Contemporary · Fiction

American Dirt

45046527. sy475

Title: American Dirt

Author: Jeanine Cummins

Performer: Yareli Arizmendi

Length: 16 hr, 43 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by MacMillan Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This was a book club pick that interested me mainly because of the controversy surrounding it.  When a bestselling book gets a lot of criticism, it makes me curious, even if it falls into a genre I do not typically read.

I went into reading this book with an open mind, because I like to form my own opinions.  I personally found the content of the book to be very stressful, so at this point in my life it was not my favorite read.  It did, however, make me more conscious of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that migrants face as they make their trek to the United States.

After reading the book for myself, and browsing through the reviews of critics, I personally find most of the controversy to be unwarranted.  I won’t address every aspect of her work that has been criticized, but it seems that the primary criticism stems from Cummins being elevated as a White author over authors of color who have written about similar topics. I understand the argument, but the truth is, it is a very well-written book.  Regardless of her own experiences, it felt like a very well-researched work of fiction and after discussing it with both my book club and a Latina friend who read it with her book club, it seems that Cummins portrayal of hardship, corruption, and abuse is true to the experiences of many migrants.  Perhaps she tried to pack too much drama into one story, but I do believe that the journey to the border can be very dangerous, especially for young women.  I’m not saying that #ownvoices works should not also be elevated, but as one person in my book club pointed out, the popularity of this book could have been used as a platform to recommend readers to books on similar topics written by people of color.  As with any novel, it is not perfect and some criticisms are likely valid (particularly about the use of Spanish language throughout the story), but I think it is great that a book that inspires empathy and raises awareness about the challenges faced by illegal immigrants is reaching such a wide audience.  To say that someone cannot write characters or settings of another ethnicity or culture would essentially be saying that most works of fiction should never have been written.  I think it is great that the new publishing trend is embracing #ownvoice stories and authors, but it is absurd to say that someone cannot write fictional works about something they have not personally experienced or to hate on them for doing so.  I hope this does not discourage Cummins from writing more in the future.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Romance

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

42399951. sy475

Title: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

Author: Kelly Harms

Page Count: 328

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: May 1, 2019 by Lake Union Publishing

Format: eBook

Review: This book can be summed up in one word: tedious.  I completely understand mommy guilt.  I’ve experienced it many times myself, so Amy’s resistance to doing something nice for herself made sense to an extent, but at some point it just became frustrating.  It took WAY too long for Amy to just accept the process of her “momspringa”.  I wanted her to have fun, but she moped through the majority of the great experiences that were basically handed to her and I just found it to be exhausting.  Also, has she never heard of the concept of a long distance relationship?  Just another thing she resisted to an extent that made zero sense to me.

The one aspect of this book I really enjoyed was her daughter’s journal entries.  Absolutely hilarious.  I looked forward to coming across them throughout the book.

Honestly though, if this had not been a book club pick, I would most likely have DNFed it and saved myself a few hours of rolling my eyes.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

Not So Pure and Simple

43520622

Title: Not So Pure and Simple

Author: Lamar Giles

Page Count: 400

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: January 21, 2020

Format: Hardcover

Review: I was thoroughly impressed by this book.  The great thing about participating in the Mock Printz Committee at my work is that sometimes I am given books that I enjoy immensely, but would probably not have read otherwise.  This is one such book.  It surprised me with it’s humor, depth, and important message.  Oftentimes books that cover topics such as toxic masculinity and sexual agency come off as being too heavy-handed with character tropes and long inner monologues where the characters have “epiphanies”.  The resulting effect is that it feels like it is trying too hard to make a statement.  Giles masterfully avoided these pitfalls by giving us characters that are both lovable and realistic.  He shows that even well-intentioned young men are susceptible to toxic ways of thinking and sometimes their words and actions have unintended negative effects on those around them.  As a woman, I found I related to many of the female characters and their struggle to be “nice” even when they were not interested in the male pursuing them.  As I have grown older, I find that sometimes it is necessary to be blunt, even if it comes off as rude, but as a younger woman, this felt like a tricky minefield to navigate.  Reading this book made me realize how many behaviors are impressed upon us at an early age and really made me re-evaluate how I have simply accepted certain actions as “normal” when they really shouldn’t be.

I would consider this an important read for all teens and think it would be a great book for discussion.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Romance

Real Men Knit

Real Men Knit

Title: Real Men Knit

Author: Kwana Jackson

Page Count: 320

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: May 19, 2020 by Berkley

Format: eBook

Review: After reading some more “serious” books, I was in the mood for something light and fun.  When I read the premise for this book, I was hooked.  Hot men knitting?  Yep. Sign me up.  The book certainly followed through on it’s promise, starring four uniquely hot adopted brothers.  Although this book focused more specifically on the youngest brother, Jesse, I find it hard to believe that Ms. Jackson will not be turning this into a series.  There are, after all, three other strapping young men to find attachments for.

