Quick Summary: It is a story about 3 siblings, separated at birth by either adoption or being placed in foster care, finding each other in their teens and navigating the complicated relationships in their lives: both adoptive and biological. The book is told through multiple perspectives, alternating through each sibling’s point of view. Grace just gave up her own daughter, after getting pregnant at 16, and discovers that she has two biological siblings she’s never known about. She reaches out to Maya, who is dealing with her own parents’ struggles and always feeling a little bit on the outside. Together, they find Joaquin, who has spent his life bouncing through the foster care system. As the book progresses, these three siblings discover each other while also learning more about themselves, their biological mother and the connections they never expected to experience.
My Take: Benway did an amazing job of exploring so many different angles and perspectives on what it means to be family. She integrated some hard truths about adoption, racial dynamics, and tensions between adopted children and both their birth mother/ parents and their adopted parents, but she houses those truths in tenderness and compassion. It's a powerful story, and I love the narration from three different, distinct siblings.
My conclusion: Overall, I absolutely loved this novel. Benway took on so many issues with her characters, and each narrator's voice was unique and so lovable. I did struggle a with the plausibility of some of the events, but that did not stop the overall impact of the novel. 4/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: Jen's pick, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, sounds like an awesome book, and it sounds like it hits on issues of family and race dynamics that I find fascinating and important to consider in our society.
Teaching Tips: This would work so well as a lit circle choice. It's a powerful read for students but would be a little long to move through whole class. However, the issues this book raises (such as what constitutes a family, why mothers opt to give up babies, and how to navigate relationships) would work so well with a wide array of other complementary books.
Podcast Highlights: I so loved the points that were made about adoption and the difficulty of giving up a baby because I think that highlights the issues that Benway raises about why mothers have to make those hard choices. I also loved the discussion we had about siblings and the amazing dynamics of sibling relationships.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan, chronicles the journey of Leigh Chen Sanders as she goes to her mother’s homeland, Taiwan, in order to bring about some resolution for her mother (and herself) after her mother’s suicide. Shortly after her mother’s death, Leigh discovers that her mother has become a beautiful red bird, and she pursues the bird, which takes Leigh on a journey into the collective past of her family.
My Take: This book was stunningly beautiful. I also found it deeply painful to read. For a large portion of the book, I was worried that there was no hope for redemption or peace. The premise makes it clear that there is no hope for Leigh's mom (at least in her bodily form on this earth) as she has already succumbed to suicide as the book opens. However, I was completely captivated, and I found the twists and turns and magical realism that Pan weaves so smoothly into the text to be both compelling and comforting.
My conclusion: This was a stunning novel. Throughout much of the novel, I felt like I couldn't imagine feeling hopeful by the end, but it is remarkably uplifting considering the heavy content and premise. It was captivating, eloquent, and artistic. In short, I loved it. I was teary throughout much of it, but I found it cathartic and hopeful. Well done, Ms. Pan. I look forward to more works by this talented author. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: The memorable, gorgeous quotes are endless. I was taking photos of pages to capture the passages, and I truly felt that I could have photographed every page. I cannot believe this is Pan's first novel! Here are a few of the ones I loved.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great choice for lit circles, and it would work well with other works about grief, coping with loss, family dynamics, cross-cultural families, and second generation Americans.
Quick Summary: Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is a YA fantasy novel the centers on three characters who live in Orisha, a fantasy world loosely based on the author’s Nigerian heritage. This world that has lost its connection to magic. Zélie is one of the maji, individuals blessed with a connection to the gods who could do magic. The other two narrators are siblings, the children of the king who killed an entire generation of maji and who banished magic from the kingdom. Amari, the princess, has quietly struggled to meet her parents’ expectations through a lifetime of trying to fit in and to resist her desire to leave the castle. Inan, the prince, has done everything his father wanted, becoming a captain in the military who will enforce magic’s banishment. All three characters struggle with conflicts that have no easy answers, particularly as they come to know each other and their unique, hidden challenges.
My Take: Man, I loved this book so very much, and it was really tough to realize that I'll have to wait a long time for the next book to be released. I was enthralled by Zélie from the start--I loved her stubbornness and her loyalty to Tzain and her father. Her dedication to her mother's memory was powerful, and I appreciated the struggle she had throughout the novel to reconcile the damage magic could do with the way that it could give power to the powerless. I found Amari's and Inan's perspectives intriguing as well, and I appreciated the way that all of their lives wound together as the novel progressed.
My conclusion: I'm a fantasy lover in general, and I've been long overdue for a great fantasy read. I had extremely high expectations for this novel and could not wait for it to be released. Often, it's tough for a novel to live up to those expectations, but in so many ways, I thought that Adeyemi delivers. Adeyemi manages to tell a phenomenal story that is compelling and gripping while also making it a socially conscious commentary on the struggles within our contemporary society. That is hard work, but she pulls it off with finesse and seeming ease. 5/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: I was so interested in the text that Sara shared, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. With that kind of recommendation, I want to make sure that I read it soon! I also love Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison so very much. Jen sharing that one made me want to read it again.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great option for lit circles. As we discuss in the podcast, it would work well as an option along side of other socially conscious books that are taking on issues such as racism and police brutality more directly with realistic fiction. I love how this book takes a different angle on these complex issues our society is facing.
