Starr Carter doesn’t really want to be at the Garden Heights party, but her friend Kenya pressures her into tagging along. Luckily, her old friend Khalil is there to take her mind off of how uncomfortable she is. When shots ring out in the distance (a regular occurence in their low-income community), Khalil and Starr take off in his car. A night of near-misses turns into a nightmare when Khalil and Starr are pulled over by a white cop; Khalil, sensing that Starr is frightened, leans into the car to check on her and is shot, over and over, by the police officer. In the days and weeks that follow, multiple voices ring out with their opinions of Khalil’s death. Some people say that he was a gang-banger and a drug-dealer, but Starr only remembers the little boy who was her best friend. Tensions rise in Starr’s community, but the news of Khalil’s death has little impact on her elite (mostly white) private-school friends. Starr feels torn between two worlds: the world of Garden Heights, where gang violence and poverty is the norm but the people in the community still work together for a better future; and the outside world, where white police officers who shoot unarmed black teens are seen as sympathetic by a biased media.
Starr’s story really begins when she decides to speak out about Khalil’s death and the circumstances surrounding the shooting. She testifies before a grand-jury and gives an interview on television. When her interview airs, Starr and her family face pressure from a local gang-lord for Starr’s “dry-snitching.” As tensions rise at home, Starr worries more and more that her speaking out will result in further violence in her neighborhood. Despite her fears, Starr refuses to be silenced. She raises her voice and remembers her friend for who he truly was: a caring young man who went to great lengths to take care of his family.
Angie Thomas’ best-selling young adult novel is heart-rending, tear-jerking, and truly beautiful. Set in the present-day, this book is perfectly appropriate for the nation’s current atmosphere of distrust between black communities and the police officers that serve them. Especially interesting is Khalil’s meditation on Tupac Shakur’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. and what it means to low-income, majority black communities.
For readers who enjoyed Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys and Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, this book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you think.
If you don’t know anything about the Boxer Rebellion (or Boxer Uprising) in China from 1899 to 1901, this fantastical two-volume graphic novel is a fun and educational primer! Gene Luen Yang, who is currently serving a two-year stint as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, wrote this amazing duology about two young people living through the rapid globalization and Christianization of China at the beginning of the 20th century.
The first volume, Boxers, tells the story of Little Bao, a boy who loves traditional Chinese theater, his village, and his father. When the “foreign devils” – Christian missionaries – come to his village and smash a statue of the local god Tu Di Gong, Little Bao begins to understand that his way of life is under threat. He seeks out martial arts training from a mysterious man named Red Lantern, who inspires the men of the countryside to protect their Chinese traditions from the encroaching foreign devils. Later, Little Bao trains with Master Big Belly, who reveals the secret ritual that gives him the power to defeat his enemies. With this priceless knowledge, Little Bao takes over where Red Lantern left off, training the men of his village in martial arts and teaching them the ritual that turns them into powerful gods during a battle.
Little Bao and the young, poor men from the Chinese countryside form the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, travelling from village to village, killing British soldiers, Christian missionaries, and the “secondary devils” – Chinese Christian converts who flee from the roving Society army. The weeks-long battle in Peking, the heart of the Chinese kingdom, end badly for the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, and for Little Bao, who could never seem to reconcile his love for China with his understanding of justice and fairness.
In Saints, the second volume of this duology, Four-Girl is the much-abused and neglected daughter of a widow in the Chinese countryside who seeks out Christianity for some strange reasons. At first, she thinks that she is meant to be a devil, a malevolent presence in her little village. Through her relationship with the local acupuncturist, Dr. Won, she learns about Jesus Christ (and has a free supply of cookies to sate her hunger). Four-Girl drifts farther away from her family and closer to the Church, though she feels no real connection to Christianity. In the woods one night, Four-Girl meets a strange girl, clad in armor, who she later learns is the spirit of Joan of Arc. With the vision, Four-Girl begins her full conversion to the Christian faith, taking catechism classes and ultimately choosing a new name, a real name: Vibiana.
Vibiana is cast out by her traditional Chinese family and finds refuge in a walled village far from her home. The growing threat of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist bring more Christians and missionaries to their little enclave, where Vibiana helps watch over the orphans. Restless, Vibiana seeks out the vision of Joan of Arc and decides to become a maiden warrior for God. When the Society overtakes the village, Vibiana stands steadfast in her faith, even as Bao raises his sword to strike her down.
Yang’s visual storytelling is out of this world; his use of crisp, clean lines and pops of bright color lead the eye from one action-packed frame to the next. This glimpse into the little-known Boxer Rebellion, from the points of view of both a Boxer and a Chinese-Christian convert, will make you want to learn more about this important event in Chinese history! Fans of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Hope Larson’s Mercury will love the story and artwork in this wonderful duology. Check these books out in the library today!
When Marie-Laure loses her eyesight at the tender age of six, she has to start life over again, but she has the help of her loving father to guide her through the twists and turns of the streets of Paris. Her father, a master of locks at the Museum of Natural History, builds a perfect miniature replica of their neighborhood, which she traces again and again with her fingers. Later, she uses her hands to read and reread her favorite books while her father works diligently on his locks in the museum, or on the model of the city in their apartment. Marie-Laure and her father live a quiet life, full of love and happiness, until the rumbling of war begins to build in the west.
Werner’s childhood is significantly less charmed than Marie-Laure’s. As an orphan growing up in the shadows of a dusty, dirty mining town in eastern Germany, Werner has only his little sister and an old, cobbled-together radio to distract him from the constant hunger that he faces each day. Werner’s curiosity and tenacity helps him become a sort of expert in radio technology, a trait that consequently puts him on the fast-track with the Hitler Youth. Before he can begin to understand the implications of his trajectory, Werner is marching, shooting, and designing intricate radio systems at a Nazi school for boys.
When the war intensifies, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris for the relative safety of Saint-Malo, a seaside town in northeastern France. There, Marie-Laure and her father take shelter with their reclusive Uncle Etienne, in a house that hides a powerful radio and a priceless gem. Werner, meanwhile, is sent from the brutal Nazi school to a special assignment in the military, tracking down freedom-fighters who use radio signals to communicate. Werner’s assignment leads him to Saint-Malo, where his life intersects with Marie-Laure’s in the most unexpected way.
This beautiful, haunting book is historical literature at its best. Doeer’s use of poetic language creates a lyrical and emotional experience that will make you pause, reread, and reflect. Doeer brings the reader’s senses to life, especially in Marie-Laure’s chapters, as we experience the world as she does, through touch, sound, taste, smell, and memory. At just over 500 pages, the length of the book might put you off, but don’t be afraid; this wonderful novel is worth the time. You’ll want to savor every chapter.
Fans of Geraldine Brooks’ The People of the Book and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go will enjoy this novel. I’ve also heard that the audiobook is fantastic!
When Rashad walks into the corner store for a bag of chips, he doesn’t think that the consequences of this action will result in anything more than “chip-breath,” so he plans on buying a pack of gum, too. After all, he can’t have chip-breath when he dances with his crush at a party later that night. But Rashad doesn’t make it to the party. A suspicious store-owner, a klutzy lady, and a fist-happy cop land Rashad in the hospital with a broken nose, broken ribs, and internal bleeding.
Quinn, a white teen who goes to school and plays basketball with Rashad, witnesses his friend’s brother, police officer Paul Galuzzi, dragging Rashad out of the corner store and wailing on him, despite the fact that Rashad is already handcuffed. Unable to look away, yet unable to do anything to stop the violence, Quinn watches helplessly as Paul hits Rashad again and again.
Now, Rashad is in the hospital, wondering why he was never allowed to explain that he wasn’t trying to steal a bag of chips and trying to figure out how he’s going to move forward. Quinn is confused about where his allegiances lie, as Paul helped raise him and the Galuzzis are like family, but he’s sure that Rashad would never do anything to deserve a beat-down like the one Paul gave him. The basketball team is splitting along color lines as the students of color side with Rashad and the white students side with Paul – or decide not to take a stance at all. Their whole town is starting to take sides when a video of Rashad’s arrest ends up online and the hashtag #RashadIsAbsentToday goes viral.
At the center of it all, in alternating chapters, Rashad and Quinn struggle with the ultimate question: what now? How can these two teens, so alike and yet so different, come to terms with what happened? How can they possibly make a difference? Who is the “All-American Boy?” Who can you trust, if not the police? What does racism look like in America today? Are you guilty if you do nothing to help?
This book is perfect in every way. By telling the story from Rashad’s and Quinn’s points of view, it allows the reader to approach the problem of police brutality and racism from two sides: the victim and the bystander. When it comes down to it, don’t most of us fall into one of these two camps? This is a question that authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely raise with this novel: if you are not one of the oppressed, and you do nothing to help those who are oppressed, does that mean that you are on the side of the oppressor? While this book may be difficult for some people to read, it is well worth the sadness and pain in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This book is timely, well-written, and will surely ignite the necessary discussions that we must have in order to address the national epidemic of racial profiling and police brutality. I would highly suggest this book to anyone, especially those who are struggling to understand their place in the national conversation about police brutality.
Willowdean Dickson, or “Dumplin,” as her mom calls her, is a self-proclaimed fat-girl and Dolly Parton fan. She and her mother live in Texas, the land of beauty pageants and greasy fast-food places. Willowdean is much more into the fast-food scene, working at Harpy’s alongside brooding hottie Bo. Her mom, a former beauty queen, is all about the Miss Clover City beauty pageant, allowing it to take over their home and her life as it draws near.
Everything seems peachy for Willowdean until she and Bo begin a secret relationship. Suddenly, Will can’t stand the way her body looks and feels, and her trademark confidence takes a major nose-dive. In order to show herself and her mom that she’s just as worthy as the skinny-minnies who enter the Miss Clover City pageant, Will signs up, and accidentally brings some new friends along with her. Willowdean doesn’t mean to start a revolution, but she sure has one on her hands when people find out that she is going to compete for the crown. Can she keep her cool and gain back her confidence?
One thing that is really excellent about this book is how honest Willowdean is about how she views her body. Most days, she is perfectly comfortable with being the “fat-girl” in the room. If you were to ask her about her bathing-suit body, she would say, “Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.” (Love the original artwork by Simini Blocker!)
However, Willowdean has just a complicated relationship with her body as she does with the mysterious Harpy’s hunk, Bo. When Will’s and Bo’s relationship gets more physical, Willowdean’s confidence starts to crack and crumble right before the reader’s eyes. The way Willowdean deals with her self-consciousness is so real and heart-breaking; she not only begins to doubt herself and her own worth, but she also sabotages her relationships with the people closest to her.
Luckily, this book has an imperfect happy ending, not because it could have been written better, but because people are imperfect, Willowdean is imperfect, and the book is a realistic portrayal of real life, which is imperfect, whether you’re fat or skinny or in between.
Fans of Julie Murphy’s debut novel, Side Effects May Vary, John Green’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park will love this new novel. Come down to the library to check it out today!
Here’s a new twist on the old dystopian society trend in young adult literature! 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger is set in 2054, when boys outnumber girls by a ratio of 5 to 1, making girls a precious commodity in India (where female infantacide is a real problem, BTW). In the fictional walled-off city of Koyanagar, boys must compete in the Test for the chance to marry one of the few girls of marrying age each year. They compete in tests of skill, athleticism, and knowledge, and in return receive rocks from the eligible young lady. The boy with the most rocks gets the girl and, hopefully, is able to produce another girl from their marriage. Sudasa, one of the two main characters, is seventeen years old and her time for marriage has arrived. She has no choice in the matter, other than which of the five masked boys before her she might choose to be her husband. She knows that she should be obedient to her grandmother’s wishes and marry the boy who is obviously from a good family, a boy who will give her daughters and maker her life comfortable. But Sudasa is disgusted with the entire Test, with Koyanagar, with her grandmother. Sudasa’s name might mean obedient, but she wants only to rebel.
Kiran, the other main character, is a farm boy from the coast of Koyanagar who has been chosen as one of Sudasa’s five “suitors.” Like Sudasa, he is also disenchanted with the Test, but then, none of the boys are looking forward to the competition. After all, there is only one winner, and the losers are forced to live a life without marriage, companionship, fatherhood. Or worse, they are sent to the walls that surround Koyanagar, supposedly to keep the people from the old country from breaching the walls in an effort to get at the resources (coal, food, water, girls) inside the city. Kiran knows that he can’t win his Test, but he doesn’t care. He has other plans, to break out of the city and go in search of his missing mother. All he needs to do is remain unnoticed until the Choosing Ceremony and he’ll be free to run… until Sudasa starts to notice him. Can these two helpless teens, swept up in the mistakes of their ancestors and forced to suffer the consequences of hundreds of years of greed and short-sightedness, help each other escape the vicious cycle? Or will scheming family members, state-sanctioned killings, and indecision each play their roles to stop these teens who just want to be free to love, or not love, as they wish?
This book has a lot of great stuff going for it: interesting concept, cool setting, likable characters, easy to read. Sudasa’s chapters are written in verse and Kiran’s chapters are in prose, which makes the book a quick read and makes it easy to distinguish between the two characters. The very thinly-veiled pro-life message in the book might be off-putting for some, but the book’s basis in reality will certainly bring more attention to the problem of female infantacide and gender selective abortion in India. This book will get readers thinking about stereotypical gender roles, how women and men are treated by the opposite gender, and how these trends might evolve in the future. All in all, this a great book if you’re looking for a quick read with a new twist on the dystopian trend. Fans of Sold by Patricia McCormick, Koyal Dark and Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood might enjoy this little book.
