Dear Martin by Nic Stone

The topic of race relations is coming to a major forefront in young adult literature. (Not that it hasn’t always been present, but new books have been getting major press about it in recent months). One such book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Wanting to see how this book handled the topic and also having read and blogged about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in May 2017, I decided to see what direction Stone went.

Let’s start by talking about this book. Dear Martin by Nic Stone dives into the sticky world of race relations in America. Justyce McAllister is college-bound, hopefully, and finds himself torn between where he grew up and the school he now attends. A slew of other factors influence him: the fact that he’s on the debate team, his family, his friends, his teachers, his on-again/off-again girlfriend. All those factors dig at Justyce as he works to try to figure out what exactly he wants to get out of his life and what he feels he is entitled to in this life. Justyce is seventeen years old, the age when kids are told that they have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Picking a college, picking friends, picking a significant other, picking who you hang out with and what you do on a daily basis all directly influence your choices. All of those factors also directly influence how other people see you.  Struggling to deal with episodes of police brutality and racial profiling that directly affect him, Justyce decides to write letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to try to figure out what Martin would do in his situation (Hence the title Dr. Martin, pretty self-explanatory). Justyce’s life seems to get worse and worse. No matter how he tries to better himself, there seems to always be someone bent on knocking him to the ground.

Watching Justyce’s life unfold throughout his letters to Martin and through the snippets of his life that readers are privy to, we gain a better understanding of the rough dichotomy that Justyce finds himself in. He constantly is left to wonder where he actually fits in, who he should hang out with, and why his actions and people’s opinions of him seem to be at odds some days. I found myself rooting for Justyce throughout this book and hoping that his life would continue to get better.

First thought after finishing Dear Martin? Oh man, I wish this book was longer. There is so much content jam-packed in this book that at times I was hoping for the author to expand just a little more. That said, this book was powerfully written and deals with tricky subjects in a way that the intended audience, young adults and kids in high school, would easily understand and relate to. Even though I was not the intended audience, I found myself deeply involved in this book and wondering how everything would turn out. I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that you read The Hate U Give, as well. The two fit so well together.


This book is also available in the following format:

Bright Futures and Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade 10th Anniversary Edition

Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade is deserving of the 2003 Coretta Scott King award and would be a welcome addition to classroom reading lists because it would foster understanding  and self-expression while encouraging us to celebrate our differences. While it has been a long time since I was in junior and high school, I’m pretty sure school (which is not nearly as beautiful of a word as library) and my teachers conspired to make me hate reading.   At least, that’s what I felt at the time, and still do to this day in many ways.  Not only could I not  identify with my teachers or parents or the books on our assigned reading lists, but I was really winging it when it came to being a teen. And being a teen was brutal at times: I was an incredibly intuitive person with so much to say yet I lacked the language proficiency to fully communicate my emotions and experiences with the people who guided me.

But that’s where art, poetry, and amazing teachers come into play.

When you’re not legally an adult, you rely on the adults in your life–parents and teachers, mainly–to help you through this thing called life. You rely on them to provide you a platform to share your story, and you hope they don’t drop the ball.   And then there are the teachers–the good, the bad, and everything in-between. Hopefully you had the kind of teacher movies like Dead Poet’s Society, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and School of Rock celebrate. In my experience,  “good” teachers facilitate self-directed learning opportunities, foster curiosity, and help students identify and build upon their strengths. That’s a tall order, since much of the work good teachers do is an extension of what good parents do. In Bronx Masquerade, Mr. Ward is one of those teachers who deeply impacts his students in ways they can only begin to understand. He makes his entrance early on when he assigns a lesson about The Harlem Renaissance and other works by popular and lesser known African American authors. The classroom environment begins to take on a life of it’s own: students no longer shame their peers for wanting to read and feed their intellects. Eager to relate hip-hop and rap to the rhymes and rhythm of poetry, students begin writing and sharing original poetry.  The act of writing and the resulting community they find in Mr. Ward’s class profoundly changes them.

In terms of format, Bronx Masquerade  introduces you to a cast of characters, most of whom are Black and Latino with a White and Asian minority, whose lives intersect around poetry and Mr. Ward. Each subsequent chapter introduces you to a new character: Diondra, Amy, Art, Raul, Natalina, Porscha,  Mai Tren, Wesley. Aside from Poetry itself, Tyrone is the central character around which all of the characters revolve.  By the end of the book, Tyrone’s life has changed for the better, and “Open Mic Friday” is at the center of the positive change. As other students begin to read and perform their poetry, sometimes in the style of a poetry slam and often incorporating musical rhythms and beats, Tyrone’s guard begins to come down.And most notably, for the first time, he can envision  a real future for himself and his peers, a future that seemed distant and dismal at the beginning of the book.

