Rummanah Aasi
Description: Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen and dazed with optimism when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin's doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli learns that when you have just one precious possession, you guard it with your life. For Soli, motherhood becomes her dwelling and the boy at her breast her hearth.
  Kavya Reddy has always followed her heart, much to her parents' chagrin. A mostly contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, the unexpected desire to have a child descends like a cyclone in Kavya's mid-thirties. When she can't get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya's care. As Kavya learns to be a mother--the singing, story-telling, inventor-of-the-universe kind of mother she fantasized about being--she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else's child.

Review: Despite the cheery title, Lucky Boy is a heart wrenching novel that humanizes the issue of illegal immigration. This timely book is told from two point of views of women who come from very different ethnic and socioeconomic differences though they both struggle with motherhood and the meaning of family. Their lives are intersected by one little boy and I'm hesitant to call him 'lucky' given the horrible circumstances that surround him. 
  Soli is an undocumented Mexican immigrant determined to start a new life in America. During her treacherous journey across the border, she ends up pregnant and single. Without other options, Soli lands a job cleaning houses for a well-to-do white family. Soli has an extremely hard time raising her son, Ignacio, without calling attention to herself. In a parallel story, Kavya is a non-traditional Indian daughter who has failed to live up to her mother's expectations. Kavya is desperate to start a family, but she is unable to conceive. Her tunnelvision of having children push her and her husband Rishi apart until they decide to adopt. Soli and Kavya's stories intersect when an accident puts Soli in police custody, Ignacio is taken away from her by social services and placed in foster care; Kavya and Rishi, are then selected as Ignacio's foster parents. 
 It was heartbreaking watching Soli being ripped away from Ignacio. My heart ached for both of them. We also learn of Soli's horrible treatment while she is placed in a detention center for undocumented immigrants. She undergoes physical abuse as well as being continually raped by one of her guards who is there to "protect her".
  I also felt for Kavya and Rishi as they try to learn how to become parents and how they fall in love with baby Ignacio. The heartbreaking journeys of these two women, bound by love of the baby boy, are the center of the novel. All of the characters are drawn complexly and the relationships depicted are nuanced. The expectations of what "happily ever after" should look like and the reality is also nicely explored throughout the book. Along with the heartache, there are moments of hope and light that are full of great depth and insight. Though the ending maybe be a bit melodramatic, I found it completely engrossing and would recommend it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, mention of rape and molestation, and sexual situations. Due to mature themes, I would suggest this book to mature teen readers and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Secret Daughter by

Rummanah Aasi
 I was both very excited and nervous when Simon and Schuster launched an imprint called Salaam Reads, a variety of books will be published "to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works." Books about religion are very tricky to write. Some come off as preachy and heavy handed. So it was with trepidation that I read Amina's Voice the first book published by Salaam Reads. Thankfully, it was a great book to debut and I really enjoyed it. Many thanks to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of Amina's Voice. Amina's Voice is now available in bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Review: Amina's Voice is a delightful middle grade that focuses on the universal story of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. Amina Khokar is a Pakistani-American tween who is navigating the troubled waters of junior high. Amina is musically gifted, a talent that only her family and close friends know. She bonds with her best friend, Soojin, with having weird names that no one can pronounce and similar family traditions. Amina is now worried that her friendship with Soojin might be on the rocks. Now that Soojin is about to be granted citizenship, she is thinking about leaving her Korean name and adopting a much easier to pronounce American name, which Amina has mixed feelings about. Amina is also unsure of Soojin being close to Emily, whom Amina distrusts and feels unworthy as friend given how she ill treated her and Soojin at the beginning of the school year. 
  In addition to the worries of school, Amina is also dealing with family issues. Amina's family is hosting her strict, conservative Muslim uncle, who is visiting Wisconsin from Pakistan and who will surely comment on her family's lifestyle in the United States and point out all of their flaws like not speaking Urdu at home or playing music at home. In addition to these mounting problems, Amina's parents sign her and her brother up in a competition to recite the Quran at their local mosque. Stage-fright-prone Amina prepares for the competition. The vandalism of the local Islamic Center and mosque further heightens the turmoil in this timely coming-of-age story. 
  What makes Amina's Voice work is the balance between ordinary problems like those of school and friendship and of religion and culture. Amina's responses to both problems are emotional and honest. We watch her grow, learn from her mistakes, and become a better person as realizes that she misjudged Emily. Confronting her preconceived notions is again reinforced on a larger scale as her community comes together in response to Islamophobic vandalism. The author also gracefully addresses the difficulty of reconciling individual beliefs with those of others, especially those you love, as well as the complications that accompany the merging of cultures.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a small scene in which Amina's brother is peer pressured into smoking a cigarette.

