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.