Book Review: The Boy in the Black Suit

suitTitle: The Boy in the Black Suit
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 255
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

Review: Ever love a book so much that you are momentarily struck dumb and all you can do is squee? Well, that’s how I feel about Jason Reynold’s “The Boy in the Black Suit”.  I have been trying to write this review for days but I couldn’t get much farther than, “I love this book so much and you should read it!” Obviously, I have to find the words to describe why I liked Reynold’s novel, but what my review will most likely come down to is, “I loved this book so much and you should read it!”

First off, Matt Miller’s voice. I absolutely loved it! Matt is a character whom everyone can relate to because he is a thoughtful young man dealing with a life changing experience and is trying to make sense of his world. The novel begins just weeks after his mother’s death and he is still reeling from the grief, as any son who has had a close relationship with his mother would. He finds high school to be trivial, which makes sense because he’s lost his mother and his father is not handling his own grief in a productive way. In fact, his dad is loosing himself in alcohol and eventually winds up in the hospital leaving Matt on his own.  Matt takes it upon himself to find a job and through a twist of fate, ends up working for Mr. Ray, the neighborhood mortician. And through this relationship the beauty of the novel comes through. Having survived cancer twice, Mr. Ray befriends Matt and basically becomes the father that Matt needs. Their relationship is touching and one of the strongest parts of the novel. The two are able to joke around with each other, but also share the secrets of their hearts. Matt is able to talk to Mr. Ray in a way that he doesn’t with his best friend or even his father. It’s clear that Matt respects Mr. Ray immensely and looks to him for advice and guidance. Their Thanksgiving, where they’re just watching football and talking about Matt’s date, is one of the best scenes in the novel.

Being that Matt works in a mortuary, one of the main themes in this novel is death and grief. In the hands of a lesser author, “Boy in the Black Suit” could have failed miserably, but Reynold’s novel is a touching, quiet story that handles the concept grief with deftness that pulls the reader into Matt’s story and his journey through the grieving process. To understand his grief, and make sense of his mother’s death, Matt tends to watch the funerals, watching the family members, finding solace in the grief that they share. Again, in the hands of a lesser author, the modes of Matt’s grieving process could come across as odd, but instead, the reader feels for Matt, even empathizes with him. It was in those moments, when Matt was looking for answers to his grief in the tears of the other mourners that I really felt/connected with him. At no point, however, did I ever feel sorry for Matt and that is what makes “Boy in the Black Suit” such a powerful novel.

Lastly, I enjoyed Reynold’s first novel, “When I was the Greatest”, but I loved this novel even more. The writing is much stronger and much more touching. It is a quiet novel with moments that pull at your heart strings and moments that make you laugh out loud. Matt’s story is one that is universal as we’ve all lost someone close to us and we must make sense of our grief and the loss of a loved one. It’s a novel of learning how to move forward after that person is gone and learning how to find one’s place in a family again.

Recommendation: Get it now!

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New Releases

What a way to start off 2015! Four books to get us reading diversely right away.

emeralds and ashesEmeralds & Ashes (At Somerton #3) by Leila Rasheed

In the third and final book in our romantic historical YA series, heroes emerge and tragedies unfold as the servant and gentry at Somerton Court face World War I.

The murmurs of war have turned into a bloody conflict that will touch the lives of every member of the Somerton household.

Despite the pleas of his family, Lord Averley steps forward as soon as the call is made for men to fight the Western front. Mere weeks later, the news arrives: Lord Averley has been killed in the Battle of Marne. Without an obvious heir, Somerton falls into chaos. Half of the staff has already left for the war or industrial work.

Sebastian Templeton can no longer show his face in public. Ever since the publication of a now infamous photo of him and his former valet embracing, an unspeakable word has followed Sebastian everywhere–a word with the power to destroy a man’s reputation forever. Knowing charges and a trial will soon follow, Sebastian does the only thing he can think of to escape: he volunteers for a war he feels is senseless and despicable, leaving beyind the boy he loves, but knows can never have.

Meanwhile, after a whirlwind romance with the Duke of Huntly, Rose Averley finds herself trapped in Egypt when war breaks out during their honeymoon. Alexander vows to return Rose to home and safety, but with no end in sight, Rose knows she cannot sit idle as those around her suffer.

In the final installment of the At Somerton series, the war to end all wars will take an unbearable toll on the household and leave each member forever changed.[Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

suitThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

(This one is sitting on my desk as I write this. Review coming soon!)

 

holdHold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner
Amulet Books

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go follows the vivid story of two teenage cousins, raised as sisters, who survive the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. After losing the woman who raised them in the tragedy, Magdalie and Nadine must fend for themselves in the aftermath of the quake. The girls are inseparable, making the best of their new circumstances in a refugee camp with an affectionate, lively camaraderie, until Nadine, whose father lives in Miami, sends for her but not Magdalie. As she leaves, Nadine makes a promise she cannot keep: to bring Magdalie to Miami, too. Resourceful Magdalie focuses her efforts on a reunion with Nadine until she realizes her life is in Haiti, and that she must embrace its possibilities for love, friendship, and a future. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

xX by by Ilyasah Shabazz, Kekla Magoon
Candlewick Press

I am Malcolm.
I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me.
They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.

Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.

But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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New Releases

For some of us, this is our last week of work (yay!) before the holidays, so this lovely list of new releases for the rest of the year is perfect timing. If you’re like me and plan to do a lot of relaxing and reading during your vacation, these four books are being released just in time.

If you don’t know what to get the sci-fi loving, diverse reader in your family, luckily for you, this novel releases just in time on December 23.

This Shattered WorldThis Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Disney-Hyperion

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.


 

A week later, on December 30, another Ni-Ni Simone book and the second book from Amber Hart’s Before & After series hit the shelves.

Fame of ThronesHollywood High: Lights, Love and Lip Gloss by Amir Abrams & Ni-Ni Simone
K-Teen

Pretty little lies gone viral have left Hollywood High’s elite Pampered Princesses reeling. Now their secrets are in 24/7 overdrive—and only one diva can be victorious…

Finally, London Phillips is defying her domineering mother and taking control of her life. But she’s striking back with a weapon that could destroy her future—and her last chance at real love…

Two too many cuties have left Rich Montgomery desperate for the perfect cover-up—but when her house of lies comes tumbling down, things get pretty twisted and her fate is left in the hands of her most vengeful frenemy…

Heather Cummings is more successful than ever thanks to an amazing comeback—and the ultimate Hollywood betrayal. But old habits die hard and threaten to turn her glittering success to sparkling ash…

There’s no one better than Spencer Ellington when it comes to revenge. But stopping her inheritance-stealing mother and saving her crown turns into an all-access media battle. Now Hollywood High’s in-crowd is poised for oh-so-sweet payback . . .

– Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

After UsAfter Us by Amber Hart
K-Teen

Sometimes secrets kill. Maybe slowly, maybe painfully. Maybe all at once.

Melissa smiles. She flirts. She jokes. But she never shows her scars. Eight months after tragedy ripped her from her closest friend, Melissa is broken. Plagued by grief, rage, and the painful memory of a single forbidden kiss.

Javier has scars of his own. Life in the States was supposed to be a new beginning, but a boy obsessed by vengeance has no time for the American dream. To honor his familia, Javier joins the gang who set up his cousin, Diego. The entrance price is blood. Death is the only escape.

Two broken souls could make each other whole again—or be shattered forever.

Our time will come. And we’ll be ready.


 

And Ellen Oh wraps up an amazing year for diverse books with the final book of her Dragon King Chronicles releasing on New Year’s Eve. You know I’ll be buying this book. I can’t wait!

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.

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Book Review: Love is the Drug

Love Is the DrugTitle: Love is the Drug
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genres:  Speculative Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 335
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Review Copy: Bought from my local Barnes & Noble
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

Review: Having loved Johnson’s “The Summer Prince”, I was really looking forward to “Love is the Drug.” I can’t say that I didn’t like it because it was a compelling read, moved at a fast pace, and I enjoyed Johnson’s lush writing. I think what makes me pause, and this is strictly a personal thing, is that I figured out the twist way before (like early in the book), so I was constantly waiting for the reveal and for Bird to discover the truth. The fact that she doesn’t learn it until practically the very end bothered me. I wanted to spend more time with her after she learned the truth and how it effected her relationships with the important people in her life. Instead, we’re given a solution to one of the conflicts, which I will commend Johnson here for not making it an easy solution, and then the novel is over. There is a part of me that longs for a sequel to the book, though I’m pretty sure the story is finished.

One of Johnson’s greatest strengths is to create compelling characters that we all can relate to, and Emily Bird is no exception. Bird, as she comes to call herself, through her experience with a fateful night grows from a scared young girl under her mother’s thumb into a smart, vibrant, young woman holding her own. The novel is told in third person, but slips into first person occasionally, which I believe is to show how the woman within Bird emerges. I will admit, some of those parts threw me out of the story, but aside from those sparse moments, Bird’s voice is strong and she learns to stand up for herself, even fight for herself. She comes to an awareness of how empty and shallow her life was turning out to be, and realizes that she is much happier following her heart. A moment in particular that stands out to me is when Bird decides to cut off her hair, reveling in the afro she now has. She knows she’s going to receive criticism from her mother, lose her social status as school because of it, but she doesn’t care. She owns herself in that moment and stands up for her rights to anyone who tries to tell her otherwise. That wisdom that she has, many women are still searching for, and I commended her for it. It didn’t seem out of character or unrealistic at all for a teenager to feel that way because I know a number of African American young girls who have decided to own their beauty and wear their hair natural. Bird also doesn’t hold back on her comments regarding privilege and race, which I found refreshing in a Young Adult novel. Often times the concept of privilege and race, specifically from African Americans with money, is glossed over (or not even written about!), that I loved how Johnson, through Bird, hit the topics head on. Bird is a type of young girl I would like to know and is one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel.

