Summary: Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.
People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.
But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.
My Rating:★★★★☆ ½
My Thoughts: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is everything I could’ve asked for in a YA rom-com, charming, inspiring, funny, and a true delight! One of my favorite debuts of 2021, do not miss this book, you will love Charlie. Maldonado is a new favorite author, her debut captured me from page 1!
In my absolute MESS of a reading schedule I’ve sadly not been able to read all the arcs on time, however once I started reading Charlie’s story, it was clear from the authenticity and spirit to Charlie’s voice, it would be a shame to rush through. Filled with much heart, inspiring messages, and just great storytelling, Maldonado’s book is a gem! This has become a new favorite!!
Charlie Vega is a 16-year-old living in a small Connecticut town, she’s a fat, biracial Puerto Rican girl who is learning to form better relationships in her life: with her mother, herself, and her body. Always feeling second to her best friend Amelia, she wonders whether anyone can truly see her, so when her long-time crush Cal asks her to prom she it beyond thrilled. However, when she soon learns he just wanted to have a chance at dating her bff, she’s tired of not being truly seen.
Throughout the novel she gets closer to her co-worker Brian, who also happens to be in her art class. When she slowly begins to realize Brian Park genuinely likes her for who she is, while also being supportive (unlike her mother), Charlie quickly starts to embark on and enjoy so many firsts when it comes to relationships. However, along the way she has to confront her own insecurities and self-doubts.
There’s so many layers and discussions Maldonado weaves into the story and its done with so much care, thought, and reflection. Charlie is navigating the dynamic with her mom, herself especially and loving who she is as a fat girl. Themes of self-love, confidence, and above all body positivity, weave their way throughout this delightful story.
Each dynamic Charlie has whether its with her mom, Amelia, Brian, or just her relationship to society, is given the perfect amount of page-time. All of these vital threads to her life are such deep, fundamental pieces of her world and developed so wonderfully.
Charlie’s personality leaps off the page! She has a very funny, reflective voice where I truly felt like she came to life with each chapter. She is learning and its through these relationships in her life where she can reflect on where they can be strengthened.
Her relationship with Brian was just the CUTEST, all their dates (bookstore, museum, dinner) and talks…you can feel Charlie’s happiness as she’s experiencing all the firsts of a relationship! Brian is an artist and she’s a writer, so their banter was always fun to read! Every chapter they had together was so sweet. I liked how their relationship was also a way for Charlie to see from the outside just how unfair and complicated her mom was being. Their relationship also allows her the space to step away when she needed to. Maldonado truly has a gift for allowing the cute romantic moments to just overtake the entire scene. (I’m sorry, but Cal who?? I truly forgot he was in this book once Charlie found happiness with Brian). I think one of the most complicated relationships was with her mom, it can be difficult to read as she’s obsessed with Charlie losing weight and Charlie can’t escape the feeling that her mother isn’t proud of her. You feel Charlie’s sadness, frustration, but you also see the growth there over the course of the story.
Along the way there is something that happens where Charlie feels hurt and needs some time away, but those moments showed the journey of growth over the course of the story, which was a very deeply explored arc to her character.
The writing, through a 1st person POV makes Charlie’s fabulous voice come to life, you can sense her pain, anxieties as a girl who is tackling societal expectations, but also pursuing her and dreams as a writer. There’s also the connection Charlie has to her late father, who also inspired her love of stories and seeing that relationship juxtaposed with her mother, which she does improve throughout the story just added even more layers to the incredible cast of characters. The small-town feel was written in such a realistic way, the little details about the used bookstore, high school life, Jake’s coffee shop, and Charlie’s narrative voice made the setting of the story even more authentic!
If anything, I would have just loved more (?). Charlie, the cast, and her world felt too real I just was not ready to say goodbye when those last few chapters came. Perhaps also a couple more details about the town and page-time with her and other characters, because the setting Maldonado crafted was just a joy to explore. Also that ending, I LOVED it but it came too quick and then honestly I was feeling sad that this delightful story was over.
Truly I am filled with so many emotions about this book, its everything I wanted from a YA Contemporary and can’t wait to read what Maldonado writes next.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is a phenomenal YA Contemporary debut filled with heart, inspiring messages, and a delightful protagonist who will capture your heart! Charlie’s journey to find love and the confidence within herself is the foundation of this charming book. Navigating family, self-love, friendship, romance, and body positivity, Maldonado’s debut is a MUST READ!
Cover Artist / Illustrator: Myokard and Lizzy Bromley (Designer)
Summary:THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:
Mami, for destroying my social life Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal This supermarket Everyone else
After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.
With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…
Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.
My Thoughts: The Education Of Margot Sanchez is a phenomenal YA Contemporary novel that touches on a lot of important topics, while at its core being a compelling coming-of-age story! Margot is stuck working at her family’s supermarket, but learns some much needed life lessons along the way. Lilliam Rivera has become one of my new favorite authors!
I know I just stated it above, but it’s worth repeating: Lilliam Rivera is truly a new favorite author! Despite the myriad of Young Adult Contemporary novels out there, Margot’s story is a unique one of reflection, growth, and with a focus on family. This novel captured my heart in many ways (much anticipated), but has also left me continuing to think (close to a month after reading). I knew from the summary alone she would be a new favorite author, but wow the themes and realistic character growth exhibited in this novel makes me want to read the rest of her books asap!
After using her father’s credit card, Margot is grounded for the summer and has to work at her family’s supermarket, Sanchez & Sons, to pay off her debts. However, she’d rather be somewhere else, like the sunny Hamptons with her closest friends from Somerset Prep, Serena and Camille, but also her crush Nick. From page 1, you can sympathize with Margot, her annoyance and frustration at her break being taken from her. She powers through the tedious jobs her father assigns (like stacking shelves, slicing deli meats) and yet her friends, despite being a phone call away, feel further than ever.
Trying to adjust to the 10 weeks of work she’ll have to endure, she soon meets Moises, a community activist who sets up a stand near the market and despite not being sure how she feels about him, they spend more time together, and soon she realizes she now has to navigate her complex feelings for him too. But there’s an underlying thread between him and Margot’s older brother Junior that slowly develops throughout the story.
Margot and Moises’s dynamic was so wholesome? Despite him being obvious that he’s interested, Moises is kind and offers Margot a much needed break from her family, but also time when she needs to figure things out for herself. I loved that he also showed her the importance of being there for your community and his work to support the local apartment complex being impacted by gentrification.
