Book Snap #103

Title: Concrete Rose

Author: Angie Thomas

Date Read: May 2021

Two snaps.

Angie Thomas takes us back seventeen years, to the Garden, where she first introduced us to Maverick Carter, unravelling the back story of Starr Carter’s dad (from Thomas’ previous novel, The Hate U Give) and his struggles with black mandhood: gangs, drugs, and parenthood.

Another clear YA win for exposing the heart of our humanity, examining race and priviledge with honesty, and telling a compelling story readers can invest in.

“Son, one of the biggest lies ever told is that Black men don’t feel emotions. Guess it’s easier to not see us as human when you think we’re heartless. Fact of the matter is, we feel things. Hurt, pain, sadness, all of it. We got a right to show them feelings as much as anybody else.”(Thomas, Concrete Rose). 

Book Snap #96


Title: Punching the Air

Author: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Date Read: February 7, 2021

Two snaps.

On the night of April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old female jogger was brutally attacked and raped in New York’s Central Park. After prolonged police interrogation, five teenagers – Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise (later to be known and referred to as the Central Park Five ) confessed to being involved in the attacks. At the time, the defendants were between 14 and 16 years of age. Yusef Salaam (one of the co-authors of Punching the Air) was tried as a juvenile and convicted of rape and assault. He served seven years for a crime he did not commit. The investigation of the convictions of these five teenagers has raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as, the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations.

This book is compelling. Written in powerful verse, Zoboi and Salaam take us to in to the heart and mind of a young teenager struggling. Struggling with his decision; one that allowed him to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the inevitable price: to be found guilty of being black. Like Salaam’s own personal story– Amal Shahid, the character in Punching the Air, finds out that “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal takes us in to the juvenile detention center with him, where those in power construct an identity for him: criminal, monster; he is dismissed– because they “know his type.” When he is sentenced, Amal compares his life before this moment to Africa and says, “maybe jail / is America” (p. 61). In “DNA,” he connects the shackles he wears leaving the court to the shackles his ancestors wore (pp. 80–81).

Salaam writes that: “Punching the Air builds on some of the poetry I wrote while I was incarcerated. When Ibi and I started to discuss what kind of story we wanted to tell, we started with a name— Amal, which means “hope” in Arabic. It was important that whatever this teen boy was going through, he should always have hope, and we should write a story that instills hope in readers. It was also important that we make Amal’s mother a prominent figure in his life, in the same way that mine was. While Punching the Air is not my story, Amal’s character is inspired by me as an artist and as an incarcerated teen who had the support of his family, read lots of books, and made art to keep his mind free. Amal has to grow up really fast in a juvenile detention center, just like I did. But in his heart, his faith is strong. Ibi and I wanted people to know that when you find yourself in so-called dark places, there’s always a light somewhere in the darkness, even if that light is inside of you. You can illuminate your own darkness by shedding that light onto the world.”

I have said it before, and I will repeat it: there are so many amazing YA authors writing now. They honor teens as thoughtful, intelligent readers who care about complex issues and ideas– Punching the Air is no exception. If you have a young adult reader in your life, add this to their to be read pile. Then, read it with them.


Book Snap #81


Title: Ghost Boys

Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes

Date Read: May 5, 2020

One and a half snaps.

If you think we don’t need another book that explores what it is like to be the target of racism in America, then you are not paying attention. As I put this book down, a black man was shot in Georgia by two white men– while he was out jogging. A Georgia prosecutor said a grand jury should review the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in February after being chased by two armed men who told police he looked like a burglary suspect. They have since been charged.

Parker Rhodes writes to give voice to the young black men who have suffered violence at the hands of racists. Jerome Rogers is 12 years old, and shot dead by a Chicago Police officer in an abandoned lot. He believed he had a gun. It was a toy, a plastic gun.

Parker Rhodes moves the narrative back and forth through sections labelled Dead and Alive. She tells stories of Jerome, his family; his middle school bullies; and his friendship with Carlos while alive. Then reverts to the present, Dead, as he watches his own trial unravel; has heart-to-heart talks with his shooter’s daughter, and learns the history of his fellow Ghost Boy, Emmett Till.

The prose is simple and straight-forward– it is written for young readers (12-15) to consume and understand. It explores the current police violence and discrimination against African Americans in an age-appropriate fashion, but it also explores past historical events that connect to the present.

This is an excellent narrative to explore with young students (or struggling mature readers) to help them make sense of the racist attitudes and present context of racist violence in which they live. It would make an excellent springboard for discussion.

Book Snap #78

Title: Patron Saints of Nothing

Author: Randy Ribay

Date Read: April 12, 2020

One and a half snaps.

Young Adult authors are exploring more and more topics that expose readers to the uncomfortable truths of our world. Patron Saints of Nothing takes readers to the Philippines, to discover with Jay, the truth of his cousin, Jun’s death.

Rodrigo Duterte is the President of the Philippines, elected in 2016. After his inauguration, Duterte gave a speech urging Filipino citizens to kill drug addicts. The Philippine Daily Inquirer published a “kill list.” Duterte has justified the drug war by claiming that the Philippines was becoming a “narco-state”. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the prevalence of drug use in the country is lower than the global average. Duterte has dismissed human rights concerns by dehumanizing drug users. This is the current political context surrounding this story.

Jay is jolted from his all-American existence when his father tells him that his cousin is dead. He pieces together that he was shot by the police for being a drug pusher. Then he receives a mysterious message telling him that his cousin did not deserve to die. He insists on travelling to Manilla on his own to uncover the real story of the cousin he knew and loved.

This is a lovely story of guilt and coming-of-age, marked by the very real and raw political context of the poverty, abuse, and violence of the Philippines.

A heart-wrenching and powerful read. It was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award, LA Times Book Prize, Edgar Award for YA, and CILIP Carnegie Medal.



Book Snap #69

Title: Frankly in Love

Author: David Yoon

Date Read: December 14, 2019

One snap.

It’s a saccharine sweet love story; wildly predictable; and short on captivating writing.

But, it is told from a point of view and about characters that are rarely centrepieces in teen romantic fiction. The main character is a Korean American young man, a Limbo, he calls himself– straddling the customs, traditions and languages of the two cultures he inhabits. His parents would prefer he “date Korean” and this poses the obstacle and underpinning of the story’s plot. From there, it is a sweet boy meets girl story with a calculable twist.

Not my favourite YA novel, but it wins for bringing racial characters and intersecting racial issues to the forefront.

Book Snap #68

Title: How to Make Friends with the Dark

Author: Kathleen Glasgow

Date Read: November 11, 2019

Two snaps!

This is the first of five YA reads in a Book Relay I am participating in. Our Literacy Lead never lets us down when she recommends titles, and this is no exception.

Tiger Tolliver is dealing with grief. A hollowing out, a grief she is totally unprepared for. And now, there is life before it happened; after it happened; and maybe, there will be now— if, she can make friends with the dark.

Glasgow rendered me to tears– for the feelings I have felt and processed in losing people throughout my life; to the promises I make to my own son, like June Tolliver did: [that]”I’ll always be here. I’ll never leave you.”

For kids that need it and are ready for it– Glasgow tries to make sense of the loss she felt in her own life losing her mother, through the character of Tiger. Tiger switches between telling her story in first person, and then on several chapter openings, she switches to a second-person account, telling the reader: “Here are the things you think about when your mother dies.” In this way, Glasgow forces the reader to imagine himself or herself as part of the experience. Tiger’s grief is immense and heavy, you cannot escape; but you may learn to understand, to empathize, to make sense of the raw feeling of this profound loss.

“I feel the way characters do in fantasy books and movies. Like when tremendously powerful forces move through them. Like, giant lightening storms or thunder clouds of electricity or power, or something like that, whips through the person, momentarily paralyzing them, and then when it’s done, they fall to the ground, hollowed out, and usually another character rushes in to find them, and picks them up, and takes care of them, and looks all around, like, What the hay just happened?

That is happening to me.

Glasgow, p.400-401

An excellent read. Definitely put it on a classroom shelf, there very well may be someone who needs this book.

Book Snap #66

Title: People Kill People

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Date Read: October 14, 2019

Two snaps!

Ellen Hopkins does not shy away from tough topics– and she delivers them to a dedicated YA audience that embraces her use of both poetry and prose to tell her stories.

In People Kill People, Hopkins tackles the American gun violence epidemic. Through the stories of six teenagers; readers are invited to walk in the character’s shoes and make sense of the reason as why they might be compelled to pull the trigger. Someone will die, she tells us, but who?

Excerpt from Ellen Hopkins novel, People Kill People

People kill people. Guns just make it easier. Highly recommend this read for YA and beyond.

Book Snap #64

Title: Scythe

Author: Neal Schusterman

Date Read: September 22, 2019

Two snaps!

This is a compelling and riveting YA novel set far in the future. A future in which all disease has been cured, and humans live forever. Except for a few, here and there, who are “gleaned” by a sanctioned group of Scythes who are able to permanently take the lives of people to control earth’s population.

Becoming a Scythe is an arduous process that is closely monitored and governed by a conclave of eternal Scythes who occasionally take on apprentices and welcome them into this elite group of killers.

Neither Citra nor Rowan wanted to become Scythes, but they find themselves as apprentices and then suddenly, pitted against each other in a contest that will prove fatal to one of them.

Shusterman envisions a plausible and complicated future and offers up lots of exciting adventure for his characters! This is a great read, and the first arc in a championed trilogy.

Book Snap #62

Title: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Author: Ben Philippe

Date Read: August 19, 2019

Two snaps!

Norris Caplan is the son of Haitian parents, living in Montreal and loving Canadian things like hockey, specifically the Montreal Canadiens. But now his parents are moving– his dad to Vancouver with his new wife and baby; and he, with his mother, for her new job in Austin, Texas.

Norris feels extremely out of place as a black French Canadian in the heartland of football and high school tropes straight from a teen movie. Spending most of his lunch hours alone, he walks the campus cataloguing the people he observes: jocks, cheerleaders, loners, and even his dream girl. He figures his notebook will be plenty of company until he can finally return to Canada where he belongs. Much to his surprise he actually makes friends, good ones. And he realizes he may have been rash and unfair in the judgements he scrawled in his notebook.

But what happens when someone else sees his notebook?

This book is witty, honest and fun to read. Phillipe’s use of the field guide format is a unique way to open his chapters, I got a kick out of it– I bet you will too!

Here are the openers to the first few chapters:

Book Snap #61

Title: Girl Made of Stars

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Date Read: August 12, 2019

Two snaps!

Another win in the YA category!

We all play roles in our lives, and Mara plays many: she is a twin; a daughter; a girlfriend; a friend; a student; and an activist. Although all of these roles have independent names, her loyalties and decisions are blurred as these roles intersect and find themselves at terrible odds.

Mara and her fraternal twin, Owen, are close. Very close. They share stories of the stars from their rooftop together. But when her brother is accused of raping her friend Hannah, it tilts her whole world on an unsteady axis. As she navigates her way through her family loyalty it forces her to deal with the trauma of her own past.

“This. This is why I never said anything. Because no one ever believes the girl.”

(Ashley Herring Blake, Girl Made of Stars)

Herring Blake explores, with compassion, the complicated lives of teens– especially young female teens, as they navigate high school friendships, relationships (LGBTQ), misogyny, and the misuse of power. Mara is a fully developed character with whom we can see ourselves and for whom our heart aches as she tries to makes sense of how to just be with others as each of her roles morph.

One of my favourite passages is where Mara wonders at the types of things that could be inscribed as an epitaph to her as she tries to sort out who she is, and who she wants to be.

Mara McHale, Some type of girl

Maybe I’m the type of girl who likes short skirts.

Maybe I’m the type of girl who likes boys and girls and those who sometimes feel like both and neither.

Maybe I’m the type of girl who slaps a boy in the face when he does something shitty.

Maybe I’m the type of girl who hides and cries in her bed alone, remembering the terrifying day that took away all her control and trust.

Maybe I’m the type of girl who’s tired of hiding and crying alone.

Maybe I’m the type of girl who realizes she’s not alone.

Maybe I’m the type of girl whose favorite person in the world did something unforgivable.

Maybe I’m the type of girl who finally accepts it.

Maybe I’m nota stupid girl.

Maybe I’m just a girl, plain and simple and real.

(Herrington Blake, p.264-5)

We are all, all types of girls. Highly recommended reading! You will love the Girl Made of Stars.