Tag Archives: Morris Award

Starfish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanAll of Kiko Himura’s hopes are pinned on getting accepted to Prism–her dream art school. At Prism Kiko knows that it won’t matter that she’s half-Japanese and knows barely anything about her own culture. She won’t need to regret her failed relationships with her brothers. She’ll be able to get away from her mother who is alternately suffocating and neglectful. Best of all, Kiko knows that at Prism she’ll finally be understood the way she always used to be by her childhood best friend, Jamie.

After Prism rejects her, Kiko is forced to consider other options–especially when her abusive uncle moves into the house and makes life even more unbearable. When Kiko and Jamie meet up at a party, Kiko jumps at the improbable chance to tour art schools with him on the west coast. Along the way Kiko will learn how to be brave and and let herself be heard while understand that sometimes second choices can lead to second chances in Starfish (2017) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Starfish is Bowman’s debut novel and a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Morris Award.

This is a quiet and deliberate novel. Kiko knows better than most that words have weight thanks to what happened when she spoke out about her uncle’s abuse and also from the methodical way Kiko’s mother uses them to break her down. Kiko’s visions of vivid sketches and lavish paintings are interspersed throughout Starfish helping Kiko give voice to her emotions when she doesn’t feel strong enough to share them herself.

While Kiko’s strained relationship with her mother and her uncle’s abuse are key factors in Starfish, the main story here is Kiko’s growth and resilience as she begins to realize she has more options than she ever imagined.

Starfish is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful as Kiko comes into her own and discovers her own strength. Evocative settings and an obvious love for art are imbued in this story along with a subtle romance. Kiko is an empowering heroine readers will immediately want to cheer on. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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The Hate U Give: A Rapid Fire Review

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

If I had to pick a defining book of 2017 it would be this one. Thomas’ debut novel has received numerous stars (more than I even knew existed). It has also been selected a finalist for both the National Book Award and The William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Thomas’s debut is one of several very timely and much needed books about social justice and specifically shining a light on the Black Lives Matter movement. It will also soon be a movie with Amandla Stenberg heading up a star-studded cast.

The book follows Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old black girl who is navigating life at her prestigious school populated with mostly white, mostly wealthy classmates and life at home in the poor neighborhood where she and her family has always lived. Starr doesn’t feel quite at home anywhere–a feeling that is compounded when Starr is driving home with her childhood friend Khalil when a police officer pulls them over and shoots Khalil without cause.

As the only witness, Starr knows she should testify. But she also knows doing so will put her under intense scrutiny from the media. And it might not even lead to justice for Khalil when so many similar cases have ended in acquittals for the officers. Starr’s choice will have lasting ramifications for herself, her family, and her community as she has to choose where her allegiances lie and speak up for what she believes in.

Thomas’s novel is evocative and gripping. It captures this moment in society perfectly and it highlights all of the things that still need to change with an indictment of the cultural biases and racism that brought us to this point and also with a note of optimism for the future. Narrated by Starr this novel has a great voice and fantastic dialog. Although the plot starts right away the story does have a tendency to meander (I will maintain forever that this book could have been edited down by at least a hundred pages) as the novel explores Starr’s family and home life as well as her life at school where she is constantly reminding herself that she has to put forward a very specific face among her classmates.

Heavy but hopeful and necessary. A must-read.

Saints and Misfits: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fifteen-year-old Janna Yusuf’s world is easily divided into three kinds of people.

There are the Saints who are so perfect they seem completely untouchable and intensely annoying. People like Saint Sarah who presides over the mosque with beauty, grace, and a personality so bubbly as to become infuriating. Especially when her brother Muhammad seems to fall for Saint Sarah’s entire act. Because it has to be an act, right?

Then there are the people like Janna, her best friend Tats, and her crush Jeremy. Misfits. That not-quite-fitting-in should be enough to bring Janna and Jeremy together (aside from the alliteration and his lovely forehead). But they still don’t go together. Not when Janna is Muslim and Jeremy is definitely not.

