Ghost Squad

The supernatural has always been a part of Lucely Luna’s life. Her father runs a ghost tour, and her hometown of St. Augustine is known for being the home of Las Brujas Moradas, aka the Purple Coven. And Lucely can see and converse with spirits, notably the spirits of her dead relatives. When her deceased family members aren’t in their human forms, they inhabit the old willow tree in the backyard as firefly spirits. However, her firefly family members recently flickered in and out of view, and then the fireflies began to fade.

Lucely and her friend, Syd, investigate how to revive her deceased family members. After learning more about Las Brujas Moradas, they visit Syd’s grandmother’s shop and steal a spell book that they need to revive Lucely’s family members. But when the two girls recite the spell, they accidentally awaken malicious spirits. The girls fight the ghosts, but all their efforts are for naught. They ask Babette, Sydney’s grandmother, for her help in fighting against the evil ghosts and reversing the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits.

The narrative focuses squarely on Lucely’s perspective. This close view allows the reader to understand the ghosts, magic, and Lucely’s personal life. The narrative’s linear structure, mixed with Babette’s conversations and the occasional inclusion of the school setting, makes the explanations about St. Augustine, the magic, and the Luna family history easy to understand. In addition, the Latino culture is on full display throughout the story, mainly through the mannerisms and the Spanish phrases that Lucely’s family members say to each other. Readers will relate to Lucely and Syd’s friendship and empathize with Lucely as she frets over her family members’ safety.

Lucely also learns about responsibility while getting rid of the evil ghosts. She is responsible for awakening the evil spirits, so she fixes her mistake and takes on more accountability for protecting the town. According to Lucely’s grandmother, their family has been “charged with keeping [St. Augustine] and its inhabitants safe.” By the end of the story, Lucely is assured of her identity and purpose in her community, which is an important lesson for younger readers.

Ghost Squad is a story that focuses on family, friendship, and culture. The story has a few slow moments, mostly spent establishing the town and the Dominican Republic and the Latino aspects of the Luna family. St. Augustine has many interesting characters, such as Syd, Babette, and the firefly spirits. Like the firefly spirits, Las Brujas Moradas and the human spirits are some of the many supernatural elements that add interest to St. Augustine. The story is also chock full of pop culture references, such as Harry Potter and the Ghostbusters, which adds a lot of humor. Readers of all ages will enjoy the story for its lessons on responsibility and friendship. Readers who like Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega will also enjoy The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The mist monster attacks the family tree. but the monster is injured when it claws the tree. “It clawed at the bark and howled, bringing its hand back against its chest as if it were burned.” The monster ran around the tree, growing in size until it became as big as a hurricane. The cocuyos repelled the mist monster with a spell. The monster was thrown back into the brush, but attacks the ghosts with fire: the fire misses, “the fire seemed to extinguish itself as soon as it reached her abuela.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Babette fights a dragon to distract it from Lucely and Syd. The dragon attacked with a rain of fire, but Babette points her wand at the dragon and says a spell— “Reverse, rearward from whence you came! Back, back! Into the flames!” Violet fire shoots from the wand and hits the dragon in the eye. “It let out one final, bloodcurdling shriek, and then began to burn.” The fight lasts for one page.
  • Lucely and Syd use the Razzle-Dazzlers, which are enchanted flashlights, on the mist monster, causing the mist monster to vanish “in a shriek of pain.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lucely uses the phrase “God forbid.”
  • Lucely uses the word “God” twice.

Supernatural

  • Ghosts, as in the spirits of humans, take the form of what they looked like when they died. Most ghosts are peaceful and hang around the graveyard or haunt the places where they died. There are also vengeful spirits of the dead that can possess the living.
  • Lucely’s deceased relatives have two forms as spirits; their human forms, and they take the shape of a firefly, dubbed “firefly spirits.”
  • One of Lucely’s deceased cousins floats up to the ceiling and relives his death. Lucely “could almost smell the rubber wafting around her cousin, like a strange and deadly aura.” When he wakes up, the cousin comes back to his senses.
  • The family uses a spell to get rid of the mist monster: “Away, away/We shall not fear/Away, foul beast,/And far away from here!”
  • In order to reanimate the family spirits, Lucely and Syd recite a spell from a scroll. They say, “Lavender, lilies, blossom and bloom,/ I call on the spirits to enter this room…/Rotten and putrid/Beneath the trees,/ I call on the spirits and let them roam free . . . ” Instead, they accidentally unleashed the undead, vengeful ghosts.
  • Syd makes a circle with salt in order to keep the evil spirits away. “The creature crashed into the salt circle and cried out in pain.”
  • Babette says a protection spell over the willow tree.
  • Babette and Lucely attack a storm of spirits using the energy of the spirits of the Las Brujas Moradas and the family spirits respectively. Babette says, “Las Brujas Moradas, hear us tonight./No longer in hiding, no longer in fright./Las Brujas Moradas, come to our call./No longer afraid, to tumble and fall./Las Brujas, Las Brujas, answer our plea./ Come to us now, from land and from sea./Take this demon away, tonight,/ Las Brujas Moradas./Take this demon from sight!” And Lucely says, “A sprinkle of sun,/ A shimmer of light/Turn back the darkness,/ Turn back the fright…I call on the power/of my ancestor’s ghosts/And speak three names, I love most…/Simon Luna, Teresa Luna, and Syd Faires!” A massive gateway forms in the sky and sucks all the bad ghosts into the void.

Spiritual Content

  • According to Lucely, in the Dominican Republic, there is a belief that the “spirits of your dead loved ones [live] on as fireflies.”

by Jemima Cooke

A Time to Dance

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

First and foremost, Veda is a likable teenager who deals with many types of normal teenage problems including conflicts with her parents and friends, crushes, insecurities, as well as the loss of her leg. Readers will connect with Veda because she is an imperfect teen who feels an array of emotions. Throughout her journey, Veda refuses to give up. Despite the loss of her leg, she is determined to continue Bharatanatyam dance. For Veda, dance is “a sacred art, an offering of devotion to God.” When Veda wrestles with the way her disability affects her dancing, her grandmother tells her, “There are as many perfect poses as there are people. . . Shiva sees perfection in every sincere effort. He loves us despite—or maybe because of—our differences.”

When Veda is learning how to use her prosthetic limb, the story skips past the difficulties of learning how to use the prosthetic as well the other physical ailments. Instead of explaining the difficulties, Veda’s time with the doctor is spent describing her infatuation with him. To learn more about how amputation can affect an athlete, The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an engaging story that can give you more insight.

A Time to Dance is written in beautiful verse that magnifies emotions and conflicts but is never confusing. The inspirational story shows Veda’s courage, perseverance, and the importance of personal growth. A Time to Dance is an entertaining story that contains positive life lessons and teaches readers about Veda’s traditions, culture, and religion.

Sexual Content

  • Veda’s grandmother tells her about the history of dancers. Brahmin dancers “weren’t allowed to marry. And somehow, somewhere along the way, / society retracted / its promise to respect these women. / They were treated as prostitutes / and their sacred art degraded / into entertainment to please vile men.”
  • Govinda helps Veda overcome her leg’s phantom pain. “His fingers feel good/stroking my invisible skin./So good I want him stroking my real skin. / Want to reach out and stroke his. / My desire scares me, and I reach for the safety of my teacup.”

Violence

  • Veda is on a bus when it crashes. “Pain / sears through me / as though elephants are spearing my skin with sharp tusks and trampling over my right leg. . .” Her dance teacher covers her eyes, but “through his fingers I see / shredded skin, misshapen muscles. / Mine. Feel sticky blood pooling / below my right knee.” Veda’s leg is amputated below the knee. The bus driver “hit a tree. He died.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Veda’s Hindu religious belief is an integral part of every aspect of her life. Below are some specific examples; however, it is not a complete list of everything in the book.
  • When Veda was a child, she climbed up a ladder to touch Shiva’s feet. The priest tells her, “You don’t have to climb ladders to reach God. He dances within all He creates. . . God is everywhere. In everybody. In everything. He is born at different times, in different places, with different names.”
  • Veda believes in reincarnation, which is mentioned often. For example, Veda’s grandmother says Veda was always able to “shape thoughts” with her fingers. “It was as if you remembered the sign language of Bharatanatyam from a previous life you’d lived as a dancer before being reincarnated as my granddaughter.”
  • When Veda dances, she loves “portraying Shiva, who, through the steps of His eternal dance, creates and destroys universes.”
  • After Veda’s accident, her grandmother says, “God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”
  • After the accident Veda doesn’t “feel God is anywhere nearby let alone inside of me.”
  • Veda wonders if losing her leg is a punishment from God or for “bad Karma we built up in a past life.” Her grandmother says, “I don’t believe in a punishing God. I believe in a compassionate God. To me, Karma isn’t about divine reward or retribution. Karma is about making wise choices to create a better future.”
  • Veda’s grandmother tells her a story about God. “The sight of you—poverty-stricken, overcome by age and illness—turned Buddha from a mere man into a reincarnation of God.”
  • When Veda’s grandmother is dying, Veda gives her “a drink of this water from the holiest of rivers. She believes it will help wash away her sins.” After she dies someone says, “I’m sure her soul doesn’t need to be reborn in the world. She’ll now be reunited with God.”

Blackout

The sun beats down on the city of New York where there are places to go and people to see. As a heatwave takes over New York City, electricity goes out. This creates the infamous blackouts causing the lights to go off and the trains to stop running. No electricity also means no air conditioners, and that everyone outside is sweating through their clothes from the summer heat and humidity. Amid the blackout, six couples spark a different kind of electricity in the City that Never Sleeps as old loves, and new ones, meet and head to a massive block party in Brooklyn.

Blackout features six short stories following six couples. “The Long Walk” follows two exes named Tammi and Kareem. Kareem needs to get to a block party and Tammi needs to go back home to Brooklyn – coincidentally where the block party is being held. Together, Tammi and Kareem begin a long walk to Brooklyn during the heatwave. “The Long Walk” is also split into 6 parts and scattered throughout the novel instead of being compacted like the rest of the short stories.

“Mask Off” is a queer, MLM (Man Loving Man) love story that follows Tremaine and basketball star JJ. The two of them are riding on the subway before it is shut down by the blackout. “Made to Fit” is another queer, WLW (Woman Loving Woman) love story that follows Nella and Joss at a senior living facility. Nella’s grandfather accidentally loses a picture of his wife, Nella’s grandmother, and Joss offers to help Nella look for it in the dark.

“All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features two characters named Lana and Tristan, who are trapped in the New York Public Library during the blackout and play a game to see who can find the best book. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” follows a love triangle on a double decker bus between Kayla, Micah, and Kayla’s boyfriend Tre’Shawn. The final story, “Seymour and Grace,” is a first meeting between Grace and her Ryde driver Seymour. Grace needs to get to the block party in Brooklyn, but the trip gets interrupted by Seymour’s car running out of gas.

All six short stories follow a prose narrative style in the first-person perspective of their respective narrators. Each writer has a different writing style and format. For example, “All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features footnotes at the bottom of the page to convey Lana’s truth and demonstrate her character. “The truth: I [Lana] just wanted us to have our adventures together away from anyone we might run into. The people we are in Brooklyn aren’t the same people we are in Manhattan or the Bronx or Queens. Do you think you can be a totally different person in a different place? Your insides and outsides transforming into another you?”

There is a sense of consistency between all six authors, allowing the reader to easily grasp the flow of the stories and connect them to the other five. The stories feature romance, and the novel is meant to celebrate young black love. All the characters are teenagers, and most of them are in their late teens. This makes them relatable to a young adult audience as the characters deal with friendships, their identity, and college. For black young adult readers, Blackout provides them the representation they need, and the novel perfectly portrays each character in their own, individual light with their own individual stories and identity.

Blackout is a beautiful novel written by six black authors who bring to life the idea of young love. Each story celebrates young black love and the diversity that occurs in the black community. Queer black teenagers get their own love stories separate from their straight counterparts. Each story provides a small twist on the romance genre due to the authors’ distinct writing style and the story’s format. This book is for readers who are a fan of romance and for Blackout’s targeted audience of black readers. The book is extremely entertaining and will have fans wanting more.

Sexual Content

  • JJ brings up rumors about Tremaine, saying, “there are rumors he “deflowered” both the starting quarterback and his girl.”
  • JJ recounts a sexual encounter he had with a girl on his eighteenth birthday. She “danced me into a corner and started kissing my neck. And I did kiss her back—she was a great kisser, objectively speaking—and when she pushed things a bit further, I rolled with it.”
  • At the queer party, JJ kisses Tremaine without Tremaine knowing it was JJ. “When he turned back to me, I lifted the bottom of my mask, closed the space between us . . . and I kissed him right on the mouth.”
  • Nella was in love with her ex-best friend Bree, who Nella “used to dream about kissing.”
  • In a brief flashback scene, Nella relives the experience of Bree telling Nella that she only kisses other girls when she’s drunk. Nella says, “Twig saw you kissing girls at all those house parties?”
  • Joss puts on some purple lipstick and Nella thinks, “. . . her mouth is suddenly very, very distracting.”
  • In the laundry room, Nella and Joss kiss three times. The scene lasts for two pages. “When we kiss, it’s slow and warm. It’s thickly sweet, like the butterscotch candy we took from Queenie’s bedside table, but there’s something underneath the syrupy flavor that I know must be essentially Joss too.”
  • After Lana confesses her love to Tristan, the two of them make out. “Before I [Lana] could finish, his hands are on my back and his bottom lip brushes against my neck, my ear, then my cheek, before he kisses me.”
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla, but Kayla doesn’t let him. This happens twice.
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla a third time and this time Kayla lets him. “I let him kiss me this time. It’s comforting and familiar.”
  • After having a panic attack on the Brooklyn Bridge, Tammi brings Kareem close to her and kisses him. Tammi grabs “his shirt, pull[s] him close, and kiss[es] him. I kiss my messy, forgetful, silly-ass ex-boyfriend. And as we hover over the water, I forget the world as he kisses me back.”

Violence

  • While at the masquerade party for queer men, JJ gets hit on by an older man against his consent. The man says, “Oh, don’t play coy, now,” as he breathes down JJ’s ear and grabs his arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The words “shit” and “ass” are used a variety of times and in a variety of ways. For example, when Tristan is talking to Lana about them going to separate colleges, he says, “I’m supposed to help you and your dads move you into your fancy-ass Columbia dorms before I bounce to Binghamton.”
  • When talking about her ex, Taylor, Joss says, “That bitch missed out too.”
  • During an argument with Kareem over Tammi not trusting him, he says “Fuck it.”
  • Tammi reminisces over a middle school memory where Kareem was bullied. She calls those bullies “assholes.”
  • Kareem says that Tammi called him “a fucking liar” because Tammi thought he lied and cheated on her.
  • Kayla confides in her best friend, Jazmyn, about her issues with her relationship with Tre’Shawn. Jazmyn says, “Is he on some fuck boy shit?”
  • Kayla calls her classmate Micah a “jackass” lightheartedly.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

The Madre De Aguas of Cuba

A legendary sea serpent is missing. Can the Unicorn Rescue Society find it and end Cuba’s terrible drought?

A brand-new adventure is ready to unfold as Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna fly to Havana to search for the Madre de Aguas. Is this missing creature responsible for the drought that has ravaged the island for months? And why are the Schmoke Brothers’ goons driving around Havana, dumping pink sludge into sewers? The Unicorn Rescue Society is ready to save the day—and hopefully not get eaten in the process!

Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil come together on a fast-paced journey through Havana, where they meet several locals. The Madre De Aguas of Cuba shows how different cultures—Taino, Africans, and Spanish—have combined their traditions. Now the Cubans are like a ceiba tree, “many roots, one tree.” The story seamlessly incorporates the idea that people can have different beliefs and still live in peace.

When Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna get to Cuba, Yoenis—a Cuban American—gives a lecture on the political situation in Cuba, including commentary on the United States embargo. The history lesson is long-winded and has nothing to do with the story’s plot. Another downside of the book is that several of the characters, including Professor Fauna, speak Spanish. Some of the Spanish passages are long and there are not always enough context clues to understand what is being said.

All the characters are quirky in different ways, which adds humor and suspense. Even though the history of Cuba is introduced, young readers will still enjoy the story because of the humorous tone and the interesting characters. Black-and-white illustrations appear every 1 to 2 pages; the illustrations add humor and help the readers visualize the characters. Most of the text is easy to read because it uses short paragraphs, simple vocabulary, and dialogue.

The Unicorn Rescue Society Series will delight readers who want to learn about mythical monsters. Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil are loveable characters who appear in each installment, and the interplay between the characters is both humorous and endearing. Readers who enjoy The Madre De Aguas of Cuba should check out Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan as it also mixes humor with monsters.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Uchenna and Elliot are told some of Cuba’s history. “When Columbus first arrived in Cuba, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth, claimed it for Spain, and then he started killing the Taino, the Native People who live here.”
  • When the Europeans came to Cuba, they “began enslaving people in Africa and bringing them across the Atlantic.”
  • The Madre de Aguas uses the pipes to travel to a golden statue that is in a hotel. “Shards of gold and steel shot in every direction, hitting the ceiling and the chandelier, causing glass and plaster to mix with gold and steel to rain down on everyone.” No one is injured.
  • From the hotel window, the Madre de Aguas sees the ocean. “Her body rippled and vibrated with strength, and she tore away from the fountain and plowed through the tables, reducing them to wood chips and tatters of white fabric. . .She burst through the huge window” and escaped.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The Schmokes brothers use Sure-to-Choke insecticide to poison Cuba’s water supply.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An older woman explains the importance of the ceiba tree. She says, “The ceiba is sacred to the Taino, the Native People on this island.” The Spanish invaded Cuba in 1519. When they arrived, they gathered under a great ceiba tree and prayed, to give thanks for arriving safely in this land.
  • The Afro-Cubans considered the ceiba tree “the holy tree of Afro-Cubans.”
  • Cuba is suffering from a drought, and many Cubans “pray to Maria and she keeps them safe.”
  • At a gathering of people who work in agriculture, people argue over who is responsible for providing Cuba’s water. Some say, “We can all thank Oshun (daughter of the river) for all the sweet waters in Cuba.” Someone else says, “Every good Catholic knows that we get fresh water from Maria, Mother of God.” Others believe that the Madre de Aguas brings water.

Super Fake Love Song

Sunny Dae is a third generation Korean-American and a 17-year-old high school student in Ruby Rancho, one of the richest areas in Southern California—a town that in which a majority of people are white. He calls himself a “super-huge mega-nerd” and a loser. His friends are Milo, a Guatemalan-American boy, and Jamal, a Jamaican-American boy. Together, they form the group DIY Fantasy FX where they create cheap, safe, and cool practical gadgets for all the LARPing (Live Action Roleplay) nerds out there.

Sunny, Milo, and Jamal love D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and, for the most part, they spend their time making props. Sunny’s room is filled with boxes of props he’s made for DIY Fantasy FX while his brother Gray’s room is filled with guitars, amps, chords, and clothes that are opposite of Sunny’s. Gray hasn’t been home in years since he went off to Hollywood to in hopes of being a rock musician.

A new family in Ruby Rancho arrives and as fate would have it, the parents of said family are friends with Sunny’s parents. Through this connection with family friends, Sunny meets Cirrus Soh. When they first meet, Cirrus mistakes Gray’s room for Sunny’s and assumes that Sunny is a musician. Sunny, who finds Cirrus very pretty and develops a crush on her quickly, decides to play the role of a rock musician to impress Cirrus. He eventually ropes Jamal and Milo into joining him with the ruse, pretending they are a band known as The Immortals. To truly convince Cirrus they are a band, they sign up for the school’s annual talent show to perform one of Gray’s songs. Sunny’s new persona is getting him places with Cirrus, but then Gray comes home and shakes the balance Sunny had created. As Sunny attempts to navigate his relationships, he also struggles to truly understand who he is and wonders if he can ever truly be himself around Cirrus.

Super Fake Love Song is a high school romance told from the perspective of Sunny Dae, who is unapologetically a nerd. The story follows Sunny’s emotions, allowing the readers to feel his sense of division with his identity as he tries to understand himself. The complex relationships Sunny has with his friends, and especially his brother Gray, shape the entire story. Sunny is only able to pretend he is in a band because of Milo and Jamal. He does so convincingly because Gray takes Sunny under his wing. Oftentimes, Sunny reminisces about the better days with him and Gray, such as when they were younger and went on dungeon adventures or stole the spoons from the country club they visited. Then, Sunny returns to the bleak reality that he and Gray are just no longer close. These memories allow the readers to feel just how far apart Sunny and Gray have drifted while also showcasing a natural sibling relationship that’s both turbulent and loving.

Sunny is a nerd who tends to talk about events as though they were a D&D campaign. For readers who are just being introduced to D&D, the specific references to the game may be confusing. Sunny is unique in that he understands things in D&D terms, which is his way of figuring out problems and how he accomplishes building his rock star persona. For example, Sunny understands that performing on stage is just like LARPing which helps him bridge the gap between Rock Star Sunny and Nerdy Sunny. He attributes different kinds of musical performers to the different classes of characters in D&D. To research being cool, Sunny decides to watch videos of rock stars. “As I watched, I became convinced of my hypothesis that music performance was a form of LARPing in itself. Rock performers, after all, hoisted their guitars like heavy axes; their screamsong was a kind of battle cry. Rappers swayed their arms and cast elaborate spells with cryptic finger gestures and fast rhymes. Pop stars danced love dramas, superstar DJs commanded their hordes via mass hypnosis, country crooners sold a pastiche of folklore simplicity long vanished.”

Super Fake Love Song is reaching out to a certain audience: teenagers that play and understand D&D. D&D references are sprinkled throughout the book and show that anyone can participate in D&D. In addition, teens will relate to Sunny’s struggle to understand himself.  The story subverts a traditional romance novel, ending with its own nerdy twist. However, some plot points are wrapped up too quickly and need to be fleshed out. Super Fake Love Song is a book for readers who want a love story and who also love D&D or want to be introduced to it without needing to campaign.

Sexual Content

  • Sunny and Cirrus kiss several times throughout the novel.
  • Cirrus tells Sunny that one of the hottest things a girl can imagine is a guy singing rock and roll to them.
  • At Cirrus’s housewarming party, Sunny takes Cirrus upstairs to her bedroom where they make out. The scene lasts for two pages.
  • Cirrus invites Sunny to a panopticon live. In the virtual world, he and Cirrus become sylphs and kiss using their avatars. “We kiss in that awkward way avatars do: the polygons of our faces glancing off each other, never really touching.”
  • Sunny goes over to Cirrus’s condo where “Cirrus kissed me at her front door.”
  • Cirrus and Sunny have a picnic where they cuddle with each other and kiss.
  • On the way back home, Cirrus and Sunny kiss again. This time, they also confess to each other that they love each other. The kiss is not described.
  • At Fantastic Faire, Sunny and Cirrus reunite after months of missing each other. They “kissed, and the beautiful nerds around us laughed and cheered.”

 Violence

  • Gunner bullies Sunny and his friends. “Gunner would invade my table at lunch to steal chips to feed his illiterate golem of a sidekick and tip our drink bottles and so on, like he had routinely done since the middle school era.”
  • Sunny imagines testing a prop he made on Gunner. “The wires streaked across the stone chamber in a brilliant flash and wrapped Gunner’s steel helm before he could even begin a backswing of his bastard sword. The rest of my party cowered in awe as a nest of lightning enveloped Gunner’s armed torso, turning him into a marionette gone made with jittering death spasms, with absolutely no hope for a saving throw against this: a +9 magical bonus attack.”
  • Gray catches Sunny sitting in his old room with his guitars and friends and doesn’t fall for the ruse of them being a band. Sunny is very frustrated with his brother’s snide behavior. He imagines himself using an FX prop he made against Gray. “I wished I could stun him with Raiden’s Spark for real from one hand, and then cast Esmeralda’s Veil with the other so that I could abscond with the iPod while he choked on clouds of sulfur―no constitution-saving throw, automatic lose-a-turn.”
  • Gunner has bullied Sunny ever since Sunny moved in middle school. Gunner apologizes for being a bully and Sunny thinks about how he “had always fantasized about propelling Gunner with a seventeenth-level Push spell into a fathomless crevice full of lava.”
  • Sunny is practicing how to shred on a guitar and he compares the experience to a D&D campaign experience. “And when I was done, I flung the neck aside like I had just sliced open a charging orc.”
  • Sunny’s anger boils over when his brother hijacks his performance. Sunny pushes Gray into oncoming traffic. “When I shoved him this time, Gray was unprepared. Gray tripped over a pipe jutting from the concrete; He hit the ground backward. . . He found his feet, looked right, and held up a polite hand as tires shrieked. Then he was taken down.” Gray ends up being injured and taken to the hospital. He doesn’t die.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When imagining himself as a rock star performing for the first time, Sunny describes the air as “stinking of smoke and sour spilled beer of the ages.”
  • While hosting a housewarming party, Cirrus says that there’s a variety of alcohol to drink such as “chevre, manchego, membrillo for said manchego, mild ojingeo, spicy ojingeo, stuff from my parents’ liquor stash like Aperol and Richard and makgeolli and like six bottles of clara in the fridge if you’re not into makgeolli, which I get, makgeolli’s definitely an acquired taste, ha!”
  • At the talent show, Sunny sees Gray “standing in the underlit glow of the stage wings, he held onto a truss and raised his beer in a swaying toast at me.” Because he is drunk, Gray ends up hijacking Jamal’s mic and ruining Sunny’s performance.

 Language

  • Both Sunny and his friend Milo call Gunner, “Asswipe.”
  • Jamal says that Gray is “kind of a dick.”
  • After learning someone keyed his car, Sunny’s dad goes into a cursing fit. He yells, “What kind of GD MF-ing A-hole SOB would pull this kind of BS on me?”
  • In a text message thread, Jamal says, “So Gray’s gone from garden variety dick to full on douchetube.”
  • Gray has been treating Sunny very poorly which frustrates Sunny. He says, “Why did Gray have to be what he was―the lord of all douchetubes?”
  • Gray mentors his brother and his friends on how to be a band. He describes a certain face to make saying, “Just grit your teeth like this and mouth a bunch of angry stuff like, You ugly guitar with your dumbass frets and your dumbass strings.”
  • Gray confesses to his family that when they moved to Ruby Rancho, someone asked him “if he ate dog.” Sunny also says that happened to him. Asking an Asian person, especially an East or Southeast Asian person, if they eat dogs is a racial microaggression.

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

An ambitious and fiercely independent teenager, Julia Reyes never seemed to fit in with her family’s traditional Mexican values. Her sister, Olga, was who her mother considered a “perfect Mexican daughter.” Olga was content with living at home, helped her mother cook and clean, and never got into trouble. However, after Olga’s sudden and tragic death, Julia feels pressure to fill the gap in her family, despite not being able to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Dealing with grief and conflicting personalities, Julia and her mother “Amá” struggle to mend their relationship. Amá, who grew up in Mexico, wants an obedient and responsible daughter, while Julia, who was raised in America, wants to explore the world and dreams of being a famous writer. Eventually, the pressure from her mom becomes too much for Julia to handle. Julia struggles with her mental health and feels misunderstood by her parents and friends. To make matters worse, after exploring her sister’s room, Julia discovers that Olga may not have been a perfect daughter after all.

Julia is a very realistic and relatable protagonist. She works hard to figure out her place in the world even though she makes mistakes along the way. As the child of Mexican immigrants, Julia experiences both generational and cultural conflicts with Amá and her father “Apá” who, while physically present, is often emotionally absent from Julia’s life. Although she has her friend, Lorena, and a new attentive boyfriend, Connor, Julia realizes grief is a difficult experience and it can take a lot of time to heal.

The book has a strong theme of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Although Amá has difficulty understanding Julia, she learns to see what makes Julia unique and different from Olga. Julia also must learn to stop comparing herself to her sister and accept who she is and what she wants to be: a writer.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tackles mature themes of death, suicide, abortion, and rape. The novel also contains Spanish words which are used naturally in the dialogue to better represent Julia’s culture, and most words and phrases are understandable within the context of the scene.  If you want to explore another book with these themes, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen should be on your reading list.

Overall, the poignant story explores the challenges of youth, especially the cultural and generational boundaries between first-generation immigrants and their children. Eventually, Julia and her mother must learn to see things from each other’s perspectives. Julia also begins to understand a lot about her mental health and how to heal from painful situations to become a stronger and more balanced young woman.

Sexual Content

  • After searching through Olga’s bedroom, Julia finds “five pairs of silk-and-lace thongs. Sexy lady underwear I imagine a very expensive hooker might buy.”
  • Julia describes a time Olga’s friend Angie came over and Julia “walked in on her touching Olga’s boobs.”
  • Julia feels uncomfortable around her friend Lorena’s stepdad. “Every time I know he’s going to be home, I wear my baggiest shirts and sweaters so he can’t gawk at my boobs. Sometimes it feels like he’s undressing us with his eyes.”
  • Julia falls asleep at Lorena’s house. When she wakes up, she sees Lorena’s stepdad, José Luis, crouched in front of her. “He looks like he’s doing something with his phone, but I’m not sure.” Julia is too exhausted to process what is happening. It is unclear what José Luis’ exact intentions were.
  • Julia and Lorena visit the lake with two boys. Julia wonders where Lorena has gone and assumes she and Carlos are “probably fucking somewhere, even in this cold, and most likely without a condom.”
  • Ramiro, a boy Lorena sets Julia up with, kisses Julia, but she doesn’t really enjoy it. “At first the kisses are soft and feel all right, but after a while, he spirals his tongue against mine.” Julia and Ramiro soon stop kissing. She feels uncomfortable kissing someone she barely knows.
  • Julia states that her tío Cayetano “used to stick his finger in my [Julia’s] mouth when no one was looking.”
  • During a party, Julia notices people “dancing so close they’re practically dry-humping.”
  • Julia watches a couple make out in public. “Their kisses are wet and sloppy, and you can see their tongues going in and out of each other’s mouths.”
  • Lorena’s friend, Juanga, starts to describe different penis shapes he has seen. “The craziest one, he says, was long and pointy.”
  • A man harassing Julia on the street says he has something to show her “’cause you have nice tits.” When an adult helps Julia, the harassers eventually drive away.
  • After her first kiss with Connor, her first boyfriend, Julia describes how “Connor is gentle with his tongue, and something about the way he touches me makes me feel so wanted.”
  • Lorena tells Julia she’ll have to “shave [her] pussy” before having sex with Connor.
  • Julia and Connor have sex. Julia looks away while Connor puts a condom on. She states, “it hurts more than I imagined, but I pretend it doesn’t.” This is all that is described.
  • Julia discovers Olga was “having sex with an old married dude, hoping he would one day leave his wife.”
  • After taking a pregnancy test with fuzzy results, Lorena believes she might be pregnant.

