2020’s First Book Read

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This is the first book I read in 2020, beginning it on New Year’s Day.  I chose it because one goal I have for 2020 is to deplete my TBR shelves. Sanchez’s novel has been sitting on a TBR shelf since it was chosen as the “required read” of all freshmen at UHCL, where I teach, a year or so ago. It is both humorous and heart-warming, plus according to students who read it, authentic.

Julia, the younger sister can not live up to her parents’ expeditions for her to be like Olga, her perfect older sister. When the novel opens, Olga has been killed in a horrible accident, and the family is unraveling in the wake of the tragedy.  Lorena, Julia’s best friend does her best to bring Olga out of her grief and anger at her parents’ demands, but Julia sinks lower and lower into depression and begins to find out mysterious things about Olga’s life. Maybe Olga was not so perfect after all. Maybe Julia will never achieve her dream of gong to college and becoming a writer. The Latino culture and the family’s issues and relationships provide good reading for anyone interested in an engaging story.

THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY by Heidi W. Durrow: A Review

This 2010 publication won the Bellwether Prize for fiction (an award featuring social justice) that year. It could be categorized as a YA novel, but it had great appeal to me as an adult reader. The heroine, Rachel, whose unusual blue eyes are often mentioned, is the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I.

After the family tragedy that happened in Chicago, which defines the rest of her life, she goes to live with her grandmother (on her father’s side) in Portland. The novel deals with the issue of whether Rachel is “black” or “white”–she doesn’t fit in with either. A parallel story finds Jamie, later known as “Bricks,” who lived in the apartment projects where Rachel’s family “ended,” leaving her the only survivor. Jamie is a witness to the tragic event.

The story unfolds, layer by layer, with anecdotes about each of the main characters alternately, until they meet serendipitously near the end, and Jamie helps Rachel find her identity–herself.  Rachel’s quest and ability to overcome great loss testify as to the strength of her character and her tenaciousness. Jamie is also an overcomer, and the adding of his strength to Rachel’s allows the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, which is the plot, to fit together in a satisfying way.  Durrow writes a poignant story which makes the reader sigh as she reads the last words.

FIRST LINE FRIDAYS

Hoarding Books hosts a meme where bloggers/readers copy the first line of a book they are reading to give a “feel” for what the book is about. Can one decide from the first line whether she/he wants to read the book? Read my Friday Firstliner from Kate DiCamillo’s Beverly, Right Here:

“Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara.  She went the back way, through the orange groves…she saw her cousin Joe Travis…[who was] nineteen years old. He had red hair and a tiny little red beard and a red Camaro…Beverly didn’t like him all that much.”

This is not just the story of a runaway. It is an excellent character study set in a complex plot with poignant relationships at stake. YA author DiCamillo is well known by readers everywhere in grades 5- high school, and doesn’t disappoint in this excellent tale.

ANOTHER BOOK ABOUT BOOKS: A Review

Recently I read another “book about books,” Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, book two of “The Great Library Series.” Originally written for young adults and in the “steampunk” tradition, the book appeals to young and older readers alike. It is an Alternate History, where the great library of Alexandria survived, instead of burning, and by the time of this novel, it is all-powerful and in complete control of all knowledge. Personal ownership of books is forbidden although people have access through tablet-like devices to the words and world of books. This situation makes black-market books, especially old ones, very big business.

The story opens as Jess, a young bookrunner, is being chased by Library Gardas and automatons across the busy marketplace. With the help of his twin brother, Brendan, who is described as “a schemer,” Jess escapes. Shortly afterward, the boys’ father sends Jess into “Library Service” to spy on its activities and to determine the location of ancient books, so Brendan can steal them to further the family’s illegal business. Jess’s training is rigorous, and he ends up making friends with other candidates who compete against him. Exciting book-related and library-related adventures ensue, and one turns the pages with anxiety and even dread at times. Action-fueled scenes bring the fatal “Greek Fire” of the alchemists, an encounter with an inklicker, and many encounters with bookburners The Library is seeking to prosecute.

