Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

black enoughEdited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.

Contributors:
Justina Ireland
Varian Johnson
Rita Williams-Garcia
Dhonielle Clayton
Kekla Magoon
Leah Henderson
Tochi Onyebuchi
Jason Reynolds
Nic Stone
Liara Tamani
Renée Watson
Tracey Baptiste
Coe Booth
Brandy Colbert
Jay Coles
Ibi Zoboi
Lamar Giles

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is a truly excellent collection of contemporary short stories. There wasn’t a dud in this anthology, which is pretty impressive, because I usually feel like collections  are often so uneven, that they have a few strong stories and just as many forgettable, undeveloped stories. These stories all focus on being young and black in America. They look at identity, tradition, ideas of blackness, relationships, and experiences in various urban and rural areas across the country.

 

In Renée Watson’s piece, 17-year-old Raven, a counselor at a camp for young girls from the Portland, Oregon area, is surprised to find one of her campers is her father’s daughter from the family he had after he left when Raven was seven. Varian Johnson’s story is set in South Carolina and follows Cam, who is visiting his grandma, as he deals with code switching, being called an Oreo, and thinking he’s not black enough for the girl he likes. Leah Henderson sets her story at a prep school where art, futures, and authentic selves are all in question. Lamar Giles’s “Black. Nerd. Problems” entertainingly focuses on a group of mall employees at an after-hours mall party.

 

Kekela Magoon’s main character mourns the loss of a school friend who was maybe the only person to see her real self. Jason Reynolds shows us a group of boys walking home from the pool through Bed-Stuy dreaming of the perfect sandwich. Brandy Colbert’s “Oreo” deals with a potentially Spelman-bound senior, her parents’ complicated feelings about HBCUs, and how her cousin from Missouri thinks she “acts white.” Tochi Onyebuchi shows readers a Nigerian American debate superstar who unexpectedly finds a passion for metal music. Liara Tamani’s story is set at a church camp where there’s pressure to send naked selfies. Jay Coles brings readers to the tiny town of North Salem where two boys from feuding families reveal their feelings toward each other while getting ready to compete in the big horse race.

 

Rita Williams-Garcia’s story is the only one to veer into fantasy, with a gay male model encountering an 1840s slave (either in a wash basin or in a dream) who can’t understand his modern life and freedoms. Tracey Baptiste’s “Gravity” takes place in a brief time span on a dance floor when a Trinidadian girl is sexually assaulted by her dance partner. A real standout story is Dhonielle Clayton’s “The Trouble with Drowning,” in which twin sisters from a wealthy area of Washington, DC experience a growing distance and a family unwilling to address mental health issues.

 

Justina Ireland’s main character, Devon, is in “the backwoods of Maryland” for the summer while her mother gets help for her depression and begins dating a local girl, trying to learn to live in the moment even though their relationship seems sure to end when they both leave for college. Coe Booth’s is set at college, where computer science student Garry hopes to be reunited with Inaaya, a girl he knew (and fell for) from past summer hackathons. Nic Stone’s main characters come from very different upbringings, but learn to see each other beyond their stereotypes and bond over their love of Percy Jackson books. And finally, Ibi Zoboi looks at the one night of freedom of Nigeria (Geri), the daughter of black nationalist revolutionary freedom fighter caught for tax evasion who can’t wait to be eighteen and leave the confines of the movement.

 

The stories, settings, and writing styles are varied. While readers will never know what to expect when they flip to the next story, they will not be disappointed. Each story is thoughtful and engaging, with tones varying from serious to more lighthearted. One of the best things about anthologies is the potential to introduce readers to writers they are unfamiliar with. This collection features so many wonderful authors and I hope that, if readers don’t already know their work, these stories will encourage them to seek out their books. Teachers and librarians, put this book up on a display featuring books by the authors included here. A great exploration of identity and cultures—a necessary addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062698728
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/08/2019

Book Review: Flight Season by Marie Marquardt

Publisher’s description

flightFrom Marie Marquardt, the author of Dream Things True and The Radius of Us, comes a story of two teenagers learning what to hold on to, what to let go of, and that sometimes love gets in the way of our plans.

Back when they were still strangers, TJ Carvalho witnessed the only moment in Vivi Flannigan’s life when she lost control entirely. Now, TJ can’t seem to erase that moment from his mind, no matter how hard he tries. Vivi doesn’t remember any of it, but she’s determined to leave it far behind. And she will.

But when Vivi returns home from her first year away at college, her big plans and TJ’s ambition to become a nurse land them both on the heart ward of a university hospital, facing them with a long and painful summer together – three months of glorified babysitting for Ángel, the problem patient on the hall. Sure, Ángel may be suffering from a life-threatening heart infection, but that doesn’t make him any less of a pain.

As it turns out, though, Ángel Solís has a thing or two to teach them about all those big plans, and the incredible moments when love gets in their way.

