Quick note: I want to do more than just YA/MG (and slowly transition out of MG because it doesn't hold my interest anymore really. So the rest of those MG reviews that pop up will be for books that were already sent to me). I want to include lengthier reviews of non-fiction and adult fiction and 'new adult' (really young adult would be the technical title in my opinion), especially non-fiction books that pique my interest in discussions like the following
IQ (selfish quote since it's about my hometown) "But even with a legacy of such well-heeled black businessmen and even with its history of serving as the hometown for the first three blacks-Oscar DePriest, Arthur Mitchell, and William Dawson-to serve in a post-Reconstruction U.S. Congress, Chicago and its black elite remain a conundrum when students from other cities with large black populations analyze Chicago's inability to elect local black leaders with any consistency. Unlike Atlanta, Washington, Detroit, New Orleans, and other cities with a long history of a black elite, Chicago has managed to elect only one black mayor. It has done no better than communities like Minneapolis, Seattle, or Denver-cities that have elected black mayors with newer and smaller black populations." pg. 192
The author dives into the world of the Black elite and major cities, short and sweet summary.
There is a lot of vitriol on the Goodreads page of this book which I think is unnecessary, people seemed to miss the point of this book. The author is apologetic at times, he doesn't condone the elitist attitudes of the Black upper class, a world he inhabits. I thought the writing was concise and the story elements flowed, a lot of names are thrown around but the author always takes the time to throw out some defining characteristics. It's an ambitious book and I commend the author for writing about an element of Black culture that NEVER gets talked about. I admit I think of my family as solidly middle class with a touch of upper middle class. Psh not according to this book. All we have 'going' for us is that we are in Jack & Jill. I do think this book needs to be updated, my Jack & Jill experiences were vastly different from the author's and I would love to know what the Black elite thought of the Obamas (my guess is that the old guard wouldn't be super fond of them based on the one interview I was able to find, regarding the Obamas first trip to Martha's Vineyard) but they may be more open-minded than I think.
The author traces the history of the Black upper class, delves into the world of the 'right' colleges for Black students to attend (the Ivies and the top HBCUs and Wellesley) and a little bit about the secret world of Black fraternities and sororities (Alphas, AKAs, Deltas, Omegas). He then discusses the post-college groups (the Boule, the Links, the Girl Friends) and activities that affluent Blacks are involved in and takes the time to cover the history of the Black elite in every major city (Chicago, NYC, DC, Atlanta) as well as some smaller cities (Memphis, Philly, etc). There is even a chapter dedicated to passing (which I feel like no one does anymore but I have no evidence). Obviously some of the attitudes made me cringe, some were downright ignorant. But I don't think this book engaged in race-bashing, the author quotes the people he interviewed (many do not want their names included for obvious reasons) to give you an idea of the 'secret' (aka ignored) lives of the Black upper class, he airs some dirty laundry but also highlights the many positive ways they contribute to Black culture and uplift.
Our Kind of People takes a hard look at some snobs but also some people who genuinely want to use their money to do good things for the Black community. There are doses of classism but it's also a fascinating (and to me welcome) look at a lengthy period of history in which the accomplishments of Blacks were ignored (some Black wealth can be traced back to Reconstruction and some even before that). There are no celebrities mentioned here, at least not athletes and singers, which is a refreshing change. And I definitely felt some serious Black pride reading about all the amazing things we've accomplished. We still have a long way to go but we're making progress, we're getting there. My hope is that the Black upper class remembers to reach behind them and lift up others, stay true to their roots or look outside their small worlds (if they came from wealth already). I suppose the book could seem tedious to some but I love history so I sucked it all in. I also think this is a book that requires extra research, take the time to search for all the names he mentions, it will be well worth your time.
PS The book is old so it's kind of fun/jarring to read about people who are now less active in our society/a lot older/no longer in power/their circumstances have changed. For example Valerie Jarrett's former husband was interviewed as were his parents, but she is not although they were married at the time (I think). He is in the Chicago chapter and her family is mentioned in the DC chapter.
