Review by New York Times Review
NOW, MORE THAN anytime in recent history, we're hearing the triumphant roar of women of color as they break down longstanding barriers in art, film and literature. In young adult literature in particular, inventive, international stories told in newly empowered women's voices are claiming their rightful place at the table. Take these five new Y.A. books, ranging from fantasy to realistic fiction to memoir. In these authors' hands, non-Western sensibilities might reign in a vivid and original Yoruban religion-based world, or classical settings might be reinterpreted to create a universe in which beauty is not tied to race. A heartbreaking fictional front row seat to the Syrian refugee emergency is offset by a humorous true tale of growing up an Iranian-American immigrant without a green card. And a very modern romance proves that, despite divides both cultural and digital, love still wins. So do YA. readers, when it comes to seeing exhilaratingly new kinds of characters sharing space. In Dhonielle Clayton's lavish fantasy the BELLES (FREEFORM, $17.99; AGES 14 TO 17), a thing of beauty is only temporary. The decadent island society of Orleans is home to a select group of sisters born with the disconcerting ability to perform plastic surgery without the plastic. As "descendants of the goddess of beauty," the Belles have a fuzzily explained magical "arcana" in their blood that allows them to temporarily change the physical appearance of the native Gris, who are cursed with gray skin and red eyes. After a childhood of training, the teenage Belles are introduced to upper-class society and tasked with transforming the hair, skin and bone structure of the race-fluid rich and royal. But when the rebellious Belle Camellia uncovers a plot by the truly vile Princess Sophia to enslave her and her sisters, she sows the seeds of a grass-roots revolution that is bound to blossom more fully in the inevitable sequel. Clayton, a co-founder of the We Need Diverse Books organization, has created an opulent mash-up setting, which seems to be a cherry-picked combination of 18thcentury France, Japan and the antebellum American South. If it never quite coalesces into a seamless cultural whole, readers seduced by the page-turning palace intrigue and the vivid food and clothing descriptions won't notice or care. Magic also lies dormant in the platelets of chosen teenagers in the Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi's debut, children of BLOOD AND BONE (HOLT, $18.99; AGES 12 AND UP). But these diviners are no debutantes. Born with snow white hair and deep brown skin in the imaginary country of Orisha, young diviners morph into mighty, magicwielding maji, or magicians, at 13. For centuries they relied on their powers (which Adeyemi based on aspects of the religion of the Yoruban people of West Africa). All that ended when the nonmagical King Saran ordered the slaughter of all adult majis. But when a mysterious scroll falls into the hands of Amari, a defiant princess, and Zélie, a tenacious diviner warrior, the two young women set out on a thrilling, deathdefying journey to restore magic and take back the throne. Black Girl Magic, indeed! ft's no surprise that this epic trilogy opener has already been optioned for film. Full of cinematic action sequences (the most memorable of them set almost entirely underwater and employing an army of the dead) and creatures worthy of Star Wars (horsesize "lionaires" have saber teeth and horns), it storms the boundaries of the imagination. Yet it also confronts the conscience. Adeyemi's brutally depicted war between the noble, lighter-skinned kosidans and the enslaved, darker-skinned majis poses thought-provoking questions about race, class and authority that hold up a warning mirror to our sharply divided society. Atia Abawi mixes a fantasy element with extreme realism in her second novel, A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES (PHILOMEL, $17.99; ages 13 and up). Tareq is a Syrian refugee whose perilous journey is narrated by the voice of Destiny, characterized as a kindly, prosaic entity. After Tareq's mother, grandmother and four of his siblings are killed by a bomb, he and his father flee to Türkey with his remaining sister, Susan. They hopscotch from Türkey to Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, Austria and finally to Germany, where he finds a fragile safety. Along the way he witnesses beheadings and drownings, but also experiences the kindness of aid workers like Alexia, an American student. Abawi, a foreign news correspondent, does an admirable job of showing the grim horror of refugee life. But her efforts are occasionally undermined by cartoonish villains ("You tink you will be saved? Who will save you? Captain America is