Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow #DiverseKidsBooks #MixedRace #biracial

cover for The Girl Who Fell from the skyNella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing tells the moving story of a young black woman who decides to pass for white, and the story ends with the woman falling or being pushed out of a window to her death. Heidi Durrow has said that Larsen, who, like Durrow, is half black and half Danish, is one of her literary heroes, and the mother of the main character in Durrow’s 2011 bestseller The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is named Nella. Durrow’s Nella has a daughter, Rachel, who is half Danish and half black, and it is this girl, Rachel, whose story is related in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. Hers is a story that offers homage to Nella Larsen’s work, as well as bears witness to an actual story that Durrow read about, a recent true story of a mother who fell, or jumped, from the top of a building while holding her children; only a daughter survived. (more…)

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinero #WeNeedDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #DiverseYANovels #BilingualKidsBooks

cover Gabi A Girl in piecesGabi, a Girl in Pieces is told through the journal entries of Gabi Hernandez, a light-skinned bilingual Mexican-American 17-year-old girl with a lot going on the home front. One of her two best friends is gay, while the other is unexpectedly pregnant, her mother is overbearing, and her father is a committed meth addict. Yet, Gabi still finds joy in her life.

She’s got a lot of angst and a dark sense of humor, which help her deal with her less than perfect circumstances and makes her one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever read. She’s smart, but not brilliant. Strong, but often shy, she usually thinks of the best reaction to a situation only after it’s already happened. She’s self-conscious about her body, lack of money, and drug addict father but not crippled under the weight of these worries. In her diary, she curses regularly, but in the rebellious teenage “I-just-learned-swearing-feels-good” kind of way. Gabi’s two biggest life goals are to get into Berkeley and get a boyfriend. She works diligently at both. (more…)

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

cover for Hold Tight Don't Let GoI began reading Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go with my adoptive mother and adult adoptee eyes. As I read, I thought often of my pre-teen daughter who is adopted from Haiti. Although the author, Laura Wagner, does not write into the adoption conversation per se, she offers a story of Haiti and its people developed with respect and beauty.

Many people outside Haiti can only see the country through the perspective of “other”, but Wagner does the excellent work of telling the country’s story of difficulties, danger, and poverty alongside stories of humanity, hope, and strength.

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Jasmine Skies by Sita Brahmachari

Alternate photo for Jasmine SkiesWhen I heard Sita Brahmachari had written a sequel to Artichokes Hearts (Mira in the Present Tense) I could not wait to get my hands and eyes on it. Like a memorable character does, Mira had gone on living in my mind and I was excited to see where her creator had taken her. But while Brahmachari’s second novel does continue to focus on Mira and includes character references from her previous book it did not feel like a sequel or a continuation from the first novel. So while it did not satisfy my curiosity, it does mean this book can stand on its own. A reader can begin with Jasmine Skies and not feel lost.

Jasmine Skies reintroduces the reader to Mira Levenson at the age of 14. After the passing of her grandfather, family ties were tenuously rekindled and Mira is on the way to Kolkata, India to meet her grandfather’s side of the family for the first time. In her bag she has letters taken without permission from her mother. Mira believes these letters hold the clues to discover the reason her grandfather never returned to India and why Mira’s mother and her same aged cousin, Anjali, stopped speaking. Despite the strained relationship, Mira is excited to be staying with Anjali and her daughter, Priya for three weeks. She is excited to meet members of her family for the first time and to get to know Kolkata, the place her grandfather told her stories about all her her life.

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Dust of Eden–a novel in verse by Mariko Nagai.

cover Dust of EdenMariko Nagai’s Dust of Eden is a lovely, spare story told by a young Japanese American protagonist who goes by both her American name, Mina, as well as her Japanese name, Masako. This book is a series of images and scenes that tell how a young girl in the United States in the 1940s navigates being both Mina and Masako, both American and Japanese, both feeling at home and feeling alien.

