To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

In this timeless story, a little girl named Scout comes of age during a difficult time for her family. Her father, a lawyer, is defending a black man charged with the rape of white woman. Scout learns about racism from both children and adults. 

Part of the charm of this story is that it is all through Scout’s eyes, so sometimes you have to infer what’s going on in the adult world – sometimes it takes a careful reading. However, Scout is intelligent and she picks up on a lot of stuff, so it’s the perfect combination of inference and easy-reading. I loved the ending for a couple of reasons – it was beautiful and touching, and I laughed because I could tell exactly why my mom said “I didn’t get it.” She’s so literal. 🙂

This book is considered one of the first of the Young Adult/teen genre, though I feel that it’s only placed there because of the age of the protagonist. I would highly recommend it to everyone teen and up. 

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Written by Manning Marable, Narrated by G. Valmont Thomas

Reason for Reading: This was one of the books I’d listed as potential reading for my Social Justice Theme Read in February. I chose it because it won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2012 and was a finalist in the National Book Award.




Review
In Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable set out to honestly portray a man and to humanize an icon. Marable intended on filling in holes left by truth-bending and necessary lack-of-future-knowledge in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Since I am not an expert on the subject, I have to say that Marable’s book seemed very thorough and well-researched. It was also an engrossing narrative. I feel it well-deserves its Pulitzer Prize. My only complaint was towards the beginning of the novel, Marable inserted some innuendo about Malcolm X’s sexuality – which was unnecessary, and rather rude since he didn’t have any hard evidence to support his claims. That innuendo was referenced obliquely a few times in the first quarter of the book. Luckily, those references stopped for the last three quarters of the book, or I would have been left with a very bad taste in my mouth.

The only reason I bring up that complaint is because I was looking for hints to why there’s a controversy about this book. I was wondering if there was anything I, personally, could pick up. I’m not very familiar with what the controversy is about – and I haven’t seen any controversial reference to the innuendo that bothered me. Mostly, the controversy seems to be about Marable’s lack of respect for the impact Malcolm X had on the Black Liberation Movement. If you’re interested, here’s an interesting article on the topic. There’s also a book entitled A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, if you really want to delve into the issue. However, I am satisfied that Marable did a lot of really good research, and wrote an interesting and informative book. The issue of exactly what long-term impact Malcolm X had on the Civil Rights Movement and the country as a whole is an opinion, in my opinion. 

G. Valmont Thomas did an excellent job of narrating this book. Quite enjoyable. 🙂

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira

Written by Cynthia Kadohata, Narrated by Elaina Erika Davis

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 2005

Review
In this endearing book, the Takeshima family moves to Georgia so that Katie’s parents can work in the chicken factory. There, young Katie learns about Southern racism and the practically-slave-labor conditions of factory workers. But when Katie’s older sister Lynn becomes sick, Katie learns the hardest lesson of all…This is a sweet story – and pretty typical for Newbery winners. (Newbery judges certainly like bereavement, racism, and Southern settings!) The character in the book ranges from about 5-7, I’d say, but I think the subject and reading level is more appropriate for a 10-12 year old.  

Let the Circle Be Unbroken, by Mildred D. Taylor

Let the Circle be Unbroken, by Mildred D. Taylor

Reason for Reading: This was one of the books that I planned on reading in my February Social Justice Theme Read and decided I would have to read later this year. (I really WILL read them all, I’m determined!)

Review
Cassie and her brothers are sent reeling by a shockingly racist trial – the culmination of events from the first book in the series, Roar of Thunder Hear My Cry. In addition, Cassie’s growing up, so she learns a lot about inter-race relations and the often humiliating effects. This is a heart-rending (though sometimes slow-moving) children’s historical fiction. The story deals with complex issues and is character-driven, so even though the reading level is approximately 5th-7th grade,  this is not a book for reluctant readers unless they have a particular interest in race relations. It’s a book for children who love to read – and to absorb ideas. It’s definitely a good addition to the Roll of Thunder Series, and I find myself curious to follow the family’s saga to the end. 🙂

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reason for Reading: This was one of my planned reads for the social justice theme read in February.

