Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Contemporary · Fiction · Romance

Running Barefoot

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Title: Running Barefoot

Author: Amy Harmon

Performer: Tavia Gilbert

Length: 10 hr, 45 min

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: March 26, 2014 by Tantor Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This is a very wholesome romance about two people seemingly destined to be together.  I regret that my library did not have a hard copy of this book, because I did not enjoy it in eAudiobook format.  I almost didn’t finish it because I really was not feeling the performer, but I was invested enough in the story to forge ahead.

In hindsight, I found the story to be sort of dry and I found my attention drifting often.  It often goes on philosophical tangents, and I was surprised by the strong religious undertones given the fact this book is not tagged in any way that would indicate that it is Christian Fiction.  I’m not saying this was a problem for me, it was just unexpected.

A lot of this story revolves around waiting.  Waiting for Samuel to come back and waiting for Josie to grow up.  She is 13 years old at the start of the story and Samuel is 18 years old.  I give the author props for managing to not make this love story creepy, but sweet.

It was incredibly difficult for me to rate this book because it was hard for me to separate my feelings about the reader from my opinion of the book.  After some consideration though, I thought the story was just ok.  It didn’t completely suck me in, but I still felt compelled to finish it.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold