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+
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+
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+
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+
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+
Pashmina is a lovely graphic novel, visually charming, colourful and offering real insight into growing up as part of the diaspora. Though I visited India as a child and never had the idealised version that Priyanka sees through the magic pashmina and her imaginary companions, the peculiar estrangement of being Indian–but not really struck home.
The warm but also fraught relationship between Priyanka and her single mother was beautifully conveyed. I also loved the depiction of her and her mother’s family friends–like Priyanka we didn’t have relatives here so friends took the place of extended family. The fantasy elements were delicately interwoven and the move from black and white to colour here was absolutely gorgeous. My 10 year old daughter loved it too. 9+
Beatrix Lee, free spirit, poet, music playlist expert is starting seventh grade, her mother is expecting her new baby sister and she doesn’t have any friends.
At least she used to have a best friend, but the best friend started hanging out with someone else and Bea felt like she made an idiot of herself at a pool party over the summer and since then…they haven’t talked. At all.
And despite the nice librarian who gets her into the school magazine, and the (kind of cool, actually) people she meets there: 8th graders Briggs & Jaime & Will who has his own issues, all she really, really wants is to go back to the time when she had her own ‘person’ and she wasn’t alone.
But someone’s leaving notes in the tumbledown wall where Bea posts her haikus. Is it one of her new magazine friends, who love her poetry? Or Will, with his eccentric schemes to break into a local millionaires mansion and walk the maze? Or….could it be the ‘person’ she thought she’d lost? Bea comes to realise that friendship means knowing that you, yourself are enough and to let her own light shine, no matter what.
The Way To Bea is a lovely middle-grade book about friendship, difference and accepting who we are. 10+