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Book Review: Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

Publisher’s description

dreamlandSome bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

That description up there does not at all capture how completely absorbing this book is. Which is good, because it also doesn’t give too much away and you’ll get to discover on your own just how compelling and unpredictable this story is.

 

Narrative duties are split between contemporary teenager Rowan, a biracial girl (her dad is white, her mom is black) in Tulsa and William, a 17-year-old in Tulsa in 1921. William is also biracial–his dad his white and his mother is Osage Indian. The bulk of the story is really William’s, though Rowan and her friend James (who is also biracial–black and Native American–and asexual) do the investigating that starting putting pieces of the mystery together. Rowan has her own story line, too—it’s just not as big as William’s. James calls Rowan out for living in a bubble. James is into social justice and immigration reform and doesn’t let Rowan get away with statements like “things are better now.” He schools her about racism, power, and privilege, leading her to taking a summer job at a clinic in an impoverished area (that’s less dangerous than just forgotten, she notes) when her other internship falls through. Here, she befriends people she otherwise wouldn’t have known. And though they are set nearly 100 years apart, it’s no surprise that the racism that drives William’s story is also a strong force in Rowan’s story. An unexpected incident propels Rowan to action—and, surprisingly, begins to weave her story more tightly with William’s.

 

William, who we follow in 1921, is sort of thoughtlessly racist, as you might expect a young boy in Tulsa, Oklahoma at this time to be. Language of the era permeates his story, with terms like “mongrel,” “half-breed,” “Negro,” and the n-word frequently used. William instigates a scene at a local speakeasy when he sees the white girl he likes hanging around with a black boy. He doesn’t think what consequences his actions may have when he and his friend lie and say he was attacked by the boy. But soon, he does start to think more about racism, and begins to look beyond the expectations of how a white boy in this era should act and think, when he meets siblings Joseph and Ruby Goodhope. William meets them at his father’s Victrola shop, where, despite Jim Crow laws, they sometimes sell to black people on the sly. And while William’s dad agrees to sell Joseph a Victrola, and even allows him to finance it, he won’t write him a receipt—he can’t risk the proof of the sale falling into the wrong hands. It’s through this sale, and the issue of the receipt, that William and the Goodhope siblings begin to interact. Young Ruby, who is irritating in that special way that pesky little sisters can be, starts to grow on William. So when things come to a head in his town and the KKK and other white citizens begin rounding up black people, killing them, and burning their neighborhoods, William’s first concern is making sure Joseph and Ruby are safe. And while we know the skeleton under Rowan’s family’s guest cottage floor belongs to someone from William’s story, we’re not sure who. Nothing is revealed quickly, and just when you think you’re sure you’ve figured it out, Latham reveals unexpected details that make you throw that theory out.

 

Maintaining two timelines with two narrators and keeping both equally interesting is not an easy task. Latham ties the stories together enough that we see parallels without being hit over the head with them. Both narrators are complicated, interesting figures, but seeing William’s emotional and intellectual journey is the far more satisfying story. Equally as satisfying is how Latham brings us to the end of the mystery. The tight pacing and action-packed, unpredictable plot make this book fly by. An author’s note at the end tells more about the race riots in Tulsa in 1921 and examines the controversial term. The note also points out a few resources for further reading. This book—a contemporary story, historical fiction, and a mystery, all at once—will have wide appeal. A gripping look at a shameful time in America’s history and (not that we need it) a reminder of how slow progress really is. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316384933

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 02/21/2017

Book Review: Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke

Publisher’s description

racial-profilingIn the United States, racial profiling affects thousands of Americans every day. Both individuals and institutions—such as law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and schools—routinely use race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense. The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, Racial Profiling explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Every single book that falls under the umbrella of addressing social justice issues and civil rights is always going to be both timely and timeless. They are always relevant. The conversation always needs to be happening. And this book is a great, thorough introduction to thinking critically about racial profiling, a topic that is certainly not new.

