American Street: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola’s aunt and cousins and begin their own version of the American dream. Instead her mother is detained by ICE at a New Jersey facility where she faces deportation back to Haiti. Fabiola, born in the United States, has to fly to Detroit on her own.

In Detroit Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with her relatives at the corner of American Street and Joy Road.

Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn’t sure that Papa Legba’s riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself grab their own small piece of American joy? How far would you go for the same thing? in American Street (2017) by Ibi Zoboi.

American Street is Zoboi’s debut novel.

This novel is the story of one girl’s efforts to grab onto the American dream for herself and her mother, it’s the story of a family and the secrets they keep to survive, it’s a story about the immigrant experience, it’s a story of first love. All of these stories play out against the larger story of the house at the corner of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit.

Fabiola thinks transitioning to life in the US will be easy. She already speaks English and she attended an American school in Haiti. None of that prepares her for the meanness she finds on some of Detroit’s streets not to mention the slang and fast-paced language. She expects her American relatives will follow Haitian traditions but is surprised to find her aunt barely leaves her bedroom. Fabiola’s cousins are equally mystifying. Chantal studies hard and is working her way through community college. But what about her mysterious phone calls? Princess only answers to Pri and dresses like a boy. Then there’s beautiful Primadonna “Donna” who wears her beauty like armor and fools no one as she tries to hide the extent of her turbulent (and violent) relationship with her boyfriend.

This story is also imbued with an element of magic realism. Fabiola is a faithful and devout practioner of Vodou. She and her mother have spent years praying for their relatives to be well in the US. When she arrives in Detroit, one of the first things Fabiola does is assemble her altar and pray for her reunion with her mother. Throughout American Street Fabiola uses her familiarity with Vodou and her iwas–spirit guides–to make sense of her new life in America. Fabiola’s choice to interpret her strange new world in this way takes on a weightier meaning when she begins to see her iwas in the real life figures around her.

Zoboi demonstrates a considerable ear for voice with dialog as well as short segments between chapters in which various characters relate the stories that brought them to this point. Fabiola’s first person narration in the rest of the novel is beautiful with a measured cadence and a unique perspective that comes from spending her formative years in Haiti.

American Street is a timely and thoughtfully written novel. Fabiola’s introduction to America is authentic and filled with moments of beauty as she also finds new friends and falls in love for the first time. The happenings on the corner of American Street and Joy Road add a mystery to this rich plot and help the story unfold to a heartening but bittersweet conclusion. A must read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This weekend I read American Street by Ibi Zoboi and it should definitely be on your radar. Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola's aunt and cousins. But her mother is detained by ICE at a facility in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone. Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with family at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. 🔮 Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn't sure that Papa Legba's riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her side. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself become American and grab their own small piece of joy? How far would you go for the same thing? 🔮 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #americanstreet

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The Weight of Feathers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemoreLace Paloma is the youngest mermaid in her family’s show. Her dreams of swimming in their underwater performances are cut short when disaster strikes and she falls victim to what seems to Corbeau black magic. After all, every Paloma knows that the lightest touch of a Corbeau feather is poison.

Cluck Corbeau has always been an outsider. Especially in his own family. While the other Corbeaus take to the highest trees for their winged feats in each show, Cluck remains on the ground and in the background. An afterthought. He doesn’t believe the stories that Paloma scales are poison but he is certain that Paloma malice ruined his grandfather’s life.

When Cluck saves a girl in the woods, he doesn’t know he’s saving a Paloma or bringing her into his family’s inner circle. Lace and Cluck have every reason to hate each other, every reason to be afraid. But they also understand each other and what it means to be cast out by the people who should hold you the closest.

Twenty years ago something terrible happened in Almendro when the Palomas and the Corbeaus came to town. The sour memories and bitter rivalries still linger when they return each year. As Lace and Cluck learn more about their families, and themselves, they might learn enough to end the feud between their families once and for all in The Weight of Feathers (2016) by Anne-Marie McLemore.

