Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Dear Starr, you are a brilliant, beautiful and incredible character the world is lucky to have cataloged through these pages. Your complexity as a young woman -- navigating socio-economic, racial, geographic, and gendered identity lines, spaces, and institutionalized, systematic, discriminatory power and privilege dynamics -- is everything the world needs to read. As Booklist noted in their review, The Hate U Give is "an inarguably important book that demands the widest possible readership."

Dear Angie Thomas, your genius and your craft is just other-worldly. As a debut novel - it's more than clear why 13 publishers fought for you! Undoubtedly you have millions of lifelong fans from this novel, myself included. I am at a loss to describe just how deep Starr's complex characterization runs and holds onto you as a reader. And her friends and family so vividly come to life with each line of dialogue and narration. As a reader, it's so cliche to say "I feel like I'm right there!" but REALLY, you are with Starr. You're with her in Garden Heights as she tries to prove herself 'cool' to Kenya's judging eyes. You're with Starr in her swanky school as she switches from Garden Heights to Williamson, traveling between her worlds in multiple aspects. You're with her as she is hurt by Hailey's ignorance and denial of her systematic privilege and racism, and with Starr as she struggles to figure out where her place is in the fight for justice for herself, her friends, and her community. #StarrforPresident

And my last set of notes I need to write - Dear Reader who has yet to read this book... honestly - just stop reading this and go get yourself a copy! OK, or maybe I suppose keep reading and then go get a copy. That works too. This novel - from the police shooting to all of the micro-aggressions, the divisions by class, race, and socio-economics - gang warfare, addiction, privilege and inequity, systematic oppression and discrimination - there is just so much in this novel, where to even begin.

Every page of this book holds brilliance- I just want to highlight a few of my favorite things!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: Here We Are: 44 Voices Write, Draw, and Speak About Feminism for the Real World - Edited by Kelly Jensen

"Feminists come in every shape, size, form and background. What unites feminists is the belief that every person, regardless of gender, class, education, race, sexuality, or ability - deserves equality. This is a movement about embracing differences and encouraging change that benefits all facets of society." 

So begins the introduction to this incredible anthology! From playlists (listening as I write now), comics, poetry, stories and more - this truly is intersectional feminism at its finest. While written for teens, the pieces really transcend age. Reading this book is what I imagine a non-sorority sorority could be (one without drama and hazing, just a true sisterhood where we all are working towards actual equality for all) - all in a book! I can just imagine the incredible possibility getting this in the hands of young women.

From memories of grandmothers and the histories of feminism - to modern stories of love, action, and finding feminism (whatever it means to that particular author) - this collection offers so many "Yes!" points it's unreal. To just give you a glimpse (go get yourself a copy!), some favorite lines I'm still sitting with:

1. "My reading rebellion may have taken place a long time ago, but it still feels relevant. It's not a silly pursuit to read beyond what's handed to you, to seek out new voices and leap over the usual books everyone's already talking about and see what you can find on your own... There is power in what we choose to consume as readers, and there is power in what we choose to amplify, celebrate, and share." -Nova Ren Suma, p. 199

2. "Feminism is about advocating for equality for all women, not just people you're comfortable with. It's about standing for people who are other than you, and amplifying their voices, instead of standing against them or speaking for them." - Rafe Posey, p. 69

3. "Daring to want something and going after it is a feminist act... When you're ambitious, you want to do something, and that very act reshapes the world." Shveta Thakrar, p. 175

4. "I like to think that my grandmother offered Millay's poems to me as a charge: to be bold, to speak my mind, to embrace my passions" -Malindo Lo, p. 5

5. "This is how you first learn what it is to be a girl. Soon, there'll be more incidents. Teachers in the halls, asking if you're sure you want to wear that to school, if you shouldn't go home and change."      -Sara McCarry, p. 123

6. "She has not yet taken 'no' for an answer from the world. But I know she is entering into this world. Adolescence and adulthood will try to steal that 'wide-openness' from her, and the world will tell her she can't do everything" - Matt Nathanson (about his daughter), p. 19

7. "Wherever you are right now, I promise you that someone else has been exactly there" Anne Theriault, p. 29

8. "Women are taught to measure [success] by the number on the scale. Men are taught to measure it by their accomplishments and achievements" -Lily Myers, p. 44

9. "Nothing about pain is likable.. If a character breaks the likability contract with some readers... she forfeits their sympathy and support... Are we telling them they have to hide their pain and act likable to be loved?" -Courtney Summers, p. 55-57

10. Judgments by Pomona Lake (p.71) - This photo says a million words.

Book Review: Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Y’all, every time I think the incredible suite of 2017 new releases just can’t get any better, they do. There is so much magic - can we all as a nation just take a breath, read a few books (or a zillion?), and then start up again?

