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

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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!

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

this-world-we-live-in“I thought about the earth then, really thought about it, the tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the horrors I haven’t witnessed but have changed my life, the lives of everyone I know, all the people I’ll never know.  I thought about life without the sun, the moon, stars, without flowers and warm days in May.  I thought about a year ago and all the good things I’d taken for granted and all the unbearable things that had replaced those simple blessings. And even though I hated the thought of crying in front of Syl, tears streamed down my face.”

It’s been a year since the asteroid hit the moon, and Miranda and her family are still struggling to survive in the ruins of their small Pennsylvania town.  When Miranda’s father, his wife, their baby, and Alex and Julie Morales (from The Dead and the Gone) show up at the door, the group must make plans for the future. They know the governmental food deliveries won’t continue forever, and with ten people, there’s no way their stored food will last long.  However, finding a safe place to go is a challenge.  There are rumors of safe cities, for governmental officials and other important people, but no one is sure how or where to find them.  As they search for a workable solution, the weather grows increasingly violent; they don’t have much time.  Will they make it to safety?

The final book in the Last Survivors trilogy connects the stories of Alex and Julie, from the second book, with Miranda and her family’s.  There are no good answers to the climate change and food shortages, but the book manages to strike a balance between bleak hopelessness and unrealistic solutions.  In short, Susan Beth Pfeffer continues the tone of the previous two books, giving us a chillingly accurate-feeling story about the end of the world.  If you don’t like the zombie apocalypse stories because you don’t think it would ever happen, this trilogy will give you the end-of-the-world creepiness that feels realer than real.  It’s scarier than some books for adults, even.  I couldn’t put it down, and I bet you won’t be able to, either.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. This World We Live In. Harcourt: Boston, 2010. 239 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Looking for more on the end of the world?  After you finish this trilogy, starting with Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Goneyou might want to try these:

The Age of Miracles

Shipbreaker

How I Live Now

How I Live Now

The Diviners by Libba Bray

diviners“‘Let’s try another question.  Do you have any prophecy for us, Naughty John?  Any fortune-telling?’

The scryer remains still.

‘Do tell us something else, won’t you?’

Finally, there is movement on the board. ‘I…will…teach…you…fear…’ the hostess reads aloud.

‘Sounds like the headmaster at Choate,’ the boy in the fez teases. ‘How will you do that, old sport?’

I S-T-A-N-D-AT T-H-E D-O-O-R A-N-D K-N-O-C-K

I A-M T-H-E B-E-A-S-T.”

Things are not right in New York. The Ouija board spells out a terrifying message for the partygoers, and that is just the beginning. Something sinister is stirring; when dead bodies marked with strange symbols begin surfacing, Evie and her uncle are pulled into the investigation.  What could be killing New York inhabitants in such an frightful way?  Is there something darker at work than a simple murder?

Evie thought New York would be a breeze-she was sent away from her boring  hometown to live with her Uncle Will in New York. Evie was excited-the city lights were practically spelling out her name.  The speakeasies! The shows!  Jazz! However, it’s not all she hoped-Will is the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, or the “Museum of Creepy-Crawlies”.  Because of his expertise in the subject, Will is needed to consult on the murder cases, and Evie finds herself in the middle of the investigation. Forget shows, short haircuts, and flapper style-now Evie’s life consists of curses, secrets, and racing against time.  Will Evie and Will be able to find and stop the killer before it is too late?

