30 Minutes Every Day…

Document (1)Summer is one of the busiest – and most exciting – times of year at our library. In Youth Services, we spend a lot of time focusing on our Summer Reading program. The basics are simple – we want youths to retain their reading skills while school is out, and research has found that reading for 30 minutes every day is the sweet spot. For this reason, we set a goal of reading for 24 hours by the end of the summer, and offer prizes for those who participate.

Have any questions about our reading program? We’ve got the answers!

Who can participate?

Our Youth Summer Reading Program is for anyone going into 12th grade or under. We also have a yearlong reading challenge for adults that you can learn about here.

What counts as “reading?”

We really like to emphasize that any form of reading counts including, but not limited to, reading on your own, stories read aloud by someone else, reading to younger siblings, listening to audiobooks, and, of course, reading graphic novels and comics. Because our program begins at birth, we also encourage parents to count time that infants and toddlers spend interacting with books, whether they are paging through them or just seeing what they taste like!

How does the program work?

We have reading logs for children and teens which can be picked up any time at our library. Readers can color in one star in the log for each half-hour of reading they do. Beginning July 1, participants can bring their logs back to the library and win prizes. Prizes are awarded at 12 hours and 24 hours, and will be available until August 31 (or until we run out).

At 12 hours, our readers get a color-changing pencil and their choice of a ticket to the Imagine Children’s Museum or a Seattle Storm basketball game in Everett. At 24 hours, they get a free book and entry in a grand-prize raffle. And if they finish by August 16, they are invited to our summer reading party which always includes exciting VIPs!

I like prizes! How do I sign up?

To sign up, just pick up a reading log at our Youth Services reference desk!

Every spring, our Youth Services Librarians visit Elementary and Middle Schools throughout Everett, promoting this program and getting students excited about the books they can read this summer. My visits center mostly on middle schools, where I see groups of sixth and seventh graders. These trips are exhilarating and exhausting, and are always one of the highlights of my year. Here are a few of the books I brought that students seemed especially eager to read:

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith

Simon has always been obsessed with aliens, but now it seems that they are obsessed with him. Simon mostly keeps to himself – his dad is in the air force, so his family moves a lot, and he has trouble fitting in and making friends. To ward off loneliness, he lets his imagination run wild researching UFO sightings, convinced that many of them are real and determined to find a pattern in these alien encounters.

Then one dark night on a family camping trip, Simon is attacked. Although it seems that he was simply clawed by an owl, Simon knows better. This was alien work. And the gouge in his stomach isn’t a scratch from an owl, it’s proof of an alien implant. When Simon tells his parents what happened, they are beyond skeptical and take him to a psychiatrist, who in turn prescribes him some medication. But none of this helps Simon with his problems. As Simon falls deeper and deeper into his obsession, it remains unclear whether these events are actually happening or if Simon is losing his sanity. If you want to know which is the case, you’ll have to read it!

Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith

For 13-year old Lizzy, basketball IS life. She practices every free moment, obsessing over every part of her game and analyzing the greats. Someday she hopes to be a legend herself, but right now her goal is to make the boys team at her school. She manages to make the team and become the star player, but she also has some things weighing her down. She lives with her dad, who has trouble keeping a job, and debt collectors are always breathing down their necks.

Then one day she gets a strange call. It sounds like the kind of robo-call that promises a free vacation or new iPhone but winds up a total scam, except this call tells Lizzie that she is pre-selected for one free wish. She says the first things that comes to mind, then hangs up the phone and forgets the call. But something strange has happened. Lizzie soon realizes that her wish has come true and she can make any shot she shoots. Pretty quickly a viral video leads to a tryout for a professional team, and before she knows it, Lizzie finds herself on the court playing for a pro team against full-grown men, with her power on the fritz. There’s a big game on the line and her new team is counting on her, so Lizzy needs to find a way to beat the best.

