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!

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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.

Boy vs. Girl by Na’ima B. Robert

boyvsgirl“Farhana’s  hijab felt heavy now, heavier than it had ever been.  Heaver than when her mum questioned her about it, making her feel as if she had done the wrong thing, that she was on her way to becoming an ‘extremist’.  Heaver than when she found that she was no longer the centre of attention at school.  Heaver than when, after the initial honeymoon period when her wearing the hijab was a novelty and a number of the girls had admired her brave decision, the hype moved elsewhere.”

Farhana and her twin brother Faraz are struggling with life-changing decisions this Ramadan season.  Farhana is trying to decide whether she wants to wear the hijab full-time, even if it probably means losing the attentions a handsome classmate.  Faraz is conflicted, as well:  he’s so bullied at school, for being sensitive and artistic, that he can’t stand it anymore.  Does he pursue his art, or join the gang that promises protection?  During the holiday month, the two struggle with their feelings about religion, freedom, and doing what’s right for themselves.  For Farhana, this means going against her parents’ wishes for her, and for Faraz, it means something far more dangerous.  Ramadan bring change and self-awareness to both twins.

This novel is reminiscent of The Outsiders, with its devoted siblings, clear (to the point of preachiness) distinction between right and wrong, and hey-I’ll say it- the street gangs.   The central conflict is one of identity: what role does faith and religion play in the lives of the twins?  What role would they like it to play?  Farhana’s mother is firmly against her covering herself-she doesn’t want her daughter to lose opportunities or be discriminated against.  Farhana must decide whether she wishes to defy her parents and wear the hijab, or if she’d rather not make such a public declaration of her beliefs.  Faraz knows what Allah says he should do, but it’s so hard to resist the brotherhood and protection of the neighborhood gang.  When a tragedy threatens Farhana’s life, Faraz understands what he must do, even if it feels impossible.

The exploration of identity, religion, and the social universe of the high schoolers makes for fascinating, if not entirely original, reading.  Na’ima Robert brings us a traditional coming-of-age story, but viewed through a different cultural lens.  While the story occasionally veers into a cautionary tale-style narrative, the exploration of deep belief is worth reading.  Robert portrays Farhana’s religious self-searching skillfully and sensitively.  I’d like to know what you think of this one!  It’s a relatively recent book with a very fifties’ feel to it, that’s for sure.

Happy Reading!

Robert, Na’ima. Boy vs. Girl. Francis Lincoln Books: London, 2010.

If you’re interested in reading more books like this one, you might like:

Does My Head Look Big in This? 

The Garden of My Imaan

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.

I’d like to invite you to read a blog post on this book written by someone who was displeased with this book, as she felt it didn’t realistically address teenagers’ problems, while at the same time it was upholding a “pure” Islam.  Hop on over and see what Sara Yasin at Muslim Media Watch has to say about Boy vs. Girl.

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper-Jones“‘It’s through here,’ he says.

‘What? What is?’

‘You’ll see it, Charlie.  Shit.  You’ll’ve wished you dint, but you’ll see it.  it’s not too late but.  Are you sure you’re gonna help me?’

‘Can’t you just tell me? What is it? What’s through there?’

‘I can’t.  I can’t, mate. But I can trust you, Charlie.  I reckon I can trust you.’

It isn’t a question, but it seems like one.

And I believe if I were anyone else, I would choose to step back and turn away right now…I would never look past Jasper Jones to reveal  his secret.”

Jasper Jones is Corrigan’s Troubled Boy: alternately beaten and neglected by his alcoholic father, notorious for petty theft and truancy.  Charlie is bright, uncoordinated, and not-so-popular; he and Jasper occupy opposite ends of the social universe. So when Jasper shows up at Charlie’s window in the middle of the night, Charlie is stunned enough to follow him into the woods without question.  Jasper needs Charlie’s help, and what he shows him  in the forest will change everything. In that hot summer, right in the middle of the Vietnam War, Jasper’s secret becomes Charlie’s secret.Jasper Jones

 As the summer progresses, the two try to conceal what they know as the town reels in shock.  The tragedy exposes Corrigan’s ugly underbelly; racial tension reaches a fever pitch and paranoia reigns.  Charlie tries to quell his rising panic, avoid angering his volatile mother, and awkwardly manage his first love.  It’s a summer of change, of lies exposed, and painful truths realized.

