Book Review: Buried Beneath The Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Book: Buried Beneath The Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Published September 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books|330 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Based on interviews with young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, this poignant novel by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani tells the timely story of one girl who was taken from her home in Nigeria and her harrowing fight for survival. Includes an afterword by award-winning journalist Viviana Mazza.

A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

I thought Buried Beneath The Baobab Tree was okay. I really wanted to like it more, and even though I liked the overall story, how it was told didn’t work for me at all.

I thought the chapters were really short, and I felt like I was reading snapshots of what was going on. The feeling of reading snapshots felt particularly true for this story because each chapter tended to be anywhere from 1-4 paragraphs. I had a hard time connecting to what was going on because I felt like I didn’t have enough time to get into everything that was happening to our unnamed narrator. I felt like I didn’t have time to really process what was going on, even though I knew our narrator, and the girls she lived with, were dealing with a lot of things. Maybe it was meant to show that they didn’t have time to process what was going on. In the case of our unnamed narrator, she knew what was going on was horrible, and she wanted to get out, while the girls around didn’t. Of course, I can’t say for sure if that’s what the author was going for, but I am wondering if maybe that was the case.

I don’t recall our narrator ever being named, and even though what she went through was horrible, I felt really distanced from what was going on. What she went through was horrifying, and it’s even worse because we see her hopes and dreams and her relationships, and you see how what the Boko Haram did changed all of that. Sadly, this was something I didn’t know happened and that it was something that happened recently.

The headlines and news stories you see, particularly at the beginning of the book, worked really well for me. It really highlighted how we might not pay attention to global news. I know I don’t, and it’s sad that it takes books like these to show how little I know of the world around me. It was also sad to see that the world went on like normal while these girls were dealing with being held hostage by these ruthless, cruel men.

It doesn’t shy away from how these girls are brainwashed and indoctrinated into this group and what they believe. There’s violence and sexual abuse (please keep that in mind if those are triggers for you) and you do experience the loss that our narrator does, because you do see everything through her eyes. She, and the men in Boko Haram, are unnamed, which worked pretty well. I did find it frustrating at times, particularly because I had a hard time connecting with our narrator. But it did work because in not naming her, she could be anyone.

I did like the author’s note at the end, though. It explained what happened to the real-life girls that inspired this book, and you get a lot more in depth about what’s been going on with the Boko Haram. It was clear, even before reading the afterword, that Nwaubani did her research. It shows in what all of these girls went through. Even though the book ends not too long after our narrator gets rescued, there was part of me that wanted to see what her life was like after that point. I thought it was open-ended, which is fine, but I wanted a little more closure. Thinking about it now, it seems a little silly, since there probably wasn’t a lot of closure in real life for these girls.

2 stars. I wanted to like this more than I did. The short chapter length didn’t work for me at all, but I thought the author did a great job at showing the horrors these girls went through, and how this group took away so much from countless women and girls.

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Book Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Book: Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Published January 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books|400 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

I’m not sure what to think about Allegedly.  Part of me is angry, for how Mary was treated, and everything she had to go through.  But part of me is also wondering what really happened.

I felt angry that people would actually threaten a 9 year-old.  I felt so angry (and now that I think about it, sad) that people actually wanted the such strong punishment for a 9 year-old.  She was 9.  And I do wonder, what if it had been a white 9 year-old who was accused of murdering an infant.  Would it have been a completely different outcome?  Probably, and that makes me even more angry.

Not only that, but the people running the group home she lived in were horrible.  She wasn’t in a good situation, even after she left prison.  She was stuck, and as much as she wanted to try to get herself out, she had to jump through so many different hoops.  She was surrounded by people who told her that employers and colleges wouldn’t want her because she’s a murderer.  It makes you wonder how people are supposed to better themselves if that’s what our society really thinks of them, and won’t give them a chance to move on.  Now that I’m thinking about it, it doesn’t seem like there’s an easy answer, and one that I probably can’t answer.  Partly because I don’t know enough about it, but also, this is a book review, not a post on answering life’s questions.

This book definitely has its twists and turns, but by the end of the book, I was wondering if Mary really did it or not. She is a pretty sympathetic character, but I also felt like, by the end of the book, I wasn’t sure what to believe.  She did seem like an unreliable narrator by the end of the book, and while I was convinced that she didn’t do it, I wasn’t too sure by the end of the book.  You’re questioning everything, though I’m not sure about the ending.

I’m not sure if Mary’s a better liar than everyone thought or if she really didn’t do it, but deciding to be honest about what really happened, and then changing her mind….I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Maybe you’re supposed to be so angry, and then question everything.  Maybe things aren’t what they seem, and that in some cases, we’ll never know for sure what happened.  That not everyone is reliable.