Beast Rider by María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads and Tony Johnston

The beast is a massive, fast moving network of trains that snake through Mexico toward its border with the United States. It is a treacherous ride, on a route with many people who could leave you dead – deceitful criminals, violent gangs, and corrupt police. Manuel is a 12-year-old living in the Oaxaca region of Mexico who dreams of joining his brother Toño in Los Angeles. But to do so, he will need to ride the beast.

This book follows his three-year journey, with its many hungry nights, threats, near deaths, and cruel beatings. Manuel also meets many kind and caring people who help him along the way. As he slowly gets closer to LA, Manuel begins to wonder if he will survive to make it there and if he will ever be able to forget the terrible things that have happened along the way. This book is, at times, a thrilling adventure and a heartbreaking story of sacrifice. But it is also an account of the perilous journey that many people endure to seek a better life and it also explores the reasons why people take such giant risks, and the stories that they bring with them.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Danny lives in the Pacific Northwest in New Port City. In her world, superheroes and supervillains roam the skies, waging epic battles between good and evil. It might sound cool, but for ordinary people like Danny it is just plain dangerous. So when she witnesses a battle up close, she tries to stay out of the way until the great hero Dreadnought crashes down next to her, mortally wounded. As he dies in her arms, Danny is both terrified and annoyed – because even a dying superhero manages to misgender her. Danny presents as male, but is actually a trans woman.

As Dreadnought dies, something unbelievable happens. His powers transfer to Danny, not just giving her super strength and the ability to fly, but also transforming her body into what it is meant to be, that of a young woman. Needless to say, this is a lot for Danny. For one thing, she wasn’t ready to come out to the world and now her true identity is impossible to hide. She also must figure out how to fit in with the Legion of superheroes and hunt down the evil cyborg, Utopia, who killed Dreadnought and is a massive threat to humanity. So Danny joins with another hero and must learn to navigate life with her new body and her responsibilities as a superhero in time to stop the evil Utopia before it is too late.

XL by Scott Brown

Will is disastrously short. I don’t mean just a bit short for his age – at 16, he is just 4’11.”  This is beyond an embarrassing height. It makes him miserable and he has tried every crazy trick, miracle cream, and superstition to try to grow taller. Nothing has worked. Luckily, he has his best friends by his side, his stepbrother Drew and Monica, a book-obsessed surfer, who Will secretly loves.

Then two things happen that throw Will’s life into chaos. First, he catches Drew kissing Monica. Not only does this break Will’s heart, it also sends their little group into chaos. And then, Will starts growing. And growing. And growing. At first this is great- he can reach the pedals in his car, he grab things off top shelves. Then he gets taller – even better! He can look DOWN on his classmates. He can dunk. Then he gets taller. His body hurts, he is always hungry, and people start treating him like maybe there is something wrong with him. And to make things worse, it seems that the taller he gets, the harder it is to stay friends with Drew and Monica. Without them, Will doesn’t have anyone to hold him back as he grows into a bigger and bigger jerk. What’s a 7-foot tall ego monster to do?

Versailles of the Dead by Kumiko Suekane

Marie Antoinette is on her way from her native Austria to France, where she will marry the future king, securing peace between their countries. In real life Marie is beheaded during the French Revolution, but not in this book! Zombies devour her instead. The only survivor of the attack is Marie’s twin brother, Albert. Albert continues to Versailles, hoping to take refuge with the court. When he gets there, the King, who is trying to fight off the zombie invasion and can’t afford a war with Austria, decides that Albert will disguise himself as Marie and marry the Dauphin (prince). Now Albert has a lot on his plate. He must trick the people into believing he is Marie, including many who are suspicious of him, wondering how he alone managed to survive the zombie attack. He also has to survive a court filled with deadly intrigue and deadlier romance, and fight a few zombies along the way.  This is a terrifically fun and ghoulish new manga series!