Written in alternating first person from the perspectives of all three characters, Flight Season is a story about discovering what’s really worth holding onto, learning how to let go of the rest, and that one crazy summer that changes your life forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I am always a fan of slightly older YA characters, as we don’t see a ton of them. I was pleased to see that this novel takes place the summer after Vivi’s first year of college, and I bet teen readers will be drawn to that, too.

Vivi graduated high school as valedictorian, with a 4.9 GPA, and headed to Yale. Now, one year later, her life is a mess. She’s on academic probation and desperately needs this summer internship at a university hospital if she has any hope of remaining a student at Yale. Things are not off to an auspicious start, as Vivi realizes she has a “weak constitution” and can’t stand the sight of any bodily fluids or medical procedures. That might complicate her whole plan to become a doctor. She and her mother are staying in Florida at a friend’s beach house. Her mother bills it as a fun change of scenery, something they both need, in light of Vivi’s dad’s recent death. But it’s more than that: since his death, her mother has fallen apart. She hasn’t been paying the bills and they basically have no money left. Suddenly Vivi, who has never wanted for anything, has to come to terms with the reality of their new situation and get a paying job in addition to her internship.

Then there’s the issue of TJ. They work together at the hospital and Vivi finds him both completely frustrating and totally attractive. TJ juggles the hospital with studying to be a nurse and working at his family’s Brazilian restaurant. Circumstances put them together more than they expected to be and make them unable to deny what is unfolding between them.

The third narrator of the story,  Ángel Solis, is a Guatemalan teenager in the hospital with a heart infection. Ángel helps bring TJ and Vivi together, and all three come to learn more about each other, their backgrounds, their differences, and their similarities.

This moving, well-written story examines tough topics like grief, loss, immigration, privilege, and illness. It’s a slow-burn romance, but also a great and lovely look at friendship. Complex, beautiful, heartbreaking, and surprisingly joyful, this enjoyable read successfully presents three narrators who have such standout voices and bring so much to the story and one another’s lives. A great read. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250107015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: 02/20/2018

 

Book Review: See No Color by Shannon Gibney

see no colorPublisher’s description:

Despite some teasing, being a biracial girl adopted by a white family didn’t used to bother Alex much. She was a stellar baseball player, just like her father—her baseball coach and a former pro athlete. All Alex wanted was to play ball forever. But after she meets Reggie, the first black guy who’s wanted to get to know her, and discovers some hidden letters from her biological father, Alex starts questioning who she really is. Does she truly fit in with her white family? What does it mean to be black? To find the answers, Alex needs to come to terms with her adoption, her race, and the dreams she thought would always guide her.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

16-year-old Alex and her 15-year-old brother Jason spend most of their time training for baseball, usually practicing three or four hours a day. They lift weights, run, watch videos of games, get lectured by their coach father, and play the game. Baseball, it seems, is what holds their family together. Without it, they don’t seem to have a whole lot to talk about. Alex’s 11-year-old sister Kit doesn’t play and we don’t even know she exists until we meet her working on an art project one day.

 

While this family is good at baseball, what it really excels at is ignoring the realities and complexities of both race and adoption—specifically of transracial adoption. 

 

At a baseball game, Alex’s dad is talking to the other team’s coach, who mentions he heard the team has a great a center fielder. “A girl, I hear—a black girl,” he says. Alex’s dad corrects him: “She’s mixed, not black. She’s half white.” He’s always quick to point this out. Alex has heard this her whole life—the qualification that she’s mixed, the repeated seemingly-positive phrase that her family “doesn’t see color.” When she meets Reggie, a player from a rival team, she is surprised that a black guy wants to talk to her. Usually the black kids at her school make fun of her. In her head, as Reggie’s talking to her, she thinks, “But I’m not really black.” Seconds later, when Reggie comments on the similar features he can see between her and her (adoptive) dad, she lies and says her mom is black, letting him believe both that lie and the lie that they are her biological parents.

 

Soon after this, Alex’s sister Kit finds an old letter from Alex’s birth father, leading Alex to a folder of many letters written over three years. Suddenly, all of the things she didn’t even necessarily know she wanted answers about bubble to the surface. Her family may have made it this far without ever really talking about race or transracial adoption, but Alex (with the help of Kit) begins to push them to.

 

Mixed into the narrative are incidents from Alex’s past, such as being a small child at the beach and a rude woman telling her she’s floated too far from her “host family.” The woman goes on to ask if she speaks English and asks where she’s from. When Alex’s white mother appears, the woman’s tiny brain explodes. She sputters over how it could be possible that this girl belongs to this woman. When Alex’s mom tries to make her feel better about what happened, she says, “We are all one in this family, okay? We don’t even see color.” As readers, we understand that Alex’s family believes this to be true and to be a good thing. But of course, their constant correction that she’s mixed proves otherwise, and claiming to be colorblind isn’t really helping anything, as it ignores and invalidates identities and experiences.

