The Poet X


The Poet X is an amazing book that cleverly explores the verse-novel form. I love poetry and verse-novels both, but this could convert a non-believer. Xiomara Batista and her twin Xavier live with their mother and father who are immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Their mother works two jobs, goes to Mass every day and keeps a strict eye on Xiomara, who is not allowed to date. Their father is around without really being there for them and only a kind teacher Ms. Galiano, who runs the poetry club, and Aman, a boy Xiomara is attracted to, give Xiomara any happiness.

But as her relationship with Aman and her interest in slam poetry burgeon, Xiomara and her religious mother are heading for conflict. Xiomara’s name means ‘one who is ready for war’ and Xiomara finds a voice to fight for what she believes in.

The poetry here is fluent and expressive, with vivid descriptions of Xiomara’s neighbourhood, friends, church and school and the narrative unfolding naturally through verse. I especially loved the poem Xiomara writes for her mother in both Spanish and English:

Tu silencio amuebla una casa oscura.

Pero aun a riego de  quemarse,

la mariposa nocturna siempre busca la luz


Your silence furnishes a dark house

But even at risk of burning

the moth always seeks the light

Acevedo is a star of slam poetry herself and you can find many videos of her performing on YouTube.

Here she is with AfroLatina


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Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is an immersive, compelling account of the coming of age of seventeen old Kiko. Kiko’s Japanese father and white American mother are divorced and her mother is toxic to the point of being emotionally abusive.

Her creepy uncle also sexually assaulted her as a child, though her mother refuses to believe this. Kiko survives her household (her brothers don’t communicate much) with the help of her best friend and her art, despite her limiting social anxiety.

When her old childhood buddy, Jamie, visits town for graduation and they reconnect, he offers her an escape–a chance to visit him in California. Here Kiko is befriended by an older Japanese artist, Hiroshi, and his family and begins to realise how wonderful her life might be away from her awful mother.

So much to relate to here. This is a lovely book for those who have endured being ‘different’ from the standards of beauty around them, survived critical parenting, anxiety and self-doubt and made it out the other side.

More importantly, it’s an essential book for those teens who haven’t made it out–yet.

I loved the references to Japanese mythology, Kiko’s artworks and how things are left (realistically) somewhat unresolved at the end with regard to Kiko and her mother.

(The book also reminded me of how much I enjoyed  Gadget Girl, by Suzanne Kamata, a story about Aiko, a teen girl with a Japanese father and artist mother who has cerebral palsy and draws manga featuring Gadget Girl, her superhero alter ego.)


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Clayton Bird Goes Underground


I’m a huge fan of Rita Williams-Garcia’s  amazing Gaither sisters trilogy (beginning with One Crazy Summer) but hadn’t explored her latest, a short, stand-alone novel aimed at 8-12 year olds.

CBGU was listed for a National Book Award and had multiple (5!!!) starred reviews but was inexplicably passed over in the recent Newbery/Coretta Scott King awards, albeit in a very strong field that was dominated by some hard-hitting and excellent YA novels.

But please do read CBGU because it’s an absolute gem. Short, lyrical and told over a tight span of time, this tale of music, grief and Clayton’s grandfather Cool Papa is an instantly engaging book for musical kids and a great read-aloud for class. In fact, I’m going to nominate it for our occasional family book club. Oh and the audio book is wonderful.

Recommended 9+


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I Am Thunder


I Am Thunder is the tale of level-headed Muzna, trying to be what her parents want her to be: a good Pakistani Muslim girl, no make-up, no boyfriends and just the right amount of religion in her life. Oh and a doctor. Even though her  dream is to write novels. (All too relatable). When Muzna moves to a new school and meets impossibly dreamy Arif  it seems, unbelievably for Muzna, like he’s interested in her. Muzna begins to attend meetings with Arif and his fanatically religious brother Jameel. Muzna is a funny, self-deprecating and believable teen and her questioning her parents’ values versus others she meets is all too believable. But it turns out that Jameel is planning a terror attack and Muzna is the only one who can stop him–even it means putting herself and Arif at risk.

I loved Muzna’s character and her struggle to find her own path within Islam. Khadijah a hijab-wearing committed Muslim student provides a necessary voice and I would have liked to hear more of her. In fact I’d have been happy with a whole book just about this without the terror angle and Muzna saving the day, though when I asked my teen son he thought this part was ‘awesome, really exciting,’

A recommended read for 12+

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Long Way Down


Long Way Down is already a National Book Awards Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It’s been published in the UK in a special edition illustrated by Chris Priestley. I was unable to appreciate the illustrations fully reading on a Kindle though they looked intriguing. And I’m all for novels in verse (or any poetry really) being illustrated. But Reynolds storytelling and powerful verse stand up alone. The stanzas are short, with staccato bursts of language that really benefit from being read or spoken aloud.

Will’s brother Shawn is dead. He knows where Shawn keeps his gun and heads out to take revenge. But the ride down in the elevator is a long one, with some unexpected passengers. A completely engrossing fast-paced read for 12+

Me and Tony

waited like we always do

for the rumble to stop

before we picked our heads up

and poked our heads out

to count the bodies

This time

there was only one                                            Shawn



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This Is Just A Test


Duelling grandmas, bar mitzvahs, trivia quiz teams and um, nuclear fallout shelters combine to unlikely but hilarious effect in this novel for middle-grade readers.

1983 and David, Da-Wei Horowitz is worried about his approaching bar mitzvah. His Chinese grandma Wai Po and Jewish grandma Granny M don’t  agree on anything, his nerdy friend Hector is being pushed out by his new and more savvy trivia-team buddy Scott and he can’t even speak in straight sentences to the girl he has a crush on. And having watched a TV movie about a nuclear attack on America called The Day After just about everyone is freaked out by the threat of nuclear attack.

This is a sweet, funny, relatable read for 10+ boys and girls. The two grandmas are hilarious and the Thanksgiving scene ! My kids who are of dual heritage (though not Chinese or Jewish) could totally relate.

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Saints and Misfits


Saints and Misfits is the tale of Janna, in her sophomore year at high school (roughly equivalent to Year 10 in the UK) and with a number of problems. One, her annoying big brother is on a year out of college, dating Miss Perfect from mosque and worst of all STEALING HER BEDROOM. Two, a creepy  cousin of one of her best friends tried to assault her. Three, she has a desperate crush on a high school senior who is a perfectly unsuitable boy. On top of this, Janna is still adjusting to her parents’ divorce and her dad’s new, non-Muslim family. As Janna moves between her worlds, home, school, mosque and community she finds the strength to challenge the community’s perception of her assailant as a super-religious ‘saint’ and speak up about her assault. Janna’s gentle friendship with an elderly man (Mr Ram) living in her building who quotes Rumi to her adds charm. Janna is a great character, spiky, opinionated and ultimately brave enough to speak out. 14+

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