Between the World and Me

Betweentheworldandme

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau
July 2015
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
Alex Award winner

In Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a letter to his young son about growing up black in America, the fears he harbors about his son’s safety, and the experiences that formed and nurtured these fears. Between philosophical tracts about racism, inequality, division, and otherness, Coates shares his most formative experiences – going to Howard University (“the Mecca” as he calls it), meeting his son’s mother, making friends and later losing a good friend to violence, and traveling abroad for the first time. He also writes about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and other black men killed by police and gun toting civilians and the effect of the deaths and of the exoneration of the killers on his son. There are photographs throughout of Coates with his son, friends, and other family members. It’s not a very long book, 176 pages broken up into three chapters, but it gives you a lot to think about.

Between the World and Me won the National Book Award for non-fiction. Ta-Nehisi Coates is also a writer for The Atlantic where you can read more of his writing on race and society.

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Everything Leads to You

everything_leads_to_you

Everything Leads to You
Nina LaCour
Dutton Books for Young Readers
May 2014

Emi, a recent high school grad living in Los Angeles, has a dream job, a great best friend, and a brother who lets her live in his apartment for the summer, but she is having a hard time getting over Morgan, her much older, on-again-off-again (seven times) girlfriend who she also works with. As a set design intern, she is looking for the perfect piece of furniture for a new project when she and her BFF Charlotte come across a note tucked into a record belonging to an uber-famous, very wealthy, reclusive old Western actor who has recently died. The note waxes poetic about love, loss, a child, and an inheritance, and the mystery is too much for Emi and Charlotte to resist. With the help of Google and some very convenient luck, they criss-cross the LA area looking for the people in the letter and befriend Ava, a troubled, homeless teen connected to the famous actor. In Ava, Emi finds not only some closure to the mystery but also a reprieve from her relationship troubles. While some of the circumstances are somewhat unbelievable and the 18-year-olds in this book have lives more like 25-year-olds, Everything Leads to You is refreshing in its normalization of same-sex relationships; the plot does not revolve around nor do the characters obsess about same-sex relationships any more than hetero relationships. Instead the characters enjoy the serendipity and possibilities of their lives among the opulence, sun, and highways of Los Angeles and the film industry.

Have you ever thought about the people who make the sets for movies and TV shows? Me neither until I read this book. I really enjoyed the glimpse into the film industry and such a specific role within it that gets forgotten (and really is meant to be forgotten if they do their job right, right?). What a great way to introduce teens to career possibilities by giving a character in a YA novel an unusual job. That the characters have jobs at all is somewhat notable! Emi and Charlotte are also have a lot of responsibility that they take very seriously, which is refreshing in the sea of irresponsible teen characters in YA novels.

Emi is the stuff diverse book dreams are made of – she’s a mixed-race lesbian who doesn’t linger on either of these identities and neither does anyone else really. Unfortunately her race goes from being totally unaddressed for the first half of the book to suddenly becoming a big deal during a scene at her parents’ house. I wouldn’t have minded except that, in an absence of any hints at her appearance, I assumed – somewhat from the cover and somewhat from my own bias – that she was white and had been picturing her in a way that made it necessary for me to completely reimagine halfway through the book what she looked like. For me, by then, it is so distracting to try to recreate Emi in my mind that it really pulled me out of the story. Also, this appears to be just another example of whitewashing children’s and YA book covers. The Lauren Conrad look-alike on the cover is pretty misleading when you have a bi-racial main character. You could argue that the girl on the cover is Ava, except the cover doesn’t fit her description either as the book goes on and on about her red hair. It’s unfortunate that Nina LaCour’s diverse character is hidden by her own publisher behind the facade of a stereotypical – especially for LA – blonde cover model, assumedly to increase sales.

Black Dove White Raven

Black Dove White Raven

Black Dove White Raven
Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion
March 31, 2015
Advanced copy received from NetGalley

In the1930s a tragic plane crash kills Deliah, one of the barnstorming duo of Black Dove and White Raven, leaving Rhoda, the White Raven, to raise Deliah’s African American son, Teo, alongside her own daughter, Em. Attempting to escape the racism of America, Rhoda takes the children to live in a small coffee farming town in Ethiopia where she serves as a nurse and teaches her kids and the locals how to fly her small airplane bought for her by her Italian husband and Em’s father who serves in the Mussolini’s air force just over the border in Italian Somaliland. As war between Italy and Ethiopia looms, the Italians ask Rhoda to betray her adopted home country and use her plane to spy for them. At the same time they have learned a dark secret about Teo’s Ethiopian father that may tear their family apart but may also give Teo the chance to save a culture from destruction as the country spirals into full-fledged war. The story alternates in perspective between Teo and Em through essays, flight log entries, snippets of their own made up stories about heroes of their own creation (also called Black Dove and White Raven), and even a letter to the emperor of Ethiopia. Elizabeth Wein tackles a time period and a war that are likely unknown to most teens and even adults and continues to do what she does best – write historical fiction in which the characters are deeply involved and affected by the history being made and the wars being fought around them. And of course, there are airplanes.

For me, Elizabeth Wein will have a hard time ever topping Code Name Verity, and Black Dove White Raven doesn’t even come close.  However, much like the flights that her characters take, both books have unexpected twists that keep me coming back every time she writes another book.

One Crazy Good Book

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia (New York: Amistad, 2010)

When sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern travel from New York City to Oakland to visit Cecile, their estranged mother, they are not sure what to expect. They certainly don’t expect to find a reclusive poet and artist who dismisses the girls daily to attend a summer camp run by the Black Panthers and walk the streets of Oakland unsupervised. Delphine, the oldest and the narrator, spends the novel assuring the girls’ safe return to New York while keeping Vonetta and Fern entertained and well fed. She also longs to know why their mother abandoned them in the first place. The greatest strength of the narrative lies in the sisters, their interaction with each other, their individual personalities, and how they each change over the course of the summer. A surprisingly light exploration of race, culture, and family relations in late 1960s San Francisco Bay Area, One Crazy Summer is a novel that is full of heart and in which Williams-Garcia gracefully toes the line between a happy and a realistic ending.

One Crazy Summer has been receiving a lot of Newbery buzz, which is one of the reasons I chose to read it in the first place. I’m not about to have a replay of last year when When You Reach Me won and I hadn’t even read the thing. Always good to cover your bases. What I enjoyed most was the relationship between the three sisters. Being from a family of all girls myself (there are 5 of us!), I saw in Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern the same dynamics I had with my sisters. They also seemed to follow the family-order stereotypes: Delphine, the oldest, is responsible, protective of her younger sisters, and at risk of growing up before her time; Vonetta is the typical middle child, starving for attention and creating drama to have people look at her; and Fern, the baby, is more carefree, sassy, and not afraid to stick up for herself. Granted the characters are, thankfully, more complex than these trite descriptions, but I am undecided how I feel about the girls fitting into the psychological family-order catagories so neatly. Does this lend a sense of realism? Obviously I saw my family in their interactions and personalities. But I also think an author may fall into the trap of making characters too stereotypical. I could somewhat predict that Delphine would at some point get the “don’t grow up too fast” talk from her mother and that Fern would have to let go of some of her childish tendencies (like losing her doll and getting over it).

Speaking of Fern’s doll, Miss Patty Cake, did anyone else catch the reference to The Bluest Eye? Miss Patty Cake is white and Crazy Kelvin points out to her that her doll does not look like her: “Are your eyes blue like hers? Is your hair blond like hers? Is your skin white like hers?” (66). Luckily Fern is not as consumed as Pecola Breedlove with her doll’s appearance and does not base her own self-worth on how her doll looks. However, I thought it was a nice connection and apt for the themes of the book.