Rummanah Aasi
Description: When Huda meets Hadi, the boy she will ultimately marry, she is six years old. Both are the American-born children of Iraqi immigrants, who grew up on opposite ends of California.

Hadi considers Huda his childhood sweetheart, the first and only girl he's ever loved, but Huda needs proof that she is more than just the girl Hadi's mother has chosen for her son. She wants what the American girls have--the entertainment culture's almost singular tale of chance meetings, defying the odds, and falling in love. She wants stolen kisses, romantic dates, and a surprise proposal. As long as she has a grand love story, Huda believes no one will question if her marriage has been arranged.

But when Huda and Hadi's conservative Muslim families forbid them to go out alone before their wedding, Huda must navigate her way through the despair of unmet expectations and dashed happily-ever-after ideals. Eventually she comes to understand the toll of straddling two cultures in a marriage and the importance of reconciling what you dreamed of with the life you eventually live.

Review: First Come Marriage is a heartfelt, engaging story about culture expectations clashing with reality. Huda Al-Marashi is a Shia Iraqi American who grew up in America and with the the romantic, impractical, Americanized belief that rings and proposals and wedding-day highs laid the foundation for a loving marriage, which she encountered time after time in television and movies. These romantic notions often collided with her conservative Islamic family values. Before marriage, Al-Marashi believed that a traditional, family-sanctioned union to a boy from her same background would lay the foundation for a happy life. Her lived experience, however, requires Al-Marashi to unlearn both of sets of beliefs.She often felt that her marriage to Hadi, a childhood friend and fellow Iraqi American, did not live up to her high expectations. Hadi's lack of romantic gestures before and after her marriage was often a source of contention in their relationship. For years, she struggles to explain her marriage angst to her husband and wants him to figure it out on his own. This resentment grows to a boiling point when Hadi is accepted to medical school in Mexico, forcing Al-Marashi to move to Mexico; suspend her own graduate work; and struggle to fill large blocks of empty, lonely time. The pair is constantly fighting until the brink of divorce. By self reflection and exposing a long list of what she got wrong, including her own beliefs and the idea that her husband is an extension of herself rather than his own person, Al-Marashi finally gets to what’s right.
  I found this memoir to be an easy read. The author's high school and college experiences were highly relatable. There were many moments where I understood her frustration, having too grown-up with the rituals of attending prom (which I never did nor did I resent not attending) and wondering about a happily ever after that everyone seems to get in books, television, and movies. I wished there was a bit more insight towards the last half of the book. Regardless, I enjoyed it and read it in one sitting.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are brief mentions of sex and some language. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia's courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review: Front Desk is a wonderful debut middle grade novel that explores a multitude of themes that are nicely woven into a story of activism. Mia Tang and her family has immigrated from China two years ago in dreams of starting over. After being fired from their restaurant jobs, Mia and her family are struggling to make ends meet and needing to live in their car, they are beyond thrilled to become motel managers for the Calivista MotelTheir dream job, however, is a nightmare after a series of setbacks for the Tang family. The washing machine breaks down. A customer’s car is stolen. Mia’s mother is beaten by robbers. Mr. Yao, the miserly and racist, motel manager mistreats the Tang family and cuts their wages at every turn. Meanwhile Mia is learning the unfair treatment and plight of immigrants as well as the gradual understanding of racism and prejudice in America. Mia is also fighting a personal battle among her peers who ridicule her for wearing thrift-shop clothes and her desire to be a writer when her mother insists she must study math because she can never compete with the natural English born students.
  I absolutely adored Mia. She is spunky and creative when it comes to solving her family's issues. She turns to activism to call out racist behavior and finds a way to help out poor immigrants find shelter. I was constantly rooting for her even when the competition of writing an essay to win a motel seemed like a very shady deal. I just wished we learned a little bit more from the people who stayed at the motel. This is a great book that demonstrates what persistence, creativity, and activism can do to change what seems like insurmountable situations.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are racist and anti-immigrant sentiments addressed in the book without any slurs. There is talk of a physical assault. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh, Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Review: The Raven's Tale is a fictionalized account of Edgar Allen Poe's teen years.  Edgar “Eddy” Poe is desperate to escape the suffocating life of upper-crust Richmond, Virginia. He is looking forward to going to college and being free to follow his passion for poetry as well as getting away from his controlling foster father. The passionate and talented Edgar is close to achieving his goal when she appears. A girl in a dress of ashes and raven feathers, she is Eddy’s muse, whom he names Lenore. Lenore is fierce, powerful, and hungry for words, but she needs Eddy to commit to her so she can evolve from her new frail human form into a higher being. Poe has to decide whether or not he can continue his artistic expression or live his life without it.
   The story is narrated by Poe and his personified muse in alternating chapters. Edgar and Lenore share the present-tense narration in distinctive first-person voices. Several of Poe’s most well-known works are given the nod in the narrative, however, I found the alternating chapters at first engaging, but I soon found it tedious and repetitive. There is not much character growth for Poe as he whines and complains about his financial woes. I also found the discussion surrounding the family slaves to be troubling and problematic. I normally really like Cat Winter's infusion of supernatural into her stories, but The Raven's Tale was unfortunately a complete miss for me.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Blood red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Review: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is an uplifting story about three teens with serious disabilities forming an unlikely friendship as they struggle to cope with everyday life.  message of empathy especially from abled bodies. Aven Green is a tween that tween me would love to have as a friend. She is smart, funny, loves planning pranks, and plays on the school soccer team.  Though Aven was born without arms, she has never let her "lack of armage," as she calls it, deter her from doing anything she sets her mind to. She does not need your pity, but would really appreciate it if you would not stare and call her a freak. When her father gets a job as the manager of Stagecoach Pass, a rundown Western theme park out in Arizona, the family's move, right after Aven has started eighth grade, presents her toughest challenge yet.
  Along with dealing with the new kid jitters, Aven has to everything from scratch including dealing with the many stares and questions of new schoolmates. Aven sorely misses her old life back in Kansas;  however, her optimistic spirit and her infectious sense of humor, keeps her afloat. She is not immune to the constant spotlight of being disabled or labeled weird. She is persistent and looks for the silver linings in her new life in Arizona, such as making friends with the cute but prickly Connor (who has Tourette's syndrome) and Zion who lacks self confidence because of his weight, or enjoying the ability to wear flats all year-round. Aven, Connor, and Zion get wrapped up in the unusual mystery at the heart of Stagecoach Pass: the disappearing tarantulas, a missing photograph, and a secret necklace. Aven is determined to get to the bottom of the secret.
  The characters make this story. As an able bodied person, it is an eye opening read and a reminder of the stigma that is attached to disability. Aven, Connor, and Zion alienate themselves because they've been labeled by others as freaks, but as these characters grow more confident they push back at these expectations. The journey to this point is hard, heartbreaking, and not easy. The author seems to have done her homework in portraying the characters authentically. The mystery in the story, however, is underwhelming and takes a backseat to the character development and relationships. I am happy there will be another book featuring Aven and the crew and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of bullying. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw
Rummanah Aasi
Description: It is summer in Phoenix, and seventeen-year-old Maximo offers to help a Jordan, a fellow student in high school, with the food truck that belonged to Jordan's deceased father, and which may be the only thing standing between homelessness for Jordan and his mom; the boys are strongly attracted to each other, but as their romance develops it is threatened by the secrets they are hiding--and by the racism and homophobia of those around them.

