Book Review: Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

The cover design for Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam is absolutely stunning, so much so that it whet my curiosity about the book. When I read the blurb, I was intrigued enough to listen to a online presentation on the book. I loved the discussion of the two authors – so interesting – and was delighted when I was told I had won an ARC of the book.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

My Thoughts:

I loved this book so much that I could not put it down and read the work in one sitting! The story is written in verse and packs quite a punch. While reading, I heard the voice of the main character, Amal, and sensed the rollercoaster of his emotions as he went through his experience – one which certainly brought up emotions in myself as I read the story. This is a book that made me feel anger against the injustices that are experienced by young people like Amal – young people who are judged not for their actions but by the colour of their skin.

Amal is a character that grows in the story and who experiences a range of emotions. Not only have Zoboi & Salaam have created a person who young men like Amal can relate to; they have also created one who represents the injustices experienced by this group of young men. What I like about this story as well is that it is a thought-provoking one: it encourages readers to think about social injustice and to become more aware of prejudices that exist in our society.

I recommend this book for any person to read – not only young adults. It is a novel that would be a perfect springboard for intense discussion on social justice; and the way in which art can be used as a way not only to express this injustice but as a vehicle to recognise it.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 134th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

First Line Fridays: How To Live on the Edge

How To Live on the Edge by Sarah Lynn Scheerger is a powerful novel that explores breast cancer, the preventative surgery that can be taken for this type of cancer, as well as the response members of the family have to the outcome of this disease.

The first lines of this novel drew me in immediately and made me want to read more:

There’s a curse on the women in my family. We die young. In the last two generations, not a single woman in my mom’s family has lived past the age of thirty-seven. Aunt Tee is still alive and kicking, and the doctors say she is a perfectly healthy thirty-two year old, but I doubt the Silk family curse will pass her by.

Just like I doubt it will pass me by.

Which means almost half my life is over.

I intend to enjoy it.” (p1, 2020)

I enjoyed reading the rest of the novel – the full review can be read here.

Would you continue reading?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books and her One Line Friday challenge.)

Book Review: How to Live on the Edge by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

I was chosen by the Booksparks team to read and review How to Live on the Edge by Sarah Lynn Scheerger for their pop-up tour.

Publication Date: 4 August 2020

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Cayenne barely remembers her mother, who died of breast cancer when Cayenne was four. The women in her family have a history of dying young. Cayenne figures she’ll meet the same fate, so she might as well enjoy life now, engaging in death-defying risks like dodging trains and jumping off cliffs with her boyfriend.

When Cayenne receives a series of video messages her mother made for her before dying, she isn’t sure she wants them. Her aunt Tee has been her true mother figure. But then Aunt Tee tests positive for a BRCA gene mutation–the one that doomed Cayenne’s mom–and decides to get a mastectomy to reduce her chances of developing cancer. As Cayenne helps her aunt prepare for the surgery, she finds herself drawn to her mother’s messages, with their musings on life, love, and perseverance. For the first time, Cayenne starts to question what it truly means to live life to the fullest, even when death might be written into her DNA. 

My Thoughts:

How To Live on the Edge is a thought provoking novel that encourages the reader to think about cancer, grief, and the chance to prevent the disease. The novel references the BRCA gene mutation for cancer and explores the option of preventative surgery by having a mastectomy. The suggested surgery is controversial and the novel does acknowledge this.

When I read the first few chapters of this novel, I was reminded of the book P.S. I Love You because Cayenne and her sister watch the videos that their dying mother had left for them to view. As in Ahern’s novel, Scheerger explores the grief experienced by the loved ones who have been left behind. In How To Live On The Edge, however, the manifestation of the grief is explored many years after the actual death.

I found this novel to be an interesting read – even though I did not appreciate Cayenne’s reckless behaviour. I could understand, though, the reasons for such behaviour. During the novel, I saw a growth in Cayenne’s character as she realised some of the reasons for her behaviour and the fact that she was pushing her loved ones away. I also appreciated the topic of breast cancer – a topic that is often seen as taboo. I like that this novel tackles the subject head-on and explores the preventative treatment suggested for this type of cancer.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 103rd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Shine by Jessica Jung

When my Kindle Paperwhite finally arrived (after being sent back to the factory undelivered), I had a difficult time connecting it to the WiFi. After struggling with it, I turned to help: from my daughter and some YouTube videos. Finally we got the device connected and I could read the first e-ARC that I had been approved for on Netgalley.

