Categories
books and reading

With the Fire on High

Title: With the Fire on High

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: YA lit

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book set in a restaurant

I just can’t stop reading YA these days. I go through reading phases, like most people, I would guess. But I’m digging through some recent YA books that I didn’t get to the past few years. And I’ve heard so many great things about this author, and this book also happened to fit a Popsugar prompt, so it was doubly worth reading. And I’m so glad I did.

From Goodreads: With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Emoni is just such a great character. She is realistic and responsible and knows exactly what she wants. But getting there can be tricky. She’s a fantastic mom, but having a baby does cause issues that her peers don’t face. She loves cooking, but her grades aren’t the greatest. She has an amazing grandma who raised her, but her dad isn’t as in the picture as much as he really should be. I’m so thankful for the recent transition in YA lit from annoying teen girl to amazing, strong teen girl. The recent representations are so much more empowering for girls who are reading the books. I listened to this book and couldn’t get through it quickly enough. I just loved being in Emoni’s world and absolutely recommend this one.

Categories
books and reading

Everything, Everything

Title: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Genre: YA romance

I figured since I’ve read Yoon’s other two books Instructions for Dancing and The Sun is Also a Star, I might as well read the first one she wrote since I loved her other two so much. And, like her others, this one is a YA love story that is a bit unconventional. I appreciate her unique takes on first loves, and although this one missed the mark for me a bit, I still loved reading about Maddy and Olly.

From Goodreads:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. It’s a form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, but basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in fifteen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives. New next door neighbors. I look out the window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black t-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. I want to learn everything about him, and I do. I learn that he is funny and fierce. I learn that his eyes are Atlantic Ocean-blue and that his vice is stealing silverware. I learn that when I talk to him, my whole world opens up, and I feel myself starting to change—starting to want things. To want out of my bubble. To want everything, everything the world has to offer.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

This book could have been a bit better with some development. I felt that Maddy and Olly’s love was rushed. I also saw some plot holes that were never explained, which was a bit frustrating. That said, maybe I’m being too picky. Maddy and Olly were great characters, and the ending of the book made a lot of sense to me. And although, this wasn’t my favorite Yoon book, her other two were just spectacular, so I’ll definitely be looking for more of her books in the future.

Categories
books and reading

Instructions for Dancing

Title: Instructions for Dancing

Author: Nicola Yoon

Genre: YA magical realism

PopSugar reading challenge prompt: a magical realism book

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

I have read one other Nicola Yoon book, The Sun is Also a Star, which I absolutely loved. And I’ve been reading some heavy books as of late. So this little breath of fresh air was the perfect book. Much like Sun, this book is a great combo of light and heavy, love and heartbreak, fun and serious. I flew through this one in just a couple of days because I couldn’t stop reading. I absolutely loved it.

From Goodreads: Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

Evie is such a fun character that I really related to. She has her one group of friends, doesn’t get out much, studies a lot, snarky, and smart. Her struggles are grounded in reality, and you really understand why she feels the way she does. X and Evie’s friends are a great support system, as well. Just kept giggling at this book in the best way. Young love is always so fun to read about when it is genuine and not full of stupid YA tropes. After reading two excellent books by Yoon, I’ll be reading anything else she writes.

Categories
books and reading

These Violent Delights

Title: These Violent Delights

Author: Chloe Gong

Genre: YA historical romance

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover

This cover is gorgeous. When I read the blurb for it on Book of the Month, I knew this would be my choice. I’m a sucker for Romeo and Juliet retellings. And this story sounded like so much fun. Set in 1920s Shanghi, and instead of falling in love and dying, they just broke up. Now they are older and soon-to-be leaders of their gangs. All this sounds like such a fun book. But I was bored to tears. It took me twice as long to read this one than other books of the same length. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but it was well-written and the characters were dynamic. I just couldn’t get into it.

From Goodreads: The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery. A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

So the two have to work together to keep people from dying because for some inexplicable reason, even though family members of theirs die, the heads of the gangs have nothing to do with the problem. Juliette drove me insane. I didn’t like her character at all. But again, for no real reason other than personal preference. I was really hoping this book would be fun and engaging. But, for me, it just missed the mark.

Categories
books and reading

Dear Justyce

Title: Dear Justyce

Author: Nic Stone

Genre: African-American YA lit

I’ve decided that the YA queens of Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, and Tiffany D. Jackson can do no wrong. Every book I’ve read from these ladies is just phenomenal. I’m adding them to my “must-read every book of theirs that comes out” list. I’ve read Dear Martin and Clean Getaway from Stone and will checking her bibliography to see if I can find more of her work. Dear Martin was the first I read of hers, and I live tweeted while I was reading. Stone was kind enough to reply to a lot of my tweets. It was a great experience. And the book just blew me away. It was the first of its type (real-world, black kids, trying to survive their worlds) that I read. Please click on the link and see my review for it.

From Goodreads: Shortly after teenager Quan enters a not guilty plea for the shooting death of a police officer, he is placed in a holding cell to await trial. Through a series of flashbacks and letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, Quan’s story unravels.

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone’s newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.

In the preface, Stone says she had no intention of writing a “sequel” to Dear Martin, but several kids mentioned that they needed to read about a kid who struggled. Justyce certainly did, but he was smart, was getting a great education, and made it “out” of his difficult like. But that’s not the reality for a lot of kids. Enter Quan. He’s in Dear Martin, but I didn’t remember him, but that’s okay. the book is plenty easy to dig into. Quan’s home life is difficult, to put it mildly. He finds a family that supports him, but of course, there are rules. Quan finds himself in jail facing a murder charge.

If you haven’t read any books in this genre, you absolutely must. They are so important. Kids need to see themselves in literature. They need to feel like their voices are important. They need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. I’m so thankful for authors like Stone, Thomas, and Jackson who are giving these books that resonate.

Categories
books and reading

On the Come Up

Title: On the Come Up

Author: Angie Thomas

Genre: YA Black and African-American fiction

When this book came out, I wasn’t really interested in it because I assumed it was just about a girl trying to make it in the music business. Knowing how powerful The Hate U Give is, I really shouldn’t have made this assumption. Nothing Thomas has written is “fluffy.” Everything has depth and meaning. And although I didn’t LOVE this one like I did THUG and Concrete Rose, it’s still an excellent book with a powerful message and heart.

From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

Bri is a character who jumps right off the page. She’s so dynamic and powerful, without being cheesy or inauthentic, as many teens girls are written. I was rooting for her the entire book. Her home life isn’t always stable, but she has love and support from her mom, brother, and friends. But when Bri’s very explicit song becomes viral, who she is deep down is quickly misinterpreted and put on display.

This book was so much better than I was expecting. The assumption was entirely my fault. Thomas is three for three in my book. I will read her next book, no doubt about it. I am so thankful for her writing and her voice for today’s teens. She’s exactly who they need.

Categories
books and reading

Grown

Title: Grown

Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

Genre: YA music fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: book about art or an artist

As much as I enjoyed Monday’s Not Coming last year, it was an extraordinarily difficult read, dealing with a terrible subject. The book blew me away, though. Even though it was hard to stomach, the subject of children in difficult situations (being vague to avoid spoilers) is extra difficult to read, knowing full well that these things are happening in our world. Putting them to paper must be so hard for Jackson, but I am so thankful that she does. She’s giving a voice to those who have had theirs taken away. Grown doesn’t shy away from trouble, either.

From Goodreads: Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields? All signs point to Enchanted.

The story isn’t as much of a mystery as this summary leads you to believe. Enchanted’s story of how she met, fell for, and was groomed by Korey Fields. Jackson, in the afterword, makes a point to say that this story is not based on R. Kelly, but it is definitely reminiscent of what he has done to young girls. You know from the first introduction that Korey is a monster, and watching Enchanted fall for him and his lies is difficult. I just wanted to reach into the book and tell her that he cannot be trusted.

I didn’t connect with this book as much as I did with Monday’s Not Coming, but I don’t have a reason why. This book is great, and it’s definitely a must read. I have Allegedly on my kindle and will be making a point to get to Jackson’s other book ASAP.

Categories
books and reading

Concrete Rose

Title: Concrete Rose

Author: Angie Thomas

Genre: YA fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book set somewhere you’d like to visit in 2021 (California)

Reading The Hate U Give was one of the highlights of the year I read it. Written for teens, which I am resoundingly not, I was still moved by the story. When I heard Thomas was writing a prequel, I was in. Maverick was such a great father in THUG that I was excited to see how he got to that place.

From Goodreads: If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control. Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father. Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

Spoilers for The Hate U Give below…fair warning.

So, you know from reading THUG that Seven is Maverick’s kid. You know he and Lisa end up together. And you know that Maverick ends up doing the right thing because he’s a good, stable father. However, the hardest parts are meeting some characters knowing their fate. We see baby Khalil, which just broke my heart. We see baby Seven (and yes, his name is explained) but know his life isn’t going to be easy. We meet King and see just how long he’s been a force in the community. The seeds are planted in Concrete Rose (ha…see what I did there!!) and they blossom in THUG.

