A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (InfoSoup)
Hee Jun loved living in Korea where he fit in with his classmates at school and his grandmother was a respected teacher. She was also able to have an extraordinary garden there. When his father moves them to West Virginia, everything changes. Hee Jun does not fit in with his classmates due to the way he looks and the way he talks. His grandmother too is different, her inner spark gone. His little sister has problems at school too, taking out her fear physically on her teacher. So their grandmother is asked to go to school with her. Slowly, the family begins to find their place in West Virginia, even discovering a beloved flower with a new name.
Watts tells the story of immigration with an eye towards giving people time to adjust and find their footing both with a new language and a new culture. The sense of loss for the characters is palpable on the page, eliciting a real understanding of the immense change they are undergoing. The little sister’s violent reaction to school is handled with sensitivity and understanding, offering the grandmother a chance to connect with her new surroundings. The entire book is filled with deep emotions combined with a gentle nurturing attitude.
Yum’s illustrations are done in watercolor. They show a loving family that manages to thrive despite the changes. The differences between their lives in Korea and West Virginia are shown on the page, particularly with regards to the grandmother and her vibrant life in Korea compared to her lonely existence in the first weeks in the United States.
A strong and thoughtful look at immigration that beautifully explains the huge changes children undergo as they move to a new country. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (InfoSoup)
Maya was born with a terrible horoscope, one that dooms her to marry death, so no man will marry her. So Maya has been focused on her education, since she knows she will never marry. She is detested in the kingdom’s harem and spends much of her time up in the rafters where she can listen in on her father’s throne room. That is how she hears that he plans to have her married off to save the kingdom, despite her horoscope. As Maya becomes a political pawn, her father asks her for the ultimate sacrifice to give her life for peace in her kingdom. Just as Maya is about to sacrifice herself however, war arrives at the kingdom and she is dazzled by a young man she has never met before. Soon her life becomes filled with options she has never considered and magic she never knew was more than tales.
Chokshi makes this book so much more than what it sounds like above. She first creates a world filled with restrictions for women, who are seen only as sexual beings or as collateral to be used for leverage. It is a world where women fight behind the scenes for power, where spite and anger lurk constantly. It is a world of immense wealth and plenty and yet no freedom. Then, and this is what makes this book exceptional, Chokshi turns it all on its head. Readers and the main character move away from those strictures of society and are plopped into a world with its own rules. It is a world of pure power, immense magic and yet rules too.
Against those two diverse worlds, Maya is shown to be a teenager of real distinction. She manages to gain an education where it should not have been a priority. She makes a dire choice and then discovers lust and potentially love. But her path is not straight at all, it moves from princess to queen to something else entirely, something dark and thrilling. It is in that third life where she discovers real power and real love.
This daring and lush novel is filled with excellent world building and one strong teen protagonist who has to save the world. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.