Angie Thomas: The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

If you haven’t heard of The Hate U Give, you might want to crawl out from under your rock. EVERYONE is talking about this book, and for good reason. A lot of books get hyped up when they first come out but Angie Thomas has written a story that completely surpasses that hype.

This book is going to be one of the most important works of literature in this decade. I guarantee it. There is nothing else in YA even comes close to so perfectly illustrating the racial strife permeating the United States right now.

But not only does Thomas cover such a difficult subject, she does it in such a way that is both engaging and graceful. There is no escaping her message, even as the reader is ripped to pieces by her characters.

And trust me, you will be ripped to pieces–you will cry. I was in tears in the first 40 pages. This is not meant to be a peaceful read. Your heart is going to be pulled and poked and prodded and, especially if you’re white, your moral compass is going to go through the wringer. But this will be the best book you read all year, and it will probably climb up your list of all time favorites.

I’ve had some friends tell me that they were waiting for the hype to wear down before picking this up. And I understand that sentiment, I do that too with popular books. Sometimes too much hype can influence how we feel about them. But this is going to remain on everyone’s lips for a long time to come–and it deserves all the acclaim it is getting. Run, don’t walk to your bookstore or library. Go read this as soon as possible, and then tell everyone about it. The Hate U Give needs to be read by every single person in America.

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Patrick Ness: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…

So much of YA is the dramatic story about murder and tragedy among the popular kids. Vampires and werewolves and magic trolls in dungeons. This isn’t that story. This is something else, running parallel. This is the story of Emily the Background Slytherin and her friends (OMG KEVIN RUN). Those kids in the background who might actually do the assignments for graduation, whose lives go on no matter what might roam the halls or blow up the school.

But most importantly, this story is about a boy with OCD, a girl with an eating disorder, and  has both racial and LGBTQIA+ representation. Friends of mine who also have similar anxiety to mine insisted that I read this book ASAP because of the discussions that take place and I’m so glad they did. From start to finish, the OCD rep is just so incredible.

Mikey (I sort of cringe at this name because of those old cereal commercials) has severe anxiety/OCD–he gets into obsessive loops where if he doesn’t do a task exactly “right” something horrible will happen. Life becomes catastrophic inside those loops, getting worse and worse, and he becomes stuck.

Even though this is sort of a parody of YA fantasy, Ness does a wonderful job of blending his “Indie Kid” parallel with Mikey’s. The build up to the climax is so subtle that you hardly know it is coming–I sort of skimmed the chapter headings, but I thought they detracted from the actual story line, so I mostly just followed it through the main book.

I loved that Ness gives Mikey such a strong support system–his chosen family–instead of using the “hero comes to save him from his anxiety” trope. There’s a lot of talk about how one of his fears is that he is the least needed person, or no one would miss him if he were gone–I feel that SO HARD. And even though Mikey acknowledges at one point that he KNOWS he is lucky to have so many people who love him, to someone with anxiety, it’s so hard to convince ourselves that this is reality most of the time.

I could go on and on about everything that was amazing about the anxiety/OCD rep in this story. I want to quote the entire psychiatrist appointment to you. But, then you wouldn’t have to read the book, and I really think you probably should go read it. It’s going on my MUST READS list for sure, guys. So, yeah. Do it.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen: The Refugees

With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

This second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.

You know how I mentioned before that I took five books with me on the cruise? Wouldn’t you know it that I finished Dune at the airport with a 4 hour wait before our flight…and 3 hours left to go…and PACKED THE REST OF MY BOOKS IN MY CHECKED LUGGAGE!

Of course I did. Oops.

This is why airport planner people add bookstores. Because no matter how fancy our cellphones get–we still need books in airports. Luckily for me, The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen was 40% off! I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about this gorgeous cerulean new release, so it was no hard decision on what to grab from the shelf.

The Refugees is a collection of short stories, in the style of James Joyce or Colm Toibin–short snippets of life without a lot of context before or after. (Take that Joyce comparison with a grain of salt…I hate Joyce, but loved this. Style comparison, not author comparison.) Nguyen explores refugees of both country and soul. Every story features a Vietnamese character–while some characters have left Vietnam, others are returning–and all are experiencing some major upheaval in their life. It seems as if Nguyen doesn’t just mean “refugee” in the strict traveling sense, but also that the person is literally leaving one life for another.

Because this is a collection of short stories, know that there is no transition or connection between them besides the common refugee theme. They are written in first-person narrative, and to read them all back to back can sometimes be jarring to someone who doesn’t normally read this style. I am used to flowing right through chapters, so I probably should have read one story a day instead of doing this book all at once, to give myself a chance to separate each from the story before. That isn’t so much a flaw with the book, however, as with myself.

Regardless, I am thrilled with The Refugees, and if I could go back and choose a book from MCO, I’d still choose this one.

DiversityBingo2017:  Immigrant or Refugee MC

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Melissa Febos: Abandon Me

In her critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart, Melissa Febos laid bare the intimate world of the professional dominatrix, turning an honest examination of her life into a lyrical study of power, desire, and fulfillment.

In her dazzling Abandon Me, Febos captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection — with family, lovers, and oneself. First, her birth father, who left her with only an inheritance of addiction and Native American blood, its meaning a mystery. As Febos tentatively reconnects, she sees how both these lineages manifest in her own life, marked by compulsion and an instinct for self-erasure. Meanwhile, she remains closely tied to the sea captain who raised her, his parenting ardent but intermittent as his work took him away for months at a time. Woven throughout is the hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance love affair with a woman, marked equally by worship and withdrawal. In visceral, erotic prose, Febos captures their mutual abandonment to passion and obsession — and the terror and exhilaration of losing herself in another.

At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.

How do I know a book deserves an automatic five-star rating? When I have eight pages of quotes in my journal. EIGHT.

I could have copied this whole book down and still needed to go back and copy it all again. Melissa Febos’ prose is FLAWLESS. God. It’s so beautiful that I can not find a single thing to criticize.

It is also DRIPPING with sex.

In fact, most of the negative reviews on Goodreads say something like “Why does this book have to be so sexual?” Um, guys, you picked a book by dominatrix…did you expect something G rated?

This isn’t so much about her time as a sex worker–that’s another book–but about every other loaded section of her life. As she puts it:

“I am Puerto Rican, but not really. Indian, but not really. Gay, but not really. Adopted, but not really.”

The memoir’s story follows her abusive relationship with a married woman and her constant struggle to escape it. She details her addiction to self-harm, then alcohol, then drugs, and then love–all in an effort to gain control over her own body. We get to know, some along with her, the heartbreakingly damaged people in her life.

But the most important point of this book is how she teaches us of the incredible psychological trauma of the Indigenous Peoples of America. At one point, she has a conversation with her agent about how no one wants to read about Native Americans, that she should write something more akin to her dominatrix book, something about her–urban and edgy. So she does just that with this book–writing her love story, but still managing to weave in Native American history in every stop that is made, and let us know just how that genocide and erasure has affected the people we have tried so hard to push down.

Prove that agent wrong. Order this book immediately, guys. It’s sexy, it’s beautiful, it’s IMPORTANT. There are LGBTQIA+ and Native and POC people everywhere in this. And you know, that agent is right about one thing–we don’t see too many Native American authors–but that shouldn’t mean a lack of wanting them published. We need more stories like this, and we can start with Melissa Fabos. GO ORDER THIS BOOK, YA’LL.

NetGalley and Bloomsbury provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me

In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. In this short memoir, the “Atlantic” writer explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people–a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation. From his passionate and deliberate breakdown of the concept of race itself to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, Coates powerfully sums up the terrible history of the subjugation of black people in the United States. A timely work, this title will resonate with all teens–those who have experienced racism as well as those who have followed the recent news coverage on violence against people of color.

I’m so glad I read Malcolm X before getting to this, but also that I read them so close together. I’m not sure I would have understood Between the World and Me as well without Malcolm, but Coates also added much needed polish to Malcolm’s rough and angry manifesto. This is the kind of book that makes me want to bury myself in a great old library with piles of books and not come out again for days. There is just so much I do not know or understand, and the more I read on this topic, the less I feel prepared to work on it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ prose is more like poetry. He repeats the same phrases over and over in his work, and they really begin to resonate.

hisbodyhisbodyhisbodyhisbody
mybodymybodymybodymybody
yourbodyyourbodyyourbodyyourbody

Like a poem that none of us have a right to read.

He also rarely, if ever, calls us white people–instead using the term “the people who must believe they are white.” That is such an important distinction. Race is a social construct, birthed by this idea that some people are less than other people.

