Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park


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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

 

Ari Mendoza is fifteen years old during the summer of 1987. He lives in El Paso, TX and has few friends. His mother is a teacher and his older siblings are grown up and out of the house. His twin sisters are mothers and are 12 years older than him. His brother is in prison. His father is a Vietnam veteran, though he never speaks of his time in the war and he and Ari rarely speak at all. Life for Ari is pretty isolated until he decides to make a decision that is his and his alone after going with the flow or just doing nothing for his entire life. He rides his bike to the public swimming pool, despite not knowing how to swim. It’s there that he meets Dante.

Dante is unlike anyone that Ari has ever met. He is intelligent, kind, and adores his mom and dad. Like Ari, Dante is also Mexican-American. Their shared cultural background and loner status are just a few of the similarities that ignite their initial friendship. The relationship between Ari and Dante flourishes throughout the summer until they go back to school. They don’t attend the same school and won’t see each other again until the following year. During their time apart they grow in different ways. Ari has taken a job and has become an angry teen. He wants to know more about his brother, who he barely remembers. He learns to drive and spends time alone star gazing in the desert. Dante, spending the year in Chicago, starts to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood.

During this gap between being a child and an adolescent, Ari and Dante learn about friendship, acceptance, sacrifice, and love. As a teen centered LGBT novel, it deals with the themes of coming out in a place and time where being gay was not seen as an easily acceptable concept. It also goes into gender roles, specifically masculinity, as well as artistic expression, family secrets, and intellectualism.

The book chronicles the summer, school year, and following summer from the perspective of Ari as he exists between the universe of being a boy and a man. It is one of the purest and most sincere relationships to have graced the pages of a YA novel.  Sáenz’s characters are well written and fleshed out and their story is so realistic that you might question whether or not you are truly reading a work of fiction.

The audio book is narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. The attitude and inflection with which he reads the story truly feels like an auditory glimpse at the life of two teens in 1987.

Check the PPLC catalog for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 


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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie 

AlexieThere are a lot of things you should know about Junior Spirit. He lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, he plays basketball, he speaks with a lisp (and a stutter), his best friend is named Rowdy, his grandmother is the nicest Indian on the reservation, and he has big dreams of becoming a cartoonist. Dreams, he realizes, that will never come true if he stays on the reservation.

To help him realize his dream, Junior has enrolled in a school in Rearden: the mostly white upper-middle-class town twenty miles away. He is nervous about what his neighbors will think of it, he is nervous about what the white kids will think of it, and he is very worried that Rowdy won’t like it, but Junior knows that if he ever wants to be a famous artist in the White world, he needs a White education.

There are two things that I love about this book: one is that Junior’s experience is completely relatable to high schoolers everywhere, and two is that Junior’s experience is not at all relatable to anyone who isn’t Indian. In True Diary, Alexie manages to perfectly capture the primal feelings that every young adult experiences. In this way any reader will understand and love Junior’s story.

Nevertheless, Alexie never lets the reader forget that Junior is a Indian from the reservation. True Diary examines not only common teen experiences, but ones that were true for an author who grew up on the real-life Spokane Indian Reservation. Partly biographical, True Diary details what it is like to live in real poverty in a country that seems to have forgotten you, and your people.

True Diary is an amazing story that I would recommend to pretty much everyone. Thought-provoking and heartfelt, Alexie has created a masterful YA novel that examines differences and creates empathy.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.


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I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I will raise my hand and say that, while I love adventure stories, I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries or crime stories. When I picked up I Am Princess X after seeing it recommended in our #ReadersUnite video I was drawn to the fierce Princess X character on the cover and decided to give it a shot.

The book hooks you instantly by detailing the curious friendship of Libby and May. Their friendship grows from one of circumstance to one of true sisterhood. They seem to spend every minute together creating their character, Princess X. The creative process stopped, however, when tragedy struck. Libby and her mother died in a car accident. May could no longer bring herself to write Princess X and her story died with Libby…

Or so May thought. One day, May sees a sticker with a princess character that looks exactly how Libby had drawn Princess X. Then she sees another, and another, and another. She finds out from someone sporting a Princess X patch on his bag that it’s from a popular web comic.

After reading the comic, May knows in her heart that Libby must be alive somewhere and creating more Princess X stories. With the help of a computer savvy friend, she tries to track down the creator to see if it really is her friend or someone who bought the stories from the thrift store where Libby’s father had sent all of his daughter’s belongings. What she finds is an adventure worthy of Princess X herself that puts May, her friends, and family into harm’s way.

Panels of the web comic are sprinkled throughout the novel to help guide the story, so I highly recommend reading the book instead of the audio book! The panels are wonderfully illustrated by Kali Ciesemier.

Pick up a copy of I am Princess X to find out what happens!


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Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

As a reader, I often range wide in getting my reading fix, and find myself following many authors’ blogs. Ones that are clearly creations of a publisher’s marketing department I quickly unfollow, but there are many authors whose unique voice resonates on their blogs as in their writing.

Which brings me to Chuck Wendig, an author whose blog I’ve followed for years. He writes about politics, his son, food, games and the gaming industry, but, mostly, about writing. He is irreverent and funny and, occasionally, not safe for work (visit his blog terribleminds.com with that in mind).

Having read his blog and followed him on Twitter for years, I was talking with another reader about how I liked reading author blogs, and recommended Chuck to him. Then I got the question: “What has he written?” I was stumped, and more than a little horrified that this talented author’s works had slipped past me.

Which brings me to Blackbirds. It is the first in the Miriam Black series, which follows the main character through her trials and tribulations in Mockingbird, Cormorant, and Thunderbird.

