Aide-mémoire for my job as readers' advisor: Bookmark summaries of the books I've read as a high school teacher librarian

Frontier Grit by Marianne Monson

51gb6jojpsl-_sx329_bo1204203200_This is a collection of biographies of frontierswomen followed by notes and further reading. It begins with the life of Nellie Cashman, who was born in Ireland and died in Canada after an adventurous life that included, for example, a 750-mile dogsledding run when Nellie was in her seventies. Then there is the story of former slave Aunt Clara Brown, who spent her life in service to others; Abigail Scott Duniway, a die-hard Oregon suffragette; Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, defender of justice for Mexican Americans, and Mexican-American author; Luzena Stanley Wilson, one of the first women to endure the Oregon Trail, continual hardship and deprivation, and still find success; Mother Jones, the infamous/famous union rights activist; Zitkala-Sa, who underwent a grueling form of “white-ification” but returned to her native Sioux customs to write and defend her people; Mary Hallock Foote, pioneer illustrator and writer made famous by plagiarist Wallace Stegner’s infamous novel Angle of Repose; Marth Hughes Cannon, an early Mormon female doctor, state senator and women’s rights activist; Donaldina Cameron, defender of Chinese girls exploited by the sex industry in San Francisco at the turn of the century; Charley Parkhurst, the famous stagecoach driver and philanthropist, and Makaopiopio, a native Hawaiain and one person in a community of many immigrants who made their home in Utah, bringing aloha with them.

Tags: grit and determination, feminism, women’s rights, hardship, pioneer, family, U.S. history, biography, immigration, social justice


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward

515pytntrcl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Jojo lives with his grandpa, Pop, sick grandma, Mam, and baby sister, Kayla. Sometimes his mom, Leonie, shows up, but never to mother, and usually high. His dad, Michael, is at Parchman, a state penitentiary up north, and he’s about to get out. Jojo looks up to Pop. Pop is a real man, unafraid of work, a man who tends to his family’s needs. He also served time at Parchman, back when he was young. He and his brother Stag were sent there (no trial) to work when Stag lashed out at a white man in a barroom brawl. There, Pop (River, or Riv) met Richie, aged 12, incarcerated for stealing to feed a starving family. Jojo often requests stories about Richie from Pop, but Pop never tells Jojo Richie’s sad ending. Mam, now dying of cancer, used to be known as a wisewoman, and she tried to teach Leonie about gris-gris cures and rituals, but nothing ever stuck. Unlike her parents, who care for others, Leonie seems only to care for herself. When her brother, Given (Pop and Mam’s beloved son) was killed in an “accidental” hunting accident, things just started falling apart. The sherriff, big Joseph (Michael’s father) hushed things up, but Leonie knows what happened because Michael told her. The relationship between Michael and Leonie is volatile. Both seek to submerge the past with drugs. Michael gets caught, but Leonie is left with the nominal care of her two kids. And everytime she uses, the ghost of Given shows up, judging her. Finally, Michael is released, and Leonie decides the kids will come with her and her best friend Misty to pick him up. On the way, the women negelct the kids, who are thirsty and hungry in the hot Mississippi weather. They take a detour to pick up meth; Kayla falls ill, and Jojo must care for her. When they reach Parchman, not only do they pick up Michael, they pick up Richie’s ghost, who wants to return with them to the Bayou to see Riv (Pop). The way back is just as eventful, if not more so. A police officer pulls them over, Leonie swallows the rest of the Meth, cuffs Leonie, Michael and Jojo and puts a gun to his head; then Kayla saves the day when she vomits all over the officer. The group make it back home, but Mam is even more sick. She asks Leonie to begin the death ritual, but Leonie can’t do it. Pop finishes Richie’s story, but instead of settling the ghost, Richie stays; his death was caused by Riv, and now Richie can’t find peace. Leonie finally begins the ritual, but it’s almost too late; Richie’s trying to attach himself to Mam so he can finally cross over, but Given is fighting against it.  With Jojo’s help, Leonie is able to finish and Given supplants Richie.  After Mam’s passing, Leonie and Michael go their way.  Pop cares for Jojo and Kayla as best he can.  Jojo is still haunted by Richie, who mourns that he is loose, that so many are loose like him, “wandering against the song.”  Jojo looks into the branches of the trees and despairs over the lost dead he sees there, but Pop comes and stands by him, and Kayla eases the ghosts with her own song.

Tags: race relations, social justice, family, love, police brutality, white privilege, U.S. history, neglect, drug abuse, dysfunction

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

29456598New York: Simon Pulse, 2017 (340 pages)

Kiko is nervous. Always anxious. She’s afraid that she won’t get into Prism, the New York art school; she’s afraid to be around anyone but her best friend Emery, and she’s constantly worried about getting her mom’s approval. But her mom Angelina is hard to please, actually impossible to please. Kiko, her elder brother Taro and younger brother Shoji all live with their blonde, beautiful Anglo mother Angelina; she received full custody after their Japanese father basically abandoned them. But Kiko doesn’t blame him. She blames herself. Her dad and mom would still be together if Kiko hadn’t made things difficult with her “story” about Uncle Max. At least that’s what her mom tells her. So Kiko retreats into herself, and is jealous of Taro, who seems to be so good at deflecting their mom’s relentless criticism, and of Shoji, who has learned to keep to himself. But things take a turn for the worse when Angelina invites Uncle Max to dinner. Kiko escapes by accepting an invitation to a party, where she sees Jamie Merrick, of all people. Jamie, her childhood best friend. Jamie, the boy Kiko has loved since forever. Jamie’s back in town to visit family, but Kiko, despite her reservations and anxiety, is drawn to Jamie just as Jamie is drawn to Kiko. News that Kiko didn’t get into Prism, followed by Emery’s departure to college, along with Angelina allowing creepy Uncle Max to move back in with them pushes Kiko toward Jamie. Then, when Max enters Kiko’s bedroom in the night, Kiko has had enough. She runs away from home to Jamie’s cousin’s house, and Jamie convinces Kiko to come home with him to California for a few weeks so she can look for art schools there. At this point, Kiko has nothing to lose, so she accepts. In California, the two friends visit 3 art schools, and Kiko sees a flyer advertising an incredible art show by Hiroshi Matsumoto. The friends go, and Jamie, to Kiko’s unending mortification, shows the artist some of Kiko’s work. This begins an unexpected friendship between Kiko and the artist; he allows her to use his studio to get a portfolio together for art school. In Matsumoto and his Japanese family, Kiko finally feels at home, even though her heart still yearns for her mother’s acceptance and approval. Kiko and Jamie move closer together, but Kiko is concerned that she is using Jamie like a crutch–she’s dependent on him to get her through life, heavily relying on him, just like she relied on Emery, to protect her and be a shield between herself and the world. Her time in California is coming to a close, but Matsumoto’s wife invites Kiko to stay and work in the family cafe below the studio. Kiko accepts, and through her art she’s slowly accepting herself, and in distancing herself from her mother, and hearing about Matsumoto’s difficulty living up to his own father’s expectations, Kiko sees Angelina for the narcissist that she is. And her new energy and focus gets her into one of the art schools she applied to, Brightwood. But when news that Shijo has attempted suicide, Kiko must give up everything to move back to Nebraska. In the emotionally stressful time, Kiko admits all her fears to Elouise, Jamie’s mom. It is at this time that the truth comes out. Angelina was the one who had the affair…with Jamie’s dad. Kiko is angry with Jamie for keeping the secret this whole time, and decides to distance herself from him. Angelina barely admits to her infidelity, and immediately defends herself as the victim, but Kiko stands firm and is finally able to stand up to her mom’s bullying and lying. Shoji moves in with their dad, and Kiko joins him soon after. Jamie tries to gain his way back into Kiko’s heart, but Kiko holds off–that is until she is called by an admissions officer from Prism, who offers her a place in the school the following year. Kiko finds out that she has Jamie and Matsumoto to thank. Kiko can move back to California, attend Brightwood, then Prism, and renew her efforts to heal herself away from her mom’s destructive gravitational pull.

Tags: Anxiety disorder, dysfunctional family, light romance, coping, friendship, realistic fiction

Velocity by Chris Wooding

34497066New York: Scholastic Press, 2015 (325 pages)

Cassica and Shiara are sisters in everything but name. Once Cassica’s mom died from the red dust, Shiara’s family took her in. Shiara’s dad owns the local auto shop, and Shiara is his best mechanic; even though she knows the shop will go to her brother Creek (who hates the business), she’s content to work on whatever comes her way, but her favorite is Maisie, the racer that she and Cassica have built from the ground up. The two can’t afford to enter the big races without a sponsor, but they race what they can. And they’re really good at it. When the two win a local run, they catch the notice of a racing agent, Harlan Massini, who sees their potential. He gets them into the Ragrattle Caves satellite qualifier for Maximum Racing’s biggest race, the Widowmaker–the most dangerous race on the planet, whose winners will be offered a place on Olympus, the celestial city tethered to the ground at Anchor City by a single elevator. But winning the Ragrattle Caves race winds up being a race for survival. When Cassica and Shiara win, they barely win with their lives, and Shiara is ready to pack up and go home. But Cassica is driven upward. They are contenders, even if they only have Maisie and a new car that Harlan gave them, the Interceptor, to run in the Core League qualifier, the last before the Widowmaker. The girls like the glitz and the glamour of Anchor City’s elite pre-race parties, but they realize pretty quickly that they are out of their league. With no sponsors, it’d be a miracle if they made it through one of the three Widowmaker stages with just Maisie and the Interceptor. But skill, grit and determination are on their sides, and the girls beat the heart-pounding, dangerous, grueling odds with death-defying stunts. When it comes time to make their way to Olympus, the girls sell their tickets for billions and use the money to help boost up Coppermouth, the dusty old town they never thought they’d see again.

Tags: action, adventure, friendship, grit & determination, self-discovery, family

Hit the Ground Running by Alison Hughes

9781459815445Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2017 (205 pages)

Dee has a problem: Child Protective Services has come to call at their dusty, dirty, Santacino, Arizona home. Someone let them know that their dad hasn’t been seen nor heard from in too long. So Dee does what instinct tells her to do and lies, telling the CPS lady that her father is due back any minute from his antique collecting trip. But when the lady says she’ll be back on Friday, Dee knows that time has already run out for her and Eddie. There’s no way she’ll let anyone put them into a home, and there’s no way she’ll let herself be separated from Eddie. Their Canadian passports are only good to the middle of August, and Aunt Pat and Uncle Norm aren’t answering their phone because they are still on houseboat in BC, on vacation from their gardening business. Since Dee can’t for the life of her think of anything else to do, she packs up the old Toyota with Eddie and they leave, heading North to Canada, the only place left to them. Little does it matter that Dee doesn’t have a driver’s license, barely $500 to her name, and even if the car is on its last legs, they just have to get to Aunt Pat and Uncle Norm. The trip has its bright sides, despite the challenges. One is Eddie, who can brighten any moment; another is Jake, who is taking care of Aunt Pat’s place and cat while the couple is away, and whose empathetic responses to their plight helps Dee get through the worst of it. When the car finally breaks down in Montana, Dee is frantic. After a harrowing near-disastrous hitchhiking experience Dee and Eddie are welcomed aboard the kind trucker Murph’s big rig, which takes them to the Canadian border. Jake shows up to give his moral support, and assures Dee and Eddie that Pat is on her way. Dee knows that there are definitely still lots of knots to untie, and a father to find, but she and Eddie have made it safely to Canada, to family.

Tags: family, survival, courage, grit, self-discovery, travel

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

51gkt9arrll-_sx328_bo1204203200_New York: Greenwillow Books, 2017 (385 pages).

Eliza is content to let life in the real world pass her by. Her life is in her webcomic Monstrous Sea. Life in the real world is upsetting and anxiety-inducing, so Eliza has retreated into an online world where she can chat with friends and fans alike, and doesn’t sit in any spotlight, even though Monstrous Sea is a huge success. Then Wallace Warland starts school, and he is just as quiet as Eliza. What’s more, he turns out to be none other than Monstrous Sea’s number 1 fan and the writer of the best MS fanfiction. Wallace has the dumbfounding ability to pull Eliza back into reality, and she takes tentative steps toward interacting with others, something she never thought she’d do. But tragedy strikes when Eliza’s own parents out her as Monstrous Sea’s creator in the graduation issue of the school paper in an attempt to give her props for working on what they thought was just a time-consuming pastime. When Wallace finds out, he is angry and hurt, pushing Eliza away when she needs his support the most. Everyone at school knows, and soon the world knows. Eliza is devastated, and plunges into a severe panic attack. And then she starts reading the messages, all of them, and can’t face creating another panel of Monstrous Sea. Her panic and resulting depression swell to the point where she considers suicide, but Wallace intervenes just in time. Both are shaken by the power of their sadness, and cling to each other for support. The two begin a new chapter, and Monstrous Sea gets its final chapter.

