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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: WONDER and FORGET ME NOT for raising compassionate kids

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I had the pleasure of actually reading this as a read-along with my students. It's an excellent book about kindness and compassion and empathy, all great qualities we should instill in young people. In Wonder, we follow the life of August, or Auggie, who has a rare facial deformity and, up until the point the story begins had been homeschooled. He decides to start going to school and try being part of a general education classroom. There, he meets a few friends and learns a lot about both himself and about other people in general, and the way people treat those with apparent/physical differences. This heartfelt story is told in multiple perspectives and really drives home the point that everyone has their own struggles, even those who seem to have all the right things going for them, or whose broken parts are invisible. I'm also pleased to note that this is being adapted to film and will be released sometime this year. 

 

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

This story explores the experiences of a girl who lives with Tourette syndrome and her classmate and neighbor who also happens to be the most popular boy in school. She just wants to hide her quirks from people and not be labeled a freak or ostracized. He's clinging to his social status in school and is afraid that befriending her publicly would jeopardize that, even though he really, really wants to. There are two things I love about this book. First, it's told in multiple perspectives and styles. Calliope's chapters, where she expresses her thoughts and fears and talks about her day, are told in beautiful poetry. Jinsong's are told in prose and get deep into his moral struggle throughout the story. And second, the author herself lives with Tourette syndrome, and it shows in the thoughtful way she writes about it. The main characters are in middle school, but it's an appropriate read for upper elementary (about 4th or 5th grade and up) and another great read for raising compassionate and empathetic kids. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: THE MOTHERS and THE WANGS VS THE WORLD

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The Mothers by Brit Bennett

In this story, expressed in multiple perspectives, but generally narrated by one of the mothers, or the group of church moms who do various tasks for their community, we learn about a girl's decision to terminate a pregnancy and everything that follows it. Bennett does an amazing job of showing readers what it's like when you're from a conservative community and you make certain decisions without really making the book about abortion or anything like that. Nadia, the protagonist, wants to just move on with her life, but unfortunately living in a small town, everyone gets in everyone's business. This is an emotional, deeply engrossing read, and I couldn't put it down. 

 

The Wangs Vs the World by Jade Chang

Charles Wang found his fortune in America with his cosmetics empire, and raised his family in luxury. But a few bad decisions led to his losing everything. In this funny, heartfelt story, readers get the perspectives of all the Wangs throughout their adventure finding a new place in the world for themselves. Charles in particular becomes obsessed with reclaiming the lands of his ancestors in China, while his children are finding their place in different ways. I enjoyed the bits of Chinese dialogue peppered in, much like Junot Díaz does with Spanish in his books. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: STAR WARS: AHSOKA

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I'm always up for a good Star Wars adventure, and Ahsoka didn't disappoint. It takes a little bit to wind up to the action, but once Ahsoka starts making some decisions about where she wants to take her life and the kind of person she wants to be, things pick up quickly. For some reference: Ahsoka has survived the Jedi Purge and is hiding out in the Outer Rim as Ashla. She is a mechanic for hire and is trying to avoid attachments. Soon enough, she finds herself drawn back to a life of do-gooding, but this time, it's on her own terms. This story had me cheering at the end of it and wanting for more. Great for any kind of Star Wars fan, but especially those who enjoyed Clone Wars and Rebels.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: IN THE COUNTRY WE LOVE

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In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

This memoir is at times funny, but entirely heart-wrenching. Diane opens up about her life up until now: living her early years in fear of her parents being deported and realizing that hell at age 14. Abandoned, even by the government, which didn't concern itself with the young girl who was left behind. Her desire to succeed and figure out how to bring her parents back (she's still working on it). Living with depression, and doing the hard work that led up to her current visibility as an actor in Orange Is The New Black and Jane The Virgin. It has as much to do with her own experiences as it does with the hard truths of thousands of other families who are torn apart when the system fails them, and the scared children they leave behind. Gripping, well-presented, and heartfelt, I highly recommend this read. Just maybe keep some tissues handy.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: PS I STILL LOVE YOU, WRITTEN IN THE STARS, and THE FORBIDDEN WISH

