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Somewhere Among

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu – 4/5

Genre: Middle Grade Poetry / Historical Fiction

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Normally, I don’t I look at reviews until after I have finished writing my own, but for some reason, this time I took a quick scroll through what other people had to say. The verdict, this book has received a lot of mixed reviews. My thoughts are with those who thought this book deserved a high star rating.

Somewhere Among is about an eleven year old Japanese-American named Ema, who finds herself between two cultures, worlds, languages, and families. Within this mix she finds herself alone. She lives with her Japanese grandparents in Tokyo because her mom is pregnant and on bed rest and her father is always away at work. Because her mother is on bed rest, her summer plans of going to California to visit her other grandparents have been changed. This means new school after the summer is over and new friends.

Ema struggles with identity because she feels split in two. Then feels like she must prove her knowledge and show that she is not missing anything. Meaning just because she is half of two different cultures doesn’t mean she is not whole. Ema is a relatable bi racial/cultural/national character. Growing up, I often found myself feeling split down the middle with two ethnicities or two sides instead of a blended and mixed me. It was easy for me to instantly be drawn to Ema. Ema also faces issues that any child may face, one example is bullying.

Looking over some of the other reviews, some thought that adding the event of 911 was not a good idea. They didn’t see how it related to the story or it wasn’t developed enough. I would disagree. First, this novel is inspired by the author’s life and some of these poems are snippets and memories from her own experience. Second, I think it weaved into the story well because is further shows Ema’s feelings of being split. Two countries who are now at peace with each other, but there was a time when they were at war. This is then further shown in the pieces when Ema talks about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and well as Pearl Harbor. Anniversaries that show how humanity can really hurt one another. Then September 11 happens and there is a new war and within the poems, you see how it affects the family.

I like that through this reading, you get to experience Japanese culture; however, I wish the author explained the terms a little better.

Because this novel is written in verse, I think it tones down the harshness of what this book could have been. Making it easier for a young child to read, understand and realte. This is not a lighthearted read, but it’s not a depressing read either.

All in all, I think this book is about being grounded. Finding the center in all that you are. It also shows the importance of family. There may be times when they drive you crazy and if you’re an eleven girl, they may suck the fun out of everything, but they have your back and are there to support and love you.

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Finding Wonders

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

Genre: Historical Fiction, Poetry/Prose

Middle Grade Read (10+)

“Her art is a science, which wants questions as much as answers.”

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This was a quick read about three women scientists: Maria Merian a naturalist and scientific illustrator (1647-1717), Mary Anning a paleontologist (1799-1847) and Maria Mitchell an astronomer (1818-1889). All three women looked at the world with wonder and curiosity and changed science.

I think this book is a great read for young readers, especially little girls. It shows them that science is not just a boys subject. I remember when I was younger and thought math and science were the boys’ subjects, and English were the girls’ subject. I easily went along with the gendered system and no one told me otherwise. I believe books like Finding Wonders can spark interest of science in the minds of young ones and show them they can do anything. I almost wanted to switch my major after reading it.

I also think this book could be used as a tool in the classroom for a science, women’s history or english lessons. More of a companion piece to the lesson plan or textbook. Because it is short (182 pages) and written in verse, it could be a book the class reads together. Also at the back of the book, the author lists the bibliography. Some of the works listed are for young readers.

The writing is beautiful, it combines art and science and the result is a poetic prose.

 

 

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

This review will be a little different and contains spoilers.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is widely known and showered with praises. Why? What makes this series stand out in a sea of books? Yes the series is a fun magical read that young readers and old alike can get lost in, but there is more between the pages of this tale.

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I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as part of my reading assignment for my YA Lit class, so I will be focusing on this particular book. As I started reading, I realized how much I missed the wizarding world of Harry Potter and because of my class, loved the story so much more this time around.

First, lets talk about fantasy. This genre is more than an escape read. The Latin and Greek word for fantasy is phantsia, meaning the power of imagination, image or appearance; making visible. With the power of imagination, fantasy makes visible the truths of our reality. It forces us to look at our world and our lives as what is and what it could be. While the world or the story may not be true, there are universal truths weaved into the novel. One example, is racism and discrimination. This affects people all over the world and is also shown in Harry Potter. Not only do The Dursleys discriminate against the magical beings and creatures of the magical world, but there are also characters like the Malfoys who discriminate against humans (muggles) and those who come from non-magic parents (mudbloods). There also characters like Professor Lupin, who is discriminated against because he is a werewolf. His transformation to fur and sharp teeth once a month precedes the kind of person he is. Which brings me to the concept of dualities. Things that stand in contrast to one another. One one side of the story, Lupin is a kind and skillful teacher. The opposite is a monster that emerges on a full moon. A teacher that is trusted yet mistrusted by his peers. Hermoine is another example. She is struggles with loyalty to her friends as well as being a good student.