not real, just movies") and by some of Destiny's well-meaning but obvious platitudes: "When you truly love someone, their life means more to you than your own." These interruptions may pull readers out of the story, though perhaps that distance is necessary for adolescents trying to process something as bleak and overwhelming as the Syrian refugee crisis. Of course, once refugees finally arrive in their adopted country, new problems arise. Until she was 13, Sara Saedi, an franianAmerican television writer and the author of the memoir Americanized: rebel without A GREEN CARD (RANDOM HOUSE, $17.99, ages 12 and up), was cheerfully oblivious of her family's immigration status. After her older sister breaks the news that they are "illegal," Saedi suffers through the usual teenage rites of passage at her Silicon Valley high school (unibrow management, pimple wars, pot smoking) with the added pressure of possible deportation hanging over her head. Saedi adroitly and humorously uses these universal pubescent ordeals to contextualize Iranian culture and the immigrant experience. A memory of being teased about her eyebrow in ninth grade expands into a discussion of beauty norms: When her mother praises her for being hairless, "she meant by Persian woman standards. 1 was still hairy by everyone else's standards." And she has the sobering realization that pot is a privilege American teenagers can enjoy, but not undocumented kids: "ff 1 got caught, I'd have a criminal record that could be grounds for deportation." Very funny but never flippant, Saedi mixes '90s pop culture references, adolescent angst and Iranian history into an intimate, informative narrative that thoroughly defies current divisive views on immigration. Mary H.K. Choi's blushingly tender and piquant debut novel, emergency contact (SIMON & SCHUSTER, $17.99; AGES 14 AND UP), about two isolated, misfit college students from Austin who fall in love via text message explores our emotional rather than geographical divides. In "Emergency Contact," a Korean-American would-be writer named Penny keeps everyone at a distance, the result of living with a single, oversharing mom she calls "the equivalent of... human glitter." But when she rescues Sam, a half-German, half-Polish student filmmaker, from the sidewalk during a panic attack, she becomes his "emergency contact," and he hers. Their charged, initial banter on text soon develops into increasingly personal exchanges about art, death, unstable moms and pregnant ex-girlfriends. Yet their burgeoning bond keeps stalling out. Burned by past relationships and millennial-ly tethered to their devices, they struggle to connect romantically IRL. Sam "couldn't imagine the space Penny would take up in his life if she sprang out of his phone," and Penny admits "Sam was her phone and her phone was Sam." Choi, a culture correspondent for HBO's Vice News, inserts timely issues like sexual assault, cultural appropriation and even DACA into her characters' intimate conversations, but it is her examination of digital vs. F2F communication that feels the most immediate. Has digital communication become so ubiquitous, and interpersonal contact so arduous, that we'd rather type than talk? Thankfully, no. Penny and Sam put down their phones long enough to make out, proving that touch trumps text, and hormones still conquer all. jennifer HUBERT swan is the director of library services at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School. She blogs at Reading Rants.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [March 11, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Imagine finding out when you're almost 13 that you're an undocumented immigrant and can be deported from the U.S. at any time. This is just one of the secrets that Saedi, now 37, reveals in this often funny and deeply moving memoir based on entries from her teenage diary. Born in 1980 in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, Sara fled to the U.S. with her family when she was two. She humorously relates stories of angst over her high-school crush, confusion over her birth date, idolization of her perfect older sister, annoyance at being the surrogate mother of her younger U.S.-born brother, zit and skin-shaming issues, hatred of her large Iranian nose, embarrassment over her unibrow, obsession with acting, experimentation with smoking and alcohol, prom date dilemmas, and incidents from her parents' and grandparents' difficult lives. Black-and-white photos are interspersed with intriguing chapter titles (Sporting the Frida Kahlo, I Am the Product of Incest), while, at the same time, the narrative offers a brief look at the history of Iran (pronounced E-ron, she emphasizes, not I-ran, as many Americans say). Her encouraging advice for undocumented immigrants is invaluable, honest, and heartfelt. This irresistible and timely memoir is hard to put down.