Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MLK Week

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and our president continues to say awful racist things, and I have so little control over any of this.

So I'm making book lists.  Tune in every day all week for a new list of books related to race in America, mostly  YA and MG fiction, mostly backlist, and mostly looking at the black/white issue. Starting off, we have:

Backlist YA Novels to Read if You Loved, THUG, Dear Martin, and All American Boys

You like your fiction timely, you're pissed off about police violence and the school-to-prison pipeline, you're not afraid of shades of grey, and you're not going to get all bent out of shape if someone starts talking about white privilege. Have I got some books for YOU! 

How It Went Down A favorite of mine, this 2015 release starts with a black teen getting shot by a white adult. Multiple points of view weigh in on what they saw that day, and how their lives are affected by the event.

When I Was the Greatest Jason Reynolds has been writing good books for awhile now. In this one, the narrator befriends two brothers, one of whom is looking for trouble. It all comes down in an instant.

Lockdown Walter Dean Myers is iconic, and this is one of my favorites of his. Told in vivid first person, the book shows how hard it is to stay out of trouble once you're already in jail.

The First Part Last I don't think this book is high literature, but it's a gripping story about a teen dad trying to do the right thing. It's also super short, if you're trying to tempt reluctant readers.

The Silence of our Friends A graphic novel loosely based on the authors' experience growing up as neighbors in a Texan town that wasn't yet comfortable with "mixed" neighborhoods.

This Side of Home I've reviewed this one before, and have yet to read her latest, but I have to include hometown author RenĂ©e Brown and her look at gentrification.

Monster (or its graphic novel adaptation) Another WDM classic, this one is told as if it were a screenplay the main character writes in his head. Steve was the lookout for a robbery in which someone was shot and killed. But is he a monster? Honestly, I found the graphic novel easier to follow.

Boy 21 This is the only book on this list that isn't #ownvoices, but it's too good to leave off.  Matthew Quick's narrator is Boston Irish, but lives in a largely African American neighborhood. He is asked to mentor a young black man whose family has just been killed. The newcomer is a basektball phenom, and Finley is torn between sympathy for the kid, and fear that he will take his place on the team, thereby ruining his one shot at escape from their mob-run town. Probably my second favorite on this list after How It Went Down.

Tune in tomorrow for MG Historical Novels about the African American Experience from Colonialism through the Civil Rights era!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review: Akata Witch

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Published 2011 by Viking Press

349 pages, fantasy.

Reading this book made the chittim rain down around me. You will have to read it too to find out what I mean by that!

I kept trying to read this book.

I checked it out from the library last summer, because I'd heard it was good. That's all I really knew about it though, and something about the cover didn't really draw me in. I renewed it over and over, until I finally had to return it three months later, without ever cracking the cover.

More recently, I tried again. I know I tend to default to white, Anglo authors and familiar settings. I still didn't know what it was about, but I had a vague idea it was set in an African country. Again, I renewed it faithfully while I read other books.

It's due tomorrow, with no more renewals possible. So yesterday, I decided to give it a try. In case you ever wonder about the power of blurbs, as soon as I noticed that Ursula K. Le Guin praised it on the cover, I kicked myself for waiting so long.

And then I started the book.

Let's get this out of the way first: you will think of Harry Potter when you read this. There are four young people dealing with the magical world even as they deal with the regular challenges of puberty The POV character was ignorant of the magical world and her own elevated status within it until the age of 12. She is instantly recognizable to others because of a physical anomaly. The other children grew up in that world. The world is divided into magical and non-magical people, who are called a vaguely condescending name ("lambs"). There are rules about what underage wizards can't do, and our band of friends regularly flouts these rules. There are teachers, all wise, but not all kind, and there is a terrible evil that only the children can defeat.

And...there's a magical sport that is hugely popular.  The sport is about as far from Quidditch as you can get, but this was still the parallel that made me go, "C'mon, is this really necessary?"

Still, there have always been stories about groups of kids dealing with magic, from Five Children and It to The Inquisitor's Tale. The story is fresh and original and stands entirely on its own feet. Not just because it's set in Nigeria, and not just because the protagonist is female, although both of those things are hugely important features of the book. The story focuses on the tension between the spiritual and the physical, between greed and a hunger for knowledge, between myth and everyday life.

