30 August, 2011

Diversify Your Reading Challenge Essay

Diversity in Young Adult Literature: A Chance To Teach

The thought of this challenge made me smile: Diversity in YA? Growing up some twenty plus years ago, I can confirm that there was very little diversity in YA literature. Truthfully, the lack of diverse characters was not limited to literature, but also spanned television as well. Therefore, to see a challenge based solely on diverse characters being the main or supporting characters in books are strong examples how far our society is progressing.

This challenge pushed me to seek out new and exciting authors. The majority of the books I read are young adult, but I can’t say I would have picked up most of these if not for the challenge. While some of the books I may have picked up anyway, many of them I had to search for. Local bookshops and libraries didn’t carry many of them and I had to order a couple on amazon.com in order to read them. I found that to be a bit sad, but I’m hopeful that these books will be circulated soon.

The majority of them, such as Under the Mesquite, Hurricane Dancers and Inside Out and Back Again dealt with the uprooting of the narrator to various degrees. Hurricane Dancers' narrator had no home, a child between two worlds. The teenager in Under the Mesquite was able to travel back and forth to her homeland of Mexico, where she was able to grow fully in both cultures, heal and move onto new adventures. Inside Out and Back Again seemed to be the most severe. Uprooted because of war, the narrator is thrust into Southern America, where not only her language and culture is tested. She sees the most adversity, merely because she is Asian and different.

All of these books are about the character’s struggles to keep a part of their culture with them, how to grow in this new land and time and how to carve a life out for themselves when they are unique and one of a kind.

Many characters, especially those in Guantanamo Boy and Bird in a Box, face racism merely for being who they are and living in the time they do. The fact that these two stories are set years apart shows how slow our progress can be.

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever., a contemporary fictional novel, described Almira’s family dynamics and their culture brilliantly. I had never experienced Ramadan or read any literature about it. It was refreshing to read about something so different from what I had ever experienced. Silver Phoenix was also a very different and beautiful fantasy story. Strong female characters facing adversity were major themes in this book. Almira’s mom and herself are seen as infidels in the eyes of Almira’s grandfather. Ai Ling is a lone girl going on a long journey to rescue her father, in a world when women were bought and sold to men to pay off debts. It’s so hopeful to read about driven females asserting their power.

These stories hit a very personal note for me. I’m Korean and was adopted as baby to a white family. Regardless of culture, history or language, I was always seen as Asian due to my physical characteristics. Reading these types of stories express the internal and external struggles that many of us confront every day. They show us we are not alone. Holding onto culture and molding it into your own becomes more common with each generation. As time passes, I believe everyone’s history blends together and our children and our children’s children will make their own way. It’s vital that while we hold onto our past, we do not fear change or different ways of life.

Today, it is more important than ever to expand diversity in young adult literature. Our children today become our leaders tomorrow and diversity in YA literature, no matter how small, enlightens future generations about different cultures, traditions and history.

Silver Phoenix - Review

Silver Pheonix by Cindy Pon
Publication date: 28 April 2009 by HarperTeen
ISBN 10/13: 0061730211 | 9780061730214

Category: Young Adult Fantasy
Keywords: Chinese, mythology, fantasy, romance, adventure
Format: Hardcover (also available in paperback and eBook)

Kimberly's Review: 

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book at the YA in Bloom author signing last spring. I'm not familiar with Chinese mythology so I wasn't sure if I would have a hard time following along. But it turned out to be even better for me because all of Pon's mythology seemed extra magical.

Ai Ling and her companion Chen Yong meet gods, demons and everything in between. Creepy, scary and haunting, the descriptions of these beings are so real I had trouble shaking them from my mind after I put the book down. In fact, Pon's entire world is a beautifully woven lush fantasy.

