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A Pho Love Story–kitchens in conflict

A Pho Love Story

by Loan Le

Perfect for Valentine’s Day—or any day for that matter! Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story, written with a teenage or young adult audience in mind, is a modern day Vietnamese-American “Romeo and Juliet” tale. Báo and Linh, seniors in high school, do not understand the family conflict that has gone on for as long as they can remember. Their families’ restaurants, serving authentic Vietnamese dishes, are situated on opposites sides of the same street. The parents, however, clearly dislike each other. In fact, the children are not allowed to talk or play together. Is this conflict a result of competition for economic survival or is there a deeper reason going back to their days in Vietnam and the dangerous boat trips to safety and freedom? Cultural norms for showing respect to their parents prevent both Báo and Linh from questioning them about the deeply felt social boundaries in the neighborhood.

Báo and Linh are sympathetic characters; Báo is trying to decide on a career and  Linh wants to make her passion and talent for painting acceptable to her parents. The Vietnamese flavor throughout is authentic and reflective of the author’s family heritage. Because both families own restaurants, food plays an important role. Vietnamese culture is also prominent in descriptions of the parents and the family dynamics. As someone familiar with Spanish, French, and Latin, I can usually read expressions from those languages when added to the text for authenticity, but the phrases included in this book sent me scurrying to a translation app. Most meanings could be divined from context, but I really like to know the exact meaning of words, whether in English or another language, for a deeper reading experience. A Pho Love Story was enriching in that respect.

I am sure most readers can predict the outcome, but not how the characters will arrive there. The journey is bumpy, but fun, as the author weaves literary magic within the plot. The story is told by the teenagers from alternating points of view by chapter, a technique which works really well in this book. There are several interesting  adults who act as mentors to the pair without telling them what to do. This would be an engaging read for teenagers and young adults.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Teen and Young Adult

Notes: There is some bad language sprinkled throughout the book.

Publication:   February 9, 2021—Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Memorable Lines:

My parents—my mom, really—has now perfected the art of non-encounters; knowing their schedule right down to when they close and when they leave. In a way, their schedule has become ours. We’re background characters in each other’s stories.

She trusts Viet to do his job, as well as make sure I do mine. The concept’s not perfect: We’re the same age, and letting him watch over me makes as much sense as letting a horse and a pony run the show. But somehow it works.

I like the writer’s style. One person can say something that’s been said before but in a way that’s completely different; their unique experiences and personality infuse their words, their sentences.

Lessons in Falling–finding yourself as a teenager

Lessons in Falling

Lessons in Falling

Lessons in Falling has the expert touch of a gymnast in writer Diana Gallagher. Although the focus of the story is gymnastics, the book is so much more. This is not one of those themed books for young readers aimed at an audience of pre-teen and teenage girls who are, were, or want to be gymnasts. The scope of this book ranges from teenage friendships to romantic relationships. It encompasses issues common to teenagers: college applications and scholarships, driver’s tests, depression, texting, work issues, immigration, parental expectations, extracurricular activities, and discrimination. The plot centers around Savannah, an aspiring gymnast who has suffered an injury, and her longtime friend, Cass. It explores their personalities and relationship during their critical senior year of high school. Teenage years are chaotic for many; Gallagher does not oversimplify or exaggerate the difficulties her characters encounter.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Spencer Hill Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Teens and Young Adults

Notes:

  1. Some bad language
  2. Although it did not ruin the book for me, I wished I had not seen a summary prior to reading this book. I kept anticipating a certain event and would rather have been surprised when it occurred.

Publication:   February 7, 2017—Spencer Hill Press

Memorable Lines:

She could go on all day like this, using me as the shoreline that her words beat against.

Yesterday, she comforted me. Today, I’m her anchor. At the end of the day, we’re thicker than humidity in July.

As kids we played together, schemed together, nursed bruised knees and silly crushes on boy bands. She was quiet unless she was with me. Together, chances were that we were screaming as we sprinted into the ocean and laughing as we splashed each other. We whispered together under the trees as the neighborhood kids ran around searching for us in Manhunt, never giving up our spot. I rode my bike to her house when Richard was first deployed, blinking tears out of my eyes. She met me at the curb and grabbed my hand. Although her hand was bony, cool, without calluses, it was just as strong as mine. Sometimes I think she hasn’t let go. She keeps her arm around me now, reminding me that I’m her anchor, that she will run to me if she needs to be safe.

Holding Up the Universe–Teenage/YA Review

Holding Up the Universe

by Jennifer Niven

holding-up-the-universeI read a review of the Teenage/Young Adult novel Holding Up the Universe on another blog, BongBongBooks. I was intrigued and decided to read it myself.  It is the story of Jack Masselin, a teenager who has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces–even those of family members. The other main character, Libby Strout, is a girl who gains so much weight in the process of grieving after her mother’s death  that she has to be removed from her home by a crane.  Lest these two young people seem like examples of extreme difficulties beyond the realm of possibility, readers should know that prosopagnosia is an actual disorder and that there is a reality TV show entitled My 600 Pound Life.  The author did her homework and this novel has authenticity as we see how these two and their families struggle with the many issues that result from their conditions.

A major theme of this book comes from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Atticus, he was real nice…”  “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”  There are two ways of not seeing people that this book explores: prosopagnosia (face blindness) and being unwilling to look past a person’s obvious exterior features such as weight, skin color, or disabilities to see who the person really is, what they are like on the inside.

I really liked this book for the plot development and the characters. I empathized with both characters as they tried to deal not only with their personal problems but also with relationship issues in their own families, with each other, and with peers.  As you might expect, bullying and discrimination are major issues for the overweight Libby. It is not an uncommon theme in YA literature as, unfortunately, bullying others for individual physical differences occurs often in our society. I had to really step outside my framework to think what it must be like to walk into a room and not be able to recognize anyone. NOT ANYONE!  Not my family, not my friends, not the people I saw two minutes ago. The author does a good job of helping the reader understand what face blindness must be like as it is lived out.

There is a lot of what I consider to be inappropriate language on the milder end of the continuum in this book. It was frequent enough that I did a little research on what kind of language is generally acceptable in Teenage/YA literature.  I found many blog posts dealing with this question, ranging from none to anything goes and everything in between. I understand that many teenagers today use different word choices than when I was a teenager.  I also know that in current films that kind of language and worse is commonplace.  I include this paragraph as a warning to those who might be offended by some of the words used casually by the characters in Holding Up the Universe.  The language did not enhance the story for me, nor did it ruin it.  I do recommend this book with this one qualification.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nice Girls Endure–being different

Nice Girls Endure

by Chris Struyk-Bonn

nice-girls-endureChelsea’s memories of being whispered about, teased, taunted, and treated as “different” go back to third grade and the torment never let up.  We meet Chelsea in high school. Her weight problems have not changed and the negative ways people, especially other teenagers, treat her have only intensified.  She has no friends and has developed a fake exterior to help her survive.  After all, “nice girls endure.”

Chris Struyk-Bonn chose a first person narration of Chelsea’s story, Nice Girls Endure. It seems only appropriate that Chelsea should get to tell her own story, and the effect is very personal. We get to hear of the nightmare of being bullied because of being overweight and how it affects every aspect of her life.  This is a Young Adult book, but is so well-written that even as an adult I strongly empathize with Chelsea and was anxious to see her work through her problems.

The chapters are short and the pace is fast.  The characters are well-developed and provide Chelsea with opportunities to see various ways others deal with weight issues and bullying. In the end she makes her own decisions about her life and future.  Meanwhile the reader feels almost a part of the story. I was ready to take out a few unkind souls myself. My favorite character is one of Chelsea’s classmates, Melody. She knows how to be herself and knows how to be a friend.

This book is not just about being overweight.  It is about being different. It is not just about being bullied, it is also about bullying. I hope that anyone who reads Nice Girls Endure will come away with a greater awareness of and sensitivity to those who are different. Everyone has positive attributes and deserves an opportunity to let their talents shine.  There are many negative ways to deal with peers who are labeled “different,”  from outright physical and emotional attacks to more subtle teasing, smirking, and exclusion, to totally ignoring the person.  In this story, even teachers were guilty of the less overt responses, but their actions or ignoring the actions of others hurt just as much.

This was a quick book to read, but I recommend it for Young Adult and Adult readers. You will probably come away with more thoughtful and understanding attitudes towards those who don’t easily fit into society’s boxes.

Note: The book contains a sprinkling of mild swearing and an occurrence of sexual aggression and is therefore inappropriate for younger readers.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Capstone Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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