Rummanah Aasi
Description: The year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Chinatown to Downtown Metropolis. While Dr. Lee is eager to begin his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to the famous superhero Superman!

Tommy adjusts quickly to the fast pace of their new neighborhood, befriending Jimmy Olsen and joining the club baseball team, while his younger sister Roberta feels out of place when she fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. She's awkward, quiet, and self-conscious of how she looks different from the kids around her, so she sticks to watching people instead of talking to them.

While the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan targets the Lee family, beginning a string of terrorist attacks. They kidnap Tommy, attack the Daily Planet, and even threaten the local YMCA. But with the help of Roberta's keen skills of observation, Superman is able to fight the Klan's terror, while exposing those in power who support them--and Roberta and Superman learn to embrace their own unique features that set them apart.

Review: I am not a fan of Superman. I find him boring and one dimensional, but I am curious to see what Gene Luen Yang was going to do with this iconic superhero in his retelling of a popular 1940s radio drama. Superman Smashes the Klan takes on racism and white supremacy while also touching about the plight of immigrants' decision to assimilate in order to 'fit' in America. This graphic novel does a great job in explaining these difficult and important topics.
  The Lee family has moved from Chinatown to the Metropolis suburbs in 1946. Mr. Lee is excited to start his new job while Mrs. Lee struggles to remember to speak only English. Siblings Roberta and Tommy are also trying to settle into their new community. Roberta and Tommy face overt and subtle racism and they both have very different ways of dealing with microaggressions. Roberta is an introvert and the constant references to her otherness makes her withdraw further into herself. Tommy, due to his uncanny pitching skills, joins a local baseball team and wins friends, but uses self deprecating humor to deflect racial microaggressions and finds assimilation much easier. The theme of fitting in is a constant source of contention between Roberta and Tommy. 
  Yang does a great job in showing how systemic racism works in various and (unfortunately) authentic ways for instance one of their father's coworkers implies that the Lee family eats dog. A more overt and visual example is the a cross set ablaze on the Lee's front lawn by the Klan of the Fiery Kross (a hate group analog to the KKK) in order to intimidate them and drive them away. Interestingly, Superman's involvement in the Lee's story parallels Roberta's story. Like Roberta, Superman is not using all of his powerful abilities in hopes of fitting in Metropolis. He has a hard time accepting his own alien roots, because of his own fear and the xenophobia of others. The plot moves at a snappy pace full of action and a nice balance of humor and potential romance for Roberta.  
  The artwork of the graphic novel is a blend of manga and western artwork. The backgrounds echo the historical fiction setting and compliments the dialogue well. Superman is larger than life in his physical appearance but he is also approachable and relatable. The back matter which includes historical context and Yang's own family immigrant story is important and gives the graphic novel more depth. If more Superman graphic novels were written like this I may change my mind about him. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some racist slurs and racist depictions in the book, which are discussed and explained in the graphic novel's back matter. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds, Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson
Rummanah Aasi
Description:
Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people. In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
    Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Review: Clap When You Land grapples with family secrets, toxic masculinity, and grief among its many themes. The book is in verse and written from alternating perspectives of Camino and Yahaira. In clear and distinct voices we are introduced to both young women who are very different but they have one thing in common: their father. 
    Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic and yearns to go to Columbia University in New York City, where her father works most of the year. She works as her curandera aunt's assistant who helps those with medical issues and can not afford hospital expenses. Camino is a well aware that her future is limited in the Dominican Republic and had high hopes that her father would sponsor her to come to the United States. 
    Yahaira Rios lives in Morningside Heights and idolizes her father. She is a chess champion, a game her father had taught her and a metaphor for how Yahaira must act in order to successfully navigate the world. She has not spoken to her father since the previous summer, when she found out he has another wife in the Dominican Republic. Camino and Yahaira do not know of each other's existence and their lives collide when their father dies in an airplane crash with hundreds of other passengers heading to the Dominican Republic. 
  Camino and Yahaira grieve the tragic death of their vibrant father, which also coming to terms with a complex and messy family, which he has kept a secret for almost twenty years. Both girls express the limitations they have when it comes to socio-economic privileges. Interestingly, both girls struggle to confront and defend themselves against toxic masculinity. Camino is stalked like a prey by a local pimp who is waiting for the desperate moment to 'save' her and sell her as a profit. Yahaira also has no control of her body when a stranger sexually molests her on a public train. Acevedo brings their fear, terror, and anger into sharp, clear prose. Though absent in the story, the half sisters' father is three dimensional and flawed but well loved. 
  Some readers have mentioned that it was hard separating Camino and Yahaira's chapters, but I had no such problem. Both girls live in very different environments and have very different upbringings. Camino's verses flows like water using many Spanish words that do not interfere with the rhythm. Yahaira's section is much more urgent with more breaks and spaces to indicate her thought and emotional processes as if she is playing a game of chess. 
  There are two poems that I loved in this book that really struck a chord with me. The first poem is about gender expectations of Yahaira's parents on how she should behave. This poem highlights the dichotomy that girls continue to struggle with today. The second poem is claiming a nationality that you feel in your soul and in your bones though the land may not claim you because you are not native to it.
 Clap When You Land is my favorite Elizabeth Acevedo book thus far. It is emotional, raw, honest, and a must read.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, a scene of attempted sexual assault, and a scene of groping on a public train. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Turtle Under Ice by Juleah Del Rosario, Untwine by Edwidge Danticat, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall 
Rummanah Aasi
Description: 
When a list appears online ranking the top fifty prettiest girls in the eighth grade, everything turns upside down. Eve Hoffman, ranked number one, can't ignore how everyone is suddenly talking about her looks. Sophie, the most popular girl in school, feels lower than ever when she's bullied for being ranked number two. Nessa Flores-Brady didn't even make the list, but she doesn't care -- or does she? The three girls ban together to find out who made the list but their journey doesn't lead them where they expect.

Review: The Prettiest by Brigit Young brings the #MeToo movement to middle school in an accessible, inclusive, and ultimately empowering story about fighting against toxic masculinity and sexual harassment. 
The eighth grade class is rocked by drama as an online list of the top 50 prettiest girls is released. Bookish and budding poet Eve is suddenly on the spotlight as she is ranked number 1 and her life is thrown into chaos. Popular girl Sophia Kane is second-placed, which threatens her security at the top and being seeing as anything but "less than". Nessa Flores-Brady never had any expectations of being on any kind of list due to her body size. The story is told through these various points of view in alternating chapters. The author does a great job in highlighting the complexities of middle school life, especially when girls are either have gone through puberty or just beginning and how quickly they are seen as objects by boys in their school. Unfortunately and realistically, the author does highlight the failures of adults to address the incident though steps are taken later in the book. 
  What makes The Prettiest a standout for me is how the author is able to create full character arcs for each of the main characters. Eve struggles with self confidence and paralyzing insecurity and even though she is harmed by text messages ranging from Anti-Semitic vitriol to comments about her body, there is a part of her that likes the spotlight especially when the most popular boy in school begins to talk to her and asks her out. She has to come to terms with these conflicting emotions. Sophie Kane is the polar opposite to Eve. She is an ambitious young woman though she too is incredibly fearful of letting know the real her, the poor girl whose mom works as a waitress in a diner. She uses make-up, which ages her beyond her years, as an armor and mask to create an illusion of a perfect girl. She at first does not care about being objectified by the list just so long as it's rewritten with her in first place, but slowly accepts herself and attempts to not objectify her female classmates by their looks. Nessa is confident and has her eyes sight on Broadway, but she too hurts knowing her body type is never going to be an acceptable beauty standard. 
    Along with the personal character journey's, the list highlights the insidiousness of toxic masculinity and targeted bullying. Eve’s father believes there is nothing wrong with the list as it's "boys being boys" and glad that his daughter is ranked number one. Eve's older brother, Abe, and classmate Winston offer insights into the pressures of toxic masculinity and the complacency of being bystanders. I really appreciated how the girls came together and talked about the effects of normative beauty standards and that they come together against the majority boys who enforce them. I would have liked to see the perpetrators' own epiphany and discussion of what they did wrong and the actions by the school administration. This timely and diverse discussion of bullying and sexism is a must read for budding feminists and their parents. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is bullying in the book, which is both explicit and implicit. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee, The List by Siobhan Vivan (for YA readers)
Rummanah Aasi
Description:
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Review: All Boys Aren't Blue is an insightful and honest discussion of the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. This memoir told in essays are centered in the author's own experiences as he navigates his own self-evolving identity in our world as a black queer young man. The memoir is divided into three sections following the author's childhood, adolescence, and current adulthood as he wrestles his pain and joy through life. He informs his reader that is not self involved to write a memoir at a very young age (33 years old), but had to write one in order to temporarily fill the vacuum of representation for young queer boys of color and to live his own truth. The journey of Johnson's activism is full of highs and lows as he understands the labels placed upon him by himself and by society. His essays and personal experiences touches upon many tough topics such as toxic masculinity, sexual abuse, institutional violence, and the dual fear of being both black and queer when both of these identities are neither safe. Though the topics are serious they add depth and realness to the essays and strengthens his call to all of us to help fight injustices in our society. I really appreciated his stance on the process of coming out to be cyclic instead of being finite and the necessity for inclusive sexual education that will help erase the stigma of queer relationships and ultimately help save lives. This is an important memoir that is a window for many and a critical mirror for black queer individuals. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The author includes homophobic and racial slurs and gives his reasoning for including them. There is also a frank and graphic depictions of sexual abuse as well as consensual sexual situations. Drug use and a friend's death by Recommended for teens and adults.  

If you like this book try: How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones, No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell L. Moore
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed.
  Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Review:  From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a timely and accessible read about institutionalized racism and injustice in the justice system for young readers. On her twelfth birthday, pastry chef Zoey gets a letter from her biological father, Marcus, whom she has never met and has been in prison her entire life. Despite her mother and step-father's wishes, Zoey is curious to learn more about Marcus and with the support of her grandmother writes back. Soon a tentative bond between Marcus and Zoe grows and Zoe's interest to learn more of Marcus' crime grows. After doing a brief search on the interest, Zoe uncovers that Marcus has been accused with murdering a college classmate. Marcus believes he is innocent and so does Zoe's grandmother, but what about Zoey and her parents? 
  I really appreciated how gracefully and sensitively this book handles a story about an incarcerated parent. Zoe is a compassionate heroine and though she is well aware her age is a barrier to finding the truth about Marcus, she becomes an activist by using her research skills, asking the tough questions that make adults around her uncomfortable, and utilizing her support network to the fullest extent. Zoe's frustrations with her best friend Trevor, who acts differently when he is with his friends, and her parent's differing viewpoints on Marcus make her relatable. I also loved the inclusion of the bakery aspect of the story as it highlights Zoe's creativity and balances out the serious topics with some lightness. I would definitely recommend this title to young readers who want to learn more about race and our flawed justice system.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of murder but no graphic descriptions and details are described. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (Adapted for young readers edition), Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Ramee, The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon, and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
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