Pon isn't afraid of broaching difficult topics and putting her characters in real danger. Ai Ling was in serious danger many times, not just from supernatural forces, but from her very own garden-variety creepy men who see women as a prized piece of meat. And to her credit, Ai Ling didn't wait for her traveling companion to rescue her. Many times, she rescued herself. Her intelligence and bravery cannot be beat. When she made mistakes, and she totally did, she was more than willing to fess up to them. Which made her even more likeable in my book.

Chen Yong and Ai Ling have a delicate relationship. Their friendship grows through the book, as does each character. As Ai Ling finds her way to the castle to find her missing father, Chen Yong is on his own journey to find his family and his history that has been a secret since his birth. It was lovely to see the slow progress of their relationship, and the growing of each character themselves.

Ai Ling is not the same girl at the end of the story. She has seen too much and grown up, so much so I am eager to read the second book to see how she is handling her gift. Chen Yong, restless and searching, also flourishes through the novel, turning into a young man who is eager to continue his quest.

A fun, fast paced story. Go on the journey with Chen Yong and Ai Ling. You won't be sorry.

Visit the author online at www.cindypon.com and follow @cindypon on Twitter.

Find more reviews by kimberlybuggie at www.thewindypages.com, and find out more about the Diversity Reading Challenge at www.diversityinya.com.

Under the Mesquite - Review

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Publication date: 31 October 2011 by Lee & Low Books
ISBN 10/13: 1600604293 | 9781600604294

Category: Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Keywords: Immigration, Family, Cancer, Mexican, Diversity Reading Challenge
Format: Hardcover

Kimberly's Review:

Lupita is the oldest daughter of a tight-knit Mexican-American family. They moved to Texas when she was just a baby. When her Mami develops cancer, Lupita takes it upon herself to care for her seven younger siblings. Only a young teenager herself, she rapidly grows into a young woman who struggles with identity and family obligations.

I can't really write about this book for fear of giving something away. But it's beautifully written, incorporating some Spanish words into the English prose. Every character is well drawn out, especially Lupita and her mother. This is a family that may have some problems, but overall love each other. The warmth and strength of all the characters, especially Lupita and her father, are gorgeously written.

Reading this on the beach this morning, I absorbed their story within a couple of hours and found myself crying. The tone, language and texture is heavy and serious, yet is filled with universal truths: A mother's love for her family, the fear of loss, growing pains, and finding yourself. Everything is touched upon in a very natural way. The story flowed over me, as if my best friend was telling it. 

I'm so thankful I picked this book up to read. It will stay with me for a long time. 

Get it and settle yourself into a comfy chair with some tea and a box of tissues. Lupita's journey is not to be missed.

Visit the author online at http://guadalupegarciamccall.com.

Find more reviews by kimberlybuggie at www.thewindypages.com, and find out more about the Diversity Reading Challenge at www.diversityinya.com.

25 August, 2011

Sweetly - Review

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
Publication date: 23 August 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN 10/13: 0316068659 | 9780316068659

Category: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Keywords: Fantasy, fairytale, horror, 
Format: Hardcover, also available in Kindle format

Thuy's review:

I admit that I had high expectations for Sweetly. Pearce's last book, Sisters Red, was eerie and dark and had me (figuratively) biting my nails. Full of turmoil and deep emotions, could her next book recapture the feeling without treading over the same ground?

Yes, indeed she could. Sweetly is roughly based on the Hansel and Gretel tale by the Grimm Brothers (whose notion of cannibalism always grossed me out). Sweetly's tale begins almost where the classic fairy tale ends, with Ansel, Gretchen and Gretchen's twin sister fleeing through the forest from an evil witch with yellow eyes. Not all of the children make it out of the forest though and Ansel and Gretchen are left with the guilt of losing their sister.

While Ansel has convinced himself that their sister's disappearance was not the work of a witch, Gretchen has not. She's lived in fear since that day, haunted by the yellow eyes of the witch that took her sister and may be coming back for her. Even twelve years later, as she and Ansel make their way to a new city, she can't stop looking over her shoulder and staying away from the dark woods. She soon finds out that the witch in her nightmares is very real and may be closer than she thinks.

