Review: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and YouStamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was first released in 2016.

Kendi, a Boston University Professor and founder of the BU Center for Antiracist Research, was awarded the National Book Award in nonfiction for the title. It’s also close to 600-pages by a man who can certainly run intellectual circles around me. For that fact alone, I find it intimidating.

Luckily for me and the rest of the world, Kendi decided he wanted to find someone who could take his ideas and write it in a way that would be more agreeable to a younger audience. Hence, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You was born.

It sounds like it took a little cajoling, but eventually Reynolds, a well-loved author of Children’s and Young Adult fiction, agreed to take on the project.

I chose to listen to the audiobook because I knew that it was narrated by Reynolds. I’m so happy that I did. I would have enjoyed it had I read a hard copy, but hearing it from him, in the way he felt it should be read, was a really special experience.

This book offers a concise history of racism, and the racist ideas that have been used to justify slavery and oppression of black people in the United States, from the time of the first slaves arrival to the country, up through the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s framed through three separate schools of thought: segregationists, assimilationists and antiracists. It explains how racist ideologies were constructed in a way to gain and keep power; how they led to the systemic issues prevalent today.

Reynolds states numerous times that this is not a history book, and you know what, it doesn’t feel like one. The way this is presented makes it feel like you are talking with a friend. It’s engaging, it’s forthright and it’s a must read.

The entire way through I was jotting down ideas, people and events that I want to learn more about. After reading this, I am no longer intimidated by Kendi’s original work. I want to read it and plan to by the end of the year!

I cannot recommend this enough. Particularly the audiobook. If you haven’t read this one yet, you absolutely should.

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Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to BeCracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars**

Cracked Up to Be was originally published in 2008.

Early in 2020, it was reissued with a beautiful new cover matching Sadie. I fell for it like a Publisher’s Dream.

This novel follows Parker Fadley, who was once the perfect it-girl at her local high school. She has recently taken a huge swan dive from grace.

You can tell through Parker’s musings that there was a triggering incident in Parker’s which caused her sudden personality and behavioral changes.

Once cheerleading captain, she now watches from the sidelines as her frenemy, Becky, takes the reins.

Becky is also now dating Parker’s ex-boyfriend, Chris, even though Parker insists he is still in love with her.

A new boy, Jake, is definitely interested in Parker, although she doesn’t understand why. She’s certainly not giving him heavy encouragement.

Currently on academic probation, she is just taking one day at a time. She really wants to graduate and if she gets caught doing anything unseemly, she most likely won’t.

We follow Parker through the day to day, but also get flashbacks to the mysterious party that may have led to her downfall.

I got to say, I was intrigued by this.

I really wanted to know what Parker’s secret was.

Once I found out, however, I wish I hadn’t.

I don’t think I have ever instantly detested a character more.

There was also a whole plot line involving a dog that I definitely could have done without. After I was done, the more I sat with it and thought about it, the more I hated it.

I ultimately decided on a 2.5-star rating because for 3/4 of the book, I was really interested, but yeah, in the end I felt nothing but disdain for Parker.

Moving on.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueThe Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

With the tagline: A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget. I should have known this was going to happen.

The infamous book hangover.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is an experience. I don’t feel like I have ever been this beaten up by a book.

It was literally like Schwab was taking an ice pick to my heart and slowly chipping pieces away the entire way through.

There were times I had to set it down and step away.

I couldn’t be held accountable for my actions in those moments. It’s all a blur.

Addie LaRue is a character who has an extraordinary story to tell, yet no way to tell it.

In 1714, she entered into a Faustian bargain granting her eternal life. The downfall, she will be forgotten by every person she ever meets, unable to do even the simplest of things, like telling someone her name.

She flounders for years, trying to determine how best to live.

It is a struggle. Her only connection, the dark being who granted her wish, Luc.

These scenes of Addie grappling with how to survive, were hard to read. In fact, they were some of the most melancholy scenes I have ever read.

It was gripping and beautiful and painful, all at the same time. The writing was able to elicit such empathy for her position. I found it to be extremely powerful.

Addie eventually develops a semi-comfortable pattern for living, until one day, in 2014 New York City, a boy in a bookstore changes everything.

He remembers.

Intricately weaving together both past and present timelines, Schwab sweeps you away in a love story centuries in the making.

There’s love, sacrifice and tasty bites of food for thought the entire way through.

I loved the exploration of the power of the arts to transcend space and time. There’s an underlining theme of art, in many different forms, creating a sort of timeless influence.

It felt like a love story to artistic expression and I was so into that whole vibe.

Overall, I think this is a very special story. One that will have a great and lasting impact on a lot of people.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I will never forget Addie, or her story.

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Review: Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton

Tinfoil ButterflyTinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Tinfoil Butterfly is strange, heartbreaking, and beautiful.

Meshing real life horrors with subtle fantastical elements, there’s a lot to unpack for such a short novel.

Emma is hitchhiking across the United States, trying to reach the Badlands of South Dakota.

Along the way she gets picked up by a man named, Lowell. It doesn’t end well.

Fleeing for her life, Emma comes across an abandoned diner where she seeks refuge from an oncoming storm.

This is where she meets, Earl, a little boy whose face is hidden behind an odd tinfoil mask.

Earl ends up stealing Emma’s loaded gun and implores her to help him get rid of George.

Emma is stranded. Earl is her only contact and she gets pulled into his bizarre and dangerous world as the snow begins to fall.

This entire novel is steeped in an ominous atmosphere. As the reader, you go along with Emma as she tries to drag information out of Earl.

It turns out, he has lived a torturous life, the truth is hiding just under the surface, but you can’t quite get to it. Regardless of the past, Earl is scared to leave it behind.

Earl isn’t the only one with a dark past. Emma is on the run from her own. Damaged and broken, she is forced, while in the clutches of a crisis, to revisit each painful moment of it.

The truth of Emma’s past is admittedly difficult to read. Trigger warnings for: (view spoiler).

I loved the bond formed by Emma and Earl.

I though the evolution of that relationship over the course of the story was very special. It brought the humanity of the characters to life in a way that filled my heart with empathy for them both.

Paired with the beauty of their relationship, however, is equal amounts of horror. We’re talking horrific, realistic, painful content.

There were times I felt sick to my stomach, but honestly, the story is worth it.

The feelings of violence and fear boiling just under the surface really never let up, making this a tense read.

With this being said, it also feels quiet and subtle at times. I have no idea if I am explaining this accurately.

It’s almost something that you just need to experience for yourself.

I do recommend this for people who enjoy darker contemporary stories, or slow burns with equal parts violence and beauty.

You know who you are. Pick it up!

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Review: The Light Between Worlds

The Light Between WorldsThe Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Light Between Worlds is a much more complicated story than I anticipated. There’s a lot to unpack here.

If you’re expecting a light YA portal Fantasy, you’re wrong. This is a deep dive into codependency, mental health, guilt and trauma.

Broken into two distinct sections, this book follows sisters, Evelyn and Phillipa, and their complex, codependent relationship.

During WWII, the girls, along with their brother, Jamie, cowered in a London bomb shelter during a ferocious air raid. Somehow, whilst there, they are able to flee the shelter through a portal into a fantasy world known as the Woodlands.

They remain in this new world for five years, living amongst the creatures of myth and legend.

Ultimately they return to their world, where no time has passed at all. Jamie and Phillipa are ready to be back, but Evelyn, whose heart belongs to the Woodlands, finds it close to impossible to adjust.

Every day is a struggle for her. All she wants is to return to the Woodlands, which she considers her true home.

The first half of the book follows Evelyn’s perspective exclusively. We get present day portions, as well as various flashbacks to the children’s time in the Woodlands.

Through Evelyn, we learn more about her sister, Phillipa, who has since moved to America for University.

Evelyn is clearly struggling with Phillipa’s departure. She’s like a boat set adrift. She spends a lot of her time at her private school, Saint Agatha’s, exploring the woods on her own, hoping to find the portal to return to the Woodlands.

During Evelyn’s portion of the book, I developed one opinion on who Phillipa was as a character. I had the impression that Phillipa would be meek and mild, that she was scared to live in the Woodlands and that by going to America, she was running away.

Then the second half of the book is told solely from Phillipa’s point of view. It was a true perspective shift indeed.

It quite took me by surprise. What I thought I knew was flipped on its head.

The first half of the book seems choppy and random, although beautifully written, I found it a little disjointed and confusing. However, upon reflection, I believe that was intentional to set up the state of Evelyn’s mental health.

As we meet Phillipa, we discover she is bold and steady. Not at all how I expected. Evelyn is the one who is scared. She is afraid to live in the real world, where she suffered so much trauma, and was actually escaping into the fantastical world of theĀ Woodlands.

When Phillipa receives a call from her brother, Jamie, she knows it is not going to be good news. She has been so worried about Evelyn, having cut herself off from her, and indeed, the news does concern her sister.

It appears Evelyn has gone missing and Phillipa must return to aid in the search.

Y’all this is a heart-breaking story. Once it starts to evolve, it’s so compelling. I couldn’t put this down once I figured out where it was going and what it was really about.

Please read the content warnings at the bottom of the synopsis before you pick this up. It certainly was much deeper, and more intricate, than I ever would have guessed in regards to trauma, PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation.

I felt the relationship between Evelyn and Phillipa was incredibly crafted. Their codependent relationship was one of the best I have ever read. It definitely reminded me mildly of The Wicker King. If you enjoyed that book, you would probably also really enjoy this.

This is one of those books that the longer I sit with it, the more I gain an appreciation for how well-written it actually is. Weymouth made some very clever choices with how she told this story.

The Light Between Worlds is so much more than your run of the mill, YA Fantasy, so if you like stories with a bit of depth and real world bite to them, you should absolutely give this one a go.

Just keep in mind, though the writing is beautiful, this story is very heavy. Be prepared.

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Review: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Your House Will PayYour House Will Pay by Steph Cha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

UNDERRATED BOOK ALERT!!!

Oh, shoot. Wow. This book packs a punch.

I highly recommend the audiobook. It’s chef’s kiss.

Set in L.A., this novel examines racial tensions, grief and absolution, through the lens of two families tied together by a decades old crime.

Our protagonists, Grace Park and Shawn Matthews, aren’t even aware of their connection to one another until after Grace’s mother is shot outside of the family-owned pharmacy.

As Grace tries to grapple with why anyone would target her mother, she discovers a long-buried family secret.

Through this discovery, she learns why her sister, Miriam, hasn’t spoken to their mother in almost two years. Grace doesn’t know how to react, or how to deal with the fact that her mother isn’t who she thought.

Following a police shooting of a black teenager, as well as the recent release of his cousin, Ray, from prison, Shawn Matthews experiences a lot of painful memories coming to the surface.

In the early-90s, when Shawn was a kid, his beloved sister, Ava, was shot. After the beating of Rodney King by L.A. police officers, the city was in turmoil. Ava’s death occurred during that intense time period.

I’m trying to be very careful with what I write here. I don’t want to spoil a single thing for anyone who may want to read this.

I thought the choices Cha made in the format of this story were incredible. It is so well done. I became engaged extremely quickly, the characters definitely draw you in, and keep you wanting to know more.

I thought it was cleverly plotted, alternating between the past and present timelines, as well as between Park and Matthews.

While the historical aspects demonstrate that not much has changed, we are still fighting the same fights when it comes to racism, police brutality and cultural mistrust within cities, I also think there is a lovely underlining message of hope.

That change can come. That we can break the mold. That we don’t have to fall into the same patterns as those that came before us.

It really is a powerful message. One that I think is so important for a wide audience to ingest.

There were many times when a new fact would come to light where I would audibly gasp. It was rapid fire reveal, reveal, reveal, as it all comes together.

I felt so much for both Shawn and Grace, as well as their families. Imagining all they had been through, and the reasons why, really weighs on a heart.

This novel seems to be flying under the radar. I am really hoping this review will make at least one more person pick it up. The issues tackled are so topical and important.

Why can’t that person be you!? Seriously, particularly in today’s climate, this is such an important story. Grab a copy if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

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Review: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black KidsThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ashley Bennett is a Senior in high school. The year is 1992 and she lives in a posh L.A. neighborhood with her parents.

Attending a private school, Ashley has had a somewhat sheltered existence.

Her parents do everything they can to provide their girls with a less stressful upbringing than they had, which I think is something a lot of parents do.

But even her parents admit, for reasons you learn as the novel progresses, they may have sheltered them a little too much.

At her school, Ashley is one of only a handful of black kids in attendance. Regardless of the numbers, all of her friends are white.

Ashley doesn’t find it odd that she is the only black girl in her friend group. It has always been that way and even when her closest friends make racist comments, she shrugs it off. It’s just how it goes.

Her comfy existence is shaken, however, after a young black man, Rodney King, is beaten nearly to death by LAPD officers and the subsequent trial of those involved.

Even though there is video evidence of the heinous acts of violence, the policemen are acquitted and the city erupts in anger. Protests and riots sweep the city and the topic of race is on everyone’s lips.

Ashley’s sister, Jo, becomes involved in the protests and her Uncle’s store is threatened by looters. It becomes unsafe to leave the house and the smell of smoke and char lingers in the air.

These events force Ashley to examine her life and her position as a black woman in a way she never has before. She starts to learn more about her family and what it means to be black in America.

This book was a ride for me. I feel like my attachment to it evolved along with the story itself.

It was a difficult one for me to rate, as I was torn almost the entire way through about how I felt about it.

On the one hand, the content, real-world issues and personal growth, were A++, 5-stars. This story is extremely topical and definitely packs a punch.

On the other hand, there’s the style in which it is told. That is what was rough for me. The stream of consciousness narrative is always very hard for me to get into. It just does not vibe for me at all.

If I were rating this book based solely on that, I would have given it 3-stars. I decided on a 4-star rating as it is a fair way for me to express my overall experience with the story; style versus substance be damned.

Please note, my personal preference for not liking stream of consciousness narrative is in no way a reflection on this author. She is clearly very talented and I am sure she chose the format she felt best to tell Ashley’s experiences.

I loved the story behind the style. Does that make sense?

Additionally, I thought using a historical event to frame this discussion was such a smart choice. It made the whole story feel very real.

I was in the 8th-grade at the time the officers were originally acquitted and although I lived on the opposite-side of the country, the impact was felt like a shock wave. I have never read a fictionalized story framed around that time and really appreciated that context.

I also appreciated Ashley’s growth as a character. She truly transformed from start to finish and by the end, I was attached her.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this novel. It’s a hard-hitting Contemporary that everyone should read.

A huge thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I look forward to reading more from Christina Hammonds Reed in the future!

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Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

PetPet by Akwaeke Emezi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Angels can look like many things. So can monsters.

Wow, this book is a lot to swallow. It is heavy; there is so much here to process.

Pet is a wildly creative story following, Jam, a black transgirl, living in a sort of metaphorical utopian city called, Lucille.

In this futuristic-feeling city, the angels have gotten rid of the all the monsters. There are no monsters left, or so they say.

Jam lives with her parents, Bitter and Aloe. They are so loving and supportive of Jam. She is content.

That is until when night when she is alone in her Mom’s art studio, Jam accidentally cuts her hand and drips blood on one of the paintings.

Okay, no big deal, right? Her Mom won’t get that mad.

But then the painting starts to come to life!

A being is literally crawling off of the page and coming to life. He’s big, he has horns, he has claws; Jam can’t believe her eyes!!

This mess is certainly going to require a bit more explaining then a few drops of blood on a page.

Jam begins communicating with this new being. His name is Pet and he is here to hunt a monster from the House of Redemption.

How can this be? There are no monsters left and Jam knows Redemption.

He’s her best friend. She knows his whole family; there are no monsters there!

Pet is insistent though. He is not wrong and Jam begrudgingly agrees to help him in his hunt. She doesn’t think he will find anything, but she’s goes along with him anyway more to appease him than anything.

Jam and Pet work together to try to weed out the monster hiding among them.

As mentioned above, this book is heavy. Initially, I was under the impression that this was Middle Grade for some reason, but that can’t be correct. I would definitely classify this as YA and maybe the marketing even does that, I’m not sure.

Dealing heavily in metaphor, this story lays out a horrifying reality for Redemption and his family. I was moved by where this went and the vigilante justice that followed.

If you are looking for an impactful, unique, moving story to pick up this summer, with a ton of great rep and beautiful, metaphoric writing, you should ABSOLUTELY pick upĀ Pet!

I am looking forward to reading more from Emezi!

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Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Ever AfterFelix Ever After by Kacen Callender
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel offers a cornucopia of queer identities and was just so moving, beginning to end.

I had to take a time out before I could even consider writing a review.

This novel is everything right now. It is everything I needed in this moment. It is certainly everything the world needs.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this one touched me so deeply and all I can say is, Felix Love. Felix Love who wants to know love, but first needs to learn he is worthy of love.

Felix Ever After is told, as you may expect, completely from Felix’s perspective. Getting to read his deepest inner thoughts, particularly the thoughts he would probably never admit to anyone, was so raw and real.

Felix is busy attending a summer arts program at his high school. While the school has a lot of diversity, he still faces personal attacks and acts of transphobia from the very beginning of the story.

I will say, Callender does not shy away from how brutal and painful such acts are, so if you think this may effect your mental health and wellness, tread carefully.

It hurts to read, but I think it is so important for people to face it. So important. This whole book is so damn important.

After a fellow student creates a gallery listing Felix’s deadname, along with photos of him before his transition, he is rightly shattered. How could someone do this?

He vows to find the person responsible and make them pay. Along with his best friend, Ezrah, he sets out to do just that. For a while, Ez is on board, but eventually Felix goes rogue and continues his revenge plot on his own.

There were times when I wanted to scream at Felix, to stop him from making hurtful choices, but he is a teen, acting out of anger and in a way, fear. I also wanted to hug him super tight, but that’s a whole other story.

I had to remember, oh yeah, I was a teen once and I totally would have plotted revenge day and night if someone did to me what was done to him.

In addition to all of the stressful things happening to him at school, and via social media, Felix is also still questioning his identity.

He utilizes local resources to learn more about himself and his feelings. I thought that was such an important detail, showing him reaching out to others in the community that may help him, or provide illumination, on the questions he has.

I think for Felix, it lifted a huge weight off of him, when he realized he wasn’t alone. No matter what he was going through personally, he was connected to many others who were, at the end of the day, fighting very similar battles.

I feel like I could babble on about the minutiae of this story for decades, but I wouldn’t do that to you. In short, READ THIS FREAKING BOOK!!

Oh, also, gender fluidity. Chef’s kiss. So well done.

Okay, okay, that’s it.

P.S. READ IT!!!

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Review: Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean GetawayClean Getaway by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Clean Getaway follows 11-year old, Scoob, as he goes on an unexpected RV adventure with his beloved Grandma, nicknamed, G-Ma.

G-Ma is an extra special lady, one who Scoob loves to be around. She always seems to understand him and have the right thing to say.

Scoob’s Dad has been pretty tough on him lately. Particularly after he got into a little trouble at school just prior to Spring Break.

As far as Scoob and his Dad are concerned, any plans Scoob may have had for fun during Spring Break are cancelled.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, G-Ma arrives in a legitimate house on wheels and tells Scoob they are going on an adventure.

He packs a bag and off they go. It seems G-Ma has a plan, the specifics of which are a mystery to Scoob.

Once on the road, G-Ma gives Scoob a copy of a book called, The Green Book. She tells him that she, and his Grandpa, had to use this book while traveling together in the 1960s.

The Green Book was used as a guide by black people in the United States initially, and then I believe in other countries around the world, seeking safe lodging and amenities during their travels.

While I knew of the existence and use of The Green Book, I have never read about it as part of a fictional story.

I thought this was a tremendously clever plot device to open up communication between the characters. I think as a discussion point for adults, with children, it is an easily understandable way for children to begin to learn about the history of race relations in our country.

Scoob is initially surprised by the book. Sure, he knows a bit about the Civil Rights Movement and the people involved, but he never really considered the real life implications on his own family.

As an interracial couple in the 1960s, G-Ma and Grandpa faced a lot of hostility and discrimination when they were seen together in public. Scoob begins to understand that more as him and G-Ma are given nasty looks when they stop at a diner in a remote town.

Apparently, a white woman together with a black boy can still raise some eyebrows. Scoob doesn’t like the feeling at all, it makes him so uncomfortable. Later, thinking about it more, he even comes to fear that some of the hateful people from the diner may follow them with the intent to do them harm.

Yeah, as you can tell, there are definitely some serious issues tackled in this book. Scoob and his G-Ma have some great, candid discussions about things that G-Ma has experienced and I think Scoob learned a lot about his family and himself over the course of the story.

Stone is such a gifted writer. Her stories, while full of serious, topical issues, also contain such wit and humor. It really makes them so accessible to every reader.

Scoob is a sweet, funny, caring boy; a great protagonist to follow along with. And don’t get me started on G-Ma. I love that woman.

Although this is a fairly short story, even for Middle Grade, it packs a serious punch. There is so much emotion and heart in this story. It is truly lovely. I just find Stone’s style of writing so engaging. It is more than writing, it is absolutely storytelling in its purest form.

I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. I do feel that this would be a great book for parents to read with their children this summer though!!!

So, add it to your summer reading list and prepare for a great adventure! Don’t forget to pack your tissues.

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