Violence

  • Julia describes the appearance of her dead sister at the funeral stating, “the top half of her face is angry—like she’s ready to stab someone—and the bottom half is almost smug.”
  • Julia explains how Olga was “hit by a semi. Not just hit, though—smashed.”
  • It is implied that Julia tried to kill herself by cutting. The scene is not described.
  • In a support group, Julia meets a boy who is “here because his stepdad beat him with cords and hangers when he was a kid.”
  • On the journey to America, it is implied El Coyote raped Amá and “held [Apá] down with a gun.”
  • While visiting Mexico, Julia hears gunshots in the street and sees “two dead bodies are lying in the middle of the street.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julia’s uncle once teased Olga’s boyfriend, Pedro, for being innocent. Julia remembers “tío Cayetano trying to give him a shot of tequila once, and Pedro just shaking his head no.”
  • Lorena and Julia smoke weed at Lorena’s house. Julia explains she has smoked weed “a total of five times now.”
  • At a birthday party, Julia’s father, and her uncles drink tequila.
  • At a party, Lorena and Juanga take shots while Julia opens a beer, “which [Julia] regret[s] immediately.”
  • At another party, “the girls all choose Malibu rum,” while Julia drinks “Hennessy and Coke.”

Language

  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes ass, crap, fuck, hell, shit, and bitch. For example, after Olga’s death, Julia’s mom was screaming and “telling the driver and God to fuck their mothers and themselves.”
  • Lorena calls Julia a “bitch” for underestimating her intelligence. When Julia is on a bus after skipping school, she believes “the school has already called [her] parents and [she’s] in some deep shit again.”
  • Lorena tells Julia to give papers about a college tour to her “crazy-ass mom.”
  • Pissed is used often. At Olga’s funeral, Julia decides “it’s easier to be pissed,” rather than sentimental.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Julia shares that she and her mom argue about religion often. Julia “told her that the Catholic church hates women because it wants us to be weak and ignorant. It was right after the time our priest said—I swear to God—that women should obey their husbands.”
  • Amá forces Julia to attend church meetings. Julia wonders “who in the world would want to spend their Saturday night talking about God?”

by Elena Brown

Somewhere Among

Ema is used to spending her summers in California with Bob and Nana, her mother’s parents. But this year, she and her mother are staying with her father’s parents in Japan, as they expect the arrival of a baby. Her mother’s pregnancy has been shaky, making everyone anxious for her health. Despite her mother’s physical wellbeing, Ema is happy because, finally, there will be someone in her immediate family who understands what it is like to fit in and not fit in at the same time.

Ema’s happiness is dashed when Obaachan, her Japanese grandmother, scolds her for the smallest mistakes. When she and her mother must stay in Japan longer than anticipated, and Ema has to attend a new school, her concerns about not fitting in become bigger. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes the United States, Ema and her parents watch the Twin Towers fall and the aftermath of the attack.

Her mother grieves for the United States, her home country. Ema also worries about her mother’s health, which threatens the safety of the baby. Alongside the grief, Jiichan gets ill, which worries Ema. Ema feels lonely, but then Obaachan shows a kinder side of herself and reveals the reason for her sternness—she had done so to prepare for her family for the worst.

As a whole, the story occurs from June 2001 to December 2001. Each month has an illustration relevant to a seasonal theme. Each chapter is told from Ema’s perspective, which helps the reader understand her solitude and the Japanese culture from her point of view. The story is written in free verse and portrays a detailed and orderly environment, with the descriptions grounding the reader in Ema’s headspace and forestalling confusion about Japanese folklore, language, and cultural norms. Though Ema is lonely, she is a happy and optimistic child, always taking part in traditional holidays or outings with her parents.

Since Ema lives with a lot of adults, the story details a lot of current events and the repercussions of historical events. Somewhere Among portrays the Japanese perspective on domestic tragedies, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the observance of abroad tragedies, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the incidents are a backdrop in Ema’s life and the weight of the tragedy is with the adults in the room. Through these incidences, the story reinforces the importance of having “peace among nations/ peace among peoples/ peace in the heart.”

The story also hits on Ema’s identity as a “hafu,” or a person who is half-Japanese. Middle grade readers will relate to Ema, who is struggling to exist in a foreign country. For example, Ema’s classmates scrutinize her because of her mixed heritage. They make fun of her facial features and her name, and ignore it when Masa, a boy in her class, bullies her. In the end, Ema stands up for herself and feels like she has a place in Japan. The story ends on a light note and shows Ema’s family after the end of their struggles. Readers who would like to read more about historical events in Japan would enjoy reading Somewhere Among.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Obaachan insists Ema’s mother should bathe in warm water, Ema’s mother, tells Ema’s father that “Obaachan is trying to kill us [her and the baby].”
  • Throughout most of the novel, Maribeth “vomits” frequently due to her pregnancy.
  • Updates about the Ehime Maru, “a Japanese fishing ship/ struck and sunk/ by an American submarine” are shown throughout the novel. In July, “its mast will be dynamited/ girded/ and lifted/ from the sea.” Later, US Navy officials explained their “plans to bring/ nine boys and men. . . up from the sea.” After searching for the sunken fishing ship and failing to rescue the crew members, “one hundred and twenty boxes/ of personal items/recovered from victims…are given to their families…to the principal [of Uwajima Fisheries High School]/ the school flag from the ship/ to the captain/ a bell from the steering room.”
  • Five people die from “mudslides/in Japan” after two typhoons go through Japan.
  • Masa, one of Ema’s classmates, “rams [her] thigh with his broom.” At first, her grandparents do nothing, but then Obaachan calls the teacher. Her teacher apologizes for Masa’s behavior but says asking Masa’s mother for an apology “is not possible. . . it cannot be helped.”
  • When they are in the classroom, Masa bullies Ema aggressively. He asks Ema if she “knows how to use a futon” as if she was a baby. Later, he “grabs, crumples and tosses my math homework.” Masa’s bullying occurs six more times throughout the book.
  • On September 11, 2001, Ema and her family watch the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. “We watch the towers go down/ over and over and over…a plane went down in Pennsylvania/ and/ the war department of the United/ States of America/ in Washington, DC is in flames.” Ema’s mother would not believe the attack happened “until the TV is turned on.” The aftermath and the rescue efforts continue for four pages.
  • After 9/11, Nana and Grandpa Bob were scared when they considered traveling to Japan from the United States. “Nana and Grandpa Bob are worried/ about flying./ They don’t say so/ but I know so./ Everyone is/ after seeing planes go through/ buildings/ and down in a field/ on September 11.”
  • Ema’s father mentions that George Harrison, a member of the Beatles, a British rock band, has died. “’He was a man of peace,’ Papa/ says./ ‘He knew how to treat people.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Ema’s mother began speaking Japanese, she thought she was saying “Great-Grandfather” to Obaachan’s father, but she was saying “honorable old fart,” because she made a mistake with a vowel.
  • Ema’s classmates say she “looks weird” because of her “upside-down crescent-moon eyes” and her skin color, as Ema is half-white and half-Japanese.
  • Masa teases Ema with a common mispronunciation of her name. Her name, pronounced Eh-ma, sounds like the word “for wishes and prayers” in Japanese, but most foreigners miscall her as Em-ma, which means “God of Hell.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ema’s name “sounds like the name for shrine prayers”
  • “Tanabata” is a Japanese holiday on July 7, a day that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. The traditions for this holiday are described over eight pages.
  • Ema describes her mother as “calm as Buddha.”
  • Obaachan goes to a shrine to “pray for Little Sister and Mom.”
  • On December 7th, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “Prayers are said/ on all shores.”
  • Maribeth goes to a church with Ema, who has “never been in a church,” to light a candle for the lost lives on 9/11. Jiichan prays for “the dead and the living without incense.”
  • Obaachan and Ema go to a shrine gate. Obaasan shows her the proper way to pray at a gate. “She bows twice, throws a coin,/ pulls the thick rope with two hands,/ claps twice/…bows once.”
  • Ema states that the Americans use the “jack-o’-lanterns/ from pumpkins/ to scare away spirits” during Halloween.

by Jemima Cooke

The Forest of Stolen Girls

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister Maewol went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

After five years, Hwani reunites with Maewol on Jeju island. Hwani has crossed the sea to find her father, Detective Jeewoo Min, after he has disappeared while investigating the disappearance of thirteen other girls. She is the older sister whose life plans—to get married and bear children—have come to a halt.

Maewol was called to be a shaman and train under Shaman Nokyung. Unlike Hwani, Maewol despises their father and does not wish for him to be found. When the body of one of the girls is discovered, Maewol and Hwani get sucked into the mystery of the disappearance of the young girls. The sisters realize there’s a possible correlation between the disappearances and their own Forest Incident, an event that left Hwani and Maewol completely changed. As Hwani and Maewol investigate further into the disappearances of the missing girls, they encounter a formidable enemy, the Mask, and the sisters learn that evil comes in different forms.

The entire story of The Forest of Stolen Girls is told in a prose narrative style, in the first person point of view. The story follows Hwani and her turbulent investigation into her father’s disappearance and, into the disappearance of thirteen young girls between the ages of eleven and eighteen. As the reader follows Hwani’s investigation, they will feel what Hwani feels and suspect who Hwani suspects.

The story displays a realistic sisterly relationship. The two sisters they, but are also kind to one another. A majority of the story is spent on the obstacles Hwani and Maewol face as sisters. Hwani is more logical and calculated while Maewol is impulsive and acts upon instinct. Maewol despises her father while Hwani idolizes him; this creates the central conflict. Hwani discovers her father is not as good as he seems and learns to be there for Maewol. Maewol, in turn, learns to forgive her sister even when Hwani has wronged her. At the end of the story, their sisterly bond is what saves Maewol and Hwani.

The Forest of Stolen Girls deals with the brutal history of China’s imperialism over the Korean peninsula. The core of the story relies on the historical fact that in Joseon, Korea, over 2,000 girls were kidnapped from their homes and sent to China as “tribute girls.” The story deals with this intergenerational trauma gracefully and brings to light atrocities committed by both Chinese and Joseon officials alike. The taking of tribute girls results in characters committing heinous actions for the sake of their own daughters. In order to prevent Gahee from being taken as a tribute girl, her father sliced up her face. Though her father did it to protect her, this actions permanently disfigured her and made her an outcast among her own people.

The Forest of Stolen Girls shows class strife and how it correlates with the missing girls. Rich officials of the Joseon government use bribes to keep their daughters from becoming tribute girls. But because the officials need new girls to take the place of their spared daughters, they kidnap girls from poverty.

The story shows the desperation of the poor, such as Convict Baek aiding in the kidnapping of girls in order to feed his daughter. The Forest of Stolen Girls shows readers that no one is truly bad and no one is truly good. It is the system in place that pressures people into continuing this cycle of grief and trauma.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a beautiful novel that centers around a story of Asian women and the trauma they’ve endured for centuries. The mystery is beautifully woven, with every event, fight and conversation is meant to either aid the investigation, provide a red flag, or add to the characters’ stakes in the mystery. The twist is pulled off excellently and shows realistic motives that reveal the monster in people. The Forest of Stolen Girls is for readers who like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or would like to learn more about East Asian history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After discovering the body of one of the missing girls, Hwani asks the victim’s older sister, Iseul, some questions. Iseul implies that Hyunok was not raped while captured. Iseul says, “The midwife is my aunt. We knew Magistrate Hong would have her buried without an examination; he is like that. We examined Hyunok, and my aunt concluded that my sister hadn’t been harmed in…that
  • While exploring the forest, Hwani is chased by a man in a white. “The blade flashed as he swung the sword, and I squeezed my eyes, waiting for the slash of pain.” Maewol saves her.
  • While treating her wounds, Hwani recounts how her aunt used to beat her with a stick, thus leaving thin scars on her legs. Her aunt uses corporal punishment as a form of discipline. Her wounds “stung, yet the pain was a mere inch compared to Aunt Min’s beatings. When she was upset, she would wait for Father to leave before striking my calves with a thin stick, and the humiliation of it had made the cuts all the more excruciating.”
  • Maewol tells Hwani that one of their possible suspects, Convict Baek, “ sliced up his daughter’s face when she was only twelve, and no one knows why.”
  • Hwani confronts Convict Baek. Convict Baek shoves Hwani, causing her to fall and hit her head against a low-legged table, hard enough to draw blood. “He took another step and with his large hand he shoved at my shoulder with such strength that I went toppling. My head hit the corner of the low-legged table, my hair coming undone and falling over my face.”
  • After Hwani finds her father, Inspector Yu tells her his cause of death was not poison. “He was stabbed.”
  • Seohyun wants to kill the person who forced her to become a tribute girl. “There was murder in my daughter’s eyes. She told me in riddles what had happened. She and many other girls had been given to Emperor Xuande for her imperial harem. She also told me she was going to kill the person responsible, that she’d found out who it was but she wouldn’t give me a name.”
  • Hwani fights Village Elder Moon in a cave where he was keeping all of the stolen girls. The scene lasts for about three pages. “With all my strength, I continued to cling to the village elder’s robe as we thrashed in a blackness that seemed to leak through my eyes, surging fear into my soul. The village elder’s hands, too, turned desperate. Fingers grappling for anything, grabbing strands of my hair, wrapping tight around my throat as I struggled to hold on. My limbs felt numb and frozen, about to shatter as the cold deepened.”
  • Convict Baek and Village Elder Moon are sentenced to be executed. “Weeks later, when the verdict was made in accordance to the Great Ming Code, Village Elder Moon accepted his fate with a stare as blank as that of the dead. He was to be decapitated for having committed murder. Convict Baek, his accomplice, was to be punished by strangulation.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are multiple mentions of poison, as well as incidents of poisoning. Poisoning was a common method of execution in Joseon, Korea.
  • Hwani gets poisoned twice, once with a poison called kyeong-po buja that Hwani ingested herself, and the second time with arsenic from Village Elder Moon.
  • Hwani’s father is revealed to have been poisoned with arsenic as well. The poison did not kill him.
  • Village Elder Moon’s daughter, Chaewon, commits suicide by poisoning herself because she cannot live with her father’s actions.
  • Hwani pours a bowl full of rice wine onto her father’s grave.

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual

  • There are multiple mentions of spirits and the spirit world. For instance, Maewol describes what she sees when Hwani asks her if she can really communicate with the spirits from the spirit world. “I can’t hear what they say…I can’t really see or hear anything clearly. It’s like seeing shadows through the fog. A very thick
  • Maewol is a shaman, someone who communicates with the spirits.
  • Hwani and Maewol say “gods” rather than God because their religion is polytheistic.
  • There’s a brief mention of witchcraft when the body of Detective Min was discovered in a pristine condition. Village Elder Moon said, “No corpse could be in such a condition, not with the humidity of Jeju. It has to be witchcraft.”

by Emma Hua

 

The Sun is Also a Star

Natasha Kingsley, a lover of science, believes in facts and evidence. According to Natasha, nothing lasts forever. There is no “meant to be,” and there is no such thing as love.

Daniel Jae Ho Bae, a poet, believes in love and destiny. He trusts that the specific amount of circumstances required to bring two strangers together has meaning, even if it can’t be scientifically explained. On his way to a Yale interview, Daniel sees a beautiful girl with large pink headphones walk into a record store. Obeying what he believes are signs from the Universe, Daniel follows her and finds his world colliding with Natasha’s.

Compelled by the inexplicable feeling that they are meant to be, Daniel postpones his interview in order to prove that love is real by making Natasha fall in love with him in one day. Natasha reluctantly agrees to this plan. However, Natasha is almost certain they are not meant to be a couple because it is likely her last day in America. Natasha and her family, who are Jamaican immigrants, have been asked to leave the country and return to Jamaica following her father’s DUI.

