book review: Drift

maintitle: Drift

author: M. K. Hutchins

date: Tu Books, May 2014

main character: Tenjat

M.K. Hutchins gave herself one helluva challenge of world building with this one. I think she’s taught me that when reading speculative fiction, it’s advisable to look for the author’s notes in order to better understand this new world and the premise upon which it is built. The island world of turtle’s she created really was well crafted and readers quickly become invested in it. I just couldn’t get past how and why a civilization would live on the backs of turtles but after reading her notes and understanding the mythology she used, I had a better understanding.

Tenjat and his father are described as having brown faces. Little other reference to skin color is provided, although some characters are describe as being shaded like the wood. There are distinct differences in the roles of men and women and the worst thing anyone can be called is ‘hub’, short for husband. This is because being a husband and having children selfishly weighs down the turtle. Tenjat wants to become a Handler so that he can better provide for his sister and himself. Just before entering the tree for his training, thoughts are planed that have Tenjat questioning everything he’s come to know. How will he find answers?

Hutchins writes a unique fantasy based in multiple mythologies in which she explores gender based roles, family structures, the environment and what we essentially believe about the cycle of life and death. I did eventually like this story. While reading, I had a difficult time getting a grasp on Eflet’s age (Eflet is his younger sister). I couldn’t figure out how they breathed underwater, either. Character development was lax, as is often the case in action driven stories. But, there are stregnths in Huthin’s writings. Layers of explanations for personal and societal battles are slowly peeled away as Tenjat begins to have things revealed to him. She does a good job of maintaining suspense.

Drift is a very unique book both in its plot and in its issues. The complexities hit me big time at the end and they have left me considering and questioning many things. A book that leaves you with many considerations is a good book!

M.K. Hutchins has had short fiction appear in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Daily Science Fiction. Drift is her debut novel.

author interview: Estela Bernal

Estela Bernal made her debut as an author this past May with Can You See Me Now? (Pinata/Arte Publico). As you get to know her today and find out a little more about Can You See Me Now? you’ll be impressed but, be even more impressed to know that she’s donating 100% of her proceeds to education and animal rights.

Just a little about the book. Kirkus says:

Tragedy strikes on Mandy’s 13th birthday when her father is struck by a drunk driver and killed. Now grief—both her own and her mother’s—complicates the already confusing landscape of early adolescence.

can u see me nowWith her mother working more and more hours in the wake of her father’s death, Mandy begins spending most of her time living with her grandmother. Often the target of bullies, loner Mandy approaches Paloma to be her partner for a school project. Paloma is also a misfit, but she carries herself with a self-assured grace that Mandy finds compelling. As she becomes closer to Paloma, she learns about the practices of yoga and meditation, which are foundational in Paloma’s family. An overweight boy in class, Rogelio, is also touched by tragedy when his family’s home burns down, and Paloma invites him to join their yoga crew. As the three continue practicing together, they each begin to cultivate their own peace amid the chaos in their lives. Though each faces personal challenges, they find friendship and support in one another. Bernal has succeeded in crafting a story that acknowledges tragedy without wallowing in it, placing her emphasis on resilience and personal growth. The quick pace and distinctive characters make for a smooth, well-crafted read.

Middle-grade readers should respond to this tender story of learning to connect with others through open eyes and an open heart. (Fiction. 10-13)


And Estela’s interview!

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in South Texas (the Rio Grande Valley).

Estela Bernal

Estela Bernal

Do you have any pets?

I love animals and have had many pets through the years.  I currently have two cats.

What were some of the first books you found as a child that turned you into a reader?

I grew up in a home where we had no books.  There were no public libraries in my hometown either.  Despite the lack of age-appropriate reading material, I fell in love with books as soon as I learned to read.  I remember reading the Weekly Reader and whatever else I could get my hands on at school.  Although I don’t remember where I got it, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth was one book I read and re-read.  I’ve always been a dreamer and this book opened up an exotic new and very fascinating world to me. 

Meat or vegetables?

Vegetables, absolutely!  As an animal lover, I volunteered with many animal welfare organizations until I was able to form my own.  Through it I do community education and help provide low-cost spay/neuter services to residents’ pets in underserved communities.  It would be hard to justify rescuing some animals while eating others.  Besides, I find that when I eat a healthy diet, I feel so much better.

Which famous person would you most like to have write a review for your book?

