Book Review: Complicit

complicitTitle: Complicit
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 248
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Review Copy: Library
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Two years ago, sixteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor’s fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.

But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.

Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she’s kept hidden for years. A truth she’s not supposed to tell.

Review: Often times when I figure out the twist in a book I usually stop reading because the result of the twist is often predictable. With Complicit the opposite happened. I figured out the twist maybe about 3/4 of the way, but was so involved in the mystery of how, and what would Jaime do with the information once he realized it, that I kept reading – well past my bedtime in fact and when I finished the book, I was lost for words. Seriously. Kuehn ends this book hitting you right in the gut and you take it because she has you travel this road with Jaime while he searches for answers, you end up really caring for Jaime, wanting happiness and peace for him, and then Wham! She throws that ending and you’re left dumbfounded. And then you do a slow clap for Ms. Keuhn because you realize you have just experienced a master storyteller at work.

I’ve heard a number of criticism about YA not being “literate” enough or deep enough or just full of romance and angst (ugh, whatever!) and I wish to throw Complicit at them as the example of what smart writing for young adults looks like. Kuehn’s writing is crisp, her dialogue realistic, and moves at a pace that doesn’t let up from the first word until the last. Weaved within the present story is the moments before Jamie’s sister went to jail, focusing on their relationship. These moments do not slow the pace of the story, instead they drive the mystery that Jaime is attempting to solve (and also, if one is astute, foreshadow the plot twist). Kuehn’s writing doesn’t talk down to the young adult reader, rather she treats her readers with respect and presents the subject matter of mental illness as one would with an adult novel. I must applaud Kuehn on how she presented mental illness as a real, daily struggle for Jaime rather than use it as a gimmick for shock value.

So let’s talk about Jaime, shall we? He’s an unreliable narrator if I ever saw one, but you connect with him, feel for him because you know that he’s had a troubled past that he doesn’t remember much about but desperately wants to know. Jaime is adopted and is struggling, like many adoptees go through at a certain point, to want to know more about his birth mother. His only link to her is his sister, but she and he have a troubled relationship. They clearly love each other, but Cate acts horribly to Jaime sometimes and he doesn’t understand why. With his confusion about his mother and his sister, one can really empathize with Jaime. However, there are hidden clues sprinkled throughout that makes the reader, if they are paying attention, not really believe what Jaime is saying. There are periods of his life, in the present narrative, that Jaime doesn’t remember. How can a reader trust the narrator when the narrator doesn’t even know what he’s doing sometimes? And that is the beauty of Complicit, in that even though Jaime is unreliable, he still is relate-able. We care, deeply, for the one who is living the lie. Kuehn has written him so well, so earnestly, that I didn’t care that Jaime’s narration was unreliable until the very end. Actually, I felt sorry for him at the end because…well, I think you just have to read the book and then you’ll understand my feelings.

I haven’t read Charm & Strange, but based on what I experience with reading Complicit, I’ll be running to my library to check it out. I’ll also be eagerly awaiting anything else Ms. Kuehn writes because the thrilling ride she sent me on with Complicit, I can’t wait to go on again.

Recommendation: Get it Now!

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More Diverse YA Books = More Diverse YA Movies

I had intended to share another excerpt from my MFA paper, but a more pressing concern, or real world example expressed itself to me and I felt compelled to write about this instead. While we here at RiC focus on diversity in YA literature, it must be mentioned that the need for diverse characters is even more important when we look at the number of YA books being turned into movies. Those of us who are already reading diversely are able to balance out the pervasiveness of the dominate culture in movies with our literature, but what about the kids who aren’t as well versed, whose only exposure to literature is from the movies that are made from books?

This question popped into my head recently through an assignment I gave my students for our first unit. We are studying the elements of fiction and instead of having the entire class read one book, I thought it would be fun to have the students choose their own book, have them read something they are interested in. Last year when I did this, I had a number of students asking me for recommendations and you know I encouraged diverse texts. This year, not so much, and well, sadly most of the books the students chose were novels that hit the big screen in 2014. The books my students have chosen….

