We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

we are okay

This is a sad but sweet, young adult novel that was recommended to me by my daughter.  It is the tale of Marin, named after the county in California from which she came, who is stranded, alone, in a dorm room in NY, during Christmas break.  As she anxiously awaits a visit from her friend, Mabel, the memories of her recent, tragic life events come back to her in waves, and she is forced to reconcile what she thought were the circumstances of her life with what was real.

This is a story in which sensuality is very striking.  The cold, stark setting really creates a mood for the whole book.  Descriptions of the freezing snow create a palpably silent backdrop for the awkwardness between the two old friends.  The cold blowing onto their faces as they trek through the snow freezes any attempt at conversation between them.  And when they finally break through, they start to feel the heat come back on – and warmth starts to emanate from one character to the other.  They are in a shop in which Mabel picks up bells, and the reader can almost hear the tinkling of those bells as if we are in that store with them.  Light is used also, contrasted with darkness, such as the stark darkness on a beach on a moonless night, when one’s eyes cannot adjust to the darkness and one has to give up trying to see.  It’s a beautiful way to pull the reader in to each scene.

What initially appears as a simply melancholic book ultimately reveals itself to be a complicated and intimate tale that leaves one thinking about it for days after closing its covers.

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

the hate u give

Knowing she’d rather have stayed home watching reruns of Fresh Prince on her laptop, Starr isn’t even sure why she’s agreed to accompany Kenya to the party at which she’s found herself.  But while she is wandering around (Kenya of course has dumped her), she finds Khalil, her old best friend, whom she has not seen in months.  They slip into old comfortable conversation when suddenly gunshots ring out.  She and Khalil run for what she believes will be safety – not knowing that this moment will affect the rest of her life.

This story is a young adult novel, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, about the murder of a black boy by a white police officer.  The story invites the reader to step into the life of this friend of the victim, Starr, whose life is already complicated as she is grappling with having to straddle two different communities – the poor neighborhood in which she lives and the affluent school she attends.  Her two worlds require two different personae and this is a lot to juggle for a young woman of 16 years.

As the events unfold, it becomes clearer that Starr is the only witness to the murder that has occurred and it is up to her to come forward and testify.  And here is the difficulty: history has taught us that this is hard – and we’ve seen this again and again particularly in the past few years.  While police have incredibly difficult jobs to do and we owe them a debt of gratitude for what they do every day, there are always a few that take their power too far or have too low a threshold for fear of “other” and assume that the “other” is going to do something harmful to them first.  This is the case in this story, and this is often the narrative in these cases where there is a wrongful death.  There is a presumption of guilt based on race and circumstances when that is an unfair presumption.

There is a lot of humanity to this story.   There is circumstance and perspective on the drug dealing issue and how and why some people get involved – which some might feel is obvious but others might not appreciate.  There is also the recurrent theme of a person’s right to presumption of innocence, and right to life and liberty and so on even if he might be a drug dealer.  This is a serious point.  On the other hand, I do think that dehumanizing the cop that shot the victim by referring to him by only his badge number almost throughout does not serve a purpose.  I think that creates its own bias and one sided perspective and I think presenting the other side would have only made the story stronger.

In any case, I do think this is an important book for most people to read, but especially young readers.  Definitely a must read!

 

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

51jf0hrpvzl-_sx330_bo1204203200_

One evening in the summer of 1989, Lindy Simpson, was raped on her own street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Her story is told from the voice of her neighbor, friend, and devoted admirer, our narrator who lives across the street from her.  As he tells her story and the story of each of the suspects (himself included), he also reveals his own fascination with her and how their history unfolds.

Much teenage angst and struggle pours out in the telling of this story in a very authentic delivery.  There are apt descriptions of very awkward scenes that kids inevitably encounter and the mention of certain moments in history, such as the explosion of the Challenger and the national horror of Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes, that enable the reader to directly relate to the feelings the characters feel.  What appears to the outside world as a typical, suburban, upper middle class neighborhood is shown to have a diversity of characters, with shaded pursuits and emotional scars – which is likely what is true of most neighborhoods.

An interesting look at love and family and teenage obsession.

 

Lasting Impact by Kostya Kennedy

51gam-ej-bl

So the bottom line, here, is that my friend, Kostya Kennedy must be a good writer to get me to read – and actually enjoy! – a book about football.  While I love some sports, football is not one of them and being a pediatrician experienced in treating concussions, I am really not a fan.  But in this non-fiction account of Kostya’s shadowing the New Rochelle High School football team for their 2014 season, Kostya manages to impress upon even me (a true cynic) why many tolerate the risk for the game.

In the course of the season, Lou DiRienzo, the NRHS football coach takes on the role of coach, teacher, mentor, father-figure, even therapist to many of the boys and he leads them with a kindness and honesty and integrity that earns their trust and respect.  Right from their intensive camp experience at the start of the season, the boys bond and their lives are knitted together as a family.  The team becomes an anchor for those with family issues and a sort of home base for all.  Even at the advent of the Ray Rice scandal, Coach D reiterates that no matter what kind of trouble the boys ever get themselves into, the NRHS football family will always have their back.  And even though the players are injured one after another, there is still an undying devotion to the game.  So even though I am one of those mean mothers who won’t let my son play football, I do see, through the reading of this evenly researched account, its allure.