Last there are monsters–people Janna knows all too well from her favorite Flannery O’Connor stories and from her own life. Farooq is arguably the most pious member of their mosque. He’s already memorized the Qur’an and is the shining light of the community.

But he’s also tried to assault Janna when they were alone in his cousin’s basement–something Janna narrowly avoided and is trying to forget now. Everyone else thinks Farooq is a Saint. Who would ever believe Janna–a nobody, a misfit, the daughter of the only divorced woman in their mosque–if she tries tell everyone that their beloved Saint is really a Monster in Saints and Misfits (2017) by S. K. Ali?

Saints and Misfits is Ali’s debut novel. It was selected as a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Janna is a genuine fifteen-year-old. Her first person narration is authentic and thoughtfully handled giving equal weight to Janna’s dealing with the aftermath of her assault as she decides what to do (if anything) and also her complicated crush on her non-Muslim classmate Jeremy.

Janna is comfortable wearing all black and hijab and she wishes other people in her life would respect that instead of trying to changer her. She is also trying to decide if who she is now–a devout Muslim girl–is who she wants to be moving forward. What does it mean that her attacker is more respected in the mosque than she is? What does it mean that her crush on Jeremy seems to be mutual while also being something directly in opposition to her faith?

These are messy questions and Janna doesn’t always have neat answers or closure. What she does have is a supportive family (especially her mother and older brother), resiliency, and the conviction to stick to what she knows is right.

This book is an excellent mirror for Muslim teens who do not seem themselves enough in books and an excellent window for readers who may not know much about what being a modem Muslim teen really looks like. Saints and Misfits is a thoughtful and surprisingly sweet story about a girl finding her voice and her people–both inside her religious community and beyond.

Possible Pairings: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti, That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandyha Menon, The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The List by Siobhvan Vivian

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.

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*

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, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, 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*

A Curse As Dark as Gold: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. BunceWhen their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill’s numerous employees as well.

The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill’s usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt.

Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce’s first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce’s prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte’s village and the mill to life.

Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good.

Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn’t get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel.

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller’s problems entirely on her own.

Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Beauty by Robin McKinley, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (A CLW Review)

poeticallyspeaking1For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to review Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Click the icon above to see the rest of this month-long series!

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroGabi Hernandez chronicles all the important pieces of her senior year of high school in her diary. Through her diary she tries to make sense of her best friends Cindy’s pregnancy and Sebastian’s coming out.

Gabi also has to deal with college applications and the confusing world of boys.

Add to that her father’s meth addiction and her complicated relationship with food (thanks to her mom always harassing Gabi about what she eats) and Gabi’s plate is already more than full for the year.

In the midst of a difficult year Gabi finds solace in an unlikely place. Gabi always knew she liked writing and poetry. She just didn’t realize discovering the poetry within herself (and around her) would have the power to change everything in Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (2014) by Isabel Quintero.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is Quintero’s first novel and the winner of the 2015 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is told entirely through Gabi’s diary entries as she navigates an especially complicated year in her life as many long-standing problems come to a head including her father’s addiction and Gabi’s mother’s disapproval of Gabi’s plans to go away to college.

Quintero brings Gabi to life with a vivid voice and authentic storytelling that mark this novel as a standout in the diary novel sub-genre. While Gabi sometimes comes across as younger than her seventeen years, she is always honest and raw.

Gabi’s story is effervescent and overall sweet even with real moments of sadness and other serious situations in the story. Given the nature of a diary format, Gabi, a Girl in pieces is not always a cohesive story as Gabi’s thoughts and her life jump from point to point.

What does remain consistent throughout is Gabi’s love of words. The enthusiasm Gabi feels as she begins to find her voice as a writer and discover new poets is infectious. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is an empowering, thoughtful novel brimming with creative energy.

Possible Pairings: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez., How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr