Review: A Country Called Amreeka

“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

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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.
Not leveled.

A walk through American history through the lives of a wide variety of Arab-Americans.

A Country Called Amreeka resized

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.

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Review: Same Family, Different Colors

“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.
Not leveled.

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.

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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.

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Review: Kisses from Katie

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis with Beth Clark.
Howard Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2011.
Memoir, 264 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  6.6 (worth 13.0 points)  .

This is a story of a young American who moved to Uganda, adopted 13 girls, and started a non-profit, motivated by her belief that Jesus was calling her there.

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Kisses for Katie is very religious.  I knew from the subtitle and her blog that this book was Christian, but didn’t expect it to be so heavy-handed.  I was also confused about the intended audience.  Given that literally every page included at least one reference to God, praying, or religion, one would assume this is a specialty book intended for a specifically Christian audience.  However, there are repeated points where commonly known Bible stories are summarized as if to someone unfamiliar with Christianity.

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Graphic Novel Review: Emiko Superstar

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.
Not leveled.

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.

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Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston.

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.

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Review: This Day in June

My thoughts about this book were complicated. It has great promise but falters in some of the execution.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten.
Magination Press, American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., 2014.
Informative fiction, 36 pages.
Not leveled.

The story of Pridefest presented through a parade for family discussion.

This Day in June
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten.

This was one of the picture books Husband bought that I mentioned before.  I struggled reviewing it since my feelings are mixed.  While characters of color are included in this book, it struck me that all the couples included seemed to be either white, or of mixed race.  None of the families had two adults of color.

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Review: Highly Unusual Magic

“In the United States, people thought of Leila as Pakistani. But here, people thought of her as American.” page 45

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou.
Harper, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2015.
Modern fantasy, 297 pages.
Highly Commended by the South Asia Book Award.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 8.0 points)  .

Two girls, each living with extended family for the summer, find a book entitled The Exquisite Corpse, surprisingly blank until one writes in it.  Then the book itself starts filling in a story, a story which has interesting ties to the real world, a story which both girls are anxious to read the ending to.

Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

I generally dislike books with two narrators.  Often one is stronger than the other, and the author struggles to give them equal screen time while keeping our interest in the story.  However, when this method works, it can be very strong.

Highly Unusual Magic starts with Kai, who is staying with a quirky older woman, a distant cousin whom she calls Aunt.  Leila is visiting relatives in Pakistan alone and realizing that she doesn’t speak the language, and knows little about Islam although her family is nominally Muslim.

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E-book Review: Lynching in America

“In all of the subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.” Introduction, key point 5.

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, a report of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Published online at lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/, Montgomery, Alabama.
Accessed in July 2017.

This report walks the reader through the events surrounding racial terror lynchings in America, including case studies of individual lynchings and photographs, illustrations, legal reactions, and original source quotations.

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Lynching in America Report Introduction. Freely available at lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/ .

I don’t recall how this crossed my path.  Normally I prefer to read books in person, whether I purchase, checkout from the library, or borrow from a friend.  However, some popular books are easier to get from the library as ebooks and older books that are out of print can often be found online for free.

This book doesn’t fit either of those categories.  Instead, this is a report from a team led by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.  His book’s been on my TBR for a while now (I even had it checked out, but had to return it as there was a hold).  After reading this report, Just Mercy got bumped up on my must-reads.

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