Rummanah Aasi
Description: Doaa and her family leave war-torn Syria for Egypt where the climate is becoming politically unstable and increasingly dangerous. She meets and falls in love with Bassem, a former Free Syrian Army fighter and together they decide to leave behind the hardship and harassment they face in Egypt to flee for Europe, joining the ranks of the thousands of refugees who make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded and run-down ships to seek asylum overseas and begin a new life.
  After four days at sea, their boat is sunk by another boat filled with angry men shouting threats and insults. With no land in sight and surrounded by bloated, floating corpses, Doaa is adrift with a child’s inflatable water ring around her waist, while two little girls cling to her neck. Doaa must stay alive for them. She must not lose strength. She must not lose hope.

Review: A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea is a story of heartbreak, hope, and a human crisis. This memoir follows a teen Syrian refugee, Doaa Al Zamel’s perilous and personal journey to Europe in hopes of pursuing a future of peace and opportunities. Initially a subject of a TED talk by Melissa Fleming, the head of communications and chief spokesperson for the United High Commissioner for Refugees, the book expounds upon the topic. Doaa Al Zamel was only nineteen years old when she and her family flee from their homeland of Syria due to a civil war and a brutal government who crushed any opposition. The book gives a general yet clear understanding of the complexities of the ongoing Syrian civil war. The numbers of Syrian civilians who are either displaced or have been killed during the civil war is daunting and eye opening.
  We follow Doaa as she is awaken to the disparities of what has become of her homeland. She joined demonstrations and joined the rebellion which was sparked by the Arab Spring, but soon she realizes that revolution and the desire for change comes at a very high cost as her neighborhood is continuously shelled, held under martial law, and the lives of her family are at stake. The family seeks temporary shelter in Egypt, but soon the change of the Egyptian government had looked down upon refugees. The book has plenty of dark moments but there are also lighter ones such as Doaa finding love in the very unlikely place and hope once again bloomed in her heart for a new chance at life in Europe.
  Doaa left with the vaguely formed idea of making her way to asylum in Europe. The trip nearly cost her life. In the hands of smugglers, beset by rough seas and pirates, she survived a horrific shipwreck, so far among the deadliest in the annals of illegal migration from Africa to Europe. With the exception of a handful of survivors, all the other refugees including her fiance, died from either drowning, hypothermia, and/or dehydration. Set adrift at sea for four days, she barely survived while also saving the life of a toddler, earning awards from humanitarian agencies and calling renewed attention to the plight of refugees from Syria. Finally resettled in Sweden, Doaa’s story is one of the few refugee tales that seem to have a happy ending yet her struggles are far from over.
  I like how this book is very upfront and puts a personal face to a humanitarian crisis. There is no sentimentality attached to the story. Doaa is not propped as a role model from the get go. She is human who has flaws such as a being incredibly stubborn and having a bad temper. She is an ordinary woman who has gone through extraordinary and tragic events in her life. Her ordinariness is extremely important and a reminder for everyone to see that a refugee is a human being and no different from you and I. She is not a terrorist nor is she out to snatch away anyone's benefits, jobs, or rights away from them, but a symbol of hope. Doaa's story reminds us that a refugee is a human being not any other label that people attach to it, but an individual that wants freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault, strong violence of war, and disturbing images. Recommended for teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Unwanted by Don Brown, Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Meet Yasmin! Yasmin is a spirited second-grader who's always on the lookout for those "aha" moments to help her solve life's little problems. Taking inspiration from her surroundings and her big imagination, she boldly faces any situation, assuming her imagination doesn't get too big, of course! A creative thinker and curious explorer, Yasmin and her multi-generational Pakistani American family will delight and inspire readers.

Review: Meet Yasmin is a much needed diverse book in children's chapter books in which a fun, curious, spunky, and creative Pakistani-American girl solve problems and have adventures. This book is compiled of four separate sections give Yasmin lots of adventures and opportunities to explore her character. “Yasmin the Explorer”, Yasmin makes a map of her neighborhood and uses it when she goes to the farmers market with her mother. “Yasmin the Painter” doesn’t know what to create for the art contest at school, but when she tinkers with a paint set gifted to her by her Baba (her father), she gets an idea that proves successful. “Yasmin the Builder” is once again stumped over a class project, but after a few false starts and moments of frustration, she comes up with a brilliant contribution. Finally, “Yasmin the Fashionista” is bored at home with her grandparents while her parents eat out together. She complains of having nothing to do, but when she stumbles into her mother’s closet, the hijabs and saris and a new kameez give her lots of ideas.
  Each of these adventures has two to three chapters. Each spread has full- or half-page art in attractive, bold colors that bring the characters to life. Yasmin's personality shines through as she gets herself in and out of trouble. Though her dilemmas seem small, they are significant when seen through the eyes of a child. I also loved how the Pakistani culture is seamlessly woven into the story from the clothes that Yasmin's parents and grandparents where, terms of endearment that are used, and the tiny details that caught my eye such as the Dawn newspaper, Pakistan's prominent newspaper. The book does include backmatter such as discussion questions intended for child readers to think and talk about from the stories, an index of Urdu words presented as a fun way to learn the language, facts about Pakistan, a recipe, and a craft. I am so glad Yasmin is out for readers to discover and for young Pakistani readers to see themselves.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.

If you like this book try: Yasmin the Teacher and Yasmin in Charge by Saadia Faruqi
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can't protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.


Review: The Weight of Our Sky is an intense historical fiction novel set during the May 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an event that I had no prior knowledge before reading this book. The political tensions between the Chinese residents and the Malays have reached a critical breaking point, each spurred by their own politicians. The riots break out while she's at the movies one afternoon, and Melati is saved and sheltered by a compassionate Chinese family, but she constantly imagines the worst for her mother while waiting for the chance to return home. Melati experiences acts of brutal cruelty and everyday heroism. She is racked with guilt as her best friend is taken away by an execution squad and killed. Melati's new acquaintances from both Chinese, Indian, and Malays risk their lives to offer her aid. Melati's severe obsessive compulsive disorder is exacerbated by the stress of her experiences and the anxiety of the unknown, which pushes her to her breaking point. Melati Ahmad sees her OCD as a tragedy-invoking djinn that can only be appeased through counting and tapping rituals; if she doesn't complete them, Melati fears, her mother will die a terrible death. The manifestation of a mental illness through a djinn is very common in Islamic tradition where mental illness is barely understood and poorly treated, especially in this era. What I really appreciated about this book is that Melati is not stunted by her mental illness. She continues to persist, her determination to reunite with her mother and help others in need gives her the inner strength to hold on. While her illness is not magically cured at the end, she is more open to talk about it and there is hope that she can find medication and help. I also appreciated that the author does a great job in informing the reader of the visceral, volatile setting without resulting to info dumping and bias. The secondary characters from different ethnic backgrounds are fully dimensional and balanced. The Weight of Our Sky is not an easy novel as it tackles death, racism, mental health issues, and riot violence, but these inclusions are necessary to portray contentious moment in time that is hardly discussed outside of Malaysia.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, and strong violence that take place mostly off the page but is alluded to in the story.

If you like this book try: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Under Rose-Tinted Skies by Louise Gornall
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Kamala Khan continues to mix super-heroic adventure with fun and friendship! Starting with... a slumber party! But if calamity strikes Jersey City while Kamala is having a sleepover with Nakia, Zoe and Mike, how can Ms. Marvel save the day without bailing on her best friends?

And speaking of BFFs, Bruno is back — and he and Kamala are learning how to be pals again. What better bonding experience than geeking out over a little science? And what better experiment to run than trying to figure out how Ms. Marvel's powers work?

But when things go awry and with her uncanny abilities on the fritz, Kamala will have to pull it together to battle a classic Marvel villain!


Review: Ms. Marvel Volume ten is end of G. Willow Wilson writing the graphic novel series that has meant so much to me. Though Ms. Marvel will continue and be written under a different writer, I will really miss Ms. Willow's writing who has brought warmth, culture, humor, and diversity which is much needed in the Marvel Comics. Kamala Khan is the first time I saw myself on the page though I don't have her embiggening powers or her responsibility of being a superhero, but I do understand the struggle of wanting to be a normal adolescent and also needing to be an unabashed Paksitani American Muslim. Though the villains are hokey in this series and not as serious as your traditional comic book, I return time and again to the wonderful characters in this series. 
  Fittingly we return to the roots of this graphic novel series in this tenth volume. Kamala is tired of leading a double life and finally reveals her superhero identity to her girlfriends at a slumber party which is continuously being interrupted by hijinks, but of course, everyone already knew. A very cute moment. We are also reunited with Kamala's best friend Bruno who has returned from Wakanda as they battle a lesser known Marvel villain named Shocker. This section allows us to examine Kamala's powers from a scientist point of view. I did not completely understand all the sceience behind Kamala's powers but it was nice to see Bruno and Kamala reconnect after several issues being apart and it was also cool to see Professor X make a cameo. I also loved seeing the various future renditions of future Kamala which leaves the door open for Saladin Ahmed to pick up the series under the new title Magnificent Ms. Marvel. There is also a weird time travel trip to 1257 A.D. to discover one of Kamala's Inhuman ancestors, and there’s some "quest game" wormhole story going on that puzzled me, but the important things is that in the end Wilson and crew brought the energy and love that was the cornerstone of the series.
  It was also fun to see a lot of people who wrote and contributed to this volume such as such as Hasan Minhaj, Rainbow Rowell and Eve Ewing. Though there were so many writers involved in this volume, I did not notice any problems with tone, character consistency, etc. I will for sure read the new run Magnificent Ms. Marvel, but Wilson's Ms. Marvel will always have a soft spot in my fangirl heart.


Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: None. Recommended to Grades 8 and up.


If you like this book try: Champions by Mark Waid, A-Force Vol 1 by G. Willow Wilson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
   For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.
  But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.

Review: In Collin's adult fantasy debut novel, The Binding, books are dangerous things in an  alternate Victorian England. People visit to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean for the individual and their memories lose the power to hurt or haunt them. After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of Seredith, a binder, to live and work as her apprentice.
  As you can imagine there are those who exploit the binders market to their own purposes. Among them is Mr. de Havilland, Seredith’s son, who, after her suspicious death, appropriates her stock of secret bindings, which, like loaded guns, will make explosive appearances later. He also takes charge of Emmett.
  The middle section of the novel changes from a third person to Emmett's point of view as Emmett eventually discovers there is a book with his name on it, and it holds an essential secret about him. Emmett is back on the farm with his parents and his sister, Alta. In this flashback we learn the source of Emmett’s ailment and also his connection to the Lord Lucian Darnay as the two have a forbidden romance. Except for the fact that a corrupt binder’s wares play a role, the concluding section, told from Lucian’s point of view, presents a mostly fact-based dystopia of Victorian aristocracy and its excesses. The romance is slow burn and sweet, but it is tragically cut short.
 While I would have loved to explore this alternative Victorian a bit more, I did like Emmett and Lucian as characters. There were a few plot threads that are fully discussed such as Lucian's vial and predatory father and the backstory of Mr. de Havilland. The worldview of this novel is bleak, but the ending is hopeful. This a unique blend of historical fiction, dystopian, mystery, and romance. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and allusions to rape. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
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