‘The Poet X’ – Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara comes from a strict religious background. She feels a wedge between her and her parents, and this novel explores how that impacts on her life.
Like so many teenage girls she’s opinionated, and curious about the world around her. She is – we’re told – quick to use her fists to defend her twin brother, but sometimes you have to find another way.

From the outset it seemed clear there’d be a developing tension between Xiomara and her mother. She is desperate to find her voice and try to establish who she is. But who she thinks she is seems at odds with her parents’ hopes and expectations.

Yet one thing our narrator has is words. Used to pouring her thoughts out in her notebook, the way her mother treats this book could be seen as the ultimate betrayal. Yet it brought about a shift in thinking that offered some solace.

I liked the fact that there were characters around who offered some respite. Her best friend was so different, yet offered genuine love and support. The teacher who introduced her to slam poetry sparked something new. The priest – who seemed to represent everything she found so constricting- was actually the one who helped set things up to indicate a much more positive outcome.

‘People Kill People’ – Ellen Hopkins

Whatever your views on gun ownership, the refrain ‘guns don’t kill people. People kill people’ won’t have passed you by. Of course, logically, we know that people are the ones who carry out the act, but it’s hard to dispute the idea that guns make it easier for someone to do something they might think twice about otherwise.

This contemporary read allows us insight into the lives of a lot of characters, each of whom has reason to be angry/to want to hurt people/to feel like they need the protection of a gun. We have a family grieving after a shooting; a young family finding their feet; White Supremacist supporters; a young man determined to take revenge on his old Scout Master and a young boy who’s made homeless after the death of his father, amongst others. These characters are connected, and all have things to fear/things they want to change.

Told partly in verse form, this will not appeal to everyone. There’s a deliberate attempt to personify the gun and lend it an element of seduction. With violence as the narrator, this book attempts to challenge the belief many Americans have that they should have the right to bear arms.

As someone who doesn’t share this belief, and who is appalled by the steady stream of horror we see after yet another shooting, I felt the way this was presented will certainly get people thinking. Ultimately, though, little changed and I don’t feel the key incident towards the end of the book will be enough to drastically change many views. Towards the end things felt rushed, and I felt certain stories were left too vague for my liking.

A simple message, but not one that really feels like it’s given with total conviction here.

Summer Highlights part 1

Justyce McAllister is a young boy with a bright future. Captain of his debate team, a great scholar and well-liked by his peers Justyce is the kind of character you’d probably want your child to be. Sensitive and thoughtful, considerate of others and trying to be the best he can be it’s hard not to like him. So when we see things start to go wrong for him it’s a pretty bleak message.

When the book opens Justyce has gone out late one night because his ex-girlfriend has been drinking and is trying to drive home. He is in the process of trying to get her home safely, when a policeman cuffs him and arrests him. Why? Simple answer…he’s black.

This incident alone had me outraged, and it certainly gets Justyce and those around him to talk frankly about some of the issues they’re facing surrounding race and how it impacts their lives. But it doesn’t change anything.

Justyce is surrounded by privileged white people, and he lives in a more stereotypical black neighbourhood. Inevitably, there are clashes in ideology and what people expect of him. Justyce turns to Martin Luther King whom he imagines writing to in order to ask questions he has.

The book could have continued in this vein for some time. Sadly I imagine there’s many stories that could have been used to illustrate the seemingly inherent racism in modern society.

Just as things seem to be settling into a bleak but known place, Stone places Justyce and his best friend, Manny, in an all-too-common situation. What follows is harrowing.

This should have been a 5 star read for its message and desire to encourage dialogue. However, unlike The Hate U Give the use of third-person narrative results in a rather detached reading experience. It meant I felt rather less engaged in Justyce’s life than I felt I needed to be. Still, definitely a read that should be shared.

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

This is definitely one of those books that I’d recommend with caution, but I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would initially.

Nita is not your normal teenager. Living with her mother, Nita has always had an affinity for cutting things. She turns a blind eye to some of the jobs her mother does, but she will dissect bodies and help with the sale of parts on the black market. However, when her mother brings a live boy back and asks Nita to cut him Nita cannot bring herself to do so.

Nita’s help in the boy’s escape sets in place an awful chain of events that results in Nita being kidnapped and put in a cage. People are intrigued by her ability to cut off pain and heal herself. They are prepared to pay serious money for her, and so we watch Nita in her desperate attempts to escape.

I don’t want to give the details away, but things are not what we’re led to believe. There seems to be clear hints of some kind of plot that Nita is unaware of. A lot of violence, and some sinister characters/events but there was an attempt to portray the humanity of characters who, in many eyes, would be seen as monsters.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this.

 

If you’d have told me I’d read a book about basketball I’d have laughed at you. Until I realised this book must have something going for it because so many of my reluctant readers picked it up, enjoyed it and went on to try other things. So, I decided to give it a whirl. Not at all what I expected.

While basketball forms the backdrop to this story, it’s also about growing up, accepting change, family relationships and dealing with disappointment. Told in varying verse styles it picks you up and carries you along at a pretty brisk pace.
The brothers were crazy to prolong their feud in the way they did, but through their shared love/bond things were getting back on track. I sensed where this might go, but it still comes as a shock.

Now to go and dig out my copy of House Arrest.

‘Moonrise’ – Sarah Crossan

‘They think I hurt someone.
But I didn’t. You hear?
Coz people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.’

Sometimes the simplest story is the most heart-breaking.

Joe, our narrator, is 17 and on his way to Texas to visit his brother, Ed. They’ve not seen each other for years, but after confessing to killing a police officer – and spending years on Death Row – Ed is about to be killed.

Joe is dealing with things that nobody his age should have to face alone. How do you say goodbye to someone you never really knew? How do you prepare someone for their death, when you are fairly sure they don’t deserve it?

The style is clear and you might even say terse at times. A lot is left unsaid, but it’s a powerful story. Another hard-hitting one, that made me cry.

Thank you NetGalley for this one.