On the other hand, the negative side is presented quite clearly, too.  The statistics about sudden death from the game, about the potential long- lasting cognitive and emotional deficits, not to mention the broken bones and orthopedic surgeries, are exposed.    This feels to me like a high price to pay for something that another team experience might lend itself to.Still, what is conveyed here is that football, maybe because of its physicality, achieves gains for its players that transcend the immediate physical injuries.

So for all of you football fans, this one’s for you; however, even if you’re just human, you will feel the warmth and compassion of the writer toward the sport and the young people playing it.

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

small-great-things-hc-400w

Love seems to actually trump hate in this frighteningly timely novel by Jodi Picoult.   It begins when a Black labor and delivery nurse, Ruth, begins to care for the baby of a White supremacist couple and the couple insist that she be removed from their case because of her race. As it would happen, Ruth is alone with the baby when the baby stops breathing.  Should she touch the baby and save him, as she is trained to do?  Should she abide by the racist rules the hospital has imposed at the request of this repugnant couple?  What happens next sets Ruth and the couple and ultimately, Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy, on a road to grappling with race as it is seen from all perspectives.

Little did I know that I’d be reading this amidst the worst campaign and most devastating election outcome in the history of the United States.  The spillage of racism, misogyny, and bigotry that has poured out of the mouth of the Republican party nominee and his bedfellows has unleashed the underbelly of this country and its darkest side.  The election result has spawned a crippling shadow over my whole universe and I know this has been true for over half of this country.  We are embarrassed to call ourselves American, as it associates us with this new, evil and mean rhetoric in the eyes and ears of the rest of the world.  This is not the country I have known to be the home of the free.

And so it was, amidst my deepest disappointment that has sent me into a physical nausea that I cannot shake, that I read how Kennedy, seeking to defend Ruth in her ultimate trial, really tries to understand the day to day psychological beating that Ruth endures as a Black woman in a white man’s world.   The small slips, the subtle differences in perception, and the more overt signs of difference from which Kennedy is protected because of the color of her skin.  And while the 2 butt heads, they also come together because of the genuine efforts to try to understand each other, which is the foundation of the beginning of actually understanding each other.

Unfortunately for this story, love trumps hate in sort of a too perfect way by the end, so that it becomes a little fairytale-like as an ending.  I pray for this country, though, that we can reach an understanding that even remotely approximates this ending – for the good of our present and the good of our future.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_Cover

 

 

 

Well, JK Rowling seems to have done it again.  We meet Harry once again, now as an adult with 3 children.  His middle son, Albus, seems to have inherited Harry’s knack for being awkward but charming, and his only friend is, shockingly,  Scorpius, the son of – you guessed it! – Draco Malfoy.  This unlikely pair get themselves into a mess of misunderstandings and potential unleashing of evil in the world, and Albus, just as his father did before him, shows his own form of bravery and a love that conquers all.

It is important to remember that this is a script of a play and not the rich, descriptive prose of a novel.  More is left to the imagination, and the story is left more to dialogue and direction.  That said, the plot is still full of twists and turns and catches the reader off guard as always.  There are still allusions to prior books and it builds on a knowledge of the world of Hogwarts and its history.  And it still remains as a testament to love overcoming evil, as all the Harry Potter books seek to do.

Having experienced the book release parties at midnight this past weekend and reveled in the enthralling enthusiasm among people of all ages over this book – A BOOK!! – I am still just overwhelmed by the gift of this author.  She has succeeded in revitalizing, almost single-handedly, a love of reading across generations.  She has given the world a gift unlike any other in history – and we must be thankful for this.

If you have not read the Harry Potter books, do it now.  It doesn’t matter how old you are.   Anyone can relate to them as they are fantastical but completely relatable.  They are brilliant and imaginative and just plain fun!

Thank you, Ms. Rowling – thank you!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

sun_375w

Noah and Jude are twins whose mother, an art critic, has decided that they should apply to a high school for the arts.  Noah, who is very much his mother’s son, is ecstatic and dives into preparing his portfolio.  Jude, is less confident about her talent and expresses this by rebelling and turning away from her mother.  Unfortunately, as they each are grappling with their adolescent yearnings and unfolding sexuality, their lives are torn apart by a sudden family tragedy.  Will they be able to retrace their steps to find each other’s heart again?

This YA story is somewhat complicated and engaging, but a bit contrived.  There are a few clever plot twists that sneak up on the reader which definitely took me by surprise.  Unfortunately, there are also a few too many utter coincidences for it to be entirely believable.  It is real teenage struggle and angst tangled in a fairy tale plot.

On the other hand, what saves this book is the writing, which is full of striking imagery and gorgeous sentences.  The way the author ascribes colors and pictures to emotions is quite beautiful.  There is humor and sarcasm and a tenderness in all of the characters that keeps you caring so much about them through the whole book.

An enjoyable, light read with some great writing.