Xiomara and Nate

I’ve never minded our wet winters too terribly. I’m a grizzled native of upstate New York. I sneer at nor’easters and laugh off blizzards. I shoveled my driveway all winter every winter from the age of eighteen days to eighteen years. I walked to school uphill both ways in freezing rain while wearing flip flops. So now, a little northwest rain? That’s what real winter warriors like me call “cute.” Grossly exaggerated braggadocio aside, I still get excited for Spring. Peeks of sunshine, baseball games, blooming flowers, and best of all, a deluge of phenomenal new fiction. As usual I’ve been glutting on YA novels and while several have been standouts, two in particular have worked their way into my head staying with me long after I turned the final page.

Xiomara, the narrator of Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X, is an incredibly compelling and complex young woman who immediately won me over. She is fierce, independent, and loyal to her twin brother, but also struggling with questions about her identity and the conflicts between her own desires and the expectations of her Dominican parents. The relationship with her parents is particularly tenuous – while her brother is treated as a golden child, she has always felt like more of a problem than a blessing:

As issues with her parents come to a head and romance with a classmate grows complicated, Xiomara is desperate for a release which she finds through her poetry and a developing interest in slam performance. Xiomara has finally found a place where she belongs, but unless she can make her parents better understand her world, she may lose this precious chance to blossom through her craft.

CoverReveal_PoetXBeyond the beautifully crafted characters, this verse novel shines because of Acevedo’s fantastic writing. This should be no surprise as Acevedo is an extremely talented poet, but I was still struck by the sheer beauty of her storytelling. As an added bonus, this month’s Reading Challenge is to read poetry. All you need to do for a chance to win is to take a photo with the book you read and post it on social media with the hashtag #EverettReads. Poet X is a profound and compelling work that I am excited to suggest to the young readers I work with each day and it’s eligibility for the April challenge is the cherry on top!

While Poet X has stuck with me because of its wonderfully dynamic characters, S.F. Henson’s Devils Within has haunted me with its resonant, tense and chilling depiction of domestic terrorism. The story opens with a young man named Nate moving to a new town to live with his uncle. Nate wants nothing more than to keep his head down and remain unnoticed, but he has a past that will be difficult to escape. Nate is the son of a powerful white supremacist leader and was raised to carry forward his father’s hateful legacy. Despite a childhood filled with violent acts, indoctrination, and racist misinformation, Nate always felt that his father and his followers were wrong and yearned to be free of their poisonous influence. He eventually does escape, but it comes with a cost. During a frantic struggle Nate kills his father and spends time in both prison and a treatment center before being turned over to an uncle who believes his nephew is the same brand of bigot that Nate’s father was (and a killer to boot).

91NuLbodoFLNate is determined to keep his past hidden. He is deeply ashamed of the life he led and is terrified of being tracked down by his father’s vengeful and zealous compatriots. Nate begins school but struggles to adjust to his new social and academic surroundings. Over time Nate is offered a glimmer of hope. Brandon, a popular classmate, seems genuinely interested in befriending Nate and determined to help him find a place in his new town. Nate is amazed as Brandon is not only the first kind person he has met in the town, but also his first friend who is a person of color. As the ghosts of his past begin to fade Nate yearns to open up to Brandon, confessing the horrible things he has seen and done. But before Nate can take this risk his past begins to catch up with him, bringing with it the toxic hate and terrible violence he thought he had left behind threatening to destroy his new life and, even worse, putting his new friend in jeopardy.

Henson is unflinching in her portrayal of the racism and bigotry that is still pervasive in our society. While at times this book is a thrilling adventure, it is also a fever dream that I know is far too real for many Americans. As the novel approached an impending and climactic confrontation I wanted desperately to stop reading and yet could not put the book down. In my mind that is as high praise as I can give.

At first glance, there are not many similarities between the story of a Dominican girl in Harlem and a former white nationalist in Alabama. But as I dwell on both Xiamora’s and Nate’s stories I see many through lines in their lives. They’re both in conflict (albeit on very different levels) with the expectations and identities of their parents, desperate to find their own place in the larger world around them, and yet determined to live their lives by their own rules not by those forced upon them. I am so grateful to both Elizabeth Acevedo and S.F. Henson for creating these memorable young people and allowing me to see the world through their eyes.

Yes, We Need Diverse Books

Everyone deserves to be seen. As a librarian, I have the opportunity to work with children, teens and adults on a daily basis. One of my goals as a public servant is to make each person I interact with feel seen no matter who they are. However, being seen goes beyond just being acknowledged in our daily interactions with others. Another component of my job is working with youth of all ages and connecting them with books that will enrich their lives and help them reach their full potential. Books are an important way to help young people feel seen. Not only do they see themselves reflected in stories and images, but they also become familiar with the experiences of others. I touched on this briefly in my blog post last month.

