It’s a survivor book. The 13 year old main character, Miyax orJulie (name given by her pen pal Amy from San Francisco), is lost on the frozen Alaskan tundra. She cunningly wins the friendship of wolves. Becoming an accepted member of the pack is the only way she can make the journey without a compass or setting sun to guide her. The personal tragedies that she has faced in her life and the relationships she forms with the animals compel one to keep reading.
Viola lives with her mother and young brother in war-torn Sudan. All the men are either dead or fighting and soldiers prowl throughout the town, taking whatever they wish. After Viola is raped by one of these soldiers, the family decides to attempt a move to America. First they must travel out of Sudan and into Egypt, where they live in a refugee camp while waiting for the appropriate documents. It takes many long months to get the paperwork in order, but they are finally able to travel to America. Viola and her mother move to Portland, Maine, where a large Sudanese population has already been established. There, Viola attempts to piece her life back together while trying to balance life as both a girl from Juba and her new life as an American teen.
Told entirely in spare, lyrical verse, this novel is lovely addition to the immigrant-story genre. Viola’s experiences are painful, but her hope is palpable. This story sheds light on a part of the world that many American teens spend little time thinking about. The trajectory that Viola’s life takes is breathtaking, realistic and honest. We, as Americans, are so used to thinking about a country’s borders as something writ in stone, however, the borders of many countries in Africa are more or less arbitrary and were imposed largely by Western colonialist powers. Thus, when civil war breaks out, it is not necessarily because the country is divided, more that the country was never exactly unified in the first place. In fact, this story takes place shortly before South Sudan gains its independence. Readers will feel for Viola as she struggles not only to survive the journey out of Sudan but as she attempts to reconcile the cultural differences she must face as a new American. A moving and memorable read.
Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, until his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But will their relationship survive in a society that considers Ali a foreigner?
When In Darkness won the 2013 Printz Award, I was a bit surprised. So many other books had a lot of buzz, but this one didn’t seem to register on that particular radar. I knew it had been well-reviewed, but when it won, it jumped up to the top of my reading list and I was not disappointed.
This is a story of two major turning points in Haitian history. We are first introduced to modern-day Haiti through the eyes of Shorty, a young gang member who had been convalescing in a hospital after a gunshot wound when the 2010 earthquake hit. Shorty, now buried so deep in rubble that he can’t even see, tells us his story in order to keep himself sane. Shorty was born as a twin, which, in Haitian culture, implies that the lwa (gods) have blessed these children. Life is difficult, but more or less tolerable in the slums of Port-Au-Prince. While the UN guards the slums, it is really the local chimeres, or gangs, that control the community. The only funding for education or medicine comes from the local gangs and the UN frequently causes more problems than they fix, giving the people of Site Solay (and many, many others) little reason to believe that they are there to help. When Shorty witnesses his own father being slaughtered by a rival gang and loses his twin to the gang in the process, Shorty joins Route 19 in order to fight for his sister’s return.
Juxtaposed against Shorty’s story is the more historical narrative of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Toussaint and others, inspired by the recent revolution in France, aim to rid Haiti of slavery. While attending a vodou gathering wherein the lwa of war is invited to inhabit one of the souls present at the ceremony, Toussaint is infused with the soul of a boy. A boy who lives in a Haiti where black people are no longer slaves. He is also suffused with much of the boy’s knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic; skills which he swiftly uses to his advantage. The truly striking aspect of Toussaint’s mission is his insistence limiting violence as much as possible. Indeed, Toussaint became notorious for being considerably ahead of his time and went on to influence the American abolition movement nearly a century later.
As Shorty begins to lose his grip on reality, he keeps seeing flashes of a distant past…
I absolutely loved how these two gripping stories intertwined to present a rich and complex picture of a country torn apart first by imperialism and then by poverty, violence and corruption. This is a book that I can not stop thinking about. Appeal to teens may be limited, but sophisticated readers willing to take the plunge will not have any regrets.
