Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

“The otgabiher problem with being me-and my Mexican ancestry-is that people don’t believe I am any kind of Mexican.  They always think I’m White, and it bugs the shit out of me.  Not because I hate White people, but because I have to go into a history lesson every time someone questions my Mexicanness.  I told Sebastian this once and he was like, “It’s not a big deal.” It may not be a big deal to him, because he is a nice Mexican brown.  Or a big deal to Sandra, who is perfectly dark-skinned.  Her Mexicanness is never questioned. Of course.  People never say racist things around them.”

Gabi’s got the typical teenage struggles: hormones, parents, friend drama.  She’s also got the drama of a father addicted to drugs, a pregnant friend, a gay friend, and on top of it all, she’s a fat girl who is navigating two different cultures: the traditional Mexican culture of her parents, and the American culture she was raised in.  But Gabi takes it all in stride-and her uncensored, often hilarious, always entertaining novel is one you won’t want to put down.

Isabel Quintero is one of those authors who tells the truth to her readers.  She addresses teenage issues respectfully, with no beating around the bush.  It may not necessarily be what adults WANT teenagers to do or think, but Ms. Quintero seems to remember the reality of being a teenager.  Gabi’s my new feminist superhero.  I think you’ll love her.

Happy reading!

If you liked this one, try these out:

The Tequila Worm

Cuba 15

Ten Things I Hate About Me

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder“If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and doing that look-away thing.  Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that one one else sees me that way.”

August Pullman has been homeschooled all his life, safe from the stares and questions of others.  See, he was born with a craniofacial anomaly-his face doesn’t look like most other faces.  He and his family are used to it, but most other people aren’t.  Auggie knows they don’t mean to be rude, or hurt his feelings, but it happens anyway.

He’s afraid it might get a lot worse, too:  August Pullman is about to start middle school.  MIDDLE SCHOOL!  It’s notorious for being horrible for even the most normal of kids. Nevertheless, Auggie bravely goes out into the world-and what he finds will surprise him.  The book is told from many different perspectives: Auggie’s, his sister, his friends, even his bully, and it reminds us that there is always more than one side to a story.  This book humanizes everyone, even those who bully.  It’s the most realistic, most compassionate work on the subject that I’ve ever encountered.

Friends, this book will make you cry.  It will make you think about how we relate to others who are different from us (and, after all, isn’t everyone?).  It will fill your heart with joy.  It’s a great one for parents to read with kids-as a read-aloud, it could work for ones as young as fourth grade, all the way up to grown-ups. It’s a sensitive portrayal of differences, bullying, and the underworld of middle school.  Reading this book will make you a better human, I promise.  Read it with someone dear to you, friends.

Happy reading!

If you liked this one, you’ll love Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco, and you’ll definitely need to check out Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going.

When I Was Puerto Rican

when-I-was-puerto-rican

” ‘You’re almost señorita.  You shouldn’t be running wild with boys,’ [my mother] would tell me.  But I didn’t have anything in common with the girls my age…my sisters close to my age were not as interesting as the neighborhood boys who ran and climbed and didn’t mind getting dirty.”

Esmeralda Santiago grew up in rural Puerto Rico, sharing a modest home with her parents and seven siblings.  Her mother and father’s tumultuous relationship and on-again, off-again fighting worried her tremendously, but there was always somewhere to find joy: in the taste of ripe guavas, in the companionship of her brothers and sisters, and in the beauty of the countryside.  However, Esmeralda is not at all impressed by the inevitable process of growing up. Leaving behind a carefree childhood for the restrained life of a señorita spoils everything, she feels.  She can’t climb trees or run wild with the neighbor children like she used to, and the teenage boys’ glances burn into her skin and make her want to hide forever.  What’s the big deal about being a grown-up lady, anyway?  All you seem to get out of it is a husband to cook for, and little children crawling all over you.

Just when Esmeralda feels like she’s settling into her new, more grown-up role, everything changes.  The family moves all the way to New York, where everything is different, from the food to the language.  But she adapts, and triumphs, making it all the way to Harvard.  This funny, thoughtful, and bittersweet coming-of-age story is one you won’t want to miss.  If you’ve ever felt out of place, or felt like growing up is one big joke, this is the book for you.

Happy reading!

If you liked this book, give these a try:

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo

 

 

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

tequilaworm“I wanted to play soccer on those beautiful playing fields. I wanted to get better at kicking with my head so I could go to college. I could get a good job and make enough money to buy a nice house for my parents and Lucy.

But to go and live at a school? Without my family?”

Sofia’s family loves stories: telling and re-telling them, inventing new ones, and sharing old ones.  Stories are what keeps them together, and keeps their Mexican heritage alive.  There are stories of the Easter cascarones, the stories of loved ones for Dia de los Muertos, and stories of quinceanera preparations and festivities.  Sofia knows that part of becoming a grown-up is being able to share these stories with others.  However, her own story is about to change drastically.