Read Your Fruits and Veggies

If you’re following along with our annual reading challenge, you’ve likely discovered that so far the challenges each month have been relatively straightforward: read a book by Sy Montgomery, read a poetry book, etc.

This month’s challenge, read a book with a vegetable or fruit in the title, is a little harder to achieve. Yes, you could go straight to the cookbooks, but I’m here to offer up a relative cornucopia of novels that will satisfy both the criteria and your book cravings. Just click any book cover that looks good! You’ll be taken to the catalog record where you can read a summary and place a hold.

 

   

So don’t wait–gobble these up while you can! And don’t forget to enter the monthly contest. Simply post a picture of your book on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook with the hashtag #everettreads for your chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card from the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Be sure to make the post public so we can see it. Easy peas-y.

Art, Literature, and Incarcerated Youth

If you take a stroll through the Main Library past our DVD section, you might notice some bright, engaging art on display. Move a little closer and you can read about the artists who created these incredible pieces:

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For the past eight months, I have had the immense privilege of making monthly visits to the Denney Juvenile Justice Center, along with some of my colleagues, to work with incarcerated youth. Among other things, we bring new books to the Center’s library and talk about the ones that we think they will enjoy. Many of the students I meet with are enthusiastic and passionate readers who devour books in their long hours of down time. They have strong opinions about the books they read and are fearless in letting me know when I bring items that interest them and when the books I supply miss their mark.

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At times, these trips can be challenging. I have strong feelings about America’s criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to the treatment of youths. During and after each visit I am reminded that I get to leave the Justice Center, get in my car, and enjoy my comfortable life, while the teens I work with may not leave the center for months or years. I am also aware that I am seeing one part of their lives, and that while many of these young people might themselves be victims, others have made choices that have hurt people, choices that – were I to know the details – I would struggle to understand and would likely find difficult to reconcile with their warm smiles, quick wit, and playful demeanors. That said, I am fortunate to be in a position to meet with them where they are and engage them using the same energy I bring to meetings with teens in more conventional settings.

The introspection, resilience, and creativity of these young people continually impresses me.

There are many great books that deal with incarcerated youths, documenting their struggles, telling their stories, and highlighting some of the problems in our juvenile justice system. Among others, I’d recommend Susan Kuklin’s No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row and Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison. Rather than talking more about these books, however, I’d like to share a few of the books that have excited the students at Denney.

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Every class I see asks me to bring more books by Simone Elkeles. The Perfect Chemistry trilogy is especially popular. The first of these books follows Alex, a young man from the Chicago area. Alex has had a hard life, and has found both protection and a sense of family in the gang he joined at a young age. Brittney has a “perfect” life. But she also has a secret pain and turbulence in her life that she keeps buried away. When Alex and Brittney are partnered in science class, conflict quickly gives way to passionate romance and they both must choose whether to be together, even if it comes with great personal cost. The second and third books in this series follow Alex’s younger brothers Carlos and Luis as they navigate their own decisions around identity and romance. All three books contain plenty of thrills, passionate romance, and interesting explorations of the pressures young people face in their lives.

blog (3)Dark and dystopian thrillers also remain popular. I get frequent requests for Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series that follows a young woman named Juliette, cruelly imprisoned because of her dangerous and uncontrollable “superpower.” The series follows Juliette as she escapes her prison and joins a rebellion against an oppressive, dystopian government. I have recently had requests for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and many others have requested Stephen King novels.

Other requests are for lighter material. Comics are often popular, particularly those featuring DC and Marvel heroes, along with manga, and laugh-out-loud romps like Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Ann Brashares’ beach-read romances are popular with many students, and all of John Green’s books are in constant demand.

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Some of the requests I receive feel like they might be very specific to a certain teen’s experiences. When I asked teens to write down requests, one wrote that they’d “like to read more books about teens who are in foster care and they run away because they don’t like it.” Another requested Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience, by Laurence Gonzalez. They wrote, “it’s a book about psychology. It teaches you about your brain. He writes stories from people’s lives and trauma they survived and why.” Yet another recently requested books on Esoteric Christianity, which means now I am educating myself about Esoteric Christianity.

