Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus book coverThis time I’m reviewing a nonfiction book, something I don’t do very often. But I devoured this one. It tells the story of an attack on an agender teen by a Black teen on a bus in Oakland, California, and the aftermath. But it delves into the lives of both teens as well as the justice system and provides a really objective view of all the issues surrounding the attack.

The book starts with Sasha, the agender teen (this is the term they use for the majority of the book, rather than nonbinary), talking about their background, friends, school, and so on. Sasha was eighteen and a senior in a progressive private school. I really got a sense for who this person was from the section.

Then the book covers Richard, the Black sixteen-year-old. He’d had a tough time, losing friends to murder and getting robbed at gunpoint by someone he thought was a friend. He’d spent some time in a group home after getting in trouble for fighting (this whole thing seemed pretty sketchy to me—I’m pretty sure a white kid in that situation wouldn’t have ended up in a group home). But he was back at school and apparently trying to do well enough to graduate, something that would have made him stand out a little with his peers.

The next section of the book deals with the attack itself. Sasha was asleep on the bus when Richard started messing with a lighter, flicking it on just under the hem of Sasha’s skirt. He was goofing around, not appreciating what would really happen. He thought it would light and fizzle out, but instead the whole thing caught on fire (as anyone with a fully-developed brain would probably realize, or at least realize as a possibility). A stranger on the bus helped put the fire out but Sasha’s legs had serious burns, including spots that were third-degree (which means it burned all the way through the skin and into the fat, in case you didn’t know what that was). We learn a little about the ordeal Sasha had to go through to recover, but the book doesn’t dwell on it.

The next section covers what happened to Richard, basically. Because originally they charged him as an adult with a hate crime, but many people wanted him charged as a minor—including Sasha and their parents. The book explores the problem of charging kids as adults—because how do you know when a teen has done something stupid that they regret and that will keep them from ever doing something like it again, and when they are fundamentally bad? We know enough about brain science that we know the former is a real possibility.

This is a really interesting book that explores two completely separate issues: gender nonconformity and an imperfect justice system (especially as it relates to race). It’s incredibly well-written, keeping you turning the pages to see what happens next, just like a novel would. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Review: Fake ID by Lamar Giles

Fake ID book coverI don’t remember how I found out about this book, which originally came out in 2014, but I’m glad I did. As I’m starting to explore suspense in YA more, this is a perfect thing for me to read. I saw it compared to a Harlan Coben book, and having just read my first Coben book, I can say the comparison is apt.

Nick Pearson isn’t really Nick Pearson. His real name is Tony Bordeaux, and he’s in the Witness Protection Program with his parents because his father worked as a bookkeeper for a mobster. Nick/Tony’s father is quite the piece of work—he’s gotten them kicked out of previous placements because he keeps dabbling in the criminal world. Now they’ve just moved to Stepton, Virginia.

Nick is befriended by a newspaper nerd named Eli Cruz who gets Nick interested in a conspiracy or something called Whispertown. And then Eli is discovered dead in the journalism room—with slit wrists, an apparent suicide. But his sister Reya doesn’t believe it, and eventually neither does Nick. So they start investigating to try to figure out what is going on, which will hopefully reveal who killed Eli. But what’s actually going on is really complicated, and things get more and more dangerous. It doesn’t help that Reya’s ex-boyfriend is out to get Nick, and not afraid to use violence to get his revenge.

Nick is a complex character who is definitely affected by his time in WitSec, as they call it, and his relationship with his parents is interesting. I also enjoyed his relationship with Reya, which was complicated, as well. The plot is solid and there are some twists I didn’t see coming. The ending is interesting, as well.

This is a fairly gritty book, especially for YA, and I think it would appeal to a lot of readers, particularly boys. But I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense/thrillers, as it will make for a satisfying read.

