Tag Archives: religion

Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson

by Terri Libenson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I had been so sure that the twist in Invisible Emmie was that Brianna was not real, but it seems she is very real in this fourth installment in the graphic novel series! Brianna’s seventh grade year is told in flashbacks from her Bat Mitzvah day in June back to 8 months earlier, and moves chronologically up to the big day, mostly exploring how she prepares and also the friend/classmate drama that leads up to it. Basically, rumors start to fly about what her party will be like, and some of the “cool” kids try to get on her good side to get an invite. Two of the popular girls manage to get invited but Brianna finally comes around to the realization that they are just using her. Mostly she resists this because her former best friend says it, and they are going through a rough patch since her BFF is starting to become close with someone else.

I liked watching how Brianna changed over the course of the year. I did think that the two popular girls coming to the party and feeling sad and left out was a bit of a stretch, but otherwise loved how maturely Brianna dealt with the whole situation. She also really grapples with her relationship with Judaism and why she’s doing the Bat Mitzvah in the first place, if not just to please her mother. (Brianna’s father is not Jewish and she has not gone to Hebrew school consistently; her parents are also divorced and fight about the Bat Mitzvah a lot.) In the end, Brianna and Emmie make up and are friends again, and Brianna learns to accept Sarah a little more too.

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

9780062937049by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Rising seniors Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehrman were once childhood friends who reconnect when Maya’s mother signs her up to canvass for a political candidate, Jordan Rossum. Jamie’s cousin Gabe is a muckety muck in the Atlanta campaign, and his little sister Sophie is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Maya’s parents are getting divorced and her best friend is mentally already at college (and finally moves there and officially leaves her behind). As she and Jamie grow closer, her mother’s bribe of a car in exchange for volunteering falls to the side.

It’s not surprising that Jamie and Maya fall for each other, though it takes Maya longer to realize it. I loved the subplot with Sophie’s sexuality, and how Jamie handles it. I loved everything about Jamie, except that he seemed a little *too* perfect. Albertalli, I assume, wrote the Jamie chapters, and Saeed wrote the Maya chapters. One thing that bothered me about Maya is that she was not up front with Jamie about her not being able to date. Though on balance maybe it was more of a reflection of how deeply in denial she was about her feelings for him. In the Jamie chapters, it is clear how much she is flirting with him, even if she thought of him just as a friend. It reminded me of Does My Head Look Big in This? in which the main character sticks to her convictions to wear hijab and not to date. But then, those are her convictions, whereas in Maya’s case it’s her mother’s conviction that she’s trying to follow. Maya also doesn’t wear hijab, but her mother does, and the proposed passage of a bill to ban head coverings while driving really ramps up both her and Jamie.

Social media and white supremacy both play big roles in this story. Rossum’s opponent is the one sponsoring the bill, and his supporters vandalize cars with Rossum bumper stickers by putting their own over them, which are impossible to remove or cover up. But Jamie and Maya figure out a clever way to deal with them. Jamie’s grandma, inexplicably some sort of Instagram celebrity, uses her platform to promote Rossum. At one point, someone posts a photo of Maya and Jamie, and there’s also a campaign video of them, that garners a lot of comments, both negative and positive. Teens today have quite a lot to deal with in terms of internet harassment, it’s really very troubling to me. But Jamie and Maya manage to get through it and the ending is sweet and hopeful, but also realistic. Jamie even overcomes his immense self-consciousness and makes a sweet speech at his sister’s bat mitzvah party. Another interesting note is that their father is largely absent from their lives, and they are largely okay with it.

 

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

poetx-hc-1-678x1024-1by Elizabeth Acevedo
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Xiomara, age 15, is many things: defender of her sensitive twin brother, writer and budding slam poet, Catholic-about-to-be-atheist. Her mother, a fierce Catholic with a tough life history, sees Xiomara’s body taking shape – literally, curves – and tries to force her into what she sees as “safe” but in reality looks a lot like body shaming. When Xiomara gets a crush on her lab partner in science class, she knows she has to hide it from her mother.

My heart broke for Xiomara. I’m sure her mother thinks she’s doing the best thing for her, but from Xiomara’s point of view, it’s wholly unfair. It’s a kind of slut-shaming that reminds me very much of my own early adolescence, when a girl in my fifth-grade class developed earlier than everybody else. There were rumors that she had her period, that she was dating boys in the class, basically that she was acting promiscuously, based solely on her appearance. I realized as an adult how hard that must have been on her, and I see it in Xiomara too – just because she’s got this fully developed body doesn’t mean she knows what to do with it, wants to do those things, or wants the attention it brings.

I loved watching Xiomara, or X as she prefers in writing poetry, develop emotionally. She comes into her own about religion, slam poetry, and her brother’s sexuality, not to mention her own.

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

9780316519007by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Faizah is in awe of her big sister Asiya on the first day Asiya wears hijab to school. They pick the proudest, bluest blue for her first hijab and it serves as a beacon for Faizah to find her sister in tough moments. Asiya gets bullied by a boy in her class, and the endnotes reveal that this reflected Muhammad’s own experience (even featuring her own sisters’ names as the main characters). I also loved the mother’s remembered advice when the teasing starts, as a way to stay strong. As a prominent Muslim celebrity, Muhammad felt strongly about using her voice to advocate for and include Muslims and people of color in a new children’s book. This is a wonderful #ownvoices addition to any library, public or personal. I am looking forward to using it in another storytime about different cultures’ cloths.

Middle-eastern Picturebooks

by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Leila is from Pakistan and takes us on a very sensory visit to her Naani’s (grandmother’s) house, with smells of curry, the clink of bangle bracelets, and the lovely soft feel of her grandmother’s many vibrantly colored scarves. Leila isn’t sure she likes her knobby knees and skinny arms, but she loves how being with her family makes her feel about herself.

a1l-cwaki-l-663x800by Mina Javaherbin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Mina and her grandmother are inseparable and this autobiographical picture book is just one big love note to her grandma. In addition to describing the basket delivery system they rigged up from their third-floor apartment and helping her grandma make her chadors, Mina also remembers their neighbor Annette and her grandma, who are not Muslim, but who are great friends to them. Mina and Annette also discover that their grandmas pray for each other.

screenshot_20190521-130345_chromeby Supriya Kelkar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Harpreet loves his colorful patkas (cloths used to make Sikh turbans) – until his family moves across the country, away from the beach and to a place where it snows. Now all he wants to wear is his white patka because he doesn’t feel like celebrating or having courage. But when he makes a new friend, he returns to his old self, and his old interest in expressing himself through his patka’s color.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

9780399546457by Ruth Behar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When she was ten, Ruth Behar broke her leg in a bad car accident and was laid up for almost a year in a full body cast. This is a fictionalized account of that time, mostly made of her fuzzy memories and some embellishing to make it a slightly happier story than it was. (Reading the author’s note was very interesting!) Most interesting to me were how much she changed as a result – when she finally gets to go outside, she’s not soaking it in and begging to stay out, she is begging for the safety of her room and her bed. When she finally finally finally gets the cast off (after a couple of false starts that extend her time laid up by more than double), she is too scared to try to walk again. Her process of overcoming that fear was also fascinating.

Ruth describes her various friends, including Ramu (whose kid brother falls out of a window to his death and the rest of the family, overcome with grief, moves back to India) and Chicho, a lovely and possibly gay artist from Mexico, who is very kind to Ruth and her family. She describes Danielle from France who appears to be a fairweather friend but in the end comes through and they become quite close. Ruth’s mother sacrifices the most for her and bears the brunt of the emotional toll, which was also quite interesting to read (as an adult; I don’t think that would hold much interest for kids). Ruth and her brother Izzie (Isaac) are quite close as well and rarely fight, and she gets a teacher/tutor who not only helps her not fall behind, but with whom she advances to a 10th grade reading level after just graduating from the ELL class.

