Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

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Book Review: Adam’s Needle by Beth Lyon Barnett and Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

Adam's NeedleAdam’s Needle
Beth Lyon Barnett
Prairie Acres Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1503268968
Trade Paperback

Will grows up in a shack tucked away outside of the town of Pecan Grove in the Ozarks. His father is an abusive alcoholic who causes Will to quit talking when he is five years old, and his mother has been beaten down by abuse, ailments, and life. Will’s rescuer is his part Native-American granny who instills in him a sense of right and wrong and inner strength that allows him to survive.

Some of the town leaders, members of the local fundamentalist church, and several uneducated hotheads on neighboring farms are connected with white supremacist organizations. The towering white cross on Adam’s Needle was placed there by the Ku Klux Klan. Incidents of teenage pregnancy and the drug culture are growing among the poverty-stricken families.

A young Jewish couple, scientists from K.U. dedicated to improving agriculture and restoring wildlife in the area, buy a neighboring farm. A gay couple moves to town to run the florist shop. Then, the church’s pastor retires and is replaced by a phony preacher bent on making his reputation by stirring up trouble with his xenophobic interpretations of Bible passages that appeal to the poor farmers and townsfolk ready to blame their situations on something or someone. Predictable trouble.

Mass hysteria can be caused by unscrupulous, power-hungry leaders anywhere. This book is both an engrossing story unique to Will’s Ozark community and also a universal phenomenon. It’s both timely and ancient. Compare it to Winter’s Bone but with a political edge.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, March 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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DissolutionDissolution
Lee S. Hawke
Blind Mirror Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-925299-03-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

In recent times, we in the US have come to have a rather jaundiced view of corporations, particularly the big ones, and we’ve largely lost the naive faith our parents and grandparents had that corporations cared about people. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good ones that DO have an altruistic bent but the moneycrunching type seem to be prevalent. Even with our mounting distrust, though, I don’t think we’ve anticipated the theme that Lee S. Hawke has built her story around in Dissolution.

How repugnant is the idea that our children can be bought and sold by corporations with the true parents aiding and abetting the process? I immediately felt a good deal of empathy for Maddie not only because of the auction that’s happening but also because she doesn’t know how wrong this is, never having experienced any other lifestyle. She’s an interesting girl, quite appealing, and I came to like her quite a lot despite her blind dependence on the existing system (and imagine how unromantic it must be to have to pay to spend time with your boyfriend!).

More than anything else, I found Dissolution to be somewhat incomplete. There’s no real worldbuilding and that’s pretty important in a tale like this one, a way to let the reader know how we got to such a point in our future and what propelled the corporations to a position of absolute control. The lack of such information is understandable in a novella but I’m sure I would have enjoyed Maddie’s story more in a full-length novel with space enough to provide the backstory and flesh out the characters more.

All that said, I do want to know more and I appreciated Dissolution enough to hope Ms. Hawke will bring Maddie back in the near future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

Book Review: Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Seeing RedSeeing Red
Kathryn Erskine
Scholastic Press, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-46440-6
Hardcover

This book begs to be read, the story must be heard. Red’s tumultuous summer of ’72 deals with an imperative, yet oft untold part of our history. Discovering these deplorable truths is painful. Many acts of our ancestors are unfathomably cruel and hateful; particularly when one expects that his great-great-greats shared the same sense of kindness, generosity and justness that his own parents instilled and nurtured in him.

My history books told of progress in 1972. Nearly 20 years prior, the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in schools, but it wasn’t until early ’72 that the president signed the law stating that women and minorities must be treated just the same as white males. Regrettably, this was not enough to change the thinking or the actions of many ignorant, bigoted white males in Virginia. What my history books didn’t say, Ms. Erskine does. This is historical fiction, in that the characters are fictional; but the history is gruesomely real, including the gut-wrenching story of Emmett Till.

In the tiny town of Stony Gap, Virginia, twelve-year-old Red, a remarkably good boy, was forced to become an admirable, courageous young man. Fantastically crafted, he is a captivating character that with a determined sense of always doing what is right, resulting in loyalty, honesty, and the willingness to defend the weak, almost to the point of ferocity. Easily imagined as a puffy-chested, tiny, scrappy rooster that will become vicious to protect; Red quickly captured this reader’s heart.

The sudden death of his father combined with his mom’s desire to leave the only home he has ever known create a panic that causes Red to make a very big mistake. In his efforts to right his wrong, he discovers a shocking secret about his very own ancestors. With wide open eyes, Red begins to see a bigger picture of discrimination, racism and cruelty. The lengths that he is willing to go to in order to right more wrongs than he could have imagined are nothing short of amazing.

This is one of the most touching, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful books that I have read. I hope that it can be found in school libraries all over my home state of Virginia. I fantasize that history teachers everywhere have this book to refer to and to share with their students. While Seeing Red is intended for, and perfectly suited for a Middle Grade audience; I cannot imagine any adult reading this book without shedding a tear.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.