Diversity Spotlight Thursday #4

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a meme started by Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks; you can read the announcement post here. Each spotlight involves sharing:

  1. A diverse book I have read and enjoyed
  2. A diverse book that has already been released but I have not read
  3. A diverse book that has not yet been released

Read and enjoyed: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Goodreads Link

Summary:

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

I reread this recently and it was an absolute delight. Woodson’s writing was beautiful, immersing me completely as it evoked her family life and world as a child. Telling the memoir in verse was especially effective in evoking emotions, and the sense of times gone past.

As a writer, I enjoyed the details of her coming to realise her intuitive passion for words and storytelling and began to write. I especially loved this moment, when she discovered a picture book with an African-American child and realised “that someone who looked like me/could be in the pages of the book/that someone who looked like me/had a story” – it was incredibly moving.

TBR: Ida by Alison Evans

Goodreads Link

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Summary:

How do people decide on a path, and find the drive to pursue what they want?

Ida struggles more than other young people to work this out. She can shift between parallel universes, allowing her to follow alternative paths.

One day Ida sees a shadowy, see-through doppelganger of herself on the train. She starts to wonder if she’s actually in control of her ability, and whether there are effects far beyond what she’s considered.

How can she know, anyway, whether one universe is ultimately better than another? And what if the continual shifting causes her to lose what is most important to her, just as she’s discovering what that is, and she can never find her way back?

Ida is an intelligent, diverse and entertaining novel that explores love, loss and longing, and speaks to the condition of an array of overwhelming, and often illusory, choices.

I’ve been so looking forward to reading Ida, which was released in Australia in January – it’s so rare to see ownvoices stories of genderqueer characters, and I’ve heard a lot about how great the queer rep is + how naturally it’s integrated.

Whilst I’m not generally a sci-fi reader, the premise does sound really interesting – a blend of contemporary and realism with the classic coming-of-age/finding your path YA and New Adult concerns. Should be a thought-provoking read!

Not Yet Released: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Goodreads Link

29917906Summary:

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

You had me at ‘conspiracy of history and magic’. The Cold War’s a fascinating period of history, and I’d love to learn more about it through this story. This is an ownvoices book, featuring a Jewish-American protag.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

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This is Shyness by Leanne Hall – Review

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*Note for Read Diverse 2017 – POC author

This is Shyness by Leanne Hall was a unique and beautifully written magical realism novel. Thank you to Text Publishing for the review copy!

Told from their alternating first-person perspectives, This is Shyness is about Wildgirl – ‘a girl on a mission to forget’; and Wolfboy – ‘a guy who howls’. Wildgirl is a stranger in the suburb of Shyness, which is literally in unending darkness, and the story begins at a pub at the Diabetic Hotel where she and Wolfboy are drawn towards each other. As they venture out into the night, Wildgirl learns more about the strangeness and magic of Shyness, and details are revealed of her and Wolfboy’s pasts.

First off, this was one of the most unique and imaginative novels I’ve ever read. Leanne Hall evokes a beautifully surreal setting in Shyness, with its mysteries, otherworldly elements, and the sense that anything was possible. This is sustained throughout the whole book, from the slightly-unnerving market and psychic to the sugar-obsessed gang of Kidds of Orphanville. There are a lot more adjectives that could be used to describe the atmosphere in it — dark, bizarre, wondrous… but it’s definitely something you should experience for yourself.

The writing in this novel is also BEAUTIFUL — lyrical and evocative. I could quote basically the whole book but here’s a snippet from early on which is really reflective of the setting, as I praised above: “I imagine crossing Grey Street in the daytime. Would night fall over me gently like a velvety curtain? Or would the day turn dark in the blink of my eye? I don’t really need to see the sunrise to know that Shyness is different. It’s like there’s a thin layer of static over everything that stops me from seeing what’s really going on.” The emotions of the characters were also really beautifully written — subtle and nuanced whilst being powerful.

Leading on from this, the novel is overall very character-focused, centring on the personal journeys of Wildgirl and Wolfboy. We’re most driven to keep reading by the snippets of, and hints regarding, their past experiences and hurts. Wildgirl is really empathetic with her complete drive and desire to escape from everything in her past when she discovers a potential way out, and Wolfboy’s emotions as he dwells on a past family tragedy and the way it affected them are sensitively depicted.

The transitions between their two POVs are also nicely integrated and smooth. As we learn more about each of the characters’ pasts, we really want them to discover more about each other, it gives us a different perspective on the way each reacts to the other, and the way this was wrapped up was really satisfying.

I also liked how the novel was balanced between external conflict and very internal character-driven conflict. Their goal – to retrieve something from the Kidds — is kept simple, to focus on these emotional explorations. There are some pretty intense action sequences, especially near the end, which help break up the character focus, but we care about their personal hurts and internal journeys first and foremost. I love the way both Wildgirl and Wolfboy grow by the end and motivate each other to move forward.

I do wish we could have got more answers to some of the mysteries in the story, because I was feeling slightly confused at points in the book. However, 1) it fit in with the overall atmosphere of the book, so I suspected some things would be left unanswered, and 2) there is a sequel — Queen of the Night — which I plan to read, so I’ll hold back from commenting on this further for now.

Overall, definitely read this for the unique, imaginative story + beautiful writing + powerfully character-driven aspects.

Recommended for fans of: The Astrologer’s Daughter and Afterlight by Rebecca Lim, Bird by Crystal Chan, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier.