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Posts Tagged ‘young adult fiction’

When facing large problems of injustice, can one young person feel that her or his actions make a difference? Kekla Magoon’s novel The Rock & the River gives us a deeply personal glimpse of this question, through the eyes of narrator Sam Childs. In 1968 Chicago, Sam’s father is a leading civil rights activist, a friend and follower of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Meanwhile, Sam’s 17-year-old brother Steven (Stick), frustrated by demonstrations amidst continuing injustice, becomes involved with the Black Panthers.

Sam endures an internal struggle. He longs to remain close to his brother, but his brother and father have a falling out. (Mr. Child’s strong position against violence even in self-defense leaves him unable to support the methods of the Panthers). After the death of Dr. King, the violence in the streets provides a twisted reflection of Sam’s internal struggle. A sense of forboding hangs over the book, yet all the while Sam is grasping at hope. Tragedy strikes, yet the final notes of the novel are uplifting.

Sam’s daily life shows the reader many of the challenges facing the African American community of the late 1960s (and, arguably, these problems persist today). There are several instances of police harassment and brutality, as well as racist assumptions and mistreatment by white people. For example, when Sam is browsing in a store, he reaches into his pocket for his money; the shopkeeper verbally abuses him, accuses him of shoplifting. These instances were heartbreaking to read because I know they are based in truth.

The portrait of the Black Panthers is a sympathetic one, but also balanced and unflinching. The reader learns of critical contributions made by the Panthers, such as free breakfast programs and efforts to build clinics. However, the story hints that some party members might have been drawn too quickly toward violence. A few details allude to the lack of gender equity in the distribution of the tasks of organizing. One small wish is that the author’s note, which touches on history, might recommend a couple of reliable, balanced sources on the Black Panthers.

This riveting debut novel, written for a young adult audience, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award.

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I figure if I keep reading Jacqueline Woodson’s books, I am bound to have an excellent summer. So far this month I have read After Tupac & D Foster and Feathers (both Newbery Honor books), and Miracle’s Boys is on the nightstand. My goal is to read all of her middle grade and young adult titles by the end of August—without being too greedy and monopolizing my public library’s collection.

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Last night I read Hush by Jacqueline Woodson. Yes, that’s right—last night, the whole book. It is not a long one, but still, I am no speed reader. The narrator was so compelling, I needed to let her finish telling her story before sleep.

Hush

When I first heard of this novel, I was skeptical. A family entering the witness protection program seemed too far-fetched for a realistic fiction fan like myself. I’m glad I ignored this thought, because the emotions of this story are very believable, and accessible to all readers: the pain of loss, the importance of having a sense of purpose, the desire to excel, the longing to fit in somewhere. I was stunned by how much depth of character Woodson could fit in such a short novel.

In the story, twelve-year-old Toswiah and her older sister Cameron leave Denver for an unnamed city. Their father, a police officer, has testified against fellow officers, and the family has received threats. Toswiah/Evie copes with leaving behind everyone she has known, while observing dramatic changes in her parents. Eventually Toswiah/Evie finds an outlet in running, a way to reconnect with her self and find a way forward.

I have read almost all all of Woodson’s picture books, but this is my first of her young adult novels. I am grateful that she has so many, because she is a stunning writer, and I plan to devour them all. This novel will count towards my reads for the African Diaspora Book Challenge, hosted by BrownGirl Speaks. I hope you’ll check it out. The reviews will give you fantastic reading suggestions.

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As part of the South Asian author challenge hosted by S. Krishna’s Books, and to feed my hunger for young adult novels, I read Gifted by Nikita Lalwani. On a foray into a bookstore the cover art caught my eye, and I requested it from my library. Meanwhile, I had come across several reviews raving about the book.

Gifted is a coming-of-age story about 14-year-old Rumi Vashey, set in Wales. Rumi has an uncanny ability with mathematics, and her father, seeing her as a prodigy, gives her a rigorous study schedule to prepare for possible early entry to Oxford. Lalwani does a good job of describing the layers of awkwardness and confusion that Rumi endures as she becomes more and more withdrawn from her school peers and increasingly worn out from an exhausting regimen. The details veer from predictable (best friend is a fellow chess club member) to the surprising (Rumi develops an addiction to cumin seeds).

While many scenes were well-crafted, and descriptions of inner life and outer surroundings were vibrant, I found I could not connect with Rumi. The author’s style was a bit more distant than what I most enjoy. The father, while not meant to be likable, was almost unbearable for me—almost like a father from Roald Dahl, except for a more human addition of pitifulness.

I will be keeping a close watch for future works from Lalwani, because I can see a lot of potential in her writing.

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