Review: The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rating: 4 stars

A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.
The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

Hanalee lives in Oregon in in 1923. She is the biracial child of a black father, and a white mother. When the book begins, Hanalee's father is dead. He was killed when he was hit by a car... or so we think. The kid who hit Hanalee's father with the car, Joe, thinks that it wasn't the accident that killed him, it was Hanalee's new step-father, the same man who treated her father, Dr. Koning. But it turns out, there are more secrets to unwrap than Hanalee and Joe were ready for.

This is not an #ownvoices book, but don't let that stop you, it's worth a read.

  • The book took place in a state where racial tensions are never really discussed in history class. 
  • The book kind of hit the ground running, people were hiding in the woods, and shooting at each other in the first eight chapters. I was sure someone would wind up dead before this book was done.
  • The book was full of racial tension, but it was handled in a way that would allow me to hand this book to a middle school kid. Some books that handle racism, and the KKK are so terrifying, and intense, and raw that they give me nightmares. This book was more delicate, but not in a bad white washed way.
  • Although I was HEARTBROKEN at what he relationships between Hanalee and Laurence had become, I though it was a great addition to the story. So well done. 
  • LGBT
  • The pictures
  • Read the authors notes
Didn't Like:
  • I thought the ghost element could have been removed from the story and it wouldn't have made a difference. 
  • The Dr. Koning that we saw at the beginning of the book was so different from the one we saw at the end that it took me out of the story a bit, it felt inconsistent.
In Conclusion:
This is a great book that I think everyone should read. The author obviously did a lot of research and although she isn't black or biracial I think she did this story justice. Her authors notes go a long way in explaining her thoughts while writing this book and when she was about to publish it. The book also goes a long way in explaining why it isn't... I guess you could say scarier. I know that I am one of many, but I, as a black woman, am not offended by this book and I figure that's worth saying.
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Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rating: 5 stars

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.
But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

After reading this book, I had the biggest book hangover of my life. I finished it at work, I was almost in tears (I would have cried but I have chronic dry eye, it's hard), I was feeling waaaay too many emotions and I didn't know how to handle them. Because I had this huge reaction to this book, I'm trying to figure out why people aren't talking about it more. There was a lot of lead up to American Street, then I think it was on the NY Times Bestsellers list for a while, then every time I turned to the Twitter I saw another post about The Hate You Give, and I was like, "Wait a sec world. The Hate You Give is great and there's going to be a movie and that's great too, but why'd we stop talking about American Street. I'm not done feeling super emotional about it yet." Whatever, that may be a post for another day.

  • All of it. Lol. Fabiola is a beautifully headstrong character. She knows who she is, she knows what she wants, and she's willing to do what she has to to get it. Fabiola did so much growing and learning throughout the book and while her changes may not have been for the better, they were beautifully written.
  • I don't have any family ties to Haiti so I don't know anything about their culture or religious beliefs, but it was so fascinating to read about and done so well. I loved hearing about the spirit guides, the alter, Iwas. and our most beloved Papa Legba. I'm still not sure if he was a saint or not. 
  • The stories. I most recently saw this in The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, where the book is broken up with the background stories of the characters. It gave us such an insight into Aunt Jo and why she seems to have turned away from her Haitian heritage, the twins, and I certainly wasn't ready for Dray's story. Goodness. 
  • Kasim. Enough said.
  • There's just too much to list. This is a great story, have the tissues ready.
 Didn't Like:
  • Full disclosure, it's not that there's anything I didn't like in this book, there were just some aspects that weren't my cup of tea. I spent so many years reading books and watching movies that took place is urban communities around gangs and drugs, and while typically the main character was trying to avoid the negativity or find a way out, I hear so much crap about minorities and urban life that sometimes I'm afraid books and movies like that perpetuate a negative stereotype. I will defend to the death that these stories need to be told but... *sigh* it's just hard. That being said, I had a hard time with the language "Yo, check your girl." "You already know how I roll" "Why you not answering my calls". Again I didn't dislike it, it's 100% accurate for the setting of this story and I eventually got over it. But ever time I read a sentence like this, it brought up the face of another person who heard me speak and was shocked at my sentence structure. I never have and never will say "You already know how I roll" get over it world. To be honestly that was the hardest adjustment for me. I spent years dealing with people commenting on my speech patterns. It's a sore spot for me, and reading books like this sometimes make me think "See that's why no one thinks I can string together a sentence, stop making my life harder." I know the thoughts of ignorant people can't be blamed on Ibi Zoboi or anyone else who writes about the urban lifestyle, it's just a sore spot for me. 

There is also a video recording of Ibi Zoboi lecturing about the two years she spent researching black girls in middle grade and young adult fiction. I found it on Twitter then again on her own website and it is worth watching.

This woman has done her homework. Something I appreciate as a librarian. I love her, I love this book. Everyone read it!!!
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Review: Saving Red by Sonya Sones

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rating: 3 Stars

Sonya Sones, award-winning author of What My Mother Doesn’t Know, delivers a gripping, funny, and inspiring novel in verse about what happens when the person you set out to save ends up saving you.
Right before winter break, fourteen-year-old Molly Rosenberg reluctantly volunteers to participate in Santa Monica’s annual homeless count, just to get her school’s community service requirement out of the way. But when she ends up meeting Red, a spirited homeless girl only a few years older than she is, Molly makes it her mission to reunite her with her family in time for Christmas. This turns out to be extremely difficult—because Red refuses to talk about her past. There are things Molly won’t talk about either. Like the awful thing that happened last winter. She may never be ready to talk about that. Not to Red, or to Cristo, the soulful boy she meets while riding the Ferris wheel one afternoon.
When Molly realizes that the friends who Red keeps mentioning are nothing more than voices inside Red’s head, she becomes even more concerned about her well-being. How will Molly keep her safe until she can figure out a way to get Red home? In Sonya Sones’s latest novel, two girls, with much more in common than they realize, give each other a new perspective on the meaning of family, friendship, and forgiveness.

I'm just going to jump into what I liked and didn't like with this one. Eventually my book club and I will discuss this via Google Hangouts and when we post it on Youtube, I'll share the link. However, full disclaimer, I do not have anxiety or any type of mental illness, so my perspective may be different from some who can relate on a more personal level.

  • Molly was a very typical teenager girl, more so than many others. She wasn't some raving beauty who felt unattractive, she wasn't super quirky on the outside and hiding her feelings on the inside. She was about as average and you can get, and it was lovely.
  • I liked Cristo (although that's a weird name), I don't know why. Maybe because he was kind of awkward like Molly. They texts they exchanged were cute, the mini adventures they went on were cute, and it was all very PG and not over dramatic (although don't get me wrong, I love that too).
  • The authors notes
  • I don't feel qualified to say too much about Red, however, I can say I loved how things ended for her. I think it was very realistic and well done.
Didn't Like:
  • Mom smokes pot. It seemed very unnecessary also unexplored for something so unusual. Where was she getting the pot? Did she have other pot head friends? Why pot? Why not prescription drug for depressions? 
  • I HATE when the author so obviously dangles a secret in our faces, but then states that they're not going to tell us what it is. It was obvious that Molly has issues that we would learn more about as the story progressed, you didn't need to verbally explain that to us. It actually made me put the book down for like two days.
In Conclusion:
While it wasn't my favorite book, I liked the book. It was a very quick read, and I enjoy books written in verse. I'd be happy to suggest this book to interested teens.

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Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rating: 4 stars

Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this “vivid, satisfying, and ultimately upbeat tale of grief, redemption, and grace” (Kirkus Reviews) from the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award–winning author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. Crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy stuff than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

 I loved this book so much. It did something that I had a hard time finding in other books (although it's getting better). The characters were black. They lived in a primarily black community and none of the main characters, or their affiliates, had absentee parents, were doing drugs, in gangs, or so stereotypical that it hurt. It is possible to be black, live in a black community, and show and appreciate the black culture. I feel like I'm always falling over myself to find black characters who reminded me of the characters in Living Single or Family Matters and gosh darn it I've found it. 

  • Matt, I liked that kid, he was a strong, developed character without being... extra. His family had been shaken by the death of his mom and his reactions, while a little strange (sitting in on funerals and watching people cry) they were understandable and appropriate for this character.
  • THE COOKBOOK. I was almost in tears every time Matt looked at the cookbook his mom made him with recipes to help him get girls. It was such a strong example of the type of relationship Matt had with his mom. 
  • Matt's dad. So Matt's dad was a hot mess after his wife died. He'd had a drinking problem in the past and it slipped back into his life after his wife was gone. I think was I liked seeing was Matt's dad beginning to recover from the shock of his loss. There's a scene in the book where Matt's dad leaves him a voicemail and it was laugh out loud funny. You can tell that they're going to be okay. 
  • Matt reminds me of a male version of me. Chill, smart enough to get by, a few good friends, and trying to make his way in the world. It was beautiful to see. 
  • Mr. Ray what a freaking good guy. I honestly don't know what else to say. He reached out to help Matt not only with a job, but he also took on the role of a second father figure and not a lot of people go out of their way to ingratiate themselves into the lives of others. 100% good guy.
Didn't Like:
  • I hat to say it but I wasn't a huge fan of Lovey. It's not that I didn't like it, she was just... blah. I think the half the problem was that I read another book right after that with a female character who had more substance so I just feel very neutral about her. She was good, but not great.
  • So... it's not that I didn't like the ending. I just... feel like I missed something. I like to pride myself on looking deeply into things, but... other than the sadness and shock of the ending (I'm trying so hard to do this without spoilers) I just didn't get it. Whatever, I still really liked the book.
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Why oh why?

Years ago I discovered blogging while I was trying to figure out how to be a children's librarian. I read a million book reviews, program evaluations, and comments on other blogs and I thought... I can do that, so I did. I ran a blog for a few years called Newbie Librarians. it was initially going to be about being a librarian, but it eventually turned into nothing but book reviews. As life changed and I involved myself in the library field, I had less and less time for blogging and eventually walked away. Although I continued to creep around and read through other blogs.

With the recent change in world events, I knew I wanted to do what little I could. As a black female I've spent my entire life hunting for books (particular YA) with strong, black female characters and it's been SUPER hard. We've recently seen an influx of this particular type of literature and I like it. I wish there was a wider genre variety (dystopia, sci-fi, fantasy, suburban contemporary... we've really got to mix up these urban settings) but for the moment, I'll take what I can get.

When I decided that I wanted to do my small part, I stepped back to evaluate my abilities. I can talk a lot, and read... that's pretty much it. So I decided to jump back into the blogging world with a blog that featured diverse books. That being said, I may read and review books that aren't diverse because I don't want to limit my reading.

Anyway, this is why I've started a new blog called All the Diversity (P.S. How is it possible no one had taken that name). This is my small way to help further the conversation.

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