The book also dives into issues of immigration, duality, and belonging.  "Akata" itself is a derogatory word for African Americans, meaning something like "wild animal." Sunny, our hero, was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, and the family returned to Nigeria only three years before the story begins. She is asked frequently throughout the book to claim one nationality or the other, and she is confused about which to say and stubborn in her inclusion of both. Two of her friends are Nigerian born, and the fourth member of their group is a recent immigrant from Chicago, a boy seen as even less Nigerian than Sunny.  Her name could be heard as Sonny. Her American friend's name is Sasha, and he gets teased for having a girl's name.* Two members of the group are girls, and two are boys. Two are impulsive and aggressive, two are reflective and peaceful.  One theme of the book is that we all have more than one side. Another theme is that our perceived weaknesses can also be our greatest strengths.

Despite being a teacher, I rarely read a book and feel compelled to analyze it for theme. The fact that Akata Witch pulls me to analyze it to such an extent (my scribbled notes include "What is the importance of smoking to the story?" and "gender roles/soccer game") should not be seen as meaning the book is dry or didactic. It's magical and humorous, terrifying and alive.  It also does a great job at setting up a higher stakes conflict for the next book.

5/5 stars

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sunday Post #24

Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly (duh) Sunday Post link-up. I participate sporadically, but am ready to roll this week!

Books Read: Five

This week I was reading for Cybils and finished two of the short-listed books, Leigh Bardugo's Wonder Woman: Warbringer and F. T. Lukens's The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic. I can't say much about them yet as we're still in process with judging, but I will point out that both have heavily alliterative titles, and assure you that both deserve to be on the short list. I skimmed the collection called Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. and found that very few of them lived up to their subtitle. I also finished up two books that for some reason took me forever to get through. I started listening to Laini Taylor's Night of Cake and Puppets on audiobook before winter break, but then I neglected it when my commute stopped for those weeks, and then the library took it back, TWICE (so rude), but I finally came across a hard copy at the library and devoured the rest of it. Loved it, too. The other book I read is Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor. This one I checked out from the library last summer, renewed for a total of three months, never read it, tried again, renewed for a total of three months, realized it's due this Sunday, and devoured in two days. Review coming soon, which is not something I usually say.

Acknowledging that I can't give away my reaction to the Cybils books, my favorite of the week from the remaining options has to be Akata Witch.



Which cover do you prefer? I read the one on the top right, which is definitely less scary looking. It seems the book has been published under the name What Sunny Saw in the Flames too, and I'm not sure why.

This is my third post this week, which is a good improvement from my blogging slump in December. I also have ideas and enthusiasm for more posts, and time to write them this weekend, so I am looking forward to a good blogging week too. I am very close to two milestones for me--I'm coming up on my 500th post, and on (this is probably embarrassing) my 50,000th page view. I'm sure there are bloggers that get that much traffic daily, but well, I don't. What should I do to celebrate?

Reading Life
If you need some lists of terrific YA and MG (and children's) books published in 2017, go check out the Cybils finalists as well as the Nerdy Book Club Winners. I look at those lists and despair of ever reading enough books. (The Nerdies release several days of winners; I linked to one of the YA days, and you can explore from there.)

I'm still trying to get myself organized for my reading year. I've made a Google Form the last few years that tracks all sorts of data, and I've tweaked it this year again. I also signed up for some challenges. I don't usually do that, because I'm such a mood reader, but I figured out that if I sign up for challenges I DO ANYWAY, it should be easy. So I'm doing both the Backlist Challenge and the Library Love challenge, which is somewhat redundant, now that I think of it. But both have different rules around how to submit books for their records and giveaways, so I have to track that too.

Out of nine books read this year, all nine were backlist books, seven were from the public library, and three qualified for a Popsugar category (GLBQT protagonist, author of color, and protagonist with mental illness.)

Best for last: I just (as in, on another tab while I write this post) signed up for a reading retreat at the end of this month. It's organized by the same person who ran the writing retreat I went to in summer of 2016, Beth Woolsey. Her blog is not a book blog, but she loves books too, and I am thrilled that I decided to go--and that she offered me a substantial discount. Thanks, Beth! 

Real Life
I just negotiated with my tween that we'd eat pot stickers for dinner so I don't have to go to the store for actual ingredients tonight. I have been napping a ridiculous amount lately. My son started a new school and it seems to be going okay. My daughter just learned how to do a bridge kickover at a rec center gymnastics class. My husband is playing bridge. That's pretty much what's going on here these days.

My Friday afternoon/evening set-up. Blankets and books. 

My kids have become obsessed with setting out breakfast for me. This is a Very Good Thing.

Have a good week, everyone!