Review: Maximo (who prefers to be called Max) is a popular high school athlete who spends most of his free time with his two best friends, playing video games and joking around. Max has a secret that he hasn't told anyone, not even his buddies, that makes his heart pound and his hands sweat. He is trying to be a man, a fighter his father raised him to be. A fighter pushes through the fear and pain.
    Jordan is an awkward, anxious, introverted teen who is attempting to help take care of his mom after the death of his father. He also dreams of striking out on his own, pursue a career in writing and be in a relationship. In order to save their home Jordan and his mom work on their food truck, but thing are not going according to plan. In fact neither Jordan nor his mom know how to run a food truck. Jordan hires Max to work the food truck with him, and two boys who thought they had nothing in common find that they are more alike than they thought.
   The Music of What Happens is a character driven story with an easy, conversational tone. The story is told from alternating points of views of Max and Jordan. Max is confident though he is afraid to show and talk about his feelings because that is not what a fighter does. Max grapples with understanding whether he has actually been raped and what he should do about it; the consequences of the rape also cause him to question the lessons his father taught him as a young child. While the author makes clear what happened to Max, the assault is not described in graphic detail. This topic of consent and rape are rarely mentioned between boys (or at least from the YA books that I have read thus far). Max also laughs off crude sexual jokes regarding promiscuity and homophobic slurs until he himself becomes woke and comfortable enough to have an honest talk with his friends. Jordan is struggling with self confidence and keeping his mother afloat. Oftentimes he ends up being the adult and she the child.
  We follow these boys as they uneasily become friends and into a budding romance along with getting to know their separate groups of friends. The plot is balanced nicely between heavier topics such as toxic masculinity, homophobia, racial microaggressions, consent, addiction, and sexual assault. None of these topics are heavy handed but they are also not sugar coated either. There are some truly heartbreaking moments that Max and Jordan go through, but ultimately it is an uplifting and relatable story.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mentions of underage drinking, allusions to rape, crude sexual humor, and homophobic slurs. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Release by Patrick Ness
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