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P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I picked up this book without knowing it's a sequel until it was "too late" (the first book is called To All The Boys I've Loved Before). Even so, I had no trouble getting into the story and Han does a good job of dropping hints and exposition here and there so everyone's on the same page. This is a sweet romance-type story, but it also covers a lot of ground when it comes to modern teen life in general. The consequences of posting mean things online, gender politics and how circumstances affect different people, and an examination of love and heartbreak are all touched upon here through Lara Jean's perspective. I liked being in her head through all of this and seeing how she reacts to and learns from these experiences.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This is one of those hard to read, gut-wrenching type stories. Naila's super conservative parents don't allow her to date, or even speak with any boys, and it's their tradition to choose her future husband for her. She gets caught dating Saif, and they whisk her away to Pakistan where she thought she was just going on vacation to visit family, but later finds out her parents have chosen a husband for her and planned for her to wed and stay behind. Eventually, as a reader, you start seeing that things are just going to get worse and worse, and you read with sort of a sense of dread for Naila, but there's hope: Saif is looking for her and trying to get her out of her horrible situation. I found myself rooting for Naila the entire time, facing all these things happening to her and choosing to survive.

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The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

You might know the story of Aladdin, but you won't recognize this version. Aladdin is the son of rebels, expected to rise up with the people, but chooses a life of thievery instead. Jinni has been stuck in her lamp for eons, punished for befriending her last master, sitting in the ruins of her dear friend's old kingdom. When Aladdin finds the lamp and whisks her away, the king of all the jinn charges her with a mission in exchange for the tantalizing reward of freedom. The problem is, using her new master to her ends is at odds with the simple fact that she's falling in love with him. As far as love stories go, this one is ridiculously satisfying, and the whole thing is written as if it were a long, long letter to her dear, old friend. Fresh format, and excellent spin to the story of Aladdin and the lamp.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

This memoir, read by the author, jumps around between various topics and anecdotes relating to her sexuality, life with her adoptive parents, discovering literature and finding solace in libraries, looking for her birth mother, being exorcised, and other events of her life. Some of them are funny, and she does indeed inject loads of humor and wit throughout, but there are a lot of profoundly sad moments, too. Her intensely religious mother made it difficult for her to be herself growing up, and she suffered many punishments and hungry nights for it. When she wouldn't be "cured" of her sexuality in her teen years, she was driven out of her home altogether, and took up residence in a car or with a girlfriend. If you've read her book Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, you may be familiar with some of her story, but the reality behind it is much darker, even if it did end in her freedom and successes as an adult. I recommend reading both, but you might need to keep a tissue handy.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: GULP and PICNIC IN PROVENCE

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Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp is an exploration of the journey foods make, starting with sniffing and tasting and on through eventual dumpage. Some of it is pretty gross! But it's all very fascinating and Roach approaches all these topics with her usual wit and impressive thoroughness. Of course, she also goes into cultural taboos: how they affect scientific research and even the way we eat. I don't recommend snacking while reading this book, but I do recommend snatching it up if you're in the mood for some real science-based investigations, warts and all. If you've never read any Roach previously, though, I highly recommend getting started with Packing For Mars, which is all about space exploration and astronauts.

Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

In this memoir, Bard talks about her life in France with her husband, their decision to move to the countryside, her pregnancy (and the subsequent birth of their son), and all their other experiences leading up to their eventual decision to open an ice cream shop. Her descriptions of the village life, the way the French rear children and approach food, and how she reconciled her American, Jewish identity with her life in France through traditions old and new are all major themes in this memoir. She also includes excellent recipes in between chapters, many of which I intend to make for myself or for family and friends. I enjoyed the way she approached her stories with humor, and now I'm looking forward to reading her other book, Lunch in Paris, which was published four years before Picnic.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: MODERN ROMANCE, YEAR OF YES, and REDEFINING REALNESS

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

MR had me laughing from the very start and went by fast. If I have one complaint, it's that Aziz cracked jokes about listeners being lazy (for not reading for real...?) a few too many times, but otherwise, it's a delightful auditory experience. If you've watched some of his stand-up, or even his show Master of None, you know some of what's in this book because his comedy and writing usually have a lot to do with relationships and the way we communicate and meet new people. On its own, though, it's eye-opening and informative. Aziz teamed up with a sociologist and they did their research, and he even went to a few other countries to get some comparisons between the way we form romantic relationships here in the US and the way people do in, say, France. And Japan. Good narration, good info, and overall respectful dialogue with lightheartedness made this a fun read, even when the truth stung a little.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