This is one of the rare 500 + page books that doesn’t feel like one at all.  Libba Bray’s Jazz Age New York is full of music, bright lights, and carefree hearts-until the murders begin, at least.  The supernatural elements to the plot are sure to delight fans of the paranormal, while the 1920’s setting adds interest and prevents this from being “just another scary magic book”.  Scary?  Yes, absolutely.  But it’s the very best kind of scary:  eerie, suspenseful, and fresh; you’ll be checking over your shoulder and wondering about old curses as you read.  Libba Bray not only brings us a great historical setting, she also gives us characters that feel like real people.  This winner of a book combines ancient prophecies, Broadway lights, jazz, and murder, all told by a master storyteller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://libbabray.com

Book’s website: http://www.thedivinersseries.com/

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 578 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you will probably love Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

wondershow“Something began to move in Portia’s memory, reluctant as a rusted wheel-the old story she had made for herself, in which Max had run off with the circus.  How many circuses were there?  Fewer, Portia knew, than there had been before. Movie theaters and dancehalls cropped up like pretty weeds, common and alluring, and without the strange elements that came with traveling shows.  Mister had frequently lectured her on the topic of such distasteful forms of entertainment.

But Max loved a good time.  And a circus was certainly that.  Even if he wasn’t still with this circus, someone might have seen him, known him, heard about his beloved daughter.

Only a few miles away, Portia thought.”

All Portia has left of her family are the stories her father used to tell her, and even the stories have grown worn and thin from constant repetition.  Her dad left, long ago; now Portia is the reluctant resident of McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, her days filled with drudgery and brightened only by plans of escape.  When she learns of a traveling circus passing nearby, Portia takes her chance and makes her home as a Normal among the performers in the sideshow.  Here, she puts her storytelling skills to work, running the bally at the freak show.  All the while, she watches the faces in the audience, searching for one she recognizes.

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for stories about carnivals and the circus; there’s no way I could pass this up.  I think you’ll really like this eerie, clever debut novel from Hannah Barnaby.  It’s set during the Great Depression, and is a quirky take on the orphan story, featuring repurposed fairy tale elements and a host of fantastic sideshow performers.  Not only is their a sinister mystery (what happened to all those girls whose tombstones populate McGreavey’s cemetary?), it’s a story about nontraditional families and the importance of promises.  Added bonus:  many of the sideshow characters are based on real-life historical figures!   You can read about them in the Author’s Note at the end.  Let’s hope for more of these stories from this stellar new author.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://hannahbarnaby.com/

Barnaby, Hannah. Wonder Show.  Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2012. 266 pp.  Ages 11-14.

These books have a lot in common with Wonder Show!  I think you’ll love them!

The Final Confession of Mabel Stark

Beholding Bee

The Magician’s Elephant

 

 

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson


Photographs locomotion

There’s two of me and Lili.

We were little them, dressed up at Easter time

Big smiles-me with two front teeth missing

and my head shaved Easter clean.

Here’s Mama and Daddy dancing,

Mama’s blurry foot lifted up in the air.

Look how she’s laughing.

When I look at the picture I can hear it.

Here’s the four of us

Everybody smiling at the camera but

me. I’m looking away from it

frowning

Like I see something coming

that ain’t good.”

Lonnie’s parents died when he was seven, and now he and his sister live in different foster homes. He gets to see his sister, though, and his foster mom turns out to be a really nice lady, even if he was afraid of her at first.  Still, he longs for his life back before the fire that killed his mom and dad.  However, he’s learning a new way to cope.  Now Lonnie is eleven, and he’s learning about poetry in school.  His teacher says it helps people sort out their feelings.  He writes so many poems, the good kind of poems-those natural, thoughtful poems that feel like breathing-that it fills up a book.  Lonnie’s story.  You’ll love it even if you don’t love poetry, I promise.

Teachers will love the book’s natural fit for teaching forms of the poem: students will be introduced to the sonnet, haiku, and free verse as Lonnie learns them.  Students will love the book because it is a concise 100 pages, and of verse, at that: it’s an easy triumph for young readers who are exhausted by marathon reads. I love it because the poems are just right: accessible, full of concentrated emotion, and well-written.  I also love it because of Lonnie’s capacity for rejoicing in a world that hurt him badly.  If you’ve got a bit of time, I invite you to see what the world of an eleven-year-old poet in foster care looks like.

Happy reading!