The Weight of Feathers is McLemore’s first novel. Her debut was also a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

This novel is written in close third person narration which alternates between Lace and Cluck. It is also very grounded in the cultural identity of each family–Spanish for the Palomas and French (particularly Romani) for the Corbeaus–with proverbs and sayings at the start of each chapter section (Spanish for Lace and French for Cluck). Words and phrases in both Spanish and French are peppered throughout the dialogue and narrative as well (thought it is worth noting that a style decision was made to italicize these words).

The real strength of The Weight of Feathers is in McLemore’s strong characterization and the emotional tension at the heart of this story. While readers do not get a lot of explanation for how the Palomas have scales for birthmarks or what the Corbeaus grow feathers in their hair, it largely doesn’t matter. Lace and Cluck are real enough and authentic enough that the details of their backgrounds pale against the scope of their current story and possible romance.

The Weight of Feathers combines a heady blend of magic realism and romance in this story of mysterious performers, a small town, and a forbidden love reminiscent of Romeo and Juliette. Recommended for fans of magic realism and introspective novels with strong, subtle characters.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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

The Mystery of Hollow Places: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca PodosThe only details seventeen-year-old Imogene Scott has about her mother are ones gleaned from the bedtime story her father told every night.

Before he became a best-selling novelist, Joshua Zhi Scott was a forensic pathologist who met Imogene’s mother when she came to identify a body. He would then tell Imogene that her mother was always lonely. He’d even say that she was troubled waters. They would never talk about why her mother left, especially not since her father remarried and Lindy is now part of their family.

When Imogene’s father disappears in the middle of the night, Imogene thinks he might want her to follow the clues he left behind; he might want Imogene to find him and maybe find her mother as well.

With unlikely help from her best friend and all of the skills learned from reading her father’s mysteries, Imogene hopes to find her father and unravel the secrets surrounding her own past. But, as Imogene knows too well, things aren’t always perfect at the end of a mystery in The Mystery of Hollow Places (2016) by Rebecca Podos.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is Podos’ first novel.

Podos delivers an eerie mystery in this surprising tale. The Mystery of Hollow Places is also a solid homage to mysteries and Gothic novels alike as interpreted by a heroine whose favorite novel is Rebecca.

Imogene’s first-person narration is pragmatic and often insightful as she makes sense of her mother’s absence and her father’s struggle with bipolar disorder. Unlike many teen detective stories, this book also remains decidedly in the realm of possibility as Imogene works with what she has and within the limitations inherent to a teenager trying to investigate some very adult problems.

Although the plot focuses on the mystery of finding her father, Imogene’s story is just as much about acceptance and the strength found in friendships and choosing who to call family. Elements of magic realism and a stark Massachusetts backdrop add atmosphere to this sometimes choppy mystery with a diverse cast of characters.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is a strong debut and an unexpected mystery. Recommended for fans of traditional mysteries, suspenseful stories filled with twists, as well as readers looking for an atmospheric novel to keep them company on a cold winter night (or to evoke one anyway!).

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol and David Ostow, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

The Walls Around Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We were alive. I remember it that way. We were still alive, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the darkness, so we couldn’t see how close we were to the end.”

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren SumaAmber is an inmate at the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center. She might have been innocent once but that’s a hard quality to hold onto on the inside. Like most of the girls at Aurora Hills, Amber is obsessed with the regrets inherent in choosing one path over the other; with the moment everything goes wrong.

Violet, on the other hand, is at the start of a promising ballet career on the outside. Violet has never had much use for co-dependence when her own success and future are at stake. She has a singular focus on the future, on what comes next, on endings.

Then there’s Orianna. Her story is inextricably linked to both Amber’s and Violet’s, but it’s only in the gaps and overlaps in both of their stories that anyone can begin to understand Ori’s.

These three girls had lives and dreams and futures on the outside. They have secrets they keep close inside the walls of Aurora Hills and in their own hearts. At some point three girls arrive at Aurora Hills. But only time will tell if all of them get to walk away in The Walls Around Us (2015) by Nova Ren Suma.

Every aspect of The Walls Around Us comes together to deliver a story about contrasts in one form or another, something that often comes across in terms of themes like guilt vs. innocence and perception vs. reality. Even the title of the book and the vines on the cover hint at the dichotomy between what is “inside” and “outside” for these characters whose lives are all defined in some way by arriving at the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center as well as by the secrets that they hold close.

Subtle characterization and Suma’s deliberate writing serve to bring the two narrators, Amber and Violet, to life.

Amber’s narration is filled with short sentences and staccato declarations. She has spent so long defining herself as part of the whole at Aurora Hills that for much of her narration she describes herself as part of a collective “we”; part of a group comprised of her fellow inmates even when she is usually on the periphery as an observer. Everything about Amber’s narration focuses on beginnings and the past. Her chapter titles are always taken from the first words of her chapters. She has an intense and pathological fear of choosing the unknown and having to start again–a motif that is brought to disastrous fruition by the end of the novel.

Violent, despite being on the outside, is a harder character with sharper edges. Her narrative is filled with racing thoughts and run-on sentences. Her chapters are all titled for the final words in her chapters. Throughout the novel she returns, again and again, to what her future will hold. Until the end of the novel when her ever-forward momentum is cut abruptly and permanently short.

Although she is not a narrator and is most often seen in flashbacks or memories, Orianna is the third pivotal character in the novel. Everything Violet and Amber do within the arc of the book is informed by their relationships to Orianna. If Amber is meant to signify the past in The Walls Around Us and Violet is meant to exemplify the future, it’s safe to argue that Orianna is firmly grounded in the present with all of the opportunity and promise that position implies.

Suma’s lush writing moves readers between the past and the present as the story shifts fluidly between Amber and Violet’s memories of what brought them to Aurora Hills and what comes after in this novel that explores the cost of freedom and the power of hope.

The Walls Around Us received 5 starred reviews and much critical acclaim. It is a masterful blend of literary writing, magic realism and a decidedly eerie ghost story. With a layered and thoughtful plot, vivid prose, and skillfully explore themes and characters, The Walls Around Us is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tumbling by Caela Carter, Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Graces by Laure Eve, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

I’ll Give You the Sun: A Review

i'llgiveyouthesunAt thirteen, twins Noah and Jude are close. Their family is whole. Everything seems perfect. From a distance. Close up it’s easy to see that Jude is making bad choices that are pushing her toward a serious fall while Noah is struggling just to keep himself together under the pressure of fitting in with the painfully normal world. Art has always been enough to get Noah through. When he falls hard for the beautiful boy next door, he isn’t sure anything–not even painting–will be enough to make things right again.

At sixteen the twins are barely speaking and nothing is perfect anymore. Noah hides his hurt behind a facade of normalcy that seems to fool everyone but Jude. Jude, meanwhile, is not-so-quietly falling apart trapped on a path she never expected and is not sure she wants.

Both Noah and Jude are haunted by old ghosts and past mistakes. With the help of a curmudgeonly artist and a spectacularly messed-up boy, Jude thinks she can put the pieces of her family back together. Except she only has half of the pieces. It will take both Jude and Noah, together, to make things right in I’ll Give You the Sun (2014) by Jandy Nelson.

I’ll Give You the Sun is Nelson’s second novel. It is the winner of the 2015 Printz Award and the 2015 Stonewall Award.

Nelson delivers one hell of a story in her sophomore novel. I’ll Give You the Sun presents two stories simultaneously in alternating sections (no chapter breaks). Noah begins the novel with his story “The Invisible Museum” when the twins are 13 and on the cusp of some major changes for themselves and their family. Jude handles the latter of of the novel’s plot in “The History of Luck” when the twins are 16 and deeply troubled.

