Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A teen sees his older brother shot to death on the basketball court and how he deals with his grief.

What made me pick it up: I’ve read two of Reynolds’ other books and this one was getting really good reviews.

My favorite parts: This novel is in verse, which always amazes me that as much story can be told in few words and some authors need many. The best part for me was the beautiful language the author uses — describing the sidewalk as “the pavement galaxy of bubble gum stars” and so many other great turns of phrase. I also liked the dilemma he gave his character. On the one hand he’d like to avenge his brother’s death, but on the other that would dramatically change his life. I can’t say too much about the premise without giving away the wonderful structure Reynolds used to tell his story, but it invokes the best of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but with a delectably ambiguous ending.

Who it’s great for: Teens, especially urban ones who may have to deal with gangs, violence, and less than stable living conditions in their daily lives. Anyone who has wondered if revenge was worth it.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon.


 

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Being American Indian in America, a country that doesn’t always respect that reality or treat it well.

What made me pick it up: I love poetry because it’s wonderful word play and brief (helpful if you, like me and Abby, are in a Goodreads competition). This being by an American Indian writer only made me more intrigued.

My favorite things: It’s difficult to put into words how this poetry affected me. Yes, it’s always good to be, even briefly, submersed in a culture that isn’t yours, but this… this is different. This is like a sucker punch. Every time. It’s wrenching and raw and you feel exposed as you witness an even more exposed writer. You viscerally experience her injustice. Her dualities and all her struggles. And you want to sincerely atone for everything that has happened to her people even though you know that is impossible. The damage is too great. I love poetry because it’s like math — it makes me focus, and think hard, and at the end be overcome with a sublime feeling of inspiration and awe because of the magic that appears on the page once you figure it out. I cannot recommend this enough.

Who it’s great for: Poetry fans. Anyone interested in American Indian history or experience.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson

 

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Originally published in: 2007

What it’s about: Poems and biographical notes tell the story of the first school for African American girls in Connecticut and the challenges it faced.

What made me pick it up: It was reviewed by a friend on Goodreads and I had never heard of either the book or the story of Prudence Crandall and her school. Thankfully the library had a copy so I ordered it in.

My favorite things: This book is written in poems and they give powerful snippets of both Crandall’s and the students’ experiences and the backlash they faced trying to get an education. They are difficult experiences which can be hard to read about but the authors work to not only tell the story but also impress upon readers why the students thought getting an education was important enough to risk it. The poems are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Who it’s great for: Those looking for stories of African American history outside the usual characters.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey

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Originally published in: 2006

What it’s about: Poems about the difficulty growing up biracial in Mississippi when anti-miscegenation laws still existed, interspersed with poems of grief about losing her mother, and poems that explore the roles of black soldiers during the Civil War.

What made me pick it up: I was putting up a new display in our book drop window when I found this gem of a return. I’m not going to lie, I picked it up because it was so slim. I held onto it because I haven’t read a collection of poems recently. And I finished it that night because these poems are that good.

My favorite things: This book may be brief but it is powerful. You can see why she won the Pulitzer Prize and was the US Poet Laureate. Haunting is the word I would choose to describe these poems. They are beautiful and honest and informative if you haven’t personally experienced these issues. I enjoy books like this so much that keep returning to mind long after I finish them.

Who it’s great for: Teens or adults. Anyone interested in being carried away to another emotional state or time in history. Readers looking for new poems.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.