Khosi lives in South Africa with her grandmother and little sister. Her mother works in another town and can only come home on occasion. Times are not good for anyone living in their village. Everyone is poor and death seems to visit nearly every family in the form of AIDS. When Khosi’s mother returns home for an extended visit, it is glaringly obvious that she is sick. Very, very sick. She denies that it is anything serious and refuses to visit a doctor. Khosi, with her sister and Baba, goes to visit the local witch doctor in the hopes of saving her mother. Her mother eschews all traditional “superstition” and refuses to take part in anything that has to do with the local witch doctors and their methods. As Khosi’s mother worsens, Khosi begins to realize that her mother may not have been entirely straightforward about her illness. A trip to the clinic confirms their worst fears. With all this death and disease, Khosi wonders if there even is such a thing as a future in this world.
Traditional ways conflict with more modern sentiments in this timely story of a young woman trying to make sense of a devastating disease that is so localized and personal. AIDS in South Africa is a serious concern and has been for years. Misinformation about the disease is rampant and not nearly enough has been done to combat the spread of HIV. Readers may benefit from a bit of research before or during this book. I actually took an entire class in college about women in South Africa and was grateful to have the background information. This book was really quite well done, but may take some pushing to get circulating among its intended audience.
Sylvia and Aki is a wonderful historical novel about school segregation and Japanese internment. It takes place over several years in the 1940s and is based on true events. Aki and her family live on their asparagus farm and enjoy life in America. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and everything changes. People look at them suspiciously and they receive notice that they will have to leave their home and move to an internment camp. Her father is imprisoned in a different camp and it is years before they see him again. Sylvia and her family have just leased Aki’s farm. She is excited to be going to the new school nearby. But she and her brothers are turned away and told they have to go to the Mexican school in the barrio. Sylvia’s father starts a legal fight that eventually leads to school desegregation in California.
I really enjoyed how these stories intertwined. We think of the horrific events in Europe when we think of WWII, but we forget that we did some pretty terrible things as well. The Japanese in America lost their homes, their livelihoods and were basically imprisoned for years without trials or doing anything wrong. They were simply locked up because they were Japanese. We also don’t think of Mexicans when we think of school segregation, we think of African Americans and the struggle they had to get a good education. I like that this book spotlights a part of our history that is not often talked about. I also appreciate all the additional information Conkling included at the end of the book.
Neela dreams of being a veena player, but she gets stage fright. Then her grandma sends her a mysterious veena and she starts to get better. But the veena is stolen and Neela learns that it is cursed. She must work with her friends to discover who stole the veena and what the curse really means.
I really enjoyed the way the author successfully wove Indian culture into this story. It makes for a very nice multicultural tale that I think kids will enjoy. The vanishing veena is a good mystery and there were enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. However, the plot did get a little convoluted at times. There is a lot going on in this book and a lot of characters to figure out. Sometimes it worked really well and other times it was a mess. But overall this was a pretty decent mystery.
Tina is having a period of existential solitude. She’s just been “dumped” by her best friend and now sits alone at lunch. She has trouble identifying with her classmates, who all seem to fit into neat, tidy groups, and her large Indian-American family. She begins keeping a diary as part of her English Honors project and addresses her entries to the existential heavyweight, Jean-Paul Sartre. Tina finds herself stepping out of her comfort zone to take a break from her solitude. She ends up starring in the school play (Rashomon…must be a pretty progressive school) and going on bike rides with her crush, Neil. It’s all going well until she realizes how much kissing will be required of her in the play and all of it with a boy she finds disgusting. The one boy she wants to kiss does not appear to be nearly as interested in Tina as he is in the idea of Tina (he constantly grills her for information about Buddhism in spite of Tina’s identifying with atheism), so that’s not going so well either.
Tina’s journey is strikingly realistic and always told in a playful fashion. Tina is a lot of things, many of contradict. She loves her family, but is annoyed by their insular nature. She is bitter about stereotypes, but is willing to overlook them when it comes to that elusive kiss. Tina is like a lot of young women trying to reconcile their identities with their place in the world. Through her writing, Tina realizes some important truths about herself; truths that will likely resonate intellectual teens. A fun, smart read.