When Sofia is offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school over three hundred miles from her home, she is torn: should she stay at home, with everyone she loves, with everything she is familiar with?  Or should she pack up and move to a school where everyone is wealthier, whiter, and more privileged than she?  School may be difficult, but Sofia’s determined to go away, learn, and then come back and help her family.

Sofia’s sense of humor permeates this sensitive story:  from the play-by-play of eating the tequila worm (to prevent homesickness) to the descriptions of her mother’s endless stream of knitted doorstops and pencil toppers, this book will keep you laughing.  Her humorous stories have a deeper meaning, though: through them, Sofia can feel the love of her family and community.  By sharing them, she takes her place as an almost-grown-up in her family.

This is another Pura Belpré winner, named for the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library! I’m reviewing as many of the Pura winners as I can; I hope you like this one. Would you like to read along with me? Here’s a list of past winners!

Author’s website: http://violacanales.blogspot.com/

Happy Reading!

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

cuba15They all looked at me: Mom, perturbed; Abuela, skeptical; Abuelo, curious; and Dad, still upset…Must I invite these people to my party? I thought, trying to hold firm. ‘Being the one turning fifteen and all,’ I said to my audience, ‘I just want to say that I would rather have gone on a trip to Spain.  But I was not given that choice.’

Abuela opened her mouth. ‘However,’ I continued, silencing her, ‘since my dear grandmother has offered to throw me a quince party, I have gratefully accepted the idea.’ If only to find out why, I thought.”

Violeta Paz has just turned fifteen years old, and her Cuban grandmother insists that she must have a quinceañera, a traditional coming-of-age celebration for young women.  The party is supposed to mark her transition into young womanhood, but Violeta just isn’t sure if all the tulle and dancing is for her.  Attendants?  A gigantic, fluffy dress?  Not for Violeta.  Couldn’t she just go to Spain, like her aunt got to do?  Besides, she’s not even all Cuban! Her mom is Polish, and who ever heard of a Polish-Cuban quince?

Violeta reaches a compromise with her family:  she gets to design her own party, within reason. (After all, she is definitely NOT the boss when it comes to money.) There will be tradición, si, but also new elements to her party.  And in the process of learning all about what this rite-of-passage business actually means(thanks to her guidebook: Quinceañera for the Gringo Dummy), Violeta learns  who she really is, and to love and appreciate her heritage.  Sure, her family may be irritating, obnoxious, and her dad’s devotion to his bowling-shoes-and-shorts combo is not the classiest, but they’re just perfect for her.

This book is written in first person, as though we’re listening to Violeta’s thoughts-and you’ll want to do that, because she’s super funny! Readers will enjoy her running commentary, sprinkled with sarcasm and a hefty dose of puns.  High school through her eyes is pretty hilarious, actually.  So, if you’re looking for a humorous, well-written book with awesome bicultural elements, this is a great place to start. Oh, and notice that shiny award on the cover?  It’s a Pura Belpre honor-an award that goes to work celebrating the Latino/a experience.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring lots of Belpre winners, so stay tuned!

Author’s website

Happy Reading!

Want more quince stories, or more books about the Latino/Latina experience?  You might like these:

¡Scandalosa! Evie’s sixteenera might not ever happen, if she can’t keep her grades up.

Estrella’s Quinceañera Estrella’s mom has been waiting to throw her daughter a traditional quince for years now, but mariachi bands and puffy dresses give Estrella hives.

Um…is it too late for me to get my own quince?!  So much fun!

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

parablesowerpg“The child in each of us
Knows paradise.
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.

Paradise is one’s own place,
One’s own people,
One’s own world,
Knowing and known,
Perhaps even
Loving and loved.

 

Yet every child
Is cast from paradise-
Into growth and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
Change.”

Here’s the story:  the world is falling to bits, wracked with economic and environmental crises. People are starving in the streets.  A new drug creates an underworld of fire-starting addicts; watching things burn is said to feel better than sex, on the drug.  Money is nearly worthless, and communities that cannot afford to erect a razor-wire-covered wall are helpless to protect themselves against theft and fire.  Eighteen-year-old Lauren is one of the lucky ones, even though she suffers from a rare condition called hyperempathy, where she physically feels the pain of others-a side effect of the drugs her mother took before she has born.  While her condition is disabling, dangerous, and painful, Lauren is safer than most.   She has a home, a wall, and an education. While she doesn’t share the faith of her minister father, she is far from faithless.  In fact, she has been developing her own religion, in response to the chaos and uncertainty of the world she lives in.  She calls it Earthseed.

When Lauren loses her home and family, she must set out on the treacherous journey north, in search of food and shelter.  The trip is immensely difficult: she and her companions must fight off fire-crazed addicts and potential thieves, carefully preserve what little food and water they have, and be constantly vigilant.  It’s not easy, but they don’t have a choice.

