Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: The Hate U Give


Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Goodreads Description: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.


My Review: The Hate U Give is a once-in-a-lifetime book. It lives up to every bit of hype and has already wowed readers across North America. I remember way back to the Publisher's Marketplace announcement of this deal, and I thought to myself, "This one's going to be special." But this is more than just another good book. This is one of those cultural shakers. This is a book everyone needs to read. 

“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.” 
-The Hate U Give

From the first page, we're immersed into Starr's world in Garden Heights. The author uses a perfect amount of description to set the scene, evoking all the senses to bring the reader into the moment. Starr's voice leaps off the page and brings the story up to another level. It is the perfect balance of slang and "accented" writing that not only reveals Starr's personality, but gives the book its own unique flavor. The book uses African American Vernacular English (AAVR) beautifully, and Starr even takes time to reflect on her use of it and how she switches to "proper English" at her white school in an attempt to avoid being seen as "hood." The writing doesn't waste time on flowery phrases, but hits hard with clever word play and to-the-point sincerity. The writing in this book just wraps you up from the first page and doesn't let go until the last. This book is also straight #ownvoices, as the author is black comes from a neighbourhood like Starr's. 

Writing aside, what makes this book so special is the story itself. It hits all the right notes, addresses all the right points, and explains things in a sincere way that helps to piece together the picture of black Americans and police violence. Even as something as simple as the feeling when a friend unfollows you on social media was explained with such an on-the-nose honesty. Not only does it address the varying sides of a complex issue, but it cuts straight to the point. It doesn't shy away from black on black violence. It's not a case of white-cops-vs-black-kids, as Starr's uncle is a cop and black cops take part in some sketchy and abuse-of-power situations. And it beautifully shows how situations can escalate into protests and riots, like what has taken place all over the United States. It also shows the white ignorance in several different forms, from the disconnect at Starr's school right up to some of her close friends, who simply just don't get it. This is not a biased look at the situation. It carefully analyzes all angles and presents a very nuanced look at the events that have launched #BlackLivesMatter. 

As I work in mental health services, I always look at books with an eye on mental health. THUG does an excellent job of portraying the post-traumatic stress that Starr experiences. She doesn't walk away from the shooting with just a few nightmares-- she cycles through the stages of grief, experiences anxiety that affects her day-to-day life, and copes with the difficult emotions that follow from grief and from the trial. Despite that, her trauma doesn't hold her back from speaking out for Khalil, and it shows why even the strongest people can be overwhelmed by traumatic events and may not react how they expect to in the moment. 

Yet under all the intense tackling of social issues, THUG is a heartfelt story of a girl caught between two worlds and the loving family that supports her through it all. I have a particular love of Starr's father, who is strong, outspoken, comes with a troubled past, and yet has such raw love for his family and community. Every character is beautifully balanced between good and bad traits, and the book plays around with themes of perception, not only in regards to Khalil and how the media portrays him, but how Starr portrays herself between her neighborhood and her school. The kids are so real and so fun that it really makes me sad to know they're only fiction. 

“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug.
He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I'll remember how he died.
Fairy tale? No. But I'm not giving up on a better ending.” 
-The Hate U Give


I could talk about this book for days. If you read anything this year, this decade, or in your entire life, then make it this one. 

TL;DR: 5/5 stars. As John Green put it, "Stunning." 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book Review: The Girl From Everywhere


Book Review: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig 


Goodreads Description: Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.


My Review: An island paradise, A ship that can touch any shore. And a map that may lead to Nix's undoing. The Girl From Everywhere is that exciting bit of magic and pirates that YA has desperately needed. 

I love pirates, I love time travel, I love diversity-- there was nothing this story was lacking. Right from the first page this book wastes no time in driving straight into tension, conflict, and action. After years of searching, Nix's father finally catches wind of a map of Honolulu from 1868. He's searched for years so he could save her mother, and this time the map looks real. Nix's inner conflict of helping her father, even if it could ultimately erase her from existence, is bold and powerful, sucking the reader in right from the first page. The pull of loyalty she feels towards her father outweighs her fear of the unknown and they sail for Hawaii-- only to discover their map has been mis-dated, and they arrive in 1884. This tension has a perfect pacing and doesn't let up until the very last page. 

The cast of characters is delightfully diverse, featuring a half-Chinese main character, a French-Arabic love interest from One Thousand and One Nights, and a black lesbian crewmate, just to start. The book is #ownvoices as the author herself is Chinese and grew up in Hawaii, where much of the book takes place. As well, the book is filled with myths from all over. We see Emperor Qin's stone soldiers come to life, to Hawaiian healing springs and the Hu'akai Po, Jewish golem magic, to the bottomless bag from Welsh legend. Instead of just throwing in characters of different backgrounds or orientation, The Girl From Everywhere embraces diversity in a way all YA books should take note of. It integrates legends and myth from a variety of cultures, and even highlights the diversity in our own history (Nix's mother is Chinese and came to work in the opium dens. Many Chinese immigrants came to Hawaii during this time). The book doesn't just toe the line of diversity, but shows us how it can really enrich writing and worldbuilding. 

Along with killer tension and delightful characters, the book has a wonderful plot that keeps things turning and readers guessing. Since this is a time-travel book, there is a lot of paradox-correcting that goes on. It's not nearly as much as some stories, but if you're one to nit-pick over time travel paradoxes, it will still give you things to pick at. But they are minor and handled well. The writing itself is pretty straight to the point and doesn't waste a lot of time with fancy descriptions. Yet it also has its lyrical moments in terms of prose. 

** Spoilers in the following paragraph** 
The only real issue I had with the book came down to its final chapter. The conflict and most of the tension revolves around Nix's father wanting the map back to her mother, despite the danger it may put Nix in. This conflict starts from page one and carries a lot of the emotional weight. But in the last chapter, when Slate, Nix's father, has the map he wants, he instead decides to throw it into the ocean. He has spent years, pretty much Nix's entire time alive, searching for this map, and on the last page he 'chooses' Nix and gives up the love of his life. Granted, he and Nix became closer on this mission, but there was nothing life changing or stunning that would justify his complete 180. Everything they struggled for during the book ended up being for naught. The characters did grow together through this journey, but there was nothing about this journey that stood out as being significant or more meaningful than their any other journey. I was left with a feeling of "Why now?" It reminded me of the cliched "It was all a dream" ending, where characters learn but ultimately none of the stakes have any real effect on the story. 


TL;DR: 4/5 stars. A stunning pirate fantasy adventure flush with diverse folklore and faces.