Recently Nymeth at things means a lot, wrote about some of her favorite reads so far this year. She asked readers to share theirs. The following titles immediately came to mind. I'll share more later but these four best represent to my reading choices this year. Tell us, what you've enjoyed so far.
A Cool Moonlight by Angela Johnson. There is beauty and magic, growth and acceptance in this slim volume. After reading it, I felt a quiet joy in remembering what it means to believe in something intensely. If you’ve failed to pick up a children’s book lately and have forgotten the power of it, pick this up. A good story doesn’t have to be complicated or long to impact the reader.
The River and The Rock by Kekla Magoon. Historical ficition seems to be a popular sub-genre for me this year. For the YA reader, I think one of the strengths of this novel is how accessible prose is. Magoon draws the reader in what feels effortlessly. For the discriminate reader, Magoon’s style is impressive. Her command of language and mechanics here is on par with any adult novel. For those critics who argue the lack of depth and skill in YA fiction, they can’t say that about The River and The Rock. It is exceptional writing, great pacing, solid characterization, believable dialogue and this works explores a gap in historical fiction in a meaningful way. Love, love, love this debut novel. If you want to learn about the Black Panthers beyond the hype, read this.
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott. Ms. Elliott gives us time travel, history of the New York race riots and the Civil War, domestic terrorism, 911, romance and self-discovery all in one YA novel. Zetta weaves a tale both fantastic and realistic. Genna is contemporary, believable, strong, flawed and resilient. She gives us romance but not the pining, I-need-him-to-be-complete, dependent female lead. Genna makes mistakes and learns from them. She adapts. She comes to terms with her own prejudices. The book is thought-provoking and the pacing is heart pounding. The exploration of race is intimate and complex. No broad strokes here. Like Butler's Kindred, the author illustrates that when it comes to race, the circumstances and issues are complex so our behavior and attitudes equally reflect complexity. The book left me with an aching and sense of what it means to see ourselves fully human and flawed. It's easy to criticize and hate caricatures. Very different when you see parts of yourself in the other person you hated. Hopefully, all readers will feel compelled to re-examine race relations and ideas of terrorism in an informed way.
The Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins. I read a lot of multicultural lit and what I try to remember is that I come to a read with a lens: my personal experiences and values. If I want to really appreciate another person's world, I have to try to avoid allowing my lens to obscure my view. My view isn't the only way to live and to be happy. Mitali allows the reader to see the world through another person's lens. We see the world as Asha knows it. We get an intimate look at her life and the lives of other young girls growing up in India in the 70s. In Asha’s and Reet’s world, family is everything. Keeping your word and doing everything you can for the sake of the family is paramount. There is nothing this family would not do for each other. And learning about marriage customs and values, decorum, dress and caste is fascinating. The book is tender and heartbreaking. Mitali could have easily given us a fairy tale ending instead the story remains consistent with the culture and values the characters. I particularly appreciate how the story illustrates that we can find joy and exercise our strength within the restrictions of our times. We push when we can. Secret Keeper is story about heartache, loss and creating a meaningful life.
In the three historical novels I’ve discussed here, a common element is the writer’s ability to render history personal and relevant. Two common misconceptions about historical fiction is that because it is dated the reader doubts she can relate and that the material is dry and therefore lacks the action or thrill of other genres. These stories prove that isn’t always true. In each of these works, the conflicts are palpable, the pacing and events have the reader anxiously turning the pages to see what happens next and the endings while rooted in reality are no less climatic than what pleases a reader in a good mystery or romance: there’s a sense of hope and purpose. If you haven’t read any historical fiction lately, start with these.