Just finished: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai


Here’s the blurb:

Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

My thoughts:

Oh, how this book squeezed my heart. The struggle’s of Hà’s family contrasted with her vitality and sense of humor was just perfect. I actually read the book through twice. Once for the story and a second time just to savor the words.

I went to one of those schools where taking History classes essentially meant that you learned the same bit of history each year because they barely got past the Civil War most years and even World History was a little sketch. I’ve always made an effort to find stories that filled in the gap of my knowledge of history and this did that in a beautiful way.

Hà is smart and sarcastic and full of life. Her brothers each have their own personalities which are revealed more slowly but no less thought is given to their individuality and their wholeness. Because the story is from the point of view of a child, there is a sense of an oncoming train that as an adult I knew what was going to happen and just wanted to delay it for her sake, for the sake of her family. But they are swept away by events, and they do not get a warm loving welcome to the U.S. Much like the current Syrian refugees must feel coming to the States now.

I highly recommend this for parents who are trying to help their kids understand how their actions can hurt or help others. With that comes the caveat that kids in military families may have a hard time with it because of Hà’s father being lost to a military conflict. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a way to introduce poetry to their lives, adult or child. Having that continuous narrative makes the verse easy to approach and understand, but each poem carries its own weight and rhythm and story as well.

Overall: 5 stars

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Just finished: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


Here’s the blurb:

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

My thoughts:

Woof! This book was so good, but also so hard. As I mentioned on Goodreads, there should be a trigger warning for suicide here. She touches on the subject early and it comes up several times, all of which are hard to read. There is also a lot of violence against trans folk which can also be graphic and hard to get through, but necessary for the truth of the story.

I definitely recommend reading the Author’s Note at the end of the book. She addressed a lot of my concerns about the portrayal of Amanda in this book and the plurality of trans and genderqueer experiences. I will say I was very excited to read a book about a trans character, written by a trans author, who used a trans model for the cover. Goooo representation!

Because this was a young adult novel, it was a fast read. That being said, there were some gems in this book. Both in turn of phrase and insight the book knocked it out of the park. The metaphors were rich and thoughtful. Yet there was a spareness to the prose that kept it from being as sugary as some YA fare. And thank you Meredith Russo for not cheapening the story by wrapping it in a pretty bow at the end.

I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a better understanding of what life can be for lgbtq youth in our current culture. Librarians should have this in their back pocket as a suggestion for teens and adults alike. Parents who have kids struggling with their sexuality or gender identity should also give it a read.

Overall: 5 stars

Just finished: Infomocracy by Malka Older


Here’s the Blurb:

It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?

It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?

My thoughts:

First, I’m going to say I really enjoyed this book. There was a lot of truth to power in its pages. For example, this passage:

“Of course! I’m already registered. Why wouldn’t you vote? I mean, in this election, we really have a chance to change things. Your vote could be the one to make a difference.”

“How do you know whom I would vote for?” Domaine asks, “Your vote and my vote might cancel each other out.”

There are delightful interplays like this throughout the book, but there is also a very real question about what impact voting has on a world. In this case, the world is made of “micro-democracies” of 100,000 people. She names these centenals.

Joining the quest to define democracy and understand civil impact on a global scale is the question of what role information plays. In this world information is beauracratized. It becomes “Information” with a capital i and it’s the place that fact checks all the things to keep the citizenry informed. But, like in many instances,

“You can give a voter Information, but you can’t make him think.”

Like all debut novels it had some stumbles and in this case it was not giving context to the world fast enough. It is given, it just doesn’t arrive until later in the book in most cases. The first few chapters feel very disconcerting because it is difficult to place yourself within the world without that context.

This is the first book of a planned trilogy from my understanding. So that means there was a portion of the book that is really devoted to setting up future action.  It also leaves the end feeling a little unresolved. I suspect that there is a larger manipulation going on in this global governance and we will likely get more about that in the next installment. That being said, there is no lack of action in this novel. The pace is fast and thrilling.

I would have no qualms suggesting this to other librarians and information professionals, people who enjoy international spy novels, or those involved with civic tech initiatives. If you want to try a sample, the first 5 chapters are available at Tor.com here: http://www.tor.com/2016/06/07/read-chapters-1-5-of-malka-olders-infomocracy/

Overall: 4 stars