I’ve read Renée Watson before, This Side of Home is one I love, and Piecing Me Together just blows it out of the water. So here’s the the setup for Piecing Me Together: Jade, a high school junior lives in Oakland with her mom and Uncle E.J. Jade is enrolled at a fancy prep school and takes the bus across the city every day. While many people try to reach out to her to invite her to all kinds of opportunities and programs, the “fixing” and “saving” ethos annoys her more than anything else. She does not want to be fixed, saved, or given more ‘opportunities’ - she just wants to be successful and reach her goal of college.

So when a counselor brings up a program, Woman to Woman, even though she doesn’t want one more ‘opportunity,’ she participates because this one comes with the carrot of free college after 2 year successful participation, and that is something she just cannot pass up.

Even though she feels out of place at school, this year she meets Sam, who also rides the bus - and while their friendship at times gets rocky, she soon learns much more about friendship than she first expected.

Jade's relationship with her Woman to Woman mentor, Maxine, also starts off rather rocky, but shows Jade a lot more about herself and what being an ‘adult’ and ‘making it’ truly means. Being in Woman to Woman, even thought at first she was skeptical, comes to be a great asset to Jade as the novel continues.

Without saying more more for spoiler's sake - let me just say I LOVE THIS BOOK. Y'all, a YA book with a female lead not being just about a love interest!!!!!!! We have a young woman who is finding her sense of identity, purpose, and community -  figuring out how to all of her pieces come together- worrying about things other than just boys? GASP. There are many things to love, but Renée Watson, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving Jade more depth than YA affords most women.

Some favorite lines (trust me, you will not regret this read!):

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

I think my heart just might explode. There are so many INCREDIBLE YA books coming out in early 2017 - I keep thinking there's no way this streak of 5-star books can last and then BOOM. Lilliam Rivera's The Education of Margot Sanchez ups the game once again. Can I get a 10-star award?

OK - so here's the gist. Margot, who lives in Riverdale in the Bronx (she describes it as "rich adjacent" (34)), is from a Puerto Rican immigrant family. Her father operates two grocery stores in the Bronx, which she ends up working at for the summer because she charged a shopping spree on his credit card without permission. It's not like stealing is a norm for her - but now attending a fancier prep school, she's trying to survive and jump up the social ladder to make her home there, and fit into everyone's idea of what you should do, be, and look like (hence the shopping spree). Just as she was starting to fit in with the 'in crowd' and invited to spend her summer at the Hamptons with her prep school friends, she got caught while shopping for her new wardrobe. So now instead of scheming her way into this prep school world, she's stuck at her dad's store working to pay back her debts. A story of so many things, but primarily one of finding your way through all the complications and contradictions that life has to offer - she straddles a lot of difficult situations. Does she hang with the prep school boy that she thinks is her key to 'making it' or a new 'local' love interest? Old friends or new friends? Family or... going it alone? Her true self, or who everyone else thinks she should be?

SO MANY EMOTIONS. We feel you Margot. This story is about everything big picture, yet also the finest of details at the same time (which makes it such a page turner that you won't be able to put it down, really!). Strongly rooted in location, the setting primes the questions the novel inevitably poses about gentrification. Beautifully weaving Spanish and English, the language too symbolizes the choices she faces. And exploring issues of education, class, race, love, family, community, and belonging, this novel is a true bildungsroman - as Margot works to figure out who she is, who she once was, and who she wants to be.

