“Their heavy suspicion made them appear an unwelcoming lot, but this was only partly true. The truth was that they were a lively, cultured sort of people – when you got to know them – who felt they had a great deal to be afraid of; it was this last bit – this certainty of fear – that helped substantiate the paranoia that demanded their isolation.” page 81
Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy, 360 pages.
Lexile: 1080L .
AR Level: 7.5 (worth 11.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a direct sequel to Furthermore, although it focuses on a new character.
Laylee’s mother has died (but still haunts the house) and in his grief, her father left her alone as the final mordeshoor in the magical land called Whichwood. At thirteen, she is overburdened by unceasing demands of the living and the dead, struggling to survive with the pittance given her and care for all the dead while desperately ill herself.
I definitely enjoyed this book just as much as the first, maybe even more. Furthermore was a magical romp, a playful but also very serious journey through an ever-changing fantastical landscape. Whichwood takes place almost entirely in one place, and while highly magical, it’s an orderly magical place similar to Ferenwood, so the reader has some time to get fir bearings and delve into the culture and peculiarities of Whichwood.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 404 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in the rather dull (at least by her standards) town of Ferenwood. She doesn’t quite fit in, partly because she is nearly colorless, and partly because of her quirky, temperamental personality.
Mafi has an unusual writing style – you are likely to either love or hate it, and it’s difficult to describe, so I’d highly suggest reading an excerpt from this book to see if her method will be a good fit for you. Much like her unique setting and eccentric protagonist, she writes with a blend of humor, sarcasm, drama, and pragmatic melancholy. Even on the chapters that proceed the main adventure and are mostly worldbuilding, really, everything moves at a breakneck pace.
In the hands of another writer, any one of the many places and magics that Mafi describes could be its own story, but much like Alice in Wonderland, this Alice is focused on meeting her goals. Her beloved Father is missing, former classmate Oliver is a thorn in her side, and her mother is cold and dismissive.
“She resented the fact that her veil, which to her was a symbol of her sacred relationship to God, had now become an instrument of power, turning the women who wore them into political signs and symbols.” page 103
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi.
Random House, New York, my edition 2004, originally published 2003.
Adult memoir, 358 pages including reading group guide.
Lexile: not yet leveled
AR Level: 8.4 (worth 25.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, this is an adult book not recommended for children.
As the title states, a memoir of the author’s career in Tehran told through the lens of various literature she read and taught.
“Just then, the massive pendulum he’d seen in the outer caverns swung into the chamber, lifting Stefan’s hair in its wake. In the light of the Cogworks, it shone like a slice of the sun.” p. 122
The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith.
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 392 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 14.0 points) .
By the second reading, I’d worked out how to describe this book when recommending it. It’s a bit like a cross between Hugo and Redwall, without really being like either at all. While this is technically a retelling of the story of the Nutcracker, I believe it could stand alone even if a reader had no previous knowledge of the stories and ballet it’s based on.
Sherri L. Smith is one of those rare authors who seems to write many genres well. You might recall my review of her historical fiction Flygirl, and the dystopian Orleans is one of my favorite books (though I’m still struggling to review it). She’s also written several contemporary novels that I haven’t gotten to yet, and this piece is a middle grade fantasy retelling.
“You definitely feel conflicted when you stand out in a group, and you’re
going through different experiences. You feel a little bit discouraged. But
if you already stand out, you might as well shine. ” Maly, p. 74
This book gives encouragement and advice to 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.
This short book is aimed at encouraging teens from minority groups (or who are economically disadvantaged) to persevere in college. When no family members or friends have attended college, students can find themselves at yet another disadvantage as they have no guide to help them navigate college classes or culture. This book is here to help, with stories and tips from real students who have made it through part or all of college although they were the first in their families.
Between a rambunctious good morning to adoptive parents to a good night to everyone, our 39th board book manages to show a wide variety of families.
Good Night Families by Adam Gamble, illustrated by Cooper Kelly.
Good Night Books, 2017.
Board book, 20 pages.
A showcase of a wide variety of families going through their days.
This book is a bit of a mixed bag. First, let’s get some of the negatives out of the way. The font is awful – a dead giveaway that this wasn’t produced by a regular publishing house. There also isn’t a great flow to this book, it’s a series of vignettes that at times feels choppy and awkward.
“Today there are at least an estimated 3.5 million Americans of Arabic-speaking descent, and they live in all fifty states. […] The purpose of this book isn’t to separate them out but to fold their experience into the mosaic of American history and deepen our understanding of who we Americans are.” p. xi
A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives by Alia Malek.
Free Press, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009.
Nonfiction, 292 pages.
A walk through American history through the lives of a wide variety of Arab-Americans.
I picked this book up on a whim, but it turned out to be very interesting nonetheless. Mostly, I wanted to know why America was misspelled in the title (Amreeka is the Arabic word for America), and after looking at the blurb, I thought this could be an interesting perspective on American history which I personally had not very much considered before.
Much like Prisoners Without Trial, this book opened my eyes to another important part of American history. Similar to that book, this one also deals with a limited time period, since immigration laws prevented large numbers of Arab immigrants prior to the 1960s. However, Malek tells her story in a very different (although just as engaging) way.
After a brief forward explaining the background, format and scope of the book, she takes snapshots from various Arab-American lives and uses them to illustrate a wide variety of experiences and time periods. In between these vignettes are brief chapters that give immigration statistics, updates on legal and cultural developments, and information about world politics that had bearing on Arab-American lives.
“I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it.” page 2
Saints and Misfits: a novel by S.K. Ali.
Salaam Read, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
YA contemporary, 328 pages.
Not yet leveled.
Janna just wants to live her life – hang out with her friends, study, work her very part-time jobs, pray, and maybe dream a little about her secret haram crush. But something has changed her world, something unthinkable, horrible, and so big she doesn’t know what to do.
For some reason I thought this was a light and fluffy read. However, I completely misunderstood, because by chapter two we’re reliving one of the worst moments of Janna’s life, when she is assaulted by a man who is supposedly holy, the man she calls the Monster.
Indeed, the title of each short chapter (Saints, Misfits, or Monsters) relates to how she sees the main people she’s interacting with in that chapter. Some chapters contain more than one category, or a comment as she begins to realize that some of those she sees as Saints are really Misfits, etc.
“To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities.” page 27
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, New York, 2012 (first published 2011).
Nonfiction, 270 pages including extras.
Lexile: 1090L .
AR Level: not leveled
The story of one young woman and her five sisters who stayed in Kabul and started a home dressmaking business under Taliban rule that not only provided for their family, but also allowed them to teach other women sewing and positioned them to be leaders in Afghanistan’s economy.
I’d been traveling and was hoping to visit a specialty gift shop to pick up some diverse books, only to find it closed, so I found a nearby library. The library wasn’t so diverse, but had extremely cheap books, so I purchased a bunch for under $1 total, including this one.