Review: The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780316519007)

This picture book by Olympic medalist Muhammad tells the story of two sisters going to the first day of school as the older sister wears a hijab for the first time. Faizah has a new backpack and new light-up shoes for her first day of school. Asiya looks like a princess though with her blue hijab as they walk to school together. When some of her classmates start asking questions about the hijab, Faizah gets worried and heads over to check on Asiya. Faizah watches her sister handle bullies with calmness and certainty, standing strong and continuing to inspire her little sister with her royal bearing.

There are several picture books about family members wearing hijabs, usually mothers. This one directly takes on the confusion and hurt of hateful reactions. Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.

The illustrations by Aly move from the straight-forward school images of the girls together to more dramatic depictions from Faizah’s imagination about the beauty of the blue of her sister’s hijab. The book also shows the determination and resilience of the girls in their facial expressions as well as sharing their special bond with one another clearly.

This is a book that clearly is both a window and a mirror and one that will offer opportunities for conversations too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (9781681198521)

This nonfiction novel in verse tells the story of Jo Ann Allen, one of the twelve African-American students who were among the first in the nation to integrate a segregated high school in the South. The small town of Clinton, Tennessee became one of the first communities to attempt desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling made segregation illegal. A year before the Little Rock 9, this lesser-known group of brave students at first attended their new school without incident but then outside agitators, the KKK and other white supremacists got involved. As the issue grew, simply attending school became too dangerous for the African-American students. When they were escorted by a local white pastor to school, he ended up beaten and almost killed. Jo Ann became a spokesperson for the group of students and for integrating schools in general. Her story is one of resilience and tolerance.

Levy very successfully uses various forms of poetic verse to tell Jo Ann’s story in this book. In her author’s note, she speaks about why verse was the logical choice as it captured the musicality of Jo Ann’s speech. Her skill is evident on the page, capturing both the quiet parts of Jo Ann’s life and the dramatic moments of desegregation including acts of hatred against the students. Jo Ann’s story is told in a way that allows young readers to understand this moment in United States history in a more complete way. The images at the end of the book and additional details shared there add to this as well.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that these moments have been lost to history and this group of twelve students is not as well-known as the Little Rock 9. At the same time, that is what makes this book all the more compelling to read as their story is more nuanced since the mayor and governor did not defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (9781616958473)

Maya is a young documentary-film maker who longs to go to NYU for college, but her traditional Indian parents want her to go to college much closer to home, even better if she can live at home while she attends school. As a senior in high school, Maya spends her time making short documentary films and hanging out with her best friend, Violet. She has a crush on a boy at school, Phil, someone whom her parents would never approve of. When she meets a very appropriate boy though, the spark just isn’t there. Meanwhile, something awful is about to happen and when it does, Maya finds her family and herself a target of hate crimes and Islamophobia. Maya will have to find a way to make her plans for her future come true at the same time she stands up to others who would silence her.

This teen novel is wonderfully readable. It invites readers into Maya’s world, demonstrating the way that she sees her experiences through the lens of films. Readers will also learn about Indian culture, but the focus is on Maya as an individual. She struggles with parental expectations and the hate crimes of modern America. Though at times it has the feel of a Bollywood romance, there is no softening of the hate that is aimed at Maya and her family, much to the author’s credit.

The book reads at first as a pure romance, with a bit too much blushing and twinkling eyes. It really gains strength when the suicide bombing happens and Maya’s family is targeted due to their last name. The pace at this point turns from dreamy romance to drama and tension. The violence towards Maya and her family has repercussions deep into Maya’s future plans that force her to make a very difficult decision. While the book eventually returns to a more romantic tone, the tension never truly disappears again.

Deftly plotted and well written, this book is an important look at diversity in America. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Soho Teen.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)

This nonfiction book for teens looks at two sides of a hate crime in Oakland, California. It took place on a bus where an asexual student, Sasha, was riding. They (the pronoun they use) were reading at first and then fell asleep on the public bus. A white teen, they went to a small private school in town and lived in a middle-class neighborhood. They were wearing a gauzy skirt at the time. It was a skirt that caught the eye of Richard and his friends. Richard, a black teen, attended a public high school and was newly back in the community after being in juvenile detention. Without even considering the impact of his actions, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. What was meant to be a prank turned into a hate crime and potential life imprisonment.

This internationally known crime is given voice by the people who lived it in this nonfiction book. Written with such care and compassion for both sides, the book made me weep with both the fact that asexual and gender nonconforming teens and people face this type of attack and also the fact that African-American teens are charged as adults and face huge sentences as a result. Slater dances what seems at times to be an impossible line, showing the humanity on both sides of the story, explaining the facts that impact the lives of the people involved, and offering an opportunity to look deeply into a case rather than reading the headlines.

There is such humanity on these pages. It will remind everyone that there are different sides to incidents like these, that rushing to judgement is not helpful, that forgiveness has power, and that people, especially teenagers can learn from mistakes and grow from them if given a chance. Written like a novel, the book has dashingly short chapters and features the voices of the two teens whose lives changed in a moment.

The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Review: Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

black helicopters

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Valley’s mother was killed by the black helicopters while she was out in the garden when Valley was four years old.  Raised by her father, she has been taught to hide at all times.  There is a den in their house where she and her brother Bo can never be found.  Valley knows above everything else that Those People will kill her without even thinking about it, just like a coyote.  But now Valley is out of the house and on the road with explosives strapped to her and the trigger waiting for her to decide exactly when to use it.  When the first explosive goes off prematurely, Valley is left on her own in a world she has had little contact with.  But Valley knows how to read people and how to manipulate them, right up to the end she is in complete control.  Or is she?

This taut thriller turns the world on its head.  Valley’s story is told in flashbacks so readers know that they are learning the backstory of a domestic terrorist.  And what is amazing about the writing and the storytelling here is that despite that knowledge, readers will begin to understand Valley and the way she was raised and how she came to be the person she is now.  That alone is a tremendous achievement.

Then there is Valley herself.  A girl who is bitter, strong and lonely.  She has lived much of her life in the company of only her father and brother and much of that she spent hiding completely alone.  She is bright and fierce, burning with a hatred for Those People that her father carefully instilled in her.  And she is wrong, oh so very wrong, about the world and about others and about her own family.  She is flawed and ever so human under that bomb.

Well written and carefully paced, this book is tantalizingly taut and thrilling.  In the end though, it is about a girl caught in a web of lies that she cannot see past.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.