Writing and Education

I recently joined Sisters in Crime, a mystery/suspense/etc. writers’ group, just in time to attend there SinC Into Great Writing: Creating Authentic Characters webinar. I was excited about it because Lou Berney, the author I’m working with this semester for my suspense class in my MFA, was featured. But K. Tempest Bradford was also presenting about writing the other. I’ve heard of her but never seen her teach, which is a shame because she’s a great presenter. If you’re a writer wanting to learning about diverse representation and writing characters different from you, I highly recommend looking for her workshops. She’s very organized, clear, and deeply knowledgeable. She’s also a funny (not excessively so, but she kept it light despite the serious nature of the topic). She also talked about sensitivity readers. Apparently the going minimum is about $250/300, which isn’t bad to me. The next part of the webinar was a conversation about character with Walter Mosley and Lou Berney, which was also interesting. It really was just a conversation for the most part, with the moderator asking a few questions to get things going.

In MFA news, I sent my thesis to the second reader, which means there are no more changes to make. I also turned in the synopsis of rewritten Sadie Speaks to Lou last week and I’m looking forward to getting his feedback on it. If he doesn’t have recommendations for major changes, I’ll be able to submit two samples from the beginning of the book, which I’m hoping is two chapters each. Otherwise, I’ll have to revise the synopsis for the first submission. I just have one more submission to make in my research elective (though I do have half a book to read for it). So I’m really close to being done here.

Outside of that, I just started an online class called How Stories Get Told: Voice and Narrative Distance which I’m hoping is going to help me fix the narrative distance problem Ugly has. Because I think that’s the problem. We’re so buried in her head we can’t see the rest of the world.

I’m still internally debating doing NaNoWriMo this year. This is the month I need to do the planning if I want to make it work. I would be rewriting a romance of mine. I’m also trying to figure out if I’m going to cheat if I do decide to go for it. I already have some of the novel written (actually the whole thing, but only some of that is usable), so I could count the parts I pull in toward my word count. Normally, I’m a purist about it—I only start brand new projects and would never cheat. But it is 2020. So.

One issue is that I want to work on Ugly, too, so it will be hard to do both, which means I may not get to Ugly until December, when I told the agents I could get it to them by the end of the year. I’m also still actively working on the Now Would Be Good stories. I’m running it through my book coach 2500 words a week, with many weeks to go. On top of that, I’m taking another writing class on short stories that starts on October 13, so I’ll be trying to produce work for that. On top of that, I’m studying calculus to prepare for starting the statistics master’s again next fall. So really, if I were sensible, I would not do NaNo. But this is me, so who knows what I’ll decide.

An update on the expensive cat problem: my MacBook Air display died again, and this time they replaced it and two internal cables. So there really was something wrong with it that wasn’t from Maddox biting it. But I still installed a Maddox bite deterrent system:

Maddox Bite Deterrent System - cardboard taped to the corners of the screen

So far it’s working reasonably well. I’ve caught him biting the cardboard several times, but he hasn’t gotten past it yet.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book coverI've had this book a while and finally got around to picking it up. And I have to admit after reading it that I think it would work better as a produced play than a script (I was thinking that myself, but a friend of mine read the book and felt meh about it, but then saw the play and said it was awesome), but I still enjoyed the story.

Harry Potter's son Albus befriends Scorpius Malfoy on their first Hogwarts train ride. They're both socially awkward but their friendship is the real thing, and a few years later, Scorpius agrees to help Albus on a quest Albus believes will right the wrong Harry did in surviving Voldemort when he killed Cedric Diggory. The two manage to steal a time-turner and chaos ensues, basically. Because 14-year-olds don't always make the best, fully-informed choices (though to be fair, they felt a little younger to me than 14). While they're off wreaking havoc throughout the last 25 years, Harry, Hermione, and the others are trying to stop them and dealing with an additional threat.

Eventually, they all meet up in a way I didn't expect, and disaster is averted.

This is a must for HP fans, of course, even though it may not give you the fix you expect. It's never the same with sequels that change generations because you're just not as invested in the characters as you were before. But it's still a worthwhile tale.

Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Pride book coverI read this sharp Pride and Prejudice remix quickly because it really sucked me in.

Zuri lives with her parents and her four sisters in their Bushwick (Brooklyn) apartment. The girls have to share one bedroom but Zuri is proud of her Haitian-Dominican family and her entire hood, as she calls it. When a very rich black family (the Darcys) moves into the renovated mansion across the street from her building, the whole neighborhood watches with fascination, especially when they spot the two teen boys, who are both rather fine. Every girl on the block is suddenly very interested in getting to know them. Everyone except Zuri, that is, because she resents the changes their coming represents. Her older sister Janae takes up with the older boy, Ainsley, while Zuri festers with dislike for the younger one, Darius. Darius doesn’t seem to like her much, either, and they clash a lot. After Darius tells Ainsley something at a party, Ainsley suddenly drops Janae, which makes Zuri hate them both even more. Zuri starts hanging out with a guy from her hood named Warren, thinking he’s the real deal next to phony Darius. But Darius has some info on Warren that Zuri needs to hear, even if it takes some time for her to get the news.

As with any remix, it’s fun to spot the plot points and compare them to the original. But Zuri herself is such a strong character that this book doesn’t need a classic to prop it up—it definitely stands on its own as a story. Zuri’s got a great voice, authentic (I’m assuming) and intelligent. She’s a strong personality and even though there were many times I thought she was being a bit harsh and judgmental herself, it totally fit her character. And Darius is a good variation on Darcy, being rather complex and imperfect.

Overall, this is a great book I highly recommend, whether you are an Austen fan or not.

Expensive Cat

There's really not much going on in my writing world. Still working away on the Sarah stories (Now Would Be Good). I worked up a new synopsis of Sadie Speaks to send to my mentor in a few weeks. I'm also really frustrated—I applied to a postgraduate semester in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts—I was hoping to work with a well-known YA author on Ugly—but they're taking a long time to get back to me. I think it's a rejection, which means I should get started revising Ugly again, but since I don't know, I'm stuck waiting. I'm kind of disappointed, though. I felt pretty confident in my application. But whatever.

I'm also trying to decide if I'm going to do NaNoWriMo this year. If I do, I'll be working on my second romance. It isn't totally planned out yet, which means I'll need to spend some of October prepping it. I haven't done NaNo since 2017, when I wrote Ugly.

I'm going to be running a sale (99 cents) on my book for a week in November and featuring it on Bargain Booksy again, on November 10th. I'm hoping to get a few more sales than I did when it was still $4.99.

Now for a little rant. This guy:

Maddox biting computer
Maddox trying to bite my work computer

Is in big trouble. I have a Macbook Air that I bought in July of 2019, and about four weeks ago the screen died. I fortunately have Apple Care, because they counted the chipped glass from Maddox's bites as accidental damage, so it didn't qualify for repair under the warranty (even though the tech at the Genius Bar agreed with me that it was unlikely to have actually caused the damage). That was $100. Within 3 hours of getting the repaired computer back, this monster bit the corner again, chipping it. Then, last Wednesday, the screen abruptly died. So, either his biting really is causing the damage, or I'm just really unlucky (no, I'm definitely unlucky, either way). I have an appointment at the Genius Bar Thursday. I'm hoping Apple Care will apply again and it will only be $100 again.

Sigh.

Review: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line book coverI rarely review books here that aren’t YA, but I enjoyed this one and think some of you might, as well. This is a rare suspense novel set in India (at least it’s rare to me—when I think of suspense, it’s almost always with white characters).

Jai is a nine-year-old Hindu boy in what I think is a slum in a fictional Indian city. He has two good friends, Pari, who’s a girl and smarter than him (though he’d be loathe to admit it), and Faiz, a Muslim boy. Jai is a little obsessed with crime shows and thinks he’d make a great detective. So when a classmate of his goes missing, he takes it upon himself to find out what happened, enlisting Pari and Faiz as his assistants. He feels this is necessary, since the police came, bribed the missing boy’s mom for her one valuable item, a gold chain given to her by her employer, and left promising to do exactly nothing. Bringing the police in is a source of tension for the entire slum, because they are always threatening to raze it, which would obviously make a huge number of people homeless. The three kids start investigating, but before they make much progress, another boy goes missing. Then a girl. As things escalate, so does their investigation, at least until it seems positively impossible.

One of the things I loved the most about the book was the authentic feel of a culture far removed from my every day life. Anappara has lots of details about living in the slum, because it’s all told through the perspective of someone who knows nothing but that (even if he thinks otherwise). There’s even a glossary in the back for all the Indian terms used for things like foods and slang, even though you can generally tell from the context what things are (I mean, not necessarily exactly, but you get the gist). But this really added to the flavor of the book. In general, Jai's voice is very colloquial, with statements like, “I like headstands a lot more than the huff-puff exercises…” so it makes complete sense that he’d be throwing in Indian terms.

Jai is a very annoying little brother to his twelve-year-old sister, even though he thinks she’s the annoying one. It’s interesting to see his perspective in this and everything else, because the reader can see clearly how wrong he is about things, which is often funny. For example, he’s trying to be the boss of his friends, and be the official detective:

“How come you get to be the detective?” Pari asks.

“That’s very true,” Faiz says. “Why can’t you be my assistant?”

“Arrey, what do you know about being a detective? You don’t even watch Police Patrol.”

“I know about Sherlock and Watson,” Pari says. “You two haven’t even heard of them.”

“What-son?” Faiz asks. “Is that also a Bengali name?”

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it for anyone looking for a different kind of suspense novel that also touches on social issues in India.

Review: Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila del Duca

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed book coverI was a little surprised to see a graphic novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, but of course I had to check it out. I'm not a superhero fan in general, but I sometimes make an exception for Wonder Woman. I'm glad I did this time. It was illustrated by an artist I wasn't familiar with, Leila del Duca, but she impressed me with her sharp style.

In this one, Diana is sixteen when the barrier protecting the island of Themyscira is compromised and she goes beyond it to help victims of a shipwreck. But she gets stuck outside and can't get back in. So she ends up in a refugee camp, where her language skills (apparently Amazons can speak every language) are super useful. Fortunately, she makes it out of the camp to New York, where she lands with a Polish immigrant and her teenage granddaughter, who Diana befriends.   

The story overall is one about social justice, which isn't a surprise from Anderson. I won't give away what the issues that it deals with are, but it's a good story. My favorite light moment is when Diana is introduced to traditional polka dancing and loves it, and her friend is mortified. Diana is definitely a fish out of water in America, which makes for both some funny scenes, but also an interesting and incisive perspective on society.

This book is a must-read for all you fans of Wonder Woman or Anderson. Also anyone who cares about social justice will likely enjoy it.

Bookshelves

It feels like there really is not much of interest going on right now. The thing I’m most excited about is the bookshelves in my bonus room that are finally ready for use. Here’s a picture of them before the top was finished (the railing is because there are stairs leading into the room):

Bookshelves with closet

And here is a picture of the top, finished except for a final sanding and painting:

Bookshelves with top compartment

I’ve started loading the shelves, but it’s a real struggle to decide what goes where, between the shelves downstairs, the shelves in the office, and the new shelves. It’s a nice problem to have, though.

In other news, I have finished my thesis except for formatting. I had a few minor edits from my advisor, and I’ve done them, but the thesis requires specific formatting and I’m working on that. I’ll get it to her in a few days, and then it will be officially done, except for printing and submission to the college library. I’m not exactly sure how that’s to be done remotely, but I’ll find out.

I ran Finding Frances through a promotion that went out to 75,000 people, and at least one person bought it. Maybe just one, but still. I’m still struggling to get enough reviews to try for a BookBub deal (supposedly having 20 gives you a much better chance, and I currently have 16).