Publication Date: 29 September 2020

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

What would you give for a chance to live your dreams?

For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?

Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner, or if she’ll end up crushed… Especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy, and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.

Get ready as Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Korea’s most famous girl group, Girls Generation, takes us inside the luxe, hyper-color world of K-pop, where the stakes are high, but for one girl, the cost of success—and love—might be even higher. It’s time for the world to see: this is what it takes to SHINE.

My Thoughts:

I chose to read this young adult novel because it features K-pop – music which often plays in our home. My daughter often shares the new music with me – and shows me the amazing dance videos. The storyline of Shine also intrigued me and I was curious to read some background to this popular music.

I loved this story: the K-pop references, the hint of romance, the family connection, and especially the growth of a young girl into a confident young woman who learns to take what she wants in the world she has chosen.

Yung paints a realistic picture of the K-pop world. She shows us what it takes to succeed; and she shows us the inequality that exists between the sexes. Her well written story grabbed my interest from the first few pages and kept it until the end.

This novel is the perfect read for those who love Korean music. It is also a suitable read for for young girls looking for a read that embraces a young woman coming into her own.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 95th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Teaser Tuesday: With the Fire on High

I picked up With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo for two reasons: I had heard it was an excellent story; and the cover is absolutely stunning. The story is about a teenage girl who fell pregnant when fourteen. It centres on a young girl, Emoni, who loves cooking and has a special talent for it. She is a child on the cusp of becoming a woman and she has to find her place in the world despite all the obstacles in her way.

I am currently reading this novel and would like to share with you an extract from the beginning of the story that resonated with me:

“I just take another bite of my sandwich, close my eyes, and savor, because I can’t think of a single way to make my life more how I imagine it, but I can imagine a hundred ways to make this sandwich better. And sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you can’t.” (p28, Harper Teen, 2019)

I am enjoying this Young Adult novel that contains a positive story.

Would you open the pages of this novel?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel is the 92nd novel in this year’s book pledge. Teaser Tuesday is hosted by The Purple Booker.)

Book Review: Rules For Being A Girl by Candace Bushnell and Kate Cotugno

The title Rules Being A Girl enticed me and when Harper Collins Canada sent me the ARC for the recent novel by Candace Bushnell and Kate Cotugno, I was very pleased.

Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Feminism

Blurb:

It starts before you can even remember: you learn the rules for being a girl.

Marin has always been good at navigating these unspoken guidelines. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright―and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.

But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?

When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an ax to grind.

But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules. 

My thoughts:

I loved this novel right from the moment I read the first page. Rules For Being A Girl is such an important book for emerging women to read..

The story shows us the thought processes a teenage girl could go through when a male teacher makes sexual advances towards her. Marin felt in some way that the sexual advances were her fault and, because of this, she questions all of her actions from the past. It was interesting for me to compare the way Marin responds to her teacher’s advances to the way in which Vanessa in My Dark Vanessa responds to similar advances.

The novel centres on the way in which Marin processes her experience – and what she learns from it. From the responses to her teacher’s actions ( her own and others), Marin learns a lot about herself and about society. The far-reaching implications of the sexual advances are highlighted for both Marin and the teacher.

In the story, Marin learns more about herself and about the solidarity of women in society. She comes to realise that this solidarity can be shown in different ways. Rules For Being A Girl also highlights the need for women to support each other in small ways; and shows that feminism can be expressed in different ways.

Bushnell & Cotugno have written a novel that is a must-read for all teenage girls on the cusp of womanhood. It is a novel that will encourage them to think of the type of woman they want to be; as well as how they could respond to patriarchal assumptions and expectations.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 23rd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

I was interested to read Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles and was pleased when the team at Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC of the novel.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Blurb:

In his first contemporary teen novel, critically acclaimed author and two-time Edgar Award finalist Lamar Giles spotlights the consequences of societal pressure, confronts toxic masculinity, and explores the complexity of what it means to be a “real man.”

Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.

His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.

With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right? 

My thoughts:

This is a novel that adolescent boys need to read! It describes the fumblings of a teen boy as he attempts to attract the attention of a girl he likes. With all the advice given to him by various people, he learns to make his own decisions – and to live with the consequences. This novel is a diverse read that focuses on a topic that is an essential one for adolescents: the interactions one has with the opposite sex, and how to treat the people you are attracted to.

Not So Pure and Simple focuses on the growth of Del as he learns how girls want to be treated (not how he thinks they want to be treated); and that the girl he likes may not always like him back. Giles takes the reader to the time when relationships with the opposite sex can be confusing. Exciting, but confusing. The author does this with a sense of humour and sensitivity, acknowledging the confused emotions of the teen boys.

A serious thread also runs through the story as the need for sex education is highlighted. The opposing views of the adults towards the programme is shown as well as how the attitudes of the opposing viewpoint can affect the lives of the teenagers. The programme is not only about the intricacies of sex itself; but also about the need to respect the members of the opposite sex.

Not So Pure and Simple is an important story that needs to be told. Yes, relationships can be a minefield when you are a teen but there a certain lessons to be learned that can make it seem less so. I enjoyed reading Lamar Giles’ story and I am sure that many young people would too.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 3rd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Soon The Light Will Be Perfect by Dave Patterson

Soon The Light Will Be Perfect by Dave Patterson is one of the ARCs I picked up at the OLA Super Conference at the beginning of this year. As I was going on vacation, I thought it would be a perfect time to read this novel set in the past. I did not have a chance to read it when relaxing on holiday, but when I flew back home from the Dominican Republic, I carried Dave Patterson’s novel in my bag. At 251 pages, I thought it would be long enough to read on the 4 hour return flight. Even though my husband and I were flying together, we were unlucky enough to be separated on the plane and, because there were no in-flight screens on the plane, the only thing I had to do on the journey was read.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age

Blurb:

A 12-year-old altar boy lives with his family in a small, poverty stricken town in Vermont. His father works at a manufacturing plant, his mother is a homemaker, and his fifteen-year-old brother is about to enter high school. His family has gained enough financial stability to move out of the nearby trailer park, and as conflict rages abroad, his father’s job at a weapons manufacturing plant appears safe. But then his mother is diagnosed with cancer, and everything changes.

As his family clings to the traditions of their hard-lined Catholicism, the narrator begins to see how ideology and human nature are often at odds. He meets Taylor, a perceptive, beguiling girl from the trailer park, a girl who has been forced to grow up too fast. Taylor represents everything his life as an altar boy isn’t, and their fledgling connection develops as his mother’s health deteriorates.

Set over the course of one propulsive summer, Soon the Light Will be Perfect chronicles the journey of a young man on the cusp of adulthood, a town battered by poverty, and a family at a breaking point. In spare, fiercely honest prose, Dave Patterson captures what it feels like to be gloriously, violently alive at a moment of political, social, and familial instability. 

My thoughts:

The novel is a coming-of-age story set in the 60s and the family described is barely getting by financially. As I was reading the story, I could imagine the setting easily as I thought back to the films I had seen on television when I was a teenager. Even though I had not grown up in Vermont during that time period, it did feel familiar to me.

The story focuses on a young boy whose mother is diagnosed with cancer. He sees his mother growing weaker – and not giving up on her tasks and responsibilities. He sees his father lose his job and taking up anything to bring in a paycheck. He sees his older brother showing interest in a girl and spending less time with him. Because of his experiences at home and in the church, he realises that he needs to decide what is important to him and what it is that he wants to do with his time. He is a young boy growing up during the Vietnam war and during a time in America when things were changing.