 

Kit is the one who really pushes this conversation, asking her family what they actually think about Alex being the only black person in an otherwise white family. She says she sees how people stare at their family. “But it’s like this secret, you know? Like no one is supposed to actually admit that she’s black, or maybe more that she’s not white.” Of course, we all know what her father does, right? “Alex is only half black,” he says. Just in case anyone forgot. But this family doesn’t see color. Later, Alex exasperatedly says to Kit that she doesn’t even know what “mixed,” her dad’s favorite word, is supposed to mean. “Mixed. As far as I can tell, it means closer to white for Mom and Dad, and the lightest shade of black for everyone else.” Later, her father, apparently trying to be loving and reassuring, tells her, “I just want you to know that your mother and I, we will always see you as just you, as Alex. There’s nothing black—or particularly… racial–about you to us because you’re our little girl and always will be.” Alex notes that the way he says “black” is cringe-inducing, “like it was the worst thing a person could be,” but that when her dad says “mixed,” he sounds prideful. More of these conversations happen over and over with her family.

 

Alex chooses to pursue getting in touch with her birth father, a black man who lives in Detroit, behind her parents’ backs. She’s dating Reggie at this point, another thing she keeps secret from her family. She isn’t entirely honest with him about a lot of things in her life, despite him being a really good guy and them having some powerful and important conversations about race. She doesn’t give him the chance to be there for her as she goes through a lot of emotions as she connects with her birth father.

 

These two main storylines—race and transracial adoption—made this book ping my radar. I’m glad I pulled it out of my pile to read because it is a thought-provoking, engaging, and well-written debut. The fact that it’s a relatively quick read and has a sports storyline may help it get into the hands of some readers who wouldn’t necessarily gravitate toward it. In the end, there is still a lot left unresolved, but we know Alex is seeking a sense of community, or maybe of communities, plural, and feeling more okay about the many pieces that make up her life and the possibilities that are ahead of her. A really compelling read. I would love to see this taught in a classroom and be able to eavesdrop on a conversation, but I’ll settle for recommending the heck out of it at the library. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781467776820

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 11/01/2015

Book Review: Breakaway by Kat Spears

23848184Publisher’s description:

When Jason Marshall’s younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates–Mario, Jordie, and Chick–to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who’s not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick. Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold onto the friendships he has always relied on. A witty and emotionally moving tale of friendship, first love, and loss, Breakaway is Kat Spears at her finest.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

First of all, let me say that for the most part I liked this book. That said, I don’t like the tag line on the cover. No one really wins anything in this story, but they sure all lose and lose and lose. And yeah, the story has soccer in it, but it doesn’t account for much of the plot. The tag line and cover may help draw in readers that otherwise wouldn’t gravitate toward this book, but to me they aren’t a great fit.  ANYWAY. Pet peeves aside, let’s move on.

 

This is not a light story. There is very little hope. Bad things pile upon bad things. Characters make crummy choices, act like jerks to each other, and overlook/can’t properly deal with some dark stuff that’s going down. Their friendships get strained and fall apart. You like books that show the crappy lives some teens have? You’ll love this one.

 

Race and class play big roles in this book. Jason lives with his mother in a small apartment. He sleeps on the sofa bed, contributes what he can to help pay bills, and repeatedly mentions being poor and being hungry. Mario’s parents primarily speak Spanish. Jordie’s mom is Vietnamese. Jordie’s family has a lot of money, a fact that increasingly drives a wedge between Jordie and his other friends. Jason’s possible love interest, Raine, also comes from a family with a lot of money. Jason doesn’t see how it could ever possibly work out between them when Raine’s privilege and resources will send her down a path after high school very different than the one Jason is imaging he will go down. There are divorced parents and dead parents. There is drug addiction, alcoholism, death, abuse, and mental illness. I firmly believe no book ever has “too many issues,” just that some books present a lot of issues and don’t deal with them well. Spears navigates all of the issues in the characters’ lives skillfully, presenting what feel like very real (if very bleak) lives. Their friendships and other relationships are complicated by all of the factors and issues listed above.

 

This moving (and depressing) story takes a hard look at how friendships strain and how friends fail each other (and themselves). The ending will be annoying to some people–there’s no real closure, we have no idea what will happen to any of the characters or their relationships, and the sense we’re left with is one of sadness and hopelessness. This is the reality for these characters, Spears seems to say. Being briefly brought back together by a tragic event is likely not enough to reunite them as real friends or help them change the paths they’re on. I’m good with that kind of ending, but I know many readers (particularly the teens I know) are not. Pair this one with Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not for another look at grief, poverty, and changing friendships.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250065513

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication date: 09/15/2015