This Is Just A Test

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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

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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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Midnight Without A Moon

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This is an utterly beautiful book, gentle and lyrical, that deals with events that are horrifically ugly.

13 year old Rose Lee Carter is a black girl growing up in Mississippi in the 1950s under Jim Crow and as such, she is well acquainted with life’s harshness.

Her mother has remarried and left her and her brother Fred Lee to be raised by their grandparents, strict Ma Pearl and kind Papa, along with her cousin, Queen, favoured because of her light skin. The family are poor, Rose must toil in the fields when not in school, her gentle Aunt Ruthie is the victim of domestic violence and when members of the NAACP try to encourage black people to register to vote, the white backlash is bad enough to lead to murder.

The murder of Emmett Till, visiting from the North and only fourteen years old, and the acquittal of his murderers spurred on the burgeoning civil rights movement and is now seen as a turning-point in American history. The murderers later admitted to beating Till to death, tying his body to a cotton-gin fan and throwing him in the Tallahatchie river. The murderer’s wife, who claimed Till whistled at her and made a pass, later admitted she lied.

Lynda Williams Jackson has managed to weave this historical injustice into and through this marvellous book, while it remains very much Rose Lee Carter’s story. 10+

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When Dimple Met Rishi

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I have to admit, I was wrong about this book.

Let me explain.

I’m so not a romance fan.

I hate the fact that books with Asian protagonists always have frigging arranged marriages.

A book where the parents are trying to marry off two teenagers? I mean that was considered backward in my day–even my ‘pillars-of society’ respectable Indian parents waited until I’d graduated before trying to set me up and that was a quarter of a century ago! (Needless to say, I didn’t go for it.)

But despite the above, WDMR is delightful, from the meeting cute to the inevitable obstacles in the path of true love, to the mushy but cute ending.

Dimple is a great character, a feisty determined young woman who is going places and those places definitely do not include a trip up the aisle (or saat phere round the sacred fire in this case.)

Rishi is…well who is Rishi? At first we see him, like Dimple as dull and  slightly creepy as well as being a total parent-pleaser. Who wants that? Not Dimple, for sure.

But it turns out Rishi is a pretty decent guy, smitten with Dimple and suffering from a severe case of Obedient Eldest Son Syndrome. Truth be told, hewould never have been my cup of chai but the ups and downs of the teens’ stay at a fancy web development camp have enough humour, heart and sheer joie-de-vivre to leave even this most cynical reader with a smile on her face. Tremendous fun. 13+

 

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Full Cicada Moon

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I adore novels in verse and this gentle tale of Mimi, who is Japanese and African-American is set in 1969, the year of the Apollo moon landing. Mimi’s dad is a college professor and when he is transferred to Vermont, Mimi finds herself in a neighbour hood and school where she is one of very few non-whites. Their only neighbour is hostile, Mimi hasn’t made many friends at school and worst of all, Vermont is stuck in the 1950s when it comes to gender attitudes, with the girls expected to do home economics instead of shop and Mimi’s interest in astronomy brushed off.

Mimi is a strong character who knows her own and her family’s worth and she won’t be daunted, eventually making friends with the neighbour’s visiting nephew and a new girl who has moved from the segregated South. The mores and niceties of the time are demonstrated, we are often angry on Mimi and her family’s behalf while her father believes that gently does when it comes to changing people’s attitude:

“Like raindrops on granite.” I say,
because we know that’s how I persist—
drip, drip, drip
until the granite cracks.”

Reading  in a post-Brexit UK under the shadow of Trump’s America, makes one rather bitter about this–but that’s not this wonderful book’s fault.

This would be a perfect Year 6 or 7 class reader.10+

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Piecing Me Together

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Piecing Me Together is a lovely, delicately told examination of a black teenage girl from a deprived neighbourhood negotiating her way through a scholarship to private school  while keeping it real with the friends and family she doesn’t want to leave behind.

Jade is a model student, a good girl. But at her fancy private school she’s an outsider, not having made a real friend in two years. So when she makes friends with Sam, another scholarship girl, and is asked to take part in a mentoring programme, she’s hoping for so much. But Maxine, her mentor, is from a firmly middle-class black background and has her own issues to deal with. And when Sam gets picked over Jade for a trip abroad…and doesn’t react in the same way as Jade and her friends to an instance of police brutality nearby, well Jade starts to wonder:

…if a black girl’s life is only about being stitched together and coming undone, being stitched together and coming undone.
I wonder if there’s ever a way for a girl like me to feel whole.

This is a beautifully written book and I’m so glad it’s being published in the UK with that stunning cover. 11+

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The First Rule of Punk

 

BOTH my kids and I enjoyed reading The First Rule of Punk so much we decided to have a mini family book club about it. TFROP is the story of Maria Luisa (or Malu as she prefers) who moves with her mother (SuperMexican, academic)  away from her Dad (white, record-store owning, ageing punk) to Chicago.

How Malu copes with a new high school, meeting other Mexican-American kids for the first time and finds her own friendship group and identity really resonated with my own kids who are also of diverse heritage. And Malu is just a great character, feisty, impulsive and secure enough in her own punk Mexican identity to make her own zines (which punctuate the text delightfully) dress in her own zany style, wear  punked-up make-up and dye her hair green despite her mother’s very understandable hand-wringing…

We turned our kitchen into Calaca, the coffee-shop Malu hangs out at, ordered drinks from our waitress (yours truly) and made our own zines while discussing the book and what we loved about it. And (of course) we played our own punk playlist.

There is a great interview with Celia Perez  here together with her own playlist! Highly recommended 9+

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