So many famous and not-so-famous people come to mind.  It always makes me happy to hear about celebrities and other public figures who are also great philanthropists and who help raise awareness about some very important issues facing society today.  But there are also many unsung heroes quietly working to help make their communities better places to live.  I sincerely believe we all have the potential to do good and that, after all, is what really matters.   Two of my own favorite causes are education and animal welfare so my choice would have to be someone with similar ideals.

What three things would you like to add to a list of national treasures?

Although man-made treasures are priceless, I believe that natural treasures are absolutely essential.  I’d love to see all public waterways, land (public, private, agricultural), and all living beings protected and preserved for our well-being and that of future.

 

Why would you be up at 3am?

Usually, I’m only up at that time if I’m traveling and have to catch an early flight.

What book(s) are you currently in the middle of reading?

I’m currently making my way through a 100 Greatest Books for Kids list and just started Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Becoming Naomi León.  I’m also reading my latest copy of Glimmer Train.

What made you decide to write about a teen who discovers yoga?

One of my nephews died accidentally a few years ago.  The accident happened in front of his wife and children and I began to wonder how such a tragic event would affect any family who witnessed such a tragedy. That also got me thinking about how a child, already weighed down by grief, would cope with the additional burden of parental abandonment and being bullied on top of everything else.   Adolescence is tough enough as it is, and adding all this other stress can lead to such despair that anyone could easily be overwhelmed.  I wanted to introduce the idea that there are alternatives to violence, that there is help even when we think there is no safe way out of certain situations, and most importantly, that there are ways to access inner peace. 

When I first discovered yoga, I was going through a stressful period in my life and still remember the feeling of calm and well-being that I experienced when I was able to slow down the thoughts racing through my mind long enough to catch my breath and try to put things in perspective.  The character Paloma seemed the perfect vehicle through which to introduce the topic and Mandy, of course, was the ideal student.

I’m sorry to hear your family experienced such a tragedy. I can definitely see how that experience could inspire your writing.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read Can You See Me Now, but I do know it’s about a thirteen-year-old girl whose father dies in a car accident and her mother blames her for it. At 13 (or there about) to which adult were you the closest?

I was a very shy child and at thirteen I was closest to my mother.  Because I was the youngest child in my family and my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, the fear of losing them seemed to always be in the back of my mind.  If my mother wasn’t there when I got home from school or from playing with my friends, I panicked.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Again, this is a hard question to answer because there are so many authors I admire, but I’d have to say Harper Lee ranks pretty high on my list along with Sandra Cisneros.  Although their work is very different, I find the characters so easy to relate to and the stories so hard to forget.

What’s the trick to writing humor?

I’m sure there is a trick to it and I suppose part of it is to be naturally funny.  I don’t set out to write humor, but because I do write about serious issues which can be hard to address when writing for a younger audience, I try to ease the tension by including bits of humor here and there as I weave the story.  The humor I use is based on things that tickle my own funny bone.

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity to me is inclusivity.  I try to write about things that all readers can relate to regardless of their racial or social background because, no matter what other commonalities we may or may not share, there are certain things that we all have to experience at some point in life.

Speaking of diversity, I’m glad to see that the need for diversity in children’s literature is finally starting to get the attention it deserves.  Although the need has always been there, it’s great that diversity among the writing population is also changing, however gradually. 

Thanks, Estela! It’s a pleasure getting to know you!

Visit Estela’s website.

Heaven Help Us All

weneeddiversebooks-logo

My plan: To write a quick little post about summer reading and summer at ALA. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

I wasn’t online last night and missed the Limbaugh shenanigans. Only a small part of me wants to understand the method to this man’s madness the rest of me wonders about those in this country that give power to not only to him but to a press that continues to sensationalize any event by addressing our emotions rather than our intellect when we think they’re providing us with information.

I could tell you that I know Deborah Menkart and Deborah Menkart is not racist. One cannot be authentic in their understanding of another culture if they do not embrace their own culture. If you’ve missed it, he accuses Menkart and Teaching for Change of being racist because they don’t sell his book. His book by the way, that is racist and inaccurate in its portrayal of US history. But, spending time in is web gives it power.

People of color can be prejudiced, but they cannot be racist, because they don’t have the institutional power.