Despite the impending threat to her life in America and her aversion to love, Natasha finds herself falling for Daniel. Eventually, the secret of Natasha’s deportation is revealed and the two vow to make the most of their time together by condensing a whole relationship into one day. Despite their respective responsibilities for the day, they always find their way back to one another, proving their destiny is to be in each other’s lives.

However, in the end, Natasha cannot change her fate and must return to Jamaica with her family, while Daniel remains in America to pursue his dreams of becoming a poet. Due to the distance, Natasha and Daniel grow apart. But chance brings them together years later, making the readers wonder if they are meant to be after all.

The novel mainly switches between Daniel and Natasha’s perspectives, with brief interruptions to feature the perspective of supporting characters or to explain scientific concepts relevant to the story. Other chapters also provide historical context for relationships between racial groups in America. For example, the historical connection between Korean immigrants and the black-hair care industry.

The novel also depicts the experiences of young first and second-generation immigrants. Although Daniel was born in America, his parents view American culture as a threat to their Korean values. On the other hand, Natasha was not born in the United States but still views America as her home. Despite the history of racial tension between their cultures, Daniel and Natasha bond over their shared identity as Americans.

Overall, The Sun is Also a Star is an irresistible love story that explores the connection between art and science. Through beautiful metaphors and complex characters, Nicola Yoon exposes the poetic nature of science, which ultimately brings people together.

 Sexual Content

  • Natasha finds herself attracted to Daniel and assumes his “sexy ponytail may be addling my [Natasha’s] brain.”
  • The science behind love and attraction is explained. “Oxytocin is released during orgasm and makes you feel closer to the person you’ve had sex with.”
  • When Natasha says, “I like it big” in reference to her hair, Daniel’s brother makes a crude joke that she “better get a different boyfriend.”
  • Daniel gets a glimpse of Natasha’s thighs when her dress shifts. “They have little crease marks from the couch. I want to wrap my hand around them and smooth the marks with my thumb.”
  • Daniel and Natasha start kissing in the norebang, a Korean karaoke place. “We start out chaste, just lips touching, tasting, but soon we can’t get enough…She’s making little moaning sounds that make me want to kiss her even more.” Daniel and Natasha move to the couch and continue to kiss passionately. Eventually, they stop; there is no sex or nudity.
  • Daniel stares at Natasha “because I’m picturing her in a candy striper outfit and then picturing her out of it.”

Violence

  • Daniel and his brother, Charlie, get into a fight over Charlie’s racist and sexist comments regarding Natasha. Daniel’s “fist catches him [Charlie] around the eye socket area, so my knuckles hit mostly bone.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Natasha’s father gets a DUI.

Language

  • Ass/asshole is used numerous times by Daniel. For example, Daniel calls his brother an “overachieving asshole.”
  • Pissed is used three times. For example, Daniel states his brother “was so pissed that his voice cracked a little.”
  • Shit is used repeatedly.
  • Daniel explains his brother’s anger after his mother’s disapproval of him. Daniel’s mom “could’ve called him an epic douche bag, an animatronic dick complete with ball sac, and it would’ve been better than telling me not to be like him.”
  • Goddamn is used five times. For example, Daniel’s parents believe America has made him soft and Daniel thinks, “If I had a brain cell for every time I heard this, I’d be a goddamn genius.”
  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes fuck, dick, shit, ass, pissed, damn, bastard, and douche-bag. For example, a passenger on Daniel’s train tells the conductor to “shut the fuck up and drive the train.” Also, after a fight, Daniel explains his lip “split open on the outside because the bastard [Charlie] hit me while wearing some giant-ass secret society ring.”

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • Charlie hears a hurtful comment from his mother “because of God or Fate or Sheer Rotten Luck.”
  • Natasha’s father believes their deportation is part of God’s plan, but Natasha thinks “he shouldn’t leave everything up to God.”
  • On the train, Daniel hears the conductor give his testimony. “God HIMself came down from HEAven and he saved me.”
  • Daniel believes when people are born, “they (God or little aliens or whoever) should send you into the world with a bunch of free passes.”
  • Natasha’s father is sure “God wouldn’t have gifted him with all this talent with no place to display it.”
  • While entering the subway, Daniel decides to “say a prayer to the subway gods (yes, multiple gods).”
  • Daniel explains if he could invite anyone for dinner, it would be God.

by Elena Brown

Danbi Leads the School Parade

Danbi is thrilled to start her new school in America. But a bit nervous too, for when she walks into the classroom, everyone goes quiet. Everyone stares. Danbi wants to join in the dances and the games, but she doesn’t know the rules and just can’t get anything right. Luckily, she isn’t one to give up. With a spark of imagination, she makes up a new game and leads her classmates on a parade to remember!

Throughout Danbi’s school day, Danbi feels sad because “no one played with [her].” During lunch, Danbi tries to teach a girl how to use chopsticks. This doesn’t work, but it gives Danbi an idea and soon the classroom is full of noise—Ting! Ding! Ti-Ding! Boom Boom Boom Tap Tap Tap! Even though the class gets “a little wild,” the teacher doesn’t discipline the students; instead, she allows Danbi to lead everyone outside so they can continue their musical play.

Unlike most picture books, Danbi Leads the School Parade starts on the back of the front cover and continues all the way through to the back cover. Danbi’s story begins with her hugging her grandmother goodbye and traveling far away on an airplane. All readers will be able to relate to Danbi who is excited, but nervous to start school. Danbi’s feelings are described in ways that young children will understand. For example, on the first day of school in America, Danbi’s heartbeat goes “Boom. Boom.”

Each illustration is full of bright colors and movement. Each child is adorably cute and the classroom shows a diverse group of students. Young readers will enjoy exploring every picture and finding the small details that make each illustration fun. Danbi and her classmates’ emotions are clearly portrayed through the illustrations. Each page has 1 to 4 short sentences full of fun onomatopoeias that make the story fun to read aloud. Even though the picture book has a simple plot, readers will be enthralled with Danbi’s story.

Danbi Leads the School Parade won an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book. Anna Kim immigrated to American when she was young, and she used her experience to create a heartwarming story about friendship. Danbi Leads the School Parade shows that friendships can bloom even if you are from different cultures and speak different languages. In addition, Danbi Leads the School Parade encourages acceptance, kindness, and trying new things. Parents who want to encourage these traits should add All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold to their children’s reading list as well.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Pho Love Story

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams of pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, owners of competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity and, despite their best efforts, sparks fly, leading them to wonder what took so long for them to connect. Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

A Pho Love Story starts slowly as it introduces Linh and Bao. Each chapter is told in alternating first-person which helps the reader understand Linh’s and Bao’s conflicting emotions. While the story is similar to Romeo and Juliet because of the family conflict, the conclusion isn’t tragic. Most of the story revolves around Linh and Bao’s budding relationship. The story also delves into the struggles that immigrants face and touches on racism.

Many of the characters add Vietnamese words into their conversations and some readers may struggle with the dialect. Like the cover suggests, A Pho Love Story also revolves around Linh’s and Bao’s competing restaurants and there are a lot of references to food. While this adds depth, some readers will become bored by this aspect of the story.

A Pho Love Story is a cute romance that illustrates the importance of honesty and not hiding the truth behind silence. The predictable story will appeal to readers who want to add an easy-to-read romance to their reading list. If you’re looking for a grittier, action-packed Romeo and Juliet story, Crossing the Line by Simone Elkeles may be more to your liking. Also, similar to A Pho Love Story, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen adds romance to parental pressure.

Sexual Content

  • Bao and Linh are sitting together. Bao’s “stomach gets jittery the moment we sit down together. . . Our ankles touch, and all of my body—I mean, all of it—wakes up.”
  • Linh decides that she wants to date Bao. “A hand that circled my [Linh’s] waist slides up my arm. The other gently, so gently, remains on my hip. A fine shiver passes through me and I hold my breath, but my heart hiccups. He cups my cheek with a hand and his face inches forward. . . I press my lips against his more insistently. . . It’s surreal, us kissing here.”
  • After they become boyfriend and girlfriend, Bao and Linh occasionally kiss, but the kisses are not described.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After hours, Linh’s father and friends “brought out Heineken.”
  • Alcohol is served at a wedding.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes bullshit, damn, fuck, hell, pisses, and shit.
  • The characters think about other people and silently call them names such as asshole and shithead.
  • Jesus, God, and “oh my God” are occasionally used as an exclamation.
  • An angry customer yells at Bao’s mother. “This place is shit. Shitty food. Shitty owners who can’t even speak fucking English.”
  • Someone calls a person a douche.

Supernatural

  • Linh’s mother thinks that a married couple will not last because, “They’d picked the wrong dates, didn’t consult the right calendar, or something like that.”

Spiritual Content

  • Occasionally the characters thank God for something.

 

 

 

Black Brother, Black Brother

Donte is black, and the white kids at Middlefield Prep won’t let him forget it. They especially won’t let him forget that they like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey, more than Donte. To make matters worse, the administration turns a blind eye when the students harass Donte. When Donte gets bullied and arrested for something he didn’t do, he feels immensely frustrated and helpless.

Then Donte meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. Jones begins to train Donte to take on his main bully: the Middlefield Prep fencing captain, Alan. With support from his friends, family, and the folks at the youth center, Donte begins to unpack the systemic racism that has sought to hold him down all his life.

Through Donte and his family’s eyes, Black Brother, Black Brother tackles systemic racism head-on. Jewell Parker Rhodes shows a range of characters including those who willingly ignore the racism, those who show microaggressions, and finally those who are outright racist like Alan. This book is unflinchingly honest in how it deals with how others treat Donte differently than his brother Trey, who has lighter skin. Even the police treat their father, a white man, differently than their mother, a black woman. These experiences are presented openly and honestly, and in a way, that younger readers will be able to understand.

Donte and the other characters are fully fleshed-out people. Donte and Trey’s relationship shows their solidarity and brotherly love as well as the moments where Donte feels insecure around his older, more popular brother. Their relationship with their parents is also lovely, as they are protective of their sons.

The local Boys and Girls Club has a wide range of characters who bring life to the story. The most prominent of these characters is Donte’s coach, former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. Arden helps Donte grapple with the patience and fortitude required in fencing and in life. Arden’s personal experiences and frustrations show Donte how to conduct himself, and by the end, Donte is an excellent fencer who isn’t afraid to stand up for himself.

Black Brother, Black Brother is an important book that illustrates how racism operates on many levels, and how deeply it affects people of all ages. While this book will appeal to people who like fencing, it is a must-read for all people of any age. Through Donte’s experiences, readers will learn about people from various walks of life and the importance of individual courage. Donte may not be real, but he is certainly not the first nor the last student to be judged on the basis of race when he and every other student should be judged based on the content of their character.

Sexual Content

  • Donte meets twins Zarra and Zion. Donte says, “Zarra’s beautiful. First time I ever thought that about a girl. Deep brown eyes. A wide smile. Glowing black skin. I can’t think of anything to say. Not even my name.”
  • A few girls at school wave at Donte. Trey jokingly says, “Got game, little brother. Girls are going to be calling you.” Donte thinks, “Problem is I won’t know if they like me for me. Or because they like Trey. (Zarra would like me for me.)”
  • When Trey meets Zarra, Donte says, “My brother smiles goofily. I groan. He thinks Zarra’s beautiful, too. If he becomes a competition, I’ll lose.”
  • Donte says that one of the girls from school, “has a crush on Trey. (She knows I know.) Trey hasn’t figured it out yet.”

Violence

  • Another student threw a pencil in class and “it hits Samantha. Donte didn’t throw it, but Ms. Wilson turns from the whiteboard and looks at [Donte] anyway.”
  • At his very white private school, Donte is subjected to plenty of racist words and actions. For instance, Donte’s brother Trey is white-passing, so other students mock Donte by calling him “Black brother.”
  • Donte experiences microaggressions from his peers and adults in his life. Donte describes, “Of all the kids in the school, the police found it easy to arrest me. Why was Mrs. Kay scared? Why did Mr. Waters seem to enjoy my troubles? Worse, why did Headmaster call the police on me? Since I’ve been at Middlefield, the police never came for anyone else. Is something wrong with me?”
  • Donte’s mom notes some real-life stories of police brutality against black people. She says, “Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun, killed. Twelve and he’s dead.”
  • Donte describes a video he sees, saying, “there was a video loop of a school officer pulling a girl from her desk, slamming, dragging her across the floor.”
  • Donte and Trey play-wrestle in the kitchen. Donte describes, “I shove Trey. Rebalancing, his hand swipes and the milk falls to the floor. Trey shoves back. I clutch his waist. He pushes back, clasps me around my back. We wrestle. Our shoes slip. Trey’s long leg sweeps behind my knee. I fall. My shirt soaks up milk.” This lasts for about a page.
  • The boys’ fencing team knocks Donte down. Donte describes, “I fall flat on my face. Each teammate gets a dig, a stomp, a step on me. Trey is flailing, trying to shove them away.”
  • In the seventies, another fencer on Coach’s Olympic team, Jonathan Michael, harassed Coach for being black. Coach describes, “Michael bullied me. Called me terrible names. Threatened me. He’d convince Coach I’d broken curfew even when I hadn’t. Convince teammates everything went wrong because of me.”
  • Alan trips Donte. Donte says, “My mask rolls forward. I drop my foil trying to break my fall. A painful shock sears my wrist.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After being tripped and hurting his wrist, Donte asks for Advil.

Language

  • The captain of the fencing team, Alan, “says ‘black’ like a slur. Says it real nasty. Like a worse word. A word he thinks but doesn’t dare say.”
  • Donte’s mom tells Donte, “Take off your hoodie. People might think you’re a thug.”
  • Inappropriate language is occasionally used. Words include: nuts and stupid.
  • During a fencing match, Alan yells, “Hey, black girl!” at Zarra.
  • Another fencer, Jonathan Michael, says some very rude things to Coach while Donte and another young fencer watch. Michael’s young fencer tries to shake hands with Coach, but Michael bats the kid’s hand away. Michael then says, “You don’t shake hands with someone dishonorable.”
  • Someone leaves a note for Trey. Donte sees the first part that says, “Why play with…” but he doesn’t look at the rest because, as he says, “I don’t want to see a hateful word.”

Supernatural

  • Donte is black and experiences discrimination at his private school where most of the other students are white. Because of this, Donte wishes that he “were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring.”

Spiritual Content

  • Zarra brings in books about women in fencing. She mentions that in the 2016 Olympics, a woman named Ibtihaj Muhammad won team bronze, and that “she’s a Muslim American and fences in a hijab.”

by Alli Kestler

 

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling 

Anna Chiu strives to be a perfect Chinese daughter. However, Ma has been stuck in bed for longer than usual and her mental health is worsening. Anna’s Baba, who is supposed to be the parent, is spending more time at his restaurant. While the family struggles to keep Ma’s sickness a secret, Anna feels it is her responsibility to take care of her younger siblings, Michael and Lily, but she soon falls behind in her schoolwork. Will Anna realize she is taking on more than she can handle and accept that she and Ma need help?

To escape the pressures of home, Anna volunteers to help at Baba’s Chinese restaurant. There, she meets Rory, the delivery boy with a history of depression. With Rory’s help, Anna learns that treatment for her mom’s mental health is available and can help bring peace to the Chiu family. After a traumatic episode involving Ma mutilating a live fish, Ma is sent to a hospital for psychiatric care where doctors can evaluate her condition and prescribe medication. While her mother is under the doctor’s care, Anna can focus on her own mental health and she finds new ways to open up.

