Darius the Great is Not Okay (audiobook)
by Adib Khorram
Darius is a high school fractional Persian boy living in Portland with his Persian mother and American father. He is struggling to figure out who he is, while being bullied by the popular boys at school and feeling his dad’s disapproval. Darius is slightly overweight. He is not particularly skilled in school, does not stand up for himself when he is picked on, and has few real friends. To make matters worse, he suffers from clinical depression and is on medication. When he finds out his grandfather in Iran is dying, his family picks up and goes to visit him for a few weeks. Darius is hyper aware of certain things, like being overweight and not fitting in, but it is different in Iran. He immediately makes friends with another boy named Sohrab, and they quickly become close. They spend time with Darius’s family and bond over soccer, loneliness, and an unusual connection. When Darius leaves Iran, he feels more confident in who he is.
What I liked about this book is that it covered the important subject of depression and suicide, yet it was done in a humorous and natural way. It didn’t feel forced. It was a real situation based on the author’s experiences. I also like that I got to learn more about Persian culture, especially the holidays, and the different social customs among Persians in America and Iran.
What I didn’t like about this book is that I expected Darius and Sohrab to realize they were in love with each other, because it felt very “Aristotle and Dante” but that never happened! Not that it matters, but I couldn’t tell whether either character was gay and had feelings other than friendship for the other.
Book 76 of 2018
Hey, Kiddo (paperback)
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Hey, Kiddo is a memoir written about the author’s childhood. He was born to a heroin-addicted mother, and his grandparents quickly gained custody of him. Although he was born healthy, his mother quickly spiraled and was in and out of his life (and jail). His grandparents, although stable, both had problems with alcohol and his grandmother, although she adored him, was very cold and verbally abusive to others at times. Jarrett survived by creating comics and drawings, staying in touch with his mother’s siblings, and doing his best to live the best he could, drug free.
What I liked about this book was that it tells a true story of a boy who had a lot against him, but he persevered and came out on top. I know many of my students have people in their homes who drink or do drugs. How do I know? They’ve told me. I hear about their parents passing out on the couch, drinking too much beer, taking pills and sleeping all day, etc. This story gives hope to the ones who do not have a stable home life, but have perseverance to come out on top. Also, I liked the 90’s references. 🙂
What I didn’t like about this book was the way the grandmother Shirl spoke to Jarrett. I know she had her own issues and they had a loving relationship, but it broke my heart to hear her tell him to get out of the way of the tv and dismiss him.
Book 75 of 2018
The Benefits of Being an Octopus (hardcover)
by Ann Braden
The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a girl whose back is against the wall. Zoey is a seventh grader who lives with her mom, 3 younger siblings, mom’s boyfriend Lenny, and his dad in a trailer. They are living in poverty, and Zoey often goes without food or clean clothes. She has way more responsibility than she should, taking care of her siblings, cooking, and protecting them from Lenny, who isn’t violent, but is verbally manipulative and plain mean. Zoey does not do homework and does not feel she has any options in life. When she is given the opportunity to join the debate team thanks to a teacher who takes interest in her, Zoey is reluctant, but it changes her life for the better.
What I liked about this book is the fact that my students will be able to connect to it. It is a story that needs to be read, because it is reality. There just aren’t enough stories these days that tell the reality of my students. Poverty, hopelessness, abusive situations, filth and hunger, etc. I hope it finds its way to the hands of someone who needs to read it.
What I didn’t like about this book was the hopelessness of the parents. Both moms in this story were just useless for most of the book. It made me really angry, being a mother, because my first priority is taking care of my children. I always wonder how parents can send their kids to school without even washing their faces.
Book 74 of 2018
Everything I Never Told You (audiobook)
by Celeste Ng
Everything I Never Told You is kind of heartbreaking, really confusing at times, and a mystery that you will want to unravel. This story takes place in the 70’s (with flashbacks from the 50’s and 60’s) in a family with a Chinese American father and white mother. The oldest daughter Lydia dies at the beginning of the novel, and the whole time, we are trying to figure out why as we learn about her very flawed family members, their suspicions and regrets, and her own frustrations with life. It is told from third person point of view, and the narrator tells the story of each family member.
What I liked about this book is that it was a mystery with a very personal touch. I usually don’t really care for mysteries, but this was a book with little adventure. Each character is complex, flawed, and you want to hate them while feeling sorry for them as you feel their pain. You will definitely make guesses about why and how Lydia died in the lake, and you will be wrong.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little slow at times. I listened to it as an audiobook, and the reader’s voice can be a little monotone at times. That is the tone of the book, and it works. It was just a little tough at times, like when I was driving and tuned it out. I am still very much looking forward to reading more of Celeste Ng’s work.
