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#SJYALit: If You Don’t Get It, You Won’t Get It Right, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

sjyalitI tell stories because the real world sucked for me when I was a teen.  No.  Sucked doesn’t even begin to cover it.  The real world nearly killed me.  The real world told me that I was going to hell because I was gay.  It told me I would die of AIDS or have the crap kicked out of me or spend my life as an unfulfilled sex addict or as someone’s campy gay best friend without a real life of my own.  I tried to escape the real world by reaching out to books and movies and television, but found only the same poison that infected reality.

 

More and more I’m seeing members of the YA community (led primarily by women of color) standing against and calling out books that feature harmful representation of race or gender or sexuality or disability.  Rather than allowing these books to continue to be published unchallenged, they’re taking a stand and shining a light on these problematic books and the system that continues to publish them.  At the same time, within minutes of someone calling out a book, someone else will come along and say, “What’s the big deal? It’s only fiction.”  You can set your watch by it. I promise.

 

It’s only fiction, right?  I can’t harm anyone, right?  Wrong.  We live in a big world, but as we’re growing up we often see only a small part of it.  That small part becomes our entire world.  We look to the people around us, the friends and family and schoolmates that inhabit our worlds, to catch glimpses of our possible futures.  And we use literature and movies and television as telescopes to view life outside of our worlds.  For many people, the future looks limitless.  They see they can be doctors or computer engineers or painters or world travelers.  Books and other artistic mediums help expand their worlds and show them infinite possibilities.

 

For kids from marginalized groups, their worlds begin much smaller.  When I came out, I knew exactly two gay people.  One was the best friend of my mother who had died of AIDS.  The other was my brother and, at the time, he wasn’t a particularly great example of what growing up gay could look like.  Matthew Shepard had been brutally tortured and murdered; Bill Clinton had signed the Defense Against Marriage Act, declaring I did not have the right to marry a member of the same sex; the U.S. military was actively discharging homosexual soldiers despite the heinous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule.  The real world was sending me a message, and I heard it loud and clear.  My world was small.  It was claustrophobic. So I retreated to books and movies and television and found more of the same.  Stories of shame.  Stories of death and depression.  If the gay character wasn’t killed as an object lesson, they were the butt of every joke.  I’d looked to books to escape from the real world, but there was no escape.

 

I did not fit the stereotype of gay men that so many writers at the time leaned heavily on.  Instead of finding positive stories that showed me a future where I could be myself and be happy, I found the opposite.  I found a handful of possible futures, and they were all grim.  So I tried to kill myself and nearly succeeded.  I didn’t attempt suicide because my parents rejected me or because I couldn’t accept that I was gay.  I attempted suicide because there was so much bad representation of gay life out there that I was no longer able to see the possibility of ever living a happy life.

 

Don’t tell me it’s only fiction.  Don’t tell me bad representation can’t harm anyone.  It can. It does.  It nearly killed me.

 

we are the antsI’ve gotten comments from readers that the acceptance the queer characters in my books receive from everyone around them is unrealistic.  They might be right.  I don’t think they are, but they could be.  And I don’t care.  I don’t write for those people.  I write books so that queer teens can see themselves, so that they can see a possible future for themselves.  Marginalized teens deserve the same opportunity to see themselves represented accurately and positively in the books they read as everyone else.  I’ve heard the argument that queer teens only make up a small percentage of the population, so it shouldn’t be important.  Well, screw that.  None of us should be willing to write off marginalized groups, no matter how many or few of us there are.  If you’re a writer and you think it’s not important enough to get it right, you shouldn’t be writing it.  Actual lives of actual people depend on getting it right.  If you think otherwise then you haven’t been paying attention.

 

We should all be speaking out about books with harmful representation.  Writers need to know that doing the bare minimum isn’t enough.  They need to get it right or write something else.  Publishers need to know that there are real consequences to publishing books with harmful representation and they need to promote diversity at every level of their operations to ensure harmful books aren’t being published, while at the same time promoting own voices books that are getting it right.  Publishers need to do more than simply pay lip service to the notion of diversity.  Teachers and librarians need to speak up about books that are harmful to the teens they serve, and actively seek out books that get it right so that they can put the right books into the hands of the teens who need them.

 

This isn’t a game.  This isn’t just fiction.  These are real lives, and if we’re not working to make those lives better, what the hell are we doing?

