Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 – Checking In

This year, I accepted The Unconventional Librarian’s Diversity Reading Challenge, and I’ve been… okay. Let’s take a look:

(The center Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 graphic is from An Unconventional Librarian’s website.)

Book featuring a Hispanic character – Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore

Book featuring an LGBTQ character – Spinning, by Tillie Walden

Graphic Novel – Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Book featuring a character with mental illness – Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green

Book featuring an Asian character – Warcross, by Marie Lu

Book by an illustrator of color – Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone, illustrated by Bruno Liance

Book with an African-American young male character – Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan

Book with an African-American female character – An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Book with a Muslim character – Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt

Book with a character on the Autism spectrum – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke

Book featuring a character with a physical disability – Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge, by Susan Vaught

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my reading, but it could be better. I see little spots where I need to read more deeply. Goodnight, Boy is amazing; brilliantly written, but I should also be reading African-American characters written by African-American characters. I need to finally get Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, off the TBR and on my nightstand, you know? Ditto for my Muslim character choice. I love Lost Boys; it’s a heart-wrenching novel that darn near brings me to tears, but I need to stop saying I want to read Amina’s Voice and just read it. (If you’re struggling to find Muslim authors, by the way, I found a list on GoodReads that may help.)

I am happy that there’s some crossover on the list. I have several graphic novels on the list; while reading graphic novels is never an issue for me, I’m happy to see that the medium is a great place to explore different cultures and identities. Spinning, Lighter Than My Shadow, Pashmina, and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King are all graphic novels; each is its own journey of exploration. Wild Beauty and An Unkindness of Ghosts have female, main characters of color that explore their sexuality.

In sum, I need to read one more book (a Holocaust victim) to complete my challenge. Pragmatic Mom has a list that I think I’ll use as my guide here. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, sounds compelling; it may also be time to to finally pick up Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks to Pam at Unconventional Librarian for keeping me honest.

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Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Supernatural thriller: We All Fall Down

We All Fall Down, by Natalie D. Richards, (Oct. 2017, Sourcebooks Fire), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492654384

Recommended for readers 13+

Part fated romance, part supernatural thriller, We All Fall Down is the story of Theo and Paige; two friends who are haunted by a night on an old bridge, where an argument between Theo and another classmate turned into a fight; Theo took a swing, but it was Paige who was injured.

Four months later, they’re each trying to move on, but something at the bridge refuses to let them forget. Paige and Theo must work together to stop whatever energy is coming from the bridge.

I had higher hopes for All Fall Down, to be honest. It’s an interesting look at two characters with varying mental illnesses – Theo claims to have “ODD, ADHD… I’ve got to be forgetting some letters here”, and Paige suffers from severe anxiety. The story didn’t really need a supernatural element added to it to be compelling; Natalie Richards had great material to work with, had she gone deeper into the characters, their relationship, and the repercussions of the night Paige was injured. It’s an interesting thriller that started strong, but could have been unputdownable with just a slight change in focus.

Posted in Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Step into YA Cyberpunk with Marie Lu’s Warcross

Warcross, by Marie Lu, (Sept. 2017, Penguin), $18.99, ISBN: 9780399547966

Recommended for readers 12+

Okay, confession time: I have never read a Marie Lu book. The desire’s been there: the Legend books, the Young Elites series, and most certainly, the upcoming Batman novel she’s writing. I finally saw my chance and jumped on the Lu reader wagon with Warcross, and I am SO glad I did.

Eighteen year-old Emika Chen is a bounty hunter, but not your conventional bounty hunter. Warcross is a MMORPG that’s a global sensation; accessible through VR-type glasses that convince your brain you’re in a different series of worlds. Emika tracks down Warcross players who are betting illegally, or getting up to otherwise shady stuff online, but business has been rough and she’s facing eviction. She decides to hack into the Warcross championships to steal an artifact or two to sell – the same shadiness she’d normally get an assignment to track down – and thanks to a glitch in the game, finds herself visible in front of the world. Hideo Tanaka, Warcross creator and brainchild, flies her out to Japan and immediately hires her to take down a security problem inside the game. He puts her on one of the Warcross championship teams and gives her carte blanche to track down the risk, but what she uncovers goes far deeper than a simple game glitch.

Warcross transports you into the story, making you feel like you’re observing the action from your own viewing area. There’s intrigue and subplots that constantly keep you guessing, and characters that will keep you invested – love them or not. It’s cyberpunk for a whole new generation – Neuromancer crossed with World of Warcraft. Intense writing, diverse characters, some romance, high-speed virtual reality gaming, and personal agendas gone wild make Warcross must-read YA.

 

Warcross received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

The King of Soccer: Pelè

Pelè: The King of Soccer, by Eddy Simon/Illustrated by Vincent Brascaglia, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626727557

Recommended for ages 10+

The latest graphic novel biography from FirstSecond is Eddy Simon and Vincent Brascaglia’s Pelè: The King of Soccer. From his beginnings as a child growing up in poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil, readers see Pelè – born Edison Arantes do Nascimento, son of a football player whose career ended with an injury – rise from a child using a ball made from rags, to his dominance in youth leagues, and to his first professional soccer contract at the age of 15. He became a sensation at 17, when he led Brazil to victory at the World Cup, and went on to become “O Rei” – The King – a household name, a worldwide sensation. More than just a soccer player, Pelè traveled the world as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. An athlete worth more than face value, the Brazilian government and the military tried to force him to continue playing when he wanted to play for the U.S., and the United States thought that acquiring Pelè would make soccer the next great American sport. He partied with the likes of Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and had a turbulent personal life that includes multiple affairs and illegitimate children. Full-color photos of Pelè complete this solid graphic biography of a sports icon.

Great for middle school and up, display and booktalk with other graphic novel biographies, including Box Brown’s biography on Andre the Giant, and 21: The Story of Robert Clemente, by Wilfred Santiago.

Posted in Humor, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Letters to Books

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence, (Sept. 2017, Flatiron Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250106490

Recommended for readers 16+

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the kind of book I wish I’d written. It’s the kind of book all book lovers kind of write in our mind, but Annie Spence is the one who took it and turned it into literary gold.

Librarians weed. It’s kind of our job. But book lovers (usually) weed, too, right? You stare at that overworked bookshelf, and you know that some of those books are visitors, whose time has come to go and visit other readers; some, like your Neil Gaiman books, your Doctor Who novels, and your Gail Carriger books, have permanent residency on those shelves. (Or is that just me?) You weed, talking to yourself as you go, letting the books – and yourself – down easy: “You were so much fun during my chick lit phase! But you know… I’m sure they’ll love you at the library, think of how many other people will love you.” Or, “Good lord, you’re still here?  You need to go; you don’t have to go to the trash, but you can’t stay here. Is Book Crossing still live?”

Annie Spence writes letters to books (and, in one story that got me a look on the bus when I seal-bark laughed out loud, a bookshelf) in her library, in her home, anywhere. She writes to Frog and Toad and tells them everything I wanted to say but never realized. She has an wonderful obsession with Jeffrey Eugenides (as a Neil Gaiman fangirl, I relate) and feels bad for a much-loved copy of The Goldfinch. Her essays are funny and touching and my friends are tired of me texting them, saying, “Wait, you have to read this part”; one friend finally texted back, “I’m requesting the book now, can you STOP?”

The second half of the book moves from her letters to brief essays – lists, really – that book lovers will adore: Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home with Your Books (so guilty); Readin’ Nerdy (books about librarians, whoo hoo!); Blind Date: Good Books with Bad Covers (you know we all think it), and Recovery Reads: books to read after you’ve been traumatized by a previous book (looking at you, A Monster Calls).

While it isn’t a teen book, it’s easily crossed over. It’s a great book to hand to teens who may not “get” reading. This. THIS is why we read, I will tell them. (Do you hear me, Alex Awards Committee?) Dear Fahrenheit 451 is perfect for book lovers. Annie Spence is one of us. *group hug*

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Pulp fiction goes graphic with Head Games

Head Games, by Craig McDonald/Illustrated by Kevin Singles, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596434141

Recommended for readers 18+

This graphic novel adaptation of an Edgar-nominated novel gives us a little Hollywood and a whole lot of pulp fiction. Hector Lassiter is a hard-drinking, hard living novelist in 1957; he thought he was done adventuring, but an offer he can’t refuse drops into his lap: the chance to recover the lost skull of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Villa’s people want the skull, and so does the infamous Yale secret society, Skull & Bones; and they’re all willing to do anything to get it. Lassiter, poet Bud Fiske, and aspiring actress Alicia Vicente take a road trip across the American Southwest as they search for the highest bidder and dodge bullets.