I come away from each of my visits to Denney feeling that I have learned and grown from my time with these students. I hope that my visits have enriched their lives in some small way as well. Please take the time to stop by the Library and check out their powerful artwork while we have it on display. And if you see me, and have any questions about the work I do at Denney, please ask!

Hi, I’m Carol and I Use She/Her Pronouns

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog. I had an inclusion epiphany at the joint Oregon Library Association/Washington Library Association conference.

Conferences have name badges, and often there are also trays of different colored ribbons representing different interest groups and jobs that a conference attendee can select and adhere to the bottom of their badge. At the OLA/WLA conference, there was a bright yellow ribbon with a blank spot underneath. The top read, “My pronouns are” and you could write your personal pronouns below. I loved the idea, but didn’t want to take a ribbon away from someone else who needed it.

Yup, I actually thought I was doing everyone a favor by not using the ribbon, since I use she/her pronouns and I’ve never been misgendered. However, I quickly learned that by taking the lead in stating your own personal pronouns you’re showing allyship and normalizing this type of exchange of information. You’re laying the groundwork for change. This was my inclusion epiphany.

Luckily, as with many complicated and nuanced issues, there’s a well-written book to help us understand. A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson packs a lot of information into 60 pages. This book succinctly explains what pronouns are, how to use them, and why they matter in the first place. Hint: misgendering someone is demoralizing at best and demeaning at worst. And no matter how inclusive you think you are, you can always do better.

Archie and Tristan, the authors, are longtime best friends and offer two different perspectives on gender-neutral pronouns. Archie is a genderqueer artist and explains from the perspective of someone who uses they/them pronouns and wishes the world would get on board already. Tristan is a cisgender dude who wants to start introducing gender-neutral pronouns at work. He explains from the perspective of an ally and friend who wants to change his and his organization’s habits.

Both Archie and Tristan want to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. They know that understanding and talking about personal pronouns is a simple way to offer support and understanding.

Written in graphic novel format, this book is a fun and informative way to get up to speed on how language has changed and what you can do to be supportive, inclusive, and welcoming. Archie and Tristan run through everyday scenarios they and their friends have experienced. This helps the reader understand what it’s like to be non-binary and constantly misgendered, as well as how difficult it can be to change old habits even if you want to do better.

It can be a struggle for everyone, but the only way to affect change is to keep working on it. In the back of the book there are a couple of quick reference sheets you can practice with until this becomes natural to you. For instance, there’s a list of different ways to ask for someone’s pronouns. One point the authors make is something I’m still correcting myself about. For a while I was saying, “What pronouns do you prefer?” but that suggests that gender is a preference. The authors are clear that asking, “What pronouns do you use?” is the best way to go.

There are also ideas for how to recover when you mess up someone’s pronouns. Hint: don’t make it a big deal, just apologize and move on while remembering their pronouns for next time. Also, for those of us who grew up with parents who taught us that showing respect meant using gendered words like sir and ma’am, there’s a list of non-gendered words you can use instead.

Other ideas to create more inclusive environments for non-binary folks:

  • Be the first: introduce yourself to someone new as I did in this post title:
    “Hi, I’m ___ and I use ___ pronouns.”
  • Add your pronouns to your email signature and/or business card.
  • Begin a meeting with a new group by asking folks to go around the room and state their name and pronouns.
  • Talk to your boss about gendered language in policies and handbooks that could be neutralized.
  • If you work with official forms, ask if references to gender binaries like male/female can be removed.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we’re all going to make mistakes along the way. Just keep moving forward, keep trying harder, and have those conversations with friends and coworkers. The more work you take on, the more you’ll clear the way for everyone else.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see about getting my pronouns added to my name badge at work.

