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Walk the Jagged Streets of Gentrification with Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, a guest post by Marie Marquardt

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Ibi Zoboi join us for a conversation about gentrification, identity, and Zoboi’s excellent new novel, Pride. 

 

 

 

Step onto my block

and walk these jagged

broken streets and sidewalk cracks

like rickety bridges across our backs

to the end of rainbows

reflecting off broken glass

where the pot of gold

is way on the other side

of this world.

– from “Girls in the Hood” a poem by Zuri Benitez, Pride

 

Breaking Past Invisible Walls with Pride

 

prideI’m thrilled and honored to have Ibi Zoboi back to #ReadForChange as we celebrate the launch of her highly-anticipated YA novel, Pride. If you saw my February feature on American Street, you already know that I am a huge fan of Ibi’s stories. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of this gorgeous (inside and out!) book a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t put it down.

 

Pride is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in the rapidly-gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Zuri Benitez, the second daughter in a Haitian-Dominican family, has lived her entire life in a crowded Bushwick apartment, surrounded by love, a good dose of chaos, and much delicious food. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street after funding an “Extreme Makeover: Bushwick Edition,” Zuri’s mom is beside herself with anticipation for the possibilities of a good match, and her giggly younger sisters can’t get enough of the handsome Darcy brothers, Ainsley and Darius.

 

Fans of Pride and Prejudice will not be surprised to learn that Darius initially comes across as arrogant and dismissive of Zuri and her family, and that Zuri despises him. Needless to say, by the end of the book, Darius and Zuri definitely don’t hate each other. As Zuri and Darius’ relationship moves toward it’s inevitable (and super-sweet) finale, Zuri has many chances to reflect on the complicated impacts of gentrification, and to experience the challenges of building relationships across differences of social class. Lucky for us readers, some of Zuri’s reflections come in the form of gorgeous and lyrical poetry, which is interspersed through the narrative.

 

 

“Reverse-gentrifying the Brit-Lit Canon”: An Interview with Ibi Zoboi

Ibi.Zoboi.2018.4MARIE: Throughout the story, Zuri offers so many subtle — but also powerful — observations about the ways gentrification impact everyday life in Bushwick. Were these drawn from your experience? What inspired you to write on themes of gentrification?  

 

 

IBI: Yes, these were definitely drawn from my experience. I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that’s undergoing lots of changes. In fact, I’ve been priced out of my neighborhood, too. Gentrification is about class, upward mobility, and ultimately, property ownership, all the themes that are also in Pride and Prejudice. It was the perfect issue to highlight for this retelling about two teens finding common ground and falling in love.

 

 

MARIE: Pride takes a head-on look at the effects of gentrification on families and communities, which means it also is a story about social class and belonging. You took some risks to address the complicated intersections of race, class, and identity. Why was it important for you to focus on these?

 

 

IBI: The Darcy family is wealthy and Black, and they’re moving into a lower income and working class community populated by people who look like them, Of course there would be issues of identity and big-picture questions about what it means to be Black in an urban landscape. But most importantly, my characters are teens who grapple with identity no matter what environment they’re in. Zuri is looking into a culture that she’s unfamiliar with, which is wealth and access. If she steps back a bit, she can see what is possible for her. Darius also sees what could’ve been possible for him had he not come from wealth. I wanted to examine the issues of upward mobility, education, and class through the eyes of these two teens.
PrideInside

 

MARIE:  Some might consider it odd that you went to the Brit-lit canon for inspiration to tell Zuri and Darius’ love story. Why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
IBI: While I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice for school, many Black kids have had to. I think the better question is, why is the Brit-lit canon forced on Black and Brown students? What connections can a Caribbean or Latinx immigrant teen make between herself and the Regency world of Jane Austen? In the same way that wealthier newcomers to underserved neighborhoods erase the established cultures, this my very own way of reverse gentrifying the Brit-lit canon. Pride and Prejudice has so much to say about class and a woman’s place in the world, but those themes are not relegated to 19th century British women. A Haitian-Dominican teen in Brooklyn can grapple with those same issues.