 

Told through historical examples, photographs, research, statistics, and personal stories, this book examines the history, manifestations, and consequences of racial profiling. It begins with the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, detailing the 911 call, how important information from that call got omitted in the dispatch call, and the eventual grand jury decision that the actions were justified and the officer wouldn’t face criminal charges. The text offers up the ACLU’s definition of racial profiling as well as Amnesty International’s. In the general background information discussion on profiling, Behnke notes that in law enforcement, some policies explicitly permit racial profiling at some level and in some cases. 20 out of 50 states have no laws banning racial profiling by police, and even if it’s prohibited, it still occurs. The focus of the book isn’t just on law enforcement; any institution or person can engage in profiling. The author points out that this is because of the system of racial bias in the US that allows and encourages profiling—a system with a very long history.

 

Topics covered in this book include: the roots of racial profiling; white privilege; arguments for “positive” effects of profiling (from perceived positive effects on safety to the financial gain of police departments); a look back at historical inequality—slavery and its legacy; the propaganda used to institutionalize stereotypes and engender racism; the Civil War; Reconstruction; voting rights; sharecropping; Jim Crow laws; the KKK; lynching; redlining; 19th century immigration; Japanese internment camps; the civil rights movement of the 1950s and on; Loving v. Virginia; the Black Panthers; the war on drugs; Islamophobia; profiling in schools; employment obstacles; income and housing inequality; microaggressions; environmental racism; health care; the school-to-prison pipeline; stop and frisk; traffic stops; police brutality; jailhouse deaths; hate crimes; incarceration; sentencing; watch lists; bans on immigrants; proposed reforms; racial profiling laws by state; speaking out; protest; organizations; media coverage; social media; Black Lives Matter; white allies; and ways individuals can contribute to the conversation about profiling and inequality, examine biases, and other suggestions for action.

 

Voices of Experience sections share thoughts on racial matters from people such as Sonia Sotomayor and James Baldwin to college students. Terms are defined in the text, with some getting longer explanations separately. Case studies delve deeper into important historical events. Some of the people in these case studies include Emmett Till, Rodney King, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner. A glossary, source notes, bibliography, further information, and index are appended.

 

A very thorough and powerful look at an important topic. Get this on display in your libraries and make sure US history teachers know about this title, as it would be an incredibly useful book to supplement curriculum. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512402681

Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books 

Publication date: 01/28/2017

Book Review: The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

Publisher’s description

march-againstJames Meredith’s 1966 march in Mississippi began as one man’s peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It brought together leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, who formed an unlikely alliance that resulted in the Black Power movement, which ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

The retelling of Meredith’s story opens on the day of his assassination attempt and goes back in time to recount the moments leading up to that event and its aftermath. Readers learn about the powerful figures and emerging leaders who joined the over 200-mile walk that became known as the “March Against Fear.”

Thoughtfully presented by award-winning author Ann Bausum, this book helps readers understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change. It is a history lesson that’s as important and relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This powerful book examines one of the greatest civil rights protests and the last great march of that era—a march that is often forgotten, was fraught with complexity, and led to divisions in the civil rights groups and leaders of the time.

 

Bausum begins with the shooting of James Meredith, who was the first African American to earn a degree at Ole Miss, among the first to integrate the Air Force, and felt he had a “divine responsibility” to be a leader for his race. Meredith’s walk across Mississippi was for a simple reason: he was tired of being afraid of white people and he wanted black people to stop being afraid. He felt that if he could walk through his state like this, he might inspire people to be less afraid and get them out to vote. His plan was cut short when he was shot. However, his walk was then taken up by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists and groups. Their focus was on voter registration and civil rights bills. They created a document calling on President Johnson to enforce legal rights of African Americans, provide increased economic opportunities, improve voting access, and have great representation by black people on juries and police forces. Meredith’s Walk Against Fear morphs into the March Against Fear, an undertaking that lasts most of June 1966 and eventually involves thousands of people bringing attention to segregation and the legacy of slavery. It is at this march that Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael first use and encourage the phrase “black power,” changing the call and response from “What do you want?” “Freedom!” to “What do you want?” “Black power!” for many in the march. Bausum’s book looks at the role of the news media and of the governments and police forces of the areas during the march as well as the unity and divisions of the civil rights groups during the march and effects after.

