Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan – A sweet little story about bravery and community

Summary:

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

My review:

Books like Amina’s Voice are the reason why I started reading diverse middle-grade books. There is something so delightful and special about these books that capture the innocence, optimism, and wonder of children and their stories.

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Mesmerizing poetry and beautifully told

browngirldreaming

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

I picked up this book because I fell in love with Woodson’s story in Flying Lessons and Other Stories called Main Street. The narrative in Main Street was achingly beautiful, nostalgic, and poignant, and so on a whim, I picked up Brown Girl Dreaming at my library without so much as a glance at what it was about – just in time for Black History Month too.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

monster calls

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Despite my undeniable love for A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, this is a book that is difficult to review. First, for its beautifully crafted story that is best read and experienced rather than explained, and second, because no matter my writing capabilities, I believe I could not do this book justice.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

ender's gameSet in the distant future, humanity is at war with an alien species whose presence threatens the future. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a child genius, a product of a government agency that breeds young soldiers to aid the war effort. At a young age, Ender is sent to Battle School, and the trials that await him are more than just mock battle games, but also involve trials of a psychological and interpersonal nature.

I know so many people who like this book, and to those that do: I’m sorry. I see the merits of this book and can understand why people like this. It is about children with substance, personalities, and intelligence, and because they are children, they are manipulated, pressured, exhausted and treated with little dignity by those who call themselves adults. Intertwined with a narrative about war, this book is underpinning the notion of power, misconceptions, and how society assigns power to whom based on these social constructions that we take for granted.

Card also explores the effect of war on people, and the boundaries and limits of the human mind. As a promising candidate for the war, Ender is pushed, pressured, and tested. He is shaped and essentially groomed to become a leader, which is a fate that is inevitable even if Ender does not want it. Essentially, Ender is manipulated beyond help and he becomes a pawn and an ideological symbol that is trapped, powerless, and helpless; it was a sad revelation for Ender, and I liked how Card explored his fall into despair, and I appreciated how this contrasted with his resolution in the end.

So, the one and a half stars… I can appreciate the narratives in Ender’s Game and I tried to do this book justice by searching for them (hence +0.5 star), but to be bloody honest, I found Ender’s Game boring. So boring. So boring that I wanted to give up half way, but I pushed myself through it.

I found Ender’s Game to be incredibly repetitive (especially the mock battles). Though each mock battle was different from each other, in the sense that there were new tactics or new methods of deception or it was with a different team, but they did not feel inherently different. It was painful to read these over and over again, and I know the constant mock battles were supposed to wear Ender down, were they supposed to wear the reader down too? (Because if so, Card succeeded.) Also, I won’t elaborate but Card reminds us incessantly and relentlessly that Ender is Good (with a capital and bolded G).

The character development felt stale. As new characters were introduced, all of them showed so much promise to be interesting, complex characters, especially Bean and Petra. However, as the plot progressed, I felt that all of the secondary characters’ development was compromised for Ender’s alienation. All the characters regressed to one-dimensional characters that just become names in a book but not whole, developed characters. I will probably forget these secondary characters as time passes.

I found it boring. I could not care for it. I would be lying to myself if I said I liked it. I do not like Ender’s Game. I find it completely baffling that people hail this as one of the best science-fiction novels of all time. It numbs my mind trying to understand why.

P.S. Also, Card’s chauvinistic view of women left a bad taste in my mouth. However, as there are many arguments out there already, that is all I’ll say on the matter.

Rating: 1.5/5

Book Information:
Book Name: Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction

 

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

monsters of menIn the book summary, the blurb promises that Monsters of Men is a ‘heart-stopping novel about power, survival, and the devastating realities of war.‘ And wow, did it keep its promise.

The series is imaginative, thought-provoking, insightful and sophisticated in writing, even if it is aimed at a young audience. As I’ve said before in my reviews for The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, Ness makes heavy themes of politics, power, revolution, war and justice accessible without minimizing (too much) the complexities and intricacies of such topics. As a standalone book, however, though I liked The Ask and the Answer marginally better (and that’s because The Ask and the Answer delves into topics that interest me more), Monsters of Men is a satisfying conclusion that offers a thoughtful and whole-feeling ending.

Something I loved about Monsters of Men was how Ness explores the personal and social implications war has on people. We see its effects on individuals – namely our protagonists Viola and Todd – as well as the innocents caught in the middle. However, what Monsters of Men does that sets it apart from typical novels about war is that it explores the perspective of the Other (namely, the Spackle). Such narratives are so important, because more often than not the Other is dehumanized and objectified with rhetoric and ideology to justify war and conflicts. So I truly loved the fact that Ness gave readers an opportunity to see and understand the perspective of the Spackle – on that note, the Spackle’s perspective is incredibly interesting and I do detect some individualism vs. collectivism undertones. Perhaps Ness is offering subtle social commentary.

There are many things that can be discussed about in Monsters of Men, so I will cut it short and say: read it. It’s a truly fantastic novel that asks the important questions, and it explores difficult but necessary themes that are written with so much simplicity and sophistication. The characters grow so much (and you come to love them despite their flaws), and the trilogy builds with such intensity that it’s so difficult to put down. Honestly, I loved this book, I loved this series – probably one of my all-time favourites – and I am now a proud owner of the trilogy (my bookshelf and I are happy). The ending is something of contest (some may argue it as anti-climatic), but how it wraps together in its final moments, I believe, really underpins an important message of this trilogy: violence and war blind us to reality.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: Monsters of Men
Book Series: Chaos Walking #3
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Walker & Company