Three Decisions

There is a moment in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a book that I adore, when the narrator, Starr, is debating with her friend Khalil the merits of Tupac’s music. Khalil begins to excitedly talk about Tupac’s definition of Thug Life: The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everybody. It’s a deep and powerful moment, which obviously lends the book its title, but also serves as a thesis statement for the interactions of the books characters with each other and with the inequalities and discrimination that they face. Angie Thomas skillfully shows the power of hate and the terrible ways that it ripples through a community, impacting lives from birth to death.

Recently I’ve happened to read three incredible books, all in a row, that also deal with the impact that hate can have on young people. In each of these books a young man must come to grips with the violent deaths of loved ones and make a critical decision; whether to allow the hate they experience in the world to consume them or to find some other path forward. These are powerful, empathetic novels that I could not put down and am eager to share.

1101939494Nic Stone’s Dear Martin opens with a young black man named Justyce McAllister being handcuffed and detained by a police officer, all for the crime of trying to stop his girlfriend from driving under the influence. Justyce has no doubt that he has been profiled, but tries to channel his anger in a productive way by writing letters in his journal to the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. about his troubles, while trying to live his life as he believes the King would.

Justyce is a scholarship student at an affluent private school and often feels singled out both because of the color of his skin and the knowledge that he comes from a poor, underserved neighborhood. Despite his emotional maturity and keen intellect, Justyce struggles to live like Martin. When a terrible event throws his life into chaos, making Justyce a key figure in a national news story, he must decide whether to continue his fight, forcing the world to give him the respect and dignity he deserves or to give in and embrace the violence and strife that white eyes seem to expect of him.

91kb+HdA-hLTwelve year old Lolly Rachpaul faces a similarly difficult decision in The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore. Lolly’s older brother was recently murdered, leaving Lolly devastated by a mix of grief, anger, and guilt. Lolly finds himself lashing out at the people around him, taking pleasure in small acts of cruelty even though he knows these acts are wrong and fall outside his typical behavior. This is a terrible burden for Lolly, but he is also surrounded by adults who seem genuinely invested in his well being. When a Lego project he undertakes at his after-school program begins to blossom into a massive architectural project, Lolly begins to feel like himself again.

Unfortunately, outside forces conspire to mar his new joy. Lolly lives in a Harlem housing project and he and his best friend Vega face a daily mix of intimidation and coercion by members of various “crews.” The message they’re being sent is the same that many young people face across this county every day: You can’t survive on your own. Join us and we will take care of you. As the bullying worsens, Lolly and Vega’s choice becomes clear. They can continue to pursue their passions, even if it makes them targets, or they can succumb to the pressures that surround them and risk following Lolly’s brother’s violent path.

Jayson Reynolds’ verse novel, Long Way Down, feels like a combination of the experiences of Justyce and Lolly, distilled into harsh, mean truth. This is the story of Will, a fifteen year old who just lost his older brother to senseless gang violence. As Will explains, there are rules that dictate what comes next:

The Rules   

No.1: No Crying

Don’t.
No matter what.
Don’t.

No. 2: Snitching

Don’t.
No matter what.
Don’t.

No. 3: Revenge

If someone you love
gets killed,
find the person  
who killed

them and
kill them.

The Invention Of The Rules

ain’t come from my

brother,
his friends,
my dad,
my uncle,
the guys outside,
                the hustlers and shooters,
and definitely not from
me.

Another Thing About The Rules

They weren’t meant to be broken.
They were meant for the broken

to follow.

9781481438254_custom-d4b85ee7b3c6660233d89d931357c32bb6528316-s400-c85These inescapable rules lead Will, with his dead brother’s gun tucked into his waistband, to his building’s elevator that will take him down 7 floors. He will then walk to another building and wait for the man that he believes took his brother’s life. He will take his gun and kill that man. But first he must travel down these 7 floors. As it happens, on each floor Will encounters the ghost of someone in his life who has been taken by gun violence. And as he revisits each death, Will is forced to reckon with the destruction that is tucked in his pants and whether the violence he is about to bring into the world will set things right or will simply feed a beast that devours young people far too soon.