Book 73 of 2018
Cardboard Kingdom (paperback)
by Chad Sell
Cardboard Kingdom is a graphic novel about some kids in a neighborhood who spend their summer creating alter ego super heroes, and costumes out of cardboard. Their super hero personalities are all exaggerations of their own personalities, and they are able to show their true colors. One has tons of stuffed animals and is the controller of animals, another is loud and gruff in real life, and has a bold, rough super hero personality, etc. There is one boy who is a sorceress as his super hero, but it is hinted that he might be gay or trans (in a very loving and accepting way). One boy seems to have a crush on another boy. There are many characters of color, as well as a bully.
What I liked about this book was the way it addressed diversity by featuring characters from all walks of life. Not only were there LGBTQ characters, but there was one who was not accepted by her grandmother for her loudness, one whose dad was an abuser, and the bully was actually being bullied himself. Another character’s mother was in an interracial relationship. I think the more diversity is seen in books, the more it will be accepted as the norm. Soon enough, kids won’t even blink, much less giggle, when two boys kiss or a character decides to dress as the opposite sex. I also loved how these kids played with each other and got along (for the most part) all summer! They were creative and didn’t watch tv or play video games. That’s so inspiring.
What I didn’t like about the book was that it didn’t really have a storyline. It seemed segmented and a series of shorter, somewhat connected stories, but later came together. I wasn’t particularly attached to anyone.
Book 72 of 2018
The Key to Everything (hardcover)
by Pat Schmatz
This was a one-sitting read for me. I got into the pool, opened it, sat in the pool for a few hours, closed the book, and got out. It is a quick read, but you’ll also want to figure out how everything fits together.
The Key to Everything is a middle grade book about a girl named Tash who is in a transitional period in her life. Her father is in prison and she lives with Kevin, who rescued her from foster care. Next door is Captain Jackie, an elderly spit-fire of a woman who teaches Tash about life, imagination, and strength. A fight causes Tash to throw a special key (holding the power of imagination) at Captain Jackie, right before Kevin heads to New Zealand and Tash goes off to camp for a month. When they return, Captain Jackie’s house is locked up and no one is home. Tash must solve the mystery of Jackie’s disappearance while finding the power to fight her mortal enemy, being alone.
What I liked about this book was that it was a bit of a mystery, and I didn’t know how these people were connected. It was also a realistic portrayal of the modern family, with missing or incarcerated parents, gay family members who were discriminated against, and being stubborn when facing conflict. I like that the people in Tash’s life were all very positive and supportive, showing that it doesn’t matter if anyone is blood-related, family is family.
What I didn’t like about this book was the beginning. It took me awhile to get into it, because I as confused for the first 30 pages, which is a lot, considering the book is only 198 pages long. I am glad things came together, though, and not all of my questions were (or needed to me) answered.
Louisiana’s Way Home (ebook)
by Kate DiCamillo
If you didn’t read Raymie Nightingale, you’ll still do fine with Louisiana’s Way Home, though it’s definitely easier to understand if you’ve read them in order. In this story, Louisiana has been traveling with her granny, and she is learning about life from Granny’s perspective (get what you can for free, win arguments, etc.). She is angry, because granny has taken her out of Florida, away from her friends, and she doesn’t understand why. They end up in a small town in Georgia, and her granny, having lost all of her teeth, has abandoned her emotionally. Louisiana is left with the stories her granny has passed on to her- that she is the orphan of trapeze artists, that her family has a curse, and that she can’t escape this curse. Louisiana meets a friend, learns the truth about her family history, and has to figure out who she is before life passes her by.
What I liked about this story was the repetition of words and phrases, often leading to themes or motifs, and the was things came full circle. I enjoy Kate DiCamillo as much as the next person. I can agree that she’s a skilled author and creative storyteller, but she never stood out as my favorite. However, this book blew me away. I loved the way she wrote Louisiana and how certain things were repeated throughout the book. This is up there on my list of 2018 books and it isn’t even out yet!
What I didn’t like about this story was how much anxiety and feelings of helplessness I felt for Louisiana. As an adult, a teacher, and a mother, I wanted to take Louisiana home. I feel like I have had students who would totally relate to her situation, and that makes my heart break for her and for the real people who could relate to this story.
Book 70 of 2018