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsCatching_fireDivergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

ifistayThe_Maze_Runner_cover

I want to just let you think about something for a minute….my student population is 60% Hispanic and 40% African-American, and those 5 books are what most of my students chose. Let it sink in that none of my students are able to see a reflection of themselves as the hero, the love interest, in any of these stories. It was during a class activity when the students had their books out that I started to get irritated with the situation. I feel that if stories that featured characters of color were seen as “marketable” or “popular” (whatever that means), then my students would have more diverse reading lists. As it is, they’re only reading diverse stories because I choose diverse texts for class! I’m only one teacher, what about all the other teachers whose population numbers are similar to mine? Are they sharing diverse texts with their students or only teaching one voice, with the exception to a novel about slavery or the Civil Rights movement one month a year? I’d hope they’re not, but the sad reality is that many students, especially students of color in low-income areas, do not have access to diverse texts and only read books that have been made into movies, because the rational is “it must be a good book if it was made into a movie.” I find this unacceptable, do you? African-American and Hispanic teens throw down large numbers of cash on movies and movie tie-in stuff, is it so hard for a book that features a character of  color to be made into a movie? The audience is already there and I can guarantee that teens will run to the theaters. Hollywood and publishers do not get that “If they build it, we will come”. They don’t get that the reason why they are not seeing big numbers for diverse books and movies is that they are not putting the money behind the authors to get the word out, to find the audience. Again, the audience is there as the #WeNeedDiverseBooks juggernaut keeps proving time and time again.

I will admit that the only movie on this list that I have seen is Catching Fire, as I really have no desire to see the other movies (okay, maybe Maze Runner). I read all of the books and can honestly think of other, better books that feature diverse casts that should be made into movies. So, to end this rant on a positive note, here is a list of books that I would love to see made into movies.

otherthe living
every day pointe bloodofeden

I think the next big YA series made into a movie should be Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series. It was just that good!

 

since you asked

This would make such a funny tv show as we follow Holly through high school.

What say you, dear readers?

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New Releases

Walter Dean Myers left us this summer, but apparently he had a number of books still yet to be released. This makes me happy, especially since this book looks really interesting.

Two other books get to share book birthdays with Walter Dean Myers. An ending of a popular trilogy and a new sci-fi debut that sounds really interesting.

On a Clear DayOn a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers
Crown Books for Young Readers

Young heroes decide that they are not too young or too powerless to change their world in this gripping, futuristic young adult novel by the New York Times bestselling author of the Printz Award–winning Monster.

It is 2035. Teens, armed only with their ideals, must wage war on the power elite.

Dahlia is a Low Gater: a sheep in a storm, struggling to survive completely on her own. The Gaters live in closed safe communities, protected from the Sturmers, mercenary thugs. And the C-8, a consortium of giant companies, control global access to finance, media, food, water, and energy resources—and they are only getting bigger and even more cutthroat. Dahlia, a computer whiz, joins forces with an ex-rocker, an ex-con, a chess prodigy, an ex-athlete, and a soldier wannabe. Their goal: to sabotage the C-8. But how will Sayeed, warlord and terrorist, fit into the equation?

 

UnmadeUnmade (The Lynburn Legacy #3) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Random House Books for Young Readers

Powerful love comes with a price. Who will be the sacrifice?

Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.

Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.

This final book in the Lynburn Legacy is a wild, entertaining ride from beginning to shocking end.

 

Tabula RasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
EgmontUSA

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.

 

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Book Review: While We Run

While We RunTitle: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Genres:  Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Pages: 327
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Review Copy: Library/Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later.

Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia’s cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust, and when they uncover startling new details about Project Ark, they realize thousands of lives may be in their hands.

A suspenseful, page-turning sequel to When We Wake that will keep readers on the edge of their seats and make them call into question their own ideas about morality – and mortality, too.

