Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Third Alvin Ho ( What Happened?)

Last week Debbie Reese did a critical analyses about Alvin Ho: Allergic to birthday parties, science projects, and other man-made catastrophes by Lenore Look. One of the major themes of the most recent Alvin Ho is a cowboys vs. Indians birthday party. I haven't read the book yet but Reese has included textual and visual excerpts, as she denounces it for being filled with stereotypes
"When I got to the glossary, I thought, "This book needs another glossary entry... STEREOTYPE. And, it needs that word stamped in big letters on the front of the book." From the feathered headdress to the war paint to the war whoops and bow and arrow, all the elements of the stereotyped Indian are in this book."

I really liked the first two Alvin Ho stories and was very surprised by this. The stories are set in the present day. I didn't even realize kids still played cowboys and Indians. I respect Look for not shying away from Reese's criticism. The author responded the next day. Since I don't agree with the direction Look has taken this story, that's the only good thing I have to say.

Look's argument such as it is loses all creditability when she sites the Disney's Pocahontas. No one should be looking to Disney for the rights and wrong on racial representation. To be fair to the author, it doesn't appear as if she did that. (I just thought it sounded good.) However it does appear as if Look used the Disney movie for justification of a playing Indians theme which is just as bad.

From the author's response
"But do kids play politically correctly? No. Should I perpetuate play that is not politically correct? No. But I would not be TRUTHFUL if I were to fabricate a scenario for them that conforms to our current, enlightened-adult sense of how kids should play if that’s not the behavior that we’ve already passed to them. And good writing is about being honest, regardless of how discomforting it might be, especially when echoed in our children's play."

That would hold more weight is Alvin Ho were set in historical time. However the stories are set in modern times. It simply doesn't make sense that Alvin and his friends want to play cowboy and Indians. It's already nearly impossible to find positive portrayals of Indians in children's literature, authors should not be turning back the clock.

From the glossary (which I saw thanks to the amazon google preview)

"King's Philip's War - started in 1675 in Plymouth Colony before it became a part of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The war spread and nearly wiped out all of New England in a little more than a year. King Philip was the English name for the native Metcacom. The settlers were fighting to take land away from the Natives and Natives were fighting to preserve their traditional way of life. "

It's the last sentence and what wasn't said that really gets under my skin. Indians were fighting for their lives. I am surprised no one noticed all the red flags in this book. From Reese's and Sarah Park's criticism its obvious that playing Indian was a major theme. I can understand a paragraph or a chapter slipping by since many times people aren't aware to the slights to another group. But someone should've caught this.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Diversify Your Reading Challenge

At Diversity in YA - Diversify Your Reading Challenge was recently announced.

This summer, we’re challenging readers to read books that feature a diverse world, to read beyond their comfort zones, and to just plain dive into some wonderful stories. Our challenge will have two components: one for libraries, one for readers and book bloggers. At the end of the summer we'll be giving away some wonder book prizes donated by publishers.

In need of some diverse reading suggestions check out the Nerds Heart YA Shortlists This is the third year of NHYA, a tournament for underrepesented YA. Its currently in the first round. All the shortlist can easily be accesed on the site. Its a great way to find some new and very good diverse books.

My NHYA interview with Mitali Perkins about Bamboo People
Ari's NHYA interview with B.A. Binns about Pull

Friday, June 24, 2011

LGBTQ YA Novels With Characters of Color

Last June I ran this list for the first time. I decided to run it again when I realized there were a few new titles to be added. Pride week begins June 25th

God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya

Pull by B.A. Binns

Huntress by Malinda Lo

I Am J by Cris Beam

Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez

Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright (July )

We the Animals by Justin Torres (August )

The Shattering by Karen Haley

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

The Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez

M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

My Most Excellent Year: by Steve Kluger

Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Dramarama by E Lockhart

Fat Hoochie Prom Queen by Nico Medina

The Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz

The God Box by Alex Sanchez

The It Chicks by Tia Williams

Love & Lies: Marisol's Story by Ellen Wittlinger

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

No Such Thing as the Real World: by Various Authors

Woodson's "The Company" is abouta Black gay male dancer in New York

Orphea Proud by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

God Loves Hair was a 2011 Lambda Award Finalist and self published. To buy a copy its best to go directly to the author's site.

A Map of Home by Jarrar is classified as fiction and works very well as a YA crossover.

I've been hearing great things about Torres debut We the Animals which is also classified as fiction. From the description it looks like it has some YA crossover appeal as well.

The LGBTQ characters in Pull and Jazz in Love are secondary, role players but their presence is felt.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Down to the Bone - Mayra Lazara Dole (Updated June 2012)

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
There are only a few books I would go back and revisit to review, this is one of them. 17 yr old Laura gets kicked out of Catholic school, after a nun discovers a love letter from her girlfriend and reads it to the entire class. Laura's mother kicks her out for being a degenerate. Laura moves in with her best friend Soli and her mother Viva. Away from home Laura explores her sexual identity. Slowly becoming a part of the gay and lesbian community.

Everything I loved about this story the first time, still holds true the second time around. Laura is a great main character. You can feel her struggle to find where she fits. As well as come to terms with her mother's feelings. There are also some great and very supportive secondary characters. Through everyone's story Dole introduces the reader very naturally to the Cuban gay scene. The stories flow is beautiful and is not hindered by the basic cultural and LGBT references the author had to use since its the first (and still only) YA novel featuring a lesbian Latina. Down to the Bone is a damn good first. It's damn good period.

A revised edition of Down to the Bone will be released next month, July 2012.  It is being published by Bella Books.   An excerpt

"This is an expanded Author’s Edition paperback reprint of the original hardcover, first published by HarperCollins in 2008. According to Bella Books, this Author’s Edition “has been substantially altered with more than 20% of the original content expanded or revised.”

I love the new cover so much, I had to tell the author.  

So glad you liked cover. made my day. i love it too. What I'm mostly excited about is that Down to the Bone earned out its Harper Collins advance (I keep reading that approximately nine out of ten authors in these times do!). what makes me ecstatic about this is that teens who needed the book got a hold of it and want more. also thrilled that i was able to rewrite, update and make the second edition edgier, for older teens.  

Mayra Lazara Dole also as a story in the newly released, The Letter Q " Queer Writers Notes To Their
Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon and James Lecesne

Just for fun I will add a Hidden Giveaway to this update,
 The first person to leave, hidden giveaway winner in the comment box and email me with hidden giveaway winner in the subject line I will send them a copy of Down to the Bone.  Only open to people residing in the  Continental U.S.  Open from June 19 -June 29.  So if you leave a comment after the 29th no libros gratis. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

A la Carte by Tanita Davis

A la Carte* by Tanita Davis - This started off as a pretty good novel and finished very very strong, turning my like into love. 17 yr old Elaine (Lainey) lives in the Bay Area with her mother who is co owner of La Salle Rouge restaurant. Lainey is pretty good in the kitchen as well and dreams of having her own vegetarian cooking show. A la Carte is about much more then a girl who wants to be a chef. Its also about a teenage girl who falls for the wrong guy. Lainey has known Sim since grade school. The two used to be very close friends when high school started Sim no longer had time for Lainey.

As soon as the author introduced Sim I didn't like him because Lainey seemed like a nice girl who deserved a good guy. Not a guy who strings her along or only comes by when he needs something, making empty promises. But the author tricked me into thinking maybe Sim wasn't so bad after all, when he went crying to Lainey about needing to runaway because his parents didn't understand him.

I just wanted to say goodbye. I'm not coming back. I finally figured it out, my parents are crazy and its them that's making my life such crap. I can't live like this so I'm not going to. It's not like they don't want me to go

As I read this chapter of Sim leaving I was thinking ohh he isn't that bad just misunderstood. Even when he asked to borrow 500 dollars from Lainey I was still blind. Though I hate to be tricked it makes it easier to see how Lainey could fall for a guy like Sim. Cooking comforts Lainey, throughout the novel she cooks various recipes. Lainey's cooking doesn't stop the flow of the novel, only slows the pace so Lainey can catch her breath again. Lainey's vegetarian recipes are included in the book. Lainey's mom was great, not allowing Lainey to stop living her life for a guy. It was a long slow process for Lainey to rethink her relationship with Sim and how much she is willing to take or do for a guy making this story very believeable.

Sim comes back
I've thought about you alot, Laine. Not enough to call though huh? I smile back, almost sad that I know it's so true. Sim laughs shortly. Man, Laine you're brutal. Okay so I screwed up. His finger traces my lower lip. I'll make it up to you. Come see me this summer? Now he asks when all I have ever wanted was for him to want me with him, to need be to be around , to take notice of what I do . Now it's not what I want anymore. I'm not a girl who's meant to be a side dish. I won't stand around and wait for some boy while he chooses me. I can choose me too.

I am pretty sure my like turned into love right around here. I highly recommend A la Carte. If you know a girl who is stuck on the wrong guy, or maybe you want them to avoid the wrong guy give them this book. If you know a girl who likes to cook, is a vegetarian or enjoys cooking shows give them this book. A la Carte is appropriate for preteens.

Read an excerpt

* I reviewed A La Carte when it first came out in 2008. Decided to run it again because the cover of the paperback is gorgeous and I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interview with Mitali Perkins (Nerds Heart YA)

This year thanks to procrastinating, a favorite hobby of mine, I missed the cut off date to be a Nerds Heart YA judge. But I learned my lesson so when Jodie asked if I could interview one of the shortlisted authors, I quickly said yes. Even better, I would get a chance to ask author Mitali Perkins a few questions about Bamboo People, one of my favorite books from last year.
My review Hi, Mitali and welcome. Can you please tell us a little about Bamboo People?

I really liked the description in Stanford Magazine.

Burmese boy soldier and an ethnic Karenni refugee narrate a thrilling jungle survival story about war along the Myanmar border. In an unsparing novel for middle-grade readers, Perkins sorts out the boys' complicated feelings about revenge, justice, freedom and loyalty. The title metaphor honors the strength and flexibility that individuals need when their simplest hopes are thwarted by geopolitical hatred."

How's that?

That is very good and it captures the heart of the story. One of the things that I loved about Bamboo People is the flow is never weighed down by facts. How were you able to find a happy medium between fact and fiction?

For me, characters come first in contemporary novels. Since Tu Reh and Chiko are fictional, it was easy to create their stories in a setting that I had experienced mostly firsthand. It's the same process I use when writing contemporary fiction set in the USA, with a bit more research to get the facts straight especially on the Burma side.

You did a wonderful job with the setting of Burma. How much research went into it?

I've never actually traveled into the heart of Burma. I've skirted the borders on all sides, traveling in Bangladesh, India, Thailand and China, but since I haven't visited the city of Yangon I did a lot of reading and research. I also have good friends who have spent a lot of time crossing the Thai-Burma border on behalf of the refugees.

I truly appreciate when an author creates strong secondary characters with no fear of over shadowing the primary ones. Chick and Tu Reh were great well rounded characters.

I liked them a lot, though I must confess that Tai was my favorite. What has reader feedback been to your characters? (I know I can't be the only Tai fan)

Young readers seem to like Tai and Sawati a lot. They often ask for sequels from the perspective of those two characters, so you're definitely not alone.

Last year you did full court PR press for Bamboo People, including a website. It looks like it worked the book was was selected as one of ALA Top Ten Books of 2011. What did you learn from promoting Bamboo People?

My books feature characters and settings on the margins of life. In order to reach mainstream readers, they have to be championed by savvy booksellers, bloggers, teachers, and librarians. Somehow, thanks to some key people I know through social media and in real life, Bamboo People got some of that amazing support (here I am on your blog and in this tournament, for example). I'm honored and humbled by the efforts of many gatekeepers to get this book into the hands and hearts of young people.

