What a crazy summer | August Wrap-Up & TBR Update

I can’t believe August is over already! It seems like we just moved to California last week, but we’ve actually been here for almost three months. As I’ve been seeing everyone’s back-to-school/end of summer vacation social media posts, I’ve realized that we’re in a super interesting time of life where our summer vacation doesn’t really end? We don’t have any kids in school yet and we’re not in school anymore either. The weather will get cooler but like…we’re in California so it’s not going to get that cold. My husband has been working full-time all summer and he’s going to continue to do that…things just aren’t really changing for us like they are for everyone else. We can still go do summery, outside things basically as long as we want. Anyway, unrelated to book things but it was an interesting realization that I had.

monthly tbr

Also read/reading:

Books finished this month: 14 with 1 DNF
Books currently reading: 1

Well, would you look at that! I actually managed to complete my TBR and then some this month! Way to go me!

A couple other things real quick, I finished my Goodreads Reading Goal this month! I had no idea how this year was going to go (especially with last year being a bit of a dud reading year) so I set my goal to 70. Luckily, I’ve exceeded my expectations! My new goal for the year is 100. Second, I’m working on a TBR weeding project. I’m going alphabetically and I’m trying to just take one letter at a time, figuring out what I want to keep on my TBR and what can go. So you’ll see my TBR count going down significantly and that’s why.

Overall TBR:

TBR at the beginning of the year = 383
TBR at the beginning of August = 469
Books added to TBR = 8
Books read/deleted from TBR = 65
Total on TBR now = 412

How did your reading go this month?
Advertisements

A timely book about racism | Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham [ARC]

Dreamland BurningRowan Chase has a dead body on her family’s property.¬†A brief investigation shows that the body was likely dumped there sometime in the 1920’s (almost 100 years ago) and Rowan is determined to figure out the story behind it. William Tillman is just another white teenage boy growing up in Tulsa during the Prohibition. After getting a black man killed for touching a white girl’s hand, Will starts to rethink how he feels about black people. On a Summer night in 1921 all of his new-found convictions are put to the test. While these two characters live in different times, their stories are unquestionably intertwined.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. As a minority myself, I have given a lot of thought about the representation of minorities and race in books (especially YA). I, personally, have a hard time sometimes when¬†white authors write about these subjects as they don’t have the same personal experiences that a non-white person has had (regardless of how much research they’ve put into their book). Instead, I feel that we need more diverse authors to write about the experiences of diverse characters (you can read my whole post here). As far as I can tell from some Googling and website/blog reading, Ms. Latham is white (and I apologize profusely if this is not the case, but I haven’t been able to find anything that would indicate otherwise) so I’m not sure how authentically she can tell the story despite the large amount of research she put into the book. There was one part in particular that had me scratching my head a little. Geneva, the forensic anthropologist, tells Rowan (who is half-black, half-white) that she can tell that the body is most likely black due to facial structure. Rowan then has this internal debate about whether or not she’s offended at these “racist remarks”. Mmmm…maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find that offensive at all. It actually makes sense to me that different races would have different bone structure. My eyes are shaped differently than white people, so why wouldn’t my eye sockets be shaped differently as well? Other than a couple of other things like that, I felt that the author did a good job dealing with such a heavy topic.

So let’s actually get into the book. I thought Latham did a great job creating our two main characters.They were both likable and I think that’s impressive especially for Will as he has some racist tendencies due to the environment that he grew up in. You kind of want to hate him because of what happens in the beginning of the book, but then you just start to feel really sorry for him. He becomes really conflicted and his internal battle seemed pretty genuine to me. Rowan was a firecracker and a fun character as well. Her best friend was interesting but I do question why Latham chose to make him asexual as it didn’t really feel like it had an effect on who he was as a character–it felt more to me like diversity for diversity’s sake (which, again, I’m not a fan of).

I liked that the book had a bit of mystery to it. The book alternates between Rowan and Will so the reader ends up with quite a bit more information than Rowan as she’s trying to figure out whose body is in her backyard. It was fun and interesting for me to see Rowan making incorrect assumptions. Based on the information she has her deductions are quite logical, but we know that she doesn’t have the whole story. The reader is given clues from both the past and the present so I was able to figure out who the body was maybe around the 70% mark–but I think the author meant for us to figure it out at that point. The way the two story lines came together was also interesting and (for the most part) felt natural.

