Rummanah Aasi

 Banned Book Week is officially underway. I have been busy presenting and advocating our intellectual freedom to a variety of classes at my school. Students are shocked and appalled about the book challenges and we are having lots of great discussions. Check out of my Forbidden Reads feature if you are curious about some of the books that I have highlighted on this blog. You can also see what Banned/Challenged Books I've read in 2010, 2011, and 2012. I will also be reading and reviewing books that have been banned/challenged in 2015 this week.

Here is an infographic from the American Library Association on the Top 10 2015 Book Challenges:

Click on the infographic to enlarge it.

It is important to note that 9 out of the 10 books are diverse books and they continue to be targeted in 2015. Unfortunately, I really don't see that declining. I've read 7 books on this list. You can read my review for Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. I read Looking for Alaska by John Green and The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time by Mark Haddon in my pre-blogging days. Looking for Alaska is my re-entry into YA and I never looked back and I had to read Curious Incident for one of my college courses and I enjoyed it. How many have you read? Any books on this list that surprised you? Let me know in the comments!

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
  And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won't be able to see past it. Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

Review: After being beaten up in a mall bathroom, Amanda goes to live with her estranged father in Lambertville, Tennessee, where no one knows her from her pre-transition life. I loved Amanda's voice and liked her right away. She is incredibly brave for being open and honest of who she is despite all of the obstacles that she faces. The story consists of Amanda's previous life, during, post-suicide attempt, and transition which are interspersed with her current life throughout the story. I learned many things about the transitional experience that I didn't know about before reading this book. The push of wanting to be open and experiencing life with unexpected friendships with people from various backgrounds and sexual orientations and even possibly starting a romance of her own and the pull of her own fear of her secret and her father's constant admonitions to fly under the radar is real, authentic, and a familiar story for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.
 What I really liked about this book is that it is not overwrought with unnecessary drama, sentimental nor heavy handed. The initial romance between Amanda and Grant is sweet, but things are in flux once Grant finds out about Amanda's past. Like Amanda, Grant is also keeping secrets regarding his family. It is nice to see that both of these characters balance each other out.
   An author's note at the end of the book reveals that the author herself is transgendered and has admitted that there are instances that she took liberty in telling Amanda's story. For instance, Amanda is blessed to physically, seamlessly blend and the price of very expensive drugs did not seem to be a financial issue with her family. Some readers may have issues with these unrealistic portions of the book, but I see it as giving hope that things will get better for transgendered teens. I also appreciated that the book does not end in a happily ever or wrap up in a bow, especially when her romantic relationship is concerned, but rather Amanda is willing to educate those around her on what it means to be transgendered.  If I Was Your Girl is a much needed, timely book in YA. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language including homophobic slurs, underage drinking and drug usage, scene of attempted sexual assault, and scenes of heavy making out with some mention of nudity. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
Rummanah Aasi
 Matt Phelan's Snow White is a beautiful and artistic blend of historical fiction and fairy tale retelling. Many thanks to Candlewick Press and Netgalley for an advanced copy of the graphic novel.

Description: The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words "Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL."

Review: Phelan re-imagines the famous Grimms' fairy tale in the glittery, pre–Depression era New York City setting. The book opens in 1928 with a detective questioning a street urchin, “What’s the story here?” as the NYPD cordons off what seems to be a crime scene of a woman's dead body in a Macy's window holiday display. We go back in time in order to find the answer and to see what events lead up to this moment. 
  In a flashback to 1918, we see happy little Samantha “Snow” White playing with her mother in Central Park. There are allusions that her Snow's mother is dying of tuberculosis. Fast forward ten years later, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl easily casts a spell, ensnares, and marries Samantha's wealthy older father. I loved the telegraph as a device that replaces the magic mirror in the fairy tale and it also predicts the fall of the stock market which also serves as a catalyst for the stepmother's actions in sending Samantha away to boarding school and poisoning her husband. 
 Samantha's stepmother, furious upon learning that the dead man left the bulk of his estate to his daughter, decides that Samantha is next. The graphic novel follows the rest of the fairy tale quite faithfully. The seven dwarfs are actually seven, diverse, street boys who view Samantha as a mother figure. The moment where each boy tells Samantha his name is sweet and touching.
 The graphic novel reads like a silent movie. Most of the pages are wordless, but Phelan's wonderful illustrations still maintains its pace and furthers the storytelling in showing it. The gray, smokey tones gives an old school noir feel, and the occasional spots of color such as the red for the poisoned apple and the blushed cheeks and rosy lips really pop. The various fonts when dialogue is included add drama and sense of urgency in the story. Readers who are use to action packed graphic novels much be taken aback by this graphic novel's format, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This graphic novel should be read slowly as you taken in every stroke and image on the page. I would definitely recommend this to readers who enjoy a fresh, new take on fairy tale retellings.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Bluffton by Matt Phelan, The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Genie's summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).
   How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he's ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it's almost as if it's been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.
   Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It's his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie's reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won't do?

Review: As Brave As You is an enjoyable and thought provoking story of an African American family working to overcome its tumultuous past in hopes of a better future. Genie Harris is an inquisitive tween who has a notebook full of questions, ranging from the superficial and ridiculous to the introspective. While his parents try to figure out their relationship, Genie and his brother Ernie find themselves spending their summer in rural Virginia at their grandparents house in the country.   
   Reynolds does a great job blending humor from the various horrible events such as breaking a family heirloom, and accidentally poisoning of their grandfather's pet bird along with serious discussions regarding the boy's great-grandfather's suicide, their grandfather's vulnerability and pride for asking help due to his disability, their Uncle Wood's sudden death during the Desert Storm. Though the plot is mostly made up of slice of moments on a long, hot summer day, there are long buried feelings of guilt, anger, resentment simmer beneath the surface until they reach a climax as Ernie is peer pressured to fire a gun as a symbol of becoming a man, with unfortunate results. Thankfully, the novel doesn't end with any fatalities and a family trying to work out their issues.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: The Watson's Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.
  On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Review: After being bullied at a Catholic high school and a failed suicide attempt, Riley Cavanaugh is looking for a fresh start at Park Hills High. By starting a new school, Riley braces for the question that will be inevitably asked when someone spots Riley, "Is that a girl, or a guy?" Riley quickly gets pegged as an "it", unable to be easily put in a box labeled by a specific gender. Riley identifies as gender fluid, waking up some mornings feeling more like a girl and other mornings feeling more like a boy and would prefer to dress in a manner that reflects this, a secret that she keeps closely to herself. 
 I was not familiar with gender fluidity until reading this book and I learned a lot. Riley is presented androgynously in order to avoid negative attention especially since her father is in the public eye and running for office. The author does a great job in showing Riley's wide range of inner emotions from anxiety, vulnerability, excitement, strength and confidence without ever resorting to describing Riley's physical features. It actually doesn't matter what Riley looks like because Riley is much more than a checkbox: Riley is smart, funny, and a great writer. 
  In addition to a real, three dimensional protagonist, a sweet budding romance, there are some flaws in the book that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief. For instance, Riley takes a suggestion of a therapist and starts an anonymous blog about what it's like to be gender fluid. The blog goes viral instantly and quickly accumulates followers overnight, which as a blogger myself found that hard to believe. I also had hard time believing that people would seek out life advice about serious issues from a very inexperienced teen on a blog, but despite these issues Symptoms of Being Human opens up a discussion on identity, gender, and a good starting place about gender fluidity. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language including homophobic slurs, scenes of bullying, and mentions about a failed attempted suicide. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz, Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
Rummanah Aasi
If you are looking for a fun children graphic novel series featuring diverse characters, strong female characters, a message of empowerment, and full of action and humor then look no further than Jeremy Whitley's Princeless series.

Description: A new collection of the adventures of everyone's favorite runaway princess, the incomparable Adrienne. This time she's out to rescue her older sister Angelica, the most beautiful princess in the world. It won't be easy though. Not only does Adrienne have to deal with Angelica's legions of admirers and their sibling rivalry, but the King has hired a band of ruthless mercenaries to track her down. Can she save Angelica? Does she want to? And how will she deal with these deadly knights who are after her head?

