Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘religion

cover image for Does My Head Look Big in This?Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim is sixteen and about to start her third term as an eleventh grader at the exclusive and expensive McClean’s Prepatory Academy when she realizes that she’s ready to wear the hijab full time.  But is she ready for the assumptions people will make about her – about her parents and her abilities and her dreams – if she starts wearing the hijab to school? To the mall? To job interviews?  And yet what will it say about her, and her faith, and her country if she lets fear and prejudice keep her from making her own choices.

Despite the rather slow moving plot and lack of action, I found myself liking this book quite a bit.  It’s not just that it offers a very compassionate and balanced view, and presents readers with a perspective that is sadly in short supply in YA.  Abdel-Fattah writes in a very compelling and engaging voice and I look forward to reading more books by her.

cover image for How Beautiful the OrdinaryHow Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart

Boys who love boys.  Girls who love girls. New loves and old loves.  Teenagers forced to hide their true selves.  How Beautiful the Ordinary collects twelve stories from twelve authors who know what it’s like for their normal selves to treated as different, as outside the norm.

I expect a mixture of quality and taste when it comes to the content of anthologies, but that doesn’t excuse the disrespect for others that I found in a handful of the stories in this particular collection:

William Sleator’s Fingernail has it’s Thai protagonist and narrator telling readers that ” [English] is the most important language in the world” and pointing out that were it not for his abusive, European ex boyfriend, he never would have met his current, loving boyfriend from the West.  It’s not that it’s inconceivable for a young man like this to exist, and to have these kinds of thoughts, but that it’s not really appropriate or responsible for an white American to be putting these words into the mouth of a Thai character he created.

Jennifer Finney Boylan’s The Missing Person is in many ways a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of a girl who everyone else sees and treats as a boy.  Unfortunately, it also uses the misfortune that befalls a Taiwanese exchange student as a metaphor for the main character’s own struggles, rather than as an experience belonging to the exchange student herself, and as a source of common ground.

The stories are not all disappointing, however.  Jacqueline Woodson’s Trev is elegant and full of sorrow, determination, and hope.  Margo Lanagan’s A Dark Red Love Knot is twisted and cruel and beautiful.  Emma Donoghue’s Dear Lang, a testament to the meaning of family, left me in tears.  And lastly, Gregory Maguire’s The Silk Road Runs Through Tupperneck, N.H. contemplates paths not taken and shows us the costs of hiding in closets.

cover image for Lucy the GiantLucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith

Fifteen year old Lucy Oswego has always towered over her classmates.  Not that she needs to in order for people to remember her, Sitka is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone else – and their business.  Which is how all the bar owners know to call her when her dad gets so drunk he can’t even stumble home on his own.  So it’s no surprise that Lucy wonders what it would be like to blend in, to fit in – to be someone other than Lucy the Giant.  And when a crabbing boat crew mistakes her for an adult, and invites her to sign on, Lucy finds her chance to do just that.

Have I mentioned how much I love Smith’s books? Lucy the Giant is no exception.  Smith has a gift for finding the extraordinary in the everyday, and for centering the kinds of characters that tend to exist on the fringes of most mainstream narratives.  Lucy the Giant is a deceptively simple story; more complicated and subtle than it appears at first, and one that packs a punch despite it’s short length.

cover image for Lock and KeyLock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Ruby’s mother has never been reliable, sometimes even disappearing for days, but the two of them have always muddled along somehow, and she always come back. Until now. Ruby figures if she can just keep it together and make it through high school without anyone finding out, then things will be alright. And for two months, she manages…well, mostly.  But when her neighbor contacts child services, Ruby is suddenly sent to live with the older sister she hasn’t seen in over a decade.

The relationship between Ruby and her older sister, Cora, is definitely the best part of Lock and Key.  It’s not simple, and it isn’t fixed easily or quickly or with simple heartfelt conversations.  Which is no surprise, as relationships are what Dessen is best at, and this is a very classic Dessen novel.  While it lacks the shop/restaurant/etc. with a quirky cast of characters, it still has lots of interesting people with serious but everyday problems.  It made me both laugh and cry, as any Dessen novel should.

cover image for SaltationSaltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Following the discovery of her aptitude for, and enjoyment of, flying Theo Waitley has made preparations to attend flight school rather than continuing on to a more scholarly pursuit, as is expected of students on the Safe World of Delgado.  Raised in a very different environment than most of her new classmates Theo, is behind in not just mathematics, but social skills as well. She’s also arriving mid year, making it impossible for her to try to blend in.  But Theo has always stood out.  The only question is, will Anlingdin Piloting Academy remember her for her skills, her lack of them, or for being a troublemaker?

I’m not sure if it’s Lee and Miller’s voice, or Theo’s analytical way of approaching life, (or me) but sometimes it feels as though events that ought to have emotional resonance lack the full punch.  That said, I am enjoying these books, and this one was particularly fun because it included getting to see Theo being competent and enjoying herself.

cover image for My Basmati Bat MitzvahMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Some days, Tara Feinstein feels like she has just too much to juggle.  As if regular school work wasn’t enough, now she’s been partnered with the class clown for her robotics project.  Her best friend, Ben-o, is starting to act strangely, and her other best friend, Rebecca, has been spending time with her least favorite person, Sheila Rosenberg. When she decides to go through with her bat mitzvah, Tara knows it will mean extra studying.  What she doesn’t expect is her parent’s reaction, or having to argue with Sheila about whether she is Indian or Jewish – can’t she both?

This was a lovely and engaging story, full of realistic problems and middle graders acting in believable ways.  Tara’s family is supportive, but also unique and imperfect, as all families are.  Nothing is solved easily or neatly, and not every problem is even solved completely – some things take time.  Yet the ending still presents readers with healthy options and a better understanding of others, and hopefully themselves.  It should also be noted that Freedman is definitely drawing on personal experience, she herself is Jewish and her husband’s heritage is Indian, making her family much like Tara’s.

My one major complaint concerns the fact that it was made clear that neither side of Tara’s family talks about which of her elders she looks like. It had Tara herself, in fact, talking about her own looks as if she looked like no one else in her family.  And it attributed this to her mixed heritage, and talked about Tara feeling like she belonged to no one because of it.  While I don’t doubt that children like Tara often feel that way, and that there are families who do react this way to biracial children, in my experience the latter is extremely rare.  (I could be wrong! but that has been my experience.) The book, however, framed it as typical.  While this was a small part of the book, my reaction was anything but small, and not favorable or impersonal, and I fear I’m not the only reader who might react this way.

cover image for Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Moyer Justice and her friend Maddie have just come back from the funeral of Celia Forester, a fellow pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary and a quiet girl they barely knew.  It’s Rose’s job to write up a report on Celia’s final flight – and the speculation is that Celia lost control of her plane while trying to take down one of Germany’s flying bombs. Leaving Rose to wonder what she would do when faced with a similar choice. What kind of sacrifices would she make for others? How far would she go to ensure her own survival?  Questions she’ll have to answer several times over when her own service in the war effort finds her trapped behind enemy lines – and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

The problem with talking about how amazing Wein’s books are is that I hate giving out spoilers.  Rose Under Fire doesn’t have quite the same kind of twists that Code Name Verity does, but I still find myself wanting to say that it was brilliant the way that Wein…and then I have to stop because I don’t know how to explain it without giving to much away.  Not of the plot, precisely, but of the experience of reading the book and traveling on Rose’s journey with her.

What I will say: you should read this. Yes, that means you.  Also, I loved the way that poetry was used throughout the book: to connect Rose to the life she used to have, as currency in the camp, and as a way for her to process what was happening to her – to all of them.

cover image for Team HumanTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

“Friends don’t let friends date vampires.”

Mel lives in New Whitby, a town whose bragging rights include being the first city in America to welcome vampires. For the most part, they stay on their side of town, and humans stay on the other, and that’s just the way Mel likes it.  But paths are bound to cross sometimes, like when a friend’s father, a psychologist who treats both humans and vampires, runs off with a vampire patient.  Still, it’s very much NOT normal for a centuries old vampire to decide that he’s interested in attending high school, of all things.  So Mel has her suspicions about Francis from the start.  And then he starts showing an interest in her best friend, Cathy…

This book is definitely different, but in a good way.  A clever and funny way.  I like how wrong Mel gets things sometimes – and the fact that she’s not the only one making mistakes.  It’s also nice to see so many different family dynamics being explored.  It’s a wonderful story about friendship and family and community – and I want more!

Speaking of, weren’t we supposed to get a sequel?

cover image for A Big Year for LilyA Big Year for Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher and Mary Ann Kinsinger

Lily Lapp loves the long days of summer, but she can’t wait for school to start again so that she can play with her friends at recess. In the Amish town Lily and her friends live in, everyone’s houses are too far apart for little girls to go by themselves to play at each others houses – and besides, it’s not like she minds the schoolwork.  Until then, at least she still gets to see everyone on Sunday, at church, and there’s plenty of adventures to be had at home with her brothers.

A Big Year for Lily is a nicely written tale about school and friends and family, along the lines of Ramona Quimbly, Betsy and Tacy, or Little House on the Prairie – only this time the story is about a little girl who happens to be Amish.  The chapters don’t always seem connected to each other – except that they do go in chronological order – but it works well for the book because Lily, at age nine going on ten, is still rather distractable.

