Book Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Book: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Published January 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents|312 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Sci-Fi/Re-Telling

To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams. 

I liked Dragon Pearl!  Not as much as I wanted to, but I still liked it!

What I liked most is that it’s a sci-fi re-telling of Korean mythology and folklore.  I love re-tellings but they tend to be fantasy or contemporary, and it’s pretty rare that they’re sci-fi so that made this book stand out.  Min travels all over space, and there are pirates and ghosts involved, and you can’t go wrong with pirates or ghosts.  It’s too bad there are no pirate ghosts, but that is definitely not this story.

I liked Min, and how she wanted to follow in her brother’s footsteps and be a part of the Space Forces.  That definitely changes over the course of the book, and I liked seeing her work her way out of some of the sticky situations she finds herself in.  I was most intrigued by the fox-magic, and how people saw it as a bad thing.  I guess it had to be someone, but I liked seeing her rely on her magic more and more to find out what happened to her brother.

I was surprised by what really happened, and it just goes to show you can’t always place your trust in the people.  She meets a lot of people along the way, and things are never what they seem.

There were times (especially at the beginning), where things seem to drag.  It does take time for Min to get into space, but she has a lot of adventures along the way, and even though I didn’t love it, I can see why so many people do.  I had a hard time getting into it, but I still enjoyed the characters and the world.  Especially everything involving the Dragon Pearl.

3 stars.  I liked Dragon Pearl, and it was fun to see a re-telling set in space.

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Book Review: Beanstalker And Other Hilarious Scarytales by Kiersten White

Book Review: Beanstalker And Other Hilarious Scarytales by Kiersten White

Published July 2017 by Scholastic|224 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Once upon a time, a girl skipped into the forest and became a zombie.

Wait, no, that’s not how this story is supposed to go. Let’s try again.

Once upon a time, a boy did a horrible job as a sheep-sitter and burned his tongue on stolen pie.

No, children in these stories are always good and virtuous. From the top.

Once upon a time, a king and queen tried to find a princess for their son to marry, and he wound up fleeing from a group of very hairy vampires.

Hmmm…

What about, once upon a time, a bunch of fairy tales got twisted around to be completely hilarious, a tiny bit icky, and delightfully spooky scarytales… in other words, exactly what fairy tales were meant to be. Grab some flaming torches, maybe don’t accept that bowl of pease porridge, and get ready for a wickedly fun ride with acclaimed author Kiersten White and fairy tales like you’ve never heard them before.

I really liked Beanstalker, but that’s no surprise, considering I love Kiersten White.  What is surprising is that I still haven’t started Slayer, but I’ll have to read it soon.

Beanstalker is a really cute middle grade.  The versions that White did of the different fairy tales are really funny, and really original.  It’s still the fairy tales we all know and love but with vampires and zombies and lots of other cool stuff.

It’s quirky and she did a great job at turning every single story on its head.  I wouldn’t expect anything else from her.  Even if I didn’t know she wrote Beanstalker, I’d know it was written by her, because it has the humor and writing style I’ve gotten to know with all of her books.

I loved how the stories worked really well on their own, but they also came together as a larger story really well.  I enjoyed the stories at the beginning a lot more than the ones later on, but overall, I really liked the stories.  I loved that all of the stories took place in the same kingdom, and how connected all of the characters were.  The Stepmother was pretty interesting.  In that sense, it makes me think of Once Upon A Time, and how connected those characters and worlds were.

The illustrations were really cool, and I liked the rhymes that separated each story.  It would be interesting to see her write these same stories for a slightly older audience, because there are a lot of interesting directions she could go.  Still, I can see a lot of kids really liking it.

4 stars.  Beanstalker is a cute middle grade book, full of really funny re-tellings.  It’s not my favorite Kiersten White book, but I still really liked it!

Book Review: Aru Shah And The End Of Time by Roshani Chokshi And The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

Book: Aru Shah And The End Of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Published March 2018 by Rick Riordan Presents|355 pages

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

Series: Pandava Quartet #1

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary/Mythology Re-Telling

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

I really liked Aru Shah And The End Of Time!  I really liked seeing Aru and Mini stop the Sleeper and save time.