Review: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Pretty Little Liars book coverI know this book came out a while ago (2006) and is a TV show now, but I picked it up based on a recommendation for my suspense/thriller class for my MFA. I’d obviously heard of it, but never read it.

The book opens with the disappearance of Ali, who’s friends with Emily, Hanna, Spencer, and Aria, during the summer between their seventh and eighth grade years. Three years later, the four remaining girls have grown far apart, each having their own circle of friends. But they also each hold some secret that Ali also knew, and they still worry that the secret will get out somehow. But they’re all especially nervous when they start getting creepy text messages and emails from someone who appears to know all their secrets—current and past—the same way that Ali did. It doesn’t help that the person sending the messages is signing them —A.

There’s of course more going on than these mysterious messages. Emily has lost interest in swimming (the thing everyone in her family does) and her boyfriend, and has found a surprising interest in a girl who’s just moved to town, Maya. Hanna wants to be perfect but keeps getting herself in trouble through not-the-best choices. Spencer has a huge crush on her sister’s boyfriend and Aria has a crush on her new high school English teacher—and neither appears to be unrequited.

Although the book was interesting, I had a little trouble connecting to these ostensibly perfect, beautiful girls. But this is a novel you read for the secrets, really. Still, I have to admit that the book felt incomplete to me. There isn’t really a resolution to the main question, and you’re obviously supposed to read the following books to get that answer. This annoyed me.

But if you like long series, suspense, and tales of high school girls—and haven’t read this already—you might enjoy finding a new series (17 books!) to read.

August 2020 Update

I don’t have much to report about my writing. I did sell a couple copies of Finding Frances in June, and one in July. It’s pitiful that this is exciting, but there you go.

The final semester of my MFA has officially started. The main work is preparing my thesis, but I have that almost done. My mentor has the full creative thesis now and will be giving me feedback on it, and I have a few little tweaks to make to the critical part of it, and then I’ll submit that to her later this month. I’m also taking two classes in addition to the thesis. One is on suspense and thriller novels with Lou Berney (author of The Long and Faraway Gone, one of my favorite such novels). He’s got me reading a handful of novels for the first packet and then writing a short paper about what suspense is, and then for the second packet he’ll read a synopsis of my rewritten Sadie Speaks, and then pages from the novel for the two later packets. The other class I’m taking is on research for writing, with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, who’s Oklahoma’s Poet Laureate. I’m researching Irish history now, because I’m thinking of writing stories set in Ireland in various points in history, since I spent so much time and effort delving into it in college. I don’t know if I’ll ever really write it, but if I want to, I’ll have all my research ready.

Other than working on that, I’ve been drawing more. Here’s an oil lamp I did in stippling (which I will probably never do again—tedious) and a mannequin I did using hatching.

drawing of oil lamp

drawing of artists mannequin

I’ve also started studying math again, because I’m planning to start the stats degree back up next fall, because I need that much time to study. It’s amazing how much you can forget when you don’t use it… I'm using Khan Academy as a starting point, which is pretty amazing. I'm guessing it's getting a lot of usage during the pandemic.

The only other thing going on is that I’m getting some work done in my bonus room, the room over the garage. It has a slanted ceiling but is otherwise a decent-sized room, and I’m getting bookshelves installed on the long, tall wall, along with a closet built at the end of the wall. The idea is to make it count as a bedroom. I’m not sure it will work, but I am sure I will have a lot more bookshelf space to store my many boxes of books. They’re starting the work tomorrow, and I’ll post pictures once it’s done. For your amusement, I’ll post a terrible but related poem I had to write for my residency (the assignment was to write a ghazal, which is an old Arabic poetry form—I didn’t do it quite right, but I got most of the elements right (writing about a desire with lots of repeating words and naming yourself near the end)).