 

With plenty of source material, including many pictures from the march, this book is both well-written and well-researched. A large appendix details Bausum’s source material, including personal conversations with Meredith. Civil rights and social justice will always be relevant topics, and contemporary readers will be struck by just how little has been done to really move our country forward and how the topics important to the leaders during the march remain just as significant today. An important look at racism, protest, and the slow move toward progress. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781426326653

Publisher: National Geographic Society

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: The Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthron

Publisher’s description

truthTwo isolated teens struggle against their complicated lives to find a true connection in this heartwrenching debut novel about first love and the wreckage of growing up.

Lily is returning to her privileged Manhattan high school after a harrowing end to her sophomore year and it’s not pretty. She hates chemistry and her spiteful lab partner, her friends are either not speaking to her or suffocating her with concerned glances, and nothing seems to give her joy anymore. Worst of all, she can’t escape her own thoughts about what drove her away from everyone in the first place.

Enter Dari (short for Dariomauritius), the artistic and mysterious transfer student, adept at cutting class. Not that he’d rather be at home with his domineering Trinidadian father. Dari is everything that Lily needs: bright, creative, honest, and unpredictable. And in a school where no one really stands out, Dari finds Lily’s sensitivity and openness magnetic. Their attraction ignites immediately, and for the first time in what feels like forever, Lily and Dari find happiness in each other.

In twenty-first-century New York City, the fact that Lily is white and Dari is black shouldn’t matter that much, but nothing’s as simple as it seems. When tragedy becomes reality, can friendship survive even if romance cannot?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This was my first 2017 read and it was a great one to kick off the new year. You know how last year I was in a horrible reading slump and kept saying that the only stories grabbing me were ones that felt fresh and new, stories that felt like ones we just weren’t seeing enough of? That’s still holding true. And this one roped me in right away because Dari and Lily’s stories are so important. Any story that addresses race as much as this one does is always going to be relevant, not to mention still relatively rare.

 

Lily is not excited for another school year to start. We know she tried to kill herself and we know stories are swirling about her that have made her an outcast/shamed, but the reader doesn’t know right away what happened. I’ll leave it up to you to read that part of her story, but suffice it to say it’s pretty horrific and infuriating. Other than being the object of her classmates’ derision, she’s basically invisible. Her few friends weren’t there for her when she needed them and now Lily can’t really see the point of pretending to get along with anyone–that is, until she meets Dari.

 

Dari generally has his head stuck in his sketchbook or is ditching what he feels are classes that don’t challenge him. Their friendship initially is very much that of two kids who don’t have anyone else but seem content to be kind of quiet and distantly friends in school. But that doesn’t last long, especially for Lily, who pretty quickly develops more intense feelings for Dari. Dari holds her at a bit of a distance. He’s recently broken up with his older girlfriend and spends most of his time at home trying not to piss off his abusive father. After his sister leaves home to move in with her girlfriend, Dari decides to start to push back against his father’s violence, and that’s when the story really takes off. Dari’s father changes the locks to their apartment and Dari temporarily moves in with Lily and her mother. Lily and Dari grow closer and slowly reveal more of their pasts to each other, though there is still much held back and that leads to confusion and hurt feelings.

 

Lily is still reeling over the incidents of the past year and not particularly addressing her mental health needs. She’s tried therapy before and has very negative feelings about therapy and being medicated for her depression. She agrees to see a new therapist for a month and, while still reluctant to talk or get help, has some success. It’s through therapy that we learn more of Lily’s past as her therapist has her keep a journal where she can tell her story. Lily’s mom desperately wants to be a “cool mom” and is part of the problem. She’s a self-help writer trying to work on her second book, after an extremely successful first book, but rather oblivious how to actually help her own kid (or herself, as we see later in the story when she makes a particularly bad choice). Things at school get worse for Lily when a lewd picture of her begins to circulate.

