Tag: Young Adult

by Sherman Alexie

Native American kid Arnold Spirit Junior lives on a reservation in Spokane, Washington. He likes drawing comics, reading, and messing around with his best friend (skirting danger by climbing a hundred-foot-plus pine tree for example). He describes how dead-end life feels on the reservation- seeing so many people around him sunk in alcoholism and poverty, attending more than forty funerals in less than fifteen years. Decides he wants something better and transfers to an all-white high school off the reservation. He has to hitchike or walk most days to get there, since his family usually doesn’t have enough money to put gas in the car. Adjustment is tough. Kids at the new school ignore him, or tease. People back home resent him for what they see as a betrayal. He just wants more opportunity. He makes the baseketball team but then has to go up against the team he used to be on- from the rez high school. Full of guilt for trying to live one foot on each side of a fence, as it were. So much sad stuff in this book- deaths in the tribe, sister who moves away, best friend now hates him, etc. Yet there’s also great strength in the family, the traditions. And everything is treated lightly- held at arm’s length by the humor (or at least, that’s how it felt to me). I get why this book was banned in some places- the narrator is a teenage boy and he talks frankly about things like masturbation and staring at women’s breasts – it wasn’t terribly offensive. More offensive is what I learned afterwards, of the author’s behavior. I still like the book okay, but now have no interest in anything else by this writer.

Rating: 3/5
230 pages, 2007

by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Sonia is struggling to get through highschool. She wants to be the first person in her family to graduate. Her parents are first-generation immigrants to the United States. Her father is always busy with two or three low-paying labor jobs, and her mother never learned to speak English. Their house is always crowded and expectations on Sonia are high- to clean up, cook meals, help her mother decipher bills, care for her new siblings (who are born halfway through the story) and so on. Family demands often keep her home from school more often than not, but sometimes she doesn’t want to be there- seeing her brothers laze around and use drugs, her drunken uncle make messes and unwanted advances towards her, a religious aunt dropping by unannounced acting super judgemental. Sonia has a plan to get ahead by doing her best at school, but her attempts always seem thwarted. More than ever when her mother sends her to Mexico to visit her grandmother for the summer- cutting short her school year- and frustrating her with lack of amenities and differences in culture she experiences in the very rural setting. But things change during her visit with relatives. She learns more about where her family has come from, starts to see things differently. Not so much resentment and criticism, a bit more compassion and understanding. Maybe upon returning to the States after this vacation, she can start to make a real difference in her life.

Things get in the way again. In particular, her nasty uncle. And there’s a boy who is fixated on becoming her novio– but she’s determined to not let that distract her from her goals. Honestly I thought the boyfriend was a little weird. I was positively surprised to realize when I was done reading, this book was written by a male author- I thought he got a female voice down very well- but the romantic phrases that boy kept repeated were just a bit too much. Absurd, at times. (Who talks like that? Is this what the author thinks girls dream of hearing??) There was one typo in the book that threw me off- I actually read the sentence three times to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood the homophone. And then there was a scene where her grandmother was killing a chicken for the family dinner, she saw the head chopped off, and made a statment that chickens don’t have eyelids. What? Um, YES THEY DO. Also disappointing was how briefly the time in Mexico was treated. For how life-changing this seemed to be, there wasn’t enough said about it. The story skipped over that part relatively quickly, which disappointed me.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this book. Made me feel happy to be reading a good book again.

Borrowed from my teenager.

Rating: 3/5
312 pages, 2008

by Robin Ha

Graphic novel memoir about moving to a new country, getting used to a new culture, and finding yourself. The author (Ha Chuna, with chosen American name Robin) was a teenager when she accompanied her mother on a visit the United States- only they never went back home to Korea. She was abruptly plunged into a new life, going to regular middle school but unable to speak the language, separated from all her friends and favorite activities back home. She felt so isolated living among strangers in a sprawling suburb in Alabama. Kids at school teased or ignored her. But gradually things began to get better. As her English improved, she started to stand up for herself and make friends. Her mother enrolled her in an art class specifically for drawing comics, and she found joy in something she’d always loved- Korean and Japanese manga. Made her best friend at the comic bookstore. But the clash of Korean and American culture was still a big part of her life- even though she’d moved to a new country, her mother still experienced pressures from her new Korean family members (having by this time married a Korean-American man). Chuna hated the pressure put on her to perform piano pieces in competitions or even just in front of family members and visitors, but as she learned more of her mother’s history, she realized how much pressure her mother faced as well. How much social criticism she’d lived with back in Korea, being a single mother raising a child alone. One of the reasons they came to America. The story is just as much about the struggles her mother went through, and the strength she showed, as it is about Robin herself. And when Chuna finally goes back to Korea to visit old friends, she realizes that she doesn’t quite fit in there anymore. It’s a relief to read that at the end, she’s coming to accept her new identity as Korean-American and has found her old love (manga) in new places with new friends.

