YA Books with Minority Main Characters

Here are a couple of books with minority characters at the main stage. These books bring light to those who may not have been equally represented.
The Hate U Give

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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.

The Lines We Cross

2. The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Michael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael. Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines shows up at his school and turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated. Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.

When Dimple Met Rishi

3. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right? Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

My So-Called Bollywood Life

4. My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted. Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart charming and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.

 

 

By Nitu Girish Mohan

 

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New Releases in YA Fiction

Here are a couple of brand new releases in YA Fiction:

1. Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist Series #2) by Renée Ahdieh (June 5)

Flame in the Mist introduced Mariko, a gifted inventor living in Feudal Japan, whose samurai father pushes her into an advantageous match with the Emperor’s illegitimate son. On the way to meet her betrothed, Mariko’s party is set on by forces masquerading as the vicious Black Clan, who were contracted to kill her. Disguised as a boy, she embeds in the Black Clan’s ranks, where she learns they were framed for the attack. At the end of Flame in the Mist, her unlikely ally and love interest, the leader of the Black Clan, was captured, leaving Mariko to pretend she was his hostage in order to save both herself and, she hopes, him. Reunited with her honor-bound brother and living alongside a royal fiancé with secrets of his own, she must use her position to uncover the conspiracy that almost cost her life.

2. Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas Series #2) by Zoraida Cordova (June 5)

In last year’s Labyrinth Lost, powerful bruja Alex’s attempt to shed her powers and live a nonmagical life goes horribly awry, resulting in the banishment of her entire family to bruja hell, where she travels to retrieve them. Companion novel Bruja Born centers on Alex’s gentle sister Lula, a gifted healer, who takes refuge from her complicated family in loving boyfriend Maks. And when Maks dies in a bus crash, she stretches her abilities to the breaking point to bring him back. But Death was not made to be defied, and saving allowed other, darker things to slip in alongside him…

3. The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen (June 5)

A captive turns conspirator when she helps the royals who enslaved her escape their kingdom’s conquerors. Now on the run with Prince Khalaf and his father, Jinghua sees their flight as a cover for her return home—a plan that’s complicated by her growing feelings for the prince. But when Khalaf enters into a marriage contract with the Great Khan’s deadly daughter, who requires her suitors to complete a trio of fairy-tale tasks for her hand, Jinghua must push her feelings aside and fight to save his life, even if winning the battle means losing the man.

A Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor

4. A Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor (June 5)

Emma and Henri were supposed to grow old together. They were sisters and best friends. Emma always imagined them as little old ladies living together in a huge house by the sea. But that was before—before the boat accident before Emma and Henri washed ashore before they got mixed up with Alex, a boy they barely know. The island is beautiful, but there is no fresh water, no food, no shelter. All they have are each other. And their secrets. As nights on the island turn into days, Emma hopes the need to survive, the desperation for comfort, will drive Henri back to her. Instead, they’re farther apart than ever. And Emma finds herself drifting closer to Alex—Alex, who can’t understand why Henri is so terrible to Emma. But then, he doesn’t know Emma’s secret.
Will Henri ever forgive Emma? Can they survive the island? Can they reclaim what they’ve lost? There is no map for this.

 

 

By Nitu Girish Mohan

Pride Month Books

Since is June is none other than Pride Month, here are 7 books encompassing LGBTQ+ topics:

Trans: A Memoir

1. Trans: A Memoir by Juliet Jacques 

In July 2012, aged thirty, Juliet Jacques underwent sex reassignment surgery—a process she chronicled with unflinching honesty in a serialized national newspaper column. Trans tells of her life to the present moment: a story of growing up, of defining yourself, and of the rapidly changing world of gender politics.

Simon

2. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. Incredibly funny and poignant, this twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming out story—wrapped in a geek romance—is a knockout of a debut novel by Becky Albertalli.

3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

4. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

5. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

At first, Jude and her twin brother are NoahandJude; inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them. Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

6. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won them both legions of faithful fans.

7. Luna by Julie Anne Peters

Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom, Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister’s clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change: Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam’s family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives? Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen’s struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

 

By Nitu Girish Mohan

Book Review: Why We Love by Helen Fisher

 

Book Review by Ashley Huang

Described as a “thesis with startling ramifications” in the New York Times, Why We Love is a 300-page report explaining love – biologically, chemically, psychologically, sociologically, and evolutionarily. I personally found the read very insightful, learning more and more on not just romantic love in humans, but also the explanations for lust, emotional attachment, homosexual romance, and even cases of romantic love in animals! Sometimes a classmate would peer over my shoulder to see what I was reading, and if I was reading an awkward topic, I would immediately flip the book shut bashfully. But other times, when I was reading about the biology and chemical pathways of love, topics I derive passion for, the book would be a nonstop page-turner! I especially liked the explanations of how and why we fall in love, the nervousness, and butterflies, as well as the mechanisms behind the gut-wrenching depression of a breakup or rejection.

The author, Helen Fisher, PH.D., is an anthropologist who has conducted extensive surveys and brain imaging experiments on love while working with professors at Rutgers University. What I found most interesting about her was that she did not make Why We Love a science textbook; It was almost like a diary, where Fisher spilled her hypotheses’ and theories with superfluous and jejune language, similar to of a youngster smitten with self-discovery. I found the non-stop quotes of love from authors and poets such as Shakespeare, Voltaire, William Blake, and Mary Wollstonecraft enticing, but the real appeal was how she managed to dig out quotes of lovesick authors from ancient China, the Middle East, and the American Indians. The touch of history was sweet icing on the cake that really wrapped up the story.

