April 27, 2020

On My Bookshelf: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

I love twists on fairy tales and Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust blends together elements of Persian culture and myths to create a story where the princess is the monster. After spending much of her life in isolation because of her curse, Soraya falls in love and breaks her curse, but ends up cursing her family instead. As she struggles to outwit her captor, she falls in love again and realizes that perhaps her curse was actually more of a gift. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.

I love twists on fairy tales and Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust blends together elements of Persian culture and myths to create a story where the princess is the monster. After spending much of her life in isolation because of her curse, Soraya falls in love and breaks her curse, but ends up cursing her family instead. As she struggles to outwit her captor, she falls in love again and realizes that perhaps her curse was actually more of a gift. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Why I liked it: I love twists on fairy tales and Girl, Serpent, Thorn 
blends together elements of Persian culture and myths to create a story where the princess is the monster (I just love that tagline "sometimes the princess is the monster").

After spending much of her life in isolation because of her curse, Soraya falls in love and breaks her curse, but ends up cursing her family instead. As she struggles to outwit her captor, she falls in love again and realizes that perhaps her curse was actually more of a gift.

I appreciated that Soraya was a bisexual character, but that her sexuality wasn't the center of the plot, and was instead seamlessly a part of the story. The characters in the novel did not balk (and neither should readers) at the fact that Soraya first falls in love with a (male) newcomer to her brother's army, but then develops feelings for a (female) fairy-like demon.

Classroom application: I would recommend this for one for high school and up because of the darker content. Students who like retellings of classic fairy tales like the Lunar Chronicle Series: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter, will enjoy this book, but even more so, it's a book for fans of darker fairy tales like The Hazel Wood and its sequel, The Night Country. This list from Book Riot is a great place to find even more retellings.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Girl, Serpent, Thorn for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

I love twists on fairy tales and Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust blends together elements of Persian culture and myths to create a story where the princess is the monster. After spending much of her life in isolation because of her curse, Soraya falls in love and breaks her curse, but ends up cursing her family instead. As she struggles to outwit her captor, she falls in love again and realizes that perhaps her curse was actually more of a gift. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

April 20, 2020

On My Bookshelf: Lobizona by Romina Garber

Lobizona by Romina Garber is a quick moving novel, in which the main character, Manuela, is in hiding because she is undocumented, but also because of her unusual eyes. When her surrogate grandmother is attacked and her mother is taken by ICE, Manuela finds her way to a magical school that is somehow connected to her mystery of a father, and it is there that she begins to find out who she truly is. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who's on the run from her father's Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu's protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past—a mysterious "Z" emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobiz√≥n, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it's not just her U.S. residency that's illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

Lobizona by Romina Garber is a quick moving novel, in which the main character, Manuela, is in hiding because she is undocumented, but also because of her unusual eyes. When her surrogate grandmother is attacked and her mother is taken by ICE, Manuela finds her way to a magical school that is somehow connected to her mystery of a father, and it is there that she begins to find out who she truly is. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Why I liked it: Lobizona is a quick moving novel, in which the main character, Manuela, is in hiding because she is undocumented, but also because of her unusual eyes. She does not attend school and is rarely allowed to leave her family's apartment, and never without sunglasses covering her eyes. When her surrogate grandmother is attacked and her mother is taken by ICE, Manuela finds her way to a magical school that is somehow connected to her mystery of a father, and it is there that she begins to find out who she truly is.

There were a lot of points of confusion at the start of the book, and I have to believe that it was intentional on the part of the author for the reader to be just as much in the dark as Manuela. However, I did wonder if I was supposed to figure out so quickly at the beginning that Manuela was a werewolf. I felt like knowing that early on took away from the shock the characters experienced with that realization later on.

All of the unknowns didn't stop me from wanting to keep reading and I loved the mash up of fantasy and real life in this novel. The novel begins in Miami, detours into the Everglades, and then ends in an entirely fantastical world. Between all of the description of werewolves, witches, and magical trees, the author also weaves in LGBTQ characters that challenge society's gender norms. I felt like there were a lot of plot developments (though definitely some unexpected ones!) crammed into the end of the book, but I'm interested in seeing what comes next in the series.

Classroom application:  I would recommend this one for upper middle school students and older. Your Harry Potter lovers will appreciate some of the plot/character similarities that manifest quite differently in Manuela's world (much different from a Harry Potter spin off like The Crowns of Croswald). If you are looking for other great fantasy titles to recommend to students, check out this list and this one.

An awesome writing exercise would be for students to choose a current real world issue (climate change, universal health care, gun violence, etc.) to be at the center of a story infused with fantasy elements. I'm envisioning an activity where students choose an issue from column A, a setting from column B, and a type of fantasy from column C to use as a starting point for their story.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Lobizona for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Lobizona by Romina Garber is a quick moving novel, in which the main character, Manuela, is in hiding because she is undocumented, but also because of her unusual eyes. When her surrogate grandmother is attacked and her mother is taken by ICE, Manuela finds her way to a magical school that is somehow connected to her mystery of a father, and it is there that she begins to find out who she truly is. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

April 13, 2020

On My Bookshelf: Mayhem by Estelle Laure

Mayhem by Estelle Laure throws you right into the mess of Brayburn mysteries and even by the end, you are just beginning to feel like you are on solid ground again. Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, have just returned to her mother's hometown, Santa Maria, California, to escape and abusive stepfather/husband. If Mayhem's mother was looking for a safe haven, Santa Maria isn't it; there's a serial killer stalking young women on the town's beaches. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
The basic plot from Amazon: The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.

It's 1987 and unfortunately it's not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy's constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem's own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren't like everyone else.

But when May's stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem's questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.

Mayhem by Estelle Laure throws you right into the mess of Brayburn mysteries and even by the end, you are just beginning to feel like you are on solid ground again. Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, have just returned to her mother's hometown, Santa Maria, California, to escape and abusive stepfather/husband. If Mayhem's mother was looking for a safe haven, Santa Maria isn't it; there's a serial killer stalking young women on the town's beaches. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
Why I liked it: Mayhem throws you right into the mess of Brayburn mysteries and even by the end, you are just beginning to feel like you are on solid ground again. Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, have just returned to her mother's hometown, Santa Maria, California, to escape and abusive stepfather/husband. If Mayhem's mother was looking for a safe haven, Santa Maria isn't it; there's a serial killer stalking young women on the town's beaches.

Mayhem soon learns that about the strange powers of the women in her family lineage from a book she finds tucked away in her family's house and the three adrift children her aunt has taken in. Letters and diary entries from the book Mayhem discovers break up the first person narration of Mayhem  and help give clarity to the powers of the Brayburn women and the dangers of those powers.

Despite the whirlwind of strange discoveries about Santa Maria and herself, Mayhem feels happy for the first time in a long time, and more importantly, finally begin to feel like she is coming into her own, making choices for herself and emerging from her mother's shadow and demons. She has friends, extended family, and a first love, balanced with a first kill and an end to her stepfather's power over her and her mother.

Classroom application: I would recommend this one for high school and up because of the sensitive content: rape, abuse, murder. There's a note at the start of the book about this content as well as a letter from the author. Students who enjoy thrillers like Sadie by Courtney Summers, the supernatural, and realistic fantasy will enjoy this one.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Mayhem for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Mayhem by Estelle Laure throws you right into the mess of Brayburn mysteries and even by the end, you are just beginning to feel like you are on solid ground again. Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, have just returned to her mother's hometown, Santa Maria, California, to escape and abusive stepfather/husband. If Mayhem's mother was looking for a safe haven, Santa Maria isn't it; there's a serial killer stalking young women on the town's beaches. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.


April 11, 2020

On My Bookshelf: Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety by Michelle Roehm McCann

The basic plot from Amazon: Young people are suffering the most from the epidemic of gun violence—as early as kindergarten students are crouching behind locked doors during active shooter drills. Teens are galvanizing to speak up and fight for their right to be safe. They don’t just want to get involved, they want to change the world. Enough Is Enough is a call to action for teens ready to lend their voices to the gun violence prevention movement. This handbook deftly explains America’s gun violence issues—myths and facts, causes and perpetrators, solutions and change-makers—and provides a road map for effective activism.

Told in three parts, Enough Is Enough also explores how America got to this point and the obstacles we must overcome, including historical information about the Second Amendment, the history of guns in America, and an overview of the NRA. Informative chapters include interviews with teens who have survived gun violence and student activists who are launching their own movements across the country. Additionally, the book includes a Q&A with gun owners who support increased gun safety laws.

Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety by Michelle Roehm McCann is a young activist’s handbook to joining the fight against gun violence. I loved the mix of background information and history on the issue, infographics and hard hitting statistics, interviews with activists, and "never forget" profiles of recent mass shootings. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
Why I liked it: I flew through reading Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety, a young activist’s handbook to joining the fight against gun violence. I loved the mix of background information and history on the issue, infographics and hard hitting statistics, interviews with activists, and "never forget" profiles of recent mass shootings. The writing was passionate, yet easily understandable for young people, and what could be more convincing than hearing about gin violence from the same people who have been affected by it. As a teacher who has worked in several communities plagued by gun violence, I was pleased to see that the book did not limit its focus to just school shootings or mass shootings, but gun violence of all types and scales.

Classroom application: This book would be a great add to the nonfiction section of a classroom library from grades 6 and up. While violence is clearly an integral part of the book and the topics of gun violence and mass shootings are generally disturbing, there is nothing too graphic described. The book joins what seems to be a new wave of politically charged books written for young adults like How I Resist. I love that these books aim to empower young people to take action and not to underestimate the power that they have, even before they come of voting age.

This book, or excerpts from it, would a great addition to a social justice themed unit with titles like The Sun Does Shine and How I Resist. The book could also serve as a mentor text for informational or argument writing about an issue students are passionate about. Students could create graphics to accompany their writing. They could also conduct an interview with an expert or someone who has personal experience with their selected issue.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.