From the very beginning I loved reading from Margot’s perspective, there’s such a genuine voice to her despite her flaws the story presents, she’s a compulsive liar and has trouble being both honest and vulnerable. However, she’s truly just a teen trying to figure out who she is and her place in the world. Throughout the novel she learns lots of lessons about life, the world outside her personal bubble, and connecting more with her family’s business.
Margot finds herself confronting many varying situations regarding her friends and herself, where she slowly begins to realize it means she’ll have to own up to her mistakes and learn to do better. She is such an amazing main character, yes she is flawed in her thinking and perception, but she is growing and realizing what it takes to become the person she wants to be. Her friend Elizabeth, who she’s known for years, is attending an art school and Margot doesn’t have the words to say how distant she feels from her. But throughout the novel Margot begins to see how her new persona at Somerset has changed her in many ways, keeping her from seeing her friends, family, and community from a different perspective. Also delving into the theme of friendship, she learns who truly has her best interests at heart and the people she needs in her life to help her be her best self.
Despite having no interest in the family business, Margot realizes how important it is to her family’s livelihood, the slowly gentrifying community, and ultimately herself. She even learns more about the employees like Jasmine, her passion for music, and many others.
Family is a core element of this story and Rivera navigates through a realistic and complicated lens. There’s lots of love, but also a lack of communication which is delved into as the book progresses. Throughout the story Margot learns more about her father, mother, older brother Junior, but through it all she’s also tackling the machismo/sexist culture displayed by the men in her family. It unknowingly dictates many of their actions towards Margot and rightfully you feel frustrated alongside her seeing the many double-standards and attitudes displayed. Junior and her father are two characters who have much growing to do themselves and despite doing what they believe is in the best interest for Margot, this presents another brilliantly multi-faceted layer of the novel. But, overall it also played an important part in having Margot wonder whether she can be any different. Despite their mistakes, the Sanchez family is struggling to cope with their problems, but there’s hope for solutions if they work together.
The novel delves into core themes that remain present throughout the entire book such as gentrification, family, and especially identity. Margot realizes more about herself and the people around her that allow her to truly open her eyes, which ultimately leads to her accepting herself as she truly is and not hide behind other people’s expectations or her own insecurities. Its such meaningful message that plays an important part for her growth with each page, yet as many of us are, she is still navigating her flaws and accepting them. Gentrification is a major impact on the supermarket as a college is close by and a competing market is close to opening, Margot realizes the impacts this has on the community she’s come to appreciate. I liked seeing her use her pr/social media skills to help the place later on in the novel not only for the market, but also for her friends. Being from Latine background, family is navigated with such nuance and depth in ways that I could really see and understand. Its such a foundational theme that is present in many characters through their actions and reflections.
Being from the Bronx herself, I loved how Rivera made the setting come to life through the atmosphere and descriptions. Additionally as an #ownvoices novel, it features Puerto-Rican rep., following a Puerto-Rican/American main character, and also features an Afro-Latino love interest (Moises).
If anything it did feel like the ending wrapped up a bit quickly, and just as everything is working out for Margot and I just wanted a little bit more. But honestly, that’s because with each page I fell in love with this wonderful story Rivera was telling about a girl who is learning to be herself, do better, and figure everything out. I truly adored this book and I’m looking forward to reading more of Lilliam’s fantastic books. It’s my goal to continue reading backlist books on my physical tbr and it was an absolute joy to have finally picked up this gem.
The Education Of Margot Sanchez is a marvelous contemporary about family, identity, friendship, learning from mistakes, and figuring out where you fit in! Set in the Bronx, Rivera navigates a variety of multi-layered themes and delivers a compelling story about new beginnings featuring a cast of realistic characters who bring the story to life! Margot’s compelling character and the plot filled with meaningful messages makes this a YA Contemporary worth checking out if you have yet to read Lilliam Rivera’s books!
It’s no surprise that as we near the end of 2020, us avid readers are already prepping our 2021 TBRs! With the new year right around the corner, its the perfect time to start gushing about the phenomenal books being released by authors of color.
Support these authors, their books, and let’s celebrate them together! This list will feature debuts, new series, standalones, etc. As always my post will feature a mix of contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, magical realism, historical fiction, and more!
While release dates and covers for some of these have yet to be finalized, I really wanted to get these books on your radar because I definitely think they need more buzz!! Join me in discussing and gushing about these reads from AOC’s we are getting so very soon.
Enjoy today’s list and let me know if your looking forward to these Young Adult releases as well or have more recommendations of your own! 📚✨
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson has never felt like the protagonist in her own life. She’s rarely seen herself reflected in the pages of the romance novels she loves. The only place she’s a true leading lady is in her own writing—in the swoony love stories she shares only with Caroline, her best friend and #1 devoted reader.
When Tessa is accepted into the creative writing program of a prestigious art school, she’s excited to finally let her stories shine. But when she goes to her first workshop, the words are just…gone. Fortunately, Caroline has a solution: Tessa just needs to find some inspiration in a real-life love story of her own. And she’s ready with a list of romance novel-inspired steps to a happily ever after. Nico, the brooding artist who looks like he walked out of one of Tessa’s stories, is cast as the perfect Prince Charming.
But as Tessa checks off each item off Caroline’s list, she gets further and further away from herself. She risks losing everything she cares about—including the surprising bond she develops with sweet Sam, who lives across the street. She’s well on her way to having her own real-life love story, but is it the one she wants, after all?
Summary: When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.
One of the good ones.
Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.
The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.
Summary: If Romeo and Juliet got the Hamilton treatment…who would play the leads? This vividly funny, honest, and charming romantic novel by Dana L. Davis is the story of a girl who thinks she has what it takes…and the world thinks so, too.
Jerzie Jhames will do anything to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, Roman and Jewel, a Romeo and Juliet inspired hip-hopera featuring a diverse cast and modern twists on the play. But her hopes are crushed when she learns mega-star Cinny won the lead…and Jerzie is her understudy.
Falling for male lead Zeppelin Reid is a terrible idea–especially once Jerzie learns Cinny wants him for herself. Star-crossed love always ends badly. But when a video of Jerzie and Zepp practicing goes viral and the entire world weighs in on who should play Jewel, Jerzie learns that while the price of fame is high, friendship, family, and love are priceless.
Summary: A historical YA novel that takes place during the Greenwood Massacre of 1921, in an area of Tulsa, OK, known as the Black Wall Street.
Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. A passionate follower of WEB. Du Bois, he believes that black people should rise up to claim their place as equals.
Sixteen-year-old Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil. Also, as a loyal follower of Booker T. Washington, she believes, through education and tolerance, that black people should rise slowly and without forced conflict.
Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting church girl. Then their English teacher offers them a job on her mobile library, a three-wheel, two-seater bike. Angel can’t turn down the money and Isaiah is soon eager to be in such close quarters with Angel every afternoon.
But life changes on May 31, 1921 when a vicious white mob storms the community of Greenwood, leaving the town destroyed and thousands of residents displaced. Only then, Isaiah, Angel, and their peers realize who their real enemies are.
Summary: A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.
The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.
Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.
When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.
Summary: In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry–and with evil sinking its claws into humans and gods alike, she’ll have to unearth the magic of her true identity to save both her worlds.
“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.
Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.
Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.
Summary: Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard. Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.
Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.
People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.
But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.
Summary: Fans of Netflix’s On My Block, In the Heights, and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Ibi Zoboi will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws her relationships and even her neighborhood into turmoil.
Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo’s good.
Only, Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core. The police and the media are quick to point fingers, and soon more of the outside world descends on Ginger East with promises to “fix” it. Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.
Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates, and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything—and everyone—she loves.
Summary: When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown.
Graciela Cristales’s whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.
But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depends on no one finding out what really happened.
Summary: New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.
To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.
When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.
Summary: After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.
Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
Summary: Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg–and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.
After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected–namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive cast mate she just might be falling for.
But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she had grown to accept in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet–something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Touching, romantic, and peppered with humor, this debut novel explores the tenuousness of perfectionism, the possibilities of change, and the importance of raising your voice.
Summary: Fourteen-year-old Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi sets out to win the ultimate date to homecoming in this heartfelt and outright hilarious debut.
Parvin has just had her heart broken when she meets the cutest boy at her new high school, Matty Fumero–with an emphasis on fumero, because he might be the smoking hot cure to all of her boy troubles. If Parvin can get Matty to ask her to homecoming, she’s positive it will erase all the awful and embarrassing feelings He Who Will Not Be Named left her with after the summer. The only problem is Matty is definitely too cool for bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Parvin. Since being herself has not worked for her in the past (see aforementioned relationship), she decides that to be the girl who finally gets the guy, she should start acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms. Those girls aren’t loud, they certainly don’t cackle when they laugh, and they smile much more than they talk. Easy enough, right?
But as Parvin struggles through her parent-mandated Farsi lessons on the weekends, a budding friendship with a boy she can’t help but be her unfiltered self with, and dealing with the ramifications of the Muslim Ban on her family in Iran, she realizes that being herself might just be the perfect thing after all.
Summary: Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries in this irresistible story about Izumi, a Japanese-American girl who discovers her senior year of high school that she’s really a princess of Japan.
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?
Summary: Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else.
Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.
Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.
Summary: Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose—and falling for each other—in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.
We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...
The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.
As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer—as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…
Summary: Four troubled friends, One murdered girl… and a dark fate that may leave them all doomed.
After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled it a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.
When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events they couldn’t have imagined. As the girls retrace their friend’s last steps, they uncover dark secrets about themselves and their destinies, discovering they’re all cursed to repeat the brutal and gruesome endings to their stories until they can break the cycle.
This contemporary take on classic fairytales reimagines heroines as friends attending the same school. While investigating the murder of their best friend, they uncover connections to their ancient fairytale curses and attempt to forge their own fate before it’s too late.
Words can’t explain all my joy & anticipation for all the wonderful upcoming books! Although these are just some of the many POC-authored books I’m eagerly waiting for, I hope you enjoyed this list! 💜📚✨
Which 2021 YA releases from AOCs are on your TBR? 😍📚✨
Summary: Abdullah, the mysterious young man who might marry Nada one day, is suddenly in America?! Satoko and her friends (not to mention Nada’s broter are in a panic, unsure if they should tell Nada or just stall the guy until he leaves. When it comes to Nada’s future, the people who love her will do whatever it takes to make her happy!
My Rating:★★★★☆ ½
My Thoughts: Satoko And Nada continues to be one of the best contemporary manga series out there! Following the adventures of 2 women who continue their university studies in the US, this series is told through 4-panel pages that delve into the daily lives of two best friends and as they learn more about each other’s cultures! Satoko And Nada is a must-read series!
I think Satoko And Nada is one of those manga’s that’s gone under the radar and more people should be reading it! Where this series absolutely excels is how it delves deep into the topic of friendship and balancing the character relationships/dynamics. If you have yet to read these fantastic books, my recent tweet sums up why its so great!
For those who haven’t had the chance to read this series it follows two university students (Satoko who’s Japanese and Nada who’s Saudi Arabian) as they study abroad in the US and after becoming roommates, they instantly click and become the best of friends. Every volume explores new adventures and features wholesome moments as they learn more about not only American culture, but each others!
As with previous volumes, this series continues its 4-panel style storytelling that presents tons of slice of life moments that happen in Satoko and Nada’s day to day schedules. The main plot for this volume follows Nada’s husband-to-be, Abdullah, who comes for a visit as Satoko attempts to stall and protect Nada, unsure of how to bring up the conversation while knowing how focused she is on her studies.
What made this story arc one of the best was seeing how it not only delves into discussing how Nada and Abdullah have their own busy schedules outside of their arrangement, getting both of their perspectives on it. Also how they are respectful of each other’s personal goals and despite being distant, still find ways to stay in touch. In addition, this really highlights the deep bond both ladies have for each other when Nada learns Satoko was only trying to protect her and respect her space before introducing her to her fiance Abdullah.
Another highlight of this series is that each volume continuously shows that each of them are still learning about each other’s cultures and having fun doing so. Focusing more on Nada’s culture we learn more about abaya care, hijabs, agals, henna, and much more!
I also enjoyed that this volume had a variety of different adventures that they get into: shopping together, being part of Miracle’s volunteer fair, having a snow day, however nearing the end Satoko has her own page time for solo adventures too.
Friendship is a core piece of this series that makes for such heartfelt and memorable moments in this volume specifically, especially as its leading up to the final volume (*sob 😭💞). I had tons of favorite pages from Volume 3: ‘Someone To Rely On’ was one the most impactful and wholesome pages, ‘Did I Pray?,’ ‘Snow,’‘Luck,’ and ‘Second Home.’ These were just some of the pages that showcased their lovely dynamic and the wonderful friendship that they share.