 

Dari is trying to figure out what he will do now that he left home. He figures he can’t crash at Lily’s forever. He’s into Lily, but things just feel too complicated to start dating her, especially now that he’s living with her and her mom. That doesn’t stop Dari and Lily from hooking up, but he’s upfront all the time about how he feels (much to Lily’s dismay). Both Lily and Dari reveal that they are quick to get upset over things and both have violent tendencies. Their lives get pretty tangled up, with Lily looking to Dari for some sense of belonging and happiness and Dari trying to be careful of her feelings as he tries to work out his own stuff. Despite often holding back (and in some cases lying) with each other, they have many honest conversations about their personal lives, particularly about race. Lily is white and Jewish and Dari is black. We see Dari get stopped and frisked at one point for no reason. There are just some things that Lily doesn’t understand about Dari’s life. This comes to a head when they have a public argument and police show up. A pissed off Lily walks away and makes a thoughtless remark to the cops—one that has enormous consequences for Dari.

 

This intense story does not shy away from looking hard at racism, mental illness, the thing from Lily’s past that I’m not spoiling, and people making really horrible choices. Alternating viewpoints give the reader more of a peek into Dari and Lily’s minds and help keep the emotional tension high. This was one of those books where I read it as a nearly 40-year-old adult and just keep thinking about how *young* these characters are. They go through so much–things no one should have to go through at any age.  I have already flipped back a couple of times to read the very end, where Corthron gives the reader one last harsh truth. This isn’t always an easy read, but it’s absolutely an important one. Read this one and be ready to talk about racism, violence, sexual choices, and the many ways adults in this story screw up and damage the children in this book. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481459471

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Sunday Reflections: How the 2016 Election is Affecting Teens, Week 3 (A tweet story by Mary Hinson)

On Sundays, I have the privilege of hosting a weekly event that we call Spaghetti Sunday (inspired by author Christa Desir). We open our home to a wide group of people, eat food (not always spaghetti), do puzzles, play games, and just hang out. My beloved Mary Hinson (@knoxdiver on Twitter, YA assistant at Irving Public Library) is one of my treasured guests. And we usually have anywhere from 2 to 10 teens come.

The Bestie reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Teen at Spaghetti Sunday

The Bestie reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Teen at Spaghetti Sunday

It then became a more involved storytie

It then became a more involved storytime

Sometimes it gets wild

Sometimes it gets wild

No matter how loud it gets or how much chaos there is, these 2 teens always read through it

No matter how loud it gets or how much chaos there is, these 2 teens always read through it

Did I mention we eat a lot?

Did I mention we eat a lot?

Last night, Mary had a conversation with one of the teens which she tweeted about. She gave me permission to Storify those tweets and share them with you here. So in my ongoing quest to show you how the results are affecting teens, here's week three presented by Mary Hinson.

 



  1. Tonight I got to hang out 1 on1 with one of my fave teens. She told me about what's going on at school & then she broke down because she is


  2. Scared about what the election of the "screaming yam" (as she calls him) will mean for her marginalized friends. She told me how upsetting


  3. It is when kids at school make jokes about suicide. How offensive it is when boys make rape "jokes" or ask Hispanic classmates when they're


  4. Going to be kicked out of the country. I asked her if she felt safe. She said she feels okay for herself but she is terrified for others.


  5. Tonight I held this beautiful, kind, smart, sweet, pure-hearted child in my arms & together we cried about our future, our country's future.


  6. And I was so scred because I have become that non-parent adult I was told as a kid I could go to for help but I couldn't DO anything.


  7. I held this girl & rubbed her back & gave her napkins to blow her nose & told her how proud I am of her, how much I love her. I told her


  8. I'm here for her. But I'm heartbroken for this child who is witnessing the world's ugliness in ways no child ever should. And I'm angry that


  9. We, collectively, as a society, have failed these kids. It can't continue. Something has to change. WE have to change. LISTEN to those who


  10. Are speaking out--esp marginalized voices. SEEK the truth. EDUCATE yourself. STAND UP for those who need a shield & SPEAK OUT against hate.


  11. We're so lucky in this YA book community to have some really amazing people to turn to for advice & action items. LISTEN. TO. THEM.


  12. If you're not okay with everything happening right now, DO SOMETHING. Call your reps & talk. Leave messages. Send letters.


  13. Elected officials are supposed to represent us. Let them hear your voice. Attend community meetings. Get involved. Don't know what to say?


  14. You don't have to be a poli-sci major or a govt intern or whatever to talk with your reps. Call & let them know what matters to you.


  15. Tonight made me feel so emotionally raw. I didn't have the answers for this teen. But I know I want to fight for her. I want to fight for


  16. The teens & kids at my library. In my state. In our country. In the world. we need to bleed & fight for these kids. Adults, we've kind of


  17. Fucked everything up for them. We need to make it right for them & someday, they're gonna blow us all away.

Thank you Mary for being there for this teen last night. I adore you, even if you do dip your potato chips in ketchup.

spaghettisunday8

More on the Aftermath of the 2016 Election and Teens

Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

Now What? On Being a Librarian and a Book Lover After the 2016 Election

Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the 2016 Election

Sunday Reflections: My Teens Will be Voting in the Next Presidential Election

Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the Election of Donald Trump

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

I knew eventually something like this would happen, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. The call came on Friday. A co-worker, her nephew took his own life. He was both black and gay and he saw the writing on the wall and he was scared. He read the news, he heard the hate, and he saw no future for himself. Just days later Trump supporters were seen praising the election results while making a Heil Hitler salute. (See: At White Supremacist Meeting: Nazi Salutes, Heil Hitler Chants ; White Nationalists Quote Nazi Propaganda, Salute Donald Trump)

****

Last night I went for a walk with The Teen. We walked long and far as she told me how sad she was about the racist things she was seeing and hearing in the middle school.

Why don’t you go back to where you came from? . . . .

I can’t wait until we build that wall . . . .

You are a terrorist . . .

****

Another friend reported that last week there were 2 sexual incidences at work. In one, an employee asked maintenance to get them a garbage can and they replied, “No, I’d rather see your tits.” In another, someone said a sexually assaultive remark and replied, “That’s just how men talk.” (See: Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ ; Donald Trump, ‘Locker-Room Talk’ and Sexual Assault)

****

In the meantime, Donal Trump has met with the press and is already attempting to attack Freedom of the Press. He has tweeted out about the New York Times 7 times, stating that they are “not nice.” He has tweeted about Hamilton the Musical. You know what he hasn’t tweeted about? He hasn’t tweeted about the rising incidence of hate crimes, many of which are being carried out in his name. This is Trump’s America now some say, as they taunt, harass, and intimidate others. (See: Donald Trump Personally Blasts the Press – The New Yorker ; Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump ; Trump Says Freedom of the Press Must Go Because He’s ‘Not Like Other People ; Donald Trump’s War on Press Freedom)

****

I was a librarian on 9/11. It was a scary time. I was in the library, working, when the towers fell. I remember the fear of not knowing what comes next. But there were some things that brought me comfort. The press, for example, was not under assault and being intimidated by our elected leaders.

This feels like scary new territory.

Freedom of the press and speech, those were things a lot of us took for granted. That fight had already been fought and won, I thought. As a librarian, it was – to me – a given. Now suddenly it is something I have to keep reminding myself and others to be vigilant about.

gloryobrien

A. S. King is one of my favorite teen authors. She writes surreallism. In her novel, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, “from ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.” The book was written in 2014, and here we are in 2016.