By the end of the novel, the family learns how to better support one another, and Anna eventually accepts that not every day can be perfect. Even Rory, who has received help for his depression and anxiety, has difficult days. The book delivers a message to those struggling with mental health issues that no one is alone and there is always someone willing to listen.

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is told through Anna’s perspective and provides a realistic picture of mental health issues. Anna is a relatable character who struggles to fit in and at first, is awkward in her relationship with Rory. However, after witnessing Rory’s honest personality, Anna learns to discuss issues that are bothering her. Anna and Rory support and care for one another in a happy and healthy way. Anna is an admirable protagonist who loves her Ma and is passionate about working hard to save Baba’s restaurant. Plus, Anna shows love and encouragement to her younger siblings.

The novel demonstrates how race and struggles with identity can influence one’s mental health. As s Chinese-Australian, Anna experiences microaggressions from her peers and cultural pressures from her family. For example, the kids at Anna’s school call her “banana,” meaning she is “yellow on the outside, white on the inside. . . It’s like saying [Anna’s] a bad Chinese.” Anna soon recognizes how these pressures contribute to her anxiety. Despite this, these comments make Anna question whether she is good enough for her family.

In the end, Anna learns to take each day one at a time. She no longer bears the full responsibility of her family but recognizes the journey of her mother’s mental health recovery. Despite the stigmas against mental health issues that Anna witnesses, she accepts that her life is already normal—“It’s heartbreaking. And it’s true.” Anna no longer needs perfection as long as she is with the people she loves. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling explores mental health issues in addition to having a cute romance. Readers who would like to explore mental illness through another book should also read Paper Girl by Cindy R. Wilson.

 Sexual Content

  • Anna talks about how she has little experience with boys. “It’s like when it comes to matters of sex, I don’t even count as an observer.”
  • One of Rory’s bullies makes a racist and sexist comment to Anna asking, “Aren’t the Asian ones supposed to be submissive?”
  • Rory and Anna share a passionate kiss. “We press our mouths harder against each other. Kissing still feels a bit strange and weird but exhilarating at the same time.”
  • Rory and Anna share a kiss in his car and things escalate. “Somehow we’re in the back seat. I feel his tongue on my skin, his breath against my neck, a hot and wet sliding.” However, they are quickly interrupted by Anna’s ringing phone.
  • Anna and Rory are kissing once again. Anna drags “him closer, feel[s] the tiny hairs on the back of his neck, the base of his throat, taste[s] the inside of his mouth. My legs and hips move, and I’m climbing out of my seat and into his lap.” Rory rubs his hands down Anna’s back, but then the scene ends.
  • Anna briefly describes her sexual experience with Rory. “When Rory hovers over me and I can feel his skin pressing up against the bits of my skin that have never felt someone else before, it’s I feel sated, protected, and exhilarated all at the same time.” Anna’s first time having sex with Rory is not described in great detail, but the action is clear.

Violence

  • Some schoolgirls discuss their assignments and joke about suicide. A girl says, “I’m going to kill myself.”
  • Anna discusses how “Ma used to beat us with the end of a feather duster when we did something naughty . . . I went to school with long sleeves covering the blue-and-green streaks.”
  • Anna claims she wants to “smack the eyeliner off” of a mean girl’s face.
  • Anna makes a vague comment that she wants to “tie weights to [her] ankles and be done with it now.”
  • Rory tells Anna how he once tried to kill himself by jumping in front of a moving train, but the train did not come that day.
  • While Lily is sleeping, Ma tries to hit her. “There are a few muffled thuds and a sharp cry, so I know Ma’s blows have landed but probably across the blanket.”
  • During one of her episodes, Ma mutilates a fish at the restaurant. Ma “holds up a slippery orange fish, no bigger than a mackerel, and before I can do anything, she pops its eyes between her fingers.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Anna is surprised to see her father home “standing by the sink, holding a small tumbler of beer.”
  • Rory takes Anna to his sister’s roller derby game where there is drinking. Rory offers Anna a beer and she accepts.
  • Ah-Jeff, who works at Baba’s restaurant, slips Anna some Hennessy and Coke while celebrating the new restaurant.

Language

  • Anna acknowledges that her “Cantonese might be crap.”
  • Baba calls a work colleague who quit a “bastard.”
  • After Anna finds her sister has pierced her ears, Anna exclaims, “What the hell, Lily?”
  • Anna makes an awkward squeaking sound and questions, “What the hell is wrong with me?”
  • Rory wants Anna to form a thesis declaring Rory, “The most badass English professor I’ve ever had,” to which Anna responds calling Rory, “Mr. Badass.”
  • Rory describes his time in the hospital. “It was shit and it made me feel worse.” He proceeds to use “shit” multiple times in his description.
  • Anna snaps at her brother Michael who can’t find his sock. She yells, “It’s a goddamn sock. Deal with it!”
  • Anna states Michael’s “cute pout isn’t going to save my ass.”
  • Anna calls Rory’s old friends “real assholes.” In a text conversation, she refers to the same group as “dickheads.”
  • Lily texts Anna that she is still “pissed” at her.
  • Rory feels as though he is a “shit son.”
  • A patient at the hospital calls someone a “bitch.”
  • Shit is used four times in one paragraph. For example, Rory states that “Hospitals are shit.”
  • Anna’s face turns red from drinking alcohol she can’t tell if she should “feel embarrassed or damn happy to be called out this way.”

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • Anna runs into some girls from school at the market and says a silent prayer “to whatever gods there are that the girls won’t see me.”

by Elena Brown

The New Year Dragon Dilemma

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are in San Francisco, home of the biggest Chinatown outside Asia. Their tour guide, Holden, is going to take them to the famous Chinese New Year parade. Best of all, Holden’s girlfriend, Lily, might be Miss Chinatown. She would get to ride a giant float and wear a crown!

During the parade, Miss Chinatown goes missing, and so does the crown. The police think Holden is behind the crime. Can Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose clear their friend’s name by finding the real crook?

While on vacation, Dink, Josh, and Ruth get to see some of San Francisco’s touristy areas. The kids have positive interactions with their tour guide, Holden. While with Holden, the kids listen to him and stay close by his side. Holden allows the children some freedom, but he is never far from sight. When the police accuse Holden of stealing Miss Chinatown’s crown, the kids are convinced that Holden is innocent and they follow the clues to prove that they are right.

As the kids look for clues to prove Holden’s innocence, they follow a man who they think is the culprit. At one point, Dink follows the man into a warehouse. However, Dink’s friends are nearby and come up with a plan to keep Dink safe. While exploring the city, Josh draws in his sketchbook, paying close attention to his surroundings. In the end, Josh’s power of observation helps solve the mystery.

The New Year Dragon Dilemma will delight young readers who are ready to jump into illustrated chapter books. The story’s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are full page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

The New Year Dragon Dilemma gives readers a peek into the Chinese New Year celebration. The festive atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for a mystery. Young sleuths will enjoy following the clues and fitting them together to solve the mystery. While young readers will enjoy the adventurous story, parents will appreciate that the curious kids are well mannered. For more mysteries set in San Francisco, readers should check out The San Francisco Splash by David A. Kelly.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone steals Miss Chinatown’s crown. She tells the police, “It was a man wearing a dragon mask. He pulled me down on the floor and took off my mask. Then he sprayed something in my face. It was awful, and it hurt my eyes. . . He put the bag over my head.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Josh teasingly calls Ruth, “Nosy Rosy.”
  • Josh asks, “Where the heck are we?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

A Thousand Questions

Mimi has a lot of questions, like why is her mother taking her to Pakistan to meet her grandparents? Why did her father leave Mimi and her mom? Where is Mimi’s dad now? Visiting Mimi’s grandparents in Pakistan might not answer all her questions, but she’s determined to figure some of them out.

Sakina wants nothing more than to attend school. Unfortunately, she has to help her father clean Mimi’s grandparents’ lavish house to make ends meet, so going to school for Sakina feels like a pipe dream. Plus she must pass the English language exam to even attend, and Sakina has no one to practice with. That is, until Mimi and her mother arrive from America.

In a meeting of cultures, Mimi and Sakina learn much from each other and eventually become friends. The family and class dynamics surrounding their lives present new ways of looking at the world and their places within it.

Split between Mimi and Sakina’s perspectives, A Thousand Questions tackles topics like class struggles, family relations, and cultural barriers. Mimi is from Houston, and although she and her mother don’t have a lot in the States, Mimi’s grandparents are wealthy in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Sakina is employed, along with her father (Abba), as a servant in Mimi’s grandparents’ household. The friendship between Mimi and Sakina isn’t encouraged at first, and often the differences in class come up when Mimi has more freedom (both financially and socially) than Sakina. Instead of fostering dislike between the two, Sakina is motivated to improve her English and attend school however she can.

Language is a large part of the book. Many of the characters speak Urdu, and Urdu and Arabic words are used throughout. Faruqi does an excellent job of giving contextual clues, so the language-hopping never feels confusing. A glossary is also included at the end of the book to help aid readers. Language is also used as a plot point. Mimi’s Urdu isn’t great, and Sakina’s English is ok, so the two teach each other. In this exchange of languages, there is also an exchange in cultures. The bond that Sakina and Mimi form is heartwarming, even if they don’t always see eye to eye.

Mimi also has a journal where she writes questions to her father. She misses him, and her letters are part of the narrative. Much of the book details her emotional journey as she learns about her parents’ lives and why her father left. At the end of the book, Mimi is able to reach a resolution and seems to make peace with her father’s leaving.

A Thousand Questions tackles important topics regarding culture, friendship, and family, and both Mimi and Sakina grow as people as they learn about each other. This book will appeal to people who are already familiar with Pakistan as well as to people who want to read about a strong friendship and culturally nuanced book. In A Thousand Questions, Mimi and Sakina’s friendship opens their eyes to the world around them, and it will certainly do the same for the reader. This book is a must-read for its diverse content and its ability to tell a moving story about friendship and family.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Mimi was little, she “crashed [her] bike in the street outside [their] Houston apartment . . . and broke her leg in three places.”
  • When Mimi was five, she writes letters to her father who left her and her mother. Mimi never sends them. One day she writes, “Do you ever get angry? Not annoyed or irritated, like most people, but a deep angry that makes you throw something at the wall and watch it crack.” Mimi has not actually done this.
  • Sakina’s Abba has diabetes and collapses in the kitchen one day. Sakina, Mimi, and Nani hear “a loud crash” and they rush to get him to the hospital.
  • Sakina explains that Raheem, her neighborhood “goonda” or “gangster,” is “going around ordering people to vote for his candidate. Screaming, destroying things.”
  • Raheem broke into a neighbor’s house with his stick and broke things inside. Sakina describes, “Broken chairs and tables, a cracked mirror on the wall. Clothes strewn about on the floor.”
  • The goondas in Sakina’s neighborhood rob Sakina’s family. They don’t physically hurt anyone, but Raheem threatens to “tear [the house] down” if they don’t hand the money over.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mimi’s family’s driver smokes. Sakina explains in English that the smoke “makes [her] eyes water.”
  • Mimi’s great-uncle smokes a cigar, and Mimi “wrinkles her nose at the smell.”

Language

  • Words like dumb, stupid, nuts, shut up, and weird are occasionally used.
  • Mimi’s grandmother, Nani, screams at one of the gardeners and accuses him of killing her rose bushes. She calls him a “ulloo-ka-patha.” Mimi doesn’t know what this means, and it isn’t explained further. The glossary in the back explains that it means “son of an owl; used as an insult” in Urdu.
  • Mimi’s mom calls Mimi’s father a “deadbeat.”
  • Mimi’s grandmother calls Sakina a “lazy oaf” and “fool.”
  • Mimi sometimes refers to Nani as “the dragon lady” because of Nani’s fierce temper.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mimi has a traditional Pakistani dress that she wore twice for “the two Eid celebrations.”
  • Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr are two major Islamic holidays.
  • When things go wrong, Sakina’s father never gets worried. He always says, “It’ll be all right. God will provide.” Sakina doesn’t buy this, saying “God listens to rich people, not to people like Abba [her father] and [her].”
  • Abba frequently thanks God for the good things in their life.
  • The mosque down the street from Mimi’s grandparents’ house uses a loudspeaker to announce prayer times. Mimi describes, “a loudspeaker crackles to life, and a melodious sound fills the air around us. Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. God is great. God is great.” This happens a few times throughout the book.
  • Mimi thinks to herself, “Maybe if I help Sakina with her admission test, God will reward me by bringing my dad back. And maybe pigs will fly.”
  • Mimi and Sakina talk about why poverty exists. Sakina says, “Abba says it is the will of God.” To this, Mimi replies, “How can God allow some people to have everything and others to have nothing? How can He be the Creator of both Pakistan and America? The two are like day and night. God is supposed to love us equally. Isn’t He?”
  • Malik, the family driver, joins in Mimi and Sakina’s conversation about God. He says, “God gives each of us free will to do whatever we want. Sometimes human beings are bad to each other. They steal and hurt and lie. They don’t take care of the less fortunate.”
  • Malik goes to do the “maghrib prayer” one evening.
  • Sakina and Mimi also attend the maghrib prayer. Mimi describes the scene, saying, “I wrap my scarf around my head and follow [Sakina’s] actions. Standing, sitting, prostrating. It’s familiar and strange at the same time, as if I’ve done this a thousand times in a dream. Oh God, if you’re there, send Dad to me. Please. Just for a few minutes, so I can hug him one time.” Mimi finds that she enjoys prayer time.
  • Sakina admits to Mimi that she hasn’t prayed “in a long time” because she finds “it hard to believe in God these days.”
  • Sakina lies to gain access to Mimi’s father’s workplace. Sakina thinks “the God that Abba believes in—the God I felt around me in that marketplace mosque—will forgive me.”
  • Mimi insists that her mom should be looking for Mimi’s father. Mimi’s mother replies, “He left us . . . Why would I go chasing after him? Why would I ever want to find him for God’s sake?”
  • Various characters make comments using “God” and “Allah” throughout.
  • Sakina’s mother, Amma, sees the money that Mimi and her mother have left for them. Amma says, “Mimi and her mother are angels of God.” Sakina isn’t as certain about this but does see the money as “a miracle.”
  • Before her exam, Sakina says “a quick little prayer under [her] breath.”
  • Occasionally, characters will say, “Alhamdolillah,” which means, “All praise to God” in Arabic. They also sometimes say “Inshallah,” which means, “God willing” in Arabic.

by Alli Kestler

 

Loveboat, Taipei

Ever Wong’s parents came to America with little, but they were determined to make a better life for their children. Ever’s father, a talented doctor, was unable to obtain a medical license in the US and the family is barely scraping by. The Wongs are determined to see their daughter become a doctor. The only problem is that Ever has very little talent for medicine and would much rather go to dance school.

Ever wants to spend her summer dancing with her friends, but her parents have different plans for her. Ever’s mother pawns her most valuable jewelry to pay to send Ever to a rigorous pre-med program. Then Ever’s mother sends her to Chien Tan, a summer program designed for Chinese-American high school students learn about their culture through eight weeks in Taipei, Taiwan.

In Taipei, Ever finds herself among a Chinese-American majority for the first time in her life, but she also discovers that many of her peers have grown up quite differently from her. Most of the Chien Tan students have enormously wealthy parents, and nobody else has had to pawn jewelry to pay for their airfare. Many of Ever’s peers are fluent or near-fluent in Mandarin, which Ever never learned.

