Tag: racism

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.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (9780062382801, Amazon)

Excuse me as I completely gush about this book and insist that if you haven’t read it, you rush out and get a copy. Monty, his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity are sent to Europe on a Grand Tour. The Tour is part of Monty’s repairing of his reputation after a series of naughty escapades that got him expelled from school. His father completely disapproves of Monty’s lifestyle, particularly his love of other men. But the Tour doesn’t go as planned. Monty finds himself caught in a woman’s rooms wearing very little and is forced to dash from the palace nearly naked. And that’s just the first escapade. Soon Monty, Percy and Felicity are being chased across Europe with no money and no one to save them. It’s up to Monty, the sister he has despised for years and the boy he loves to figure out how to save themselves as the danger gets deadly.

I enjoyed this book at first but did not fall head over heels for it until the party was traveling with no money. The gilded beauty of the official Tour was fine but it was the real trouble that brought the book fully alive. Happily, that takes place early in the novel and then I could not stop reading. Lee takes on so many societal ills in this book that it is dizzying. While the book is set in the past, those ills are still at play today. Subjects like racism, sexism and LGBT rights are still key. This could have just been a lighthearted romp across Europe, but those themes anchor the book, give it weight and real meaning.

The characters are exceptionally drawn. Readers get to know them steadily through the book and they grow and change, revealing themselves to be multilayered and complex. The three main characters in particular are exceptionally drawn. Monty is a glorious rake, dashing and dimpled and yet far deeper than he gives himself credit for. Percy is the perfect foil for Monty, steady and full of grace. Felicity is feminism personified, calm under pressure but not too calm when kissed.

This is an exceptional teen novel and definitely one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio

strange-fruit-by-gary-golio

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb

Billie Holiday had survived a rough childhood that saw her jailed at age 14 and become a successful jazz singer. Despite her success though, she was still forbidden to do things that her white band members were allowed. She had to hide in rooms, take freight elevators and pretend to be someone different in order to stay in hotels and not sleep on the tour bus. This was all dangerous and eventually she quit. She found a new place to sing in Cafe Society, the first jazz club that welcomed African-American audience members. It was there that she was given the song, Strange Fruit, a song that would become her best-known work. A song that was so powerful that it was met with silence the first time she sang it. A song that would come to speak to a new generation as they stand together today.

Golio has taken a song that is about lynching and turned it into a picture book. It’s a daring subject for a book for young readers, yet he makes it entirely understandable. He uses notes at the end of the book to continue Holiday’s story and also speak about lynching and its history in the United States. The bulk of the picture book is about Holiday’s struggles in the 1930s with pervasive racism and the way that this song spoke to her personal experience and that of all African-Americans.

The illustrations are deep and powerful. They show the pain of racism, the power of song, the energy of a performance and the drama of silence and darkness. Done in acrylic paint and tissue collage, they have a wild freedom of line that works well with the intense subject matter.

An important picture book about a song that has transcended generations and speaks to the struggles of today and yesterday. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

allegedly-by-tiffany-d-jackson

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary has served six years for killing a baby when she was nine years old. Now she is living in a group home with other teen girls, including ones who want to hurt her. Mary doesn’t talk much and didn’t speak for months after the baby’s death. Now though, Mary has something to speak up for and fight for. She has an older boyfriend who works at the nursing home where Mary is assigned. She also has their unborn child. Mary is smart and loves to read. She sets her mind on going to college and completing SATs. However, there are a lot of hurdles and barriers in her way from the system itself to just getting an ID. As Mary starts to fight back she will have to take on her mother, the person whose testimony got her locked up in the first place.

This is one incredible debut novel. It takes a dark and unflinching look at how our society treats young offenders and the bleak lives that are left to them. It also speaks to the horror of a baby being killed and the effect that race, where a black girl is accused of killing a white baby, has on the system. The writing is outstanding, allowing the desperation to seep into the pages and the darkness to simply stand, stark and true.

Mary is an amazing protagonist. Readers will relate to her as her intelligence shines on the page despite the grime surrounding her. As she begins to build hope and a new life around herself, readers will feel their own hopes soar and warmth creep in. Mary though is not a simple character, a girl wronged. She is her own person, messing up in her own ways and speaking her own truth.

Complex and riveting, this debut novel is one that is dazzling, deep and dark. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.

Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

loving-vs-virginia-by-patricia-hruby-powell

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (InfoSoup)

Released on January 31, 2017.

In 1955, Richard and Mildred fell in love in the countryside of Virginia, in Caroline County. Their neighborhood was special and people of all races congregated together. As they went to drive-in movies together and started spending time together, the larger community showed its prejudice since Richard was white and Mildred was African-American. The two of them could not attend dances together, even though Mildred’s family was playing the music at the dance. The two of them get married in 1958 in DC, but their marriage isn’t legal in Virginia. Eventually, they are thrown in jail even though Mildred is pregnant with their second child. The two of them are forced to move to DC and never return to see their families together for decades. As Mildred begins to reach out to lawyers to help, she writes to the ACLU who take up their case which becomes a landmark case for interracial marriage in front of the US Supreme Court.

Written in verse, this novel shows the courtship of Richard and Mildred, their lives together and the damage done by the initial judgement against them that forbade them to cross the border into Virginia together. The use of poetry as a format allows readers to see both Mildred and Richard’s points of view as their relationship grows, flourishes and then is challenged. The book inserts other important Civil Rights events in between the poetry, so that readers can keep an eye on the other changes happening in the United States. It’s an important piece of their story, showing that other changes came much faster than theirs.

The illustrations by Strickland are done in limited colors of oranges and blues. There are beautiful moments captured such as the two teens running through the woods together at night, silent and free. There are also bleak moments like being pulled over by the sheriff with a flashlight shining in their eyes. The illustrations move from freedom to constraint much in the way the story develops and are important in revealing emotional elements to the tale.

This verse novel tells the true story of Loving vs. Virginia and speaks to the importance of regular people standing up to unjust laws. Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

 

 

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

things-too-huge-to-fix-by-saying-sorry-by-susan-vaught

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (InfoSoup)

Dani’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and is slowly reaching the end of her life cared for by Dani and her parents. So when her grandmother sends Dani on a mission to find a letter and key, Dani isn’t sure that it’s real. She discovers both the letter and key, then has to follow the trail of clues her grandmother left in her writing to discover the truth of a feud that her grandmother had with Avadelle Richardson, a novelist who wrote about a riot that happened at Ole Miss. It’s a riot that both Dani’s grandmother and Avadelle actually were caught up in. As Dani gets closer to the end of the trail, she finds more and more secrets and history and modern life begin to collide.

Vaught has written a taut novel that takes readers on a journey through Civil Rights history in Mississippi. Told through the eyes of Dani, the book is accessible to modern children and shows that racism is far from over. With our recent election, it is also a timely book that speaks to the deep-seated racism still at work in our country today. Vaught uses excerpts from Avadelle’s fictitious novel to show the historical context that the riot took place in. It does show how far we have come, but also speaks to how far we have to go.

The complex friendships of middle grade children are captured here, with Dani and her best-friend Indri sharing the adventure while her “not-friend” Mac, grandson of Avadelle continues to also be a part of it though at times the two are not speaking, just like their grandmothers. This modern division is a clever way to show how friendships change, shift and fall apart, something that mirrors what is seen in the novel and in the grandparents’ relationship.

A rich look at Civil Rights, racism and the decisions too big to be unmade, this novel is a timely look at today and our shared past. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

 

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Hanalee has always stood out in her hometown in Oregon in the 1920s. She is half African-American and so has very few rights under the law. Her father died a year ago, hit by a drunk driver. A neighbor has told Hanalee that her father is now a “haint,” a ghost traveling the road where he died. Hanalee also discovers that Joe, the boy found guilty for her father’s death is out of jail and back in town, hiding from everyone. The community is also ruled by the KKK, which is certainly not safe for someone like Hanalee. As Hanalee starts to piece together how her father may have died in a different way than a car accident, she also takes a tonic to see her father’s ghost. Joe also tells Hanalee his own secret, why his family has refused him shelter and why the KKK is after him as well.

Winters writes a gripping novel in this reworking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Set in a time period that is often forgotten, this is a novel of Prohibition, the Klan and the lack of civil rights for people of color. Winters also ties in the loss of rights for LGBT people and how they also lived in the shadows and in desperate fear of being discovered. There is an additional layer of fear as eugenics was being done at the time, a danger for both people of color and LGBT people. With that level of societal pressure and fear, this novel soars and unlikely truces are made in a search for the truth.

Winters’ writing is piercing and honest. She allows Hanalee to figure out the various dangers in her life and somehow at the same time Hanalee is brave enough to not go into hiding or run away but to continue in her search for the truth. Hanalee is an amazing character, filled with love for her best friend, caring for Joe and an adoration of her dead father. Meanwhile she has to handle the dangers around her, and even face them head on with her simple presence in the community.

Brilliantly written, this is a stunning historical novel filled with ghosts and also a firm truth about the risks of the time. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Abrams.