“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 3.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.
Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy. She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.
The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before. I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only. Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.
“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.
“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.
“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 7.0) .
Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family. Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.
Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank. She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.