Book Review: Ghosts

ghostsTitle: Ghosts
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Genres:  Graphic Novel/Magical Realism
Pages: 240
Publisher: Graphix
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake — and her own.

Review: With Hispanic Heritage month just finishing and Dia De Los Muertos coming in a little over a week, I thought Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel would be a good fit for this week’s review. I’ve never reading anything by Telgemeier before, nor have I reviewed a graphic novel either, so I went into this book without any preconceived notions. I saw that the characters were Mexican and thought – cool! I saw the inclusion of Dia de los Muertos and got excited about an author who incorporated a culturally significant holiday. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay that way.

At it’s heart, Ghosts is a story about family, specifically sisters. At the beginning of the story there is a bit of tension between the sister, specifically on Cat’s behalf as Maya seems none the wiser, because they are moving to a small town in Northern California due to Maya’s cystic fibrosis. We also learn that the two shared friends which gives us insight into how much Maya depends on Cat, and how often Cat is responsible for her sister. While there is love between the two, and they are close, Cat does yearn to establish herself apart from her sister. Initially this makes Cat seem like a bit of a brat, but to me, she was written as the typical teenager who is trying to adjust to life just when peer relationships are becoming important. I was actually endeared to Cat because of it as I could totally understand where she was coming from. It also made her growth more believable. Through meeting friends and Maya’s illness taking a turn for the worse, Cat is able to come to a place of acceptance and be open to her new life in Bahia de la Luna.

I love magical realism and Ghosts is swimming with it because, well it is essentially a ghost story. Cat is really afraid of ghosts as they make her think about death, especially in terms of Maya’s illness, so much of Cat’s growth comes with accepting that she lives in a town that is filled with harmless ghosts. At the beginning Cat runs away from the ghosts because she believes they harmed Maya, while Maya just wants to get to know the ghosts. Eventually, in a lovely heart to heart, Cat decides to go to the midnight Dia de los Metros party the town has for the ghosts on behalf of Maya. This is also where the book falters. In incorporating Dia de los Muertos at this point of the story, Telgemeier changes the meaning of the holiday to fit the narrative. The celebration of Dia de los Muertos doesn’t come out of no where as Telgemeier does a good job of explaining the ofrendas, and having the girls make an alter for their grandmother, but the main crux of the holiday for Telgemeier is the big party at the end. Though, I will say this reminded me of the ending of The Book of Life (if I’m remembering it correctly) so I am a bit conflicted with Telgemeier’s use of a festival like atmosphere to the day instead of the close family atmosphere. I do know that Dia de los Muertos festivals are growing as more and more people come to celebrate the holiday, for example, my school incorporates Dia de los Muertos into our Halloween activities as we create a communal alter to celebrate deceased family members, so while her use of the holiday in such a manner is troublesome, it does reflect how the holiday is currently changing.

What I did love, besides the story of sisterly love, is how diverse this novel is. Bahia de la Luna is a small town but actually reflects the population of California as I know it. The friends that Cat meets are of all different backgrounds and in crowd scenes, the variety of the human palette is reflected. Telgemeier also has a character state that the ghosts prefer to speak in Spanish because many of the ghost there are from Mexico (which CA originally was) and she doesn’t translate the Spanish. All the interactions with the ghosts are in Spanish therefore the reader must figure out what the ghosts are saying if they don’t understand Spanish. To me, this inclusion is important because I feel like when Spanish, or any language really, is translated on the page, it’s made for the comfort of the reader and may not actually fit the story. The fact that her publishers allowed her to not translate the story made me respect them so much, and added to my enjoyment.

Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed the book for it’s sweet story despite it’s troublesome elements. I think before this is shared with kids, an adult reads it for themselves and makes their own decision. Or even, read it with a group of students and use it as a learning tool for Dia de los Muertos.