Tags: anxiety disorder, friendship, relationships, self-discovery, light romance

When Dimple met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

511buaa-oblNew York: Simon Pulse, 2017 (378 pages)

Dimple Shah wants to be a web developer. Her parents want her to get married to the ideal Indian husband, and her mamma in particular sees no merit in career training when there is a husband to be caught. But when Dimple wants to go to a special summer program, Insomnia Con 2017, for aspiring web developers at San Francisco State University and her parents say yes, Dimple thinks that her parents are finally cutting her some slack on the Ideal Indian Husband front. Little did she guess that Rishi Patel is in the picture, and in the running. Rishi just wants to settle down, and he gladly accepts the eldest son’s familial responsibility to find a good wife. His parents and Dimple’s parents have basically arranged their marriage, and now Rishi finally gets to meet Dimple for the first time at the SFSU aspiring web developers program. As you can imagine, Dimple wants nothing to do with Rishi, even though he possesses some charm. Just a little charm. Okay, maybe more than that. Anyway, Dimple wants nothing to do with Rishi, and is furious with her parents for sabotaging her summer. As luck would have it, Dimple and Rishi are partnered up for the summer’s big web dev. project. Maybe it would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that the Insomnia Con 2017 grand prize web dev. project winners will get a chance to pitch their app to web developer genius Jenny LIndt, who willl work with the winning team to market their app and fund the advertising. Why, Dimple thinks, couldn’t she have been partnered with her easy-going roommate Celia, who, as more luck would have it, winds up partnered with the jerks on the scene. They would’ve all been so much better off. Rishi wishes he could fix things, but partners are partners, so Dimple and Rishi commit to work together despite Dimple’s aversion to the match. As it turns out, Rishi has a talent for animation; paired with Rishi’s skill, the couple’s work goes surprisingly better than Dimple would have ever expected. Even so, theirs is strictly a working relationship. As they work together, Dimple learns that Rishi isn’t just talented, he’s amazing at animation, and he’s hiding his skill because his family-focused honor won’t allow him to take that kind of career risk. Rishi learns that Dimple is just prickly on the outside; her smarts and insight go way beyond the girl of his wildest dreams… As you can well imagine, romance is in the air, and Dimple and Rishi are riding the currents.

Tags: romance, arranged marriage, destiny, family, friendship, honor, romance, grit & determination

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

fiction-moxieNew York, Roaring Brook Press, 2017 (326 pages)

Vivian is the dutiful, quiet child of a Riot Grrrl. Back in the 90s, Viv’s mom was an active feminist, fighting for women’s rights in her Texas hometown. Now it’s Viv’s turn. She’s fed up with the way the guys on the football team get away with sexually harrassing the girls, and is fed up with the way the school’s administration, led by the star football player’s dad, shoves the problems under the carpet. For a quiet, conforming girl, this happens with a small step. In her mom’s Riot Grrrl days, the girls made zines (like a mix between a flyer and a newsletter). Viv makes her own, and calls it Moxie, and goes to school early to put copies in the girls restrooms. If the girls at East Rockport High are fed up too, they are asked to draw stars and hearts on their hands in solidarity. Unfortunately, the reaction to the zine is far from earth shaking. And Viv’s best friend Claudia is less that supportive of the idea– Why rock the boat? When Viv shows up that Friday, she is terrified. What if no one does it? When she doesn’t see anyone else with stars and hearts on their hands, she excuses herself to go wash them off in the bathroom, where she sees Kiera Daniels, an old elementary school friend, with stars and hearts all over her hands. What’s more, when she heads back to class, she sees that the new guy from Austin has them on his hands, too. So begins a slow shift to help the girls at school speak out, even if it’s not with their voices, but their actions–their quiet, but effective, resistance to the norm at East Rockport High. Unfortunately, the norm is rooted deep, and there are lots of high hurdles to jump (the girls’ fear of lashback keep them from leaving their “comfort” zone & the sexist, punitive administration). The final hurdle is Vivian’s own fear — her fear of punishment, her fear of hurting others by her actions, and her fear of getting outed as the creator of Moxie. When the administration does lash back, it seems like the end of Moxie; that is, until another Moxie girl charges girls to walk out in retaliation against the administration’s poor handling of a sexual assault. In the end, the girls rise up and jump past their fears, past the looming threats and embrace each other, in triumph, at the finish. There is still work to be done, but the girls have each other, and they have Moxie.

Tags: nonviolent protest, friendship, light romance, feminism, sexism, sexual harrassment


The Round House by Louise Erdrich


New York: Harper Collins, 2012 (317 pages)

Trauma and tragedy strike quickly and irreparably when Joe’s mother is brutally attacked in this novel by Louise Erdrich. Bazil, Joe’s father, is tribal judge, but investigation into the attack are thwarted on so many levels due to the nature of Indian reservation law and the justice meted out by the federal government. Joe decides to take matters into his own hands, and the result is a tangled web of deceit and cover up that his young mind struggles to make sense of. His efforts draw in help from his closest friends, but with fatal consequences. The Round House is an unfortunately true-to-life tragic tale of of growing up too suddenly, too soon.

Tags: deceit, loss, Native American, tragedy, US history

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