This novel also fills my heart in a whole other kind of way as a reader and educator too on top of just being an amazing novel - LOVE having a Latina lead in YA! Diversity in publishing, among other industries, clearly has lots of work to do, and Rivera with this novel has added a beautiful novel to the YA cannon. The blog HelloGiggles called out the stats - noting that "According to the 2015 publishing statistics from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, only 2.4% of books portrayed Latinx characters." While universal themes will always create a common bond in every story no matter the background, I am so glad I'm following Margot Sanchez and no one else in this story. We need to do far better than 2.4%.

Their post quoted Rivera on the matter too: "We have an administration that is doing all they can to silence our voices and deport our families... They are desperate to dictate who gets to write this narrative, to tell the story, to make history. My story may be a coming-of-age story, but it is also a story about gentrification and assimilation. It is an American story and — regardless of who is currently in power — I believe there is a place for the novel, and for so many others, to be heard.”

I cannot wait to read more of Rivera's (she was beyond sweet to reply to my random tweets as I fan-girled and could find zero adequate words to describe my emotions), she shared while there are not plans for Margot P.II, more is in the works hopefully! So stay tuned - grab this one and look forward to more to come :)

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

A FABULOUS debut - American Street will have you steeped in the magical realism of the a life at the crossroads of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit, Michigan. 

American Street is the story is of Fabiola Toussaint, a Haitian teen immigrating with her mother to reunite with family in Detroit. She is so hopeful for all that will be "American Street" but after her mother is detained by immigration, Fabiola is left to navigate solo. Living with her Aunt Jo and three cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess, she realizes it's really nothing like she thought it would be - and works to make a home in this new, unexpected place. Torn at times between loyalty to her new family and friends and her own mother - she learns American Street is not the golden ticket she once thought. Her new American life is layered in complexities she was in no way prepared for.

What makes this book magic is the voice, heart and soul Zoboi gifts Fabiola. She is a narrator grounded in her identity, and has a depth unlike many YA protagonists. While this novel is an immigrant story, the themes and questions Fabiola struggles with are of course universal. Love, Family, Belonging, Sense of Home, Racism, Sexism, Abuse, Trust, Right, Wrong, Justice, and the gray matter in between it all. 

The depth of Fabiola is informed by Zoboi's personal experiences, as she reflects in her author's note: "While working on American Street, I pulled from my own memories of living in between cultures, the experiences I had in high school, and the many tragic stories about violence and trauma that girls have endured. In Haiti, many girls dream of the freedom to live without the constraints of oppression. Yet more often than not, these girls and their families leave their home countries only to move to other broken and disenfranchised communities." 

Zoboi also notes inspiration for the novel from Rachel Jeantel, the daughter of a Haitian immigrant who was brought into the spotlight after the killing of Trayvon Martin, as he was on the phone with her at the time. Zoboi reflects on watching Jeantel testify during George Zimmerman's trial: 
"...I recognized a little bit of myself in Rachel, and in the many Haitian teen girls I've worked with over the years. We fold our immigrant selves into this veneer of what we think is African American girlhood... This tension between our inherited identity and our newly adopted selves filters into our relationships... and into how we interact with the broken places around us. I saw Fabiola in these girls, and that's how this story was truly born." 

The question that emanates through this novel seems to be the one Zoboi's mother also asked years ago, as she recalls a time on the L train where they saw someone steal a diamond ring off of a woman's finger, "We'd made it to the other side, just like Fabiola, but what was this life?

This book is a beautiful addition to any classroom. Age-wise, I'd say High School readers would be best. There is a sweet (at a few times steamy) love interest between Fabiola and a boy...  I'll leave that for you to discover when you read! Primarily I'd say HS readers because of some of the more abusive relationships in the book, as well as some drugs and violence. Ibi Zoboi actually wrote more about the complexity of the 'bad boy' love that makes its way into American Street - definitely worth the read!

In Summary: read it, read it, read it! And get it into your students' hands! And Ibi Zoboi, I cannot wait to read more of your work! 

Book Review: Strong is the New Pretty by Kate Parker

This book! As its subtitle perfectly captures, "A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves" - this is a mandatory book for anyone with a daughter, niece, god-daughter, classroom, library, (can you tell I love it?). 

The project was started by Kate Parker who is a professional photographer. She captures girls in the moment - not 'picture perfect' not 'still' not any of the adjectives you may associate with portrait photography. This book is a collection of those incredible photos, along with a quote from each girl alongside their photo.

