The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662804)

Released March 6, 2018.

Xiomara feels completely unheard and smothered by her mother’s high expectations, particularly those around church and confirmation. She knows how to use her fists to settle arguments, often coming to the defense of her twin brother. She ignores the lewd glances of the men around her who react to her curves far too often. Xiomara’s mother refuses to allow her to date, so when she catches her daughter kissing someone, there are real consequences. Still, Xiomara continues to find her voice. She asks questions at confirmation and eventually joins the school’s poetry club. Xiomara’s passion for words, slam poetry and speaking out won’t stay hidden from her mother for much longer.

Written by a famed slam poet, this book is ferociously written, taking life and putting it on the page with an honesty that almost hurts. The entire verse novel is beautifully written and each poem is a study in how to capture a moment in time with clarity. There are some poems that shine, the anger burning so brightly that they can’t be ignored. They beg to be read aloud into a microphone.

Xiomara’s character is complex and amazing. She is a girl just finding her voice, emerging from the huge shadow her mother has cast and finding her own way forward. She is a mix of sensuality, verse and anger that is completely intoxicating.

One of the best verse novels I have ever read, this one deserves a standing ovation. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

 

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitors Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (InfoSoup)

Released September 27, 2016.

The author of the A Tale Dark and Grimm series returns with a medieval tale set in the year 1242. It is a tale told by an inn full of strangers, who each know a piece of the miraculous stories of these children. There is William, the huge boy who is an oblate in the monastery but doesn’t mind using his fists. There is Jacob, a Jewish boy who had to flee his village when it was set on fire by some Christian boys. There is Jeanne, a peasant girl who has fits and sees visions that come true. Finally, there is Gwenforte, Jeanne’s greyhound who died and then returned from the dead. These children and the dog traverse France looking for safety and along the way they change hearts, create miracles, heal the sick (even a farting dragon) and build faith.

Immediately upon opening the book, I tumbled headlong in love with it. After all, it has the format of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, though it is far less bawdy! I also enjoyed that all of the stories happen right in the inn rather than on a pilgrimage. Gidwitz notes with a wryness that some of the narration includes more details than any observer would have, but my goodness it makes for a better telling of the tale. The medieval setting is beautifully captured through the rich prose.

This is a book that tackles big issues with gusto. It is a book steeped in faith, one where children perform miracles and a dog returns from the dead. But this is a book that looks beyond Christianity as well to the Jewish faith and thus becomes more inclusive in the way it speaks about faith. Religion itself is at the heart of one of the largest moments in the book, protecting Jewish Talmuds from being burned. It’s a powerful moment, a statement about the importance of the written word, and a purely medieval view of the value of illuminated books.

Brilliant, medieval and funny at just the right moments, this book is a lush look at medieval times for young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton.

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (InfoSoup)

Raised in a cult, Minnow left normal life behind at age 5 to start a new life in the wilderness with her family, other believers, and the Prophet. Minnow was taught to obey, to fear outsiders, to hate people of color, and to not think for herself. When she started to drift too far from the Community’s teachings, she was punished by having her hands cut off. Now she has been taken into custody after attacking a boy. In juvenile detention, she has plenty of time to think about what she has done and all that has happened to her. Her family is in tatters, her community burned to the ground, and Minnow had a part in all of it. Minnow now has to decide how to share the truth and how much of it she can tell without causing even more harm to those she is trying to protect. She also has to figure out what to believe in and how to trust herself at all.

Oakes has adapted a tale from the Brother’s Grimm as the basis of this story. You can hear the echo of those brutal times throughout this novel for teens. The truth of Minnow’s life is told in fits and starts through flashbacks which makes for tantalizing reading and a book that is impossible to put down. Oakes’ portrayal of the cult is very effective, from the wild premises of the faith itself to its leader, the cult is a devastating mixture of the ridiculous and the savage. Trapped in that world, Minnow learns to find beauty where she can and friends in the most unlikely of people and places. The life in the cult contrasts eerily with the order of juvenile detention where there is violence but also protection, enemies but also friends.

Minnow is a protagonist who begins the book almost like a wounded animal with her faith shattered but still clearly influencing her reactions. As the book progresses and she learns not only who she can trust but also of her own strength and her own duty to herself, Minnow grows and evolves. Not only does she turn away from things that she was clinging to in the beginning, but her own beliefs and language change along the way. The growth is organic and subtle. Minnow also thinks in poetry, connected to the wilderness where she spent most of her life. She sees things through that lens, and the beauty of that place returns to her and the reader again and again throughout the novel, strong and pure and lovely.

A book that wrestles with family, faith and truth, this teen novel is a dark and powerful read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.

Review: Beautiful Moon by Tonya Bolden

beautiful moon

Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

On a moonlit night, a young boy realizes that he’s forgotten to say his prayers and hops out of bed to pray.  He notices the beauty of the yellow moon and begins to pray.  As the moon crosses the sky, it shines on the different people that the boy prays for.  He prays for people with no homes and the moon shines on a woman trying to sleep on a park bench.  He prays for wars to end and the moon shines on a man worried about his daughter who is a soldier.  He prays for the sick to be healed and the moon shines into a hospital room.  He prays that everyone has enough food and the moon shines on a family with empty cupboards and also into a food pantry.  He prays for his own family, even his pet turtle.  And back in his bed, he prays that the next night he will remember to pray.

Bolden manages to keep this book solely about prayer and the act of praying for others without defining what religion the boy is.  Her use of the moon as a unifying factor works well, creating a book that flows along in a natural way.  Bolden’s text is done in poetic form, capturing moments of people in need of prayers with a real clarity. 

Velasquez’s art is luminous.  He captures moonlit rooms and places with a cool but also rich light.  He celebrates diversity on the page, the people in the images a rich tapestry of color and ethnicities.  The little boy’s earnest face speaks volumes about the importance of prayer.

A nondenominational book about prayers, need and community support, this book celebrates the power of faith in a way that children will easily relate to.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Review: Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane

deep in the sahara

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Released October 8, 2013.

Lalla wants to wear a malafa just like the other women in her family do.  Lalla tells her mother she wants to be beautiful just like her, but her mother says that a malafa is about more than beauty.  Lalla tells her sister that she wants to be mysterious just like her, but her sister says that a malafa is about more than mystery.  Seeing all of the women in their malafa, Lalla tells her cousin that she wants to be like all of them, but she replies that a malafa is more than that.  Her grandmother too says that a malafa is about more than tradition.  Finally, Lalla goes back to her mother and explains that she wants to be able to pray like her mother does.  Her mother agrees, saying “A malafa is for faith."  And the two face east and pray together in their malafa.

Set in Mauritania, this book celebrates the Muslim faith in a very beautiful way.  Written in the second person, readers are invited to see themselves as Lalla and learn about her faith and her world.  Cunnane writes beautiful descriptions of both the malafa themselves and also the community where Lalla lives.  There are donkeys, camels, and other exotic things, but Cunnane goes deeper than that and paints a world with pink houses shaped like cakes and silver heels that click on tiles.

Hadadi’s art is jewel toned and filled with details.  She has created a warm and loving community for Lalla to explore with the reader.  The beauty of the malafa are shown, the colors of the rooms, and the tangible love of an extended family.

An accessible and beautiful look at a Muslim community that dazzles.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

Review: The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

garden of my imaan

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Aliya is different than the other kids in her class because she’s Muslim.  She does all she can to fit in, but that means she doesn’t stand up to the kids who pick on her or even talk to the cute boy she likes.  Then Marwa moves to their town and she is in the same grade as Aliya.  Marwa is also Muslim and wears the hijab or head scarf.  Marwa also does not just put up with the teasing of others and appears to Aliya to be much more confident than Aliya personally feels.  Aliya starts to write letters to Allah which start out as just complaints at first and then lead to something more: action.  As Aliya begins to deal with her own insecurities, she discovers that the world is much more accepting of differences if they are handled with confidence.