Jess and his friends are well-drawn, and the author makes the reader care about what happens to each of them, even the ones who at the beginning are arrogant or worse. Characterization, a skill I seek in every book I read, is second only to the fast-paced, breath-holding pace of the action and plot. This is a fun read and promises much in the next book of “The Great Library Series.”

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Cynthia Kadohata’s YA novel, A Place to Belong (published 2019), is set at the end of WWII and tells the story of a young Japanese girl, whose family had been interned recently at a camp in the U.S.,and has decided to take advantage of the “deal” the government gives them to return to Japan after Hiroshima. Having spent her whole life trying to appear more American and less Japanese, the teenager must now act less like the “spoiled, American teen” and learn her family’s Japanese ways. Japan, the family finds, is not the Japan her parents longed for, but the poverty-stricken, occupied shell of their home country.

This Newberry Award-winning author of Kira-Kira, a hit with both middle school students and early high-schoolers, once again deals with YA angst, relationships, and trying to “fit in.” Kadohata explores the Japanese concept of kintsukuori, “fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever.” This young woman’s broken spirit is mended, and her character is molded into something strong and beautiful as she deals with the situations and circumstances which occur in the page-turner.

I give this one 5 stars out of 5 stars!

TUESDAY TEASER

Friday’s (May 17) post on “Friday First Liners” here included the first line of Wendy Mills’ All We Have Left. Today, since I just finished the book, instead of writing a “tease” from where I am reading, my Tuesday Teaser will be excerpts from the back cover of the paperback YA novel.

” A haunting and heart-wrenching story of two girls, two time periods, and the one event that changed their lives–and the world forever.”

Jesse, aged 16, searching out the truth about how her older brother died during the 2001 World Trade Center attacks is one thread/story.

The other thread, set in 2001, the era of the attack, brings Alia, a sixteen-year-old Muslim, who is a typical American teenager in every sense of the word, dealing with strict parents, demanding school assignments, complex relationships with friends, especially boys, and who is the girl caught in the flames mentioned in the Friday First Liners post.

As it “interweav[es] stories from past and present, All We Have Left brings one of the most important days in our recent history to life, showing that love and hate have the power to celebrate…the future.”

IT IS AN EXCELLENT READ that is going out to my Little Free Library…now!

TUESDAY TEASER

This meme encourages the reader to take a random few lines from where he/she is reading or will read and quote them in hopes of teasing other readers into reading the same book. It is hosted by the Purple Booker and has a huge following. (When posting your teaser, be sure to mention the title and author of the book; no spoilers, please).

I have selected “The Quiet Child” by John Burley as my letter “Q” book for the Alphabet Challenge.  Here is a brief teaser from the novel.

“Sean emerged from the aisle with two cartons of ice cream in hand, the coffee and sugar balanced on top. He set them down on the counter and walked over to the rack of comics in the shop’s entryway. A dying glimmer of sunlight spilled through the door’s window, illuminating the back of the boy’s head, a hint of scalp visible beneath the dusky blonde crew cut, the tan neck bent slightly to study the illustrated covers.” Sean was the son allowed to go into the store with his father. Danny, Sean’s brother is the quiet child who was told, “…I want you to stay here [in the car]…There was no dissent from Danny–Would there ever be”?

I am not sure about what the book entails, but I suspect the quiet child is autistic, and I am very interested in autism because of contact with autistic children and young men and women over fifty years of teaching where autistic pupils were mainstreamed (or undiagnosed) with other children/young adults. In this novel, the idea is stretched into something almost supernatural as the “quiet child” is shunned as one who brings ill fortune and even disease to those around him. Both brothers evidently go missing, and the “consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.”

FRIDAY REVIEW The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz (author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe)

This 2017 publication was one of my favorite reads in 2018. The story opens with the protagonist, Sal, saying, “Maybe I’d always had the wrong idea as to who I really was.” By the end of the book, “Sally,” to his best friend Sam (short for Samantha), discovers his true identity. His birth certificate name is Salvadore, and his perceptive, gay dad refers to him as “Salvie.” A senior in high school, Sal deals with anger issues–Did the “urge” to fight come from his biological father?  Was this unknown man, so unlike his easy-going adopted father, Vincente, the origin of the trait that so often gets him into trouble?

