A Wish in the Dark

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Beautiful imagery and compelling characters bring the world of Chattana into clear focus. While the story focuses on Pong, the supporting characters add interest and depth. Pong, who was born and raised in prison, believes that his only chance of living a happy life is to flee Chattana. With the help of Father Cham, Pong realizes that he cannot run from his problems. Father Cham explains, “You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.” Because of Father Cham’s wise words, Pong has the strength to stand up for justice and change his world for the better.

A Wish in the Dark shines a light on social issues such as protest, privilege, and justice. However, the book does not preach a particular doctrine. Instead, Pong’s experiences lead him to understand that one mistake or misfortune does not define a person. For example, Pong sees firsthand how people who have been in prison face discrimination. Once they are released, they find it difficult to find jobs and provide for their families. Because Father Cham lives a life dedicated to helping the poor, Pong learns compassion for those who are poor and downtrodden. Father Cham teaches that “desperate people deserve our compassion, not our judgment.”

As a Newbery Honor Book, A Wish in the Dark will leave readers thinking about many of society’s problems. While the story shows the glaring disparities between the wealthy and the poor, it does not give unrealistic solutions. Instead, readers see how “wealth can be as much a curse as a blessing and no guarantee of happiness.” The conclusion doesn’t end with a perfect happy-ever-after, but instead shows that there is hope for the people of Chattana. The story also leaves readers with this question: “Which is better: being safe or having freedom?”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While in prison, two girls beat up Somkit because he won’t give them a mango. Later, “Somkit touched his bruised cheek and winced.”
  • When the mean girls throw Somkit’s food on the ground, Pong “stomped on her bare foot.”
  • Nok, Somkit, and Pong are held captive in a stable. When the guards catch them trying to escape, Nok, “brought the end of it [her staff] down hard on the stable floor. . . The ground shook like an earthquake. . . All four guards lay on their backs on the floor, twitching like fish in the bottom of a boat.” All three run.
  • When a group of over 1,000 peacefully march over a bridge, the Governor orders his men to arrest everyone. “In the Governor’s right palm, a huge ball of light began to swirl, as blindingly bright as the center of a star. It swelled, bigger and bigger. People in the crowd cried out. . .The Governor reared his arm back, as if getting ready to hurl the enormous mass of light forward . . . Pong knew what to do . . . Pong seized the Governor’s wrist and held on. . . As soon as he grabbed the Governor’s wrist, the raw light swirling in the Governor’s right hand went out.”
  • Angry, the Governor “growled like a beast and raised his other fist to strike Pong. As he brought it down, a streak of jet black shot out from the crowd. Nok flew to Pong’s side and crossed her forearms in front of her, blocking the Governor’s fist.” The Governor flees. The protest and the supernatural events (see below) are described over 14 pages.
  • The Governor grabs Pong. “Two hands gripped his shoulders. The last thing Pong saw was the rage in the Governor’s eyes as he yanked Pong toward him, and then hurled him over the side of the bridge.” Someone jumps in after Pong and saves him.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A girl calls her brother a dummy.
  • Somkit tells Pong, “Don’t be a jerk.”
  • A man calls a group of kids “lazy brats.”
  • Crap is used three times. For example, Somkit calls a boat “a piece of crap.”
  • Heck is used five times.

Supernatural

  • Chattana used to have vendors who “sold all manner of magical treats: pears that made you fall in love, cakes frosted with good luck, even a rare fruit shaped like a sleeping baby that would let you live for one thousand and three years if you ate a single bite.”
  • The governor is the only one who can create light that powers the city.
  • Pong is thrown into the river and is drowning when he has a vision. Then, “The white wispy shape formed the body of a man. . . It was Father Cham. . .Pong turned to follow Father Cham’s gaze and saw a pulsing orange glow hovering on the northern horizon. He knew he was seeing another vision from the past: The Great Fire.” In the vision, Father Cham imparts wisdom to Pong. The vision is described over seven pages.
  • During the protest, Pong grabs the Governor’s wrist and “the Gold light flowed into his palm, down his left wrist and into his arm . . . A liquid Gold light flowed, trapped beneath Pong’s skin . . . The lines of light streamed out of his prison mark.”
  • Trying to help his friend, Somkit grabs Pong. “Light flowed from Pong into Somkit’s hand. The same streams of Gold light poured form Somkit’s crossed-out tattoo.”
  • Somkit, Nok, and Pong were “glowing like human lanterns on the dark bridge.” The people come forward and hold hands. “Each person felt the surge of light flow through them and burst out into the darkness.” By the next morning, everyone’s light had disappeared.

Spiritual Content

  • Father Cham, a monk, puts bracelets around Pong’s wrist. As he does, he gives blessings such as, “May you never get food poisoning from a raw chicken” and, “May wasps never sting the palms of your hands or the bottoms of your feet.”
  • Father Cham blesses a baby and says, “may you walk in peace wherever you are in the world.”
  • When Father Cham dies, a monk tells Pong, “You know that Father Cham is merely leaving this life behind and going on to the next.”
  • After Pong leaves Somkit, “not a day had passed at the temple that Pong hadn’t prayed for his friend and wished he could know what he was doing.”

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

A Face for Picasso

There was danger in the kind of beauty I was desperate to achieve.

At only eight months old, identical twin sisters Ariel and Zan were diagnosed with Crouzon syndrome — a rare condition where the bones in the head fuse prematurely. They were the first twins known to survive it.

Growing up, Ariel and her sister endured numerous appearance-altering procedures to keep them alive. Doctors expanded the twins’ skulls and broke bones to make room for their growing organs. After each surgery, the sisters felt like strangers to each other, unable to recognize themselves in the mirror. Their case attracted international attention. A French fashion magazine said Ariel and Zan “resembled the words of Picasso,” as if they were abstract paintings, not girls just trying to survive.

Later, plastic surgeons cut and trimmed, and tugged their faces toward a tenuous aesthetic ideal. The girls dreamed of appearing “beautiful” but would settle for “normal.”

Fighting for acceptance was a daily chore. Between besting middle school bullies, becoming a cheerleader in high school, and finding her literary voice in college, Ariel learned to navigate a beauty-obsessed world with a facial disfigurement to become the woman she is today.

Ariel’s story is spellbinding and heart-wrenching. While Ariel’s story is not pretty, she brings to light what it means to live with a facial disfigurement. Not only did she and her sister have to deal with the excruciating pain of countless surgeries, but they also had to deal with the cruelty of those around them. From an early age, Ariel had to deal with constant painful encounters with children, teachers, and adults. Ariel said, “the everyday stares, comments, and subhuman treatment were constant reminders of our painful medical history and perceived shortcomings. We were treated as less attractive, less intelligent, and less worthy of basic respect.”

In her memoir, Ariel uses the backdrop of Picasso’s life to help explain how she and her sister were dehumanized. Ariel connects her experiences with Picasso’s work and his hate for women. While the connection is clear, the long descriptions of Picasso’s behavior become tedious. Another negative aspect of the story is that Ariel talks about her obsession with food but does not fully explain how her eating disorder fits into her overall story.

Readers who want a fun, fluffy YA novel should steer away from A Face for Picasso which is an honest memoir about how society’s beauty standards can affect someone who has a deformity. Ariel does not gloss over the painful surgeries, the cruelty of peers or the constant desire to be normal. By reading A Face for Picasso, readers will see how silence can be just as painful as spoken cruelty. Ariel’s memoir will help readers be more compassionate and kinder human beings and hopefully will make them rethink society’s focus on beauty.

Sexual Content

  • Because of Ariel’s unrelenting anger, her mother “thought I had been violated because both anger and bed-wetting are signs of sexual abuse.”
  • Picasso was “heavily inspired by his obsession with sex.”
  • Picasso had several affairs while married to his first wife. He was “a sexual predator” who had sex with a seventeen-year-old. “He would take his young mistress to a cabana he’d rented on the beach and have sex with her. . . she was a child and the affair was illegal at its beginning.”
  • One of Picasso’s women “hanged herself” and another one “shot herself.”
  • Someone tells Ariel’s friend, “You’re super gorgeous. . . You could be a Playmate.”

Violence

  • Picasso had a string of affairs and “two of his partners had mental breakdowns from his abuse and had to be institutionalized. Two of them committed suicide. He was a volatile hypocrite when a God complex.”
  • Ariel was angry at Zan “because when Zan and I were together, we were treated even more terribly.” Ariel would tell Zan, “I hate you.” Ariel would also “kick her under the table as hard as I could. When she’d rise from her seat in an effort to hide the tears in her eyes, I would stomp on her toes.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During surgery, Ariel and Zan were “doped up on painkillers, steroids, and antibiotics.”
  • Before her wedding, Ariel’s sister “took a daily dose of phentermine to lose weight.”
  • One Halloween, a group of girls went trick or treating. “One of the houses in the neighborhood had shots of alcohol on a tray on the porch; candy for the children, vodka for the parents.”
  • While Ariel was having surgeries, “other kids my age . . . went to parties and got drunk together and had sex for the first time.”

Language

  • Oh my God and Oh God are used as exclamations several times.
  • At times, Ariel is “pissed off.”
  • Both shit and crap are used twice.
  • After surgery, Ariel returned to school with a bruised and swollen face. When one boy sees her, he says, “Damn. Did you see her?”
  • Ariel was often called names and one boy compared her to an ugly dog. Another classmate tells Ariel, “You look like you had a bomb explode on your face.”
  • After a meeting with Ariel’s teacher and the principal, Ariel’s principal told her that the teacher was an idiot. He said, “We’re getting you out of this shithead’s class.” He also called him an asshole. Later, the teacher told the class that Ariel and her sister were removed from the class because “our faces were too distracting and not conducive to their learning.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ariel’s mother told her, “You are God’s artwork.”
  • Before surgery, Ariel and Zan would “sleep huddled together, praying God would not take one of us alone.” During that same time, Ariel “repeated silent prayers. ‘Please make this pain stop,’ I kept begging, over and over again. . . I don’t know who I was talking to. Maybe to God, maybe to myself. I just wanted it to end.”
  • When Picasso’s sister was ill, Picasso “tried to make a deal with God to save her. If he spared Conchita, Picasso vowed never to paint again.” After Conchita died, “Picasso felt simultaneously angry toward God and relieved about what his sister’s death meant for his future. He was still free to be a painter.”
  • Before one surgery, Ariel prayed, “God I’m so scared.
  • Many people teased Ariel because of her eyes. She says, “Not a day went by that I did not pray, asking God to give me eyes that were symmetrical.”
  • Before the homecoming queen and king were announced, Ariel prayed, “Even if neither Zan nor I win, I pray the day comes when we can be seen as beautiful, too. Please help others not to see us as ugly anymore.”
  • Ariel’s counselor tells her, “And until we meet again, ay God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Sonia and her friends are planting a garden, and each one contributes in his or her own way. Rafael has asthma and sometimes must stay calm so he can breathe, which gives him time to paint beautiful rocks for the garden. Anthony uses a wheelchair to get around and can move super-fast, directing the group. Anh has a stutter and prefers to listen, so she knows just how to plant each flower. All the friends are different, but they all have one thing in common: they like to ask questions and learn about one another!

This inclusive story is told by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and inspired by her own diagnosis of diabetes. Readers will see differently abled kids use their strengths to work together and learn about each other. The book shows that differences are wonderful and that all you have to do when you don’t understand something is ask.

Each page of the picture book focuses on nature and the children who are working in the garden. The illustrations are brightly colored and show some imaginative elements as well. For example, Jordan loves dinosaurs, and in his illustration, he is walking over a rainbow and is surrounded by dinosaur shaped plants. Readers will enjoy finding all the animals that appear throughout the book such as a squirrel, a grasshopper, and birds.

The book uses a similar format on all the pages. Each two-page spread has a paragraph about a different person who has a disability. Each page also has a question for readers to consider. For example, “I also love reading and writing. What about you?” Even though each page only has 2 to 5 sentences, parents will need to read the book to their child rather than having the child read it independently. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary will be difficult for beginning readers.

Just Ask uses an extended metaphor that compares people to a garden. For example, Sonia must take insulin because “my body doesn’t make insulin naturally like other people’s.” The full-page illustration that accompanies the words shows Sonia sitting in a flower, giving herself a shot of insulin. Just Ask introduces readers to a wide range of differences such as autism, stuttering, and needing to use a wheelchair. Plus, the children who appear in the story are diverse and have many different skin tones.

Parents and educators who want to educate readers about people with different abilities should put Just Ask on their must-read list. Unlike most picture books, Just Ask isn’t necessarily entertaining, but it teaches important lessons about being inclusive and shows how everyone can contribute in different ways. While young readers may not understand the connection between people and different types of plants, Just Ask is the perfect book to use as a discussion starter. While the story encourages readers to ask about people’s differences, it does not explain how to ask in a polite and kind manner.

The beautiful and creative illustrations, the diverse characters, and the positive message make Just Ask an excellent book to read to young children. The picture book gives information about different disabilities as well as food allergies and encourages readers to be inclusive.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Kind of Spark

Ever since Ms. Murphy told us about the witch trials that happened centuries ago right here in Juniper, I can’t stop thinking about them. Those people weren’t magic. They were like me. Different like me.

I’m autistic. I see things that others do not. I hear sounds that they can ignore. And sometimes I feel things all at once. I think about the witches, with no one to speak for them. Not everyone in our small town understands. Not Jenna, who used to be my best friend. Not Nina, my older sister. But if I keep trying, maybe someone will.

I won’t let the witches be forgotten. Because there is more to their story. Just like there is more to mine.

