Recommended For You: A Review

Recommended For You by Laura SilvermanShoshanna Greenberg is a fixer. When her moms start fighting enough that they both miss the annual family Latkepalooza on the last night of Hanukkah, Shoshanna wants to fix it before her family implodes.

With the tensions at home and her constant worries about money to fix her much loved car, it feels like her one refuge is Once Upon, the local bookstore where Shoshanna works. That changes with the arrival of new hire Jake Kaplan–an extremely cute boy who is extremely immune to Shoshanna’s charms and, what’s worse, doesn’t read.

Coworker tensions aside, Shoshanna is thrilled when her boss announces a chance for staff to earn a holiday bonus for selling the most books. The bonus is exactly what she needs to fix her car if nothing else.

The only thing standing in Shoshanna’s way is Jake and his out of the box selling strategies.

As the holiday season amps up, Shoshanna realizes that Jake might be more than a pretty-non-reading face even if he might also be her biggest competition for the holiday bonus in Recommended For You (2020) by Laura Silverman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Silverman puts in the work dismantling the white default in this inclusive story where every character’s skintone is described on the page. The inclusivity and positivity with which Shoshanna views her friends and coworkers (except maybe for Jake when they first meet!) comes through in every description and feels effortless. Once Upon’s owner Myra is woman of color and motorized wheelchair user, Shoshanna’s best friends are Black and Latinx, and Shoshanna’s “work husband” is Black and has a girlfriend with low vision.

Shoshanna is what I would call a strong personality. Her narration and her choices may not work for everyone but her heart is definitely in the right place and, as the story progresses, Shoshanna learns and grows a lot–something I always love to see in a book.

Although Recommended For You keeps things light, this story also offers frank conversations about what marriage problems can look like (something looming over Shoshanna and her moms and something that may not have an easy fix despite Shoshanna’s best efforts) and also thoughtfully explores income diversity. Shoshanna’s friend Cheyenne works at the mall for the experience while Shoshanna is there because it’s the only way she can afford gas money and other car expenses. Meanwhile Shoshanna’s other best friend Geraldine is saving up for a camera to start a beauty vlog while acknowledging she may never be able to compete in the patently expensive world of beauty influencers.

Recommended For You is as funny and exuberant as its heroine. While the winter setting makes this book an ideal choice this holiday season, Shoshanna’s winning personality, the retail shenanigans, and Shoshanna’s not-quite-instant chemistry with Jake make Recommended For You a perfect read any time of the year.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant; Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey; By the Book by Amanda Sellet; Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Dear Martin: A Review

Justyce McAllister is a scholarship student at the top of his class at his prestigious boarding school and heading to an Ivy League college next year. He’s miles away from the rough neighborhood where he grew up and has big plans for his future.

None of those accomplishments or plans matter when a police officer puts Justyce in handcuffs. Shaken by the severity of the encounter–and how much worse it could have been–Justyce isn’t sure where he belongs. Not with the other boys from his neighborhood many of whom are now in gangs and scorn Justyce for moving away. Not with his mostly white classmates who seem intent on making Jus feel small.

Justyce hopes to find some answers in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who advocated non-violence in the pursuit of civil rights. But as Jus tries to follow his teachings and writes to Dr. King to try and make sense of his life, Justyce starts to wonder if those teachings have any place in the modern world where boys like Justyce are still dying in Dear Martin (2017) by Nic Stone.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dear Martin is Stone’s powerful debut novel and a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. This standalone contemporary is deceptively short with a page count that belies the weighty questions Justyce and his story raise.

Written in Justyce’s first-person narration along with his letters to Dr. King, this novel read partly like a diary with a conversational tone as Jus makes sense of the painful circumstances of his being handcuffed while trying to help his ex-girlfriend, grapples with casual racism with his classmates, and negotiates his complicated feelings for his debate partner SJ–a white girl Jus knows his mother would never want him to date.

Dear Martin is a compelling and timely story. Stone’s fast-paced prose and careful plotting make this novel an engrossing page-turner. An excellent choice for readers looking for a contemporary novel they can sink their teeth into. Ideal for anyone who has ever wanted to make their corner of the world a little better. Recommended.

 

Possible Pairings: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

Dream Things True: A Review

Dream Things True by Marie MarquardtAlma is less than happy to be leaving her academically challenging high school in Atlanta to return to the small town of Gilbertson to help take care of her cousins. She always thought Atlanta was her ticket to something better. Now, Alma isn’t sure how she’ll get out of Gilbertson and away from her overbearing father. She just knows she has to try. Alma’s brother let his status as an undocumented Mexican immigrant keep him away from his dreams. Alma refuses to make the same mistake.

Evan has never had to think much about immigration. He’s never had to think about a lot thanks to his family’s wealth and privilege. Like Alma, Evan’s family wants to keep him close but Evan knows college is his chance to get away before he settles for the life his distant father has planned.

When Alma and Evan meet, their attraction is immediate and undeniable. Despite their different lives and other obstacles, the unlikely couple falls in love. But with family pulling them in different directions and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids threatening Alma and her friends and family, Evan and Alma will have to work harder than ever to be together in Dream Things True (2015) by Marie Marquardt.

Dream Things True is Marquardt’s first novel. Marquardt has done extensive work with an advocating for Mexican immigrants as outlined in her author bio. The story is written in a close third person point of view that alternates between Evan and Alma’s focus.

