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When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah – A much-needed, humanizing discussion about the refugee crisis

Summary:

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats.
Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

My review:

It’s been such a long time since I have read a book that possessed such electrifying energy. I don’t find it difficult to put a book down, but with When Michael Met Mina, I genuinely struggled. Needless to say, I was addicted.

When Michael Met Mina is a powerful combination of political discourse and lived experiences, contributing to the conversations and debates surrounding the ongoing global refugee crisis. Continue reading

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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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Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – A collection of stories as subversive and complex as its female protagonists

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My biggest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The more and more I think about it, the more certain I am that Difficult Women is a masterful collection of short stories.

To describe it simply, Difficult Women is about just that – it is a collection of twenty-one short stories that are about the so-called ‘difficult women’. Underneath that though is a nuanced and complex portrayal of women in modernity – and the images are haunting and riveting, and will inevitably sear your memory.

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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – A diverse cast of pirates, a heist, and time-travel – what’s not to love?

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

Imagine this: time-travelling pirates, love that transcends time, a heist, a subtle narrative on American imperialism, a diversity of characters, and a story set in 1884’s Oahu of the Hawaiian Islands. The Girl From Everywhere may be one of the most unique stories I have read. In this story, magic and fantasy meet mythology and history to create an intricate tale about a girl whose existence is in the hands of the Captain of the Temptation — who is also her father.

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The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho – An exquisite homage to love and life

terracottabride

In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.

It’s a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn’t choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.

Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death.

After reading Cho’s spectacular Sorcerer to the Crown, I was an instant fan. I was thus inevitably drawn to The Terracotta Bride – a fantasy short story that plunges us headfirst into the throes of the Chinese afterlife.

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Into White by Randi Pink – Quietly subversive and full of wit

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When a black teenager prays to be white and her wish comes true, her journey of self-discovery takes shocking–and often hilarious–twists and turns in this debut that people are sure to talk about.

LaToya Williams lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and attends a mostly white high school. She’s so low on the social ladder that even the other black kids disrespect her. Only her older brother, Alex, believes in her. At least, until a higher power answers her only prayer–to be “anything but black.” And voila! She wakes up with blond hair, blue eyes, and lily white skin. And then the real fun begins . . .’

I heard that when people read the synopsis for this novel, it made them feel apprehensive and anxious. I hope, with this review, I may help in trying to dispel some apprehensions that you may have.

Into White presents a fascinating premise and also asks a very compelling what if – what if a black girl magically became white overnight? What would be the effects and consequences? Into White is either a book that you can take at face-value, a decision that will lead you to not fully appreciate what this book is trying to say, or you can read deeply and find thoughtful, positive messages about self-image and discovering what matters the most. Leave your expectations and ideas of ‘what it ought to be’ at the door – this book is great on its own.

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Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – A stunning, emotional journey across the Oregon Trail

under-painted-sky

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

I have just been on the most incredible adventure. And now I am not too sure of what to do with myself.

Under a Painted Sky combines elements I am not usually familiar with (nor fond of) – Westerns and historical fiction – with themes I love to read about – sisterhood, friendship, loss, and the unexpected things we find. The result? An unforgettable, and poignant story about the bravery and determination of two young girls as they journey across the Oregon Trail. Lee captures the dusty road of the Oregon Trail with unparalleled finesse and detail with a moving story about pursuing the precious few things left in the face of overwhelming loss.

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