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

Fiction · Historical · Young Adult

The Downstairs Girl

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Title: The Downstairs Girl

Author: Stacey Lee

Performer: Emily Woo Zeller

Length: 10 hr, 27 min, 24 sec

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Tantor Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: A truly delightful listen starring a spunky heroine.  I really enjoy historical fiction novels that highlight groups that are not widely covered in American history books.  Chinese Americans are one such group.  Lee addresses the fact that Chinese Americans were often invisible to society because they did not easily fit into the construct of “black” or “white.”  Though considered “colored” by most, it was not always clear which laws of segregation and discrimination applied to their ethnic group.  This is evident throughout the story, as Jo tries to navigate the tricky and often murky waters of the political and social climate of the South.

This book did get a little slow somewhere in the middle, but the beginning and end were fantastic.  Lee’s character development is superb and she tied up the story in ways that I didn’t really expect.  I liked that a romance was not a central focus of this story, because this was really a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her voice in a world that tried hard to silence her.  Despite adversity, she challenged social norms and was not satisfied to let others dictate her destiny.

Emily Woo Zeller did a great job as the narrator of this book.  I enjoyed this performance far more than her performance in The Bird and the Blade.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Fantasy · Fiction · Magical Realism · Young Adult

Pet

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Title: Pet

Author: Akwaeke Emezi

Page Count: 208

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: September 10, 2019 by Make Me a World

Format: Hardcover

Review: After reading this book I am surprised that it is cataloged as YA Fiction.  It really read like J Fiction to me.  I had to keep reminding myself that the main character is seventeen, because her character seems much younger.

The setting is a sort of Utopia where the “monsters” have been eliminated and everyone treats each other nicely (or so they think).  From the very first chapter I could have outlined the entire plot of the story.  I can’t say much more than what is in the synopsis without completely giving everything away, but I can tell you that the story follows a very predictable path.

I admire what the author is trying to do with this book – she is revealing the dangers of complacency and denial – but it is all overly simplified.  The backstory as to how this “Utopia” setting was achieved is completely preposterous.  Basically anyone and everyone who has ever committed an atrocity has supposedly been identified and imprisoned.  Society has realized the error of their ways and all people are accepted regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ableness, etc, etc., etc.  This book was very short, but I honestly think it could have been shorter.  This would have been a great short story for an anthology if all the repetitive filler was removed.

I generally enjoy books that employ elements of magical realism, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Reader: 

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

How to Build a Heart

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Title: How to Build a Heart

Author: Maria Padian

Page Count: 352

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: January 28, 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers

Format: eBook

Review: There are so many things about this book that I love.  It is a very thoughtfully written book and it feels very authentic.  I have very little in common with the main character, but I could totally relate to her.  There was a lot about her that reminded me of myself at her age.

I recently reviewed another book that had very similar themes to this one; a biracial girl navigating grief and struggling to define herself.  I personally felt that this book did a much better job of tackling these topics and I was honestly disappointed when it ended.  This is not to say I wasn’t happy with the ending, I just wanted to follow her life longer! I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Contemporary · Fiction · Young Adult

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight

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Title: I’m Not Dying With You Tonight

Author: Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Page Count: 272

Series: N/A

Publishing Date/Publisher: October 1, 2019 by Sourcebooks Fire

Format: eBook

Review: I was eager to read this book because the two authors have done something that Kym and I have talked about at great length, and that is co-authoring a book from two different character perspectives.  It worked well for this story, and I thought it was appropriate that the two characters were written with very distinct voices.

This book isn’t very long, so it was a quick read.  In fact, the whole story takes place over the course of a single night.  The conflict is established quickly, and the “action” is pretty consistent throughout the story.  I was never bored and I would say this is a pretty timely novel considering our current political climate.

My biggest criticism is that I had hoped for a stronger character arc with both characters, so when the end came, my first thought was, that’s it?  After undergoing such a traumatic experience, I had expected there to be more discussion of the aftermath and what it meant for each of the characters.  I really think this story would have a greater impact on readers if this aspect was more thoroughly explored.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Gold

Fantasy · Fiction · Young Adult

The Belles

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Title: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Performer: Rosie Jones

Length: 13 hr, 2 min, 45 sec

Series: The Belles, Book 1

Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Blackstone Audio

Format: eAudiobook

Review: This book knocked my socks off.  I have been eyeing it for some time due to the beautiful cover art, but kept passing it over in favor of other fantasy novels.  That was my mistake, because this book blew me away with it’s originality and spectacular character development.  Camellia is not by any means a perfect heroine, and this makes her all the more relatable.  The antagonist of the story made my skin crawl, and was a total psychopath. This made for a very interesting story chock full of political intrigue, manipulation, and mystery.

What I find truly fascinating about this book, and what really sets it apart in my mind, is the author’s commentary on beauty through the story.  Beauty standards are fickle and ever changing in today’s world, and it is no different here.  All over the world people are obsessed with achieving impossible standards of beauty, and are never satisfied because beauty is perceived differently by everyone.  This is reflected in the world Clayton has created, where physical appearance can be changed in a matter of minutes, but at great personal and financial cost.  People are constantly changing their appearance to match changing beauty trends and endure a great deal of physical pain to make it happen.  The parallels this draws to real life make this a wholly believable story despite its fantastical elements.

I deducted a half star from my rating because there were a couple things that I did not feel were fully explained, but these minor plot hiccups may very well be ironed out in the second book in the series.  I have already requested it from the library and look forward to listening to it.

The performer for this story was perfection.  She easily ranks as one of my top favorite readers after listening to this performance.  I can’t wait to hear her in other works.

Reader: Bekah

Rating: 

All_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_GoldAll_Star_Goldhalf star