More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015)

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This book has been on my hit list for a little while. I’ve discovered Adam Silvera recently enough, and with his upcoming book with Becky Albertelli, I decided to move this book up my “to reads” list.

I’m always intrigued at how Silvera manages to straddle the border of realistic fiction. Each time you read his books, you need to be able to suspend reality by only a little. His focus is more on the human condition, rather than the the extrapolation beyond the norm. In this case, Leteo is a company that wipes selected memories to help those who are undergoing trauma, move on. The book largely revolves around Aaron and the characters he interacts with, Leteo sits in the background for the majority of the first part of the book, leaving us to wonder, under what circumstances will lead our main character’s path intersect with this company? The result was not what I had expected, and was pleased by this.

Aaron experiences so much in what feels like a short amount of time, leaving your heart feeling wrenched. The LGBT+ plot line melded beautifully with the created setting, and brought up some real questions of how we deal with coming out and the reactions of those around us.

The beginning was a bit slow to start, and it took me a bit to get going, but the book is worth a read.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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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