I really liked seeing the samples of the manga she drew herself as a teen, in a backdrop on some of the pages. Wish I could see the whole story of that! Side note: I also really liked how the text indicated if the characters were speaking in Korean or English, by using a different color text, or English words Chuna couldn’t understand, with undecipherable scribbles!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
236 pages, 2020

by Tomohito Oda

I don’t remember how this book came to my attention. Gave it a try last night, read most of it and skimmed the last fourth. I liked the premise but it was a bit hard to focus on (maybe I’m just not fully recovered yet) and I was baffled by some of the characters’ reactions to things. Not sure if this is due to something lost in translation, a Japanese sense of humor I don’t quite get, or that I’m simply not a high school student anymore. There are two main characters: Tadano and Komi. Tadano is a very ordinary guy who just wants to avoid attention and blend in, after a bad experience in his previous school where he was bullied. He soon notices Komi, whom everyone admires. Komi is beautiful and aloof- but Tadano realizes she’s actually not snobby, she just has extreme social anxiety, so she never talks. She literally freezes up in social situations, and can’t get any words out. There’s a nice scene where Tadano and Kmoi start a conversation by writing all over a classroom chalkboard. Tadano makes it his goal to help Komi make friends.

I thought this was all pretty intriguing, but the presentation just didn’t work for me. The chapters are very short, the jokes didn’t make me laugh, the different character’s attributes were exaggerated in a way that made it seem that was the only thing about them. Another girl who’s very nervous, that’s all you ever see of her- having the jitters. Another character is gender fluid, but the way this was presented made think the author thought it was a joke? I really didn’t get it. Oh well. This is one I don’t think I’ll be continuing. It’s a series with twenty-five volumes! I wonder if it gets better further on. Or if I’d get used to the tiny panels and comic facial expressions.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5
190 pages, 2016

by Alice Oseman

A book off my pre-teen’s stack. She asked me if it would be “okay” for her, so I agreed to read some of it first, curious myself as I’ve never read a book with an asexual character before. Having started, I kept reading to the end, even though it was rather long. The short chapters (some only a page or two!) were just right for my abbreviated attention span right now (still recovering from the car accident). I suggested my daughter read it when she’s older- there’s plenty of frank discussion on sexuality. (Nothing shocking or offensive, but I think it would make her uncomfortable right now for sure).

The main character is Georgia, who at the end of high school is somewhat dismayed to have never kissed anyone. She loves the idea of romance, but when it comes to experiencing it, nothing works for her. Has she just never met the right person yet? She’s determined to find love while at college, in spite of never having had feelings for anyone before- male or female. Her two best friends are at the same college, and she gets assigned a roommate; soon the four of them are often together, attempting to put on a Shakespeare play. Things get messy and complicated when Georgia rather unwisely decides to use her friends to experiment with her ability to feel attraction. Her roommate and her friend Pip seem to hate each other at first, but just can’t admit they really like each other. It’s not until Georgia comes across a group of LGBTQIA students that she starts to realize that not feeling attracted to anyone might simply be who she is. And that it doesn’t at all mean a diminished life, or one devoid of love, because her friendships can be just as strong and supportive as any romance.

It’s a good story with some nice points about relationships and being considerate of other people feelings (by showing how badly it goes when you’re not). But it kind of dragged on for me. Several parts where other characters explained things to Georgia, felt like an info dump. I didn’t mind too much though. The incredibly short chapters made it easy to dip in and out of this book, which was just what I needed right now.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
426 pages, 2021

More opinions: Good Books and Good Wine
anyone else?