Review: Volume 2 has a different spin on the damsel in distress trope. Adrienne has been so focused on saving her sister Angelica and has gone through several hoops including being on the most wanted posters of her kingdom. When Adrienne spots her sister, she believes convincing her would be super easy until her plans go awry. Angelica has absolutely no intention to be saved and taken away from her admirers. She is very happy being admired for her beauty and treated like a goddess. She feels as if she is actually doing her a community a service by staying put. Adrienne is starting to get the hang of this adventuring thing, and heads off to rescue older sister Angelica. Her plans go awry when she finds that Angelica doesn't want to be rescued at all. While it is sad to see Angelica behave this way, it is clear that being raised to be an object of admiration has shaped who she is and it would be an interesting discussion with younger girls to see if they agree with her that beauty is the most important thing of all. Towards the end there is action as Adrienne run into mercenaries who are trying to capture or kill her for interfering with the King's (also known as her father's) plan. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Delilah Dirk series by Tony Cliff, Chronicles of Claudette series by Jorge Aguirre, Far Out Fairy Tales series by Joey Comeau

Description: Adrienne has been on the run and working to save her sisters, but when she finds another princess locked away in a tower, she decides to spring her! But Raven Xingtao, the daughter of the Pirate King, is more of a handful than Adrienne could have ever expected. Before she knows it, Adrienne is off on a whirlwind adventure to complete Raven's quest for revenge!

Review: In this volume, princesses Adrienne and Bedelia find and are introduced to a new spunky character who dances on the edge of a heroine and a villain. Raven Xingtao is the daughter of the feared Pirate King. She idolizes her father and could easily be the next Pirate King, however, her jealous brothers convinced their father that Raven should be treated as a princess because she is a girl and should be locked in a tower until she is rescued by a prince. I liked how Raven is unpredictable and her motives are unclear, which gives this volume its action and suspense. There is also a nice development on the relationship between Adrienne and Raven as they evolve from enemies to friends and then sisters in a common cause. The illustrations are bright and colorful much like the narrative of the graphic novel. Another thoroughly enjoyable volume in this series.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Chronicles of Claudette series by Jorge Aguirre, Far Out Fairy Tales series by Joey Comeau
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed. That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night.
  Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way. When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Review: You Know Me Well is a short and quick read, giving us a peek into the slice of life of two teens in their senior year. It's Pride Week in San Francisco and Mark and Kate have much to figure out about themselves, including how out-and-proud they want to be. Told in alternate point of views, we have to parallel running subplots. Mark hooks up sometimes with his best friend Ryan, but Ryan won't talk about it and open up about his sexuality. Kate keeps running away from opportunities in her life such as meeting Violet, her best friend's cousin, who has always intrigued her as a love interest. 
  Mark and Kate share the same Calculus class, but they decide to be friends when they spot each other at a gay club and each could use a confidante. Mark is much more open, wears his heart on his sleeves, and is easy going as evident in his fluid chapters. It does, however, take time to get use to Kate which I think is stylistically intentional. Kate has a lot of barriers, insecurity, and very critical of herself, but once she is able to work through her flaws and take control of her life, we can really see her personality shine.  
 Even though there is a romance discussed in the book, I really like how friendship between Mark and Kate take center stage in the novel. Mark and Kate quickly become close and help each other toward bravery, showing their vulnerability and flaws, as well as advising one another in their own romantic situations. Both of the characters are introspective, funny, and do not necessarily have all of the answers about their future even when graduation is on the horizon. Mark is still pondering who he is and who he wants to be and Kate is finally honest about her lack of enthusiasm for college and wanting to defer a year. It is also important to note that both teens are open about their sexual orientation and they move beyond the coming-out trope allowing them to just be like any other teen, which makes Mark and Kate even more relateable. I would recommend picking You Know Me Well up if you are a fan of Nina LaCour or David Levithan's work or if you ever wanted to try their books.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of underage drinking, and allusion to sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Aire Saenz
Related Posts with Thumbnails