I really, really l liked this book. The characters were rich and complex. Most of the story is told from Gretchen's point of view and you can really sense the longing she has to belong and to become her own person instead of the other half of a missing girl. In finding herself, she learns to face her fears and confront the thing that's tormented her for most of her life.

Even though the subject matter is quite dark, there are many funny and light moments. There's a bit of romance thrown in with the dark and brooding Samuel, who has a score to settle. And sweet, sweet Sophia, with her sugary confections and warm smiles but who has secrets of her own. The book is also filled with delicious descriptions of candies and sweets, which is an added bonus for a sugar addict like me.

All in all I thought this was a great read and I can't wait to see what Pearce does next.

Visit the author online at www.jacksonpearce.com and follow @JacksonPearce on Twitter.

23 August, 2011

Guantanamo Boy - Review

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera
Publication date: 5 February 2009 by Puffin
ISBN 10/13: 0141326077   |   9780141326078

Category: Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Keywords: Kidnapping, 9-11, fear, paranoia, torture, Diversity Reading Challenge
Format: Hardcover

Kimberly's Review: 

Khalid was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is a Muslim boy from England who is kidnapped and dragged to Guantanamo Bay. With no one to help him, and his family not knowing where he is, Khalid faces torture, mental and physical as images of his life flash before his eyes. And he holds onto the one thing they cannot take away from him. Hope.

Khalid is a great character. He's a teenage boy who thinks about soccer and girls. Having grown up in England, he is Westernized and cannot comprehend why he is being dragged away from his family, or why no one believes him when he tells them who he is--a 15 year old boy who was visiting family.

Perera uses a lot of strong imagery; you can't help but feel Khalid's confusion and misery. Who betrayed him? A stranger? A family member? Khalid has plenty of time to think about these things while he suffers in prison for days that go on and on...

This was a very hard book for me to read. While I think the story is interesting and the ideas are sound, the book was a bit too long and drawn out. (Khalid didn't arrive at Guantanamo until half way through the book.) Plenty of bad things happen before Guantanamo, but by the time he reaches the prison, Khalid has already been through really horrible stuff, so Guantanamo didn't seem to be as jarring or offensive as I'm sure it was meant to be. 

The darker days were offset by the beautiful memories of Khalid's life before the kidnapping. His memories are strong and they give him hope to keep going. But he's only 15, and there's only so much he can handle. Teetering on the brink of madness, Khalid loses all sense of childhood and security so quickly I forgot I was reading about a 15-year-old boy. The only thing that reminded me was his persistent screams of his age towards his captors.

I think it was important to read it, but I can't admit to liking the book. It's a very powerful story and the graphic images of torture, including water boarding are very real. The most horrific and sad part was in the author's note which states Khalid's journey was not uncommon occurrence--teens were brought to Guantanamo Bay. And that the prison still houses a little less than 200 prisoners today, two years after President Obama announced its closure.

Visit the author online at www.annaperera.com and follow @annaperera1 on Twitter.

Find more reviews by kimberlybuggie at www.thewindypages.com, and find out more about the Diversity Reading Challenge at www.diversityinya.com.

16 August, 2011

Level Up - Review

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Thien Pham
Publication date: 7 June 2011 by First Second
ISBN 10/13: 1596432357  |  9781596432352

Category: Young Adult Fantasy/Graphic Novel
Keywords: Video games, angels, Pac-Man, college life
Format: Paperback Graphic Novel

Kimberly's review: 

Dennis Ouyang, a wandering teenage boy finds his one passion in life- to play video games. And he's pretty damn good! After his father's death, Dennis starts ONLY playing video games and finds himself kicked out of college in his junior year. 

Suddenly, four small angels turn up to help him clean, study and focus on his destiny--to get into medical school and become a gastroenterologist. And then things get... weird. Of course we all think these angels are awesome, and they are! Aren't they? They do seem to get really mad when Dennis wants to study with his friends...

