Wednesday, August 15, 2018


From the Publisher:

I KILL GIANTS co-creator KEN NIIMURA (International Manga Award winner and Eisner nominee) brings a unique vision of life in Japan to the page in HENSHIN. The lives of a kid with peculiar superpowers, a lonely girl discovering herself in the big city, and a businessman on a long night out are some of the short stories included in this collection that will make you laugh, and even maybe shed a tear. Explore Tokyo as you've never seen it before under NIIMURA's masterful and imaginative storytelling, printed here for the first time in English.

My thoughts:

I like reading English translated graphic novels/manga/comics from non-American illustrator/writers because they open up a different lens for readers. The aesthetic, both in the illustration and in the story is refreshing in its non-western lens. The line for what is beauty, humor, tragedy, horror gets moved and as a reader, makes my world expand because I must face my own boundaries and outer limits. 

Niimura is an internationally recognized craftsman in his art, so these 13 vignettes, I am making up, reflect/respond to, or shine a mirror on the Japanese aesthetic in manga. If I am correct, these stories that fictionally center around the larger metropolis of Tokyo teem with hidden layers of disconnection and disenfranchised grief from other people, from nature, from ourselves. 

One of the stories, "Watermelon summer" was shocking at the end, enough so that I had to stop reading and put it down. However, the more I thought about it and acknowledged the lens with which I was judging this story, I realized that no, there was a kind of Kurosawa-ish beauty to this story, an almost honorable, poetic, Shintoist harmony to the process in the story. I stopped focusing on the end and re-looked at the journey.

I am not sure what my middle level reader will takeaway from this, but for me, this was a haiku. Seemingly simple, but metaphorically complex.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Danes

The premise of this graphic novel may seem fantastical, but the appeal is in the realism of both the pictures and the plot. After all, mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus can infect pregnant women causing their babies to be born with the birth defect microcephaly. The drug Thalidomade, touted to ease morning sickness in pregnant women resulted in more than 10,000 babies worldwide to be born with malformations, bone hypo plasticity and congenital defects before it was pulled off the shelves in the early 1960s.

It is not far fetched, then, to imagine a world where a retrovirus in pregnant women might produce blond, blue eyed babies even when parents are ethnically different. It is also not far fetched to imagine that the outward appearance, rather than the paternity test markers would cause ethnic unrest, disbelief, racism and chaos. Nor is it implausible that the pharmaceutical companies would race to try and create a vaccine for such retrovirus.

This story does a realistic job of imagining such a scenario, clearly playing out the stakeholders and balancing the unrest and corruption with a human story of love and family.

Ironically, I had a job working in South Africa in 2014 and I rented a movie to watch in the B&B called Skin which told the true story of an Afrikaans (Dutch that settled in South Africa) girl born in South Africa in 1955 to two white Afrikaners. Sandra, the daughter looked coloured, or part black but genetically she was the product of these two white parents. How ironic that this true story and this made story are both about the Dutch. To be fair, though, Sandra Laine is a product of a genetic case of atavism, which basically is that a gene from a very distant ancestral traits resurfaces after generations. I feel like Skin predicts the kind of life that Sorraya and Ibraham's baby will go through if this story were also a memoir.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Binti: Night Masquerade

I don't normally do posts for individual books in the series, but the the first book was a novella, the second was a slim 100 pages, so it took until this third book for everything to meld together. 

Now that I am done, who should read this?

If you are interested in sci fi, African/Indigenous sci fi, adventure, fantasy, space, melding of cultures and coming of age, try the Binti series. It is both familiar and surprising, even for someone who reads a lot of this type of genre. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Binti: Home

This is the second novel on Binti, the Abroriginal-ish science fiction story about cultures colliding and melding through one indigenous girl. As a powerful harmonizer, Binti is just about to learn really important things about her identities and her role in keeping the peace, but then the books end. Gah!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

This may not be touted for YA with the main characters in their 30s and up, but it has the best elements of a YA romcom with rich, spoiled mean girls, the innocent, pretty, smart girl as well as the dashing but clueless boyfriend.

I think as a look into the Asian 1%, this is both hilariously funny (because it is both familiar and alien) and quite a sad social comment on the haves and have nots. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Magic Box

This is just a well drawn, mystery/fantasy/coming of age story about a sad little girl, Nola, who recently lost her mother. For her 8th birthday, her father gives her a music box that belonged to her mother when she was a young girl.

Nola is transported to the world of Pandorient (within the music box) and the people there seem to be familiar with Nola's mother. Her new friend Andrea needs Nola to help save Andrea's mother and figure out what is making her sick. Part mystery, part adventure, Nola must rely on the tips she picked up from her mom in order to help these friends. 

For elementary and tween readers, the fast paced story, attractive illustrations and a precocious main character will pull readers in.

An advanced copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Sky in the Deep

This is geared toward readers who like fast paced, girl power, woman warrior stories set in the northern climates similar to  the communities beyond the wall in Game of Thrones. The story starts in the middle of a clan war as Eelyn and her battle partner Maya from the Aska clans fight the Riki clans. These two teenagers are seasoned warriors who plow through the enemy ranks until Eelyn gets separated from Maya and is cornered by a massive and powerful Riki warrior. Just as Eelyn believes that he will kill her, she is saved by her brother, but she must be mistaken. She saw her brother die five years ago and this warrior who looks like her brother is wearing the armor of the enemy.

