added two books in the middle of the year! But, in deciding which books I want my students to read, I make sure that I have a variety of voices, both male and female lead characters, as well as find books that are different genres so students can find a genre they like to read and hopefully read similar books on their own. This year’s book list includes…

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (my Honors class read this)
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Honors class again)
Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romiette & Julio by Sharon Draper
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Pregnancy Project by Gabi Rodriguez

Quite an impressive list, yes? You might be wondering how with Common Core pushing more non-fiction reading, how can I get away with basing my curriculum around novels. Well, I supplement the novels by using non-fiction that is related to the content of the novels in the classroom. By having my students read the novels and then reading non-fiction articles that deal with similar subjects in the classroom and using those to frame lessons, my students are able to truly learn about different lives, different places, different points of view, and therefore become more open-minded students. My students are able to connect with the literature in unique ways (my Honors students connected with Gatsby through their mutual hatred of Daisy, and Gatsby’s desire for the American Dream) and are always able to see mirrors as well as windows. Not all the students like every book (and that is okay), but they all at least find one book that they connect with and always, always, ask me for more books by that author. And honestly, love for reading is the takeaway I want my students.

Engaged students in our first annual Book Talk Day.

Engaged students in our first annual Book Talk Day.

If you are wondering where to begin, take a look at any award winners list, with the ALA being so diverse this year you can’t go wrong. Or, create a theme you’d like to focus on for the year and then search for books that have a similar theme. I usually begin 8th grade with units that focus on the self, and then second semester focus on issues that students are facing or will face (such as pregnancy). Lastly, since Common Core is encouraging cross-curriculum, why not try to tie books that fit another subject? When I taught 7th grade, I loosely tied my curriculum to the Social Studies curriculum. In CA the 7th grade Social Studies curriculum is World History, so I made sure that all of my books were either written by authors from around the world, or featured characters living in different countries. My students that year were exposed to Nnedi Okorafor and Thanhha Lai.

It takes a bit of research, work and planning to make sure you choose diverse books for your students, but as teachers, we are tasked with creating well-rounded, critical thinking, open-minded students. We have a stake in making our world more inclusive for everyone by showing diversity through the books we share with our students. We have the ability to allow our students to have the tough discussions about race, fairness, etc, by using novels. We have the “power” to help bring about change, we just have to be mindful with how we go about it. Making the decision to include diverse books is just one step.

PS. I will add that the topic of sponsoring a classroom and donating diverse books to students is a topic that came up at the Day of Diversity, so if that is something you are interested in, read Megibow’s blog and then get started on your own project. There are still 2 more months to the school year; it’s not too late!

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New Releases

Just in time for Spring Break! A plethora of exciting new releases this week, many we here at Rich in Color are excited about and recommend.

First up, the highly anticipated conclusion to Ellen Oh’s fantastic Dragon King Chronicles. I know I will be at the bookstore Tuesday buying my copy. Look for my review in the next few weeks.

KingKing (The Dragon King Chronicles #3) by Ellen Oh
HarperTeen

Girl warrior, demon slayer, Tiger spirit of the Yellow Eyes—Kira is ready for her final quest. In this thrilling finale to the Prophecy trilogy, fans will get even more of the fierce Kira and her quest to save her kingdom!

All eyes are on her. Kira, once an outcast in her home village of Hansong, is now the only one with the power to save her kingdom. She must save her cousin, the boy fated to be the future king, uncover the third lost treasure, and face innumerable enemies in order to fulfill the famed prophecy.

Kira braves a sea of tigers and battles armies of demons as she musters her inner strength and learns to trust herself, the romantic feelings for Jaewon that are growing within her, and the destiny that must be hers.

