Rummanah Aasi

Description: It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother--and then vanishes.
Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn't rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.
But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it's Amy's turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister's movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy's complicated family--and herself--than she ever could have imagined.

Review: Amy Lee is living in her parents’ cramped Queens apartment when she gets a frantic call from Lukas Tan, the Dutch second cousin she’s never met. Her successful older sister, Sylvie, who had flown to the Netherlands to see their ailing grandmother, is missing. Amy, the sheltered and favored sister, must put aside her own short comings as she looks into Sylvie’s disappearance. As Amy digs deeper she uncovers Sylvie's secrets such as separation from her husband and her unemployment at a prestigious law firm. And when Amy finally musters up the courage to travel to the Netherlands for the first time, why do her relatives—the Tan family, including Lukas and his parents, Helena and Willem—act so strangely whenever Sylvie is brought up?
  Amy’s search is interlaced with chapters from Sylvie’s point of view from a month earlier as she returns to the Netherlands, where she had been sent as a baby by parents who couldn't afford to keep her, to be raised by the Tans. There are also chapters written from Amy's and Sylvie's Mother's point of view which adds a layer of suspense to the story. As Amy navigates fraught police visits and her own rising fears, she gradually uncovers the family’s deepest secrets, some of them decades old.
  Unfortunately, I did not find this story very compelling as a whole. I can see what the author was trying to do in pitting two sisters who grew up in two different environments to show how race, family, and culture played in their lives. I, however, skimmed most of Amy's point of view because she was not an interesting character to me. The book really shines with Sylvie's chapters are we got to see how immigrants, particularly the Chinese, were treated in Netherlands, which unfortunately is no different than their treatment in the U.S. Sylvie's character is much more three dimensional and I would have loved this book more if it was solely written from her point of view. The Ma, Amy's and Sylvie's mother, chapters did not add much besides more soap opera melodrama. The mystery was a bit underwhelming since I figured it out before Amy. I had hoped for more introspection and less melodrama in this story.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Rummanah Aasi
Description: This nonfiction picture book explores art, desperation, and one man's incredible idea for saving ships from German torpedoes in World War I. Dazzle camouflage transformed ordinary British and American ships into eye-popping masterpieces.

Review: I know very little about World War I, but I learned a lot from Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion. This short picture book is packed with information and uses art, history, and the military in a very clever way. During World War I, the British were in danger of starving because so many German U-boats were sinking American and British supply ships. Norman Wilkinson, a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander, had the idea to paint boats in such a manner as to confuse the German submarine captains, and the concept of "dazzle ships" was born.
 In accessible text and Ngai's stunning and vibrant illustrations, Barton chronicles the creation and implementation of the strategy, including the team of women artists who designed the patterns and the laborers who painted the ships. Readers learn that the wild, striped designs fooled the U-boat captains into thinking the Allies' ships were headed in opposite directions, thus leading to confusion and failed offenses for the Germans. I would have loved to have seen some texts from the German's perspective to see how successful this technique turned out to be and their thoughts on it. There is a lot of back matter at the end of the book that explains the detail process of the dazzling process.

Curriculum Connection: Art, Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: The Secret Project by Jonah Winter



Description: Meet Beauty, the bald eagle that made world news when she was injured, rescued and received a 3D-printed prosthetic beak. Follow Beauty's brave and inspiring story as she grows up in the wild, is rescued after being illegally shot, and receives a new beak specially engineered by a human team including a raptor biologist, engineer and dentist. Learn more about how bald eagles as a species came back from near extinction, and about nationwide efforts to conserve this American symbol.

Review: Beauty, a bald eagle, was shot in the face by a poacher and lost most of her upper beak. She was unable to eat, drink, or preen (keeping her feathers in top shape for protection and warmth), and would have died had she not been rescued. Since her beak did not regenerate, Beauty eventually made her way to a raptor center in Idaho, where she received and still receives continuous care. Coauthor Veltkamp, a raptor biologist (someone who studies birds of prey) and rehabilitator, worked with engineers, a dentist, and other animal experts to create an artificial beak by using a 3-D printer for Beauty. After arduous testing, an appropriate beak was created and attached. Beauty could now drink and eat on her own.
 I learned a lot of fun facts about bald eagles while reading this book. I had no idea that the bald eagle is the only bird of prey who has the ability to see in color, which is how they are able to track down their food. I also learned that the bald eagle has seven extra bones in their neck which allows them to rotate their necks all the way around. How cool is that?! Beauty and the Beak has outstanding full-page photographs of bald eagles and Beauty that accompany this uplifting account. It is amazing how far we have come with technology and how we reversed the near extinction of bald eagles in the U.S. The book's back matter includes resources for further study and additional information on the life cycle of eagles, and their habitats. 

Curriculum Connection: STEM
 
Rating:

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.


If you like this book try: Winter's Tale: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana Hatkoff

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up. The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death. Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?


Review: I absolutely adore Sandhya Menon's debut novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, but I have been curious to see what the author did which Rishi's brother, Ashish's story. I am happy to report that I love his story even more. There's Something About Sweetie is a contemporary romance that is full of heart while also tackling fat shaming, identity, privilege, and self confidence.
  Ashish Patel is the rich and handsome basketball star of Richmond Academy. Bummed after being dumped by his college girlfriend and his self confidence taken a big beating, he challenges his parents out of a moment of weakness to make good on their constant threat to find him a suitable Indian American girl to date. Their choice is Sweetie Nair, Piedmont High’s track star. When Ashish’s mother proposes the match, Sweetie’s mother adamantly insists that their children are not compatible. The Patels are extremely affluent, but the main reason Mrs. Nair refuses is because Sweetie is fat and is trying to protect her daughter from social humiliation.
  Sweetie embraces her body and does not feel ashamed about it. Her weight is always the focus of her mother's concerns whether it is Sweetie's diet or her lack of drive just to "lose some weight". Overhearing her mother's refusal to Mrs. Patel hurts Sweetie deeply and sparks her to start the "Sassy Sweetie Project" in which she will overturn all her insecurities into strengths. The Sassy Sweetie Project is my favorite part of this story. It upends the makeover trope which often seen in teen movies of the geeky girl being hot under her frumpy clothes. This project is personal for Sweetie and it shapes her character arc really well and strongly. She becomes assertive and takes matters into her own hands to live her best life even if it means agreeing to the Patels’ four-date contract without telling her parents.
 Ashish and Sweetie accept the arrangement, each feeling they have something to prove to themselves. For Ashish the relationship is his way to bounce back to the person he use to be and for Sweetie is an empowering move to prove to herself that she is desirable and deserves love. Both characters have vulnerabilities and wonder if this arranged match will work, and not knowing what will happen when Sweetie’s parents find out. Ashish and Sweetie share narrative duties, and both are flanked by supportive friends and caring parents—even if their approaches to love is flawed and can be painful at times. It is a pleasure to watch Ashish and Sweetie fall for each other in the quiet moments and allowing them the space and pace to make decisions, succeed or fail, learn, and blossom. I know some reviewers have see Sweetie as someone who is magically perfect, but I disagree. She waivers in her self confidence which felt real and her perseverance to fight is really admirable. Kudos to the author on creating a fat character who is not ashamed of her body nor focused on physical descriptions.


Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mostly in the form of texting, and some crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

Review: Ayesha at Last has been pitched as a Muslim Pride and Prejudice retelling, but I would describe it as an homage to the Jane Austen classic featuring Muslim characters set in Toronto, Canada. Smart, witty, and aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi juggles her dreams and the stifling expectations of her tight-knit Toronto's Indian-Muslim community. Instead of pursing her artistic passion, she picks a practical career as a high school teacher in order to pay back her financial loans to her uncle and watches as her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, collects marriage proposals like trading cards. Ayesha is the non-desirable type as she is an outspoken feminist, and ancient according to the desi marriage clock.
  After a misunderstanding, Ayesha pretends to be Hafsa while planning a youth conference, where she is required to collaborate with conservative Khalid, a newcomer to the area. Ayesha pegs Khalid as rigid and judgmental on their first meeting because of his white robes, long beard, and ultra-conservative behavior. She doesn't object to arranged marriages, but believes compatibility is important, and she scorns Khalid's complacency with accepting his mother's choice of bride. Khalid pegs Ayesha as those types of Muslims who appear devout but goes to bars and interacts with men. The clash of these two opposing viewpoints on how to practice their religion is a constant tension between Khalid and Ayesha. As Ayesha and Khalid work on the conference together, Khalid learns to accommodate different viewpoints. 
  Family loyalty and reputation are a recurring theme throughout the novel. Khalid is overly reliant on his mother and completely passive about his future so long as it appeases his mother as his family's reputation was rocked by his rebellious sister Zareena. Ayesha is trapped between being loyal to uncle and aunt while being a pushover to her spoiled and immature cousin. I loved this book for its candid yet critical view of the social pressures facing young Muslims as well as the universal question of "What makes a good and bad Muslim?" which all Muslims ask themselves. I appreciated the author's inclusion of Muslims of a wide faith range from the devout to the secular as they are without figure pointing of what they should be. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, mostly at the cost of Khalid's comment in not getting with the 21st century and abundant cultural references, which elevates Ayesha at Last beyond just another Austen adaptation/retelling. Along with witty social critique there are other serious issues that the author does not shy away from such as workplace discrimination, alcoholism, and abortion. I did, however, think the ending was a bit rushed and I selfishly wanted an epilogue, but this is one of my favorite books that I have read this summer and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: A pornography website featuring younger age girls is mentioned in the book along with crude humor, mentions of drugs and alcohol, and language. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Pride, prejudice, and other flavors by Sonali Dev
Rummanah Aasi

Description: There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant--even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
 
What's not so regular is that this time they all don't have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It's not that Genesis doesn't like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight--Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she'd married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren't all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she's made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won't the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they're supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Review: Genesis Begins Again is a heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting look at internalized racism and colorism. Genesis Anderson is a black tween who has a very hard life. She’s had to move several times because her family keeps getting evicted thanks to her alcoholic, gambling father, who inappropriately uses the rent money. Genesis hates her circumstances and adds the things that she hates to herself to her ever growing list including her dark skin. Genesis is routinely verbally abused by her mean drunk father who is also also dark skinned and takes no pride in their resemblance. Compounded by the fact that her Grandmother also spouts racist thoughts of those who have dark skinned believing they are lazy, backward, and will never measure up to anything in life. Genesis wants nothing more than to look like her light-skinned mother. With kids bullying her and calling her names like Charcoal, Eggplant, Blackie, it is not surprising to witness Genesis desperately wanting to be accepted, even causing herself physical pain to bleaching her skin and changing her hair in order to attain it.
   Her fragile self confidence slowly starts to build as her talent to sing demands that she stand out. She develops friendships with those who also feel like outsiders either due to mental issues or not feeling like fit in a neat tidy box. With the help of her chorus teacher, Genesis discovers a way to navigate the pain she carries as well as face her own personal prejudices. Genesis' road to self confidence is emotional, painful, yet a still hopeful adolescent journey. I have never read a book that tackles colorism so head on and in a candid way. I also enjoyed the references to notable black activists, athletes, artists, and, notably, musicians such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James. These inclusions added to the story in particular with the musicians that Genesis used as a mirror. This is a powerful debut novel that should not be missed.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are references to Genesis' father appearing drunk and racist comments made by her grandmother. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up. 

If you like this book try: The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake, The Fold by An Na
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