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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Malinda Lo: Huntress

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

How funny that I read Of Fire and Stars, and then IMMEDIATELY read another F/F book right after? That was not planned AT ALL! I had Huntress out from the library in an effort to read more POC authors, but I didn’t know it also had LGBTQIA+ characters. What a nice surprise!

I fell into this book right away. I was a little afraid that starting a fantasy right after fantasy would be redundant–sometimes I have to spread them out a bit–but no, this was wonderful. The world building in Huntress takes off right away, and it’s mystical and both lush and soft at the same time. I really appreciated the pronunciation guide at the beginning, too, and made sure to study it before diving in.

As for the romance, it is both steamy and modest. There are no explicit scenes, and certain things are left to the reader’s interpretation and imagination. I can’t really tell you why because, spoilers, but I sort of preferred it that way in this context. Also, if it allows this book to get into the hands of younger LGBTQIA+ teens, then I am ALL for it.

There were a few scenes that I felt were a tad rushed, or maybe should have been left for a next book. I kept thinking that the book would end and sequel time! …but then it kept going… Those hesitations/cliff drops were a little strange. But overall I loved this story and now I need to go pick up Ash as soon as possible.

DiversityBingo2017: LGBTQIA+ MC Of Color

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Zoraida Córdova: Labyrinth Lost

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

I’ve seen this book EVERYWHERE lately–it’s touted as the MUST READ for 2016. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why! A multiracial, bisexual main character who is also a witch? YES PLEASE.

There’s no skirting around that bisexuality, either. There are two love interests, though one is certainly stronger than the other, and Alex’s sexuality is never in question. It’s completely normalized and it’s WONDERFUL. More of this please!

The world of Los Lagos is incredibly beautiful–fans of Alice in Wonderland are going to find this book familiar, except instead of a bland British background you’ll see a vibrant canvas reminiscent of Day of the Dead celebrations and Afro-Caribbean influences.  Cordova’s worldbuilding is as magical as the magic of the brujas, which is interwoven through families, and blessed by the gods.

I only have one real criticism of this book. More than once, Alex refers to Nova as having “bipolar eyes.” What do “bipolar eyes” look like? That is not an acceptable descriptor, even if you WERE speaking about someone with a mental illness–and nowhere in the rest of the book, that I could find, is Nova described as having Bipolar Disorder. It shocked me that in a book as amazingly diverse as this, that such a harmful word choice was used.

Aside from that issue, though, I loved the book. Is it enough for me to tell you not to read it? No, definitely not. Labyrinth Lost is an incredible story with incredible diversity. Teens should be able to see this much bisexual representation is EVERY popular YA novel. But it was enough of an issue for me to keep it from my 5 book dragon list MUST READ list. I hope she leaves that descriptor out of the sequel.

DiversityBingo2017:  OV Latinx MC

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Louise Gornall: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

How do some books just find you at the perfect time? It seems that I’ve read bad book after bad book lately (with one or two exceptions), and then blammo, right when I needed it, this book happened. Two days after I was FINALLY diagnosed with OCD, I pick up Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

I was hooked within the first couple pages. The narrator described her obsessions almost the exact same way I had written about them in my journal the day before my therapist appointment, and I got CHILLS. So much of what she talked about rang true with me. Mine is not near as severe, and I don’t have agoraphobia, but it was incredible to have such representation in a book.

But enough about me and back to the review. There are a lot of similarities between Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything and Under Rose-Tainted Skies. However, Norah doesn’t have to be “fixed” to have a relationship with Luke. Instead, he comes to her. He makes an effort to learn about her disorder. In the process of their relationship, she does heal some, but she isn’t magically better. It’s baby steps, or “new pathways,” as her therapist would call them. Luke helps her grow a bit out of her comfort zone.

This book is going to be triggering for some people. There is a component of self-harm, and a very traumatic scene. Norah also experiences panic attacks throughout the book–those were difficult for me to experience, as they were very vivid. Right on target, but also hard to read through if you are one who has panic attacks yourself. Representation is everything, and amazing…but just proceed with caution if you also suffer from these kinds of mental illness.

I loved this book, I found it so helpful to read about someone like me. We need so many more Own Voices books about people with mental illness in this world. Definitely put this on your list for 2017!

DiversityBingo2017:  MC with an Invisible Disability

NetGalley and Clarion Books provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Dual Review: Thelonious Legend: Sins of the Father + Childish Things

I reviewed Sins of the Father a year ago, when it was first released. I hadn’t developed my Book Dragon system yet, but I gave it a 3 on Goodreads. But it has stuck in my memory, and every time I think about it, I have wanted to go back and reread–I really did love these girls. Because he has written a sequel, Thelonious Legend contacted me and generously sent me both books, and so here is an updated review for Book 1, as well as my write up for Book 2.