The photos are organized into 9 categories with a brief intro by Parker, all themed around strength. The 9 chapters ring with fortitude, "Confident is Strong" (Chapter 1), "Wild is Strong," "Resilient is Strong," "Creative is Strong," "Determined is Strong," "Kind is Strong," "Fearless is Stong," "Joyful is Strong" and "Independent is Strong."

Each quote by these girls just makes you want to cheer. From the youngest to the oldest girls, they just are wise beyond their years.

Take for example, Emme, Age 7, captured up in the trees. "We weren't supposed to climb this high, but the view is better up here."

Magic. Pure magic y'all.

One of the things I love most about this collection is that it's so positive. We hear so much about negative images of girls and women (everywhere - TV, music videos, magazines, ads, etc.), and while that certainly is massive problem, instead of just complaining about it, let's replace some of these unrealistic images with real ones. And even better, let's give some awesome advice while we're at it. The photos are absolutely invaluable, but them quotes and advice on top of that? Even more magical.

Lesley, Age 18, sums it up pretty well, "Many girls grew up dreaming of a hero to save them. I grew up dreaming of becoming one."

All the feels and all the girlpower in this book.

Check out this fabulous video of Kate Parker explaining how the project started, and so many of her beautiful photographs! And get the book :)

Book Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting it Done by Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser

I love memoirs. Seeing life paths, decisions and making a book-friendship by the end always leaves me feeling empowered as I carry these stories with me. Bringing to mind Randy Glasbergen's comic - the power of books as a way for people to "install new software into their brains" - Girl Code has my neurons firing from end to end.

Reading Andrea (Andy) and Sophie's story has me feeling all the typical memoir feelings a million times over. I wish I could go back and give this book to every young woman I've taught. I wish I could go back and teach this book each year. I wish I could be like Sweden and send a book to every 16-year-old student because I would send this one. There are so many important issues to tackle in our world, and this book highlights one corner of how we can do so.

While attending a Girls Who Code intensive, Andy and Sophie met and worked on their final project together. That project just happened to be the viral sensation Tampon Run. With coverage from Teen Vogue to the Today Show, they struck a nerve with people of all ages. Their book Girl Code takes you from just before they begin their summer coding intensive, sharing brief intros of themselves and their family and how they ended up at the intensive. They then weave the reader through their first lines of code, the successes and frustrations of learning their new skills, perks of the 'tech life' and collaborating with different partners and mentors. After presenting the game at their Girls Who Code graduation, they continued and launched the game online. The rest of the book is the 'after launch' story - the best and worst of the game getting so much attention, some great opportunities they've had subsequently and where they're headed as of now. Their story is such an inspiration for girls everywhere. It is so powerful to have this on the shelves in a bookstore -- representation matters. And we certainly need it in tech.

I was particularly struck with one of Sophie's reflections early on as she writes about when she first arrives to Girls Who Code, and takes in the all-female environment.
"As I stood there scanning the group, I realized that I had never once imagined a coder as a girl. I'm embarrassed to admit it now, but until that moment, my mental image of a coder was a young guy in a ratty Star Wars T-shirt and sweat-pants hunched over a large desktop int he corner of a room, headphones atop a greasy head of hair. I wondered why I had never pictured a girl... probably because I'd never seen a female coder before. I'd seen pictures of the founders of Google and Facebook and other major tech companies, but they were all men. I had watched movies and TV shows that depicted hackers, but they had all been men too." (25)

Andy and Sophie show us what happens when females are at the table. Their common bond being forged over feminist and socially minded action in their final project - turned into a game highlighting a social taboo  (periods! oh no!) and our de-sensitization to violence (killing in most video games with blood spatter, no problem! but periods? Step back now!). And this is just one project. Imagine the creativity that will continue to when we truly have both halves of the sky.

There are so many impressive, wonderful, and insightful things about this book. But I'm going to stop and let you read it and form your book friendships and girlcrushes. Because in the end, the power of books is in sharing your story so it can bring us all a little closer together. And I am so glad that Andy and Sophie have shared theirs!

(P.S. Take a few minutes to play Tampon Run, if there were more games like this, heck, I might be a gamer!)