Dream Things True does some things very well. It is an important and timely novel about immigration. It is a diverse title, of course. And, despite the numerous challenges they have to deal with, this book also has a really healthy and positive relationship as Evan and Alma get to know each other and try to help each other.

There is a lot of good stuff here and Dream Things True is undoubtedly a valuable novel. However it’s also worth noting that it often felt like the portrayals of non-white characters could have been handled better. Evan compares Alma’s skintone to coffee with cream in it. An African-American character is described as being lighter skinned. Evan’s descriptions of Alma often seemed to portray her as more other and exotic perhaps in a misguided attempt on Marquardt’s part to create an authentic male protagonist, perhaps for other reasons. Regardless of intent, it’s the one aspect of this novel that repeatedly grated.

In order to keep the focus of the novel on immigration issues, several plot points in Dream Things True feel contrived in order to move the plot along. While Alma’s father is convincingly problematic, even his logic for why Alma has to return to Gilberston from Atlanta is murky at best. While this focus makes sense, it often made the characters and settings feel one-dimensional by comparison.

An ideal choice for readers looking for a light romance that still has some depth, Dream Things True is a thoughtful novel that proves Marquardt is an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Drown by Junot Diaz, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, A Step From Heaven by An Na, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

* A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Walk on Earth a Stranger: A Review

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae CarsonLeah Westfall has a secret the she and her parents have kept hidden from everyone they know in Georgia. Lee can sense gold whether it’s a piece of jewelry, a stray nugget, or veins of gold deep in the earth. Lee’s parents have always feared Lee’s magic could lead to trouble for her and their family.

They were right.

In January 1849 Lee’s life changes forever and, for the first time, she is completely alone in the world. Even her best friend, Jefferson, has left her behind to chase the promise of gold and a fresh start in California

With nothing left to keep her in Georgia and every reason to leave, Lee disguises herself as a boy and sets out to make her own way west and hopefully find her best friend along the way.

The road to California won’t be easy. With so many people hoping to find gold and security, Lee is sure her witchy ways will give her an edge. If she can make it that far. After losing so much, and with so long to go, Lee will have to decide who she can trust and who she wants to be in Walk on Earth a Stranger (2015) by Rae Carson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is the first book in Carson’s Gold Seer Trilogy. Because this book focuses heavily on Lee’s journey to California it does offer a contained story and can easily be read on its own.

While Walk on Earth a Stranger is very much in the same vein as traditional westerns, it does not offer a sanitized or romanticized version of the west as characters grapple with racism, sexism, and the physical dangers on the trail while also beginning to grasp the enormous change this great movement of people will bring to the western territories of the United States.

Although Lee has a magical ability to find gold, Walk on Earth a Stranger is a historical novel at its core, and extremely well-done at that. Carson has surpassed herself in this well-researched and nuanced novel that covers so many details and perspectives of the 1849 gold rush. Lee falls in with a ragtag cast of characters on her travels west. This varied and diverse group add a lot of dimension to what is already a very rich story.

Lee’s first person narration brings the landscape and the era to life as she makes her long trek from Georgia to California. Against the vivid backdrop of her travels, Lee’s story is often quite introspective as she ponders her own place in the world and her future out west.

Lee’s journey to find herself while also finding her way to a new life is riveting and empowering. Walk on Earth a Stranger perfectly captures the freedom and possibility that can come with following gold west at a time when picking a new identity was as easy as adopting a new name. Walk on Earth a Stranger also returns, again and again, to the idea of choice as Lee is left to choose who she wants to be, and also who she wants beside her, on the long road ahead. A stunning start to a series that is sure to be gold for many readers.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

UPDATE 11/6/2015: While I enjoyed this book, I do want to point everyone to Debbie Reese’s review of Walk on Earth a Stranger on her site American Indians in Children’s Literature. Debbie looks at the book from a Native perspective and I think it’s important to be aware of the ways in which the book is problematic (or even inaccurate in terms of American Indian experiences) as well.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Criminal: A Review

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoyNikki knows her life isn’t a dream come true. Even the thought of seeing her mother makes Nikki’s skin crawl. Her step-father is in jail. Nikki is a high school drop out.

But she has her friend Bird and her job at the hair salon.

More importantly, Nikki has Dee. Everyone tells her that Dee is no good but Nikki doesn’t believe that. Not really. How can Dee be anything but perfect when he looks so good and makes Nikki feel like this? He even has her initial tattooed on his chest.

When Dee does the unthinkable, Nikki is drawn into a crime that will shatter everything Nikki had taken for granted in her less-than-perfect life. After spending so much time wrapped up in Dee’s world, Nikki isn’t sure what it will take to stand on her own in Criminal (2013) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Criminal is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Awards for Young Adult Mystery.

In a departure from her lighter fare, McVoy presents a gritty, evocative story of life in the wake of a shocking crime. The novel bends notions of right and wrong while also artfully exploring the idea of complicity as Nikki comes to terms with her own role in Dee’s crime.

Nikki is a flawed, often naive, heroine who has tried to make the best of the blessed little life has given her. She turns a blind eye to Dee’s many faults. She makes mistakes. She is impulsive and quite foolish.

Despite these shortcomings, Nikki’s growth throughout the novel is impressive. While she does not always make the smartest decisions, Nikki is a survivor. Although Criminal is touted as a mystery the main story here is really one about a girl trying to find her way. Even with all of the obstacles she has to face, readers will close this book with a sense that Nikki will make it through.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller