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Book Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Publisher’s description

i am not yourThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian meets Jane the Virgin in this poignant but often laugh-out-loud funny contemporary YA about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican-American home. 
 
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Julia is blunt, funny, sneaky, and also fairly miserable. Her sister, Olga, was recently killed and Julia feels more off-kilter than ever. She’s grieving, of course, but also intensely feeling her parents’ disappointment in her and trying to find ways to get a little breathing room, especially in respect to her judgmental and strict mother. All Julia wants to do is graduate and move to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, but it’s hard to feel like that dream could become a reality since her parents think a good daughter would be happy to continue living at home and attending community college. That’s what Olga did, and especially as far as her mother is concerned, Olga was perfect. Julia, who talks back, is unabashedly a feminist, and isn’t particularly concerned with consequences, knows she is far from her parents’ ideal. She carries that weight while trying to just live her life in spite of her grief and her increasing depression. And while Julia certainly doesn’t think she has her own life figured out, she did think she had Olga’s nailed: boring secretary who attends one class at a time and was her parents’ pride and joy. But while trying to get to know her now dead sister a little better, Julia must face the fact that she didn’t actually know her sister at all–that no one in their family did. Julia assembles clues based on her limited findings and follows them until she is able to put together a more realistic picture of who Olga was. 

 

Overall, I liked this book. Julia is a complex character. Her struggles as a first generation American teenager and as someone living in poverty are just as complex and well-drawn as she is. However, once I realized the part mental health would play in her story, I wanted more from it: I wanted it woven in throughout, instead of just kind of dropped in, and explored more fully. The plot suffers a bit from being overstuffed—not that she can’t have multiple things happening in her life at once (friends issues, grieving her sister, her first real boyfriend, mental health stuff, a trip to Mexico)—I kept wanting Julia to either really hone in on the mystery with her sister OR explore her grief and hopes for her own life more fully, something to make the plot feel tighter to me. Maybe it just needed to cover less time. At any rate, as a character-driven reader, Julia’s emotionally complicated journey held my attention even when the plot meandered. Her desire for something bigger in life as well as the reveal that people aren’t necessarily what they seem will resonate with teen readers. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781524700485
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/17/2017

Book Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Publisher’s description

lines we crossMichael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael.

Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, shows up at his school, and turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated.

Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I have greatly enjoyed Abdel-Fattha’s other books (Where the Streets Had a Name, Ten Things I Hate About Me, and Does My Head Look Big in This?), but this one took me a while to get into. The characters felt much less dynamic than in her other books, which I think is what made me keep setting this book down. That said, I didn’t want to abandon it, given my history of enjoying her books, and I found the story to be told from a unique perspective.

 

Set in Australia (and originally published there), Afghan refugee Mina and her family move from their friendly, diverse neighborhood in Sydney after Mina receives a scholarship to attend the prestigious Victoria College. Michael, whose parents head Aussie Values, an Islamophobic, anti-refugee group, first spots Mina on the opposite side of a rally he attends. He’s surprised to see her soon after at his school. Though Mina’s grades rival (and exceed) those of her classmates, she feels otherwise out of place at her new school. She worries she’s just a diversity mascot. No longer in her culturally and ethnically diverse old neighborhood and old school, Mina now feels like “an ethnic supporting character.”

 

Michael and Mina have some uncomfortable interactions, but bond over similar taste in music and eventually get put together to work on a class project, where they begin to get to know each other on a deeper level. Michael, who has always rather mindlessly spouted his family’s politics, is forced to truly think for himself what his feelings are about immigrants and about Mina. While Mina is a rather static character, Michael shows a lot of growth over the course of the story. He learns what he thinks (instead of just parroting what his parents think) and how to start speaking up. He, and other characters, have to start to examine their privilege, opportunities, and what they take for granted. Though much of the story is rather didactic, Michael and Mina’s easy banter is clever and natural, giving much needed life to the story. Mina’s new friend, Paula, is another wonderful addition to the story and someone who helps give Mina more depth. Together, they hang out and do regular friend things, like bake, have movie marathons, and go see slam poetry. Mina and her family confront a lot of opposition, anger, and hatred in their new neighborhood (mostly thanks to Aussie Values supporters), but readers also see people standing up to that ignorance and hatred, with things feeling much more hopeful by the end of the book. Despite the slow start, I’m glad I stuck with this one. While at its heart this is an opposites attract story, the political issues make for a deep and compelling read. A good addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338118667

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/09/2017

Books for Trying Times: A Resource List compiled by members of KidLit Resists!

aram kim

Art by Aram Kim Available for use here http://ow.ly/d/5Q4v

Today’s list of resources is brought to you by the members of KidLit Resists! We’re a Facebook group for members of the KidLit community (authors, illustrators, editors, youth librarians, booksellers, and others who create and support picture books, MG books, and YA books) who wish to organize against the current administration’s agenda and support those communities targeted by the administration.