Lastly, while “The Summer Prince” was otherworldly and fantastical, the tone of “Love is the Drug” is vastly different. While a time period is not explicitly stated, it feels like it could be our current day as the world wide tensions focus on Venezuela and Iran, two countries of concern to our government right now. The novel could take place in our very near future, and the aspect of such an event intrigued me. Like Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”, Johnson takes our current society and asks, what if this happened as a result of our actions? Asking these type of questions, looking into a potential future is was speculative fiction is all about and Johnson hits all the right notes in this novel.

Recommendation: Get it soon.

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New Releases

We only have one this week as we ease into the holiday season. I read the first book of the Heart of Dread series over the summer and I enjoyed it. I think I’ll pick this up to read on my winter vacation.

stolenStolen (Heart of Dread #2) by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston
Putnam Juvenile

Nat and her drakon are the last of their kind—sworn to protect what their enemies seek to control—and she’s risked her life for their reunion. But fighting for the majestic Blue meant saying goodbye to Wes, breaking both their hearts. Back in New Vegas, citizens are threatened by the resurgence of magic and declare war on all the marked. Wes and his team travel to the extravagant indoor city of El Dorado looking for his sister, but when they are caught on the wrong side of the RSA’s strict new laws, Wes is forced to do the unthinkable—surrender and rejoin the military’s quest to uncover the magical source, the same land Nat is struggling to protect. Now he and Nat find themselves on opposing sides of a war that could potentially destroy what’s left of the world. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Book Review: The Walled City

the walled cityTitle: The Walled City
Author: Ryan Graudin
Genres:  Realistic, Thriller
Pages: 432
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Copy from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.
Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there run drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: In her author notes, Ryan Graudin states that when she learned about the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, she was reminded of the settings of many dystopian novels. I agree with her because while dystopian novels are very popular, there are parts of the world where many teenagers already live in a dystopian world. Graudin continues to write that  her imagination ran wild with stories ideas upon learning about the various types of people who lived in a .010 square mile of space, and we are all the better for it. The Walled City is a intense thriller, that is full of action, yet has many quiet moments between characters that allow us to really connect and empathize with them.

It was clear that Ryan Graudin did her homework before starting to write this lovely novel. She writes the setting to clearly, so well, that I can picture the twisting alleys and stacks of apartments that practically blocks out all sunlight perfectly. In fact, the Walled City, Hak Nam, almost feels like a character itself, so rich were Graudin’s descriptions. Little details, such as places were Jin and Dai purchase food, to the grander details such as Dai’s thinking place, really gave a sense of this dense city that is filled a large number of people in a small amount of space.

While Graudin’s setting definitely set the tone of the novel, the three main characters, Jin, Dai and Mei Yee,  had the most impact on me. All three were written with depth and care that made them seem like real teenagers living/surviving horrible circumstances. The fact that Jin disguises herself as a boy doesn’t seem like a gimmick but a real reason that makes the reader understand what is really at stake. The opening scene with Jin running from some teenage thugs and then coming across an escaped victim of human trafficking, reinforces this fact. When one contrasts Jin’s life with her sister Mei Yee, we really understand her decisions. Dai is the definition of the reluctant, flawed hero who has a dark past but is working hard to redeem himself. He is burdened from the results of a costly mistake, but he’s not the type of character whose walling becomes annoying. We understand why he is driven to change his life, and why it is so important to him that he achieves his goals in 18 days. Lastly, I was surprised at how Mei Yee’s situation was handled in the novel. She is a victim of human trafficking, and I wondered how Graudin would express this fact, and I’m glad that she is very truthful with the ugliness of this deplorable practice. Mei Yee was not the often portrayed “spunky girl trying to fight her way out”, but as a real victim, one who is forced in this situation, makes the best of it, while longing for freedom. Not once, however, did I feel like Mei Yee was helpless. In fact, when she does decide to fight back, you worry for her because the reader clearly understands how deadly her captives are and what could potentially happen to her if she should fail. The connection these three characters have really brought me into the story and I was rooting for them to succeed, even when it didn’t seem like it.

I’d heard a lot of buzz about The Walled City and I have to say that this novel definitely lived up to the hype. Ryan Graudin wrote a touching, yet intense novel that tackles the lives of a group of people in a unique situation with care that did not fetishize Chinese culture, nor sensationalize life among a criminal sect. I really came to care for Jin, Dai, and Mei Yee and enjoyed the time I spent with them. Those three have stayed with me in the days since. That is the mark of a great book.

Recommendation: Buy It Now!

The real Walled City. Kowloon, Hong Kong

The real Walled City. Kowloon, Hong Kong

Aerial view of the city.

Aerial view of the city.

In case you’re interested, here is a CNN article on Kowloon Walled City.
Life inside the Densest Place on Earth: Remembering the Kowloon Walled City

 

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