Posted in Book Review

Review: Water in May by Ismée Williams

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Water in May by Ismée Williams, Amulet Books, 320 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Content Warnings: Doctors’ offices, scenes in hospitals and intensive care units, pregnancy & birth, violence, infant death.

Every once in  a while, I read a story that’s truly special because it exposes the best of humanity in the worst and unfairest situations. One such novel is Ismée Williams’ debut Water in May, out today from Amulet. Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols is pregnant with the baby who thinks will save her family and change her future. Then she finds out that the baby has a severe and potentially fatal heart defect. Suddenly, Mari must make tough choices about her baby and her future in this riveting tale of family, friendship, motherhood and resilience.

I first want to acknowledge that I love this is a book written by a former pediatric cardiologist and a WoC that features a Latina protagonist. The book features a list of Dominican slang in the front and the language and culture of Mari’s Dominican family and group of friends shines through the pages of this book. If you are looking to read more diverse books, I highly recommend this beautifully written novel that shows the experiences of a WoC and inner city teen life.

My favorite part of this book was Mari and her voice. The writing was so rich and descriptive. I loved how there was both strength and vulnerability in her voice. Mari is a fighter with a past criminal history and a complicated family history. Her mom is an addict, her dad is in prison and she has a fraught relationship with her abuela. I found myself rooting for Mari from the first page.

I also loved her three friends (Yaz, Teri and Heavenly) and the ways that the four girls loved and supported one another. If you are looking for a book about girl power and strong female relationships, then Water in May is the book for you. I even liked the depiction of Mari’s relationship with her baby’s father, Bertie, and found the way their relationship changed to be one of the most tearjerking parts of this emotional read. The parts that take place in the NICU are also particularly emotional, but William’s description of procedures and nurses and the overall environment is spot-on.

The storytelling and pacing is also spot on. Williams did a great job juggling all of the subplots in this book. The descriptions are great. The dialog is spot-on. There are twists and turns you won’t see coming. I also loved how at the core of this story is a doctor, Dr. Love, who fights for his patient and a mother who fights for her child against all odds. If I am going to read a book that I know will be emotionally taxing, I like it to be full of hope and inner strength. Water in May did not disappoint. It exceeded all my expectations and left me in tears. I hope it’ll leave you teary-eyed as well, with joy and a little bit of sadness. There are more moments I loved in this book that I would love to gush about, but read this book first and then find me and we can gush together. This is the kind of book I don’t want to spoil. I want you all to take this intense and powerful storytelling journey and enjoy it as much as I did.

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Posted in Book Review

Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Crown Books for Young Readers, 224 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Content Warnings: Police brutality, racism, gun violence, gang violence, grief & loss 

This book joins All-American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and others that deal with the topic of black teens confronting issues of racial inequality and police violence in twenty-first century America. However, these novels don’t feel like “issue” books because of the tremendous grace and empathy with which they were written. Powerfully voiced and emotionally written, Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a force of a novel about Justyce, an intelligent black teen dealing with the loss of his best friend Manny during an altercation with an off-duty police officer.

I read this book in one-sitting and was in tears by the end. This book is powerful and it packs a punch in such a short length of a book. The dialogue was fantastically written and felt like actual teens speaking, which is harder to find in YA than it should be. I loved the brutal honesty of Justyce’s letters to Dr. King.

My only issue with this book was the length. While I enjoyed it being such a short read, it just felt like there should have been more of this book. While a lot of books would benefit from being 100 pages shorter, this one would have benefitted from being 100 pages longer. The major plot point of the book doesn’t take place until halfway through. The first half felt like a lot of context and build-up and the second half felt very very quick. I would have liked the pacing of this book to be a little bit more even.

Overall, I loved this gem of a book. It was packed with so much feeling and was written with such urgency that it was so easy to get lost in it in the opening pages. If you a white book blogger who wants to learn more about racial issues in America and why they are important, I highly recommend reading this book instead of trying to get free education from PoC on Twitter. This book approaches discussions of race with nuance and subtlety that taught me so much, and I am so grateful for this reading experience. I highly recommend this book and also recommend you seek out and boost #ownvoices reviews of this book as well.

Posted in Book Review

Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner, Knopf, 304 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

We should all know by now that diversity and accurate representation are super important in YA. However, diversity in books also makes for kickass storytelling and is a way to start learning about and understanding various types of people. Also, intersectionality is key, meaning showing layered diverse experiences. If you’re looking for a place to start, I can’t recommend Whitney Gardner’s diverse debut You’re Welcome, Universe enough.

Julia, the main character, is a Deaf Indian girl with two moms. Oh, and she’s a kickass graffiti artist. After tagging her school to defend her best friend Jordyn’s honor, Julia is expelled and sent to public school in  where she struggles to make friends and relies upon Casey, an interpreter, to communicate with those around her. Her only outlet is graffiti, which she must keep a secret, and even that seems like it may be taken away from her by a rival.

One of the parts I loved best about this book is its representation of Deaf culture. I can’t speak to its accuracy because I’m a hearie and thus not Deaf, but I felt like I learned a lot about the experience of being Deaf, signing and some of the struggles of living without hearing through reading this book.

Building off of that, I loved Julia’s voice. She’s a teenage girl who doesn’t take any shit, but she’s also vulnerable and still coming into her own. I loved her descriptions of working with her art and her sarcasm. Her personality jumped off the page and I liked feeling like I was going on this journey with her, as she learned what it meant to be both a friend and an artist, no matter the cost.

If you’re looking for a contemporary read where romance isn’t the central plot line or even a sub plot line and isn’t totally sad, this is the book for you. It has so much heart and at its core is a tale of friendship and reaching one’s potential, whatever that might mean.

The other characters were all depicted in a way that was nuanced and intriguing. YP was one of my favorite characters. I found Jordyn and Donovan to be super annoying, but I can relate to having a fallout with a friend who you felt closer to than they did to you. I also loved Mr. Katz, as I found that my art teachers were always some of the most supportive when I was in high school. Mee and Ma, Julia’s moms, were also highlights.

Gardner spun a tale that was pieces funny and sad, but always honest and unflinchingly real. I loved the little details that exposed some of the character’s struggles in a way that was impactful even if they were only a sentence or two. From the discrimination Mee and Ma face to comments Julia must endure at her job at McDonald’s,

The design of this book was also phenomenally done. The girl on the cover actually matches the description of Julia in the book, down to her signature yellow Docs. I also liked that the cover uses Julia’s tag in the book and shows that she’s a WOC. The chapter headings were adorable emoticon faces, which Julia uses throughout the book as well. Finally, the illustrations are gorgeous. I just wish there were more.

This isn’t to say the book was without its flaws. A little bit more background on graffiti culture was needed, as Julia’s concerns didn’t always seem to line up with the situation. Additionally, there were some parts of the book that fell flat for me. Julia should’ve just ditched on Jordyn right away and the drama between Kyle and Julia didn’t come to any kind of satisfying conclusion. The bad guy who turns out to be kind of a good guy trope is getting old. Parts like this felt a little forced, but they didn’t overpower what was otherwise a very strong book.

This book is super worth the read. It’s quick, it’s fairly light and it’s super good. You’re not going to want to miss out on this gorgeous contemporary. Plus, the last scene is super, super cute, but you have to read it yourself to find out why. 😉