PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Last week I went on a novel in verse tear, in 7 days I read 4 – The Black Flamingo, Every Body Looking, Solo, and Punching the Air. I think once I read Black Flamingo, I just couldn’t get enough of them, and also they’re just so quick to read (and beautiful). The best one that I read last week, was Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam.

Yusef Salaam is one of the Exonerated Five, the group of boys that were falsely arrested and imprisoned for years for the Central Park jogger case, and were only exonerated after their full sentence. He brings his unique experience to this fictional novel about a boy, Amal, who was involved in a fight because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone got badly hurt, and even though he wasn’t the one that did the damage, he was still found Guilty and sent to a juvenile prison. The injustice of not just what happened to Amal at the trial, and continued to happen to him in prison, but the implicit bias and racism that Amal and other black teens have to suffer is highlighted so well throughout.

This book was so well done, I would recommend this to any high school student or adult that enjoys novels in verse. I think it’s an important read, that would also appeal to most readers, even reluctant ones.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi

THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH by Candace Fleming

I have to be honest, this is not a book I would just pick up. Not that the cover isn’t nice, or the author isn’t great, but a biography on Charles Lindbergh would not be something I would choose on my own. However, with six starred reviews, the most I’ve seen so far this year, I had to read this book. I’m so glad I did! Candace Fleming wrote the fascinating story of Charles Lindbergh’s life, the good and the bad. 


A lot of biographies that I’ve read have been about admirable people, and while Charles Lindbergh has a few huge accomplishments to his name, the biggest being he was the first person to fly solo non-stop from the U.S. to Europe. He is also well known even today, for the kidnapping and murder of his first son. However, he was very arguably not a good guy. He was a Nazi sympathizer, active in the Eugenics movement, just to name a few reasons. His life, while complicated, was fascinating. And Candace Fleming did a great job separating out all the major parts of his life, while also connecting it all together to have a story-like feel. I feel like I both learned a lot, and was interested the whole way through. I’m really glad that I did end up picking this up, and would not be surprised if this won the Printz. As this book is so detailed, I wouldn’t give it to anyone younger than 9th grade, but I would even give it to adult history buffs as well. 

Amazon.com: The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh (9780525646549):  Fleming, Candace: Books

WATCH OVER ME by Nina LaCour

Okay everyone, I found it – my favorite book of 2020 so far. The only novel I have finished in one day, not only because it’s short, but because it’s AMAZING. I loved We are Okay, which won the Printz back in 2018, but I know it’s not everyone’s tastes. Nina LaCour‘s books (at least the ones I’ve read), are not filled with action or humor, but are just so so beautiful, sad, but hopeful.

In this story, Mila is a foster child who has just aged out of the system. She applies and gets in as an intern at a remote California farm, one that takes in foster children, and hires young adults that have aged out of system as teachers for the children that live there. She immediately loves the farm, and wants so much to fit in and be accepted by the others that live there (which she is). This farm, and this world that everyone lives in, has ghosts. It’s not a scary or dangerous fact, it just is. The ghosts romp and play, and are beautiful to look at, and the point of the ghosts being there becomes clear by the end. Mila has flashbacks that increase in volume and intensity the longer she is at the farm, and she must confront her past and eventually try to overcome it.

This book is a YA book, but honestly, it feels like it is just as much an adult book. I would give this to high schoolers that like realistic fiction (even though there are ghosts), and to any adults that liked We are Okay, as it is just as great.

Amazon.com: Watch Over Me eBook: LaCour, Nina: Kindle Store

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

I am a huge Tiffany D. Jackson fan. I think that Monday’s Not Coming and Allegedly are tough to read because of the subject matter, but really incredible books. Her newest book, Grown, is also a great book. All three have important things to say about the way that black women are marginalized in this country, how their experiences of abuse are often ignored or turned against them. She also adds elements of mystery and suspense, which make the tough topics a little bit easier to read, because the reader is also focusing on that part of it. 

Enchanted is a 17 year old girl that lives in the suburbs, a big sister, a great swimmer and singer, who dreams of one day singing professionally. Her parents are very focused on her going to college, and less on helping her achieve her artistic dreams, but she manages to trick her mom into bringing her to an American Idol type audition. While she’s not chosen, she does meet famous R&B singer Korey Fields, who immediately takes her under his wing. Her parents are wary of him, but Enchanted manages to convince them that he really cares about her (she thinks this is true) and wants to help her become a successful singer. As soon as he gets Enchanted away from her parents on his tour, the abuse and psychological torture begins. The mystery comes into play right from the beginning – the reader finds out Korey has been murdered, but not who has done it, and the author goes back and forth between the present and the past. 

Grown had a lot to live up to for me, since I am still haunted by Monday’s Not Coming. While I don’t think the solution to the mystery was quite as shocking, I still think that this book was entertaining at the same time as having very important things to say about the experience of black women, abuse, mental illness, and more. The inspiration from this book came from the R. Kelly case.

I think that a mature high school student could handle this book, and this would make a very good book for discussion for teens and adults. 

Amazon.com: Grown (Audible Audio Edition): Tiffany D. Jackson, Joniece  Abbott-Pratt, HarperAudio: Audible Audiobooks

LUCKY CALLER by Emma Mills

I had this book on my nightstand for far too long, but finally I read/listened to this book a few days ago. I’ve been doing this kind of combo whenever I can (yay, Hoopla!), and it’s nice to start a book in print and then be able to listen to it too whenever I want to go for a walk or do some dishes. I was drawn to this book by the very sweet cover and the great reviews that it got. I’m not really into romance books, but this was a very non-cheesy one, which I liked. Aside from some pretty crazy coincidences, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills was a pretty realistic (IMO) portrayal of a high school romance/friendship.

Nina is starting her senior year of high school, and the popular class to take is a radio broadcasting class. The class is split up into groups, and fortunately/unfortunately her former best friend and neighbor, Jamie, is in the class. We find out that something has happened a few years prior that has stopped them from being close, but it’s not until near the end of the book that we find out why. The bulk of the story is about her rekindling her friendship with Jamie, dealing with changes at home (her mom becomes newly engaged), and putting on this weekly radio show and trying to make it successful, which is way easier said than done.

So many YA books are very depressing, or silly, or scary – this one was none of these things. This is a good book for any high schooler looking for a realistic fiction story, with a little bit of romance, friendship, and family.

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills

A PHOENIX FIRST MUST BURN edited by Patrice Caldwell

I just finished a book I have been meaning to read for months (but had so so many book club books to read), the very well reviewed anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell. Some of my favorite YA authors have stories within – Elizabeth Acevedo, Justina Ireland, Ibi Zoboi, just to name a few. All of these fantasy and sci-fi stories are written by Black women and non-binary people. There was time time travel, soul-eating witches, special powers like being able to stop time or conjure fire out of nowhere, being able to see the future, and other very fun stuff. Some of the fantasy lost me (but that may just be me), but I really loved all of the sci-fi. I even found some new authors to try out! This is a book for anyone in high school or older (including adults!) that loves fantasy and sci-fi, and enjoys reading short stories.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: 9781984835659 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

DOROTHY MUST DIE by Danielle Paige

Who doesn’t love (or at least know) the story of The Wizard of Oz? I was super intrigued by the reviews for Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, as it basically is a continuation of The Wizard of Oz story…except that Dorothy has turned EVIL.

I read this book as soon as I could when it came out back in 2014, and it was really interesting – Amy Gumm, a Kansas teen, lands in Oz after a tornado that wrecks her trailer. She knows The Wizard of Oz story well, and is shocked to find out that Dorothy has become a power hungry dictator that uses magic to control and torture the residents of Oz. Good has become wicked, and wicked has become good in this upside down world. Amy Gumm joins forces with some of the most wicked witches of Oz to try and get rid of Dorothy.

The one thing that sort of bothered me about this book is the violence and just the gross things that happen (i.e. Amy has to inject stuff into the Scarecrow’s brain – yuck). Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Lion – they are BRUTAL. It struck me the first time I read it, and the same thing again when I read it for my book club. I think I may be too sensitive to it though, because it was a big hit with my high school book club. As much as it is not my cup of tea, I would still recommend this to just about any high schooler, especially one who is interested in twisted fairy tales or the Wizard of Oz. And since my first reading of it several more books in the series have come out, which is great for any fans.