The book was interesting and held my attention during the flight. It is not a fast-paced read and instead ambles along as a boy’s childhood would. The content did cause flashbacks to a different time when values and social issues were different. The novel is described as a book for young adults. I would state, however, that it is a novel for teens who enjoy a more literary type of novel – Soon The Light Will Be Perfect is not one that will be enjoyed by those looking for adventure stories or even a teen romance. Instead it slowly describes the change in a twelve year old’s life over a summer period.

I did enjoy Patterson’s novel even though it is a story I would not reread. It was well-written with a sensitivity to the time period and a boy’s entrance into adolescence. Well worth a read if you enjoy coming-of-age stories.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 98th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Break In Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

Harper Collins Canada held a #FrenzyPresents event earlier this month at which they promoted the Young Adult book written by Brian Francis, Break In Case of Emergency. I had the opportunity to attend and meet the author so I was curious to read the novel the folks at Harper Collins were enthusiastically promoting.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, LGBT

Blurb:

Life has been a struggle for Toby Goodman. Her mother died by suicide five years ago, and her father left their small town before Toby was born. Now a teenager living on her grandparents’ dairy farm, Toby has trouble letting people in. She keeps even her closest friend, the brash but endearing Trisha, at arms’ length, and recently ended her first relationship, with Trisha’s burnout brother, Mike. Convinced that she is destined to follow her mother’s path, Toby creates a plan to escape her pain.

But with the news that her father is coming home and finally wants to meet her, Toby must face the truth of her family’s story. Not only is her father gay, but he’s also a world-famous female impersonator—and a self-absorbed, temperamental man-child who is ill-prepared to be a real parent.

When Toby’s careful plans go awry, she is forced to rebuild the life she thought she knew from the ground up. While she may not follow an expected path, through the support of a quirky but lovable circle of friends and family, Toby may finally put together the many different pieces that make up her past, her present, and her future.

My thoughts:

I do admit to beginning this novel with high expectations as it had been avidly promoted. The story also interested me as it dealt with possible mental health issues that so many teens face at this time of their lives. I think it is good that there is literature like this out there to help teen readers realise that they are not alone when experiencing suicidal thoughts or even feelings of worthlessness.

The story is written from the point of view of a teenage girl who does feel worthless; and who comes to believe that the people she is surrounded by would be better off without her. She does have a raw deal: growing up with her grandparents without a dad around, her mom having committed suicide. Francis places us right inside the mind of Toby Goodman, a girl who is having suicidal thoughts. We read of how her mind circles around suicide and why it would be such a good thing for her to do. There were moments, to be honest, when I felt that the thoughts expressed were a bit repetitive and I wished the story would move on – though I can understand that the writer wanted to reflect how a depressed person would focus on the negative and constantly obsess on a point.

Toby Goodman meets her dad who is a well-known drag queen. Not much time is spent on the encounter and subsequent meetings though. At the end of the novel, I wished that more had been written of their interaction. The moment of meeting her dad does help Toby come to certain realisations about herself, and even about her mom. Meeting her dad does put to rest some concerns that Toby had about her mother and her own relationship with her.

Toby is a character that grows in the story. She learns about herself and about what is important to her. She comes to learn more about the people in her lives; and begins to see herself through their eyes. The novel suggests to the reader that in our lives we are part of a group; and that we each have our role within that group. Out role is important and our actions do affect the others around us in a negative or positive way.

Break In Case of Emergency is a novel that celebrates a person who can overcome extreme sadness with the help of those around her. It celebrates that we, as people, can overcome the challenges in our ordinary lives with the love of those in our lives. This contemporary young adult novel will be one of those stories that can help young teens realise that they are not alone; and that they can look to the support of family and friends to help them through difficult times.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 90th in my book pledge for 2019)

First Line Fridays: Break In Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

Today I begin reading In Case of Emergency by Brian Francis. I am excited to read this novel especially because I met the author on Tuesday. The novel discusses mental health issues and describes a young girl’s coming-of-age story.

“The day I lost my mom, I turned left instead of right. If I had listened to her instructions, if I had turned right, she would still be here.”

Break In Case of Emergency by Brian Francis (2019, Harper Collins Canada)

Already I want to know more – though I will have to wait until I get home this evening before I continue reading!

Would you keep reading?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books and her One Line Friday challenge.)