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Pride–love in the ‘hood
Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix
by Ibi Zoboi
In a fun retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, similar themes of class differences and the prejudices that accompany them are the focus of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride. The characters are of Haitian-Dominican background and the setting is the “hood” of Bushwick in Brooklyn.
Life changes dramatically for the Benitez sisters when the rundown property across the street is renovated by the upper class Darcy family. Ainsley Darcy, who attends Cornell, is attracted to Janae Benitez, a student at Syracuse. His younger brother Darius is treated harshly and with suspicion by our narrator who is also the protagonist, Zuri Benitez, age 17. The Darcy’s clearly don’t fit into the hood, but when Zuri goes out of Bushwick, she finds that she doesn’t fit in easily there.
This young adult novel explores the barriers put up intentionally and often unwittingly by the community and by individuals. It seems that Bushwick will be forced to change, but where does that leave its residents? If you are not from that community, dear reader, you will find yourself immersed in an unfamiliar culture with new words and customs. I found myself liking the characters and the warmness of their world although it is outwardly a much tougher one than the home community in which I was cocooned. This book exposes the assumptions it is all too easy to make when we are confronted with dissonance. Reading it will expand your horizons and make you dive deeply into your soul to consider how you view those whose life circumstances are different from your own.
Category: Young Adult, Romance, Fiction
Notes: Contains a fair amount of cursing as appropriate to the street language of the community
Publication: 2018—Balzer and Bray (HarperCollins)
Every book is a different hood, a different country, a different world. Reading is how I visit places and people and ideas. And when something rings true or if I still have a question, I outline it with a bright yellow highlighter so that it’s lit up in my mind, like a lightbulb or a torch leading the way to somewhere new.
If Janae is the sticky sweetness keeping us sisters together, then I’m the hard candy shell, the protector. If anyone wants to get to the Benitez sisters, they’ll have to crack open my heart first.
I’d look back at them with defiance and a little pride; a look that says that I love my family and we may be messy and loud, but we’re all together and we love each other.
Prince Caspian–the return to Narnia
by C. S. Lewis
A year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis returns Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to Narnia. In Prince Caspian, pulled there by a magical force as they are waiting for their trains to take them to boarding school, they suddenly find themselves in the ruins of their old castle Cair Paravel, hundreds of years later in Narnian time.
Through many adventures, the children meet Prince Caspian, the rightful king of Narnia, and enthrone him, replacing his usurper, his Uncle Miraz. There is a wonderful cast of characters in this novel. Prince Caspian’s tutor, Dr. Cornelius, is instrumental in helping him escape certain death. The creatures of Narnia range from mythical, such as Bacchus, Dryads, Dwarfs, and Centaurs, to talking animals of a larger size than normal. Reepicheep is a valiant and honorable leader of mice. Trufflehunter is a kind and friendly badger. The mighty lion Aslan appears to Lucy first and the other children don’t believe her. What follows is each one of them coming to believe in Aslan in their own way and a great battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines.
As the fantasy continues, so do the fun and adventure. I am excited to read another tale by the master storyteller C. S. Lewis. He excels in creation of characters, setting, and plot, and most especially in weaving adventure and theology seamlessly leaving the reader with much to contemplate.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian
Notes: This book is a part of The Chronicles of Narnia. There is debate even today over the order one should read these books in as the series contains a prequel and a book that relates to Narnia but does not include the children as major characters. Having not read the whole series yet, I can not chime in on that debate, but I do strongly encourage the reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I suspect will be my favorite, prior to reading Prince Caspian.
This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children.
Publication: 1951—Harper Collins
“Where do you think you saw him?” asked Susan. “Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–a classic
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book most people think of when there is mention of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. It is, in fact, the first book he wrote in this popular series, although later he wrote a prequel. I had read the fantasy many years ago. Reading it again was an absolute delight. The erudite medieval literature professor (at Oxford and later at Cambridge) and Christian theologian was a premier storyteller. He engages the reader regardless of age, in the plot, characters, and setting from the first page where he explains that air-raids during the war send four children out of London to live with an old Professor. While playing hide-and-seek, the youngest discovers a magical world accessed through a wardrobe.
From there proceeds an enjoyable story centered around the forces of good and evil. The White Witch is the epitome of evil—beautiful, but cold and cruel. She is a mistress of trickery ensnaring Edmund, the next to the youngest, in a web of deceit, captivating him with delicious Turkish Delight. Aslan is a lion, and he stands for good, rescuing those turned into statues by the White Witch and sacrificing himself.