The novel is a set of poems from Mina’s point of view interspersed with letters to and from her best friend in Seattle as well as short personal essays Mina writes for school. These lyric pieces are arranged chronologically and geographically, with the first poem of the book titled “Seattle, Washington October 1941,” and the last poem called “Epilogue December 1945.” In the span between, Mina details her life in Seattle right before Pearl Harbor (a life filled with her parents, grandfather, brother, best friend, and school), and she writes us through her father’s unjust imprisonment in Montana after Pearl Harbor and her family’s internment first in Washington and then in Idaho, ending with her brother volunteering to fight for the Allies and her family finally being allowed to return to their Seattle home after the war is over.

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Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

cover Promise Me SomethingDue to unfortunate zoning laws, Reyna Fey becomes the new girl at school and misses her old life dearly. While at her old school she was not part of the most popular crowd, she did have a core group of friends who’d been BFFs most their lives. Reyna makes for a relatable teen character in that she has a lot of drama going on at home and school. Her mother was killed in a car accident 7 years ago and since then her father has been raising her by himself. But, his most recent girlfriend, Lucy, is becoming a permanent fixture in their household and Reyna is not coping well with that scenario. Reyna finds Lucy particularly intolerable because a few months prior to the beginning of the story, Lucy’s reckless driving caused a wreck that severely injured, and almost killed, Reyna’s dad.

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Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

cover for Otherbound by Corinne DuyvisDuyvis’ Otherbound is a tour-de-force in complications. The story is told through dual narrators, Nolan and Amara. Nolan, a bilingual Hispanic teenager growing up in small town Arizona, has a crippling neurological disorder, masked as epilepsy. This disorder has already cost him one foot and incurred massive medical debt for his working class family. In the past, Nolan’s disorder even caused hallucinations whenever he blinked. He is constantly aware of the burden he unintentionally places on his family and struggles to connect with those around him, his disabilities impairing him both physically and mentally. Nolan is also doing his best to hide a secret: the hallucinations never stopped. Every time Nolan closes his eyes his mind is transported into the body of our second protagonist, Amara.

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Perfect Lil Blends by Luke Whitehead

cover for Perfect Lil BlendsPerfect Lil Blends: A Reality Book that Celebrates the Diversity  of Multicultural Children  is like a series of love letters from parents to their children accompanied by their children’s portraits. Compiled by Luke Whitehead, the founder of Mixed Nation, this is a photo essay of children of mixed heritage from almost every racial, cultural, and ethnic background. Yes, most of these children are exceptionally beautiful however, similar to, but more personal than, Kip Fulbeck’s photo essay book Mixed, each photo of a child is accompanied by a description of the child’s life interests and a note of dedication from the parents to the child, making this more than a vanity book of portraits. (more…)

When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

cover for When a Black Girl SingsIf When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright was a dish served at a fancy restaurant it would be described as “adoption woes over a bed of teenage angst served with a side of parental problems and an empty glass of communication.” Doesn’t sound like a favorite dish you would order time after time, but it does fill a definite need on the menu.

The main character, Lahni, is a 13 year old black girl who was adopted by white, heterosexual parents when she was a baby. Living with white parents in Connecticut, Lahni attends a private school, with only a handful of non-white students. She feels completely out of place, alone and unable to connect with friends. Adding to her troubles, her parents are getting a divorce and her father has a new “friend”. Then her mother suggests they try going to church, where Lahni meets and befriends the choir director and the church’s soloist who are both black. She is coerced by her music teacher, who sees promise in her, into joining a singing competition at her school. Lahni joins her church choir to help her prepare for the competition and in the end finds her voice.

I found at many times in this book I was frustrated with Lahni and her parents mainly because they seemed to be hopeless at communicating honestly with one another and others around them. After a particularly upsetting incident at school where a classmate calls Lahni an “African baby on a television special” her mom says, “Maybe she meant it as a compliment.” Or when Lahni’s dad finds her waiting outside the door listening to her parents scream at one another, he simply takes his suitcase and gets into the taxi. Lahni, following the role models set out for her, never talks with her parents (or anyone) about how it feels to be a black child adopted by a white family or about the troubles she has as the only black girl in her grade. Lahni keeps her best friend at bay, only telling her about her parents impending divorce at the very end and then again shuts her friend down when she asks questions. Lahni’s struggle with communication does not end with her inability to share her thoughts, but it seems she is not able to garner messages others are telling her as well. Her music teacher and choir director clearly express on multiple occasions their admiration for her singing, yet even to the end Lahni refuses to have confidence in her ability. That said, the teenage years are not perfect. Transracial adoption is not always heart-to-heart chats and a warm cup of cocoa. And I am NOT a black, teenage girl being raised by struggling white parents, so perhaps I just don’t get it. And perhaps there is some reader in Lahni’s exact situation who will want to take Lahni into her heart because she is singing the reader’s song.

At one point in the story, Lahni is being stalked by a white boy in school who calls himself Onyx 1. This boy focuses his affection on Lahni purely based on his desire to date a black girl. Later he gets in a knife fight with two black boys and he calls them “two black apes”. When Lahni hears this, she is so confused about how a person can want to date someone who is black, nickname themselves “black” and then use racial slurs. In typical teenage style, although scared of Onyx 1, she chooses to handle it on her own. Lahni never mentions it to her parents or to another adult until the end of the book after she is forced in a deserted parking lot to confront him. I dislike the fact that the author had Lahni deal with this issue on her own. Obviously, in fiction the author managed the confrontation to work out in Lahni’s favor but in real life confronting a stalker is truly dangerous. I want the message to young adult readers to clearly state, “ask for help from an adult if this happens to you.” I did however like that the author kept Onyx 1’s character as undesirable and Lahni told him to get lost. Too many times, plots include the “good girl” falling for a “bad boy” when she discovers his soft side.

This book has a light Christian theme to it, but it is not overwhelming. In the beginning Lahni attends church for the first time and by the end she performs “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and realizes she is not singing but she is in fact praying.

Recommendation: This book is suitable for readers age 13+.

Reviewer: Amanda Setty

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson

cover for Josephine by Patricia Hruby PowellA free verse prose poem tells the life story of the first black American international musical superstar Josephine Baker, born out of wedlock and raised in part by a single mother. Collage drawings give the book a rich tactile feel that almost transcends the flat page. The language, which tells the story of Baker’s creativity and success amidst the U.S.’s violent racism is continuously evocative. While the images are fun to look at for all ages, only children ready to learn about racism, race riots, and shadism should read the book, as those harsh realities made a huge impact on Josephine Baker’s life and career, and are represented in heartrending language and images in the book. This is a beautifully told story that will tempt both the child who loves, and the child who hates reading and poetry, to become a poet. Verse after verse, the reader will learn of Josephine’s courage, and her fierce determination to be center stage as the dancing star she believed she could become. Those afraid to move on to middle school, go off to boarding school, or attend a training camp for their sport or art will see in Josephine, a girl so committed to the fulfillment of dancing that she left home at thirteen-years-old to tour the country, and left her husband for Broadway when she was only fifteen-years-old. Those who never consider the power of humor will learn how Baker attracted the spotlight with her comedic facial expressions as she danced. Her dynamism will inspire the reader learning of her many landmark performances, as well as her choice to become a pilot and fight as a spy against the Nazis during WWII. With dramatic punctuations in the poetic language, the author tells of Baker’s economic fall, and how bankruptcy proved to be a painful lesson in excess for the generous humanitarian. But Powell makes sure the reader knows that Baker was a socially conscious performer. At one point the richest Negro woman in the world, Baker was a civil rights fighter who convinced the army and many venues to allow integrated audiences to attend her performances, and even convinced owners of segregated corporations to hire blacks. The language and illustrations will make you feel Josephine’s life— her ups and downs, her ultimate triumph in achieving every dream she had, including dying “breathless, spent, after a dance.”  (buy)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 10+