Your Heart, My Sky by Margarita Engle

Liana and Amado are two teens living in Cuba during the el perìdo especial en tiempos de paz (the special period in times of peace) in the 1990s. Their story is told by Margarita Engle in her poetry book, Your Heart, My Sky. During this time period in Cuba, many citizen’s basic freedoms were withheld by the government. Cuban natives, like Liana and Amado had very little food. Liana and Amado fall in love while trying to find creative ways to feed themselves, their families, and Liana’s special companion, her dog. Many of their acquaintances choose to attempt a treacherous and extremely dangerous escape to Florida by boat. Liana and Amado must decide whether they should risk it all for a better life or continue to starve and live off of each other’s love and faded dreams. 

I thought the descriptive phrases and figurative language that Engle used in this book made the story more engaging. It also helped me to better imagine what living in Cuba would be like during this tumultuous period. Usually I find poetry books to be slow and not worthwhile. Fortunately, this was not the case with this particular work. The story was conveyed in a way that was both descriptive yet appropriately paced. 

This book was incredibly moving. It made me very grateful for the life that I live and the food that I eat. I would recommend this book to any poetry lovers. 

Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

Indivisible by Daniel Aleman is a novel with moving themes of strength and family. Mateo Garcia is a Mexican-American living in New York City. He enjoys acting and hanging out with his friends and works at the store his family owns. His life is turned upside down one day when ICE agents arrest his parents because they traveled to the United States without correct registration. Suddenly he must single-handedly care for his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, while he lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his uncle, aunt, and cousin. At the same time, he is managing the family store, keeping his grades up, and navigating his first relationship. Most importantly, he is trying to get his family together again, as his mother is in a detention center and his father is in jail. Will the Garcia family ever reunite?
I thought this was book was very good. It was incredibly moving and heartbreaking that a child would have to go through so much. Mateo had a relatable voice and the plot kept me glued to the book’s pages the entire time. 
I would recommend this book to anyone. It is very relevant to events occurring right now. It gives an inside look into what many teens’ lives in this country look like, which is important. 

My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong

Iris Wang has caught her boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend, drunkenly crashed her parent’s car through their garage door, gotten into none of the colleges she had applied to, and failed her senior year of high school. What else could go wrong? For Iris, the main character in “My Summer of Love and Misfortune” by Lindsay Wong, it’s being sent to Beijing by her parents to find herself and her culture. She expects living in a foreign country with her cold cousin and uncle that she’s never met before to be awful, but she finds romance and her family history along the way.

I thought this book was fun and light-hearted, and I enjoyed the story. With this in mind, Iris was not a character you could root for, and none of the other characters in the story were either. Iris was incredibly naive and selfish, and there was absolutely no build to her character transformation. It was a complete 180-degree turn.

Although there were some problems, I did enjoy this book. The exploration of Beijing through Iris’s eyes added a fun element to the story. I would recommend this book to those who like realistic fiction and to any Asian Americans trying to reclaim their heritage.

We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia

We Are Totally Normal” by Rahul Kanakia is a snapshot of Nandan’s life in high school. He begins to question his sexuality after breaking up with his girlfriend, Avani, and hooking up with his peer, Dave. Even though he feels happy with Dave, he misses Avani and is confused about what being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community could mean for him.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think it is essential to have diverse characters in books (especially YA and children’s books) so that many different types of readers can see themselves in the narrative and relate to the story. The main character is Indian-American and also under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. That said, I feel as though Dave was not a very likable character. He took his labels and other people and used them to his advantage. Although I didn’t like Dave, the story did keep me engaged.

I’m not sure I would recommend this book, but maybe those looking for romance and realistic fiction will enjoy it more than I did.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black Kids” by Christina Hammonds Reed is a very engaging narrative about race, violence, and self-worth. Ashley Bennet lives in Los Angeles in 1992 as an African-American high school senior. When a man named Rodney King is beaten to death, Ashely questions her place in society, as well as the decisions and microaggressions of her white friends that she had previously brushed off. She worries about her sister, who becomes involved in the riots over King’s beating and tries to come to terms with the rumor she spread about another Black classmate.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought the characters were very relatable and that the author portrayed a very authentic school experience. The small flashbacks to Ashley’s childhood were a nice touch to the story. I also thought Lucia (Ashley’s nanny) helped me better understand the somewhat rocky relationship Ashley had with her parents.

I would recommend this book to anyone right now, especially non-black teens wishing to educate themselves a little bit on racism. Seeing the Black experience of someone their age may be beneficial, and I found that this book had many parallels to the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement currently.

Futureface by Alex Wagner

Futureface by Alex Wagner is a biography documenting Wagner’s search to grasp a better understanding of her family history and discover her true identity. Wagner is a mixed-race Burmese Luxembourgish woman, and her journey to find herself takes her across the planet.

After grappling with her racial identity, Wagner sets out on a quest to try and learn more about her ancestors. This mission takes her all over the world. She travels to Burma to learn more about her mother’s side of the family, who fled from the country in the 1960s. She also goes to Europe, to try and dig deeper beneath her father’s seemingly “white bread” history. All the while, trying to find a group that she belongs to and figure out who she truly is.