I liked Aru and Mini, and they seem like such an unlikely duo.  I thought they worked well together, and I’m curious to see if we’ll meet the other 3 Pandava sisters in the rest of the series, or if we’ll just see Aru and Mini.

One thing I thought was interesting was how surprised people were that the legendary Pandava brothers were, in fact, sisters.  It made for a unique twist, and people seemed to underestimate these two girls.  It makes me wish that I knew more about Hindu mythology because it would have been fun (and pretty cool) to know the real stories that Chokshi drew from.

Also, I love that Rick Riordan acknowledges that this was not a story he could have written, and that he believes Chokshi can.  I think it’s cool he’s giving other writers a voice and the chance to re-tell the mythology that they’re familiar with.

Back to the story, though.  I really liked seeing Aru and Mini work together to save the world.  They’re scared and not always ready for what’s in store, but they get it down, and it’s a pretty interesting adventure for the two of them.  I also loved their pigeon sidekick, who was pretty funny.

I loved how smart Mini and how she’s obsessed with anything and everything that can make you sick.  Aru, even though she just wanted to fit in with the popular kids and ends up starting this whole adventure because of it, is funny and curious and determined to make things right.  They support each other, even when they fight, and they really do have a great friendship.  It’s nice to see in a middle grade book, though I feel like we see more of it in middle grade than YA (at least, in my experience).

My Rating: 4 stars.  I didn’t love but I still really liked it.  I’d recommend it everyone, but especially Rick Riordan fans.

Book: The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

Published February 2018 by Scholastic|351 pages

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

Series: Kiranmala And The Kingdom Beyond #1

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary/Re-Telling

MEET KIRANMALA: INTERDIMENSIONAL DEMON SLAYER
(Only she doesn’t know it yet.)

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish and a drooling rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories-like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess and how she comes from a secret place not of this world.

To complicate matters, two crush-worthy princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’ve come to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and battle demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld and the Rakkhoshi Queen in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it…

I really liked The Serpent’s Secret!  It’s another mythology-inspired re-telling and this one is inspired by Indian mythology.

Kiran, on her 12th birthday, goes on a very unexpected adventure.  Spells are broken, and she learns that the stories her parents have told her about being a princess are not just stories.  They’re real, and she’s from a place that is not the world she knows.  I definitely felt like we were on this journey with Kiran as she learns what is real and what is not.

There are a lot of stories I was not familiar with before reading this book, and I love seeing stories I’m not familiar with because it makes me want to learn more.  I really felt like these were stories that DasGupta loved growing up, and I felt these were stories she knew really well and wanted to share with everyone else.

It was silly at times but also really fun, and I felt like we knew who Kiran was.  She didn’t feel older or younger than she really was, and though the book was longer than what I expected for a middle grade, I really liked Kiran as a character.  It felt like the book was the perfect length for the story DasGupta was telling, and it didn’t feel too long or too short.

It’s also funny, and there were quite a few times when I laughed or smiled.  Mostly when TunTuni was involved, but sometimes serious things need some not-so-serious-moments.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked it and I loved how fun and funny the book was.  I can’t wait to read the next book!

Book Review: Property Of The Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Book: Property Of The Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Published September 2018 by Random House Books For Young Readers|256 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval. 

But June can’t give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn’t have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It’s a delicious secret . . . and one she can’t keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library’s popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle–a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it’s powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read.

Equal parts fun and empowering, this novel explores censorship, freedom of speech, and activism. For any kid who doesn’t believe one person can effect change…and for all the kids who already know they can!

I really liked Property Of The Rebel Librarian!  I love the story, and I loved June and how having a library and being able to read what she wanted was really important to her.

When I was reading this book, I found myself angry at June’s parents.  Most of the books at her school library were gone, because they think a lot of books are inappropriate.  What made me the angriest was that they went to the school, and had so many books removed.  It’s one thing if they decide they don’t want June reading certain books, but to decide that for all of the kids in her school?  That goes a little too far for me.