by Katie Green

Such a hard book to read- but I couldn’t put it down. One sitting, last night. It’s a graphic novel memoir about eating disorders and sexual abuse (from a trusted adult who was supposed to be helping the girl). The artwork is simple yet poignant, the story very expressive and honest about mental health issues. I can only imagine how difficult -and perhaps cathartic- this book must have been to write. She girl had so much to deal with. Body image issues. Skewed thinking. Obsessiveness over rules and restrictions. Hurting family that wanted to help but their efforts weren’t always helpful. Muddling through years of therapy until things finally start to get better- but even when she feels like she’s recovered, old habits and thought patterns recur- again and again. Flashbacks from the trauma. Is it ever really over? I was afraid that when she went off to college the story would take a bad turn, but she had good friends even if they didn’t always know what was really going on, or what she’d been through- and she had to find her way to be healthy. Then there’s the whole issue of this alternate “healer” guy who took advantage of her- just awful. That was another thing to overcome, to let time pass so she could feel distant from it and whole again. Painful story, but hopeful at the end and important to be told.

Brought to mind some other graphic novel memoirs I’ve read: Spinning, Stitches, Hey Kiddo and Blankets, also the book Wasted. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
510 pages, 2013

by Chandra Prasad

In this case, I knew from the start the book was a retelling of sorts. Lord of the Flies, set in today’s eara, mostly girls from a private high school (and a few boys). They’re a team of fencers who were travelling on a private plane that crashed on an island and yes, the pilot died. Some of the kids die in the beginning too. And things only go downhill from there. Quite a few of them have remarkable skills and abilities- one had a mother with a greenhouse so knows all about useful plants, another had an aunt who used a loom, so she knows how to weave, and so on. There’s a lot of parallels to Lord of the Flies– from the pink rocks and iconic conch shell to a torn parachute in tree branches. And the dissolution of social norms. Interestingly, this story shows racism from another side- the dark-skinned Indian girls quickly set themselves up as superior- better able to adapt, avoiding sunburn. They try to set up rules and organize themselves for survival and hopefully, eventual rescue, but it falls apart before too long. Bad things happen, horrific injuries, betrayals. One girl struggles with mental illness- not having access to medication- and the others pretty much ignore her plight. Another is constantly ruminating on the family she left behind (including a sister who had an eating disorder). Some of them want to plan an escape, but then others realize maybe they don’t want to leave this brutal paradise where there are no adults, they can just do what they want . . . So much crammed in here. The island also has every little thing you’d imagine in an exotic survival story- secret trysts, poison frogs, a tar pit, a bird species thought to be long-extinct, an unseen menacing enemy who wants them to leave. The story moves at a quick pace- a bit too quick for me. I was intrigued by all its parts, but on the whole found myself oddly disinterested. Maybe because most of the characters felt rather flat- even the ones I thought I ought to sympathize with or like, I couldn’t find much feeling for. Maybe because the writing style and dialog felt a bit simplistic, the girls’ various skills a bit too convenient, the jibing and social vying for control a bit too juvenile, or predictable. So many interesting ideas but not quite all I’d expected.

Rating: 3/5
260 pages, 2018

by Isaac Fitzsimons

I kind of read this book on a whim. Saw it suggested as a book someone was looking for on LibraryThing’s “Name that Book” group- it wasn’t, but the description caught my attention and when I saw it was available at my library, thought I’d just give it a try. Almost didn’t get far. It was overall kind of flat for me- but I was enjoying turning the pages because of the particular book smell, I kept trying to place it (finally realized it has a very cardboard and hint of dust scent which reminds me of the warehouse I worked in during summers off from college, decades ago!) I finished the book to see what happened, but didn’t like some of the parts near the end (particularly what the religious group did).

It’s a light teen romance wrapped around sports and LGBTQ+ issues. Spencer is trans, recently transferred school after some serious bullying happened at his previous highschool (only hinted at, no details). He passes very well, and feels cautions about coming out to anyone at the new school. Joins the soccer team against his parents’ wishes, and quickly falls for a teammate who doesn’t seem to like him at first. They’re forced to work together, gradually become friends and then maybe something more. But of course Spencer wary of letting Justice know he’s trans- will that change everything? Especially when he finds out that Justice’s family is fanatically religious. There’s all kinds of other issues in this book- petitioning the school to change their bathroom situation, his younger brother is autistic, his parents are a mixed-race couple, his coach lost his son to a drug overdose, and so on. Unfortunately it felt like a lot of things were thrown in just to give the story more inclusiveness, not that they added much to the plot. The little brother for example. I wish the story had stuck to one main thing and gone into more depth, personally. Maybe that’s why it felt lackluster for me. Or because so much is about the soccer games, which I followed okay but couldn’t get excited about. Then again, I’m not the target audience for this book, so feel I can’t be too critical.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
300 pages, 2021