It didn’t take away from the dark grittiness we see in the book.  It didn’t take away what the justice system is like, and there’s a lot I don’t know, like what happens to the children who are born to a mother in prison.  We see other issues, like mental health, how our environment affects us, and how the media sees certain cases.

Speaking of the media, throughout the book, we see excerpts from interview transcripts and from books about both Mary and her trial.  They really showed how people see Mary, and they are an insight into what people think of her trial.

While Jackson tackles a lot of different topics, she also did it well.  Everything felt equally important, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by everything we see.  It came together to paint a picture of a girl who needs a lot of help, but isn’t necessarily getting it.

4 stars.  I don’t know that you can necessarily like a book like Allegedly, and I wasn’t sure about the ending, which is why it gets a rating of 4 stars.  But Jackson has set a very high standard for her future books, and I hope they’re as good as this one.

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: Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Book: Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Published January 2018 by Soho Teen|281 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

I liked Love, Hate & Other Filters!  I really felt for Maya, and she’s likable and sympathetic.

I really loved how she wanted to go to film school, even though it’s not what her parents would have wanted (or chosen) for her.  You really see her struggle with her identity as an Indian-American teen, and I really liked her relationship with her aunt.

One thing I thought was interesting was her mom’s focus on Maya getting married.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like almost every single book focusing on Asian-American, Middle Eastern or Muslim characters has a mom who has this single-handed focus on getting her teenage daughter married.  I know arranged marriage is a custom (please forgive me if I phrased that wrong.  Also, please let me know the correct way if I did get wrong) in some cultures, but she did seem more focused on that than what was going on with her daughter, especially after a horrific event happens a few hundred miles away.

And while her parents did struggle with the idea of her going to New York, I can understand why they would change their mind.  Still, I can’t imaging being disowned because of a decision to do it anyway.  Part of me feels like that is something that happens, and I hope they come around.  They do love her, and they do worry about her, but I am having a hard time with understanding why they’d disown her, and why they weren’t more supportive.  I really do want to understand where they’re coming from, but I’m really struggling with that.

I hated how Maya treated in the aftermath of that event, and how she was lumped into the same group as the perceived perpetrator, just because he had the same last name.  I get that people were scared, and that took over, and people were acting in a completely different way then they were before.  Who wouldn’t be scared, after something like that?  But how people reacted wasn’t a surprise at all, and I felt like it highlighted really well how people treat those who are Muslim.  The Islamaphobia was handled really well, and I wouldn’t expect anything else.  Love, Hate & Other Filters is #ownvoices, and it felt very much like Maya was going through something Ahmed had experienced.

I did like seeing the chapters following the perpetrator of the attack.  They didn’t make sense at first- actually, they didn’t make sense until we actually see the crime, and then they started to make sense.  They gave some insight into that person’s thoughts, but even though they were different, I don’t know how much they actually added to the book. They did show that terrorism has no religion, and that anyone can be a terrorist, so there is that.

A lot of this book is romance, and I didn’t particularly care for it.  There are two possible love interests for Maya, and I didn’t care for either of them.  Not only that, but she dates one guy, only for it to not work out in the end?  It didn’t make any sense to me.

One last thing that didn’t make sense: Maya’s religion.  I know the blurb says Maya is Muslim, and I went into the book expecting that to be part of the book in some way.  But Maya never says she’s Muslim, she never prays…she never acknowledges that she’s Muslim.  I know everyone has their own relationship with religion, but I never got the sense that it was important to her.  I don’t know if it’s shame, or if she didn’t really believe in it but sort of adhered to it because of her parents.  I’m just confused about how the summary of the book mentions Maya is Muslim, but we never see any mention or acknowledgement of it.

3 stars.  The romance was superficial and boring, and I felt like some of the labels for the book didn’t actually match what we see in the book (namely religion).  I do think the hate crimes we see in the book, and the way Maya was treated after the terrorist attack were well done.  It just wasn’t enough to give the book a higher rating.