 

Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List; the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA; and We Are the Ants, which received five starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon.com, Kobo.com, Publishers Weekly, and iBooks, and At the Edge of the Universe. He lives in South Florida with his adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com.

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Publisher’s description

inexplicableFrom the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Because I read in order of publication date (the only way I can manage my towering TBR pile), there are certain books that sit on my shelf for MONTHS and kind of taunt me from their spot. This is one such book. Given my absolute adoration of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, my expectations for this book were high. And I was not let down.

 

I am a big fan of quiet books. Give me good dialogue and interesting characters and I’m in. I don’t need a big plot. I don’t need big things to happen. To me, there is nothing more compelling or more of a “big thing” than just teenagers living their teenage lives–figuring out who they are, changing, finding their people, hurting, loving, and growing. That’s plenty. That’s everything. And for 450 pages, I was so wrapped up in the lives of Sal, Sam, Fito, and their families. Sal and Sam have been best friends forever. It’s never been romantic between them; they’ve always been like brother and sister. Sam knows Sal better than anyone. But lately, Sal feels like he’s changing. He’s developed a quick temper that manifests when he’s righteously angry and trying to protect those he loves. For the first time ever, he’s lashing out and getting in fights. He starts to wonder about his biological dad—maybe he was angry and a fighter. Maybe Sal is acting like him. But his wonderful father, Vicente, is calm and loving and open. Sal wonders about nature versus nurture. He wonders who is he really like. He wonders who he really is. His Mima, his father’s mom, is dying. Heartbroken that he’s about to lose someone he loves so dearly, Sal also ruminates on life, death, and everything that comes in between. Sam is a steadying force by his side, but she has her own terrible things going on. The pair take Fito, a gay classmate who’s had to survive on his own for a long time, into their fold, and together the three lean on each other and on Sal’s dad (and eventually on Vicente’s new boyfriend) while they redefine what “family” means.

 

Beautifully written and told, this is an unforgettable look at life, love, loss, grief, friendship, and family. Vicente may win the award for Best Parent in a YA Book 2017. The friendship between Sal, Sam, and Fito is profoundly moving and rich. Fans of Aristotle and Dante who are eagerly awaiting the sequel will be happy to have another wonderful work from Sáenz to tide them over. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544586505

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 03/07/2017

#SJYALit: LGBTQ+ YA lit in the 90s/00s versus now, a guest post by Alex B.

rainbow roadImagine a gay teen buying Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Road at the local bookstore and keeping it on her bookshelf at home after reading it. Is she going to recommend it to friends? Would she take it to school or read it at a café? Since this gay teen was me, I can tell you, no, she does not.

 

 

Keeping you a secretGrowing up in the 90s, I had no exposure to LGBTQ+ characters or themes in any of my children’s books (despite my deep love of Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish, there’s no gay content). The teen section of 00s bookstore was my first chance to see someone like me in print. Yet, it was also the section that labeled its books pretty clearly. See this cover with loopy cursive font for the title and an image of two people holding hands? Probably a romance. See this cover with a sword on it? Probably going to have some fighting in it. See this cover of two girls’ resting their heads together with the title Keeping You a Secret? Probably about lesbians. Obvious benefits of doing this include helping teens find a book they are interested in. In the case of social justice in young adult literature (#SJYALIT everyone!), there’s a lot to be said for the clear, visible inclusion of LGBTQ+ books at the publishing press, bookstore, and classroom. This group of books definitely seemed to grow with me as I got older. The downside of these covers, in LGBTQ+ literature’s situation, is that they may lead to exclusion from collections or isolation from public or personal promotion, as in my experience. I was lucky to find LGBTQ+ lit (and here I should make a very important note – it was really mostly books with gay characters, and a few with lesbians, but rarely if at all any queer, bi, or trans characters) relatively easily, but then I had to decide if I was brave enough to buy it, when it clearly sent a message to everyone else, too.

 

IMG_3574 (1)What does LGBTQ+ lit look like now, in the 10s? Beautiful! There are still books with covers or titles that showcase the content, which is important, but there are many more books that have characters tangentially representing LGBTQ+ identity in the larger scope of the story, more subtle books that have LGBTQ+ main characters or LGBTQ+ experiences, or books that are diversely including LGBTQ+ themes in other ways. I was talking about this post with a straight friend when she told me she could not remember reading a book – in school or out – that had an LGBTQ character, at least a main character. I would bet some of that is access, with fewer books out in the 90s and 00s when we were growing up, and some might have to do with those covers. Now, teens may pick a book to read, such as Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, and then discover the LGBTQ+ plot within. These kinds of books help promote social justice because they place the stories in context, helping LGBTQ+ teens find themselves in stories where they can fall in love and form their identity but also do more, interact more, think more, talk more, and live more.  It helps non-LGBTQ+ teens do the same and will build bridges between us. We are here, we are falling in love, but we are also helping our sisters escape from the forest’s magical Folk… wait, no. That’s Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. But we are maybe just stressing out about homework, trying to figure out what to do after high school, and reconciling with our families and friends, like other teens.