They overflow from shelves and boxes. Books for me.
On tables and cabinets. History, math, linguistics for me.

Fiction, lots of fiction, of all different types.
Boxes of books, as far as the eye can see, for me.

They’ve come shipped from all over the world.
From Glasgow, Edinburgh, Pilsen, Milton Keynes, for me.

Even some from the Isle of Skye, in Gaelic.
The cats nestle amongst them, I read for me.

But they’re everywhere, too everywhere.
A place for them is what I need, for me.

A call to my contractor
And he’ll do some measuring for me.

A little bit of work in SketchUp
And they’ll be a virtual drawing for me.

A couple of weeks of sawing and hammering
So they can fit on the shelves neatly, for me.

Then you can call me keeper of books.
Shelves of books, as far as the eye can see, for me.

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi book coverThis is a light romance with two second-generation Indian-Americans dealing with being part of two cultures.

Dimple Shah considers herself a feminist and basically hates everything girly. This is a problem because her mom wants her be girly, so they’re often at odds. Dimple hates all the stupid rules that society (both American and Indian societies, really) expects women to follow. She’s a little judgmental about other people who do follow the rules. She convinces her parents to let her attend Insomnia Con, a six-week program where recent high school graduates (I think) develop an app and compete for money and the chance to get it supported by a well-known female tech giant who Dimple idolizes. What Dimple doesn’t know is that her mom has an ulterior motive in letting her go.

Rishi Patel is really kind of a dork. Maybe a romantic would be a nicer word, but I think dork fits. In the beginning, he completely buys into his parents wishes for and expectations of him, going along with everything—and with enthusiasm. He loves the idea of getting to meet Dimple at Insomnia Con and believes they are probably soul mates since their parents set them up. Of course, he also thinks that she knows the score, too, which she does not.

The first time Rishi sees Dimple, he makes a joke about her being his future wife. She has no idea who he is and throws her iced coffee in his face. Given the situation, it was a tiny overreaction, but not over-the-top. Then it turns out they’re going to be partners for the entire six weeks, so they’re going to have to get used to each other. While they do that, they get to know each other and become friends. Dimple learns that even though Rishi is on his way to MIT in the fall to study computer science, his real passion (and talent) is comics. Rishi has to work on convincing her that just because their parents set them up doesn’t mean they shouldn’t date. They don’t have to get married right away, after all.

There are admittedly some things about the book that are unrealistic and which kind of bugged me. One is that programs like Insomnia Con would fill up right after opening for enrollment, and there’s no way Dimple and Rishi would get in so late. And the thing is called Insomnia Con for a reason—because people have to spend all their time—including that which they should be spending sleeping—in order to be competitive. Dimple would know this and would not spend so much time lallygagging around and socializing. I know this wouldn’t be interesting to readers (well, maybe to me), but I wanted to at least hear about the sixteen+ hours she was putting into it every day.

But technicalities aside, this is a cute story that a lot of people should appreciate. It’s an easy read—chapters and scenes are very short and switch back and forth between Dimple’s and Rishi’s points of view. It paints a realistic picture of second-generation Indian-American teenagers and how they have to deal with living in multiple worlds, which I always find interesting to read about, and many others should, too.

First Royalties

Not a lot to report at the moment. My MFA residency started Friday, so I’m busy with that.

I did make a post to Facebook post (my first ever) about Finding Frances a couple weeks ago, and a couple people bought it. But still, getting it in front of people is nearly impossible.

I got my first royalties check, which came as a pitifully small direct deposit. But it did come, and I’ve now made actual money from Finding Frances.

royalties payment direct deposit

The only other thing going on is I’ve decided to start drawing again, which means I’m practicing with books and an art teacher. A couple of the books I’m using are about drawing cats, so here are a couple of the ones I’ve copied from one of the books:

Kittens

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay book coverThis is another very quiet book from LaCour that punches you right in the heart, much like Hold Still. I’ve read some of her other books and enjoyed them (I’ve given each of them 5 stars on Goodreads, which I rarely do), so I expected to like this one. I did— it got another 5-star rating.