I can’t speak for black people, but as a minority I do appreciate that Latham has chosen to tackle this big topic of race and racism in America. While I think the book would have felt more meaningful if it had been written by a black author, it is apparent that Latham had done an extensive amount of research while she was writing. She doesn’t shy away from painting things as ugly as they were–she’s not pulling any punches here. This book has frank depictions of racism and the kind of cruelty that humans will inflict upon each other. Latham also illustrates the small types of racism that are still around today. Overall, I thought this book was well-done and I would recommend it for mid to older teens.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate. Specifically the n-word is used several times (along with other language), but I did not feel that the author used it excessively in the context of the book.
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild. One brief, non-descriptive scene of attempted rape.

Note: I received this book free from The NOVL in exchange for an honest review.

DISCUSSION: Diversity in YA

Diversity in Books

This is a topic that I’m sure you guys have been hearing a lot about lately and I know you’ve all been wondering what I think about it…right? As a POC (person of color) myself, I do feel like I have a small sliver of authority on this subject. After all, I’m the kind of person who’s underrepresented, right? I came across a post myself just today and I left this long comment which made me think that I really just needed to write my own post. So here we are.

Just as an introduction, I’m half Chinese and a quarter Panamanian and I grew up near the Seattle area so there was a fair amount of diversity at my high school (mostly white, but a pretty large representation¬†of Asian, some Hispanic, and some Black as well). I’ve always been a reader but it honestly never really bothered me that the books I was reading were all about white people. It’s just not something that I ever thought about. Growing up with parents and countless other family members who were part of interracial relationships made it so that race was seriously a non-issue for me growing up. Even now, despite the fact that I live in a very white area, I rarely¬†feel uncomfortable or like I stand out because of my ethnicity. At the same time, I know that a lot of people have had a different experience than me. I know some people have acutely felt the lack of diverse characters in YA books–I’m just not one of those people.

Let me make sure to say¬†that I do think we need more diversity in books. Absolutely. But I think we’re looking for that diversity to come from the wrong people. We complain about straight white authors who are only writing about straight white characters. Well…what else are we supposed to expect? For the most part, authors (and other creators–this can be expanded to television and movies) write about the things they know about. They write about what they have experience with. If they’re a heterosexual white person, then they’re most likely going to write about and focus on white people in heterosexual relationships. That’s just how it is. As a POC I would never write a book with 100% white characters because I don’t have experience living a 100% white life. I honestly don’t know what it was like to grow up in a white household. Anything that I would try to write would be inauthentic and probably stereotypical.

I think the worst thing that could happen is for authors to become so badgered by the “diversity police” that they start including diverse characters just to get people to shut up. There was a book I read not too long ago but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was…anyway, a character was included who had a diverse characteristic, but it literally had no affect on the character.¬†The character might as well have not had that diverse characteristic. I don’t think it’s helpful to have characters who don’t embody the traits they’re supposed to possess. Just saying that a character is Asian doesn’t make the book more diverse if the Asian character acts like every other white character. I don’t just want to¬†see diversity, I want to¬†feel diversity. Despite my skin color, deep down I feel pretty white. I’ve never been to China or Panama. I don’t speak Cantonese or Spanish (to the disappointment of my grandmother). I don’t know how to cook authentic Chinese or Panamanian dishes. I live, basically, like a white person. That being said, my heritage¬†and my culture still affects me. If everything else in my life remained the same, I would still be a different person if I had white parents. Those are the people I want to see represented in YA books. If white authors include characters who are diverse only on the surface, it’s not going to help diverse readers feel like they belong any more than a book full of not diverse¬†people.

Then what is the solution? More diverse authors (and other creators). We need people out there who can tell our story because they’ve lived our story. It’s unfair for us to expect authors who aren’t part of “our group” to represent us. Instead, “our group” needs to step up to the plate instead of just complaining about how we’re underrepresented. We have stories to tell, but how are the white people supposed to know that? They’re too busy telling their own stories! I’m not a fan of everything that Jenny Han writes, but what I do love about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that she incorporates Laura Jean’s Korean heritage. I love hearing about the food they eat and the special things they do over the holidays. Even though Laura Jean is American, she’s also Korean and Han does a great job of highlighting¬†that in Laura Jean’s story.

