Books in the Park

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


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The Ables, by Jeremy Scott

ables-scottThe Ables posits a world in which superheroes are real. They call themselves Custodians and live secretly among us. Their powers manifest around adolescence and they live in cities comprised of other Custodians. Phillip Salinger is in the awkward position of having superpowers as well as a physical disability. In Phillip’s case, he can move objects with his mind but cannot see. The Ables tells the story of a group of young people with extraordinary abilities who are limited by their physical and mental disabilities. Or are they?

The author does an admirable job of creating a world of amazing super people and explaining how this society works. He even creates a fairly complicated history for this world that goes back thousands of years. Some bullies use derogatory words such as “cripple” and “freak” but it’s clear from the text that this is not acceptable behavior. The characters are fairly complex and portray a wide range of personality types, and the interactions between them are believable. There is a community of special education kids and they all use appropriate language when referring to each other’s disabilities.

I would recommend this title for anyone. I think it’s great that kids with disabilities can read a story in which people like them are front and center. The message of the book is that everyone is different and each person faces a unique set of challenges in their lives. The superpowers act as a metaphor for the talents that everyone has, and the book tells us that by working together we are all stronger as a whole rather than being merely the sum of our parts.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Ables.


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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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Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

binti-okoraforWe here at the Barbara S. Ponce Library are big fans of the works of Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, especially her novel Who Fears Death, which, in 2011, made her the first black person to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Okorafor has proved herself to be a major player in the science fiction world, and no self-respecting scifi fan should miss the chance to pick up her work.

Binti is a novella set in a universe where starships are living technology and multiple races interact on a galactic scale. When the titular Himba woman is offered a scholarship at the most prestigious intergalactic university, family strife about her selection and her decision to accept it cause her to abandon her family without warning. She finds herself on a living starship with many people from many cultures, and is intimidated by their strangeness until she finds commonality with fellow students in her field.

She has barely started feeling at home when a terrifying event changes the course of her life, and she is thrust into a war of intolerance and revenge. Her academic gifts and understanding of the experience of strangeness, linked with her compassion, make her a key player in creating a new future.

Okorafor uses her deep knowledge of African culture and religion to flesh out the interactions between individuals. Her descriptions of the Himba people and their practices reflected through her protagonist are used to show the many differences, and eventually, the many commonalities all peoples share. Binti’s thoughts are laid bare for the reader, and we struggle as she struggles, and fear when she fears. Her talent is a key part of the story, and she steps into her new life while respecting her past.

Binti has won both the Hugo and the Nebula Award for short fiction. While Binti is a short novella, there are two more to be published in the series.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Binti.


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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 Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka

buddha-otsukaJulie Otsuka’s beautifully and poetically written second novel tells the story of young Japanese “picture brides” who leave behind a life of poverty and hard labor in Japan in the hope of finding happiness and prosperity in America. Their hope, however, turns out to be based on an illusion. Upon arriving in America, they discover that not only are the men waiting for them much older than they were led to believe (they had sent 20-year-old pictures of themselves), but that the stories of their husbands’ prosperity were merely the fabrications of the matchmakers who had brought them together. In reality, their husbands treat them with crudeness and they experience a kind of suffering they are not prepared for.

Otsuka writes in the first person plural point of view, as though the women are speaking collectively about their common experiences. This makes the telling of their saga more powerful than one individual story would have been. “Some of us were from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiancé, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on.”

Though the women continue to feel like outsiders in their adopted country, by the 1940’s they have settled into their life in America, many running businesses with their husbands and establishing their own communities. Their children have assimilated into the culture, speaking fluent English and feeling ashamed of their parents’ old fashioned customs and broken English. But life becomes surreal again with the outbreak of World War II and the looming threat of internment camps.

The Buddha in the Attic is in a sense a prequel to Otsuka’s first novel, When the Emperor was Divine, which details the life of a Japanese family living through World War II. Her novels are based in large part on her own family’s history, as Otsuka’s grandparents and parents were among those taken to the internment camps. Their stories should not be forgotten.

Winner of the Penn/Faulkner Award for Fiction and a National Book Award finalist.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Buddha in the Attic.


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The Friends, by Kazumi Yumoto

friends-yumotoYamashita, Kawabe, and Kiyama are friends on the verge of adulthood, or at least middle school. With the future looming ahead, the three boys think it is high time they underwent a rite of passage, namely: witnessing a death. For this activity, the boys choose to watch an unkempt old man who looks as if he has one foot in the grave already. Their plans crumble when the old man realizes he is being watched. Proving to be very lively, he browbeats the boys into doing his house work. Yamashita, Kawabe, and Kiyama’s grand rite of passage is ruined, but their journey to adulthood is just beginning.

This book is a Japanese import. Fully translated, it still contains some concepts that may not be familiar to American readers. The text explains these things in a way that can be understood and is unobtrusive to the narrative. The Friends reads almost like a 1980’s film, making the text easy and enjoyable to read.

The story is simultaneously warm, and unsentimental. The harsh realities of life and death are examined realistically, but this is softened by the truly wonderful relationships that develop between the characters. As the story unfolds, the old man becomes a nurturing figure that the three boys never knew they needed. Conversely, the boys bring a spark back into the old man’s life, enabling him to face his past, and his quickly shrinking future. This is a book for readers 10 and up, but has applications for any reader experiencing grief, death, or the existential terror brought on by the passage of time.