Book Review: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins

Book: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins

Published January 2009 by Delacorte Books For Young Readers|240 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

When her father loses his job and leaves India to look for work in America, Asha Gupta, her older sister, Reet, and their mother must wait with Baba’s brother and his family, as well as their grandmother, in Calcutta. Uncle is welcoming, but in a country steeped in tradition, the three women must abide by his decisions. Asha knows this is temporary—just until Baba sends for them. But with scant savings and time passing, the tension builds: Ma, prone to spells of sadness, finds it hard to submit to her mother- and sister-in-law; Reet’s beauty attracts unwanted marriage proposals; and Asha’s promise to take care of Ma and Reet leads to impulsive behavior. What follows is a firestorm of rebuke—and secrets revealed! Asha’s only solace is her rooftop hideaway, where she pours her heart out in her diary, and where she begins a clandestine friendship with Jay Sen, the boy next door. Asha can hardly believe that she, and not Reet, is the object of Jay’s attention. Then news arrives about Baba . . . and Asha must make a choice that will change their lives forever.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while, and after reading You Bring The Distant Near last year, I finally decided to read Secret Keeper.  I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would, and I didn’t like it as much as You Bring The Distant Near.

I did feel for Asha and Reet, and I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to have a marriage arranged for you, or to know that your decisions are not your own to make.  Asha has her own path, and while it differed from the traditional path her family wanted her to take, she knew what she wanted.  It’s very different than the path that her sister took.

I found it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that their uncle could make decisions- such as their future spouse- for them since their father was trying to find a job in the U.S.  It’s a very different life than the one I know, and it’s not bad.  It’s just very different and hard for me to picture.

I did like Asha, and how much she wanted to help people.  Wanting to be a psychologist really opened doors for her, and it really seemed like a way for her to take care of her mom and her sister, especially after her dad died.  I also liked that she considered her diaries from her father her secret keeper, but I didn’t particularly care for actually reading the diary entries.  I also liked how Reet wanted to take care of her mother and sister as well, and how getting married allowed her to help them.  It’s strange how one event can change everything, and how we all need to make sacrifices.

2 stars.  Even though there were things I liked about Secret Keeper, it was just okay for me.  I had a hard time getting into it, and I wish I liked it more than I actually did.

Book Review: When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Book: When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Published January 2014 by Atheneum Books For Young Readers|240 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut that Publishers Weekly calls “a funny and rewarding read” captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.

And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should’ve been—where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.

When I read All-American Boys a few years ago, I really liked it.  Enough to want to read his other books, but unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

One of the biggest reasons why it was just okay was the writing.  The writing style is perfect for middle grade, and I really did think I was reading a middle grade novel, but the writing style itself didn’t match up with what happened in the story.  I was surprised that Ali was in high school because I (wrongly) assumed he was 12/13, and not the 15/16 that is actually mentioned in the book.

It’s also pretty short, and you could easily read it in a couple of hours.  I did want it to be longer, because it felt like things weren’t developed enough.  In particular, the big moment of the book really felt like a let down.  I expected something bigger, and something that wasn’t so easily resolved.  It was resolved a lot faster than I thought, and even then, it felt like Ali got very lucky that his father was there to take care of it.

However, it really did feel like I was sitting next to Ali on the stoop as he told me this story.  There is something about his voice that’s very honest and raw, and I did want to hear more of Ali’s story.  It felt really personal, like we were there with Ali, instead of feeling distanced from what was going on.

I also liked seeing the relationship Ali had with his family, his friends, and his neighbors.  In particular, I liked seeing how Needles dealt with Tourette’s.  While I don’t knit, I do crochet, and crafting as therapy is pretty accurate.  It’s different, but I also thought it was really cool.

2 stars.  I thought it could have been longer, in order to develop the characters and flesh out some of the events a little more.  But I also thought that Ali was pretty easy to relate to, and I think a lot of readers will really like him.

Book Review: Braced by Alyson Gerber

Book: Braced by Alyson Gerber

Published March 2017 by Arthur A Levine Books|309 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her–even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself. 

Written by a debut author who wore a brace of her own, Braced is the inspiring, heartfelt story of a girl learning to manage the many curves life throws her way.

I have mixed feelings about this book!  This is a book about a girl with scoliosis, and it’s not something that comes up a lot in books.

I did like that we see how much it changed her life, and how she had to adjust to pretty much everything because she wore a brace.  The author herself wore a brace for scoliosis, and that really came through when you’re reading it, because there was something very real about Rachel’s experience.  I could picture everything so clearly, particularly her resistance to wearing the brace but also her acceptance of it.  She learned to stand up for herself, and to tell her parents- especially her mother- how she felt.

I certainly don’t blame Rachel for not wanting to wear the brace at first, but she does realize how important it is over time.  One of her friends really didn’t get why she had to wear it, and I wasn’t a big fan of that particular friend.  She seemed to drop both Rachel and their other friend once they all went to middle school, but at least that other friend was really supportive and understanding.  And it was great that the one friend would help her practice soccer.  Rachel was so determined to make it work, and I loved her dedication to soccer.

As much as I loved seeing how Rachel dealt with her scoliosis, there were a few things I didn’t like.  Her mom was one of them.  I know Rachel’s mom had scoliosis as well, and it seemed like her mom’s scoliosis was a lot more severe than Rachel’s was.  But I got really irritated with all of the stuff about how lucky Rachel is that all she has to do is wear a brace, and how much easier Rachel has it because she doesn’t need surgery.  But it didn’t seem to help Rachel, and it really seemed like her mom’s behavior made Rachel want to do the complete opposite.  I’m glad Rachel talked to her mom, and that they worked things out, but seeing her mom constantly talk about how lucky Rachel was did get frustrating.

I’m glad the book was very much about Rachel in middle school, and that scoliosis was a big part of her life (but not her whole life), I still wanted more about her scoliosis.  It seemed like a pretty short amount of time to have to wear a back brace, and for some reason, I had pictured her treatment as being longer.

I was surprised by some of the romantic relationships in the book- I would get having a crush, but it seems like dating was somewhat common.  I certainly wasn’t thinking about dating anyone in middle school (or high school), but is that a thing now?  I honestly have no idea, but it did surprise me, and there are a couple of things that come up that really should push this book into YA, and not middle grade.  But overall, it’s more middle grade than YA.

2 stars.  Braced was an okay read.  I wanted more with her scoliosis, but at the same time, I’m glad that it’s only a part of her life, and not her entire life.

Book Review: American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Book: American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Published December 2008 by Square Fish|233 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Graphic Novel

 

Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee’s annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny’s reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way—if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.

I really liked American Born Chinese!  After reading his Boxers And Saints series, I knew I wanted to read this book, since I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it.

We see three different stories in this graphic novel- Jin, Danny, and The Monkey King.  I really liked The Monkey King’s story, and I also really liked Jin’s.  I felt so bad for Jin when we first meet him in American Born Chinese, and how his classmates and teachers made assumptions about him.  I also loved the story of The Monkey King, and I really want to know more about that story, because I really liked it.

Danny’s story was my least favorite of the three.  I still liked it, but…I’m not sure what it is about his story, but it just didn’t appeal to me the way the others did.  I wasn’t sure how Danny fit into the book at first, because he seemed really entitled and I wasn’t sure why his story was included for most of the book.  It did become clear at the end, and I honestly didn’t see it coming.  Now that I think about it, I might re-read it, because knowing how all three stories connect would definitely help me see Danny’s story in a completely different way.

One of my favorite things was how it all tied together, and I really liked how the book was about liking yourself and being true to yourself, no matter what.  And I loved how well-plotted the book had to be, because everything was so detailed and thought out so well for everything to work together so well.  I can’t imagine American Born Chinese being told in any other format, and I think, if it were told more traditionally (i.e., a novel) it would lose something. Somehow, it works beautifully as a graphic novel.  I think the illustrations are what really bring the book to life.

4 stars.  Unfortunately, my initial dislike of Danny’s story is what is lowering my rating of the book.  Even though his story made more sense at the end of the book, it didn’t work for me at the beginning.  Still, American Born Chinese is a great read because it’s a really good starting point for talking about a lot of different issues.

Book Review: Zahrah The Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor

Book: Zahrah The Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor

Published September 2005 by HMH Books For Young Readers|308 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl — she grows her own flora computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other kids in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn’t afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening — something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friends investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari’s life is threatened. Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.

In this exciting debut novel by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, things aren’t always what they seem — monkeys tell fortunes, plants offer wisdom, and a teenage girl is the only one who stands a chance at saving her best friend’s life.

I’ve read a couple of Okorafor’s books, and thought I’d read this one.  It’s not my favorite book of hers, but I still liked it a lot.  Zahrah The Windseeker is this really cool middle grade that’s about learning how to accept yourself and overcoming your fears and overcoming fear of the unknown.  I really liked that about the book.

I also really liked how there’s this interesting blend of past and present- there’s something about Zahrah that feels really old, and yet there’s something very modern, especially where technology is concerned.  I think that’s something she does really well.  If you liked Akata Witch, this is a really good book to pick up.  Even if you haven’t, it’s still a really good read.

I loved the setting, especially the market and the jungle.  I thought the jungle was very vivid, and I could picture everything very clearly.  I really felt like I was with Zahrah in the jungle.  I really liked the market as well, but it didn’t have the life and vividness that the jungle had.

I also really liked that she came across another windseeker, and I wish we saw more of their relationship.  Even though Zahrah needs to take her own journey, and the other windseeker isn’t supposed to have a huge role in the book, I still wonder what sort of relationship they have once the book ends.  I thought her friendship with Dari was great, and how she kept going, even though she was scared, because she wanted to help him.  She really was willing to help him, no matter what.