For the most part reading about Amish life was merely interesting, and Lily’s life didn’t seem all that different from the lives of most other little girls in other parts of the US.  While the chores that Lily and her brother are responsible for are highly gendered, that sadly isn’t all that different from the rest of the country – it’s just more noticeable in the book because the chores are different and because the chores being gendered is condoned rather than ignored.

That said, I was taken a bit aback when Lily switched to women’s clothing at age ten and her first comment about wearing her new dresses while playing was that getting stuck by the straight pins used to hold them together would take some getting used to.  Perhaps there was simply something wrong with how Lily’s pins had been put into her dress? But I got the impression that instead it was more how Lily was moving (and amateur internet research backs that up) – which is just rather awful if it’s true, as that sounds like that would be rather restrictive of girls’ and women’s movements.  Not that there aren’t plenty of really crappy things the rest of us make ten year old girls do, but…still. ugh.

cover image for Magic StepsMagic Steps by Tamora Pierce

It’s been over four years since Sandry first came to live at Summersea.  Her friends – Triss, Daja, and Briar – have all left with their teachers on travels that will keep them away from Winding Circle for years.  Although she misses them, Sandry has plenty to keep her busy.  Not just keeping up with her own studies, but also looking after her Uncle, who refuses the get the rest he needs to recover from a recent heart attack.  Soon Sandry has has even more to take care of: a pupil of her own to teach and a mystery to solve.

The premise of this quartet – that Sandry, Briar, Daja, and Triss are responsible for teaching the mages they find, no matter how young they are themselves – is not the most credulous.  (And yes, I realize I just said that about a book that centers around magic.)  It is fun to watch though, and I always appreciate the way that Pierce centers craft – particularly “womanly” ones like textile arts – in these books.

cover image for Paper DaughterPaper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold

The death of someone you love is supposed to turn your life upside down, but not quite like this.  When Maggie Chen’s father is killed in an accident, she and her mother struggle to carry on with out him.  But while going through his papers – clippings of articles he’s written, notes for future stories, mementos of a life he’s no longer there to live – Maggie discovers that her father’s life might never hav been his to begin with. That her father may have lied about who he was from the moment he met Maggie’s mother.

Although interesting at times and clearly well researched in terms of the history of Chinese immigration to America, Paper Daughter is also a good example of why authenticity is important.  Rudine Simms Bishop talks about the difference between books that are intended to be read by children of color, versus books that are about children of color but intended more for white audiences – and the way that the latter tend to define racism as requiring active malice and often include “lessons” for the characters of color about not expecting all whites to be racist.  Unfortunately, this book definitely fits in that category.

It’s not an awful book, and as I said, includes fascinating bits of history and culture.  It also has engaging characters  and – the problem mentioned above notwithstanding – thoughtful and poignant moments.  Recommended, but with reservations.

cover image for grl2grlgrl2grl by Julie Anne Peters

In ten short stories, Peters shares with readers significant moments in the lives of a variety queer youth.

I think what I like best about this collection is the way that it doesn’t try to provide readers with any solutions or answers. Novel length stories about queer youth are so often about dealing with the baggage that tends to come with being queer in a heteronormative society, and thus even when well written usually come to “it gets better” type resolutions. This collection is made up of only glimpses into people’s lives, and the length of the stories precludes any kind of universally uplifting resolution.  Peters is also not afraid to be honest here, and shows us not only heartbreak but the joy of discovery and hate motivated violence as well.  The end result is a collection that’s not only honest and real, but complete in a way that happy endings aren’t.

cover image for BelowBelow by Meg McKinlay

“On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town.”

(Sorry, the opening for this book is just so perfect, I had to steal it.)

Twelve year old Cassie has lived her entire life in New Lower Grange.  But before she was born, before the damn was built, her family’s house was in Old Lower Grange.  Then, with the flip of a switch, an entire town was buried in water, leaving Cassie wondering what secrets may lie hidden beneath the waves.

Intriguing and full of wonderfully written lines (see above, also: “When I got home, Dad had a finger in someone’s eye and another in their ear.” and “Liam was clever yesterday. While I was worried about being prosecuted, he was counting his strokes.”) Below is one of those novels that I wish had gotten more attention.  While not without flaws (McKinlay’s opening lines aren’t quite matched by the rest of her writing) it’s both different and yet not, in all the ways a middle grade book should be: unique in concept, but familiar when it comes to themes and relationships.

cover image for Zebrea ForestZebra Forest by Adina Rishe-Gewitz

Annie and her brother live with their grandmother, the father dead and their mother having abandoned them.  With Gran’s brooding spells getting worse, Annie has her hands full keeping up at school and keeping the social workers of their backs.  She and Rew find their own solace in stories they make up about the father they never knew.  Until a stranger arrives and holds them hostage, and Annie and Rew learn the truth of their father’s death.