 

IMG_3575In my reflection of how LGBTQ+ YA lit has changed over the decades, I noticed the inclusion of smaller characters or plot points and/or more subtle covers and titles as one significant change. Their crossover to address other social justice concerns such as gender, racial, socioeconomic, or religious diversity has also been growing. I hope to find more in the late 10s or early 20s that also address a range of styles, since so many are still focused on deeply emotional topics such as coming out. For instance, can some be solely funny or lighthearted, too? I would personally appreciate having both books that provide acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ issues and books that promote stress relief in laughing with genuinely funny characters who, like me, include being gay as part of their larger humanity. The growth in LGBTQ+ YA lit in recent years, in all styles, is so important. Here’s to keeping the momentum going.

 

You can read my previous post,#SJYALit: How does real life and research fit with LGBT young adult lit?, here. 

Look out for posts about LGBTQ YA lit in educational settings next, available late March! Thank you for reading.

 

Here are a few books to check out!

Black, H. (2015). The darkest part of the forest. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Danforth, E. M. (2012). The miseducation of Cameron Post. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Nelson, J. (2014). I’ll give you the sun. New York, NY: Dial Books.

Peters, J. A. (2003). Keeping you a secret. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

 

Here are a few related online articles to explore!

Doll, J. (2013). A new way for gay characters in Y.A. The Atlantic.

Lo, M. (2011). I have numbers! Stats on LGBT young adult books published in the US. 

Sunderland, M. (2016). Once taboo gay characters are taking over YA fiction. 

Waters, M. (2016). The critical evolution of LGBTQ+ young adult literature.

Wetta, M. (2015). An updated guide to LGBTQ YA literature for pride month. 

 

Meet Alex B.

Alex B is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at gmail.com) or comment here with your stories or thoughts!

Book Review: Leaving Kent State by Sabrina Fedel

Publisher’s description

leaving kentOn May 4, 1970, the campus of Kent State University became the final turning point in Americans’ tolerance for the Vietnam War, as National Guardsmen opened fire on unarmed student protesters, killing four and wounding nine. It was one of the first true school shootings in our nation’s history. A new young adult novel, Leaving Kent State (Harvard Square Editions), by debut author Sabrina Fedel, brings to life America’s political and social turmoil as it ushered in the new decade of the 1970s. Throughout the harsh winter of 1969-1970, Kent, Ohio, became a microcosm of the growing unrest that threatened the very nature of democracy.

Told from the viewpoint of seventeen-year-old Rachel Morelli, Leaving Kent State explores themes of the day that are strikingly similar to our own: terrorism, war, racial injustice, and gender inequality. As Rachel struggles to convince her dad that she should go to Pratt University in New York to pursue her dream of becoming an artist, Kent slips ever further off of its axis, in step with the growing discord across the nation. Caught between her love for her next door neighbor, Evan, a boy who has just returned from Vietnam, and her desire to escape Kent, Rachel must navigate a changing world to pursue her dreams.

“While our nation has largely forgotten what happened on May 4, 1970,” says the author, “it was a defining moment for the way in which Americans consider involvement in war. While popular sentiment initially blamed the students for the massacre, it became clear in the years immediately following that something had gone terribly wrong in our democracy for American troops to have opened fire on unarmed college students. In our own protest laden present, the shootings at Kent State remain a valuable lesson in the escalation of force during peaceful citizen protests.”

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I can’t think of another YA novel about the Kent State shootings. Can you? For me, as someone born in the 1970s, I grew up always knowing about this massacre—having it come up multiple times during college, especially, from professors who were college students at the time of the shootings and the Vietnam War. But do today’s teenagers know about Kent State? I’m not so sure. Should they? YES.