 

Want to better understand gentrification? Check out Ibi’s excellent recommendations.

 

To get us started, an excellent nonfiction book:

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration 
by Isabel Wilkerson offers an excellent historical perspective on the gentrification of cities. It tells the story of the period from 1915 to 1970, when six million African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to build new lives in the cities.

warmpth of other suns

Now to a documentary:

Citizen Jane: Battle Cry for the City chronicles the visionary work of Jane Jacobs, an activist and author who fought to preserve the city.

citizen-jane-battle-for-the-city-british-movie-poster

And, finally, a podcast:

From WNYC’s The Takeaway – There Goes the Neighborhood: Race and Gentrification (Click here to listen)

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 3.09.55 PM

 

Want to take action? Ibi’s advice is simple:

 

IBI: I recommend students get involved with any community-centered organizations that advocate for fair housing, public spaces, and funding for the arts.

 

Win a copy of Pride, hot off the presses!

Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt October 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

Book Review: The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the April 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

gender identityThe Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni (ISBN-13: 9781684030309 Publisher: New Harbinger Publications Publication date: 04/01/2018)
K-Gr 4—Written by a clinical social worker specializing in gender nonconforming youth, this comprehensive guide helps children and families explore, understand, and affirm gender identities. This workbook is designed to allow kids to read, write, and draw about themselves, either with a parent or on their own. The thorough text defines terms in context and in a glossary, discusses gender diversity internationally and through history, and includes brief biographies of children who identify in a variety of ways. Through activities, readers can write about their pronouns, pick out clothes and hairstyles that best fit them, explore their feelings about their bodies, draw self-portraits, fill out a birth certificate, and list what changes they may like to make in their lives. Information is also presented on adult helpers (therapists, parents, and school staff), being safe and comfortable at school, and how to handle questions with example answers. This valuable resource clearly explains concepts and is full of activities that are fun and illuminating. Storck constantly reinforces the ideas that gender is expansive and identities are limitless, that any identity on the gender spectrum is valid and should be affirmed, and that children should feel loved, supported, and safe as they explore their identities. Working through this book with an adult would be useful, as the reading level may be much higher than that of the readers, though the text is aimed at young children. VERDICT A sensitive and empowering exploration of identity and expression that both educates and celebrates. Collections will strongly want to consider. —Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

 

Book Review: Antipodes by Michele Bacon

Publisher’s description

antipodesWhen Erin Cerise steps off her plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, she’s determined to overcome her losses of swim team captainship, her boyfriend Ben, and her reputation. Her mother is certain studying abroad will regain Erin’s chances of a good future. Once Erin meets her uninspiring host family and city, though, she’s not so sure.

Before Christchurch, Erin wasn’t always intense and focused. When had her priorities gone upside down?

Now, Erin balks at NZ’s itchy school uniforms, its cold houses, and her hosts’ utter inability to pronounce her name correctly. Christchurch does boast amazing rock climbing, gorgeous scenery, and at least one guy who could make her journey worthwhile—if she lets him.

With months ahead of her, Erin slowly begins to draw on the years behind her, one step back into her memories at a time. As she rebuilds herself from the other side of the world, she finds that although her life has been turned upside down and she’s far from home, every way she moves takes her closer to where she came from.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

When Erin moves from Chicago to New Zealand to study abroad, it’s mainly because she’s fleeing what has gone on in her life. It seems like a drastic move, but one her parents fully support. They’re already mortified at her behavior and choices, and besides, studying abroad will help make Erin’s college applications unique. And if she’s going to get into Columbia (and eventually get into med school, become a doctor, make lots of money, and have a perfect life), she’ll need something to help her stand out. Just a handful of weeks ago, her life had been different. Erin had felt like she had it all—a great boyfriend, her swim team spot, and excellent college prospects. But that was before she gained viral fame for an embarrassing and hardly life-ending incident. Now, everything is different.