We Are Okay is about Marin, who has just finished her first semester of college in New York. She’s from California and her best friend, Mabel, is coming to visit her. This best friendship has been deeply complicated by the fact that Marin has been completely ignoring all Mabel’s texts since right before her school started. This is a dual timeline story, being told in the present (December) and in the timeline starting in the previous May, so the past unfolds slowly. We know pretty early the basics of what happened: Marin’s guardian and only family, Gramps, died in August and she immediately left California. But it turns out to be more complicated than that.

Mabel is pissed at Marin, but she also understands that Marin went through something really traumatic. The majority of the book’s present timeline is Marin trying to come out of her shell and really reach out to Mabel, but it’s not easy. The past timeline tells the story of their romance and how much Mabel means to Marin, as well as Marin’s life with Gramps. It wasn’t a joyful life, as he never seemed to get over the accidental death of Marin’s mom (when she was three), or his own wife’s death. But life with Mabel was joyful, which is why it hurt her so much when Marin completely pulled away. Now, Mabel wants Marin to go back to California with her. Marin has no family left—and no place to stay—and Mabel’s parents want to fill that void. Yet Marin can’t imagine going.

As I mentioned above, this is a quiet book. It’s not heavy on plot—there are no car chases, for sure—but the character development is amazing. Both Marin and Mabel get uncovered a little bit at a time and so artfully, just enough at the right moments. The emotion of the book is delicately handled and you really feel Marin’s pain and sense of being lost. The other characters in the book are also very well-drawn—Gramps, Mabel’s parents. Even the groundskeeper, taxi driver, waitress, and pottery store owner seem to really come alive on the few pages they occupy.

Quiet doesn’t mean slow, but it does mean that it might take a little to really suck you in. I started reading it last weekend and it took me several days to get about 1/3 into the book, but then last night I started reading and didn’t finish until I’d hit the last page. If you liked Hold Still, you will definitely like this one. And if you haven’t read that but enjoy seeing overpowering and disorienting grief overcome, you will also like this one.

Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass book coverThe title of this book pretty much tells you what it’s about: bullying. But it’s about more than that, too, and it didn’t feel like an issue book to me.

Tenth grader Piddy (short for Piedad) Sanchez keeps a low-profile wherever she is. She’s just started out at a new high school in Queens, having moved with her mom from their old apartment in another part of the same borough. She’s befriended (sort of but not really) by an irritating girl named Darlene, who tells her that Yaqui is after her. Piddy doesn’t know why, but she eventually figures out it’s because Yaqui’s boyfriend leered and catcalled Piddy. Somehow this is her fault (…) and she deserves to be beaten up, according to Yaqui and her gang.

Piddy really just wants to be left alone to do well enough in her classes, work her Saturday job at the hair salon where her mom’s best friend, Lila, works, and occasionally visit her best friend, Mitzi, who has moved out of Queens. She also wants to learn about her absentee father and has an odd friendship with one of the boys from her old building. But things with Mitzi get awkward as Mitzi has made new friends at her new school and Piddy feels left behind. She also learns some things about her father that complicate her relationship with her mom. Then, Yaqui won’t let this thing go, and it haunts Piddy. All of this makes her start acting out a little, against everyone, including her mom and her friends. When Yaqui’s threat finally comes to a head, Piddy reacts understandably, basically going off track because she feels like she has no allies. She struggles with figuring out who she is as a result of this—does she want to try to be tough to fight back, or just be herself—whoever that is, exactly?

In the end, the school finds out about the bullying and they come to a very realistic solution that isn’t really fair to Piddy, but works. She also sorts things out with Mitzi and the subplot with Joey also resolves realistically.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is a sympathetic portrait of a girl with a fairly complicated life. She successfully navigates this rough chapter of her life and the book has a very positive ending.