Books I Read in July

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

360 p. Realistic Fiction African American/Black Teen pregnancy/Grief

Concrete Rose is a prequel set 17 years prior to Hate You Give. Maverick Carter, who is the son of a former gang member, begins selling drugs to help pay the bills. Then his girlfriend becomes pregnant and a close friend is killed, leaving Maverick with some difficult choices to make. It was interesting to see the father from (THUG) in this story as a teenager and how he evolves into a man and father.

“I like to be reminded that beauty can come from much of nothing. To me that’s the whole point of flowers.”

Chapter 7 p. 102 in Concrete Rose

2 books: The Skin I’m In and The Life I’m In by Sharon Flake

Rating: 4 out of 5.

171 p. and 321 p. Realistic Fiction John Steptoe Award African American Authors

Skin I’m In: Maleeka is 13 and is having trouble at school. She is bullied and tormented because of her darker skin, her clothes that her mother makes for her, and her good grades. Then a new white teacher arrives who has a large birthmark on her face and Maleeka is taken by surprise by her attitude and the fact that she seems to love the skin she’s in. Will Maleeka learn to stand up for herself, too?

Life I’m in: Char (who was one of Maleeka’s bullies in the first book) is sent to Alabama by bus after numerous behavior episodes. She gets sidetracked by a girl with a baby and ends up getting pulled into sex trafficking. Char learns to stand up and get herself and the other teens out of this situation. The book discusses the underbelly of the society and the men who target vulnerable girls. It was hard to like Char because she was such a tormenter in the first book. It was interesting to read the author’s afterword and why she wrote this book. Some of it was because so many readers to ask about what happened to Char. She also talks about the power of books and that literature can be a survival tool.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Rating: 4 out of 5.

362 p. Realistic Fiction African Americans

This book is set in 1992. Ashley Bennet lives a privileged life in LA along with her friends. Then, the 4 policemen who beat Rodney King are acquitted and the protests and riots occur in Los Angeles. And Ashley is a Black kid although she tries to remain outside of what is happening around her. Then, her older sister is drawn in and is arrested and Ashley betrays a friend, LaShawn. The careful world of her family is beginning to crumble and Ashley needs to decide where she fits in. I thought this was a really good book about a topic that probably not too many kids know about (at least white kids). The author explores family relationships as well as racial inequality.

Don’t Ask me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

323 p. Realistic Fiction Latinx/Hispanic Immigration

Liliana lives in inner-city Boston and is attending a new school through the METCO program which desegregates schools. Her home life is in disarray since her dad has been gone for weeks and her mom is listless and increasingly depressed. Nobody will tell her where her father is or when he is coming home. Then, at her new school, she feels ostracized from her mostly white classmates and the racial tensions that exist. I thought this book was written brilliantly and I would highly recommend for anyone but especially those dealing with two cultures and the issue of deportation.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Rating: 5 out of 5.

386 p. Realistic Novel in Verse SLJ Best Books

Punching the Air is one of my favorite books of the year so far. Amal Shahid is an artist and poet, but at school teachers think he is disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one night a fight breaks out in the neighborhood (that is being gentrified) between Amal and his friends and the white kids. Amal is arrested and convicted of a crime that he did not commit. Amal is full of rage by going to prison for something that he did not do and has a terrible time there. He wants to attend a poetry program but is unable to control his anger at the system and unfairness. Zoboi bases this book on the Central Park Five, now the Exonerated Five, who were unfairly convicted. One of the Five is Yusef Salaam, one of the authors.

I loved Amal’s connections of the prison to being shackled to slavery and being chained in the ships coming to America. It really connects with my soul.

“When you find yourself in dark places, there’s always a light somewhere in that darkness, and even if that light is inside of you, you can illuminate your own darkness by shedding that light on the world.”

― Yusef Salaam from Punching the Air

Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden

Rating: 4 out of 5.

229 p. Realistic Fiction LGBTQ+ Bullying

A book that is told in multiple voices (4 narrators) including 7th grader Libby who states she comes from a long line of bullies but wants to be different. So she creates a card that shares a positive message and shares that message with others who need a boost. Those others find the courage to do what they want and need. And they continue paying that message forward. The characters all made the effort to learn, change, and connect with others. Could make a good read aloud choice.

Ancestor Approved edited by Cynthia Leiich Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5.

299 p. Story collection Indigenous/Native/First Nation

Smith and 16 other authors/artists collaborated on this short story collection. Each story focuses on a different character and their experience at an intertribal pow-wow in Michigan. There are a variety of types of stories from funny to serious. There is also “Rez Dogs” by Rebecca Roanhorse that tells about a pow-wow from dogs’ point of view. My favorite was Eric Gainsworth’s story “Indian Price” that confronts microaggressions. I would recommend.

Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Rating: 3 out of 5.

359 p. Realistic Fiction LGBTQ+ author from UK Novel in verse

This is a story about a biracial gay teen Michael Angeli who lives in London. This is a coming-of-age story telling Michael’s story growing up. His roots are Jamaican and Greek but he is having trouble finding his place in society. When he goes to University he discovers a drag society and begins his Black Flamingo persona.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Rating: 5 out of 5.

244 p. Realistic Fiction Bullying Novels in Verse

Ever since Ellie wore her whale-themed bathing suit at her 5th birthday party she has been bullied by classmates, family members, and even her own mother. Now that she is in 6th grade things have become even worse. Her mother is nagging her about having surgery and her best friend has moved away. However, she has a new neighbor who is becoming a good friend and her dad is on her side and she is seeing a new therapist. With their help she is learning how to stand up to the bullies including her mother. It is told with a lot of feeling and empathy as well as realistically.

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