 

I am a broken record in my reviews lately. I keep saying how all of these books that deal with any sort of social justice issue are both timely and timeless; they speak to what is happening now, but also to what’s always been happening, and to what feels like it will continue to happen. To read about the Vietnam war, the protests, the organizing, the response from the administration and others in power, and the questioning of motives during this volatile time all feels very current. Yes, it’s the Vietnam War. Yes, it’s 1969/1970 in the story. Yes, there’s talk of 8-tracks and bell bottoms and other things that make it clear that we’re reading historical fiction, but the subject matter is still relevant. War and protest will always be relevant.

 

The summary up there does a pretty thorough job of telling you the plot. Rachel has been keeping in touch with her neighbor, Evan, his whole time serving in Vietnam. When he returns after 23 months, injured, she realizes that he’s changed—of course he has. He’s horrified and haunted by what he saw and did in Vietnam. He has PTSD. Looking back at his letters to her, Rachel begins to understand how much she misunderstood what he was writing her. He wasn’t fine there. He wasn’t okay. Now home, he still hangs around Rachel’s house all the time, but his dreams of music school seem impossible (he lost part of his left hand). Rachel, who’s been in love with Evan for years, tries to understand how he feels. At first Evan seems to only reveal his pain to Rachel’s dad, a WWII vet, but eventually he slowly begins to share more with Rachel about what happened over there. They grow closer than ever, but Rachel continues to wonder if he’ll ever feel for her what she feels for him, or if she’ll always be like a sister to him.

 

Meanwhile, she’s applying to Pratt knowing her dad absolutely does not want her to go. He’s a professor at Kent State and wants her to stay home and go there. And in town–and all around the country–there is growing dissent about the war, manifesting in rallies and peace vigils and sometimes riots. Rachel’s peers are getting drafted via the lottery. Their siblings and cousins and friends are being killed in the war. The unrest reaches a boiling point on May 4, when the National Guard opens fire on unarmed protesters. Rachel and Evan are both at the college when this happens and end up right in the thick of the horrific action.

 

This look at the effects of war, at a soldier returning from war, and at a weary nation is engrossing and well done. Rachel is a thoughtful narrator who grows a lot over the course of the story. The portrayal of Evan as a returned solider coping with PTSD (though it’s never called that—I suppose at the time it would’ve been called shell shock or a stress reaction) and readjusting what his life’s plan is is nuanced and compassionate. This story of an important and shocking moment in United States history is a solid addition to libraries and has a wide appeal.

 

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781941861240

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Publication date: 11/11/2016

DVD Review: Political Animals + Giveaway

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 (or, in this case, DVD), finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Library Journal.

 

political animalsPolitical Animals

87 min and 53 sec., Dist. by the Video Project. 2016. $89.

Gr 9 Up–The personal is political in this examination of the hard-fought progress for LGBT rights. This engrossing documentary focuses on the work of the first four openly gay state legislators in California, all lesbians. Pioneering politicians Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg, and Christine Kehoe (all elected between 1994 and 2000) advocated for laws protecting LGBT people and expanding civil rights. The film looks at the bills these groundbreaking legislators authored, such as one adding sexual orientation to the list of protected identities in schools. Included are extensive archival footage from legislative meetings from the 1990s and early 2000s, interviews with the women, information on their history of activism, and a reunion of the four. Fierce advocates for equal protection, the women also discuss the importance of straight allies and how it felt to listen to their colleagues fight against fundamental rights these four were being denied. The profile ends with the victory of marriage equality in 2015. The state assembly sessions scenes highlight the women’s impassioned speeches and the heated debates often marked by hostility from other legislators. Listening to testimonies and watching bills (particularly the one protecting LGBT students) fail repeatedly reveal just how hard the fight has been. This is a compelling and enlightening exploration of trailblazing women and their lawmaking. VERDICT: Highly recommended for public library collections where documentaries are popular and for high school history curricula on LGBTQ rights, pioneering women, and political movements.

 

Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win this DVD. If you’re a librarian or a teacher, this would be a good addition to your collection! Ends Thursday, March 2. US ONLY. 

“Not for Everyone”: The continuing marginalization of LGBTQ literature for kids, a guest post by M.G. Hennessey

sjyalitToday we are happy to share this post from author M.G. Hennessey as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Other Boy, came out in 2016 and is about 12-year-old Shane, who is transgender. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

 

 

 

RUN“The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.”

 

This dire warning was part of a review for Kody Keplinger’s book Run. Bad language aside, the implication in the review is that the mere presence of a bisexual character is reason enough to steer clear. On Tumblr, author Tristina Wright summarized it nicely by saying, “When you tell children that mentions of bisexuality in a YA book require[s] a content warning, you tell them they are something Other. That their orientation is something to be ashamed of, to warn others about, that they’re not good. That they’re wrong and unacceptable.”

 

I read a wide range of young adult literature, and never once have I been warned off a book because of heterosexual characters behaving in a heterosexual manner. This disparity exists because of the mistaken perception that LGBTQ themed books are really about sex, not personal identity. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to LGBTQ themed literature. Consider this: Wonder was not specifically marketed toward kids with mandibulofacial dysostosis, and The Crossover wasn’t simply intended for African-American children. So why are stories about LGBTQ children often treated differently?

 

Books like Run aspire to achieve the sort of mainstream acceptance that Wonder and The Crossover have. Yet all too frequently, they end up on the LGBTQ shelf in libraries and bookstores. That’s not to say that they don’t belong there, but they should also be shelved with other new releases. And that’s still rarely the case. After all, you don’t see many “People of Color” or “Differently-Abled Character” themed tables in the same stores. And the sad truth is that many cisgender, heterosexual children do not gravitate toward the LGBTQ table, because they simply don’t think it applies to them. So essentially, these books are being held back from most of the population.

 

While in the past couple of years there has been a positive move toward publishing more diverse books for kids, on a wider range of themes, this type of ghettoization remains a problem. The “We Need Diverse Books” movement has nudged the industry in the right direction, but until reviewers and other gatekeepers catch up, it remains a partial victory.

 

other boyI experienced something similar with The Other Boy, the story of a transgender boy who gets outed after living stealth. Kirkus concluded their review with, “This is the story with a triumphant-but-realistic ending that trans kids haven’t had enough of.” Frankly, I cringed. It was exactly what I’d been afraid of; that a book about a transgender boy’s struggles would be regarded as only appropriate for kids exactly like him. While I’m delighted that transgender and gender expansive kids can see themselves reflected in my main character, that’s not the primary reason I wrote the book. My larger hope was that it would provide a window into the life of a transgender boy for all kids; after all, the bullying he suffers as a result is something most of them can relate to. And being transgender is not the only challenge he confronts over the course of the story; he also has to navigate divorced parents, his first crush, and issues with his best friend. These are all struggles that should speak to the vast majority of tweens.

 

The assumption seems to be that the mainstream population isn’t interested in these types of stories; that despite the merits of a book, it doesn’t deserve a widespread audience sheerly because of its content.

 

I’d hoped we’d be past this by now, but the Run incident and my own personal experience have proven otherwise. I’d recommend that book reviewers take a moment to replace “bisexual” or “transgender” with “hetero” or “African American,” and see if it reads as offensive. If our goal is to open kids’ eyes to the wider world, to help them to understand and empathize with characters whose lives and experiences might differ from their own, then books that deal thoughtfully with those themes should be accorded the same level of respect and treatment as Wonder. “Try kindness” is not something that’s limited to one particular group; it’s something we should all aspire to. And until books with LGBTQ characters receive the same treatment as the Dork Diaries, we will not have achieved full equality.

 

Meet M.G. Hennessey

M.G. Hennessey is the author of The Other Boy, an upper middle grade debut about a 12 yo transgender boy who is living stealth after his transition. Described by Transparent creator Jill Soloway as, “A terrific read for all ages,” The Other Boy won a spot on the Rainbow List as one of the best LGBTQ-themed novels of 2017. M.G. is an ally and supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum, and the Human Rights Campaign; she also volunteers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She lives in Los Angeles. (She/Her)

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: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s description

hate-uInspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Soon to be a major motion picture from Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

hate u

 

If you routinely read my book reviews here, you might be thinking, dang, does she just LOOOOOVE every single book or what? Yes and no. Yes, I generally really like every book I review here. No, I don’t love all books. I’m in the fortunate position to get a ton of books sent to me to consider reviewing for TLT. I am under no obligation to review any title (as opposed to, say, reviewing for SLJ, where I review whatever I’m sent and may not end up liking the book). If I start something and it’s not for me, I ditch it. Unless I really have something to say about a book that I don’t like, I’m not going to waste my time reading it or reviewing it. Because why.

 

All that’s to say, here comes another gushing review.