I labeled it fantasy-ish just because it is not really in an unrealistic setting or containing the kind of magic or fantastical creatures found in the genre, but as a fantasy buff, it contains enough of the elements to make this devour worthy.  Carve out enough time for this.

A digital advance copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Picture us in the Light

My Thoughts:

 I am constantly looking for contemporary YA books with minority characters, specifically Asian because of my location and the kinds of students we serve in HawaiĘ»i (a minority majority state). On my public library overdrive site, asian authors/characters is actually its own shelf on my page. I try to uplift minority authors writing fiction from a minority lens. However, this book took me about 4 months to read as I kept picking it up and abandoning it.  

What bothered me about the characters had nothing to do with the mystery the parents tried to keep secret or even the will he or won't he struggle Danny had about his budding homoerotic awareness. What bothered me was that I could almost hear the author thinking. With first generation and second generation characters, do authors steer towards the stereotypical in order to appeal to a wider, non-Asian audience? By stereotypical, I mean Harry's parents and Harry's drive for SAT perfection. These extra high expectations are the stereotype that fuels the racist "model minority" label that has been an albatross on the subsequent generations. But then there is Danny. It is almost like Ms. Gilbert was trying to both acknowledge the stereotype and at the same time throw the story off kilter with the much less successful Chengs who push their child into the humanities, specifically art and portraiture without any hesitation or pressure. It feels "hapa," (half in Hawaiian) as if the story was written to appeal a certain way to white audiences, and appeal a different way to Asian audiences. I felt it lacked an authentic identity as a whole and that is why it took so long to get through it. I just could not find any character who felt real. 

Seafire (Sneak Peek review)

My Thoughts:

I really do not like to ask for sneak peeks only because I usually only choose books that interest me beyond the description. One example is the graphic novel Sheets that I reviewed as a sneak peek in May. I was enamored by the cover, the simple drawing style and just enough of the story before the preview ended. Still, I could not actually get a full copy until July so sometimes I forget that I am watching the calendar because I read so many other things in between.

However, Seafire is another one that I chose, not for the cover but for the pirate aspect. Like 
the Bloody Jack series, I love me some girl pirates who take over. True, Caledonia is not the pirate. The pirates are the bad guys, however, there be pirate behavior and fights on the seas. I was also drawn to the epigraph on the cover:
Sisterhood is Survival
This one comes out at the end of August when school is started. I hope I remember to request it because the preview seemed frustratingly short.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

From Twinkle, With Love

My Thoughts:

Sandhya Menon, author of When Rishi Met Dimple, just secures her spot in the YA romance writers union (I don't know if there is such a thing, but I'm sure there is). With her predominantly Asian cast of characters, she normalizes culture and diversity in a way that does not make it into a political statement but more of a mirror of what American society could look like.

Like the Bollywood movies that she loves, Menon creates a YA world that reveals the sweet, charming aspects of young love without the cheap marketability of the erotic. The selling point for Menon's stories, again, like the Bollywood movies she loves, is the happy ending. This is not a spoiler alert, just the charm of the genre. If that is not what you are looking for, it is good to know at the beginning. 

From the Publisher:

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Hate U Give

My Thoughts: 

This has been on the must read list all year and for good reason. Although it starts off  like an imitation of the television show Lincoln Heights, this story is a crucial literary piece to capture the frustration, mourning and rage that we see on television as "blips" and 10 second news stories of police shootings and the Black Lives Matter reaction. 

I wish I were back in my 8th grade classroom. I would definitely work with my social studies partner to create a paired unit. 

From the Publisher:

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.

A Few:

I look at the stars again. Daddy says he named me Starr because I was his light in the darkness. I need some light in my own darkness right about now.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


From the Publisher:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

My Thoughts:

I am an old sci fi geek but I started reading more minority literature because science fiction seemed so white centric. This book, however, is a perfect combination with a protagonist who is just as marginalized in this futuristic society, but through the ancient knowledge of her people, she is able to survive when no one else does. I also learned a new word while reading some reviews: Afropolitan. Binti is an Afropolitan, meaning she is of African descent but lives globally "not citizens, but Africans of the world" and in this case, of the universe.
I was so sad to find out that this was a novella, especially since I was on the waiting list at my local library for months. Who knows how long I will have to wait for the next one, but this is a rare treat of sci fi and Indigenous knowledge used as a shield and a weapon. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine

Green Almonds is a personal memoir of Palestine and Israel through postcards and correspondence by two sisters. Anaele, a writer, spends half a year volunteering with an aid program in Palestine. Her sister Delphine, the artist, stays behind in Liege, Belgium. As Anaele writes about her experiences in Palestine, Delphine draws out her sister's story. 

In the simple drawings and text, Anaele and Delphine share an on the ground story of the complexity and pain of a community severed because of religion, politics, and ethnicity. Anaele makes friends, but as an outsider, is not able to make any kind of real change. It seems like Anaele's relationships with others seem one sided. I am not sure what kind of help she offers, except to be a sympathetic ear for these people. Perhaps this comic is also her way of being witness for the people she works with and telling her story beyond the walls of Palestine. 

For me, this is both a frustrating and realistic look at living as a marginalized citizen in your own land. 

Digital copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review.