Tag Archives: genre:realistic fiction

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Review

absolutely_true_diary_of_a_part_time_indianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney

Little, Brown books for Young Readers, 2007. 978-0316013680

Winner of the 2008 National Book Award

Synopsis: Junior isn’t like most people. Born with water on the brain, Junior often suffers from seizures; he wears glasses that don’t fit his face, his feet are too big for his body, and he speaks with a lisp. The one thing he seems to have going for him is his art. It’s how he makes sense of the world. It’s how he’s staying even a little bit sane when he becomes the only Indian at a high school full of white kids, when his best friend won’t speak to him, when his sister runs away to live the life of a romance novel. It’s what gives him hope during a year that seems hopeless.

Why I picked it up: This is another title that came highly recommended to me by my librarian colleagues and I thought it was time I pulled it off my shelf.

Why I finished it: I found out in the first few pages that Alexie wasn’t going to be pulling any punches. He told it like it was, and he didn’t shy away from any of the scary, awkward, gruesome details that come with growing up on an Indian reservation. In a lot of ways, Junior is a stereotype, and he’s willing to acknowledge this to a point. When it is proposed he leaves the reservation, it’s not only a way for him to help fight the stereotype, but a chance for him to make something better than himself, to be the person his parents could have been had someone believed in them. And really, I think everyone needs that: one person in our lives that is willing to believe in us, to help push us away from our comfort zone into the breech. And yet, Junior still feels as though he is living two separate lives, one much more surreal than the other. But despite the tragedies he faces and the challenges he overcomes, Junior finds a way to make sense of it all…well, mostly. Forney’s art is a delightful mix of realism and cartoonish humor, largely to reflect Junior’s mood or state of mind while he is drawing. It’s a way for the reader to truly experience how Junior is making sense of the world and how he is perceiving those around him. It’s a funny, heartbreaking story about how we face life’s challenges and how we learn to control the elements we can while coping with those we cannot.

Other related materials: Flight by Sherman Alexie; If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth; Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Lori Earley; Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell; My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson; Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz; Winger by Andrew Smith, illustrated by Sam Bosma; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina; Mexican White Boy  by Matt de la Peña; When I Was Young and Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago; Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa  Abdel-Fattah

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Kira-Kira Review

kira_kiraKira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. 978-0689856402

Winner of the 2005 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Katie Takeshima has always looked up to her sister, Lynn, and the way she makes the world seem kira-kira: glittering, shining. Katie relies on Lynn to help her make sense of the world: their move to Georgia, the reason people stare at them, why it’s important for her to go to school. But when Lynn gets sick, Katie is forced to begin to make sense of things on her own and to make the world seem kira-kira again.

Why I picked it up: I snagged it at a used book store in Newport, Oregon while I was on vacation.

Why I finished it: The two very strong themes that run through this book are the strength of family bonds and the power of positive thinking. Katie and Lynn have a friendship that is unique to sisters, and the ways in which they support one another have a lasting impact on the characters and the reader. Katie might not be as smart as her sister, but Lynn knows that if she works hard and applies herself that Katie can succeed, an idea that becomes more apparent to Katie as she watches her sister decline. Speaking from experience, it can be hard to see the world as kira-kira when everything around you seems so dark and desolate; it can be hard to move on even when it feels like the world is stopping or speeding ahead without you. But what Katie and the reader slowly begin to realize is that Lynn desires for Katie to make her own magic. Katie has the potential to make the world kira-kira for her younger brother and her family in the same way Lynn made the world kira-kira for Katie. Yet, Kadohata’s story runs deeper, mixing grief and helplessness with humor and the special brand of drama that is specific only to families. The first-person narrative gives us a window into one family’s struggle to keep themselves together even though their lives as they know them are changing in ways they could have never imagined. It’s a sweet and heartbreaking story that will leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Other related materials: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata; Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata; Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata; Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata; Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff; Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Under the Mesquite by Guadaulpe Garcia McCall; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

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Stinky Cecil in Terrarium Terror Review

stinky_cecil_2Stinky Cecil in Terrarium Terror! by Paige Braddock

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 978-1449471866

Synopsis: Cecil is trying to soak up some sun when he is toad-napped by a third grader and transplanted into a classroom terrarium. Life in the terrarium isn’t so bad – free food, time to rest – but Nesbit the chameleon won’t leave him alone. Meanwhile, his friends at the pond have mounted a full-scale rescue operation, courtesy of Jeff the Hamster’s remote controlled helicopter. Will Cecil be freed by his friends or will he have to live out his life with Nesbit the copycat?

Why I picked it up: I enjoyed the first book so much, I was eager to read about the further adventures of Cecil and his pals.

Why I finished it: This story is part comedy, part environmental tale. The story begins with Cecil rescuing a fellow pond dweller from a rogue water bottle tossed out of a car by a careless litterbug. It’s one of many subtle moments throughout the book where Braddock is making commentary about how humans care for the world around them. Knowing and understanding animals and their environments can help make sure that the natural habitats we find so visually stimulating can be enjoyed for many more years to come. I sympathized with Cecil and his struggle with Nesbit the chameleon: we can see that the chameleon admires Cecil and wants to be around him, but readers can also sense the tension in the terrarium. Personally, I think the disembodied garter snake is the one suffering the most…. The rescue attempt by Cecil’s friends adds a sort of fantasy aspect to the story. It’s somewhat improbable that a remote controlled helicopter could operate without the remote, nor do I think the toy came with headsets, but it’s fun, funny, and imaginative. There’s some cool bonus pages at the end of the book about the new characters/creatures we meet in the story and a how-to about building your own terrarium. Braddock studied for a while under the great Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts comics) and his influence on her art can be seen in the designs for the human characters. Braddock’s attention to detail helps truly bring the characters and their environment to life. It’s a fresh, funny scientific adventure that will engage readers of all ages.

Other related materials: Stinky Cecil in Operation Pond Rescue by Paige Braddock; The Secret Science Alliance books by Eleanor Davis; Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure by Ruben Bolling; Ghostly Thief of Time: An EMU Club Adventure by Ruben Bolling; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce; Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic by Mark Tatulli; Desmond Pucket and the Mountain Full of Monsters by Mark Tatulli; Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors by Mark Tatulli; Snoopy: Cowabunga!: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Charlie Brown and Friends: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Knights of the Lunch Table books by Frank Cammuso; Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle books by Dana Simpson; The G-Man Super Journal books by Chris Giarrusso; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Zita the Spacegirl books by Ben Hatke

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Copper Sun Review

copper_sunCopper Sun by Sharon Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. 978-0689821813

Winner of the 2007 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives a peaceful life in her African village until the day a group of white slave traders steals her, sells her, and sends her on a ship across the ocean to America, where she is sold once again. Polly is an indentured servant who must take on the burden of working off both of her parents’ indentures after their deaths. Both girls have very little left that is their own, except for a small spark of hope that makes them believe that perhaps they will be able to one day be free.

Why I picked it up: I had heard good things about Draper’s work and was eager to delve into her writing.

Why I finished it: Told in alternating viewpoints, Draper has woven together a tale of two unlikely friends whose fates become intertwined. They become forced to rely on each other, though at first they are reluctant to extend the olive branch. Amari is young and carefree until she is confronted with the harsh reality of the world beyond her village. She is forced to watch people she knows and loves die both in body and in spirit, planting seeds of doubt in her mind as to whether or not it is worth staying alive. In contrast, Polly is no stranger to hardship and the blatant unfairness of the system, struggling to become a lady as her mother wished for her. She struggles to seem competent in the face of her new employer, reluctant to accept help from the African slaves. Both girls are striving for the same goals, but it takes a while for them to recognize it. Draper’s characters represent two different forms of slavery in the early 18th century, and both shed light on the difficulties of maintaining a sense of self and a sense of hope. What intrigued me the most about the story was the thoroughness of Draper’s research and the partial list of resources provided in the afterword. The slave trade was an important, if not unfortunate, part of our history, and though this work is fictional, it gives the reader a starting point to do their own research. For many, this is part of a personal history; so many African Americans are descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage, part of who they are, part of their heritage. It’s a touching story that invites the reader to examine the complicated relationships on early American plantations and the idea that hope is eternal though it is often hard to see.

Other related materials: Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper; The Jericho Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper; Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Sold by Patricia McCormick; Nightjohn by Gary Paulson; Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Day of Tears by Julius Lester; The Glory Field by Walter Dean Meyers; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue Review

day_of_tearsDay of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester

Hyperion Book CH, 2007. 978-1423104094

Winner of the 2006 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in American history took place in Savannah, Georgia. More than 400 slaves were sold. On the first day of the auction, the skies darkened and torrential rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the two days, stopping only when the auction had ended. The simultaneity of the rain storm with the auction led to these two days being called “the weeping time.” – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of “the weeping time” and was curious about a fictional accounting of the events.

Why I finished it: I feel like I’ve been saying this about quite a few of the books I have read so far this month, but this is really a powerful book. Though many of the characters are fictional, the small handful (Pierce Butler and his daughters, Sarah and Frances, Fanny Kemble, and the auctioneer) are real, as are the circumstances described in the book. It’s appalling to me that there was a time in our history where is was permissible to own people as though they were property, that they could be sold from person to person and moved from place to place as though they were nothing more than animals. While Lester only briefly touches on this notion, there is also some insight by the white slave owners about slavery and their views about how slaves should be treated. Some of these views are shared by the slaves (Solomon [an old slave at a plantation in Kentucky] believes that slavery is a good thing for him), others believe that freedom is the better option, even if they have to worry about things like putting a roof over their heads and where to get a job. I love that this novel is written in a dialogue. It reads more like a play with some insightful asides than a novel, offering the reader a glimpse of both the horror and hope experienced by African Americans in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. It speaks about the psychological effects the auction has on both Butler as the former owner, those slaves not sold in the auction, and those slaves that were sold. Day of Tears is a profound retelling of a little known historical event that will have a lasting impact on the reader even after they close the book.

Other related materials: To Be a Slave by Julius Lester; From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester, illustrated by Rod Brown; A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror by Howard Zinn; Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon; A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl by Patricia C. KcKissack; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark; Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

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The Friendship Review

the_friendshipThe Friendship by Mildred D. Taylor, illustrated by Max Ginsburg

Perfection Learning, 1998. 978-0780780767

Winner of the 1988 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Cassie Logan and her brothers come face-to-face with the realities of what it means to be a black man who is friends with a white man when they stop for medicine on the way home from school.

Why I picked it up: I’ve read some of Taylor’s other work and liked it.

Why I finished it: Taylor writes with such clarity about a period of American history in which lines between black and white were becoming more clearly established. This story isn’t very long, but it hit me between the eyes because of the clear tension established within the first couple of pages. The Logan children certainly don’t live in a bubble, and they are well aware of the ‘rules’ and boundaries established to ‘keep them in line’. It’s a reminder that as the times changed, so did the people and their relationships. Even though Tom Bee has saved the life of John Wallace – a white storekeeper – he is still seen as a lesser man because of his race. The friendship forged between the two men seems to have changed more than both of them realized, and it makes both the reader and the Logans aware of the growing rift between black and white. Ginsburg’s illustrations are just as moving as Taylor’s words, bringing to life the characters and the conflict. The line drawings may seem simple at first, but they are detailed in a way that draws the reader deeper into the story. It makes the reader think hard about the issue of race in the South during the depression and the complications of trying to maintain what once was in the face of what is.

Other related materials: Song of the Trees by Mildred D. Taylor; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor; Let the Circle be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor; The Road to Memphis by Mildred D. Taylor; The Land by Mildred D. Taylor; The Well: David’s Story by Mildred D. Taylor; Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone; The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord

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Two Boys Kissing Review

twoboyskissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-0307931900

Synopsis: Based on true events—and narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I will read anything David Levithan writes forever.

Why I finished it: This book definitely deserves the glowing reviews its received: it’s poignant, heartbreaking, and full of hope. Each of the couples in this book represents a stage every relationship – gay or straight – goes through: the nervous getting-to-know-you, the continual desire to know every little thing about the other person, the still trying to be friends even after things are over, and everything in between. It’s a story about the struggles we encounter on the way to becoming ourselves, the way we want others to see us, the way that we have to let ourselves open up to someone we want to be close to, the way we support our friends. The chorus of those who came before gives the reader insight as to what our characters face, what generations of men and women after them will face: the adversity, the challenges, the hurdles people will overcome in order to be together. The real story behind the kiss is just as exciting as Levithan’s fictional re-telling, and while records can be broken, the message sent sticks in our minds. It’s a message that says to me that we’re all people, we all deserve to be treated with the same respect, we all deserve to have our voices heard. It’s a message that stays with the reader long after the book has been put down, and will continue to resonate with readers after us.

Other related materials: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Every Day by David Levithan; Every You, Every Me by David Levithan; The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan; How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan; The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Álire Saenz; Just Between Us by J.H. Trimble; Where You Are by J.H. Trimble; Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trimble; Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez; Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez; The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. daforth; Something Like Summer by Jay Bell; Something Like Winter by Jay Bell; Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell; Something Like Spring by Jay Bell; Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg; Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington

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