Miriam Black is in her early twenties and she knows how everyone dies. With skin-to-skin contact, she gets a vision of the death of anyone she touches. Whether death comes by car crash, suicide, heart attack, the lingering death of cancer or illness, Miriam need only touch a person to see their end. As you can imagine, this messes with Miriam’s head, and she wanders through America, surviving by dead-end jobs, scamming and hitching rides, and generally scraping along the fringes of society.

When she is picked up by a trucker named Louis, she shakes his hand and discovers to her horror that he will die a horrible death in thirty days while calling her name. The thing is – she’s tried to affect outcome of her visions in the past, and those interventions have led directly to the outcome she foresaw.

Careening between trying to avoid Louis and trying to help him, shadowy, evil figures act against her until fate, hope, love, greed, and evil come together in the final scene.

Wendig’s writing is crisp without being wordy, moving the story along quickly. The story flashes from the past, where the narrative takes place, to an interview Miriam Black is giving about her gift in the present. Miriam describes the events as a way to explain both her gift and its implications.

Miriam, as a character, has an excellent back story that reveals itself over time in intense scenes scattered throughout her young life. The other characters are well-drawn, and some are frightening in their amorality and approach to conflict. This is a gritty read and sometimes very violent. Wendig’s plotting and dialogue are tight, and you read from scene to scene with an impending sense of doom for all involved.

So, now I’ve read a book by Chuck Wendig, and I think you should too. Blackbirds is a great read from beginning to end, and the author makes you are about the characters, despite their flaws and baggage. As always with a series, if you like the character, you have more to read and watch the character evolve.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Blackbirds.

Find this title at your local library via WorldCat.


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Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

ghost-reynoldsMiddle schooler Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is obsessed with two things: sunflower seeds and the Guinness Book of World Records. He knows a lot of the records by heart, including the fact that some guy named Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world—but that doesn’t mean he cares about track. In fact, running drudges up a traumatic memory: running for his life from his gun-wielding father.

His father has been in jail for three years now, but not a day goes by that Ghost doesn’t think about that horrible night. He can’t talk about it and puts up emotional walls that only alienate him from his peers. Despite being a good kid at heart, he gets into a lot of fights when his buttons are pressed. But his lonely, misunderstood life changes when the school’s track coach sees amazing potential in him and compels him to join the team.

Ghost doesn’t always make the right choices along the way to finding himself, which is what makes him such a great character to read about. His thoughts and actions ring true, and a lot of readers will be able to relate to his feelings. The fantastic role models in his life help to orient him morally with good advice and fitting punishments.

This is the first book in a series, so try not to be too disappointed when that ending comes up way too fast.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ghost.


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The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey

girl-with-all-the-gifts-careyThere’s a small problem with zombie novels: besides the zombies, you just have people with problems. That can get stale quickly, especially when graphic novels like The Walking Dead and books like The Passage have covered just about every problem that people in a zombie-infested world can have. The zombies themselves, as metaphors for our inevitable deaths and barely repressed predatory natures, make great extras in horror stories, but don’t necessarily make a great plot—unless a good writer can breathe some life into them. As paradoxical as it sounds, zombies with life in them is what makes The Girl With All the Gifts worth a read.

Melanie is 10 years old and lives in a prison cell. Every day wary armed guards strap her down a wheelchair and then wheel her into a classroom for lessons with the other students. There they learn geography, history, literature, advanced math, and all about the holdout of Beacon, where the last of humanity lives walled away from the “hungries” that prey on them. School is the one bright spot in Melanie’s bleak existence, especially when Miss Justineau teaches. But now Melanie’s classmates are disappearing one by one, taken away by the guards at the command of callous Dr. Caldwell. As Melanie wonders how long it will be before she’s taken, the guards talk in hushed voices about a perimeter breach.

Zombie fans will find a lot to like here, but so will anyone who wants a more nuanced science fiction story about the nature of humanity and the folly of thinking we’re the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection. Plus, the original, imaginative details concerning the zombie infection were fully absorbing.

There is a movie based on the book starring Glenn Close as Dr. Caldwell. The screenplay was written by the author. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl With All the Gifts.


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The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

golem-jinni-wecker-compressedJewish and Arabian mythologies converge in this spellbinding novel set in New York City at the dawn of the 20th century.

When a failed businessman asks a mystic to create a golem to be his wife, the mystic laughs in his face. Golems are mindless beings made of clay with fantastic strength that live only to serve their masters. But the businessman doesn’t want a slave; he wants an obedient yet curious, intelligent, and virtuous wife. Eventually, the mystic comes to view the request as a challenge and, for a hefty price, promises to deliver. “But remember this,” the mystic warns. “No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her.”

Meanwhile, a tinsmith examines an ornate copper flask with delicate scrollwork etched into the metal. When he disrupts the scrollwork, the flask explodes, and a uncannily handsome man wearing nothing but an iron cuff on his right wrist now stands in the shop. “Tell me where the wizard is,” the jinni demands of the baffled tinsmith, “so I can kill him.”

Thus begins a thoroughly engaging story with memorable characters, subtle romance, and beautiful prose. Author Helene Wecker has done something unique and poignant here by coupling the mythologies of these traditionally disparate cultures against the backdrop of New York City in 1899. Further, this is a New York City of immigrants, a fact that is neatly juxtaposed with the unwitting immigration of the golem and the jinni. Highly recommended for fantasy and historical fiction readers.

Wecker has announced that a sequel called The Iron Season is coming in 2018.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Golem and the Jinni.