Part of the beauty of this masterpiece is that it can be read on several levels. C.S. Lewis says in his dedication of the book that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” That is where I found myself during this reading, but I also read it for its theological underpinnings. Whatever your purpose in reading, you will find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe both entertaining and fulfilling.
Category: Fantasy, Christian
Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.
Publication: 1950—Harper Collins
“And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.”
“…if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time.”
I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.
A Pho Love Story–kitchens in conflict
A Pho Love Story
by Loan Le
Perfect for Valentine’s Day—or any day for that matter! Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story, written with a teenage or young adult audience in mind, is a modern day Vietnamese-American “Romeo and Juliet” tale. Báo and Linh, seniors in high school, do not understand the family conflict that has gone on for as long as they can remember. Their families’ restaurants, serving authentic Vietnamese dishes, are situated on opposites sides of the same street. The parents, however, clearly dislike each other. In fact, the children are not allowed to talk or play together. Is this conflict a result of competition for economic survival or is there a deeper reason going back to their days in Vietnam and the dangerous boat trips to safety and freedom? Cultural norms for showing respect to their parents prevent both Báo and Linh from questioning them about the deeply felt social boundaries in the neighborhood.
Báo and Linh are sympathetic characters; Báo is trying to decide on a career and Linh wants to make her passion and talent for painting acceptable to her parents. The Vietnamese flavor throughout is authentic and reflective of the author’s family heritage. Because both families own restaurants, food plays an important role. Vietnamese culture is also prominent in descriptions of the parents and the family dynamics. As someone familiar with Spanish, French, and Latin, I can usually read expressions from those languages when added to the text for authenticity, but the phrases included in this book sent me scurrying to a translation app. Most meanings could be divined from context, but I really like to know the exact meaning of words, whether in English or another language, for a deeper reading experience. A Pho Love Story was enriching in that respect.
I am sure most readers can predict the outcome, but not how the characters will arrive there. The journey is bumpy, but fun, as the author weaves literary magic within the plot. The story is told by the teenagers from alternating points of view by chapter, a technique which works really well in this book. There are several interesting adults who act as mentors to the pair without telling them what to do. This would be an engaging read for teenagers and young adults.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Teen and Young Adult
Notes: There is some bad language sprinkled throughout the book.
Publication: February 9, 2021—Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
My parents—my mom, really—has now perfected the art of non-encounters; knowing their schedule right down to when they close and when they leave. In a way, their schedule has become ours. We’re background characters in each other’s stories.
She trusts Viet to do his job, as well as make sure I do mine. The concept’s not perfect: We’re the same age, and letting him watch over me makes as much sense as letting a horse and a pony run the show. But somehow it works.
I like the writer’s style. One person can say something that’s been said before but in a way that’s completely different; their unique experiences and personality infuse their words, their sentences.
Lessons in Falling–finding yourself as a teenager
Lessons in Falling
Lessons in Falling has the expert touch of a gymnast in writer Diana Gallagher. Although the focus of the story is gymnastics, the book is so much more. This is not one of those themed books for young readers aimed at an audience of pre-teen and teenage girls who are, were, or want to be gymnasts. The scope of this book ranges from teenage friendships to romantic relationships. It encompasses issues common to teenagers: college applications and scholarships, driver’s tests, depression, texting, work issues, immigration, parental expectations, extracurricular activities, and discrimination. The plot centers around Savannah, an aspiring gymnast who has suffered an injury, and her longtime friend, Cass. It explores their personalities and relationship during their critical senior year of high school. Teenage years are chaotic for many; Gallagher does not oversimplify or exaggerate the difficulties her characters encounter.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Spencer Hill Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Teens and Young Adults
- Some bad language
- Although it did not ruin the book for me, I wished I had not seen a summary prior to reading this book. I kept anticipating a certain event and would rather have been surprised when it occurred.
Publication: February 7, 2017—Spencer Hill Press
She could go on all day like this, using me as the shoreline that her words beat against.
Yesterday, she comforted me. Today, I’m her anchor. At the end of the day, we’re thicker than humidity in July.
As kids we played together, schemed together, nursed bruised knees and silly crushes on boy bands. She was quiet unless she was with me. Together, chances were that we were screaming as we sprinted into the ocean and laughing as we splashed each other. We whispered together under the trees as the neighborhood kids ran around searching for us in Manhunt, never giving up our spot. I rode my bike to her house when Richard was first deployed, blinking tears out of my eyes. She met me at the curb and grabbed my hand. Although her hand was bony, cool, without calluses, it was just as strong as mine. Sometimes I think she hasn’t let go. She keeps her arm around me now, reminding me that I’m her anchor, that she will run to me if she needs to be safe.