Rummanah Aasi

Description: Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal's Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she's busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn't lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village's corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family's servant to pay off her own family's debt.
  Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal—especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal's growing awareness of the Khans' nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

Review: Amal lives with her family in a small village in Pakistan. She dreams of becoming a teacher, but as the eldest daughter her education takes a backseat to familial responsibilities after her mother gives birth to another girl and suffers from postpartum depression. Amal longs to catch up to her studies and hopes her mother can recover soon so she can go back to school. When Amal is grazed by a car at the market and the stranger who emerges from it is rude to her, she stands up to him, with dire consequences. The man is Jawad Sahib, the son of the town’s villainous landlord. Enraged at Amal’s disrespect, he demands that Amal’s father pay back his debts, forcing Amal into indentured servitude. As Amal bonds with the other servants and tries to adjust to her new life, she learns more about the Sahib family’s history and gains knowledge that will implicate them in a crime. When she has an opportunity to expose the truth, she takes it.
  Amal Unbound covers a lot ground in its short chapters, focusing particularly with gender roles and class. It is important to note that Amal is not a slave in what we are use to seeing, but nevertheless bound metaphorically. The story is accessible and straightforward with Amal’s emotions, perspective, and strength anchoring the narrative. I wish the author had spent more time talking about the cultural context of the story such as the village structure and the role of the landlord. A lot of the action of the story take place off the page and we are told what happens. The ending though hopeful and uplifting happens too quickly and is unfortunately, not reality. Regardless, Amal is a great role model for younger readers who fight injustice across the globe, often without recognition.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Violence is alluded in the story and hints of inappropriate behavior of men towards girls. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In this powerful collection, YA authors answer real letters from teens all over the world about the dark side of love: dating violence, break-ups, cheating, betrayals, and loneliness. This book contains a no-holds-barred, raw outpouring of the wisdom these authors have culled from mining their own hearts for the fiction they write. Their responses are autobiographical, unflinching, and filled with love and hope for the anonymous teen letter writers.

Review: When I picked up Dear Heartbreak I was expecting that the YA authors had written essays on love and relationships in this anthology, but I am pleasantly surprised by the format. Each chapter begins with letters from real teens addressing their insecurities, fears, and vulnerabilities surrounding love and relationships followed by the author's or in one particular case author and her husband. The teenage writers of the letters share their stories—some in great detail, some in only a few words—and the responses are equally varied in terms of how deeply the authors reopen their old wounds. Becky Albertalli, Libba Bray, Corey Ann Haydu, and Kim Liggett reflect back on their teenage experiences, while Kekla Magoon talks about a flaw that he is presently working on herself in order to share wisdom. The authors do not sugar coat their answers and offer empathy to the teens. Topics such as mental health, unhealthy and abusive relations, survivor's of sexual assault, and the universal question of how we can be our authentic self while we are constantly bombarded by societal expectations of how we should live our lives.  Some of the letters get repetitive by the alarming theme of not loving yourself and how you should complete yourself. One downside to this collection is that it only includes a few male perspectives, however, the range of emotional experiences covered is vast.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book and frank discussion of sexual assault, mental health, and abusive relationships are included. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios, It Ended Badly by Jennifer Wright
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Review: Recently graduated from high school Ari dreams of moving to the city with his bad and leaving his work at his family's bakery behind. He knows his dad will need help, though, so he tries to at least find a replacement before he leaves forever. Enter Hector, the adorable cooking-school dropout who’s in town cleaning out his late grandma’s house and is absolutely perfect for the job. Over baking, deliveries, and languorous summer fun, Ari and Hector get closer during the quiet, everyday moments that draw them together. The romance is a slow burn and perfectly paced. When disaster strikes and the future of the bakery is called into question, Ari has to face some hard truths about himself.
  The montages of Ari and Hector are beautiful as Ganucheau’s artwork captures the unspoken intimacy between Hector and Ari as well as the variety of baking techniques of making bread and cakes. You definitely don't want to read this graphic novel when you are hungry. Unfortunately, the character development is lacking in this graphic novel. I wanted to learn more about Ari outside of his interactions with his band and Hector. When he has his epiphany towards the end of the graphic novel, it doesn't particular stick nor is it profound. I also wanted to learn more about Hector. We learn that he is Samoan and that his past relationship did not turn out well, but that's pretty much it. I also wanted to learn more about Ari's band of friends and how his friends shaped Ari's personality and desires. Overall Bloom is a quiet, sweet romance that has a lot of heart and warmth, but it left me wanting more.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, partial nudity, and suggestive humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never, ever show you. Into her hiding place - the bookstore where she works - come a poet, a lover, and three suspicious deliveries. Someone has found out about her mysterious past. Will Loveday survive her own heartbreaking secrets?

