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Staff Picks: Books

Beneath Wandering Stars

When this book showed up on my new books cart, I was first drawn in by the cover. It wasn’t a title I had been anticipating, but as I flipped it over to see what it was about, I knew I would be taking this one home.
After her brother Lucas is wounded in Afghanistan, Gabi Santiago vows to hike the Camino de Santiago in his name. The only catch, her brother’s best friend Seth, whom Gabi hates, has to walk it with her. As they hike this centuries old pilgrimage searching for meaning, forgiveness, and a miracle for someone they both love, they begin to understand each other better, and more importantly, themselves.
The Camino de Santiago has fascinated me for a long time. Five years ago, my mom and I watched a The Way (which I also highly recommend!), and I decided that I wanted to walk it. My mom and I agreed that in five years, when I turned 30, we would hike the Camino together, and finally that year has arrived. When this book appeared on my cart, it was just one more encouragement for me. The story moved me, and cemented my desire to make this pilgrimage. I highly recommend this touching story that deals with change, friendship, and grief in a beautiful way.


Flame in the Mist

Set in Feudal Japan, Flame in the Mist follows three main characters: Hattori Mariko, Okami, and Hattori Kenshin. Right from the start, this book yanks the reader in. A betrayal has taken place, and revenge is sworn. Ten years later, we see Mariko, less than thrilled to be married off as a tool for political leverage, on her way to Inako. When her procession is attacked, and she manages to survive, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and find out the truth of who attacked her and why they want her dead. Through her search for the truth, she finds herself among the Black Clan and Okami. It is from them that Mariko learns she may be clever, but she certainly has more to learn. Her world is a lot smaller than she imagined it to be, and perhaps things are more complex than she thought as well.
I devoured this book. As I neared the end, I became frustrated knowing there was no way this book could be a stand alone, and as I flipped the last page with a cliffhanger, I sighed. There is so much left to be explored in this enchanting world. I have so many questions, and I can’t wait for the next book to answer them. Fans of Samurai Champloo, Robin Hood, and feminism will love this story as I did.


Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors

On May 15 the Oshtemo Branch Library hosted a Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors event inviting folks to participate in one-on-one and small group conversations with members of our local Muslim communities. Station activities included henna and hijab tutorials and information stations about prayers and holidays. Shawarma King on Drake Road provided snacks, local Kurdish and Iranian musicians performed, and the Kalamazoo Islamic Center's imam was available to answer questions about the Quran.

If you were not able to make it to the event, or you want to do some reading on your own, check out these books from the library:

The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and That Veil Thing by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

1001 Inventions and Awesome Facts from Muslim Civilization by National Geographic Kids

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan


The Sun is Also a Star

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably already super excited for the movie Everything, Everything  based on the novel by Nicola Yoon coming out on May 19th. But hello, that’s two whole weeks away! If you need something to make that time go a little faster, do yourself a favor and check out Nicola Yoon’s other fabulous book The Sun is Also a Star.

Natasha is a science nerd, and hard core grunge rock fan, who will be deported back to Jamaica in 12 hours. All of the careful plans she’s made for herself are about to be radically disrupted.  Daniel on the other hand, has just been going through the motions. He walks the path his parents have mapped out for him and isn’t excited about any of it.  The two meet on a chance encounter, and spend the day talking about everything that matters: life, love, and the universe on the Day that Changes Everything.

It’s ultra-romantic of course, but what I find most impressive is the way Nicola Yoon thoughtfully explores racial and cultural differences. She herself is a Jamaican American, married to a Korean American man, both of whom are the children of immigrants. So when the characters in the novel have conversations about race, food, and hair, those discussions are nuanced, well informed and authentic.

 

I give it the Milan Seal of Approval, but more importantly, it’s also a 2017 Coretta Scott King winner, #1 New York Times Bestseller,  2016 National Book Award Finalist, and those are just the honors I feel like mentioning right now. I just finished it yesterday—it is the greatest. The end. 


Novels in Verse

Before poetry month comes to a close, I want to highlight some novels written in verse. Through a series of short poems, an author can tell an amazingly rich story, despite the limited scope for details and dialog. 