These books all deal with deeply upsetting events and are not easy reads. I worry that by writing about them together, I am contributing to an idea about violence in the lives of young people of color or at least the depiction of these young people in fiction. For this reason, I want to emphasize that all of these novels feature nuanced portrayals of their characters. In particular the violence in Dear Martin and The Stars Beneath our Feet is almost entirely secondary to the characters’ rich inner, social, and academic lives. These violent events, however, do help reinforce the terrible trauma that many young people experience and the ways that inequality, institutional neglect, and racism force too many people to make impossible choices every day.

Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Narrative

My calendar tells me it’s 2018 but as I look around I see society backpedaling and losing ground on important concepts I used to think were simple, like personhood and what it means to be a human being. Equality, empathy, acceptance, and even just tolerance are becoming lamentably scarce these days. When the world seems like it’s lost its way, I turn to books. Here are some new and forthcoming books on my TBR that offer different perspectives and keen insight into lives that are very different from my own.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
I don’t know if you got the memo, but the real Pocahontas was nothing like Disney wanted us to believe. Different but united voices rise together in this collection of poetry, prose, and art created by Native women. Leave your preconceived notions–and stereotypes–at the door.

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi
Based on the author’s real diary entries, Americanized tells the story of a girl who discovered–at age 13–that she and her family were undocumented citizens. Her parents had fled Iran when Sara was two, and she didn’t uncover her family’s undocumented status until her sister wanted to apply for an after-school job but didn’t have a Social Security number. This book sounds like a good mix of seeing life in a new–and terrifying–way, all while struggling through the more typical adolescent changes and experiences.

Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages
Laid out in chronological order, this collection of stories by over thirty women is set up as a book to inspire young girls and teens to persevere in their own struggles. In these stories, the authors talk about barriers they’ve faced and how they overcame them to become successful. I’d also look at this collection as a book for people who don’t identify as female, or who may have forgotten what it’s like to be a teen, to read and gain some understanding as to what’s going on inside a teenage girl’s mind.

Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction by Erica Garza
Society leads us to believe that sex addiction isn’t a real thing, and if it is, well it’s something that only affects men, right? Not true! And here to tell us about it in raw detail is Erica Garza. Early reviews mention it can be difficult to get through due to the subject matter and the raw emotions facing the author as she painfully recounts her journey from addiction to recovery. But for anyone wanting to understand a struggle that may be far outside their own world of experiences, this is the book to read.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad
“I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”
The Last Girl is a survivor’s memoir. Nadia tells her story and recounts how six of her brothers and her mother were killed and how she and thousands of other Yazidi girls were forced into the ISIS slave trade. A refugee, rape survivor, and incredibly strong woman, Nadia brings attention to the ongoing genocide in Iraq and forces us to come to the realization that individuals and families are torn apart by war every day; forced to become refugees in search of community who can never return home.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of this book and I plan to write a full review in a future blog post. To whet your appetite: This is a completely compelling debut novel that exposes the prejudices in America and how difficult it can be to be a teenager struggling with growing up in a conservative, traditional household. Maya is living a small town life but has big city dreams. She struggles with pleasing her parents and pursuing her own goals and ideals for her future. And then a terrorist strikes, a terrorist with the same last name as Maya. Whether it’s choosing between two guys or dealing with a hate crime, the author does an outstanding job getting to the heart of the matter and exposing the raw emotions associated with each.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
These essays are being touted as an accessible take on the racial landscape in America. Topics include privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, microagressions, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Ijeoma’s writing is being compared to Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, two of my most favorite writers. The holds list is really growing quickly on this book, so be sure to get in the queue now.

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
Morgan Jerkins is topping my list of most-anticipated authors I want to read this year. She’s also being compared to Roxane Gay, who wrote a glowing review of this book. Morgan writes about being young and Black in America. She tackles the important but tough topics of intersectional feminism and racism and I am so here for it.

To My Trans Sisters edited by Charlie Craggs
Exploring the diversity of the trans experience, this collection of letters by successful trans women from all walks of life and from all over the world offers advice to those transitioning or wanting to learn more about the different struggles trans women face. I’ve never had to endure life as someone other than I know I’m meant to be, so reading this will help me better understand the beauty and nuance of the personal struggles and successes of trans women.

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele; foreword by Angela Davis
Learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement and get to know it from the inside. Patrisse is a co-founder of BLM and is an ardent speaker, artist, organizer, and freedom fighter. For those like me who want to learn more, and especially for anyone doubting the reason for even needing something like BLM, we all definitely need to hear and internalize what Patrisse passionately has to say.

I want and need to read books not aimed directly at me as the target audience, a straight white cis woman. These books definitely fit the bill. There’s also no way I can be as inclusive as I’d like with the limited space here, so please let me know in the comments of other books we can read to better understand each other. Let’s spend 2018 building empathy and compassion together.

Books to Love and Share

Even though we live nearly three thousand miles apart, I’m very close with my nieces and nephew. In my mind I’m the cool uncle who takes them on fun trips and gets them the most exciting presents. Of course when your uncle is a librarian the fun trips usually involve libraries or bookstores and those exciting presents are, well, books. Luckily for me, these kids are born readers so even if I’m not the cool uncle I am the uncle who gets asked for book recommendations and invited to class visits. I’ll take it.

Here are a few of the books that I’ve loved and shared with my young readers this past year.

methodetimesprodwebbin2146bf82-bd60-11e6-a53a-ca2ad7b229f9My youngest niece is almost two. She loves to laugh and is great at identifying animals, as long as it’s a dog or a bear, so I knew she would love Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman. Horrible Bear! follows a no-nonsense young girl who crashes her kite into a bear’s den. The sleeping bear rolls over, crushing the kite. The girl storms off furious at the bear, while the bear is filled with righteous indignation for being blamed. Behold, bitter enemies! Ultimately, the bear and the girl come to understand each other and this silly story delivers a meaningful yet subtle message about accidents and forgiveness. This is a great read-aloud with the girl and bear stomping around shouting HORRIBLE BEAR and HORRIBLE GIRL. It also features Dyckman’s signature humor and lively illustrations by Zachariah OHora.

A1CIvMxnmGL (1)I also read with my 3-year-old niece but of course a 3-year-old is sophisticated and requires more complex and devious narratives. This is why I recently sent her The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse by Mac Barnett. When a mouse is swallowed by a wolf, it seems like the end of the world – literally. But the mouse gets new perspective when it meets a duck who has made quite a lovely home in the wolf’s stomach. Their new haven is threatened when a hunter pursues the wolf and the mouse and duck must find a way to save their home. I love the sharp turn this story takes after its grim beginning and the way expectations are constantly subverted. This book also has the benefit of Jon Klassen’s illustrations, who could even make the phone book a twisted delight.

leave-me-alon

Vera Brosgol’s Leave Me Alone! introduces a granny who feels straight out of a nursery rhyme. Living in a cramped house with her large family, she sets out to find a peaceful place to knit. She travels far and wide through harsh environments filled with terrible beasts, and even goes to space! This is another story that starts out with a slightly sardonic tone before settling into a heartwarming conclusion. Brosgol’s illustrations are pitch perfect, creating a story that feels like a loving and quirky tribute to Strega Nona.

9780545700580_mresRecently one of my cousins had her first child who is nicknamed Froggy. I’m using this as an excuse to give them Rain! By Linda Ashman. Rain! follows the parallel stories of an older man who is irritated to have to deal with wet weather and a young boy in a frog hat who is delighted to explore the rainy world. This is a sweet story with a wonderfully goofy conclusion. Rain! has the added bonus of featuring the brilliant illustrations of Christian Robinson. Robinson’s work has been on my radar for some time, but it was not until I saw him speak last year at a conference that I took the time to explore his work in-depth. He is a stunning artist who has quickly become a personal favorite.

9780545403306_mresFor the older readers in my life (ages 7 and 9) I like to introduce series that they can fall in love with. The challenge, of course, is getting these books in their hands before they hear about them from friends. This year these series included Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski and The Ranger’s Apprentice by John A. Flanagan. The Whatever After series follows a young sister and brother, Abby and Jonah, who are swept away into the lands of various fairy tales such as Cinderella and the Frog Prince. This might be a delightful adventure for the young siblings if they didn’t accidentally intervene in these classic stories and jeopardize their traditional plots. Abby and Jonah must frantically save the day, delivering the fairy tale endings we all know so well. Some middle grade series do not hold up for adult readers. These do. Abby’s narration is laced with gentle sarcasm and the two siblings repeatedly delight by finding new and ridiculous ways to disrupt these established stories. Book one in this series is Fairest of All.

The_Ruins_of_Gorlan_(Au)The Ranger’s Apprentice is a slightly older series perfect for lovers of world building or medieval fantasy. These books follow a young man named Will who becomes (wait for it) a ranger’s apprentice helping to protect a kingdom from a multitude of dastardly threats both internal and external. I was nervous to suggest these books to my nephew as I had not actually read them myself, but my nephew has fallen deep into their world. I asked him to tell me what he likes about the series and he explained that he is enjoying the way that the story is told from different perspectives, not just one narrator. He’s also relishing all of the action and appreciates the details that go into the development of different characters. Book one in this series is The Ruins of Gorlan.

New (Enough) Series to Dive into

This winter will be my fifth in Washington, which I am pretty sure makes me an expert by Malcom Gladwell’s standards. But I don’t think I am breaking any news when I say that winter in the PNW is long, grey, and wet. It’s not my favorite weather but it makes for a great excuse to do some of my favorite reading: multi-book series.

I have a method when I jump into these series: Start too early and I can’t deal with the wait between books. Suddenly I have the patience of a two-year-old, without the charm or the excuse of actually being two. But if I wait too long I feel woefully behind the times AND I miss out on the sweet agony that comes with waiting for the final book or two in a series. If I start reading when the series is 2 to 3 books deep, I am golden. I find that this is when a lot of series really start to open up; the world-building has gotten some attention, characters gain complexity, and that one guy who got on your nerves has probably been killed off.

Do you agree? Want to prove that I’m terribly mistaken? Here are a couple of great series that are right at my sweet spot:

coverfullSabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes would have hooked me as a well written YA fantasy series. But throw in the fact that it is loosely based on the Roman Empire? I never had a chance. The Martial Empire is the only clear power in this world. Like the Romans, the Martials wield great power through overwhelming force and ruthless cruelty. Their most fearsome tool is their squad of elite soldiers, the Masks, who possess near-superhuman strength and cunning and execute the will of the Emperor with dispassionate and merciless efficiency. The greatest victim of the Empire’s excesses and greed are the Scholars, once a flourishing tribe that has been largely reduced to an oppressed lower class. Those who have not been slaughtered or enslaved exist in the margins, living in relative squalor and clinging to their traditions the best they can.

An Ember in the Ashes follows Laia, a young woman who finds herself working for Scholar resistance, and Elias, a Mask determined to flee the Martials and reject the dehumanizing and unjust duties that await him as an agent of the Empire. They find themselves thrust together, two players in a dark and dastardly plot that threatens the Martial Empire, the remaining Scholars, and quite possibly the order of the entire known world.

Needless to say there is a ton of great historical fantasy out there. What sets this series apart is the skill with which Tahir patiently develops her world. It is masterfully crafted, with fantasy elements that slowly expand over time and unexpected plot developments that upend genre conventions. There are currently two books published in this series with a third due out in spring of 2018. Considering that the second, A Torch Against the Night, was even better than the first, I’m dying to get my hands on the next book.

81YaK2aYQkLThe Darktown series, by Thomas Mullen, might be a fairly standard police procedural but for one fact: it is set in Atlanta in the late 1940s and 1950s and the cops? They’re the first black police officers in the city. Unsurprisingly, these police officers are forced to negotiate a tenuous existence. They are the pride of their community, burdened with high expectations and a mandate to be model citizens and officers. Their victories will be everyone’s, but so will their failures. And yet they are hamstrung as law officers. They cannot carry guns or drive squad cars and they are forbidden from arresting white suspects. They are also, at best, despised by their white colleagues. At worst, they are cheated, beaten and framed by these officers who are disgusted to serve in an integrated police force.

Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith are two of the new officers facing these precarious circumstances. They make for a fun pair. Boggs is the dutiful son of a preacher while Smith likes a faster life, but they are both determined to do their duty and prove their place in the police force. When they begin to unravel the mystery of a young murdered woman and come to suspect a cover-up that involves white police officers and powerful politicians, they must find a way to pursue justice without jeopardizing the fragile and fledgling order that allows them to serve their city and protect their community.

I love the way that Mullen presents a classic detective story through racial and social historical lenses. I was reminded a lot of Richard Price’s police novels, but set in an earlier time where the lines between different communities were a little less blurred. Mullen clearly did his research, and brings a nuanced understanding of a fraught, divisive and transformative time in our history. Darktown’s sequel, Lightning Men, came out in September and I hope we will hear about a third book in the not-too-distant future.

SB-TRADE-COVERvol1

didn’t plan this, but the themes of otherness, power, and cruelty carry over into Southern Bastards, the third series I’ve been enjoying recently. Written by Jason Aaron, this comic is set in Craw County, Alabama where high school football is sacred and the local team’s legendary coach, Euless Boss, is somewhere between a god and king. The team’s unrivaled success has allowed Boss to run the county. The sheriff is his lap dog, he is widely feared, and he heads the local drug trade while using his players as goonish enforcers. Sometimes it is said that football coaches get away with murder. Euless Boss really does. Earl Tubb finds this arrangement unacceptable. Tubb, an aging, tough-as-nails veteran and former football star, returns to town with a haunted past and very little to lose. This sets the stage for a confrontation between two titans of Craw County, which truly is not big enough for the both of them.

This series is an over-the-top delight. Jason Latour’s illustrations perfectly capture a community rotting from the inside out, while Aaron tells a story that deftly snakes through the shared history of Craw County’s citizens. The focus of this series shifts several times, diving deep into characters’ lives to provide insight into their motivations and empathy for their actions. This is done with such careful precision that even a monster like Euless Boss might win you over. Southern Bastards currently has three published volumes, with a fourth due in February 2018.

Clearly I’ve had a hunger for dark tales of violence and corruption this fall. I promise I also read plenty of lighthearted and uplifting books. You know, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Be sure to sound off in the comments and tell us what series you’re going to dig into this winter!

Best of 2017: Books for Young Adults

We continue our list of the Best of 2017 as recommended by library staff today with a bunch of great titles from the world of Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction and Graphic Novels. Enjoy and make sure to check out the Library Newsletter for all of our recommendations.

Young Adult Fiction

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Princess Anya is an orphan and second in line to the throne. Her stepstepfather is an evil wizard, the frog population in the moat is growing, and visiting princes keep vanishing. The royal dogs send Anya on a quest for a potion to reverse her stepstepfather’s spells.

A bitingly funny fractured fairy tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously and even pokes gentle fun at the genre.  –Emily

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

After learning that her deep voice is keeping her from being cast in plays at her exclusive performing arts school, Jordan Sun, junior, disguises herself as a boy and auditions for an all-male octet hoping for a chance to perform internationally.

What I thought would be a quick romp or just a comedy of errors was surprisingly insightful and at times a total gut-punch. As they discovered and explored new truths about themselves, these characters kept me up all night reading.  –Carol

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel meet at a Stanford University summer program, Dimple is avoiding her parents’ obsession with “marriage prospects,” but Rishi hopes to woo her into accepting arranged marriage with him.

The best romantic comedy of the summer, and also a book I want to read over and over again. Adorable, quirky, and full of heart: this book will have you cheering out loud, and maybe swooning. Fantastic debut from a talented new Indian-American voice.  –Carol

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

A historical action/adventure/comedy/romance. When a reckless decision turns his Grand Tour of Europe into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything Monty knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Spoiler: Monty is completely horrible for the first couple hundred pages (the vice). Get through it and be rewarded with his redemption story (the virtue)! Monty’s struggle with being bisexual in a time that doesn’t allow for it made me cry and cheer.  –Carol

The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

Ariel’s mother abandoned her when she was still a toddler, and she’s been on the move with her hard-drinking, hard-loving father for as long as she can remember. When they finally settle in California, she begins to discover home, love, and, eventually, answers.

