“He is an award-winning bound book, / where I am loose and blank pages. / And since he came first, it’s his fault. / And I’m sticking to that.” p. 99
The Poet X: A Novel by Elizabeth Acevedo.
HarperTeen, HarperCollins, New York, 2018.
Novel in verse, 378 pages.
Lexile: HL800L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: not yet leveled
Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batisa is one half of a pair of miraculous twins – their birth to older parents caused her philandering father to change his ways and reaffirmed their mother’s devotion to her Catholic faith. Her genius brother Xavier skipped a grade and is living up to their miracle status, while she defends his comic book collection and feels inadequate.
Target seems to be shelving more and more diverse novels that I’m interested in reading. There’s been some buzz about this one, but I didn’t know many details. I think because of the title, I assumed it had to do with Malcolm X and just wasn’t interested. But that’s not what this book is about at all. This book is about poetry and love and family and the power of being who you really are.
But let me back up a bit. There is a love story in this, but don’t get turned off by the heavy romance early on, because this is not a love story. Rather, this is about Xiomara’s sophomore year of high school, and how she learned to be more confident in herself, and how her family relationships completely changed.
“The curious thing is that the word ‘colorism’ doesn’t even exist. Not officially. […] So how does one begin to unpack a societal ill that doesn’t have a name?” p. 8
Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps.
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016.
Nonfiction, 203 pages including sources and index.
This is the study of something few non-academics want to talk about – colorism. While everyone can get behind fighting racism, colorism is more insidous, deeply rooted in American racism and refreshed as immigrants arrive with their own cultural ideas of colorism. Tharps combines information from experts with deeply personal stories from families that are biologically related, but have different physical appearances.
A short introduction first tells how Tharps became interested in colorism – she’s African-American, her husband is from the south of Spain and identifies with dark-skinned people, but her three children each appear very different. Tharps then gives some background information on colorism and an overview of the book.
Four chapters focus specifically on different groups. Tharps explains that she chose to work only with biologically related families because she wanted this book to be focused on colorism specifically and adoption adds other dimensions. However she also states adoptive families will find much to relate to here – I agree.
“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.
“Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.” page 285
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2008.
Adult nonfiction, 309 pages including notes and index.
Lexile: 1080L .
AR Level: 7.8 (worth 13.0 points) .
What do geniuses, rice paddies, hockey players, a Korean airline, a small town in Kentucky, and young Jamaican twins have to do with each other? These topics and more are woven together in Gladwell’s explanation of success.
This book goes beyond the ten thousand hours to achieve mastery theory to examine what else can effect our success or failure in life. Gladwell looks at how community can change health, how Germany jumpstarted the Beatles, what made one Jewish lawyer wildly successful while his father struggled, and what linguistic difference makes Chinese children understand math more easily.
“Children of the most privileged group in the wealthiest country in the history of the world were getting hooked and dying in almost epidemic numbers from substances meant to, of all things, numb pain.” p. 8
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones.
Bloomsbury Press, New York, my edition 2016, first published 2015.
Adult nonfiction, 374 pages including index and notes.
Dreamland is the far-reaching narrative of America’s unprecedented struggle with opiate addition. It looks inside doctor’s offices and pharmacutical marketing, studies villagers from Xalisco, Nayarit in Mexico, and interviews street addicts, rehabilitation workers, and more to form a comprehensive picture of how this situation developed.
This book doesn’t entirely fit my usual review criteria. After all, the author and the majority of people in it are white, although there is a substantial Mexican and Mexican-American element present. However, I decided it was close enough to my usual topics (since addicts are generally not a privileged group, even if they are white or privileged in other areas) to discuss here.
America’s opiate epidemic has been getting a lot of attention because it’s affected a lot of people that those in power don’t usually think of as potential addicts – middle class Midwestern white suburbians. Another, lesser known, oddity of the problem is that nearly all of the black tar heroin dealers in American’s smaller cities are from small towns in the tiny Mexican state of Nayarit.
Quinones interviews addicts, dealers, medical professionals, reformers, and law enforcement to provide as accurate a picture as possible of how this came to be. Most of the people he talks to are white, Mexican, or Mexican-American, although he does talk to some people of color, and he brings up the disparity between political response to this ‘epidemic’ and previous reactions such as the ‘war on drugs’.
“If you want to go to college, right from the start you have to raise your voice, ask for what you need, and keep your eyes open about what classes and opportunities your high school offers you.” page 32
First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students – Your High School Years by Kathleen Cushman.
Next Generation Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 2005.
Nonfiction, 80 pages.
This book gives encouragement and advice to high school students who may be the first in their families to attend college. It includes many personal stories and quotations from students who have similar journeys.
One of the main focuses of this slim volume is encouraging teens from minority groups to attend college and pursue careers rather than jobs. This book is specifically aimed at diverse high school students who have no family members that have attended college.
I bought this book because it was on clearance for a dollar at Barnes & Noble. I’m not the first member of my family to attend college, and neither was Husband. I don’t work with high school students, but wanted to review it here. After reading it and starting to write this review, I discovered there is a free interactive online version of the text. The second book The College Years, is also available online for free in a PDF format. I look forward to exploring those resources more at a later time.