Diversity Spotlight – 30 March 2017

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

 

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Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer.

 When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as “the vampires,” she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime–a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol.

 Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life.

I read Maya’s Notebook when it was first released in 2014; Isabel Allende is one of my favorite authors. I always love reading Allende’s novels, and this was no exception, despite it being very different from most of her other previous work. Compared to her books such as The House of the Spirits and Portrait in Sepia, this one has very little magical realism.

The story is partly a coming-of-age story, partly a crime/mystery thriller, but mostly an honest and open portrayal of addiction and grief. Unfortunately, a topic Ms. Allende knows all too well: three of her stepchildren have struggled with addiction; two have died, the second one passing away the same month Maya’s Notebook was published in the U.S.

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In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

The star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin presents her personal story of the real plight of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family.

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author’s and on a system that fails them over and over.

This quote from the book’s Introduction basically sums up why I want to read it: “For the thousands of nameless children who feel as forgotten as I did – this memoir is my gift to you.”

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Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

I still have not read anything by Renée Ahdieh, yet I have heard enough good things about her to put her latest upcoming release directly on my TBR list! I have heard this book marketed as a Mulan retelling, which could be very intriguing, if done well.

Flame in the Mist will be published on May 16, 2017.

Diversity Spotlight – 23 February 2017

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

 

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Book Blurb:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

This has been one of my favorite books so far this year. Colson Whitehead has a unique writing style that can come across as emotionally distant. This bothers some readers, but it didn’t bother me at all. You can find my review here.

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The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life

Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal

Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal

This supermarket

Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot

Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

The Education of Margot Sanchez was released this week! And slightly overshadowed by Victoria Schwab’s Conjuring of Light. I LOVE the Darker Shades of Magic series, and will be diving into the last book in the trilogy soon, but I don’t want Lilliam Rivera’s book to be overlooked!

I don’t read contemporary fiction very often, but this one definitely seems like it would be worth my time.

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

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.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

This just sounds like a really fun book. Cute, funny, and culturally diverse…what more can you ask for? I will definitely pick this up after it is published when I am in the mood for a light and entertaining read.

Diversity Spotlight – 15 December 2016

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

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Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey!

I loved the first book in the Ms. Marvel series, and we have volumes 2 – 5 out from the library right now! You can find my review here.

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Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.

It’s not often you come across a book that is from the perspective of a girl with Asperger’s. A story that also covers the aftermath of a school shooting, and how on family deals with it. I plan on reading this one before the end of the month for #diversitydecbingo.

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Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. Movie rights have been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) to star.

A book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement? Yes, please!

Diversity Spotlight -17 November 2016

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I am slowly making my way through The Blazing Star, which was on my Diversity Spotlight list last week. I feel like every time I pick it up, I get interrupted, and have to put it back down. I hate when that happens! I don’t know if it is the constant interruptions, or my mood that is still down in the dumps, but I am having a hard time getting into the book.

Wildfires are still raging in the North Carolina mountains, and for the past 3 days, my home in the Charlotte area has been hazy and smoky. So much so, that the local school district has cancelled outdoor recess and sporting practices until the air quality improves. The Code Red air quality, combined with all the drywall repair work currently underway in our bathroom renovation, has really triggered my asthma, so I am back on a nebulizer and frequent inhaler use at the moment. Ugh.

Hopefully, it will rain soon, but there is still no sign of rain in the forecast.  2016 certainly is continuing on its path of being the year of constant yuckiness.

On a positive note, I am extremely excited to participate in an upcoming Love Wins rally. You might be scratching your head on that one, in light of the recent election, but a group of mothers involved with a local nonprofit, OurBRIDGE, decided to unite together and send a message to our neighbors, city, country, and the world, that we stand together in the belief that the United States is stronger for its diversity and inclusion.

OurBridge Kids is a Charlotte-based nonprofit that provides a safe, nurturing and respectful environment for refugee and immigrant students and their families. The rally is getting a lot of attention locally, with an excellent line-up of speakers and attendees. It should be a very empowering and uplifting event, what so many of us need right now.

In honor of all the refugee families I have come to know over the years, all of my selections this week will focus on the experience of refugees.

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

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What is the What by Dave Eggers

Book Blurb:

In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he’s driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety — for a time. Valentino’s travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation — and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where this novel is narrated. In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one indomitable man faces in a world collapsing around him.

I have had the incredible privilege to get to know two Sudanese doctors who worked with the Dinka people during the Civil War, who eventually had to flee and became refugees themselves. The courage and optimism of so many Sudanese refugees, and most especially the Lost Boys, is beyond belief. This book is powerfully written, and is a must read for everyone.

Little known fact: Many, many refugees celebrate their birthday on January 1. Here in Charlotte, a local refugee agency holds a big birthday party every year in January for their clients. The reason for this is due to the fact that many refugees don’t know their actual date of birth. When that is the case, a new birthday is assigned to them during the resettlement process. The date always assigned for those who don’t know? January 1.

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The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Book Blurb:

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.

From 2001 – 2005, I worked with asylum seekers in Brisbane, Australia. The clients, many of whom became dear friends, that I worked with were community-based asylum seekers. This novel details the experience of asylum seekers who don’t get that opportunity. Australia has both “onshore” and “offshore” detention centres, and the characters in The Bone Sparrow live in one of the onshore detention centres.

Fact: There are many myths surrounding refugees. One such myth is that “Boat People” – those who arrive via boat to Australia – are not “genuine refugees”. This is UNTRUE!! There is no such thing as a ‘genuine’ or ‘non-genuine’ refugee. Refugee status should not be influenced by method of arrival, and 93.4% of asylum seekers who arrived by boat to Australia in 2011-12 were found to be refugees and granted protection.

However, Australia discriminates against asylum seekers based on their method of arrival. If they arrive with a valid visa – often a student or tourist visa – and then apply for protection, they are allowed to live in the community until their application is processed (this can take years). If an asylum seekers arrives on a boat, or another method, without a visa, they are sent to detention centres.

Some people end up stuck in a no-man’s land, denied protection by Australia, but unable to be sent back to their home country, and end up living in the detention centres for years upon years.

This includes children. And the conditions can be abhorrent, and so incredibly inhumane.

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The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Book Blurb:

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but also the Center for Fiction Debut Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen’s next fiction book, The Refugees, is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.

With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.

I don’t usually read collections of short stories, but I might make an exception for this one. I find it particularly interesting that the stories were written over a period of twenty years!

The Refugees will be published on 7 February, 2017.