Most recently, I read A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes, who is coming to KPL on May 9. The book combines sections in the voice of the title character with poems in the voice of the Virgin Mary, which are in a book Mister is reading during a challenging time. 

One of my favorites is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, which is written as the diary of a boy who is learning to love poetry. The title poem pays homage to a poem by Walter Dean Myers, and others throughout the book are modeled after other famous poems. Speaking of dogs, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee imagines what it would be like if God had a life like an ordinary human.

All the novels in verse I've come across are written for children and young adults, but there is much in them to be appreciated for any reader. They seem particularly well suited to addressing difficult topics such as grief and the darker chapters of history, such as Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Brown Girl Dreaming. Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone takes place during the Armenian genocide. 

Other authors who frequently write in verse include Kwame Alexander and Margarita Engle. Novels in verse are not a replacement for regular fiction, but like graphic novels, you can read through them quickly for the basic story, or better yet, you can linger to enjoy the nuances of language.


Love & Gelato

I read almost every book set in Italy I can find. So of course I would pick this one up. Love & Gelato tells the story of Lina, who is moving to Italy to live with a father she's never met after her artist mother has died. When she arrives, Lina is given her mother's old journal, full of sketches and writings, detailing her own college years in Florence. Though she grieves for her mother and her life in the States, Lina takes every opportunity to learn who her mother and father are this summer in Italy. In the process, she unearths a major secret, makes friends, and meets a love interest. I loved this YA novel. It's the perfect summer read for fans of realistic fiction, with light romance and travel.


Max

Incredibly researched and vividly written, Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali is not for the faint of heart. This historical fiction is based off of real events during WWII, beginning with our introduction to the titular character as he is preparing to be born, the first child of the Lebensborn Program. From his birth until the German surrender, we see the world through Max’s eyes and his heavily indoctrinated thoughts - sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic language included.
Getting through the first quarter of this book was a challenge for how descriptive the writing was in those regards. The second half of the book certainly rewards the reader for sticking it out, as Max subtly comes to understand the world around him, and how he deals with it. Max is a brutal story with an important message, well worth picking up.


Rad Women

Rad Women Worldwide and Rad American Women A-Z tell the stories of women who did amazing things, some well-known and, maybe more importantly, some not so well-known. From Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, Rad American Women A-Z came first and focuses on American women. Rad Women Worldwide focuses on forty women from all around the world who moved beyond boundaries. From punk rockers to polar explorers to authors, organizers, athletes, artists, and more, both of these great collections of biographical profiles feature amazing cut-paper illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl. Both are great for all ages but reside in the library's Children's and Teen materials collections. Check them out if you are interested in being inspired and learning some real-life amazing stories!

 


Piecing Me Together

Jade’s mother tells her to take every opportunity that becomes available to her, but she also knows the word opportunity is laced with coded messages. When the opportunity to join Woman to Woman is put in front of her, Jade is not interested. Until she finds out that completing the program means getting a scholarship to college. Paired up with a mentor that doesn’t seem to have her life together any better than Jade, wondering why her white friend can’t see that sometimes it IS about race, and wanting more out of this so-called opportunity, Jade begins to learn more about herself, her place in the world, and that if she wants to see change, she needs to speak up for herself and others.

This book was so amazing. From the very beginning I was hooked. Jade’s voice is clear and strong, and, as the story progresses, I love that her character development is subtle, yet major. Finishing it, I felt inspired. I have a feeling this book will be making its way into my personal collection very soon.


American Street

American Street follows the story of a Haitian teenage girl named Fabiola who planned on coming to stay with her aunt and cousins in Detroit, Michigan. Though Fabiola was born in the US, and is an American citizen, her mother is not, and she ends up getting detained at the JFK airport.  As a result, Fabiola is forced to start a brand new life on her own-- creating a new identity in an unfamiliar country, with family she doesn't know, all the while trying to find a way to be reunited with her mother.

It's always interesting to see your home through someone else's eyes, and this debut novel by Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian immigrant herself, provides a fresh and unique perspective on the American Dream, and the compromises one has to make along the way.