Sunday, December 2, 2018

Books with a Diverse Cast of Characters

Y'all, it took me until the last months of the year, but I'm finally reading quartets in themes! For this one, it was total happenstance, and I'm glad it was a thing. I was at the main branch of our library, and I wanted to check out a few books from my to read list. I was able to find four books. As I looked at what I'd chosen, they were all YA reads featuring main characters of color. I'm so glad that's how this worked out, not so much because of the thematic reading, but because this quartet featured some of the best stories I've read all year.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was a uniquely told, captivating story. Will's brother has been killed by gun violence, and he's off to get revenge for this death. After all, that's what the "rules" say that he should do. Will boards the elevator to do this. On each floor, he is joined by someone - the only thing is, these people are dead. Each is someone who has a connection to the gun and his brother's story. This book is told in verse - It is a quick read, and the true beauty of it is that the small amount of words convey so much emotion. Will's elevator ride is sixty seconds, but in that time, there is so much about relationships, about community dynamics, and and about difficult decisions. This story was told in such a unique way that was perfect to convey the tragedy and emotion of Will's dilemma. Given the format I breezed through this read, but the topic of the tale stayed with me so much longer. Read this one y'all.

Read this book if - You want a quick, uniquely written read that will make you think. You want to read about emotion and tragedy in a unique storytelling format.

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson was absolutely heartbreaking. There's no other way to explain this tale. That said, it's such a necessary read as it focuses on the disappearance of young girls of color. Claudia's best friend Monday is missing. The adults around her don't share her concern, so she takes it upon herself to find her friend. Her investigation proves to be emotional, frustrating and confusing. How can someone just vanish? And how can there be such little attention paid? As I said, this read was so heartbreaking as it showcases the flaws in the system. Through Claudia and Monday's friendship, this book provides an unfortunate tale of how this happened. Also, this book has a twist that took my literal breath away as it only further dug into the emotion of this story. Of the books I've read this year, this is one of the most painful, but it is essential. This is a book that will stay with me as it helped me understand an issue in a way that I didn't before. It was absolutely captivating, and this is a book that shouldn't be on a "want to read" shelf, but a "NEED to read" shelf.

Read this book if - You are seeking to understand how a broken system impacts an issue. You want an emotional, beautiful read that helps you understand a crisis.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith was a book I was intrigued by given it was set in Lawrence, Kansas. This book focused on Louise, a native teen navigating high school. I will say that for me, I wanted more depth for Louise. I wanted the story to focus even more on her. I just didn't get the true focus on Louise which is what drew me to the book. The other storyline of the book was that the theater teacher has decided to have a more inclusive casting of the school's production of The Wizard of Oz. This outrages parents and students, and there are incidents of vandalism and violence towards Louise's family and others as a result of this. I loved the centering of a native character in this one. As I was reading, I reflected on how few contemporary native main characters I've read (and I definitely want to read more), but again, I also wanted so much more from Louise than I was given. Ultimately, I didn't get that emotional connection that I craved going into this one.

Read this book if - You are looking to read a story that centers a Native teen.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was an incredibly beautiful story of friendship. It explores the complexities of a friendship in a way that was just incredible. Aristotle and Dante are loners who find their way to each other. They are both in search of a friend, so it just makes sense that they connect. From there, there is a rollercoaster of a friendship. Each boy is navigating his own stuff - For Aristotle, there's anger, primarily with his family. His brother has been in jail, and he struggles with how his family has chosen to handle this reality. For Dante, it's figuring out who he is. He has a carefree spirit, but also he is working through trying to really understand his identities. I loved these characters and the depth with which they were written. I was able to really feel the ups and downs of this relationship, and it just captivated me. This was my first read from this author, and I now want to read all the things if they are going to involved incredible characters like this one.

Read this book if - You are looking for a YA book that explores the true beauty and complexity of friendship. You want to feel all the feels through a relationship.

Y'all this is a wonderful quartet of reads, and I hope you'll find your way to one (or more) of these. I'd also love to read more in this vein, so if you've got ideas, you know where to find me.