Review: Kozol’s Amazing Grace

“I do not think these many self-help efforts, as important as they are, can conceivably prevent these outcomes on more than a very limited scale and always in quite special situations, and I even feel a bit bewildered that a point like this needs to be made in the United States in 1995.” page 163

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol.
Perennial, HarperCollins, New York, first published 1995, my edition 2000.
Adult non-fiction, 286 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: There are many books with the title Amazing Grace. Also, the initial note explains that there are some differences between editions – I read the paperback version.

A sociological narrative of how drug use and AIDs, among other things, impacted one community.

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol.

Kozol attempts to cover many topics within these few hundred pages, touching on racism, classism, AIDs, poverty cycles, medical inequalities, drugs, politics, systemic injustice, religion, childhood, environmental racism, the justice system, hunger, bureaucracy, homelessness, cancer, and other topics. Needless to say, he doesn’t cover all of them fully.

This book and the vast popularity of it on initial publication likely informed many of the more recent, better coverage of these topics, and for that I am grateful. But Kozol meanders through many things without ever making any points, or systematically documenting any particular issue. It’s neither commentary nor journalism, and surely not academia.

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Review: Just Mercy

“Walter didn’t say anything as I explained the situation, but he had a strange, despairing look on his face.” page 120

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
My edition Spiel & Grau, Random House, New York, 2019; originally published 2014.
Adult nonfiction, 354 pages.
Lexile:  1130L  .
AR Level:  not leveled
NOTE: The 2019 edition has a movie tie-in cover and extra postscript, otherwise I assume it’s the same as the previous version.

The story of Bryan Stevenson’s work with prisoners condemned to death, in particular the story of Walter McMillian – a man on death row for a murder he could not possibly have committed.

Just Mercy cover resized

Several years ago, I read a report from Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative team that was insightful and searing.  His personal book, Just Mercy, was already on my wishlist, but I wanted to prioritize reading it.  Well, time went by, I even checked it out from the library and read a few chapters but had to return it due to another hold, and I had read so much about Just Mercy that I kept assuming that I’d read the actual book, until the new cover made me pick it up and realize somehow I’d missed it.

That happens in life sometimes, and luckily books are usually still around to find later.  This time I purchased the book, and with a weekend mostly free, breathlessly read through the entire book.  If I thought EJI report was well done, it was only because I had yet to experience Stevenson’s impressive narrative style.

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Review: Clean Getaway

“And that guy’s not the only one: bouncing his eyes around the room, Scoob realizes a bunch of people are looking at him and G’ma funny. One lady he makes eye contact with openly sneers at him like he’s done something wrong.” page 19

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.
Crown Books for Young Readers, Random House Childrens, Penguin, New York, 2020.
MG fiction, 227 pages.
Lexile:  780L .
AR Level: not leveled

When William’s grandmother proposes a little trip, he’s all too happy about the loophole in his strict father’s grounding.  But as they get further and further from home, and G’ma is acting stranger and stranger, he begins to believe that there is more to this unexpected road trip than he realized.

Clean Getaway resized
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.

I hovered over this book a while, confused about the premise, because this doesn’t easily conform to a synopsis.  So much happens without  ever feeling overwhelming.  The main characters are elderly white G’ma and William, who’s Black, eleven, and on spring break.  Normally his father would take him on vacation, but some trouble at school led to the trip being cancelled and him grounded.  It’s also been part of a larger miscommunication with his father.

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Review: Miracle’s Boys

“Ever since I could remember, Ty’ree had sat with Mama at the table, the dim light from the floor lamp turning them both a soft golden brown. While Mama filled out the money order and figured out how to pay some of the other bills, Ty’ree made grocery lists and school supply lists and added and added the cost of everything.” pages 29 and 30

Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson.
My edition Scholastic Read 180, originally published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, New York, 2000.
MG/YA realistic fiction, 133 pages.
Lexile: 660L  .
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Ever since Mama died, Lafayette and his brothers have been struggling to come together as a family.  Oldest brother Ty’ree had to give up his dream to keep the family together, middle boy Charlie is consumed with guilt that he was away when she died, and Lafayette is engulfed by grief and trauma.

Miracle's Boys cover resized

This was a free book choice I made a while ago, knowing nothing about the title (I didn’t even have time to read the blurb) but simply trusting Jacqueline Woodson as a consistently excellent author.  She did not disappoint.

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Review: Killers of the Flower Moon

“Mollie was one of the last people to see Anna before she vanished.” p. 8

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.
Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.  Originally published Doubleday, 2016.
Nonfiction, 377 pages including notes and bibliography.
Lexile:  1160L  .
AR Level:  8.8 (worth 14.0 points)  .

Through an unusual turn of events, in the 1920s the Osage people became astonishingly rich.  Unable to stomach an autonomous American Indian tribe, the United States government appointed “guardians” who would watch over their every purchase, and white settlers moved in to the area with ridiculously overpriced goods and services.  And then came the murders.  Many were focused around one family, and the FBI eventually got involved in their case.

Killers of the Flower Moon resized

Normally I read books about more Northern tribes because that’s where we live and travel most often, but after passing through Oklahoma, the Osage interested me.  If you are looking for a book about the Osage, this one keeps coming up, so when I saw it at Target I decided to give it a try.

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Review: The 57 Bus

“For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school. Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus. There must be something you can do.” p. 5

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, New York, 2017.
YA nonfiction/true crime, 305 pages.
Lexile:  930L  .
AR Level:  6.5 (worth 8.0 points)  .

In November 2013, two teens were on the same bus for just eight minutes.  Agender senior Sasha fell asleep on the long ride home from fir small private school.  Sixteen-year-old Richard was joking with friends as he left his large public school.  Then Richard held a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, forever changing the course of both their lives.

The 57 Bus

This unique, well-written exploration of one particular incident evokes much more.  Richard’s struggling (but loving) young mother took in two nieces after her sister was murdered.  He grew up in a rough neighborhood, where 4 of his close friends and family members had been murdered before he was 16, and he was mugged at gunpoint only a week before the fire.  And Richard was African-American, possibly ADHD, and definitely traumatized.  He spent time in a group home because of fights before, but didn’t start them – he was a follower.

Sasha is white, middle class, an only child who had struggled with fitting in before – autistic and agender, with a major passion for public transport.  Fi is shy, so fir parents were surprised when fi started wearing skirts.  However, they took great joy in seeing the child a psychiatrist told them to lower their hopes for blossoming into a confident, thoughtful teen.

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Graphic Novel Review: Monster

If the play didn’t work for you, give this graphic novel a try.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2015.
Graphic novel, 153 pages.
Lexile:  GN420L  ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  not yet leveled

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Monster.  I’ll repeat my summary of the novel:

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster graphic novel

You might recall my review of the novel Monster, which took me more than six months to read and review (thankfully it was checked out from a library I work at, so I could keep renewing it).  In contrast, this graphic novel took me a few hours to read and is being reviewed instantly – because I can certainly recommend it.

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New (to me) Books I’m Excited About

So, I posted a while ago about books that I was excited to read – namely two books I pre-ordered (something I rarely do).  Now that it’s the end of May, both books should be arriving at my door soon!

Lately I’ve been on a bit of a buying spree, so I’m not pre-ordering any more books, but there are a few books that I’m excited about.  Most are new or recent releases, but a few are new-to-me.  Two I already own (so you can look for reviews later this summer). Continue reading “New (to me) Books I’m Excited About”

Review: Monster

“Violence in here is always happening or just about to happen. I think these guys like it – they want it to be normal because that’s what they’re used to dealing with.” p. 144

Monster by Walter Dean Myers.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, 1999.
Teen fictional chapter book/screenplay, 281 pages.
Coretta Scott King Award Winner, Michael L. Prinz Award, National Book Award and more
Lexile: 670L.
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 5.0 points).

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster

Honestly, for a book to get this many awards and never attract my attention is very unusual.  This book also has never been checked out of the school library I got it from.  But opening the book, I’m not surprised.  The format is challenging, the language certainly above the level indicated in many places, and the content seems aimed more at high school students in terms of the complexity of thought required to process the novel.

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