“For me the worst part, especially about young kids being racially profiled in school, is that they can’t be expected to understand that what’s happening to them is not their fault.” page 49
My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole by Will Jawando. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2022. Memoir/autobiography, 232 pages. Not yet leveled.
The story of one man’s early life through the lens of seven essential mentors.
Jawando begins by comparing his own life to a childhood friend, Kalfani, who didn’t have the same kind of mentoring available to him. Indeed, this is Jawando’s central theme throughout – the importance of community.
I’m not sure what my expectations were – perhaps something like Misty Copeland’s personal reflections on a variety of related figures. My Seven Black Fathers reads more like a hybrid biography/memoir. Jawando tells the story of his life in roughly chronological format, only occasionally needing to use the subject emphasis and timeline jumps characteristic of memoir.
“The dinner hour started, and Hon never came. Sitting next to Mother, Li ate her mushy rice and vegetables in silence. An uneasiness washed over her. It wasn’t like Hon to miss out on food.” page 45
Li on Angel Island (Smithsonian Historical Fiction) by Veeda Bybee, illustrated by Andrea Rossetto. Stone Arch Books, Capstone, North Mankato, Minnesota, 2021. Elementary chapter book historical fiction, 72 pages. Lexile: 600L . AR Level: 4.3 (worth 1.0 points) .
In 1921, a ten year old Chinese girl is traveling with her mother and brother to join their father in San Francisco.
I ordered this book for two reasons: I’m trying to read at least one book from a variety of historical fiction series for an upcoming project, and have been looking for more Asian American read alouds (we’ve been enjoying Laurence Yep, Grace Lin, and Andrea Cheng but would like more variety).
“A culture defines its virtues and vices within its folktales.” page 69
The Rainbow People by Laurence Yep, illustrated by David Wiesner. HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1989. (See review.) Short story/folklore collection, 194 pages. Lexile: 680L . AR Level: 4.8 (worth 6.0 points) .
Twenty stories drawn from the most common area of Chinese-American immigration, streamlined and retold for younger audiences.
So I’m pretty sure my copy is a knock-off. The cover is the 1992 version, although on close examination it’s subtly off, but the interior copyright page is taken from one of the early 1989 printings. The margins aren’t set correctly and vary too much, and while harder to quantify, the paper and bindings don’t feel right compared to other books from this time period from this publisher that I’ve handled.
I purchased this book online, ostensibly new. After investigation, I don’t believe that the seller of this was aware then that it might be a printing violating copyright, so I won’t mention them specifically. Normally I would get a copy from the library to check if this version is accurate, but in Covid times, that is easier said than done. Perhaps some kind person who has access to a proper version of this book will comment if my citations are correct. I decided to still write this review because I’ve been wanting to talk about Laurence Yep and this book is particularly interesting.
Turning now to this specific volume, it’s a unique work. While I’ve seen many volumes of, or including, Chinese folklore, this book by Yep is the first I’ve seen that suggests a uniquely Chinese-American variety of tall tales. He points out that since the majority of early Chinese immigrants to America came from a specific province, the stories of that region have greater significance than more general Chinese or Asian proverbs.
“Better to be brought up on charges for excessive force – or worse- than give someone the benefit of the doubt and be carried out in a coffin. I began waking up in the middle of the night, second-guessing everything I did on the job.” page 125
The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka with Robin Gaby Fisher. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2018. Adult nonfiction, 222 pages. Not leveled. NOTE: This book, and therefore the discussion of it in this review, contain numerous triggers. Please be aware and skip this review if needed. 2nd NOTE: Also this review is longer than usual because my own mental and emotional health made it difficult to edit.
The story of a former white supremacist whose words inspired the Sikh temple shooter and a man whose father was murdered in that shooting spree.
The book begins with acknowledgements and a prologue, followed by a chapter detailing the co-authors’ first meeting. The second chapter onward follow a more linear progression, starting with their childhoods, their high school and early adult life. At one point these two men lived only a short drive from each other, yet it took national headline level violence for their lives to converge.
Michaelis is very clear that his life was not especially full of hardships, that he was a normal, if somewhat wild, suburban boy. The stories about his recruitment to white supremacy through the punk rock scene (after an unfortunate incident turning him off of his earlier love of breakdancing) are almost as upsetting as his descriptions of acts of violence.
Then he attends a white supremacy “leadership camp” and is literally indoctrinated into the beliefs and recruitment system. He sees himself as doing good in the world even when literally beating someone. It’s stomach turning – this is not a book that can be read during lunch breaks or before bed.
“Moody never thought much about money, because he had never needed to. Lights went on when he flipped switches; water came out when he turned the tap.” p. 13
Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng.
Penguin, Penguin Random House, my edition 2019 (originally published in 2017).
Fiction, 338 pages plus Reader’s Guide.
Lexile: 1000L .
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 18.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.