His mission in this book is to help explain to his son why black people are being killed–after they watch Michael Brown’s killer go free in Ferguson. He discusses many other similar violences, but mostly is trying to teach his son how to protect himself. This is a letter from a concerned parent to a scared boy in a world that does not care about him.

Toni Morrison states so clearly on the cover that “This is required reading.” She is absolutely right. This was written for a 15 year old boy, so it could technically be considered young adult, though I don’t think it is. It should be taught in every high school across America, though I’m sure it isn’t. It’s absolutely going on my MUST READS list, no doubt about it.

Beat the Backlist Challenge #64

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah

From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

What a book to end 2016 on. You aren’t reading this post until long after I’ve written it, but as I sit here it is the week leading up to Christmas. I may read two or three more books but I don’t plan on doing anything too heavy. Americanah is the last BIG book of the year. And damn, what a finish.

This is the type of book that makes me wish I were rich so I could send unlimited copies to people I think need to read it. This week in Book Twitter we’ve had fight after fight to protect TEENS from racists. Adults who are so twisted by their white privilege that they abuse and bully and threaten–over a book review. And the entire time Book Twitter is fighting, I’m reading Americanah.

It’s about a Nigerian immigrant who comes to America, and all that she goes through. She writes a lifestyle blog that gives commentary on what it is like to be a POC immigrant in America. Guys, this blog says exactly EVERYTHING that Book Twitter has been telling us over and over and over. It’s as if she took everyone’s tweetstorms and turned them into a book. Except this book was published in 2013. This isn’t new. That should tell you how real these issues are. They didn’t just start because Donald Trump is president. Maybe it exacerbated things but it’s been going on forever.

If you’re a white person in this community, put this on your immediate TBR for 2017. It really helps connect the dots of so many conversations being had daily on social media about racism and diversity and white privilege. This book is fucking HONEST. She gets REAL. And you and I need to hear it. Really hear it. Open this up and listen.

DiversityBingo2017:  Book by Author of Color

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Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

It’s been awhile since I’ve used this gif for a review, but I need to use it now.

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I’m going to start by acknowledging that this book has an asexual protagonist–and not like “oh, this character doesn’t have sex so we are inferring.” She comes right out and says “I am asexual.” That deserves it’s own applause. So here you go.

Image result for standing ovation gif

 

There’s also a transgender character and other queer characters. This is literally a book full of LGBTQA+ representation. ALL THE APPLAUSE.

And that is really the point of the book. This is a marvelous metaphor for those trying to come out of the closet. Their parents keep forcing them back in–sending them away to get help, ushering them away from society, behind closed doors and from the life they truly want to live. There’s a boy who decides he’d rather be “in the light” than face the Nonsense. He can’t live in the darkness so he leaves the school and goes home to be with the normal people again. Everyone else is trying so hard to find their way back to their doorway, to their “real home.”

Because the place where their parents live isn’t actually home, not really. They can’t be themselves there. They want to be in a place where people accept who they are, even places like Nonsense or Logic (those are opposite ends of the compass, of course).

This book ended way too soon for me. I no sooner entered the House for Wayward Children before I was thrust back out again. It’s only 173 pages, and I needed MORE. The world is brilliant, the story is brilliant, the characters are brilliant. I need to be hearing about more people reading this. I’m sure I’ll be throwing at a few people, so look out. It’s coming your way.

Have you found your door yet?

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Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner

“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

THE KITE RUNNER WAS BANNED FOR DEPICTIONS OF HOMOSEXUALITY, OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE, RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS, AND SEXUALLY EXPLICIT SCENES. (Tolerance.Org)

UGLY CRYING.

My friends warned me. When they found out I was reading this book, they told me how sad it was. But I had tried to read it years ago, and marked it Did Not Finish, so I wasn’t expecting an emotional reaction.

UGLY CRYING.

From the very first, the relationships in this book are special. The bond between Hassan and Amir is so tightly knit and beautiful, even before anything happens in the story, you get sort of weepy at their youth. Maybe it is because boys in America are discouraged from showing that much open affection towards each other. Girls, certainly, but boys…nope. They wrestle and fight, but to love each other in friendship that way–we usually don’t even see brothers that affectionate anymore. So this book resonates with us. It’s healthy, this strong male bond.

UGLY CRYING.

Then things go SO topsy turvy, in the absolute worst ways possible. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Reading books like The Kite Runner are so important, because most of our media twisted us into thinking all Afghan people were/are evil. The enemy. But Khaled Hosseini shows how many were victims too. This wasn’t solely a war on Americans–the war started in their home first.