As a mixed-race American teen, I could relate to a lot of the points and issues Wagner brought up in her book, and I thought the premise was very engaging. I also got to learn more about country’s histories that I didn’t know much about. That said, I found it hard to get excited about this book, which I thought would be right up my alley. Wagner makes a lot of guesses about her ancestors throughout the book, and the explanations of these theories got slightly boring.

I would recommend this book to mixed-race people, as well as those interested in ancestry.

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lại is a realistic/historical fiction about Hằng, a refugee from Vietnam, during the time of the Vietnam war. Years ago, Hằng was separated from her younger brother Linh. Linh was brought to America, and Hằng goes to great lengths to find him.

After her traumatizing journey from Vietnam, Hằng arrives in Texas, ready to find Linh, six years later. She can barely speak English, but bumps into LeeRoy, a young adult attempting to become a cowboy. They reluctantly find work near Hằng’s brother, and Hằng struggles to relate to him. Linh remembers nothing of her or their family. Despite this obstacle, Hằng will try as hard as she can to bring back the brother she once knew.

This story was very engaging. Thanhhà Lại uses enthralling descriptive phrases and has a prominent writing voice. A few parts of the narrative were slightly confusing, but it did not take away from my general experience.

I would most certainly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and realistic fiction.

The (Other) F Word edited by Angie Manfredi

The (Other) F Word, edited by Angie Manfredi, includes writings and art pieces from many plus-sized models, authors, artists, entrepreneurs, and more. The book deals with being plus-sized in today’s day and age. Each person’s perspective brings something new to the table. A new way of thinking, a new experience, or a new way to accept yourself.

Most contributions in the book were pieces of writing, but others were illustrations. Some grappled with self-acceptance, and how hard it is to accept one’s self in a fatphobic society. Others were experiences or journeys growing up fat. A large number of texts included tips and tricks for those struggling to feel confident in their skin. Throughout the book, there are fun pictures of people dancing that added to the positive, celebratory, confident vibe the collection was trying to put off.

This collection of contributions was very eye-opening for me, but I did get a little bored at times. Some of the themes and messages represented in some of the writing pieces did seem a little repetitive. That said, this book helped me understand the terrible prejudice plus-sized people face, and the small things society takes part in that adds to said prejudice.

I would recommend this book to anybody. Those who are on the thinner side need to understand the perspective of those who aren’t. Those who are on the opposite side of the spectrum will be able to relate and thrive.

The Prom by Sandra Mitchell

The Prom by Sandra Mitchell (with Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, and Matthew Sklar) is a heartwarming novel based off on the hit Broadway musical. It tells the story of high school students Emma Nolan and Alyssa Greene, the only lesbian couple in the small town of Edgewater, Indiana. Emma is known to the community as “the gay one.” She is constantly teased, mocked, and stared at by her classmates. She has an online following where she posts her covers of songs. She accidentally-on-purpose hinted at being lesbian on her channel. Her parents found out and kicked her out of the house, so she went to live with her grandma. Alyssa, on the other hand, is the most popular girl at school, head of the student council, and hasn’t yet come out as bisexual to the public. She knows that her mother would flip if she knew of Alyssa’s secret, and doesn’t want to wreck her mother’s fragile mental state or end up like Emma. To everyone else, Emma and Alyssa are best friends. It’s now Emma and Alyssa’s final year of high school, and prom is right around the corner. Emma is holding on to the dream of dancing with Alyssa, but the PTA forbids it. To make it even worse, the head of the PTA and the biggest supporter of an exclusively heterosexual prom is Alyssa’s mother. All Emma wants is to go to prom, so some overly enthusiastic failed Broadway producers enter the scene.  Will Emma and Alyssa get their first dance?

This story was a wonderful modern teenage romance. This book would likely be relatable to many teens growing up in the 21st century. Although the addition of the Broadway publicists didn’t do much to improve the plot, I think Mitchell did an excellent job of making this story relevant and engaging to young adults.

Overall, this book was uplifting and showed the many trials and triumphs of being a young LGBT+  citizen today. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for realistic fiction, romance, and LGBT+ characters.  I would also recommend this to any musical/theater lovers – the musical is great to listen to before, after, or while reading the book! – Sophie Cornish

We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

We Used to Be Friends” by Amy Spalding is a capturing story that tells of one of the best types of companionship – the kind between best friends. Kat and James have been best friends since kindergarten. They’re now in their senior year of high school and have gone through many ups and downs together. Some aspects of their lives are looking great. Kat has a girlfriend named Quinn and is applying to her dream colleges. James is running track and field and is happy living with her father. But there is some conflict. Kat’s mother passed away a few years previously, and her father has started dating again. James is tired of being known as “Kat’s friend,” and her parents have also recently divorced. She also broke up with her long-time boyfriend and is confused about college. Kat tries desperately to force a friendship between Quinn and James with no luck. Will their differences end their friendship together? Told in both perspectives throughout different points of senior year, “We Used to Be Friends” shows what is needed for a friendly pair to survive.

I enjoyed watching Kat and James’ friendship change, though sometimes I got a little bored and unengaged. It also got very confusing at times because of the different perspectives and different times of senior year that it jumped to at every chapter. Despite these slight faults, I otherwise thoroughly enjoyed the novel.

I definitely would recommend this book to anyone looking for realistic fiction or friendship stories. People who are fans of dual-perspective novels are in for a treat. Have fun!