Every Day is Free Comic Book Day at the Library

This Saturday, May 4, is Free Comic Book Day! Every year, comic shops across the country team up with publishers to release a special slate of free comics to visitors. While there are typically around 50 free comics, many shops only receive some of the titles, so it is a great opportunity to visit several participating shops if you are able to do so. Everett Comics has generously shared with us some of the comics that they will be offering this year, and you can swing by the Main Library to pick one up. Our supply is limited, so we encourage you to stop by on the early side. Free Comic Book Day is also a great opportunity to support your local library and comic shop by borrowing and buying comics while you grab your free issues. Need some reading inspiration? Here are a few titles I’ve enjoyed recently.

81-ESBJPq+L.jpgLandry Walker’s The Last Siege is the perfect book to tide you over between the last few episodes of Game of Thrones. This limited run is collected in a single, savage volume. It follows the occupants of a medieval castle, filled with the last holdouts resisting a ruthless conquering army. As the castle’s defenders, who are completely out-manned, prepare for their final stand, interspersed sections of prose narrative deliver a backstory that connects the castle’s mysterious champion with the invading army’s leader, adding weight and drama to the impending clash.

The Last Siege is propulsive and addictive. As the story unfolds and a decisive battle looms nearer, it becomes increasingly difficult to give the artwork the time it deserves. And yet, the artwork demands attention. From the suspenseful drama of the opening pages, to the incredible wordless pages capturing the climactic battle, Justin Greenwood’s artwork is both beautiful and frightening, pulling you into a world filled with blood, death, and treachery.

91QDCZYyB9LChristopher Cantwell’s debut comic She Could Fly was far more of a gut punch (in the best way) than I was expecting. The book opens with a distant blur, a woman flying over the city of Chicago. Luna, a teenager who is struggling with her mental health, sees the flying woman and her curiosity with this phenomenon quickly blossoms into obsession. As her interest in the flying woman intensifies, so does Luna’s obsessive behavior. At the same time that Luna is spiraling down a flying woman rabbit-hole, there is also grander, deadly intrigue connected to the flying woman. It involves (deep breath) a disgraced scientist, his sex-worker girlfriend, Chinese spies, US Federal agents, and hitmen for hire. As Luna’s world collides with this larger conspiracy, she is pulled into a dangerous world of money, lies, and far too many guns.

Needless to say, there is a lot going on in She Could Fly, and it would be easy for such a story to feel unwieldy or disjointed. But Cantwell, the co-creator of the television show Halt and Catch Fire, develops this story with precise pacing and clear direction. And Cantwell’s masterful story management is supplemented by Martín Morazzo’s wonderful, strange, and engrossing artwork. I also appreciate Cantwell’s direct but sensitive portrayal of Luna’s mental health struggles. In interviews about this book, Cantwell discusses the fact that, like Luna, he has lived with Primarily Obsessional OCD so he understands the importance of carefully portraying Luna’s experiences. She Could Fly has a sequel in the works, and I cannot wait to spend more time in Cantwell’s disturbing and compelling world.

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With Free Comic Book Day also falling on May the Fourth, it would be criminally negligent not to mention some Star Wars comics. And there are so many creative and exciting new comics coming out of the Star Wars and Marvel collaboration. If you’re feeling Sithy, Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith follows young Vader as he helps build the Empire following the events of Episode III.  Doctor Aphra, who has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe, has her own series now! I’ve already raved about this incredible character, but if you haven’t discovered her yet now is the time. The Poe Dameron comics are incredibly fun, and they are catching up with the events of Episode VII, which makes things extra interesting. If you loved Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando in Solo, be sure to grab Lando: Double or Nothing and revel in his ridiculous banter with his droid companion, L3. Then there is Thrawn. Grand Admiral Thrawn may be the best character in the old expanded universe, and bringing him back was an inspired, long overdue, decision. He was incredible on Rebels, unmissable in the Zahn novels (both the ones set in the old canon and the new) and is a delight in the comics based off Zahn’s more recent work.