This Australian novel is a riveting combination of mystery, excellent writing, and Big Questions; it’s no wonder it was a 2012 Printz honor book.  The Vietnam War setting offers the perfect backdrop to explore matters of race and prejudice, and the tragedy exposes a multitude of ugly secrets in a town where everything looks nice on the surface.  Jasper’s philosophizing on human nature, evil, and fear is well-crafted and sticks with you long after you finish the story.  This is one of those rare books that pulls you in with a thriller and leaves you thinking about life and death.  Also, enjoy the literary references and sentence-crafting; Silvey’s masterful writing makes this so much more than just a plot-driven mystery novel.

Happy Reading!

Silvey, Craig. Jasper Jones. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2009. 312 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you might like these:

Everybody Sees the Ants

Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4

Nothing (this is one of my favorites!)

Paper Covers Rock

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

“All these years, it wasn’t really necessary for you to go to Paterson.  You don’t really belong there.  I know you realize this yourself.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  You just move at a different speed than other kids your age.  But in order for you to grow and not get stuck, you need to be in a normal environment.  It is time.  Here is what I propose: If you work at the law firm this summer, then at the end of the summer, you decide whether you want to spend your senior year at Paterson or at Oak Ridge High…

‘There’s just one thing.’ I see him pick up his glass of wine and raise it to his lips.  This time his words come out very slow. ‘You can do what you want in the fall…’ He waits for my eyes to meet his eyes and then he continues. ‘But this summer you must follow all the rules of the…real world.'”

Seventeen-year-old Marcelo goes to a private school for young people with disabilities.  There, he learns academic skills and practical life skills, such as making small talk and interpreting other people’s facial expressions.  At Paterson, he is safe and supported.  He does not get lost or overwhelmed, or worried that he cannot finish tasks fast enough.  However, his father believes that he needs to be challenged.  Instead of tending the therapeutic horses at Paterson, Marcelo is to work at his father’s law firm for the summer.  If he does well, his father will allow him to go back to Paterson for his final year of high school.  If he doesn’t follow the so-called “real-world” rules, he will be placed in a public high school.

Marcelo is often confused and dismayed by the competition, brutality, and insensitivity he encounters in the firm.  When he finds a discarded photo of a young woman scarred by broken glass, he is confronted with an ethical dilemma for which he has had no preparation.  The evidence he uncovers can potentially destroy his father’s firm, and if Marcelo tells anyone, it would be breaking his promise to his father about following the rules.   Marcelo must sort out his feelings about justice and loyalty before he can decide what to do.

Oh, this book! This incredible book!  It is a special one, for many reasons.  First, Marcelo’s disorder is never named, and we learn of his minority status halfway through the novel.  This allows us to meet the real Marcelo, without getting distracted by his ethnicity or disability.  Yes, he has an autism-spectrum disorder, but to the readers, it is clear that he is a human first.  Secondly, his voice is disarming.  He is precise, though not emotionless, and often naive, but never sentimentally so.  Finally, the story deals with the Big Issues: suffering, ethics, and family, without being didactic or reductive.  It is part legal thriller, part the-most-understated-romance-you’ll-ever-read, and part coming-of-age story.

Please, read this.  I know you’ll love Marcelo.  Francisco Stork, in an afterword, describes his experiences working with individuals with disabilities, and he said that this book is a small thank you for all of their gifts.  It’s an award-winner, too! It’s a YALSA Best Book, but was also a recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors an outstanding depiction of a child’s or adolescent’s experience with disability.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.franciscostork.co

Stork, Francisco X.  Marcelo in the Real World. Arthur A. Levine: New York, 2009. 312 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this, you might like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeabout a young man with Asperger’s and a mystery. It’s one that I love!  I also think you might also like The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded semetary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise.  My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there.  Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me.  Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma.  Ben may not be lying, he believes it’s true, but who knows?”

Todd is the youngest male in the settlement of Prentisstown, a town with no women left and ravaged by a disease called Noise.  Not only does Noise broadcast everyone’s thoughts out loud, it also caused all the women to sicken and die.  Todd was taught that Noise was caused by a germ carried by native inhabitants of the New World, a race called the Spackle.  However, right before his birthday, his adoptive parents hand him a notebook written years before by his mother-a notebook that tells an entirely different story about Noise and warns against the sinister preachings of Mayor Prentiss.

The problem with Noise, of course, is that no one has any secrets.  As soon as he sees the notebook, Todd must strike out through the swamps and across the countryside, in the hopes that he will be able to outrun the other men of the town.  He knows they will come after him as soon as they hear his Noise and know he is trying to escape.  During his flight, he meets a young woman named Viola, whose parents’ ship had crashed in the swamp.  Viola had been trying to survive on her own in the hostile environment.  Todd is fascinated (he has never seen a girl before!), but also terrified that he might infect her with the Noise germ.  Companionship wins, and the two proceed across the New World, trying to reach the town of Haven that Todd’s mother mentioned in her notebook.  They are in a desperate scramble to outrun the militia of Prentisstown men, who are convinced that Todd, as the last male in the village, is a vital part of their salvation plan.  When Todd learns the truth about Noise, what happened to the women, and what the men of Prentisstown expect him to do, he will face an ethical dilemma that nothing could have prepared him for.

This is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic story that reads like a cross between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  The book explores colonization, racism, religious extremism, and the idea that just knowing about something ethically wrong, but not acting to right it, makes one complicit in the crime.  Does that sound too philosophical?  Don’t worry-I promise you won’t want to put this book down.  Not only is it a compelling story,  it is also a graphically interesting book.  The Noise of different villagers is depicted with distinct fonts, and the spelling of Todd’s words and thoughts is quite phonetic, rather than conventional.  Plus, if you really loved it, there are already two more out in the series, which is called Chaos Walking. The second installment is The Ask and the Answer and the final book is Monsters of Men.

This book was short-listed for the Carnegie award and was also recognized by Booklist, among others.  I found it a nice change from the technology-heavy dystopian novels out there, and loved the creative presentation of the Noise.  I hope you like it!

Happy Reading!

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

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008. 479 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked the conspiracy theory part of this book, you would probably like M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  For a suspenseful futuristic escape story that also explores issues of racism and colonialism, try Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. It’s amazing!

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Image“‘And in the meantime and always,’ she counseled me.’–Focus on your strengths’

‘Which is?’

‘Taking pictures, yaar! You are very lucky to have a passion like this and be so good at it.  Now use it.  You know what you want to do.  Now do it. Acts of love will lead you to more love.  Turn your pain and confusion into beauty and power, like I am trying to do with this breakup. ‘”

Dimple is a seventeen-year-old Indian American, and her parents have found the perfect husband for her.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t looking for a husband, nor is she intrigued by the idea.  However, when her supertwin best friend decides that she is interested in Dimple’s future husband, things get sticky.  In the meantime, Dimple sorts out what it means to be South Asian, but raised in the United States. She learns her parents are actually people, with pasts and dreams and hopes for her.  She uses her camera (she calls it “Chica Tikka”-Third Eye. Isn’t that beautiful?) and, in the process of developing her photographs, she tells the story of what it is like to be living in the space between two cultures.

All right.  I’ll admit it. I picked this book up once before and abandoned it because it felt like it was a billion pages long.  However, once you’re into the story, the very lush language and descriptions don’t weigh it down.   It’s a story that meanders, rather than slams you upside the head with a bunch of plot devices, one after the other.  If you approach it with that in mind, I think you’ll love the descriptions of clothing and food and music; they’re very poetic and as I was reading, I felt like the author was also an artist, because of her celebration of detail and composition.  This is a lovely book for summer reading; it begs to be read on the porch or a picnic blanket.

I especially loved Dimple’s relationship with her parents.  Through the course of the story, she begins to learn more about them as human beings-her mother was a beautiful dancer as a young person; her father prays daily for Dimple to find a loving life partner-regardless of gender.  (Dimple isn’t a lesbian, but there are multiple queer characters in the story, so you won’t be disappointed.) It’s a really beautiful thing you realize as you become an adult: the process of growing from dependent child to an equal and a friend of you parents is very special, and it’s often overlooked in young adult literature.  In this book, it is sensitive and nuanced and was one of my favorite threads in the story.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.thisistanuja.com (She’s in the process of making a new website, so this isn’t so interesting at the moment-check back later, all right?)

Hidier, Tanuja Desai.  Born Confused. Scholastic: New York, 2002. 514 pp. (Yes, that’s really how long it is!)

All right, this book was hard for me to match with others, so bear with me, please!  It fills a place in literature that just doesn’t have a lot of content yet.  But, if you liked this book for the queer content-you know, the issues of being a minority of a minority, you might try Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole: the tone is a little lighter, and the protagonist a bit younger,  but it’s about a Cuban-American lesbian and it’s really funny.  If you like the specifically Indian queer content, you might try Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal.  I haven’t read it yet, but it is recommended on the ALA’s Rainbow List.  Do you know of any others?  I’d love to hear!

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Image“I try to keep my mouth shut because the ants are telling me: Stay safe, Lucky Linderman.  Keep your mouth shut. But I talk anyway.  ‘My mother is a squid, so we have to come here because Dave and Jodi have a pool, and my mother has to swim several hours a day or else, as a squid, she will die.  My father has to stay in Pennsylvania because he is a turtle and can’t face anything other than boneless chicken breasts and organic vegetables.

My ninja is smiling at me. ‘You mom is a squid?’

‘Psychologically, yes.’

‘And your dad is a turtle.’

‘Right.’

‘What does that make you?’ she asks.

‘I don’t know yet.’

Lucky Linderman has masterminded a survival plan: Operation Don’t Smile Ever.  It started after his survey project, in which he asked his classmates how they would kill themselves if they could.  The thing is, everyone freaked out and now the school officials think he’s “troubled”.  Combined with a dad who is always working at his restaurant, a mom who would rather swim than engage with humans, and Nader’s incessant bullying, Lucky’s not so sure he has much to smile about anyway.  Oh, and the ants: he also sees an ever-present line of ants who like to comment on everything he does.  As if a squid mom and turtle dad aren’t weird enough.

And that’s without the nightmares.  See, his grandfather is a POW/MIA, a prisoner of war, missing in action.  He went to Vietnam and even his body didn’t come back.  Lucky’s grandma died while pleading for Lucky to find out what happened to him.  But Lucky kind of knows already.  See, he has dreams of Harry, his grandfather.  They’re nightmares, really.  They make traps together, talk about life, and even play Twister.  And from each dream, Lucky carries a memento into real life: a banana sticker, a black headband.  He feels like the dreams have a purpose; he will stop having them when they find his grandfather.

This is a very special book, one that doesn’t ignore the horrific realities of war and the agony of bullying, the feelings of worthlessness and despair that accompany adolescence, or the frustration inherent in being a member of a dysfunctional family unit.  There is no minimization of trauma here, but King shows us a way around the challenges.   Lucky’s story champions the subtle bravery of not throwing in the towel.  It is a novel about what it means to grow up.

We are in the hands of a master storyteller, friends.  We’ve all read books on bullying, on war, on dysfunctional families.  But, I ask you, how many of those books had a line of ants, or dreams that might be real, or a Vagina Monologues ninja in them?  And it’s not just these delightful creative elements that will grab you and suck you in, either.  It is Lucky’s natural voice.  While you’re reading this book, it’s like sitting inside his head.  You’ll look around and say, “Hey! I know this place!” And after you finish this book, I hope you see the ants, too. I hope they’re cheering for you.

A. S. King won the Printz Honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and this book has already gotten starred reviews and the attention of the American Library Association-all for good reason.  I especially love that this book will appeal to reluctant readers (although I do so hate that phrase, because it assumes that people don’t want to read.  No, they just haven’t found the right books yet, I say).  So here, readers-who-might-be-having-a-bit-of-trouble-liking-reading:  this one’s gonna blow your mind.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com

King, A. S. Everybody Sees the Ants. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. 279 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll love A. S. King’s earlier book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Also, you might want to check out Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rock Star and Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going.  They aren’t so much about war or bullying, but they have the same feeling to them.

Totally Joe by James Howe

“Ok, fine, I’m not a boy like them, but I’m still a boy.  The thing is, boys-by which I mean guy-guys like my brother Jeff-have always been a total mystery to me. I mean, how do they know how to do all that stuff, like throw and catch and grease car engines? Besides the fact that I don’t have a clue how to do any of those things, on a scale of 1-10, I have, like, below zero interest. Way below.  Try negative a thousand.”

Joe’s writing his alphabiography for a school assignment.  It’s a story of his life with a section for each letter of the alphabet, starting with A, for Addie, his best friend, through Z, for Zachary, the boy that might someday become his boyfriend.  His alphabiography is almost like a journal: he talks about his crushes, about his family, how it feels to be bullied.  He’s a great cook, is horrified by the thought of kissing, and favors loud Hawaiian print shirts.  He has a boyfriend, Colin, who is just not quite ready to come out of the closet yet, and there are some guy-guys who’ve been picking on him, but Joe strives to be positive.

I usually end up reading more high school level books, and this is written for the younger crowd, so it was a refreshing change.  Actually, refreshing is the perfect word for Joe, himself.  He’s optimistic, self-confident, and his indomitable spirit permeates the book.  I love his language: creative, casual, and approachable.  His character comes off as so earnest and friendly, that you want him to be real. Furthermore, James Howe has done a wonderful job handling the bullying issue without allowing the novel to be consumed by it.  The result is a light, pleasant, and encouraging read.  I think you’re going to like it!

For the record, James Howe is the author of my much-beloved Bunnicula series!

Happy reading!

Howe, James. Totally Joe. Athenum Books: New York, 2005.  189 pp. Ages 10 and up.

Publisher’s website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/James-Howe/20539048

This is the companion book to The Misfits, so that is a great place to start if this sounds like a good book.  However, I read Totally Joe first, and it was just fine on its own!  Also, look for Addie on the Inside, coming out soon!