Zia has created a universal story with a Muslim heroine.  Children of all faiths will recognize themselves in these pages.  They will have struggled with teasing and bullying, they will have tried too hard to fit in, they will have not liked someone at first and then learned to like them.  Zia incorporates details about Zia’s Indian culture, her faith, and her family traditions with great skill, handily defining things with skill and ease.

It is wonderful to see a young heroine whose life includes cute boys but is not driven by it.  Faith, family and friendship are really at the heart of this novel, but Aliya is definitely a young girl too.  She struggles with issues in a way that shows definite growth in a natural way.  Zia writes with a wonderful lightness that makes this book an effortless read. 

Filled with giggles between girlfriends, this book reveals the warmth of family and faith in a completely approachable and joyful way.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.

Snook Alone: A Book of Faith, Silence and Connection

snookalone

Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering

Abba Jacob lived on an island with his dog, Snook.  Each day their routine was the same.  They got up at dawn, prayed, worked together, and spent time in companionable silence together.  Sometimes there were visitors or Abba Jacob headed off to town in his car, but Snook was always there waiting for him.  Until one day, Snook and Abba Jacob headed out in a boat to help catalog plant and animal species on the islands.  Snook was along to help catch the rats and mice that were disrupting the birds and animals of the islands.  It was great micing!  It was so good that Snook got too involved in his work, so when a storm blew up, Abba Jacob was forced to leave Snook behind on the deserted island.  All alone, Snook found his own rhythm of silence, catching food, finding water, silence and waiting.  Sometimes he thought he could hear Abba Jacob’s voice on the wind, but no one came for him.  Snook spent a long time alone on the island, never forgetting his friend, Abba Jacob.  Until one day, a fishing boat returned to the island with Abba Jacob aboard!

This book is such a  delight.  It is a book with such depth, such quiet, such silence that its power builds during those quiet moments, creating a magnificent longing.  It is a book that celebrates the simple, the quiet, the profound in our lives.  It is a book about enduring friendship, continued connection, and at its heart: love.  Nelson writes with such a beauty here that some lines make you stop and you have to remember to breathe again.  They are moments just like in the book itself, moments of simple clarity, embedded in the writing.  This is a book that will be a grand choice for a class to discuss, perfection for advanced students who will enjoy the language but will also enjoy the illustrations.  It is a book to be shared.

Ering’s illustrations echo the themes of the book with their delightful mix of cartoon and painting.  Abba Jacob is a round, merry soul shown in cartoon lines.  Snook on the other hand can be funny and cartoonish, but is also depicted as a noble beast in paints.  The illustrations work exceedingly well to show simple life, the vistas of the sea and the island, and the warmth of the connection between man and dog.

A masterful book about faith and friendship, this is an outstanding picture book that deserves plenty of recognition on best book lists but more importantly a spot in school and public libraries.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by 100 Scope Notes.

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The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Released March 2010.

Stork returns with his second teen novel after Marcelo in the Real World.  D.Q. and Pancho could not be more different except for their focus on life and death.  D.Q. is dying of cancer and trying to understand how to hold onto life.  Pancho is healthy but everyone in his family has died, and he is now planning to murder someone.  When Pancho meets D.Q., he wants nothing to do with him.  But he gets paid to help D.Q. and when D.Q. is sent for treatment to Albuquerque, Pancho is eager to go along because the man he is hunting for lives there.  As he spends time with D.Q. and Marisol, a girl at the recovery facility, Pancho finds himself changing but will it be enough to prevent him from taking a life?

As with his first book, Stork excels at character development and the creation of people who are damaged, fascinating and vividly human.   Pancho is a boy filled with anger and denial who has so much going for him, but is unable to see it.  D.Q. is reaching the end of his battle to live but seizes every day with a fierceness and vigor.  This book is an exploration of two boys and their unique friendship that ends up changing them both.  It is a celebration of life, an honoring of death, and a tribute to faith in the broadest sense.

Fans of his first book will adore this second book.  This is another novel to linger in, dwell with and savor.  Appropriate for ages 13 and up.

Reviewed from Advanced Reader Copy received from publisher.

 

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