Author’s website

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. New York: Speak, 2003. 100 pp. Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book, you’re in luck! There’s another, called Peace, Locomotion, and it looks great.  Actually, here is Jacqueline Woodson’s whole long list of books, just in case you’d like to see what other things she’s been up to.  If you are really into the poetry novels, try Make Lemonade.  I just reviewed the second one in the trilogy!

 

True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

True Believer“Well, my plan from before

looks so scrimpy now.

It looked so big when I was a littler girl.

It was I was going to go to college

and get a job, get out of here

and not live with garbage and stink on my street

and nasty criminals in the neighborhood,

shooting.”

LaVaughn is fifteen years old and lives with her mother in a dangerous, dilapidated apartment complex.  Sometimes gunshots wake them in the night, and shootings happen at her school, too.  LaVaughn’s got a plan, though: she knows the only way to a safer, happier life is her education.  However, her plan is really the only non-confusing thing in her life.  Her  best friends have changed, putting all their belief into a life that LaVaughn doesn’t want for herself. Her mother is dating a new man, all these years after her father died.  Also,  LaVaughn’s handsome neighbor Jody is back again, and she needs to sort out just how she feels about it all.

This novel is written in free verse, and you won’t believe it’s written by a grown-up.  Virginia Euwer Wolff portrays the uncertainty and anxiety of being a teenager with stream-of-consciousness poetry, which reads just like you are listening to LaVaughn’s thoughts.  Even though this is the second novel of a trilogy, the story is complete on its own and you won’t have any trouble following what is going on.  Now, there are several special things about this book.  First, I am often suspicious of stories like this, about inner-city teenagers trying to succeed against seemingly-insurmountable odds.  I find that stories like this often seem to gloss over the obstacles in place, and suggest that anything can be achieved through sheer willpower.  That seems unrealistic to me, and also didactic, as though it is telling us the magical formula for success, and implying that everyone who doesn’t succeed has simply not tried hard enough.  But LaVaughn’s story isn’t like this at all; it doesn’t talk down to you or minimize the oppressive situation.  Furthermore, Wolff’s portrayal of LaVaughn’s friends is compassionate, no matter what their situation.  Also great:  Jody.  I can’t spoil anything, but Jody’s situation and the way it is treated is really outstanding, and definitely National Book Award-worthy. You’ll love this one!

Happy Reading!

Wolff, Virginia Euwer. True Believer. Simon Pulse: New York, 2001.264 pp. Ages 14-18.

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

This book is the second in the Make Lemonade trilogy, though it is perfectly okay to read it on its own.  If you want to read the first one, it’s called Make LemonadeThe third one is This Full House.  If you’d like to read other stories about young people struggling to finish school against the odds, you will probably like Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.  Home of the Brave is another verse novel, and is about a young refugee going to school in Minnesota, so while the plot is slightly different, the format is similar.

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

“‘There it waits.  Beyond my strength.  Promise me,’ pleaded the dragon.  ‘Daughter of men, cast my child upon the winds and into the furnace of the earth.  Call the wind to break open the earth and let out the hidden fire.  You must call the wind, and the wind must become fire.  Do you understand?  Swear it to me!'”

Trei is unusual; a refugee and foreign-born inductee into the kajurai, the flying protectors of the Floating Islands. Even some of his classmates are suspicious of him, thinking him a traitor infiltrating the school to learn the secret of dragon magic. His cousin, Araene, is also a bit different, insisting on being educated as a mage, even if it means she must dress as a boy.  However, their unique experiences prove vital when a neighboring country invades, and when the dragons suddenly and mysteriously leave, taking their powerful magic with them. Though they are barely older than children themselves, Araene and Trei must work together to hatch the last fire dragon’s egg and save their country from destruction.

