“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.
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.
While it definitely shouldn’t be shelved in the children’s section, this coming-of-age graphic novel will appeal to YA readers.
Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston.
Minx, DC comics, New York, 2008.
Graphic novel, 150 pages.
This is the story of one summer in the life of Emiko, a summer that changed her life. It starts out like a normal summer. A coffee shop job doesn’t last, so her mom signs her up for babysitting work. She meets a girl named Poppy and finds herself strangely drawn to Poppy’s mesmerizing, frenetic, artistic life.
There is a lot going on in this graphic novel.
I want to caution readers that this is definitely for teens. We found it at the used bookstore in the kids section, and I assumed that it would be okay for N based on other Minx books I’ve read, which were fine for middle grade readers. Nope!
This is a great book, but the content is intense, and middle schoolers should be discussing it with a parent or teacher. Mariko Tamaki is better known for Skim, an intense YA graphic novel.
The dramatic opening is a little confusing. An edgy, artistic girl with one shoe is coming home late at night. She’s texting her friend and narrates as the images go from her to old photographs. Chapter two backtracks to early summer.
A graphic novel that uses an unusual conceit to discuss coming-of-age and self-growth.
Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim, illustrated by Jesse Hamm.
MG/YA fiction (mostly realistic fiction, but with a speculative fiction aspect), 150 pages.
Minx, DC Comics, New York, 2007.
Lexile: Not leveled.
AR Level: 3.0 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: While the text is a third grade level, this is written for older children.
On Grace Kwon’s 18th birthday, things get a little weird. Friends whisk her away, guitar strings break, and a strange accident with an unwanted pinata leads her to leave her favorite present behind in the park. And when she meets versions of herself at ages 6, 27, and 70, it gets a whole lot weirder.
This is a special review. See, this is a re-read, but it’s also a book I first read in 2007. At the time I was devouring graphic novels as fast as I could get them. However, unlike most of those quick reads, the plot of this one stuck with me for the past decade. I couldn’t remember the title for a long time, just that it was a Minx book. After seeing ReGifters on this great list, I suddenly recalled that Lily was in the title, and was able to find the info. Lily is not the main character’s name, which made it more difficult for me to remember.