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In fantasy, the hero works in the realm of morality. In this case, it’s a thirteen year old boy learning what is just and what is revenge, another duality. While Harry’s struggling with justice and revenge regarding Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, Snape is feeling quite vengeful regarding Sirius, Lupin and the past. Which puts Harry and Snape on the same level. It’s not teacher over student. This is also the perfect example of the Junex vs the Senex archetype. A conflict that exists in both young and old alike.

Other archetypes (a very typical example of a certain person or thing; representative) include the trickster or joker. This character archetype plays tricks or disobeys normal rules to get away with something. I believe Peter Pettigrew fits this mold because he fakes his own death and lives the life of a rat for 12 years and essentially fools everyone. Other archtypes include the orphan (Harry), the sage (Professor Dumbledore), and the caregiver (Madam Pomfrey). Those are just a few. Archetypes are important because they fit into every genre. It connects the reading to reality. There is comfort in being able to relate and connect with the characters.

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I also think Rowling brings up two types of fears. The first are boggarts. Which are kind of described like the boogie man or the monster under your bed or in your closet. This layer of fear is more surface; more common fears. For example, being afraid of the dark, spiders, teachers, snakes and what not. But, with comical thoughts and mind over matter (and of course a charm) those fears can be defeated. Now Rowling goes a step further and brings dementors into the mix. The dementors are horrifying creatures that suck the happiness out of you and if unfortunate, your soul. These creatures represent a soul crushing spirit and that is something different in each person. This could be mental illness, war, addiction or any kind conflict the makes you feel the state of nothingness. Just typing this is not pleasant. Of course there is way to beat said fear and conquer this dark duality with that of silver light. The happiest memories conjure a patronus that, propels the dementors away. The patronus takes a particular shape and form depending on each person and this reminds me of a support system one needs to fight away the fears. We all need a little help.

Which brings me to another point, language. Rowling is a master of manipulating words. When I see and think about dementors, I think demons. When I see the word “expecto patronum”. I see expect a patron. Which is fitting because the patronus takes a form. In Harry’s case it is a stag, which represents his father. Sirius Black’s name has meaning. Sirius is the dog-star in the constellation. Sirius can turn into an animal, that animal being a dog. Professor Minerva McGonagall, her name Minerva meaning the Roman Goddess of wisdom. Severus Snape looks like severe snake. Also fitting because he is head of the Slytherin house and quite the severe professor. One more example, Draco Malfoy. The word draco comes from the Latin word draconem meaning huge serpent or dragon. Mal is latin for bad. Again quite fitting for Draco is quite the malevolent character belonging the Slytherin house.

Besides everything mentioned above, what makes the Harry Potter series a good YA book? It is a well thought out, structured and exiting plot. The characters reflect experiences that of teen readers. This includes fights between friends or being jealous of your friends or those nervous butterflies you get when you see someone you like. Teens tend to be a little selfish and have a one track mind or exaggerate things and spread rumors; yes that is portrayed in the characters as well. Strong female protagonist are also included. Also this story breaks gender stereotypes. Quidditch is a highly dangerous sport, that both boys and girls play on. A sport where skill is recognized, not gender.

I can go on and on about this book, but for the sake of not writing a paper, I’ll stop here. For these are just a few examples in which why this particular book is amazing and why the Harry Potter series is one that will always be a favorite.

 

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – 5🌟

YA Contemporary

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a story about a 17 year old trying to find her voice in a world where people try to define it for you.

I loved this book so much because the author gave an authentic diverse character with real life problems that are not just skin deep, and then uses a creative outlet to find her voice. Quintero covers so many topics like LBGTQ, and teen pregnancy, abortion, how society and cultures dictate how a women should look and behave and a few others. I know it sounds jam packed, and there are a few subjects that are heavy and should not be taken lightly, but the author does a wonderful job in placement. What I mean by that is, you don’t feel constantly bogged down or feel like wow information overload. I found myself laughing along with Gabi on quite a few occasions. I also found myself really connecting with Gabi when handling moments of serious concern.

My favorite part of the book is Gabi’s creative outlet, poetry. Throughout the story, poetry is referenced and as well as expressed in Gabi’s voice. Gabi uses poetry to cope and and express what is happening in the world around her. From loving the skin she is in, to expressing love, anger and frustrating feelings she has.

Gabi has many great qualities, however I think her defining quality is that she embraces who she is and where she comes from. “There’s no escaping my roots, and I guess it’s better to embrace them, then to cut them.” She accepts who she is and knows you cannot grow when you cut your own roots.