This is a wonderful story and a very quick read. The artwork is well done, the colors and timing laid out perfectly. The story unfolds slowly. What teenager doesn't live in their parents' expectations? And the references to gaming is well laid out, accenting the story nicely. There are a lot of false starts for Dennis, and Game Overs, but Dennis never seems very angry or bitter. He's merely trying to navigate his destiny, if that's what it really is, and he begins to question why. 

His dad is gone, but not his intentions. We all experience the pressure of parents' expectations that are so engrained in us, they become our own and the lines blur as to who wanted it first. There are no easy choices in life and this goes for Dennis' world as well.

Yang's story is touching. I was rooting for Dennis the whole way. And Pham's artwork is minimalistic, and well done. I especially liked the facial expressions on all the characters in every scene, they said something about that moment. The ending is fantastic. It's surprising sometimes how things work out.

Visit the author online at http://geneyang.com, and follow him on Twitter @geneluenyang. Kimberly read this for the Diversify Your Reading Challenge. Find out more at http://www.diversityinya.com/challenge.

15 August, 2011

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. - Review

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif
Publication Date: 8 July 2011 by Flux Books
ISBN 10/13: 0738723231  |  9780738723235

Category: Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Keywords: Ramadan, Muslim, blending cultures, religion
Format: Paperback

Kimberly's Review:

Almira Abdul is trying her best to honor Ramadan, an entire month where she is not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset. While her family is not overly religious, and she has only been to a mosque twice, she feels that it's a good challenge for her... She thinks she can stand to lose a couple pounds.

What happens though is more than just food temptation! Her crush, Peter, starts noticing her at the same time her best friend starts noticing him! And while her traditional grandfather is teaching her to drive, he's also showing her how things would be if they weren't living in America.

Almira is a hilarious character. Her voice is unique and her inner dialogue charming. A few times I laughed out loud to the reference to her love of chocolate or her great infatuation of Rob Pattinson (and therefore her hatred of Kristen Stewart.)

Pop references aside, this is no light book. Almira is suffering from what many minority teenagers have difficulty with--how to blend in with the American culture while still holding onto her family's beliefs. It's not just about Ramadan. Her grandfather is a strong and aggressive character, representing the old ways. Her mother and father are somewhere in between.

Almira's friends are a diverse bunch of characters. Each has their own distinct personality and culture too. The conversations between Almira and her friends over AIM are hilarious. And let's not even get started on the new bomb shell of a girl that just started their school...

Sharif does a fantastic job navigating these touchy waters. Almira's voice is touching, desperate and loving. She is torn, observant and just doing the best she can. When there's drama at the end of the novel, Almira's sadness and panic came through brilliantly. This really feels like a high school teenager's account of her one month during Ramadan. 

I really enjoyed this book. I didn't know what to expect from the back synopsis, but it's an adventure I'm glad I didn't miss. Kudos to Sharif whose story made me sit down in a quiet corner, with no distractions, and quietly ate up Almira's journey. To be honest, I wouldn't have normally picked this book up, let alone read it! (Or seek it out for that matter. I went to three Borders and two Barnes and Nobles with no luck. I had to buy it on amazon.) But it's well worth it!

Visit the author online at http://www.sharifwrites.com and follow her on Twitter @sharifwrites. You can purchase the book directly from the publisher at http://www.fluxnow.com along with some of Alethea's other favorites. Kimberly read this for the Diversify Your Reading Challenge. Find out more at http://www.diversityinya.com/challenge.

10 August, 2011

The Last Bookstore

So a good friend of mine recently reposted an LA Times article about The Last Bookstore (not the last bookstore--THE Last Bookstore :) and I've really been wanting to go for a visit! Not only do they look like they have a great selection of used books, but also they bought our old Borders Glendale bookshelf fixtures...♥

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles CA (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times) 
You should come, too!