 

Erin’s time in New Zealand opens her eyes to a lot of things. Erin is extremely privileged and totally unimpressed with her host family, their home, and really all of Christchurch. Her parents, both lawyers, have always been very intense and focused on Erin’s success and her future. Her mother lives for to-do lists and goal-setting. She wants Erin to use her time in New Zealand not to sightsee but to focus on being exceptional and unique. It doesn’t take Erin long in New Zealand to start to understand there is more to life than a constant fixation on goals she never even set for herself. Before long, she’s cast aside her cello, is excelling on the much more relaxed than she’s used to swim team, taking fun classes she never had time to consider before, and falling for a boy who falls far outside the bounds of what her parents would consider acceptable. For the first time in her life, Erin is being asked—and is asking herself–about what she enjoys, what she is interested in, and where she’d like her future to take her. These are confusing revelations, and Erin feels a bit lost as she navigates a new world not just far from home but free of expectations and demands. 

 

It may take readers a while to warm to Erin, who is spoiled and entitled, but her journey toward understanding herself and breaking free from her parents’ rigid rules is a genuine one full of heart and excitement. This engrossing story of self-discovery is bolstered by the unique (Erin’s mother would like that word) setting of New Zealand and a great cast of secondary characters who come to support and encourage Erin in ways it felt like no one at home truly did. An excellent and engaging look at what we can gain when it feels like everything is lost. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781510723610
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book Review: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Publisher’s description

ps i missA heartbreaking—yet ultimately uplifting—epistolary novel about family, religion, and having the courage to be yourself.

 

Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister, Cilla, away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. Forbidden from speaking to Cilla, Evie secretly sends her letters.

Evie writes about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

Evie could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back, and it’s time for Evie to take matters into her own hands.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy is a heartfelt middle grade novel dealing with faith, identity, and finding your way in difficult times.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, friends. We need SO MANY MORE middle grade books about LGBTQIA+ kids. I can’t wait for the day that kids of all identities can see themselves joyfully and lovingly represented and embraced.

Evie’s path to discovering who she really is is a very complicated and painful one. The entire book is told through letters to her sister Cilla, who at first has no internet/phone access and then later just isn’t responding. At first I couldn’t get past how extremely dated it feels to only be able to communicate through snail mail, but I did get past that once I got caught up in the story. Cilla got pregnant at sixteen and has been sent away from their home in Massachusetts to their great-aunt’s home in Virginia, to have the baby in secret, then to head to an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school after the baby is born and adopted. Evie desperately misses her sister and sends her endless letters, despite only rarely (and tersely) hearing back from Cilla. Evie’s extremely judgmental and withholding parents have retreated into work and baking/hiding away crying since Cilla left, leaving Evie so alone as she navigates some new feelings toward new classmate June. But it’s not like her parents would be comforting or loving to Evie during this time, anyway. The version of Catholicism that they practice is a strict and punishing one, one that makes them shun their pregnant daughter and, Evie is sure, would make them just as quickly disown their lesbian daughter. So she writes to Cilla, despite the silence back, trying to work out her feelings for June and process her sister’s absence. Evie is not at all prepared for what she finds when she goes looking on her own to find her sister. Uncovering a betrayal so profound that it’s hard to imagine it actually happening, Evie is forced to face the lengths some people will go to to maintain appearances and hide secrets. It’s a revelation that will change her life and her perception of her family, religion, and her thoughts on her own identity.

 

There is so much shame, stigma, and embarrassment here. Their parents constantly talk about how horrible Cilla’s “mistake” and “sin” is. They are mortified, deeply ashamed, and do everything to hide what has happened, including the very outdated-feeling move of sending her away to have the baby in secret. They have completely turned their back on Cilla, not communicating with her, showing any love, or even uttering her name. They remove her pictures from their walls, spin lies to the community about where she is, and even tell an old friend that Evie is their only child. The constant onslaught of shame and judgment toward teen pregnancy honestly got really hard to stomach.