 

This book is so important. It’s also so good, but it’s SO IMPORTANT. And I’d say it’s timely, but violence against black people—specifically police violence against black people—is not a new thing. So the story feels very “ripped from the headlines,” but the damn headlines never change. The names of black people murdered by police officers pile up and you know that list is only going to get longer. So yeah, this book feels very of right now—but “right now” is actually a pretty long period of time. It’s things like the mentions of Twitter, of increased media attention on protests and victims’ stories, Tumblr, and other very contemporary things that make it feel like it’s happening RIGHT NOW, right this very second. Again, chalk that up to the fact that the date might change, but the story never does. Plenty of 90s references (thanks to Chris and Starr’s love of Fresh Prince and her parents’ interests and influence) help add to the feel of being timely and timeless all at once. This book will age well, and I write that while heaving a big sigh, because, again, in real life, the damn story never changes.

 

You can read the summary up there if you need to see the gist of the story, but I’m guessing you’ve already read or heard about it elsewhere. This book is all over the place, and rightfully so. I am rarely speechless, but this book left me just wrung out. Thomas puts you right there with Starr and does not hold back. The characters absolutely leap off the page, pulling the reader right in to every single person’s piece of the story. There is not a character who doesn’t feel well-developed and vital to this novel. Thomas gives readers a LOT to think about as we follow Starr’s story. What does it mean for Starr to live in Garden Heights, a predominately black neighborhood marked by drugs and gangs, but go to school at nearly all-white Williamson Prep? How does she code switch as she bounces between her two worlds and who does she show her actual self to? What does it mean for her that her boyfriend is white? How does casual racism play a role in her school life? Why would her family choose to stay in Garden Heights so long when they are financially able to leave if they wanted to? Why would someone sell drugs? Or join a gang? How do you leave that life? And on and on. There is so much to consider, so much that makes this more than just some simple look at the fallout from the death of a black boy at the hands of a white cop. 

 

There’s so much more I could tell you about–Starr’s wonderful and supportive family, the complex interactions between gang members (and ex-gang members), the way you will be cheering out loud when Starr finally finds her voice and begins to speak out about what happened–but the bottom line of all of it is this: This book is profound. It is important. It manages to be funny and devastating at the same time. This intense look at systemic racism, police violence/accountability, and the lives of people affected by both needs to be read by everyone. EVERYONE. It’s only February, but I’d go so far as to say that this is probably the most important book of 2017. 

 

Because we at TLT find this book to be so important and want to help it reach more readers, we are giving away five copies when it comes out. Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter. Contest ends Friday, February 24. Five winners. US ONLY. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062498533

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/28/2017

Book Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher’s description

educationPretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

Things/People Margot Hates:
Mami, for destroying her social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
The supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Puerto Rican Margot, who can’t escape her childhood nickname of Princesa, is not thrilled to be spending the summer working at her family’s supermarket in the South Bronx. She had hoped to spend the summer in the Hamptons with her prep school classmates, popular Serena and Camille. That plan fell apart when her parents discovered she stole their credit card and charged a bunch of clothes. Margot, a social climber who’s more than just a little arrogant when we meet her, can’t believe Papi expects her to do actual work while at the supermarket. While there, she meets Moises Tirado, a young community activist who helms a table outside of the store working on getting signatures for a petition to stop a housing complex from being torn down and replaced by high-end condos. Though Margot is drawn to Moises, she looks down on him. Her snooty school friends would never approve. Margot isn’t interested in learning about gentrification or any of the other social justice issues Moises is into. She’s appalled by where he lives. He’s working on his GED. Margot’s family is relatively well off (they are “rich adjacent”) and she’s seen as “the great brown hope” for her family, the one who will become a doctor or a lawyer. Her mother warns her that people are judged by the company they keep, but she can’t help but continue to be interested in Moises.

 

But an “inappropriate” crush and a summer stuck working at a grocery store turn out to be the least of Margot’s worries as a whole bunch of family secrets, stress, and denial finally come to the surface and demand to be dealt with. She’s forced to really reckon with the feeling that she just doesn’t fit in anywhere and start to sort out who it is she wants to be. While many of the secondary characters are rather undeveloped, Margot is complicated and flawed. She makes mistakes and is often insufferably self-absorbed. I wish rather than seeing so many subplots, there would’ve been less going on, but had more pieces explored more in-depth (like her friendships, especially with her former best friend, or more about Moises’s activism and past). The vivid setting and many issues make this a fast read about family, identity, and culture that will appeal to many, including reluctant readers. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481472111

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 02/21/2017

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