Now, this might sound like the plot of a lot of dystopias out there, right?  Disaster + Must Flee Home = Dystopic Adventure.  The special thing, though, is the way this is written.  It is a compelling, breathtaking adventure story, yes.  However, it’s also a treatise on race and economy, community and compassion.  Butler points an incriminating finger at exploitative corporations and indifferent governments; at the same time, she explores the intersections of gender, race, and social status. It’s a phenomenal story with a built-in social commentary, and it is definitely going on my favorites list.

Author’s website: http://octaviabutler.org/

If you liked this book, you might want to read on! Octavia Butler’s second Earthseed book is called Parable of the Talents.

Happy Reading!

 

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

birthmarked“The mother stared at her, shock and horror shifting across her face.  ‘You can’t,’ she whispered. ‘You can’t take my baby.  She’s mine.’

‘I have to,’ Gaia said, backing away.  ‘I’m sorry.’

‘But you can’t,’ the woman gasped.

‘Please,’ the mother begged. ‘Not this one. Not my only.  What have I done?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Gaia repeated…’Your baby will be well cared for,’ she said, using the phrases she’d learned. ‘You’ve provided a great service to the Enclave, and you will be compensated.'”

Gaia is a sixteen-year-old midwife, unlucky enough to live outside The Wall, apart from the privileged, comfortable citizens of The Enclave.  It is her duty to hand over the first three babies she delivers each month-babies who are destined to be adopted by waiting parents in The Enclave.  These children are destined to live a life of comfort and cleanliness, far from the polluted, crowded streets of those living outside the walled community.

When Gaia’s parents are arrested by the very government they worked so faithfully for, Gaia realizes all is not well.  Her parents were keeping secrets-a secret code listing the parents of all the babies who had been sent away to live in The Enclave.  When the government comes after her, Gaia is forced to choose: solve her parents’ code and turn the information over to a government she doesn’t trust, or attempt a risky escape.

Dystopias, everyone! Do we still love them?  I have to say that I do, personally, but I’ve gotten a lot pickier since there are so many great ones out there.  I’m bringing this one to you because it is one on the Great List!  Gaia is smart, strong, and real-feeling; she feels like someone you go to school with, or would like to.  Her job is interesting, and (without spoiling anything) the reason the government needs the delivered babies is double-interesting.  For those of you looking for romance, you’ll find a bit, but it’s not front and center, so if it’s not your thing, you’ll be able to ignore it.  Part mystery, part thriller, part end-of-the-world book, this one is one I didn’t want to put down.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.caraghobrien.com

If you’re looking for Read-Alikes for Birthmarked, I think you’ll like Parable of the Sower, by superstar science fiction author Octavia Butler-it’s the story of a young women facing a collapsing society, much like Gaia’s.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker also grapples with the collapse of the world as we know, and is told from the perspective of a young woman with an unforgettable voice.  This book feels like poetry for the end of the world.

Life as We Knew It is another disaster story: massive climate change makes the earth nearly inhospitable, and teenager Miranda records it all in her diary.

 

 

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

The-Girl-in-the-Park-2 “‘Honey. They found her. In the park.’

They found her in the park.  Playground. Swings. Kids. Good.  So they found her in a nice place, not a motel, which was kind of what I was expecting.

Except…they?  Not her mom?

They found her.  I shake my head, because there’s something weird about found. You find sweaters in the park.  Or lost dogs.  Found is like Wendy’s not a person.  Not a living…

My mom is crying.  That tells me what found means. Why Wendy isn’t a person anymore.  That Wendy is dead.”

Rain and Wendy used to be best friends.  To Rain, Wendy was more than a party girl intent on sleeping with everyone’s boyfriend.  She was the one with the huge heart and offbeat sense of humor, the girl who wasn’t above faking a fainting spell in H&M and who didn’t care what others thought of her.  But when Wendy’s body is found in the park after a wild party, no one seems to remember the good things about her.  Instead, there are nasty rumors about drugs and alcohol.  The sensationalized news reports  are written as though what happened was Wendy’s fault.

Rain knows it wasn’t Wendy’s fault.  In fact, she is pretty sure she knows what happened that night to her friend, and who did it.  Will she gather the courage to speak up, even if the results are devastating?

This is a solid mystery for teenagers, especially budding fans of psychological thrillers.  Rain is a believable, sympathetic character, and the plot keeps readers guessing, without feeling contrived. I finished the book in a night! The author sensitively and realistically portrays issues of predatory teachers, underage alcohol and drug use.  A great pick for teens looking to be gripped with a good thriller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://mariahfredericks.wordpress.com/

Fredericks, Mariah. The Girl in the Park. Schwartz & Wade: New York,  2012. 217 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this, try:

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

tenthingsihateaboutme“How can I be three identities in one?  It doesn’t work.  They’re always at war with one another.  If I want to go clubbing, the Muslim in me says it’s wrong and the Lebanese in me panics about bumping into somebody who knows somebody who knows my dad.  If I want to go to a Lebanese wedding as the four hundredth guest, the Aussie in me will laugh and wonder why we’re not having civilized cocktails in a function room that seats a maximum of fifty people.  If I want to fast during Ramadan, the Aussie in me will think I’m a masochist.

I can’t win.”

Jamilah lives a double life: at home, she’s Jamilah, the girl who plays an instrument in an Arabic band and tries to convince her super-strict father to lighten up once in a while.  However, at school, she’s Jamie, with bleached hair, contacts, and endless excuses for why she can never socialize after school.  She just doesn’t want people to see her as a stereotype; she’s afraid they’ll hear Muslim and think extremist.  However, the strain of constantly hiding who she truly is wears on her, and her friends are wondering why she’s never around.  She can’t keep it up much longer-but what will happen if everyone knows the truth about her?

This is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second novel about Muslim teenagers struggling to find a place within a larger culture that doesn’t always understand or welcome them.  Her characters are complex, from the hijab-wearing activist Shereen, to a father struggling with the task of raising three children alone-he doesn’t want to create strife between him and his children, but he also feels compelled to raise them in line with his core values.  While Jamilah often feels like an outsider because of her cultural identity, she gets great joy out of sharing meals, playing traditional instruments, and speaking Arabic.

Abdel-Fattah takes pains to differentiate between ethnicity, culture, and religion, and explore the different ways they can be expressed in her characters. It may not always be easy to have a hyphenated identity, but Randa Abdel-Fattah opens an important dialog about faith, fear, and the self in her thoughtful, timely novels.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me. Orchard Books: New York, 2006. 297 pp. Ages 15 and up.

After the Snow by S. D. Crockett

AFTERTHESNOW“I reckon the fire in the house probably gone out by now with no one to feed it cos everyone gone and I been sitting on the hill all day finding that out.  Everyone got taken away cos I seen tracks in the snow.  They all gone.

Dad gone.

Magda gone.

The others gone.

But I don’t know why.”

Willo’s never known a land without the snow.  Long before he was born, the new ice age descended.  It wasn’t easy for humans to adapt; now, most of them reside in poverty and compete for resources in crowded, filthy governmental cities-and they’re the lucky ones.  Willo wasn’t from the city, though-he and his family were stragglers, living illegally in the mountains, far from civilization.  There, they trapped animals, made their own candles, and lived off the land, trying to avoid being detected by officials determined to round them up and take them to the cities.

When Willo returns from a trip in the mountains to discover the rest of his family is missing, he knows that is what must have happened: they must have been trucked into the city.  Now, if there’s any hope of surviving, he’s got to go and find his family.  What he finds, though, is far more sinister.

You might have noticed by now: I love end of the world stories. They are equally terrifying and alluring, and I never get tired of playing How’s It All Gonna End.  Apparently, I’m not alone out there, because post-apocalyptic books just like this one are all over the Young Adult shelves.  This one is a particular favorite at my branch, especially this summer-possibly because the endless frozen landscapes are soothing when it’s 95 degrees for weeks on end.  I think part the appeal is Willo’s voice: his dialect is distinctive.  It feels like poetry of ain’ts and been dones and just gonnas, with incisive comments about human nature and survival.  Another reason why it’s awesome: no preaching here.  It’s easy for a dystopic novel to go into the whole sermon-the one titled: Hey Guys, You Messed Up the World and Now It’s Ruined and So You Best Start Recycling Now, Readers.  And there’s a place for that, of course, but in my experience, it’s not in a book like this. And this book avoids it, without downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  If you like survival stories, tense adventures, conspiracy theories, and stories about the end of things, this is one you’ll dig for sure. FURTHER BONUS: NO ROMANCE.  For those of you who wanna barf every time there’s kissing all mixed up in your adventure novel, you’re all clear here.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Crockett, S.D. After the Snow. Feiwel & Friends, New York: 2012. 288 pp.

Now, if you liked this one, try these:

The Knife of Never Letting Go Both are survival stories, and they have similar protagonists and distinctive speech patterns.

Feed The two books share distinctive speech patterns, settings in a dystopian universe, and a sinister governments.  Be warned, though-Feed is sort of set in outer space, so don’t come here looking for a mountain survival story.

Chime  A female protagonist this time, set in the fictional, troubled land of Swampsea.  The language of this book is beautiful and original-really special.

My Side of the Mountain Ok, it’s not set in the end of the world, and it was published a while ago, but it is THE. AWESOMEST. survival story ever, and I’ll never be tired of saying it.