Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Girls in New York City

It's been three years since #WeNeedDiverseBooks was started, and I do think that there are now a lot more diverse books for middle grade readers, although there could be many, many more.

The one thing that I have definitely enjoyed is the emergence of a lot of #ownvoices writers.

No, this doesn't mean that Anthony Horowitz can only write about 62 year old British men with Jewish ancestry, but it does mean that I am absolutely not equipped to opine on the essential qualities of the following two books. They are both about black girls in New York City, and address many issues that revolve around that identification. I've lived most of my life in Ohio, and I'm white and middle aged. I find that books set in New York City don't do terribly well in my library, which is the main reason I probably won't purchase these.

Is the voice in these correct? I would very much like to see reviews by authors who share more of a cultural connection with the characters in both of these to see if the portrayal is accurate.

28250927Sayre, Justin. Pretty.
May 2nd 2017 by Grosset & Dunlap
ARC provided by the publisher

Davis' (Ducks) friend Sophie from Husky has issues every bit as serious as the ones that Davis faced. Her friends at school think she is a pretty girl interested in fashion and in Ryan, but her home life is very difficult. Her mother is a fashion writer, and her father is French and has returned to his country after the divorce. Janet, the mother, drinks heavily. She doesn't remember much of what she's done, but her actions include abusing Sophie, passing out, and almost burning the house down by leaving the stove on. Caring for Janet is a full time job, so when Sophie's Auntie Amara shows up to watch her while her mother goes "to Paris for work", Sophie is relieved. It's nice that her aunt has breakfast and dinner ready for her, takes her to get her hair done, takes her to church and checks her homework, but it also feels a bit odd. Her friend Allegra never knew the extent of Janet's problems, and is concerned mainly with her own issues. Since she has some freedom at home, Sophie starts dating Ryan, who even comes to the house to meet Amara. This takes away from her time with Ducks, but he is understanding. Sophie has a school project on family history, and through Amara finds out why her mother has difficult moments. She is thinking about moving to Harlem to live with her aunt, who is a professor at CUNY, but when her mother returns she feels that staying with her mother might be the thing that she needs to do, even if it means facing her problems.
Strengths: There are a lot of middle grade readers who are enthralled by tales of child abuse, and I prefer when these tales then include a supportive adult who makes things better for the characters. We definitely get that in this book. Sophie's life is fully fleshed out, and we see a lot of different aspects of it, and understand how the facets intertwine.
Weaknesses: There is some awkward writing that is meant to mimic the way 8th grade girls talk, and a lack of focus. There was a lot going on in Sophie's life, and I would have preferred that a main story line emerged and all of the other subplots supported it a bit more.
What I really think: Husky has not circulated very well, so if I purchase this one, it will be at the very end of the year if I have money left.

Hyman, Fracaswell. Mango Delight
June 6th 2017 by Sterling Children's Books
Copy provided by publisher at ALA

Mango and her best friend Brooklyn do everything together until Brooklyn is jealous of Mango's running, gets a phone and starts hanging out with mean girl Hayley Joanne. When Mango accidentally drops Brooklyn's phone in the sink, the two stop speaking, Mango's father has to buy a new phone, and he eventually loses his job when he sticks up for Mango. Mango is banned from the track team, and Brooklyn signs her up to try out for the school play in order to make fun of her. To everyone's surprise, Mango does well and is cast as Juliette. She also starts to befriend Hayley Joanne after a video of Mango's performance goes viral. Will Mango's success continue, and how will her friendships shake out?
Strengths: I liked that Mango's family struggled a bit but was supportive and upbeat, and her Jamaican heritage was interesting. Friend drama is always a good topic to explore in middle grade literature. I love the cover of this one.
Weaknesses: Mango's voice didn't ring true to me, and there are a lot of cultural references and slang that will date this one very quickly. That said, I gave the ARC to one of my students and she thought it was fantastic.
What I really think: I will probably pass on this one, but may purchase if there is money left over at the end of the year.

(Aha. The author usually writes for plays and television. That explains some of the writing style.)
Ms. Yingling

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