If you like this book try: In a similar vein that balances ordinary teen drama with religion and culture try Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (recommended for Grades 7 and up).
Rummanah Aasi
 I absolutely loved Jeff Zentner's debut novel, The Serpent King, and I could not wait to read his new book Goodbye Days. Many thanks to Random House and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of the book. Goodbye Days is now published and available at bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.
  Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions. Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.
  Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Review: An innocuous text asking when his friends will pick him up from work upends Carver's life and snatches his three best friends away from him. Mars, distracted by replying to the text, crashed into a stopped truck, killing himself and Carver’s two other best friends, Blake and Eli. Now Mars’ father, a judge, has called on the district attorney to open an investigation and weigh charges of criminally negligent homicide against Carver. 
  While I didn't care for the suspense of whether or not the investigation will happen and what will happen to Carver, I did understand why this plot device was used in the book, which is not to trivialize the horrible car crash. I think it helped the reader to contextualize Carver's emotions and inner turmoil. Needless to say Carver is mess. He is riddled by guilt, feeling responsible for his friends' loss, and friendless. The investigation amplifies these emotions and stress, causing Carver to have panic attacks, which send him into therapy. 
  Zenter does a wonderful job in creating empathetic, flawed, and diverse characters. Once again it is his characters that are the highlight of the book. I liked Carver and did not find him whiny. He is introverted and it is clear that his friendship with Mars, Blake and Eli brought him out of his shell as we see in his flashbacks. I also loved his close bond with his sister. It's very rare in YA that we have solid sibling friendship/bonds. Carver's friendship with Jesmyn, Eli's girlfriend, felt natural and awkward as they are both dealing with their grief. Carver's growing attraction to her and the possibility of being more than friends with Jesmyn also felt real. 
  My favorite parts of the book, however, is the actual Goodbye Days as Carver attempts at atonement by spending the day with his friends' loved ones. Each Goodbye Day brings Carver's friends alive as he and their loved ones share memories and discover new aspects of the boys. While the Goodbye Days are met with mixed success, it helps Carver navigate his own grieving process and feeds his subconscious desire for punishment. I also appreciated the inclusion of therapy and medication where Carver talked to and open up with his therapist because it is important to show teens that mental health and getting help is not something to be ashamed of. Goodbye Days is a poignant, realistic read that made me choke up a few times with emotions. While I didn't love it as much as The Serpent King, I would really recommend picking it up.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, drug abuse and child negligent is mentioned in the story. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Looking for Alaska by John Green
Rummanah Aasi
 Many thanks to First Second Books and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks. The Stone Heart will be released on April 4, 2017 in bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.
  To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he's stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

Review: The Stone Heart builds upon the fabulous and intricate world building of the first volume, The Nameless City, and provides an action-packed sequel that focuses on intrigue and politics. Unlike the first volume that discussed prejudices and history with a more upbeat tone, this second volume is darker with lots of bloodshed.
  After thwarting an assassination, Kai and Rat's friendship has inspired the General of All Blades to change his politics. Instead of reinforcing the strong discrepancies and inequalities of the many citizens in the Nameless City, the General of All Blades moves forward with Kai’s father’s unprecedented plan for a council to give all that city’s peoples, natives and conquerors alike, a say in its governance and future. Many Dao conservatives, especially Erzi who feels ruling the Nameless City as his birthright, strongly objects to the creation of this council and takes drastic actions to prevent it from happening.  With the Dao Empire suddenly thrown into chaos and with their lives in danger, Kai, Rat, and Kai’s injured father seek refuge among the monks of the Stone Heart, but Erzi finds them soon enough as we learn that he is indirectly being steered by the enigmatic, stealth Mura’s quest for vengeance against the monks. The monks hold a powerful weapon and whoever welds it will seal the fate of the Nameless City. 
  Those who enjoyed the first volume of this series will not be disappointed with this sequel. The plenty of action sequences and plot twists had me turning the pages quickly. There are some lighter moments in the book that balance the darker tones. I appreciated the addition of new characters and I can't wait to learn more about them in the final volume of this graphic novel series. An author's note clears up the confusion regarding the author's inspiration is welcomed and a great addition to the volume.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence in the book, however, most of it take place off the page. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Fullmetal Alchemist series by Hiromu Arakawa and Avatar: The Last Airbender by Gene Luen Yang
Rummanah Aasi

Spring Break will start in 1 day for me and I can't wait. The weather outside is anything but spring-like with snow on the ground and temperatures in the 30s in the Chicagoland area all week long. I really hope it warms up for Spring Break! I am always asked for reading recommendations for Spring Break so I thought I would make a blog post about it. Below are some of my suggestions of books that I loved for children, young adult, and adult readers. I hope with this variety that I can find something for everyone!

My Childrens/Middle Grade Picks:

Realistic Fiction:  Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart - A heartwarming story about two marginalized tweens that tackles gender identity and mental health.

Best Man by Richard Peck-  An adorable, funny, and insightful coming-of-age story that traces the milestones in Archer Magill's life from first to sixth grade while deftly addressing a variety of social issues.

Ghost  by Jason Reynolds- A quick and engaging read in which a tween longs for a better life.

Historical Fiction: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk- My favorite children's book of 2016 that reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Fantasy: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd - A delightful, inspiring, and heartwarming book where words have magic.

Mystery: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein- It reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl's classic children book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory minus the creepy and weird Willy Wonka. Instead of a candy factory, the setting here is a futuristic and an awesome library.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Tunage - The star of the book is the quick-thinking, precocious, sassy, and incredibly lovable Mo LoBeau along with fabulous cast of secondary characters in this modern-day mystery set in a small North Carolina town. Mo has an unique childhood.

Graphic Novels: There are so many great graphic novels out. I would highly recommend checking out Princeless by Jeremy Whitley, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks,  and the Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson which can be easily read by middle graders.

Picture Books: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol,
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, Blackout by John Rocco, and Journey by Aaron Becker

My YA Picks:

Realistic Fiction: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Lucy and Linh by Amy Pung, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Fantasy: Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Paranormal Romance: A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Science Fiction: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, and The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting, The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Historical Fiction: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, And I Darken by Kierstin White

Graphic Novels: March trilogy by John Lewis, Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, Strobe Edge manga series by Io Sakisaka

My Adult Picks:

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, The Fever by Megan Abbott, Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Fantasy: One Thousand and One Nights by

Contemporary Literature: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sankana, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan, In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Historical Fiction: Before I Met You by Lisa Jewel, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Cove by Ron Rash

Graphic Novels: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, The Monstress by Marjorie Lu

Nonfiction: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore,
The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, 
Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

I'm going to be taking a blogging break next week, but I would love to hear what are you are planning to read for Spring Break and what would you recommend?
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Princess Diana unlike any we've seen before. As a child, she is spoiled and free to exert her will without restraint -- until her selfishness leads to tragic results. Before she can become a hero, she will first have to find redemption.

Review: While I cross my fingers for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie to not be the epic failure of recent DC movies this summer, I thought to brush up on some Wonder Woman comics. Thompson provides a riveting and unique origin story of the most famous female heroine of all time. Thompson draws from Greek myth to recreate Wonder Woman symbol as we now know it thus making her even more appealing. 
Princess Diana is born from her mother’s longing and the sympathetic tears of the Olympian gods. Diana is doted upon. As she grows, so do her incomparable skills, her unrivaled courage, and her overbearing arrogance. This is definitely not the Princess Diana that we know and for most of this graphic novel I had a hard time rooting for her. Princess Diana's hubris reaches its height as the great Amazonian prepare for a contest of skill and strength. Like the impetuous brat that she is, Princess Diana stops at nothing to be the victor of the contest while unleashing horrific calamity in her wake causing many Amazonian warriors to lose their lives and to gravely injure themselves. Now that Princess Diana has fallen in the eyes of her mother and her admirers, she must prove herself worthy as a heroine and most importantly an Amazonian princess. While Wonder Woman's story has always been grand, Thompson manages to transform a demigod to a simple human on the path of redemption. 
   The illustrations match the grandeur of the tale, but I felt at times they were inconsistent. Thompson easily captures Princess Diana's androgynous figure but at times it was a bit too garish for me. There is also an undertone of queerness to the story as Princess Diana seems to be drawn to one particular woman but it is not really explored like I had hoped. Overall this is a refreshing and solid standalone story of one the iconic figures of comics. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Wonder Woman series by Brian Azzarello
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.
   Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap.

Review: This is an another adrenaline pumping read in the Kate Daniel series. We finally meet Hugh D'Ambray, a character that I loved to hate. Hugh is almost like the male version of Kate herself, he has the same fighting skills, tenacity, and stubbornness. The big thing that separates them is Kate's strong moral code and conscience, both of which Hugh finds unnecessary and useless. It's clear that Kate hates Hugh though there is a part of her that can not deny a pull towards him, but to be clear there is no love triangle.
  There is a lot of conflict, angst, and miscommunication in this book. I know a lot of readers hated Curran in this book but I wasn't one of them which isn't to say that I approved what he did but I knew his heart had the best intentions. We also lose a valuable pack member in this book which was shocking, but necessary in order to move the plot arc along. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for adults.

Description: As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.
   As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear.

Review: After hearing about Roland and his immense power for six books, we finally get to meet him in person and find out what his feelings are towards Kate and the pack. When Roland makes a power move, we anxiously see how Kate responds and whether or not she resorts to using her magic to keep the people she love safe or some other means.
  Unlike the other books in this series, this book zeroes in on the politics of the Pack which is preambled by a prologue written from Barabas' point of view. Curran makes a world shaking choice that opens a new story arc. Though I understood why Curran made his choice, I had a really hard time agreeing with it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, some crude sexual humor, and sexual situations. Recommended for adults.

Description: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.
So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected. An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece.

Review: Unlike the other books in this series, I had a really hard time finding my reading groove with Magic Shifts. I think partly is because it reads very much like a transitional book. I wasn't entirely happy with Curran's new lifestyle and retirement. It annoyed me how the Guild is now set up much like the Pack where Curran was beastlord and that all the important secondary characters are now Kate and Curran's neighbors. I also wasn't sure where the plot of this book was going because I didn't feel connected to the missing pack member. It's not until a pivotal scene where Kate is seriously injured did the book pick up for me. I loved learning about the Arabic mythology introduced in the book and I'm curious to see how the battle of Roland vs Kate is shaping up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, some crude sexual humor, and sexual situations. Recommended for adults.

If you like these books try: Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels #9) Arcadia Bell series by Jenn Bennett, Other series by Ann Bishop, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne

Rummanah Aasi
Description: Paula Young Shelton, daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, brings a child’s unique perspective to an important chapter in America’s history. Paula grew up in the deep south, in a world where whites had and blacks did not. With an activist father and a community of leaders surrounding her, including Uncle Martin (Martin Luther King), Paula watched and listened to the struggles, eventually joining with her family—and thousands of others—in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.

Review: Shelton provides younger readers a picture book that entails the complexity of the Civil Rights Movement in a straight forward picture book written in a simple, clear way without dumbing it down. When the author was a child, her father, Andrew Young, was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Her first picture book beautifully recounts her childhood during those tumultuous times. Shelton explains her very first protest when she cried during a sit-in with her family as restaurant owners refused to seat them, which clearly demonstrates and sets the tone of the harmful effects of segregation. Shelton also recalls how the movement united its leaders and activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. became a part of her family that all strongly believed in the common goal of equality and justice. Despite the hardship faced by the activists during the Civil Rights Movement, the picture book retains its positive tone. The illustrator's choice of vibrant watercolors further emphasizes on the optimistic viewpoint. The picture book does a great job in bringing history to life. I also appreciated the author's note in which she explains that she doesn't remember all the details of various conversations but drew on her family's shared memories. Also included at the back of the book is information about the leaders who are mentioned in the picture book.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: March on! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris, We March by Shane W. Evans, Seeds of Freedom by Hester Bass

Description: At the end of his career, Dr. Carlos Montezuma tells his life story in the form of a letter that the author has pieced together from his writings: As young Wassaja, he was kidnapped from his Yavapai tribe by the Pima, a long time enemy of his people. They sold him as a slave and in 1871 he was purchased by Mr. Gentile, an Italian who actually made his living with an early camera. Together they traveled the nation, taking pictures all the way. Wassaja, now renamed Carlos, eventually enrolled in school in Chicago where he thrived despite difficult circumstances, eventually graduating from the University of Illinois, and Chicago Medical School. He devoted his life to lobbying on behalf of his people.

Review: I happened to stumble upon this book while browsing the children's collection at my public library. The title grabbed my attention right away as I never heard of Dr. Carlos Montezuma before. The author uses Montezuma's own words to tell his gripping story as a Yavapai boy who was captured by the Pima and sold into slavery in 1871, bought and raised by a kind Italian photographer, and grew up to become a prominent doctor and Native American spokesperson. Montezuma was a gifted learner and graduated from the University of Illinois at the age of 17. After becoming a doctor, Montezuma searched for his parents and siblings and learned the sad truth about their lives and deaths. He also spoke against the ill treatment, harsh living conditions, and prejudices against Native Americans by the U.S. government. A full-page author's note addresses "Dr. Montezuma-The Activist," including his "Let My People Go" speech to the U.S. Senate in 1916. I learned quite a lot from this book and after I finished it I had to do some research of my own because I was so captivated by this story. The illustrations are great and layered with actual photos combined with pictures that offer multiple perspectives and rich in gold and brown tones. The side panels on the page offers additional information and provides context to the story. This would be a good starting off point in looking into the complex and intricate relationship between Native Americans and the United States.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of slavery, violence, and death. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Louis Sockalexis: Native American baseball pioneer by Bill Wise, Jim Thorpe's Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, We are the Many by Doreen Rappaport,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Lucy is a bit of a pushover, but she’s ambitious and smart, and she has just received the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to a prestigious school, and a ticket out of her broken-down suburb. Though she’s worried she will stick out like badly cut bangs among the razor-straight students, she is soon welcomed into the Cabinet, the supremely popular trio who wield influence over classmates and teachers alike.
  Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet.
  As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.

Review: Lucy and Linh is an exquisitely written, sharp, and unflinchingly honest. I wish this book was written when I was in high school. It perfectly captured my feelings and frustrations of being an outsider in an affluent school where many students lived in a bubble.
  Lucy Lam’s parents are ethnic Chinese immigrants who came to Melbourne, Australia, via Vietnam. She comes from a lower middle class family and her parents both work extremely hard to keep the family afloat. Her father works at a carpet factory, and her mother cranks out hundreds of garments from her workshop in their garage while her baby brother (nicknamed the Lamb) plays nearby. When Lucy unexpectedly wins a competition for the inaugural Equal Access scholarship to the prestigious Laurinda Ladies’ College, everyone assumes the superior education she receives there will help her lift up her family economically. 
  As Lucy confides in a series of letters to Linh, her closest companion, however, she recounts her real life at Laurinda as she struggles with this pull-push desire to assimilate to the Laurinda culture and being true to her roots. It is very rare for me to personally connect with a fictional character on so many levels as I did with Lucy. Like her I felt like an alien in my own school and could not comprehend no matter how much I tried to understand the majority of my peers' careless luxury and indulgent behaviors. I had to work three times as hard in my academics as my peers since my foundation skills no way near matched theirs. The only big difference between Lucy and myself (despite of course she being fictional) is that I already new my place on the social structure of my school and it took Lucy a while to get there too.
  Lucy harbors a secret desire to belong, specifically to the Cabinet where three powerful white girls who rule the school. They take Lucy under their wing, partly because they can count on her to keep their secret agendas and partly because they see her as their charity case. Lucy is keenly aware of this as she perceives how toxic they are to both fellow students and faculty they deem unworthy. The author does a great job in using the Cabinet as a symbol of what people around Lucy want her to achieve and throwing light on how Lucy's dilapidated home is both hopelessly shabby and something worth protecting fiercely. I could not help but cheer loudly as Lucy has her epiphany in which assimilating to the Cabinet is the same thing as inclusion and for standing up and refusing to throw away her own identity and instead embracing herself. Lucy’s voice is one that I would not likely forget and I find myself thinking about her long after I finished this book. Lucy and Linh is a real, unvarnished look at the social structure of high school and a young teen trying to navigate two worlds that she live in without compromising her own values. A must read.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of bullying both implicit and explicit, and mention of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Prep by Curtis Sittenfield
Rummanah Aasi
 Many thanks to Abrams ComicArts and Netgalley for providing me an advanced copy of The Best We Could Do. The Best We Could Do will be released on March 7, 2017 and I recommend picking it up especially if you enjoy graphic memoirs.

Description: This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.
  At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.

Review: The Best We Could Do is a thought provoking account of the author trying to come to terms with her own family history as she begins her journey of creating her own family. As a new mother, Bui starts to contemplate her parents' lives and what events led them to their current situation. She wonders why her relationship with her mother and father is distant and at times cold.  The narrative then rewinds to the author's childhood in California and her desire to understand why her parents fled Vietnam in the 1970s. 
  While this graphic memoir is not unique as an immigrant story/experience, I really admired how Bui created the path of three generations and then shared their own aspirations, expectations, and their realities while also presenting a firsthand glimpse into the history of Vietnam from the point of view of its dwellers. To be frank, I did not know much of Vietnam besides what I learned from school about the Vietnam War and the French occupation so I really enjoyed this aspect of the graphic memoir. I also really enjoyed making the connections and the author's own insight of her past and culture to her parent's behavior. There are no heroes and villains in this story, but full three dimensional people who suffered heartache, famine, and poverty among other things in order to find a better future for their children in a new country. The Best We Could Do is a nice addition to the growing number of immigrant stories being told and would make a great book club discussion book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to adultery, war violence, and genocide. Due to the mature themes of the graphic novel I would recommended it for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Vietnamerica by G.B. Tran
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