Friday, August 15, 2014
Thursday, August 14, 2014
IQ "Kids on my block called 'reject'. Grown folks at church called me an 'old soul'. One girl at school told me I talked like a whiteboy. But when I ask Mom about it she just said, 'you are black. And nothing you say, or do, or pretend to be will ever change that fact. So just be yourself, Dmitri. Be who you are." pg. 3
Dmitri, known as D, is living with a foster family after his mother dies of breast cancer. D is used to having his foster mom all to himself, when she takes in Mercy, a crack-addicted baby he finds himself unable to cope. He is at a new school and while tutoring he becomes friend with Hakeem, a basketball star who needs extra math help and Nyla, a military brat both boys have crushes on. Sometimes after school D bird watches in Prospect Park and he discovers a mysterious bird, Nuru that can communicate with him. He enlists Hakeem and Nyla to help him help Nuru (who is injured) escape evil forces, the ghosts of soldiers that died during the Revolutionary War. They journey from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in Manhattan to assist Nuru in freeing the souls that reside there.
I wish some of the fantasy elements had been developed a bit further, such as Nuru's role, his dialogue also came across sounding a little ridiculous and heavy on the 'wise mentor' scale. The characters did come across as having a message. It is made very clear that Hakeem is Muslim and Nyla is 'different from the stereotype. I wish the individuality of the characters had come off in a more subtle way (for example when Hakeem describes how his older sister listed all Muslim basketball players to convince his dad to let him play. And then Hakim lists them all and weaves in tidbits about the hijab. It came across as stilted for middle school dialogue). But then again this book is intended for a younger audience who need it hammered in that it's dangerous to define people and put them in boxes. I also wish the book had been longer just by a few chapters, selfishly because I wanted more historical tidbits but also because I felt that the fantasy elements happened so fast as did the sudden strong friendship with Hakeem and Nyla. And the love triangle made me sad but that's not the author's fault! Although I would have been happy without it.
Yet again Zetta Elliott seamlessly blends together history and fantasy, Black American history that is often ignored in textbooks. Unlike the descriptions of the characters I found the historical tidbits woven in artfully. There are so many goodies in here about the importance of working with other people, that heroes need not go it alone. This is especially vital because the author makes it explicitly clear that D is unbearably lonely but he keeps himself isolated from other people because he doesn't want to be abandoned or disappointed or lose them in a tragic way as happened with his mother. The author does a great job of making you truly feel and understand D's loneliness and your heart aches for him. Also while I didn't think the friendship had enough time to really grow into the strong bonds that developed so quickly, it was a very genuine friendship (once you suspend your disbelief) in terms of doing anything and everything for your friends and believing the seemingly improbable. It is also clear that the author has a strong appreciation of nature and that makes the fantasy elements more interesting while also making it appear more realistic.
Ship of Souls is a great story that focuses on a portion and population of the American Revolution that is completely ignored by most history outlets. The fantasy world is well-thought out, I only wish the book had been longer to explain more about the world D and his friends get involved in as well as more time to believably develop their friendship. The characters are strong, but they were written with a heavy hand that tries hard to point out how they defy stereotypes. I devoured the story not just because of the length but because it is so different from anything else out there and it's a lovely addition to the YA/MG fantasy world. I can't wait to see what the author does next and again I adored her first YA novel A Wish After Midnight. I recommend both books.
Disclosure: Received from the author, who I do consider a wonderful friend and mentor. Many thanks Zetta!
Monday, August 19, 2013
The GQ Candidate by Keli Goff, 2011
IQ "Well, there's not much left to say except that I'm really glad I wore my Manolos today, because if I'm going to insert my foot this far in my mouth I at least want to be wearing nice shoes", Mimi pg. 349
Luke Cooper started out as a state senator and was then recruited to run on the Michigan governor's ticket as lieutenant governor, they won but due to a sex scandal Luke became Michigan's first Black (and Jewish by adoption) governor and one of the youngest governor. His ratings are soaring and due to some remarkably good luck concerning acts of goodwill (such as defending a white nationalist from injury while a group of white nationalists were protesting his policies) that involved social media the rest of the country has a vague inkling of who he is. Some of his friends and mentors advise him to run for president and he throws his hat into the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination. With the help of a loyal, talented group of friends Luke feels confident with his decision to enter the race but it will affect those he loves far more than he could have ever imagined.
