It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 2/25/19

In reading:

It’s hard to believe that Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea qualifies as historical fiction, but it’s set in 2002, shortly after 9/11, and even though that feels like about five minutes ago to me, it’s definitely historical. I loved the main character, Shirin, a Muslim teenager who chooses to wear hijab. Shirin has had it up to here with other people–their racism, their offensive comments and invasive stares, their inability to ever rise to the occasion and just plain be decent. She has built some defensive walls around herself, and she’s determined to get through high school without friends and definitely without boyfriends. I loved Shirin’s voice and reading her perspective on life and people.

I think the novel isn’t quite as strong when the love interest plot takes over about 2/3 of the way through, though I imagine for many readers, this will be the best part. An awful lot of plot is crammed into the final third of the book and many events are summed up by Shirin rather than rendered as scenes. Given the thoughtful pacing up to that point, I would have rather had a longer novel where events could unfold. But I did find the romance believable and liked how Mafi explores Shirin’s resistance to feeling vulnerable.

Another Brooklyn is a novel for grown-ups that’s very much about the ways that we make sense of and are haunted by our childhoods and adolescence, especially those moments where innocence is lost. It’s a spare and evocative blend of scenes from the present and memories of the past, especially the main character August’s tight group of girlfriends who were everything to her when she was 11 and 12. It’s not an easy book to read: so much danger and trauma rests right beneath the surface here. But I think it’s probably the best thing Jacqueline Woodson has written–that deceptively placid prose conveying so much pain and fear.

The Spill Zone, the first volume of Scott Westerfeld’s two-part dystopian graphic novel series, was one of my favorite graphic novels last year, and The Broken Vow won’t disappoint readers who loved The Spill Zone. It’s a bigger story with more characters and a broader scope and goes in a very different direction than I imagined it would. The art by Alex Puvilland continues to be absolutely phenomenal.

Planting Stories is a picture book biography of Pura Belpre, a Puerto Rican immigrant who became a bilingual assistant at the New York Library and later created innovative storytimes, complete with Puerto Rican folktales and puppets. She took a long hiatus from librarian work in the middle of her life to write and publish children’s books and to travel with her husband, but then returned to her work promoting literacy at the library later in life. I enjoyed learning more about the woman for whom one of my favorite ALA awards is named. The art is especially colorful and charming.

I really love a picture book that pretty much demands to be picked up by teenagers, and The Roots of Rap is one. I don’t think this was in my house for five minutes before my son had spotted it. He was soon pouring over the incredible art by Frank Morrison. The text by Carole Boston Weatherford is brief and poetic but accomplishes its goal to share the history of rap. There is ample and interesting back matter for those who want to learn more.

17 thoughts on “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 2/25/19

  1. I always enjoy reading your reviews of books. I read Another Brooklyn a while ago and would like to read it again. I am reading Jacqueline’s latest middle grade, Harbor Me, aloud with one of my groups of students. Her gift of language is a beautiful thing to read aloud.

    • I still have Harbor Me to read. I like to save her new books for awhile and savor them, if you know what I mean. I have a feeling I am going to love Harbor Me. It’s rare for me to reread, especially books for grown-ups, but I could imagine rereading Another Brooklyn too. Such a rich novel.

  2. Another Brooklyn sounds really good. I was just looking on Goodreads and it appears that all my “friends” have rated it very high — I just missed the boat when it came out. Adding it to my list. And thank you for turning me on to A Very Large Expanse of Sea, last week!

    • So glad you enjoyed Large Expanse! I booktalked it in Children’s Lit yesterday (even though it’s technically YA of course!) and it was snapped up immediately. I haven’t read any of Mafi’s other books but might try one of her series.

  3. I just read a review of A Very Large Expanse of Sea on another post, too, will find it! I loved Another Brooklyn, though sad to read with all the nuances Woodson enters into the story. And, yes, The Roots of Rap is fantastic. I still haven’t gotten the Pura Belpre bio, would like to read it. Thanks, Elisabeth!

  4. I loved Another Brooklyn, but the truth is that I end up being smitten with whatever Jacqueline Woodson writes. I’ll be looking for Roots of Rap. Unfortunately my library doesn’t have it yet. They don’t have Planting Stories either. It’s probably a good thing since I have no time to read what I already have checked out. I liked The Broken Vow, but it didn’t wow me like the first one did. I do agree with you that it won’t disappoint readers.

    • Agreed about Broken Vow. The Spill Zone was a wow, while The Broken Vow was good but not so dazzling. Still, a good resolution to the story. Roots of Rap will take you no time at all to read once your library gets it!

  5. I’m making a book order this week and Roots of Rap is going on the list for sure. Thanks! I’m going to need to check out Spill Zone & The Broken Vow.

  6. I’ve seen innumerable Instagram posts about A Very Large Expanse of Sea and how it’s a great read. I’m curious now too about the love plot taking over 2/3 of the way through. Do you think it would have been less overwhelming had they introduced it at the beginning, or do you think it could have been left out completely and strengthened the book? I’ll be putting it on my TBR list.

    • It’s probably just my crankiness about romance, LOL. She does lead up to the romance really well, I think, but there is just a lot of drama surrounding their relationship and it seems like every page has some major incident when the rest of the book was fairly internal and thoughtful. I will be glad for you to read it and tell me what you think.

  7. Hi Elisabeth! Any recommendations for books along the lines of Junie B. Jones? We just finished that series and Owen loved it. But I’m not sure what to read next! He also liked Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little (what an odd story), and we’ve read Danny the Champion of the world, and James & the Giant Peach (much stranger a story than I remembered, too). I’m not sure what to read next!

    • What about the Stink series by Megan McDonald, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, of course Ramona by Beverly Cleary, Fenway and Hattie series by Victoria Coe, Poppleton series by Cynthia Rylant, Alien in My Pocket series by Nate Ball, Toys Go Out series by Emily Jenkins, The Mouse and the Motorcycle books by Beverly Cleary, Dory Fantasmagory series by Abby Hanlon, the Lulu series by Judith Viorst, the Masterpiece Adventures series by Elise Broach, the Infamous Ratsos series by Kara Lareau…. I could keep going but this might be enough, LOL. Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series might also work. I also love Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows. If you read all the Clementine books, you can then start her series about Waylon. Elana Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat. Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot. I’m really going to stop now!

  8. I just read the Pura Belpré story today and The Roots of Rap is next in the nonfiction pile! I agree – the colors in the Belpré book are fantastic.
    I really wish I had SEA in the time period after 9.11. I admit that I did not know what to think, I had been living in my white world for so long. This was a book, even now, that helped me better understand.

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