Even though this story follows a 17 year old through her last year in high school, I think it is also relatable to older adults too. For this story is more than just he said, she said popularity contest, but finding a voice, and that can happen at any stage in life.

We Were Here

We Were Here by Matt De La Peña – 4🌟

YA Realistic Fiction

A book about the journey and not the destination.

The story follows Miguel leaving juvie and heading to a group home. However, he does not stay there long. Soon he is breaking out with a couple of kids, Mong and Rondell and heading towards Mexico for a new start.

Miguel: While reading, you do not know what Miguel did to land him in juvie and then a group home. All you know is that he hates himself for it. Instead of acceptance he isolates himself for everybody. Running away to Mexico, meant a new life and new start for Miguel. His problems were in Stockton, Ca and he wanted to get out. Without spoiling the rest of his story, I will say that with a journal, a few books and a couple of kids who’ve had a bad life, Miguel learns more about himself, acceptance and the meaning of friendship.

Rondell: I’m quite split down the middle in regards to Rondell’s character. I thought he seemed too stereotypical. A big black boy, who couldn’t read, write or swim, but great at basketball. I do believe there is more to Rondell’s character, but it is really hard for me to get passed this outward portrayal of him. He was sweet and loyal character and had moments of depth. His relationship with Miguel actually reminded me of the relationship between George and Lennie in “Of Mice and Men”.

Mong: Oh my what do I say without giving away his story. There is definitely more to Mong below the surface. Life just took a big whack at him and he has fought tooth and nail.

There are quite a few subjects, you can talk about in this book. Isolation, freedom and how you define it, the wider world and your outlook of it, immigration/border patrol, and of course existence. I am here, you are here, we are here and not to be ignored.

The reason I gave this book 4 stars was because of the overuse of colloquial language. I know that sounds crazy because it is just everyday informal casual speech. However, it felt like every other word was “bro”, “yo”, “dude”, “ain’t”‘ “moms” and it drove me crazy. Yet, I do understand that I’m probably not the author’s target audience. Even though, the speech was not my cup of tea, I do think that this book would be a great book for reluctant readers. The style of the book is not intimidating and like I said before, this story is about the journey. Learning to be a part of something bigger than just yourself.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – 5 🌟

YA Historical Fiction

What can I say about The Book Thief that hasn’t already been said? This YA novel is poetically beautiful. The words just flow page by page as you turn and if you’re me, dog-ear so many corners. The book is full of writers, readers, musicians, and plenty of tobacco. I think one factor that really makes this book special is that Death is the narrator. Many of the YA books I’ve read, are a first person narration of the main character, so this was a nice change up. Normally when you think of death or the grim reaper, you think of (or at least I do) a scary hooded figure with a scythe. However that is not the case in this book, it’s poetic and intimate. Death tells you a story and you listen whole heartedly.

The story follows Liesel through a time in history when death was a common utterance. That time was 1939 Nazi Germany. She is not Jewish, but a young German girl. Not only do you see Death’s perspective of the world at this time, but also through the eyes, of a young one trying to make her own stand in her own ways. As the title suggests, Liesel is a book thief. Each book stolen however, has meaning to her.

One of my favorite character relationships was that of Max, a Jewish fist fighter and Liesel. They have a special connection in how they were brought to Himmel Street, to the home of the Hubermanns. They share a certain pain, but also a certain joy that binds them together.

Hans Hubermann is probably the best papa I could ever imagine. Rosa, the biggest heart and mouth of profanity. Rudy, a Saukerl you’ll love.

This story is about love sprouting, growing and resisting the hate spread by one. Actions and words not matter how small, make a difference.

I could talk about all the wonders and connections this book makes all day. It is truly a beautiful book.

Speak

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson 4 🌟

YA Realistic Fiction

This YA novel follows Melinda’s first year in high school. Not only does she deal with normal high school problems of where to eat a lunch, which group to join and is my outfit cute, Melinda is also dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event. She was raped by an upperclassman, called the cops on a party and is now outcasted.

The novel is written as an inner monologue. I believe this was a wonderful choice to tell Melinda’s story. It gives the reader deeper insight into how she is feeling and what is going on in her head and heart. There is no pretense. She tackles emotions of fear, guilt and shame. As well as emotional neglect from others.

Through art and and her mentor she finds a safe place where she can work out her feelings and learns “when people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time”. Expression can come in many forms, in this case, Melinda learns to find her voice and Speak.

After the First Death

After the First Death by Robert Cormier – 4 🌟

Originally published in 1979

Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Robert Cormier gives you a fast paced thriller from 3 different perspectives. The first two are teens that are trying to understand who they really are. They have a few different disguises or masks, but they don’t know which one is the true them. The other teen grapples with the aftermath of traumatic event.