Throughout the novel, Sal deals with the anger/hurt/sense of loss that comes with the death of his mother before he was old enough to have memories of her, and he faces the impending death of his grandmother who raised him. Conflicting emotions of Mexicans/Anglos and the culture of each tear at Sal as he faces applying for and choosing a college. Bullying raises its ugly head in Inexplicable Logic as does the search for identity every teen faces.

This is not the pointless angst so many YA novels offer, but an in-depth exploration of a representative of the “younger generation” that would benefit my generation to examine.  It is a good read and one that most readers will not soon forget.

LAST MINUTE CHRISTMAS REVIEW OF TWO SPECIAL YA BOOKS ABOUT TWO SPECIAL YOUNG ADULTS

Tru and Nelle and Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, both written by G. Neri and illustrated by Sarah Watts, are about the childhood and teenage friendships of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). When interviewed as to why he wrote the refreshing novels, Neri said he “used their (Capote and Lee’s) childhood friendship in Monroeville, Alabama as fodder for (his) fiction.” The author continued, “I was intrigued that no one had ever written about that friendship, especially for young people.” (Neri, interviewed in “Taking with G. Neri” / Books and Writers (magazine)

Neri recommends the first novel, Tru and Nelle for second through sixth graders and T and N: A Christmas Story for middle school students.  At the end of the first book, Tru leaves Monroeville where he had spent the summer with his aunt for New York City to live with his mother and stepfather. The second novel begins with Tru running away from a military school his mother had placed him in as an attempt to “man him up,” and he heads to Monroeville.  There he is awaited by Nelle and Big Boy, the notorious detective story enthusiasts and “agents” from childhood who are now growing into their pre-teen and teenage years. The setting is 1930’s Monroeville, home of the Jim Crow laws, the Klu Klux Klan and Southern Injustice. All characters, events, and places are “drawn from real life,” characters and events. Beginning with Tru’s Aunt’s house burning to the ground, leaving the family homeless at Christmas, an event Nelle’s father feels he is responsible for, the tale is described as “speculative fiction in search of poetic truth.” Both books are funny, sad, touching and well-researched.

The first book is deliberately reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the second deals with teenage angst, search for sexual identity, and zaniness of the teen years. Both are excellent books.

SATURDAY MORNING FOR KIDS

The kids who would respond well to the novel(s) I am reviewing today would more likely be sleeping in, scrunched up under the covers, on Saturday mornings than watching cartoons.  Alice Hoffman has written some wonderful YA novels along with her outstanding adult novels, which turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, using a “touch”of the supernatural. The double novel, Green Heart contains two novellas, Green Angel and Green Witch.

As with Faithful (reviewed earlier on this blog), the protagonist is a fifteen year old girl. Like Faithful, Hoffman’s sophisticated novellas could be labeled “coming-of-age stories.”  This double novel is  a “two-fold story of loss and love.” The fifteen-year-old Green Angel maintains a wonderful garden which bears plants, vegetables, and flowers that her family takes with them when they go to town to market. One October weekend, her whole family goes off to market and are lost in a terrible fire that consumes the market and the town. Ashes from this disaster even cover the countryside farm where she had stayed behind. Also, the young man she loved is missing. Has he betrayed her, or has he been betrayed? Her only consolation is working in the ruined garden where nothing will grow. Slowly, over years, she resurrects the garden, with Hoffman’s signature touch of the supernatural, touch of magic.

Over time, she begins to heal. She learns the truth about love, hope, and magic. One day, the Green Angel, “branded [by her neighbors] for her mysterious powers,” and called a witch by little children, begins a quest to discover what became of the boy she had once loved.

The exciting end of the quest and the “battle” that ensues demonstrates the Angel/Witch’s craftiness and dedication to love. The ending is quite satisfactory.

Interestingly enough the metaphor of tattoos prevails throughout the novel(s). The first,vines, inked in green and self-inflicted by the devastated young fifteen-year-old, foreshadow many more tattoos of growing things and becomes a major theme of resurrection, life and change.

To me, this was a magical, beautifully written book, one of Alice Hoffman’s best. I give it five stars out of five.