“The ‘ohana felt a deep loyalty to their ahupua’a. It was their ‘aina, their homeland. ‘Ai means ‘to eat.’ ‘Aina, the word for homeland or birthplace, means ‘that which feeds.’ It was the ‘aina that nourished, or fed, the ‘ohana. This made it the responsibility of the ‘ohana to take care of their ‘aina.” page 87
From the Mountains to the Sea: Early Hawaiian Life by Julie Stewart Williams, illustrated by Robin Yoko Racoma. Kamehameha Schools Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1997. Middle grade non-fiction, 178 pages. Not leveled. NOTE: I read a physical copy of this book, and this review is based on the print book. However, it is also available as a free ebook, currently at this link: https://ulukau.org/ulukau-books/?a=d&d=EBOOK-ENGLISH.2.1.1&e=——-haw-20–1–txt-txPT———– .
A classic school text on early Hawaii.
I came across this text some time ago through the acquaintance of a friend who was offloading some books before moving back to the islands. My friend generously passed many books that her family had read or weren’t interested in to us. I’m always interested in titles from small presses or exploring cultures I don’t know too much about, so this was fascinating to me even though it was dry at points.
This particular book was also especially interesting because I’ve always heard that there aren’t accessible texts for young readers about indigenous life pre-European contact. This is an area I’ve been actively seeking out books on, so it was rather shocking to find one that was not only published in the 1990s, but is part of a series. Indeed, after exploring the ulukau.org link above, I’ve discovered that several books from Kamehameha Schools Press are available there, and hope to review some others which would be cost-prohibitive to have sent to the Midwest.
“I know a life can be destroyed in an instant: a car spins out of control on a busy road, a doctor sits down to break bad news, or a love letter is discovered hidden in a place where its owner thought it would never be found. All these things can shatter a world in just a few moments. But is it possible for the opposite to happen – for a life to be created in a moment instead of destroyed?” page 189
Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius with Megan Lloyd Davies. Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson, HarperCollins Christian, Nashville, Tennessee, 2013. Adult memoir, 276 pages. Lexile: not leveled AR Level: 6.2 (worth 11.0 points) . NOTE: Despite the reading level, definitely an adult book. See content warnings for more information. FURTHER NOTE: Not to be confused with the 2018 MG historical fantasy novel Ghost Boys, also reviewed on this blog.
The story of a boy who, in 1988, slowly succumbed to a mysterious illness that left him paralyzed and unable to function. Except Martin was not totally gone, and slowly returned to full consciousness, aware of his surroundings but unable to control his body at all.
This was a surprising read. The cover says it’s a New York Times bestseller, but I’d never heard of it before a friend handed me the book. The subtitle and blurb probably already clued you in, but since I do review a lot of fantasy, let me be clear that this is an adult work of nonfiction.
Reading a South African story that didn’t discuss any of the unique political or cultural milieu was interesting but also felt weird. Race is rarely mentioned, although sometimes it can be guessed from a name or the description of a person. At the same time, it also makes sense that in this particular circumstance, Pistorius truly didn’t care much about racial tensions or the larger political world!
“The women in my family handled most of the practical details of everyday life. Men were skilled at some things, at the same time as being inexplicably incapable of performing other seemingly simple tasks. I grew up believing that men were faulty creatures, a little untrustworthy, childlike, even. They needed a woman around to keep them on the tracks.” page 13
Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, BC, Canada, originally published 2016, my edition 2019. Adult nonfiction, 244 pages + 12 pages for notes at the end. Not leveled.
Canadian memoir through a collection of essays – about life as a young butch and then a non-binary adult.
This was a gift from a friend who pointed out that I hadn’t reviewed any nonfiction by non-binary authors yet – to which my response was that I hadn’t read any yet. A quick trip to another room and this was pressed into my hands with the instruction that it should be my first, but definitely not only, non-binary nonfiction read.
“Our leader had taken advantage of our trust and loyalty to manipulate the whole country. This is the most frightening lesson of the Cultural Revolution: Without a sound legal system, a small group or even a single person can take control of an entire country. This is as true now as it was then.” page 266
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji Li Jiang. Scholastic, New York, originally published 1997, my edition 1999. MG nonfiction, 284 pages. Lexile: 780L . AR Level: 5.0 (worth 8.0 points) .
A girl becoming a young adult during the Cultural Revolution adores Mao but is troubled by the practical realities of the drastic changes, especially when they start to impact her own family. She has to decide how to navigate high-stakes and nuanced situations – and ultimately whether her loyalty lies with the Communist Party or with her own family.
I was excited to pick this back up – much like The Arrow Over the Door, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, or many of Laurence Yep’s earlier works, I haven’t read through it in at least a decade. With some others, I misremembered major elements, so for this one I tried to recall what had stuck with me for over a decade.
It’s about one preteen/teen girl’s life in China between 1966 and 1968 as major changes occur to her family and community. But I must admit the most memorable aspect was the cover with her disembodied head over the flag, so encountering a used copy with that same 1990s cover was nostalgic. Newer versions have a cover more likely to be picked up by modern students.
“It is easy to understand the child’s bafflement. One has only to listen to an animated conversation in an unfamiliar language – our own language is built of discrete blocks, everyone else’s of quicksilver. It seems as hard to grab a word out of a foreign tongue as to clutch a fistful of water from a pond.” page 87
Genie: A Scientific Tragedy by Russ Rymer. HarperPerennial, HarperCollins, New York, originally published 1993, my edition 1994. Adult nonfiction, 222 pages. Not leveled.
The story of a girl used for scientific research, the scientists who worked with her, and the way their interactions changed many lives.
The story behind this is so poignant that I couldn’t help wishing again and again that it had been a bit better told. Indeed, if the blurb had not interested me so highly, I would not have persevered beyond the frankly boring first chapter. This was a frequent theme as Rymer often went into digressions which, even when intended to illuminate some aspect of the story, were often poorly timed.
And yet… the story here truly is compelling in every sense.
“Genie” as the name chosen to be used in the scientific research on her, had a truly unique and horrifying childhood. Kept entirely in one room and mostly forced into one or two positions by restraints, she spent more than a decade strapped to a potty seat, eating only liquid or mushed food, and only able to move her fingers and toes. Her blind mother finally escaped from her abusive father with her in tow and entirely accidentally ended up in social services by accident instead.
“The holes in his mind were obvious enough. He was still working well below grade level. He would probably never read a book for pleasure.” page 211
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. W.W. Norton and Company, New York, orig. pub. 2006, my edition 2009. Adult nonfiction, 340 pages. Lexile: 980L . AR Level: 7.2 (worth 19.0 points) .
The story of how the blind side revolutionized football, and a personal story giving one example of the new kind of recruit who is most highly sought after these days in American football.
Before getting into the review, I’ll tell you that I’ve read some of Michael Lewis’ other books – a relative is a fan. This one deals with race and adoption, which is part of why I’ve chosen to review it here. I was given a free copy of this book and decided to read it in part because of the sport enthusiasts I know who enjoyed it, but I myself am not much of a sports fan, which surely colors my opinion.
I think the major problem I had with this book was that Lewis starts out from a white perspective, and really never leaves that viewpoint, even when he’s purportedly trying to get into the minds of his POC characters. The point where this was startlingly clear to me was the first paragraph of Chapter Three, where Big Tony is dramatically driving the boys out of poverty.
Lewis states “Memphis could make you wonder why anyone ever bothered to create laws segregating the races. More than a million people making many millions of individual choices generated an outcome not so different from a law forbidding black people and white people from mingling.” (page 45). The ignorance is startling – clearly Lewis has never heard of redlining and didn’t bother to do even basic research on Black history before writing a book where race has a major influence!
“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.
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.
“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”
“Still, I’m pretty surprised at how easily moving in the Sky Sprints comes for me. After about an hour, I’m keeping pace with the legacy kids as we race along the walls and take turns avoiding the obstacles…” page 171
Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) by B. B. Alston. Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins, New York, 2021. MG fantasy, 410 pages. Not yet leveled NOTE: I received a free Advance Reader Edition of this book from a publicist. The artwork and other details were not finalized yet.
Amari is floundering at school and home without her brother Quinton who has been missing, presumed dead, for the past year. Since he disappeared without a trace, even her mother is starting to believe he was mixed up in something criminal – not unusual for their neighborhood, but definitely unexpected for her prodigy older sibling. Amari is determined to find him without any clear idea how to do so when she starts seeing odd things, then finds a ticking briefcase with an invitation that will change her life.
The tagline for this is “Harry Potter meets Men in Black with #blackgirlmagic.” That’s a weighty blurb to live up to, but Alston generally delivers. Potter for the magical (summer) school and hidden world alongside our own mundane reality. Men in Black for the investigations, competition, technology, and… hidden world alongside our own mundane reality.
A decade ago, students were much more specific in their genre requests. They liked fantasy or they liked science fiction and usually they didn’t like the other one. These days I have been seeing more and more genre-bending, -blending, or -blurring stories, especially in the middle grade market. Are young readers these days more open to multi-genre novels? I have long loved both, so it didn’t much matter to me which side this story ended up on.
I’ve written before about how important it is to see microaggressions appropriately portrayed in middle grade fiction, and that was an excellent aspect of this novel. Alston takes the popular fantasy trope of a “chosen one” and wonders – what if the chosen one was still Black and poor and feeling like an outsider? How would someone navigate those different realities – being different and exceptional and special, but doubly despised for being those things while also a different race or class or background than most around her?
“All the Women in My Family Sing is a tribute to the many voices of women in a chorus of cultural refrains. Each essay is a personal story about the victories and challenges women face every day as innovators, artists, CEOs, teachers and adventurers. All of the essays reveal how glorious it is to live authentically in our identities.”
p. ix-x, Foreword by Deborah Santana
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.
The essays and poems in AtWiMFS are roughly grouped into 8 categories, each containing between 7 and 10 pieces. Most are quite short, but I do like to comment briefly on each one, so I’ve decided to break this up so it’s not excessively long.