--Rawlins, Sharon Copyright 2017 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Given the uncertain fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which attempts to help protect undocumented young people from deportation, Saedi's memoir about being an all-American teenager, bicultural child of Iranian immigrants, and unwitting "illegal alien" could hardly be timelier. Saedi (Never Ever) doesn't pull any punches about the extra-legal role the U.S. played in toppling one Iranian leader and supporting another, or about the governmental snafus that kept her, her sister, and their parents without legal standing for so long. She documents her generally happy California life, with typical teen issues (unrequited love, bad skin) sharing space with the fear of deportation. Saedi explains Persian culture and debunks some stereotypes in FAQ sections, but also overworks irreverent language (the Iran-Contra scandal is described as the "vanilla ice cream on the poop pie"). Although she provides a candid, firsthand perspective on people who are cultural insiders but legal outsiders, it can feel as though an essay's worth of material has been extended to book length by diary entries and discussions of pop culture. Ages 14-up. Agent: Jess Regel, Foundry Literary + Media. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review
Gr 9 Up-Readers will laugh, cry, and empathize with Saedi's adolescent journey as an undocumented Iranian immigrant living in the United States. Her memoir recounts the discovery of her undcoumented status as a teen and the naturalization process in her early adulthood. Saedi paints a clear picture of the financial hurdles her family faced as they rebuilt a life in a new country, the legal implications of not having a Social Security number, and the sharp contrast between her mother's teenage years and her own. Readers will laugh at the author's honest portrayals of awkward high school experiences and understand the anxiety that comes with the constant fear of deportation. The memoir tackles complex topics of immigration, sex, alcohol, cultural stereotypes, and what it means to navigate life between two cultures. Filled with pop culture references, journal excerpts, photographs, and relatable coming-of-age content, this book will keep readers fully entertained while pushing them to deeper cultural understandings. VERDICT A must-purchase for memoir collections.-Monica Cabarcas, Albemarle High School, Charlottesville, VA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review
This funny, engaging memoir focuses on the Iranian American author's teenage years after she discovers that she and her family are undocumented immigrants. Despite her fear of deportation, Saedi was equally preoccupied with the trappings of teenage life: finding a boyfriend, achieving clear skin, and keeping her unibrow at bay. Saedi's irreverent voice buoys a warm story of an immigrant family's adjustment to American life. Black-and-white snapshots are interspersed throughout. (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Saedi recounts her teen years growing up and coming of age in 1990s California while fearing deportation for herself and her undocumented family.Born in Iran, Saedi came to the United States at 2 with her secular family as "illegal aliens" fleeing the Iraq-Iran War. In Chapter 1 and with humor, candor, and accessibility, she breaks down historical and geopolitical facts about Iran and her family's reason for leaving their home; in doing so, she debunks myths about Iran, its people, and Tehrana city that looked less like Agrabah than New York City. Facing topics such as religion and tensions in the Middle East, handled with delicacy, Saedi asserts a fearless voice for Gen Xers and millennials. Saedi wields satire and hyperbole as she balances compelling points about world leaders and politicians with nostalgic references to Nancy Reagan's "Just say no to drugs" campaign, celebrities, and music icons. Iranian women and families are depicted in all ways: religious, secular, strict, trusting, educated, independent, passionate, traditional, nontraditional. Zits, teenage angst, boy drama, drugs, alcohol, and sex are handled with humanity. No topic is off limits it seems, as she takes on illegal immigration protocols that bleed into today's turbulent times, with mentions of DACA and the "Muslim ban." Interspersed throughout are photographs, FAQs, and excerpts from the author's diary from her teen years.With gumption, Saedi draws from her American-ness and Iranian-ness for a successful depiction of immigrant life in the U.S.: a must-read. (Memoir. 14-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.