Book 1:  Sins of the Father

This was going to be a special year for the Parker sisters. Eve was going to dominate in the classroom and on the basketball court. Gwen was going to make the starting five and go down in history as the greatest prankster ever. Ana was going to do as little as possible. But without warning, all three sisters gain extraordinary abilities that defy science… powers that come with a cost. Now all they want to do is make it through the school year without drawing any undue attention, while racing to find a cure before the side effects of their new abilities kill them. Eve’s temperament, Gwen’s fondness for pranks, and Ana’s predilection for money, however, are challenges they must overcome to achieve their goals. Because if they can’t, they’re dead…

My memory did not deceive me. The Parker Sisters are just as incredible the second time as they were the first. They are smart, strong, and fast–and that doesn’t just refer to their super powers, but the plot itself. I read this over Christmas weekend and kept having to put my Kindle away. I couldn’t wait to get back to the story! It is racially diverse without bringing attention to it. It simply IS diverse.

At the book’s core is a story about three black middle school girls who develop super powers and have to navigate school drama while fighting for their lives. But behind all that is also a backdrop of privilege and culture that teaches us all to look deeper than the mask people wear.

I would definitely recommend this for older middle schoolers (7th grade+) or really anyone who likes YA. There is some violence and darker themes so just be cautious with younger audiences–though I’d never discourage anyone wanting to read this.

 

Book 2:  Childish Things

Mo Powers Mo Problems! It’s a new school year for the Parker Sisters but it’s the same song and dance. Get good grades, avoid being kidnapped or killed before dinner, and don’t forget to take to out the trash. But this year there are a few new players in the game. Players who are as special as the Parker Sisters. Let the games begin.

I know I’m reading a really good book when I stop and it is way too quiet. Was I listening to music? No…the book is just THAT good.

This happened more than once while I was reading Childish Things. The action gets completely turned up in Legend’s second book. The girls are older, wiser, and more powerful. They are training harder, and are more prepared for the bad guys that are, well, badder.

Childish Things is Gwen’s story, where Sins of the Father centered more around Eve. This gives the book a very “middle child syndrome” spin, as we see her take on friends, boys, and life while constantly comparing herself to her older sister.

The social justice spin is more subtle in this second book, but it is there in the margins for those who are paying attention. I am very interested in the almost backward character development of Stacey in particular, and how Legend is using her to show white privilege and the kind of subtle unknowing prejudice we don’t realize we have.

 

Both of these books are fantastic, and ones that’ll be making my top recommendations this year. For sure add this series to your Diverse YA TBRs. I cannot wait to see what Legend does with Ana’s story next–she got quite a bit of development in Childish Things, and she’s my favorite of the three sisters. I said in my original review for Sins of the Father that Thelonious Legend would do “Legendary” things with his writing, and it may have been a pun…but I wasn’t wrong. I LOVE these books, and you will too!

Disclaimer:  The author did provide me with copies of both books for an honest review, after I had reviewed the first last year for a book tour. 

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Marie Lu: Legend

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Can I tell you how weird it is to read a dystopia right now? WEIRD. We are basically living what used to be dystopian fiction, so to read it is very creepy.

Thankfully, Legend is still a ways off, and the world June and Day live in seems to have been created originally by natural disasters first, and horrible human government second. Our natural disasters are getting worse…but at least we haven’t had a super volcano yet. Right?

I’m trying to find a silver lining here guys. I’m trying.

(Hopefully by the time I post this review there hasn’t been a super volcano. You never know. Italy has had some pretty serious earthquakes lately, and there was one in New Zealand this week too.)

I’m scaring myself. What was I talking about? Oh, right. June and Day.

Real life nightmares aside, I can understand why this is so popular. It’s young adult fiction for young adults. Sometimes, as an adult reader, I forget who the audience is supposed to be while I’m reading books like this–the writing seems juvenile–but this was written by a very young author for a young audience. And for that, it fits wonderfully. Are the characters the deepest I’ve ever read? No. Is the plot totally unique? No. But I was instantly wrapped up in June and Day’s dual POV plot lines. I loved the idea that these kids were brilliant, and that they had such different life experiences.

This series goes back in my TBR jar so I can read the rest of the series. We can only hope our government looks a little less dystopian by the time I get around to finishing it. Fingers crossed (plus a whole lot of letter writing, calls, twitter rants, etc).

Update 2/10/2017–This has now been added to my shame list, and the rating has been changed to reflect that. A friend pointed out today that June is described as “She was either Native. Or Caucasian.” That is unacceptable language. It is incredibly harmful. I have removed the other books from my TBR, and moved this to my DO NOT READ list.

 

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Jill Bowers: Immortal Writers

Young up-and-coming author Liz McKinnen has no idea that her life is about to change forever when she comes home from her first book tour. When she’s kidnapped and told by her captors that she has to kill her fantasy book’s antagonist, she thinks that she’s fallen into the hands of crazy, dangerous fans… until her antagonist sends a real, fire-breathing dragon after her. Liz is quickly initiated into the Immortal Writers, a group of authors from throughout time whose words have given them eternal life, and whose prose is so powerful that it’s brought stories over from the Imagination Field into the Reality Field. As Liz meets authors such as William Shakespeare, JRR Tolkien, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jane Austen, she has to learn how to control magic, fight dragons, and face her own troubled past before her power-hungry villain takes over the world. Will she survive the ultimate battle against the dragon lord whom she created?

