Hi book bitches!
Sorry…I don’t know what came over me….
I vanished off the face of the blogging earth in September a lot faster than I intended to. But I hit the ground running as soon as school started again. Now, I just finished my second to last semester of graduate school, with one final project due Monday. After that, I’m free until January 13th or so.
The past two weeks have been stressful. One major thing goes wrong throws everything off-kilter. I’m even procrastinating more and more. Right now, I’m taking a break from my final project to relieve my stress through a creative outlet and let you guys know, since my last reading wrap up, I have read sixteen books.
Hope you grabbed a coffee, because this could take a while….
March: Book One by John Lewis
March: Book One was the required read for the nonfiction section of my YA class. It is the story of Congressman John Lewis’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. While it was interesting learning more about the sit-ins and life in the United States during the years of segregation in the South, I was bored most of the time reading. Even though I finished it in a day, March: Book One did not leave the lasting impression on me than I would have expected. But if you like American history, I highly recommend it.
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
As it turns out, 2019 was not only the year of reading nonfiction, but also the year of reading nonfiction I actually enjoyed. The 57 Bus was the second book I read for the young adult nonfiction. Honestly, I picked it because it was the only one on the professor’s reading list that I recognized. Then, I read the synopsis: a true story from Oakland, California following two teenagers and an incident on a public bus. The two students come from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds as well as went to different schools. They never said a word to each other until one of them starts playing with a lighter and accidentally sets the other teen on fire.
The author, Dashka Slater, was a reporter that extensively followed the case for several years. She interviewed both teens, Richard, the misguided but ultimately good-natured fifteen-year-old black perpetrator, and Sasha, the sweet, quirky seventeen-year-old nonbinary white teen. She also interviewed their friends, family, classmates, teachers, and a range of eclectic individuals from all around Oakland who are involved in the case one way or another. The author also takes a hard look at society, particularly in Richard’s case, on how something like this even happened in the first place. Not just in Oakland, but anywhere in general.
The 57 Bus was an enjoyable, informative read. The author wrote it in a way like she was telling a story instead of relating facts. I felt for both kids, even Richard, who you are technically supposed to hate. For most of the book, I wanted to give it 5 stars, but it dragged in some parts and there was a point where there was more information than was needed. But, overall, The 57 Bus has encouraged me to look into more nonfiction.
The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang (library book)
The Dragon Republic is the sequel to The Poppy War, which I read last year also from the library after it received too much hype to be ignored. However, after reading The Poppy War, I admit I did not think about it much afterwards. The Dragon Republic was a different story.
The Dragon Republic continues with the war against the evil empress and Rin, traumatized after the events of the first novel, has joined the Dragon Warlord to turn Nikara into a democratic republic. Only Rin’s fire power has taken a toll on her mentally and emotionally. While she’s with the rest of the Cike, reunited with her friend Kitay, and protected by Nezha, the boy that tormented her in school who is now the sweetest bean ever, everyone around Rin has secrets. And as the war rages on, people finally show themselves for who they are.
One thing I have to respect about R.F. Kuang is that she goes there with the materials she covers in her books. The brutality of war, racism, drug abuse, trauma, etc. she writes it in the most honest way. Though Rin might get on your nerves, she is one of the most authentic characters you will ever read about. While all these are good things, I didn’t really feel the book until the ending. Anyone who has read this book who ships Rin and Nezha will know why.
The Burning God, the third and presumably final book in this series, can’t come fast enough.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (reread)
The Sun is Also a Star was the first required read of my young adult class. I halfway BS’d the discussion post because it took forever to read. I have no idea why. I still liked Daniel and Natasha. There were a lot of deep issues brought up that led to great discussions in the online posts. But at a certain point, The Sun is Also a Star just became more of a chore. Despite this, I left it at the original rating I gave it the first time I read the book in 2016. I chalked it all up to a stressed out mental state at the time.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (reread)
In a similar vein to The Sun is Also a Star, I reread The Impossible Knife of Memory for the same module in my online YA class. Again, I was too stressed out at the time to really enjoy rereading the book as much as I should have. As before, I left the rating as it already was on Goodreads. The book was still good, it was simply circumstances affecting the experience.
#Notyourprincess by Lisa Charleyboy (library book)
#Notyourprincess was one of the recommended reads for the nonfiction section of my young adult class. Surprisingly, I do not have much I can say about it, regardless of the somewhat higher rating. It is mainly a short collection of creative nonfiction and informative essays written by a variety of Native American women from different tribes sharing their respective experiences. It was a quick read, with lots of beautiful artwork and stories from Native American folklore. If you are interested in learning more about Native American culture and identity, I would highly recommend #Notyourprincess.
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (library book)
When Banned Books week rolled around this year, I was determined to maintain the tradition of reading a new banned book, no matter how busy I was. Naturally, I checked out a bunch from the library and only managed to read two. In the Night Kitchen was one of them. It was a children’s book I randomly chose from a list on the American Library Association’s website. And, if I’m being honest, I read it because it was the shortest.
After reading a few reviews on Goodreads, I realized In the Night Kitchen had Holocaust undertones. Still, I was not quite sure what point the author was trying to make. The best explanation I can come up with is I’m not into books that do not have a solid plot.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (library book)
They Called Us Enemy is a historical graphic memoir that was also on the recommended reads for the young adult nonfiction. It follows the Star Trek actor George Takei, who lived with his family in an American Japanese internment camp for four years during World War II. He was four years old and living with his family in Los Angeles when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It also follows the years after the war, and how Japanese Americans were affected.
They Called Us Enemy is drawn in an anime style with a bleak black/white/gray color scheme. George Takei tells the story how he remembers life in an internment camp as a four-year-old, and how things only got harder as the years went by. The most surprising thing about his narration to me was how fair he was to the American government. Reflecting on the anger he felt as a young man, in his adulthood, he eventually understood that what FDR did was out of fear, and fear makes people act irrationally. That’s really what made me give They Called Us Enemy 5 stars.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (library book)
I initially checked out Two Boys Kissing to read during Banned Books week. I didn’t read it during that week, but I luckily had it on hand for a school assignment on diverse reads in our local library (again, for my YA class).
Two Boys Kissing was a short book and there was a lot going on at once. While ex-boyfriends Craig and Harry are kissing on a livestream for thirty-two hours to make a statement after a fellow gay classmate is assaulted, you also see through the eyes of current boyfriends Peter and Neil, who are having some problems; a new romance blossoming between Avery and Ryan; and Cooper, a troubled boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. All this is narrated by the ghosts of men who had died from AIDS.
While the narration style was interesting and the characters were written realistically, admittedly I was bored. This was my first David Levithan book, so I had no expectations going in. I’ve just heard a lot about him over the years. There was some cute moments in between all the sadness, which I appreciated. I also think Two Boys Kissing should be taught in schools. But other than that, it was the middle of the road book for me.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
I read Long Way Down in 24 hours. I’m not exaggerating. I even read this during my breaks at work and I never do that.
I read Long Way Down for school, though I have wanted to read it for a while. Written in verse, it happens mostly during an elevator ride as a fifteen-year-old boy heads out to kill the man he thinks murdered his brother. On the elevator, he meets other people who have previously died from gun violence and is forced to question his actions.
This book does not shy away from social criticism. Will, the protagonist, is asked over and over why he is out to kill a man, always citing “The Rules” of the community. But as the novel progresses, he slowly begins to doubt his mission. The novel also explores the concept of grief, and how that can often cloud people’s judgement. Expect to see Long Way Down on some of my favorite books this year.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Another book I read for school that has also earned a spot on some of my favorite books of 2019 is The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. The Poet X has been on my radar for well over a year. Prior to it being a required read in my YA class, I had come close to buying it whenever I saw it at bookstores several times yet never did. Honestly, it probably would have sat on my bookshelves for too long if I had.
The Poet X is written in verse and follows Xiomara, who is struggling to come to terms with her religion and her sexuality while living in a strict household under a tyrannical mother. That is simply grazing the surface of what happens in this book, as Xiomara discovers her love of slam poetry.
The Poet X is another book I read in a short amount of time and another that hit close to home. I loved Xiomara as a protagonist. I loved the writing style. I loved the supportive friend group. In short, I found little fault with this book.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (reread)
I reread Salt to the Sea for my YA class and I forgot how much I really loved this book. I basically ignored my other homework to keep reading.