I’ll Give You the Sun has mystery, romance and elements of magic realism. The prose is imbued with an ode to the power of art and creation as well as some deeply powerful ideas about feminism.

The novel moves along with clever intersections between Jude and Noah’s stories. Both Noah and Jude have voices that are breezy and approachable in a way that draws readers immediately into their stories and their lives. Although the two characters often sound very similar in their narrations, there is a fair argument that the similarities are intentional since they are twins. It’s more difficult to explain Noah’s often literary and lyrical voice when he is only thirteen for much of the narrative–something that is balanced out with behavior (from both twins at that age) that is often painfully thoughtless or selfish.

This book isn’t always easy to read. The end of Noah’s story leaves both twins damaged and reeling from a variety of catastrophes. In Jude’s section, they are both hurting and struggling to survive without much hope for anything more until Jude decides to take a chance. I’ll Give You the Sun is at its strongest when these two characters realize they have to take action if they want to thrive.

Nelson’s writing is spectacular making I’ll Give You the Sun a vibrant story about family, recovery, art and love. Not to be missed.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, Damaged by Amy Reed, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

17 and Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The snow came down and the bristly trees shuddered in the wind, sharing secrets, and no one stopped to listen. Until I did.”

17 and Gone by Nova Ren SumaWhen seventeen-year-old Lauren first sees the Missing flyer for Abigail Sinclair, she knows it was left for her. Against all odds, Lauren is certain that she was meant to find this poster, to find out Abigail’s story, maybe even to find her.

As Lauren digs into Abigail’s disappearance she finds out that the missing girl preferred to be called Abby. She hated the summer camp where she was working. And she definitely didn’t just run away.

The problem is no one else seems to care. The more Lauren investigates, the more missing girls she finds. All of them seventeen. All of them gone without a trace. Abby went missing in the summer. But it’s winter now. Any girl could be next. Maybe even Lauren herself.

While trying to find Abby, Lauren will have to face secrets from her past and confront several uncomfortable truths in 17 & Gone (2014) by Nova Ren Suma.

17 & Gone is a chilling blend of suspense and what may or may not be ghosts. As Lauren grapples with the missing girls that are haunting her she also comes to realize that her mind may not be as reliable as she thought. Suma deftly unravels the stories of the missing girls and also examines Lauren’s mental state from a variety of angles.

Eloquent prose and a gripping story come together here in a story that is as literary as it is unexpected. Recommended for readers who like their mysteries to be open-ended and their heroines to be clever and determined.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernard, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Damaged by Amy Reed, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart

Damaged: A Review

Damaged by Amy ReedKinsey Cole knows people can only bear to hear so much bad fortune. That’s why everyone in the small town of Wellspring, Michigan knows that Kinsey’s best friend Camille died in a car accident when Kinsey was driving. It’s easier for people to see the straight A student with a full athletic scholarship.

Kinsey is struggling to stick to her own plan for the future now that Camille is dead. She is going to go to college and get away from her small town and her mentally unstable mother once and for all. She is going to succeed the way everyone always expected she would.

The only problem is that Kinsey is quietly falling apart.

When Camille’s boyfriend, Hunter, invites Kinsey on a road trip to San Francisco, Kinsey jumps at the chance to get away from all the memories and start her real life. But with Hunter’s heavy drinking and Kinsey’s own demons, it will take more than a fresh start for either of them to accept everything that has been lost in Damaged (2014) by Amy Reed.

Kinsey and Hunter travel across a largely barren landscape on their way to California in this haunting and well-done novel. An unflinching focus on Kinsey and Hunter makes this character driven road trip story even stronger.

Nightmares that may or may not be her dead best friend plague Kinsey throughout the novel adding a surreal quality to the plot. Reed offers a well-plotted and excellently written meditation on grief, loss and the power of new beginnings in this striking novel about two wretched characters trying to make themselves whole.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Fracture by Megan Miranda, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the September 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*