Fiction by South Asian authors is pretty popular. Unfortunately, that popularity doesn't cross over into YA fiction. Why do you think that is?

If I could answer this question, Doret my dear, I'd probably have more money jingling in my pockets. Novels, whether for grownups or teens, become bestsellers through the power of word of mouth and social circles. Who knows how the word spreads or why certain topics become red-hot for a season?

For some reason, South Asian settings and voices have captivated adult readers in recent years. Achieving this kind of trendiness is a matter of timing and good fortune, but it can't happen if a story isn't excellent, inspiring, mesmerizing, funny, and/or heartbreaking. I don't have any power over the winds of trends in the YA markets, but I do have the power to make my stories better, so that's what I try to concentrate -on improving my craft.

Mitali, thank you for your time and for writing such a wonderful story. Good luck in the tournament.

Thanks so much, Doret, and to all the wonderful bloggers shining light on stories that might be overlooked.

The first round of NHYA, a tournament that showcases underrepresented YA, started on June 13 and will run until June 29

Theodosia and The Last Pharaoh

Theodosia and The Last Pharaoh by R.L. LaFevers

This is the fourth book in the Theodosia series and each one is better then the last. Theodosia can sense curses and black magic on artifacts. Theodosia's father is the head curator at a London museum, so she stays busy. Theodosia's mother goes to Egypt for an archaeological dig. Theodosia is going as well, to return two priceless artifacts to a The Brotherhood, a secret Egyptian society. The Serpents of Chaos have followed Theodosia from London. They want revenge and the artifacts.

This is the fourth book in the series, each one is better then the last. They are so much fun, I love Theodosia. LaFevers writing is continually strong. I love how well the storyline is moving along and the many layers of Theodosia. As with the other three, this one could easily stand on its own. Though I would highly recommend starting from the beginning.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Juniper Berry - M.P. Kozlowsky

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky
Juniper's parents are famous movie stars. Before they were household names, the Berry's spent a lot of time together and were very happy. Now Juniper hardly ever sees her parents who are always too busy. On the outside they look the same but Juniper believes something is terribly wrong.

The Berry's property is secluded to keep fans and media away. Juniper isn't allowed to wander too far and is home schooled. Her only companion is her dog, Kitty. One day she meets, Giles. He walked miles in hopes of figuring out what's going on with his parents. Quickly the two realize their parents are suffering from the same thing. They decide to work together to save them.

Juniper is a smart, curious and likable 11 yr old girl. When the story begins she's waiting up for her parents. Recalling the good times as her parents act strangely and indifferent toward her. Soon after Giles comes along.

They've been (very distant ) neighbors and strangers for years. Whether or not the two could've gone so long without meeting or at least knowing about each other doesn't bother me.

I do have issue with how easily everything falls together. I am wondering how much I can say here without giving too much away. I figure since there's a tree on the cover I have a little leeway. Juniper knows which tree is the source of evil before their search even begins.

I would've been okay with this is the author used the time saved to develop the villain. There simply wasn't enough action to cover up the lack of character depths. There were a few good visual scenes that involved the loss of blood. But it was too late, the author had already lost me.

The story was also lesson heavy handed. Juniper and Giles parents become easy targets thanks to not realizing what they had and desire to have all their dreams come true without working for it.

Mr Berry grabbed her hand. "The words will come. Only they'll be mine now, no one else's. It may not be what everyone wants, but that's okay I'll be doing what feels right to me, and I'll have you and your mother. That's what I should've known from the beginning.

"We were so lost," Mrs. Berry said. "We had everything and yet, nothing. This is what matters most, the three of us like this. We've missed out on so much. You've missed out on so much."

I picked the book up because of the cover, which had right amount of scary darkness. The story is bit of scary but not enough. This might be a good recommendation for a young reader who wants to read something scary but not too scary. Though Juniper Berry didn't work for me as much as I would've liked, it is very readable. I will definitely try the author again.