What definitely stood out to me was because its also prepping for the finale, I just found myself remembering more of these pages and appreciating the heartfelt moments where they specifically state how much their friendship means to each of them. Despite being from different countries, they’ve really made a new home for themselves in the US and cherish their relationship so much. Page 82 summed it up perfectly: “You know this is our second homeland. If you couldn’t go back to Japan for some reason, I would come here to get you…”
The 4-panel manga gives the story a unique opportunity to place our main characters in tons of different situations and moments that make for really well-timed humor. Because we get to know Satoko, Nada, Miracle, Kevin, Rahman, and Abdullah fairly quickly, it allows this novel to focus more on the plot and various 1-page acts. The dialogue is great and the distinct art-style really sets the series apart.
There’s definitely more cohesive story arcs that build over Volume 3 and its more impactful, which is why I rated this one a 4.5 compared to the last volume. However, I did want even more Satoko and Nada page time together, especially with their friends Kevin and Miracle (because these two did feel a bit distant).
This series could go on for 100 volumes and I wouldn’t mind. I’m still emotionally preparing myself for the last volume because, you know that feeling when a book just connects with you on a deep level and you can’t really explain why? That’s what reading this series is like! I’m right there with Satoko and Nada on all their adventures and every volume just leaves you smiling and full of joy!!
If I were to pitch this series and explain why it needs more attention, I’d say it follows the fantastic adventures of Japanese and Saudi Arabian hijabi Muslim exchange students who become the best of friends! It feels like the book community is also usually on the lookout for more college-set YA stories that focus on FRIENDSHIP and I definitely believe this series deserves so much love and support (PLEASE read it if you get the chance, its so wonderful) ❤❤
Satoko And Nada Vol. 3 focuses more on the slice-of-life moments as it balances humor, deeply interwoven theme of friendship, and features many vignette-style plot points that keep you reading! Delving into the beauty of deep friendship bonds and exploration of culture, Satoko And Nada is an utterly brilliant manga series that will capture your heart from page 1!
Summary: Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.
There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.
There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.
And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.
So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.
But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.
*Received a review copy from the publisher*
My Thoughts: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is an introspective debut that discusses many topics such as racism and immigration. Liliana is navigating family, friendships, and a new high school after getting accepted into the METCO program! She’s also learning more about her Latina identity. This is a YA Contemporary that you need on your TBR!
De Leon’s debut is about a first-generation Latina who transfers to a new (majority white) high school and is left to adjust on her own, witnessing microaggressions, racism, and more, all while her father has been deported.
Firstly, I can’t put into words what it meant to be reading about a Guatemalan teen just living her life, going to school, and figuring things out! I was literally sobbing, it’s a book that left me with a feeling of familiarity, comfort, and I’m so happy this debut is now out in the world for readers to see pieces of themselves in Liliana and her family. This is the kind of book I would have loved reading as a teen growing up, SO please pre-order or check out this debut, which is out today!
This novel at its core is about the struggle many marginalized people face, where they feel drifted between two different worlds. However, its an unflinching look at disparity in the education system, racism, and learning to use your voice.
Liliana is an aspiring writer, loves making miniature sets, and her voice just leaps off the page! Its as though she’s speaking to us the reader. She’s funny, filled with so much energy, and was just a fantastic main character!
When Liliana is accepted into the METCO program, she quickly realizes it was her parents (especially father’s) wishes to thrive! So this means she’s leaving her Boston school (where she was in the majority), heading to Westburg to join other METCO students despite the nerves and anxiety she feels.
Liliana’s not only navigating this new environment, but also trying to make friends, stay connected with her best friend Jade, and is experiencing a bit of romance with a fellow student named Dustin. She’s also confronting microaggressions, holding onto all these feelings inside of her, and witnessing racism towards fellow METCO students. But she’s just left feeling adrift. Liliana is struggling to show her true self and is lost, unsure what to do.
However, she luckily connects with the METCO group, like Rayshawn, her senior buddy named Genesis, and host family friend named Holly. But also learns to look deep within herself about what it means to use her voice.
De Leon weaves in so many relatable and thought-provoking lines that many marginalized or non-white, and especially Latine readers will understand. It’s also the kind of novel that introduces so many topics and gives enough page-time to discuss each, while even weaving many together.
Liliana herself is half-Guatemalan and Salvadorian. However, throughout the novel she mainly learns more about her Guatemalan culture. As an #OwnVoices reader (a Guatemalan-American), there’s just so many little details that I related too 100% and it felt surreal to see my family’s culture woven into the pages. From pepian to relative visits, and just seeing her connect more to the family’s roots was wonderful to see.
While I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about my Guatemalan culture from a bit of an earlier age (and even now), it was interesting seeing Liliana whose a teen navigate that with her own set of questions and gain her own understanding about her father’s Guatemalan roots.
That leads me into a major theme and highlight of this novel that presents itself in different ways, that’s the concept of LEARNING. Liliana realizes she doesn’t have much knowledge of her Guatemalan side, so she reads up, asks questions, and does her own research. Not just about her culture, but also when it comes to better understanding Latinx culture (like one scene that stuck out was when she learns about “Spanish” vs. “Latinx”), and navigating racism in general. De Leon masterfully presents the importance of asking questions when you don’t have all the answers and I just love how she explored that throughout the book! As mentioned in our interview, De Leon said something that I feel resonated about why this theme is important and stated she hopes her debut “inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.”
The plot itself is very slice-of-life as Liliana goes to school, her home life with twin brothers and her mother (whose struggling to work while trying to do everything she can to help her husband get home), being with friends, and just her daily life at Westburg!
Both her mother and Liliana herself rightfully so, deal with moments of depression and anxiety, fearful of what’s happening to Liliana’s dad! She reminisces a lot throughout the novel about her childhood with him and how he helped shape her passions as a writer (one of my favorite scenes was a memory about a book fair he took her to when she was little).
Themes are the foundation of this novel from family, coming of age, friendship, even discussing racism, immigration, and privilege. As a whole, the book does a fantastic job at delving into all of these contemporary topics through the lens of a Latina living in Boston.
Some moments that stuck out to me that brilliantly showed the way De Leon wanted to navigate these themes was through the school! For example, the clear contrast between her former high school vs. Westburg (even how she feels out of place being in that neighborhood), hearing the conversations in her history class from students about Latin-American immigration, Dustin’s racist friend Steve, and the METCO presentation they do near the end.
Another moment that really stayed with me was how Liliana felt in her Westburg creative writing class vs. the (obviously) more diverse writing center course she learned about from her local library. Those scenes symbolized how she’s always felt caught between two worlds, but she finds solace in the place that makes her feel welcome.
The use of a 1st person POV, brilliantly allows you to see who Lil is and understand her fully as a character. She’s someone who feels the need to hide and not fully be herself, she’s also witty, observant, and if your looking for an introspective narrative, this book is perfect.
Overall, the plotting, how real the story feels, the cast of characters, and the wonderful writing voice make this a great YA Contemporary / debut you should not miss!
Although I absolutely loved this book and is one of my new favorites, my only minor critique is that I did find the writing reads very much like a “stream of consciousness,” where the story moves very quickly at points and scenes transition as your reading Liliana’s internal thoughts. But it does make her voice feel so real and come to life.
I will say that this book reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, maybe because of how it delved into themes in such a realistic way, the poignant narrative voice, and main heroine that stands out…either way if you loved Acevedo’s debut, I think De Leon’s would be perfect too!
Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a fantastic debut you don’t want to miss! Liliana is confronting microaggressions, racism, and learns to find her voice in order to take a stand! Character-driven, thought-provoking, and wonderfully written, its a great debut perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo! Jennifer De Leon’s YA Contemporary debut is a must read for 2020!
Summary: One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.
Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.
*Received a digital review copy via the author*
My Thoughts: A Map To The Sun is a YA graphic novel all about navigating friendship, basketball, and life off the court! A newly formed all-girls basketball team allows Ren and Luna, who were once inseparable friends over the course of a summer, to find their way back to each other again. Colorful, vibrant, and detailed artwork blends perfectly with the gritty, slice of life story across its pages and is sure to captivate!
One specific category of graphic novels that I’m really starting to get back into and make me automatically add it to my tbr is anything related to sports! I’d really been looking forward to this graphic novel and Leong delivers a quiet slice-of-life tale, which layers in deep introspection to its characters and their journeys.
I think readers much like myself who may have been expecting a more fast-paced story (like that of The Avant-Guards) will be pleasantly surprised at the lingering depth of the slice-of-life narrative, grittiness, and metaphorical depth that this graphic novel carries!
Ren and Luna meet one day during a typical summer at the beach and instantly become great friends. Their days quickly blend together, in an almost dream-like way, where they learn deeper parts about each other as they surf, play basketball, and enjoy adventures on the beach. The dialogue emphasizes the little details we learn about people and how they influence us. Suddenly, as Ren & Luna’s summer friendship continues to blossom, it ends as quickly as it begun.
Luna has to leave for Oahu to see her ill mother and Ren, who tries to reach out before their time is up, is left hanging. As 2 years pass, Ren never forgets the loneliness and pain of being ignored after Luna’s quick departure.
When Luna returns, she seems to fit in quickly being invited to parties and meeting lots of new people, but there’s still a rift between them. While Ren has moved on and found other friends, Luna’s absence wasn’t forgotten.
When Ren’s friends Nell and Jetta are given cleaning duties in the gym and a new teacher is looking to form a new basketball team, slowly but surely a team is formed. Over the course of the story this team symbolizes many things for the girls: home, support, and a chance to strengthen their friendships!
Although Ren and Luna struggle to find their footing with each other, they find ways to rekindle what they thought was long forgotten.
Throughout the novel, Leong emphasizes and navigates the girls lives off the court and what goes on in the day-to-day. What resonated with me about this major beat of the story was how REAL it felt…the characters, different topics that are discussed, and especially the realism explored through each of the girls perspectives. They each grapple with something in their lives that gives a deep weight and meaning to their journey.
Some of what’s explored is estranged family, body image, family loss, especially navigating relationships (mainly friendship) when people find their way back into your life. While that last theme is explored mainly through Ren’s POV, you see this navigated through the other girls POVs too.
The writing navigates general dialogue with Ren’s POV and not only is it poetic, but there’s lots of beautiful imagery that captures the intense emotions that Ren feels about her friendship with Luna. The loneliness, comfort, and growth to not only their friendship, but also to Ren’s family life as she’s dealing with her estranged sister.
What elevates all the wonderful elements about the plot in A Map To The Sun, is the masterful art and style. It has a soft, rough and stylized hand-drawn quality to it that makes the story feel so real. Honestly, each page looked like a beautiful painting.
While vibrant, the color palette also featured dark, muted colors that are visually stunning! The aesthetics of the art embodies summer and makes it a perfect read for this season.
The paneling of this graphic novel is perfect in every way! No matter what page, you see the story flows so well. Some of my favorite pages included backgrounds or settings that beautifully transitioned into the following scene: for example on page 6 when Ren shoots a basket, it beautifully transforms into a rising wave that we see Luna riding on her board, with a stunning golden yellow, pink, and deep reddish-pink colors.
What also makes the art stand out is the gradient of color you see as you continue to read. There’s a rainbow of varying colors that make there way throughout each page that alter to present a different mood, weather, energy/emotion of the characters, or a particular scene. There’s also an emphasis on the quiet silence or lack of dialogue that lets the art speak for the cast in moments that really move you to see the underlying emotion or introspection. Overall, the art is an absolute highlight of this graphic novel!
As the team grows together, we see Leong discuss and navigate different topics from body image, difficult family life, smoking, even moments of misogyny (mainly from the other basketball coach). Each girl is tackling something, either internally or externally in their lives, and while some plot threads may feel incomplete, the story doesn’t shy away from talking about them (tw// for panel depicting self-harm).
A Map To The Sun also features such a diverse cast of characters, with our main character Ren being Black, Luna is 1/2 Hawaiian and Chinese, Jetta is half-Native and Latine, Nell is Jamaican, and So-Young is Korean.
The only reason I’m giving this 4 stars (though I adored this book a lot) is because while the story balances the girl’s school/team and life outside of that very well, it feels like overall it stuck more with the slice-of-life storyline. While I absolutely love those kinds of stories, here it felt like the plot really wandered and the story, while unpredictable, had storylines either left incomplete or briefly wrapped up (like in the end when Ren & Luna talk about their friendship or when we learn more about Ren’s estranged sister Vida).
Despite that, this is a wonderful read I highly recommend picking up! I’m not sure whether Leong will continue the team’s stories in future volumes, but I loved that the ending does leave possible threads for it to explore more of the girls team/friendship.
The characters feel so incredibly real in this early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, friendship, and just navigating life!
A Map To The Sun is a delight graphic novel filled with so much depth and heart! The characters feel incredibly real and the art is striking as it is colorful, metaphorical, and vibrant! Leong’s tale of friendship is set in the early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, and teens just navigating life! Perfect for those who love sports stories, looking for more slice-of-life stories not only about friendship, but also self!
I’ll also be linking Black Lives Matter resources: A list from NPR (featuring books, films & podcasts) and this Twitter thread &Tumblr Postlinking carrds for BLM among others to inform on what’s happening in other parts of the world. Also this thread of Journalism pieces about BLM.
Summary:First-generation American Latinx Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.
Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.
Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.
But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.
To celebrate the upcoming August 18th release of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, I’ll be sharing a Q&A with Jennifer to chat all about her debut! 📚🎉
1. Hello Jennifer, thank you for joining me on the blog today, ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’ is weeks away from release! Can you tell us what its all about?
Jennifer: Thank you for having me on the blog! Yes, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From follows 15- year-old Liliana Cruz, a Latinx teen from Boston, as she transfers to a majority white high school. She’s dealing with so much—best friend troubles, annoying little brothers, her dad traveling (again), and she’s trying to fit in at her new high school in Westburg. As a result, she deals with micro-aggressions and racism and stereotypes—and all the while there’s this cute guy…But yes, the racial tensions in the school come to a boil and Liliana has some difficult choices to make.
2. What inspired your novel and did you find anything about the story, either change or evolve during the writing process?
Jennifer: This is the book I wish I could hand to my younger self. It is the story I wanted—and needed—to hear, but didn’t get a chance to see in literature. Later, when I became a public school teacher I saw that while some progress had been made in the category of Young Adult fiction in terms of diversity, there was still a long way to go. So I became even more inspired to write the book that I could eventually give my students. The story definitely evolved during the writing process! For starters, I had the story originally set in the nineties—but I was told that this is technically “historical fiction” (I know!) and that readers might have an easier time connecting if the story was contemporary. Second, the original draft was told in third-person. But once I started writing in first person, Liliana’s voice took over the mic—I mean, the pen, and she just led me the rest of the way.
3. As an #OwnVoices contemporary what would you say you drew from your own experience that found its way into the novel?
Jennifer: Growing up I often moved between two worlds—physically and metaphorically. I grew up in a suburb of Boston, where most of my friends were white and either middle-class or affluent. My parents were born in Guatemala and worked really hard to get our family to live in a neighborhood with a strong school system. That was their ultimate goal: give my sisters and I a solid education. But every weekend we would drive thirty minutes to Boston and visit with extended family. I loved spending time with my cousins and tías and tíos and grandmother. It felt like a different world. So, in writing Liliana’s character, I tried to draw on my experiences of moving in between worlds because she does this on a daily basis when she takes the METCO bus to Westburg and then back home to Boston.
4. According to the summary we see that Liliana has to navigate a wealthy and white high school which forces her to code switch and create two distinct worlds. What inspired you to incorporate this overarching theme of the book and was it something you felt should be present early on in the writing process?
Jennifer: Absolutely. For me, it was super important to show Liliana navigating two distinct worlds. It was the crux of the story, even in the earlier drafts. Code-switching, from my own experience, can be exhausting. And it can take a mental toll, too. I wanted to show how one character, Liliana, is confronting the need to code-switch for the first time in her life, at least on this level. Up until now she has lived and breathed solely in the bubble of her neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, an area of Boston. But that all changes when she joins the METCO program and begins going to school at a predominantly white school. Although I didn’t have this exact experience of being part of the METCO program, I did feel that I had to constantly code-switch depending on where I was and who was in the room—and this only amplified once I got to college.
4a. Based on the summary, it looks like your debut will discuss various themes from Latin-American identity, race, and immigration to name a few. Which theme or topic did you feel the most inspired to explore and is there a particular message that you wanted to get across to readers?
Jennifer:Such a great question! As I was writing Liliana’s story, I felt inspired to show how Liliana herself is learning so much about her culture and identity and background as she navigates a new world—Westburg. Liliana is not an “expert” on Latinx culture or even Central American culture. She has more questions than answers. I think so many second- generation teens can feel this way. I know I did. On one level, you don’t fit in with the “mainstream culture” but then on another level, you don’t exactly fit in with your parents’ culture either. All the while, people—even well-intentioned ones—ask questions like I’m Wikipedia or something. It took me a long time to learn more about Guatemala, where both my parents are from, and I still have so much to learn. So, yes, I hope this book inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.
5. What did you enjoy the most writing about Liliana’s character? & Why?
Jennifer:Ooooh, I loved writing Liliana’s voice. She is sassy and smart and has a real funny way of saying things—she doesn’t hold back. And I love that about her.
6. As a Latina reader myself I feel like ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’ will make it a point in navigating Latina/Latine identity and I think that’s great. Is that something important you were hoping readers take away from the novel?
Jennifer: Definitely. I hope that this book can shed (more) light on the understanding that the the Latinx community is not a monolithic one. Yes, we share so many commonalities (on levels of language, culture, family traditions, etc.), but just the same, there are as many differences between someone who identifies as Puerto Rican vs. Mexican vs. Guatemalan vs. Venezuelan, and so on and so forth. I also hope that readers—again, especially young people and especially Latinx teens—can close the book and feel proud of where they’re from, that they feel empowered by their history and not burdened by it.
7. Can you share one of your favorite quotes in ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’?
“I’m sick of people asking me where I am from. No—where I am ‘from-from.’ I am sick of people assuming I wasn’t born in this country or that I don’t speak English or that I eat rice and beans every night for dinner.” Two girls laughed. But in an I got you way. I felt lighter and lighter. And I couldn’t stop.
Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is releasing August 18, 2020! Thank you for joining me on the blog tour today.
Are you looking forward to reading Jennifer De Leon’s debut? 🎊🌸📚✨
Summary: Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives.
Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom–if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there’s no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: We Are Not From Here is a must-read for 2020! Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña embark on perilous journey to the U.S./Mexico border. Told through an emotionally-gripping, poetic and character-driven narrative, Sanchez delivers a tale all too real that will stay with you long after the final page!
I’ll admit, it was when I finally reached the end of We Are Not From Here where I realized, moving and impactful books such as this one are incredibly difficult for me to review. How does one put into words how powerful a story is, especially when it reflects a reality for so many reaching the United States?
If you take away one thing from this review, aside from reading this novel it’s that this journey is happening every single day and this book while fictional, it details the truth for many seeking opportunity when journeying to the US (alongside the hardships that continue when they arrive).
Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have lived in Puerto Barrios and have known each other practically their whole lives. However, they are aware of the possible dangers they can face when their paths cross with certain people in their community, like gang leader Rey.
Seventeen-year-old Pequeña at the start of the novel is having a child she doesn’t want and we soon learn it’s the child of Rey. While she has the support of her community (such as her mother and tias), when she learns of Rey’s proposal to marriage and starting a new life elsewhere, she realizes she’s trapped and there is no other option but to run.
The murder of local store owner Don Felicio spurs Pulga and Chico (both 15) into running as well when Rey coerces them into joining his group.
Pulga, carrying his walkman, that links to memories of his father, and years of information on how to reach the U.S. by riding a real life network of trains known as La Bestia, motivates Chico and Pequeña into understanding that that’s the only way they can start new.
The journey they undergo is brutal, not without hardship, it even changes their perception on their personal hopes, dreams, and visions of the future they seek. It’s an emotionally and physically enduring journey not only on the trains, but also as they cross, the thoughts of fear and uncertainty run through their mind as they take each step.
From the dangers of not securing themselves on the trains, to being robbed, running out of food/water, etc. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are met with struggles along the way, but also moments of kindness. It’s from fellow passengers, even shelter owners and members of local churches who provide them support along their journey. The power of kindness, compassion, and much more are beautifully highlighted into darkest moments of this novel.
Told through dual POV’s from Pulga and Pequeña, there’s just so much life, soul and history woven into our main cast that make them incredibly real. Sanchez’s writing is especially poetic and through Pequeña’s perspective, there’s even hints of magical realism that illustrate her want to escape the darkest and unhappiest of situations.
Their friendship, family dynamic and just reading about the deep connection they share with each other on this journey was just another one of the many highlights of the story.
Pulga is very much someone who is aware of the dangers the journey can bring and carries this evolving nature of solitude, mentioning its best that the 3 of them just focus on themselves. It brings moments of pain for each of them and seeing this evolve over the course of the story was painful to read.
While Chico is more of the hesitant one of the group, never letting go of the deep emotional parts of himself as he reminds Pulga of the connection and similar feelings other migrants such as themselves are surely facing too. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are the stars of this novel and its in their depth and core as characters that bring so much emotion, intensity, and so much more to this book.
This novel broke my heart in many ways, especially nearing the end, but underlying is such a prevalent theme of hope. The hope of dreams, the act of hoping itself, carries a lot of power that is not forgotten with each chapter. The storytelling is gripping and packed with so much emotion.
While this novel in no way reflects my family’s personal immigration story, it still connected to me in such a deep way as the main characters (and my family) are Guatemalan also. Novels such as We Are Not From Here highlight a truth which is that there’s numerous countries in Latin America with people immigrating to the United States, but its often only generalized to a few countries. That’s another vital part of what makes this novel so impactful.
This novel also reminded of a non-fiction book I read for one of my classes not too long ago called Enrique’s Journey. Its definitely a journalistic piece written more into a prose style, but a lot of what happens in that novel, alongside facts/figures are subtly woven into Sanchez’s novel as well.
The plot while mainly following their journey among each train and heading north, changes them little by little and your heart can’t help but hurt. However, at each turn they do their best to keep going. Its also a story as much internal as it is external.
While my 4 star rating is more reflected at how much this book got to me on such a deep level and the pain I felt while reading, its very much a YA book that deserves all the hype and recognition (its a 5-star reading experience). While I won’t spoil what happens at the end, it really hits you emotionally (after I finished I was just left so speechless).
We Are Not From Here is an unforgettable, powerful YA Contemporary that follows 3 Guatemalan teens on their journey to reach the U.S. Sanchez’s prose is moving and captivating! This is novel is masterfully crafted, emotional, and gripping story make this a must-read for 2020!
🌿✨ Have you read We Are Not From Here? Are you planning on reading this novel? 🌿✨
Today’s post is a little bit different! So, I’m sure we all have a TBR of some kind (whether digital or physical) that’s overflowing with books we’ve been meaning to read but just haven’t yet!
To share a glimpse into that TBR I’ve created Backlist Bookshelfwhich’ll be an occasional feature here on 24hr.YABookBlog to chat a bit more about a book that’s been on my physical bookshelf that I finally decide to pick up & read! I’ll discuss my early opinions on it so far, favorite moments, or any other book-related thoughts!
Publisher: Electric Monkey (Egmont UK) Release Date: May 2, 2019
Summary: The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.
But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?
I’ve been interested in discovering more UKYA books this past year and this was a book I was immediately drawn to because of the cover, doesn’t it just scream murder mystery?
Then, once I read the summary my Journalism brain was immediately fascinated and also because it definitely gave off Serial podcast vibes, I knew I had to get a copy ASAP!
Earlier this month, I’d actually gotten a physical copy from my local library and since my UK copy was hidden away somewhere in my bookish stacks, I just decided to pick up the US edition!
But, once I finally found my UK edition and decided to start reading that one instead, I realized how different both editions actually are! This is something I’ll hopefully get into in my review (possibly?)…But, I find it super fascinating to see how the original version was translated for a US audience (from the setting to specific school details that changed completely) that was something I wasn’t expecting but its definitely something I’ll pay more attention to when reading UK YA Contemporary books!
I’l admit, just based on my first impressions reading them both back-to-back, it feels like I’m getting a bit more detail from the UK edition (however I also feel its probably a matter of how the prose is edited more tightly for the US audience?). Either way, I’m glad I’m sticking with my UK copy, it feels like there’s a bit more background to the case & Pip as a character that I’m getting in far greater length.
However, what I personally love about the US edition is how its using more graphics for the mixed media!
So for a school assignment, Pippa is investigating a 5-year-old case that happened in her town and from page 1, you get right into all those details which is great! I love that Jackson has made the book more focused on the plot itself (the case, Pippa’s evidence, etc.) and slowly revealing more to the characters and the mystery as she types up her reports.
The case really gives off Serial S1 podcast vibes, which makes so much sense considering I read up that the author actually loves those kinds of podcasts! According to Jackson’s list from Egmont, Serial was the start of her “true-crime obsession” and one of the biggest influences for Good Girl’s Guide!
Also as someone studying Journalism, I’m having so much fun examining the journalistic reporting, seeing how Pippa is seeking out other journalists and sources who were familiar with the case? Its all super fascinating! Excited to keep on reading!