I ranted about this book earlier this year.  The short version being that my problem wasn’t so much that Annie was quick to forgive her father, but that the book did an inadequate job of exploring why, and why this might not be the safest choice for her to make.  Also, the backstory about their parents is disturbing in ways that the narrative seems dangerously oblivious to.

cover image for DreamlandDreamland by Sarah Dessen

When Cassie ran away, Caitlin lost more than a sister.  Her parents shock and grief absorbs all their energy, leaving Caitlin without anyone to turn to.  Then Rogerson Biscoe walks into Caitlin’s life and suddenly she once again has someone who listens.  But who will Caitlin turn to when Rogerson turns out to be more dangerous than she suspected?

While abuse in romantic relationships is a topic that deserves a lot more attention than it gets (in YA literature and out of it) this is, unfortunately, not the most engaging problem novel ever.  Possibly because it is so clearly a problem novel rather than a typical Dessen story about interesting characters dealing with various interpersonal issues.  Although Dreamland is far from an after school special, neither is it quite what it could have been.

cover image for The Madness UnderneathThe Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

After the events of The Name of the Star [redacted for spoilers], Rory’s parents have been understandably overprotective.  Neither they, nor her new therapist, believe her when she tells them that she’s more than ready to go back to school. It doesn’t help, of course, that she can’t tell any of them what really happened, or why she so desperately wants to return to Wexford.

I definitely did not expect this book to end up going in the direction it did.  So while it suffered from the typical middle book lulls at certain points, it still managed to push the story along in interesting ways. And yes, it made me cry.  And no, I wasn’t expecting that either.

cover image for The Garden of My ImaanThe Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Aliya worries about getting her homework done. Avoiding bullies at school. When she’ll finally wear a bra like her friends.  If the holidays will be still be any fun now that her disapproving great aunt is coming to visit.  Now, on top of everything else, her Sunday school friends are asking if she’ll fast for Ramadan this year; Aliya doesn’t feel ready – but she doesn’t want to be a baby either.  And when a new muslim girl arrives at her elementary school, suddenly Aliya’s Glen Meadow classmates are full of questions about why Marwa wears a hijab and only eats halal, and why Aliya doesn’t.

The Garden of My Imaan is a typical middle grade story about friends and family and navigating one’s place in the world.  Except for all the ways in which it’s very much not your typical middle grade school story.  That is to say, except for the fact that it’s about a muslim girl whose household contains four generations of Indian Americans, rather than yet another Ramona Quimbly, Junie B. Jones, or Judy Moody.  What makes this story truly unique (although it shouldn’t be as unique as it is, alas) isn’t just the parts that make Aliya different from her literary peers, but the way that Zia keeps the story focused on Aliya and her dilemmas, rather than letting it become a Very Special Lesson for everyone else.

By the by – can we please stop saying things like “Aliya…may be a young Muslim girl of Indian descent, but her story is one that will resonate with readers of many backgrounds” when reviewing books that feature characters we rarely see in (Western) fiction?  That’s just insulting all around.  Why wouldn’t her story “resonate” with all kinds of readers?

cover image for AshAsh by Malinda Lo

After circumstances conspire to make Aisling’s life into a Cinderella tale, she spends much of her time lost in a fog of grief, finding solace only in the familiar woods near her home.  Her wanderings through the forest brings more than one stranger into Ash’s life, and not all of them human; her new experiences and acquaintances tantalizing Ash with the possibility of escaping her dreary existence.

Lo’s debut novel is unique and intriguing, but unfortunately also rather slow and detached at times.  It’s a good addition to any young adult collection, especially in light of how little lgtbq genre there is, but not one that I would make a priority.

cover image for Paladin of SoulsPaladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Shortly after the conclusion of The Curse of Chalion, the dowager royina Ista Dy Baocia sets off on a pilgrimage.  Ista is quite violently against the idea of healing her broken relationship with the gods, but the goal of visiting holy sites througout the kingdom gives her a socially acceptable excuse to escape the walls and expectations that surround her.  The gods themselves have other plans, however, as they often do, and Ista’s wandering soon because an expedition with surprising and momentous results.

As awesome as Paladin of Souls is, I have to admit that a lot of the emotional resonance of the story passed me by, owing to my complete and utter lack of faith at any point in my life.  Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it, I absolutely adored it!  It’s just that many of the deeper moments were illuminating, in terms of understanding how faith works for people who have it, rather than touching on a personal, intimate level.

That said, Ista is awesome and I wish we had more protagonists like her.  More middle aged women. More mothers.  More women who yearn for peace and freedom but recognize the complexities of their obligations.