MG – Santiago’s Road Home

Diaz, Alexandra. Santiago’s Road Home. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-44623-6. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 5-8.

Once more author Alexandra Diaz raises our consciousness about the plight of Central American immigrants in our country at this critical time. As she did in The Only Road and Crossroads, Diaz gives a fact-based novel of Santiago Garcia Reyes’s escape from domestic abuse in Mexico through the desert to the detention centers of New Mexico. She does not pull any punches describing the sacrifices and suffering Santiago endures as he makes his way to America with newfound “family” Maria Dolores and her five-year-old daughter, Alegria. After being thrown out once again from a relative’s home where he worked as a free babysitter, Santiago refuses to return to his abusive, neglectful grandmother. Instead, he makes the acquaintance of the kind and generous Maria Dolores and her young daughter and convinces her to take him as they migrate to the United States where Maria Dolores’s sister owns a restaurant. For the first time since his Mami died when he was five-years-old, Santiago feels loved and cared for; and he reciprocates by being the protective big brother. By working in the cheap tavern at the crossroads, he discovers Dominquez, the best coyote to help them cross. Unfortunately, rival coyotes kill Dominquez, leaving the refugees abandoned just shy of the border. Diaz describes the arduous and dangerous journey through the desert, dodging border patrol officers and experiencing dehydration and hunger under a blistering sun. Their efforts end in hospitalization and detention. Again, Diaz intertwines facts and realistic representation about the conditions children suffer in the detention centers, yet maintains both the negative and positive aspects. Some of the detention center guards are kind; some are arrogant brutes. Minor characters like an interested teacher and volunteering lawyers give the story balance. The distress and maltreatment of Santiago as he lingers in detention as well as his brave struggle to belong to a loving family is heart wrenching and sure to instill empathy and compassion toward a timely situation. Includes a glossary of Spanish terms and extensive resources.

THOUGHTS: Diaz’s writing has a way of creating a fully developed character and a well-rounded setting that arouses true sympathy in readers. This book can provide a reference point to discussions of undocumented immigrants, refugees, migration to America as well as current events around asylum seekers and their reasons for immigration.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Illegal

Stork, Francisco X. Illegal. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-31055-9. 291 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. (Book 2 in Disappeared series)

Brother and sister Emiliano and Sara Zapata must flee from Mexico and the nefarious unnamed boss pursuing them. They cross the border into the United States, then split up.  Sara requests asylum, and Emiliano nearly dies in the desert before being picked up by an American rancher, then reunited with his father in Chicago. Emiliano carries the cell phone of a member–perhaps the leader–of a human trafficking organization that Sara has worked so hard to bring to justice. Neither Emiliano or Sara is safe, and conditions only worsen as Sara is separated and threatened in the detention facility, and Emiliano is tracked down in Chicago. Neither Emiliano or Sara is able to trust anyone immediately, and each must trust that the other will do “the right thing”–but the right thing for the victims of the human trafficking organization could be exactly the wrong thing for Sara and Emiliano. Both realize repeatedly that their lives are expendable and meaningless to others. Sara and Emiliano share one phone call in which Sara (in code) urges him to remember what he learned from Brother Patricio. Through his work for a neighbor of his father’s, Emiliano learns of a retired policeman who may help him. But Sara is to be moved to another facility–code for ‘lost’ or ‘terminated’–and both realize that time is running out.

THOUGHTS: Stork continues Sara and Emiliano’s stories (from Book 1, Disappeared), this time in the US. The various characters show human strength and frailty, stereotypes, hopes, and hatred. A must-purchase where the first novel was popular, though this novel can stand on its own.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA Realistic FIC – When I Am Through with You; Thing with Feathers; St. Death; Sunshine is Forever

Kuehn, Stephanie. When I Am Through with You. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-99473-3. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Unreliable from the start, Ben tells the story of what happened on the mountain in his own way, on his own terms, and apparently from his prison cell. So begins Ben’s story and how he got to be on the mountain to begin with.  Suffering from migraines and depression and being the only caregiver for his unwell mother, Ben feels trapped by his life in Teyber. He reconnects with former teacher Mr. Howe to help with the school’s orienteering (exploring) club.  Rose, Tomas, Avery, Duncan, Clay, and Archie join Ben on the first hike into the wilderness. Tense from the start, this group seems to be on a doomed trip. It’s not until the end that readers see just how doomed these adventure seekers are. THOUGHTS: Drinking, drug use, descriptions of casual sex, and violence make this a book for more mature teens.