On the surface, the book is a thriller, a terrorist attack that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Underneath there are topics such as teen suicide, self-identification, bravery and cowardice. What makes a person bad or good? Is there such a thing as an innocent monster? Can a person not know they are a monster? Can innocence be evil? The author essentially writes a book that dwells in the mind of a teen psyche. One who question authority, morality, patriotism and what makes a good soldier.

Then you have the nature vs nurture argument. What makes a person evil? Are they nurtured that way and taught to hate? Or is the environment to blame? Is society and the world guilty of creating the monsters we see today?

This YA novel is not one to give you the answers, but makes you think about them. While you are reading, you are not just enjoying a fast paced thriller, but you are thinking about the world around you. You are thinking about the person you are becoming.

Stay With Me

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – ☕️☕️☕️☕️/5

Published by Knopf Publishing Group

Publication Date: August 22, 2017

Genre: Fiction

Where to even start? This book has so much.

One couple fighting against tradition of polygamous marriage while trying to have a baby and the mental toll it can take, male impotence, and government upheaval. I know a lot!

When I first began reading, I immediately began to sympathize with the wife Yejide. I’m a woman and can understand not wanting to enter a tradition that demands I share my husband so he can have children. I can see why the solution to this problem is to have children of your own. However, for Yejide and Akin, the solution was not all that easy.

Society can put such a toll on women in regards to having children. As if your life, purpose or job is not complete until you have not one, but a few. That kind of pressure and thinking can really mess with ones mental state. Now let’s say, you want a child, but cannot conceive one, then you are still to blame. What if you loose the child, then the child must have been evil and you must not think about said child. Yejide went through this up and down process of loving so much and losing so much. It broke her heart each time. As the reader, you cannot help but feel for her as she thinks hope is too heavy to carry.

What I thought was interesting was Atkin’s perspective. You hear his side of the story and you feel for him just as much as you do for Yejide. You don’t really see stories that highlight male impotence. In this story, in this tradition, if you could not get your wife pregnant, are you even a man at all? So you try everything possible.

The relationship between Atkin and Yejide portrays real life problems in terms of communication. You always expect the other to speak up first, or to know exactly how you feel. Then lies, betrayal, and secrets get thicker with each silent breath.

I think at the heart of the book, you have a story about love and family. Wanting and having that connection with another human being. Wanting someone to carry on your name. In a sense that you don’t cease to exist after you die, but have your spirit live on through word of mouth; stories.

Stay with Me is a novel worth reading. Yes it is sad and may make you cry, but the story is not like any other.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️/5

Published June 13, 2017 by Atria Books

Genre: Fiction

First Taylor Jenkins Reid is now becoming one my favorite authors. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was so amazing! I have also read Maybe in Another Life by Reid and immensely enjoyed that read as well. What’s interesting, at first glance neither of these books seem to interest me. I thought eh, but then so many bookstagram loving people told me “It’s great!” “You should read her book next!” So I jumped on the bandwagon and I’m so happy I did. From the two books I’ve read so far, there is much more than just the fun and interesting premise the synopsis gives you. The surface is just a story, but underneath is a book that talks about real social problems (at least in TSHoEH).

I don’t think I will tell you because I want you, the reader to discover the story for yourself. There is nothing worse than reading a review and basically knowing exactly what plays in the book before you had even a chance to read it. I will say The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has diversity. I know in the book world, diversity is what people are shooting for and what readers are looking for. The world is diverse, so books should reflect that.

In this novel, you jump between time periods, the present and the past. Starting in the 50’s set in old Hollywood. I’m so picky when authors do this because it can make a story great or totally confusing (well at least I think so). Reid did not disappoint, but rather spun a tale, that I could easily follow.

Now Evelyn, she is such an interesting and complex character. I say this because I did not love her in the beginning. I’m not going to lie, I may have judged her. However as the story continued and I thought about her life I was very sympathetic toward her. Being a woman in the 50’s, 60’s even 80’s is different than being a woman now. Obviously change still needs to happen in how we view and treat women. Sorry back to the character- she wasn’t a villain, but she wasn’t a good guy (or I should say woman) either. She was human and did whatever it took to make her life better for herself and those around her. Although sometimes good intentions are just that, good intentions. I also think Evelyn was a complex character because she had trouble with her own identity and accepting all of herself. She definitely was go getter and would take down anyone who got in her way, but she also was vulnerable.

This book is about love and the different types of love you can have with different people. This book is about standing up for that love. Finding the strength within yourself when society tries to put a label on you.

All in all this book is amazing and I definitely recommend it.