Thanks for joining me on my first post for Backlist Bookshelf, let me know of any books on your TBR! & Thoughts on this new feature? 😁📚🎉
Have you read A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder? What are your thoughts on this book? 🔎📚📍
Summary: When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime…
You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything?
Actually, a lot.
Thanks to “the incident” (don’t ask), I’m spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a “spring volunteer immersion project.” It’s definitely no vacation. I’m toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own…and to hide a rather devastating secret.
All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks…like flirting with Tati’s distractingly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I’m even exploring my family’s history—which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse.
You know, typical drama. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.
*Requested ARC from publisher*
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a YA Contemporary debut from sisters Maika and Maritza who seamlessly weave together a tale of family, healing, and much more! Alaine’s narrative voice presents an intimate and personal depth to her perspective as we explore her family and her Haitian culture, alongside her journey of self-growth! The use of mixed media also offers a unique depth that provides so many layers to this complex and immersive debut!
There’s something both personal and special that comes with reading about someone’s life through the use of primary sources like letters, emails, diary entries, articles etc. It captures the depth of emotions and snapshots of one’s life in unique ways you just can’t get through prose. Maika and Maritza Moulite truly showcased the emotion and personal journey through the main character of Alaine Beauparlant!
Alaine is an aspiring journalist with dreams of pursuing this career at the same university her mother― Celeste Beauparlant― beloved GNN political talk show host and award-winning journalist, attended!
With a few remaining months from graduation, Alaine’s got everything planned out! That is until one day on Celeste’s show, she causes an uproar far and wide after slapping one of her guests and when Alaine defends her mother from a classmate jokes about the incident, Alaine takes her school project a bit too far!
Now she’s suspended. But, her teachers leave her with an assignment to complete over her suspension and when her father sends her to Haiti, she’s told to take part in a “Spring Volunteer Immersion” project to ensure she passes her last semester.
With this novel mainly taking place in Haiti, it was wonderful to explore the culture through such a personal style of storytelling, it made the plot even more special to experience this journey through Alaine’s eyes.
A big theme and element of this novel, which I found was explored so thoroughly in Dear Haiti, Love Alaine wasjournalism! If you didn’t know, one of the co-authors of this novel, Maritza Moulite actually has a masters in Journalism!
Considering that is also my university major, I felt such a deep connection to the references, style of storytelling, and how this novel showcased the importance of this field throughout the story!
Some references I caught onto were: leads, “giving a voice to the voiceless,” reference to Cronkite, the use of multimedia (very present in journalism) to tell this story, and of course exploring Alaine’s love for the subject and how she unfolds the story of her mother’s own personal journey as a journalist!
I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I also found the way the story unfolded referenced styles of journalistic writing as well! In Journalism, its often about how you present the information you’ve collected and how you choose highlight what you’ve uncovered. The way the plot, characters, and development are explored, to me, they referenced this style of writing in a seamless way where you are left looking at things from a new perspective.
Overall, I loved that this novel showed the depth and facets to this field in such a positive way, where its often downgraded in pop-culture and other forms of media/storytelling.
What I loved about the use of mixed media, was how it seamlessly delved into many plot threads, themes, characters, and their dynamics, I found that they were all explored in such a realistic way where they really came to life from the page.
Family is such a huge part of this novel and you see that develop through Alaine’s relationship with her mother (more on that in a bit), her father, her cousin Felicite and Tati Estelle! Not only just her family, but her friends as well, like the people she meets at Patron Pal (like Jason, who’s a fellow intern).
There’s a clear focus on the dynamic between Alaine and her estranged mother, who’s constantly been occupied with work. The time that the Moulite sisters take to explore family dynamics allows it to become such a layered element of the novel.
Alaine has never had such a strong connection with her mother, but is very close with her father! But, throughout the book, we see Alaine strengthen that connection with her. We even see when Alaine gets to Haiti, she learns more about her parents past and noticing them spend more time together, it gives them opportunities to talk and be more open.
Told through an epistolary style, we get an in-depth view of Alaine’s personal development through the different plot threads that find their way into this story! For example, we learn that Celeste has early on-set Alzheimer’s and a big plot thread of the novel explores Alaine’s internal struggle and confusion, as she also attempts to connect more with her mother during this transition in her life.
While there are many things that stayed with me by the end of this novel, something that really stuck with me through Alaine’s journey, was in learning about her mother’s Alzheimer’s. It allowed me to reflect and go back to a time when I was exactly in her shoes (one of my older relatives has Alzheimer’s). For me, though it was a much different journey I had to accept with a lot less time, I just can’t put into words how present I felt during those scenes and how they allowed me to reflect a lot during that time too.
From Alaine’s time at Patron Pal (her aunt’s organization/app to help kids in Haiti), learning about figures of her family and their country’s past, and much more, the plot threads are all given a great amount of page time and brilliantly weave their way together.
What I also appreciated about this novel was how it was very focused on the women of Alaine’s family, how their journeys are highlighted and are such vital pieces to the story that Alaine uncovers as she spends her time in Haiti!
“…to create a story about the women who make sacrifices for themselves and their families. They are often forgotten or overlooked but vital to a family’s survival…”
Women from the past/present of Alaine’s family and the country of Haiti itself are given a spotlight and through their stories and experiences, its tied deeply to how Alaine sees her family!
Now while this is novel with many layers and depth to it, I did want to discuss a couple elements that lowered the rating, for me personally.
I did find the pacing (at points) did get a bit slow and there were times I struggled to continue immersing myself at some points of the story. Though I do feel that’s mainly because of the format of the story and how personal it is. Secondly, though there were many plot points explored really well, it felt they were given such a focus at certain points, that later on they didn’t feel too vital anymore. By the end, some threads felt incomplete and I still felt there was more to explore (light romantic story-line between Alaine & Jason, Alaine’s dynamic with her parents, & the curse).
There minor issues aside though, this is a book that delivers such a personal journey through an honest, brave, and vulnerable protagonist like Alaine! Dear Haiti, Love Alainereally needs more hype because it takes you on such a unique journey, you have to read it and experience it for yourself!
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a unique YA Contemporary that is introspective through its mixed media format and delivers a deep and personal story with many layered messages! The journeys Alaine and the family around her undergo throughout this novel, are explored thoroughly during Alaine’s visit to Haiti. The Moulite sisters deliver a debut that’s focus is on its complex characters and you see that through the mixed media format! Family, love, self-growth, and healing are just some of the many themes explored throughout this wonderful debut!