TRULY DEVIOUS by Maureen Johnson

Alright folks, the winner of my favorite book club book of the summer is….Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson! I know the summer isn’t over yet, and I still have a FEW more books to read, but I doubt any of them can top this one. I was always intrigued by Truly Devious, with a modern day female Sherlock Holmes-type main character, but I finally got a chance to read it last week.

Stevie has been chosen to attend an all expenses paid fancy boarding school in Vermont. There is no application to get in, you just write to the school and tell them all about yourself and your passions, and they let you know if they’re interested or not. Stevie’s passion? Anything relating to mysterious crimes and detectives. She especially wants to go to this school because there were 2 murders and a disappearance that occurred back in 1936, and she’s determined to be the one to solve the mystery. The chapters intersperse with what happened in 1936 and Stevie in present day.

All of the characters had such depth and were so interesting, including Stevie herself. And the school sounds amazing – there are all kinds of old charming buildings, a really amazing library, and just random doors and tunnels all over the place. It was such a good mystery, with just enough revealed to be a little satisfied, but Maureen Johnson kept me wanting more. Many reviews said this is a 9th -12th grade book, but I think a mature 7th or 8th grader could read as well. On to the sequel!

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) by Maureen Johnson

 

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been meaning to read the Newbery Award winning The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman for years, and for some reason the right time never came until last week. I chose this for my middle school book club’s second meeting, and we met over Zoom and discussed it yesterday. I was a little surprised – most of the teens hadn’t finished it, and only one really liked it. I think that as popular as Neil Gaiman is, he has a very specific writing style, and most people either LOVE him or just like him okay. It took me awhile to get into this book, but once I did I was very interested in seeing it through.

At the very beginning of the book we meet The Man Jack, who has just murdered 2 parents and their older child. He is looking for the 4th person, a toddler, to finish the job. The toddler actually gets away from the house and finds his way into a graveyard. The ghost of his mother asks a couple of the ghosts there to please watch over her son and keep him safe. They agree, and Bod (short for Nobody), as he is renamed, is raised by many of the ghosts in the graveyard. Bod is a living child, but has special powers given to him to help him live in the graveyard. The Man Jack never stops looking for him, and Bod eventually crosses paths with him again, since he can’t help but leave the graveyard a few times.

This book was a very unique fantasy, I honestly don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it. At the same time, it felt kind of similar in tone to Coraline, but had a totally different story. The beginning of the book upset me a little bit, but once I was midway through the book, and once Bod actually got out of the graveyard, I really started to like it. I was very invested in finding out what The Man Jack’s motive was, which I’m happy that that questions was answered. I definitely think this is a good book for Neil Gaiman fans (even adults) of any age, particularly mature middle school and high school students.

The Graveyard Book: Gaiman, Neil, McKean, Dave, Atwood, Margaret ...

 

 

DRAGON HOOPS by Gene Luen Yang

It’s been a long time since I’ve read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, so I was very excited to see multiple starred reviews for his newest graphic novel, Dragon Hoops. I brought it home just the other day and was beaten to it by my husband who read it in a day. As a basketball and graphic novel fan, he really loved this book. When I asked him if I would like it as well, he was unsure, because he knows that I’m not big into sports. I decided to give it a try anyway, and I’m very glad that I did. Gene Luen Yang has another great book on his hands.

Dragon Hoops is part memoir, part the story of a high school basketball team, The Dragons of Bishop O’Dowd High School (Gene Luen Yang taught there). He wasn’t a big sports fan either, but got to know the coach and the players over the course of a year as they practiced and played a state championship game after losing multiple state championships prior. He also goes into the history of basketball (briefly), which I found super interesting, it’s kind of a new-ish sport, which I hadn’t realized.

As much as I don’t “get” sports, I always find it interesting to read about people who live and breathe them. The story to me was more about the individual player’s histories and personalities, and also about getting to do the things you feel passionately about/love. I think this is a great graphic novel for all middle and high school students, but especially those that love basketball (although that’s definitely not a requirement – I’m proof).

Amazon.com: Dragon Hoops eBook: Yang, Gene Luen: Kindle Store