Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Look Both Ways

A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

by Jason Reynolds

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2019. 4 CDs.
Starred Review
2019 National Book Award Finalist
Review written November 22, 2019, from a library audiobook

This book is a set of overlapping stories about lots of kids, all of them walking home from school. The audiobook version is read by too many people to list at the top of this review, so I’ll list them here: Heather Alicia Simms, Chris Chalk, Bahni Turpin, Adenrele Ojo, Kevin R. Free, JD Jackson, Guy Lockard, January LaVoy, David Sadzin, and Jason Reynolds. Something odd that all the stories have in common is the mention of a school bus falling from the sky.

School’s important in this book, because the kids are leaving school, but our heroes and heroines are walkers. They do get passed by buses and talk about buses and think about school buses falling from the sky, but most of the action happens once school gets out, in the ten blocks near the school.

I think it was a little more difficult to notice details that overlapped between stories when listening. If I’d had the print book in front of me, I would have leafed back to make sure I remembered when a name popped up again. But I did enjoy the variety of narrators, so I think it was worth listening. I may not be sure if there was a big picture in this book, but I do know I enjoyed each individual story.

The stories include things like buying penny candy from a lady in the neighborhood after scrounging change; planning to outwit a new fierce dog that’s popped up on the route home from school; preparing to talk with someone you like; navigating hallways; and figuring out how to protect your mother who’s there to protect others – and who got hurt doing that.

These are slice-of-life stories about a lot of different kids, and there’s something here for everyone to like. Some of the stories do have hard things, but through all the stories, there’s an infusion of joy and a splash of friendship. Everybody’s got someone looking out for them.

As usual, Jason Reynolds is writing about a black neighborhood, and that makes me happy – but there’s nothing here that kids of any ethnicity won’t enjoy. I’m also glad that this isn’t an issue book. It’s a book about kids being kids together during that daily activity – walking home from school.

jasonwritesbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of To Night Owl from Dogfish, by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer

Monday, August 26th, 2019

To Night Owl from Dogfish

by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 295 pages.
Review written March 17, 2019, from a library book

To Night Owl from Dogfish is a sort of reverse parent trap story, or at least that’s how it begins. The story is told mostly in the form of emails between two girls, Bett Devlin and Avery Bloom. Here’s an excerpt from the first one from Bett to Avery with the subject line: you don’t know me.

So this is awkward but I’m just going to say it. Your dad + my dad met 3 months ago in Chicago at a “building expo,” which was at the downtown Marriott. I’m not going to explain how I know but THEY ARE NOW A COUPLE.

That isn’t my business, only it IS my business because my dad wants to send me to a place called CIGI this summer.

I never heard of CIGI. The website says: Challenge Influence Guide Inspire.

That was cut + pasted. Those words are how they got the name. CIGI is a SUMMER PROGRAM IN MICHIGAN FOR “INQUISITIVE TWEENS ‘N’ TEENS AGES 10-15.”

You could already be bored reading this email. But guess what? YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO GO TO CIGI, TOO.

At first, Avery doesn’t believe it. She’s always had her dad to herself. But when the girls figure out that their fathers are indeed planning to send them to camp to get to know each other and they can’t thwart that plan, they can at least refuse to speak to each other and absolutely not become friends. Perhaps they can even break up their dads.

What’s more, their dads are planning to take a trip together, and ride motorcycles across China. The girls feel abandoned. But at least that gives them an excuse to bring ipads to camp. They can keep emailing each other yet keep their pact not to talk to each other and absolutely not to become friends.

Let’s just say that absolutely nothing goes according to plan. In fact, hijinks ensue.

The two authors weren’t going for realistic in this book – but they did write a book that’s a whole lot of fun. This is one that goes quickly and you find yourself wanting to read just one more email.

hollygoldbergsloan.com
megwolitzer.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
read by the author

HarperAudio, 2019. 7.5 hours on 6 discs.
Starred Review

Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of The Poet X, which won the 2019 Printz Award, Pura Belpré Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and National Book Award. This new book (also a stand-alone) is every bit as fiery and wonderful.

Emoni Santiago is a senior in high school with a two-year-old daughter to look after. Ever since she got pregnant her freshman year, her life has revolved around her Baby Girl. Emoni herself is looked after by her Abuela, since Emoni’s mother died giving birth to her and her father went back to his island, Puerto Rico. He visits every summer, but he has never stayed.

Now Emoni is a senior, and her high school is beginning a Culinary Arts elective with a real chef. Since she was very small, Emoni has loved to cook. She doesn’t necessarily follow recipes, but makes them her own. And when people eat her food, they are reminded of powerful memories. She has a magic touch.

But can Emoni handle the work of such an elective while she’s trying to work on the weekends and juggle her other classwork while taking care of Baby Girl? And the class is going to take a trip to learn about the food of southern Spain – but how can Emoni possibly pay for that? And why is the new boy in their grade paying attention to her? She doesn’t have time for boys.

Those are a few of the things Emoni has to deal with in this book that takes us through the start of her senior year through graduation. It’s refreshing to hear the story of a single teen mother who kept her baby and is trying to take good care of her and also follow her own dreams.

When I heard Elizabeth Acevedo give her acceptance speech for the Printz Award, I loved listening to the soft accent of her musical voice. Listening to her narrate this book, I got to hear more. Emoni, given a voice by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a heroine you will enjoy spending time with and whom you won’t forget any time soon.

acevedowrites.com
harperaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Pie in the Sky

by Remy Lai

Henry Holt, 2019. 380 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

I only read this book because someone nominated it to Capitol Choices (a group of DC-area librarians who select what we think are the 100 best children’s book of the year), but I thought the cartoony cover and comic panels woven through the text meant it would be too much like the Wimpy Kid books for me. I ended up wholeheartedly loving it.

Now, there are lots of comic panels included, which I think makes the book all the more accessible. But the story goes a lot deeper than you might think.

Jingwen and his annoying younger brother Yanghao are moving with their mother to Australia. The book never tells which country they’re moving from, though the author was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Australia. (So alas! It’s not eligible to win the Newbery.)

I like the way the comic panels show people talking with words Jingwen doesn’t understand as speech bubbles with strange squiggles. At first, he feels like he’s on an alien planet, and draws them as space aliens. But after awhile, he feels like he is the alien, and draws himself with six eyes and tentacles.

But this isn’t only about Jingwen and Yanghao adjusting to a new country with a new language while their mother works hard and leaves Jingwen to tend Yanghao much of the time. The book is also about Jingwen working through how much he misses his Papa, who died two years earlier.

Papa had talked about moving to Australia. He was going to open a fancy cake shop there and call it Pie in the Sky.

Papa’s English was only slightly less terrible than mine, but he knew a pie is not a cake. It’s just that he had a friend who spoke fluent English who told him the meaning of the idiom pie in the sky — an impossible dream.

Back home, Jingwen’s parents worked in his grandparents’ bake shop. But on Sundays, Jingwen’s Papa used to bake fancy cakes with Jingwen, cakes they planned to sell in their future Pie in the Sky cake shop.

Jingwen decides that what he needs to do to make life go better in Australia and to properly honor his Papa is bake all twelve of the Pie in the Sky cakes. Never mind that their mother doesn’t want them to touch the oven while she is not home.

They buy ingredients and he makes a list of rules for Yanghao to follow so he doesn’t cause trouble and give everything away.

But the plan isn’t simple to carry out. And meantime, he’s trying to adjust to a new country and a new language, which his annoying little brother picks up much more quickly.

This book with comic panel illustrations has an amazing amount of depth and poignancy.

“When someone is feeling sad, they can’t help but smile at the sight of a cake.”

remylai.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Vanishing Colors, by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

Vanishing Colors

by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin
translated by Kari Dickson

Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2019. Originally published in Norway in 2017.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

This book begins with a girl and her mother huddling in a broken building in a bombed-out city, all drawn in shades of gray and black, dark and sad.

“Tell me about the bird again,” I say quietly.
So she tells me about the bird.
The one that swoops down from the mountains as evening falls
and spreads its wings over our house
to protect us from danger.

The bird, a big, warm, comforting bird, comes while the girl’s mother is sleeping and sings a song and talks with the girl while bombs fall outside. The bird reminds her of the wonderful things that were there before. He helps her remember the colors – the bright colors of their lives before the war.

And especially, as the girl and her mother prepare to leave to a new place, the bird tells her that a rainbow makes a bridge across the sky and reminds us that there is always a way.

It’s all done very beautifully. As the bird brings back memories, one by one more colors show up in the pictures of the memories, beginning with a bright red dress the girl wore when she was with her father.

The rainbow at the end gives the reader hope that their lives will have colors again.

I wish that children didn’t have any need whatsoever to empathize with refugees of war. But given the world we actually have, this book has the right mix of reality plus hope.

constanceonilssen.com
akinduzakin.com
Eerdmans.com/youngreaders

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

When Aidan Became a Brother

by Kyle Lukoff
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Lee & Low Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 2, 2019, from a library book

I’ve read several picture books that explain children being transgender, but I like this one the best. Maybe it helps that the focus is not completely on the child Aidan’s transition, but more on Aidan’s new baby sibling.

Still, I love the way Aidan’s story is introduced. I’m going to quote the text of the first several pages, because I think it’s explained so perfectly. It’s even better with the accompanying pictures:

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name. His room looked like a girl’s room. And he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing.

But as Aidan got bigger, he hated the sound of his name. He felt like his room belonged to someone else. And he always ripped or stained his clothes accidentally-on-purpose.

Everyone thought he was just a different kind of girl.

Some girls had rooms full of science experiments and bug collections.

Lots of girls didn’t wear dresses.

But Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl. He was really another kind of boy.

It was hard to tell his parents what he knew about himself, but it was harder not to.
It took everyone some time to adjust, and they learned a lot from other families with transgender kids like him.

Aidan explored different ways of being a boy. He tried out lots of names until one stuck. They changed his bedroom into a place where he belonged. He also took much better care of his new clothes.

All this is only the introduction – but I thought it was wonderfully done.

The main part of the book is about Aidan’s family expecting a new baby, so Aidan’s going to be a big brother. He does all sorts of things to prepare for being a big brother (but decides he can wait on learning to change diapers).

Aidan worries, though, when everyone asks his mother about whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. What if they get it wrong, like people had with him? He doesn’t want the baby to feel bad about that. They choose a gender-neutral name and paint the baby’s room with a sky and clouds. When Aidan’s mother is asked if the baby is a boy or a girl, she answers, “It’s a baby!”

Now, I’m not so sure I agree with the idea of giving a baby a gender neutral name – after all, most babies really do turn out to be the gender you think they are at birth.

However, since the story is told from Aidan’s perspective, it would make sense that his loving parents would be sensitive to his concerns. They are being good parents to Aidan when they acknowledge that babies aren’t always the gender you think they are at first.

They do remind Aidan that even though they made mistakes with him, they were able to make them right.

Maybe everything wouldn’t be perfect for this baby. Maybe he would have to fix mistakes he didn’t even know he was making. And maybe that was okay.

Aidan knew how to love someone, and that was the most important part of being a brother.

We never are told what gender Aidan’s new sibling appears to be. But we do know the baby is deeply loved and that Aidan will be a great big brother.

This story is beautifully told and a wonderful way of explaining gender to children. I also enjoyed the Author’s Note at the back, where he explains that his experience was similar to Aidan’s, though not exactly the same. I especially like this paragraph:

You might also feel like Aidan in other ways. He knows what it’s like to not quite belong, and you might feel that way sometimes too. People don’t always see Aidan how he wants to be seen, and you might know what that feels like. Maybe you worry about making mistakes. Aidan is a transgender kid, but he’s also just a kid. Like you.

kylelukoff.com
kaylanijuanita.com
leeandlow.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, 2013. 260 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Pura Belpré Award Winner
Review written July 5, 2019, from my own copy obtained at 2019 ALA Annual Conference

A wonderful thing happened at ALA Annual Conference – as the exhibits were closing, I was able to grab free copies of two of our Newbery winner’s backlist titles. Then, with it in my bag, I did some reading later while waiting in line, so this was the first book I read after the conference.

The story is told in the voice of Piddy (short for Piedad) Sanchez. It begins with a bang:

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”

A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She’s tall like me and caramel. I’ve seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe just in the halls. It’s hard to remember.

Then, just like that, Vanesa disappears into the swell of bodies all around.

Wait, I want to tell her as she’s swallowed up. Who is Yaqui Delgado? But instead, I stand there blinking as kids jostle for the doors. The bell has rung, and I’m not sure if it’s only the warning or if I’m late for first period. Not that it matters. I’ve been at this school for five weeks, and Mr. Fink hasn’t remembered to take attendance once. A girl near his desk just sort of scans the room and marks who’s out.

It turns out that Yaqui Delgado is a bully, and Piddy is in real trouble. It starts with small things that Piddy can’t pin on her, such as a chocolate milk thrown in her direction that explodes all over Piddy’s clothes. But Yaqui becomes hyperaware and starts living her life to avoid Yaqui Delgado. Her grades suffer. But she can’t tell her mother what’s really going on.

If only they could move back to their old neighborhood. But Aunt Lily teaching her to salsa dance may have been what got her into this mess. She’d been walking with a swing in her hips. That will certainly stop, as now she’s living in fear.

You might think this couldn’t fill a whole book, but it does, and does it well. If nothing else, I learned from this that bullying isn’t simple and doesn’t have simple solutions. And yet it can be overcome.

You’re with Piddy in her fears, frustrations, and gut-wrenching decisions. And ultimately, you’re with her as she figures out how to rise above the fear.

This is a lovely book that immersed me in a world I didn’t know. I was touched by the author’s note at the back:

Years ago, when I was in school, a girl in a rabbit-fur jacket cornered me in the school yard and announced that one of our school bullies was going to beat me up. What I remember most from that time was loneliness and all the risky choices I made as I embarked on the search for a tough-girl shell that could withstand any attack. But as I struggled against the dread of being in school, I became someone else entirely. I hid every talent and interest I had in the hope of appearing fierce and untouchable to the bully and the rest of the world. It was a struggle to find my identity and inner strength – as a student, as a young woman, as a Latina. I was in a fight for my dignity.

Meg Medina brings us into this fight for dignity in this beautiful book.

megmedina.com
candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2018. 316 pages
Starred Review
Review written September 18, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction
2019 Morris Award Winner
2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is the story of Darius Kellner, who is a Fractional Persian – half Persian in his case, from his mother. Darius works in a tea store in Portland, and when we meet him, the kids who bully him walk in and give him a new degrading nickname and vandalize his bike.

His father, a German Übermensch, thinks he should just stand up to the bullies. Darius is sure he can never please him. Though at least they still have one thing they share – nightly time together watching Star Trek, Next Generation.

There’s a Skype visit with Darius’s grandparents in Iran, and his little sister, Laleh, speaks fluently with them in Farsi, but Darius never knows what to say. When they learn that his grandfather has a brain tumor and is not doing well, the family makes plans for an extended trip to Iran.

Most of the book is about that trip to Iran. But it’s also a book about friendship. Yes, I said friendship, not romance. I was delighted to read a book about genuine friendship between high school boys. Darius meets and makes friends with Sohrab in Iran, and right away they can be honest and open with each other. There are some bumps in their friendship – which makes it all the more authentic.

This is also a book about depression. Both Darius and his father take medication for depression, and Darius cries easily. He calls it “stress hormone secretion.” Darius does a lot of obsessing over what people think of him, and I like the way that’s honestly portrayed.

It’s also a book about family. Darius is meeting his Iranian family in person for the first time, and learning about his heritage – generations of his family have lived in the town of Yazd for centuries. They celebrate holidays together with extended family during the visit, and Darius realizes he loves these people.