By the end of the book, it is clear that through poetry and community, Tyrone has developed a new understanding of himself and his peers. Most remarkably, the opportunity to create and share his writing under the wing of Mr. Ward has literally changed the course of his life that now includes a bright, beautiful future.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I don’t read as many print books as I used to. Life got in the way and I found myself gravitating more toward audiobooks since I could multitask and listen to books that way. Every now and then though, I find myself faced with a quandary: I want to read a book that the library only has in print and that isn’t available as an audiobook in OverDrive. If that happens, I have to find the time to sit still and read. My latest print book read was Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and I’m glad I forced myself to take the time to sit and enjoy it.

Everything, Everything, I’m sure most of you know, is now a major motion picture, but that isn’t how I came to know this book. I had read Yoon’s other book, The Sun is Also a Star, and loved it. It’s an angsty teen love story that deals with deportation and a lot of other really relevant teen and adult topics. That book has also won a lot of awards. After I finished The Sun is Also a Star, I decided to give Everything, Everything a try to see if it was worth all the hype the movie was bringing to it. I’m still up in the air about it, even though this book is written beautifully with diverse characters present throughout.

Everything, Everything tells the story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls in love with a perfectly normal teenage boy. (If you boil down all the plot elements, that’s basically it, BUT don’t do that. It’s so much more, like HUGE plot twists that even I didn’t see coming.) Family dramas abound, both inside the bubble and out, first love feels galore, and traditional teen mixed up feelings are all over this book. Add in a messed-up medical condition, a parent who is a doctor, and the deaths of family members and this book will drag you on a roller coaster of feelings from the first page to the very last.

Madeline is an Afro-Asian teenage girl who cannot remember the last time she has been outside of her house. She has a very good reason. Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. She can’t go outside, breathe fresh air, feel the sun, nothing. If she did, she could die. Maddy hasn’t left her house in seventeen years and only has contact with her mom and her nurse, Carla, on a daily basis. Her compromised immune system has left her isolated. Maddy is stuck in her air-locked house and has come to terms with it. Until the day a moving truck pulls up next door.

Drawn to the window out of pure curiosity, Maddy watches a family clamor out of the moving truck and take in their new surroundings. Maddy finds herself staring at the teenage boy who is lanky and dressed in black from head to toe. He catches her staring and they lock eyes. That’s the first time Maddy sees Olly and her life is changed forever.

Maddy quickly wants to know more about Olly and his family. From watching them, she discovers some normal, as well as some troubling, things. Maddy and Olly quickly start ‘talking’. They window communicate, IM, email, and all this leaves Maddy wanting more and more. Olly does too. What is she willing to risk for friendship and love? Will Olly accept her? What will her mom think? What will her mom do?

This book is a fantastic read. Going beyond the traditional angst of only being separated from your crush by your parents, Maddy’s disease is the one separating them. It’s a fascinating read that delved into some pretty deep topics.

You could definitely finish this book in a day. The chapters are short, but very engaging. The only reason it took me over a week to read was because I started it in the midst of a multi-day road trip. If you have time and can, more importantly, get your hands on a copy, I recommend you give this book a read. Now I’m off to watch the movie and see how close they followed the book! I hope they followed it pretty closely…


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I spend a lot of time reading review journals, magazines, and online blogs about books. This helps me to order the most current books for my sections and keeps me aware of other books that are coming out across the whole library. The Hate U Give came across my radar as a book to recommend to teens about gun violence. Based on all of the talk going around about this book and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I needed to read The Hate U Give if just to try to understand the power this book has.

