Must-Read: When I Was White, by Sarah Valentine (non-fiction)
Sarah Valentine’s When I Was White was an incredible read. In short, a young woman in her early twenties finds out that she is not the daughter of the white man she has been calling “Dad” all these years, but rather the daughter of a black man. And just like that, everything shifts. Her own racism, much of which she didn’t even realise she had, and that of her family, comes to the fore as she struggles to understand and embrace her new identity. I borrowed this from the library but will be purchasing it soon; the raw and honest insights Valentine shares so candidly will no doubt enlighten many an anti-racist’s pursuit of a truly inclusive world.
Runner-up: ‘The Justice Project’, by Michael Betcherman (YA fiction)
The trope of the fallen jock has been used before, but I felt that in The Justice Project, it wasn’t forced or cringe-worthy as many other books that have used it. What is, at its core, a mystery, is at the same time a coming-of-age tale and a commentary about the American Justice System. Mostly flawless, there are some moments when it became a little awkwardly clear that the author is trying to push a point forward, but not enough to turn me off. Matt Barnes was a very well-known high school football champion on his way to a great university on a full scholarship when a snowboarding accident leaves him permanently disabled. His summer suddenly wide open, he takes on an internship at The Justice Project, a non-profit looking into cases of the wrongly convicted. It’ll make you angry at times, but in a very good and very needed kind of way. A really good read for the budding activist in your life, either young or old.
Review of ‘With the Fire on High’, by Elizabeth Acevedo
The most refreshing thing about Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High. It wasn’t over-the-top dramatic; rather, it was regular-life dramatic. The teenagers in the book are normal, level-headed, with moments of teenager myopia but nothing completely insane. I appreciated the (believable) maturity of the characters, as well as the realistic yet hopeful direction the story takes. I mean, there is a perfect ending for everyone, as one would expect such a book to have, but at the same time, it’s the fruit of a lot of effort. And I think that the most important thing this book does it to normalize teenager pregnancy without glorifying it. While Emoni’s life is hard because she is the teenage mother of a toddler, it’s also not the doom and gloom painted by some. A coming-of-age story that also serves as a reminder that parenting is hella hard.
Review of ‘Brown Girl Ghosted’, by Mintie Das (YA fiction)
Brown Girl Ghosted would make such a good movie… Then again, the most important aspects of the book might get lost in a movie, seeing that there would be so many special effects.
For example, it features an American girl who comes from India. I word it like this on purpose; because although she was born in India, she came here at such an early age that she identifies as American, but is caught between two cultures: she stands out as “the other” in a small, mostly white American town, while not fitting in when visiting her family in India. Being caught between cultures is a very real and difficult place that many are in, and having it represented like this was very refreshing. I wish I had had this book when someone asked me, pointing at my alfalfa, why I was eating grass. Reading Violet’s inner dialog about being uncomfortable on either side of the ocean—seamlessly woven into the story—made me feel so heard.
Something else I feel would be too easily lost in a movie: how those so easily placed on a pedestal one day are so viciously torn down the following day. Even if she was far from innocent, queen bee and top mean girl Naomi didn’t deserve what happened to her—both the actual event and the aftermath (keeping it vague on purpose.) No one bothered to ask her about the sex tape; no one gave her the chance to explain. Instead, every single person—even the protagonist—immediately turned against her, calling her all kinds of names I’m sure you can imagine.
Again, it’s understandable why everyone would turn against the school’s biggest mean girl. But now more than ever, we have to cultivate empathy. Things in the world have taken a terrifying turn over the course of the last weeks, and we are closer than ever to a major global war. It’s time to completely change the way we do things; by showing empathy to bullies, we are not being weak or passive. We are choosing to end the cycle of pain.
Review of ‘Opposite of Always’, by Justin A. Reynolds (YA fiction)
An interesting take on time travel; Justin A. Reynolds’ Opposite of Always sees main protagonist Jack stuck in a time loop that takes him from the moment he meets to Kate to when she dies. The most interesting aspect of this book was the exploration of how different someone can feel about the same situation, and the vast array of choices and their consequences that stand before each one of us. Reynolds does a great job of making the same time loop seem just as interesting, if not more, as the first time around. Jake’s character development was also done impeccably well, especially for a debut novel, going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, packing, in this same time loop, a lifetime’s worth of experience.