I’m not discouraging straight white authors from doing the research and including diverse characters in their books. If they want to do that, I think that’s great. What I am saying is that it’s not really their fault if they don’t include diverse characters. It doesn’t mean they’re racist or homophobic. It doesn’t mean they don’t think diversity’s important. I honestly¬†believe¬†they just don’t think about it when they’re sitting down to draft a new book. So instead of complaining about how authors need to include diverse characters that represent us (and not them) in their books, let’s do something about it ourselves. Instead of saying we need more diverse books, let’s let the publishing houses know that¬†WE WANT MORE DIVERSE AUTHORS¬†instead and support the ones that we already¬†have.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin [ARC]

Hitler won World War II. Now Germania and Japan are in¬†control¬†of most of the world. To commemorate their glorious victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito have established a yearly motorcycle race. 20 teens from the ages of 14-18 may enter (10 from Japan and 10 Aryan Germanians), but only one will win and be awarded the iron cross. Yael is definitely not Aryan. In fact, she escaped from a Nazi prison camp when she was a little girl. She had been a victim of scientific experimentation and now she has the ability to “skinshift”. As a part of the resistance, her mission is to impersonate last year’s winner (the only female to have¬†ever¬†won), win the race, and assassinate Hitler at the Victor’s Ball on live TV.
wolf-by-wolf-ryan-graudin-e1442880525579
I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK. Seriously, it was fantastic. I haven’t read that much historical fiction, but I feel like it’s a genre that I could really get into. Especially World War II. I find that period especially interesting for whatever reason. The thing about this book that’s so great is the speculation. The author mentions in a note at the end that she likes to ask the question, “What if?” In this case, I really think it paid off. Even though there’s one major fantastical element (with Yael’s skinshifting), the rest all seems so plausible. Would something like this have happened if Hitler had won the war? Who knows?

The plot was great. It was straightforward and not too messy with other (irrelevant) subplots. I liked that it was so focused because it kept me interested in the story. There weren’t any distracting elements that way. Every few chapters or so the reader¬†gets a flashback into Yael’s past, but it’s done so seamlessly that you don’t feel pulled out of the main narrative while you’re reading the backstory. The writing was also fantastic. Throughout the book Yael struggles a bit with her sense of identity and those passages are always written with such care. Beautiful, beautiful writing.

The characters were another highlight for me. They all had distinct personalities and I enjoyed getting to know some of the other racers. Yael as a character was a little unrelatable though. She’s very angry as a person. But even though I couldn’t connect as well with her, I was okay with that. I was still able to enjoy who she was as a character even though I couldn’t put myself in her shoes.

So yeah, I loved the book, but it wasn’t perfect. There were a few things that I had some issues with. First, the characters seem older than they’re supposed to be. Felix, Yael, Adele, and Luka are all supposed to be 17…but I couldn’t help but picture them in their 20s. It was just hard for me to imagine them as teenagers. Second, I had a hard time buying Yael’s skill on a motorcycle. Assuming she started training IMMEDIATELY after Adele won her first iron cross, that still only gives Yael one year of training. And then she’s just going to show up and race against guys who have been racing their whole lives and win? I just can’t believe it’s that “easy”.

Overall, the book was great. I had a couple of issues with it, but I still love it and seriously recommend it to ANYONE. It comes out officially 10/20 so make sure you go pre-order yourself a copy!

Overall Rating: 5
Language: None. All cursing is done in German.
Violence: Moderate. Some fighting and violence, but not too much gore. Some talk/description of blood.
Sexual Content:¬†None (Some talk of breeding houses, but I wouldn’t really classify that as sexual content).
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate.¬†Some drinking, quite a few mentions of “underage” smoking.

Note: I received this book free from both the NOVL and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Diversity

top-ten-tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there is a new topic and this week’s topic is: Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters (example: features minority/religious minority, socioeconomic diversity, disabled MC,  neurotypical character, LGBTQ etc etc.)

Disabilities/Mental Illness
Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson – Deaf
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone – OCD
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Bipolar
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Blind

Socioeconomic
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood – Family goes from having money to not
Hit by Delilah S Dawson – A lot of characters are in severe debt

Race/Ethnicity/Culture
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Korean
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Afghani
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – Pakistani
Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Indian