Also…the fact that they rip out pages of books she already owned and read and that they glued note cards to the pages of other books to change the story…I just had a hard time completely understanding why they would go to that length to make sure she’s not reading something they deem inappropriate.  I guess I don’t understand why they’d even give the books back to her at that point.

Still, I can believe that parents would edit books so their kids don’t read something “bad” and try to get books removed the library (or remove the librarian from the school) for the good of the children.

I just love June so much, and the school librarian was awesome!  It’s clear that the librarian encouraged kids to read, and had a lot of recommendations for her students.  What happened to her was sad, and I loved seeing June and her school take a stand.  June reminds me of myself, and I love that she became a rebel librarian.  I also loved that she wanted to be a librarian after everything that happened.

Also, I loved that a lot of the students started reading because of the restrictions in place.  These are kids who know what they like, and have a pretty good idea of what books they want to read.  They are kids who want- and are more than capable- of making their own decisions about their reading material.  I hated seeing that choice taken away because of a few parents.  I’m glad they took action, even when parents and the school administration didn’t want them to.

4 stars.  Though a few characters (like June’s parents) made me really angry, I also really liked June and seeing her find her calling as a future librarian.  There were times where it seemed more YA than middle grade, but overall, this is a great book for everyone who loves reading!

Book Review: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Book: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Published May 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books|240 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt. 

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal—especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

Here is another really great middle grade contemporary!  I really enjoyed this one, and I actually felt really sad for Amal.  I can’t imagine a world where you have to work as a servant to pay off debt and because you said the wrong thing to the wrong person…especially at the age of 12.

Initially, I assumed that this book was historical fiction, and then I was horrified and sad when I realized it was more contemporary.  I feel terrible that I had assumed indentured servants were a thing of the past, but that the Khan family used children as servants made me feel sick to my stomach.

I loved Amal, and all she wanted was to go to school.  Things changed, and not surprisingly, things worked out for her in the end.  This book showed how important it is to speak out against injustice, and that everyone deserves an education.  I’m lucky that I have had chances that Amal didn’t have, and while I appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book, the part of me that wants to learn more wishes there were a list of books for further reading.  Maybe that’s just me though.

It was a little bit darker than what I would expect for middle grade, but it’s not too dark for younger readers.  I was dropped into Amal’s world, and she is a character that I enjoyed seeing.  I loved her relationship with her family and friends, and how she found new friends at the Khan estate.  Saeed did such a great job at showing Amal’s village and you really felt Amal’s need to get back to her family.

4 stars.  I would recommend Amal Unbound to everyone.  I loved Amal’s determination to do what was right, and her story is one everyone needs to read.

Book Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

Book: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

Published August 2017 by Simon Schuster Books For Young Readers|272 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.

With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.

I think I’ve been in a middle grade contemporary mood lately because this is one of a few I’ve read recently.  I mostly read YA (and only rarely read middle grade), but this one jumped out at me because it tackles body hair.  I’ve read a lot of books in the 7.5 years I’ve been reviewing books and while I can’t always remember what I read a week or two ago, much less years ago, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve read a book about a character dealing with body hair.

It does have a Judy Blume feel to it (for some reason, I’m specifically reminded of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret), and I think Judy Blume fans will enjoy this one.  Regardless of whether you’ve read Judy Blume or not, this is a book I’m glad I picked up.

There is a lot that comes up in this book- food and identity, bullying, friendship, and much more.  It’s not long, and it’s middle grade, so it doesn’t go into a lot of depth, but I still thought that you get a really good sense of what Karma is dealing with.  I liked seeing her realize that both she and her best friend need other friends as well.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the new girl in town, who becomes friends with Karma’s best friend.  Even though I can understand why she acted the way she did, I still wasn’t a fan.  Hopefully, she’ll change and realize that she wasn’t always nice, and that how she treated Karma wasn’t cool.

Karma’s middle school experience was pretty relatable and I wish it had been around when I was around 11 or 12.  Not necessarily the friendship drama part, but the feeling insecure about how I looked part.  I’m glad that this book is on the shelves now, though, because I feel like it has an audience.