A Kind of Spark is told from Addie’s point of view, which allows her to explain how it feels to be “neurodivergent.” For example, Addie explains, “Masking is when I have to pass as a neurotypical person, as someone who is not like me. I have to ignore the need to stim, to self-soothe, and I have to make firm eye contact. Keedie told me it’s like when superheroes have to pretend that they’re regular people.” Addie’s experiences will help readers understand autism and how people with autism experience the world differently. However, the frequent use of neurodivergent vocabulary becomes a little overwhelming.

While A Kind of Spark teaches readers about autism, it is also a story about sisterhood, friendship, and speaking up for what you believe in. Addie and Keedie both have autism, which gives them a special bond. Keedie often gives Addie advice. For example, Keedie says, “It’s better to be open about who you really are, what you’re really like, and be disliked by a few than it is to hide who you are and be tolerated by many.” Even though both girls struggle with their autism, autism is not portrayed as something that should be fixed. Keedie acknowledges that autism causes some difficulties, but she would not want to be any other way.

Throughout her journey, Addie faces bullying from both her classmates and her teacher. When her parents find out about the bullying, they remind Addie that she should have reached out to a trusted adult, instead of staying silent. As Addie learns about the women who were accused of witchcraft, she realizes that some of the women were different like her. However, some younger readers may be confused by the connection. While the unfair and violent way the women were killed is not described in gory detail, it may still frighten young readers.

A Kind of Spark is an entertaining book that allows readers to learn about autism through Addie’s experiences. While Addie sometimes feels misunderstood, her family helps her navigate the world in a positive manner. In the end, Addie is reminded that “The ocean needs all kinds of fish. Just like the world needs all kinds of minds. Just one would be really dull, wouldn’t it?” Readers who would like to read more books that focus on autistic characters should also read Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner and A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Addie is learning about women from the past who were accused of witchcraft. Addie’s teacher explains that “witches were dunked in the Nor’ Loch. Their thumbs and toes were tied together, and they were tossed into the water! . . . Guilty witches were removed from the loch and taken to Castlehill to be burned or hanged.”
  • An adult babysitter got upset at Keddie and “threw a plate and dived at Keedie. . .” Keedie began “Screaming, and crying, and beating her own head. . . Mrs. Craig sprang into action, cursing Keedie all the while, and using her considerable weight to restrain my sister. She pinned Keedie’s wrists to the floor and got right in her face.” A neighbor intervenes. The scene is described over two pages.
  • On a field trip, a man describes “crudely made thumbscrews, whipping, and other forms of torture” that were used on accused witches. In their town, two women “were dragged [to a tree] by the baying mob. . . the Juniper residents decided to use this very tree to carry out their vigilante sentence.”
  • Addie tells someone that “Lots of women were hanged here in Juniper . . .And some witches were burned, or put in barrels full of nails.”
  • A girl in Addie’s class destroys Addie’s thesaurus and writes “retard” on it. Addie gets upset. “I’m flying through the air and I land squarely on top of Emily. . . I hear her shouting, screaming, and people rushing around. I’m dimly aware of Emily shrieking beneath me as my fists flair and come raining down on her.” A teacher pulls Addie off Emily and only punishes Addie. The scene is described over two and a half pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One evening, Addie’s parents went “to the living room with some wine.”
  • Addie says one of her neighbors “gets drunk and sings on our street corner at night.”

Language

  • The kids in Addie’s class call her various names such as stupid.
  • Addie uses the word bloody once.
  • An adult babysitter called Addie’s sister a spoiled brat and a little animal.
  • Keedie says her sister’s teacher is a vicious cow.
  • Addie’s teacher tells her, “You are a vile girl.”
  • Someone asks Addie, “What the hell are you doing?”
  • A woman calls Addie and her friend miscreants.
  • Oh God and hell are both used once.
  • Addie’s sister tells her teacher, “you’re a disgraceful, ignorant, ableist coward, a monster, and a bigot.”

Supernatural

  • A man explains that “a curse is like an evil spell. It’s when someone calls down a higher power, or magical force, to harm another person.”

Spiritual Content

  • As Addie researches the accused witches, she thinks, “I bet you wished you were a witch. I bet in those moments, as they accused you of supernatural powers, you prayed to be able to cast a spell upon all of them.”

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins never wanted her wheelchair to slow her down, but the world around her was built in a way that made it hard for people to do even simple things like go to school or eat lunch in the cafeteria. This is the true story of a little girl who just wanted to go, even when others tried to stop her.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was proposed, requesting that Congress make public spaces accessible to everyone, Jennifer joined activists in Washington, D.C. for what became known as the Capitol Crawl. To bring attention to the dilemma, Jennifer and others crawled all the way to the top of the Capitol Building,

All the Way to the Top begins by exploring the discrimination Jennifer was faced with because she was in a wheelchair and how this led her to participate in organized protests. A major portion of the book focuses on the protests Jennifer attended, the goals of the protests, and the reasons Congress was against the ADA. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, it covers complicated topics like the ADA, activism, and the role of Congress.

The picture book’s illustrations focus on Jennifer whose facial expressions clearly show a range of emotions from joy to determination to sadness. Some of the pictures show large groups of people protesting. In these illustrations, the protesters are not clearly defined and are one color which allows the focal point to stay on Jennifer. Each page contains 2 to 6 sentences; however, the complex sentence structure makes some of the pages appear text heavy. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently.

Jennifer is an admirable person, who was determined to show people how passing the ADA would help people with disabilities. However, the story acknowledges that “laws like the ADA don’t change things overnight. Entrances have to be rebuilt, sidewalks redesigned, buses reengineered. Slowest of all, minds have to change.” The book ends with three pages that explore the topic in more detail, a timeline that shows the milestones of the disability rights movement, and a picture of Jennifer climbing the steps of the Capitol.

All the Way to the Top shows how one person can make a positive impact on the world. All the Way to the Top is an excellent book to use in an educational situation, for research, or as a conversation starter. Plus, Jennifer’s story highlights the importance of dedication and giving voice to a cause. All the Way to the Top received the Schneider Family Book Award which honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Readers who want to read another biographical picture book that shows how one person overcame a disability should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

El Deafo

Starting at a new school is scary, especially with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here, she’s different. She’s sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then, Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom but anywhere her teacher is in the school—in the hallway . . . in the teacher’s lounge . . . in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even a superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different . . . and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most… a true friend?

Through Cece’s experiences, readers will come to understand how Cece uses visual clues, context clues and gestural clues to understand what others are saying. Often, Cece can’t understand what someone is saying; this is indicated through text boxes that have gibberish inside of them. Cece is also frustrated by others who don’t understand her disability. For example, while at a sleepover, one of the girls asks, “Can people who wear hearing aids also wear makeup?” Once the girls turn off the lights and start talking and laughing, Cece can’t read their lips and she worries that they are talking about her, so she decides to go home.

Some people who are trying to be helpful make Cece feel worse. Sometimes, people would try to talk to her in sign language, but “some people put on a real show when they start signing—almost like mimes.” Events like this make Cece feel worse because she doesn’t want others to focus on her. One of Cece’s coping mechanisms is to daydream about being El Deafo. Pretending to be El Deafo allows her to process her feelings and voice opinions that could not be said aloud.

El Deafo is based on Bell’s own childhood and her complex emotions about her hearing impairment. While Cece’s emotions shine, readers may have a difficult time relating to the Phonic Ear because of advancements in technology which doesn’t require wires that lead from the device to the ear. However, Cece’s struggles will be relatable. She worries about being different, making friends, having people stare at her, and having a crush. One downside of the story is that Cece’s peers do not embrace her until they realize that Cece can use the Phonic Ear to warn them when the teacher is coming back into the room.

In the author’s note, Bell explains the different ways people become deaf or hearing impaired as well as the different ways people cope with their disability. She also explains that she learned to view her deafness as a gift. “And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”

The graphic novel’s format and rabbit characters will appeal to readers. Each page is divided into panels and has 5 to 11 sentences. While the characters’ words appear in text bubbles, the narration appears in yellow boxes at the top of a frame. When Cece takes on the personality of El Deafo, the frames are surrounded by green which makes it easy to distinguish between fact and fantasy. El Deafo will help readers understand what if feels like to be hearing impaired, which makes it an excellent book to add to your child’s reading list.

Sexual Content

  • At a slumber party, one of the girls talks about “Mary kissing that boy from Ms. Huffman’s class. All this mwah mwah mwah.”
  • Cece has a crush on a boy, and she thinks about kissing him.

Violence

  • Cece gets angry at her mother and kicks her.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice.
  • Dang is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope

For much of her youth, Ana’s life consisted of secrets. Her Abuela, who took care of her after her mother died, warned Ana never to tell anyone the truth about herself – the truth that she was HIV positive. Ana clung to her grandmother’s words despite the fear and isolation secrecy brought. Although she was infected as an infant, Ana did not fully understand the virus and what it meant to live with HIV, but Ana listened to her grandmother and “did what she was told. She accepted her life at face value.” Ana kept the secret of her HIV and the death of her Mamá and baby sister, Lucía, who both died of the virus, to herself, dwelling in the loneliness her dangerous secret produced.

After her father’s death when she was about eleven years old, Ana had to learn how to grow up quickly. She promised her Papá she would protect her little sister Isabel, but this proved difficult as her Abuela’s home was far from a safe place. Ana and her sister endured sexual abuse from their Abuela’s boyfriend, Ernesto, and when Ana tried to tell the truth to her grandmother, she was beaten. After addressing her abuse in a letter to the Church, the police arrived to remove Ana and Isabel from their Abuela’s house.

Ana and her sister went to live with their great-aunt Sonia and her family but had little luck finding love and comfort there. Although Isabel was better at staying quiet and invisible, Ana, with her rambunctious spirit, was often fighting with her family and suffered more beatings and abuse. Ana preferred the company of her trusted friend, Yolanda, and Yolanda’s mother, who accepted Ana as her own daughter. With the help of a trusted teacher, who witnessed Ana’s bruised arms and sad eyes, Ana was moved out of her great-aunt Sonia’s house to a reform center. Unfortunately, this meant she had to leave her sister, Isabel, behind.

At the center, Ana met Berto and the two instantly clicked. They found comfort in their similar journeys. Both had lost their parents, and both were HIV positive. Eventually, Berto and Ana were moved to a home for people living with AIDS. Living at the house was the first time Ana really felt comfortable talking about her HIV. For once, Ana did not have to feel the shame or burden of her secret; instead, she was loved and accepted. Ana learned more about HIV and how to protect herself and others. Feeling safe at her new home, Ana and Berto fell in love, and although she was told to always use condoms, the two neglected protection for one night and Ana found herself pregnant at the age of seventeen.

Rather than feeling burdened by the pregnancy and having to quit school, Ana found hope with the birth of her daughter, Beatriz. Ana was determined to raise her with all the love and support that Ana was denied. After Beatriz was born, Ana moved into her Aunt Aída’s house and reconnected with her family, including Isabel. Although Ana and Berto eventually drifted apart, Ana continued to raise her daughter with unconditional love. Ana took every precaution during and after birth to protect her daughter from HIV.

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope was inspired by Jenna Bush’s experience working with UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean and the amazing children she met. Bush adapts a genuine and personal tone while telling Ana’s story, and even though Ana faced many difficult moments in her life, her journey is thoroughly uplifting and inspiring. The book is written in a way that allows young readers to understand the gravity of Ana’s situation while also acknowledging the hope that permeates her life. Although the book ends abruptly before Beatriz’s final HIV test, Bush assures readers Ana’s story is far from over.

By sharing Ana’s story, Bush teaches the importance of hope. Although Ana’s journey seems dark and tumultuous at times, Ana stays optimistic, doing all she can to give her child and herself a better life. Ana’s story also serves to inform readers about HIV and AIDS in the hopes of breaking the stigmatization of those living with the virus. While Ana is HIV positive and takes medicine daily to protect her health, she does not let the virus define her. At the end of the book, Bush includes multiple resources on HIV/AIDS, safe sex practices, ways to prevent sexual abuse and bullying, and other useful information about volunteering and helping children, like Ana. The book is intended to inspire others to make changes, big or small, to better communities around the world.

 Sexual Content

  • When Ana was ten years old, a nurse explained to her “when she was older and ready to have sex that it was very important to always use condoms” because she was HIV-positive.
  • On bad days, when Ana offered to bring beer to Ernesto, “he often reached for the beer and then grabbed Ana by the wrist, pulling her close, rubbing his fat belly against her . . . Sometimes his hand slipped across her chest or between her legs.” Ana described feeling “dirty and embarrassed when it happened to her” and “enraged and powerless when she watched it happen to Isabel.”
  • “When Isabel got up to go to the bathroom, Ernesto slid his hand under Isabel and felt her behind.”
  • One night, Ana woke up to see “Isabel leaning against the door, sobbing. Her hair was tangled, her skin red and blotchy.” Ernesto followed Isabel in the bedroom shortly after and threatened Ana not to tell her father. It is implied Isabel is further sexually abused by Ernesto, but the extent of the abuse is not mentioned as the story follows Ana’s perspective.
  • Another night, Isabel forgot to lock the bedroom door and Ernesto came in. His “grimy hand covered Ana’s mouth so she couldn’t scream. Isabel ran out of the room and locked herself in the bathroom. Then Ernesto started touching Ana all over.” He threatened Ana, telling her not to tell anyone.
  • Ana’s aunt confesses to her niece that “both your mama and her sister were raped by their stepfather when they were young girls. Their stepfather had AIDS and he made them both sick.”
  • At the reform center, Ana meets Pilar, a girl who “believed their only way to survive was to sell sex on the streets.” Pilar explains that becoming a prostitute was the only way to earn money to feed herself.
  • After her first day of ninth grade, Berto and Ana go for a walk, and he kisses her. “Ana had kissed other boys before, but she had never felt a connection like this; shivers ran up her spine, and her mouth curved into a perfect smile.”
  • One day, as Ana and Berto were kissing, “Berto ran his fingers through Ana’s long, wavy hair. She looked into his eyes and saw pleasure and desire.” Then, Ana asks Berto, “Do you have any condoms?” Berto promises he will get some the next day. They have sex for the first time, unprotected, but it is not described in detail.
  • Ana and Berto have sex multiple times, but it is not explicit.
  • Ana and Berto break up and Ana grows closer to a new boy, Guillermo. One day, “Guillermo began kissing her more intensely,” but Ana made him stop as she wanted to take things slow.
  • There are resources in the back to provide information about safe sex, using condoms, HIV/AIDS, and how to avoid sexual abuse. The information is informative but not explicit and is not intended to encourage sexual behavior.

Violence

  • When Ana tries to recall her last moments with her mother “she didn’t remember Mamá’s face becoming gaunt and skeletal; she didn’t remember her Mamá’s breathing becoming labored and slow . . . Ana’s Mamá was not yet twenty when she died of AIDS.”
  • Ana tells her Abuela about what Ernesto has been doing to her and her sister, but instead of believing her, “Abuela shooed Ana away by spanking her, hard, on the back of her thighs with the broom handle, then turned abruptly back to her work.”
  • After Ana refuses to clean up her things, “Ana’s grandmother snapped. She reached down and grabbed a metal clothes hanger. She came at Ana in a rage, swatting her hard on the back, again and again and again.” Abuela left Ana “lying on the ground, her legs on fire as if a hive of bees had attacked.”
  • Despite being removed from her abuela’s house, Ana still suffered beatings from her aunt’s family. “Ana usually remained quiet and passive when she was out with her family, but if Ana was belligerent or talked back, they slapped or kicked her.” Ana learned to become a fighter.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • “Many nights Ernesto and Ana’s Abuela drank heavily and smoked cigarette after cigarette until the house stank like a disco, saturated with the sour smell of beer and the thick fog of smoke.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • At her father’s funeral, Ana “called out to God, crying: ‘Why did you take Papá?’” Ana found herself “angry at God; she was angry at Abuela; she was angry at everyone.”
  • After her father’s death, “Ana attended a first Communion class at her church. Every Sunday, a priest and a nun met with a dozen sixth-graders to prepare them to accept their first Communion.”
  • After joining her Communion class, Ana “no longer blamed God for taking her mother, father, and sister, and for not protecting her from Ernesto. She no longer felt that God had forgotten her or lost her somewhere along the way.”
  • At her first Communion, “Ana dressed in the traditional white lace dress with a veil covering her eyes. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and prayed to God and her parents, asking, “Papá, ayú-dame, help me. Mamá protégeme, protect me.”
  • Ana compares her experience in reform center to “being in hell—not the fiery red hell of the Bible, but a drab, colorless one.”
  • At the reform center, “two women from one of the local churches came by to pray with the girls and give them a lesson in scripture.”
  • At her Quinceañera, the priest explained to Ana that she wore a tiara “because she was a princess in the eyes of God.”

by Elena Brown

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read.

Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. So, he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.

When Louis first went blind, he felt like “the neighbor’s angry dog, chained too tight. Alone in the dark.” However, his family and people in his community taught him how to navigate in his dark world. For example, “the village priest taught me to recognize trees by their touch, flowers by their scent, and birds by their song.”

One pivotal moment in Louis’s life was when he went to school with other blind students. The children at the school were excited when “a French army captain had invented a code to send secret messages during battle. The code is read by touch, not by sight, so we might use it here.” This code gave Louis the inspiration to create his own system, where each letter was represented by dots that fit under a finger. Louis’s invention continues to have a lasting and profound impact on people today.

Six Dots educates readers about Louis Braille and gives them an idea of how it feels to be blind. While the story is interesting, the text-heavy pages and complicated cause and effect of events will be difficult for younger readers to sit through. Each page has 4 to 12 sentences. The realistic illustrations are drawn in shades of brown with light blues and greens. The book ends with one page written in a question-and-answer format that explains more about Louis. In addition, there is a list of resources to learn more about Louis and about using braille.

Six Dots is an entertaining and educational story that packs a lot of information into a short space. Louis Braille’s story demonstrates how one’s disability does not have to control your life. Despite being blind, Braille went on to master the cello and the organ, both of which he played professionally. He also was a history professor and published books on music, mathematics, and mapping. Six Dots would be an excellent resource to use for readers who want to research Louis Braille. Readers looking for another motivational picture book about a real person should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Louis became blind after he accidentally poked his eye with an awl and both eyes become infected.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Almost American Girl

In her graphic novel memoir, Robin Ha shares the story of her experiences leaving her home in Korea for America, and her journey trying to navigate a new world and form a new identity. Despite living with her single mother (something considered taboo in Korea), Chuna (who later chose the name Robin in America), found her place with her Korean friends. After school, Robin would eat snacks from food stands, shop for comic books, and attend after school classes. Robin was happy and content in Korea until one day, her mother told her they would be taking a trip to Alabama.

Curious by this mysterious location, Robin assumed it was just another vacation her mother had planned. However, in Alabama, Robin was introduced to Mr. Kim and his daughter, Lena. Robin also met Mr. Kim’s sister and her children, Grace, Ashley, and Daniel. Finding herself bored and lonely in Alabama, Robin was excited to return to Korea. However, her life was severely shaken when she received the news that her mother and Mr. Kim were getting married, and they would be staying in Alabama indefinitely.

Robin resented her mother for making this decision without her, but she was unable to change her fate. Soon, Robin selected her English name and was sent to a new middle school with Grace and Ashley. Initially, Robin found life in Alabama utterly miserable; she could not understand why her mother believed life in America was better than life in Korea. Robin knew little English and could not communicate with her peers well enough to make friends. In addition, Robin was the only Asian student at her school and suffered racist comments from school bullies who taunted her and made her say rude things in English.

Despite what Robin believed, her mother was not blind to her daughter’s suffering. One day, Robin’s mother took Robin to a comic-book store and enrolled her in a comic drawing class. There, Robin found herself surrounded by people who shared her love for comic books. She also met Jessica, who instantly became her best friend.

Just as Robin began to grow comfortable in Alabama, things between her mother and Mr. Kim grew rocky. Robin’s mother, who always valued her independence, refused to move to Los Angeles with Mr. Kim because she feared it was too unsafe. Her refusal to move sparked tension between her and Mr. Kim’s mother who believed she was being a bad wife to her son. Making a desperate attempt to preserve her freedom, Robin’s mother made plans to move with Robin to Virginia.

Despite her fears of moving again, Robin adjusted well because her new school was more diverse, and Robin grew very close to a group of Korean girls. In Virginia, Robin finally began to see America as her home. After graduation, Robin and her friends visited Korea, and while Robin still enjoyed certain aspects of Korean culture, her visit allowed her to appreciate American culture even more. These feelings were compounded upon witnessing Korea’s harsh treatment of single women and unmarried mothers. In the end, Robin identifies herself as neither Korean nor American, but a combination of both.

Staying true to her love of comics, Robin’s memoir is a graphic novel. For most of Robin’s story, the comic panels consist of simple and colorful drawings. Each image has a one to two sentence caption, explaining the actions or emotions of the scene. Many images also include dialogue or thought bubbles that provide a good balance of words to pictures. However, some powerful images fill the whole page with just a small amount of text to convey an emotion rather than reality. For example, an image of Robin lying in a dark forest with the caption, “cast out in a strange and hostile land,” conveys the loneliness and isolation Robin feels in her first few months in America. The images become more vibrant and colorful when Robin starts to feel more confident and comfortable. While some Korean words are used, a glossary is provided in the back of the book for an explanation. In addition, the blue-colored text is used to imply characters are speaking in Korean, while black text signifies English.

Robin’s story speaks to the experience of many immigrants trying to find their cultural identity in a new country. Through her vibrant memoir, Robin Ha shares the beauty of her home country while still being able to look back on the negative aspects through a more mature lens. Through visual flashbacks, characterized by a more neutral color palette, Robin explores how her mother endured shame and insults because she was unmarried, with a young daughter. Despite prejudices against single mothers, Robin’s mother did all she could to give Robin a better life. Robin begins to truly realize all the sacrifices her mother made for her, and she learned to appreciate the opportunities America provided.

Overall, Almost American Girl is about embracing change and learning how to value different cultures and appreciate differences. The memoir also reveals how finding your identity is not always an easy process, but it’s okay to just be authentic to yourself. Robin’s story is inspiring and heartwarming to read. It’s fast paced and engages readers by teaching about the cultural differences between Korea and America.

Sexual Content

  • Robin is surprised by American traditions during her first Halloween. When she saw her friend in a rather revealing costume she thought, “Wow, I can see the top of her boobs.”
  • Later in life, Robin becomes aware of the prejudice against single mothers in Korea. An image shows a teenage Robin watching a T.V in Korea that says, “I didn’t raise a slut! You are no child of mine . . . ” The show is referring to an unwed mother.

Violence

  • In her first week of school, Robin is shoved against a locker by two bullies. Robin is not hurt, but she is confused as to why they were being mean.
  • In a flashback sequence, Robin recalls a time her third-grade teacher called her up to the front of the class and beat Robin’s hands with a ruler because she made a slight mistake.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Robin was a baby, Robin’s dad would frequently come home late and drunk. Robin’s mother said, “You reek of alcohol. Don’t come closer!”

Language

  • A bully at school gets Robin to say, “I eat shit.” She is unaware of what she is saying.
  • When Robin shares that Ashley [her step-cousin] has not been helpful at school her mother cries, “What a little bitch!”
  • Frustrated with her new life in America, Robin screams she “was happy living in Korea. I had friends and I didn’t have to deal with this stepfamily bullshit!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Elena Brown

 

Brown Boy Nowhere

Sixteen-year-old Angelo Rivera is from the bustling city of San Diego where his parents owned a Filipino restaurant. Now, Angelo has moved across the country to Ocean Pointe where Angelo and his family are the only Asian people in the entire town. He’s left behind all of his friends, and his girlfriend Amanda, so his mom and dad can run a new restaurant called Sloppy’s Pit Stop. To make everything worse, Angelo wants to participate in a skateboarding competition in California, but the only way he can go is if he pays for his own plane ticket by working at Sloppy’s. But Angelo has a plan: Convince his aunt to let him stay in California so he can be with his friends and Amanda. He’s determined to leave Ocean Pointe behind for good.

Angelo’s plans go awry when he meets fellow outsiders Kirsten and Larry. All three of them are seen as outcasts by the students at Ocean Pointe High School where football players and cheerleaders are at the top of the social hierarchy. Kirsten abandoned cheerleading for art and Larry is the grandson of a known drug dealer. Both ask Angelo to teach them how to skate, boosting their self-confidence and creating a small group of friends for Angelo. After Amanda breaks up with Angelo over the phone, he begins to grow closer to Kirsten. As a result of bonding with Kirsten, a fight breaks out at OPHS that results in Angelo being more seen than ever.

Brown Boy Nowhere is a prose-style novel that is told from Angelo’s first-person perspective. As a result of being told in Angelo’s perspective, the reader will experience the same prejudice and violence Angelo does. This allows readers who aren’t Asian to understand the unique situations Asian people face in a racialized society. The story hits close to home for many Asian readers who understand what it’s like to be the only Asian person in a majority white town, school, or area.

Readers who aren’t Asian will also learn that some “jokes,” such as Asian people eating dogs and cats, are microaggressions that create lasting scars for their Asian peers. Even simple questions can be microaggressions depending on the person to whom they’re directed. For example, when Angelo first meets Larry, Larry asks Angelo where he’s from. When Angelo says he’s from California, Larry responds with, “No. I mean, where are you really from?” Such a question insinuates that Asian people do not, and will never belong in America and isolates Asian peers from their white peers.

Angelo also does his best to educate his new friends Kirsten and Larry on anti-Asian racism and microaggressions, calling them out on their blanket statements about Asian people. Angelo even tells Kirsten that saying, “I do not see race” is a microaggression and explains to her why. Angelo says, “I get that some people who say it mean well. But saying you don’t see race disregards my identity. I’m Asian. I’m proud of it. If you don’t see race, then you’re ignoring that part of me.”

Brown Boy Nowhere is a fascinating novel that tells a story about an Asian teenager finding himself in a town where he feels like he does not belong. The book has many early 2000s references, such as Angelo comparing Kirsten to actress Kirsten Dunst, and even has the feel of a 2000s teen movie. The book is not set in the early 2000s, but it provides Angelo with another interest and supplements his thoughts. It also tackles the incredibly complex issue of anti-Asian racism and the unique experience of a member of the Asian diaspora. Some events in the novel, such as the star football player named Grayson, vandalizing Sloppy’s, feel unrealistic and have unrealistic consequences. However, the novel is a perfect read for people who like coming-of-age dramas and want to learn more about the challenges Asian teenagers face in a world that expects them to be invisible.

Sexual Content

  • Angelo recalls that on his last night in San Diego, he had sex with his girlfriend Amanda. “Heat creeps into my cheeks. I don’t know what I expected losing my virginity would be like, but my fantasies certainly didn’t include me blubbering like an idiot, telling her how much I’d miss her.”
  • After Angelo saves Kirsten from being hit by a car, she gives him a kiss on his cheek. “I frown curiously as she takes a giant step toward me, letting out a soft gasp when she presses her soft lips against my cheek.”
  • While in the warehouse together, Angelo expresses a desire to kiss Kirsten. “My gaze flits down to her bottom lip. I want to kiss her. I want to kiss her more than anything in the world. More than skate competitions, burger patties, and even plane tickets to California.”
  • When Kirsten takes him to the beach, Angelo finally kisses her. “Pushing all second-guessing aside, I finally lean forward. I press my lips against hers. She takes a sharp breath against my mouth, stiffening for a second. Quickly, she relaxes and kisses me back, raking her fingers through my wet hair, tugging at the ends lightly.” They continue to make out for a page.
  • Angelo’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda, accidentally sends him a sext which includes “a photo of her chest with nothing but a tiny bikini top covering her, um, assets.”
  • After clearing up the misunderstanding because of the sext, Angelo and Kirsten kiss again. “Kirsten opens her mouth to speak, but before she can say anything I reach over and cup my hand over the back of her neck, pulling her into me. I press a kiss into her lips, quieting any lingering doubt she might have about me. My feelings for her. Us.”

Violence

  • Angelo decides to skate away from a group of boys who are harassing him. One of the boys throws a rock at Angelo which results in him falling off his skateboard. “The next thing I know, something jams against my front wheels. Before I can react, I’m flying off my board. On instinct, I stick my hands out to stop my fall, but I’m at a weird angle and land cheek first into the parking lot.”
  • When Grayson learns that Angelo and Grayson’s ex-girlfriend are friends, Grayson punches Angelo in the school hallway. Angelo tells Grayson he’s being racist. The scene lasts for 8 pages. Angelo doesn’t “even get to finish my thought. A blinding pain hits me square in the jaw. Sharp and intense. I stagger back, gasping for anything to hold on to, only to smack my open palms against the cold locker . . . Grayson keeps his fist up to my nose. His knuckles are bright red.”
  • To prevent Kirsten from being seen by the Sheriff, Angelo tackles her onto the grass. “Without thinking twice, I push off my board and tackle Kirsten onto the grass lining the street. We crash and find ourselves rolling into a ditch.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When exploring Ocean Pointe, Angelo ends up at the high school where he sees a group of guys holding cigarettes. “Cigarettes glow from between their fingers as they stare me down, scanning me from head to toe.”

 Language

  • The word “shit” and other variations of the word are used frequently.
  • The words “ass” and “asshole,” along with their variations, are used often.
  • “Bitch” and “bitchy” are used often in the novel, typically in relation to female characters.
  • “Fuck” is thrown around a lot by the characters in the story.
  • Angelo faces multiple microaggressions from his white peers, many of them relying on the racist stereotype of Asian people eating cats and dogs. A football player even says, “Guess that makes this here brown boy the dog, huh? You are what you eat.”
  • The football players who bully Angelo often call him “brown boy” as an insult due to Angelo being Filipino and having brown skin.
  • Angelo calls his friend from San Diego, Mackabi, a “dipshit” affectionately.
  • Angelo says he “feel[s] a bit dickish” for objecting to teaching other students how to skate.
  • When Kirsten implies that Angelo’s bullies confront change by being aggressive, Angelo says, “That’s bullshit. Being scared isn’t an excuse to be racist. That’s just damn ignorant. You don’t call someone ‘brown boy’ or say he eats dogs just because he’s new to town.”
  • When Grayson says he isn’t racist, Angelo calls Grayson a “delusional dick”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

A Thousand White Butterflies

As if being new to the United States wasn’t hard enough, Isabella’s first day of school is canceled due to snow!

Isabella has recently arrived from Colombia with her mother and Abuela. She misses Papa, who is still in South America. It’s her first day of school, her “make-new-friends” day, but when classes are canceled because of too much snow, Isabella misses her warm, green, Colombia more than ever. Then Isabella meets Katie and finds out that making friends in the cold is easier than she thought!

 A Thousand White Butterflies is a beautiful story that shows that friendship can flourish despite differences. Like many children who have immigrated to America, Isabella misses her home and her father and she worries about making friends. Readers will enjoy seeing Isabella making a new friend and show her friend part of her culture. When the two girls build a snowman, “Katie helps me put Papa’s ruana on the snowman. We add a sombrero vueltiao.” While the story starts with Isabella being upset about moving to America, it ends on a high note with Isabella looking forward to going to school with Katie.

The large cartoon-like illustrations show the magic of snow and friendship. Each illustration shows Isabella’s emotions including frowning, crying, and smiling. Readers will enjoy finding a cat that appears in almost every picture. Each page has 2 to 4 simple sentences and many of the sentences include Spanish. Even though A Thousand White Butterflies is a picture book it is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The end of the book includes the author’s notes on how the immigrant story pertains to their lives as well as a glossary of Spanish words.

Isabella’s story will help readers become more compassionate as they learn about immigration. A Thousand White Butterflies would make an excellent book for parents to read with their children. Parents could use the story as a conversation starter about moving, making new friends, or being kind to others. While the story introduces the idea of immigration, it stays away from the political debate and shows how one specific child has been impacted by immigrating to America. Readers who would like to explore how immigration affects families should also read Mango Moon by Diane De Anda & Sue Cornelison.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

Tune It Out

Lou has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But the two of them have been performing the country fair and street circuit for so long that Lou can hear only the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds or loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.

But when Child Protective Services separates the mother-daughter duo after a snowy accident, Lou is forced to start all over again at a fancy private school far away from anything she’s ever known. Lou had never had a friend before, apart from her mother. After being sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Lou realizes most people don’t live like her—moving from place to place, unsure of their next meal, and not going to school. But Lou worries she will “freak out” at her new school because of her sensory disorder, neuroatypicality.

Luckily for her, she meets Well, an outgoing sixth-grade actor extraordinaire. With the help of Well, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, Lou begins to see things differently. A sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music just might be the thing to save Lou—and maybe her mom too.

Lou’s compelling story has a cast of complex characters who help Lou along her journey. As Lou navigates through life, she is reluctant to allow the school counselor to “label” her. However, Lou finally realizes that she must learn coping mechanisms so she doesn’t continue to “freak out” due to loud noises and light touches.

Many students will relate to Lou who doesn’t feel like she is “normal.” Tune It Out highlights the fact that most people have difficulties to overcome, no one is perfect, and people must learn from their mistakes in order to live their best life.

Tune It Out will entertain readers of all ages because it draws readers into Lou’s world from the very first page. The diverse cast of characters that surround Lou adds interest and depth to the story. In addition, the engaging story shows the importance of speaking up for yourself. Tune It Out will help readers understand Lou’s sensory disorder as well as teach them the importance of empathy. Readers who are interested in reading more books about overcoming obstacles should add Almost Home by Joan Bauer and Wish by Barbara O’Connor to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • Lou’s mother “wasn’t sure who [Lou’s] daddy was, and she didn’t want to be sure either.”
  • During play practice, one of the girls makes out with someone in the costume closet.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lou misses living in Biloxi and “the casinos with their jangling noises and bright lights and carpet that smelled like beer and cigarette ash.”
  • Once when Lou “freaked out,” some people wondered if she was on drugs.
  • After a car accident, a doctor tells Lou to take Tylenol or ibuprofen for the pain.

Language

  • Lord and oh God are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Hell is used once.

Supernatural

  • Lou knew a woman who “used to read tea leaves.” The woman would “tell you whether you’d meet the love of your life, or if a big change was coming, or if you should buy that alligator purse on sale.”

Spiritual Content

  • One of Lou’s friends is large, and his mother is upset when he starts drinking SlimFast. She says, “Son, you don’t mess with the body the good Lord gave you. God made you to be a man of stature. You better figure out how to use it, not lose it.”

Seedfolks

In a neglected and unkempt empty lot in a Cleveland neighborhood, a young Vietnamese girl named Kim plants a seed to honor her dead father. Although her gardening was meant to be a secret, her actions are detected by a curious neighbor, and Kim’s small seed ignites a change throughout the neighborhood; soon the community strives to revitalize the lot and transform it into a beautiful garden. Neighbors from all sorts of backgrounds come together to grow things, sharing gardening tips and growing closer as a community.

Seedfolks is a heartwarming story that demonstrates the power of simple actions, and how change is possible. Each chapter follows the perspective of a different neighbor with a unique background and a new story to tell. For example, Gonzalo watches his Tío plant seeds and feels closer to the earth as he remembers life in Guatemala. Virgil’s father from Haiti wants to grow lettuce for money. And Sam, although too old to garden himself, talks to his neighbors as they grow their fruits, vegetables, and flowers and unites the community through conversation.

Ultimately, Seedfolks is a story that celebrates diversity. Although the neighbors originally use the garden separately without communicating, they eventually begin to help one another grow things and learn from each other’s similarities and differences. Even when the winter comes, they have the promise of the garden to bring them back together again.

Although the garden is at the center of the book, the real story comes from the lives of the people using this revitalized space. Each chapter introduces a brand-new character and includes a black and white sketch to give a sense of who they are. While some characters speak broken English, their perspectives are understandable and personal. There is no coherent plot in the novel as every chapter follows a new perspective, but some of the same characters reappear in the background of other’s stories. With this format, the central theme showcases how even small actions, like planting a seed in a vacant lot, can produce big changes that bring people together. In the end, the neighbors that once coexisted separately from one another are united with a common space and goal to grow.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In the past, Wendell’s boy was “shot dead like a dog in the street.”
  • Gonzalo explains it isn’t safe to sit outside or “some gang driving by might use you for target practice.”
  • Sae Young was robbed and assaulted at her dry-cleaning store. The thief had a gun and “he take out money, then push me [Sae Young] down. He yelling at me. Very bad words. Then he kick me. Break cheekbone. Then he kick me again, head hit hard against wall and I go to sleep.”
  • Amir hears a woman scream because “a man with a knife had taken her purse.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the garden, there were “men with no work drinking from nine to five instead, down there in the lot.”
  • Sam hires a young boy to plant his garden. The boy “wanted to grow marijuana, to sell.” Instead, they agree to plant pumpkins.

 Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Sam calls the garden “a small Garden of Eden.”
  • After visiting the garden, Wendell is reminded of the Bible verse, “And a little child shall lead them.”

by Elena Brown

Burn

Sarah Dewhurst’s life in 1957 changes the moment her father’s hired help arrives at their small farm in Frome, Washington. Instead of a local farmhand looking for extra cash, her father hires a blue dragon with a thick Russian accent who believes Sarah is destined to cause the end of the world.

The first half of the book follows the two main characters—Sarah Dewhurst, a farmer’s daughter, and Malcolm, a trained cult assassin—as they try to prepare for the day of reckoning. Through the dragon’s cryptic messages, Sarah learns she is destined to start a war between dragons and humans.

Malcolm travels from a Believer compound in Canada to Frome. He is sent by the cult’s goddess, Mitera Thea, to kill Sarah. As tensions rise and the two storylines converge, Malcolm activates an old dragon relic, plunging him and Sarah into a world where dragons do not exist. The second half of the novel follows the characters in the new world, where they must race against the clock to prepare a final battle before the entire world is destroyed.

The two characters who have the most growth are Sarah and Mitera Thea, the cult goddess. Sarah, who has spent her whole life fighting racism, doesn’t believe in herself, but she still stands up and fights when her world is threatened. Mitera Thea takes her human-hating tendencies to a whole new level once she turns into a dragon, and sets her sights on destroying the world. But in her final moments, Mitera Thea sees how interesting humans can be when pushed to the limit.

Burn covers several difficult topics such as racism (Sarah is a mixed raced female and her best friend Jason is the son of Japanese immigrants), homophobia (Malcolm falls in love with a young man, Nelson, during his travel to Frome), and abuse (Sarah, Jason, and Nelson all receive abuse from community members). Another tough topic that is touched on is cult worship—Malcolm was raised from his elementary years with the sole mission to kill Sarah Dewhurst. These topics are not described in graphic detail but Burn highlights why racism, homophobia, and cult worship are bad.

Patrick Ness fits seemingly random ideas into his novels and makes them work. However, dimension-hopping alongside Cold War era dragons becomes hard to follow. The build-up for doomsday is rushed and once the mini climax is revealed and the characters are transported to another world, the book begins to lose its luster and becomes confusing. While Ness tackles sensitive topics in ways that fit the setting, the week-long plot and dimension-hopping fall flat.

Sexual Content

  • Deputy Sheriff Kelby calls Sarah a slut.
  • Kelby tries to assault Sarah. Kelby “moved the baton down to the hem of her skirt and started to raise it. ‘No,’ she said.” Someone intervenes before Kelby can do anything else.
  • Malcolm and Nelson huddle for warmth in the truck and are intimate with each other. “Nelson’s fingers didn’t stop at Malcolm’s waistline, where the tattoos did.”
  • “[Love] was not in the preparations Malcom had been given. He’d been warned of predatory men and women who might seek this in exchange for favors, favors like rides to the border.”
  • Because of lies that Nelson was told, he believed LGBTQ sex “would have to be rough. And violent. And full of shame.”
  • Agent Woolf, as a dragon, finds herself pregnant. “Agent Woolf had been very much a virgin. She hated humans far too much to touch any one of them in that way.”
  • Malcolm tries to convince his double in the other world that he is Malcolm. The other Malcom says, “’you’re the first man I’ve ever kissed.’ He frowned, “that’s kinky.’”

 Violence

  • Sarah describes the racist deputy sheriff in town. “Kelby had thoughts on these issues [of Sarah driving illegally]. Deputy Kelby would be only too happy to find Sarah Dewhurst, daughter of Gareth and Darlene Dewhurst, illegally behind the wheel of a farm truck, and what might he do then?”
  • Sarah recalls the tension between nations. “Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, threatening to annihilate them pretty much every week these days.”
  • Malcolm faces off against Mounties in Canada. “The first gunshot took out the side flap of [Malcom’s] hat and the middle of his left ear. The bullet reached him before the sound did.”
  • The fight between Malcom and the Mounties takes a drastic turn when a dragon steps into the fight. The mountain police, “exploded in a wash of fire and blood that Malcolm stepped back behind a tree to avoid, not incidentally stepping out of the line of sight of the first man’s gun. He still caught a wave of blood across the side of his face.”
  • Kelby attacks Jason and Sarah in a racially charged fight. “Kelby’s baton lashed out so fast Jason didn’t even have a chance to duck. It hit him on the throat, and he fell to his knees, coughing as if to choke.” Sarah is attacked and “[Kelby] swung the gun, hitting her jaw.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Malcolm befriends a gay man, Nelson, who tells the story of how his parents kicked him out of the house. “His father had beat him; his mother had told him to never come back.”
  • Dernovich, a detective who is following Malcom, is shot. “The man lay on the floor of the motel room, astonishment on his face along with the blood bubbling on his lips.” He dies from his injury.
  • As both plot lines converge, there is a scuffle and a gun fight involving Sarah, Jason, the sheriff, Malcolm, and Sarah’s dad. “There was so much shouting, [Sarah] didn’t even hear the gunshot, only saw the pistol flip out of Jason’s hand, saw the blood erupt from his wrist. Then a second eruption from his back as he turned from the force of the first.”
  • Sarah’s father is shot. “He also didn’t know he had been shot until he slumped to one knee.” Her father dies from his wound.
  • Malcom and Agent Woolf have a gun and knife fight. “The gun went off as [Malcolm] cut [Agent Wolff], sending the shot astray, his blade going so deep he severed her forefinger altogether.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • Woolf wakes up as a dragon and goes on a rampage, destroying cities, including Seattle. “The first building exploded, her fire blasting out the entire ground floor and bringing down the eight floors above it in an almost slow-motion tumble.” The destruction goes on for seven pages.
  • The ultimate battle between the main group of characters and the first dragon starts. It goes on for twelve pages; most of it is dialogue with violence including gun shots, firebreath, and impalement. Nameless soldiers are killed by fire. Agent Wolff, the dragon, is impaled in the end. “As [Agent Wolff] took in her breath to destroy them, Jason Inagawa, unheard under the artillery, drove a truck directly into her belly, his family’s steel plow attached to the hood. She cried out. Instead of a blast of pure fire, a rush of acid spilled from her mouth.” Her death scene continues for half a page.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Dernovich observes a teen and thinks “he couldn’t be more than seventeen, disappearing into the trees that lined the river, probably to smoke, or whatever Believer teens did to rebel.”

 Language

  • Hell is used once.
  • Fruit, a slur toward gays, is used three times. Queer as an insult is used once.
  • Damn is used four times.
  • Someone says “that little fucker” and “we’re fucked.”
  • Shit/shitbag is used four times. For example, someone says, “the murdering little shitbag.”

 Supernatural

  • Dragons exist during Cold War era America.

 Spiritual Content

  • A major plot point within Burn is the cult of the Believers. They are a group that believe that humans are a nuisance to dragons and that dragons should once again rule the earth. They worship their main priestess, Mitera Thea, who is their “Mother Goddess.”
  • Another major plot point is a half-transcribed prophecy that foretells the end of the world. The location of the catalyst is in Frome, Washington, on Sarah’s farm.
  • Malcolm is a worshiper of the Believers. He was raised within one of their cells in Canada. He prays to Mitera Thea to aid him on his journey. He considers himself a servant to her.
  • The dragons also believe in a goddess. They call the first dragon the Goddess, the one who created and then tried to destroy the dragons with her chaotic magic. They destroyed her dragon form and turned her into a human.
  • A dragon realizes the Believer’s version of the prophecy is interpreted differently than the dragon’s version. “The Believers thought they were giving the world to dragons. A world without humans. They didn’t know what doom they had started.”
  • God and Christ are mentioned four times; the Bible once. “What in God’s name?” and “Christ” are used as an expletive. The Bible is compared to the Believer’s prophecy.
  • Nelson is called “an abomination against God” because of his sexual orientation.
  • Sarah’s dad mentions an old wives’ tale about dragons: “An animal without a soul is still an animal, no matter how many words it’s learned to lie with.”
  • Sarah talks about how kids used to be scared of dragons. Sarah “knew kids at school who prayed every night that they’d wake up in the morning.”
  • Sarah’s dad mentions another tale: “Just because the devil gave [dragons] the gift of speech doesn’t mean you’re talking to anything more than a mostly undomesticated predator.”
  • Malcolm tries to explain aspects of his religion. “Faith is belief without proof. It is a leap, an act of bravery.”
  • The Spur of the Goddess is the talon of the first dragon. It is believed to be a weapon of destruction. It is also a holy symbol.
  • Agent Woolf tries to kill a dragon because “sometimes one must commit even the vilest blasphemy for the greater good. . . ”
  • Malcolm hitchhikes and meets various drivers, “one of them tries to convert him to Christianity.”

by Signe Nettum

Cinderella is Dead

King Manford rules Lille as a tyrant. He ensures women have no rights and are completely under the power of men. Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years and history has twisted her story to make it seem as though she found true love at the ball with Prince Charming. King Manford uses this story to ensure that each 16-year-old girl attends an annual ball where men choose a woman to wed. Many girls grow up looking forward to this day, where they think they will get their chance to find their own Prince Charming.

But sixteen-year-old Sophia is not like other girls. She has always rebelled against the rules and does not have faith in the story of Cinderella. Most importantly, Sophia does not want to marry a man. Instead, Sophia desires to run away with her best friend Erin. Since homosexual relationships are banned under King Manford’s rule, Sophia and a gay man, Luke, attempt to partner up at the ball. But the king discovers their plan, resulting in devastating repercussions for Luke.

Sophia narrowly escapes and goes on an adventure to take down King Manford. Along her journey, she meets and falls for Constance, the last living descendant of Cinderella’s family. Together they discover the fairy godmother, who is actually an evil witch. They also uncover the lies that have been spread about Cinderella, King Manford, and the rules that hold everyone in this patriarchal hierarchy.

Bayron twists a beloved fairytale into an empowering story where women get to decide their own fate and do not need to wait for their Prince Charming to come and save them. Cinderella is Dead is both captivating and moving as Sophia witnesses a seemingly picture-perfect fairytale crumble around her. In order to create a society where girls have the same freedoms as men, Constance says, “we need to burn the whole thing to the ground and start over. The entire system, the ideals that have been woven into society. It all has to go.”

Sophia is a powerful LGBTQ+ woman of color who works to overthrow a corrupt system. Sophia empowers all readers who have been pushed aside by society, making this novel a must-read for any queer teenager. Bayron’s story exemplifies how standing up for yourself and refusing to be shoved aside can truly benefit all people. Sophia’s adventure touches on many difficult subjects such as domestic violence and homophobia. However, these challenges are told in a sensitive way that will help introduce high school readers to the real difficulties and challenges of the world. Sophia is a powerful and personable character that readers will love, root for, and ultimately feel her pain as she attempts to create a just world.

Sexual Content

  • Sophia is upset the carriage ride to the ball would be the last time she would see Erin. Sophia reminisces, thinking that Erin was “the first and only person I’ve ever kissed.”
  • Sophia is harassed by an old man at the ball who “leans in and presses his lips to mine. I try to pull away, but he holds me close. He smells like wine and sweat, and all I want to do is get away from him.” Sophia fought him back as she “steps back and brings her knee up as hard as she can between his legs.” This causes an uproar, allowing Sophia the opportunity to escape.
  • Sophia and Constance share an intimate moment that Sophia describes. “Before I have a chance to overthink it, I press my lips to hers. Her hands move to my neck and face. A surge of warmth rushes over me as she pressed herself against me. There is an urgency in her kiss, like she’s trying to prove to me how much she cares, and I yield to her, unconditionally.”
  • Constance embraces Sophia when she returns from a trip. “Constance presses her lips against mine as she winds her arms around my neck.”
  • When she has to go to the winter cotillion, Sophia says goodbye to Constance. “I lean forward and kiss her, wrapping my arms around her, breathing her in and hoping this isn’t the last time.”
  • Sophia and Constance embrace. “Tears come again, but she wipes them away with the tip of her fingers, kissing my hand and pulling me close.”

Violence

  • Morris, Luke’s schoolmate, makes fun of Luke for being gay, which angers Luke. “Luke’s fist connected with Morris’s right cheek, sending spittle and at least two teeth flying.”
  • At the annual ball, the guards detain Luke. Sophia sees Luke getting “punched in the ribs and doubling over.”
  • A guard makes fun of Sophia’s friend, saying, “I would have offed myself, too, with a face like that.”
  • The local seamstress is falsely accused of helping Sophia escape at the annual ball. She is publicly executed and her head is cut off with an ax. Sophia saw “the seamstress’ head roll into the dirt.”
  • A local man harasses Constance and Sophia which leads to Constance fighting him. “Constance raises her knife and brings the hilt down on top of the man’s head, sending a loud crack! echoing through the alley. He falls face-first onto the ground.”
  • When Sophia plans to murder the king, she says, “I’m going to have to let him get close to me, so I can put a dagger in his neck.”
  • At the cotillion, a man attempts to flirt with Sophia, and a guard attacks him as a result. “As I turn, a guard sweeps in and strikes him on the top of the head with the hilt of his sword. The man collapsed into a heap.”
  • Sophia tries to assassinate King Manford. “In one quick move I plunge the dagger into his neck. I twist the blade the way Constance showed me. He blinks. Standing upright, he staggers, clutching his throat. I jump back, pulling the blade out. I smile at him. I’ve done it. I’ve ended him. Constance said that if I killed him, he would probably collapse into a heap. King Manford doesn’t move. She told me blood would rush from the wound. He doesn’t bleed.” As King Manford is no longer human, there is simply a gaping hole in his neck, but it did not cause him any pain as the hole slowly closed itself.
  • After Sophia’s attempt to kill King Manford, the guards restrain her. “Someone yanks my arm so hard it feels like my shoulder might come out of its socket.”
  • Sophia escapes her cell by attacking a guard. The guard “blinks, confused, as I bring the candlestick down with all the strength I can muster. It impacts his head with a sickening thud, and he falls into a pile, his knees and elbows jutting out in an unnatural way.”
  • Sophia continues attacking guards with her candlestick as she helps others escape the prison. The other prisoners cheer her on saying, “Hit him again!”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, betrays Sophia and Constance. Constance stabs Amina for her betrayal. “The tip of Constance’s dagger sticks out of Amina’s chest as Constance grips the hilt behind Amina’s right shoulder.”
  • Sophia realizes King Manford is kept alive through magic and sees a bright core in him where the magic resides. She stabs the bright, magical center. “Bright, hot, and crimson like a heatless flame, the light in his chest erupts out of his mouth and engulfs the king’s entire head as he rears back, his hands clutching wildly at the air. A sound escapes his throat, the cries of a dying animal. What is left of his skin begins to shrivel and crack like burned paper.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sophia considers Helen, a local potion maker, to be a hoax. Sophia thought, “Her potions were probably watered-down barley wine.”
  • Sophia describes the Bicentennial Celebration where every night of the week, “before curfew, people crowd the square to make music and drink.”
  • As Sophia and Erin ride to the annual ball, Erin speculates, “I hear they have tables and tables of food and wine.”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, frequently smokes from a pipe. “She puffs away on her pipe, a wreath of earthy-smelling smoke encircling her head.”
  • The evil king, King Manford, meets Sophia at the cotillion. Sophia describes him. “From his smell, a mixture of wine and smoke, to the predatory look in his eyes, everything about him repels me.”
  • Amina describes the guilt she felt for betraying Cinderella, Sophia, and Constance. Amina felt “a twinge of guilt about Cinderella, but it’s nothing that can’t be stifled with a full pipe and a stiff drink.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, Sophia’s mother is frustrated with Sophia’s behavior and says she wishes Sophia “would sit down and stop trying to get herself arrested like some damned fool.”
  • Shit is used a couple of times. When Luke sees Morris, his classmate who always bullies him, he says “shit.”

Supernatural

  • Sophia walks past Helen’s Wonderments and thinks about the different potions Helen claims to brew up. The sign outside Helen’s store reads, “Find a Suitor, Banish an Enemy, Love Everlasting.”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, explains how she learned magic. “All my life I’ve practiced magic. My mother raised me in the craft, taught me from the time I was young.”
  • Amina, Constance, and Sophia plan to use necromancy to raise Cinderella from the dead so Cinderella can help fight the king. Constance explains necromancy as, “It’s when you communicate with the dead.” Amina corrects Constance by explaining, “You have to call the spirit back to communicate with them.”
  • In order to see the future, Amina, Constance, and Sophia complete a divination ritual. In Sophia’s vision she sees Cinderella and the king. Then, the king’s “face transforms into something horrid and rotting – something dead. A ball of white-hot light erupts between us, pulling at the center of my chest. I cry out.”
  • Amina uses a spell to make the guards sleep. Amina describes the spell as “a little sleeping dust to send them to dreamland. . . It brings nightmares. . . The kind you never forget. The kind that haunt you even in your waking hours.”
  • Amina describes a special stone that allows the holder to see into the future. Amina explains, “An alternative to the kind of divination we used at the pond. An enchanted stone, polished up like a mirror. It can be used to see all sorts of things – the future, the present – but they are exceedingly rare.”
  • Amina raises Cinderella from the dead. Sophia describes the emotions of seeing Cinderella as, “A literal ghost is speaking to us, it takes everything I have not to give in to the little voice in my head that is screaming at me to run.”
  • Amina uses magic to create a gown for Sophia. Sophia describes the experience. “The same strange luminescence that clings to it clings to me. I hold my breath as a dress of shimmering silver materializes around me.”
  • Sophia realizes how the king has stayed alive for hundreds of years. When Sophia is imprisoned, the girl in the cell next to her explains, “He siphons the life from your very soul. There is a light, a pull, and whatever he takes from you, he uses to make himself young, to live as long as he so chooses.”
  • Sophia finds Cinderella’s journal which also explains how King Manford used magic to stay alive. Cinderella had written, “A channel opened between us, a connection. I could see right into his blackened heart. Something invisible, something unnatural, surrounds the source of the light. And now I know that there is no hope for me. Or for anyone.”
  • King Manford attempts to draw the life out of Sophia. Sophia describes the experience saying, “I’m dying. I feel the life being pulled out of me in long, rasping draws. A fire ignites in my chest, burning away any feelings of hope or love or happiness. Something tugs hard at my waist, and suddenly I’m sliding backward across the ballroom floor.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

 

 

 Land of the Cranes 

Nine-year-old Betita knows she is a crane. Papi has told her the story, from even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from cartel wars in Mexico. Long before that, Aztecs came from a place called Aztlan, which is now the Southwest U.S. This place was called the land of the cranes. The Axtecs left Aztlan to establish their great city in the center of the universe -Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. But it was prophesied that their people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita they are cranes that have come home.

Then one day, Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community, she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be torn. Will Betita and her family ever be whole again?

Land of the Cranes is told from Betita’s point of view. Her voice comes through in the narration and in the poems she writes for her father. She also draws simple illustrations that help convey her emotions. Even though the story is told from a child’s point of view, younger readers may be upset by the harsh treatment and a brief description of sexual abuse.

Written in prose, Land of the Cranes has some beautiful language. However, Spanish words and phrases are scattered throughout the book, which may cause confusion for non-Spanish speakers. In an extended metaphor, Betita refers to her and her family as cranes. Expanding on this metaphor, when she thinks about her mother’s pregnancy Betita talks about the “egg” and the “nest.” One reason Betita is worried about the “egg hatching” is that “Mami has lost / two babies before. / They worry that this one / might get lost too.”

Land of the Cranes explores the “zero tolerance” policy of ICE detaining undocumented immigrants and the harsh condition of the detention centers. One of Salazar’s purposes for writing the book is to show an example of “a larger, tragic, and true story of the criminalization of migration that spans hundreds of years.”

Younger readers may be disturbed by Land of the Cranes because it deals with the difficult topic of immigration and families being torn apart. In addition, readers may have a difficult time understanding some of the language and when Spanish is used, there are not always context clues to help readers understand the words’ meanings. Despite this, Land of the Cranes would be an excellent book to use as a conversation starter. Sensitive readers may want to skip Land of the Cranes and read Efren Divided, which explores the same topics but uses a more child-friendly manner.

Sexual Content

  • A young woman has a girlfriend.
  • Betita’s friend tells her a secret. “There was a man who cooked our food / who would lock me in the closet with him. / He did things. / He told me it was supposed to feel good / but it didn’t. It hurt so bad, I threw up.”

Violence

  • Betita’s Tio, Pedro, was killed by a cartel. Papi says, “A cartel hurt Tio Pedro / made him disappear / when he didn’t give them / the money they wanted.”
  • A woman in the detention center explains why her family fled to America. She was fearful that the cartel would hurt her family. The woman saw the cartel “kill a man for not paying the rent on his cart. I knew we would be next.”
  • A woman guard tells Betita to undress. Betita stomps “my feet on her foot . . . The guard grabs me by the arm / shakes my body like a sheet /and starts to pull up my blouse.” The guard tries to “hit Mami,” but another guard stops her.
  • A young woman tries to fight the guards, who are putting her in a cell. “They get her up and open the / gate to our cell, and give her a shove. . . She lunges at one of the guards. / The guard’s fist smashed into her nose / which sends her back like a rag doll. / Then the other guard rushes her / while she is down / and kicks / and kicks/ and kicks/ her in the stomach / and in the face.”
  • Betita’s friend was taken to a detention camp for children. Her friend says the guards “hit the kids / who tried to run out of the doors or cried too loudly.”
  • While sleeping, a guard checks on the prisoners. “I count one kick in my face / while I slept, from a guard.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a quinceanera, “Tio Desiderio is on guard / at the bar, making sure some /of her pimply-faced guy friends / don’t try to get beer.”
  • Papi tells Betita that a cartel is “a group of men who sell / drugs / guns / and people / sometimes.”

Language

  • Several of the guards at the detention center call the prisoners “donkeys.” For example, a guard yells, “Burros, time to eat!”
  • The guards call the prisoners names including wetback, perra, and stupid.
  • Betita doesn’t like her friend’s “booger of a brother.”
  • When a guard pushes a prisoner, the prisoner yells, “Don’t push me, you piece of scum!”
  • Dang is used twice.
  • Freaking and damn are both used one time.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Betita’s mother thinks about her brother, who was killed by the cartel. “Mami lights a candle daily / to a small statue of La Vigen de Guadalupe / and a picture of Tio Pedro faded in the frame. . . She prays for protection under her breath.”
  • When her father is deported, Betita cuts a piece of her father’s pillow and “put it on Mami’s Virgencita / smoosh it between the moon / and the angel / and pray for protection. ‘Please, Virgencita, don’t / take Papi with you too.’”
  • When Betita and her mother are taken to a detention center, “Mami prays Tio Juan / will reach Fernanda and that she will / know where to find us. . . Virgencita, protect us, por favor, Mami says.”
  • Betita tells the story about how the Mexican people are cranes. “Several tribes including the Mexica / traveled south like cranes / when Huitzilopchitli. . .The god of war / announced his / prophecy that they /would move south / to build their great /civilization in the / ombligo of the world.”

The Only Black Girls in Town

For over a decade, Alberta and her fathers, Elliott and Kadeem, have been the only Black people on their street in the town of Ewing Beach, California. That is, until a new family moves into the bed and breakfast across the street: Calliope Whitman and her daughter Edie. On the surface, it appears Edie and Alberta are opposites. Alberta has grown up in Ewing Beach for most of her life with her two very present dads. While Alberta grew up in a community dominated by White people, Edie grew up in the diverse county of Brooklyn. But these two girls have something they can strictly bond over: their Blackness and being 12, a time when bodies are going through intense and sudden change.

Alberta’s best friend is Laramie, a White girl, but Alberta and Edie share something special. One day while hanging out at the bed and breakfast, the pair discover a series of journals that were written from 1955 to 1968. They decide to uncover the mystery behind the journals and their writer, Constance. While unraveling the mystery, Alberta goes through many crises that center around her femininity, her Blackness, puberty, and friendships that seem to change way too fast.

Each girl in the main cast (Alberta, Edie, and Laramie) has their own issues and these issues are fleshed out with concise writing, giving the story a good pace while upholding the mystery of Constance. Laramie is dealing with the social hierarchy of middle school and her rapidly changing body, even to the extent of getting her first period and growing three inches in one summer. Edie is dealing with her parents separating and her father’s absence alongside his broken promises to see her. Alberta is exploring the complexities of change and confronting her Blackness and the Blackness of other characters such as Constance.

The Only Black Girls in Town is written from the perspective of Alberta, thus making the reader more sympathetic to her struggles as a 12-year-old girl coming of age. It is an amazing story that speaks on the complexities of race and puberty. Many readers will relate to the idea that hitting puberty means learning more about your own race. Colbert does an excellent job weaving themes of Blackness in her characters along with their changing bodies. The author tells readers that they are not alone in their journey of self-discovery, and she provides a diverse look at Black people.

The Only Black Girls in Town explores the theme that the experience with one’s Blackness is not uniform. For example, Black people do not dress uniformly as seen with Edie and Alberta’s clashing fashion sense. Black people come in a variety of shades: dark, light, medium brown, and even fair-skinned. Black people have different hair ranging from kinky curls to dreadlocks to straight. The story emphasizes that there is no mold for the Black experience. The Only Black Girls In Town also explores the subtlety of racism, often hidden in casual language like when the residential mean girl, Nicolette, demeans Alberta’s achievement as the best surfer in surf camp down to being Black or Laramie says Edie is “faking” her goth and punk self because she believes Black people to be monolithic in experience and appearance. While the White characters are not explicitly racist, their implicit bias is shown in dialogue such as Laramie not caring about the fact that Alberta’s new neighbor is Black and not understanding why Alberta is so excited. The book validates Alberta’s feelings of unease and that feeling of “this isn’t racist but feels racist.”

The Only Black Girls in Town is an amazing story that weaves the trials of middle school with the intricacies of race. The story balances lighthearted tones with a suspenseful mystery that heightens the drama between the characters. During a time where race relations have gradually become more complex and subtle, The Only Black Girls in Town is an important novel for all readers regardless of their race. This novel is for readers who would like a fun mystery and who want to learn about/explore the relationship between Blackness and coming of age.

Sexual Content

  • Laramie says, “Gavin tried to kiss me the other day. After school.” This kiss is mentioned two more times.
  • Laramie mentions that Gavin “would look at me different from how he looked at everyone else.”

 Violence

  • In a journal entry, Constance wrote about how she overheard her employers talking about the death of a boy. “They were speaking about the Negro boy who was killed down South.” Edie infers it’s about the historic murder of Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955.
  • When Laramie talks about the party she went to, she mentions that Gavin “was going to kill Davis for bumping into a table with a sculpture of some old dude.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Because of her goth and punk fashion sense, Edie is called “Wednesday Addams” in reference to the popular character.
  • “Brat” is used a few times. For example, “Stephan McKee. He’s a total spoiled brat . . .”
  • In the journal entries discovered by the girls, the word “Negro(es)” is used multiple times.
  • The word “mulatto” is used once in a journal entry where Constance recalls an interaction with her colleague May who says, “I’m mulatto, Constance.” The term is used in reference to those who are half Black and half White.
  • In a journal entry, the reader can infer that Constance’s employer, Mrs. Ogden, uses a racial slur to describe Black people. “Mrs. Ogden said the Negroes were getting uppity since they won the Supreme Court case to desegregate the schools. But she didn’t use the word Negroes.”
  • There is a lot of language used to emphasize Alberta and Edie’s “otherness” due to being Black. For example, Nicolette tells Alberta, “It’s just that you’re like, different here and different there, but Irene tries to make it special for you. That’s cute.” in order to demean her achievement of being the best surfer in surf camp, given to her personally by their instructor.
  • The school’s vice-principal assumes Edie and Alberta are cousins because they are both Black.
  • Someone says Edie is a “poser” because, as Laramie puts it, they “don’t know a lot of Black people who dress like that.”
  • Weird is used to describe a lot of situations in the novel. For example, Laramie calls Edie’s black lipstick weird.
  • Constance writes “Lord have mercy on me” once.
  • Alberta says, “Oh my god!” once.
  • Alberta calls Nicolette a “barney” (“someone who’s not very good at surfing”).
  • Nicolette spreads a rumor about Laramie having an accident. Alberta says, “She told people you wet the bed?” Laramie reveals it’s about leaking during her period.
  • Edie tells Alberta about how she feels about her father not coming to visit her or call her when he says he would. Alberta says, “That really sucks Edie.”
  • Alberta and Laramie make a pact to never speak Nicolette’s name for the whole year, so Alberta refers to Nicolette as “She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
  • Nicolette says, “You know, Alberta, you could’ve just worn your regular clothes if you wanted to dress like a dork” when she tries to crash the Halloween party next door.
  • Laramie calls Nicolette a jerk while at Edie’s Halloween party. “Alberta is right. You’ve always been a jerk to her, and we should’ve called you on it a long time ago.”
  • Many times, Nicolette is referred to as “mean” and other varying superlatives.

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding. It puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of the country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war. In war, personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, and find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Mariam and her mother live as outcasts. With little contact with the outside world, Mariam dreams of a time when her father will accept her. When Mariam’s mother dies, Mariam has no choice but to show up at her father’s house. Her father quickly arranges for Mariam to marry Rasheed. At first, Mariam is hopeful that living in a new city with a new husband will be the beginning of something good. But after a string of miscarriages, Rasheed becomes violent and forbids Mariam from seeking friendship.

Meanwhile, Laila grew up with parents that believe everyone deserves an education, including girls. While Laila’s childhood is far from perfect, she is surrounded by loving people. Then, just when her family plans to leave their war-torn city, Laila’s parents are killed. With no family or friends left, Laila isn’t sure where to turn. When Rasheed offers marriage, Laila reluctantly agrees to become his second wife. However, she wasn’t prepared for his first wife’s hate or Rasheed’s violence.

A Thousand Splendid Suns has worked its way onto many schools’ required reading lists because the story helps readers understand Afghan history. More importantly, it is a story of family, friendship, and hope. Mariam and Laila’s friendship gives them strength to live in a brutal environment, where their husband is cruel and abusive. Through their plight, readers will begin to understand the role women play in Afghanistan and how the Taliban changed their world overnight.

