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.
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.
An excellent read. Definitely put it on a classroom shelf, there very well may be someone who needs this book.
Title: Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Date Read: October 27, 2019
I think Trevor Noah is a brilliantly witty and savvy political analyst. I think he does outstanding work as the host of The Daily Show. When I saw his memoir, I knew I wanted to read it– but it was the title that truly caught my eye.
Noah grew up in South Africa during apartheid. He writes: “…which was awkward because I was raised in a mixed family, with me being the mixed one in the family. My mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is black. My father, Robert, is white. Swiss/ German, to be precise, which Swiss/ Germans invariably are. During apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race. Needless to say, my parents committed that crime.” (Noah, 21).
Noah’s memoir is written the way you would expect– in a way that helps you make sense of complicated issues, like apartheid; race relations; poverty; domestic abuse– but also with his irreverent sense of humour and masterful wit.
Through his memoir Noah reveals an origin story that is thoughtful, educational, alarming, and wonderfully comedic. His relationship with his mother reveals a complicated and enduring connection between a woman that refused to let racism, apartheid, or rules of any kind guide her life, her love, or her decisions. I fell in love with Trevor’s mother, you will too. It says it all in his dedication: “For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man.”
Here is an excerpt from his opening chapter:
Sometimes in big Hollywood movies they’ll have these crazy chase scenes where somebody jumps or gets thrown from a moving car. The person hits the ground and rolls for a bit. Then they come to a stop and pop up and dust themselves off, like it was no big deal. Whenever I see that I think, That’s rubbish. Getting thrown out of a moving car hurts way worse than that.
I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car. It happened on a Sunday…
excerpt from Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (p.5).
I loved this memoir for the stories and their wit; but mostly for the illuminating education and analysis of apartheid and the entrenched racism of South Africa. Noah writes: “Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them—and that is what apartheid stole from us: time.”
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?
People kill people. Guns just make it easier. Highly recommend this read for YA and beyond.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote in a scholarly essay a powerful metaphor for books:
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.
Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.
This metaphor speaks to me so deeply. I often ask my students about the books that they have read and when they have found windows, mirrors or sliding glass doors. These can be fascinating and illuminating conversations.
I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time when I was seventeen years old. It was a terrifying plot that offered no hope to a young teen about to head off to university the following fall. I accepted that this book was only a window, even a sliding-glass door, into a world that Atwood had created– absolute fiction, not possible, especially not in my lifetime. (Read this timely essay by Atwood about the novel in the time of Trump.)
I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale last summer, and it suddenly looked much more like a mirror. The book, if you are unfamiliar, is classified as a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian regime called Gilead, and centers around a handmaid named Offred. Her name derives from the possessive form “of Fred”; handmaids are forbidden to use their birth names and must echo the male, or master, whom they serve. The Handmaid’s Tale explores themes of women in subjugation in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women attempt to gain individuality and independence.
Many of the central plots of the novel are playing out simultaneously on the news. The book no longer seems fictional.
Women, and their bodies, are the objects of men in the book; likewise, in today’s political climate, rights over women’s bodies are argued over by (primarily) old, white men in government. Gilead came to be because the government instilled a fear of “others” in the masses. The same is now happening in much of the world. Aunt Lydia, the woman tasked with brainwashing the future Handmaids to perform their government-ordained duties, repeats part of a Bible verse to them over and over: “Blessed are the meek.” Offred points out that she never finishes the verse: “…for they shall inherit the earth.” Although not officially government-ordained, much of the opposition to homosexuality that exists in the world today — and especially in America— is supported by certain Bible passages. In Gilead, women are brainwashed to believe that any sexual assault they may have experienced was their own fault; a result of their dressing or acting a certain way. When female survivors of sexual assault attempt to report their attacks, now, in real life, more often than not they are questioned about what they were wearing or how much they drank.
The Testaments picks up fifteen years later in Gilead. One of the key players is Aunt Lydia– who tells the story of how she became a high ranking aunt and what she is prepared to do with that power. We also get the stories of two new young women: Agnes, who has grown up in Gilead and is preparing to be married to the Commander; and Daisy, a young woman who was smuggled out of Gilead and into Canada. It is a thrilling exploration of Gilead from within and outside of its borders, one many readers have long awaited. It is also immensely more hopeful, and in that way, it rests easier to be a mirror of our experiences. If you were left bereft as the van door slammed on Offred, pick up The Testaments and go back to Gilead with Margaret Atwood.
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.
I’ll admit, this one took me two tries. The first time I gave up much too easily. I picked it up again with the intention of finishing, and I am glad I did.
Harari gives a whirlwind tour of how we have ended up as the singular species to survive over the last 100,000 years. That’s a lot of ground to cover! Stay with him, he is a reliable and skillful story teller. And our story is fascinating.
Throughout this examination of our battles for dominance and how we moved from foraging clans to defining ourselves as citizens of cities and kingdoms, Harari also questions how it is that we came to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism. And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?
“How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realize some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realize this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realize this possibility. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist.”
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
It will challenge your thinking about what you know about Sapiens and give you much to ponder. A worthwhile read.
Title: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
Author: Ben Philippe
Date Read: August 19, 2019
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!
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.
This was a lovely surprise, a gift from my dad. I’ll savour a glass of bubbly in a whole new way now!
This unique historical fiction tells the true story of the secrets held in the caves of the Champagne region in France. The winemakers of this region endured immense hardship both to keep the grapes and barrels producing some of the world’s finest champagne while also sending messages to the Allies, protecting Jewish refugees, and storing and supplying guns and munitions to the renegades who worked against the Nazis in World War Two.
This multi-layered story skips back and forth between World War Two and present day to unravel the story of Edith Thiery, and her granddaughter, Olivia. Secrets abound and reveal a beautiful story of trying to do what is right in the face of everything being wrong.