The Hate U Give is a MASSIVE New York Times and Amazon bestseller. If the title drives you grammar nerds a little crazy, Thomas has reasons for it. The Hate U Give comes from the acronym THUG LIFE that Tupac Shakar had tattooed across his abdomen. It stands for “The hate u give little infants f**** everybody”. (If you’re offended by that word, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. It doesn’t shy away from violence and language.) That acronym runs rampant throughout The Hate U Give and the main characters keep returning to it. It’s important. Now let’s get down to what this book is about.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr.  By the time she is sixteen, Starr has seen both of her best friends die as a result of gun violence: one by a gang drive-by and the other just recently fatally shot by a cop. Starr was out at a party, something she never does, when shots rang out. She and her friend Khalil took off running to his car. On their way home, they are stopped by the police, pulled over, and Khalil is shot and killed. (Obviously there’s more to the story, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!) Starr is the only witness to Khalil’s fatal shooting by that police officer. This fact causes her a great deal of agony. Does she speak up? Obviously her parents and the cops know that she witnessed his death, but does she tell her friends? How will she react when the story is plastered all over the news? What will she do if the district attorney contacts her or if the cops want to interview her? Starr wants to stand up for Khalil, but she is afraid. How will she react if people start telling lies about Khalil? She just doesn’t know what to do.

Starr has grown up in the rough area of Garden Heights, but with a solid family backing her up. Her mother works as a nurse in a clinic and desperately wants to move away to protect the family. Her father, known as Big Mav, is a former gang-member who took the fall for King, a notorious gang lord in the community, and spent three years in prison when Starr was younger. Now Big Mav owns the local grocery store and is working to make the community better. Starr doesn’t go to the local high school; instead she goes to Williamson, a private school in a more affluent neighborhood where instead of being a black majority, she’s one of only two black kids in her school. Starr constantly talks about her Williamson self and her Garden Heights self. They’re kept separate and each Starr acts different. Her Williamson friends and her Garden Heights friends hardly ever mix. This is a life that Starr has kind of adjusted to, but the slightest bump to her normal life could cause her world to come crashing down. Khalil’s death rocks her world and Starr soon finds herself and her family the target of the police and King, the local drug lord, as everyone puts pressure on her and intimidates her in order to figure out what really happened the night that Khalil died.

The author, Angie Thomas, began writing in response to the fatal shooting in Oakland, California in 2009 of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. She quickly found the subject too painful, so Thomas set the book aside. After the stories of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice broke the news, Thomas knew she had to start writing this book again. Thomas had to voice her opinions, had to acknowledge the neighborhood where she grew up, and needed to shine a light on Black Lives Matter. The themes of social justice, opinion, responsibility, existing in two worlds, and violence are so prevalent and deeply explored in this book because Thomas knows what she is talking about. She lived it.

This book has been optioned for a film and is in development. I can only hope that the movie is just as moving as the book was. The movie has the opportunity to further change the world.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star continues my journey back into young adult fiction. I used to exclusively read only young adult fiction, but about five years ago, I decided that I needed to read outside my comfort area (and to read books with people my own age in them). Starting to read in a new area can be daunting, so I recommend looking at award-winning book lists and even articles with lists of books on different subjects. That is how I stumbled upon The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

Nicola Yoon had already been on my radar because of her book, Everything, Everything, but I had never actually read it. When I found an article that was talking up The Sun is Also a Star, I decided to give it a go and try to see what everyone was getting so excited about. (I was also slightly obsessed with making things using yarn when I saw this book cover, so I figured I needed to read it!)

The Sun is Also a Star takes place all in one day. Natasha is a girl who loves everything that is based in facts. She adores science and has a list of facts for almost any situation. She lives with her parents and her younger brother in a one bedroom apartment. Natasha’s life had been going along perfectly until one day when her father makes a mistake and ruins everything for the whole family. Her life could implode around her. Daniel is a boy who never messes up and is therefore seen as the good son at home and the good student at school. After his older brother messes up in college, the pressure on Daniel to be perfect becomes even higher.

When the two meet, Daniel finds himself questioning what his parents have always told him and just how he lives his life. He is a poet and a dreamer, but must live up to his parents’ high expectations. Daniel must find a way to be around Natasha more than he probably should. Natasha is more hesitant than Daniel and finds his exuberance about their “relationship” daunting and more than a little off-putting. Daniel feels that there is something magical and extraordinary between them, if only he could get Natasha to feel the same way. Daniel reaches out into the universe to try to convince Natasha that their futures can change, but he has trouble believing he can change himself.