Readers will be deeply moved by the story’s events. However, the brutality of war, the massacre of innocent people, and the harsh physical abuse of both Mariam and Laila is graphic and disturbing. Hosseini paints a realistic picture of living in a war-torn country, and the images of death will remain with readers for a long time after they close the cover of the book. Even though A Thousand Splendid Suns has a positive message, sensitive readers will find the descriptions of Rasheed’s abusive behavior and the constant death upsetting.

Before you read A Thousand Splendid Suns, grab a box of tissues because the story will bring you to tears. Because of Laila’s friendship, Mariam makes a decision that will forever alter both of their lives. Through Mariam’s experiences, readers will come to understand how powerless women were under the Taliban’s rule, but they will also see how friendship and kindness have the power to change one’s life.

Sexual Content

  • After Mariam’s mother got pregnant, the baby’s father told his wives that her mother had “forced” herself on him.
  • Mariam is forced to marry a much older man. Before the marriage, Mariam thinks about her mother’s words. “It was the thought of these intimacies in particular, which she [Mariam] imagined as painful acts of perversity, that filled her with dread and made her break out in a sweat.”
  • One night, Mariam’s husband comes into her room. “His hand was on her right breast now, squeezing it hard through the blouse. . . He rolled on top of her, wriggled and shifted, and she let out a whimper. . .The pain was sudden and astonishing. . . When it was done, he rolled off her, panting.”
  • Mariam finds pornography in her husband’s room. The women in the pictures, “their legs were apart, and Mariam had a full view of the dark place between.”
  • Mariam’s husband desires intimacy. “His appetite, on the other hand, was fierce, sometimes boarding on violent. The way he pinned her down, his hand squeezes at her breast, how furiously his hips worked.”
  • Laila’s feelings for her best friend, Tariq, begin to change. She wonders “what would it be like to kiss him, to feel the fuzzy hair about his lips tickling her own lips?” Later, they have sex. “Laila thought of Tariq’s hands, squeezing her breast, sliding down the small of her back, as the two of them kissed and kissed.”
  • Laila hears a story about three sisters who were raped and then “their throats slashed.”
  • After Laila’s parents die, an older man asks Laila to marry him. He implies that if she says no, she may have to work in a brothel. Laila agrees to marry him because she is pregnant.
  • After Laila and the man are married, he has sex with her. “Laila had a full view of his sagging breast, his protruding belly button. . . she felt his eyes crawling all over her.” They have sex several times, but the action is not described in detail.

Violence

  • The book often describes the violence of war. For example, someone says that the Mujahideen forces boys to fight. “And when soldiers from a rival militia capture these boys, they torture them. I heard they electrocute them. . . then they crush their balls with pliers. They make the boys lead them to their homes. Then they break in, kill their fathers, rape their sisters and mothers.”
  • After Mariam goes into town, she comes back and sees “the straight-backed chair, overturned. The rope dropping from a high branch. Nana dangling at the end of it.”
  • After Mariam has a miscarriage, her husband becomes different. It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults. . . [Mariam] lived in fear of his shifting moods, his volatile temperament, his insistence on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would resolve with punches, slaps, kicks. . .”
  • Russians took over Afghanistan and people talked about “eyes gouged and genitals electrocuted in Pol-e-Charkhi Prison. Mariam would hear of the slaughter that had taken place at the Presidential Palace.” The president was killed after he watched the “massacre of his family.”
  • Mariam’s husband was angry because of her cooking. “His powerful hands clasped her jaw. He shoved two fingers into her mouth and pried it open, then forced the cold, hard pebbles into it. Mariam struggled against him, mumbling, but he kept pushing the pebbles in, his upper lip curled in a sneer . . . Then he was gone, leaving Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars.”
  • A teacher would slap students. “Palm, then back of the hand, back and forth, like a painter working a brush.”
  • A boy shoots a water gun, spraying a girl with urine.
  • After a girl is bullied, her friend fights the bully. “Then it was all dust and fists and kicks and yelps.”
  • A rocket hits one of Laila’s friend’s houses. “Giti’s mother had run up and down the street where Giti was killed, collecting pieces of her daughter’s flesh in her apron, screeching hysterically. Giti’s decomposing right foot, still in in its nylon sock and purple sneaker, would be found on a rooftop two weeks later.”
  • A rocket hits Laila’s house. “Something hot and powerful slammed into her from behind. It knocked her out of her sandals. Lifted her up. And now she was flying, twisting and rotating in the air. . . Then Laila struck the wall. Crashed to the ground.” Laila sees her dead parents.
  • Laila hears a story about soldiers “raping Pashtun girls, shelling Pashtun neighborhoods, and killing indiscriminately. Every day, bodies were found tied to trees, sometimes burned beyond recognition. Often, they’d been shot in the head, had their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut out.”
  • Rasheed, Laila’s husband, hits both of his wives often. “One moment [Laila] was talking and the next she was on all fours, wide-eyed and red-faced, trying to draw a breath. . .” She drops the baby she was carrying. “Then she was being dragged by her hair.” Her husband locks her in a room and then goes to beat his other wife. “To Laila, the sounds she heard were those of a methodical, familiar proceeding. . . there was no cussing, no screaming, no pleading. . . only the systematic business of beating and being beaten, the thump, thump of something solid repeatedly striking flesh.”
  • When the Taliban take over Afghanistan, they kill the Afghanistan leader. The Taliban “had tortured him for hours, then tied his legs to a truck and dragged his lifeless body through the streets.”
  • After Rasheed hits Laila, she “punched him . . . The impact actually made him stagger two steps backward. . . He went on kicking, kicking Mariam now, spittle flying from his mouth. . .” At one point Rasheed put the barrel of a gun in Laila’s mouth.
  • Rasheed gets upset at Laila and begins “pummeling her, her head, her belly with fists, tearing at her hair, throwing her to the wall.” Mariam tries to help Laila but Rasheed hits her too.
  • After an old friend comes to see Laila, Rasheed gets angry. “Without saying a word, he swung the belt at Laila. . . Laila touched her fingers to her temple, looked at the blood, looked at Rasheed, with astonishment. Rasheed swung the belt again.” Rasheed begins to strangle Laila. “Laila’s face was turning blue now, and her eyes had rolled back.”
  • In order to save Laila, Mariam hits Rasheed with a shovel. “And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small of her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical . . . Mariam brought down the shovel. This time, she gave it everything she had.” Rasheed dies from his wounds.
  • When an Afghanistan leader is killed, Laila thinks about some of the violence that he caused. “She remembers too well the neighborhoods razed under his watch, the bodies dragged from the rubble, the hands and feet of children discovered on rooftops or the high branches of some tree days after their funeral. . . “

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone is given morphine after being injured.
  • Laila overhears a story about her husband. He was drunk when his son “went into the water unnoticed. They spotted him a while later, floating face down.” The boy died. Someone says, “This is why the Holy Koran forbids sharab. Because it always falls on the sober to pay for the sins of the drunk.”

Language

  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes ass, piss, shit, and damn.
  • As a child, Mariam’s mother reminds her that she is a bastard because she was born out of wedlock.
  • Mariam yells at her half-brother, saying “he had a mouth shaped like a lizard’s ass.”
  • Mariam pleads with her father, asking him not to make her marry a stranger. He yells, “Goddamn it, Mariam, don’t do this to me.”
  • A child yells at a bully, saying, “Your mother eats cock!” The child does not know what the words mean.
  • Someone calls Laila a whore. Later, Laila’s husband also calls her a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on characters who are Muslim. They often pray.
  • Mariam’s mom said she had a difficult labor. She said, “I didn’t eat or sleep, all I did was push and pray that you would come out.”
  • Mullah Faizullah teaches Mariam about the Koran’s words. He tells her, “You can summon them [God’s words] in your time of need, and they won’t fail you. God’s words will never betray you, my girl.” During difficult times, Mariam thinks about verses from the Koran.
  • Mariam asks Mullah Faizullah to convince Mariam’s mother to let her go to school. He replies, “God, in His wisdom has given us each weaknesses, and foremost among my many is that I am powerless to refuse you, Mariam.”
  • Mariam’s mother tells her, “Of all the daughters I could have had, why did God give me an ungrateful one like you?” Later that day, her mother commits suicide.
  • After Mariam’s mother commits suicide, Mullah Faizullah says, “The Koran speaks the truth, my girl. Behind every trial and every sorrow that He makes us shoulder, God has a reason.” Later, he tells Mariam that Allah “will forgive her, for He is all-forgiving, but Allah is saddened by what she did.”
  • After Mariam’s father forces her to marry, her father says he will come to visit her. She tells him, “I used to pray that you’d live to be a hundred years old. . . I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me.”
  • When Mariam learns that she will have a baby, she thinks about a verse from the Koran. “And Allah is the East and the West, therefore wherever you turn there is Allah’s purpose.”
  • When Mariam has a miscarriage, she gets angry, but thinks, “Allah was not spiteful. He was not a petty God. . . Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He Who has power over all things, Who created death and life that He may try out.”
  • When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, flyers were passed out with new rules including “all citizens must pray five times a day. . . If you are not Muslim, do not worship where you can be seen by Muslims. If you do, you will be beaten and imprisoned. If you are caught trying to convert a Muslim to your faith, you will be executed.”
  • A man tells Mariam, “God has made us differently, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can.”

They Called Us Enemy

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans are forced into internment camps. While George knows there is a war against the Japanese, he does not understand why he and his family are being forced to leave their home. Unable to grasp the injustices that George, his family, and other Japanese Americans are being forced to endure, George describes his joyful, yet troubled boyhood in two of America’s ten internment camps.

As George and his family adjust to life in the internment camp, George cannot help but notice the anguish and anxiety his parents and families around them are experiencing. When will the war end? How long will Japanese Americans suffer under this legalized racism? Will George, his family, and the other 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps ever be able to return home?

As he grows older, George angrily questions how his parents and so many other Japanese Americans could have let this happen. George’s later successes as an actor, activist, and author force him to reflect not only on his time in the camps but also on his understanding of his parents and their situation.

This heartfelt story highlights the themes of family, sacrifice, and empathy. As readers learn George’s story and watch his growth physically and emotionally, they will view all stages of George’s life—from blissful childhood ignorance to teenage anger and thoughtful adulthood. In addition, George includes his thoughts on his incarceration. Through simple, captivating images and storytelling, readers are given the chance to grow alongside George as the story progresses.

They Called Us Enemy utilizes compelling visuals and accessible language to engage and educate readers on the difficult and often overlooked subject of Japanese internment. The animated illustrations and comic style make this difficult subject more palatable for young readers while still depicting the tough reality of the characters’ situations.

From the eyes of a young George Takei, readers are able to join George in his journey to understanding and coming to terms with his and his family’s imprisonment. The combination of George’s conversation and a short, accompanied narrative tells not only George’s autobiography but the evolution of Japanese sentiment during and following World War II. Overall, this 2020 American Award Winner lives up to the praise. With its engaging historical background and cultural depictions, They Called Us Enemy is a must-read for readers of all backgrounds.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When residents become seemingly more radical, George notes the unrest that exists throughout his second camp, Tule Lake. This results in “hostile words quickly erupt[ing] into violence throughout Tule Lake.”
  • As George and his family prepare for Christmas, they hear on the radio that Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese which would “naturally mean that the President would ask Congress for a declaration of war.”
  • Thousands of volunteers from Hawaii and across internment camps form the 442nd regimental combat team of all American-born-Japanese Americans. George narrates that, “the 442nd suffered over eight hundred causalities.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After leaving the internment camp, George and his family live on Skid Row in Los Angeles where they lived among “derelicts and drunkards.”

Language

  • Older boys teach George and his brother the phrase “sakana beach” in order to prank the young boys and upset the guards. The words do not hold a negative meaning in Japanese but are meant to imitate the phrase “son of a bitch.”
  • Before yelling “sakana beach,” an older boy warns George to “run like hell” in order to avoid being caught by the angry guards.
  • While being arrested by a guard, a man yells, “Damn Ketoh,” which George’s father later explains is an offensive term used against white people. Ketoh translates to “hairy breed.”
  • During a fight between the guards and the internment camp residents, a man yells, “Go to hell ketoh!”
  • The term “Jap” is used in a derogatory manner by non-Japanese individuals throughout the story.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Katie Ng Ross

Dirt Road Home

Two years ago, Hal was sent to a state residence to keep him away from his alcoholic father. Hal escapes the boys’ home but is eventually captured. Now, he’s being sent to serve hard time at Hellenweiler Boy’s Home.

With his dad back on the wagon, Hal can walk out sooner than he thinks if he keeps his cool. But at Hellenweiler, trouble finds those who try to avoid it. In order to stay out of trouble, Hal tries to avoid the other residents, but two rival gangs each want Hal to pick a side. To make matters worse, Hal realizes the head of Hellenweiler, Mr. Pratt, is determined to keep Hal locked up. Is there any way Hal can stay out of the gangs’ fights? Will everyone believe Mr. Pratt’s lies?

Hal is determined to stay out of trouble, but other inmates notice his confidence and compassion. For example, Hal encourages the new arrival of Leroy to quickly choose a gang as Leroy will need protection. But after seeing Leroy and Hal interact, the gang leader chooses a cruel initiation task—beat up Hal. Hal quickly realizes Leroy’s struggle and promises not to fight back. Hal takes the beating because he knows it is the only way Leroy will be safe. Throughout the story, many boys fight each other. Some of the fights are barbaric and bloody, which may upset more sensitive readers.

Readers will admire Hal for his determination and grit. Hal’s experiences highlight the violent nature of boys’ homes and the corrupt system that is designed to keep the boys behind bars. The boys often fight each other and the guards gladly ignore much of the fighting. However, the guards seem to relish in being able to use violence to stop the fighting. While the story ends on a positive note, readers will be left wondering if all of the boys can be reformed or if are some of them already destined to live in a prison for the rest of their adult lives.

Full of violence, questionable characters, and suspense, Dirt Road Home will keep the reader interested until the very end. The story has a darker tone and explores difficult topics such as alcoholism, justice, and prison life. Hal and several other characters made an appearance in Alabama Moon. Even though readers do not have to read Alabama Moon to understand the story, understanding Hal’s background will help readers have empathy for him. Dirt Road Home is an easy-to-read story that illustrates how one person can make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Sexual Content

  • Hal dreams about his girlfriend and “the time I couldn’t help myself and leaned over and kissed her on the tailgate of my truck. And the way I’d felt when she’d kissed me back and then later when she’d stood behind me and put her hands in the front pockets of my jeans and pulled close against me.”
  • Hal kisses his girlfriend. “I leaned into her and kissed her on the mouth. Her lips were soft and tasted like cherry ChapStick. I’d been thinking about that kiss ever since.”

Violence

  • Two rival gangs try to recruit new boys. A boy chases after a basketball and gets too close to a rival gang member. “The Hound slapped the ball out of the Minister’s hand and bent down to get it. The Minister kneed the boy in the stomach and the Hound collapsed, holding himself.” An adult breaks up the fight.
  • As part of a gang initiation, Hal’s friend Leroy is told to beat up Hal. Hal tells him, “I won’t fight back, Leroy.” Leroy “drew back and hit me in the ribs. I grunted and leaned over and grabbed my side. . . He punched me hard in the stomach. I doubled over and went to my knees. . . He hit me across the face and I fell sideways. I rolled over and looked at him. Tears were coming down his face. ‘Kick me,’ I said.” Hal is taken to the infirmary.
  • When Hal refuses to join a gang, Tattoo “slammed his hand into my throat and pressed me against the wall. I gasped for breath as he held me there. . . He hit me again. I felt the coppery taste of blood in my mouth. Then I saw it running down his hand.” Hal is knocked unconscious. The scene is described over a page.
  • A gang member tries to make Hal throw a punch. “Jack’s hand shot out and grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the wire. He was breathing heavy through his nose, and his eyes danced with craziness.” An adult intervenes.
  • When one of the boys refuses to fight, he disappears. Someone tells Hal, “Chase accepted a service he could not pay for. He is gone. . . He was taken away in an ambulance last night.”
  • Hal sneaks down to the basement intending to fight Jack. “I tightened my grip on the shiv and started to stand. Before I could rise, another figure slipped out of the darkness behind Jack and pulled him to the floor. The room was suddenly filled with screaming.” Someone beat up Jack. The next morning, one of the boys is found in bed with “blood staining his bedsheet and the entire side of his shirt.” Both boys heal from their wounds.
  • The two gangs fight. “It was a blur of chaos and confusion as the Hounds descended on their cowering prey . . .” Guards watch the fight and then one “stepped down onto the yard. Behind him came three more guards, each of them with his own club. . . Then I saw sticks rising and falling and caught glimpses of their faces, jaws clenched and eyes narrowed at the pleasure of what they dealt. I heard grunts of pain and more yelling. . . in the end, the guards stood in the settling dust. A few boys lay around them, moaning and curled into fetal positions.”
  • Paco explains how he became a gang leader. “I put a rock in my fist and walked up to their leader and hit him in the face with it until he fell to the ground and spit his teeth into the dirt.”
  • During a fight between the two gangs, “the boys are so worked up that they continue to fight and do not notice the guards. Perhaps even if they did notice they do not believe what is about to happen. . .” The guards attack the boys. After the fight, “there are several boys lying on the ground. One of them is not moving. . . Caboose’s younger brother.” When Caboose refuses to leave his brother’s side, “the guards close in and I hear the clubs hitting his back like punches to a side of beef. Slowly, after many blows, Caboose becomes silent. . . Then, after many more blows, he rolls over and falls across his brother.”
  • A guard finds a shiv in Hal’s locker. The guard grabs Hal and, “I felt the hand on my shoulder. I tried to twist away and the fingers dug clawlike into my collarbone and pain shot up my neck. Then I was hit hard from behind and I went to my knees with the room spinning.” Hal is put in solitary confinement.
  • Paco tells the story of how he ended up in the boys’ home. He was bullied. He became tired of the jeers and ridicule. “I snapped. I began picking up desks and throwing them at students from the back of the room. They screamed and ran for the door. . . All I had to do was throw the desk at the cluster of them.” Paco blames the boys’ home for turning him into a “violent youth.”
  • The gangs fight. Jack, one of the gang leaders, “charged and rammed Paco against the fence. . . Jack began driving his fists into Paco’s kidneys over and over while Paco did nothing to defend himself. . . Jack came at Paco again and began hammering his face with the fury of an insane person. . .” Paco’s friend Caboose “picked him up and put him over his shoulder like he weighed nothing. Blood drooled out of his mouth and down Caboose’s back.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s father is a recorded alcoholic. In a brief conversation Hal asks, “He goin’ to AA meetin’s?” Occasionally, Hal thinks about the past, when his father would drink whiskey.
  • When Hal’s father comes to visit him, Hal is worried because his father has lost weight. His dad says, “I guess I’ve been wired to the stuff [alcohol] for too long. Gotta get reprogrammed.”
  • One of the boys tells Hal, “My parents are in jail for sellin’ drugs.”
  • Before Hal had to go to the boy’s home, he spent time with his girlfriend. They were “drinking a couple of hot Budweisers I’d found in the toolbox.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, hell and pissed.
  • Someone is called a wuss several times.
  • Christ is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Hal’s father writes Hal a letter. In it, he writes, “I figured you wanted her [Hal’s girlfriend’s] address, numbskull.”
  • While talking to his father, Hal calls his mom a “fat old nag.”
  • One of the boys calls someone a “dumb spic.” The boy replies, “Bring it on, cracker!”
  • Someone tells Hal that he will have to join a gang for protection. When Hal refuses, someone gives him a shiv. Hal says, “Then I’m screwed!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Written originally as Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is the exploration of racism in the United States since before the founding of America. The book is remixed for younger audiences by prolific author and the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jason Reynolds. The fast-paced book explores the history of racism and how we can build an antiracist present and future.

Reynolds makes it clear that Stamped is not a history book, but instead a book about racism in present times. Although there is plenty of history described, he pulls the essentials from Kendi’s book and brings these historical events and people to life for younger readers. He shows how racist thoughts have persisted through time and affect everyone today. Most importantly, he uses Kendi’s definitions of segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists to explore various thoughts about race, race relations, and racist ideas.

Reynolds breaks down the three terms by saying, “The antiracists try to transform racism. The assimilationists try to transform Black people. The segregationists try to get away from Black people.” Reynolds’ ability to bring difficult topics to a level that young teens can understand is remarkable, as racism is so prevalent and widespread across the United States and the world.

Despite Reynolds’ sense of humor and smooth-flowing writing, Stamped is not a cheery book, nor is it supposed to be. The history of racism is terrible; terrible things have happened and still happen – a point which Reynolds and Kendi make throughout. There is are discussions about mass incarceration, lynching, slavery, and kidnapping – all of which pertain to the history of racism. They also analyze major players in the Civil Rights movement, some of which fall into the assimilationist category, and others into the antiracist category.

Racism exists, and Reynolds and Kendi ask that people become antiracist in thought and in practice. Hope is a strong thread that pulls the novel together, despite the atrocities committed because of racist beliefs and policies. If people can become antiracist, the future can be so much brighter for many people who have faced oppression. Everyone should read Stamped because it isn’t a history book; it’s a guide to a better way of being and treating people.

Sexual Content

  • Reynolds breaks down a scene from the book of Genesis in the Bible, discussing how Noah orders his “white sons not to have sex with their wives on the ark, and then tells them that the first child born after the flood would inherit the earth. When the evil, tyrannical, and hypersexual Ham has sex on the ark, God wills that Ham’s descendants will be dark and disgusting, and the whole world will look at them as symbols of trouble.”
  • It was not uncommon for slave owners to start “breeding slaves. . . [Thomas Jefferson] and other like-minded slave owners began forcing their men and women slaves to conceive children so that they, the owners, could keep up with all the demands of the Deep South.”

Violence

  • Reynolds and Kendi detail the racial violence that has occurred throughout history and in present times. They often discuss topics such as murder, slavery, and incarceration, as well as a host of other atrocities. For instance, “Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed by police than their White counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according to federal statistics.” Other details of violence are frequently shared throughout the book.
  • Reynolds also discusses violence against Native Americans. For example, he talks about Metacomet, “a Native American war leader, [who] was killed, which basically ended the battle in 1676. Puritans cut up his body as if it were a hog’s, and paraded his remains around Plymouth.”
  • Reynolds describes the movie The Birth of a Nation, where, “A Black man (played by a White man in blackface) tries to rape a White woman” who then “jumps off a cliff and kills herself,” and “Klansmen avenge her death.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Reynolds writes about tobacco as a major cash crop in the American South prior to the founding of the country.
  • There is a discussion about the “War on Drugs” and “crack babies” in their relation to racism and racist government policies.

Language

  • Based on historical context, language is used to dehumanize Black people is scattered throughout the book. The language describes the growth and pervasiveness of racism. Reynolds, for instance, discusses the thoughts of Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini, who said that “Africans were born of a ‘different Adam,’ and had a different creation story. Of course, this would mean they were a different species. It was kind of like saying that Africans weren’t actually human . . . Africans went from savages to SAVAGES, which revved up the necessity for Christian conversion and civilizing.”
  • Racial slurs are used in historical context. For instance, Reynolds talks about a group of artists that emerged out of the Harlem Renaissance that referred to themselves as the “Niggerati. They believed they should be able to make whatever they wanted to express themselves as whole humans without worrying about White acceptance.”

Supernatural

  • Reynolds describes Curse Theory, saying, “In 1577, after noticing that Inuit people in northeastern Canada were darker than the people living in the hotter south, English travel writer George Best determined . . . that it couldn’t have been climate that made darker people inferior, and instead determined that Africans were, in fact, cursed . . . And what did Best use to prove this theory? Only one of the most irrefutable books of the time: the Bible.”
  • Reynolds talks about witches and witchcraft. Reynolds writes, “[Cotton] Mather wrote a book called Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions . . . Mather’s book, outlining the symptoms of witchcraft, reflected his crusade against the enemies of White souls.” This book launched the Salem witch hunt of 1692.

Spiritual Content

  • Reynolds uses comparisons to make history digestible and sometimes includes religious descriptors. Gomes Eanes de Zurara wrote propaganda for Prince Henry to encourage the slave trade. For instance, Zurara “made Prince Henry out to be some kind of youth minister canvassing the street, doing community work, when what Prince Henry really was, was more of a gangster.”
  • Reynolds describes the links between racism and Christianity, and many times the Bible is referenced. For instance, at one point Reynolds says, “Zurara’s documentation of the racist idea that Africans needed slavery in order to be fed and taught Jesus, and that it was all ordained by God, began to seep in and stick to the European cultural psyche.”
  • Reynolds discusses Puritans. He says, “They were English Protestants who believed the reformation of the Church of England was basically watering down Christianity, and they sought to regulate it to keep it more disciplined and rigid.”

by Alli Kestler

Efrén Divided

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares for the family. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, Mexico.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén struggles to look after Max and Mia while also dealing with schoolwork, his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and his fears about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help him keep his family together.

Efrén Divided shows the struggle of undocumented workers from a middle schooler’s perspective. Efrén’s story does not discuss the politics of immigration, but instead focuses on Efrén’s struggles. Efrén worries about his parents being deported because they live in a country that does not want them. When Efrén’s mother is deported, Efrén feels shame and confusion. However, Efrén’s story doesn’t just focus on his family life. The reader also gets a glimpse of Efrén’s school life, which gives the story additional depth and shows how being in the country illegally affects many people.

While the story is engaging, readers may have a difficult time understanding some of the dialogue. When characters speak in Spanish, there are not always context clues to help readers understand the words’ meanings. However, the back of the book contains a glossary of Spanish words. Additionally, the conclusion has several events that seem out of place because they are not natural extensions of the story.

Efrén Divided uses an engaging story to shine a light on the difficulty that American-born children face when their parents are undocumented. The story makes many references to The House on Mango Street, which may make readers want to also read that book. The story highlights the importance of family and friends, as well as the need to “surround yourself with good people. People who will bring out the good in you. Not the bad.” Readers who enjoy Efrén Divided should also check out New Kid by Jerry Craft and When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Efrén’s brother, Max, pees on his clothes. Efrén tries to put him in the bathtub, but Max “pulled on Efrén’s hair and swung his legs wildly. One of his kicks nailed Efrén in the jaw, causing him to bite his lip.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Efrén’s friend, David, now lives with his grandmother because his mom drank a lot.
  • When Efrén goes to Mexico, he follows signs advertising beer.
  • In Mexico, Efrén meets a man who tells him about the drug cartels.

Language

  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation 6 times.
  • Heck is used once.
  • Some of the kids call David “El Periquito Blanco” which means the white parakeet.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Efrén and his family bless themselves.
  • When Efrén and his father are going to San Diego, they have to pass a checkpoint. Efrén prays, “Please, God, . . . let it be it closed. Let it be closed.”
  • When they pass the checkpoint, Efrén “bless[es] himself—this time thanking God for everything He’d given him.” Then, Efrén lists what he is thankful for.
  • Efrén and his father talk about going to mass to give thanks. The next morning, they go to mass, which “felt a bit more special than usual.” The family prays, but the specific prayer is not mentioned.

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