Podcast Highlights: I so appreciated what Jen said about Amari's quiet strength, and I thought Sara's commentary about the backstory she created for Saran was fascinating. I most especially appreciated how we all found different things about the book interesting, but despite those various perspectives, we each loved it. That speaks to the strengths of the novel. I can't believe it's Adeyemi's first novel! I'm so looking forward to the rest of the series.
Quick Summary: Tell Me Three Things is a story about the difficulty of loss and the power of relationships to help people move through grief. In the story, Jessie has lost her mom and has moved with her father to California where she lives with his new wife and her son. She has contact with an online “advisor” from her school whose identity is secret. The “advisor” becomes a comfort and a source of strength for Jessie.
My Take: While this kind of novel is not exactly my favorite genre, I really enjoyed the characters in this one and appreciated the way that Buxbaum got into more complex issues such as death, grief, blended families, and the challenges of navigating major life changes.
My conclusion: While I did enjoy many aspects of this novel, I struggled with the plausibility of some of it, and I didn't completely buy the ending. I will say that my Unabridged cohosts loved it so much, and I found that I appreciated the book much more after our podcast discussion! 3/5 stars.
Teaching Tips: This novel would work really well in lit circles. It has plenty of discussion points and could work well in a lit circle group focusing on grief, blended families, family relations, or coming of age.
Podcast Highlights: I loved our argument about the love components of this novel. I sound like such a cynic! (Even listening back, I still agree with my side of the issue, but I'm cracking up at my stubbornness!) Really, folks, it's such a sweet story. And I did love Ethan. In spite of myself.
Quick Summary: This story centers on Aza Holmes, a high school student grappling with the loss of her father and learning to live with her crippling anxiety. She and her best friend Daisy get wrapped up in a mystery involving a reward for finding a missing billionaire; they get to know (or in Aza's case, reconnect with...) his son, Davis, whose mom died and who has to find his way to help his brother now that their dad is gone, too. John Green brings the issues of anxiety to the forefront of this gripping novel, showing readers firsthand what it's like to be in the thick of that spiral.
My Take: LOVE. IT. This is an awesome book that showcases an in-depth character study of a teenager facing tremendous anxiety. I love the way Green examines all sides of the issue, from her perspective as well as the perspective of friends and family. He does an awesome job of showing that there are no easy answers and that living with anxiety does not mean that a person overcomes it. The characters are vibrant and three-dimensional, and they suck you in immediately.
My conclusion: This is a brilliant novel dealing with the realities of so many vital issues connected to mental health and relationships. Green does an awesome job of demonstrating for a teen audience (as well as adults) what the world is like for a chronically anxious person. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: Phew, there are SO many. Here are a few...
"You think, it's like a brain fire. Like a rodent gnawing you from the inside. A knife in your gut. A spiral. A whirlpool. Black hole. The words used to describe it--despair, fear, anxiety, obsession--do so little to communicate it. Maybe we invented metaphor as a response to pain. Maybe we needed to give shape to the opaque, deep-down pain that evades both sense and senses." - So often in the novel, Aza so clearly articulates her suffering. Green does an amazing job of showing through Aza how a person can both understand her situation and be totally unable to control it.
"Every loss is unprecedented. You can't ever know someone else's hurt, not really-- just like touching someone else's body isn't the same as having someone else's body." While my analysis and much of our podcast discussion focused on Green's portrayal of anxiety, the role of grief is also pivotal in this novel, and he shows how the loss of Aza's father shapes her and wounds her.
What I added to my TBR list: First off all, I love. love. love All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven that Jen used as her pairing. I was interested in both Jenni and Sara's pairings, but I think based on the reading load I have right now, I'll add The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which sounds like a hilarious and touching approach to the challenge of relationships.
Teaching Tips: This novel would work really well in a high school classroom. It certainly complements a classroom library, but it could easily be taught whole class or as part of lit circles. As we discussed in the podcast, an author study would be a great way to utilize Green's novels while finding different works to reach different readers.
Podcast Highlights: I so loved what Jenni shared about how it feels to be in the midst of an anxiety spiral, as well as what she shared as far as feeling like "the mustard" sometimes in life. It was fascinating to see how each of us viewed the novel; while we all loved it, I enjoyed seeing the different aspects that each of us appreciated.
One More Thing: I so loved this NYT article about John Green's own struggle with anxiety. It's well worth a read. I especially appreciated what Green said about sharing his experiences: “I want to talk about it, and not feel any embarrassment or shame,” he said, “because I think it’s important for people to hear from adults who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.”
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.