Codes for Reviews

First Initial (Overall Rating):
E = Exceptional
VG = Very Good
G = Good
F = Fair
NR = Not Recommended

Second Initital (Reading Level):
A = Average Reading Level
E = Easy
M = Mature

“The views expressed are of individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective institutions.”

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dear Martin

Dear Martin
By Nic Stone
Narrated by Dion Graham
Published by Listening Library
ISBN: 1101939494
October 17, 2017

This was a trenchant and incisive yarn that ran the gamut of emotional peaks and valleys. From rib-grabbingly funny to heartsomely somber, writer Nic Stone has managed to wring a rich and textured story that should keep young audiences captivated from word one. It’s a narrative that confounds expectation and tackles admirably some of the pressing issues that are but all too relevant today. It’s a dazzling work that is sensitive to a multitude of contemporary controversies and should spark a windfall of thoughtful discussion among teen readers.

The story follows Justyce McAllister, a bright and clear-eyed senior trying his best to navigate the slings and arrows of adolescence. It’s hard enough for a teen to wrestle with schoolwork, social life, and the other difficulties part and parcel with high school, he also must struggle with some pretty profound racial and societal questions. He becomes deeply disoriented when he himself is the victim of racial profiling and he begins to falter when it comes to understanding his own sense of identity and class affiliation. He finds solace and guidance in the teachings of his historical mentor, Martin Luther King Jr, desperately trying to make sense of the racial tensions and inequalities around him. Through a series of epistolary missives he writes to Dr. King, he undergoes a head-to-toe personal transformation and comes out the other side of the novel a changed person.

It’s certainly a page-turner. I was hanging on each word and found myself at the last page with alarming swiftness. It’s structurally sound and has ample narrative velocity. The characters are fully fleshed out and nothing is rushed or under-developed. The writer manages to capture a tone that is exceedingly listen-eable and strikes the ear true. There’s a je ne sais quoi musicality to the dialogue that is dulcet and alluring from beginning to end.

The themes are certainly age-appropriate and should provide a wealth of discussion points for any Current Events class worth their salt. Themes of racial inequality, affirmative action, and tacit discrimination are all subjects that are broached elegantly and kneaded into the narrative masterfully. These struggles and difficult questions really coax the best out of the primary and secondary characters and make them fully realized and multi-layered figures by the novel’s culmination. The character development is top-notch. We sympathize and identify with these characters. Very much so. We celebrate with them during the highs and grieve together during the lows. And all arrive at a better understanding of the issues chapter by chapter.

All said, a doozy of a YA novel. Inexplicably by-the-book and out-of-the-box somehow. A wholehearted recommend.

Tommy Bui, Inglewood Public Library

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Written by Erika L. Sanchez
Read by Kyla Garcia
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
ISBN: 1524700487

A riveting and rambunctious read that tugs all the right heartstrings unabashedly and without hesitance. Erika L. Sanchez has tapped into a rich reservoir of relatable and poignant characters. Characters that are flawed, vulnerable, and muster the courage to grow and change into better people by book’s end. This is Young Adult fare that will have mass appeal and manage to get you flipping fervently page by page and rooting for our young female protagonist.

We follow teenage Julia as she navigates the rigors and pitfalls of growing up in a strict Mexican-American household that upholds familial responsibility supreme. But Julia has an independent streak that runs directly counter to that value and the friction between her and her mother is fraying her thin. To compound her frustrations, Julia suffers the slings and arrows of overcoming daily stereotypes. She yearns for more. The book is incredibly layered as it explores themes of self-identity, LGBTQ discrimination, loss and grief, and teen mental illness. All very sensitive issues that are dealt with an appropriate amount of levity and gravity somehow.

Julia carries this YA novel single-handedly. Her voice is authentic and you’re immediately yanked into her trials and tribulations from the first chapter. Julia is a firebrand but also has a sensitivity to her. A febrile fragility. A complex character study that confounds and compels. And the performance of Kyla Garcia percolates with flair. From the farcical to the solemn, every tone and idiosyncrasy is captured with gusto. It’s a myriad of fleshed out and memorable secondary characters to help prop up our protagonist. From the ever-kvetching mother to the sassy and sometimes absurd circle of friends. Every voice is singular and unique in its delivery. Top marks.

It’s so much beyond just a coming-of-age tale. It’s a modern day bildungsroman in the vein of Jane Eyre. Just angrier and more relevant to today’s diverse audiences. There’s a smidge of Catcher in the Rye in there too. A voice of cynicism that is just a disguised cry for help. So there’s sincerity in that sardonic tone. The struggles and challenges of growing up are timeless. And the writer here manages to carry on this rich literary tradition while also melding other aspects of popular genres such as mystery, social critique, and race politics. It’s an ambitious and culturally-timely piece. And a successful one that merits a look-thru.