 

Evie is very, very young-sounding and naive. The story takes place during 7th grade, but quite often, she feels much younger. She initially thinks in pretty simplistic ways (“bad girls get pregnant”). When she meets June, she notes that she’s never met anyone with dyed hair. When she learns June is an atheist, she again notes that she’s never met one. She observes that her sister broke commandments and sinned, but that she’s learned her lesson and won’t sin again. It’s clear how much of her thinking early on in the book has been influenced by her (awful) parents. Her thoughts on everything change and progress as the story unfolds, but for quite a bit of the story she is sheltered, naive, and parroting her parents’ beliefs. This development, this change to having her own opinions on right and wrong, on religion’s role in her life, on things like teen pregnancy and homosexuality, is believable if not always easy to read.

 

Evie’s relationship with June also develops in a believable, if not always happy, way. Though she recognizes and struggles with the crush she has on June early on, she is so worried that her parents will disown her, that she’s a sinner, that she’s doing something wrong. But she pushes past that and lets herself feel what she feels. Their relationship follows a very typical trajectory for 7th graders—they’re hesitant, nervous, excited, and happy. They hold sweaty hands, kiss (once, then Evie decides she isn’t ready to be doing that), and spend tons of time together. But for much of the book, it’s all in secret. Thankfully, when Evie does tell her best friends what is going on, they react positively. But even when Evie has told June how she feels and they are girlfriends, Evie notes that she still feels a little ashamed of herself for liking a girl.

 

My hope is that readers can see past the onslaught of shame and stigma, even felt and perpetuated by Evie herself, to see the joy of discovering someone you have a crush on and see how Evie eventually learns to not hide or be ashamed of who she is. A well-written, if deeply uncomfortable and often disheartening, look at identity, family, and secrets. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250123480
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 03/06/2018

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher’s description

poet XFans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing #ownvoices novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was fantastic. It took me a little bit to warm up to Xiomara, not because of any flaws in the writing or characterization, but because Xiomara is a tough nut to crack—she keeps most everyone at a distance, is quick to fight, and is slow to reveal what she’s all about. But once this novel in verse really gets going—watch out! You won’t be moving anywhere until you’ve finished the whole thing.

 

15-year-old Dominican American Xiomara is used to being judged, harassed, and viewed only as a body with curves, not just from the male gaze, but even from her own mother. She’s close to exactly two people in life, her twin brother, whom she lovingly just calls Twin, and their best friend, Caridad. They are the only ones who really know anything about her, and even they don’t get to know it all. Xiomara’s mother goes to Mass daily and is extremely disappointed in Xiomara’s disinterest in church, confirmation classes, and religion. She’s very strict,but Xiomara has found ways around her rules to try to live the life she wants. She joins a poetry club at school while pretending to be at confirmation classes. She also begins seeing Trinidadian Aman, a kind, compassionate, music-loving classmate who is always ready to hear one of her poems. Her mother makes it clear that her sexuality is something to be repressed, to be ashamed of, to be denied, but Xiomara is having all of these first feelings for Aman, and not even the scolding voice of her mother in her head can override her beginning to make her own decisions and define her body and her sexuality on her own terms. But she has to keep all of this secret from her mother—just like Twin has to keep his relationship with a boy a secret. Everything begins to unravel when Xiomara’s mother sees her kissing Aman, and then further escalates when she finds Xiomara’s poetry notebook. Learning how to trust and how listen to her own voice—to find power not just in words but in the power of her words—is a rough road for Xiomara, but it’s also one filled with wonder, joy, and revelations. Powered by Xiomara’s strong but vulnerable voice, this intense, poignant, and extraordinary novel is a must for all collections.

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062662804
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/06/2018

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Publisher’s description

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

princeI so enjoyed this graphic novel.

Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium doesn’t always feel like a prince. Some days, he looks at himself in the mirror, wearing his traditional “boy” clothes, and feels just fine. Other days, that doesn’t feel right at all. He’d rather wear dresses and feel like a princess. He’s completely uninterested in finding a wife (something his parents are fixated on). He’s 16 and harboring this secret—he doesn’t exactly feel ready for a relationship, where he’d likely need to reveal parts of himself that he isn’t yet ready to. Instead, he hangs with his new seamstress (and new best friend) Frances, who barely blinks when she learns her new client is a prince wanting to wear dresses. She’s just excited to make some wild designs and maybe be discovered. Sebastian dons her dresses and enjoys a nightlife as the popular, trend-setting Lady Crystallia. He appears happier than he’s ever been, but he still has to deal with the fact that his parents are on a wife-hunt and that he’s living a secret life. When Frances’s designs do get her noticed, she finds herself possibly getting the break of a lifetime. But pursuing her dreams may mean Lady Crystallia’s real identity getting out, a risk that Sebastian can’t take.

Sebastian’s story is, at times, difficult to read. Living a secret life, hiding who he is, is both heartbreaking and exhausting. He’s unhappy and lives in fear. He is so certain he won’t be accepted. The story also includes a pretty unpleasant scene of him being outed. That said, it’s important to know that Sebastian is eventually embraced and accepted by his family and friends, even once they know the truth. The scene surrounding this moment, a fashion show, is pretty epic. Readers who may feel some of the same self-loathing, secrecy, and fear especially need to see this happy resolution. Wang’s gorgeous artwork is well suited to depict a story filled with decadence and high fashion. The characters are so expressive and dynamic—we see Sebastian absolutely come live as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia, and generally appear so miserable when he’s out of those beautiful dresses. Though their relationship has some growing pains, the supportive and loving friendship between Frances and Sebastian is lovely. Fans of graphic novels will be drawn in by the lush and lively art. The strong storytelling and fantastic characters will keep readers engaged, making sure they pay attention to all of the details in the art that add to the story. Though Sebastian’s road to being able to show his real self isn’t easy, it’s wonderful to see him loved, embraced, and supported in the end. Let’s hear it for happy endings! 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626723634
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 02/13/2018

Anger, inspiration, and the stories we tell, a guest post by Marieke Nijkamp

before iBefore I Let Go tells the story of two girls in the arctic heart of Alaska. Two girls who were best friends, who were discovering who they could be, who were each other’s center of gravity. It tells of  grief and ice, of mystery and mental illness.

And it was, at least in part, born out of anger.

Anger is good writing fuel for me. Anger and questions. It’s where most of my story ideas start. Of course, for an idea to grow into a book, it needs far more than just a spark. It needs characters to carry it, a plot to move it forward, and beautiful Alaskan settings. Oh, how I love playing with winter.

But it started with a spark of anger.

The source of that anger? Inspiration porn. A specific instance… or ten or twenty.

If you don’t know what inspiration porn is, the late, great Stella Young defined it as such in her absolute spectacular Ted talk I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much: the act of objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people.

It’s posters of disabled athletes with the slogan “The only disability is a bad attitude.” It’s describing disabled people as courageous simply for living. It’s quite literally describing us as inspirational.

I don’t know anyone with a disability—especially those of us who use assistive devices or are visibly disabled—who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to tell them how brave they are. I don’t know anyone with a disability who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to say, “I can’t imagine living like that, but you’re really inspiring to me.” Or, “I wasn’t feeling well today, but then I thought of you and how much worse you have it, and I pushed through.”

It happens countless times.

At the core of it is this strange idea that living with disability is either so remarkable or so terrible that the sheer act of existing is to be applauded. (And that we only exist for the benefit of nondisabled people.)

Now, on the surface, inspiration porn may seem relatively benign. Sure, it’s objectifying, but inspiration is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s set aside that objectifying and othering means not valuing us, means denying us accessibility, means hindering our quest toward equality.

Sometimes, it goes beyond even that. When there’s a very specific variation to the theme: when a disabled person’s death exists to inspire nondisabled people in life.

