Monday, April 25, 2016

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

Guantanamo boyMost Americans probably don't even give the prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba a second thought. Why should they? Supposedly it's filled with enemy combatants, men who, even if they aren't guilty of plotting against the U.S. and its allies probably know something.  They deserve whatever they get don't they.

What if there are teens at that prison however.  Teens who are innocent and are being held there while their rights are being denied. This is the premise of  Anna Perera's teen novel Guantanamo Boy in which Khalid a fifteen year old second generation Pakistani immigrant living in Rochdale is taken to Cuba in the most bizarre circumstances.

As you would imagine, Khalid's journey is a rough one and it is heartbreaking reading to see what he endures during his time in confinement. Perera spares no detail so be warned if you are easily grossed out or are faint of heart. Confinement, even under the best conditions is a trying experience for any being and that is definitely the case here. Guantanamo prison is in many ways a sort of limbo place both due to its location and due to the often extreme measures required to capture the folks that are housed there.

I definitely recommend this book for teens looking to broaden their view of the world. This book would also be an excellent read in high school social studies and current affairs classes. A read alike to this book in the sense of covering topics that force teens to think about the wider world is The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Liccle Bit by Alex Wheatle

Growing up as a fourteen year old is hard in any country. There are hormones, peer pressure and of course schoolwork to deal with. For Lemar his height is also a major disadvantage and he is sometimes called many nicknames (none of them complimentary) but the worst of them all is Liccle Bit ("liccle" being the Jamaican patois from of "little").

As if he didn't have enough problems, Lemar's older sister Elaine has just had a baby with Manjaro the baddest gangster around much to his parents' chagrin. Even though Lemar knows he shouldn't associate with Manjaro (his friends and family repeatedly warn him) he doesn't have the courage to say no when Manjaro asks him for a favor. That's when the trouble starts.

Wheatle's prose is razor sharp and Lemar's descriptions of his estate (known as housing projects here in the US) convey all the dreariness and hopelessness the residents feel. Lemar's friends to me served as both comedic foils and the differing sides of his conscience as they gave him advice on everything from family matters to matters of the heart.

I am going to be making many interlibrary loan requests for Wheatle's books (he's been writing for some time now) as they are a great perspective on  life outside North America and particularly on life for young people of color in London. I recommend this book for tween and teen readers worldwide as it shows how the power to choose rests within every individual.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander shot to fame with his book in verse The Crossover so when I saw this book on a list I decided to check it out. I confess that I am an über soccer fan so that influenced my decision as well. I was curious as to how Alexander would incorporate the soccer elements into the narrative.

This book is also in verse and features a middle schooler called Nick whose dad is a studious but loving man and whose mom loves horses as much as she loves people.  Nick loves soccer and he and his best pal Coby obsess about the game when they are not stressing about school work and other trials of middle school life.

Alexander loves to write about youths who have some sort of family issues going on and this book is no different. Nick however must learn to deal with his family turmoil as well as his issues at school.  I do wish however that he had explored the characters' diversity somewhat more instead of just briefly touching on it.

Perhaps my favorite character in the book is the cool librarian Mr Mack. As a former teacher myself if I had half of his cool factor I think I would have related better to my students. Mac for his part does his best to get the kids to read by being gentle but persistent, by meeting them where they are and by choosing things they might like to read about. This novel, Booked should be added to reading lists for the very same reason. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero

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If you're like me you read the inside of the front and back covers of a book that looks interesting. This particular book, Show and Prove's  back cover says that the author, Sofia Quintero is an "Ivy League homegirl". That for me was more motivation for me to pick this book up.

Set in the South Bronx of the 1980s the book traces the events in one hot summer of two friends, Smiles and Nike. Both have family who came to the city from somewhere else and both share a love of hip-hop.  Like any good coming of age story their relationship morphs over the course of the book and there are some bumps along the way.

Though the two are best friends Smiles has been doing a lot of introspection and finds that his life should be more purposeful. What this purpose is he doesn't know. As for Nike, he has all the purpose he needs with his Nike sneakers, fresh clothes and boom box. During the summer they work together at a neighborhood center and the interactions they have with each other, with the kids and with two other counselors will forever impact their lives.

As a fan of break dancing I especially liked the battle scenes in the book but the political awakening of the characters is to me even more important. Often times I hear people say that Americans aren't aware of what's going on (or at least not as aware as they should be) and that to me is disheartening.  Quintero does a masterful job however of not being too preachy but still presenting her views in an accessible way. This book could be a good primer into a variety of urban issues such as race relations, urban decay, immigration, the working poor and neighborhood uplift. I highly recommend it for ages 13+.

As an added bonus, here is an interview with the author in which she talks a little about the creative process involved in writing this book.