Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity


Okay. I know I've been bad in terms of keeping up with Top Ten Tuesday this year.

But how could I not toss together a post for this topic?

I know, for many, diversity seems like a fraught subject, riddled with potholes in the form of titles that you thought were good and turned out to be problematic or stereotypical and made you feel as though you offered other people a bowl of sweet-looking grapes that had moldy undersides.

I know. It happens to everyone. I checked and double-checked all the titles that popped into my mind, trying to figure out if I'd seen anything contradicting their status as a positive, encouraging YA title. If this is happening to you, too, please remember two things:

A. It's good to be able to discuss these titles, because - as a marginalized voice myself - I like being able to let people know what bothered me, so they can know to look out for and challenge those topics themselves,

and

B. It's okay to like and consume problematic media. The problems happen when you make it your business to deny their being problematic, or police other people's reactions or pain from their being problematic.

(Also, when you push forward that problematic media as representation or an educational resource, especially as someone outside of the marginalized group being problematically represented.)

Kudos to you for broadening your reading horizons and doing your best to be conscious and sincere and engaging. Here's a fist bump for you. And a piece of chocolate. And so ends my likely unwanted PSA.

Anyway. Today, I'm doing something different. Even though I signed up for a diverse reading challenge this year, I haven't been doing my best of logging my progress or even recapping what titles I planned to cover this year.

Since we're already headway into summer, I thought you might like to see five diverse titles I already enjoyed earlier this year (or am currently reading), plus five titles I haven't read yet and should for the sake of keeping up with said challenge. Sounds good? I thought so.

Of note, I did my best to focus on authors with marginalized identities and backgrounds, as well as 

(Click links to visit GoodReads and read the relevant summaries.)


What I've Read


1. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (arc preview here)

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.


Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Casual diversity central. It's also heart-wrenching, requires a full box of Kleenex to get through and made me scream incoherently into my pillow several times, but that's neither here or there.



2. Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama.
Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever.

When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.


Juicy, juicy scandals, gossip and cutthroat dancers - with an added helping of diversity! What more could you ask for? (And, like I've said before, I'm not usually the girl who likes juice outside of a cup - preferably orange, or else, strawberry kiwi.)



3. Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry (currently reading!)

A gorgeous retelling of the Persephone myth, Sarah McCarry brings us the story of Cass and Maia--the mothers from All Our Pretty Songs--and how their fates became intertwined.

Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents' house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she's ever known, and Maia's only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn't reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who'd capture Maia's heart as soon as Cass set her free--and Cass isn't the only one who's noticed Maia's extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she's unwittingly awakened--or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game.
Please see my post on jewel-toned books as a genre on why I think Sarah McCarry is the best thing since apple pie. Read everything by her. Everything is a gift to diverse YA as we know it. Please and thank you.

(I'm also reading About A Girl. All the Sarah books!)



4. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (currently reading!)

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

This book has everything: an utterly delightful and believable narrator (who is biracial!), delicate, heartfelt prose and a wonderful author who it is an absolute pleasure to cheer for. Also, this is another of those ARCs that Mom totally stole off me and devoured and then refused to give back. If that means anything.


5. The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (currently reading!)

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

This totally gives me Daughter of Smoke and Bones feels, but without a lot of the problematic aspects that (though you know I adore Laini Taylor) I couldn't reconcile myself with. Also, as I mentioned before earlier this year, Melissa is a real-life heroine and maybe that will rub off on me if I keep reading her awesome words.


Coming Up Soon

1. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Yes, I haven't read this yet. Still. Yes, I know I am an awful friend. Yes, I know that this is a gorgeous, sumptuous debut (so many people who are beautiful, timely souls and have already read it gladly offer up their testimonials, in order to rub my sins further in my face). Yes, I have no excuses.

Arthur's done with me now.


2. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.

This summer seems to be the summer of epic graphic novels for me. They are gorgeous, colorful and often quick but fulfilling reads and I'm not sure why I lapsed out of them. I've heard a lot of great things about this title in particular. And it even has summer in the title!

