Watch Us Rise


Watch Us Rise (ebook)

by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan


In Watch Us Rise, the story bounces between the points of view of Chelsea and Jasmine, high school juniors who attend a progressive high school in NYC, when they discover their school has a lot more progress to make.  Chelsea is white and a strong proponent of women, equality, respecting women’s bodies, and respect.  Jasmine is black and full-figured, and joins Chelsea with these added lenses.  Together, they form a Women’s Rights Club at school and their blog begins to get a lot of attention when they point out the harassment and narrow mindedness coming from several staff members and students.  They post everything from poetry to descriptions of the sexist and racist behaviors they see, but they soon run into opposition from their school and trolls online.  They do not let this deter them from their cause.

What I like about this book is that it teaches young readers about what women go through and gives them examples of young women their own age who are able to make a difference.  Many of the stereotypes pointed out in the book are widely accepted, and this book will educate readers and teach them to keep their eyes open to them.  I also appreciate that it teaches self-love, but the characters are both humanized when they start to question their own beliefs for the sake of romance.

What I don’t like, or didn’t care for as much, was that it seemed like the dialogue was, at times, too staged.  It was like the authors needed the readers to understand a bit of history, so the characters were educating each other.  I also felt that it might go over the heads of some readers who aren’t old enough to appreciate it.

Book 5 of 2019



Spinning (paperback)

by Tillie Walden


Spinning is a graphic novel memoir about the author, Tillie.  She says her book is about ice skating, but it is really about her youth while ice skating.  Tillie struggled with coming out as gay to her conservative family and friends in Austin, Texas.  She also struggled with a mother who seemed less than supportive and her absent family.  Tillie needed a place to fit, but didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere.  Although she was a successful ice skater, she didn’t enjoy it, and ended up quitting once she started to take control of her life.

What I liked about this book was the emotion Tillie put into her memoir so the reader feels her struggles.  I am not gay, I have never been sexually assaulted, and I have never been pressured in a competitive sport, but the author writes so we can have compassion for Tillie’s experiences.  That is the one thing that people wrote when reviewing this graphic novel- we feel Tillie’s heartbreak, depression, frustration, embarrassment, etc. as we read her words.  Although it is kind of an aside, I also enjoyed learning more about competitive figure skating.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way people were so unaccepting of Tillie when they weren’t in a place to have a say in her life.  I hate when people are bullied and the bullies aren’t punished, or the protagonist isn’t avenged.  However, that’s life.  My bullies are probably still bullying, or basically being awful people to others.  I wanted to see her mother redeem herself or her girlfriend get back into contact with her, or the man who assaulted her- he needed to be caught and punished!  Those things never happened (in the book).

Book 3 of 2019

Tyler Johnson Was Here


Tyler Johnson Was Here (ebook)

by Jay Coles


Tyler Johnson is the twin brother of Marvin Johnson, the main character of the story.  The brothers are living in poverty in a gang-infested neighborhood.  Their dad is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and their mother is struggling to pay bills.  Tyler decides to help his family by working for a drug dealer and then he goes missing.  Marvin, who is college-bound and doesn’t get himself into trouble, is devastated and doesn’t know what to do with himself and his feelings.

What I liked about this book was that it told the perspective of someone we might dismiss.  Tyler was supposedly a thug, drug dealer, dangerous to the community, and a nobody, but through Marvin, we see he was a brother, a son, and a friend.  He wasn’t dangerous- he was trying to live his life while helping his mom.  I love books that give me perspective, despite that perspective being devastating and heartbreaking.  It is important that we as humans see people for being people, whether they are “good” or “bad” in the eyes of the others.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it dragged in the beginning.  It had a slow start, and I had to actually look up what the book was about to keep me interested, which gave me spoilers.  I will not give spoilers- just read the book, and stick with it, even if the beginning is slow.  It is worth it to see it through to the end.

Book 94 of 2018

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World


Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World (ebook)

by Ashley Herring Blake


Ivy Aberdeen is a seventh grader and she’s facing many conflicts, both internally and externally.  First of all, her house was just leveled due to a tornado, and her family is forced to live in a hotel room- Ivy, her sister Layla, her twin brothers, and her parents.  They lost everything.  Second of all, she is upset with Layla over a conversation she overheard between Layla and her best friend Gigi.  Ivy also loses her notebook with all of her intimate and personal drawings, and it is being held for emotional ransom.  To top it all off, Ivy is having feelings for one of her friends, and this really throws off all of her relationships, because she can’t deal with it herself.  Like most stories, everything hits the fan and Ivy is forced to deal with her feelings.

What I liked about this book is that it’s another great coming of age story about a girl who is learning more about her own sexuality.  I am so happy more books are being written about LGBTQ kids around my students’ age that are appropriate.  Not that YA aren’t appropriate, but the content isn’t always age appropriate.  I have not had a sixth grader who was “out” but I have had many that were possibly questioning or coming to terms with their feelings, and books like this will help them, I believe.  Even for those who aren’t LGBTQ, this book will build empathy and understanding.

What I didn’t like about this book was how mad I was at Ivy’s family.  It really upset me- even when I had my last child, I couldn’t just ignore my other children.  They are all important, even if a baby and family crisis take over.

Book 85 of 2018

Darius the Great is Not Okay


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

Everything I Never Told You


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

When I Was the Greatest


When I Was the Greatest (paperback)

by Jason Reynolds


I just love Jason Reynolds.  When I Was the Greatest took me a bit longer to get into, though.  It is about a boy named Ali and his friends Noodles and Needles.  Ali is a teenage boy living in Brooklyn.  His mom works two jobs to support him and his sister while his dad lives in his car, stealing clothes and selling them.  He was once in jail for armed robbery, but this is not the life Ali wants.  He had a good friend named Noodles who lives next door.  Noodles has a brother with Tourette’s named Needles, and he knits to keeps his ticks under control.  Ali is a loyal friend, and does his best to keep himself and his friends out of trouble.  The three boys go to a party and get themselves into a bad situation, and face tough consequences where they learn several life lessons the hard way.

What I liked about this book is the way Reynolds developed his characters.  The relationship between Needles and Noodles, and Ali’s relationship with them, the frustration Noodles felt with his brother… there’s a backstory to it all, creating people and not just flat characters.  Also, with a gun on the cover, one would expect to read a book about gun violence, but the irony was that the gun in the story wasn’t even loaded.  This isn’t a story about violence, but choices and growth.

What I didn’t like about the book was the treatment of Needles.  I have a hard time when someone with a disability is mistreated.

Book 76 of 40

(Book 42 of 2018)