Tag Archives: diversity

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Do I really need to say any more? Set in Texas, Ari and Dante are two Mexican-American teens who strike up a friendship at the town pool over the summer. This was a great audio book, and probably just as great to read if you are a fan of YA realistic fiction. I listened to it on the Axis 360 App if you want the audio book. ~ Ms. Steiger

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The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(This is a review of an ARC from NetGalley.)

This book tells the story of Nadia, her high school boyfriend, Luke, and best friend Aubrey. They are growing up in a poor Southern California town and are members of the same black church. Luke, the pastor’s son, had his college football career ended by an injury. Nadia’s mother has recently committed suicide. Aubrey has fled from home to live with her sister to escape an abusive stepfather. Nadia and Luke’s relationship ends badly but the smoldering embers of it will go on to impact all three for years to come. The Mothers in the title are the older ladies in the church whose meddling impacts them all.

I felt that this story seemed almost timeless. It was about coming to grips with tragedies and failures and simply finding your way in the world. The many references to the church community made it seem a little old fashioned to me. Occasionally there would be a reference to email or cell phone and I would remember that it had a contemporary setting. ~ Ms. Steiger

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Student Review: The Freedom Writers Diary, by Erin Gruwell (reviewed by Jayden B.)

The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around ThemThe Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by Erin Gruwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gun violence, sexual abuse, rape, and drug addiction are just a few topics that are a part of the Freedom Writer’s everyday lives. The Freedom Writers Diary, an inspiring and heartwarming book, revolves around 150 minority students and one teacher and how they changed their lives and the world around them. Throughout the book, these students share their experiences regarding various hardships. These students owe most of their success to the one person who motivated and encouraged them to fight on, Erin Gruwell. These students were deemed “unteachable and at-risk” at the beginning of their freshman year, but are now changing the way people perceive them and how they see themselves.

With the honest and blunt entries, the reader is able to gain knowledge of their tragedies and the demons that haunt them. The stories that revolve around intense and serious subjects often make a reader think, “Wow, this could be in a movie.” These stories not only grab the reader from the beginning, but they also make the reader want to continue. As the book progresses and the closer the Freedom Writers get to graduation, the reader can clearly notice the change in writing style and fluency. This resembles the Freedom Writer’s progression, not only as writers, but also as people. However, the word use and fluency raises doubt about who actually wrote these diaries. It is not fully believable that a group of “at-risk” students could write these outstanding entries. For many of the Freedom Writers English is their second language, and it is hard to believe that their diary entries are 100% their own words.

This book not only targets students, but it also targets adults, teachers, administrators, and officials to understand how much of an impact a single teacher can have on hundreds of kids. It teaches important life lessons for students as well as teachers. For example, Ms. Gruwell transformed a “remedial” class into an engaging and thriving class. In Ms. Gruwell’s second diary entry, she explains how unfair the system is when these kids are never given a chance, she says, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you tell kids they’re stupid–directly or indirectly–sooner or later they start to believe it.” Many of these kids have been told they would never amount to anything by teachers, parents, and peers. When a brand new teacher comes in and begins teaching a completely different way, it changes their lives. Erin Gruwell’s freshman class did not know how lucky they were to have her as a teacher, but they soon would. Many teachers would consider Ms. Gruwell’s teaching style to be unconventional, but her crazy antics helped these students thrive. By working extra jobs and fundraising, Erin Gruwell was able to give her students a chance to make connections in life. She was able to take her kids on many field trips to museums, concerts, movies, and even to Washington D.C. to relate her classroom assignments with the global world. Without her guidance and optimism, these students would either have dropped out of school, or turned to the streets. This is exactly how all classrooms should be structured.

Overall, this book is a great read for all ages and captures the true meaning of being a great teacher. Having teachers that are invested in their work can dramatically change the atmosphere of the classroom. This book is a must read for those who are interested in changing and shaping the lives of young adults. ~ Student: Jayden B.

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Student Review: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez (reviewed by Samuel K.)

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their AccentsHow the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel is a stunning, adventurous story about the path of immigration by the Garcia family and the obstacles they had to avoid in the mid- 1900’s. This book is told in reverse chronological order, from when the four main characters, the Garcia sisters, are already residing in their new country and have already matured. In the early stages of their life, the Garcia sisters enjoyed a decently sheltered and luxurious life living in the Dominican Republic. The mother of the family, Laura, came from a wealthy and influential family in the Dominican, and their father Carlos was a political figure. From having their name widely known in their home country to becoming a middle class nobody in America was a very difficult transition for the Garcia family. At points in this novel, you may consider it to be tragic, according to the events that transpire for each individual sister. A non-significant one, for example, the second oldest sister, Sandra, is completely driven by her artistic ability and vision, until one day when she is thrown out of art class and subsequently falls down and breaks her arm. After this, Sandra lost all of her artistic vision and was simply not driven by art any longer. In this book I appreciated that there were high points and low points for the Garcia family, that the reader could easily reflect on. It explained how immigration is a rough process and that a family can go from riches to rags just by immigrating to a new country. I would specifically recommend this book to anyone interested in learning in diversity and globalization, who also appreciates an interesting family story. Last term I read “When I Was Puerto Rican” by Esmeralda Santiago, and although the stories are similar in terms of plot, I believe this book to be more interesting and gripping. ~ Student: Samuel K.

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Student Review:‘Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt (reviewed by Isabel C-S.)

'Tis‘Tis by Frank McCourt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fantastic addition to the already fabulous book Angela’s Ashes. The Pulitzer Prize winning author, Frank McCourt comes back to give us a phenomenal piece of literature that will have you screaming and crying at the same time. The memoir starts off where he left off last, crossing the ocean on a boat to come back to America. The rest of the story depicts and examines the life he leads there. All along the way he is met with stereotypes and people judging him because of his accent and his race. They say, ”Goddamn Irish always drinking,” and he is always told, “stick to your own kind”. The book embodies what it meant or might still mean today to be an immigrant of any kind with stereotypes following you around everywhere you go. As his life, and the story with it, progresses the reader finally gets an appreciation for how hard it really is to work your way up in the world. It might come as a bit of a shock for some readers, but overall it is well worth it to gain some overall knowledge about what our grandparents or great-grandparents faced during their first years in America. Before reading this book I highly recommend reading the prequel, Angela’s Ashes. While it is by no means necessary for understanding, it gives one a greater appreciation of Frank McCourt the character and the writer. This is an overall great book for anyone interested in immigration life. ~ Student: Isabel C-S.

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Student Review: Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson (reviewed by Yasmine H.)

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a TimeThree Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is an empowering nonfiction book whose story serves as physical proof that with determination, a single person can positively impact the lives of thousands around the world. The story begins after Mortenson’s failed attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world. He wanted to pay tribute to his deceased sister by leaving her necklace at the top of the mountain, and is unable to do so because of difficulties that arise during the ascent. His failure plays a significant role in both his development as a character in addition to exposing him to a region that he ends up aiding in the future. During his descent down the mountain, Mortenson gets lost and ends up in the village of Korphe. There he is taken in by the village chief and helped extensively. The kindness of the people astounds him, and after seeing some children trying to study by writing in the dirt with sticks, Mortenson promises to return to the village one day and repay their kindness to him by building a school. This marks the beginning of a difficult journey in which Mortenson goes to great extents to collect the funds needed in order to build a school. He faces difficulties along the way, many dangerous and sometimes even life threatening due to the risky nature of his end goal, but learns many valuable lessons. I gave the book 3.5 stars due to the fact that at times, the writing gets very dry, especially during the periods in which Mortenson is depressed and cannot raise enough funds. I believe that his journey is incredible, but could have been told in a more succinct manner in order to keep the reader’s attention at all times. Nevertheless, Mortenson’s efforts are astonishing, and I was captivated by his unique story. It is not often that you get to read about the cooperative efforts between people in the United States and the Middle East, as these are two regions that are infamously unfriendly with each other. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an inspiring story. ~ Student: Yasmine H.

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Student Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie (reviewed by Nick M.)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, the reader is brought into the world of the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State. Through a compilation of short stories, Alexie shows the reader the hardships of the forgotten, neglected tribes that used to populate the United States. This collection illustrates the struggle faced by Native Americans accurately, but its change in narration and inconsistent timeline make it very hard to follow. At many points in this book, it is very unclear as to who is narrating and when the event took place in relation to the other stories. In addition to the narration and timeline being unclear, the text in general can be quite confusing. Sherman Alexie’s collection focuses on the guised meaning rather than the literal meaning of the text. These subtleties and lack of storyline deterred me and made it highly difficult for me to relate to the main characters, Junior and Victor. Themes also play an immense role in shaping the various storylines written throughout the book. Two of the main themes include alcoholism and identity, each represented within the two main characters, Victor and Junior. The world surrounding Victor becomes so bleak that he reverts to alcohol, as a way of escaping reservation life. Even as a child, Victor struggles to fit in, wearing “horn rimmed” “U.S. Government glasses”(171) and having the “other Indian boys [chase] [him] from one corner of the playground to the other.” (171) Junior also experiences similar struggles, finding his identity, and breaking an awful drinking habit. Both Victor and Junior fall in love with white women, and are both left by these women. Both try to embrace the world outside the Indian Reservation and fail, exemplifying the struggle Native Americans have in finding an identity. Ultimately, I do not recommend to book to anyone. The lack of plot and storyline make the stories very difficult to follow and comprehend. If you enjoy over analyzing ambiguous text and spending more time interpreting rather than reading, this book is for you. ~ Student: Nick M.

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Filed under *Student Review, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Short Stories

Student Review: Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America, by Linda Furiya (reviewed by Melissa M.)

Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread AmericaBento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir tells the compelling tale of Linda, a Japanese-American, growing up in Versailles, Indiana. Linda’s parents immigrated from Japan before she was born, so the little she knows about Japanese life she learns from her family. While her parents have had to grow accustomed to American and western ways of life, they are also determined to keep to their Japanese culture. They continue to cook classic Japanese recipes and pack Linda rice balls and other traditional Japanese lunches for school. As Linda goes through school, she becomes more and more aware that these lunches make her stand out and seem different to other kids. She becomes embarrassed of the lunches she has and resents the fact that she must eat her rice balls and raw fish, while the other kids enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Because of this, she tends to hide the parts of her that make her stand out, like her accent that becomes more noticeable when she talks quickly. This is something that all Americans struggle with. America is made of so many cultures, and different families. Every child growing up in America must figure out how to balance tradition and beliefs of their ancestors with the technologically inclined, western, American way of life. The differences we and our families bring to America scare us, we believe that other kids will see us as different. However, one thing we don’t always realize at first is that those differences don’t make us odd or out of place, but they makes us unique. We soon realize it is those differences that make us special and liked by others. Linda shows this in her memoir, and because of this reliability it can be an enjoyable book to young and old americans alike. ~ Student: Melissa M.

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Student Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie (reviewed by Matthew M.)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In this compilation of short fiction stories, Sherman Alexie shows the sempiternal hardships and difficulties that Native Americans endure. The Native Americans in this book are located on Spokane Reservation, Washington State. Through the book’s depiction of this multi tribal society, the reader is presented with the conflicts and strife the Spokane people face. Alcoholism and discrimination run rampant in the lives of these Native Americans, who endlessly try to find their identity amidst a nation that wants to take it away. While The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven thoroughly illustrates the difficult lives of those living on the reservation, I did not enjoy the book. The narration is neither clear nor systematic, and the stories are not placed in chronological order. This makes it difficult to follow each character’s sequence of events. Alexie also focuses more on themes and symbols than building a storyline, which sometimes left me wondering about the specificity of each character’s events and actions. While Alexie’s style grants an ample opportunity for profound analysis, it does not yield to an emotional connection with Alexie’s two central characters, Victor and Junior. From beginning to end, these two characters battle with identity, a profound theme in the story. Toward the beginning of the book, Victor moves into Seattle to try and adapt to American society. In the end, he moves back to Spokane Indian Reservation after constantly being judged through stereotypes of a typical Native American. Junior also experiences problems fitting in with society. After having a child out of wedlock with a caucasian in college and being discriminated against by his teacher, he does not know where he belongs. When choosing between school and the reservation, he states, “It’s a matter of choosing my own grave” (242). Victor and Junior struggle to find their identity because they do not fit any societal norm. As a result, they live in perpetual exile. While this book effectively uses these two characters to convey the theme of identity, the lack of plot, action, and structure is my reason for giving it two stars out of five. Unless you want to deeply examine and analyze a book with profuse, opaque content, I suggest you leave this one on the library’s bookshelf. ~ Student: Matthew M.

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Student Review: When I was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago (reviewed by Jacob A.)

When I Was Puerto RicanWhen I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Originally I assumed When I Was Puerto Rican would be an inspirational memoir about a woman who had to overcome lots in her life. I could not have been more wrong. Esmeralda Santiago was not necessarily the worst main character in literature I’ve ever read, but she was definitely in the top 5. It’s extremely difficult to criticize her life story but in reality the way in which her issues were depicted throughout the span of this memoir was in a terrible fashion. When speaking of big themes such as assimilation, diversity and acceptance it is crucial to do so with a purpose and not in a staggered fashion. Santiago did not divide her stories up chronologically, and nonetheless provided no ambiguity in her descriptions. Whether it was dealing with a corrupt family, or taking over as the mother figure of her siblings, Santiago did a poor job of describing her emotions throughout this time period. In general the idea of assimilating to American culture appealed to me, but if you’re a person who doesn’t appreciate the movement for acceptance than this book is not for you. The only highlight of this story was the fact that in the end Esmeralda and her family finally find peace in New York and become American. They have something to look back on in their lives, and get to have two separate identities. I found that touching. In general however this book was poorly written and did not do a good job of examing the big themes that could have been covered in this story. ~ Student: Jacob A.

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