Me when I realized our library does, in face, have a copy of this. You don't know how much of a miracle this is.

3. Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

I am so, so behind on reading this. I know it. You can fuss at me about it if you've already read it, if you want to. I won't mind.

 

4. The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Japanese teenager, Sora, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.

Do you know how much it pleases me to be able to mention both Marieke and Sarah in a list?

My precioussssessss.

In a totally platonic, devoted, non-creepy Gollum way, of course.

(I love you guys. Don't run away.)

Anyway, I do have this sitting right here and even my picky sister said the cover is a dream and she wants to read it when I'm done. So there you have it.

This is what I should have told my sister and taken advantage of the situation. She doesn't respect my YA taste enough.


5. A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. 

Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her. 

This looks absolutely lovely and elegant. And yes, I'm totally judging by the cover, but it's a novel in verse about a dancer! I honestly don't know why I've put this one off so much, particularly since I know so many who love this, particularly among my Desi writer friends.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

{and now for something different.} Knisley, Lucy: Relish


https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15786110-relish?ref=ru_lihp_cm_us_0_mclk-up2471745919

April 2, 2013
First Second
Graphic Novel/Memoir, 192 pages 

A vibrant, food-themed memoir from beloved indie cartoonist Lucy Knisley.

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions.

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a book for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.

It is rather ironic that, not even forty-eight hours after Ramadan ended, I am sitting here and fighting the urge to lick my fingers - over a graphic novel.

I think the particular beauty of Ramadan, and Relish as well, is that it all rests in being grateful for what you have, and appreciating it more when you have it in front of you. You can have the simplest Iftar and close your eyes in bliss in the first moments of it rolling over your taste buds: a pot of simply served ramen, a few dates and a water bottle.

Like Lucy Knisley, a lot of my fondest reminiscences are interlinked with what I ate at the time. My childhood memories are peppered with wading in the Atlantic Ocean, raising butterflies and numerous trips to the library, as well as my best friend's mom packing a "little" lunch to tide us over during our adventures at the aquarium (fresh parathas and perfectly spiced omelets) and the Carvel ice cream cake that graced my fourth birthday.

(Yes, I do remember. And it was pure, sugary goodness.)

And of course, there are the Eids: fluffy plates of biryani, syrup-soaked gulab jamun lovingly handmade by my uncle's own hands, colorful platters of fruit that are often passed over for slices of Trader Joe's carrot cake and ice cream. 

The best moments of the reading experience is when you feel the presence of someone like you behind every word - or at least, somewhat like you.

 I definitely can't claim Knisley's lovely, often humorous words or drawings, or her gourmet upbringing; though, I could tell you a lot of interesting facts about growing up Muslim, and how quickly I learned to decipher the back of a food label.

At the heart of Relish, though, is the shared pleasures of eating, of finding new things you like or the comfort of returning to old faithfuls when times are bad - and, of course, celebrating the communal aspects of a good dinner and sharing that experience with friends and family and beloved ones.

It made me miss last year, when, stressed and overtaxed from all sides, I spent hours browsing Foodgawker, discovering that lemon bars may just be my claim to fame and telling myself that one summer, if not that summer, I'd make a peach cobbler.

(It's July. I still haven't baked one. But there's always next summer, right?)

This little jewel of a memoir celebrates the fancier dishes, and the moments when you just need a little salt and grease on your fingers. It's studded with deliciously illustrated recipes and college student angst and a little bit of self-reflection. I'm grateful, I'm inspired, I'm determined to square off some time for kitchen duty during the semester, and I'm hungry.

10/10.

Of note: I just took a gander at GoodReads and realized that this is listed as adult nonfiction, so. Teen readers (particularly my conservative ones), please take note.

There are discussions about relationships and dating (yes, I know some people who will be concerned by this, but there's nothing really major) and...I think you can skip over most of the part about the trip to Mexico and take in the huevos rancheros recipe instead.