Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

Rating: 4.7 Stars34728667.jpg

What an exceptional story with a powerful voice.

I adored the character of Zelie. She was a great lens to view this world from, both through the oppressive nature of society and the hope that it will inevitably get better. She was hopeful, a fighter, and although she largely showcases her perseverance towards the end goal, her humane struggles make her a character we understand. While initially I was not interested in the three different voices, as the story progressed, their necessity became clear to the overall story.

The book has real colonial undertones to it. You have a clearly oppressed people – signaled by their darker skin and white hair, who are targeted due to their magical abilities. Connections can be drawn to colonial African time. It gives a new spin on that conflict – what if the magic could return. Meanwhile, old African traditions have a much harder time of returning. The setting of this story makes it a well developed and powerful piece.

As fictional stories go, you expect certain twists and turns to occur to make the book more interesting and add conflict. When you read so many of these stories, you can begin to predict them. What I loved about this story as how believably unpredictable it was. There were so many directions the story took that I didn’t expect and each one thrilled me. It made for a very exciting read.

Recommendation: I will absolutely stock this in my library.

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)

Rating: 4 stars33294200.jpg

What a brilliant voice we so desperately need.

Xiomara felt like such an authentic character, with cross cultural challenges. Trying to weigh the familial obligation against passion, both physical and poetic was poignantly told. I love that the conflict revolved around so much more than just the male love interest. Acevedo made it about Xiomara’s conflict with herself, her faith and her family in a multitude of dimensions, all of which get more focus and attention than the love interest. The book was about the character and cross cultural understanding rather than just her relationships.

While the book centres around her ability to find her voice through spoken word poetry, the book is beautifully told in poetic verse. One thing I really would have liked, is to read her presented spoken word poems. It was quite cool to read about the experience of performing poetry through poetry, but it felt like a missed opportunity, not to have this element in.

 

Recommendation: A need for high school libraries. An incredibly well done verse poetry piece. I would keep it in my 13+ section, one of the poems makes reference to self pleasure.

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Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson(2018)

Rating: 4.2 Stars34495927.jpg

I read Speak a while ago, if you’re familiar with the novel, puts an excellent take on the book. Be warned, this review has some spoilers and serves as more of a comparative piece from the original book and will focus on highlighting well done aspects of the book, so if you’re not familiar with the story, read at your own discretion.

First of all, the book got an update. The story is true to the original piece, but there are parts to the book that were clearly not in the first original (eg. a reference to instagram). With the original book published in 2001, some of these necessary edits were needed to keep this appearing as a contemporary piece, as despite its age, its shockingly relevant.

The images are beautifully done. Emily Carroll was a match made in heaven for the retelling of this book in this format. Andy and the rest of the high school contingent is very much what I would have hope it to look like. The black and white focus is a perfect colour selection for the piece. It emphasizes the somber tone so well displayed within the book.

There are tougher issues in the book, sexual assault, cutting, that are dealt with very tastefully. Despite the fact that the implication is there, its subtly leaves it open for more viewers, but the imagery definitely gets dark.

Recommendation: A brilliant rendition of the original piece. In the age of #Metoo, a well done revisit. I’d keep it in my 13+ section.

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The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (2017)

Rating: 4.3 Starsimages.jpg

I’m always looking for strong and accessible non-fiction reads. When I heard about this book initially, I was afraid of it being too dark for me, and the students I teach. But it seemed that the more I avoided the book, the more it found its way back onto my radar.

The story follows two sides of a hate crime. Sasha, an agender high school student wakes up on the ‘57 bus’ realizing their skirt has been set on fire. Richard, an african american teenager from a poverty stricken background, is the boy who flicked on his lighter.

The book does so much more than just tell the story of this hate crime. It does an exceptional job of discussing both histories of Sasha and Richard that lead up to the moment. As you read, it feels a little bit like following Romeo and Juliet and hoping it turn out differently, even though you know it won’t. You get to know Sasha and their agender style, and you learn about Richard and some of the serious hardships he has had to face. The audience is left conflicted on Richard’s sentencing as the author paints an elegant picture of someone who may have been homophobic, learns some powerful lessons.

The text itself is very fluid and accessible. I found the book very breezy and finished it within two days. The clear and coherent writing style sucks readers right into the text. The book is well researched from both sides, when going into it, we are already left with a bias of what to expect, how to feel about Richard.

Recommendation: I would fully stock this in my library. It is full of useful information, and nothing within this book would be questionably inappropriate in a middle grade classroom.

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Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli (2016)

Rating: 5 Stars

This is one of those unicorn books that I give five stars to. Having read it twice now (the second time entirely in one sitting), it still leaves me with intense and beautiful feelings.