It felt like the author was sick of upper class/upper middle class Black people not being portrayed in fiction so she peppered her novel with them. I understand and appreciate her intention but the delivery left a lot to be desired. Luke's family was cheesy in its perfection, even its quarrels felt forced and ridiculous. Everyone had these great personal backgrounds from the oldest characters being Freedom Riders to the youngest being successful and powerful in their respective careers. Not all characters were perfect but it was hard to focus on their flaws when I could barely keep them straight. The narration plodded on and I think the author should have instead focused on Luke and his immediate family instead of Luke's family, friends and his friends of friends. The book was very long in order to accommodate all these characters and the gazillion plot lines (or so it seemed) which was frustrating when the book reached the end and a rather dramatic moment was rushed through. Furthermore the book ends with Luke making a crucial decision and although I can guess what he chooses, I think that since this book was all about politics (in a way) it should have ended with him actually making a political decision.
This book is about a presidential campaign but politics do not enter the equation which keeps it from being a polarizing read due to controversial issues. While Luke is a Democratic, a variety of political affiliations are mentioned but since the issues are not delved into its inconsequential. Instead the book focuses on how political campaigns are run, the people behind the scenes of the candidate, the media's relationship to a campaign and networking and fundraising. It was nice to read a book with such a dream cast, I just wish the author had either taken the presidential campaign storyline out of it (and instead focused on a group of highly educated Black friends post-college living life) or narrowed down the cast of characters. The book was a slow read but Luke and his friends are a highly entertaining bunch, try to ignore the lack of plot and while you will most likely get frustrated at the ending The GQ Candidate is still a good read.
PS Fact: I bought this book at my Borders as it was closing. So this book will always be associated with that, I even still have the receipt that says 'final sale'. Sadness
PPS: I know everyone else read this as Barack Obama-like but I actually related Luke Cooper more so to Cory Booker. Anyway just a thought
IQ "If I have one wish for America, it is my hope that when our leaders stumble, as they will, when they hurt others and themselves, which is inevitable, that we will be as compassionate to them as we sense they would be with us if the faults were our own. Our leaders are not gods, and they are not our fathers. But they can be our best hope for peace among nations", pgs. 291-292
Stacy Parker Aab's memoir details the life of a young, biracial White House staffer. She was born (1974) and raised in Detroit and attended George Washington University where she became an intern at the White House, working in George Stephanopolous' office. Eventually she began working for Paul Begala as his special assistant.
My summary is brief because unlike the back of the book I'm not trying to claim that this memoir provides "a searing look at the dynamics between smart young women and the influential older men who often hold the keys to their dreams". It didn't reveal much about gender relations in the Clinton White House but it did provide a look at the daily atmosphere. However the stories shared are not that interesting, while I didn't want scandalous tidbits (indeed it took me awhile to recover from the story of Vernon Jordan sexually harassing her because I admire that man immensely) I did hope this memoir would provide some interesting anecdotes. Instead since Aab was never that high up this book is more of a day-by-day look at the work of young staffers, people who are important to the functioning of our government but who don't interact with that many people of name-recognition. I also thought that the author spent a lot of time bragging about herself, making sure we knew how loved she was in Stephanopoulous' and Begala's office. Furthermore she was determined to gloss over any issues that might have made her more interesting, instead she focused on portraying herself as the perfect staffer (there was about 2 sentences about drug use that held up her security clearance but she doesn't go into further detail). It just rubbed me the wrong way which I grant is a matter of personal taste. I also wish she had went into more detail about her life post-White House, especially meeting her husband, since she goes on and on about wanting a boyfriend but then rarely talks about her relationships (which she doesn't have to do but then why talk about how important having a boyfriend was to her?). Finally, the end part about the Obamas fit oddly into the book and seemed more like her way of sharing her thoughts about their presidency rather than connecting the dots to her time in the White House (except for mentioning that they hired some veteran Clinton staff).
I did find it fascinating to read about the inner-workings of the staff (for a time and then it got old) such as "RON"s (remain overnight), people who were in charge of paving the way for the president at whatever hotel or celebrity home he stayed at on his travel. Those are roles that we definitely don't think about and I was also appreciative at the glimpses of humanity displayed in the Secret Service men she talked about since they seem like daunting, mysterious figures (which is their job to do but still). Overall Government Girl left me disappointed because I had expected it to be more exciting, at the very least, I wish the protagonist had focused more on being genuine and less on presenting a perfect good girl image. It does a good job though of giving people an idea of daily life for the young men and women who are so helpful to the 'big names' and really keep our government running, I am grateful to them.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story; edited by Kelly Milner Halls, featuring stories by Chris Crutcher, Kelly Milner Halls, Jospeh Bruchac, Cynthia Leitich Smith, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger, Rita Williams-Garcoa. Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Sara Ryan & Randy Powell (ARC version) 2012
IQ "I know this shouldn't be anything, shouldn't matter, but for some reason it does matter to me; Raffina is black, and I'm white. Of course, she's not really black any more than I'm really white. She's kind of dark brown, no, kind of medium brownish. I'm definitely sort of beige or something, light beige, tinted pink or red depending on how much time I spend in the sun (I don't tan, I just burn). Maybe a better way to put this is that Raffina's ancestors came from Africa, and my ancestors came from....I don't know....not Africa. Someplace like England or Germany or Canada or something." Sean + Raffina, Sean pg. 117 (Trueman)
Twelve authors, 6 stories, straight and gay relationships. One author tells the story from the guy's point of view, the other tells the story from the girl's point of view. I picked the quote I did because it made me laugh in its simplicity and truth.
I did really enjoy the story 'Love or Something Like It' (its Chris Crutcher, who I love) and its complementary story, 'Some Things Never Change' (Halls) because they really took stereotypes and turned them on its head with the jock and the 'slut'. I felt Cynthia Leitich Smith and Joseph Bruchac did a good job of actually linking up their stories in 'Falling Down to see the Moon' (Bruchac) and 'Mooning Over Broken Stars' (Smith). And 'Launchpad to Neptune' (Sara Ryan & Randy Powell) is absolutely fascinating, it actually had a plot twist that I did not see coming and had well developed characters besides the main ones. There are points in each story that are relatable and while each story has one major issue and its all rather straightforward, they are stories that need to be told especially for those who need to get over their own prejudices. Books like these might help gently prod them to rethink their antipathy to dating someone outside their race, or to disapprove of those who are gay or lesbian or to judge people based on the number of people they may or may not have slept with.
Girl Meets Boy contains a collection of short and sweet stories from some of the best talents in the YA world and while I think these stories might have been more memorable if they were longer/a book of their own, better to have a little of the story than none at all. The stories can be heavy-handed at times and the supporting characters fell flat (and the cover's weird) but they are interesting. I also loved the last bit at the end where each of the authors (except Rita Williams Garcia, who I really wanted to hear from) shared their inspiration for their respective story. This book is a quick read that will pass the time but it most likely won't stay with you, read it at the beach or in a park.
Disclosure: This is embarrassing but I don't remember.....I think I got it from the publisher. Whoever it was, thank you!