I am curious about the ending.  I liked it, and it wrapped things up really well, but at the same time, I thought it left things open for a potential sequel.  As far as I can tell, it’s a stand-alone, which is fine, because it works really well on its own.  But there is part of me that wants to know how things turn out with Zahrah.

3 stars.  I liked it, and there are some things that I really liked (and even loved) about the book, but I didn’t love it the way I’ve loved her other books.

Book Review: Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Book: Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Published January 2017 by Hogarth Press|218 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

I first heard about Human Acts from my friend Mollie, and since I liked The Vegetarian, I figured I’d pick up this book.

I’m actually going to do something a little different for this novel: each chapter is told from a different perspective, so I’m doing a chapter-by-chapter review, and then I’ll sum up my feelings about the book.

The Intro By The Translator:

I really liked the intro, since it talked about the real life event that inspired the book.  I especially liked that the author had a personal connection to the event we see in the book, and it made me feeling the author had a personal investment in seeing the story told.

Chapter One, The Boy, 1980:

This chapter is told in second person, and that’s really different, since novels are usually told in first person or third person.  I have such mixed feelings about it: I felt like we were really, truly seeing things first hand, and you really experience the horror of what happened.  At the same time, it was really off-putting, and I was really close to putting it down and not finishing it at all because of it.  You’re there, experiencing everything the boy is experiencing, but at the same time, I felt so distant and disconnected from everything.  I think, in a way, it made me feel like I was being told what happened, even though you’re experiencing everything as though it’s happening to you.  It is a strong start to the book, and I cannot say enough that this chapter, as horrifying and off-putting as it was, makes me want to learn more about what really happened.

Chapter Two, The Boy’s Friend, 1980:

I was really confused reading this chapter at first, because I didn’t realize it was a different narrator.  It took a couple of reads to realize it was a different person narrating.  This chapter is told in first person, and it felt very personal. It’s just as horrifying as the first chapter, but in a very different way.  It’s also a very powerful chapter, because you really see how it rippled out to so many different people.  And through the boy’s friend, you really see a different side of it.

Chapter Three, The Editor, 1985:

I had a lot of trouble understanding why we were seeing things from the editor’s point of view.  Third person was interesting, and it somehow made the chapter feel neutral.  It didn’t have the same horror that the first two chapters did, and it didn’t have the same effect those chapters did.  Looking back, this chapter was the beginning of me starting to lose a lot of interesting in the book, and how much this event changed things. Thinking about it now, I suppose the editor’s chapter is supposed to show how things are very much censored? And the point of forgetting the slaps…I’m not sure what the point of it is.  I am so fuzzy about what it had to do with the student uprising, because it seemed like it was the least connected to it.

Chapter Four, The Prisoner, 1990:

At first, I was curious about why he was in prison, because it wasn’t clear to me.  At least at first.  It did offer a different perspective on the student uprising, and what happened after.  Especially for those who lived through the uprising.  It really stayed with him, and you really see how it haunts him.  It’s not one of my favorite chapters, but it’s up there with the first two chapters.

Chapter 5, The Factory Girl, 2002:

So, we’re back to 2nd person for this chapter.  It felt very distant in the way the first chapter did.  Partially because we’re so far removed from the original uprising, but also because of how this chapter is told.  I was pretty bored reading this chapter, and it jumped around a lot in terms of time.  It really muddled her story, and even though, like the previous chapter, was a different perspective on what happened, I just didn’t care.

Chapter 6, The Boy’s Mother, 2010: 

This chapter felt very personal, like the chapters we saw with the first two chapters.  And since it focuses on the boy’s mom, it felt even more personal.  I liked seeing how little she knows of some of the people she knows, and also how she dealt with the loss of her son.  It really brought it back to the horror of the student uprising.  It was hard chapter to get through- at this point, I lost a lot of the interesting I had at the beginning, and I just wanted to get through it.

Epilogue, The Writer, 2013:

I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter.  You really see the effect the student uprising had decades later, and on so many different people.  By this point, you were so far removed from it, and yet, it still lingers haunts people.

Overall Thoughts:

I thought the chapters were really uneven.  It started off so strong and horrifying, and the passage of time, as well as some of the narrators, lessened it for me.  The chapters told in 2nd person were the hardest to get through, and I didn’t like the choose-your-own-adventure feel they had.  I definitely lost interest the further you got from the uprising, and I definitely didn’t like it as much as the The Vegetarian.

2 stars.  I had to read each chapter 2 or 3 times to get a sense of what was going on, and I could only handle a chapter at a time.