 

If you have other resources to suggest, please put them in the comments or tag me on Twitter, where I’m @CiteSomething.

 

 

 

KidLit Resource List – Books for Trying Times
Compiled by members of the KidLit Resists! Facebook page

 

Lists of recommended books

 

Jane Addams Peace Award books (1953 – present) “The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award annually recognizes children’s books of literary and aesthetic excellence that effectively engage children in thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.”

 

35 Picture Books for Young Activists (from All The Wonders)

 

BOOK LIST: PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT MUSLIM OR MIDDLE EASTERN CHARACTERS (from Lee & Low Books)

 

8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice (from Barnes & Noble)

 

KitaabWorld: South Asian and diverse children’s books

 

The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story

 

AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT: RECOMMENDED FEMINIST LITERATURE FOR BIRTH THROUGH 18

 

Refugee picture books (on Pinterest)

 

20 BOOKS ABOUT REFUGEE & IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCES (from All The Wonders)

 

EMPATHY: STEAD’S COMMON THREAD (from All The Wonders)

 

STORIES ABOUT REFUGEES: A YA READING LIST (from Stacked)

 

Activist biographies (YA)

 

TEN YOUNG ADULT BOOKS THAT REFLECT THE US IMMIGRATION EXPERIENCE (from Nerdy Book Club)

 

Books That Respect Kids with Unique Abilities (from All The Wonders)

 

Girl-empowering Books (from A Mighty Girl)

 

We Need Diverse Books

 

Penny Candy Books: A Mission Becomes a Moral Directive (from Publishers Weekly)

 

Teaching Tolerance – a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

 

30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy (from TeachThought)

 

19 books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list (from The Washington Post)

 

13 Books to Teach Children About Protesting and Activism (from GeekMom)

 

Books inspiring activism and tolerance

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photos by Wing Young Huie

March (trilogy) by John Lewis (Author), Andrew Aydin (Author), Nate Powell (Artist)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I dissent by Debbie Levy

The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

What Does It Mean To Be Kind? by Rana DiOrio

The Hunt (coming in 2/17) by Margaux Othats

A Gift From Greensboro by Quraysh Ali Lansana, illustrated by Skip Hill

Ambassador by William Alexander

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrations by Yutaka Houlette

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle

 

Recommendations for preschool storytime

A Chair For My Mother and sequels by Vera B. Williams

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

A is for Activist and Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

Jacqueline Woodson’s picture books

Kadir Nelson’s picture books

SPPL

 

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

american-streetAmerican Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

A book that begins with someone being detained by immigration agents at the airport? How extremely timely.

Fabiola and her mother leave Haiti and are on their way to Detroit to stay with Fabiola’s three cousins and aunt (her mother’s sister), but Fabiola’s mother is detained at JFK and Fabiola must head to Detroit alone. While they say they are just going for a visit, really their plan is to stay. Fabiola was born in Detroit, but went with her mother back to Haiti when she was just a baby. Now, she will finish out her junior year in this new city, with family she has really only known from phone calls, without her mother. Her arrival is greeted with no fanfare—her family is glad to see her, but she’s left to her own devices for dinner and puzzled how everyone just goes about their business so quickly.

 

Before long, she gets to know her cousins better and learns that they are tough girls who no one wants to mess with, girls who are fiercely loyal and protect their family. Fabiola has to figure out what being in Detroit means for her. She maintains rituals and beliefs from her heritage, but also learns how to fit in in her new neighborhood—one that is full of drugs, guns, violence, and secrets. Fabiola relies on vodou and spirits (lwas) to help guide her toward understanding what she needs to do as things get more complex in Detroit. Meanwhile, she’s also started a new relationship with Kasim, the best friend of her cousin Donna’s abusive boyfriend, Dray. Also, don’t forget, she’s trying to figure out how to get her mom, who is now in a detention center in New Jersey, to Detroit. Things take a dramatic turn when Fabiola begins working with a detective who is determined to bust Dray for dealing drugs. In exchange, the detective will help Fabiola’s mother get out of the detention center and get a green card. Wherever you think that part of the story is going, you’re wrong. The many twists and turns that part of the plot takes blew my mind. By the time I got to the end, the only coherent thought I was capable of writing in my notebook was “WHOA.”

 

Zoboi’s debut is complex and gritty (I kind of hate that word, but it gets the job done), with characters that will stick in my mind a long time. Though narrated by Fabiola, we get small first-person passages from all of the other characters, allowing us to know them more deeply. These passages reveal pasts and secrets, some of which will send you reeling. This powerful and well-written story of an immigrant girl’s new life in the United States is absorbing and unpredictable. I hope this finds its way to bookshelves in all public and school libraries. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062473042

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/14/2017

Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 

 

 

The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.