My feelings towards Salt to the Sea have not changed. I still loved the writing. I still loved Joana, Florian, and Emilia. I still didn’t like Alfred, though he only annoyed me this time around. I actually pitied him during this reread. It still made me cry. And someone STILL tried to talk to me while I was getting on the emotional roller coaster of the ending.
Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson (library book)
Landscape with Invisible Hand was one of the recommended reads for the final section of the YA class, speculative fiction, and it was actually not the one I initially chose to read. Truth is, I picked this book over Children of Blood and Bone because it was shorter and I had a lot of other homework at the time. Despite this, I was genuinely interested in finding out if I liked this type of science fiction.
I did not.
Everything about Landscape with Invisible Hand was a cringe-fest. The characters, the writing, the nonsequential nonsense plot, everything. While the author did a good job creating a contemporary world under an alien invasion, that’s all the positives I can say about it. This book fell flat with a big wham.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
If Scythe had not been a required read for my young adult class, I have no idea when I would have read it. I’m picky when it comes to choosing which dystopian YA novels. That, and Scythe was so hyped. Thankfully, it did not disappoint.
Set in a world where humanity has conquered even death, Citra and Rowan are two teens reluctantly chosen to be scythe apprentices. Scythes are individuals responsible for keeping the population under control by “gleaning” people. And that’s all I’m going to say. Because there is a lot going on in this book, a lot of important questions raised, and I think it is best people who have not read Scythe to go into it knowing the bare minimum. Just know that it is worthy of the praise it receives.
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
You Bring the Distant Near, much like The Poet X, is a book I’ve had on my radar for a long time that I finally had a reason to read thanks to my YA class. It follows three generations of women from the same Indian-American family: Ranee, her daughters Tara and Sonia, Tara’s daughter Anna, and Sonia’s daughter Chantal. It begins in the 1970s, when Tara and Sonia move with their parents to America from London and embrace their new American lifestyle while their mother insists on them behaving like traditional Indian girls.
If you want to read You Bring the Distant Near, be aware that it can be slow-paced. The chapters read more like “slice of life” stories, as Tara, Sonia, Chantal, and Anna encounter different issues in their respective time periods. While I did enjoy that aspect, it also led to a lot of jarring time jumps. I was only aware of time passing unless a character said what year it was. The romances were cute, yet not as fleshed out as the familial relationships between the women. I personally loved the sisterly relationship between Tara and Sonia the best. The writing was also lovely and the plot was primarily character-driven, another element you should be aware of if that is something you don’t prefer.
You Bring the Distant Near is a book I wanted to give a higher rating to, but it had some problems. If I ever get around to rereading it, we will see if I still feel the same.
Dancing with the Enemy: My Family’s Holocaust Secret by Paul Glaser (library book)
Dancing with the Enemy is one of the books I’ve had on my Goodreads TBR for years. I checked it out of the library twice this year, making a point to read it the second time I borrowed it. The concept was just too fascinating: the author, Paul Glaser, who was raised Catholic, finds out his paternal side was once Jewish and his father’s estranged older sister, Rosie, survived in Auschwitz by teaching ballroom dancing to the Nazis.
Paul tells the story based off of information he gathered from reading his aunt’s journals and letters. Rosie, a woman ahead of her time, came from a family of nonpracticing Jews. After losing the love of her life to a naval airplane crash, she marries the wrong man and then has an affair with another. She eventually drops both of them to open her own dance school, but when the Nazis invade the Netherlands, she is exposed by her jealous ex-husband and scheming former lover and sent to Auschwitz. In between the diary entries are also chapters narrated by Paul as he digs into his family’s history following an unexpected surprise while touring the Auschwitz museum.
While I would recommend Dancing with the Enemy to anyone interested in World War II nonfiction, it was sadly a middle of the road book for me. Rosie is a boss lady and the main highlight of this entire novel. We also get insight on what was happening in the Netherlands as Hitler rose to power. However, Dancing with the Enemy was barely 300 pages, yet there was too much filler. Paul could have shaved off some of his chapters, and made the focus entirely his aunt. There were also a lot of unexpected time jumps and more telling than showing (which I suppose is to be expected in a book based off diaries). If those things annoy you, be wary if you choose to read Dancing with the Enemy.
What have you read recently?