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic
IQ "Mary smiled. She always smiled when people said living family. It meant that people didn't stop being family when they died; they just turned into your dead family" pg. 144
18 year old Kate wants to be a doctor, 16 year old Mary wants to be an artist. Both girls must put their dreams on hold when their strict father dies, leaving Kate as Mary's legal guardian since their mother is in a permanent vegetative state. Her father told Kate that family always comes first, even if that means Kate needs to hold off on Stanford. Further complicating the matter is that Simon, Kate's boyfriend, has asked her to marry him in order to provide for both her and Mary. Meanwhile Mary is drawn to Marcos, a boy with artistic talent but a violent past. The girls are struggling over the death of their father, accepting their different personalities but what may be the final wedge between them is the decision regarding their mother. They can no longer afford to pay the medical bills keeping her in her vegetative state but she is their mother....
I love Francisco Stork's books. Long time readers of this blog know that, I adored Marcelo in the Real World and was quite fond of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. Unfortunately I found Irises to be my last favorite Stork book thus far. Granted, this was bound to happen but the summary was so good that my hopes were quite high. All this being said, it was difficult for me to put my finger on why I did not like this book. It just didn't work for me. Part of the issue was that Stork raises juggles so many balls in the air, in a way that I did not find effective. I wish he had stuck to two or three issues (such as the issue of whether or not to pull the plug and how to cope with their new-found independence) and focused on really fleshing out the secondary characters (such as Simon and even Mary). I found the issue of life support inadequately explored, even though I had thought that was at the whole heart of the book. I did find it interesting that the girls (especially Mary since she was younger) did not go crazy or at least engage in more normal teenage acts that their father had previously forbidden. Of course most people don't immediately go party after the death of a parent, but I was surprised that very little mention was made about bigger temptations of Mary and Kate (such as going to the mall, an act their father did not allow).
Both girls seem to be losing their way where their Christian faith is concerned and I felt that Mr. Stork did a good job of subtly addressing the questions that arise when one has a crisis of faith and whether or not you can return to your faith. I also found it really interesting that the author made the girls Protestant. This was a note of interest to me because the girls are Latino and I'm Latino, and I have grown up around mostly Catholic Latinos so I found this new world of Protestant Latinos quite intriguing (of course not all experiences are the same but the book gave me a basic idea). I thought the idea of marriage-as-an-escape was an issue well-explored, even if its a concept many people do not realize is prevalent. Kate was also a great multidimensional character as was the pastor, Andy Soto. I found their interweaving storyline to be the best in the book (it is mostly Kate's story) and very believable.
Ultimately Irises left me indifferent, I certainly don't hate it but I did not love it or even enjoy the book all that much. However the writing is mostly strong, with a few secondary characters left underdeveloped. The book mostly suffers from having too many plots and setbacks occurring. Its strength lies in the simple, effective writing and the realistic dialogue. The issue of faith was portrayed in a respectful, non-preachy manner which made the book more compelling. What did everyone else think?
Disclosure: Mr. Stork kindly sent it to me (a whole year ago I'm ashamed to say). Thank you so very much!
Cover image from Francisco Stork's website
Friday, January 11, 2013
Walker & Company/Bloomsbury Publishing
IQ "If I touch him, I could lose my nerve and let him explain away" Nikki, pg. 225
This is the final book in the Perfect Chemistryy trilogy and my review is spoiler-free (not just for this book but also for the previous 2 books in the series). Luis is the youngest of the 3 Fuentes brothers and unlike Alex and Carlos he has lived a relatively gang-free life. Until he moves back to Fairfield, Illinois the suburb rife with Latino Blood gang members who want him to join and be a leader like his brother Alex used to be. Nikki Cruz is the girl who has captivated Luis, mostly because she won't talk to him or allow him to get close to her. She's suspicious of his Latino Blood associations, she refuses to date LB gang members. Luis doesn't know if he wants to join the LB or no and Nikki doesn't know what will happen if she allows Luis to get close to her
I picked the quote I did not because its majorly inspiring but because I think it captures a key moment in relationships, when you know that the person you're with messed up but that you will forgive them as soon as they 'say the right things' and touch you or hold you a certain way. When really that person needs to forget about 'the right words' and be honest.
