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.