This is another of those books that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. I’d never even heard of this book until I had to read it for class. When I be...moreThis is another of those books that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. I’d never even heard of this book until I had to read it for class. When I began reading it, I was excited about the subject. It didn’t quite live up to that initial excitement.
Japan has just bombed Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. is turning against its Japanese-American citizens. Aki and her family are shipped off to an internment camp. Sylvia’s father takes over their farm, and Sylvia is excited to start school at Westminster. Unfortunately, the school board doesn’t want Sylvia and her brothers to go to Westminster. They’re forced to attend the “Mexican” school, next to the barrio.
Initially, I was excited about this book. I had never read juvenile fiction covering internment camps. I didn’t even know about the issues with Mexican schools in California during that time. This was an opportunity for me to learn something new. I did learn something new, but I was disappointed by the book. The characters never felt real to me. Sylvia and Aki weren’t developed characters, and the rest of characters might as well have not been there. It’s weird because Sylvia and Aki were real people, and this really happened. It makes me think the book was just a device to fictionalize their story. It’s not a very good attempt either. Yes, I learned something I didn’t know; I learned about this story and the issues surrounding it. Still, there were no real character development, and the plot felt more like a relation of events than a story. It’s a short book, and clearly meant for younger children; that may have something to do with the lack of story and development. I just don’t think many kids would find it interesting either. A huge part of what makes books work is the execution, and it’s just off in this book. I think Conkling could have worked more to develop a good plot, rather than setting up what amounts to a framework of facts. The book just felt more like a first draft than a finished novel. I’ll admit that my normal reading comfort zone is with books meant for an older audience. That could have something to do with my reaction to this book. I just know that I was left wanting more in almost every respect.
It’s 1958, and the high schools in Little Rock have closed to avoid integration. Marlee has always been quiet and depended on the support of her older...moreIt’s 1958, and the high schools in Little Rock have closed to avoid integration. Marlee has always been quiet and depended on the support of her older sister to make it. When her sister is sent away, her world seems to be crumbling. A new student at her middle school offers her a new kind of support. Marlee wishes she could be as assertive and courageous as Liz. One day, Liz doesn’t show up at school; the rumor is that she was really a negro trying to pass as white. Marlee doesn’t care whether Liz is black or not, she just wants her friend back. The two girls set out to prove that friendship is stronger than skin color. Marlee starts to realize that if no one has the courage to stand up for what is right, change won’t come to Little Rock.
Marlee is a dynamic character, if I’ve ever read about one. In the beginning, her meek attitude allows her peers to ridicule her and talk into things she would never normally do. I’ll admit, she was a little frustrating at first. Meeting Liz is good for her. Liz is her polar opposite in so many ways. Liz is aggressive and sometimes reckless. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, and that occasionally gets her in trouble. Liz helps Marlee open up and speak her mind. On the other hand, Marlee helps Liz express her feelings in ways that don’t get her into trouble. The two balance each other out. They’re amazing friends, and amazingly real. What I found really pleasing about the characters in this book was the depth of the supporting characters. More often than not, books tend to have flat supporting characters. Levine really took the time to flesh out each character. I was particularly impressed with Marlee’s mother and JT. Their characters allowed Levine to capture some perspectives that are difficult to process, but probably very authentic to the time.
I think what can be difficult to tackle with a book like this is the voice. Dealing with human rights in a book can make the narrative come off preachy, sometimes. I think, especially with historical stories, it’s important to find a balance between the activist aspect and the story. I applaud writers who use stories to make statements about human rights and activism, as long as the story is good and there’s a balance. I think Levine does this well. I was invested in the characters and the story and equally moved by the message. I think that takes good crafting skills to pull off.
I’m no stranger to Julia Whelan’s narration. She voices her characters, but the voices never stray far from her own. It’s enough to tell the character voices apart, which is perfect for realistic and historical fiction like this. What I really enjoy about Whelan is her flow and emotional tone. It never sounds like she’s reading. She allows herself to get into the characters enough that I forget about it being a book at all. She stays very connected to the story, and that allows me to stay connected. I chose to listen to this on audio simply due to the limited time I had to read print. This was a discussion book for one of my classes, and I had to get them all read somehow. Luckily, it turned out to be an excellent audiobook choice. I’m sure it’s just as great in print. The Lions of Little Rock comes highly recommended from me, in whatever format you choose.
Return to Sender was definitely not something I would have picked up on my own. It was assigned reading for my intercultural connections class. I don’...moreReturn to Sender was definitely not something I would have picked up on my own. It was assigned reading for my intercultural connections class. I don’t usually read juvenile fiction (but I’m working on changing that). From the beginning things were a little rocky with this title. Even now, while I’m trying to write a review, my opinion is still rocky.
