Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review: Little & Lion

Little & Lion Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are looking for diversity, this book has it! The main character is a black Jewish girl from a blended, interracial family who is trying to figure out her sexuality while at the same time worrying about her stepbrother who has been dignosed with bipolar disorder. One of her love interests is a male friend who is biracial (black and Korean), another is a girl who identifies as pansexual, and her best friend is a lesbian.

Suzette is home from boarding school where her parents had sent her when her brother began developing symptoms of mental illness, in part so they could focus on him, and partly to shelter her. But she feels a sense of responsibility for Lionel, and her love for her brother causes her to make a very bad decision that puts his safety in jeopardy out of a misguided sense of loyalty. At the same time, she is trying to figure out her sexuality after having an affair with her female roommate at school that had a very messy ending, but also finding herself strongly attracted to a male friend.

Some have described this book as being too messy and having too many issues going on, and I have often felt that way about other books in the past. But I realized as I was reading it, life for many of us IS really that messy, and my family is a good example. We'd like life to be more simple and only have to deal with one complication or crisis at a time, but it isn't always that easy, which is something I have learned in the last year or two. Life is messy, difficult, and complicated.

I think the character development could have been a little bit deeper, but I did like the relationships within Suzette's family, how close she was to her stepfather and stepbrother. I found Rafaela, the girl Suzette and Lionel are both attracted to, to be less than honest or worthy of either of them. At times she was manipulative and seemed to enjoy being the center of attention and having siblings both interested in her, then she claimed an ex was stalking her, when it seemed she was really stringing him along because she like the attention and drama, and enjoyed having him and Lionel fighting over her. I was really suprised no one called her out on that crap and told her to get lost.

I cannot attest to the validity of the representation of bisexuality or bipolar disorder, so I will leave that to other reviewers.

This book won the 2018 Stonewall Award.

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Review: Starfish

Starfish Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kiko Himura struggles with self-esteem, speaking up for herself, and feeling reponsible for her narcissistic mother's unhappiness. She is shy, withdrawn, and socially awkward, and finds it very difficult to be around other people, besides her best friend Emery. Her mother has little interest in her, and frequently belittles her Japanese heritage and features. When her mother insists on letting the uncle who sexually abused her as a child move in like nothing ever happened, Kiko finally finds the strength to leave and find a new life, with the help of her old childhood friend and crush, Jamie.

This book was a Morris finalist, and I can see why. Though it is sometimes painful to watch Kiko put up with her mother's abuse and selfishness, and her mother is a character everyone will love to hate, it is very satisfying to see Kiko slowly develop the strength to stand up to her mother and gradually realize that it is her mother who is the problem, not her. I love that while Kiko initially needed Jamie's support, she realized that she had to stop using him as a crutch and learn to be independant and find her own inner strength on her own, without him.

This could be very helpful for teens dealing with similarly unhealthy relationships with nacissistic people.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: Lucky Broken Girl

Lucky Broken Girl Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful, sometimes bittersweet, story of perseverance, friendship, hope, and forgiveness. Definitely worthy of the Pura Bel Pre Medal!

Ruthie's family recently emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. to escape Castro. At first it was difficult, as they didn't speak the language and had to leave everything behind. Finally Ruthie's English is good enough that she is about to be promoted out of the remedial class and her Papi is making enough money to buy her the go-go boots she longs for and himself the car he has always dreamed of. But just as things are looking up, the family is involved in a terrible car accident that leaves Ruthie seriously injured and bedridden for almost a year.

This semi-autobiographical story follows Ruthie's long and difficult recovery, spending 8 months bedridden and in a body cast, and taking another 4 months after that to be able to walk normally again. We see her pain, anger, frustration, hopelessness and as she struggles with her lack of freedom, independence, and dignity; and her fear when she is finally free of her cast but has to learn to trust her leg and walk again.

I love how several cultures are woven into the fabric of this story. Ruthie and her family are secular Jews, but grew up in Cuba, and so brought much of the Cuban culture and language with them, and her neighbors include other immigrants from India, Belgium, and Mexico. As Ruthie learns about them and their cultures, she draws on parts of various faiths for strength and comfort. Ruthie's parents are portrayed as loving, but flawed parents. Her father is quick-tempered, slightly controlling, and perhaps a little insecure, but he does love his family. Her mother loves Ruthie, but has a hard time dealing with the burden of caring for an invalid, and sometimes seems a little selfish and lets her frustration show too much, making Ruthie feel guilty. Her little brother Izzie is extremely sweet and generous, however.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy a more thoughtful, character-driven story, and those who enjoy stories of resilience and seeing others face and overcome hardships. Fans of The War That Saved My Life would also like this one.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Review: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't even know where to begin with reviewing this is powerful, well-written, well-researched, and will really make you question your own biases and views on education, hate crimes, and juvenile criminal justice. It is at times horrific and bleak, but in some ways hopeful, and reveals people showing amazing capacities for empathy and forgiveness. It is also terrifying.

This is the true story of a horrible crime that happened in Oakland in 2013, when one teenager lit the skirt of another teenager on fire as they slept while both were riding a transit bus home, resulting in horrific burns. Because the victim was perceived as a male (though self-identifies as agender) wearing a skirt, it was immediately assumed and reported to be a hate crime. But was it really? Did the 16-year old boy who committed the crime really deserve to be tried as an adult? Was he a hardened, homophobic criminal with no conscience and beyond saving? Or just an impulsive teenager, susceptible to peer pressure with poor judgment who did a very, very stupid, dangerous thing without conceiving of how disastrous the results would be?

I say it is terrifying because I am the parent of a very impulsive teenage boy, who has already gotten into trouble several times because of the lack of impulse control, inability to foresee consequences, and desire to show off for his friends. I live in constant fear that his immaturity and impulsivity will some day lead to him doing something similarly stupid, dangerous, and harmful that will end up with someone else hurt and him in jail before he (hopefully) matures and grows out of this behavior.

A must-read for all teens and parents of teens, but brings up issues all of society should think about.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Dear Martin

Dear Martin Dear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Overall a good story, but something was off in the writing to me. I didn't feel like the character development was quite there, and it just felt like it should have all been written in first person, rather than just the journal letters. It seems almost like it HAD originally all been written in first-person, and then re-edited so that all the I's and me's were simply replaced with "Justyce", rather than re-writing to be truly from a 3rd-person perspective, in an unnecessary effort to make more distinction between the story and Justyce's journal entries. I expected a little more from a Morris finalist.

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