Categories
Book Club Pick

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

Book Club Pick: August 2021

Title: The Gunners

Author: Rebecca Kauffman

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Counterpoint Press

First Published: 2018

Pages: 260

Publisher Description:

The Gunners used to be inseparable. A gang of latchkey kids, they took their name from the doorbell of the abandoned house they played in as children – and drank in as teenagers. Mikey, Sam, Lynn, Alice, Jimmy and Sally are more than a family than just friends.

One day, Sally suddenly stopped speaking to them and they drifted apart. Years later, Sally’s suicide bings the Gunners back together. All of them have secrets, but who was actually responsible for Sally disappearing from their lives? Now well into adulthood, it’s time to come clean about what each of them really thinks happened.

Review:

A group of friends, who haven’t seen each other since high school, now 30 years old gather for the funeral of Sally, a childhood friend who has taken her own life.

Sally, near the end of high school suddenly and without explanation broke off contact from their group that called themselves ‘The Gunners’ – a name the came from an abandoned property that they used as a hangout as kids.

All of the friends have left their working-class upstate New York town except for Mikey Callahan, who is the closest to a central character in the novel.

Mikey, is losing his sight due to early-onset macular degeneration. He lives a solitary life and struggles to make connections with people.

Those who return home are Alice a brash lesbian who speaks her mind, Lynn a gifted pianist whose dreams were shattered by a severed finger and subsequently has had battles with alcoholism, Sam who found his faith after working at a Christian camp, and Los Angeles-based Jimmy who has had financial success and owns a lake house near their childhood hometown.

Each of the friends harbours a secret and feels that they are responsible for Sally leaving their friendship group.

The novel is written in third person and switches between the present day and scenes from their childhood.

The Gunners is a novel of friendship, memories, and secrets.

Links:

Rebecca Kauffman Official Website

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan

Book Club Pick: July 2021

Title: Kick the Moon

Author: Muhammad Khan

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Great Britain

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

First Published: 2019

Pages: 282

Publisher Description:

Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager. Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.

Review:

Ilyas Mian is a fifteen-year-old British-Pakistani comic-book enthusiast from South London.

The novel opens with a young excited Ilyas going to school in a Superman costume for a book character dress-up day. His classmates tease him saying that Superman can’t be brown.

This moment not only illustrates how cruel children can be but also inspires a teenage Ilyas to create his own British-Pakistani superhero, PakCore, and later Big Bad Waf.

Ilyas has a strained relationship with his father who buys into the ‘boys don’t cry’ image of masculinity. His relationship with his older social-media obsessed sister Shaista isn’t any better. His librarian mother is the only one who appears to understand him.

While in detention he meets a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, a wealthy student who feels like an outsider. Kelly has dreams of being a fiction writer, so together they collaborate on one of Ilyas’ stories.

Unfortunately Kelly attracts the attention of Imran, the leader of DedManz, a youth gang that Ilyas is caught up with.

Kick the Moon explores many of the pressures that young people face today including bullying, toxic masculinity, sexism, misogyny, racism, gang culture, revenge porn, parental pressures, and identity.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Book Club Pick: June 2021

Title: Game Changer

Author: Neal Shusterman

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

First Published: 2021

Pages: 387

Publisher Description:

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it. Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension — and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own. The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

Review:

Game Changer is an exploration of privilege and perspective in a post coronavirus world told through the eyes of Ash Bowman, a white, heterosexual, cisgender, high school football player.

After a head injury during a football match Ash enters a parallel universe where small details have changed, such as stop signs are no longer red they are now blue.

Each time Ash hits his head he enters a new alternative reality where the changes are more noticeable.

It is through Ash’s journey, through these alternative realities, that the novel tackles issues, such as poverty, drugs, class structure, abuse, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

While the concept is applaudable I feel that Shusterman attempted to tackle too many issues in the book and that not enough time was spent to explore each issue properly.

Shusterman is a strong writer that can devise a compelling novel with plenty of twits and turns. This is a well intended project that unfortunately just fell short in its execution.

Links:

Neal Shusterman Official Website

Neal Shusterman on Twitter

Neal Shusterman on Instagram

Neal Shusterman on Facebook

Neal Shusterman on YouTube

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Author Talk

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Title: Dear Martin

Authors: Nic Stone

Series: Followed by sequel Dear Justyce (2020)

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

First Published: 2017

Pages: 208

Publisher Description:

Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team and set for an Ivy League college – but none of the matters to the police officer who just put him in headcuffs. Released without charge, Justyce is frustrated that despite leaving his rough neighbourhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his new classmates.

Justyce has studied the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but do they hold up now? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny are caught in the crossfire.

Review:

Justyce McAllister is a seventeen-year-old black high school senior living in Atlanta and attending a predominantly white preparatory school on a scholarship. He is captain of the debate team and ranked fourth in his graduating class and in a good position to be accepted by an Ivy League school.

One night Justyce is helping his white ex-girlfriend from driving drunk. A white police officer racially profiling him aggressively throws Justyce to the ground and handcuffs him thinking he is going to rob / harm this young white woman.

Following this incident Justyce begins to question racial issues as a young black young man in today’s society. As a response he begins writing letters to the spirit of civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The novel uses a mix of third-person narrative, script-like dialogues for debates in class, and Justyce’s letters to to Dr. King.

Dear Martin is Stone’s debut novel. Stone wrote the novel in response to a number of racially-charged events that featured young black men, including the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was killed when a man fired several rounds into a car of teenagers following a dispute over loud rap music, and the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by a Fergusson, Missouri police officer.

The novel is followed by a sequel Dear Justyce, which is told from the point of view of Quan, a cousin of Justyce’s best friend, who is on trial for murder.

Dear Martin tackles strong issues such as racism and police brutality head on, while still featuring romance and humour.

Links:

Nic Stone Official Website

Nic Stone on Twitter

Nic Stone on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Book Club Pick: March 2021

Title: Concrete Rose

Authors: Angie Thomas

Series: Prequel to The Hate U Give

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

First Published: 2021

Pages: 323

Publisher Description:

A searing exploration of Black manhood set seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give.

With his King Lord dad in prison and his mom working two jobs, seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter helps the only way he knows how: slinging drugs. Life’s not prefect, but he’s got everything under control. Until he finds out he’s a father…

Suddenly its not so easy to deal drugs and finish school with a baby dependent on him for everything. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. But when King Lord blood runs through your veins, you don’t get to just walk away.

Review:

Concrete Rose is a prequel to Thomas’ 2017 debut novel The Hate U Give, which followed sixteen-year-old Starr Carter after witnessing the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. The prequel set in the late 1990s tells the story of Starr’s father, Maverick as a seventeen-year-old high school senior and a junior member of King Lords gang.

Maverick’s father is in prison and he is being raised by his working-class mother Faye. After a DNA test Maverick finds that he fathered a son in a one-night stand when he was on a break from his current girlfriend Lisa. Soon after he is left with infant son when the baby’s mother Iesha disappears.

He is determined to put drug dealing behind him provide for his son Seven by working at Mr. Wyatt’s grocery store.

Both The Hate U Give and On the Come Up featured a strong young black woman as the protagonist. It was interesting to see Thomas tackle the voice of the young black male and address issues of masculinity, gang life, gun violence and teen fatherhood.

It is not necessary to have read The Hate U Give as Concrete Rose is a stand alone story. Readers of the first novel will know where Maverick’s story ends and will appreciate exploring the characters of Garden Heights further.

Click here to read my review of Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give.

Click here to read my review of On the Come Up

Links:

Angie Thomas Official Website

Angie Thomas on Twitter

Angie Thomas on Instagram

Angie Thomas on Facebook

I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

How it all blew up by Arvin Ahmadi

Book Club Pick: February 2021

Title: How it all blew up

Authors: Arvin Ahmadi

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Viking, imprint of Penguin Random House

First Published: 2020

Pages: 266

Publisher Description:

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy – he just didn’t think it would end up in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?
Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like a second nature…until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now Amir has to to tell the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.
At turns uplifting and devasting, How It All Blew Up is Arvin Ahmadi’s post powerful novel yet, a celebration of how life’s most painful moments can live alongside the riotous, life-changing joys of discovering who you are.

Review:

18-year-old Iranian American Amir Azadi is photographed kissing Jackson, a football player that he has secretly been dating. After being blackmailed Amir skips his high school graduation and flees to Rome to avoid being outed as gay to his conservative Muslim parents.

In Rome Amir meets Jahan, a proudly openly gay Iranian-Dominican man, who introduces Amir to gay culture and community.

I did feel that the depiction of Italian culture was a little stereotypical. I would have liked to have seen more exploration of Amir’s Iranian-American culture.

The novel moves between a retrospective look at the events that lead up to his decision to flee to Rome and his time in Rome, and an airport interrogation room, where his family is being detained after an argument on the plane home.

The novel is written with Amir’s first person narration as Amir tells his coming out story to U.S. Customs officials. It is also interspersed with transcripts of each member of his family being interrogated by U.S. Customs officials. This is interesting as it provides three other perspectives, his sister and parents.

Links:

Arvin Ahmadi Official Website

Arvin Ahmadi on Twitter

Arvin Ahmadi on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Book Club Pick: January 2021

Title: Patron Saints of Nothing

Authors: Randy Ribay

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Kokila, imprint of Penguin Random House

First Published: 2019

Pages: 366

Publisher Description:

Jay Reguero plans to spend the summer playing video games before heading to university. But then he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs. No one in the family wants to talk about what happened, so Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story. As he uncovers more about Jun, he is forced to face some uncomfortable truths about his cousin’s death – and the part he played in it.

Review:

17-year-old Filipino-American Jay Reguero is a high school senior living in suburban Michigan, who is looking forward to a summer of playing video games before he heads off to university.

His plans are turned on their head when Jay’s parents tell him that his Filipino cousin Jun is dead. Jay and Jun had only meet a few times when Jay’s family returned to the Philippines to visit. The two cousins were pen pals when they were younger. Although in recent years this had stopped after Jay got distracted by life and stopped writing.

Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs. Jun’s father Manning, who is also a Police Chief, won’t even hold a funeral for his son. The family do not want to talk about what happened. Jay does not believe that Jun was a drug user and this was the reason he was killed, so he returns to his homeland to uncover the truth.

The story is told from Jay’s first person perspective but Jun’s letters to Jay are also interspersed throughout the story giving it another layer. The novel is also positive in its LGBTQ representation featuring several characters that are queer.

While Jun’s story is fictional it is based on true events. In an author note Ribay writes that at the time of writing ‘the Philippine National Police reports that approximately 4,300 Filipinos have died as a result of the campaign since Roderigo Duterte was elected president in 2016. However, the Human Rights watch estimates that more than 12,000 people have been killed, and other data suggests that the number might be over 20,000. It is likely that we will never know the exact number.’

This coming-of-age novel is also an exploration of dual identities – being American and being Filipino.

Links:

Randy Ribay Official Website

Randy Ribay on Twitter

Randy Ribay on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Book Club Pick: November 2020

Title: Punching the Air

Author: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

First Published: 2020

Pages: 386

Publisher Description:

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in his diverse art school, because of a biased system he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think
will be my life
starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

Review:

Amal Shahid is a Black Muslim teenager who has been accused of assaulting a white boy following a fight between a group of black teenagers and white teenagers.

The novel is written in first person verse. It is as if we are reading Amal’s words from his notebook. Amal is a talented artist and poet and was attending a prestigious fine arts school. This was his opportunity to not be another statistic – sadly at sixteen-years-old he found himself incarcerated at a juvenile detention centre.

Idi Zoboi collaborated with prison reform activist Dr. Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated 5 (dubbed the “Central Park 5” by media), a group of young men wrongly convicted of raping and beating a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. The case that was highlighted in Ava Duvernay’s 2019 Netflix series When They See Us.

Punching the Air is a profound, challenging look at the flawed criminal justice system that many young Black Americans sadly face.

Click here to read my review of American Street (2017) by Ibi Zobi

Links:

Ibi Zoboi Official Website

Ibi Zoboi on Facebook

Ibi Zoboi on Twitter

Ibi Zoboi on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Book Club Pick: August 2020

blackflamingo

Title: The Black Flamingo

Author: Dean Atta

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Great Britain

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Book

First Published: 2019

Pages: 360

Publisher Description:

This is Michael’s story.

Join him as he discovers the world, with tiny eyelashes. Travel from school to college, where he discovers his flock and comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen. At university, take a seat in the audience and watch him find his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo.

A bold story about discovering that only YOU get the privilege of choosing who you are. There is power in embracing your uniqueness. What’s your story?

Review:

Michael is a young biracial British man of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican descent. He feels like he is caught between many identities: black and white, masculine and feminine, straight and gay. He feels that he is not “Greek enough”, not “Black enough” or “queer enough.”

The novel begins with Michael aged six and we follow him on his journey from childhood through to university.

When Michael goes to university he joins the Drag Society and creates his drag persona The Black Flamingo. In finding his voice Michael becomes more confident and accepting in who he is.

The novel is told in verse, which makes it an easy ready. It also features beautiful black and white illustrations by Anshika Khullar.

Links:

Dean Atta on Twitter

Dean Atta on Instagram

Dean Atta on Facebook

Dean Atta on YouTube

 

I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Book Club Pick: July 2020

A-Monster-Calls

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness. From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Great Britain

Publisher: Walker Books

First Published: 2011

Pages: 237

Publisher Description:

Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don’t quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there’s a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Review:

Last month the Old Vic made their 2018 production A Monster Calls available for a week on their YouTube channel. After watching it I borrowed the book from my library.

A-Monster-Calls-still-2-967x620
Matthew Tennyson as Conor in A Monster Calls, The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Siobhan Dowd initially conceived the idea of a young boy coming to terms with his mother’s illness while diagnosed with breast cancer. It would have been Dowd’s fifth book but she passed away 21 August 2007 before writing the story. Her publisher Walker Books approached Patrick Ness to write the novel.

A Monster Calls follows thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley, who is struggling to cope with the diagnosis of his mother’s cancer.

Conor is also facing other challenges. He is being bullied at school, has a distant father living in the United States with a new family, and a strained relationship with his Grandmother who has come to help look after Conor’s mum.

He has been having nightmares. At seven minutes past midnight Conor awakes to a voice calling him from outside his bedroom window. There is a monster that has taken form from the branches and leaves as a yew tree.

The monster tells Conor that he will tell him three stories, and then Conor must tell his story.

A Monster Calls is a poignant exploration of terminal illness, grief and truth.

The novel was also adapted into a 2016 film with Ness also writing the screenplay. The film was directed by J. A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and starred Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson.

A-Moster-Calls-DVD-Cover

Links:

Patrick Ness Official Website

Patrick Ness on Instagram

The Siobhan Dowd Trust

 

I borrowed this book from my public library.