Whew… this semester flew by and I really neglected this blog. But, I have been reading a lot this semester! So I thought I’d do a round-up of the best books I’ve read these past three months.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
I actually listened to this one as an audiobook, which was excellent because two different voice actors read the two different main characters’ chapters. It is the story of a young African-American teen who gets beat up by a police officer and becomes a news story and the white teen boy from his high school who sees the fight and must come to terms with his privilege and worldview. This topic is so pressing right now and this title is an excellent introduction for teens into the concept of privilege and race in America because it is very explicit and informative about these concepts, to the point that it was a bit overly didactic for me since I am already aware of these issues. Overall though, I really enjoyed this novel.
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
I’ve been watching Jane the Virgin lately and I’m a fan of Orange is the New Black so when I saw Guerrero’s face on the cover and found out that it was a book about another currently relevant and vital to discuss topic – undocumented immigration and deportation – I had to read it. I very much appreciated Diane’s story and the honest way she covered life with undocumented parents, her parents’ deportation and the severe depression that followed for her. The writing was not great, but I was willing to look past that because of how much I enjoyed the story.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl is another one I listened to as an audiobook, and while I didn’t enjoy the main narrator’s voice all that much, I loved that a British author was hired to read the Simon Snow portions – Simon Snow being what appeared to be an intentional Harry Potter rip-off/ode except with vampires. It took me a while to get into and appreciate the main character, Cath, but I came to really enjoy this book, and I am planning on reading this book’s pseudo-sequel: Carry On, a novel devoted entirely to the Simon Snow story.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Ok I listened to this one as an audiobook too and it was READ BY LIN MANUEL MIRANDA and it was the best thing ever. His narration was authentic and even just talking about it puts his voice back in my head. I loved this story of Aristotle and Dante, two unlikely friends in New Mexico who have a lot about themselves to uncover. It is beautifully written and both Ari and Dante are fully formed, wonderfully inquisitive and introspective teens. Maybe one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
This one scared the crap out of me. It is the story of a dystopian future in which San Francisco is hit by a terrorist attack and the United States, and specifically the state of California, which at the beginning of the novel is already pushing the boundaries of spying on and tracking its citizens especially through the school system, turns into a police state, with one teen its main target. Especially under our current administration this book really spooked me and gave me a lot to think about. It also helped me remember that even people I’ve seen as “good guys” have used similar logic of safety over privacy and how quickly that thinking can spin out of control. A must read for the 21st century American.
Burn, Baby Burn by Meg Medina
This novel reminded me how much I love historical fiction and that I don’t read nearly enough of it. The main character in this novel is a Latina girl living in Queens in the 1970s during the time of the Son of Sam murders. The turmoil in New York at this time matches the turmoil in her house and in her mind as her family situation becomes tense and she tries to envision her life beyond high school. I thought the incorporation of the Son of Sam murders as a historical element as well as Medina’s own recollections from growing up in Queens during that time added an authentic and unnerving quality to this novel that made it incredibly enjoyable.
Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings
I was very surprised that I enjoyed this one, because I totally judged it by its cover and its cover screamed to me “200 pages on a topic you’re not really interested in (water sports) with an overly moralistic 90’s arc.” However, I enjoyed this one for two reasons: first, it presented a serious moral conflict and I really empathized with the main character, and two, it was set right by my house in Annapolis and I loved getting to understand a place that is so close to me yet so different from where I live. The main character’s area is much more rural and people in the neighborhood generally seemed poorer than the wealthy yacht-owners I usually see by the docks in Annapolis. It also mentioned the train station my S.O. grew up next to in Frostburg, Maryland, so overall it just gave me this feeling of comfort and familiarity and discussed settings that are not typical in YA literature.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
This novel follows a Chinese-American family in the wake of the discovery that their daughter is found drowned at the bottom of their local lake. Part mystery, part character study, Ng follows the family through their present grief as they try to make sense of their daughters death, while skipping back to different moments in the family’s history to understand how the family unraveled and reveal the secrets each family member keeps from the others. Eventually, the family realizes they knew much less about their ostensibly perfect daughter and sister than they thought. Ng writes beautifully and carefully, weaving together issues of race, sexism, family roles and societal pressures to explore how one family can hide so much just beneath the surface.