Connecting kids with books in which they are reflected can be problematic because there is an imbalance of representation in which a large percentage of children’s and young adult books only reflect the mainstream white experience. The current publishing industry does not reflect the rich diversity of the children in the United States. There are strides being made by such groups as We Need Diverse Books and an increase in the amount of books being published by people of color. There is a lot more progress that needs to be made and KT Horning discusses this in great depth on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center blog.

The recently published children’s and young adult books highlighted below are a celebration of diversity and capture the experiences of immigrants and their children, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, indigenous women and more. They just skim the surface of the diverse books that can be found within our collections at the Everett Public Library.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

pond

This beautifully illustrated Caldecott honor book is based on an experience that Bao Phi (a prominent performance poet) had as a child. It captures him and his father fishing in the early morning hours in Minnesota where his family settled after leaving Vietnam. They are fishing for food, not just enjoyment. The story captures a simple, yet poignant experience shared by father and son. Through this experience we learn about some of the struggles his parents faced in America along with some of the trauma they experienced in Vietnam. The story is illustrated by Thi Bui who also came to America from Vietnam as a young girl.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary/illustrated by QinLeng

family

O’Leary captures almost every kind of family in this picture book that begins with a classroom discussion in which each child shares why their family is special. A little girl in the class does not want to share about her family because she is afraid they are too different. The students start to share about their families and the girl begins to see how many different kinds of families there are: families with a mom and dad, families with two moms or two dads, families with adopted children, mixed families, blended families, divorced families, single parent families and families where grandma is raising the grandchildren. Eventually we learn that the girl is a foster child who happens to be very loved by her foster mother.

Love by Matt De La Pena/illustrated by Loren Long

love

“And the face staring back in the bathroom mirror—this, too, is love.” This is just one sentence from award winning writer Matt De La Pena’s most recent picture book. The story is both an exploration and meditation on love told through the lens of a child growing up into young adulthood. It is not just one child but many different children at various points in their lives. The children are comprised of a diverse group that includes one in a wheel chair, African American children and a Latinx family. The story portrays the complexity of love even when it feels absent and how it can be found again. The book reads beautifully like a poem and leaves the reader with much to ponder.

Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman

sparkle

Casey wants to be like his sister when it comes to wearing sparkly skirts, nail polish and bracelets. Gender stereotypes are challenged in this story about a family who is mostly accepting of Casey’s love of all things sparkly. His sister is the exception and she grows increasingly angry as he shows interest in sparkly things that are permitted by the adults in his life. Her feelings change when they are at the library and a group of boys start teasing Casey because he is wearing a sparkly skirt. She stands up for her younger brother who is visibly hurt and she challenges the boys’ views of what is acceptable attire for boys.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

crow

This young adult graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, an African American Christian teenager who identifies as queer. She has been sent to Three Peaks summer camp which happens to be an all-white Christian camp. She struggles with different aspects of the camp, especially some of the thoughtless comments or microaggressions made by the head counselor. She also has a crush on the head counselor’s daughter who assists her mother at the camp. Charlie befriends one of the other campers named Sydney and discovers they have more in common than she thinks.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

filters

Maya is a Muslim Indian American who lives in a small community outside of Chicago. It is Maya’s senior year and she is increasingly caught between her parent’s expectations and her dreams of moving to New York and pursuing a career in film. Her parents came to the United States from India as a young couple and expect Maya to attend college close to home and find an acceptable Muslim young man to marry. Maya has secretly applied to NYU and is falling for Phil, a popular football player at her high school. Her world changes dramatically when a courthouse in Illinois is bombed, killing hundreds of people. The community where she has spent her entire life becomes engulfed in fear and hate, much of it directed towards Maya and her parents.

Black Girl Magic: a Poem by Mahogany L. Browne

magic

This poem is written to African American girls and challenges the many destructive messages they receive from society. Mahogany Browne has shared it widely through spoken word and now she has partnered with Jess X. Snow to depict the poem visually.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green

macy

There are lots of changes about to happen in Macy McMillan’s life including her mother’s upcoming nuptials to a man with twin daughters. The story is written in verse and highlights Macy’s deafness but it is not the focus of the story. Instead we see a beautiful relationship develop between Macy and her older neighbor Iris. This hopeful book highlights family and friendship with vibrant characters.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

betty

Betty Shabazz is most well known for being the wife of Malcom X and an activist. Her daughter has written this work of historical fiction along with renowned author Renee Watson. The story chronicles Betty’s beginnings with a neglectful mother and her eventual adoption by a middle class couple at her church. She volunteers for an organization called the Housewives League and this is the beginning of her work as an activist. Not only is the reader exposed to the challenges that Betty faced as a young person but they are also given an introduction to the roots of the Civil Rights movement.

#Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women / edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

princess

This powerful book is a compilation of poems, essays, photography and art by indigenous women throughout North America. There is a lot of pain and anger manifested in this book because of the mistreatment and erasure of indigenous people. However, this book will educate teens and give them perspective on a subject that is often ignored. It is at least a start in letting the voices, feelings and strength of these women be heard and seen.

Some Light Reading for the End of the World

I get a kick out of a story that can combine world-changing, terrifying, and sometimes supernatural events with a fairly traditional, mundane coming of age story. This is one of the many things I love about Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. Shaun David Hutchinson also showed his skill with this kind of work in We are the Ants and he doubled down in his latest novel, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza.

At first glance, Elena Mendoza is similar to lots of teenage protagonists. School can be rough – she isn’t exactly popular, but she has made her own community. She loves her mom and younger siblings but hates her loser stepdad. I can keep going: her job sucks, Freddie, the girl she pines for, seems to have no clue she exists, inanimate objects often speak to her and she is the product of a virgin birth. Like I said, pretty typical.

81G6+tEFWqLSo about that virgin birth thing. Despite being shouldered with a “miracle child” moniker, there is a scientific explanation for Elena’s situation. She is the first proven human case of parthenogenesis, a form of reproduction involving an unfertilized egg. Other than some cruel classmates who nicknamed her Mary, Elena has largely been able to shed any spotlight that might come from the unique circumstances of her birth. Time heals all wounds and brings enough sensational news stories each day to allow hers to fade away.  

The voices Elena hears are a little harder to explain, but truth be told they give her advice that usually proves helpful so she has learned to live with them and hide them from the surrounding world, even from her mother and her best friend, Fadil. Then one day while at work she witnesses a classmate shoot Freddie and is told by the logo on a Starbucks cup to save Freddie’s life. Though it defies explanation, Elena is able to heal Freddie and her reputation as a miracle girl comes storming back, bringing Elena a mess of unwanted attention.

To make matters worse, the boy who shot Freddie disappeared in a ray of light right after Elena performed her “miracle.” The voices tell Elena that she must heal more people to save the world. Fadil, a devout Muslim, tells her to trust in God and plenty of others tell her she is either crazy or a fraud. For her part, Elena is sure there must be some sort of scientific explanation and she is reluctant to use her powers. But with so many people suffering around her, how can she resist? Unfortunately, every time she heals someone, people disappear in strange beams of light. And as her profile grows, more people seem to want to use her, from her selfish stepdad to shadowy government agents. So Elena is left with quite the needle to thread: save the world, avoid manipulation, solve this rapture mystery and figure out if Freddie likes her or resents her for saving her life. No sweat?

Hutchinson packs a lot into this book and in less capable hands this story could have gone off the rails or veered into religious speculation that just isn’t my taste. Yet Elena is a sensible, compassionate, and delightfully wry narrator who manages to keep this wild novel somewhat grounded. I loved her mix of optimism and pragmatism and her quick banter with Fadil, Freddie, and her ex-boyfriend Javi.  

More than anything else, however, I appreciate the way this book handles identity. I read a lot of YA fiction that features queer characters and I appreciate the thought and care with which so many authors today write about questioning or discovering sexuality, coming out, facing bigotry, and finding acceptance. I also believe, however, that we need stories like this one. Elena has lots of insecurities but is perfectly open and comfortable with her bisexuality. And that is also how she is treated by Hutchinson. Her identity is only addressed as it pertains to the story. It’s a fact of life, not a plot point. The same could be said for the treatment of Fadil’s religion and Elena’s Cuban-American heritage. Hutchinson’s matter-of-fact approach to diverse representation not only makes for great writing but creates a world that I want to live in. Even if it is on the brink of apocalypse.

Underrated Reads

Every so often a book blips across my radar and I recall how freaking awesome it was to read it for the first time. Then, because I’m a cataloger and I live for our database and its statistics, I will take a peek at our checkout stats. Imagine my disbelief and sadness when gems I adore have low checkout numbers. How can this be? Don’t people realize how amazing this book is?

No. No, they do not!

