Call Me Athena: Girl From Detroit by Colby Cedar Smith
This book, quite simply, was perfect. It was perfect and it will live in my heart forever.
This is a book about three young people, Mary, Gio, and Jeanne, all with big hopes and dreams, all with love brimming deep and overflowing from their hearts. I fell in love with all three of them.
Mary, our main protagonist is a young Greek woman growing up in 1930s Detroit. She struggles to be the Good Greek Girl her parents want her to be. She longs for independence, to make something of herself, and to change the world. Her parents want her to marry a successful Greek man, much older than she is. Mary wants nothing less.
She discovers love letters between a young nurse and a soldier from WWI in her basement, and as she gets to know them, so do we. I won't spoil the twist, but it was so beautifully done, and I wept when it was over because I felt like I had made a friend.
This novel is written in verse, and Colby Cedar Smith did so beautifully. There were several poems I wanted to copy out in my own notebook so I can keep them with me wherever I go. Every word was intentional, and Smith's world building, her characters, and her plot was so perfectly structured and crafted. I already cannot wait to see what she has next for us.
I already have this one on my library shelves, but I will be highly recommending it to students at school visits, to teachers, coworkers, friends, and family. It is so beautiful. I'm also planning to buy a copy for me.
Great for middle school and up.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
There are some books I have held off reading because I wanted to give it the time it deserves. You only get to read books for the first time once, and I knew this would be a book that I loved. And man oh man, do I love this book with my entire heart and soul. Where does one even start when thinking about what to say about this incredible novel? The Poet X ripped up my heart, took my breath away, and eventually pieced me back together. I know I'm late to this book, but holy cow, is it difficult to do it justice in a review.
I loved Xiomara's voice and story. Xiomara is like so many girls. She is curvy, and her body has been used as a means to torment her and she does not see anything beautiful about herself, inside or out. She uses her poetry as a means to deal with difficult thoughts and times in her life...she is unsure about God, while trying not to disappoint her incredibly devout mother, and she experiences the highs and lows of first love. This book is Xiomara's discovery of herself in so many ways, and her journey towards accepting herself. I fell in love with this character, and wanted to wrap her up in a hug and tell her everything would be alright.
This book gave me the same big feelings of Eleanor and Park, which is saying something because E&P is one of my favorite books of all time. I loved this book! Recommended for high school readers.
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne
Chlorine Sky was a gorgeous novel in verse about a girl looking for herself. I think this book, perhaps more than any other book I've read so far this year, rings the most true about the teen experience. I think there's something for every young woman in this book. But this book also specifically speaks to the Black experience, and was just beautifully written. I learned so much from Sky, and I wish I had had this book to give to my much younger self. This is a book for every person who has never felt like they had a place, or is trying to understand what life is or could be.
This is a book I am so excited to put next to Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds. I can't wait to put this book into the hands of teens in my community, as well as their teachers and parents.
Content: Very little to no profanity. Some descriptions of kissing, but nothing beyond that. There is a moment of sexual assault, where Sky is being kissed, even though she didn't want it. There is also some bullying. I'd say it's safe for mature middle school students and up.
Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo
This book tells the story of Nima and her mother. Nima has always longed to be somebody else, as being a Sudanese Muslim teen who does not feel like she belongs anywhere. As Nima must come to terms with who she is--and who she thinks she could have been--she comes to realize what home and love and family mean. As she struggles to determine her identity, she learns about herself, and it is undeniably a privilege to watch. I loved Nima, and her story broke my heart a hundred times, brought me to tears, and helped me heal in ways I didn't quite realize I needed. Nima's story is like those of teens everywhere--ones who don't feel like they have a true place in the world because it feels like they're from nowhere and everywhere all at once. This is a book that belongs in every collection because it helps us understand what life is like for those that are different from us, but also gives a voice to those who may be struggling.
A beautifully written novel in verse, Elhillo weaves a tale that takes unexpected twists and turns until it lands Nima, and the reader, right where they need to be.
Content: I do not recall any profanity, but there is bullying and Islamaphobic language, as well as difficult situations. Recommended for grades 8+.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Where would we be on a list of books in verse if I didn't mention one of my very favorite young adult books of all time? Long Way Down is a must-read for every person in America. You will ride that elevator with Will until he gets to the bottom and has one tough decision to make.
Will's brother, Sean, has just been shot. Will believes he knows who did it. He takes his older brother's gun to avenge his death, but once he gets on that elevator from their top floor apartment, he will have a life changing experience. As he rides this elevator down to the ground floor, it stops on every floor along the way, letting in one new ghost--a person in Will's life who has died as the result of gun violence to tell their story. And when Will arrives at the ground floor after hearing all of these words, he can go back up, or he can leave the elevator.
This is a book that will change your life, not only for the powerful message, but for the method in which Jason Reynolds chose to tell the story. It is an excellent example of what a skilled writer can achieve. Jason Reynolds is the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and he knows what he's doing. Read this book! Great for middle school +.