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Latinx Characters I Loved

Since there is still a few more days left in Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought I’d highlight some novels, or rather characters of said novels, that I absolutely loved. Some of these characters I’ve laughed with, cried with, cheered for them, and had my heart broken for/with them. I don’t think I even need to say that all these books are excellent and I highly recommend you give the creators of these wonderful characters some love.

livingShy Espinoza from The Living by Matt De La Pena’

I felt for Shy from page one as he tries to save the life of a passenger on the cruise ship he is working on who is determined to end his life. It’s one of those moments where the smallest interaction could end up changing someone’s life and Shy’s interaction with this man definietly changes his. And then the earthquake and tsumani just up-ends Shy’s life. Shy is the typical hero in this novel thrust into an adventure when he just wants to work to save some money. He is witty and smart and is willing to take risks and do what needs to be done to survive. He is also devoted to his family and his grief at knowing they could all potentially be dead is heartbreaking. I loved the action in “The Living”, but what really kept me reading was Shy.

americansMayor Toro & Maribel Rivera from The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Though Book of Unknown Americans is not technically a YA book, at the heart of the story is teenagers Mayor & Maribel and their love story. Both are children of immigrants who fall in love against their parent’s wishes. Maribel’s parents have brought her to America to see a doctor after a head injury changed her personality, and Mayor is just trying to survive living in his superstar brother’s shadow. Mayor & Maribel’s relationship is like a sweet, slow blooming flower as Mayor is able to reach Maribel in a way no one has since her accident. He is so sweet with her, seeing her for who she is now instead of who she was, that she feels more comfortable with him than anyone else and he helps her adjust to living in America. Book of Unknown Americans is a beautiful novel, but it’s Mayor & Maribel’s story that makes the story stay with you well after the last page.

gringolandiaDaniel Aguilar from Gringolandia by Lynn Miller-Lachmann

Where to begin with Daniel? He made me so angry yet I could feel for him at the same time. When Daniel was little, his father was taken from their home as a political prisoner in Chile. Years later, his father returns and now Daniel must learn how to live with his father again, just as his life is going great. Let’s just say the adjustment doesn’t go well and like a typical teenager, Daniel has some trouble accepting his father in his life. Daniel is a richly complex character that I would want to scream at because he was being such a teenager, but then felt his frustration at trying to get to know his father again, reconciling the memory of who his father was with the man that his father currently is. The growth that he undergoes as he begins to understand what his father went through and uses that knowledge to help build the relationship between him and his father warmed my heart. The Daniel at the end of the novel is a very different Daniel from the beginning and the journey with him is worth it.

gabiGabi Hernandez from Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
I absolutely loved Gabi so much and wished she were actually one of my students. Gabi’s voice was so original and fresh and so funny that there were moments I actually laughed out loud. I read this novel after a very long, soul crushing day, but Gabi’s story lifted me up and was the perfect escape. She is is loyal to her friends, handles her tia perfectly, is accepting of herself (or rather comes to accept herself), and a wonderful poet to boot. She is the type of girl, if she were real, that once she got out of high school would rule the world with her awesomeness – in fact, she rules her world with her awesomeness. I feel like Gabi is a literary heroine that many young girls need and can be used as inspiration.

happyAaron Soto from More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
If Aaron’s story didn’t have you in tears at the end, then you must have a cold heart. Sounds mean, but truth. Aaron is such a fun, lovable, real kid that when the twist comes it’s a punch in the gut for both him and the reader. Aaron is the good kid in every neighborhood that is dependable, respectful to the elders, gets along with just about everyone, is the “cool” teenager but doesn’t forget to be young at heart. He is so thoughtful in his interactions with Genevieve and Thomas that you feel for him in his indecision between the two. Aaron, and by extension some of his friends, reminded me of my students who make me laugh but are the ones I know that sometimes need that extra push. Aaron touched my heart even before the twist so much that when I think about him and his story, my heart breaks every single time.

memoryVicky Cruz from The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Vicky is another character who I cried with as she fought through her depression and found life worth living after her suicide attempt. She is a quiet character, in that she observes the world in a unique way and was thoughtful in how she approached life after almost losing hers. She remains very open-minded just taking in what people say and then making her own conclusions after she has thought it all over.  It is through her experiences that she finds her how strength and is able to take charge of her life. Just like Gabi, I feel like Vicky is another literary heroine readers, specifically Latinx girls, need in their lives.