UGLY CRYING.

This book has everything you’d expect from one set in a war torn country:  abuse, execution, rape. But it also has an enormous amount of compassion. And that is what will make you so emotional–not the shock and violence, those alone just make me sick, but the passion and love that the characters continue to carry throughout.

UGLY CRYING.

This was the perfect book to end Banned Books Week and kick off #OwnVoicesOctober. I have a few ARCs, but otherwise I will be reading almost all books like The Kite Runner–books written by authors with the same experience. If you have suggestions for books written by POC, LGBTQA, or authors with mental illness, please let me know.

Who are you reading for #OwnVoicesOctober?

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Review: Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1

KELLY SUE DeCONNICK (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel) and EMMA RÍOS (Dr. Strange, Osborn) present the collected opening arc of their surprise-hit series that marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher. Death’s daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.

I don’t always read our Adult Booklr graphic novel pick, but when I do, it’s because it has kick ass female authors. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios both have big names under their belt, so it’s pretty much no question that their work is always going to be worth reading.

The story here is fantastic, and with DeConnick behind it, that’s really no surprise. I wasn’t a huge fan of Bitch Planet‘s plot, but the writing was great, and this old school western legend is way more my style.

First thing you have to understand–the narrator here is a bunny-skeleton to a butterfly. Weird, I know–but this IS a book about the underworld. The whole thing is about Death, his daughter, and the people in His grasp. There’s a lot to take in–so much that I may read it again this weekend just because.

But even more than the creative storyline is the ART. There is so much going on at times that I almost forgot to even read the story because I just wanted to stare at every intricate detail. The pages aren’t laid out in normal comic panels. A page might be one full page drawing, with a few squares of smaller detail. Sometimes you would get a few long panels stacked on top of each other, when there was a lot of dialogue in a scene. The art overall is dark, sometimes bloody (but excepting the very first couple of pages, not exceedingly gory), and just exceptionally varied. Everything is striking. EVERYTHING.

HOW IS ANYONE ON EARTH THIS TALENTED I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

I should probably tell you that there is full on nudity, both male and female. This is definitely an adult comic, and for more than just that reason.

But you guys. YOU GUYS. It’s so beautiful.

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The Drowning Tree

August Penrose created the stained glass ‘Lady Window’ to adorn the chapel of the university he founded for the daughters of the women who worked in his factory, the Rose Glass Works. Depicting his wife, Eugenie, as the Lady of Shallot, it’s a mesmerizing portrait that has come to embody the spirit of the school itself. But now, eighty years after it was created, the ‘Lady Window’ is due for restoration. The task falls to former alumna Juno McKay. She’s restoring it with the help of her friend, Christine Webb, an art historian who is researching the window for her thesis. Christine seems to have discovered some new evidence that suggests that Clare, not her sister Eugenie, was the subject for the ‘Lady Window’. But before Christine can discuss her findings with Juno, she’s found dead in a boating accident that eerily echoes that fate of the Lady of Shallot. But did she drown or was it something more sinister? As Juno starts to make her own investigations into just how Christine died, she learns more about Augustus Penrose and his family. The ‘Lady Window’ was not the only thing the Penroses’ bequeathed to the world. Madness and deception also form part of their legacy.

I am in such a state of emotional shock from this book that I hardly know where to begin. Even the genre doesn’t do it full justice–gothic suspense thriller–no, no no! That is all wrong! It is so much more than that!

Carol Goodman’s plot takes place within the world of academia and art history, as Juno dives into her friend’s research of a local artist’s famous work. The story weaves in and out of myths and poetry, paintings and stained glass, real and still life, past and present. All combine to become a deeply beautiful, moving book that still is able to remain a mystery until the very end.

The setting is rooted not only at the academy, but also within the nearby mental hospital. A few of the characters have mental illnesses, and Goodman has shown this from all angles. Be prepared to see it from the days when it was still called an asylum. Be prepared for stigma and prejudices from institution workers around lobotomies and other such procedures. But there is also plenty of points of view from those who have the disorders, and it’s clear she did her research there. Trigger warning for suicide and drug overdose.

I really loved this book. I read it on a dark, rainy sick day and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book for that mood. It’s not a happy book, and I definitely have a hangover from it. I’m looking at what is supposed to be next and laughing, because there is no way I can move on to that right now. This was just too good. Add it to your buy list–I sure am!

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