Ms. Bartels Recommends
There There by Tommy Orange
There were things here I'm not generally drawn to – multiple points-of-view; short stories that can stand on their own but that come together to form a novel – but this held together for me and created a time and place and people that I wanted to know more about. Though the story is as different as it is possible to be from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, I kept thinking of Anderson's spare collection of stories as I was reading it. There is that same sense of the power of individual stories all coming together and rushing toward a conclusion that has the reader anxious about the outcome. But Orange tells us a story of characters we rarely see in modern fiction, and he paints a picture of modern-day Native Americans not just in Oakland, California, but all over North America who feel disenfranchised and marginalized, who don't feel Native enough, or white enough, who don't know where or how to fit in to the story of present-day America while also being true to their ancestry. This is a strong debut from a powerful new voice.
"Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking – Tommy Orange's first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and it introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career.
There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle's death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle's memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.
Here is a voice we have never heard – a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force. Tommy Orange writes of the urban Native American, the Native American in the city, in a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. An unforgettable debut, destined to become required reading in schools and universities across the country." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 10+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Before the holidays, I do a Library Secret Santa activity where students write down what books and genres they enjoy and a "secret library elf" finds the next perfect book for them and leaves it wrapped under the library holiday tree on the Friday before break. This past December, a 7th-grade student wrote about how much she loved a book called Sadie. When I looked it up, I couldn't wait to read it myself. It's the story of a missing girl Sadie trying to exact revenge on her sister's killer. The story is told in alternating narratives: one told by Sadie and the other told by podcast transcripts trying to figure out where Sadie could be and filling in a lot of the backstory by interviewing various people involved in the mystery. This novel is a fast-paced thriller that students will have a hard time putting down. Although a 7th-grader recommended it, I would typically hand this to a mature 8th-grade student or older due to language, sexual abuse, and a generally dark atmosphere throughout the book. For mature students who love the Serial podcast or true crime novels, this is a sure bet.
"Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him. When West McCray – a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America – overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 8+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Generally speaking, books about zombies that describe gore in detail are the complete opposite of what I like to read. But this young adult novel received six out of a possible six starred reviews from industry journals, so I had to give it a try. Plus, as an alternate history that takes places in the years immediately after the Civil War, I figured this speculative fiction was a least partly historical fiction, my favorite genre. I'm glad that I got out of my comfort zone and tried something new, because this book is compelling and engrossing in so many ways. Issues concerning race and gender figure prominently in this must-read, a planned duology.
"Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever. In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities – and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It's a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society's expectations. But that's not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston's School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn't pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
Mariam Sharma Hits the Road by Sheba Karim
Sometimes I need to temper my dark and creepy reading with something light. Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is light reading in the best possible way. Although all three characters are grappling with serious identity questions, knowing that no one's going to be gruesomely murdered makes for a much happier reading experience. I loved that all three characters have moments of growth that felt organic and ended up in places that were satisfying but not tied up in convenient little bows. I also really enjoyed the relationship Mariam had with her mother and brother, who although are minor presences, feel like fully realized characters. There are so many perfect little moments scattered like pit stops throughout the novel (excuse the metaphor); one of my favorites is the party in Philadelphia, but I can't say more without ruining it. Come by and grab this one for a good break from the stress of day-to-day.
"Three Pakistani-American teenagers, on a trip through the land of pork ribs, mechanical bulls, and Confederate flags. It's going to be quite an adventure.
The summer after her freshman year of college, Mariam is looking forward to working and hanging out with her best friends: irrepressible and beautiful Ghazala, and religious but closeted Umar. But when a scandalous photo of Ghaz appears on a billboard in Times Square, Mariam and Umar come up with a plan to rescue her from her furious parents. And what could be a better escape than a spontaneous road trip down to New Orleans?
With the heartbreaking honesty of Julie Murphy's Dumplin' mixed with the cultural growing pains and smart snark of When Dimple Met Rishi, this wry, remarkable road-trip story is about questioning where you come from – and choosing the family that chooses you back." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+