Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes

dyamonde-daniel“Dyamonde liked even numbers. In fact, Dyamonde liked numbers, period.  Math made sense to her…Math was something you could always count on.  Well, mostly.

For a long time after her mom and dad got divorced, Dyamonde hated math because all she could see was subtraction.  Mom’s voice minus Dad’s.  Two for breakfast instead of three.  Monday night TV minus the football.  It just didn’t feel right, at first.  But things were a little better now.  Dyamonde plus her mom equaled two, and two was a nice even number and even numbers rule.”

Y’all, you are going to love Dyamonde Daniel.  She’s new in town, living in a different neighborhood than she did before her parents divorced, but she’s settling in lickety-split. She knows everybody in the neighborhood already!  Her big concern is Free, the new kid.  Why is he so grumpy?  Why does he say he can’t read when she knows very well that he can-in fact, she saw him reading on the playground?

Dyamonde’s determined to figure out Free.  She knows the little kids are scared of him, ’cause he seems so crabby, but she suspects that he’s not as grumpy as he looks.  They might even be friends!

Nikki Grimes has done it again-given us loveable, relatable, real-feeling characters with positive solutions to troubles they encounter.  Fans of Clementine, Junie B. Jones, and Babymouse should find a friend in Dyamonde.

If you liked this, why not try:

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs series by Crystal Allen

Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes

Sunny Holiday by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

Nikki and Deja by Karen English

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Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

kinda like brothers“I got down the box of oatmeal raisin cookies and took two without asking.  I needed them.”

Jarrett’s mom takes care of foster babies in New York, so Jarrett is used to sharing his home with children he doesn’t know.  It’s not that big of a deal to him, until the day Kevon and Treasure show up at the door.   Treasure’s fine; she’s just a baby.  But Kevon?  He’s TWELVE.  That’s right, a whole year older than Jarrett himself.  It’s not so bad being a temporary big brother to foster babies, but being a temporary little brother is something Jarrett is not at all interested in.  Worse, everyone just assumes that Jarrett and Kevon will be friends with each other!  Jarrett’s not sure at all.  Kevon acts like he’s a good, but Jarrett suspects that he has some secrets he’s been keeping.Jarrett and Kevon navigate an uneasy peace.  After all, they both have bigger concerns than just trying to make friends.  Kevon worries about keeping Treasure safe in the foster system, and Jarrett is worried about trying to get his grades up so he can go on to the sixth grade.

Their daily lives aren’t the only issue. Both boys also face a racist world; when Jarrett sees a worker at the community center being stopped and frisked without cause, he is deeply angry.  A worker in the center explains it this way to Kevon and Jarrett: “I’m going to keep it real with you guys, you black and Latino boys are going to get stopped a lot. And it doesn’t matter what you do, or what you didn’t do. It’s just because of who you are. And in the meantime, I need to teach you what to do when the cops stop you — not if, when.”  In a 2014 interview with NPR, Coe Booth comments on that scene in the book, saying: “I think any parent or anybody who is dealing with young black boys — as is what’s happening at the community center in this book — I think every single community center has had this conversation with their boys. And it’s just so sad that we have to do this, but we do, and I hope that changes. I don’t know if what’s going on in Ferguson will change that, but I do hope it at least continues that conversation, because it’s just exhausting that this is still going on…”  I heartily agree.  I appreciate the nuanced, realistically complex middle school boys dealing with both the difficult situations of middle school and the ugly reality of racism in the world.

This middle-school realistic fiction is a definite winner.  I can’t wait to read more from Coe Booth. Go see her at her website!

If you liked this book, why not try these?

My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

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.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

chopsticks“Two days ago, the famous concert pianist Gloria ‘Glory’ Fleming disappeared from Golden Hands Rest Facility, an institution for musical prodigies here in the Bronx.

Praised by critics as ‘The Brecht of the Piano,’ Ms. Fleming is known for her modern innovations on classical repertoire.  The young pianist received rave reviews until six months ago, when exhaustion caused an infamous performance at Carnegie Hall.  Fellow patients at Golden Hands recall the seventeen-year-old regularly playing the whimsical children’s waltz ‘Chopsticks,’ an obsession which worsened during her tenure at Golden Hands.

The evening she went missing, Gloria Fleming had apparently played the waltz for over seven hours.”

This book probably has less than two thousand words in it, but it tells a complete story through drawings, photos, screenshots, texted conversations, and musical scores.  It’s the story of a young romance-piano prodigy Gloria and her next-door neighbor Francisco.  The book follows the pair through Francisco’s banishment to boarding school, through Gloria’s breakdown and disappearance, and other events in their lives.

I loved the format of this interesting book! Not only is the story captivating, but it’s just so wonderful to look at.  Francisco is an artist, and the book is peppered with his beautiful drawings and paintings, as well as things like the admittance letter to the rest facility Gloria goes to, ticket stubs, and snapshots.  If you like John Green-type stories, about teenage romances, with a little mystery and philosophy mixed in, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Book’s website:  http://chopsticksnovel.tumblr.com/

If you like this one, you might try:

Why We Broke Up “This novel tells the story of Min Green and how she and Ed Slaterton met at a party, saw a movie, followed an old woman, shared a hotel room, and broke each other’s hearts.” (From the website)

The Fault in Our Stars A tragic, tragic, love story-heavy on the philosophy.  Somehow, it has the same feel as Chopsticks to me.

Looking for Alaska  A boarding school romance-mystery-philosophy book.  I promise. You’ll love it!

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!

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.