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, and I’m not quite sure why, but I still really liked it, and would recommend it to everyone.

Book Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Book: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Published March 2017 by Salaam Reads/Simon Schuster Books For Young Readers

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

I really liked this one!  It’s a cute middle grade contemporary, and I don’t read a lot of middle grade (or children’s books) but I think this is a good one to read.

I really liked Amina, and how she had a fear of performing in public.  It was really easy to relate to, and I am not a fan of public speaking, so I liked that Amina overcame it.  I also liked her friendship with Soojin, and how Amina starts questioning if she needs to change because Soojin starts talking about changing her name to something more American.

Amina is such a great character, and I dare you to not like her, because she’s thoughtful and caring.  She has a great friend in Soojin, and Khan captures what it’s like to be 12, when you’re unsure of who you are and where things stand.  You really see how things change between Amina and Soojin, but I really liked their friendship.  I feel like I’m a broken record on that one, but it’s true.

I also liked Amina’s relationship with her family, and I just liked seeing them together.  I really liked the family dynamic and that we see slightly differing opinions on things within one family (particularly in regards to music).

One thing I didn’t like was when a particular plot point was introduced.  We don’t see the local mosque being vandalized until the end of the book, and for some reason, I thought it would have been introduced a lot earlier.  I wish it had, because I really liked how the whole community came together after it happened.  I know it’s middle grade, so it’s not going to be very long (or very in-depth) but it would have been nice to have it be more of a focal point.

It didn’t stop me from really liking it.  I think it’s perfect for everyone- whether you read middle grade or not, this book did a great job at showing how we deal with faith and culture.  It’s also great for the intended age group, but regardless of how old you are, it’s one to read.

4 stars.  I really liked Amina’s Voice, and while I wish the vandalization of Amina’s mosque hadn’t been introduced so late in the book, I still really enjoyed Amina’s story.

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.

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: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Book: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Published November 2016 by Disney-Hyperion|240 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: MG Contemporary

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.

I honestly don’t know what I think about this book!  I thought some things were confusing and strange but other things I really liked and thought were important to read about.

Let’s start with what I liked.  I liked the look at a detention center for refugees.  The conditions were horrible, and it makes me sad to think that anyone seeking asylum and fleeing their country may end up in similar conditions.  It’s horrible that they’re known by number, and not by name.  It’s sad and horrible the way they are treated, and all they want is a better life.  But they are treated horribly, all because of where they’re from or what they believe in.  People like Subhi and his family deserve so much better than that.

I felt for Subhi, but there were things that took me out of the book.  The Night Sea didn’t make sense to me, and Subhi’s talking duck didn’t make sense to me either.  It seemed like they were Subhi’s way of dealing with what was going on, and I get that, since the detention center was a horrible place.  But it took me out of what was going on, and was really distracting.  It was imaginative, but it did not work for me at all.

We really should question why they’re treated like criminals, and why they’re in detention centers for so long.  I’m not sure how old Subhi is, but it seemed like he was born in the detention center.  I’d say he’s around 10 or so, since this is a middle grade book, and I find insane and ridiculous that he’s been living there for so long.  The system is broken if refugees/those seeking asylum are living in detention centers for that long.  There has to be a better way to handle it.

I didn’t really care for Jimmie’s story.  It’s odd to me that she couldn’t read, and I found myself skimming over her mother’s book when she and Subhi would read it together.  Also, how on earth were they able to meet?  It seemed odd that she’d be able to walk up to the fence.  She sort of faded in the background (at least for me) but they did seem to have some sort of bond.  We see how she learns how horrible things are for Subhi, and all of those in the detention center, and for Subhi, he gets a connection to the outside world, and a way for people to see the horrible conditions he, and others like him, have to live in.

It was a hard book for me to get into, and it started off really slow.  It felt like things continued to move slowly, and while I knew it wasn’t going to be action-packed, I still wanted something to really capture my attention.  But nothing really did.

Still, I think it’s a book that EVERYONE should read.  It’s an important book, and the world does need more books like this one.

3 stars.  I liked it, but there were some things that took away from what Subhi experienced in the detention center.