This detailed and captivating fantasy relates the story of two cousins, both new students, who play key parts in saving their home, the  Floating Islands, from both losing the magic that protects it and from being invaded by a powerful neighboring nation.  The chapters alternate, with one being the perspective of Araene, who took refuge in the mage school after her parents were killed in a plague, and the next being from Trei’s perspective, who is studying to be a kajurai.  Though there is much backstory and many plot twists, they are handled masterfully, and it makes this quite an interesting fantasy (after the first three chapters of setup).  This original story had the feel of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and it was a delightful diversion from final projects. Fire dragons? Floating islands?  Girls who dress like boys in order to go to mage school?  What’s not to love? (Also, isn’t that cover art beautiful?)

Happy Reading!

Neumeier, Rachel. The Floating Islands. Bluefire Books: New York, 2011. 387 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book and you haven’t read A Wizard of Earthseathat would be a great place to start! If you loved the dragon element, another great classic is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series.  I promise, you’ll love them!

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

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

“He whispers, ‘Want to hear a secret?’

I nod.

‘You’re safe with me anywhere, at all times.’

It turns out, our ‘anywhere’ is the basement, and our ‘at all times’ is the entire day.  We don’t go to school.  We play checkers and make out.  My parents are upstairs watching the news.  And even though it feels like the entire world is freaking out, and even though the entire world is really just our area, and no one else anywhere gives a shit, and they definitely don’t give a shit that there are two boys making out in a basement, that’s what we are, we keep doing it, and there is something sort of beautiful about the fact that we keep doing that even now that we know it’s not what the world is about.

If I could take all the machine guns in the world and bend them into hearts, I totally totally would, even if I got grazed by bullets in the process, which knowing me I probably would, because I’m a little bit of a klutz, but Lio thinks I’m cute.”

A year after 9/11, a sniper is targeting inhabitants of the D.C. area.  Parents are keeping children home from school, and people hurry to their cars after leaving the grocery store or bank.  Everyone is uneasy, hunkered down and hoping for the threat to pass and leave loved one unharmed.  In the midst of it all, Craig and Lio find each other.  Craig’s exuberant nature and generosity help Lio forget about his dead twin, the specter of cancer that still haunts him, and his estranged mother.  Reflective, calm Lio patiently searches the entire city for Craig’s lost menagerie, a motley collection of pets that escaped during a break-in earlier in the year.  However, both boys are frightened and have suffered great losses in their past; being vulnerable is a true challenge for the pair, especially during such frightening times.

This is a story about untidy, realistic love in an unpredictable world.  In that aspect, I feel like it is an incarnation of Every Story Ever Told, and I love Hannah Moskowitz for it.  The text is full of sad-sweet details that instantly disarm the reader, such as Lio’s patchwork-dyed, multicolored hair.  Instead of maintaining such an off-putting hairstyle out of rebellion, Lio does it because he does not want to look like his twin, who died of cancer.  Craig’s big brother still lives at home, quietly working the night shift at a suicide hotline and looking after the family.  Details like that give the story depth, without feeling manipulative or precious.  As Lio and Craig negotiate their various issues against a backdrop of a world that seems to have lost all sense, a quiet optimism emerges in the text.  Yes, the book seems to say, the world is awful sometimes, and our families and loved ones aren’t always what we hope. But somehow it is going to be ok.

I loved this book for several important reasons, but the primary one is the author’s treatment of ethnicity and queerness.  This is a post-race, post-queer book, in which there is no need for coming out, and the characters’ ethnicities are mentioned only briefly and in passing.  This is not a story about an African-American character falling in love with a Caucasian character, nor a story about a gay boy who falls in love with another gay boy.  Instead, it’s just about love.  Furthermore, the book acknowledges something that adults often find uncomfortable: the  depth and intensity of feelings young people experience.  The story affords young readers dignity, validating their relationships and emotions, and I like that very much.

Oh, please read this! It’s such a beautiful and tender story. I really think you’ll like it!

Happy reading!

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

Moskowitz, Hannah. Gone, Gone, Gone. Simon Pulse: New York, 2012. 251 pp. Ages 15 and up.

You might also want to try Brooklyn, Burning, With or Without You or The Perks of Being a WallflowerThey have queer content and also the same “feel” to them!