Book Review: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Book: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Published September 2002 by Scholastic, Inc|304 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.

I liked Esperanza Rising!  I thought it was a really good read, and it really shows what it was like to move to the U.S. during the Great Depression and what it was like to be a farm worker.

Esperanza had a lot of things change once her father dies.  She goes from having everything given to her and having a really good- and sheltered- life to having to work on a farm.  And she had to do it at such a young age, which is hard to imagine.  Considering the book takes place during the Great Depression, I suppose it’s not surprising, but still.  I can’t imagine doing what she and her family had to do, but they were willing to do whatever it took to have a better life.

One interesting thing that we see in the book is the fact that some people were deported back to Mexico, even though they were U.S. citizens, simply because they looked Mexican.  Sadly, that doesn’t seem to have changed much, and this story takes place 80-ish years later.  I do wish we saw a little more of that, actually, but it is something that we see in the book.  I can’t imagine having that hanging over your head.  There’s a lot of challenges that migrant workers face, and I thought the book showed that really well.

We do see a lot of the characters change, especially Esperanza.  She changes the most, of course, and she does what she needs to.  She’s grieving over the loss of her father, and her life changes pretty dramatically, but I wanted something a little more.  What, I don’t know, but it felt like there was this spark missing.  But maybe that’s just me.  I did like the relationship she had with her parents and her grandmother.  I was really close to my grandma, and I’ve always enjoyed seeing that in books.  Plus, she crochets with her grandma, and as someone who crochets, (unfortunately, by the time I actually learned how to crochet, my grandma wasn’t able to teach me anymore) I love seeing that in books.

3 stars.  I liked Esperanza Rising, but I think I wanted something a little more.  Maybe I was expecting too much, since this is a middle grade book, but I’d still recommend it.

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Book Review: Midnight Without A Moon by Linda Williams Jackson And Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Book: Midnight With A Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

Published January 2017 by HMH Books For Young Readers|320 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Rose Lee Carter #1

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

I liked Midnight Without A Moon, though I think I was expecting something that was more YA than middle grade when I first started reading it.  I still liked, and I definitely recommend it.

Something I was surprised by was how Rose Lee and her family lived.  It was hard to believe that the book took place in the 1950’s, because the conditions that they lived seemed so horrible and old.  It’s hard to imagine a time when voting as a minority could get you killed.  And that at 13, she was expected to not finish school to help out at home.  I can’t picture that either, especially since she seemed so smart.  It made me sad to see that because she was smart, and would find her own way, she couldn’t do the one thing she wanted more than anything.

Williams Jackson really paints a picture of what it was like to live in 1950’s rural Mississippi.  It was particularly interesting to see what her grandparents thought of things like the NAACP and race relations and the civil rights movement.  I was surprised to see that they didn’t want to rock the boat, and prior to this book, I would have assumed they wanted things to change.  They did seem okay with how things were, or maybe they just made their peace with how things were.  Maybe they just didn’t want something to happen to the people that they care about, which I can understand.

It definitely makes the book an important read, and while I only know the gist of what happened to Emmett Till, I do want to know more about what happened to him.  Does anyone have recommendations for books to read?  I’m definitely open to suggestions!

I did like her grandfather, and her grandmother was…really horrible actually.  Hopefully, we’ll see her grandmother open up a little bit, but it’s also possible her grandmother is just set in her ways and won’t change.  This is the first book in a series, and while I’m not sure if I want to continue on with the series, I might pick up the 2nd book one day. Maybe her grandma just needs some time.

It’s definitely an important book, and it’s so hard to believe that the history in it so recent.  And the book is still relevant, and I think it could be an interesting jumping point for a history class.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and I especially liked Rose, but I think I was expecting something slightly older, particularly where Rose is concerned.

Book: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Published October 2017 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dloughy Books

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? 

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

This is one of those books that a lot of people love and think very highly of.  Unfortunately, I wanted to like it more than I did, and it would seem like I am in the minority.

The story itself was amazing.  I mean, you see why there’s a never-ending cycle of revenge-killing – someone dies, and then someone else kills to get revenge, and it just never ends.  I was sad to see how many people Will lost to guns, and I want a life for him where he doesn’t lose anyone else he knows and loves to guns.

The ending was pretty open-ended, but also a little confusing.  It had a “it was all a dream” feel to it, and you’re left wondering if it really happened, or if it was a dream or even if he wasn’t even alive.  I think it’s open to interpretation, which is good if you like that sort of thing.  If not, then keep that in mind if you pick this book up.  It does make you question what you know and what you thought you knew,

I have mixed feelings about the book being told in verse.  It did make the book a pretty quick read, and I feel like verse was a great way to tell this story because it somehow makes the book more powerful.  But I’m also not the biggest fan of books told in verse, and something about it didn’t quite work for me.  Jason Reynolds is very good with putting words together, and while I think I might have enjoyed this book a little more had I listened to it, I also would have missed out on some of the formatting.  It’s a trade-off, I suppose, though novels told in verse usually seem to work better for me when I listen versus reading.

Anyway, this seemed like a very long elevator ride, but I did like the concept of a different person getting on at every floor.  Now that I think about it, something about that makes me think of that one book, The 5 People You Meet In Heaven, and I’m not sure why.

Still, I think meeting each and every one of these people really affected Will, and got him to remember things and think about things and question things.  It’s really up to him what happens next, though you find yourself questioning what that is.  Given how quickly this book goes, you don’t really get a chance to completely digest what just happened.  Multiple readings might be a good thing for this book, and I feel like the more you re-read it, the more you pick up on.  I just don’t know that I want to re-read it.

I love that he writes books so all teens can be heard and seen.  Isn’t that why we all read, to see ourselves reflected in the pages?  It’s sad that this is the reality for some teens, but authors like Jason Reynolds are so amazing at making teens feel seen and heard and more visible, even if the book isn’t one I personally loved.  Just because the book didn’t quite work for me doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

Long Way Down is a book that clearly speaks to a lot of people, and I really, really wish I were one of them.  I would still recommend this book to everyone, because I think Will’s story is one that should be read.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I hate giving this book 3 stars, I really do.  In fact, I almost gave it 2 stars, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Like I said, Will’s story is an important one, and while a lot of things didn’t work for me, there were some others things I did like.

Book Review: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Bound Napoli CoverBook: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Published November 2004 by Atheneum|184 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Fairy Tale Re-Telling

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Young Xing Xing is bound.  Bound to her father’s second wife and daughter after Xing Xing’s father has passed away. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where the life of a woman is valued less than that of livestock. Bound to be alone and unmarried, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Dubbed “Lazy One” by her stepmother, Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful but compulsory tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content, for now, to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, to tend to the mysterious but beautiful carp in her garden, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society.

But all of this is about to change as the time for the village’s annual festival draws near, and Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family’s money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future.

In this searing story, Donna Jo Napoli, acclaimed author of “Beast and Breath,” delves into the roots of the Cinderella myth and unearths a tale as powerful as it is familiar.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really like fairy tale re-tellings, and I was really intrigued by a Chinese re-telling of Cinderella.  Especially because I loved Cinder.  I liked it, but not as much as I liked Cinder.  However, if you want something a little more historical, and a little less dystopic, this is definitely a good book to check out.

It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward re-telling of Cinderella, and I like that it’s pretty similar to one of the Chinese variations on the Cinderella story.  I do wish the author had deviated from the original story a little more, just because I would have liked to see her do something different with her re-telling of Cinderella.  It’s very clear that it’s a Cinderella re-telling, which I liked, but…I still wanted something slightly different, because if I wanted something that mirrored the original pretty closely, I’d go read the original.

Because of the setting, it’s a slightly different take on the Cinderella story we’re familiar with, partly because of Disney and partly because of the different Roger’s & Hammerstein versions out there (of which the Whitney Houston one is my favorite, but probably because it’s the only one I’ve seen, not counting the Disney version).  It seems like there are more variations on the Cinderella story across different time periods and continents that any other fairy tale out there, and this episode of The History Chicks does a great job at going over all of the different variations.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  It’s a pretty straightforward re-telling of one of the many variations of the Cinderella story, and I love the setting.  I like that it re-tells a version most Americans probably aren’t familiar with, but at the same time, I wanted some sort of twist on the story we all know.