A True Story of Love, War and Survival

by Amra Sabic- El-Rayess

Amra was a teenager living in Bihać when the Bosnian war began. She first noticed things were shifting when a close friend refused to speak to her- because Amra’s family was ethnically Muslim. Though they didn’t follow religious practices they were soon persecuted along with all the other Muslims in her city. It was under seige for years- bombs fell regularly, innocent people were shot in the street by snipers, and worse. Just a few pages in you get a sense of what reading this is going to be like- the author doesn’t hesitate to tell you the horrible things soldiers said to a young girl, her fears of being captured, of rape or torture. Her family lived in constant apprehension and suffering, as electricity was cut off, food in short supply, and soon little or no medical care available. She often thought they would simply not survive. Sometimes they had to do difficult things, to stay alive. Other times they stood their ground refusing to give in to inhumanity and maintain some integrity.

But her story is also one of hope, as they pulled together with neighbors and family members to find ways to keep going- growing vegetables in abandoned lots, bartering for goods, tutoring younger children who had no teachers, assisting in the war effort when they could. It was traumatic- there were days she couldn’t get out of bed, and not just from lack of energy because they were starving. She saw terrible things on the streets, and narrowly missed death more than once- attributing a lot of her lucky moments to the presence of a calico cat. It showed up as a stray one day and soon became part of the family (though her parents protested at first). Many times through the war, something happened involving the cat that saved their lives- coincidence or not. And its friendly calm presence definitely helped soothe their nerves and warm their hearts. Sadly, the cat also was a source of trouble later on, and Amra was heartbroken when they faced the possibility of loosing her. The cat proved her loyalty to them again and again, even under great duress.

You know that Amra makes it through all the horrors of war and privation, because this book is based on the author’s own experiences, but it’s harrowing to read of all the losses she witnessed and experienced. She fell in love for the first time during the war, too. There are tender moments, and funny ones, and plenty of teenagers just being regular teenagers, even in such circumstances. Eventually Amra got a remarkable opportunity to leave the country via a scholarship, and was able to start building a new life elsewhere. Her story is told in a plain, straightforward style- which might be dull in other cases, but here I appreciated it, as more detail would have been difficult to read. This line from the book has stuck with me: War does not leave anyone with good choices.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
370 pages, 2020

by Tillie Walden

Memoir about the author’s childhood, when she was immersed in the world of midlevel competitive figure skating. She got up at four a.m. for practice at one rink, and directly after school went to another to do synchronized skating with a team. She details the rigorous training, long hours, performance stress, the meanness of other girls who saw her as a threat, the way judges expected young girls to look very feminine, which made her uncomfortable. Gradually as the narrative unfolds she tells about why she really became a skater in the first place, and how as the years go on she realizes it’s not her main interest anymore, although she still loves the feeling of being on the ice, the freedom of motion, the thrill of getting a difficult move right, or passing a test. The competitions were another thing altogether. Especially tough since it seems she had little parental support- they drove her to practice and that was about it. Not a lot of explanation why her parents were so distant.

Also relates how she knew she was lesbian from a young age, but was afraid to let anyone know, and when she finally came out as a preteen, the varied and sometimes troublesome reactions of those around her. Falling in love for the first time and then loosing that friendship painfully. Realizing perhaps she enjoyed art or even her cello playing more than the demands of skating- and the solace she found in understanding and kindness from her cello instructor. (Although there was a gap there- a page where she was talking hesitantly about when a tutor attempted to assault her and the teacher asked what happened and the next page switches scenes- did she tell her teacher about it? or not?). There’s also a move to a different state where, in a manner that baffles me, she found that all the skating moves had different names! and the training didn’t seem to be taken as seriously. And a bully she has to deal with in school. And so much more. Skating is a main part of the story because it consumed her life for so many years, but it’s really mostly about finding herself- and a big part of that was finally realizing she didn’t want to be a skater anymore. She’d miss parts of it, but felt so much better when she abruptly left it behind. I know what that’s like, in a way. The artwork in this book wasn’t as compelling for me- I sometimes had trouble telling the faces apart, or reading expressions, but the story has so much to give I didn’t mind.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
396 pages, 2017

More opinions: Finding Wonderland
anyone else?

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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