I could be off base, but I couldn’t help but think that the author was imagining none other than Jesse Williams when she penned the character description for Jesse Strong….

Jesse Williams - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

Aside from the locs, he pretty much matches his physical description exactly.  I’m not complaining though, and I don’t think other readers will be either.

Naturally I had to investigate whether the hashtag #RealMenKnit exists and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it does.  Feel free to look it up for some eye candy.  Thank you, Ms. Jackson, for the share.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

 

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

693208

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie

Page Count: 230

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: September 12, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Format: eBook

Review: I was looking through available eBooks in our library catalog, and decided it was finally time to read this book.  I recommend it a lot to teens because the format, cartooning, and writing style has made it beloved by many young readers.

I have to admit I was very impressed that Alexie could make such serious content humorous.  Arnold/Junior does not have an easy life, yet he approaches each new situation with courage, wit, and resilience.  There were times when I was both cringing and laughing simultaneously – an odd feeling indeed.

Arnold/Junior makes a very difficult decision to leave the “rez” to attend a “white” school in a neighboring town.  At first he is shunned by both the Indians he left behind, and the kids at his new school who view him as an outsider, but gradually he starts to gain acceptance from his new peers.  In a lot of ways this book was very illuminating regarding life on a “rez,” and reveals some of the challenges that many Native American tribes face today.  Arnold/Junior is very realistic about his situation, discussing in particular the difficulties of poverty and alcoholism in his family, but I never once got the impression that he felt unloved or unsupported by his family members (which is rare in a book that features alcoholic parents).  Arnold/Junior knew he wanted a different situation for himself, thus branching outside the rez, but he never forgot where he came from and he still held out hope until the very end for reconciliation with his tribe.  I would imagine this book has been very inspiring for people in similar situations – those who are afraid to break the mold and step into the unknown.  Arnold/Junior shows that it’s not easy, but it is possible, and sometimes the results can be positive in ways you do not expect.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

SLAY

43723509

Title: SLAY

Author: Brittney Morris

Page Count: 323

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: September 24, 2019 by Simon Pulse

Format: Hardcover

Review: I liked the concept of this book, but unfortunately the execution just didn’t work for me.  I know little to nothing about VR and video games, so I did a little Googling to get a better idea of what creating a VR game would entail.  Although it is fully plausible that two young women could create a VR game, it seems to me that building and maintaining a game of the caliber described in this book would take a team of elite developers years and $100,000s, if not millions, of dollars.  Even if I were to remove these factors, it seems unlikely that a teen would be able to almost single-handedly maintain this game (including regular updates) while still maintaining a high GPA, a tutoring job, and a social life (including a long-term boyfriend).  What made it even more implausible was that this game, which supposedly took up a huge portion of her free time, was a secret from everyone in her life.  This confused me largely because these people would have to be super unobservant to not have even have an inkling of what she is working on.  I was also confused that she would not even mention her vast coding knowledge on her college applications.  Women of color are unfortunately still a huge minority in the gaming industry, and it seems a shame that Kiera doesn’t even seem interested in pursing it as a career path.  Colleges would be chomping at the bit to get a student as talented as Kiera into their programs.  She would probably be offered scholarships, internships, and possibly even have jobs lined up well before she graduated.

As for the premise of the game, it sounded fun and awesome, but was still a bit problematic for me.  The idea of “safe spaces” for minority groups is not inherently bad, but it is certainly a slippery slope to create a game that completely excludes people of other races.  Although Kiera personally designed the game to be inclusive of all people who identify as Black, it sadly still leaves the door open for discrimination.  The passcode system lets people ultimately decide who is Black enough to play.  This is addressed to an extent when Cicada makes her “confession” to Kiera about her mixed heritage, but it was not addressed to my satisfaction.  Much of the conflict in the book surrounds the fact that this game is specifically excluding Whites, but it is never mentioned that other minority groups, who may very well be experiencing similar discrimination in mainstream games, are excluded as well.

I was also not a big fan of Kiera’s relationship with her boyfriend, Malcolm.  He is very radicalized, manipulative, and aggressive.  Kiera repeatedly states that she is with him because she feels like he is the only one who she can truly be herself with, yet she is constantly lying to him and editing her behaviors because she is afraid of how he will react.  For someone who claims that SLAY is such an integral part of who she is, it seems contradictory to completely hide that part of herself from the man she claims to want to share her future with.  I have other issues with Malcolm’s character, but I don’t want to say too much more for fear of giving away spoilers.

Despite my heavy criticism, there are certainly things to applaud about this book.  It has a strong, female heroine who kicks butt at coding, it celebrates Black cultures around the world, it brings light to the issue of discrimination and non-inclusivity of people of color in mainstream video games, and the cover art is stunning.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

What Unbreakable Looks Like

47571266

Title: What Unbreakable Looks Like

Author: Kate McLaughlin

Page Count: 336

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: June 23, 2020 by Wednesday Books

Format: eBook

Review: This book tackles a very difficult topic: human trafficking.  The book felt very well-researched, and it goes into a lot of detail about how young women (and men) are groomed and eventually coerced into sexual slavery.  What I liked about this book is that this process is shown through what happens to Lex, rather than the author simply explaining it.  It can be difficult to understand why people fall into these traps, but when you see it happening in the story, it becomes abundantly clear how easy it is.  Anyone is susceptible to this sort of coercion, and it is very insidious how these pimps lure youth into a life of prostitution.

Lex is a deeply scarred character, both physically and emotionally, and my heart broke for her so many times.  The topic of human trafficking in the United States is not widely addressed in YA literature, although I think it should be.  It is unfortunately more common than people realize, and could be very well happening in their own backyard, so to speak.  Other things happen in this book that demonstrate the lack of education in regards to this topic, and the ignorance of people who choose to look at forced prostitution as a choice.  This book is largely about Lex accepting her self-worth, healing, creating personal boundaries, reclaiming her sexuality, and recognizing what makes healthy relationships.  At the start of the story, she is broken and recovering from addiction, but by the end, she is learning how to build herself back up and how to stand up to her abusers.  It is a painful and beautiful story, and I hope to see more like it in the future.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Contemporary · Fiction · Mystery · Thriller

Then She Was Gone

35297426

Title: Then She Was Gone

Author: Lisa Jewell

Performer: Helen Duff

Length: 10 hr, 13 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Dreamscape Media

Format: eAudiobook

Review: Stylistically, this book was very similar to a Liane Moriarty book (one of my all-time favorite writers).  In fact, even the reader of this book had a very similar voice to the woman who performs most (if not all) of Liane Moriarty’s audiobooks.  The major difference between these two authors, however, is I think Jewell reveals too much too early in her story.  A huge part of what makes Liane Moriarty’s books so fantastic is her perfect timing in making big reveals.  She also usually hangs onto a big plot twist to blow your mind at the end.  Jewell does not quite have the same finesse with her plot twists, and for the most part I was able to predict each plot twist well before it was actually revealed.  I think perhaps this could have been avoided if Jewell had arranged her content differently. I was also not a big fan of the ending.  It bothers me when endings are tied up in a way that feels inauthentic, and unfortunately this book had one of those endings.

Despite the ways this book fell short for me as a reader, I still enjoyed it and would consider reading other books by this author.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

Patron Saints of Nothing

41941681. sy475

Title: Patron Saints of Nothing

Author: Randy Ribay

Page Count: 323

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Kokila

Format: Hardcover

Review: This is a coming-of-age story about struggling with identity and belonging.  The main character, Jay, must learn to cope with the senseless death of his beloved cousin, while also coming to terms with how his own decisions may have played a role in the unfortunate series of events that led to the tragedy.  It is also a story of the many ways people can surprise and disappoint us.  For better or worse, our family and friends do not always live up to the image we have of them in our heads.

The writing style of this author is very similar to the writing style of Kelly Loy Gilbert.  The first person perspective feels very authentic, and you very much feel like you are inside the head of the main character.  This book didn’t emotionally gut me the same way that Picture Us in the Light did, but it is similar in that the story touches on some very heavy topics and reveals some very painful truths about Jay and his secretive family.

The cover art for this book is absolutely stunning.  If I had not needed to read this book for a mock Printz committee, I probably would have picked it up simply for the cover art alone.  Both front and back incorporate beautiful colors and symbolism.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star

Contemporary · Fiction · Horror · Young Adult

Foul is Fair

42595554

Title: Foul is Fair

Author: Hannah Capin

Page Count: 336

Series: Foul is Fair, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: 

Format: eBook

Review:  I am shocked at the positive reviews this book has been receiving from early reviewers. All the characters, including Jade/Elle, were terrible people. I did not enjoy reading about them, and I found it very difficult to get behind the revenge story because it was so ridiculous. Although I can completely empathize with a sexual assault victim wanting justice, a murderous rampage certainly does not seem like the answer and I did not find it at all gratifying. I would be extremely hesitant to promote this book to teen readers, because it glorifies murder and manipulation through sex. None of Jade/Elle’s coping mechanisms for her assault were positive, and I personally feel this book would be very unhealthy to put in the hands of someone who has actually been sexually assaulted.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_Gold