Anyway, I love this series and this is the book I was most looking forward to it but it doesn't compare to the first book. Or the second. Its my least favorite in the trilogy and there are a lot of elements about it that I really didn't like. I hated the ending. Not the epilogue, the LB violent ending (and no I didn't not like it because of the violence but because of who ended the violence). I also hated the family revelation. I thought it was a cheap way of shocking the reader and took away some of the appeal of the series. Granted the brothers handled it sweetly but still, it was a completely unnecessary family surprise. Also there wasn't much time spent with the beginning stages of Nikki & Luis' relationship. I totally understand lust-at-first-sight but it didn't stay that way and I wish the author had shown us how they grew to be so close.
I did appreciate the fact that this book is so much different from its predecessors, in ways both good and bad. On the positive end, it was nice to see the girl portrayed realistically as always but also fairly un-Saintlike. The book did maintain its steamy, well-written romance scenes for teens, which are its strong suit. Along with the well-written characters ranging from Nikki & Luis to even minor characters such as Marco, Officer Cesar Reyes and the strong plot and setting of the story. Both Nikki & Luis are extremely headstrong and sometimes this stubbornness causes them to make foolish, prideful decisions. And then they have to deal with the fallout. It does all clean up tidily in the end, but its process and watching the characters try to pick themselves back up and make up for their poor decisions is rewarding and realistic and always refreshing to see.
Chain Reaction had almost all the right elements of being a good story but ultimately for me, two big plot twists ruined the rest of the book. While Chain Reaction bordered on the ridiculous at certain points, I was glad to read about the youngest Fuentes brother and the people in his life, including the fiery-but-not-in-a-stereotypical-way Nikki. I loved that Nikki felt out of place amongst Mexicans even though she's Mexican American, she expressed feelings I definitely emphasized with and recognized. I would still highly recommend this series, the books are fun, hot, a great representation of teenage life (especially in Chicagoland suburbs) and there's never a dull moment.
Disclosure: Received from Lyn. Thank you so much!
Monday, January 7, 2013
Edited by Stacey Barney, Foreword by Mia Farrow, stories & poems by Alexander McCall Smith, Meg Cabot, Jeanne DuPrau, Cornelia Funke, Nikki Giovanni, John Green, Karen Hesse, Ann M. Martin, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joyce Carol Oates, Nate Powell, Sofia Quintero, R. L. Stine, Gary Soto, Francisco X. Stork, Cynthia Voight & Jane Yolen
IQ "Do you think wishes just happen?" she demanded. "Stars are busy. They can't sit around all day, making every single one of our wishes come true all by themselves. They need a little help from us. I know if I really want a pony, I need to be like you and go out and earn the money to buy one, like you did with your bike." Jenny to her brother, Dave pgs. 55-56
This is an anthology of short stories about wishes, the proceeds go to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
I liked Jane Yolen's poem "Wishes" and the stories "Reasons" by John Green and "The Rules For Wishing" by Francisco Stork are the best. "Reasons" contains lists after lists and its about Micah, who happens to be in love with Aisha Hussain. Aisha lives in the disputed region of Kashmir, Micah's mother is sponsoring her through For the Children. Its a slightly amusing but really sweet story. There are also photographs throughout the book that may serve as an introduction to the lives of refugee children.
But none of these stories truly stuck with me, I read this anthology awhile ago sometime in the summer and remember few of the stories. I wish there had been a few stories about actual Darfur refugees and the people who work to assist the refugees. Most of the characters in the stories were two-dimensional and very plot-driven. Its perfectly fine for a book to be plot driven but only when the characters are strongly represented and I did not find that to be the case in all the stories.
What You Wish For is worth buying because a few of the stories are excellent and the proceeds go to a worthy charity. Younger readers especially may enjoy these stories.
Another one of my favorite quotes comes from one of my favorites stories, "Reasons"
"I cannot be held responsible for the fact that Aisha Hussain has truly asserting eyes,, and it's important when sitting at my desk doing homework occasionally to be reminded that there are people for whom going to school is not an unbearable burden, but instead an exciting opportunity." Micah, pg. 115