If you’re looking for a book to break your heart, this might be the one. Flashback a few years to the Iranian elections and subsequent protests. A young man, Medhi, has gone missing. His brother, a blogger, and his mother set out to find him. Their journey takes the reader across Tehran and into prisons, morgues and mass graves. It’s an unflinching look at the effects of government corruption intertwined with Shari’a law, told with absolute respect for those trapped in the crossfire. It is as much about the suppression of culture as much as it is about the suppression of dissent. It is so important for us to remember that the violent images we see on reactionary news networks do not represent the vast majority of Iranians. Most are peaceful, compassionate people who only wish to raise their families and celebrate their heritage. Instead, these same people are often the victims and find themselves, like the characters in Zahra’s Paradise, trying to salvage what they can after corruption has run its course.
Zahra’s Paradise refers to the largest cemetery in Tehran. Zahra is the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. This book also comes with background information about the elections, various definitions of Arabic and Farsi terms/phrases, thoughts from Paul Coelho and a list of the names of the dead (which spans several pages, in extremely small font). A somber, but worthy read. The authors are anonymous due to the nature of the work.
The first installment in this manga series takes us to nineteenth-century Central Asia where we meet a young groom, Karluk, and his older bride, Amir (8 years his senior). As is custom, she moves in with his family and succeeds in impressing everyone with her many talents (archery, cooking, etc.) and generally amiable disposition. It is unusual for a groom to marry a woman so much older, so this marriage is really more of a practical partnership than a love arrangement. In many cases Amir seems closer to a mother figure or older sister than a wife. Interspersed with the main story are lovely little episodes of daily life. The artwork is stunning; I haven’t seen such elaborate detail rendered in black and white in some time.
There is not enough space or time to describe how much I enjoyed this book. I can pretty much see myself prattling on about this book for years to come. Chock full of symbolism, parallelism, comparisons and contrasts, Habibi (my love) is a tale of loss and pain, but most importantly (I know it’s cliche) the power of love. Dodola, a child bride, is captured by slavers who murder her older husband. On the run, she rescues a younger slave boy, Zam, and the two become refugees together. They find a wrecked ship they decide to call home in the middle of the desert between where they escaped and the large city/corporation of Wanatolia. Dodola raises Zam as her son, and to feed them both, she prostitutes herself to the caravans that pass by their hiding place. The bond between these two becomes unbreakable even when they become separated. The Arabic calligraphy throughout the book is very interesting and the connections made between reader and Thompson’s pen can pretty much (in my humble opinion) be described as nothing less than epic.
This is a wonderful book about a young girl (Sal) coming to terms with her mother leaving her and her father. She relives her mother’s journey through a roadtrip with her grandparents and comes to terms with it through the story of her friend Phoebe. Phoebe is a bit crazy and overdramatic but I liked her as I liked all the characters in this book. It is a beautiful story about sorrow and loss and forgiveness. The language just flows so beautifully as you read it; you can almost hear someone telling the story to you as you travel. Very enjoyable.
Whoa. This was epic. On the surface, it’s a story about a young girl, Dodola, sold into slavery who manages to escape with a little boy, Zam, into the desert. She lives with and raises Zam for nearly 9 years, trading her body for food when the Bedouin caravans come by. They find a relative peace in the desert until Dodola is kidnapped by the Sultan’s men and brought to the palace as a consort. In his abandoned anguish, Zam sets off to find his beloved Dodola. His story becomes dark as well. By the time they meet again, they have both been through some of the worst times imaginable. From this sadness arises a new sense of hope and love.
So, the story is harrowing and intriguing, but it is also interspersed with stories from both the Quran and the Old Testament (often pointing out the differences in the details). It draws connections between the characters in the book and the spiritual personages to whom they feel connected. Themes of language, water and numbers are also prevalent throughout. This graphic novel is a rich tapestry that could give a college level class discussion fodder for weeks.