Sophie, Ever’s roommate, tells her that Chien Tan has the nickname “Loveboat.” It’s the status quo for students to sneak out at night, go clubbing, and abandon their boyfriends and girlfriends back in the States for intense, short-lived love affairs. Away from her family for the first time, Ever begins to break all of her parents’ strict rules: she drinks, dresses immodestly, and kisses boys. She finds herself caught in an intense love triangle between golden-boy Rick and mysterious bad-boy Xavier.

Loveboat, Taipei addresses many issues that readers may find relatable: the pressure of overbearing parents, the pressure to get drunk or have sex for the first time, and the complicated feelings one can have over cultural identity. The romance is well-written and the love triangle is cute, but readers may find it hard to believe that the two most popular boys in Loveboat are both so smitten with the likable, but unassuming, Ever.

Much of the book’s plot concerns the drama around Ever’s love triangle. Through Ever’s perspective, readers see background characters work through their own drama, too. The cast of characters is large to start with, and it gets confusing when the book names too many extra characters who aren’t part of the plot and only exist to populate the background.  Chien Tan gives unbridled freedom to kids on the cusp of adulthood. They form hasty relationships, hurt themselves, and hurt each other—emotionally and sometimes physically. For example, Sophie spreads nude photos of Ever out of spite. Readers may think this was unforgivable, but they eventually make up.

Ever’s frustration with her parents is a major theme; despite their disagreements, the family clearly loves each other. The narrative reflects the nature of this complicated relationship. Ever learns to stand up for herself and exercise her new freedom staying true to her own values. Loveboat, Taipei will be a compelling choice for readers looking to read about culture, class differences, and “leaving the nest”.

Sexual Content

  • The official rules at Chien Tan say, “No boys and girls in a room with the door closed.” However, this rule is often broken.
  • Ever says that her mother believes that “sex is a by-product of marriage to be endured, preferably through a hole in the blanket.”
  • Later, after having sex for the first time, Ever says, “Sex isn’t the barely tolerable duty of procreation, like Mom always insinuated. It’s two human beings fitting seamlessly together.” However, she still feels guilty, because she “wanted to wait for love.”
  • Ever sees a boy she once kissed and remembers, “those big hands on my hips. His tongue pressing my lips apart. He taught me everything I know about kissing that I didn’t learn from practicing on oranges” with her best friend in middle school.
  • At the Chien Tan dormitories, a couple is ousted from their room. The girl is “clutching her pink dress to her bra.” Ever says that the boy “grabs his shorts–but not before I catch a glimpse of his . . . equipment.” Ever says she is “too stunned to close my eyes.”
  • Ever says that a girl enjoying a meal makes “moaning noises straight out of a scene I wouldn’t be allowed to watch on TV.”
  • Someone asks Rick if he and his long-distance girlfriend have been “having phone sex.”
  • At a club, Ever sees “middle-aged men who line the walls, eyeing girls on the dance floor.”
  • Ever dances with a boy from Chien Tan. “His eyes sweep my body. His neck gleams with sweat. My hair’s damp. I writhe with him, matching thrust for thrust. His hip wedges against mine as he pulls me deeper, deeper–and then I feel him. Oh my God. Oh my God. Is that what I think it is?” She realizes he has an erection and backs off. Later she thinks, “I’ll have to see him in class every single day, knowing I gave him a boner, and him knowing I know.”
  • Sophie tells Ever, “Xavier and I hooked up. Last night. We did it.” She tells Ever “far more detail than I need or want: how they’d made out the whole cab ride home, fumbled down the darkened hallway, tumbled into a spare bedroom on the first floor.” Ever notices that Sophie has “a pink, quarter-sized hickey” on her neck. Ever says, “I can’t imagine sleeping with a guy after knowing him only a week.”
  • Sophie and Ever go to take “glamour shots.” The photos get more and more risqué until Sophie takes a photo naked. “Her bikini lies in a silky, white heap on the floor. She’s naked. Not practically. Actually. Yannie’s lights shine off her golden skin, illuminating bikini patches.” Sophie tells Ever, “This is art, not porn.”
  • While taking photos, Ever remembers how she always felt “the grip of shame” about her body, especially when she “developed more parts to feel ashamed of flaunting.” She decides to follow Sophie’s lead and pose for her own nude shots.
  • Later, someone makes copies of Ever’s nude photos and distributes them to everyone. Ever sees the photos, which show “A girl. She’s back-dropped in white, the only object in her rectangular world. Her hands open like fans at her sides. She gazes out at me, chin raised boldly, dark-red lips parted with a seductive intake of breath, coils of black hair swept up to show off every curve of skin from the slope of her neck to her coyly cocked ankle–and everything in between.” The photos get her into a lot of trouble. The Chien Tan students and staff all see the photos, and Ever is mortified and almost expelled.
  • Ever recalls that some men have “Asian fetishes.” She remembers explaining to a white friend why attracting men’s interest simply because she’s Asian is “not flattering, why it’s based on stereotypes that have nothing to do with who you are.”
  • A girl in the bathroom seems very embarrassed while she scrubs at a blood stain on her sheets. Ever blushes when she realizes that they’re “not period stains” (The implication is that the girl bled during sex).
  • Later, after having sex for the first time, Ever sees “a red smear, like a smudge of calligraphy ink,” on the bedsheet. She’s embarrassed and hopes she’ll never have to see the boy again.
  • Ever passes a couple’s room and hears “soft little moans and kissing sounds.”
  • Xavier kisses Ever. “His mouth is soft, sweetened by wine. He tucks his fingers into my hair and cradles the curve of my neck. Under his lips, my back arches slightly… His mouth silences me, parting my lips, making me gasp with the unexpected pleasure of his tongue.” They stop a few moments later.
  • Ever has sex with Xavier, but the scene isn’t depicted. The next morning, “I lie on my side on a cloud of down feathers, nude between cotton sheets and a blue duvet and the weight of Xavier’s arm over my waist. His naked body presses against my back from shoulder to thighs. Last night returns like a dream: Xavier’s hand on my back, guiding me to this room as our mouths moved together, the click of the door sealing our privacy, then his mouth on my eyelids, my cheeks, the hollow of my neck, his hands exploring . . . my fingernails in his shoulders. My body is sore in places I didn’t know could feel sore.”
  • Ever and Rick bathe in a hot spring together and become intimate. The scene takes place over several pages and concludes with, “His mouth burns a line down to my belly button. It makes my body quiver like a tightly strung instrument. The splash of water echoes as he slips back into the pool. My stomach dips as his hands part my knees. He slides his shoulders between them, and his hands tuck under my thighs and take hold of my hips. He kisses a trail along the inside of each thigh, his breath warm on my skin, so near and intimate. My pals press the stones, all my body throbbing, unbelieving, as he asks permission to continue, and my whisper yes blends with the gurgle of the hot waters. He takes his time. A slow burn that builds and builds, until I am clawing at the stones and my back arches and my toes splash and my body ripens under his grip.” Later, Ever says, “Who knew Boy Wonder was so good with his tongue?”
  • During Chien Tan’s talent show, one of the boys dresses in drag. A character sees the drag queen and says, “Whoa, she’s stacked.” The drag queen’s “red lace bra is covered only by the middle button of her coat.”

Violence

  • Ever remembers hearing about a child prodigy who “died by suicide.”
  • Ever resents Rick and says, “I indulge a fantasy of me using that big, hard body as a punching bag.”
  • When Xavier gets out of his dad’s car, Ever notices that “a reddish blotch shines on his cheek–a bruise? Did his dad hit him?”
  • During a conversation with Ever, Xavier reveals that his dad said “[he] should’ve beat me harder to beat [the dyslexia] out of me.” Ever is horrified that Xavier was abused over his dyslexia. Xavier says, “My dad gave me a new set of trophies and told me I was a disgrace to nine generations.” Ever realizes that by “trophies” he means “bruises.”
  • Ever remembers “Mom with the chopsticks, hitting the inside of my bare thigh once, twice, three times. I don’t even remember what I’d done. The chopsticks only came out occasionally, and left no scars, but the shame has lingered.”
  • A man making ‘snake-blood sake’ cuts the head off of a snake. “His hatchet bangs down. The snake’s fanged head flies” at one of Ever’s friends. “Its severed end spurts dark red blood . . . Into one vial after another, the man squeezes the snake’s cut end. Dark red blood pulses out, pinking the liquor.”
  • At a bar, Ever is accosted by “two hundred pounds of meaty guy.” Ever says he “crushes me against the bar. He reeks of alcohol and sweat. I shove back, but it’s like trying to move a brick wall.” A boy from Chien Tan comes along and rescues her by telling the man, “She’s with me.”
  • A Chien Tan couple has arguments that “usually ended with something broken—a bulletin board, a lamp, his toe.”
  • When he’s angry, Rick “slams his fist through the center of his rice sack.”
  • Ever becomes interested in the choreography of fighting with staffs and sticks. She and Rick often mock-duel, but never with the intention to hurt. There are several pages of scenes where they ‘fight’. For example, “The crack of wood on wood punctuates the air, reverberating in my hands. I swing again. Again. Force him back until his foot hits a brick wall. And then he’s shoving me back, stick flying. . . swing a blow at his head. He ducks.”
  • During one fight, Ever says, “I instinctively whip my stick down—and slam his knuckles.” Ever apologizes immediately, because she didn’t mean to hurt Rick.
  • Someone tells Ever about “samurai of feudal Japan, soldiers who didn’t fall on their swords like the Romans did, but disemboweled themselves.”
  • Rick and Xavier get into a fight. “Xavier’s arms are locked around Rick’s neck, both bent double as they lurch into Marc, who grabs at them, earning himself a punch in the stomach . . . They’re inseparable, a force of muscled arms and legs and rage, knocking over everyone in their path.” Chien Tan counselors break up the fight and send them to the infirmary to clean up their bloody noses.
  • Sophie arrives home with a black eye and claims she “walked into a wall.” Later, Ever discovers that Sophie’s boyfriend Matteo has been violent with her. Ever sees Matteo “in a drunken stupor,” chasing after Sophie. Sophie locks herself in her room and Ever hears Matteo “spewing curses. The door shakes under his weight. I jam the door in place, then hang on tight. Under me, the door convulses as he pounds and pounds.” Later Sophie says that Matteo was mad because she “bit him.” Sophie agrees to let Ever tell the Chien Tan counselors about the incident, and Matteo is expelled and sent home.
  • Someone talks about how their mom struggled to find employment. “My mom went to work in a hotel and then some asshole manager slapped her butt and she shoved him onto his . . . now she’s cleaning toilets.”
  • Rick speaks about the tense relationship he has with his girlfriend, who suffers from severe depression and relies on him for emotional support. “We were in her kitchen. Cutting a loaf of bread we’d picked up. And she started crying and saying she couldn’t anymore, couldn’t take her parents, school, life, without me. She grabbed the knife, and I grabbed hold.” He “opens his palm to sunlight. Under its harsh yellow rays, the four inch-long scars line up in their row.” He admits that he eventually only stayed with her because he was afraid she would harm herself. The book later explores how this relationship has harmed Rick.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When trying to navigate the airport, Ever runs into a man who stinks of “cilantro and cigarettes.”
  • Ever soon learns that the drinking age in Taiwan is eighteen—making her legally able to drink. Still, it’s against Chien Tan rules. She says she’s “never even tried alcohol,” and that the last time she went to a wedding, her mom “whisked [my] champagne glasses from under the waiter’s bottle.”
  • During a study group, some boys “are passing a steel bottle around.” Ever declines the first time, but partakes at later meetings.
  • Ever breaks her parents’ “no-alcohol” rule by drinking ‘snake-blood sake’. After watching a man chop off a snake’s head and squeeze the blood into the alcohol, she drinks it. “I throw back my head. The warm, salty blood and sake set my throat on fire. It tastes bitter. Like metal. Heat sears my chest, opening up a pipe there I’ve never felt before . . . My head feels stuffed with rice, then it explodes in a million directions. Kaleidoscopic tingles dance through my body.” Later in the evening, she throws up on the street and has to be carried home.
  • After being in Chien Tan for several weeks, guava cocktails are Ever’s “new favorite.”
  • Xavier hands Ever “a bottle of . . . a French wine with a white label. I fit its glass top to my lips and take a long pull. Dark cherry, rich and strong. I take a second pull, a third, letting its smoothness warm my body.”
  • In her messy room, Ever notices that some clothing lying on the floor “has soaked up a can of stale beer.”
  • After Ever sprains her ankle, a paramedic gives her “a white pill—prescription-strength ibuprofen.”

Language

  • Profanity is used infrequently. Profanity includes crap, ass, asshole, hell, damn, shit, bastard, bitch.
  • Oh my God and Jesus are occasionally used as exclamations.
  • Fuck is used four times.
  • Ever calls Rick a brown-noser.
  • Someone calls Ever a slut.
  • Someone calls Sophie “fucking bitch” and “cocktease.”
  • Ever remembers seeing a store clerk call her dad a “stupid chink.”

Supernatural

  • A hotel “has no fourth floor—the Chinese equivalent of unlucky thirteen, because four sounds like death in Mandarin.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ever describes her parents as “Chinese-Baptist.”
  • When dancing, Ever says she feels like “a goddess.”
  • Ever recalls “sorting I Ching sticks with a fortune-teller” while touring Taipei.
  • One girl at Chien Tan is “really involved with the weekly Bible study she started.”

by Caroline Galdi

 

 

 

 

Notorious

Keenan has lived all over the world, but nowhere quite as strange as Centerlight Island, which is split between the United States and Canada. The only thing weirder than Centerlight itself is his neighbor Zarabeth, a.k.a. ZeeBee. ZeeBee is obsessed with the island’s history as a Prohibition-era smuggling route. She’s also convinced that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered—something Keenan finds pretty hard to believe.

Just about everyone on Centerlight is a suspect because everyone hated Barney, a huge dog—part mastiff, part rottweiler—notorious for terrorizing the community. Accompanied by a mild-mannered new dog who is practically Barney’s opposite, ZeeBee enlists Keenan’s help to solve the mystery.

As Keenan and ZeeBee start to unravel the clues, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that dates back to Centerlight’s gangster past. The good news is that Keenan may have found the best friend he’s ever had. The bad news is that the stakes are sky-high. And now someone is after them…

Centerlight’s history is full of gangster lore and hidden treasure legends that Zeebee is excited to share with her new friend Keenan. Middle grade readers will relate to both characters because they are interesting, flawed, and struggle with typical teenage problems. Most of the chapters alternate between ZeeBee’s and Keenan’s points of view. However, some of the chapters are told from other characters’ points of view, which makes it necessary to read the chapter titles. The changing points of view and the large cast of characters may confuse some readers.

Notorious blends mystery, adventure, and suspense into a story that is hard to put down. The story contains just enough gangster lore and teenage drama to hook the reader. Keenan thinks that ZeeBee’s stories are exaggerated, while some of the local kids think that ZeeBee is crazy. ZeeBee struggles with the fact that even though she’s always lived on Centerlight, she doesn’t feel as if she belongs. All of these conflicting plots are interconnected and form a fabulously fun tale that contains many surprises.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • ZeeBee is obsessed with the town’s prohibition past. When she gives Keenan a tour of the island, she takes him to a cliff. ZeeBee says, “They call it Ripley’s Point because that’s where the gangster Meyer Lansky dumped Reuben Ripley’s body when they caught him helping himself to some of the booze shipments to sell for his own life… You used to be able to see a red stain on that sharp pointed one [rock], but it’s faded over the years.”
  • ZeeBee tells Keenan about a fourth of July when “this crew out of Detroit” was trying to “muscle in on Capone’s business here in Centerlight… Capone’s guys tossed a lit match into the fireworks… There was a lot of noise, so nobody noticed a few extra booms, pops, and bangs in there. But when it was all over, the entire Detroit crew was scattered around the park, dead.”
  • ZeeBee and Keenan are out in the forest at night when two men approach them. ZeeBee’s dog Barney “leaps on the bewildered giant, burying his teeth in the already scarred forearm.” The two men threaten the kids, and Keenan twirls “around into the familiar tae kwon do stance, and my leg launches out into the kick I haven’t been able to execute since I got sick. My whole body tenses… Whack! The sole of my sneaker smacks into the heavy piece of gold, ramming it into the side of Bryce’s head… Bryce’s eyes roll back and he crumples, unconscious, in the dirt.” Keenan injures his foot. The police show up and arrest the bad guys.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Keenan finds dead animals in the forest. “There must be twenty-five or thirty of them—all small animals. This is a graveyard.” Keenan thinks the animals ate poisoned meat.
  • The local fro-yo shop makes rum raisin frozen yogurt.

Language

  • There is some name-calling, such as jerk, idiot, and moron. For example, ZeeBee gets upset when Keenan begins hanging out with some boys from school. She tells him, “You’re worse than Ronnie and those idiots! They’re just brainless. You’re a sleaze!”
  • When Keenan goes to visit an elderly man, ZeeBee wonders, “So why is Keenan visiting this jackass?”
  • ZeeBee is upset that Keenan went to a party. The kids broke into a lighthouse, and ZeeBee’s father went to break it up. ZeeBee thinks, “But Dad wouldn’t be much of a border officer if he didn’t have the brains to reconstruct a crime scene. He passed every single one of those boneheads as they biked away from the lighthouse.”
  • Keenan goes to talk to his friend’s father. Later, the father tells his son, “I don’t have time to waste on some twelve-year-old nutjob.”

Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter

Written as a letter from a father to his daughter, Yo Soy Muslim is a celebration of social harmony and multicultural identities. The vivid and elegant verse, accompanied by magical and vibrant illustrations, highlights the diversity of the Muslim community as well as indigenous identities. A literary journey of discovery and wonder, Yo Soy Muslim is sure to inspire adults and children alike.

A beautiful letter, Yo Soy Muslim encourages the daughter to celebrate her Latino heritage and her Muslim faith. The story uses poetic language and focuses on a positive message of having pride in one’s faith. Through both the text and the words, the author points out that some people “will not smile at you.” The illustration shows one woman glaring at the little girl and another woman whispering to someone. The father tells his daughter, “On that day tell them this: Yo soy Muslim. I am from Allah, angels, and a place almost as old as time. I speak Spanish, Arabic, and dreams.” Although the father clearly wants his daughter to feel pride in her heritage, children may not understand the abstract language.

The letter is beautifully illustrated with deep colors and natural scenes. However, the scenes where people look down on the child are darker and have shades of black. The color contrast represents both the negativity of people and the celebration of the child’s culture. Even though Yo Soy Muslim is a picture book, the story should be read with an adult. Although younger readers will love the beautiful pictures, they may need help understanding the message. Some lines will be confusing. For example, “There are questions we will ask when we are learning what it means to be human.”

Any child who has ever felt different will relate to Yo Soy Muslim. Even though the story focuses on a Muslim family, and there are references to God, the story is not an introduction to Islam. Instead, it’s a letter reminding a little girl to “Dance. Smile. Laugh. Pray. Say it with me: Yo Soy Muslim.”

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Spin the Dawn

Maia loves to sew. She dreams not only of becoming a master tailor but becoming the imperial tailor. However, it’s a far-fetched dream as only boys are allowed to become tailors in A’landi. As her father’s only daughter and youngest child, Maia is expected to be quiet, obedient, and eventually raise a family. After her older brothers die in war and her father becomes too sick to sew, the burden of caring for her family becomes even greater, and her dream of becoming a tailor fades.

Maia cannot think of anything more abhorrent than abandoning her sewing, but she sees no alternative until her father is called upon by the emperor. The emperor is getting married and needs a new imperial tailor to create his betrothed’s wedding gowns. There is to be a competition of the best tailors in the land, and her father is invited to join. Maia’s father is too sick to travel to the capital, so Maia disguises herself as her father’s son and goes in her father’s place. Soon she finds herself competing with tailors who are decades more experienced than herself, who are willing to cheat, and who would possibly even be willing to commit murder in order to become the next imperial tailor.

Spin the Dawn has a lovable, interesting cast of characters that will hook readers. The land of A’landi is foreign, beautiful, and magical. The rich characters, court intrigues, and mysterious Lord Enchanter keep the tailoring competition from becoming cliché. Readers will be delighted when magic becomes a part of Maia’s life and will understand her moral struggle in deciding whether or not to use it.

While Part I of Spin the Dawn is a delightful read focused on the tailoring competition, Part II takes an entirely different track with Maia going on a journey to create three magical dresses for the emperor’s betrothed. The lore behind the dresses is fascinating, but the journey feels rushed and some conflicts are resolved too easily to be believable. Still, the Lord Enchanter accompanies Maia on her quest and their relationship is enchanting to watch. While Part II is weaker than Part I, the delicious dynamic between Maia and the Lord Enchanter will be enough to keep readers reading until the end.

Sexual Content

  • When speaking of the emperor, Maia’s brother says, “So you’ve heard how handsome he is from the village girls? Every one of them aspires to become one of the emperor’s concubines.” Maia says, “I have no interest in becoming a concubine.”
  • A village boy wants to marry Maia. “I thought with dread of Calu touching me, of bearing his children, of my embroidery frames collecting dust . . . I stifled a shudder.”
  • There are rumors that the emperor’s betrothed has a “lover. But it’s all court gossip. No one knows for certain.”
  • While pretending to be a boy, Maia had “been wearing at least three layers to help obscure my chest.”
  • When Norbu finds out that Maia is a girl disguised as a boy, he “touched my cheek and pressed his thigh against my leg. ‘I always thought you were a pretty boy. Perhaps a little kiss?’ “
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter almost kiss. “He pressed a gentle kiss on the side of my lips, just missing my mouth. His lips were soft, despite the desert’s unrelenting dryness. A shiver flew up and down my spine, even though his breath was warm, and his arm around me even warmer.”
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter kiss several times. “His lips pressed against mine. Gently at first, then with increasing urgency as I started to respond with my own need. His hand was tight on my waist, holding my wobbly knees steady.” Another time, “he tilted my chin and kissed me. Heat flooded me from my lips to my toes, and my heart hammered, its beat rushing and skipping to my head.”
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter sleep together. “He kissed me, exploring my mouth with his tongue, then tantalizing my ears and my neck until I was dizzy and feverish. Finally, when my knees weakened and I couldn’t bear to stand any longer, Edan eased me onto his cloak against the soft, damp earth. Our legs entwined; then we became flesh upon flesh. All of me burned, my blood singing wildly in my ears.”
  • When Maia is captured by bandits, one of them says, “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve felt a woman?” Maia is then rescued.
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter kiss goodbye. “I crushed my mouth against his, wrapping my arms around his neck and my legs around his hips. His kisses moved to my cheeks, my neck, my breasts, back to my lips. Passionate, then tender. Then passionate again, as if we couldn’t make up our minds.”

Violence

  • A man breaks Maia’s hand. “Norbu stepped on my wrist, pinning my hand to the ground . . . He was carrying one of the heavy metal pans we used for smoothing our fabrics. I tried to yank my wrist away, but he was too strong. Too quick. He raised the pan high, then brought it crashing down onto my hand. Pain shot up from the tips of my fingers and flooded my brain. I screamed.”
  • When it’s discovered that Maia is a girl, she is thrown into a dungeon. The guards “struck me in the ribs and kicked me to my knees so that I landed in a rotten pile of hay, coughing and whimpering.”
  • Maia is whipped for lying to the emperor. “The guards tore my tunic and ripped off my chest strips—so fast I’d barely crossed my arms to cover myself when the whip burned into my skin, a stinging line of fire. Blood splattered onto the cold stone floor. . . Each lash bit into me, gashing my back, and I chewed on my lip so hard my mouth grew hot with blood.”
  • Maia is chased by wolves, which then turn on each other. “Soon I was forgotten as the wolves fought one another. The sight was gruesome, blood on fur on sand. I buried my face in my hands until the snarls became whimpers, then nothing.”
  • Maia stumbles upon an old battlefield. “Broken drums, slashed war banners, mounds of bones—human bones. And bodies . . . Some of the men had frozen to death. I could tell from their ashen faces, tightly drawn blue lips, and curved-in shoulders.”
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanters are attacked several times by bandits. Once, the Lord Enchanter “fired three arrows in quick succession. Vachir eluded each shot, but the men behind him weren’t as lucky. Two fell.”
  • Maia fights a demon. “I lunged forward and slammed my dagger into his shoulder. He cried out, an anguished scream that made my blood curdle.”
  • Maia is attacked by bandits. “I slashed at the one who’d spoken, but I missed his throat and scored his cheek instead. I made a long, jagged gash.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A fellow tailor “reached into his robes for a flask. He offered it to me, and after I declined, he took a long drink.”
  • Maia turns in early one night. In the morning, she discovered “It was a good thing I’d refused to go out with Norbu and the others. After their bath, they’d gone to the local drinking house, where Master Taraha and Master Garad drank themselves into a stupor. Now they were spending the day retching. Even from my table, I could smell it.”
  • While traveling, Maia and the Lord Enchanter stay the night with a group of travelers. The travelers pass around a wine gourd after dinner, and Maia accidentally gets drunk. “I was so mortified I simply took another drink. And another. The more I drank, the less it burned my throat . . . Normally I wouldn’t have stared at him so obviously, but the wine had washed away my caution.”

Language

  • Variations of the phrase “demon’s breath” are used a few times as profane exclamations.
  • A man says a country’s wine “tastes like horse piss.”
  • Damn is used a few times. The Lord Enchanter says, “I want to get out of this damned place.”

Supernatural

  • Maia “repaired amulets for travelers who asked it of me, though I didn’t believe in magic. Not then.”
  • A man says to Maia, “The A’landans are superstitious people. Constantly praying to their dead ancestors. If you believe in spirits and ghosts, I don’t see why you wouldn’t believe in magic.”
  • Maia meets the emperor’s Lord Enchanter. Maia “knew little of enchanters, lord or not, other than that they were rare and drifted from land to land.” Longhai tells Maia, “The Lord Enchanter advises Emperor Khanujin on many matters. He served the emperor’s father for years, yet he hasn’t aged a day!” Maia later finds out that the Lord Enchanter can transform into a hawk, which is his spirit form. “Feathers sprouted over his skin and spine. A pair of wings erupted from his shoulders and fanned down across his arms.”
  • Maia discovers that the scissors passed down from her grandmother are magical. “The scissors glided over the shawl, possessed in a way that my hands could only follow. Invisible threads repaired the cloth’s damage, giving it life anew, and colors from my paint pots soaked into the silk . . . Impossible as it appeared, the scissors not only cut but embroidered . . . My hand wouldn’t let go of the scissors, no matter how much I tried to pry them away, no matter how much I wanted to put them down. I was under a spell, drunk with their power.”
  • In Part II of Spin the Dawn, Maia is forced to go on a journey with the Lord Enchanter. On this journey, magic becomes a part of daily life. From enchanted carpets that fly, using magic to heal, and a magical tablecloth that creates an entire meal from nothing, Maia’s journey is filled with magic.
  • Maia is given an impossible task by the emperor’s betrothed. She is told to make a dress out of the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars. These three dresses are called Amana’s dresses, and it is said that whoever possesses them will receive a wish from the goddess Amana herself.
  • Maia goes to an island filled with ghosts. While there she meets a demon—a creature who used to be a sorcerer but was cursed when he killed his master. The demon steals a piece of Maia’s soul, which means he can follow her anywhere.
  • When Maia finishes the dresses, the goddess Amana speaks to her. Amana’s statue in the temple glows and a “low and powerful, yet kind” voice says, “Ask me your heart’s greatest desire, Maia. And I shall grant it.”

Spiritual Content

  • It is mentioned in passing that “Toward the end of every month, [Maia] helped the women who were preparing their gifts for the dead—usually paper clothing, which was tricky to sew—to burn before the prayer shrines in honor of their ancestors.”
  • Maia lives in a land with many gods. The gods are often mentioned in passing. A tailor says, “The gods are listening to us, masters. Do you want to invoke their wrath?” The emperor’s betrothed says, “The imperial tailor is a master chosen by the gods. I expect him to be able to work with any material, whether it be glass or silk.” Another time, a man says, “The gods watch over me, I am very grateful.”
  • Two gods are more developed and become part of the plot. The first is the goddess Amana, whose magical dresses Maia is tasked with sewing. People often say, “Amana be with you.” The other is the sun god, who Maia indirectly encounters during her search for the laughter of the sun. While in the desert, the Lord Enchanter says, “The sun is worshipped in many lands. He’s a brilliant, brutal deity. And now we are in the heart of his kingdom.”
  • The Lord Enchanter says, “Pigs are smarter than people give them credit for! Where I grew up, we almost worshipped them.” Maia “couldn’t tell if he was joking.”
  • Maia confesses that she doesn’t “even trust the gods. Not to listen, anyway. My father prays to Amana every morning, every night. . . But Finlei and Sendo died.”
  • The Lord Enchanter grew up in a monastery. “The monks I grew up with were different from the ones here. Not generous and kind. And the gods we worshiped were harsh and unforgiving.”
  • Maia asks a monk, “What if there are no gods? What if there is only magic, only enchanters and demons and ghosts?” The monk replies, “You must keep your faith . . . The gods watch over us, but unlike the spirits of this realm, they do not interfere in our lives. Not unless we anger them greatly, or impress them.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas

Twelve-year-old Addison longs for adventure, but his aunt and uncle, both respected curators at the New York Museum of Archaeology, always leave Addison home when they travel the world to find hidden treasures. When Addison’s aunt and uncle discover an ancient Incan key that leads to treasure, they are kidnaped by the evil Russian Professor Ragar.

Addison convinces his sister, Molly, and two of his friends to set off to South America on a mission to rescue his aunt and uncle. Once they arrive, they find adventure, danger, and booby-traps. Can Addison and his team find the treasure, outsmart Professor Ragar, and save his family?

This fast-paced adventure takes readers on an epic journey through South America. Addison, who is eccentric and optimistic, leads his friends into one dangerous situation after another. Although the group is often in danger and narrowly escapes death several times, the events are often humorous. Even though the group is young, they are able to figure out ancient clues, outsmart Professor Ragar, and escape mercenaries.

Full of mystery, suspense, and evil villains, adventure seekers will keep turning the pages of Addison and the Treasure of the Incas. Young readers will learn about the conquest of Pizarro as they follow the exciting travels of Addison. However, the story is not always historically accurate, and the path the kids take is geography inaccurate. Despite these inaccuracies, the story will pique middle graders’ interest in the Ancient Incan Society and increase their love of reading.