It is so refreshing to read a book about a teenager who doesn’t have an angst ridden relationship with their family. We see many coming out stories where the fear of coming out stems from the parents and concerns about being disowned. But the process of coming out doesn’t always play out this way. Simon shows us, that even when we have great supportive family, that the process is still terrifying in and of itself, and it takes a lot more than supportive parents to come to terms with something so big.

The email chain between “Blue” and Simon was the perfect window in this beautifully developed relationship. It takes an exceptional writer to develop a powerful love story without the characters inhabiting the same physical space. The story was believable and kept me guessing who “Blue” was to the end.

The book also deals with the importance of being able to make the decision of who to come out to and when very effectively. It’s sometimes hard for people to understand the comfort level involved in making these decisions and how its not as simple as telling your best friends first, or telling people at all despite knowing how accepting they will be. Sometimes it’s just about being able to face your own understanding of yourself. Albertelli brilliantly captures this.

Recommendation: A must read book. There is some swearing, so it’s best for mature grade 7 and up.

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New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (2017)

Rating: 4 Stars32078646.jpg

Modernizing Shakespeare is nothing new. Its seen in films and books, and it pops up in a variety of different settings, with unique twists on the characters. Chevalier’s vision of Othello, takes us back to 1970s Washington D.C. on the playground of a grade 6 class. Osei joins a new school, and instantly becomes friends with Dee. Ian makes it his mission to destroy the social hierarchy. As we follow the characters throughout their day at school, we know how the story will end, tragically.

One of the main differences right from the get go is Osei’s lack acceptance into this society. He enters the scene as the only black boy in a white school, where tolerance is not wide spread amongst students or staff. He needs to earn his way to the top before his fall, while in Shakespeare’s version, we watch Othello’s fall from grace. It changes the way we see the story right from the beginning, we have more sympathy for Osei, and in turn, more admiration for Dee as she becomes fast friends with him.

Ian plays the villain exceedingly well. We don’t see his motivation as anything other than evil spite. It creates in contrast a monstrous character, accentuated by his bullying behaviour of the students around him. The kids on the playground appear to be more in tune with him, fear him in ways that Iago was never understood. It is an interesting take on the perceptiveness of children.

The time and place adds elements to the story that create relatable links to Shakespeare’s time. Hundreds of years after the story was written, the lessons and characters are still transformable at the very root.

There were times that I found that the characters actions did stretch the limit of their emotional capability as grade 6 students, to ensure that the storyline of the play was followed. This is a hard line to stick to.

Recommendation: While the characters are young, the story isn’t really meant for younger readers. It’s a short book but it does make for an interesting read if you’re familiar with the play.

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The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (2018)

Rating: 4.2 Stars35098412

Set in an alternate world in centuries past, we follow Brianna as she works towards becoming “impassioned” with knowledge so that she may be taken in as a patron in a household. Considering the mystery surrounding her unknown mixed parentage, her grandfather feels that this is the best possible path for her, while Brianna isn’t so sure. As her training comes to an end, Brianna discovers that there is more within her, directing her down a path of uncertainty, rather than the one she had trained for and expected.

Right away, we are thrown into the world of “passioned” girls – those who develop a marketable skill set through years of training. Patrons vie for their attentions in an almost reverse job interview upon their graduation. An excellent twist on the historical fiction is that of the elevated female position. It is Queens that take the throne, not kings, it is daughters who inherit, not sons. Girls are prized more than boys. This gender reversal appears to create almost an even playing field amongst the battle of the sexes (with girls possessing more political power, however less physical power). It is the societal norm. In this sense, Ross has created a very interesting world.

Brianna herself is an interesting character to follow. Almost immediately we can see that she doesn’t rightly fit in this “passioned” place, so her role must occur somewhere else. We see her reflect on the ease in which her “sisters” find themselves in this world, as she does not. She is not as talented, nor as driven, but she is curious. It’s this curiosity that we as readers can cling to as we follow her throughout the story.

This book was one of those situations, where it’s best not to read the editorial hook, because it gives so much away that happens so late in the book (it’s spoilers occur more than halfway through). If you’re smart and you choose to ignore it, the book moves at a decent pace, the writing style keeps you engaged, despite the stronger storyline occurring later on. If you review the hook right before reading it, you may find yourself quite disappointed at how long it takes for the story to develop. The excellent job of building up suspense is tainted by your preconceived knowledge of what Brianna’s path will be turns it into a predictable tale we simply wait to unfold.

Recommendation: If an alternative history is in your interest level, the book is worth the read, but try to ignore the hook.

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