 

Next is another historical fiction novel by the author of Code Name Verity. Crystal loved the book and reviewed it here – Black Dove, White Raven.

doveBlack Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes-in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

Also coming out is another book that has been getting buzz and one that Jessica reviewed just last week. Read her glowing review here – The Kidney Hypothetical.

kidneyThe Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee
Arthur A. Levine Books

Higgs Boson Bing has seven days left before his perfect high school career is completed. Then it’s on to Harvard to fulfill the fantasy portrait of success that he and his parents have cultivated for the past four years. Four years of academic achievement. Four years of debate championships. Two years of dating the most popular girl in school. It was, literally, everything his parents could have wanted. Everything they wanted for Higgs’s older brother Jeffrey, in fact.

But something’s not right. And when Higgs’s girlfriend presents him with a seemingly innocent hypothetical question about whether or not he’d give her a kidney . . . the exposed fault lines reach straight down to the foundations of his life. . . . – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

The sequel to last year’s hit, Dorothy Must Die, finally arrives on Tuesday as well. I enjoyed the first book and am looking forward to the sequel.

dorothy2The Wicked Will Rise (Dorothy Must Die #2) by Danielle Paige                                       HarperCollins

In this dark, high-octane sequel to the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die, Amy Gumm must do everything in her power to kill Dorothy and free Oz.

To make Oz a free land again, Amy Gumm was given a mission: remove the Tin Woodman’s heart, steal the Scarecrow’s brain, take the Lion’s courage, and then Dorothy must die….

But Dorothy still lives. Now the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked has vanished, and mysterious Princess Ozma might be Amy’s only ally. As Amy learns the truth about her mission, she realizes that she’s only just scratched the surface of Oz’s past—and that Kansas, the home she couldn’t wait to leave behind, may also be in danger. In a place where the line between good and evil shifts with just a strong gust of wind, who can Amy trust—and who is really Wicked?  (summary and image from Goodreads)

 

eyeEye Candy by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
K-Teen

She’s gone from gossip reporter to half of the entertainment industry’s newest power couple. And hot singer J. Love’s mad string of hits definitely makes him a good look for Maya—and her career. But she’s feeling something more for laid-back, mellow “civilian” Alvin. A lot more. Now J. Love is using every dirty-spin trick in the glitterati book to humiliate Alvin—and sink Maya’s brand if he can’t hold onto her—and their celebrity-couple perks. With her empire on the line and her rep at stake, Maya will draw on every reliable source and every crazy scheme she’s ever played to save what she’s earned—and prove she can have love and fame. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

The Frail DaysThe Frail Days by Gabrielle Prendergast
Orca Books

Sixteen-year-old drummer Stella, guitarist Jacob and bassist Miles need a wild singer for their old-school rock band. When they discover nerdy Tamara Donnelly, who nails the national anthem at a baseball game, Stella is not convinced Tamara’s sound is right for the band. Stella wants to turn Tamara into a rock goddess, but Tamara proves to be a confident performer who has her own ideas about music and what it means to be epic cool.

When their band, the Frail Days, starts to build a local following, Stella and Tamara clash over the direction the band should take, forcing them to consider what true musical collaboration means.

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Book Review: Stella by Starlight

stellaTitle: Stella by Starlight
Author: Sharon Draper
Genres: Historical
Pages: 320
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.

Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community – her world – is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end. (Image & summary via Goodreads)

Review: As a huge fan of Sharon Draper’s young adult novels, I was excited to read her newest Stella by Starlight. I didn’t realize at the time it was a middle grade novel, until I started reading it, but because the story draws you in and Stella is such a wonderful character, I enjoyed the novel immensely. In fact, my 12 year old self emerged and was giddy at a book that spoke to her – especially a story about a young girl finding her voice through writing.

The novel takes place in the South in 1932, so you know it’s not going to be an easy read. Stella is a 12 year old girl who is loved by both of her parents, has a good relationship with her little brother, wonderful friends, and lives in a tight knit African American community. What could go wrong? Well, the Klan shows up one night and sets the entire community on edge. The issue is that there is a presidential election coming and, of course, the Klan does not want the African American members of their community to vote, so they use the usual scare tactics, which thankfully, do not work. I loved the way Draper showed how small African-American communities came together during crisis, helping each other out when they often didn’t have very much to give. She also balanced this out by showing that not all of the members of the White community agreed with the Klan’s tactics, and were willing to make a stand. While the heart of the novel is very much on Stella and her perspective on life, the scenes that focused on social justice, way back in 1932, clearly showing the seeds for the Civil Rights movement and our current #Black Lives Matter movement, were moving.

Stella is the star of the novel and her voice is truly one of a young girl on the edge of womanhood who is actively thinking about the world around here. One aspect of Stella’s character that I really related to was her emerging status as a writer. At the beginning of the book, she struggled with writing (even though she liked to) because she often couldn’t find the words to say. She would sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and write underneath the stars. I so related to her as I would write underneath the covers with a flashlight. Her writing eventually becomes stronger as she practices and then when she receives a typewriter as a gift, she starts her own newspaper, readership of one (that was also me at age 10!). The little girl K. Imani instantly fell in love with Stella as I remembered some of the struggles I had finding my voice, but with the encouragement of teachers, like Stella, I grew into the writer I am today. I also appreciated that Draper doesn’t make Stella a super duper writer right away and actually has her experience rejection in the form of not being picked for a writing contest. The disappointment Stella felt allowed for a true growth moment where she recognized her writing was not as strong as it could be and that the only way for her to get better was to practice. A message writers of all ages need to be reminded of.

One of my favorite childhood books of all time is Mildred Taylor’s “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and I feel that Draper’s novel is written in the spirit of that novel. All these years later I still love that novel, and Stella by Starlight brought those same emotions forth. Stella’s story is a fitting compliment to Taylor’s classic novel, but yet is perfect for our current children who need to understand how the Americans fought for equality in the past, just as they fight for it now.

Recommendation: Get It Now!

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Mini Review: Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas

PoliTitle: Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas
Author: Jay Neugeboren
Genres:  Historical
Pages: 123
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: In 1839, José Policarpo Rodriguez came north with his father from Zaragosa, Mexico, to the Republic of Texas. Poli was ten years old when he arrived in Texas, and he and his father settled in the Hill Country near San Antonio. Poli grew up with Comanches, surveyed territory for the Republic of Texas and the United States Army, fought against warring Indians, and mapped settlements for nineteenth-century German settlers in Texas. He was the first non-Indian to discover the Big Bend Country and Cascades Caverns, and during the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, he was Captain of the San Antonio Home Guard. Caught between the three main elements that made up early Texas—Mexicans, Indians, and Anglos—he struggled to decide where his true loyalties lay, and his decisions showed a kind of courage that was rare in those days. . .and is still rare today.

Review: In celebration of it’s 25 anniversary, Texas Tech University Press has decided to re-release Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas, and I happen to agree that this was a good move for the publisher. This historical novel is a quick and entertaining read that touches on a brief period of history that shows the tensions between the Comanche Nation, Mexicans, and the early Texans. The story follows young Jose Policarpo Rodriguez, and is based on the real Poli’s memoirs. The novel begins when Poli is 10 years old and just arriving in Texas from Zaragosa. Poli and his father have left Mexico for a better life after the death of his mother and other family members. Poli’s father then sends him to spend a week with the Comanche nation and there Poli forms a friendship with the Chief’s son, Eagle Blood. It is through his relationship with Eagle Blood that Poli is able to see and understand all three sides of the land use issue that is the cause of the tension between the Native Americans, Mexicans, and the Texans. Because of his relationship, Poli is also able to work as a surveyor and as a translator during negotiations that ultimately fail. The fact that Poli is so trusted by adults shows how during this period of time, adolescents were treated as adults and give adult responsibilities. Poli had to mature fast because of the harshness of life on the plain.