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New Releases

Two new books this week and both that explore themes of identity.  We here at Rich in Color are so looking forward to Anna-Marie McLemore’s anticipated new novel that we’ll have an excerpt for our readers tomorrow and then Audrey will share her thoughts of the book on Friday.

moonWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
A Thomas Dunne Books for St. Martin’s

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. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

beenEveryone We’ve Been by Sarah Everett
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Addison Sullivan has been in an accident. In its aftermath, she has memory lapses and starts talking to a boy that no one else can see. It gets so bad that she’s worried she’s going crazy.

Addie takes drastic measures to fill in the blanks and visits a shadowy medical facility that promises to “help with your memory.” But at the clinic, Addie unwittingly discovers it is not her first visit. And when she presses, she finds out that she had certain memories erased. She had a boy erased.

But why? Who was that boy, and what happened that was too devastating to live with? And even if she gets the answers she’s looking for, will she ever be able to feel like a whole person again? –Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Book Review: The Poisoned Blade (Court of Fives #2)

bladeTitle: The Poisoned Blade (Court of Fives #2)
Author: Kate Elliott
Genres:  Fantasy
Pages: 468
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Amazon comes through
Availability: Available now

Summary: In this thrilling sequel to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s captivating young adult debut, a girl immersed in high-stakes competition holds the fate of a kingdom in her hands.

Now a Challenger, Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons alike. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…. She must become a warrior.

Review: Just like Court of Fives, The Poisoned Blade throws you right into the action and doesn’t let up until the end, sort of…it ends with another cliffhanger. Elliott’s sequel begins a few hours after Jessamy’s victory on the Fives court where she became a Challenger, but the victory was tainted because it came at the cost of someone else, someone Jessamy was close to.  The novel opens with her attempting to not burn that bridge and ends up right in the middle of Garon Palace where she decides to use her father’s lessons to her advantage. Jessamy’s sole focus throughout the novel is to find a way to reunite her family and get them to safety. She meets Ro-emnu again, as the last time she saw him he had left her and her family alone under the tombs. Knowing she needs help she decides to trust him again, begrudgingly, but through him she is exposed to a larger underground network of Efeans who are are quietly planning revolution. In fact, they aren’t the only ones, which I cannot reveal due to spoilers, but it is a plot twist that no one can see coming. In fact, it takes their entire society by surprise and Jessamy ends up in a alliance with the very last person she thought she would be in an alliance with. Then, boom, cliffhanger!

Poisoned Blade is not full of non-stop action as Elliott does take time to give us those meaningful character moments that are the heart of any good novel. Some of my favorite moments were the stolen moments between Jessamy and her sister Amaya. Both are in precarious positions within the Garan household and if anyone were to find out they were sisters, trouble would find them, however, many of their moments are filled with sisterly-love and sisterly-bickering. The relationship of the two sisters is fleshed out more and we get a glimpse of what life was like before the girl’s world was up-ended. Elliott also spends more time developing the relationships between Jessamy and the other adversaries in Garon Palace. I really liked this change of pace for the novel as it allowed Jessamy to rely on her own strength, her own fortitude to protect her family.

Through Jessamy’s travels we are able to see the larger world that Elliott creates. Jessamy travels to Lord Garon’s country estates, and in turn, ends up visiting Efean villages for the first time. She connects with her Efean roots and we learn more about the culture that was denied to her.  She meets more Efeans and learns how they cope with the racism they experience, which in turn gives Jessamy more strength to deal with her plans to best Lord Garon.

While I loved the plot’s twist and turns, the expansion of the world and learning more about Efean culture, but what I loved the most was learning more about the relationship between Jessamy and her father. In Court of Fives, Jessamy’s anger and sense of betrayal towards her father was so negative that he was almost a villain. In Poisoned Blade, Jessamy has more interaction with her father and we finally get a sense of what their relationship was like. The two, who really are very similar in personality, start taking the steps back to healing their relationship and also begin to work as a team. For me, this portrayal of a parent/child relationship in a YA novel, specifically where parents are often off-screen in novels, is what made Elliott’s novel for me. I can’t wait for the next book.