Tyler is a an eleven-year-old boy returning to his family’s farm after a sabbatical in the city with his aunt and uncle to heal after the death of his grandfather. After Tyler arrives, he realizes his parents have hired migrant Mexican workers to save the farm from foreclosure. When Tyler realizes the Mexican family is not there legally, he has trouble reconciling his friendship with the oldest daughter and his allegiance to his country.
Immediately upon starting this novel, I had issues with Tyler’s voice. My complaint with juvenile fiction has always been the young tone. I think there are ways to write juvenile fiction without it sounding so juvenile, and I think that would have been more appropriate for this topic. Perhaps, it’s an unrealistic expectation of juvenile fiction, but I think I’ve seen it done successfully before. Once Mari’s point of view kicked in, I warmed up to the novel. Her voice seemed much older than her years, and I liked that. The problem with this was that it made the novel feel lopsided. Tyler’s point of view seemed to pale in comparison with Mari’s. They were also written in different narrative, which bothered me. Tyler’s chapters were in third person, while Mari’s were in first (mainly because she was writing letters).
The supporting characters were a little lopsided, as well. Tyler’s parents were barely developed. They were surface characters. His grandmother, on the other hand, was refreshing and fun. She was pretty much the only character comparable to Tyler and Mari. Of course, they weren’t really developed as well as they could have been either. The pacing and flow were okay. The lopsided feeling of the two points of view fed into an uneven pacing. Mari’s chapters were easy to listen to and went by quickly. During Tyler’s chapters, I was distracted and disinterested. Everything felt slower with him.
The plot worked, and I think it even raises a subject that we need to be discussing. It’s a timely subject matter and an important conversation to have. Still, in the end, everything seemed to be the megaphone that Alvarez used to voice her political opinion. I agree with her opinion, but that’s irrelevant. Using literature as an avenue to make a political opinion known bothers me, especially when it comes to children’s fiction. I think there are ways to pull it off so that it doesn’t feel preachy or like a call to action. Return to Sender definitely has a preachy, call-to-action fell. It made what I think could have been a good novel on a good topic rub me the wrong way.
The audio was good, but I think the book’s content took away from the performance. My dislike for Tyler’s chapters definitely skewed my opinions Ozzie Rodriguez’s performance. I think my dislike for his chapters had much more to do with his voice and the actual book than it did with the performance itself. I’ll have to give him another chance with a different audiobook. Olivia Preciado, on the other hand, did a terrific job. Her lot with Mari definitely helped out with her performance. I really believed she was Mari, and I love that. I think the fact that her chapters were in first person helped with that feeling. It’s not often I get to compare performances and the differences that change my reception of a performance. This was a unique listen.
One quick note: this is a juvenile book, but there are a few instances in which the language is clearly something you would find in young adult or adult fiction. One or two of these instances felt almost inappropriate and out of character for eleven-year-olds.
The Arrival tells a story of immigration and assimilation without the use of text.
What a beautiful work of art! The Arrival is a graphic novel, but th...moreThe Arrival tells a story of immigration and assimilation without the use of text.
What a beautiful work of art! The Arrival is a graphic novel, but the art is so beautiful it feels like a trip to a museum. Tan’s surreal style was what immediately stood out to me. The first time through, I realized the power of his storytelling. I was thoroughly confused by almost everything that was happening. Of course, that’s the point. It’s a feeling I’m sure any immigrant is familiar with. That confusion and surrealism is what allowed me to step into the shoes of those traveling to new lands with strange customs and languages.
There are a few important elements I think I think I need to point out that makes Tan’s book so successful. First of all, there are no words in any recognized language in the book. The language that the book uses are collections of symbols. This ensures that any reader, no matter their native tongue, will have that feeling of confusion.
The surrealism of the lands the characters come from and the land they immigrate to also add to that sense of confusion. Though parallels to certain existing geographical areas and certain historical events can certainly be made, it’s up to the interpretation of the reader. That’s always something I enjoy. Whether you’re making interpretations or not, there are very striking images with clear meanings.
This is an accessible story for anyone. Its versatile appeal to immigrants from all regions. It also provides those who haven’t experienced immigration a look through that lens. I don’t really have any content concerns, but this graphic novel does require the ability interpret the images. Perhaps, having a foundation of world history would be helpful with those interpretations. I would recommend it to older teens and up. I also think this is a book everyone should purchase. It’s the kind of book you can go back to over and over again, always seeing something new. Very highly recommended.
This was read as a part of my intercultural connections class, alongside some other books on immigration experiences. During our discussion we all agreed that there is no single experience of immigration. Everyone’s experience is different. We did decide, however, that this is the best book to recommend on the topic. It’s nearly universal presentation of immigration made it the winner of a unanimous vote on “best immigration experience book.”(less)