The Hunger Games was a warning my friends, not a guide book. Dystopian literature was not meant to be a sounding board for government leaders, but a warning call to world citizens.

And yet here we are, 2016. Freedom of the press is being assaulted in the nation that felt so strongly about it that they made it the first item in the Bill of Rights. The very Nazis we once applauded Indiana Jones for defeating our saluting our newly elected leader. Men are talking about sexual assault and proclaiming, “that’s just how men are.” And our children are lining up to call each other racial slurs.

****

At a recent conversation over at School Library Journal, YA author Michael Grant suggested that now was not the time to worry about little things like representation in kidlit and cultural appropriation. But the truth is, maybe we are here because we didn’t worry about it sooner.

See also: Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

Book Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

out of darknessPublisher’s description:

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Smith and Wash Fullerton know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But there are some forces even the most determined color lines cannot resist. And sometimes all it takes is an explosion.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

Look, I know we’re all busy people. We read a ton of books. Our TBR lists are infinite scrolls and we’ll never even touch half of what we hope to read. But you need to figure out a way to find time to read this book as soon as possible. Don’t write it down on a list and then forget about it. Don’t bookmark this review as some reminder. Go RIGHT NOW and order this book from your library or favorite bookstore. Whatever else you’re reading can wait a day or two for you to read this instead. It’s that good. IT’S THAT GOOD, PEOPLE. 

 

The novel begins in media res (you know—in the middle of things). It’s March 18, 1937. Did you need some time to adjust to how completely emotionally obliterating this book will be? Too bad—welcome to page one, where we are faced with the rubble of a recently exploded school littered with bodies. No, check that—it manages to be worse than that: riddled with bits of bodies. Let’s make it worse: bits of children’s bodies. Sufficiently upset? Perez is just getting started.

 

We leave this heart-wrenching and gruesome scene to jump back to September 1936. Naomi and her twin siblings Beto and Cari are new to town, having recently been relocated from their San Antonio barrio to an oil-mining town by the twins’ father (and Naomi’s stepfather), Henry (their mother is dead). Naomi, who is Mexican, and her biracial siblings are instructed by Henry not to speak Spanish. The children seem to pass as white, but Naomi faces the town’s ugly racism. African-American Wash, the siblings’ one friend, is no stranger to racism either. The foursome quickly become friends, but keep their friendship secret, mainly getting together in wooded areas removed from the judging and gossiping of others. Wash is the one saving grace in Naomi’s fairly unhappy life. Her classmates are constantly whispering about her. The girls hate her because she’s pretty and the boys just want to get in her pants. She does make one girl friend, and a few of the neighbors are friendly, but even if she had a thousand friends, it wouldn’t erase what is happening at home. 

 

What’s happening at home, you ask? Some pretty horrific stuff. Naomi is essentially raising her siblings. She does all of the cleaning, cooking, and shopping (not easy when the stores don’t want to let in Negros, Mexicans, or dogs–the wording on the sign at the grocery store) while also attending high school. Naomi dislikes Henry (to put it mildly), that much we know, but the reasons why she hates him are slowly revealed. You might be able to guess what’s happening even with no context, but I’m not explicitly going to give you spoilers. Let’s just say it’s as bad as think…. multiplied by 100 more bads. Oh, and wait until you reach the end. Then it’s an infinite amount of bad. 

 

Wash and Naomi grow closer, after some initial misunderstandings, and eventually Naomi trusts him enough to start confiding in him. Wash makes a plan for them to run away, with the twins, to Mexico, where it seems at least a tiny bit possible that a Mexican girl and an African-American boy could start a life together. What they have now is one very passionate and intense relationship that can only take place in secret. But with so much against them, could they possibly pull off a future together? 