A wholehearted recommend. Read and be ravished by the book’s insights and cultural shrewdness. 

Tommy Bui, Inglewood Public Library

Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index
Written by Julie Israel
Narrated by Abigail Revasch
Published by Penguin Random Audio Publishing Group
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 1524775223

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and poignant tale of a young girl navigating the trials and tribulations of adolescence. It also strives to go beyond the mere tropes of high school dramedy by trying to tackle a variety of emotionally-laden subjects. Subjects such as grief, loss, and soul-sapping depression. It offers up some pretty weighty and sensitive societal issues to the audience but manages to do so with an appropriate degree of tact and social responsibility.

The quick pitch: Juniper Lemon is pitched into a world of sorrow and bereavement when she survives a car crash that tragically takes her older sister’s life. Her parents are hobbled with grief and she herself is racked with unspeakable guilt over the whole ordeal. She eventually uncovers a mysterious letter written by her sister before the accident. A letter undelivered to a secret recipient. Racked with remorse, she undergoes a by-any-means mission to convey the letter to this unknown party. As this act becomes the last meaningful link she has to her dearly departed sister.

The narrative paces along at a manageable momentum and endeavors to keep the audiences’ attention rapt throughout. The protagonist is vulnerable and endearing but manages to muster enough spunkiness to overcome seemingly the whole weight of the world on her shoulders. This is a character that many should be able to identify with quickly and feel knee-jerk compassion for. She’s being dragged through the emotional wringer. But she comes out the other side stronger and a fully-realized character for it.  

The side characters also all contribute meaningfully to the story. Juniper undertakes an epic internal journey that takes her through an array of emotional peaks and valleys. And along the way she recruits an eclectic motley of sidekicks to help her find the way. And each and every one just as richly-textured and complex as the main protagonist. It’s a riveting cortege of characters and friendship quickly becomes another enduring theme by book’s end. 

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index can be likened to Mean Girls meets Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The shifting from teen-rom-com to intense character profile of pain and melancholy is seamless and no easy course to slalom. But the author manages it well here. The performance of the reader is superb. She does a fine job of sprinkling the right amount of voice-quiver and reticence into the title character of Juniper. You just want to take her voice and drape a blanket over it and comfort, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

All in all, by-the-books Young Adult machinations. Perfect for a multitude of demographics.  

Tommy Bui, Inglewood Public Library

Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World
Written and Read by Reshma Saujani
Listening Library
Publication Date: August 22, 2017
ISBN: 1524778222

This is an item that inspires and cajoles young woman to confound expectations and jump with both feet into the world of coding and computer-science. Writer Reshma Saujani makes a compelling case to pursue a passion for computer coding and combine it with other interests to create a synergy of creative potential. It’s all about empowerment and building confidence and flagging that nerd flag high.

The audiobook offers a succinct little primer and introduction into the world of coding. She takes our hand and walks us through the history of the field and the innovations and advancements that women have contributed over the years to computer-science. The writer provides us with several historical figures and a multitude of case studies of the unsung female heroes blazing a trail in the world of tech. And shows that inspiring young girls to explore the world of coding is the future and how imperative it is to close the gender gap in the tech industry. 

Reshma Saujani also gives us a pretty comprehensive play by play into the basics of coding. She goes over the terminology and cobbles a sturdy scaffolding in which to frame a better understanding of coding. She manages to take a sometimes abstruse subject and make it relatable and palatable to digest. She uses an assortment of real-world scenarios and always endeavors to make the topic engaging and approachable. Though the work is largely skewed toward a female audience of a certain age, the information conveyed about rudimentary coding skills can be useful for a wide demographic of people just interested in the course of study.

This work is a big advocate of eschewing stereotypes and impels young audiences to augment their thinking of what’s expected and what’s possible. She reminds us that encouraging STEM and useful computer fundamentals will serve young girls for years to come and that the field is ready and receptive to a whole generation of groundbreaking tech pioneers. The possibilities are nigh boundless. Put the right string of code in the right girl’s hands and she could make a sizeable impact from social justice champion to canny entrepreneur.

This work earns a wholehearted recommendation. The content is delivered in an enthused and infectiously effusive manner. And the range of topics covered impressive from beginning to end and the overall message of empowerment delivered with precision. The item also includes a bonus disc with PDFs of images, computer-history timelines, flowcharts, lines of code, and a handy glossary. All fine fodder for any coding connoisseur. 

Get coding, kids. Plain and simple.

Tommy Bui, Inglewood Public Library