Chapter One

Positive Reviews

The BookSmugglers


Monday, June 13, 2011

Warp Speed by Lisa Yee

Warp Speed by Lisa Yee
Marley is a member of his school AV club loves Star Trek and feels invisible. The only people who see Marley are his five AV friends and the bullies. Marley's calls his biggest tormentors the Gorn, three could be brothers. Their bullying gets as the school year goes on. To keep ahead of the Gorn, Marley accidentally discovers that he loves to run.

Marley is simply trying to survive the 7th grade. He's never portrayed as only a victim. He's also funny, fast, and loves old movies, to name a few things. From the beginning Marley's voice is strong and authentic.

This is the fourth novel Yee's has written that's set at Rancho Rosetta middle school. I've read three , including this one. 3 for 3 is the yes column. The Yee is simply skilled at creating realistic characters and situations.

A quick sidenote, when Marley has a conversation with one of his bullies, I couldn't help but think of The Bystander by James Preller. The final scene sealed the connection for me and these two stories about bullying. Warp Speed and Bystander would pair up nicely.

Read an excerpt

Monday, June 6, 2011

Stupid Fast - Geoff Herbach

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
Felton Reinstein has never been popular and is pretty much ignored. At the end of Sophomore year Felton hits a growth spurt. Suddenly he's stupid fast. The coach is after Felton to join the football.

Felton's summer is spent training, dating Aleah the new girl and worry about this mother and younger brother. His voice was real, straight forward and spot on good. I thought I knew what I was getting with this story, Herbach gave much more. I was wowed by the unexpected depth.

Stupid Fast is Stupid Good. Yes that's corny but it doesn't make it any less true. Felton Reinstein is one of my favorite male protagonist of the year. This wonderful debut is a paperback and only $10.00 which is a freakin steal.

More reviews via the author's site.

Read an excerpt

Friday, June 3, 2011

Beauty Queens - Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
I was looking forward Beauty Queens. I must admit it took me a few chapters to really get into it but once I did I loved it as I do Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde.

The Miss Teen Dream Pageant plan crashes. Of the 50 contestants only 14 live. There are no other survivors. The 14 girls must figure out how to survive on the island until help arrives. Miss Texas, Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, took control. Miss Texas was serious and on it from day one.

The pageant is sponsored by The Corporation. Throughout there are commercial breaks selling their products. I skipped these. There were also chapters that reveal the truth behind The Corporation, I skipped these as well. My only interest in this story was with the contestants. Bray did an excellent job with their voices and background stories. It was especially nice that it wasn't an all White /straight cast. All Miss Teen Pageant got a chance to shine on the island. Under all of the humor Beauty Queens is grounded in great character development.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nikki & Deja: Election Madness - Karen English, Laura Freeman

Nikki & Deja:Election Madness by Karen English illus. by Laura Freeman
This is the four book in this series. I didn't like the last one as much as the first two and I was hoping this Election Madness would get the series back on track for me. Unfortunately that didn't happen.

Nikki and Deja's third grade teacher the school is holding an election for president. Deja decides to run for president and that Nikki will be her campaign manager. From the beginning Deja is a mean and bossy friend. The class elections are announced Deja is only concerned with how many of her classmates will vote for her. Nikki wants to play during lunch recess but Deja makes her poll class votes, since she's campaign manager.

I don't remember Nikki and Deja's friendship dynamic being like this in the first three books. I am hoping this is a one time thing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Sale Now : New Releases

New Releases for the month of June, that feature kids of color or a diverese cast.

Invasion of the Potty Snatchers by Dav Pilkey

Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman

Eighth Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich (paperback) my review

Eye of the Moon by Dianne Hofmeyr

Tiger's Quest by Colleen Houck

City of Ice by Laurence Yep

Moonshadow by Simon Higgins

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Good Enough by Paula Yoo (paperback)

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach -First two chapters Very good will review soon.

Forgiven by Janet Fox

A La Carte by Tanita Davis (paperback) my review

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

Doing My Own Thing by Nikki Carter

The Waking by Thomas Randall

Luminous by Dawn Metcalf

Crossing the Lines by Paul Volponi