Can you be both in love with a story and hate the writing at the same time? This is such a mixed review for me. The concept is so creative:  a young writer is so brilliant that her characters come to life and take her to a castle where she is inducted into a society of Immortal Writers with the like of Shakespeare and Tolkien. However, as a sort of initiation, she must conquer her own villain. There are dragons, and magic, and a dashing hero to kiss.

Sounds awesome, right?

However, I found it all a bit juvenile. NetGalley lists this in their Teens & YA group, but I would put this on the very young side of that grouping. For a book about an author who is supposed to be as great as HG Wells and Dostoevsky, the prose just doesn’t measure up. The characters are very one-dimensional, and even the authors, while amusing, are caricatures of themselves. Bowers seems to have a particular disdain for Jane Austen and romantics, which is ironic since this is a fantasy romance.

Not much diversity either. Every relationship is heterosexual, and there is only one token POC in Langston Hughes…and he’s the first to get injured in battle. I never thought I’d call Langston Hughes a “token” POC, but he really feels that way here. More diversity, please!

Trigger warnings for domestic violence and child abuse.

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I AM MAD

I have a lot of emotions, but the one I feel most overwhelmingly is MAD.

Mad that we are here today, uncertain about the future. Mad that we have a political system that cheats voters out of their true voice. Mad that so many of those voices are suppressed. I’m mad that we had a law that protected those voices and it was taken away because we are in denial that racism still exists.

I’m mad that the people appointed to lead our country are racists and bigots and misogynists. We have one man whose life is fraught with scandal and who shows us over and over how he tears people down, especially women and people of color. We have another who already has an extensive political career in harming women and LGBTQIA+.

But the real thing I am so mad at is that WE elected these men. MY DEMOGRAPHIC. 66% of white women voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence–two men who hate women. WHY? We were so afraid to let go of our privilege that we gave up our rights, and the rights of our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers.

And so I’m mad. FURIOUS.

But while I’m mad, my friends of color are terrified for their lives. My friends in the LGBTQIA+ community are scared not only that they will lose the rights they have fought so hard for, but maybe their lives too.

We have had bad presidents before, we have disagreed with those in government before. But this is a wholly different situation.

This decision could cost people their lives. Already after Day 1, we are seeing reports of Muslim women having their hijabs pulled off. Gay children are coming home in tears after being bullied, and 4 trans kids committed suicide yesterday. These are not isolated incidents. This election has basically told bigots “You are right! These people are gross and you need to tell them.”

So many of us are feeling helpless right now, but there are some things we can do.

  • If you see bullying like the above, DO NOT STAY QUIET. Either stand up to the bully yourself, or at the very least, be an impassive force by getting the person out of the situation.

Hi everyone! This is an illustrated guide I made as part of my co-admining work at The Middle Eastern Feminist on Facebook! It will be published there shortly. The technique that is displayed here is a genuine one used in psychology - I forgot the...

  • Donate to a suicide hotline. So many people, especially kids, are calling in for help right now. They need your support, so if you can, please donate. Here are some of the best (Also, if you need help, please do not hesitate to use these. They are there for you!):
    • The Trevor Project (LBGT+): 1-866-488-7386
    • Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
    • http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#
    • http://www.crisistextline.org/get-help-now/
  • Huffington Post also wrote an article with several places to donate.
  • Call or text or email your friends, family members, and coworkers who may be hurting right now. Ask them how they are. Listen to them. Really listen.
  • Check on your kids. There’s a lot of bullying happening, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are witnessing or hearing things they aren’t used to. There have been several articles written on how to talk to your kids about what is happening. I’m not a parent, so I’m not going to point you that direction, but I’m hearing it from several of my friends that this is affecting them already.
  • Consider joining an anti-racist group or civil right organization. Here’s a good resource that lists several, or hit google to find one in your area. This is a good way to get involved with the peaceful protests and movements that are happening.

I had a friend in another country make a joke about how silly the name of our country was:  The United States of America. And she was right. Because we haven’t been United. We need to be a united front in fighting racism and prejudice. We don’t know what is coming, and that is why so many people are terrified. We need to be a community more than ever. Be kind. Be loving. Be safe.

I love you all.

Jennifer Mathieu: Afterward

When Caroline’s little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can’t help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can’t see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend–and their best option just might be each other.

GAH this book will make you HURT. It’s a book about trauma–kidnapping, sexual abuse, PTSD, healing. It tore me up so much that I didn’t write the review immediately because I just wasn’t sure HOW to write it.

I’m still not sure.

Mostly I just felt so much pain for the boys and their families in this story. It’s extremely intense, so be careful with yourselves when you read it.

I’m sorry, this is a hard book to review–it’s beautiful, and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it, but also put a major trigger warning on it.

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This book was awarded in a Goodreads giveaway by Roaring Book Press. This post does contain affiliate links.

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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.

Image result for standing ovation gif

 

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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