Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA Underground

Posted: April 16, 2014 in Book Reviews

It’s been really gratifying to see the interest and excitement about our In the Margins List. I love that people are finding new books for their libraries and communities through the work that we have done. In the Margins is really about outreach: outreach to the small publishers and those that are self-publishing, and to communities that perhaps we haven’t connected with yet. Outreach isn’t only external, but also internal: we need to let libraries know that our communities need these types of books on our shelves, and that sometimes spelling, grammar, and editing aren’t the most important things in the universe. If someone doesn’t have the access to education or resources, a good story can still be told and valued, even with semicolons out of place.

Let’s take a look at some titles that might not be on the radar of the library community at large.

41614leftfordead Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundI’ll start with Ebony Canion’s Left for DeadThere is no doubt about it—this is one of those non-stop trauma-rama books—this story proves the point that real life is stranger than fiction. The first chapter opens with a girl fight, and ends with Ebony being run over by a car, dragged for over 200 feet, and left in a coma. How did she get there? Wow. Oh wow. Sexual abuse, rape, abandonment, drug dealing, loss, death, and more death, and through it all, a strong survivor spirit. Canion adds life lessons at the beginning of each chapter and reflects upon her life throughout, looking back at her teen years with a wiser and more adult perspective without being preachy.

Published by Life Changing books, which brought us the fave three book series Teenage BluezLeft for Dead surpasses the popularity of those books and is the hottest book in the library right now. It’s a must-have for all libraries in urban areas. Yes, there are typos and some repetitions, but it’s all minor in the scope of a great action-packed true story.

41614accused Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundYasmin Shiraz’s book Retaliation won a spot on the Top Ten Quick Pick list in 2009. Her next book for young adults, Accused, follows the life of Tashera who is now in college, still going out with Ahmed. In this book, a serial rapist is putting a drug in girls’ drinks, sexually accosting them, and setting up Ahmed, a rival, to take the fall.

While my kids will definitely read this book and I’m going to buy multiple copies, it is, unfortunately, a mixed bag. The characters are one dimensional: Brandon, the rapist is a sociopath, Tashera is a superhero detective girl, and Ahmed is the perfect football player boyfriend.

Worse than the lack of complexity of characters and the cliches (“that fateful night”) are the problematic unrealistic plot points. When Ahmed is accused of rape, he is taken to jail and named in the press as the perpetrator with little proof. He is threatened with the death penalty (some states still have the rape of a child under 12 as a death penalty offense, but most have been revoked and none have been implemented. The girls in this story are all of age). The rape victim is immediately signed for a lucrative media deal. Tashera walks easily into the  prosecutor and lawyer’s offices, talks with them and gives them information—and the case is solved in a month. These are just some of many situations that don’t ring true and made it difficult for me to enjoy the book. There are good discussion questions in the back of the book that tackle more complex issues, but with the misinformation in the narrative, it’s hard to take them seriously.

3514Hidden Girl Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundShyima Hall’s Hidden Girl, is another true story that is hard to believe, yet clearly accurate. Born in 1989 in Egypt, Hall was sold into slavery and brought to the U.S., working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Short on graphic details—after all, most of her life was drudgery—some kids will find it a little slow, but overall it’s an important addition to girls’ stories on the subject of trafficking and slavery.

 Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundOver the course of two years, over 100 oral history peer interviews were conducted of African American boys/men, ages six to 24. The result is a gorgeous book—The Griots of Oakland. Striking, full-color photographs and graphics make this volume wonderful to browse and look at. The book is specific to a time and place (Oakland, CA), yet universal in interest and information. Watch for a full review in the Adult Books 4 Teens blog soon.

41614jailhouse Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundMs. O is a teacher I’ve worked with for 12 years and who I’ve named an honorary librarian. She’s carrying Marybeth Zeman’s book Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian around for inspiration. Ms. O says, “I could identify with being in an institution and feeling powerless to make a dent in the oppressiveness of the system. But the book shows how it’s the little things, how valuable the school and library is, how valuable to have someone to talk to, to have human contact, to have an opening for conversation that allows you to take a peek into someone’s window.” Quotes at the beginning of each little vignette about Zeman’s experience or that of a child’s adds an extra layer of meaning to the text.

 Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA Underground41614knockout Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundAnother purpose of In the Margins book award is to lend legitimacy to our book choices in worlds other than our libraries. I’m excited to be blogging on the National Center for Youth in Custody  (NCYC) website, an organization aligned with best practices and the Office of Juvenile Delinquency Prevention. The library world is well aware of Alan Lawrence Sitomer and Greg Neri, two of our consistent rock stars on the YA Underground scene. New titles Caged Warrior (Sitomer) andKnockout Games (Neri) are solidly complex, interesting and accessible books from two authors that are deep in the hearts and minds of inner city youth. I expect them both to do well, and enjoyed the reads. But do educators and administrators across the country in lockdown and alternative settings (without librarians) know about these books? Hopefully if they don’t, now they will! Check out the interview with Sitomer on the  NCYC front page.

41614shards Reality That Is Stranger Than Fiction | YA UndergroundFinally, I love a good corrupted cop story (a guilty pleasure?) and Allison Moore’s Shards, outlining her descent into meth hell with an abusive and controlling drug dealer, is as good as it gets.  Full review upcoming in Adult Books 4 Teens blog.

CANION, Ebony. Left for Dead. Life Changing Books. 2014. 199 p. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781934230596.

HALL, Shyima. Hidden Girl. S & S. 2014. 232 p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442481688.

MOORE, Allison with Woodruff, Nancy.  Shards: A Young Vice Cop Investigates Her Darkest Case of Meth Addiction – Her Own. S. & S./Touchstone. 2014. 288p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781451696356.

NERI, Greg. Knockout Games. Carolrhoda Books. August 2014. 304p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781467732697

SHIRAZ, Yasmin. Accused. A Retaliation Novel #2. Still Eye Rise Media, LLC.  2014. 274p. pap. $11.35. ISBN 9780971817487.

SITOMER, Alan LCaged Warrior. Disney-Hyperion. June 2014224p.  pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781423171249.

ZEMAN, Marybeth. Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book at a Time. Vinegar Hill Press. 2014. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781495201899.

ZUSMAN, Angela Beth, editor. The Griots of Oakland: Voices from the African American Oral History Project. Story Bridges. 2013.  pap. $14.99.  Tr $59.99. ISBN 9780988763109.

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