Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

Cover for Darius the Great Deserves Better

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (9780593108239)

This second book about Darius takes place after he returns home from his family’s visit to Iran. A lot has changed since he made his first real friend in Iran, someone he still talks with often and considers his best friend. Now Darius is on the school soccer team and has a boyfriend. He works at a tea store that his boyfriend’s father owns, immersing himself in something he loves. But his family is struggling with money and with his father taking more jobs where he has to travel, his grandmothers move in to help. Darius can’t help but notice how different his grandmothers are than his mother’s family in Iran. He works to connect with them, but doesn’t make much headway. His relationship may not be as great as he though either, since Landon wants to move a lot faster than Darius is ready for. Plus a boy on his soccer team is becoming a closer friend, though he did used to bully Darius. Nothing is simple or easy in this second book, as Darius continues to learn about himself.

Returning to the world of Darius was amazing. Khorram’s writing is marvelous, exuding a natural warmth in his storytelling. His empathy for Darius is clear, as Darius struggles with what he is ready for, what family means to him, and who he wants to have in his life. Even his relationship with tea becomes problematic, as he may lose something he loves because he fears failure so much. And beware how much you will want to try some of the teas mentioned here, because Darius is passionate about them!

Darius is hero material. Thoughtful and sometimes depressed, he is complex and marvelous. From his best friend in Iran to his boyfriend to his new friendships on the soccer team, Darius is brave and manages to continue coming out through this new novel. He faces fear in ways that preserve what he loves, sets real boundaries to keep true to himself, and manages to be hilariously funny too.

Another great Darius book. Can there please be a third? Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Cover for Every Body Looking

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (9780525556206)

Ada has grown up living with her Nigerian father, her mother a ghost moving in and out of her life because of her struggles with addiction. Ada was not a petite little thing, instead thick waisted and with a hairy upper lip, her clothes boyish, she didn’t make friends easily at school. Now Ada is off at college, the first time she has been able to make decisions on her own. Her time at a Historically Black College has her exploring her sexuality and looking more deeply at her childhood. She is also steadily being drawn into dance, helped by one of her only friends at college, a girl who isn’t a student there. Suddenly, Ada’s strong body makes sense as she expresses herself through dance, taking ownership of her body and her past.

Iloh’s verse novel is pure power. She writes so much truth in these pages, directly talking about sexual abuse, playing touching games with other children, and the expectations of conformity at young ages around appearance. She also shows through emotion, sex and introspection that there is a way forward, as long as you are true to yourself and what you want to do with your life. Her verses are searing at times, other times like a dream, and still others a call to action. She writes with such compassion and courage here that it’s incredible that this is her first novel.

Ada is a marvelous character, full of trauma from her childhood, cared for by a father who was doing his very best for her, which sometimes was not enough. Just the poems about therapy as a small child are insightful and achingly raw, full of such confusion. It is Ada’s triumph in finding her own path that is full of music and dance that offers hope to the reader and inspiration as well.

Powerful, honest and triumphant. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Flamer by Mike Curato

Cover image for Flamer

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

Aiden Navarro is fourteen and attending summer camp with his Boy Scout troop. He is leaving his Catholic Middle School and has decided to go to public high school, though he’s starting to dread what that means in terms of the bullying escalating even farther. After all, he doesn’t know how to dress himself since he’s been wearing a uniform to school for years. He also worries about how his sister is coping with his often abusive father now that Aiden is gone to camp. To make it all more complicated, Aiden is also gay and closeted. When he finds himself becoming attracted to one of his friends, Aiden has to decide whether to let him know or not. When things don’t go well, Aiden reaches a dark place that has him questioning how to go on.

Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive. The setting of the summer camp really creates an atmosphere of freedom mixed with closely living with other boys his age. This can be a mix of exhilarating but also being unable to escape from bullying that targets Aiden’s sexuality. I applaud Curato for incorporating exactly the sorts of dirty jokes that boys in a group make together, all of them teasing about sexuality in a way that is damaging and hurtful.

The art in the book is done in black and white until the flames enter the pages. Those flames can be from bullying, from shame, from attraction, from rage. They all color Aiden’s life and therefore the pages. It’s highly effective, particularly as Aiden makes a decision about suicide.

A compelling look at a gay teen learning about himself and finding his core of fire. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal

Cover image for My Rainbow

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (9781984814609)

A mother-daughter team tells this story of being a transgender Black girl. After playing dolls with her sister, Trinity started to think about the doll’s long hair. Trinity had short hair because due to her autism she struggled with how itchy it got as it grew longer. Trinity also knew though, that as a transgender girl she needed long hair. Her mother was at a loss until her older brother had an idea. Visiting a beauty parlor, they browsed the wigs, but none of them were quite right. That’s when they decided to create Trinity her own rainbow wig. Her mother spent the night creating the wig, the first one she had ever made. Using strands of purples, pinks and blues, she created a one-of-a-kind wig with lots of spring. It was a rainbow just for Trinity.

The creators of this book are advocates for black and transgender rights. This book is about a little girl who clearly knows who she is. I appreciate that it is not a coming out story, but instead continues the story of one child’s transition to who she is, giving her the space to speak for herself and also a way forward supported by her entire family. The book exudes acceptance, warmth and love.

Twink’s art is bold and bright. They have included a family pig, who joins the family in all of the brainstorming and shopping, even trying out some nail polish in the store. This added touch of whimsy joins a strong Black family depiction full of modern elements and a real sense of home.

A great picture book that demonstrates intersectionality, acceptance and love on every page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish cover image

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (9780593125298)

Tiến loves to spend the evening together with his mother reading from a book of fairy tales. He reads while his mother continues her work as a seamstress, sometimes fixing Tiến’s clothing too. They don’t have much money, so Tiến’s jacket is full of patches. Happily, his friends don’t mind, not even the boy who Tiến has a crush on. As they share the tales, Tiến is searching for a way to share with his parents that he is gay, but they don’t speak English well, and he can’t find the right word in Vietnamese. When his grandmother dies in Vietnam, his mother leaves to prepare her funeral. Tiến is left behind to navigate his first school dance, where his teacher becomes concerned and he is sent for church counseling. What will his mother say when she finds out?

It is remarkable that this is a debut graphic novel. It is done with such finesse, weaving the fairy tales and the modern world together into a place full of possibility and transformation. The stories shared include versions of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, versions that grow and change themselves with endings that will surprise those who know the better-known stories. In this way, the author creates real hope on the page, that things will change, that love will prevail and that understanding will flourish, both through tales and in real life.

The art here is unique and exquisitely done. Using color to tell readers whether they are seeing the real world in the present, a flashback or a fairy tale, the effect is both dramatic and clarifies the borders between the various stories. The fine-line work here is beautiful, from each hair on the character’s heads to gorgeous dresses that swirl across the pages to dramatic landscapes and undersea worlds.

A great graphic novel that is about diversity, acceptance and the power of stories to bring us together. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

Beetle longs to be a sorceress but instead she is a goblin and learning magic from her grandmother at home. Her best friend is Blob Ghost, who she visits in the failing mall. When an old friend returns to ‘Allows from going to sorcery school, Beetle is smitten and intimidated. Kat is everything that Beetle wants to be. Kat’s teacher has targeted Blob Ghost’s mall for demolition in the near future. But Blog Ghost can’t leave the mall, tied to it by an unbreakable force. As the demolition is suddenly moved up, it’s up to Beetle and Blog Ghost to free them before they are destroyed along with the building. Beetle is going to have to find the magic inside of her and fight for those she loves.

Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love. The book looks at being left out and left behind by people you thought were your friends. It also explores the impact of family ties, of destiny and how those elements can be used for good or evil. Best of all, it’s a book that embraces an LGBTQ+ relationship that blossoms right in front of the reader. And don’t miss the pronoun used by Blob Ghost. It’s a treat to see someone referred to so easily as they/them/their.

The art in this graphic novel is just as exceptional as the story itself. Filled with colors that change from one page to the next, teals to purples to blob pink to goblin greens. Layne beautifully shows the ties and impact of magic on those who use it, turning Beetle into a floating witch of power at times. Kat with her skeletal aspect is a marvelous visual foil for the green and orange of Beetle, the two of them forming a full Halloween together.

Here’s hoping for more dangerous broom flights alongside Beetle! Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

A Bunch of Board Books

Here are some great recently-released board books to embrace this summer:

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky (9780593110416)

To raise an antiracist baby, you must understand that’s it’s all about showing them that society can transform. This is not a space to be neutral, but one to be an activist. This board book explores what it takes to raise a child who is not racist in our society. First, see all skin colors, don’t be artificially color-blind. Second, talk about race. Third, politics are the problem, not people. Fourth, there is nothing wrong with people, no matter their race, sex, gender, orientation or faith. Fifth, celebrate differences. This book continues through number none which is believing that we can overcome racism. With bright illustrations, this book takes a firm stand of hope and optimism as long as hard work is done and children are raised to see themselves as part of the solution.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila. 

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (9781534464995)

Join in the happiness of a pride parade in this counting board book. There is one parade in June with two DJs playing music. Three families, four activists, five motorcycles. Six floats go by with seven divas posing. Eight signs are held high with nine people standing together in unity. The final ten are people waving a variety of pride flags. Incredibly inclusive, this board book welcomes everyone to pride parades and celebrations with open arms. The illustrations are bold and bright, featuring all sorts of characters and families who are part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little Simon. 

Wake Up, Let's Play by Marit Tornqvist

Wake Up, Let’s Play by Marit Tornqvist (9781782506263)

This dreamy board book invites children to join in the fun that two friends find together. They play all sorts of things, like birthday party and restaurant. They build sandcastles and play stormy seas in the bath. Busy towns with wooden tracks fill the room, and sometimes art wanders onto the walls. They play through snow and even into the night. Then it’s time to figure out what to play tomorrow! Told in very simple sentences, this board book has marvelous illustrations that are quirky and fantastical. At the same time, these are exactly the games that small children play, so it is rooted in reality. A marvel of a little book.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Floris Books.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (9780316456388)

Alberta has lived in the small town of Ewing Beach her entire life. She’s one of the only Black kids in the entire middle school, so when another Black girl just her age moves into the old bed and breakfast in her neighborhood, Alberta is thrilled. Alberta does have a best friend, but Laramie doesn’t understand some of the things that Alberta experiences, particularly with Nicolette, a bully who makes sly comments that imply that Alberta is different or gets special treatment due to her race. As seventh grade starts, Laramie gets closer with Nicolette and the popular group of kids while Alberta finds herself spending more time with Edie, the new girl. When Edie and Alberta discover a series of old journals in the bed and breakfast, they find themselves untangling a mystery that reveals haunting secrets about race and identity.

This is Colbert’s first middle-grade book and she brings the skill she has shown in her award-winning novels for teens to this new audience. The book embraces difficult subjects but also shows how having a strong family and sense of identity eases even hard conversations and situations. The book deals very directly with race and racism, having gay parents and a complicated family structure, and divorce. It also explores middle grade friendships and their tensions with empathy and solid advice.

Through the two main characters of Alberta and Edie, readers get to experience different sorts of Black girls. Alberta wears bright colors and loves to surf, spending lots of time at the beach. Edie who is from Brooklyn, wears black goth clothing and loves to read. They are both far from being stereotypical in any way, something that shouldn’t need to be said about today’s books but is also still noteworthy. The adults in the book show the same differences and exude a sense of warmth and support.

A great middle grade read about family, friendships and race. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

2020 Lambda Literary Award Winners

Vanity Fair has the news of the winners of the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards. The awards are given in a wide variety of categories, one of which is specifically for children’s and YA books. You can see all of the finalists in my previous post about the award. Here are the winners in the youth category:

CHILDREN’S MIDDLE GRADE WINNER

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

YOUNG ADULT WINNER

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante