“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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“I have come to believe that her life was ruined not by septic shock or noncompliant parents but by cross-cultural misunderstanding.” page 262
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, my edition 1998 (first published 1997).
Nonfiction, 341 pages +reader’s guide.
This is the story of a severely epileptic Hmong girl and the family and doctors who wanted what was best for her but disagreed about what that was. It’s also the story of the Hmong people in America, and their experiences with the medical establishment.
This is technically a re-read. However, I didn’t remember much, so it was like reading a new book. The primary story in this book is Lia’s life and the friction between her family and the medical staff caring for her, but it has a wide scope.
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“There are memories you write down to get them out, to force them as far away from you as you can.” page 9
Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go: A Novel of Haiti by Laura Rose Wagner.
Amulet Books Imprint, Abrams, New York, 2015.
YA realistic fiction novel, 263 pages including extras.
Lexile: not yet leveled.
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 8.0 points) .
15-year-old Magdalie’s been raised by her aunt in Port-au-Prince and is like a sister to her cousin Nadine. When a massive earthquake hits the country, they’re devastated, grief-struck, and struggling to survive. But then Nadine is offered an opportunity, and Magdalie cannot join her. Will their sisterhood survive? Will they?
If you’re reading this review far enough into the future then this book will no longer be realistic fiction. Just as novels about 9/11 are now historical fiction, this book about the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, a recent historical event, will one day be historical fiction!
The book opens with a scene of the actual earthquake, so it certainly starts off gripping. After reading the blurb, I thought this book would be told in two voices, but it focuses solely on Magdalie, the sister left behind in Haiti. This is an interesting twist on the usual immigration narrative. Typically we follow the immigrant and don’t get as much information on those who are left behind. In this book, the immigrant sister slowly and painfully fades away, while the focus is on the dire circumstances and overpowering need for survival in the country of origin.
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“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 5.0 points) .
Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated. But dance is her life and the center of her being. Can she forge a new life? Can dance be part of it?
Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year. Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?
My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance. I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry. This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry. I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.
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