Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review: Refugee

Refugee Refugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a little bit of a hard time adjusting to the frequently changing storylines. The three storylines, one about Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, one about Cuban refugees in the mid-90's, and one about a Syrian family escaping certain death in current-day Aleppo, alternated every chapter and was a little distracting and disjointed at first, as I would just be getting into one when the chapter would end and it would change to the next. It probably took me the first third of the book to get used to it and settle into the rhythm. I guess I had been expecting it to be like Echo, with each story told almost in entirety, then all being tied together in the ending.

But once I got used to it, it was a very compelling read, sometimes hopeful and inspiring, but more often shocking, sad, and horrifying. Beware, I don't think anyone could read this book without crying from the injustices, needless deaths, awful choices, and the families being torn apart. Very powerful and definitely helps put faces and voices to what we may tend to think of as an "issue" rather than as people, and makes it very real.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Review: The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is basically your typical "insecure fat/plain girl finally gets a boyfriend and now life is complete" stories, with a bunch of diverse characters added for flavor. While it was not terrible, I am just really tired of this trope and I hate the message it sends, that you need a boyfriend to validate you. I'd rather see a story of a big girl who is confident and has serious interests and goals other than having a boyfriend.

I did like parts of the book, and the connection to the author's first and Morris Ward-winning book, Simon vs. the Homo sapiens Agenda, which I loved, but it definitely did not measure up to Simon. Simon had such great, well-developed characters that had clear and distinct personalities and voices, but the characters in Unrequited were never really fully developed and lacked depth and voice. I really couldn't tell you anything about Molly other than she's a twin, has two moms, is fat, and would love to have a boyfriend but settles for secret crushes that she never acts on to avoid rejection.

I hope the author's third book due out later this year and also with a Simon tie-in, has a better message and better character development.

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Review: It All Comes Down to This

It All Comes Down to This It All Comes Down to This by Karen English
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quiet, thoughtful coming of age book that addresses racism and classism, through the lens of 12-year old Sophie, who is from a very comfortable upper middle class family that has just become one of the first black families in their new neighborhood in the LA suburbs in 1965.

Since they had previously lived in majority black middle-class neighborhoods and not in the South, Sophie and her sister Lily have been shielded from racism most of their lives, but now they begin to experience it in their mostly white neighborhood. Sophie and Lily begin to realize just how sheltered and privileged they are, after befriending their housekeeper's son Nathan whose experiences being pulled over for no other reason than having the very light-skinned Lily in his car, who the cops had mistaken for being white, and being arrested for no reason during the riots in his Watts neighborhood opened their eyes.

The books also shows classism, in how Sophie's mother saw herself as so different and better than most other black people who had less money, and shows the struggle children can feel when torn between wanting to follow their own path, but not wanting to disappoint their parents who dream of them having things easier and better than they did, and feeling obligated to fulfill some of their parents' dreams because they weren't able to. I felt Nathan was very unfair in his expectations of Lily and judgmental attitude about her choice and in not even trying to understand.

I've seen this book compared to works of Rita Williams-Garcia, but that comparison doesn't quite fit in my opinion. Rita Williams-Garcia's books have a bit more action, humor, and lively dialogue, and characters that have stronger personalities and more spunk. This book is more thoughtful, with characters that are more quiet, thoughtful, and a bit subdued or even cool and aloof. The quiet thoughtfulness reminds me more of Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming.

I had a little trouble rating this one because I just didn't quite enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to. But I decided that came down to personal taste more than there being anything wrong with the book itself, and I just had slightly different expectations. But it has a very unique voice and perspective that isn't offered by any other book I know of, and deserves a place on the shelf.

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Dare to Make Any Awards Predictions?

Youth Media Award predictions for 2018, YMA predictions

I've never tried to make any predictions before, but I'm going to give it a shot just for fun on a few of them this year. Given how I am usually completely surprised by and often unfamiliar with, most of the winners and finalists, I don't expect to get many right, if any 😉. I'd love to hear your predictions in the comments!

YMA 2018 predictions
If there's ever a sure thing, one would think The Hate U Give could be it. It's all everyone's been talking about all year, was assigned reading in my multicultural lit class, was voted best YA Fiction book and best by a debut author on Goodreads, and has already been announced as a Morris finalist. 

It seems likely to win the Morris, but I think its popularity with the masses could be a turn-off to the committee and they may want to select one of the other finalists that has not already gotten a lot of attention, like the similarly themed Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Either could also be a Coretta Scott King or CSK-Steptoe finalist and I think THUG could be one of the Printz finalists as well. 

YMA 2018 predictions
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was already a National Book Award finalist this year, and could be a strong candidate for the Pura Belpré Award, though that one seems to favor middle grade and picture books, and the Tomás Rivera Book Award. Since the main character develops severe depression, it could possibly be considered for the Schneider award as well.

This book reminded me a lot of 2015 Morris winner, Gabi: A Girl In Pieces, but darker and with the added mystery of what seemingly perfect sister Olga was up to before her death.

YMA 2018 Predictions
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe is one I expect to see on a lot of reading lists over the next year. Originally published in Spain by a Spanish author, I don't know if it's eligible for any awards here, but it is certainly worthy, in my opinion. 

I would love to see it as at least a finalist for the Batchelder Award, though I don't think it fits their criteria for "children's literature". The main character is 14, but I would say the intended audience is older. But then again, we did see a YA graphic novel as a Caldecott honor book not long ago, so who knows how strictly they define "children's". This is a great story, made even better when you realize it is based on real people and events.

YMA 2018 predictions
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon has been mentioned fairly frequently, on various lists and in online discussions. It is a good book that is a very enjoyable read, but being primarily a fairly typical teen romance I wouldn't normally expect it to receive a nod from any awards committees.

However, it wins points for diversity and having a strong female character going into a traditionally male-dominated field and has built up a little buzz, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it as a Printz finalist even though it is not as dark and weird is they tend to be. After all, The Sun Is Also A Star was a finalist last year, even though it is also a hopeful romance.

And now for the Newbery. Below are some of the books I think could be Newbery finalists:

Newbery finalist predictions, 2018 Youth Media Awards

You might notice that Wishtree by Katherine Applegate was not on my list of favorites from 2017. It was okay, but I think the story drags way too much in the beginning, and the writing seems really awkward in the beginning as well, though it smooths out later on. I just don't think this book would find wide appeal among kids, and that many would find the slow, awkward beginning too much of an obstacle to get through. However, this is exactly the kind of children's book that adults want kids to like and think they should read, so I do expect it to get a nod at the very least.

Refugee by Alan Grantz is one I have not actually had a chance to read yet because I was late getting my name on the waiting list, but I have heard so many people gushing about how powerful it was, and given the timeliness of the topic, I wouldn't be surprised to see it as a finalist. 

Amina's Voice by Hena Kahn appeared on several recommended reading lists, and is really good book that shows the plurality of the Islamic religion, portrays Muslims in a positive and authentic way, but is also very relatable to others, though I'm afraid being published so early in the year could cause it to be overlooked. I read this book for my multicultural youth literature class last May, and I really liked it and recommend it.

Beyond the Bright Sea by previous Newbery honoree Lauren Wolk is a beautifully written story that questions our ideas of love and family, with a bit of mystery and adventure thrown in that is just as good as her previous book, without the depressing ending. I just don't know if the committee would honor the same author two years in a row. 

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson is another great graphic novel for middle grades and tweens, and I think even better than her previous Newbery honor book Roller Girl, but I don't know if the committee would select the same author and format again so soon. It could also be considered for a Caldecott, but I think that's a long shot. 

The War I Finally Won by by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is one I considered, but I had doubts about the committee choosing a sequel rather than an original story.

I'm sure whatever the committee actually comes up with will be quite different than my picks, and there will be at least a couple of the actual finalists that I will be unfamiliar with and completely surprised by, but I hope I got at least 1 or 2 in there!

YMA 2018 predictionsClayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia is my other pick for the Coretta Scott King. I'm sure there are several other great books in this category, but this is the only one that I read that immediately comes to mind. I am a big fan of Rita Williams-Garcia's Gaither sisters trilogy, and this is just as about as good, though a little short for me personally and I wanted to slap his mother for being so childish and selfish! But this will be particularly great for reluctant readers. 

I have seen several others mention Jason Reynolds' Patina for both the CSK and the Newbery; I thought the first book in the series, Ghost, was better, yet it was not a finalist for either award last year, but Jason Reynolds is very hot right now. I also want to give a quick plug for an upcoming book by a debut author that I hope gets enough attention to be considered for the CSK next year, 
Like Vanessaby Tami Charles.

I don't think I'm even going to attempt to make any Caldecott predictions, because I know I won't be even close. It seems the committee and I are just never on the same wavelength. I firmly believe appeal to children should be part of the consideration for all awards, and in my opinion, most Caldecott winners and honorees appeal to adults far more than children. 

I have been very underwhelmed by most of the recent Caldecott winners and honorees, and I'm still bitter that Ida, Always was given the cold shoulder by the committee last year. I think the only book that I liked this year that has a remote chance is Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. I really think we need an award for picture books that considers the whole book, the illustration and the text, in the context of appeal to children.

I haven't read enough to really to have picks for the other awards and categories. So, what do you think? Am I in the ballpark on any of these?

What are some of your picks? I'd love to discuss!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review: Felix Yz

Felix Yz Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to make of this book; it had an interesting premise that was cluttered by too many distracting, unrelated details.

I was intrigued by the main story of 13-year old Felix being fused with Zyx, a being from the 4th dimension, ever since a horrible lab accident when he was 3 that also killed his father. I liked seeing Felix's relationships with his family and with Zyx, and empathized with dealing with a bully, first crush, and his increasing anxiety over the impending Procedure to attempt to separate him and Zyx. However, I felt like there was just too much extraneous stuff going on that took away from the story.

Not only does Felix have an alien inside his head and have a crush on another boy, but his mom is bisexual, his grandparent is gender-fluid (or perhaps non-binary?), and is befriended by a transgender boy. I have no issue with LGTBQ themes when they are done well and feel like a natural part of the characters and story, but there was just too much going on here. Rather than focusing on Felix's same-sex crush and continuing uncertainty of the relationship, it seems the author felt compelled to include as many LGTBQ representations as possible. I personally found it distracting, annoying, and smacked of tokenism to me. Then there was the whole side bit about playing chess that really added nothing to the story other than to introduce a new love interest and romantic conflict for Felix's mother, and the completely irrelevant "family secret" which were just more distractions.

I really wish the author had just focused on the the main story and developed the relationships between Felix and Zyx and between Felix and Hector further, rather than wasting time going off on all these tangents. It was just way too much crammed into a short middle-grade novel. I'd give the main story a 3.5, but all the distractions drag the book down to a 2.5 for me, and if I had a kid looking for a sci-fi book with LGTBQ characters I would try to find a better one before suggesting this one.

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