This book, while taking place in one day, shines through a series of flashbacks into each character’s life. Minor characters that Natasha and Daniel come in contact with have their own sections within the book as well. The tiny snapshots into daily life show the effect a short interaction with a complete stranger can have on both your life and the other person’s. The ending left me wondering what had really happened between the two. Long after I finished reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about fate, how even the smallest and inconsequential of our actions can greatly impact our lives and the lives of others, and how our attitudes and thoughts can influence our futures as well. The Sun is Also a Star had more of an impact on me than I thought it would. I’m glad I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction in my spare time. A vast majority of them have dealt with sad topics: mental illness, suicide, death, endings of relationships, abuse, homelessness etc. These are all topics that teens deal with on a daily basis, so I appreciate the fact that there are resources out there that teens(and their parents/guardians/loved ones) can turn to if they need some help. However, reading all these angsty books with no break and with no happy ending in sight is throwing me down a rabbit hole of sadness. I needed a break or a book with a happy realistic ending, not a sad realistic ending. Enter Jennifer Niven.

I’d read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven last year and had loved her work (fair warning though: this book has a sad realistic ending dealing with mental illness and suicide). Flipping through a review magazine, I found Holding Up the Universe, also by Niven. The premise sounded like it could possibly end well and I was willing to risk it because I had loved her previous book so much.

Holding Up the Universe tells the story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. It is told from both of their points of view, alternating chapter to chapter. Libby Strout was once known as “America’s Fattest Teen”, a teen whose house had to be partially demolished in order to get her out of it. Back in school for the first time in years, no one can see past her weight. She’s still just the fat girl even though she’s lost 300 pounds. After her mom’s death, Libby is left picking up herself, her father, and their grief. She is ready for the new start high school has to offer.

Jack Masselin is the quintessential high school popular boy. He has swagger and the ability to give people what they want. He is able to fit in. While he seems like he has it all together, Jack has a major secret. He cannot recognize faces. Jack has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize people by their faces. Everyone he meets, he has to try to figure out who they are by their identifiers: big hair, beauty mark, Mohawk, etc. Jack gets through life by being the funny, charming guy, but doesn’t let people get close.

Jack and Libby’s lives become entangled together in the aftermath of a cruel high school game. Sitting squarely in community service and group counseling together forces them to make a connection. This connection changes both of their lives, forcing them to confront issues that neither of them realized they are carrying. Will their connection change their world for the better or for the worse? Add in cruel high school students, family issues, obesity, brain injuries, and the possibility of love and Jack and Libby are in for a crazy ride of self-esteem, self-reliance, and teenage angst. Holding Up the Universe was the exact book palette refresher I needed.

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

the-way-i-used-to-beThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith is a deeply moving, traumatic examination of one young woman’s struggle to overcome the aftermath of a rape. Eden, a 14-year old teenage girl, is raped by Kevin, her older brother’s best friend and college roommate. Her family is asleep down the hall while he crawls into her bed. Eden is the typical band geek, good girl who lives in fear of Kevin as he tells her that he will kill her and that no one will believe her if she talks. She is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t know what to do except try to live her life like normal, an idea that quickly fails as she becomes a new person overnight.

This book follows Eden through all four years of high school, highlighting her relationships with friends and family as she keeps this dark secret under wraps. School becomes increasingly more difficult for Eden as she turns to lies, booze, sex, and parties to smother her emotions. Kevin’s younger sister, Amanda, who Eden used to be friends with, turns against her and begins spreading vicious rumors about her around school. Eden’s best friend, Mara, knows nothing about what happened to her and the two move through high school experiencing some typical high school activities: dying their hair, first crushes, getting piercings, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes for the first time, going to parties, doing drugs, and getting their drivers’ licenses. All the while, distance begins to grow between the two. Eden also finds herself separated from her other friends and her family. She has buried who she used to be, buried her emotions, and buried her secret deep inside.

As Eden grows older, readers are able to dissect the way her rape has affected her personality and her relationships. The way Eden treats herself changes drastically from her freshman year to her senior year of high school, as evidenced through her inner monologue throughout the book. How she believes others to see her changes throughout the book as well. The long-term view of the effect this trauma has on Eden allows readers to gain a better understanding of the guilt, hatred, and complex emotions survivors face in the aftermath of rape and sexual assault. The Way I Used to Be is not an easy book to read as watching Eden disintegrate is painful, but the truth and emotions revealed are so vivid and true-to-life that this book becomes a necessary read to understand the emotions survivors experience on a day-to-day basis.  Eden carries a double burden – the weight of carrying her secret and the violation of rape. She shows strength, power, survival, disappointment, pain, heartbreak, and massive loss throughout this book, leaving readers to grow attached to her well-being and her journey through a troubled adolescent made even more difficult by rape. The Way I Used to Be takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster as Eden struggles to find her way back to herself in the aftermath of her rape.