Recommendation: If you loved Court of Fives, then you need you get on this sequel!

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Mini-Review: Blacktop #1 – Justin

Justin BlacktopTitle: Justin (Blacktop #1)
Author: L.J. Alonge
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 145
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Review Copy: ARC
Availability: Available now

Summary: Justin has a list of goals stashed under his mattress. Number 1 is “figure out life plans.” Number 5 is “earn Zen Master rating in WoW.” Nowhere on that list is “play the crew from Ghosttown,” but that’s the type of trouble that always seems to finds him.

The debut title from LJ Alonge’s new basketball series pulses with action on and off the court. With wit, humor, and honesty, Justin unfolds over one hot summer in Oakland, California.

Review: L.J. Alonge’s debut novel is a short and fun read following Justin and his friend Frank as they try to build a basketball team to play against one of the best teams in the neighborhood when neither young men has any real skill. Justin sees the task of playing the dominating team as a consequence of a dare gone completely wrong and is complacent in the face of imminent failure. Along the way, however, he learns about the power to friendship and teamwork, skills his estranged father had been teaching him during their one-on-one pick up games.

I had read this novel was great for middle school students and low level readers and I have to agree with this assessment. Blacktop #1 is an enjoyable read that I know would catch many of my reluctant readers, whom are usually boys, with the sports angle and get them interested in reading.

The strength of Alonge’s debut lies in the voice of Justin who is that adolescent on the brink of adulthood, with a young man’s body (he’s 6’4” after a growth spurt), but has a kid’s playful mind and sense of humor. In addition, Justin is not just an aspiring basketball player, he is also a bookish nerd who loves comic books and science fiction/fantasy novels. He is a good student, top of his class in fact, and is proud of his smarts. He doesn’t try to hide them, but wishes that because of his height, he could be the basketball star as well. I love that Alonge chose to create a character who has other thoughts than basketball and is actually a bit nerdy. Black nerds, specifically boys, are not portrayed very often in literature and if they are they are always an Erkel stereotype. Justin is a real kid, in fact he reminds me of many of my students who were tall gangly goofy kids who would get in arguments about who was better, Superman or Batman.

It is because of Justin that I think, no believe, that Alonge’s novel could turn a young kid who struggles with reading into a person finds pleasure in the written word.

Recommendation: If you know a geeky sport loving kid, get them this book!

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New Releases

Three new books for the first full week of September, and one book that a number of people have been anxiously awaiting, (myself included!). Which of these are you looking forward to reading?

lostLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…
— Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Check out Crystal’s review of Labyrinth Lost here

catThe Cat King of Havana by Tom Crosshill
Katherine Tegen Books

Rick Gutierrez is . . . the Cat King of Havana! A cat-video tycoon turned salsa-dancer extraordinaire, he’ll take Cuba by storm, romance the girl of his dreams, and ignite a lolcat revolution!

At least that’s the plan.

It all starts when his girlfriend dumps Rick on his sixteenth birthday for uploading cat videos from his bedroom when he should be out experiencing the real world. Known as “That Cat Guy” at school, Rick isn’t cool and he knows it. He realizes it’s time for a change.

Rick decides joining a salsa class is the answer . . . because of a girl, of course. Ana Cabrera is smart, friendly, and smooth on the dance floor. Rick might be half-Cuban, but he dances like a drunk hippo. Desperate to impress Ana, he invites her to spend the summer in Havana. The official reason: learning to dance. The hidden agenda: romance under the palm trees.

Except Cuba isn’t all sun, salsa, and music. There’s a darker side to the island. As Rick and Ana meet his family and investigate the reason why his mother left Cuba decades ago, they learn that politics isn’t just something that happens to other people. And when they find romance, it’s got sharp edges. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Not Your SidekickNot Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Duet Books

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

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