Thursday, December 2, 2021

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year--Book Recommendations!

The new book recommendations post is my favorite. There's nothing this former librarian enjoys more than sharing the best books of the year. (OK, admittedly, this is limited to the "best books that I read.") I've picked one from each of the age group: picture book, middle grade and young adult. Without intending to pick books with a "theme," it appears that I did anyway. The female protagonists of these books all struggle with self-acceptance.

Be Strong
 by Pat Zietlow Miller (ill. by Jen Hill) the sequel to Be Kind, is my picture book choice. Tanisha is discouraged when her gym class takes on a rock wall. She barely has the strength to tote her backpack, let alone climb a wall. She learns that strength is not just a matter of muscles, but of perseverance, leadership and caring about others. I took heart from the advice Tanisha's family and friends offer--"Mama says...being strong means moving forward. 'Tiny steps are fine,' she says,"As long as they take you in the right direction." Yes! 

 by Lisa Fipps, narrated by 11-year-old Ellie, is a novel-in-verse. Ellie hates her nickname, Splash. Her older sister gave it to her, after a five-year-old Ellie landed a memorable cannonball in the family pool. Ellie is labeled "fat" by her family, and almost everyone else. Her relationship with her mother, who  insists that Ellie have bariatric surgery (!!!) is especially harrowing. The reader encounters the many ways Ellie is bullied, shamed and ignored by her peers. The book is Ellie's journal where she lists her "Fat Girl Rules"--"You don't deserve to be seen or heard, to take up room, to be noticed. You make yourself small." Even worse, Ellie's best friend Viv moves away just as the two enter the Fearsome World of Middle School. Fortunately, Ellie has allies--her dad, a therapist and a new next-door-neighbor. With their help, Ellie learns to accept herself just as she is, and to throw away her "Fat Girl" rules. 

I had just finished reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, when it was named a National Book Award winner. This is my kind of book, historical fiction, in which the author builds her world so well (in this case, San Francisco, 1954) you fall completely into a time and place with the protagonist. 17-year-old Lily Hu is the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants. She tries her best to be a "good Chinese daughter,"--studious, industrious, modest and respectful-- but she knows she is different. She is fascinated by science fiction and aeronautics, and yearns to fly "space rockets." When she happens upon an ad for male impersonator Tommy Andrews, she doesn't understand her intense curiosity. Then Lily befriends classmate Kath, who not only likes all the same things as Lily, she has seen the mysterious Tommy Andrews perform at The Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar. When Kath challenges Lily to go with her to the club, Lily's life completely upends. 

I loved this book, but it does cram a lot of the 1954 world into the story--racism, McCarthyism, Lily's father's possible deportation (although he is a citizen), the criminalization of homosexuality, the Chinese Nationalist movement...not all of which are part of Lily's narrative. There are a ton of "walk-on" characters that add little. There are short sections sandwiched into Lily's story, flashbacks about Lily's parents and other relatives in which Lily does not appear. For me, they disrupted the mounting tension of Lily's story. However, these are small quibbles. The delicate, yet unflinching language of Lily and Kath's evolving relationship and the pull-no-punches plot is what made this my favorite YA of 2021.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing these, MA. I haven't read any of them yet.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thank you, Mary Ann, for sharing YOUR picks.
I knew Pat's and Lisa's books. Your YA is on my list. It's won so many awards.
Your Fan Esther