When: Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 11:00 am
Where: The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring St., Ground Floor, Los Angeles CA 90013
Why: We like books. They have books. Let's go!

A few of us are going to wander around the area and get lunch after. Everything is totally optional. Just people milling around and shopping (hopefully, buying!) books. Since the store is also a used book store, you can sell too! But check their website to find out what kinds of books they are buying.

I emailed the store and owner Josh Spencer confirmed that yes, they do have a YA section! Score!

You don't have to, but it would be nice if you could RSVP on Facebook. There's also a Schmap.

We're also planning on a Good Morning at the LA Central Library (date TBD, probably a Saturday in September). If you have any questions, comment below or email frootjoos@gmail.com.

See you all soon!

07 August, 2011

Bird in a Box - Review

Bird in a Box by Andrea Pinkney
Publication date: 12 April 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN 10/13: 0316074039 | 9780316074032

Category: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Keywords: Historical Fiction, African American stories, Orphans, Great Depression
Format: eBook, Hardcover, audiobook

Click here to find more 3-star reviews on RNSL

Kimberly's review:

The year is 1937 and the Great Depression has hit everyone hard, especially African-Americans. Three orphans, all alone for different reasons, live at Mercy Home. These three orphans, all with different stories, backgrounds, families, and histories have one thing in common. They are going to root and hope and pray for Joe Louis, the first African-American boxer to become heavyweight champion of the world.

I'm not going to lie. If not for the Diversity in YA challenge, I probably wouldn't have known about this book. I had to seek it out, ordering it from the library. I'm glad I did.

The story is filled with hope, even in dark and desperate times, these three children give each other something more to hope for. The writing is solid, and I felt Otis's story was particularly strong and heartbreaking. While Willie's story is strong, it's Hibernia's voice which caught me. Her attitude, her strength is clear on the pages, especially when dealing with her Reverend father, whose secret longing for her lost mother is finally revealed after too many years.

Well-written with three distinct voices and a strong story! Go on! Root for Joe Louis and Hibernia, Ottis and Willie too!

Find out more about the author at the http://birdinaboxbook.com.
Join the Diversity in YA challenge here and check out Kimberly's progress here.

05 August, 2011

Hereafter - Review

Hereafter by Tara Hudson
Publication date: 7 June 2011 by HarperCollins
ISBN 10/13: 0062026771 | 9780062026774

Category: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Keywords: Ghost story, Supernatural, Romance
Format: eBook, hardcover

Kimberly's review:

Amelia floats, aimlessly, lost with the knowledge that she is dead. Her death, her life, her memories have all been erased and she longs for freedom and to be seen. This seems like an unfulfilled wish until she meets Joshua, a high school student whose car accident brings them closer together than she ever thought possible.

Hudson's debut novel is well written, the language flowing over each page like Amelia's ghost. I had to force myself to put the book down every once in a while, to enjoy the slow creep of the story and the blooming romance between the characters. We see her as a full character, frustrated and sad, but with a glimmer of hope that pushes her forward. She's a strong character, and she needs to be with what she's up against.

The enemy, Eli, is certainly creepy, both in a I'm-a-ghost and I-want-to-be-a-possessive-boyfriend way. Joshua is swoon-worthy. Patient, caring and sweet, he doesn't treat Amelia badly or have crazy mood swings back and forth. And really isn't that what any ghost, er, girl really wants? Hereafter is a beautiful tale that weaves love, identity and the choices we make all into one. An awesome start to an exciting series!

Visit the author online at http://www.tarahudson.com and follow her on Twitter @thudsonwrites

01 August, 2011

Comic-Con Swag Giveaway

Thuy brought back a bag of goodies from Comic-Con!

This prize pack includes 1 each of the following:

Postcard booklet includes the covers for
2 runners-up will be chosen to win extra swag packs with bookmarks and postcards.

Enter now! Contest ends at the end of the day on August 14!