Clearly I am amped for this Saturday. What will you be picking up this weekend? Which free comics will you be looking for?  Let us know in the comments!

Must-Reads of 2019 So Far…

I’ve never recapped my personal best-of reading list so early in the year before, but 2019 is already off to such a great start I’m making an exception. The biggest silver lining of February’s snow show was getting more time to read. Here are just a few of my faves so far, in no particular order because these books are amazing and I refuse to rank my favorite children books.

Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan
Recommended for fans of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu.

I’m convinced I will always 100% love everything Renée Watson writes. This book hit so many high notes and addressed so many topics important to me that I really just want to read it again.

Best friends Jasmine and Chelsea are fed up with the way female students are treated at their supposedly progressive high school, so they start a Women’s Rights Club. Poems, essays, and videos go into their club’s online blog, Write Like a Girl. The blog goes viral, but online trolls escalate tensions in real life and the blog gets shut down by a condescending school administration. Jasmine and Chelsea aren’t ready to go quietly into the night–not when they know they are reaching other students who are facing the same misogynist treatment. How will they balance their need to help and be creative while not further angering their school’s administration?

The way that feminism, racism, body shaming, and everything else is addressed was just 10/10 perfect. The essays, poems, and playlists that the characters create for the Write Like a Girl blog were my absolute favorite part. It was like getting a very rad nonfiction bonus in my fiction book.

I fought for them. I cried for them. I cheered them on and didn’t want their story to end. These are multidimensional characters written authentically and I’m so here for it.

Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren Recommended for fans of The Cutting Edge and The Everett Silvertips.

This book is for anyone like me who was completely obsessed with the film The Cutting Edge–where a hockey player and a figure skater are paired up for the Olympics–who also wanted a sequel to be about hockey.

Holland is the only girl on her high school’s hockey team and she’s used to holding her own skating with the guys–even though it means dealing with the misogynist insults from the small hockey town’s good ole’ boys. But when she’s selected to represent her team on national television to help sway the public to vote for a major hockey tournament to be held in her hometown, Holland will have to confront her own self-doubts and fears that she might not be good enough to be on the boys’ team.

Oh, and she’ll also have to deal with her changing feelings towards her bossy team captain who she’s starting to realize might not be her frenemy after all. Maybe, just maybe, her frustrations stem from strong romantic feelings for him that she’s ignored for too long.

Cold Day in the Sun is full of feminism, the Midwest, small-town life, and a romance that will hook you and not let you go.

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
Recommended for fans of historical fiction with a sharp social justice edge.

As soon as I finished this smashing book I immediately missed the residents of The Paragon Hotel. Especially Blossom. And Max. And Nobody. And okay, everyone. It’s literally everyone.

I spent several days utterly invested in this story of a white woman who goes by the name Nobody. She flees the Mob in 1921 after having to fake her death. Rescued by a concerned train porter, she is allowed to stay in an all-African American hotel in Portland. The Paragon Hotel’s residents are reluctant to welcome her, as having a white woman in their rooms will only draw negative attention from the bigoted community. Soon these fears become reality. Nobody and the hotel’s staff and residents are thrust under the KKK’s magnifying glass as they all search for a missing 6 year old foundling they’ve all been collectively raising from infanthood.

The pacing is great, dipping back into Nobody’s past when relevant, and showing how she learned to survive. The author turns phrases like pancakes and if I were highlighting all the clever passages the pages in my copy would be nearly solid yellow.

This book destroyed me in a good way.

Even though this is fiction, I learned a lot of disturbing things about the KKK’s nonfictional influence in Oregon. I’m likely to start digging into the Northwest Room for more information about this time period in Oregon’s past.

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
Recommended for fans of Leverage, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and heist novels.

I was immediately hooked at the premise of a heist novel starring teenage drag queens, and it only went up from there.