 

That question becomes simultaneously less and more important when the school explosion happens. Based on an actual event in history, the explosion leaves nearly 300 dead. Chaos and despair permeate the town, and the angry, grieving townspeople are desperate to find someone to blame. When Wash, who was present at the scene of the disaster, falls under suspicion, every single ugly thing that has been simmering in the novel gets turned up to 11. If this were a movie, I would have been watching it with my eyes mostly covered. Since it’s a book, I just settled for sobbing and repeatedly putting it down. As you’re reading this book, go ahead and keep this question in the back of your mind: “What is the worst possible way all of this could end?” Then make it worse. And then make it so much worse you kind of feel sick that your brain could come up with such scenes. Now you’re almost there. IT’S THAT BAD, PEOPLE. 

 

Have I convinced you yet to read it?

 

Perez’s story is nothing short of brilliant. The writing is tight, the tension manages to constantly increase, and the characters are exceptionally well-rendered. Was this book hard to read? Yes. Should that scare you away? No. Recommend this one widely to teens who like doomed love stories, historical fiction, diversity, or books where terrible things happen to people. Profoundly moving and richly imagined, this is a story that you won’t soon forget. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781467742023

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 09/01/2015

Book Review: Joyride by Anna Banks

joyrideIn Joyride, by Anna Banks, Carly and Arden find themselves falling for each other, against all odds. 16-year-old Carly Vega works the graveyard shift at a local gas station. She turns over all of her earnings to her older brother, Julio, as they work hard to pull together enough money to smuggle their parents and two young siblings across the border from Mexico. Arden is a seemingly carefree slacker and the son of the local sheriff, a well-known racist (and one of the most odious adults I’ve encountered in a YA book in a long time). The two come together after elderly (and often drunk) gas station regular Mr. Shackelford is held up at gunpoint outside of the store one night while Carly is working. The assailant? Arden—Shackelford’s great-nephew.

 

Like all things Arden does, he had his reasons—he just wanted to scare his uncle into no longer driving home drunk. Carly is not impressed by this reasoning, or Arden in general, though it’s clear he’s instantly smitten with her. He pursues her, but she doesn’t have time for his hijinks. She quite literally does not have time for him—she works a lot of hours at the gas station, goes to school (often on little to no sleep), and hopes her grades will earn her some scholarships. Her brother and her parents fail to see the importance of school; to them, the important thing is working as much as possible to save money to help reunite their family. Carly understands this, and certainly does her part, but she’s determined to do well in school and be the first person in her family to go to college.

 

Possibly against her better judgment, Carly begins hanging out with Arden and eventually realizes trying to talk herself out of her feelings for him is pointless. Arden proves to be far deeper than he appears, something Carly sees as she learns about his schizophrenic sister who committed suicide a year ago, his grieving and pill-addled mother, and his absolutely awful father. But Carly still feels the gulf between them is too wide—he just can’t understand why she needs to work so much… mostly because she doesn’t tell him about her family’s situation. The stakes are raised big time when Arden’s father catches them making out. He says a whole load of disgustingly racist and outrageous things and demands they stay away from each other. Meanwhile, Carly and Julio have earned enough to pay for their family to be smuggled out of Mexico ($60,000). But things don’t go as planned. Carly and Arden get arrested, the sheriff makes it clear that they are not allowed to ever acknowledge each other again, and a GIANT plot twist throws everything into total uncertainty and chaos. The drama, risks, and retribution amp up like mad and it’s hard to know what will happen or how things will end.

 

This story of opposite attracting is an important one. It is not often that we see close examinations of immigration or the lives of teens like Carly. The characters are well-drawn and exude personality. The family issues at play are complicated–-relationships teem with grief, expectation, disappointment, and tension. Readers will root for Arden and Carly, even as they face almost unimaginable (to many) obstacles and differences. Far deeper and more suspenseful than I expected just from the cover and the flap copy, I couldn’t put it down, especially once Banks ramped up the stakes around the time of the arrest. This is a great addition to all collections.

 

Readers who enjoy this and are looking for another book about immigration should also pick up Maria E. Andreu’s The Secret Side of Empty (Running Press Book Publishers, 2014).

 

ISBN-13: 9781250039613

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 6/2/2015