Review
When Arnold “Junior” Spirit accidentally breaks his rez-teacher’s nose, he gets a piece of unexpected advice: get off the rez before you lose your spirit. Junior decides to go to the all-white high school in a farm town 20 miles away from the reservation. He consequently deals with racism from the whites and hatred from his reservation friends, while fighting the usual teen problems of making friends, succeeding in sports, hiding his poverty, and impressing the girls. This book is hilarious and tragic at the same time. I loved the cartoons drawn by Junior…and I loved his dry, sarcastic humor. The characterization was fantastic – I really felt for Junior during his troubles. But you can’t read this book and expect some fuzzy-happy picture to be painted of reservation life. This book is gritty and realistic. Even rather depressing at times. I was really touched at Alexie’s honest portrayal of the life of a reservation kid. I look forward to reading more of Alexie’s books in the future. 

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses 

Written by by Malorie Blackman, Narrated by Syan Blake and Paul Chequer

Reason for Reading: Group read for my Social Justice February theme (which didn’t go so well this year due to a month of hospital runs….but things are looking more perky now!)

Review
Callum McGregor and Sephy Hadley have been best friends for as long as they remember. But recently their feelings for each other have begun to develop into something…stronger. Unfortunately, Sephy is a member of the dark-skinned upper class of Cross, and Callum is a pale-skinned, low-class Nought. The teens’ romantic problems intensify when Callum’s family gets caught up in a terrorist liberation organization that Sephy’s father (a politician) has sworn to stamp out. Sephy and Callum must learn to love each other in a tumultuous world of hatred. Does this scream out “star-crossed lover” to you? But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? (I got the same Romeo and Juliet vibe from Warm Bodies, which I just finished reading. I think it’s fun when the cosmic net of connected concepts captures me.) 

I’ve heard fantastic things about this book, but I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be. Maybe it’s just because I wasn’t in the mood to read depressing race-relations books (and they’re all a bit depressing, aren’t they?), but this book wasn’t a slap in the face of my preconceived notions.  It was just another book about racism, much like a book written about a white girl and teenaged member of the Black Panthers. The whole skin-color switcharoo seemed like an unnecessary literary device to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was a bad book…I was just expecting more amazingness, that’s all. It was a tragically-sweet love story about a very important issue – racism, and the ease with which we can be swept away by other people’s causes. But I think the book would have been more powerful if she’d focused on  the realism of the story instead of trying to build a new world that was simply too similar to our own to justify the effort of creation.  

What do other people think? I imagine there are people out there who think the skin-color switcharoo added to the story? If so, please let us know. 🙂


Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

2012 Book 143: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
Reason for Reading: This is my fourth and final book for Book Journey’s blog tour for Banned Books Week. This year, I read only YA books that I happened to have lying around in my TBR pile…it was fun! 🙂

My Review

In this Newbery Medal-winner, fourth grader Cassie Logan learns that African Americans are treated as second class citizens in Depression-era Mississippi. She and her family rebel the nasty Wallace brothers by arranging a boycott of their store. Wallace-brothers-and-friends respond with horrifying violence. This was an amazing book. The narrative was engaging, the characters were lovable, and suspense was high–I sincerely worried about what the ugly white-folk were going to do. While reading, I was struck by how similar in theme this book was to all the unoriginal dystopias that are being cranked out by the YA market these days. It was about a young girl realizing that her society was not as wonderful as she had grown up thinking…it was about fighting for your rights against a seemingly hopeless situation. But, wait! This book was actually meaningful because it was describing a REAL situation! Something tragic that people actually suffered! That makes Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry a much more powerful book than any of those dystopias can ever hope to be. I think an intelligent fourth grader who loves dystopias couldn’t help but love this book as well. 


(Oh, wait, sorry, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry IS missing the cheesy cliche love triangle that YA dystopias all seem to have these days. Sorry girls!)


This book was banned because of racism, violence, and language (including the use of the infamous n-word). There is no doubt at all–This book HAD racism, violence, and the n-word. However, the purpose of the book was to show young readers the horrors of racism–so that they could learn a bit of history AND learn to be better people themselves. This book is not going to make children into racists. The bad influence of parents, role models, and friends lead to racism. This book, with the right discussion, will be a good influence on our children. Yes, the book has scary scenes in it, but nothing most fourth graders couldn’t handle. We can’t protect our children from the real world indefinitely, and as far as I’m concerned it’s better for them to know what it’s like than to enter it in compete innocence and immediately have their fresh young spirits crushed. My philosophy–breed them tough, because sheltering only hurts them later!