 

 

From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.

 

From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.

 

From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.

Love and Justice: What I’ve learned from those seeking refuge in the U.S., a guest post by author Marie Marquardt

Today we are very honored to be talking with author Marie Marquardt about her work with Latin American immigrant families for the Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Radius of Us, is very timely given recent events happening here in the United States. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

sjyalit

Justice lives in my neck of the woods.

I have the great honor of being a resident of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, currently represented by the beloved Civil Rights hero and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

radius

In Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, spent much of his life, and was buried, we take our national Civil Rights heroes very seriously. I can barely contain my pride in going to the ballot box to vote for Rep. Lewis.  Every time I tick off his name, which I have done in many elections, it makes me almost giddy. One of our family’s great treasures is a photograph of my family with Rep. Lewis at the Martin Luther King National Memorial. A few years ago, Rep. Lewis showed up unannounced on MLK day to meet those who had come to honor and remember his friend. We were among them.

Like many proud Americans, I often feel betrayed, disgusted and dismayed by our current political climate. When I learned that our new president made disparaging comments about Rep. Lewis and his commitment to my district, I wanted to throw things, hit someone, kick and scream and fight and, well, hate.

But, dang. That would be about the worst possible approach to honoring and carrying forward the example of John Lewis, a consistent advocate for the philosophy of nonviolence.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence loves without ceasing – which is at the heart of justice. In the vision of the Beloved Community, which Rep. Lewis works so hard to build, justice is understood as an expression of love. This love is not physical desire, not the affection between friends who share a great deal in common, but the unselfish, unmotivated, spontaneous self-giving love that springs forth from recognizing the spark of the divine, which is present in each one of us.

For the past twenty years I worked with immigrants in Georgia. Most are undocumented, and some are asylum-seekers who have made incredibly difficult journeys to the United States. They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American.  In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.

During this time, not only have I written academic books and articles about these immigrants, I also have advocated alongside them, served them, and – most importantly – developed deep and lasting friendships with them.  These days, I spend a good deal of time visiting immigrants and asylum seekers in detention. This work is difficult and heartbreaking, but it’s some of the most important and life-affirming work that I do. In our visits, and in my work with their families and friends, we build profound connections grounded in love.

I share my stories and they share theirs. We cry together, celebrate together, fear and rage together. We connect across vast, power-laden differences. And by connecting, we do not erase those differences. We gather the courage to face them, to ask questions about them, to understand them.  We learn together that, with love and trust, we can begin to recognize the insidious systems like racism and xenophobia that work to keep us apart. We know that, once we recognize these systems, we can begin the difficult work of exposing them, of tearing them down.

Over many years, I developed love for my friends, and out of that love came a deep desire for justice.  My desire for justice drove me to the podium. I’ve stood in front of audiences, armed with data slides and a microphone, unleashing a torrent of statistics, facts, information. I have struggled mightily to engage the minds of Americans, to share information that will help them to understand how very much we misunderstand about undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. I believe that this information is crucially important, as the foundation for good decisions, for policies that will bring about a more just and humane society in the United States.

I also have come to believe that good information is not enough.

In our media-saturated world, we are bombarded with information and misinformation (which some call “alternative facts”). We are adrift in them. What we need — what most of us long for — is connection. We long for the opportunity to see that spark in another person, to recognize something of ourselves in the other. We also desperately need to cultivate that profound virtue of empathy. We need the opportunity to dwell for a while in the experience of another person, to dive in deep and swim around in it for a while.

Where might we find the chance to develop that profound empathy, to recognize what we have in common with those very people that we are constantly told are irreconcilably, overwhelmingly different from us? Stories. And, what better stories than love stories, stories that celebrate those deep, intimate connections that bind us together, that surprise us with their intensity, that open our hearts to new ways of knowing.

Justice is the expression of love.

Where we find, experience and nurture love, we begin to know justice.

This is why I write love stories.

About Marie Marquardt and THE RADIUS OF US

Marie Marquardt Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt
Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt has spent two decades working with Latin American immigrant families in the South and runs a non-profit called El Refugio that serves immigrants and asylum-seekers in detention. This work inspired both her books. To research The Radius of Us, she traveled to El Salvador and to detention facilities across the U.S., where she met with teenagers fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum.  

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is about a boy from El Salvador, who ran from a city torn-through with violence, looking for a safe place to call home. And it’s about an American girl who no longer feels safe anywhere, except maybe when she’s with him. And most importantly, the novel is about two people working together to overcome trauma and find healing in love.

The Radius of Us is available for purchase now from St. Martin’s Griffin

“…this is a compelling story that delivers profound messages through engaging, accessible prose. Both a page-turning romance and a comprehensive view of a young immigrant’s experience, this novel is sure to encourage empathy and perspective… VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections.” –School Library Journal (Starred Review)