Not knowing much about Texas history, except what is briefly given in school textbooks, I found the focus on the lives of those effected in San Antonio fascinating as it took a larger conflict and allowed the reader to see how it effect the daily lives of the people who lived during that time period. I found it very easy to relate to Poli as through his travels he missed his father, and his friendship with Eagle Blood felt true and real. I feel that Neugeboren did his research in getting the historical details correct, especially when sharing the lifestyles and beliefs of the Comanche people. Neugeboren was able to handle the tension between the Comanche, the Mexicans, and the Texans in such a manner that the reader fully understood and empathized with the different factions (okay, maybe not so much with the early Texans as a whole, but the individuals whose lives were thrown in to chaos because of the fighting, yes).  While the novel is written for middle grade, Neugeboren writes in such a way that Poli would be enjoyable for readers of all ages. I feel this would be an excellent supplemental novel in a social studies class, as well as a good read of the youngster who enjoys historical fiction.

Recommendation: Get It Soon

To celebrate the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas, we have two copies to give away! Raffle ends March 17th. Enter Now!

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Book Review: My Heart & Other Black Holes

22328549Title: My Heart & Other Black Holes
Author: Jasmine Warga
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 302
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution–Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: It is interesting that two of last week’s new releases dealt with the subject of suicide, as it is a subject that is sensitive to many and one that a lot of people don’t want to talk about, which is a shame because many folks experience depression and/or have thoughts of suicide. Teens especially need to be able to have someone to reach out for help, and sometimes, handing a young adult book that speaks to the heart of what they are going through can save a life. I honestly feel that My Heart & Other Black Holes could be a potential life saver for many young adults.

While Aysel’s depression is triggered over her father’s crime, Warga makes note to show how Aysel showed signs when she was growing up, so the novel doesn’t feel like one of those, “she’s depressed over something and now she’s all better, happy every after” novels. No, when we meet Aysel she is in the thick of her depression, has made the decision to commit suicide and is actively seeking help by having a suicide partner. And this is where I think Warga’s novel really shines. Reading the thought process of someone committed to taking their own life is very tough, but it is a thought process that is very real, hence making Aysel a fully-fleshed out character. It makes the reader empathize with Aysel, as we understand that when someone is at the point Aysel is, when they are in their darkest moments, it can be extremely hard to change their thinking. A person who is depressed to the point of committing suicide will not “just get over it”.  Aysel is actively looking forward to her death. As a teacher of teenagers, this was hard to read because I kept thinking about a student who came close to this point a few years ago, but reached out and got the help she needed. As the novel is told in first person, Aysel, unfortunately does not believe that she can find help or even capable of help. It was also those moments that the heart of Warga’s story really impacted me.

It was also Aysel’s thoughts, her self-awareness about her depression that really made her a character to root for. She even personifies her depression, calling it a black slug, and it became a “villain” in a way. She has to actively fight against the black slug and sometimes she wins, sometimes she looses. I feel that having Aysel name her depression was a stroke of genius by Warga. It turned an illness that can be very abstract into something concrete. It allowed for readers who might not fully grasp how depression works into seeing the disease as a real obstacle in a person’s path. If people get anything out of this book, it will be that depression it is not just an imaginary illness in a person’s head, but a real tangible presence that they fight daily against.

And, I think, that is the beauty of Warga’s novel. The reader really connects with Aysel, with her wry humor, her love for her little brother, and how much she struggles with the slug that she fights daily. The reader knows that Aysel is a beautiful soul and really wants her to recognize her worth so she won’t continue to think about suicide, but is still willing to go on the journey that Warga lays out as Aysel begins to question her decision with Roman. The novel takes place over a span of 26 days, with each chapter counting down, and we are not privy to Aysel’s decision to live or die until almost the very end. And when she does, well…you just have to read the novel to find out.

Jasmine Warga’s debut novel is a beautiful and touching story about depression, family, friendship and love. It’s about answering the tough questions we have about ourselves, our place in our family and our world, but mostly it is about discovering and owning our own self worth. The messages and themes that My Heart & Other Black Holes explores is one that people of all ages can learn from and relate to.

Recommendation: If you are in the mood for a story with heart, run to the store and buy My Heart & Other Black Holes now!

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