This particular version is often used specifically in the context of (romanticizing) mental illness and suicidal ideation, though there are also ample examples of it being used in broader disability representation.

And honestly, I’ve seen one too many portrayals of dead disabled characters whose death is turned into a teachable moment instead of a tragedy. Or, a flawed reminder to “make the most” out of life. And it always keeps the focus on nondisabled people.

That’s what sparked Before I Let Go. I wanted to write a book that examined and would be conversation with inspiration porn. Sure, it’s a murder mystery too. And a story of friendship and responsibility and how even the best intentions can be harmful. But Kyra’s death at the start of the book is unequivocally a tragedy.

She deserved so much more. And that’s where we start.

 

Meet Marieke Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she spends as much time in fictional worlds as she does the real world. She loves to travel, roll dice, and daydream.

Marieke’s debut young adult novel, This Is Where It Ends, follows four teens during the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting. Her sophomore novel, Before I Let Goa haunting young adult murder mystery set during a cruel Alaskan winter, is out now.

For more information about Marieke, visit Twitter, TumblrInstagram, and her website.

Book Review: Calling My Name by Liara Tamani

Publisher’s description

ra6Calling My Name, by debut author Liara Tamani, is a striking, luminous, and literary exploration of family, spirituality, and self—ideal for readers of Jacqueline Woodson, Jandy Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Sandra Cisneros.

This unforgettable novel tells a universal coming-of-age story about Taja Brown, a young African American girl growing up in Houston, Texas, and deftly and beautifully explores the universal struggles of growing up, battling family expectations, discovering a sense of self, and finding a unique voice and purpose.

Told in fifty-three short, episodic, moving, and iridescent chapters, Calling My Name follows Taja on her journey from middle school to high school. Literary and noteworthy, this is a beauty of a novel that deftly captures the multifaceted struggle of finding where you belong and why you matter.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

calling my nameThis quiet book is beautifully written and features a very introspective main character who interrogates her thoughts on sex, faith, dating, her future, and more. When we first meet Taja she’s 11 (I think–often her age is not specified). We follow her through her senior year of high school. Spanning such a large number of years is a risky move in a YA book and initially readers may wonder why she is so young and when the story will jump to her older teen years. Though she may be on the younger side at the beginning of the story, she grapples with the same questions throughout her tween and teen years. Raised in a religious household in Houston, Taja understands that her parents decide what’s best for her and wonders when she will get to choose for herself. She thinks a lot about church, God, religion, expectations, double standards, guilt, commitments, and what it means to truly feel alive. Her feelings change and grow as she gets older and really works to figure out what it is she believes and wants from life. An overachiever with big dreams, Taja eventually has to decide if the future her boyfriend sees for them is one she can live with.

Set, it seems, in the early 90s (again, this is not specified, but based on musical references and fashion details, I had guessed as much. The inclusion of kids with beepers really solidified that guess.), Taja’s story is light on a concrete plot but the very universal question of “who am I and what do I want?” seems like enough plot to keep readers invested as they watch Taja mature and begin to find her very own answers to some big questions. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062656865
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/24/2017

Book Review: Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Publisher’s description

ra6As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

dress-codesI am not one for posting GIFs in reviews—that’s just not me—but for once I wish that just a GIF would be sufficient—one that captured the feeling of elation and love that reading this book inspired. Looking for some picture that captures those feelings seems way easier than trying to find actual coherent words to say about this fantastic book.

Like the summary up there says, this is a story about the gray areas in life—you know, where everything real and complex and interesting resides. Give me gray areas, and uncertainty, and questioning things any day over black and white supposed truths. Billie and her friends call themselves the Hexagon. Billie, Janie Lee, Woods, Fifty, Davey, and Mash are inseparable. They love schemes and they love each other. In their small town of Otters Holt, Kentucky, Billie, the minister’s kid, stands out. She dresses “like a boy,” is at times mistaken for a boy (or just seen as one of the guys), isn’t sure who she’s more interested in kissing, Woods or Janie Lee, and is willing to be herself and grapple with whatever that means all under the watchful and judging eyes of everyone in town.

There is SO MUCH to love about this novel. It’s a profoundly loving look at friendship, the kind of friendship where friends truly support each other and give each other room to grow, change, and figure life out. It’s also a really complex look at expectations, perceptions, identity, and fluidity. It’s also an incredibly necessary and supportive look at teenagers experimenting with who they are and finding so much love and support in even the most unlikely of places. Like Billie says at one point, “Feeling don’t sort like laundry.” Nor should we want them to. So much of the joy comes from sifting through everything, discovering who you are, in the process of finding yourself. Billie and her friends are unfinished and imperfect, but they’re grateful for what they have and willing to do the hard work of figuring out who they are. This thoughtful look at love, friendship, identity, sexuality, and fluidity is not to be missed. Brilliant. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9780062398512

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/22/2017

Book Review: Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

Publisher’s description

pointe-clawJessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Take my advice on this, please: read Carrie Mesrobian’s Just a Girl, Elana Arnold’s What Girls Are Made Of, and Amber Keyser’s Pointe, Claw all in a row just like I did. Especially taken together like this, they build a powerful examination of girlhood.

 

Amber and I are agency-mates and here is something from her bio there: “Amber is a former ballerina with a masters degree in zoology and a doctorate in genetics; she lives in Portland, Oregon.” I tell you this to say that really only Amber could have written this unique and very weird (I mean that in the best way) book. Pointe, Claw takes place in Portland and involves a ballerina and a girl, a bear, and lots of genetic questions. The cover made me extremely curious about the book, but I had NO IDEA what I was in for.

 

When we first meet Dawn, she is in some kind of rage. She seems feral (I word I wrote in my notes after reading the second page and that I now see is used in the description–really, there’s no other way to think of Dawn). She talks about “going dark,” about waking up not knowing where she’s been or how she got there or what on earth is going on with her. She is drawn to a bear that a sketchy neighbor keeps locked up in a cage on his property. Her cold and unsympathetic mother drags her to doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what is wrong with Dawn and how to “fix” her. Is it mental illness? Lyme disease? Drugs? What’s behind Dawn’s strange episodes?

 

Jessie, meanwhile, dances six hours a day, six days a week, and is about to learn to be feral in ways that will disturb, challenge, and ultimately change her. At first devastated to not be chosen to dance in the artistic director’s student showcase piece, she learns to embrace the freedom and wildness that comes from dancing in Vadim’s boundary-pushing piece. The dance is animalistic and “ugly, lustful, lonely,” opening Jessie to a side of herself she’s never considered before.

 

Once Jessie and Dawn’s lives intersect again (they were childhood friends), things become even more interesting. Together they will reminisce about their past and recover memories that felt long gone, as well as uncover secrets and truths. Dawn’s episodes increase and she begins to suspect what may be going on with her, as impossible as her theory seems. And while Jessie doesn’t fully understand what exactly is happening to Dawn, she’s there for her, understanding that no one has ever meant what Dawn has meant to her. 

 

This is absolutely 100% a book about what it means to inhabit a girl’s body. It’s a book about growing up, changing, seeing ourselves, and being seen. It’s about expectations, anger, jealousy, relationships, shame, love, friendship, and support. There is a constant conversation about women and women’s bodies–Jessie, her fellow dancers, Dawn, Dawn’s makeup-selling mother, the girls at the strip club, the men who observe all of them… there is SO MUCH to unpack and think about. Much like Vadim’s dance (which, by the way, I was left sobbing after the description of their performance), this book is experimental and risky. And, like his dance, it is successful and surprising. The metamorphosis each girl undergoes is powerful; Dawn’s is downright shocking. I can’t say enough good things about this strange, disturbing, and extremely compelling look at girlhood, bodies, and identities. Raw, weird, and wonderful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781467775915

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017