The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

I have had this on my TBR for a while, and I decided to listen to the audiobook version, downloaded from my local library on OverDrive. I absolutely ADORED the read, and can’t wait to recommend it to everyone!

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

The novel is about two high school teens who each have their own cultural and family problems, which oddly bring them together in a series of interesting ways.

Daniel is a seventeen year old senior who would like to be a poet someday, but the pressure from his very traditional Korean family has him on the straight and narrow path to a Yale medical degree to become a doctor. He’s always done what was expected of him, and living in his golden-child brother’s shadow, he’s been eager to please. But now, his older brother has messed things up, and Daniel has a chance to be the pride of the family- the thing is, he’s just not sure that’s what he wants anymore. Daring to let the universe take control, he sets out for his Yale-alumni interview hours early, looking for a sign. On a New York City street, he sees Natasha.

Natasha is a no-nonsense, scientifically driven daughter of Jamaican illegal immigrants. She’s been living in New York since she was young, and America has become her home, but as she’s just about to graduate, her family is told they are being deported that night. Natasha doesn’t want to leave her friends, her home, her life behind, so she seeks a lawyer’s help. On the way to the appointment with the lawyer, she is almost hit by a BMW, but is hauled out of the way by a good looking Korean guy who has been trying to get her attention since she went into her favorite record store. He saved her life, and more than that, he’s declaring it fate, that they’re meant to be together. She resists, but he’s persistent and there’s something about him… but she doesn’t believe in love, not like that anyway. Besides, it’s almost certain she’ll never see him after today. She lets him walk with her to the lawyers, and by the end of the walk, she’s already sure she doesn’t want to say goodbye.

In between the two main characters relaying their love story, The Universe pipes up, cleverly giving the reader (listener) background information on the characters and their histories. This adds a depth to the story while still maintaining the very short, one day timeline of the novel.

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Adorable fan art found on Pinterest.com

As Daniel and Natasha grow closer and closer throughout the day, I couldn’t help but get the warm-fuzzies for their tragic love story. I wanted them to have a happy ending, and despite their differences, they seemed like they would make an adorable couple! I loved their chemistry, sense of humor, and their honest internal commentaries (sooo relatable). Yoon’s writing had me hooked from the beginning, and I felt the characters come to life through the narration from Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee, and Dominic Hoffman. The themes of love, fate, and science were also connected throughout, making this easy to read YA novel a lot deeper than I expected, in a very good way. We all know how complicated love can be even when everything goes ‘right’, so Yoon’s take on love when complicated by culture, family, age, and everything going ‘wrong’ is a compelling twist on the teen love story trope.

I absolutely recommend everyone read The Sun Is Also A Star, and if you can get the audiobook version, I’d say it adds an even better element to the experience. Definitely worth purchasing as well, because I can easily see a reread of this in the future! Oh, and there is also a film adaption in the making, and I can’t wait for it to come to fruition!

 

 

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Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

The proverbial skeleton is about to be out of the closet! Latham kept me hanging on the edge of my seat and turning pages, determined to figure out who the body was before it was fully revealed…but I truly couldn’t figure it out until the very end.

Rowan Chase is woken up to the sound of construction. When she gets up to investigate, she finds something more mysterious than the renovation. The workers have found a body long dead in her decades-family-owned servants house. Unused but for storage for almost a century, the workers were converting the building into a man-cave for Rowan’s father. Quickly the workers leave, and Rowan calls up her best friend James to help her investigate. When they start looking at the remains, they noticed a wallet, a gun with “Maybelle” inscribed on it, and the messy remaining mix of lime and blood.

in 1921, William Tillman is a young man in the midst of racially tumultuous Tulsa. He’s the son of a Osage woman and a blue collar man, trying to impress his crush Addie and his best friend, Clete. While at a speakeasy dubbed the Two-Knock, Addie and a black man named Clarence walk in, and Clete immediately urges Will to run him off for talking to a white woman. Will is drunk and belligerent, but even then he knows that he doesn’t think this is right- however, he causes a ruckus, picks a one-sided fight, and Clarence is forced to leave. Clete runs to the crooked police, which trickles to the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan (or wanna-bes), and Clarence is killed. Will knows this is just as much his fault as Clete’s and the others.

As Rowan tracks down the past on her house, the town, and the skeleton in her back yard, Will recounts the time leading up to the Tulsa race riot of 1921. In alternating chapters, the reader is piecing together the clues that will reveal who the skeleton is, while Latham describes a dark and scary time in American history, and reminds us that history often repeats itself if we let it.

My in-real-life book club picked this for our monthly read. We wanted a female author or a strong female lead, and out of a strong pile of books fitting the bill, we chose Dreamland Burning and got both. I’m curious to see what the members of the group thought about the book, but I was definitely absorbed in it by 50 pages in. I will say that both main characters bothered me at first- their privilege was showing and made them a little unlikable in the beginning for me- but once I got into the unraveling of the story, I realized that both Rowan and Will were able to change for the better and I was so proud of them by the end.

I plan to do some more reading up on the events in this book, but I did do a few searches, and what I have found about the riot is nauseating. There are images of the KKK, images of the town on fire, articles with info disputing how many people of color were killed that night, and even worse things. I highly suggest this read, as it is such a good mystery and a great way to open discussion on race, class, and historical context, but I also would say to keep in mind that this book, though fictional, is still based on a true, horrible event. It’s certainly one that’ll open anyone’s eyes.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

Texts From Jane Eyre is another very witty and clever book that I highly recommend for a change of pace and a good laugh. The book is comprised of short “screenshots” of text conversations between some of literature’s most memorable characters and authors, including Jane Eyre (hence the title), some done in a modern style and some retaining their classic voices.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Because it’s such a short book and again, I don’t want to spoil it for you, here are just a few classic characters you will “chat” with:

  • Circe:
    • “where did the pigs come from Circe?”
    • “i don’t know, a pig farm, a pig mommy and a pig daddy who loved each other very much…”
  • Jane Eyre:
    • “I KNEW IT. DID YOU LEAVE BECAUSE OF MY ATTIC WIFE IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT”
    • “yes. Absolutely.”
  • Hamlet:
    • “darling i don’t mean to criticize but you really hurt your father’s feelings last night”
    • “hes not my real dad. why do you even like him”
  • Nancy Drew:
    • “do you think you can come get me?”
    • “are you tied up again?”
    • “i’m just over at the cave by the old mill”
    • “so you’re tied up…in a cave.”

If you giggled at any one (or all!) of these, then you’ll really enjoy the rest. It’s a perfect way to get to “connect” with some of your favorite literary characters in one place. It’s fast paced, light fare, and well worth checking out!

 

 

 

 

Banned & Challenged Books Week

Hi Everyone! I’m blogging outside the box today because it is #BannedBooksWeek! I decided to do a little research on the honorary week, and suggest you check out the American Library Association (ALA) list of banned and challenged books!

I did so myself, and wasn’t surprised at what I saw on the banned books list- mostly books that were ahead of their time or had controversial points of view. As it is, some of these are still talked about in controversy! What did surprise me is that I read most of these novels between middle and high school ages- formative years. Each one has broadened my understanding of the time periods, taught me to see both sides of conflicts and resolutions, helped me sort where my moral values stand, and fueled my love for historical fiction!

Banned Classics:

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Ulysses, by James Joyce
1984, by George Orwell
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

Then we reach the challenged books. This list really surprised me. I know I read about a third of these before I even entered middle school, and I haven’t read any of these post high school graduation. To think of a child reading challenged books- *gasp*! Of course, when I skimmed through the entire selection of challenged books, I understand many of them had adult themes- sex, mostly, but also drugs, violence, strong language and other controversial content that would make any movie “Rated R”. But some of these on my list- Junie B. Jones, REALLY?!- were shocking.

Challenged 1990-2009:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine

The Witches, by Roald Dahl

Blubber, by Judy Blume

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Carrie, by Stephen King

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

So there you have it- I’m completely guilty of reading these books, and I’m thankful that I’ve had the freedom- AND HAVE BEEN ENCOURAGED- to read them all. I think that reading has helped me become the mature, well-rounded, educated woman that I am, and every book has allowed me to open my mind, experience life through someone else, and ingrained the moral of the stories into my body. I’ll always carry a bit of Scout, Scarlett, Ponyboy , The Golden Trio, Tom and Huck, and Gatsby and Daisy… all of them along within me. And, above all, I encourage others to do the same- to learn from these characters, to express their thoughts and ideas, and to keep their minds open.

Now, it’s your turn! Feel free to share what banned books you’ve read!

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last year or two (and if you have and are now reading this, welcome welcome), you’ve probably heard of the term “body positivity”.  It’s based on the crazy, outlandish notion that all bodies are worthy of social acceptance. Of course, I’m being facetious- this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard of, and I’m dying to spread the word.

As a fat girl, I have always had difficulty with loving my body just as it is. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been conscious of my weight and the scrutiny of what others thought about it. I remember dieting by the time I was in third grade. In retrospect, there have been so many times where I’ve looked at old pictures of myself, despite at the time hating the numbers on the scale even back then, and wishing I could look like I did 5, 10 years ago. And above all, it’s always been something I didn’t really want to talk about. I’m not a big “let’s talk about our feelings” kind of girl…I’m still trying to figure out why, but honestly I’ve always been really protective of talking about my personal baggage. I always took it as, it’s mine and mine alone to carry.

Thankfully, I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve surrounded myself with some really amazing people who have loved me at every size, and they’ve always given me the confidence booster I needed when I was having a ‘bad body’ day. They see me for me, and know my weight doesn’t change how much I love them or what I would do for them, and visa versa. One of those amazing people includes my awesome friend, Althea, who told me about this blog, called The Militant Baker – let me tell you how much that has helped me.

(My bestie Althea!)

Hang in there- I promise there is a reason for this back story!

So I’ve linked to her blog, but in short Jes Baker is a very strong and active advocate for body positivity, for both women, men and everyone in between! Seeing her posts and advice and colorful commentary (she loves to swear/curse- I find it hilarious and charming, though I acknowledge others may feel differently) really made me think about how I view my body and interact with others around me. Things like, I didn’t need to lose weight to love my body just as it is; That others weren’t going to die or whatever if I wore a sleeveless shirt or horizontal stripes out in public; That I had the right to dance, run, jump, and move however my body wanted to without worrying if I was horrifying others with my jiggly bits. Again, I’ve spent sooo much time within my head going over the ‘fat girls can’t” rules that they became a running commentary that I conditioned myself to work around- and because of that, I spent a lot of time trying to hide that reasoning, or even worse joking about it and keeping that negativity going. When Althea said, hey check out this blog, I didn’t realize that I could begin freeing myself from this inner dialogue, and how AMAZING that felt.

Alright already, enough about me, let’s get to the book!

SO, when I learned that Baker decided to write a book, I knew I just had to read it. It’s been on my TBR pile long before I even knew what a TBR pile was. So when I finally got my hands on it, I tore through it, flagging every other page or so, and I’ve decided to share with you 10 (even thought I could easily triple that!) nuggets that blew my mind:

  1. “The word “pretty”, when used to describe a woman’s physical appearance, signifies a physical ideal that’s fabricated by companies to make you believe you’ll never be enough until you reach it. Pretty is what they want you to believe in.” Think about that for a second- how many times have you seen a product boasting it’s ability to make you pretty/beautiful/younger, etc. It’s a money scam!
  2. “81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat (more than cancer, war, or losing both of their parents). In a survey of 9- and 10-year-old girls, 40% have tried to lose weight. 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting. And, 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.” If those statistics don’t make your jaw drop, then I don’t know what will.
  3. “Your life is not going to become happier, more amazing, or more successful after you lose those 10lbs. Or 20lbs. Or 50lbs. Because the pounds aren’t really the issue. Your state of mind is.” How many times have you heard this? After 10 lbs, I’ll (fill in the blank.) Yeah, I’m so over that.
  4. “Diet culture is the reason weight loss is at the top of everyone’s New Year’s resolutions lists. Everyone hates dieting, but we still feel this thrill when we eat a carrot or get our dressing on the sides.” When she explains this, I just kept repeating “ohmygawd” to myself. Like, the whole chapter. Which by the way has a hilarious and high five worthy title that I’ll let you all find for yourselves!
  5. A la Marie Kondo- “This applies to the beauty standards we were raised with. I’m going to challenge you to mentally pick up each rule you’ve been taught and ask yourself: Does this bring me joy?” I LOVE THIS THOUGHT. Do tank tops bring me joy? Yes- keep. Clothes that I’m “someday going to fit into?” No- toss. Eating healthy? Yes! Keeping a food journal & counting calories? NO!
  6. “One study showed that over 50% of primary care physicians viewed fat patients as “awkward”, “unattractive”, and “noncompliant”. In another study, 45% of a sample of physicians agreed they have a negative reaction to fat individuals.” She then goes on to talk about how doctors tend to only see the weight and not the actual health problem- which I have witnessed first hand thanks to a little known thing called Factor 2 Blood Mutation. It’s a wonder why people are afraid to go to the doctor- we can’t just go in and get a cure for our sinus infection without the addition of being told to lose some weight.
  7. “We all deserve the same amount of opportunity, respect, health care, education, life, love, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless of our size, shade, shape, sex, gender, level of ability, and health records.” She said I could quote her on it in the book, so I did not only because of that, but because I believe she is 100% correct in this statement.
  8. “If you were to fill a room with women of all shapes and sizes, most of those women would have cellulite. Because, it’s totally and completely normal. Why don’t men have as much cellulite? Well, (1) their skin is thicker so it shows less, and (2) they store more fat around their organs instead of between the skin and muscle like we do.”
  9. “Take care of yourself above all else. It isn’t greedy. It isn’t selfish. It’s absolutely necessary, and this concept can translate into every part of your life.”
  10. “Contrary to what we’ve been taught, other people’s bodies are NOT ours to publicly comment on.” It sounds obvious, but we’re probably all guilty of making a comment we shouldn’t have. I’ll admit to it- and I’m also making a conscious effort to stop myself, because I also know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that cruelty. As Baker continues, there is SO MUCH MORE we could talk about without having to put someone else at the expense of conversation.

I swear guys, I still have 23 (yes I counted) other flags left- there’s just SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. So obviously, I’m off to order this one for my own personal library. I suggest you all read it- even if you aren’t a fat girl, there are so many great “decent human being” points that would resonate with any reader. Body love and body positivity are here to stay, and the more that we can discuss acceptance and HAVE acceptance, the better the world will be. Yes, seriously.

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(Photo Credit: Chubstr.com, Google Images)

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

As always, Jodi Picoult knows how to write a page turner, complete with uncomfortable controversy that squarely reflects current affairs. Small Great Things, published last year (2016), is her latest heavy-hitter, this time tackling the subject of race, privilege, and prejudice.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years, single mother of a straight-A student, and a well-educated, hard-working woman. Her mother, a domestic to a wealthy television personality’s family, gave her every opportunity she could to further Ruth’s education and independence. When Ruth found out she was pregnant while her husband was overseas fighting in the war on Afghanistan, she was determined to give her child the same opportunities to be successful and then some- anything to help overcome the imminent obstacles from racial profiling.

Turk Bauer is a new father to baby Davis, husband of Brittany, and son-in-law to infamous white supremacist Francis Mitchum. His childhood was rocky, to say the least. His father left the family when Turk was young, his brother was killed in a car accident, and his mother drank herself into a stupor that eventually left her dead. Lost and angry, Turk befriends followers of the Mitchums, learns the ways of white supremacists, and eventually marries into the Mitchum family. At the hospital with new baby Davis, the last thing Turk wants to see is nurse Ruth coming into the hospital room, examining his child and wife. As soon as she’s done, Davis’ file is slapped with a Post-it:

“NO AFRICAN-AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT.”

When baby Davis goes into cardiac arrest with only Ruth available to help, Ruth has to decide- disobey orders to try to save the baby’s life, or watch on as he’s unable to breathe and do nothing.

Following a typical Picoult plot, the situation plays out in court and the reader gets to see every facet of the argument with points of view from all the characters involved. I have always loved this about Picoult’s books, because she easily allows the reader to slip into the first person narrative from one character to the next. Reading from Ruth’s point of view, I find myself cringing at the blasé comments from Ruth’s white coworkers, and near tears when she is arrested maliciously in the middle of the night. Despite all that she has done to blend in, she still sticks out. She unknowingly surrounded herself with people in denial, not acceptance, of her color. When reading from Turk’s point of view, I absolutely despised him, even when I found that I was pitying him. His childhood was terrible, the situation with his son was terrible… but his anger and strife fueled hate, and he never sought to rise above, only to get even.

Throughout the novel, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. I’m white, privileged, and one of those people who don’t like to ruffle feathers (so to speak), but I’m aware of the facts that others don’t have the same privileges I do because of skin color. Yet, I haven’t gotten the courage to stand up against it- I’ve sat back and kept quiet in fear of sounding ignorant, naive, or racist, and that’s just as bad as encouraging it. Reading novels like this (or like this), makes me check my white privilege, and gives me the determination to discuss these issues, even when it makes me uncomfortable. As Picoult mentioned in her Author’s Note:

“Why was writing about a person of color any different? Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s fraught, and it’s hard to discuss, and so as a result we often don’t.”

These days, it’s easy enough to go on any social media outlet and find heated discussions on racism, but to actually discuss racism from an educational standpoint, without personal or political bias, is difficult. I applaud Picoult for encouraging these discussions in a thought-provoking manner, for writing this book, for helping others open their eyes and truly see color, rather than ignore it.

Small Great Things is absolutely a must read, and another that belongs on your bookshelves.

Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

It took me a lot longer than I expected to read Someone Knows My Name, and here’s why: It’s almost 500 pages of gut-wrenching heartbreak. I couldn’t just tear through it, because every word was heavy and demanded the respect of the reader to absorb them all.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

The novel follows Aminata Diallo of the village Bayo, age eleven, as she is captured and sold into slavery. Witnessing her village being destroyed, she is forced to walk for months to the coast of Africa where she is loaded onto a ship and sent to the North American colonies. The passage is terrible, uncomfortable, and deadly for many. Aminata holds on to her proud heritage and the skills she’s learned from her mother and father, and uses them to survive. As a slave, she becomes known as Meena, an indigo laborer and midwife. She is a quick learner, and secretly learns to how speak Gullah and English, as well as how to read and write. All the while, she is desperate to learn how to get back to Bayo. Without trying to give too much away, Aminata spends years searching for her family, freedom, and old life, and at the end of it all, decides to share her story like the village djeli– storyteller.

Hill recounts one of the most shameful acts in the birth of America- the slave trade- from the voice of a powerful female main character. Though fictional, her story reflects many real accounts of this period in history, and puts the reader behind the character’s eyes. Every step of struggle, every minute success, and everything in between is relayed to the reader. Hill’s Aminata displays pure perseverance and strength at times where many would want to, or did, give up.

If you haven’t read this, please do. If you don’t own the book yet, please buy it- it deserves to be on your bookshelves. If you have read it, let’s talk. What did you think about the book? What kind of impact did it have on you? How do you think this novel applies to the current racial issues of today?