Margo isn’t your typical teen. By day she’s a socialite the paparazzi can’t get enough of. By night she’s a highly successful cat burglar. She and her four best friends, all of whom are teenage drag queens, each have their own reasons for doing what they do. The one thing they have in common? They’re damn good at stealing. But when a routine job goes wrong, they’ll need all their skills, training, and friendship to not only survive but to stop the mastermind who is determined to out them all.

There’s love, sex, violence, friendship, redemption, and huge helpings of both snark and bonding. If you’re looking for a fast-paced wild ride of a novel–look no further.

So let’s hear it. Which books have hit the tippity top of your favorites so far this year? Leave your recommendations in the comments. Who knows? Maybe one of your favorites will hit my next best-of list. Which judging by the way this year is shaping up might be sooner than we both expect.

On the Come Up

Is it possible to wait months for a book’s release, get an advance copy, geek out about getting an advance copy, forget about said advanced copy, get bogged down in work projects, read some less-fulfilling books, wait on the hold list for the now newly-released book, finally get your turn with the book, then remember the advance copy buried on your desk? Yes, it would appear that this is possible and I can prove it. That’s why I am only now gushing over Angie Thomas’s (relatively) new novel On the Come Up.

On the Come Up is set in Garden Heights, the same neighborhood as Thomas’s incredible debut novel, The Hate U Give, and follows a teenaged aspiring rapper named Bri Jackson. Bri’s childhood has been informed by several traumatic events. As a young girl Bri lost her father, a rapper on the cusp of stardom, when he was murdered in front of her house. This terrible event devastated Bri’s mother who subsequently suffered from a years-long battle with substance abuse and addiction. As a result, Bri and her older brother spent a significant portion of their childhood living with their strict, god-fearing grandparents before their mother was able to regain her sobriety and reunite with her children.

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At age 16 Bri is an incredibly precocious rapper and somewhat ambivalent student with a quick-fire temper and a burning desire to make it big and earn the money to help her family. When a video of her battle rapping goes viral, Bri realizes that her dreams of hip-hop stardom could become reality. But the closer Bri gets to realizing her goal, the more slippery it becomes. A racially charged incident with school security leaves Bri suspended, then some of her angrier lyrics lead to misinterpretation, overwrought outrage, and media hysteria. Bri must also decide who to trust with her career – her devoted aunt with a penchant for neighborhood trouble or her father’s slick talking former manager.

At the same time that Bri is trying to jumpstart her career, she is also dealing with plenty of personal issues. From family conflict, to the stresses of poverty, to discrimination and bigotry at school, the challenges of everyday life are fraying Bri’s nerves. And then there are the boys! There’s Bri’s best friend who she has long had feeling for. But he just started dating someone else. And Curtis the wise cracking jerk who nobody takes seriously until Bri notices that he is hiding depth behind his jackass facade. As Bri’s personal life, family history, and rap god aspirations begin to collide she must contend with not only neighborhood beefs and career goals, but figuring out how to stay true to herself in a world determined to tear her down.

Angie Thomas is an incredibly skilled writer able to deftly balance the gross injustices of structural inequality, the unrelenting traumas of being a black woman in America, and the less weighty but still-urgent drama of teenage life. All of her characters are both relatable and realistic, and she has mastered the critical skill of capturing the voices of young people in a way that never feels contrived. Thomas was an aspiring teenaged rapper herself and Bri’s raps are as impressive as Thomas’s prose. In fact, I’d recommend listening to Thomas deliver some of these lyrics, as you can in this video, to get a better sense of the skill that Thomas possesses as an MC and writer. My favorite part is the dexterity of her flow when she rhymes coroner with corner. And if you’re looking for a soundtrack while you read, we have CDs by many of the artists Bri mentions in the book, including J. Cole, Rapsody, Kendrick, and Eric B. & Rakim, and you can stream or download a ton more for free with Hoopla!