But none of it is simple. His friend Sohrab is bullied for being Baha’i, and Sohrab’s father is in prison. Darius’s grandfather is dying, and his personality is changing – or so Darius is told, but he mourns that he never really knew his grandfather before, except on the computer screen. Laleh fits in so much better in Iran, since she speaks Farsi. And his father even lets Laleh replace Darius watching Star Trek, Next Generation.

I love Darius’s expressions throughout the book. There are multiple references to Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. I enjoyed that I got pretty much all the references. Will teens get those? Maybe some will. He calls the bullies “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy” and his own mood swings “Mood Slingshot Maneuvers.”

Overall, it’s a beautiful story of a young man fighting his demons, finding his place in the world, and making and being a true friend.

adibkhorram.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of New Kid, by Jerry Craft

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
with color by Jim Callahan

Harper, 2019. 250 pages.
Review written March 12, 2019, from a library book

Navigating middle school is the perfect subject for graphic novels and fictionalized memoirs. I’m thinking of Smile, Roller Girl, Real Friends, All’s Faire in Middle School, and Be Prepared — and then realize that none of those I mentioned have a boy protagonist. So, okay, it’s time.

New Kid is about Jordan Banks, an African American boy who’s being sent by his parents to start seventh grade at a fancy private school. Jordan wants to go to art school, but his mother thinks this is such a wonderful opportunity, he needs to go Riverdale Academy Day School.

This graphic novel is about navigating middle school as the new kid – and a new kid who’s one of the few African American students. We notice things like teachers consistently calling him by the wrong name, and other students looking at him when financial aid is mentioned, and assuming he’ll especially like the one teacher who’s African American.

And there are other quirks of middle school. Making friends. A girl who carries a puppet on her hand and talks in a puppet voice. A mean kid and his friends. A nice kid who’s really rich. What your parents want for you versus what you want (art school). Keeping up with friends who don’t attend the private school.

I hope this book is as popular as the ones I named above. It’s a lot of fun, and it throws in some insights along the way.

jerrycraft.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

On the Come Up

by Angie Thomas
performed by Bahni Turpin

HarperCollins, 2019. 11.75 hours on 10 discs.
Starred Review
Review written May 18, 2019, from a library audiobook

Here’s a second book by Angie Thomas, set in the same city of Garden Heights as her award-winning debut novel, The Hate U Give. Sixteen-year-old Bri has noticed a greater police presence in Garden Heights since the shooting from the earlier book and the protests that followed. They’ve also found that the security guards at her private school target the black and brown kids.

But right now, all Bri is concerned about is getting her big break. She’s loved to rap since she was a little girl. Her father was a rapper before her, but he was shot in gang violence when she was small. Now Bri is going to compete in the Ring, and what happens there gets her some attention.

Meanwhile, Bri gets harassed and thrown to the ground by school security, who called her a hoodlum. That’s simmering in her brain when she gets a chance to record a song, “On the Come Up.”

The song is popular – but plenty of people take it the wrong way. And that gets Bri’s temper flaring. Which doesn’t make her mother happy. But what her mother doesn’t know won’t hurt her. She recently lost her job, and if Bri can make it big as a rapper, maybe she can keep the electricity on and change all their lives.

One thing I love about this book and listening to the audio is that you get to hear the rapping. It bothers me when authors write about characters doing well in a competition but don’t let you see or hear what they use to compete. (A recent book that did that was Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a wonderful book – but what poems did Xiomara use in the poetry slam?) In this audiobook, you get to hear “On the Come Up,” and I promise it will start going through your head.

One word of warning is that there’s plenty of profanity in this audiobook, so you probably won’t want to make this family listening – young kids might pick up more than the songs.

But if you’re looking for a profound book about dreams of making it as an artist combined with social issues and dealing with poverty and family dynamics and friendship dynamics and the question of what constitutes selling out – this wonderfully entertaining audiobook does all of that.

angiethomas.com
harperaudio.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?