Finally, what really made this book was the EVOLUTION. After all, Fisher is an anthropologist! I appreciated Fisher’s articulations on the who, what, when, where, why and how of romantic love in not just Homo Sapiens, but also our early forebears, past hominids and as far back as the earliest mammals. As a Generation Z living in the 21stcentury, it’s often hard for me to grasp the amazing history and timeline of how we came to be.  Better yet, the book was exciting because the evolution was entwined with the sweet concept of love, which somehow all fit together like perfect puzzle pieces!

However, there were a few issues I had with this book. Firstly, because Fisher is an anthropologist, my science-wired brain couldn’t help but question the validity of her statements and the credibility of her work. While I remained skeptical throughout her work, there were times when Fisher’s logic tied together pretty smoothly. After all – the Law of Parsimony states that “things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most economical way, especially with reference to alternative evolutionary pathways.” Based on this, Fisher’s evolutionary claims should warrant at least some merit. Another problem I encountered was the fact that Why We Love was published in 2004.  Thus, as Fisher excitedly crowed on about the roles of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in romantic love, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, as this knowledge is practically eons old and is a basic staple in studies such as neuroscience. Nevertheless, I still vindicate some of Fisher’s chemical claims, as she did provide extremely interesting insight on hormones I didn’t know as much about, such as vasopressin. Overall, Why We Love was a page turner that taught me everything I wanted to know about love and more. I exceedingly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and society.

National Military Appreciation Month YA Books

Since May is also National Military Appreciation Month, here are a couple of beautifully written books involving the military:

  1. I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

If Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing separating Skylar from art school is three months of summer…until Skylar’s mother loses her job, and Skylar realizes her dreams may be slipping out of reach. Josh had a different escape route: the Marines. But after losing his leg in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and, soon, something deeper

2. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor and incredible sense of honor make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

3. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

5. In Honor By Jessi Kirby

Honor receives her brother’s last letter from Iraq three days after learning that he died and opens it the day his fellow Marines lay the flag over his casket. Its contents are a complete shock: concert tickets to see Kyra Kelly, her favorite pop star, and Finn’s celebrity crush. In his letter, he jokingly charged Honor with the task of telling Kyra Kelly that he was in love with her. Grief-stricken and determined to grant Finn’s last request, she rushes to leave immediately. But she only gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen him in ages, thanks to a falling out between the two guys, but Rusty is much the same as Honor remembers him: arrogant, stubborn . . . and ruggedly good-looking. Neither one is what the other would ever look for in a road trip partner, but the two of them set off together, on a voyage that makes sense only because it doesn’t.

 

 

By Nitu Girish Mohan

Crash Book Review

By Ashley Huang

History class is often associated with nap time. Boring lectures droning out of an aged man with a white beard is the perfect recipe for dozing off in class. Or so I thought.

“Crash” by Marc Favreau is 217 pages of fast-paced action and juicily imaginative wording to paint the Great Depression in a tense story that kept me on the edge of my seat. “Crash” was not a 3-inch thick history textbook; it was a gripping story with plot, conflict and the whole shebang. “Crash” was divided by parts, and those parts were divided into chapters. The actual parts wrapped up each main plot point of the Great Depression, ominously named Fall; Rise; Setback; and Victory. But within those parts were stories and figures that came out to be the delightfully fulfilling icing on the cake. Franklin Roosevelt was the big name, but Eleanor Roosevelt was just as big. Herbert Hoover was coined “The Unluckiest President” by Favreau, and it wasn’t until I read the chapter did it all become clear.

Besides the action and emotions expressed throughout “Crash,” I couldn’t help but appreciate the lesser known parts of the Great Depression. Besides the economic debacle, countless issues sprawled out during the Great Depression, simulating some sort of domino effect that rooted from the economy. For example, a great dust storm blew in through the middle of the US, enabling Americans to search far and wide for new jobs and homes. However, immigration was not welcome during this time. Not only were other Americans excluded from jobs, but Mexican immigrants and Jewish immigrants too! We were just finishing up our unit on World War 2 in school, and all the topics were deftly woven together into one beautifully articulated story that opened my eyes.

Oftentimes we fall into the trap of the “single story.” This simply means that we take an entity and stubbornly refuse to view it any other way besides the way we’ve always known to be. Reading about the Great Depression in “Crash” jolted me into the realization that this event isn’t just another chapter in my history textbook: It’s a real-life event with real people, real memories, and real effects.

YA ​Mental Health Books

 

Since May is National Mental Health Month, here are a couple of books that deal with mental health and how they affect people all over the world:

  1. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

In a totally insane satire, we get a protagonist who is definitely not going to save the world. Mikey is an ordinary teen dealing with anxiety. He manages to put into words what it’s like to live feeling constantly on edge.

2. Turtles all the Way Down by John Green

It’s the story of 16-year-old Aza who is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student—and maybe even a good detective. But she’s also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts, and her struggles with anxiety take the compulsions introduced in some of these other books to new extremes. It’s not always easy to read, but it’s hard not to feel for and fall for Aza as she struggles to live her life.

3. I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

In Gayle Forman’s novel, three teens meet by chance in Central Park. One of them is Nathaniel–visiting New York City for the first time with nothing but a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. Throughout the book, he grapples with coming to terms with his father’s mental illness and how it has affected his childhood.

4. Looking for Alaska by John Green

John Green’s 2006 Printz award winner follows Miles Halter’s relationship with Alaska Young and brings to light that we can never completely understand what someone with a mental illness feels inside.

5. I Was Here by Gayle Forman

After her best friend Meg takes her own life, Cody struggles to understand why – but through her journey to find out, she’ll discover that you can’t always know what’s inside the people closest to you.

 

By: Nitu Girish Mohan