Mamaleh Knows Best by Marjorie Ingall

9780804141413by Marjorie Ingall
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Generally my coworker, who is herself already a Jewish mother, tries to dissuade me from reading parenting books, especially since I do not yet have children. And generally I disregard her because, not only do I need to know what’s out there to advise patrons, but I also enjoy storing up tidbits for someday. This book I enjoyed so much that I am actually recommending it to her!

Ingall’s writing is funny and confident, though her premise seems to be based more on her own observations and ponderings than on any studies about what is “actually” recommended. She draws heavily on her experiences of attending Jewish Day School and raising her two daughters, who are now teenagers, and draws conclusions I had never thought of about how certain aspects of parenting are rooted in Judaism.

Such conclusions include: teaching independence (and therefore rejoicing when your child challenges authority), telling stories, asking questions, and modeling tikkun olam. I realized in reading this that these are some of my foundational memories of how my mother raised me, and what I feel strongly about instilling in my own children. They also happen to overlap with traits my partner does not possess in spades and make me a bit hesitant about how our future children will be raised. But Ingall claims that children with only one Jewish parent are more likely to identify as Jewish if that parent is a mother, so I feel good about our odds of success in raising Jewish kids. (And it reinforces that Judaism is a matrilineal religion – a practice that has been controversial due to its non-inclusivity to people whose fathers were Jewish and identify strongly as Jewish. But I digress.)

Most importantly, Ingall does not claim that only Jewish kids are capable of being raised this way, nor are they genetically predisposed to end up with these traits. The purpose of this book is that lessons from Judaism can be very easily picked up by non-Jews, and to explain why Jewish people, though very small percentages of nearly any population, excel and thrive.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

9781442474659 by Cynthia Kadohata
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Summer and her family are harvesters. They normally spend the summer harvesting wheat all over the central plains, but her parents are called back to Japan for an emergency. This leaves Summer and her brother, Jaz, in the care of their grandparents, who then have to take on the harvesting work so they can make ends meet. Summer is convinced that her family is doomed to bad luck, what with the emergency, her grandparents’ physical problems, and starting with her own life-threatening bout of malaria the year before. After the malaria, Summer developed a deep fear of mosquitoes and bathes in DEET all the time. This is also the first year that Summer has a crush on her grandparents’ employers’ son, Robbie. This particular summer, she spends most of her time helping her grandmother cook for the harvesters and doing the homework that her teachers gave her in advance so she doesn’t fall behind. She also has to look after her little brother, Jaz, who has autism and deal with her complicated relationship with her grandmother, who is either all critical (usually) or all loving (rarely). All in all, it’s an eventful couple of months and she does a lot of growing up, even eventually pitching in to drive one of the combines when her grandfather is sick. This book was very quiet and I loved how Summer came to her own realizations. She never addressed her challenges with her grandmother, but felt that she understood her, so maybe their relationship will get better. Despite her grandmother’s criticism, Summer doesn’t seem to feel a lack of respect for her. I liked that not everything gets 100% resolved in the end but that I was still left with a hopeful feeling, and a feeling of realistic progress in her life.

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey

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by Geoff Rodkey
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lan and her family are the last surviving humans after Earth is destroyed. They’ve been living in a colony on Mars but finally struck a deal with the citizens of Choom, a distant planet, to allow them to settle there as refugees. But by the time they get to Choom 20 years later (in suspended animation), the government has changed hands and the new government is completely opposed to the idea because humans are violent and they don’t want any violence or conflict of any kind. They finally agree to let Lan and her family (her mother is the chief negotiator) come down on a trial basis while everyone else stays on the ship. There are three main species: the Zhuri, who are the majority and run everything; the Krik, who have the second-highest population; and the Ororo, who are the smartest. The Zhuri leaders have effectively banned all emotion, and anything that provokes emotion, such as singing, and Lan’s sister Ila won an “America’s Got Talent” type show back on Earth with singing and the humans were hoping to win the residents of Choom over with her skills.

This book raises a number of really interesting issues. One is the very real, very near future of humans destroying Earth, and then what happens? And we could be based on our history of violence as a species and denied asylum elsewhere. Then there’s the idea of asylum seekers as “us” and not “them” which is a change from how it’s generally understood, not to mention the way the humans are shown in the Choom media. Lan and her family are frustrated over and over again by the fake news. And then the Zhuri and their emotion-denying. Wow. You can only clamp down on your own nature for so long before it erupts, and in the end it was Ila’s music that won them over. It would have been a different story if the species were actually completely peaceful, but they were just pretending to be to maintain order, which rarely works.

I was also particularly struck by how the different species’ foods were described. The Zhuri drink a gray liquid that smells revolting to humans, and it is described as an efficient way to nourish them. They also do not create “body garbage” like humans do, which was entertaining. The Krik also eat something gross, but the Ororo eat varied-colored cubes of food that is tasty to humans. The Krik were the first to inhabit Choom, and they were joined by the Zhuri later and then the Ororo. It turns out that there used to be a fourth species, the Nug, but the Zhuri killed them all. So all their claims of peace were not entirely truthful. The reason I docked it a half-star is that the resolution to the conflict came right at the very end, so we didn’t really get to see the humans settling into and enjoying Choom society at all, but maybe there will be a sequel?

 

Secondhand Wishes by Anna Staniszewski

9781338280173by Anna Staniszewski
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Seventh-grader Lexi just wants to maintain order and balance in her world, which is usually frighteningly out of whack. Her 4-year-old brother is in and out of hospitals a lot and her parents are stressed, her mother even losing her job because of the time she has to devote to his care. Lexi buys four-leaf clovers from her classmate to help with her luck and is constantly making deals with the universe for added protection. She’s also struggling with her best friend abandoning her for a new friend, when all Lexi wants is for things to continue just as they were. So when she comes across a bag of wishing stones, she has a lot of wishes to make – if they even work. She tries one and it does seem to work – except not exactly how she imagined. By the time she gets to her fourth wish, things are really out of hand and she seems to be in a bit of a pickle. But her aunt saves the day in surprising ways and Lexi learns a lot. In the end, though things go back to how they were before, Lexi is changed.

This book is delightful. I can see kids with anxiety and a need for control really identifying with Lexi. I loved that Lexi breaks out of her comfort zone and tries out for the dance team, even after a really embarrassing first attempt. Her best friend, Cassa, reveals that she is moving to England, and by the end of the book, Lexi is okay with that (and even starts to make friends with the once-hated interloper, Marina). I especially like that Lexi’s aunt also comes out of her shell a bit and reconnects with her childhood best friend. There are lots of little details and hints planted masterfully here and there and it’s just a very sweet story.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

9780062422675by Tiffany D. Jackson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When I first finished this book, I would not have given it 5 stars, but after pondering it for a while, I overcame most of my beef with the nonlinear way in which the story is told. Claudia tells the story of the disappearance of her best friend, Monday Charles, and how she discovered what happened to her. I normally really dislike nonlinear narratives but Jackson executes this one, if not flawlessly, then at least brilliantly. Chapters are titled The Before, The After, A Year Before the Before, Two Years Before the Before, and then a series with month titles, moving presumably through one of those years/times, though it is unclear when. When I finished reading, I felt like I still didn’t know a lot and had a lot of questions, so I went back through and re-read just the After chapters in order, and things made a lot more sense. And Jackson had to tell the story in that way in order for you to really experience how Claudia experienced the story. I’m reluctant to give away too much of the story because Jackson’s reveal of the plot is excellent, but I will say that my poor sensitive soul was WIRED reading this too late at night, so tread gently. Once I got into it though, I devoured it, so maybe devote a weekend day to it. I will also say that I was extremely glad to read that part of Claudia’s (and others’) healing at the end included going to therapy.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

9780062691200

by Jerry Craft
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Jordan is starting 7th grade at a private school worlds away from his Washington Heights, New York neighborhood. He has to figure out how to fit in when everyone there seems to be rich and/or white and makes assumptions about him. Craft does a great job of portraying a day full of typical micro-aggressions (being called by another Black kid’s name, a bumbling teacher who’s always asking if anyone’s offended by something he just blurted out, being awkwardly stared at whenever the topic of race comes up). Jordan tries to make friends with a rich Black kid named Maury, but they have nothing in common. He eventually becomes friends with the rich white (but also modest and unpretentious) kid, Liam, who is assigned to show him around on the first day, and eventually also becomes friends with another Black kid, Drew. Jordan and Drew joke around about their micro-aggressions and get called out by a teacher who fancies herself an ally but is arguably the worst offender. My coworker’s and my favorite bit was the description of a book the boys are encouraged to read because it has a Black protagonist, which is hilariously described as being a gritty tale of urban grit and grittiness (or something – I had to send the book onto the next person in line so I can’t quote from it directly). It reminded me a little bit of The Hate U Give in how the main characters code switch in their two very different environments.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

9781338129304

by Kheryn Callender
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Caroline Murphy was born during a hurricane and is cursed with bad luck. Her mother left her a little over a year ago, and she has no friends in her Catholic school on St. Thomas (in the US Virgin Islands), where she travels every day from her home on neighboring Water Island. For a few months, she and her father received postcards from her mother, but then they stopped. Convinced that only something drastic would keep her mother from returning to her, she has wanted to leave her home and find her ever since. But when she finds out where her mother has been, it’s Caroline who’s unsure whether to return to her. Meanwhile, Caroline is experiencing the ups and downs of not only her first real friend, but her first love – Kalinda Francis, who moved to St. Thomas from Barbados. The first thing that drew Caroline to Kalinda was the sense that they both saw spirits. The denouement comes when Caroline goes out in a hurricane and is pulled into the ocean with her spirit whom she calls the woman in black. At the end of the story, things have changed for Caroline at school. Even though her main bully, Anise, laid off her while Kalinda was there, she resumes when Kalinda moves away at the end. Anise eventually also moves away and Caroline gets the courage to talk to and even befriend another girl (whom she refers to as Marie Antoinette) who seemed to be her best friend but who was also bullied by her, so that was interesting.

Some spoilers in the commentary: Caroline doesn’t seem to have any qualms about coming out to Kalinda, and is surprised when Kalinda rejects her on religious principles, though Kalinda eventually accepts her own sexuality. Caroline shows a surprisingly shallow understanding of her (I imagine) small island community, being pretty shocked to learn that her principal was best friends with her mother, that felt odd to me. The spirits reminded me of Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes and added a new dimension to the story. It turns out that Caroline’s mother was depressed and tried to commit suicide, so left in order to deal with that somehow (I’m still not really sure how that turned into sending postcards from lots of different places), and came back to St. Thomas after a few months, settling down with another man and his daughter. Caroline is understandably very hurt by this, moreso than finding out that her father has a daughter by another woman (which may have played into Caroline’s mother’s depression? to be honest I was pretty distracted while reading this so may have lost some of the details). So anyway, trigger warnings for people with parents with mental illness.