After hearing all the Rep Picks for great upcoming books back in February 2013, one title went to the top of my list to read: If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.99, out today). Sahar and her best-friend Nasrin, live in Iran. They have been friends since childhood and Sahar has been in love ever since, at six, Nasrin pulled her hair and said. “Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me”. Innocently telling her mother that she would like to marry Nasrin, Sahar learns that such a desire is haraam, a sin. The two girls, now seventeen, keep their relationship a secret. When Nasrin’s parents arrange for her marriage, Sahar is distraught. She begins to look for ways to keep the two of them together. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime — punishable by death — but being born into the wrong body is regarded as nature’s mistake, a disease that can be cured by corrective surgery, which is sanctioned by the state. As Sahar investigates this option, she struggles with understanding her love for Nasrin and societal definitions of sexuality. Caring only about staying with Nasrin, Sahar is forced to confront the very clear distinction between being a lesbian and being transgender.
The story is infused with Iranian words and customs that will be of interest to readers who enjoy learning about other cultures. It also raises some very challenging questions about sexuality and categorization. But overall, it is a well-written and universal story about a girl growing up and trying to find herself. It’s a story about love and the things we’ll do to hold onto to it and a story about that first discovery when you start to see the world outside of your childhood. If You Could Be Mine is Sara Farizan’s first novel and it is bold. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.
In Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s True Colors (Knopf, $15.99), Blue was found in a kettle on Hannah’s doorstep on December 7, 1941, when she was (probably) 2 days old. Hannah took her in, named her, and raised Blue on a farm in rural Vermont. As one of the few children in the town, Blue has always eagerly awaited the influx of summer visitors, including her best friend Nadine. During Blue’s tenth summer, however, everything changes. First, Nadine doesn’t seem interested in any of their usual summer activities. Second, Blue finds clues about the mother who left her behind and dreams about leaving town to find her family. Third, the editor of the local paper invites Blue to contribute a weekly column. The more she starts to research her town, the more she discovers that everyone is not who she thought they were. When Hannah has an accident, all of the people she has supported over the years step up to help Hannah and Blue. When Blue’s life is endangered, once again the neighbors are there, and Blue discovers that family is closer than she ever realized. Blue is a great character and her frustrations with Nadine are very realistic. Blue is just at the cusp of stepping outside herself, awaking to the existence of her community, and noticing (and appreciating) the people around her. I cried my little eyes out while reading the final few chapters and the quilted cover, which evokes the range of quilt references present in the story, is excellent.
Walter Dean Myers’s Darius & Twig (HarperCollins, $17.99, out today) packs a lot of big thoughts into a compact book. Darius wants to be a writer, but he’s struggling to understand his story. Twig is a natural runner. The two boys are best friends and fiercely support each other, even when no one else does. This story touches on community, loyalty, family, violence, respect, dreaming big, but it manages to address all of this things with a subtlety that is remarkable. Myers paints a very clear and lucid picture and then steps back quietly, while letting others make observations. He doesn’t set out to teach lessons, or impose anything on his readers. Instead, he tells a deceptively straightforward story about two friends that can be enjoyed on its own. For readers who want to push further into the story, however, the setting is incredibly rich, the secondary characters are interesting and complex, and the representations of class, race, socioeconomics, education, athletics are thought provoking. More than that, however, this story describes how writing forces us to look deeply inside of ourselves. I hope that high schools adopt this book and start using it in their writing classes. The evolution of Darious’s story is phenomenal. There are no easy answers, but what I love are the subtle changes as Darius looks critically at himself and his world. Myers’s reputation proceeds him. There’s a reason.
I buy my god-baby books for her birthday. Fortunately she still enjoys reading, so I have not yet become ‘the worst god-mother ever’ as predicted by one of my non-reading friends. My god-baby is actually 9 so not technically a baby, but I like the title. As much fun as it can be to buy books you’ve read and loved, doing so can sometimes put too much pressure on the recipient so this year I decided to buy books I hadn’t read, books I picked out specifically for her. My boss recommended A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban (Sandpiper, $6.99). Zoe, the main character, has musical aspirations, and I thought that would be good choice since the god-baby’s mother plays the clarinet and the god-baby in question takes piano lessons. (Sidebar: maybe some time I should write about all the times I spent at band and orchestra rehearsals in high school despite the fact that I wasn’t ever in the band or an orchestra — the things we do for our friends.) Although I never heard the final pronouncement, A Crooked Kind of Perfect was the first of her birthday books that the god-baby started reading and her initial reaction was enthusiastic — melodramatic, but enthusiastic: “I looooooooved the books you picked out! Thank you soooooooooo much!” kids. gotta love ’em. gotta not take ’em too seriously.
So now it’s my turn to read the books and yes, I did a great job picking them out (with help, of course), because A Crooked Kind of Perfect is kind of delightful. Zoe wants to be a pianist, more specifically she’d like to be a child prodigy on the piano. What she gets is an organ, more specifically the The Perfectone D-60. Pianists play at Carnegie Hall. Organists compete at the Peform-O-Rama organ competition. Zoe wants her two parents to be at her first competition. Zoe has a workaholic mother and an agoraphobic father. Zoe wants her best friend to remember that they are best friends and not spend so much time with Joella. Zoe gets Wheeler Diggs following her home after school. Zoe wants perfection. She finds a crooked kind of perfect.