October 15th 2013 by Leapfrog Press
Denny loves the traditional ways of her native Alaskan family, and has been learning the language from her grandfather, with whom she also shares a love of the outdoors and dog sled racing. She is driven to do well in school, even though she sees that other students are giving in to the despair rampant in her community. She and her grandfather have plans to enter a big race, but her plans are changed when a tragedy occurs. Denny realizes that she needs to strike a balance between embracing traditional culture and finding a way to make a life that is successful in the eyes of the larger community.
Strengths: This had a lot of interesting details about the Ahnat language and culture. The chin tattoos that Denny decides to get were especially intriguing. Smelcer has worked hard to take his experiences living in the Ahnat culture and working them in to this book.
Weaknesses: Debbie Reese at the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog has had nothing but bad to say about Mr. Smelcer, which is unfortunate. While I think it is important to be culturally sensitive, it does not help the cause of #WeNeedDiverseBooks to rip apart writers who have done their research and are trying to present different cultures. Mr. Smelcer’s background might not be exactly the same as another native American person’s, but the details that he offers are as accurate as he can make them. My objection with this book, for my school library, was that it was more YA—some of the problems in Denny’s community are a bit much for younger readers (e.g. drinking during pregnancy caused by rape). For a book about sled dogs, I would prefer Johnson’s Ice Dogs, and for a native culture in Alaska with an involved grandparent (although Inuit, not Ahtna), Will Hobbs. Never Say Die.
March 19th 2014 by James Lorimer & Company
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Jazz Smith-Mohapatra is in contention for the best basketball player on her team with her long time best friend, Cindy, but when Jazz is involved in a play on the court that ends with Catherine, from the other team, having a severe concussion. She has to appear in a hearing, but is absolved of blame, but still feels awful. Her friendship with Cindy also starts to fall apart, and Jazz doesn’t quite know why. Another teammate, Ella, befriends her, helps her with her math and supports her through the trauma of having injured another player, but does want a favor in return—she suspects that Cindy has stolen a pocket watch belonging to her friend Adam, who is geeky and often picked on. Jazz still struggles in school, is spooked on the court because she is afraid of causing injury to another player, and slowly begins to realize that her friendship with Cindy may be damaged beyond repair.
Strengths: Another good entry from Lorimer Sports, and I will definitely investigate the other titles in this series. Interesting, short and solid story of a girl playing basketball and dealing with life.
Weaknesses: The break up of the friendship would have been more poignant if Cindy hadn’t been quite so evil and mean to Adam.