For whatever reason some books that we library folk hold near and dear seem to have missed getting the spotlight. So with that in mind I asked my colleagues to recommend some of the best books they’ve read that don’t seem to be getting the love and attention they deserve. Read on for recommendations from Jennifer, Mindy, Ron, and Susan, as well as a few of my own. One piece of advice: get your library cards ready now. You’re going to want to put these on hold ASAP.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson is one of those books that seemed to slip into my hands without much decision-making on my part and quietly became one of the best books I read last year. As you might recall if you read Serena‘s rad post recently, Piecing Me Together is the 2018 recipient of the Coretta Scott King author award. It’s the story of Jade, an African-American teen in Portland who struggles with the different pieces of her identity as well as being put into a mentoring program for “at-risk” girls, a program that Jade feels disillusioned with when she can’t seem to click with her mentor. I loved​ everything about this book. Jade is a complex and dynamic character whose unique voice is still in my head long after I closed the book. Love, love, love.
–Carol

Shortly before traveling to Europe I read Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt. Among other things, the story is about a professor and his assistant traveling across Europe in search of an apocryphal gospel. Although fictional, it was a beautiful introduction to the old country. Intrigue, bad guys, excessive drinking… all you could want in a tall tale! Barnhardt is not prolific or well known, but he is a talented writer well worth checking out.
–Ron

Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge is one of those novels that has stuck with me because, while I can’t remember the specific details, I do remember how deeply it made me feel. Set in Budapest and Paris, it is the story of Hungarian Jewish family during the rise of anti-Semitism and the eruption of World War II across Europe. The Invisible Bridge is historical fiction at its finest—an emotionally riveting plot, richly detailed setting, and compelling characters who struggled to survive and build human connections in the face of unbearable tragedy. Eight years later, I’m still hoping the author writes another novel. If you loved All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I recommend checking out The Invisible Bridge.
–Mindy

Small town with a big problem? Teen girl going to quietly start a revolution to topple the kings of this dumpster fire? Sign me up! I was definitely ready for a revolution when I read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. As a way to resist the status quo at her conservative Texas high school, Viv takes a page from her mom’s past as a Riot Grrrl and starts a zine called Moxie. I absolutely loved how the Moxie movement became more than just one girl’s way of dealing with the bullying, misogyny, racism, and favoritism in her high school. Others used the spirit of Moxie to give them the courage to stand up for themselves against their adversaries. Part romance but mostly a quiet girl coming to understand her voice and herself, this insightful, relatable, and quotable book will get readers fired up! MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!
–Carol

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, while being a science fiction book featuring time travel, is really a look at life in Europe during the plague. In fact, upon reading this incredible historical novel, you will feel like you’ve lived through plague times. It’s a stunning journey into a time that we can hardly imagine, yet Willis imagined it in perfect detail!
–Ron

I first picked up volume one of Bandette, Presto!, by husband-wife team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover from the library after cataloging it. I was completely charmed by the Parisian setting and the moxie of the title character. Bandette is a warm-hearted teenage thief, sort of like a modern-day Robin Hood. She hangs out with other French kids, lobs friendly taunts towards the bumbling local police detective, and has both an alter ego and an arch nemesis (though sometimes they join forces for the greater good). I dare you to read Presto! and not pick up volumes two and three as well.
–Carol

Critics panned The Colorado Kid by Stephen King because the ending was neither happy or tied together. It left a lot of readers upset when they reached the ending and it didn’t explain anything. But that genius King knew what he was doing and I think a little part of him wanted to make people left unsatisfied with no answers.
–Jennifer

I think sometimes the books of new authors are underappreciated just because readers haven’t discovered them yet. Two new authors I discovered last year that I like very much are thriller writers Nick Petrie and Steve Cavanagh. Petrie’s second book, Burning Bright, was published last year and I loved it. The hero, Peter Ash, is a super competent military vet with an interesting form of PTSD. His first book, The Drifter, is also worth a read. The third book in this series, Light It Up, was just published in January. Cavanagh is a new Irish writer whose first book, The Defense, was recently published in the US. It’s a legal thriller set in New York and I liked it a lot. His second book, The Plea, was just published on February 13th.
–Susan

I started reading I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez at the same time that it was announced as a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s a realistic coming-of-age story centered around Julia, her dead sister Olga, and the secrets Olga left behind that threaten Julia’s future before it has even begun. As Julia chafes against her over-protective parents and tries to uncover just what Olga was hiding when she died, Julia will travel from her home in Chicago to Mexico and back again, exposing herself to a family history she may not want to accept and an uncertain future where she wants desperately to make her own path. The writing is exquisite: achingly real, brutally honest, a total gut-punch of a book that I could not put down until long after the last page was read.
–Carol

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, fascinates me as an early example of cultural exchange, of the world becoming a smaller place, of the industrial revolution’s amazing accomplishments. Imagine this backdrop as the setting for a murder mystery involving the world’s most imminent detectives! Steve Hockensmith has done just this in the hilarious World’s Greatest Sleuth, another Amlingmeyer brothers adventure. Read on as the two cowpokes match wits with the wittiest crime solvers on earth in a detection contest. Who will win? Who will survive?
–Ron

We hope you find something here to love, or at least give a chance. What are some of your favorite underrated reads? Let us know in the comments below, because if there’s anything we love more than giving book recommendations it’s getting them!

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.