Realistic Fiction, Adventure       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Hoyle, McCall. The Thing with Feathers. Blink, 2017. 978-0-310-75851-8. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emilie is perfectly fine staying in the safety of her home with her mom and best friend (her seizure dog). She disagrees with her mom and her therapist: attending public school is not a good idea. She doesn’t want to be known as “that girl that has seizures.” When Emilie starts school, she makes a decision not to tell anyone about her epilepsy. As she gets closer to her friends and a boy she’s paired with her decision not to reveal her medical condition becomes more and more critical. But it’s been months since Emilie seized, so she’ll be okay, right?  THOUGHTS: Readers will fly through this light-hearted and realistic sweet novel about what it means to be different and what lengths we will go to hide our differences. With a compelling storyline – Will she or won’t she tell? Will she or won’t she seize? – readers will fall in love with Emilie as she experiences public school, friendship, and first love.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Sedgwick, Marcus.  Saint Death.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017 (1st American ed.).  978-1-62672-549-2. 227 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Arturo lives in a shack on the outskirts of Juarez, a Mexican city that butts up against the American border. One day, his childhood friend, Faustino, shows up begging for Arturo’s help. It seems that Faustino has joined a gang and has stolen $1,000 from his boss to send his girlfriend and her baby to America. He must replace this money by the next day or he will be killed. Arturo, a skillful card player, agrees to try to win the money back, but soon finds himself in even more debt. Now, Arturo’s life is also on the line. He scrambles to replace the money both he and Faustino owe before they are both killed by gangsters. Fast-paced and devastatingly honest, this title by Printz award winner Sedgwick is an excellent addition to high school libraries. THOUGHTS: Focusing on taboo topics like religion, illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, and the exploitation of foreign workers by large corporations, this title is sure to spark a great deal of discussion and debate. Because violence is addressed in such an uncomfortable and unflinching manner, this title might be better suited for older, more mature readers. Pair this title with Linda Barrett Osborne’s This Land is Our Land for a unit on immigration or with Patricia McCormick’s Sold for a unit on human trafficking.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

 

Cowan, Kyle T.  Sunshine is Forever. Inkshares, 2017. 978-1-942645-62-7. $11.99. 282 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Hunter S. Thompson spends his days smoking pot with his only friend until a tragic “incident” changes everything. Desperate for acceptance and connection and wracked with guilt, he blames anyone else for the events in his past.  When he makes a couple of suicide attempts, he is sent to Camp Sunshine for depressed teens.  After being in therapy for months and on several medications, Hunter is not optimistic about the Camp Sunshine Program.  A few of the counselors and guards on staff are cruel and clueless,  though one or two seem genuinely interested and concerned for the kids.  But Hunter finds a real friend in his bunkmate Quint and a potential girlfriend in the charismatic but manipulative Corin. These connections and the questions of his therapist are helping Hunter make progress with his mental state, but when Corin convinces Hunter and a few others to join her in an escape plan, all of their chances for recovery are threatened.  THOUGHTS:  Sunshine is Forever is a raw and darkly humorous tale that tackles adolescent depression, suicide and mental health treatment in a believable way. A fast-paced read – a good choice for reluctant readers and for those who appreciate darker realistic fiction titles.   The mature themes and make it more appropriate for older teens.
Realistic Fiction            Nancy Summers, Abington School District

YA Fiction – Disappeared; Warcross

Stork, Francisco X. Disappeared. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-0545-944472. $17.99. 326 pp. Gr. 7-12.  

Stork’s latest novel shows the effects of secrets, crime, socioeconomics, and morality on journalist Sara Zapata and her brother Emiliano in the harsh “spiderweb” of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  Sara is committed to her work and to her weekly column on the “Desaparecidas”,the disappeared girls, ostensibly killed or hidden in the sex trade.  Sara and her best friend Linda always followed the safety rules for young women in their town; never travel alone; always tell friends when and where to expect you, and always carry extra taxi fare.  Yet not long ago, Linda became one of the disappeared girls, leaving not a trace.  Sara is relentless but stalled in finding answers and torn when her bosses tell her to stop the column due to an encrypted email threat directed at Sara and her family.  Sara is no fool; she knows that quietly powerful people think nothing of her life and everything of their drug and sex cartels, but she is thrown by the war within her.  Can she live knowing she was the cause of harm to her brother or mother?  Can she live knowing Linda could be alive but enslaved while Sara did nothing?  Dare she continue, when trust is broken at every turn?  Meanwhile, Emiliano is troubled, wanting to prove himself worthy of wealthy Perla Rubi and her lawyer father, Mr. Reyes, and tired of being smart about business but still poor and struggling.  The Reyes’ lifestyle is exactly what he wants for himself, his mother, and his sister.  So when he is offered a business boost from Mr. Reyes himself, respectable on the surface, but undermining the community, he, like Sara, is torn.   Stork brilliantly, even softly, portrays their individual anguish in chapters told from their alternating points of view.  Make no mistake people will be hurt.  It Sara’s and Emiliano’s choices that determine who those people will be: Linda and her family? Perla Rubi? Themselves? Mama? Former or future drug addicts? Where does it the spiderweb end?  THOUGHTS: This is a riveting look at moral determinations when even the monsters have humanity, and humans can become monsters so easily.  “Maybe the bad people look more like the good people” (115).  A fascinating, insightful, and top choice for middle and high school.  

Mystery; Suspense      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

 

Lu, Marie. Warcross. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 978-0-3995-4796-6. 368 p. $18.99. Gr. 7-12.

In the future, millions login and play Warcross every day, a virtual reality game that for many is a way of life. Teenager Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who gamble illegally in the game. During a Warcross championship, Emika takes a risk and hacks the game but accidentally glitches herself into the championship and is seen by everyone watching. Emika is shocked when the young and handsome creator of Warcross, Hideo Tanaka, offers to hire her to look into another hacker who could compromise the future of Warcross. Emika goes undercover and enters the championship as a Wild Card player and discovers someone is planning to sabotage the game. As she digs deeper, she uncovers a vindictive plot that could not only compromise the future of Warcross but could hurt those she loves. THOUGHTS: Marie Lu’s newest title should find a niche with fans of Ready Player One, but also appeal to fans of her immensely popular Legend series. Warcross is a smart, thrilling read for older middle school and high school students.

Fantasy      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Lu, Marie. Warcross (Warcross #1). G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-399-54796-6. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 – 12.

Not so distantly in the future, Emika Chen, a struggling teenage hacker, works as a bounty hunter to make ends meet. Recently, she hasn’t been doing so well, and Emika is behind on her rent by several months and down to her last few meals. When her newest bounty catch falls through, Emika makes an impulse decision to hack into the Warcross Championships with the plan to steal a valuable power up. When she accidentally glitches into the game and is visible – to millions – Emika catches the attention of Warcross’s billionaire creator, Hideo Tanaka. It seems like her problems are about to vanish, as she now has an incredible job offer, but all isn’t as it seems, and Emika’s success may also be the downfall of Warcross.  THOUGHTS: Marie Lu’s newest book will reach a vast group of readers – gamers, dystopian/fantasy/mystery fans, as well as fans of Marie Lu’s previous books. This thrilling fast-paced gaming world will have readers anxiously awaiting book two.

Fantasy   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Frida and Diego…New in Art

fridaanddiego

Reef, Catherine.  Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life.  New York: Clarion Books, 2014.  978-0-547-82184-9.  176p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7-12.

Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera were two of Mexico’s most famous artists during the early to mid- 1900’s.  They were known individually for their great talent and, together, for their great passion.  Kahlo and Rivera had an unusual love; they were nontraditional and controversial.  Their marriage was constantly troubled by extramarital affairs, and they both were members of Mexico’s communist party.  Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life follows the couple from the time young Frida first admired Rivera’s work to their deaths.

This book is a feast for the eyes.  It is printed on glossy, colorful paper and features many archival photographs of the couple and their contemporaries.  There are a number of full-color plates of both artists’ works.  The photographs and paintings help to tell the story of Frida’s and Diego’s lives.  Rivera’s artwork reflects his communist beliefs.  He painted grand murals glorifying the worker and communist party heroes.  Kahlo’s intimate paintings give voice to her love for Rivera and the intense physical pain she lived with every day (a result of a serious streetcar accident that happened when she was younger).  There are a number of resources at the end of Frida & Diego: a listing of museums and books that feature the artists’ work, full color plates of some paintings, a timeline of their lives, author’s notes, and an index.

I do have a few concerns regarding this book.  The publisher’s recommended audience, 7th grade and above, seems low.   Frida & Diego’s frank discussion of Kahlo’s abortions, the couple’s extramarital affairs, and communist politics make it a better fit for high school students.  It simply discusses too many “hot button” issues for it to be used with junior high school students in my district.  I also would have liked to have seen Kahlo’s and Rivera’s artwork integrated into the text of the book, and not as an appendix at the end.  Kahlo’s technique changed as her physical health worsened, but it is difficult to see this progression given the book’s format.  Frida and Diego: Art, Love, Life is definitely worth having in your library if you take the above points into account.

759.972 Mexican Painting         Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School