“She didn’t think she’d ever be capable of hurting her children,and she couldn’t get over the fact that she’d gotten to a point where people felt they needed protection from her.” p. 72
Everything She Lost by Alessandra Harris.
Red Adept Publishing, Garner, North Carolina, 2017.
Adult thriller, 309 pages.
NOTE: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Nina Taylor is in recovery from a mental breakdown, and honestly, still suffering from an unexpected loss almost a decade ago. Her best friend is single mom Deja Johnson, a woman with a tragic past of her own. While Nina is wondering if a full recovery is even possible, Deja is wondering where her own life will go next.
I don’t review many thrillers, mainly because I haven’t found many good diverse ones yet. The description of this one immediately sucked me in, especially since I’m always looking for new books about people of color with disabilities.
This book has alternating viewpoints, with one chapter from Nina’s point of view, and the next telling Deja’s part of the story. Normally I’m not a fan of alternating viewpoints, but it worked well here. The narration is from a third person limited point of view rather than first person, and the action moves so quickly that the back-and-forth worked. This book takes place over only a few weeks.
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“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.
Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole. Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.
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“Each ball she threw into the pile further pounded into my head that my mother’s demands, her criticisms – they were because she wanted better for me. I tried not to think about the fact that she was so unhappy.” p. 96-97
American Panda by Gloria Chao.
Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2018.
YA Contemporary, 310 pages.
Not yet leveled.
Mei Lu might be only 17, but she’s also a college freshman at MIT, as per her parents’ ambitious plans. And she’s the only hope for them to fulfill their legacy, since they cut off her older brother years ago. There’s just one problem: Mei loves to dance (no longer allowed since she doesn’t need it for college applications anymore) and is absolutely terrified of blood, guts, and germs.
This was a targetpick. I wasn’t intending to be trendy and pick it up on the release date, but apparently did so by accident. The publisher lists it as suitable for 12+, but it really occupies a middle ground between young adult and new adult fiction. Mei is still a teen just learning about the world, but the book is also about her gaining her independence and in many ways she’s very mature and responsible. Some books in a middle space like this are challenging for either group to read, but I think this one will appeal to both.
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“I love watching Ma’s hands when she signs. Normally you just watch someone’s face while they’re signing, but I can’t keep my eyes off Ma’s hands.” p. 18
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner.
Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction YA, 297 pages.
Lexile: HL610L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 9.0 points) .
When a slur about Julia’s best friend is left defacing the gym for far too long, she takes matters into her own hands, only to be ratted out. Now she’s navigating mainstream high school with an interpreter, trying to deal with friendship drama, her moms, and a growing tag war.
So often in a book about a Deaf person or one that has ASL, it’s shockingly clear the author has no experience around a deaf or hard of hearing person. For example, hearing authors often write Deaf characters as quiet. While some Deaf people might not like to vocalize among hearing people, I’ve yet to meet a Deaf person who is quiet.
In contrast, it’s clear from Whitney Gardner’s writing that she has spent substantial time in the American Deaf community, and has an understanding of ASL. Already on page 18, a character is stomping to get Julia’s attention, and the quote in the header comes from the same page. Gardner’s characters are Deaf, but they aren’t quiet, and she reflects that in a way only possible after learning about Deaf culture.
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“By now the name of the cafe was written on the walls of hundreds of boxcars, from Seattle to Florida.” page 30
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Random House, 1987. My edition McGraw-Hill, New York, 1988.
Adult fiction, 403 pages including recipes.
Lexile: 940L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: Although the reading level is low, this is an adult novel.
This is going to be a complicated review. There are two main threads to the storyline, which covers events in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham) between the early 1920s and the late 1980s.
The story is told through four different elements. Evelyn Couch is struggling with her weight, her marriage, menopause, and an inevitable feeling of doom. She accompanies her husband on visits to his mother’s nursing home every Sunday, but can’t stand to sit and watch TV, so she finds herself in the visitor’s room with Ninny Threadgoode. At first she just wishes the old lady would shut up so she can eat her candy bars in peace, but then she gets interested in the stories and they forge an unlikely friendship. When the novel was first published, these scenes would have been roughly contemporary – it’s now historical fiction.
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“I stare at the paper. ‘Other people with synesthesia?’ Jerry nods. ‘All kinds of people with all different types of synesthesia.’ ” p. 107
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2003.
MG realistic fiction, 271 pages + extras.
Lexile: 770L .
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 9.0 points) .
Eighth grader Mia reads, and hears, with specific colors and shapes in her mind. It makes otherwise boring moments interesting, gives her headaches when her father is hammering away on their house, causes her to hear her cat as the color mango, and makes learning math a lot more complicated. But back in third grade, she learned that not everyone experiences the world this way. With middle-school algebra on the horizon, is it finally time to talk about her experiences?
This book isn’t ethnically diverse, but the primary topic is synesthesia. At the time it was first published, it helped raise awareness about a little-known condition.
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“But my friends didn’t call me Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. They called me Grace, my American name.” p. 19
The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Co, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2006 (my edition 2007).
Realistic fiction, 140 pages + excerpts.
Lexile: 690L .
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 3.0 points) .
In the Year of the Dog, Pacy is supposed to find her best friend and figure out her talent. But what could it be?
This is one of those books that I’ve had for a while but didn’t pick up. I may have been saving it or planning to wait until we got another in the series, I’m just not sure. Anyway, this story tells about one year in Pacy’s life, starting with the Lunar New Year for the Year of the Dog and ending with the Lunar New Year for the Year of the Pig.
An aspect of this I didn’t expect was how there were stories embedded into the larger narrative, just like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. These stories were realistic fiction instead of fantasy, but they worked the same way and I greatly enjoyed them. The stories allowed Pacy to be connected even if many of her relatives live far away.
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