The other interesting thing to note is that Ruth and her family are Jewish and Cuban, the history of which plays a decent role in the story. I’m glad to encounter more books of Jewish people of color because theirs are narratives that outsiders don’t get to encounter too often and which are quite different from the white/Ashkenazi Judaism as most Americans probably think of it. Through Ruth’s healing, you can see the seeds of anthropology starting to grow; she is now an anthropology professor and has explored her own “Juban” roots through work like the documentary Adio Kerida and the book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

9780062747808by Jasmine Warga
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This novel-in-verse is narrated by seventh grader Jude who moves to America with her mother. They leave behind her father, who refuses to leave his store in their seaside tourist town in Syria, and her college-age brother, who has gone off to fight the government (presumably making him part of ISIS, aka ISIL, though it is never explicitly stated). Jude and her mother move in with her mother’s brother, Uncle Mazin, his white wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Sarah, who is a year older than Jude. Sarah and Jude have a complicated relationship; Sarah is very preoccupied with fitting in and not being “weird,” which Jude is. Jude is simultaneously very aware of her outsider status and also not as worried as Sarah about the ways in which she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t, for example, let it stop her from befriending other outcasts like Miles and Layla. Jude is upset that her letters to her best friend, Fatima, back home go unanswered, and finally finds out the reason why – Fatima and her family have fled to another country (Lebanon maybe?) and are unreachable. Jude finally finds her way in America, learning English, getting through to Sarah, getting closer to Miles (whom she describes as a ‘very cute boy’ and nothing more romantic than that happens) and landing a part in the school musical. There is an incident of Muslim extremist violence that changes the way people look at Jude, her family, Layla’s family, and their community, but it is also not specifically named as any one historically accurate attack. Her mother has a baby (she was very early on in her pregnancy when they left) and that fleshes out the rest of the plot, plus a small fight with Layla. Oh, and Jude starts her period, which means she also starts wearing hijab, which is also received in a variety of ways, especially within her own family, which was interesting. Overall a lovely, mostly gentle, not-quite-refugee story, with a young woman full of heart and confidence at its center. (It is also worth noting that, though Warga is Middle Eastern, she is not Syrian, so this story is not technically #ownvoices.)

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.

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.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

9780525552963

by Adib Khorram
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Teenager Darius Kellner is clinically depressed and the target of bullies, which his dad thinks is Darius’ fault. He’s not your typical nerdy, Trekkie teen, because he also has an obsession with tea that comes from his Persian side of the family. He’s never been to Iran to meet his grandparents, but gets the opportunity when his mom learns that her father has a brain tumor. Their trip is loaded with significance and sadness, but also brings Darius new understanding of himself, his roots, and especially his father. He also makes what appears to be his first best friend ever, in his grandparents’ neighbor, Sohrab.

Among really cool things I learned a lot about: Darius’ grandparents are Zoroastrian and Sohrab is Baha’i, so there’s a fair amount about both religions and Persian culture generally. Both religions are minorities in Iran, which has some social/political dynamics that I was unaware of. There are mosques everywhere and they visit over Nowruz, the Persian new year – not to mention the culture of taarof, or back-and-forth offering and declining of hospitality, which Darius is not very good at. He feels most acutely American when he fails to taarof correctly and also when others speak Farsi around him, which he doesn’t understand.

Sohrab’s father was unjustly jailed years ago, and they receive upsetting news about him, causing Sohrab to lash out at Darius (who, to be fair, isn’t exactly comforting). This isn’t their first fight, in the few short weeks they’ve known each other; their first day, Sohrab takes him to play soccer with his nemesis, who teases Darius for being uncircumcised, and Darius is understandably upset with Sohrab for putting him in that position and for not standing up for him. But I loved how their friendship developed, and how hard it was for Darius to leave him behind and return to the U.S. They had many poignant moments of quiet, gentle friendship. And when Darius returns home, his own bully bothers him a little less, and his bully’s sidekick is downright nice to him.

What I loved most, though, was how Darius’ relationship with his dad developed. He was in Iran with his mom’s family, but he sees his dad through their eyes, and they have some lovely and also hard conversations about themselves and their relationship. While nothing is completely fixed, there is great hope for the future.