After her sister made a pointed comment about how she's always saying no, no, no, Shonda made a decision to have a "Year of Yes," in which she says yes, yes, yes, to literally everything. Suddenly she's making speeches and attending galas, and doing all kinds of things she never bothered with before. And along the way, she makes all kinds of discoveries about herself, and even improves her life in other areas, like at home with her children. Of course, her version of Year of Yes doesn't apply to everyone, and she definitely checks her privilege, but she does emphasize there are things we can and should be saying yes to now. Yes to being happy, yes to your body, yes to saying "no" when you need to, and weeding out the people who can't stand to see you happy. She makes some great points, and listening to this book was a lot like listening to a friend.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

This memoir is a little bit difficult to listen to at times, but not in a bad way. Janet talks about her childhood as a male, the experiences leading up to her sex confirmation, and all of the rest. Some of it is hilarious, and some of it is heartbreaking. Depending on the topic, she drops in some up-to-date (at the time this book was published) statistics and insight about how many people struggle with coming out, with abuse, with all kinds of atrocities because they're at-risk or because they don't conform to what some people think they should. But mixed in with all that, she talks about joyful moments in her childhood, about positive friendships she's formed, beautiful Hawaii, and all the good that has come of her decision to be herself. She speaks her truth, in her own voice, and in her own words. This book is for everyone, and anyone could benefit from listening to her story.

February 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

2016 Reading ChallengeKristina PinoComment

Wow, it's March already! Alrighty, so here's a look at how I read in February (that extra day actually came in handy, too). For those of you just now following along, I'm tracking my reading for diversity and participating in Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge. If you're wondering why I'm categorizing things so much and keeping such meticulous track of what I read, it's partially because I like stats, but also because being deliberate and seeing the information in front of ya is the first step in affecting change. I want my reading life to be naturally diverse, but that isn't enough by itself. Time to face the music!

Books read in February: 8

Creators of color: 4/10 (40%)
LGBT+ rep. in creators: 0/10 (0%)
LGBT+ rep. in books: 1/8 (13%)
Lady creators: 8/10 (80%)
Translated works: 2
Works in Spanish: 0

Alright, so February differs from January in that I did a bit worse on LGBT+ and better on ladies in general. I've got to keep working on that. On the bright side, I read a couple of translated works (manhwa title Bride of the Water God) which is two more than last month's zero.

As for the Read Harder Challenge, I fulfilled three more tasks. I covered "read a middle grade novel" with Drama by Raina Telgemeier (my review here). For "read the first book in a series by a person of color" I read the aforementioned Bride of the Water God. I'm going to keep reading it throughout March - it's so pretty! And for "read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years" I went with Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (my review here). I'm up to 6 tasks (out of 24), which is great pacing in case I slow down around summertime.

My Book Riot pick for February is How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston. My PANELS pick for February is Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Check out those links to see what my colleagues' best reads were for the month, too!

And now, for a little something extra.

Books read to date: 17

Creators of color: 9/24 (38%)
LGBT+ rep. in creators: 1/24 (4%)
LGBT+ rep. in books: 2/17 (12%)
Lady creators: 15/24 (63%)
Translated works: 2
Works in Spanish: 0

Keep up with what I'm reading on Twitter or Instagram as well as on this blog, and feel free to drop in with suggestions or chat with me any time about books and comics. Did you set any reading goals this year? How are you doing?

Bite-Sized Comics Reviews: DRAMA and ROLLER GIRL

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Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

Drama follows middle schooler Callie and her friends in stage crew and drama putting on a production of Moon Over Mississippi. The overarching plot is how Callie's into set design and she wants the show to look Broadway-worthy, but more than anything this story is about friendships, working hard, and the trials and tribulations of middle school life. Telgemeier really shines here in her realistic portrayal of kids and young teens, and her depictions of a diverse range of characters. Great read with something to say about working hard, evaluating self worth, empathy, acceptance, and doing what makes you happy.

 

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (2015)

In Roller Girl, we see just how much it matters to surround yourself with an amazing and diverse support group (read: girl gang), especially if you're a young girl whose identity has basically revolved around one friendship. Astrid watches a roller derby bout for the first time and decides then and there she wants to go to her local team's roller derby camp. Her best friend decides to go to dance camp instead, and she's left to navigate all these new experiences alone. Astrid makes new friends, learns new skills, and most importantly, learns a lot about herself. This all-ages read is all about girl power, teamwork, resolving conflicts, and celebrating differences, and it's absolutely brilliant. Also, I definitely want to go watch some roller derby for real, now.