Review: The Lost for Words Bookshop is truly a book for bibliophiles. Loveday Cardew is an anti-social, awkward tattooed 25-year-old bibliophile who works at Lost for Words, a secondhand bookstore in York. Despite her name, Loveday doesn’t much care for people except her boss Archie and her current love interest Nathan who is a slam poet and magician or anything except for books. She’s reserved and painfully sarcastic, and the surrounding characters either exacerbate or find her charming. Switching between the past and present, the chapters are organized by genre—Poetry, History, Crime, Travel, and Memoir—and correspond to the plot (i.e., Poetry chapters center around Nathan). Told from Loveday’s perspective, the casual first-person narration provides a way into the mind of Loveday who is otherwise a closed-off character. As mysterious packages start showing up at Lost for Words, only Loveday knows of their significance and we are hinted of a dark past which shaped her personality. In flashbacks we get to witness how her charmed childhood descends into darkness, one life-altering moment shatters her world—and sense of self—forever. The buildup to and aftermath of this moment feel earned and purposeful.
  I really liked Loveday and felt for her throughout the novel. What is problematic in the book is that it sometimes veers into stereotypes about mental illness by equating it violent behavior (perhaps unintentionally) as Loveday recalls her physically abuse father and her menacing bipolar ex-boyfriend. There are certainly dark moments in the story, but the romance between Loveday and Nathan is sweet and helps elevate the story. I wished we got to see more of Nathan in the story. The ending is hopeful, but there is a lot of serious issues lurking behind the cute book cover and synopsis.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language throughout the novel, instances of physical abuse, and allusions to sex. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Miles is an anxious boy who loves his family's bowling center even if though he could be killed by a bolt of lightning or a wild animal that escaped from the Philadelphia Zoo on the way there.
Amy is the new girl at school who wishes she didn't have to live above her uncle's funeral home and tries to write her way to her own happily-ever-after. Then Miles and Amy meet in the most unexpected way and that's when it all begins.

Review: Gephart returns with another sensitive portrayal of friendship and grief in In Your Shoes, her latest novel. The story is told in two alternating chapters. Amy Silverman's mother has died from cancer, so she and her father move to Pennsylvania, more specifically into her uncle's funeral home, where her dad will work once he finishes his classes in funeral arts. Amy is lonely and grieving. Meanwhile, Miles Spagoski, whose family owns Buckington Bowl, the local bowling alley, is also feeling sorrow, as well as anxiety. He misses his grandmother, who died a year ago, and is worried about his ailing grandfather.
  The tweens meet under unfortunate and awkward circumstances on Amy's first day of school: before Amy even enters the building, Miles's lucky bowling shoe gets tossed in the air and clonks her on the head. Though Amy and Miles are destined to become close, Gephart takes her time in the build up to friendship which is adorable and entertaining. Through Amy and Miles the reader is able to see how different people deal with the death of a loved one and grieve. Amy turns to creative writing as her outlet when life becomes to much to handle whereas Miles bowls. The bowling motif is woven well into the story from the terminology to the very structure of the novel. Unfortunately, intercepting Amy's and Mile's narration is an omniscient narrator which did nothing for me as a reader. The narrator pointed things out that were clearly obvious and took me out of the story. I would have much rather spent more time with Amy and Miles who are endearing main characters, as are their friends, Randall and his weight-lifting, blue-haired crush, Tate. The plot moves at a swift pace with several crises that help move the story along. Ultimately it is the burgeoning relationship between Amy and Miles who need (and find) both help and hope that will capture your heart.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Death of a parent. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson
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