Racism = prejudice + power

Whereas 50 years ago, my ancestors in the Delta finally had the power to leave the segregated South for the racism of Chicago. Did those schools in the Delta even have a library? I know some of my relatives were illiterate and I know how hard they worked to get their children into school. Institutional racism is a bitch.

40 years ago my parents had the power to live in a segregated neighborhood while they sent their children to a school that was 98% white. There were no books by any authors of color in that school library and the social studies teacher my 7th grade year refused to teach about Africa. How in the world I formed my racial identity is a mystery! I don’t even remember checking about books with black children from the public library in the black neighborhood.

30 years ago my husband and I had the power to move to Indianapolis and was immediately told which neighborhoods to avoid. We carefully selected an area with ‘good’ schools that had a diverse student population. The teaching staff however, did not reflect this diversity. My daughter often complained that she never could find books in the library about teens like herself. Nonetheless, my children were empowered by the education they received in these schools and are building successful careers.

20 years ago I had the power of a classroom teacher. My US History classes were no doubt afrocentric as was my classroom library. I had to work to find books for my students, but I had them reading. And questioning. I was in one of the worst performing schools in the state of Indiana. I felt like I was giving them tiny drops of water. Institutional racism wastes minds and that’s a terrible thing.

It may take a while to get power; it may take a long while. But, no one is going to give it to you. Sometimes, we only think we have power, but isn’t that all that matters? Isn’t life all about the perception? I think that’s what Limbaugh has figured out. I have the power to dismiss insanity from my life and to sit back and by a good book written by an author of color.

Currently Reading: Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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Follow the hashtags, join the conversation #DiversityatALA #WeNeedDiverseBooks

 

review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

" Listen, if you are a sucker for sister books, you will LOVE THIS, just LOVE THIS." Good Books Good Wine

” Listen, if you are a sucker for sister books, you will LOVE THIS, just LOVE THIS.” Good Books Good Wine

title: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

author: Jenny Han

date: Simon and Schuster; April, 2014

main character: Lara Jean Song Covey

 

I began this book expecting a nice, light summer story; one of those good romances that I haven’t read in a very long time

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has such a sweet start. Oldest sister, Margo, is about to leave for college in Scotland and her sisters are going to miss her dearly. The girls are tender in their relationships and delicate with each others’  feelings. Their mother is deceased but to the girls still refer to her as ‘mommy’ and their father as ‘daddy’. Margot has been the family’s caretaker and her leaving is a major shift in the structure of the home. We get small clues of the shift when Lara Jean’s coffee isn’t just right and then, she has a car accident.

Lara Jean is in love with the idea of love. She’s a high school senior with a sense of innocence. Lara writes love letters to boys she’s loved since childhood, letters that she never intends to share with anyone. Now as a teenager, she’s always manages to avoid any opportunity for real romance and the only reason she finally has a relationship with a boy is because she stumbles into it.

With her older sister gone, Lara no longer has a shadow in which to hide so, she has to figure out her relationship with Josh (the boy next door who is very much a part of the family), Peter (the dreamboat), Chris (her most unlikely boyfriend) and even with her sisters. We often don’t realize that as we grow and change, our relationships must do the same. We need and perceive people in different ways. This change isn’t always subtle or easy no matter how special the relationship, as Lara Jean finds out.

 There’s a specific kind of fight you can only have with your sister. It’s the kind where you say things you can’t take back. You say them because you can’t help but say them, because you’re so angry it’s coming up your throat and out your eyes; you’re so angry you can’t see straight.

As soon as Daddy leaves and I hear him go to his room to get ready for bed, I barge into Margo’s room without knocking. Margot is at her desk on her laptop. She looks up at me in surprise.

In defining these relationships, Han builds strong consistent characters, except for Josh, the boy next door. He was never more than the all around good guy. Other characters in the story are revealed in their actions, conversations and through other characters. Certainly, one of the strengths of this book is Han’s ability to develop her characters.I was given room to not like elements of many of those I read about while still becoming invested in them and wanting to know their outcome.

Lara Jean’s bi-cultural heritage was an integral part of the story. She was very much just one of the gang but things like the way she prepared for Halloween reminded us of her Korean background.

I thoroughly enjoyed To All The Boys. This story that seemed so smarmily sweet incorporated tough issues that many of us experience at one time or another in our relationships. I read an ARC that had a few spots that needed to be repaired, but I hope and pray the ending did not change!