The publisher recommends this book for children as young as eight. Although younger children may enjoy the story, the length of the book and the complexity of the writing would make Addison and the Treasure of the Incas difficult for beginning and struggling readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During the time of the Incas, Pizarro kidnapped Atahualpa. Atahualpa’s, “brother’s army attacked Pizarro before the ransom could be delivered. . . Pizarro burned Atahualpa alive at the stake.”
  • Professor Ragar and his mercenaries kidnap Uncle Nigel and his wife. “Immense men in dark suits crowded the room. They held Uncle Nigel pinned down, his face pressed against his desk.”
  • During the kidnapping, the mercenaries also try to seize Uncle Nigel’s niece and nephew. There is a chase. The two kids are cornered so they put an electrical cord into water. The mercenary “kicked his foot and the giant floodlight crashed into the water. Electricity jolted through the reflecting pool with a thunderous zap. Bodyguards collapsed like felled oaks, hitting the water in a sizzling, giggling mess.” The men are not seriously hurt, and the kids are able to escape.
  • Addison talks about the Spanish Inquisition, when non-Catholics were killed “often by burning them at the stake, like King Atahualpa. People would say they were Catholic to avoid being killed. So the Inquisition would torture them to find out who was telling the truth.”
  • The kids go into an ossuary and discover ancient trip wires. Eddie falls “into a vat of skulls, the mummy on top of him. . . The skull bin tilted, pulling an ancient trip wire, releasing a boulder. The falling stone yanked a rope through a pulley, sending a massive scythe blade whipping through the air.” While trying to get up, “Raj sprinted and Eddie followed, their feet dancing across the pile of bones. A massive blade sprung from the ground, splitting every bone in its path.” The boys are not injured.
  • When Professor Ragar and his men find the kids in the ossuary, there is a chase. One of the kids pulls a trip wire and a “steel scythe rocketed toward the surprised guard. Terrified, he leapt…striking his head on the rocky ground. The man lay crumpled in a heap of clattering foot bones.” Another man “slipped on a femur, and crashed down the mountain of bones. . . Boulders tumbled from the ceiling, pelting the guard on the head. The man sank to his knees, stunned senseless.”
  • When Professor Ragar tries to catch Addison, one of his men, “slashed with his knife. Addison crab-walked backwards on his hands, the knife barely missing his throat.” When Addison is caught, “Ragar wound up his open palm and slapped Addison across the face. Addison’s cheek stung, and his head rang for a few seconds.”
  • Zubov, one of Professor Ragar’s men, threatens to cut off Addison’s fingers. “Zubov began squeezing Addison’s windpipe. . . Zubov pressed his knife to Addison’s cheek.” One of Addison’s friends helps him.
  • While in the Amazon jungle, Molly is attacked by a giant spotted anaconda that “dropped onto Molly. The ten-foot constrictor wrapped its muscled body around her legs, then waist, and worked its way up her chest.” Someone pokes the anaconda with a flaming brand. “It hissed viciously, tightening its grip on Molly, and wrapped a coil around her throat.” The snake eventually releases Molly.
  • The kids are chased by tribesmen who shoot poison-tipped spears and darts at them.
  • Don Guzmán is rumored to kill people by putting them in a freezer.
  • Don Guzmán locks the kids in a room. In order to escape, Raj “took a running start and swung his plank hard into a man’s stomach. It connected with a satisfying smack, like a Jell-O mold chucked from a high window and meeting the pavement.” The group runs through a wedding where “Guadalupe lay pinned to the dining room table, Zubov’s hand clutching her throat. . . Zubov brushed the hair back from Guadalupe’s neck and ran the blade along the fold of her ear.” The kids are able to escape.
  • The kids, Ragar, and Zubov have a conflict during the wedding of Don Guzmán’s daughter. Zubov “gripped his stiletto and stabbed at Addison. Addison leapt back, but too late—the knife struck him square in the chest. He fell to the ground, stunned. . . “ Rager stops Zubov from killing Addison, because he doesn’t want to upset Don Guzmán. During their escape, Molly landed “a well-placed kick right in the guard’s stomach.”
  • As the kids are fleeing, they steal a limousine, but they are followed. Eddie smashes the limousine into a jeep and they are able to pull ahead. Eddie “plowed directly through a supermarket. The limousine smashed through the front window and into the cereal aisle. It crashed through frozen foods and baked goods before blasting out the rear wall of the store, onto a new street.”
  • When one of Ranger’s men try to enter a treasure vault, he triggers a booby trap and is impaled by “spikes like a shish kabob.” A second man “plummeted into the river a hundred feet below with a terrified splash. . . The man’s screams echoed until the trapdoor slid shut.”
  • Zubov tries to kill Molly by throwing knives at her. Molly, “wound up and kicked Zubov as hard as she could. This time, she aimed a few feet higher than his shin. . . Zubov turned purple and crumpled to his knees, winching.”
  • Ragar ties the kids up with rope, intending to burn them alive. “The flames snapped and jumped, devouring the kindling. Addison felt the growing heat inching closer to his toes . . . the raging flames touched Addison. The cuffs of his pants ignited, the blaze racing up his legs.” The group is able to escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Addison sees a “weather-beaten man sipping a bottle of foul-smelling liquid from a brown paper bag.” The man offers Addison the bottle, but Addison declines saying, “Arnold Palmers are as strong as I go.”
  • While in South America, Addison and the others see “local women with gold hoops in their noses who drank corn wine from gourds . . .” Later, the kids see women “drinking white rum.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • While in South America, Addison sees women selling voodoo dolls.

Spiritual Content

  • The kids see a mural painted with angels and “dozens of Incan gods. Some gods were male and some female. Some were part jaguar, llama, or snake.”
  • The Incas considered King Atahualpa a god. “The Incan emperor was considered the child of the sun. Inti, the sun god, the most powerful Incan god.”

Listen, Slowly

The beach. Friends. Boys. Mia planned her summer around fun. Then her father drags her to a small village in Vietnam where Mia is to watch over Bá (her grandmother). However, Mia doesn’t want to learn about her roots—she’s a California girl, who has no desire to meet relatives, travel to Vietnam, or give up the comforts of her life.

As Mia struggles with mosquitoes, lack of privacy, and a language barrier, she learns about her family heritage as well as what is really important in life. However, the story isn’t just about Mia; it’s also about Bá and her need to find out what happened to her husband in the Vietnam War.

As Mia tells her story in Listen, Slowly, the reader is entertained with funny stories as well as introduced to Vietnamese culture. Another positive aspect of the book is Mia who is a realistic and likable character. She worries about regular teenage things, but also comes to realize that the people in her life are more important than things, cell phone included. This book is suitable for younger readers because the story is told from a teen’s point of view. Although the story contains some adult issues, they are adjusted to fit the maturity level of a younger audience.

Sexual Content 

  • Mia thinks about her best friend who has large breasts and a bow on the butt of her bikini.  Mia is afraid a boy that she likes will be interested in her best friend because of the bikini. When Mia goes on Facebook, she sees a photo of her friend in a bikini. She thinks, “Did she Photoshop to make her boobs look extra big? How big do they need to be? I don’t want her boobs, but I have to confess I do want the attention they get her . . . There HE is, just as I suspected, standing right behind her butt bow.”

Violence 

  • A soldier recounts a story about when he was in the war. The soldier and a prisoner, who viewed each other as equals, spent time digging a tunnel. Then helicopters came and dropped bombs.  The prisoner died. When the soldier recounts the story, Bá slaps him because the prisoner was Bá’s husband.
  • Mia’s father tells her about when he left Vietnam. “I looked out my airplane window and saw a boy not much older than I was dangling from a helicopter. I watched him hang, then drop into the sky.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Lightning Queen

Eleven-year-old Teo lives in the Hills of Dust, where not much happens. His life is dull and there is not much hope of things changing in the future. Then a gypsy caravan arrives. The caravan’s Mistress of Destiny tells Teo his fortune–Esma, Queen of the Lightening, will be his lifelong friend. Once Teo and Esma know their fortune, they band together to make it come true.

Teo tells his own story in The Lighting Queen. Teo and his companions, a duck, a blind goat, and a three-legged skunk, bring the story of rural Mexico to life. However, what ultimately drives the story is Esma. She is a plucky heroine who believes that anything is possible, and her optimistic attitude brings inspiration to both Teo and the reader.

The Lightning Queen has plenty to love for readers of all ages. The characters (including the animals) are loveable. The story is engaging and sprinkled with humor. The storyline shows the harshness of life without going into graphic detail or adding unneeded violence. Through the story, the reader sees the importance of looking beyond the physical appearance of people and finding friendship in unlikely places.

Sexual Content

  • Teo and Esma kiss goodbye once. “Our lips touched like two bird wings brushing against each other for the tiniest of moments, then flying apart on their own separate journeys.”

Violence

  • Teo tells the story of when his father was hit by a car. “There was a screech and a thump . . .I remember blood and tears on his eyelashes . . . I remember the driver standing over my father, talking to another driver. Calmly. Too calmly. And most of all I remember their words . . . ‘It’s just an indio.’ Then the other man shrugged and said, ‘What’s one less indio?’ They dragged my father to the side of the road. They wiped his blood from their shirts with handkerchiefs. Then they got back into their cars and drove off.”
  • When Teo’s uncle sees the gypsies giving fortunes, he becomes angry and, “flipped the table over. Cards scattered . . . other Romani woman gasped and skittered backwards with the toddlers. My aunts pulled away, against the wall, holding their own children. My uncle lunged toward Uncle Paco, trying to restrain him.”
  • The schoolteacher hits a boy’s hand with a ruler. “Tears streamed down his cheeks and he cried out. Twice. Now the boy was sobbing, trembling. Three times. Snot and tears covered his face, and his eyes were wide with fear.”
  • The schoolteacher hits Teo’s hand with a ruler. “There was a crack, a bolt of pain like fire that shot through my entire body. My hand wanted, more than anything, to pull away.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The gypsies tell fortunes. At the beginning of the story, a gypsy tells Teo’s fortune—that he and Esma were destined to be friends for life. The two decided to do everything they can to make the fortune come true.
  • Esma puts a “pretend” curse on the schoolteacher in order to make the teacher kinder to the students. Teo’s grandfather tells the two that he doesn’t like curses, even pretend ones.
  • Teo dies. In death, he sees his sister, father, and grandfather. Esma comes and sings to Teo’s dead body. Teo, “felt the strain of the silvery thread pulling me towards my body. At the same time, I felt the tug of the other world, so easy and glittering and colorful, the promise of an eternity playing with Lucita [his sister], basking in the warmth of Grandfather and Father . . . My soul string was stretched to a single, quivering delicate strand.” When Esma sings, Teo “floated downward” and comes back to life.
  • When Esma sings, people say they can feel their dead loved ones. “I can almost feel my grandmother here with me, as though Esma’s song has opened a path to somewhere hidden.”

Spiritual Content

  • Teo and Esma find a statue that looked like, “a raccoon wearing a giant crown of corncobs.” Teo tells Esma, “We call them diositos—little gods. People say they’re good luck. Most of us have one or two at home. But don’t tell the priest about it.”
  • Teo’s grandfather gives his uncle a “limpia to clean his spirit. That meant spitting on him with cactus liquor and beating him with bundles of herbs.”

 

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble

Leo wants to be able to help her family prepare for the Dia de los Muertos festival. Leo’s family owns a bakery in Rose Hill, Texas. Every year, her family spends days preparing for the big celebration. This year, when Leo is told that she is once again too young to help, she sneaks out of school and into the bakery. She soon discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have been keeping a secret from her. They’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

Leo is determined to test her magical abilities, even when her sisters tell her to wait until she is older. When her best friend Caroline has a problem, Leo is confident that she can craft a spell to solve Caroline’s problem.

A Dash of Trouble is the first book in a series about a Mexican-American family that lives in a diverse Texan town. The fantasy includes Spanish vocabulary that is easy to understand in the context of the book. The story brings the Mexican traditions for Día de los Muertos to life.

Even though Leo doesn’t always feel appreciated by her family, her family clearly loves her and wants what is best for her. Readers will be able to relate to Leo’s desire to be treated more like an adult (even when she doesn’t act like one) as well as her desire to help her friend.

Leo spies on her family, makes promises she does not intend to keep, and practices magic against her family’s wishes. When Leo accidentally shrinks a boy from her class, his mother is frightened and calls the police. When Leo is able to reverse the spell, her family is proud of her for figuring out how to solve the problem. The boy covers for Leo, saving the family’s magical secret. Leo’s story is entertaining and filled with humor. A Dash of Trouble would lead to a good discussion on the importance of honesty.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • On the Day of the Dead, some people put alcohol on their family’s shrines.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The females in Leo’s family are witches, and they have a spellbook that has been handed down for generations. Leo’s sister explains, “But we’re not just any kind of witch. Brujería is practiced by lots of people in lots of different ways, and our special family power comes from the magic of sweetness; sweetness from love and sweetness from sugar.”
  • In Leo’s family, “each group of sisters gets magical talents based on the order in which they were born. Second-borns, like Mamá and me have the power of manifestation, which means we can produce objects—small ones, for the most part—whenever we need them.”
  • Another one of Leo’s sisters has the power of influence. “They make . . . suggestions. They can change a person’s feelings, make you happy or sad for no reason.” In one part of the book, she tries to influence Leo’s feelings.
  • Leo uses a spell to make pig cookies fly. They fly around and make a mess out of her room.
  • Leo’s sisters have the power to channel the dead, which they do during the Day of the Dead. “Belén spoke again, but it wasn’t her voice that came out. It was a man’s voice, and it came out of Belén’s throat.” Leo thinks, “. . . Day of the Dead was invented as a way to talk to people who have passed away, to remember them and show them that you still loved them. If messages helped people do that, they couldn’t be so scary.”
  • Leo’s sisters explain, “We can see and talk to any of the ghosts who are hanging around, no problem. It’s calling them, or channeling them so other people can hear, that takes extra effort.” The twins can see their abuela, or grandma, who hangs around because “she still has so much love tying her to the world of the living. The older ghosts get a little more . . . scattered, and then sometimes they stop showing up altogether—“
  • Leo’s sister, Marisol, tells her not to mess with magic, especially “big spells. They can have terrible consequences . . . And the more complicated the spell, the more one tiny experiment can mess things up, big-time.”
  • Leo makes cookies with a spell in the hopes of making a boy named Brent like her friend, Caroline. The spell does not work correctly. Instead, Brent begins writing love notes to all the girls in his class. He also tells several girls that he loves them “more than anything in the world.”
  • Leo accidentally shrinks Brent. “Inside the jar was a person. A tiny person unmistakably. The person was curled up and suspended in the honey, eyes closed and hands folded as if he were enjoying a nice nap.” With the help of her sisters and her dead grandmother, Leo is able to reverse the spell.
  • Leo’s abuela appears. “Sitting—no, actually, standing in the center of the bed, her body from the waist down disappearing through the mattress, was Abuela.”

 Spiritual

  • None

 

My Family Adventure

Sofia Martinez is a seven-year-old girl who wants to be noticed. My Family Adventure contains three short stories about Sofia’s daily life. In the first story, she tries to gain her family’s attention through a photo swap. In story two, Sofia and her cousins want to make a surprise gift for their abuela’s, or grandma’s, birthday. In the third, a class pet goes missing and Sofia needs to figure out how to get the pet back into its box.

Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure is written for beginning readers. Each story contains three easy-to-read chapters. Beginning readers will appreciate the many pictures that are scattered throughout the story and the large print. Readers will be able to relate to the topics in each story. Spanish words and phrases are printed in pink and appear throughout the text. Although many of the words are understandable because of their context, a glossary is included at the end of the book.

Sofia’s story shows her cultural heritage through her stories. In each of her stories, her large family is portrayed as a positive influence. Sofia often relies on her family members to solve her problems. In one story, her father lovingly tells her, “There are a lot of people here. Not everyone can pay attention to you.” The illustrations are another positive aspect of the book. The illustrations are full of color and portray Sofia and her family as warm and stylish. The character’s facial expressions will help younger readers decipher the emotions of the characters.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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