I loved Lowriders in Space and Lowriders to the Centre of the Earth is even better, if that’s possible. The same wonderful team of Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria and octopus (so cute he’s mistaken for a baby) El Chavo Flapjack are running their own garage.
The mysterious disappearance of their cat Genie leads the intrepid team with their souped-up lowrider all the way to the Underworld where they must outwit none other than Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is hoping for a cat skeleton to add to his creepy collection of calaveras. The pace is fast and punny (the coyote!) The drawings are lively, super detailed and AMAZING-again using the three-colour biro art of the first books and the snippets of Spanish, Mexican culture and mythology are well-placed. Really, I don’t know of a kid between 6 and 16 that wouldn’t enjoy this. A must. 8+
The Crossover is the winner of the 2015 Newbery medal. A verse novel about twin brothers Josh and Jordan (JB), both almost thirteen, both keen basketball players and rivals on and off the court. As Josh says:
If we didn’t love each other, we’d HATE each other
Dad or Chuck “Da Man” Bell is an ex-pro who coaches the boys, mom Crystal is an assistant principal who keeps them on the straight and narrow. But when a bet leads to Josh having to cut his dreads AND the new girl in school goes for JB, Josh’s game falls apart. He ends up slamming his brother in the face and they remain estranged until a family tragedy forces them back together.
The story bounces along, the verse tight and rhythmic as the game the boys are obsessed with, interspersed with prose and their dad’s basketball rules. An effortlessly quick read, but there’s so much here it would be a shame not to savour it. 10+ Perfect for sporty types who’d rather have a ball in their hand than a book.
There’s also Booked a verse novel about Nick, a soccer obsessive which sounds equally excellent.
X is a novelisation of the early life and transformation of Malcolm Little to Malcolm X.
Written by well-known YA author Kekla Magoon with Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, the story is grippingly told, weaving forward and back in time from Malcolm’s hard childhood as part of a large loving family, broken up by first his father’s death and his mother’s admission to a mental institution. From the age of thirteen Malcolm and all his siblings were fostered out to different homes. The death of his father and his mother’s incarceration (as well as his childhood home burning down) were precipitated by his parents strong activism for black rights (they were followers of Marcus Garvey).
Malcolm rejects his parents’ values, becomes a hustler nicknamed Red, gets involved in drugs and crime and ends up in prison. Despite his troubles, the bonds wth his brothers and sisters remain and finally pull him through.
It is his siblings’ conversion to Islam that persuades Malcolm to become a Muslim and we leave him at the end of the book, changing his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X (symbolising the African name he would never know, his own being the legacy of slaveowners).
A superbly well-told illuminating look at the young life of an American icon. 14+
Thanhha Lai won a Newbery Honor for Inside Out and Back Again, her verse novel based on her family’s harrowing escape from Vietnam at the end of the war.
I expected the book to be sad, beautiful, moving.
What I didn’t expect was for it to be funny. And it is, very funny, mostly in our protagonist, Ha’s response to the strangeness of American school, kids the language, food and so on. The humour adds to the poignancy of the desperate and precarious nature of their escape and existence in America. The family’s much loved father is missing in action and never found. Their mother must survive in a foreign country with her many children, no English and utterly dependent on the kindness (or otherwise) of strangers.
Relevant to today’s world and the refugee situation and completely brilliant.
It took me longer to warm up to Listen, Slowly, but warm up I did. Mai starts off as a typical Western teen: spoiled, self-centred and stroppy with her father and mother who have volunteered her to accompany her grandmother or Ba back to Vietnam in an attempt to find out, after all these years, what happened to her grandfather during the war. Mia’s gradual softening towards her beloved grandmother and the country she originates from is well-mapped out, with plenty of light relief supplied by intestinal troubles, teen romance among her extended family, a new friend named Ut and a giant pet frog. Which makes the truth about Mai’s grandfather or Ong all the more more harrowing when we finally learn it. A great read.
I haven’t read the first in the series (Rad American Women) but I can recommend Rad Women Worldwide as a fascinating compendium of heroines. From the well-known, e.g. Malala, Venus & Serena Williams and Frida Kahlo to the less well-known (to me): Faith Bandler, Sor Juana and Junko Tabei and from the historical (Enheduanna, Hypatia) to the contemporary (Bastardilla, Poly Styrene!) this is a great addition to a non-fiction library and I love the list (indexed by country of origin) of 250 other rad women at the back. Every page here tells a story, each woman is worthy of a book in their own right. Inspirational.
American Street is a wonderful book: a gritty teen tragedy with magic realist elements woven beautifully into the whole.
Fabiola is US-born but raised in Haiti with money sent by her Matant Jo, her single mother’s older sister. Landing in the US, her mother who’s on a tourist visa, is detained by immigration and Fabiola must negotiate thenew world of Detroit with her aunt and cousins: Chantal, Pri and Donna, alone.
There are mean girls at school, neighbourhood bad boys and drug-dealers as well as the old homeless guy, Bad Leg, who sings the blues on the corner of American Street and Joy Road. The story is woven together beautifully: elements of Fabiola’s voudou beliefs, her desperate wish to gain freedom for her mother and the violent world of her new hood coalesce to a tragic climax. Stunning. 14+
p.s. Fans of this book might like Edwidge Dantcat’s gorgeous Untwine also set in the Haitian diaspora.
This is a lovely ten story anthology of diverse authors, mostly contemporary ( one historical tale by Grace Lin.) Standouts for me were Kwame Alexander’s funny, off-beat, superhero story, Matt de la Pena’s tale of a summer of basketball and (my favourite) Jacqueline Woodson’s lovely, poignant vignette. I also really enjoyed the cute coming-of age LGBTQ-themed Christmas story by Tim Federle and Tim Tingle’s Bigfoot tale. But all the stories are worth reading and this anthology is a great introduction to some of the best children and YA authors out there.
Also recommended Open Mic, another fabulous, funny anthology that highlights diverse voices and experiences.