Plenty of drama and dysfunction, along with strong characters, keep readers engrossed. A parallel story of a woman and her troubled marriage sometimes seemed out of place until the stories intertwine.  –Elizabeth

The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

A summer house is carefully shared by a bitterly divided family, assuring the two groups never meet. Although they’ve never met, Ray and Sasha, both children of second marriages, share a room, and for many years have wondered about each other.

You know they are going to meet up, you can’t wait for it to happen, but how and when, and what will they think of each other? The anticipation coupled with a compelling story of family love, hate, and the possibility of healing make for a great read.  –Elizabeth

The Art of Starving by Sam Miller

Sixteen- year-old Matt is gay and friendless in a small, backward town. To add to that misery, his beloved sister has just left mysteriously, his mom may lose her job, and he has a serious eating disorder. He believes starving enhances his perceptions.

While things are looking pretty bad for Matt, he finds love in the most unexpected place. Despite major struggles, I felt strangely hopeful for his outcome.  –Elizabeth

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Before Adri launches on a one-way trip to the experimental Mars colony, she’s told to say her goodbyes and find closure. As an orphan who never knew her family, she assumes this won’t be necessary. She is wrong.

This story combines two of my favorite genres in one book: sci-fi and historical fiction. Adri meets a long-lost cousin and discovers letters and diaries from pioneering young women in the early 1900s.  –Emily

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Six teenagers from a small town in Ireland are having a typical summer. Drunken parties. Hooking up. Breaking up. The discovery of a spell book and mysterious pages from a stranger’s journal turns everything upside down.

Untwisting this story is like unraveling a tangled mass of yarn. The middle must be unknotted to figure out the end and the beginning.  –Emily

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

On a desolate ranch, there lives a saint. It’s a strange place, where pilgrims receive the miracle they deserve, not necessarily the miracle they want. The teens growing up on the ranch start a pirate radio station, hoping for a miracle of their own.

Set in the early 1960s, the author weaves together strands of folklore, fable, legend, and historical fiction. The language and imagery is reminiscent of authors such as Clive Barker, Tom Robbins, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  –Emily

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

When the creator of a high school gossip app mysteriously dies in front of four high-profile students, all four become suspects. It’s up to them to solve the case.

Part Breakfast Club, part Agatha Christie, part Gossip Girl, this ridiculously entertaining whodunit will keep you guessing to the end. The audiobook is especially well-performed by an ensemble cast.  –Alan

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

It begins like a traditional “orphan sent to grand manor house, discovers mystery” story. But this one has five endings. Did one ending actually happen? Or did all of them?

The five scenarios touch on just about every genre: contemporary realism, romance, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. But with a twist or two.  –Emily

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter lives in two worlds: the underserved neighborhood she lives in and the affluent prep school she attends. These worlds clash when Starr is the sole witness to the death of an old friend, an unarmed young black man shot by the police.

Thomas has written a book that is both timely and compelling. Starr Carter’s narrative gives the reader an important view into the life of a young black woman navigating a treacherous world.  –Jesse

Young Adult Graphic Novels

One-Punch Man Vols 10, 11, 12 by ONE

The mis-adventures of the “hero for fun” keep getting better with each volume, and the overall story arc across volumes is finally starting build beyond Saitama questing for recognition as the world’s greatest hero.

I can’t stop giggling at the contrast of unassuming Saitama’s appearance and his overwhelming strength. The development of top-level nemeses in these later volumes rewards returning readers and makes now the best time to start this series!  –Zac

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks

In this new expanded edition based off of a web series, this comic follows Superhero Girl, a young woman with extraordinary powers and extraordinarily annoying problems, from her all-too-perfect brother to incompetent nemeses AND BEYOND!

Superhero Girl’s adventures are clever, hilarious, and delightfully illustrated. This book does an incredible job of capturing both the wonderful silliness of many superhero stories and the crippling angst of teenage life.  –Jesse

Young Adult Non-Fiction

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager

This book is a collection of 23 mini-biographies of LGBTQ people throughout history, including a Roman Emperor, a First Lady, artists, actors, and many more. Perfect for activist, allies, and anyone curious about hidden history.

Many of these stories are inspiring accounts of public figures who were out and helped shape their time, but I was even more delighted to learn more about the surprising private lives of well-known individuals  –Jesse

Undefeated : Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football team by Steve Sheinkin

Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner are two towering figures of the sports world. This book finds them before they were household names, when Thorpe, a young Native American, and Warner revolutionized football and humbled the sport’s powerhouse teams.

Sheinkin manages to weave an incredible underdog sports story together with an account of the unforgivably shameful ways Native Americans have been maltreated by the United States. — Jesse

Because I was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages edited by Melissa De La Cruz

This volume features nearly forty stories told by successful women between the ages of 10 and 87. By taking the reader on their journeys, these incredible figures reveal their thoughts as they overcame obstacles to achieve great things.

These accounts are fascinating, inspiring and include impactful figures with lesser known stories. I also love the presentation of this volume, with full page quotes, beautiful photos, and decade by decade summaries of important achievements by women.
— Jesse

A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg

Frydenborg dives deep into the thousand plus year relationship between canines and humans, exploring not just how humans have influenced the evolution of the dog, but also how dogs have slowly changed us.

As a dog lover, it was fascinating to gain insight into our shared history with canines. Frydenborg also does a masterful job connecting the distant past to our current dynamic with these animals, showing how our relationship evolved along with us. — Jesse

Hard Truths in a Brilliant Book

When it comes to books, movies, song lyrics, or pretty much anything else, I’m not exactly known for the power of my memory. It’s why I’ve never nailed a movie quote, why I can’t get to the grocery store without the maps app on my phone, and why I’m 90% sure the new Thor movie stars Chris Hemsworth and not Christopher Walken but I can’t say for sure without Google’s help. This might also explain why my favorite books at any given time are often the ones I’ve read most recently-they’re so clear in my mind!  

And yet this year the book that I’m still talking about, that is crystal clear in my mind, is one that I read waaaay back in March. The reason is simple and it has nothing to do with the Ginkgo Biloba I forget to take every morning. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas wasn’t just the best book I read this year, but was among the best I’ve read in a long time.

the-hate-u-giveThe narrator of this novel is a teenager named Starr Carter. Starr lives in a neighborhood that is majority black, under-served, and impoverished. Starr’s family has deep connections to their community; her mother is a nurse and her father owns the local convenience-style grocery store. Starr’s father also grew up there and made many mistakes as a younger man that continue to follow him. Rather than hide his past, however, he speaks honestly and uses his own experiences as a catalyst to help the young people around him. Although they embrace their community, Starr’s parents also want Starr and her brothers to have greater opportunities and send them to an expensive private school in the suburbs.

The Hate U Give opens with Starr attending a party where she encounters a childhood friend, Khalil. The party is interrupted when members of rival gangs come into conflict and gunshots are fired. Starr flees the party with Khalil who offers to drive her home. They are pulled over by the police seemingly for no reason other than the color of their skin. This traffic stop ends like many that have made headlines and provoked outrage in recent years. Khalil, an unarmed young black man, is shot dead by a white police officer. Starr witnesses all of this and finds herself with a gun in her own face during the incident leaving her deeply traumatized, enraged, and terrified.

This shooting occurs very early in The Hate U Give and the rest of the story traces its effect on Starr, her family, and her community. Starr’s parents are fearful for their daughter and encourage her to avoid the news crews and the activists who show up in the wake of this tragedy. At the same time, Starr sees her old friend Khalil get linked to drug dealers and local gangs and unjustly blamed for his own death. Her loyalties are further fractured by pressure from people in her neighborhood and her love for her uncle, who also happens to be a cop. As Starr’s life lurches forward she must figure out how to speak the truth about Khalil’s life and death without tearing apart her family and neighborhood or jeopardizing her own future.

Thomas’s skillful and thoughtful storytelling combined with the circumstances of the lethal shooting guarantee that The Hate U Give is both a topical and emotionally charged read. While I appreciate and value this story, the book is also a masterful consideration of Starr’s full life as a young black woman. Starr spends a considerable amount of emotional energy concerned with her own identity, worried about how she presents herself in her neighborhood and in the affluent school where she is surrounded by white classmates and friends. She is aware of the way that she code-switches, altering her speech, mannerisms, and appearance to adapt to these very different environments, and she is burdened by the guilt of hiding parts of herself at school while keeping secrets about her school life from her loved ones.