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

How was your October reading adventure – did you meet the challenge to try a Young Adult book? There are a lot of great ones – I hope you were able to find one you liked!

In October I read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. This book was recommended to me a long time ago and it kind of dropped off my radar. Now I wonder, why on earth didn’t I read it right away? It’s remarkable.

revolutionAndi is a depressed, modern-day teenager, mourning the breakup of her parents marriage and the death of her little brother. Her Father decides that accompanying him to Paris over winter break will be just the thing to help her break through her depression. Andi, of course, is less than thrilled but changes her mind when, poking through some antiques, she comes across a diary written by a girl who lived in Paris during the French Revolution. Alexandrine is feeling many of the same turbulent emotions as Andi as she struggles to survive the horrors of the war. As Andi delves further into the diary she begins to feel a kinship with Alexandrine that crosses culture and time and allows her to put her own suffering into perspective.

I had a little trouble with this book at first – Andi is very angsty and very angry at the beginning of the story and I had to force myself to push through. But the historical details, the weaving of the love of music (by both Andi and Alexandrine) throughout the story and an ending that is intense and gripping add up to a book that is very hard to put down. Beautifully written, complex and with just a tiny bit of magical realism, this is a wonderful all-encompassing read.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in October? Tell us how you did with the Young Adult theme!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-month Check

online colorHello Readers! How are you finding this months Reading Challenge – are you enjoying a great Young Adult read, or are you skipping this month? If you’re still searching for a Young Adult novel to try, here are a few suggestions.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book was a huge sensation a couple years ago and for good reason. On the surface, it’s a fairly typical story – a boy and a girl meet and fall in love and face many obstacles. However, the obstacles here are more serious than a typical story – both have cancer. Yes, it’s often a sad story (I cried several times while reading this), but it’s also frequently laugh-out-loud funny and the characters – both main and minor – are terrific. But what I took away from this book that has stayed with me long after finishing it, is the message, that life is worth living and no life is useless. An amazing read (as are all of John Green’s books) – very highly recommended.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Raised by an unstable father who keeps constantly on the move, Sam Border has long been the voice of his silent younger brother, Riddle. Everything changes when Sam meets Emily Bell and, welcomed by her family, the brothers witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they’re left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they’ll ever find a place where they can belong. Part survival story, part family dynamics, I’ll Be There reads like an action-packed thriller that is nearly impossible to put down with great characters that you will love.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Amber already mentioned this book in her introduction to Young Adult books, but I wanted to tell you a little more about it. Anna has been sent to Paris to spend her last year of high school. At first she is miserable and lonely but as she makes friends and begins to explore her new city, Anna comes into her own. More than just an education, Anna gains confidence and strength of character and makes lifelong friends – and meets the love of her life. This is a fun read, especially if you love Paris, beautifully written. There are two follow-up books by Perkins, following secondary characters in Anna and the French Kiss first to San Francisco (Lola and the Boy Next Door) and then back to Paris (Isla and the Happily Ever After) tying all three together beautifully. Enjoy!

Faith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage

faithFaith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine is a refreshing step back from the traditional female superhero tale. This first volume introduces Faith Herbert, a woman orphaned at a young age who has always wanted to do something great. Faith is a psionically gifted psiot, which basically means that Faith can fly and has telekinetic powers. She’s a body positive plus-size superhero known as the Zephyr. Pretty cool.

Now Faith is striking out on her own, having broke up with her superhero boyfriend and her crime-fighting superhero group all at almost the same time. She has decided to take control of her life and live how she’s always wanted to be: in control of her own destiny. This means that Faith is working a day job as a reporter with a secret identity and a group of colleagues who have no idea that she is Faith Herbert OR the Zephyr.

Patrolling at night, Faith stumbles upon a conspiracy revolving around the disappearances of multiple psiots around the city. Her private and public lives come to a screeching collision at her work place, where Faith is forced to mesh her two worlds together and hope things work out. The missing psiots occupy Faith’s mind, leaving her to patrol more and ask questions. She uncovers a mysterious plot to use the psiots by aliens. Of course it’s aliens. This conspiracy is deeply-rooted in entertainment, politics, and regular societies. Faith uses her superhero savvy to save the world, but finds she may need help.