In the land of Gorred, dragons walk among humans in human-like bodies as scholars and dignitaries. Though humans and dragons live together, their uneasy relationship persists as the memory of the dragon wars lives on. Dragons – logical, intelligent, skilled and engineering and technology – are the opposites of the Luddite Gorredis, who value art, emotion, and religion. Stuck somewhere in the middle is Seraphina Dombegh, newly appointed assistant composer at the court of Gorred, who must hide the terrible secret of her existence: she is half-human, half-dragon. Seraphina lives in constant fear of her true identity as the daughter of a dragon being discovered, even as she makes a name for herself as a talented musician and close confidant of the Princess Glisselda and her cousin/fiancee, Prince Lucian Kiggs. When a member of the royal family is killed in decidedly draconian fashion, Seraphina finds herself mixed up in the investigation, which leads her deeper into the realm of human-dragon politics, uneasy peace, and a fell plot to derail the treaty between the human and dragon worlds. While she struggles to puzzle out the meaning of the Crown Prince’s death, Seraphina also grapples with her inner-demons – a “mind-garden” of grotesques that, if not tended through meditation, will cause her to suffer fits, visions, and fainting spells.
This duology is a beautifully written, fully-fleshed, and engaging high fantasy that any LotR, HP, or Eragon fan would love. While magic is clearly present, issues of faith versus reason, love and loyalty, and self-acceptance take center stage in this series. Hartman’s characters are all three-dimensional, complicated, and entirely believable (in a fantasy, no less!). Though the first book is over 400 pages long, the plot never drags. Hartman’s story-telling is well-executed and her prose is beautiful and sophisticated.
If you are looking for a fantasy series that will challenge your beliefs, raise philosophical questions, make you feel smarter, AND entertain you in the best way, check out Seraphina and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman today!
Karou is no ordinary teenager. She lives alone in Prague, is a prodigious artist, has shocking blue hair and arms covered in tattoos, wears a necklace of wishes, collects teeth all over the world, and…she was raised by monsters. Friendly monsters known as chimera, but monsters nonetheless. Apart from her strange guardians, Karou knows only a vague emptiness in her otherwise exciting and mysterious life. Why does she need to collect teeth for Brimstone, her ram-headed father-figure? What’s with the eye-tattoos on her palms? Where did she come from? Karou doesn’t have any answers for her questions, and more questions keep piling up when she encounters what appears to be an angel in Morocco. Though she and the seraph are immediately at odds, somehow the winged hottie, Akiva, cannot seem to deliver the killing blow. As Karou and Akiva get closer, Karou begins to understand more about her chimera family and the dangerous war that is being waged in their neighboring world. What follows in the next three books (totaling more than 1500 pages), is an epic fantasy that spans universes, encompasses scores of races, and thrills with romance and action. As Stefon would say, this series has EVERYTHING…
…kindly monsters, evil angels, hands that burn, forbidden love, Shadows that Live, characters inspired by world mythologies, rabid fairies, sinister fake-grandmas, exotic locations, hidden past lives, and really excellent writing. This is not your run-of-the-mill human-falls-for-angel story. Oh, no. This series is something much more special. If you’re in the mood to be swept up and away on a grand adventure and you don’t mind spending hours with your nose in a book, this is the series for you. Fans of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Barduga, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan will surely love this series.
Bonus! This series actually has a little bit of diversity among the characters and shows an understanding of world cultures. Sure, Karou might be a typical skin-as-white-as-snow heroine, but her male counterpart, Akiva, is dark-skinned, and there’s a black angel who throws everyone for a loop. Among the chimera, there is a pecking order that dictates that creatures with more human features are held in higher regard than those with, for example, the faces of animals. This little detail creates interesting tensions between characters in the series. Madrigal, a key character with a mysterious link to Karou, is described as “beautiful, though she made as little as possible of her beauty, keeping her dark hair short as fur and wearing no paint or ornament” (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, pgs. 319-320). Here’s an AMAZING fanart image of Karou and Madrigal togther, by my favorite illustrator/comic, Lucy Knisley:
Super bonus! The rights to the story have already been purchased and, eventually, this series will become a movie franchise that I’m sure could compete with The Hunger Games. I hope that they give directorial control to someone like Guillermo del Torro or Bill Condon.
Have you read this series yet? If so, have you checked out Laini Taylor’s newest installment in the series, Nights of Cake & Puppets? It’s a novella told from Zuzana’s point of view! Let me know what you think in the comments!