I’ve never read Craig McDonald’s Lassiter books, so this was new to me. If you like pulp, or noir fiction, you’ll dig right into this book. It borders on satire at times; it seems like a send up of the Hollywood studio system, the Feds, and pulp noir. Lassiter is a larger-than-life figure that appears to be popped straight from Hemingway’s mold – and then you discover that Lassiter and Hemingway were contemporaries in this story. Marlena Dietrich is here, and Bud Fiske is so thoroughly written into the story’s mythology that I had to Google him to see if he was a real-life figure (go find out for yourself, I’ll never tell). Two-color yellow and black artwork give this an old-school, faded feel; you know this is a story that’s seen things. Head Games is crazy, over-the-top, and compulsively readable. There’s violence, alcohol abuse, and sex aplenty, so it’s not a graphic novel for the children’s room.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Blog Tour: Broken Circle, by JL Powers and MA Powers

Broken Circle, by JL and MA Powers, (Oct. 2017, Akashic), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-580-4
Recommended for readers 12+

 

Fifteen year-old Adam Jones just wants to be a normal teen, but the chances aren’t looking so good. He’s got a monster chasing him in his sleep, and he can tell a person’s character by seeing what kind of shadow they cast. His dad is almost never around, his grandfather is a little nuts. He’s expected to take on the family business – but his father won’t tell him what that business is. Is he a mafioso? After a couple of incidents at school, his father makes the decision to send him to a special boarding school where he’ll learn how to be part of the family business – whatever that is. Adam arrives at the school to discover that he’s part of a special group of “soul guides”: grim reapers. They’re all around us; they’re from different clans, with different territories, and there are TONS of rivalries. No wonder Adam’s dad told him not to tell anyone where he’s from. If only that were the end of Adam’s problems, right? But he’s still got the monster chasing him, he’s got some strange characters stalking him, and he’s learning about himself and his family while having to keep it all a secret from his new friends AND the ones he left behind.

I LOVED Broken Circle. It’s a first-person narration by Adam, the main character, with periodic half chapters that fill in crucial backstory, told in third person through meetings of the synod: an assembly of Soul Guide leaders. Adam’s chapters are written with a wicked sense of humor – he’s 15, and just found out he’s a grim reaper, after all – and a deepening sense of pathos and fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the things he discovers as he moves through the book. There’s a diversity of characters in the book as we meet soul guides from different cultures and ethnicities. You won’t want to put this one down: it’s Hogwarts for soul guides, with family rivalries and developing powers aplenty. The writing flows and the characters have a rich depth to them, even with their own secrets that we may or may not find out before this volume ends. Thank goodness it’s the first in a series; I have more to look forward to and so will you. Give this to your Gaiman fans, for sure; hand it to your Potterheads that are ready to meet a new group of friends. Give it to your readers that enjoy seeing life from a different point of view.

Watch this space: I’ve got a vlog entry from the authors!

J.L. POWERS is the award-winning author of three young adult novels, The Confessional, This Thing Called the Future, and Amina. She is also the editor of two collections of essays and author of a picture book, Colors of the Wind. She works as an editor/publicist for Cinco Puntos Press, and is founder and editor of the online blog, The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children’s Literature. She teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at Skyline College in California’s Bay Area, served as a jurist for the 2014 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, and is launching Catalyst Press in 2017 to publish African writers. Broken Circle is her first novel written with her brother, M.A. Powers.

 

M.A. POWERS is J.L.’s “little” (but much taller) brother. He has a PhD in the oncological sciences from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He is currently a stay-at-home dad and lives in Maine. Broken Circle is his first novel written with his sister, J.L. Powers.