Review: I have to say this straight out. I LOVED THIS BOOK!! So much that I read it twice and was enthralled the second time. While We Run is just that good. The first time I read it was during summer vacation and I think I read the book in a matter of hours. I couldn’t put it down. Karen Healey’s pacing in this sequel is much better balanced with heavy hitting points mixed with quiet moments between characters that really showcase the relationships in this novel. The themes Healey presents as well, such as the concept of collateral damage, she handles with skill and a deftness that allows explores the grey areas of political revolutions. Many YA dystopian novels that focus on revolution often have an “Us vs. Them” mentality and the fight is usually a “good vs. evil” trope. While Abdi, Tegan, and their friends view the Australian government as evil, through their experiences they eventually learn what it means to have to make those tough decisions and that sometimes you have to lose to win. It’s a very grown up lesson to learn and Healey presents those ideas well.

The one aspect of the novel that I loved the most was Abdi’s voice. In When We Wake, I enjoyed Abdi’s presence in Tegan’s life and found him to be a well-rounded character, love interest for her. While We Run is told entirely from Abdi’s perspective and he is a fascinating character. I felt his voice is much stronger than Tegan’s, more introspective and thoughtful, owning a maturity far beyond his 17 years. He often very blunt with the reader while at the same time hiding information from the other characters. In Healey’s sequel, we get a real sense of Abdi’s inner self, what drives him, and what made him the deep thinker he is. Because he is still a teenager, he does make some stupid mistakes but unlike some YA characters, he does own up to them, eventually. He is also able to take criticism from his friends, internalize it and then work to change his behavior. I have to say that is one quality that I loved in him. Healey also handles instances of racism that Abdi experiences and comments on extremely well. These are usually comments that Abdi keeps to himself and rarely says aloud, and by doing that, Healey captured the internal dialogue a person of color usually has to racist comments or experiences. I greatly respect writers who understand that when writing cross culturally,  characters of color would have to internalize their reactions to racist situations. I feel like Healey did her homework when writing Abdi and it shows; I practically feel in love with him.

I don’t know if there is a 3rd book planned for the series, but I hope there is one. I want to know what happens to Abdi and Tegan next, what their future holds, and how they handle the decisions they made at the end of the novel. The world that Healey created is very believable and one that I’m not ready to leave just yet. In the meantime, I’ll just read While We Run one more time.

Recommendation: GET IT NOW!

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New Releases

Summer has come to an end, most of the kids are back in school, and publishers are starting to publish their fall releases. We have four new releases this week, including Jacqueline Woodson’s newest. I got a chance to meet her in February at a conference and really loved what she had to say. I’m looking forward to reading her book.

 

Bombay BluesBombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Push

The long-anticipated sequel to Tanuja Desai Hidier’s groundbreaking BORN CONFUSED!

In BORN CONFUSED, Indian-American just-turned-17-year-old Dimple Rohitbhai Lala found love, friendship, art, and home where she least expected it. But a lot’s gone on in the years that have followed. And what happens if what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you wanted after all? As she learns during adventures that take her from India to New York to London and back, with a little luck and a lot of vision, the journey home might prove just as magical as what you left behind to make it.

 

AmityAmity by Micol Ostow
EgmontUSA

For fans of Stephen King and American Horror Story, a gruesome thriller suggested by the events of the Amityville Horror.

Connor’s family moves to Amity to escape shady business deals. Ten years later, Gwen’s family moves to Amity for a fresh start after she’s recovered from a psychotic break.

But something is not right about this secluded house. Connor’s nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons and destruction. Dreams he kind of likes. Gwen has lurid visions of corpses that aren’t there and bleeding blisters that disappear in the blink of an eye. She knows Amity is evil and she must get her family out, but who would ever believe her?

Amity isn’t just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a bloody end as she’s done before. As she’ll do again.

Alternating between parallel narratives, Amity is a tense and terrifying tale suggested by true-crime events that will satisfy even the most demanding horror fan.

 

Kinda Like BrothersKinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
Push

Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon.

But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett’s mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it’s different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother — a kid Jarrett’s age named Kevon. Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends — but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett — and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets. Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it — but what? From award-winning author Coe Booth, KINDA LIKE BROTHERS is the story of two boys who really don’t get along — but have to find a way to figure it out.

 

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Can You See Me Now?

Can You See Me NowTitle: Can You See Me Now?
Author: Estela Bernal
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 161
Publisher: Arte Publico Press
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: On Amanda’s thirteenth birthday, her father is killed by a drunk driver while on the way to pick up her birthday present. She’s stunned when she overhears her mother blaming her: “If she hadn’t insisted on that stupid watch for her birthday, he would still be alive.” Her mom retreats into extra shifts at work, leaving Mandy with her grandmother and making her feel as if she has lost both parents.

To make matters worse, she’s the butt of cruel pranks at school. One day, some girls even glue her skirt to the chair! But things take a turn for the better when she befriends Paloma, an unusual new student at Central Middle School, who introduces her to yoga and meditation. And she reluctantly becomes friends with Rogelio, a fat boy who is bullied even more than she is by their classmates.
Mandy’s new friends, a dog named Lobo and an interesting school project help to ease the pain of her father’s death and her mother’s absence. She maintains a connection to her father by writing letters to him each night. But will she always be invisible to her mother?

Estela Bernal’s debut novel, a fast-paced and entertaining read for middle school teens, explores tough issues—including death and bullying—with sensitivity and humor.

Review: A few days ago a writer friend sent me an article about the difference between Middle Grade books and Young Adult books. The article was focused on writers sending their manuscripts for publishing, but it also made me realize why I had such trouble getting into Estela’ Bernal’s debut novel. In the article, the author reminded writers that readers often “read up” and since I teach 8th grade, I’m commonly recommending (and reading) novels on the “older YA” spectrum. While “Can You See Me Now?” is marketed at a YA novel, when reading it, it becomes clear that the novel is actually a Middle Grade novel. It is shorter than the average YA novel and the writing is much more simplistic. The article notes that MG novels tend to focus on “a characters immediate world” with little self-reflection and “Can You See Me Now?” fits the definition of a MG novel.

The lack of self-reflection in the novel is actually what bothered me the most. The story is very “on the surface”, not fully getting to the deeper emotional issues that Amanda is dealing with. Essentially Bernal’s novel lacks heart. Amanda’s father died tragically and her mother practically abandons her, and none of that emotional pain is reflected in the novel. Amanda writes letters to her father, which is very sweet and a realistic portrayal of how one grieves, but pages go by without her talking about her mother. I kept leaving the story because of that. I couldn’t understand why she’d go days, weeks, without a passing thought to her mother. The novel focused on her budding friendship with Paloma, Rogelio and the school project. I understand that the budding friendships is what helps Amanda heal, but the lighthearted approach Bernal took towards those relationships bothered me. Spending my days around middle schoolers, I know how deep, emotional beings they can be and I felt that Bernal didn’t quite grasp the complexity of the pre-teen/teenage mind.

Lastly, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Amanda, in that I didn’t really get to know her. I know her in a superficial way, not enough to care to want to read a novel about her. A book can have a strong premise, such as “Can You See Me Now?” does, but if a reader cannot connect to the main character, if we don’t have a good enough reason to root for her, then the novel falls flat. I was left wanting more from Amanda, more from this novel.

Recommendation:  Tying back to my opening paragraph, I think the main reason why I didn’t like it is because I’m not used to reading Middle Grade books (which are aimed at an audience of 8-12 years old). While “Can You See Me Now?” would make a good MG novel, as a reader of YA, it doesn’t work for me. If you enjoy MG books, then I’d suggest you borrow the novel when you can, but if you are a fan of YA, then skip it.

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