Like THUG, the name is taken from another Tupac work. This time a poem and the book of the same name. Here is the poem:

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

It’s a perfect title for this book. The concrete rose is EXACTLY what Maverick is. He doesn’t want to be in a gang anymore, doesn’t want to be selling drugs, feels the pressure to do so because his father did. He wants to be a good dad and eventually a business owner. But that concrete is hard to break out of. Watching Maverick do so is a joy. Concrete Rose is an excellent book, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Categories
books and reading

This Is Where It Ends

Title: This Is Where It Ends

Author: Marieke Nijkamp

Genre: YA thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book with something broken on the cover

This book was on my kindle because I had bought it at some point, but I couldn’t remember why or even what it was about. But when I was scrolling through the books on my TBR and saw the broken chalk on this cover, it was an easy pick for the prompt. Turns out, it’s about a school shooting.

Columbine changed this country. I was actually in my first year of teaching when it happened. The ramifications were immediate. Dress codes changed, security changed, lockdown drills were created. Then Sandy Hook happened. I was at home with my new baby watching that unfold on the news. I remember wondering if I would ever be comfortable sending him to school. And I mostly am okay with it due to our school’s security, but having him at home virtual learning because of the pandemic definitely makes me worry less. Then Parkland happened. And…. nothing changed. No laws changed. No action taken. Apparently, this country needs guns more than it needs children.

From Goodreads: Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun…

10:00 a.m.: The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
10:02 a.m.: The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03: The auditorium doors won’t open.
10:05: Someone starts shooting.

In 54 minutes, four students must confront their greatest hopes, and darkest fears, as they come face-to-face with the boy with the gun.

Given the terrible topic, this book was good. It’s odd to me that books like this are published, when Stephen King wrote about a school shooting in one of his earliest books, Rage, but he has let it go out of print due to the horrific subject. Are we desensitized to school shootings at this point? Seems like it. No one is shocked anymore when they happen. And nothing changes. I wonder when people will take a stand and do something about it.

Categories
books and reading

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

Title: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

Author: Dashka Slater

Genre: True Crime, LGBTQ+ issues

PopSugar Prompt: a book in a different format than you usually read (ebook, audiobook, graphic novel, etc).

As much as I love podcasts, I’m not a big audiobook person. I like that I can listen to podcasts in small chunks, doing dishes, laundry, running errands, but to listen to a book in small chunks is really hard. I just forget what happened last time. Yesterday, I had massive chores ahead of me. I knew I was in for the long haul of several hours. Through the amazing https://www.audiobooksync.com/ site, every summer I download free audiobooks. They give you two choices, you pick one. Knowing I wanted to listen to the whole book yesterday, I selected the shortest one and put it on 1.5 speed. Voila! Entire book in one day.

From Goodreads:

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

I’ve been told how amazing this book is. I knew it was non-fiction but that was all I knew. So when we first meet Sasha and learn that they are an agender person, I realized the magnitude of what this book was about. It wasn’t just about two teens involved in a crime, but it was potentially a hate crime against an LGBTQ+ individual. We learn Sasha’s backstory and how they came to be known as Sasha. Born a male, Sasha never really felt truly male nor truly female, hence the agender decision. They (pronoun of Sasha’s choice) renamed themself Sasha because it’s a gender neutral name and started wearing skirts because that was the clothing they felt was most comfortable.

One day riding the 57 bus in Oakland, Sasha’s life collided with Richard’s. He was a good kid, but he had made some dumb mistakes, fighting, skipping school, bad grades, but he was really trying to turn things around. He and a friend saw Sasha, wondered why a boy was wearing a skirt, and decided to play a prank, or so they thought. Richard took a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, fully expecting a little flame that Sasha would quickly pat out and would go on about their day. However, as Sasha was sleeping, the fire quickly erupted into a fireball, burning their legs from thigh to calf.

The entire book lets you into both Sasha’s and Richard’s lives before and after the first. You really get to know these kids. Richard made a poor decision, but had Sasha not been wearing a skirt, the fire never would have happened. Make no mistake: Richard’s decision was horrendous. He was also 16 and severely underestimated what would happen. That’s no excuse. He deserved any and all punishment he received. I’ve taught 16-year-old, and boy can they be poor decision makers. I absolutely do not justify his actions, but I see how Sasha and their family came to the realization that forgiving Richard (who took full responsibility) was the right thing to do.

This book was fantastic. Pieced together through social media posts, news articles, public records, and interviews, the author does an amazing job of telling the full story. The book, while telling a terrible story, is one of optimism. Sasha, despite the fire, has moved on to college, living a great life. Richard, since he took full responsibility and has the support of his family, could really turn his life around. This book is critical for students to learn empathy for people who might look different, act different, or feel differently than them. I’d love to see every high school student read this one!