Before We Were Free

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Before We Were Free (ebook)

by Julia Alvarez

 

Before We Were Free follows a girl named Anita and her family.  They are in the Dominican Republic during 1960-1961 and they have a terrible dictator (El Jefe) who becomes important in Anita’s life when she discovers her dad and uncle are part of an underground group who plan to kill the dictator to free the people and start a revolution.  While this is going on, Anita is growing into a young woman.  She begins to worry about her hair and her looks, she gets her period, and discovers boys, particularly her best friend Sam and her maybe-cousin, Oscar.  When El Jefe is killed, her dad and uncle are captured and she and her mom have to go into hiding.  This story is about before Anita and those in the Dominican Republic were free.

What I liked about this book was that it was a snapshot of what life was like not only for people living in the Dominican Republic during a dictatorship, but also what it was like for a girl, becoming a woman, during 1960s.  I appreciate historical fiction that teaches me about history, but also shows that the struggles girls go through today are similar (if not the same) as girls back then.  Anita got her period, worried about what a boy would think about her hair, wondered if they liked her back, and fought with her older sister much the way girls do today.  It is comforting knowing that that aspect of childhood hasn’t changed!

What I didn’t like about this book was that while it is historically accurate, I’m sure, it didn’t seem to be a horrific as I know it was.  I think the author focused on a coming of age story rather than a war story, and so many of the brutal details were left out.  It could also have been that it is told from Anita’s point of view, and she doesn’t know the graphic details of what went on.  She has a naivety about her, being 12, and that is what we as the readers are limited to.  That doesn’t make it bad, though.  The was a great book to read, considering I had never even heard of it before.

Book 36 of 40

(Book 2 of 2018)

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Long Way Down

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Long Way Down (audiobook)

by Jason Reynolds

 

Long Way Down is a powerful book about what it’s like to live in a place where people suffer from gun violence whether they are in a gang or not.  Will’s brother was just shot.  He and his mother are grieving their loss, but Will has to follow the rules:  don’t cry, don’t snitch, and get revenge.  He takes his brother’s gun and goes to follow rule number 3 when he is visited by the ghosts of several people he knows who died of gun violence.

What I liked about this book… first of all, the audiobook is read by Jason Reynolds himself, which to me, MADE the audiobook.  I may need to relisten just to get it all again.  Second of all, the language is beautiful (yet the subject is quite the opposite).  The entire book sounds like it should be read at open mic night.  I want to share this with an old friend who teaches kids to write poetry.  The use of repetition and metaphor make it sound like a poem.  Third, the power of the subject matter… I’m a middle aged white lady who lives in a nice neighborhood (although I did grow up in the projects and heard gunshots at night, but never knew anyone who was gang related growing up).  I cannot relate to any of it, but the power of the story gave me insight into a world I will never know first-hand.  I could go on with what I loved about this book, but nothing will stick with me more than the end.  Those last 2 words.  Just read it.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it’s a pretty short book.  However, the length of it was appropriate.  I just wanted more.

 

Book 22 of 40

Dear Martin

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Dear Martin (ebook)

by Nic Stone

 

“Dear Martin” is how Justyce starts off his letters to Martin Luther King in a project he has created for himself.  He decided to research and read King’s sermons and teachings and “be more like Martin.”  Justyce is a high school senior in a private school in Atlanta.  Justyce grew up in a poor neighborhood and knew kids who ended up making poor choices.  Justyce is also one of a few black kids in school, and he participates in discussions and debates over race issues, especially after being arrested for allegedly trying to steal his exgirlfriend’s car (he was helping her since she was very intoxicated).  Justyce becomes more and more angry and frustrated with the way other kids treat him and his friend Manny, and then there is a tragedy that flips his life upside down.  I can’t say anything more without giving it away, but it shocked me, and I’m still trying to get over it.

What I liked about this book… well, I really enjoyed this book.  I started it at 10:30 last night and read as much as possible with 3 kids and a day of errands, and finished it by dinner this evening.  I couldn’t put it down.  But to say I enjoyed it… that’s a little awkward, because it is about an African American boy who is racially profiled, discriminated against, and treated less than how he should have been treated.  It is the story of a hard-working, intelligent, talented, well-meaning, young black man who had to work harder to break stereotypes, even though to some, they couldn’t be broken.  So to say I enjoyed a book with so much injustice, frustration, anger, and unrest doesn’t mean I enjoy others’ struggles (because this is a very relevant story), but I couldn’t put it down due to the strong emotions I felt about the subject, and I felt it was very well-written and made me want to stand up when I see injustice, and teach my students and children about what is really going on in the world.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it made me a little uncomfortable.  I know I have, at times, stereotyped people (in my head, not so much out loud).  I have believed what I heard on the news instead of seeing both sides clearly.  And I have definitely wondered (not disagreed with- just wondered) about affirmative action when it comes to college acceptance.  It was definitely an eye opener for this middle aged white lady.

If you haven’t already, read The Hate U Give.  You won’t regret it.

Book 19 of 40

Geekerella

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Geekerella (audiobook)

by Ashley Poston

 

There are tons of fractured fairy tales out there, but I especially enjoy the ones that are fractured to be modern-day.  It’s okay that they’re predictable, because who doesn’t love a Cinderella story?

Geekerella is a modern-day Cinderella set in 2017.  Elle’s parents were huge Starfield fans (think Star Trek meets Star Wars with girl power and a strong love story) and created a ComicCon-like convention for other fans.  Because her parents died, Elle lives with her stepmother and her twin step-sisters in Charleston.  However, they are horrible humans and Elle is forced to wait on them and work in a food truck.  Elle sees an opportunity to win tickets to Los Angeles by winning a Starfield cosplay contest, so she takes her parents’ costumes and her fashion-designer friend fits them to her body.  There’s also a second character in this story… Derrien is a young actor who is starring as the lead in the new Starfield movie, and he gets to judge the cosplay contest.  I’m sure you can predict how it ends, but it was fun to see how it aligned with the Cinderella story we know so well.

What I liked about this book was seeing how each piece fit into the puzzle.  For example, instead of a fairy godmother, Elle’s friend Sage created her costume.  Instead of a fancy ball to find a wife, there was a cosplay ball where Derrien danced with the winner.  There wasn’t a pumpkin, but a food truck selling pumpkin products.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted it to end so I could move on to another book.  There was something about it… maybe the predictability, maybe the way the characters spoke or how Elle was whiny, or the drawn out parts that could’ve been shorter and sweeter.  I don’t know.  There were a ton of subplots like a soap opera.

Book 17 of 40

Solo

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Solo (ebook and hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

 

I am a big fan of Kwame Alexander, and I was so excited to get this (preordered) book in the mail, but never picked it up, because it’s just so thick!  I kept pushing it aside for shorter books, some of which I spent way too long reading.  I started this as a hardcover, but discovered the ebook helped me to get through it faster.  It’s easier to sneak an ebook at a party and in the car.  A book thicker than my forearm, not so much.

In Solo, Blade Morrison is on the verge of adulthood.  He is graduating from high school as a salutatorian, he has a hot girlfriend, and plans for college with a bright future in music.  However, his rock star father shakes things up when he crashes his graduation and lands himself back into rehab.  Blade relies on the love of his life, his girlfriend Chapel, but finds that their relationship is on the rocks.  When he finds out a family secret, Blade sets out for Ghana to find some answers, and learns more about himself than he first set out to find.

What I liked about this book is that it was written in verse, and I love Alexander’s lyrical style.  I felt it was especially paired well with the musical theme.  Saying I loved his writing style is old news, though.  Really, I got sucked into Blade’s story.  I wanted the best for him, and while I wasn’t raised in a mansion in Hollywood Hills, I can relate to it seeming like I have everything when people don’t really know what’s going on underneath.

What I didn’t like about this book was that his relationship at the end was left without closure.  I spent the second half of the book wondering how they’d make it work from across the globe, and whether she’d give up her simple lifestyle for a Hollywood one.

Book 13 of 40

Under Rose-Tainted Skies

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Under Rose-Tainted Skies (audiobook)

by Louise Gornall

 

As my friend says, I gravitate to “sad” or “depressing” young adult books, and that’s why we don’t completely share the same taste in books.  Under Rose-Tainted Skies didn’t exactly feel depressing for most of it, but it did give me a glimpse into the world of a young woman with OCD and agoraphobia.  Norah’s mother goes out of town, and Norah is left to fend for herself within her home.  She is terrified of leaving the house, of strangers touching her, of catching diseases, etc., and settles her fears with self-harm.  She meets her new neighbor, and he has to learn her rules.  Norah’s ups and downs with mental illness make a relationship difficult, but the two of them have to learn together.

What I liked about this book was that I could experience mental illness without having mental illness.  Gornall, from what I’ve read, used her life experiences as inspiration for this novel, and while I am a homebody have a touch of anxiety now and then, I will likely never develop OCD or agoraphobia.  I can’t completely understand what it is like to live with mental illness, but reading about it helps build understanding.

What I didn’t like about this book is what often bothers me in similar books… there is always a mentally ill character with someone who loves and adores them and is willing to overlook their illness and be a perfect significant other.  I know there are people out there like that, but in every book I read, this is the first relationship and everything is perfect.  I don’t think that part is realistic.  However, I keep coming back for more, don’t I?  So it can’t bother me TOO much!

Book 10 of 40

Flat Out Love

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Flat-Out Love (ebook)

by Jessica Park

 

Flat-Out Love is super cute!  It’s that love story genre that isn’t always my first choice, but I usually enjoy the books when I read them.  Julie Seagle is a college freshman in Boston, a city she’s completely unfamiliar with.  She finds herself homeless, duped by a fake Craigslist ad, but her mom’s college roommate comes to her rescue and lets her stay in their home with Celeste and Matt, her two children.  Matt is a geeky college student, and Celeste is a “different” eighth grade girl.  There is also a mysterious brother named Finn who isn’t around, but Julie has a Facebook romance with him.  Their mother Erin and father Roger are absentee parents, being busy with their careers, so Matt is left to take care of Celeste, including carting around Flat Finn, a cardboard cutout of Finn.  Julie steps in to be Celeste’s friend, take some of the load off of Matt, and help Celeste fit in and be a little less strange.  Of course, there is love and everything hits the fan.  This is also a bit of a mystery (slightly predictable), but it was a fun read, and engaging until the end.

What I liked about this book was the romance, of course.  Without the romance, I’m not sure the storyline would have been nearly as engaging.  A mysterious brother?  Drunken phone calls?  A nerdy but handsome brother who goes out of his way to be a knight in shining armor?  It has everything.

What I didn’t like about this book was the shocker with Finn.  That was upsetting.  Predictable, but upsetting none the less.  I am not sure how I felt about his story.  That’s all I can say without giving away too much.

Book 19 of summer 2017!