Thomas also explores the emotional weight of Starr being her community’s representative at her school and the unfair responsibility Starr feels to defend Khalil, as if his death is only unjust if he led a mistake-free life. It is this final point that ties back to the unconditional, unapologetic statement that black lives matter and that the onus to actualize this idea in our communities is on all of us, not just those facing oppression. This is a statement that can be difficult and uncomfortable to accept but through Starr’s eyes it feels essential and undeniable.

Fall Publishing Season is My Christmas

Oh TBR, oh TBR! Your books just scrape my ceiling.

Some people love Halloween. For others they just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m definitely a fall publishing fanatic and that’s not just because my job is in cataloging. I’m a voracious reader and much like the kid whose eyes are bigger than her stomach (also me) I am constantly checking out, or shelving on Goodreads, more books than I can possibly read. I like to read based on my mood so I can never stick to a prescribed list for long–even if I’m the fool who made the list in the first place! Therefore I give to you (and let’s be honest, this is going to be a blog post so I can bookmark it for myself for later) the books that came out this fall that I haven’t read yet but I really, really want to.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A collection of short stories about the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. So many of my reading buddies have been raving over this one. I’ve never gotten into short stories before but I think it’s time I started!

It Devours: a Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
The weirdest podcast I listen to (and I also listen to a podcast that is literally a family playing Dungeons & Dragons) is Welcome to Night Vale. I read the first novel, aptly named Welcome to Night Vale–or rather I had the podcast’s narrator, Cecil Baldwin, read it to me via audibook. Guess what? The library also has both the print and audio versions of It Devours so I can pick my poison.

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer
You say there aren’t any female serial killers? I say they are, and Lady Killers says there are at least 14. I should probably have tried harder to read this before Halloween but honestly all I have to do is turn out the lights and get out my clip-on book light and no matter what I’m reading will definitely end up with me being creeped out by the darkness alone. Add in some gruesome murder details and I may never sleep again.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
This novel centers around a rape, a group of girls determined to avenge it (even though they didn’t know the person who was raped), and the movement that transforms the lives of everyone around them. This is another book my reading buddies are raving about. Do they hold a secret cool-girl book club without me? If they did I wouldn’t blame them. The way I’m flighty about what to read next, they’d be waiting on me forever. However, after reading Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (review to come!) this seems like an excellent companion novel even though it’s by a completely different author.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz
Are you a P&P fangirl or fanboy? What if I told you there’s a novel where the roles of Darcy and Bennet are gender swapped, it takes place during Christmastime, and is written by an incredibly talented author? If you’re checking all the boxes, you to need this book in your life. I’ve had my own copy of this on my nightstand for a while but I’m purposefully putting off starting it until closer to Christmas. Because Christmas reads are the best at Christmas.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, completely gutted me and put me back together. I’m not sure what to expect from this next book of poetry but it’s one I preordered because I knew I would love it to pieces. I’ll chime in later after I actually read it and let you know how successful I was in determining my pre-adoration!

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
JOHN GREEN PUBLISHED A NEW BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FIVE YEARS. If you had’t gotten the memo yet, you now have the knowledge so make use of it! I confess I’ve never actually read a John Green novel yet (stop it! I know!) but I absolutely adore all the awesomeness he’s thrown out into the world via the internet and this book in particular, about the search for a millionaire and a girl stuck in a spiral of her own thoughts, speaks to me.

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
Oh my goodness, I really love Gabrielle Union! Her book is a collection of essays that cover all kinds of topics that are totally my jam: gender, sexuality, race, feminism, and more. One of my friends compared it to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and if that’s even half true I am so totally in.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
What better way to wrap up this towering TBR than with a book about books? Annie Spence is a librarian and she’s written an entire book of letters to the books in her life–it’s really meta. I’ve heard it’s absolutely hilarious and I’m morally obligated to read books written by librarians.

There are literally dozens more books in my TBR that’s taller than me, but I’m out of time. What are you reading or looking forward to reading in the (hopefully) near future? Your suggestions will definitely grow my TBR tower but don’t worry; it’s always going to grow and I’d much rather it grow with legitimately good recommendations than just my wandering eye.