A tense novel about the unexpected connections between two families, which change all of their lives.
Well. Sometimes I hesitate to review a book because it feels like everything there is to be said about that work is already out there. While I don’t mind reviewing popular works, especially if my opinion differs vastly from the usual, sometimes it simply doesn’t seem like there is much for me to add to the discourse. That is the case with this novel, which seems to have been generally well-reviewed, and which I generally agree with other reviews I’d seen prior to reading the book. Continue reading “Review: Little Fires Everywhere”
“There are only so many years you can fool your friends – or yourself – into thinking you are a real Indian princess, banished from your fairy tale and hiding out in a suburban split-level in northern New Jersey. No matter what your crazy parents insist.” page 3
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta, illustrated by Vivienne To. Scholastic, New York, 2018. MG fantasy, 358 pages. Lexile: 730L . AR Level: 5.2 (worth 10.0 points) .
Kiranmala is so over her parents’ stories and dressing up like “a real Indian princess” for every birthday – they’re already overprotective and weird, do they have to keep lying about a magical land too? Then they go missing, and a rakkhosh shows up at her house closely followed by two princes. Kiranmala will have to draw on every bit of help, magic, and story to figure out how to save her parents, herself, and maybe a few others too.
Dasgupta focuses on Bengali stories as her main inspiration, and it definitely gives the fantasy a fresh slant. But the writing truly brings two places to life – The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers and Kiranmala’s home in Parsippany, New Jersey – and while most of the magic happens in the Kingdom, Dasgupta manages to make New Jersey surprisingly compelling.
In particular, I was very impressed with the mix of science into the story. Science fiction and fantasy are distinct genres (along with horror and the less popular science fantasy) under the speculative fiction umbrella. Although a lot of people enjoy both, many readers don’t like to mix these two, especially in the MG range. Dasgupta takes an interesting approach – magic is fully magical and has its own internal logic, but science is also real and has parallels and applications within the story. Kiranmala discusses how astronomy and physics relate to her quest without ever losing the magic, thanks to a deft narrative hand.
“Her choice to flee the United States and spare her sons further repercussions, rather than tell her story, left me unsettled. I firmly believed this story needed to be told.” page viii
Us In Progress: Short Stories about Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.
Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 242 pages.
Lexile: 740L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 5.0 points) .
A collection of stories about young Latinos from various backgrounds.
This is a unique collection in many ways. One is that the author is also the illustrator. Delacre’s Introduction is an important part of the book as it explains some of the nuances behind the artwork and writing, including the three layers used on each piece.
“One of the things I hate most in life is people telling me to calm down, as if I’m some out-of-control lunatic who isn’t entitled to have feelings.” page 160
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.
Ember, Random House Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
YA fiction, 362 pages.
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 12.0 points) .
Julia is not the perfect Mexican daughter. That was her sister, Olga – until she died in a tragic accident that left everyone reeling. Now her already strained relationship with her mother has shattered, her father is a lump, and Julia is obsessed with investigating her sister’s life, trying to get to know the sister who was ignored when she was alive.
Because the majority of this book is about the unfolding drama of Julia’s quest to understand her sister Olga’s life, it’s incredibly difficult to discuss this book in any depth without spoilers. The action spans a space of just about two years, from a few months after Olga’s death, through Julia’s high school graduation.
“I guess associating with Black culture felt safer to me. They weren’t in danger of being told to go back where they came from or of anyone saying they didn’t belong.” page 110
Left in America: The Story of Juan Terrazas by Sally Salas.
Left in America Organization, Dallas, Texas, 2015.
Biography, 219 pages.
The story of an undocumented child who was left behind when his parents were deported at 14 years old, including his struggles with homelessness and journey to Christianity.
The book is clearly self-published but a good effort was made to make it standard. My copy had a few formatting errors, and some photos were blurred or pixelated, including the back cover. The back matter consists of one quote which might be about the book (it isn’t quite clear) and lacks a standard blurb.
“When Steve grasped the painting, it tingled against his fingertips. He felt as if he had rubbed his shoes fast over a carpet.” p. 19
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
Historical fantasy, 90 pages.
Lexile: 530L .
AR Level: 3.8 (worth 2.0 points) .
Eight-year-old Steve’s parents and all of his belongings are gone after a tragic fire, and now he shares a single room in Chinatown with his grandfather and Uncle Fong (no relation but a childhood friend of Grandfather’s). They are so poor that after his paintbrush split in art class, he’s afraid to go home and tell his Grandfather, knowing that a new one is not possible.
For a book with magic in the title, this book takes a while to get to the fantasy part. The first chapters are all about establishing the setting – early 1960s San Francisco – and characters. The tale of a magic paintbrush given to a poor boy who uses it to spread happiness is a Chinese story that has been retold many times, mostly in picture books. Yep has a unique historical Chinese-American spin to his version though.