The Authentics

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Abdi Nazemian
Narrator: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Aug. 2017 (Read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I am tearing it up with audiobooks this month! Granted this one was half the length of the audiobooks I usually listen to, but still.

I admit, after listening to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, I totally did a search on the narrator Kyla Garcia and found that she’d narrated another book on my TBR, which is the main reason why I decided to read The Authentics. Garcia did a fantastic job narrating this book as well, but sadly this was not on the same level as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

This is young adult literature that definitely reads like young adult. I usually don’t have any trouble reading YA because there are some really great YA authors out there who tells stories that have a lot of depth and themes that are applicable to everyone, not just teenagers. This book definitely still had themes that anyone could enjoy, but the story felt pretty juvenille. It actually has a pretty surprising twist early in the novel that I would have been completely pissed about if I was Daria, but in my opinion this book was missing the emotion. It lacked tension and grit and I feel like the author was afraid to go there and instead wrote more of a “feel-good” family novel. There’s nothing wrong with “feel-good”, but I thought this story had a lot of potential and it just lacked impact and execution.

Daria is a 15 year old Iranian-American teenager. She was born in America and has never been to Iran, but she is very proud of her culture and her and her friends, who come from very diverse backgrounds, do their best to always “be authentic”. This all changes when their English teacher challenges them to do a presentation about their heritage and Daria learns something shocking about her family’s past. Daria begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her parents and finds it increasingly difficult to be authentic.

I don’t want to give anything more away about the story. There’s several different plots throughout the novel between Daria’s feud with her former best friend, her conflict with her family, and a new love interest, but I thought they were all mediocre and pretty surface level. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I like to give teenagers a bit more credit than I think the author does in this book. Everything about Daria’s fight with Heidi felt childish and the romantic relationship made me cringe. Teenagers have more depth than this and the whole thing just felt lacking.

That said, I really did enjoy the opportunity to read about Iranian culture and I do believe that diverse stories like this need to be told and are incredibly important. I just really wanted more from this. It may be unfair to keep comparing it to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but it’s hard not to when they deal with a lot of similar themes (the daughter that can’t live up to their immigrant mother’s expectations) and the latter was so much better written and had so much more depth.

American Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism
Read: Jan. 2018

Ibi Zoboi! Way to rip my heart out and stomp on it! What even? I was not expecting this.

This was the last book in my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration. I read Girl in Translation and Pachinko earlier this month and loved both of them. American Street was a whole different kind of story, quite unlike either of the others. It was probably my least favourite of the 3 books, but still really good.

Fabiola Toussaint was born in America, but raised in Haiti because her mother didn’t have citizenship. Her Aunt Jo and her 3 cousins, Chantal, Pri, and Donna all live in Detroit and regularly send money back to Haiti to help out Fabiola and her mother. When Fab is entering her junior year of high school, they send enough money for her and her mother to finally move to America for good. Fab has American citizenship, but her mother has to get all the necessary visas to “visit” America. Unfortunately, when they enter America, Fab’s mother is detained at the border and she is forced to go on to Detroit without her.

Her aunt and cousins live at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Fab has been desperate to come to America to live in the land of the free, but she doesn’t feel very free with her mother detained in an immigration prison in New Jersey and navigating her cousins’ world is scary and overwhelming. Her cousins are notorious at school and a little rough around the edges. Fabiola is pulled into their world and discovers the dark underside of what it costs to chase after the american dream.

Like I said, this was really different from any of the other immigration books I’ve read this year. I think Zoboi really captures Fab’s Haitian spirit and what it’s like growing up black in Detroit. She intertwines some cultural elements, like Haitian vodou, which is very much a spiritual thing for Fab, but is usually interpreted more like witchcraft in modern society. She weaves in some magical realism which surprised me and first, but I thought really worked with the story.

Voice was key for me in this novel. I’m a privileged white girl who grew up in a predominantly white town, so I definitely can’t relate to Fabiola or her cousins, yet their voices rang so true. I had no trouble believing in Zoboi’s characters. Fab’s uneasiness when she first arrives at her aunt’s house; Chantal’s desire to chase education but her reluctance to leave her family; Donna’s inability to say ‘enough is enough’; and Pri’s fierce and protective love for her sisters. My only complaint would be that Zoboi didn’t actually go deep enough into each of these characters. She formulated some really excellent characters, I just wanted more of them.

I really wasn’t anticipating where the plot of this story went. I thought it was mostly going to be about Fab trying to re-unite with her mom. While this was definitely an underlying conflict throughout the entire novel, Zoboi tackled a lot of other issues in this story. Although I would have liked to have heard her mother’s story as well and learn about what it’s actually like to be detained. I never really knew where the story was going and felt quite out of my depth with some of the content, much as I imagine Fabiola must have felt arriving in Detroit and trying to fit in with girls attacking each other over boyfriends and drugs passing hands on the sly. But Zoboi was quite unflinching in her delivery. I really did not see the end coming in this book and parts of it and brutal.

So like I said, probably my least favourite of the 3 books that I read, but actually very complimentary because this offered a totally different perspective than the other two. The characters in Girl in Translation and Pachinko are very meek and I loved Fabiola’s strength in this novel. She makes some pretty big mistakes, but she’s not afraid to chase after what she wants and she is very brave and courageous. Her culture shock was quite different and I liked getting another perspective. She could have let herself be pushed around, but she wouldn’t stand for it and decided to make her own place. Family is a central theme to this novel and I enjoyed the messiness that was the Francois sisters and Fabiola’s relationships with them.

Way to go Zoboi, this is a great debut novel!

The Upside of Unrequited


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Becky Albertalli
Genres: Young Adult
Read: July 2017

 

This was a cute book and it definitely surpassed my expectations. I thought it sounded a bit juvenile when I read the synopsis, but it was just so relatable! I have almost nothing in common with Molly, who is a twin, has two moms, a bi-racial family, and is fat, and yet I could totally remember what it was like being a teenager and thinking everyone has grown up and left you behind.

Molly’s the only one in her friend group who has never kissed anyone, but it never really bothered her until her twin sister, Cassie, gets her first girlfriend and Molly begins to feel like she’s been left behind. She’s had dozens of crushes over the years and Molly desperately wants a boyfriend, but she’s afraid to put herself out there and what people might think of her.

Every little thing matters when you’re a teenager. Your friends are your lifeline and the most important people in the world to you. But teenagers are really bad at balancing friends and boyfriends/girlfriends and I could absolutely relate to Molly’s fears that she was slowly losing her sister. Your romantic partner does eventually become the most important person in your life, but when only half of a friendship is having the experience of falling in love, it can be really hard to watch and it can make you feel really lonely.

It can also make you feel really uncomfortable when the people around you are having their first sexual experiences and you can’t relate with them. I liked that Albertalli addressed that a lot of teenagers exaggerate their sexual experiences to try and fit in. Molly felt so out of her depth when her friends started talking about sex and Reid expresses that he thinks half of them are just making things up to fit in. Molly is surprised to learn later that even though Cassie’s girlfriend Mina talked a big game, Cassie was the first person she had ever had any kind of romantic relationship with.

There was a lot going on in this novel and the sister relationship reminded me a little of Fangirl, but healthier. It’s a quick read and I enjoyed watching Molly grow and how her relationships changed. I could see people being upset that she ultimately resolves her issues by finding love (why couldn’t she just love herself?), but I thought that Molly actually did love herself already and that she needed to believe that other people could love her too. There was no antagonizing over how she was fat and trying to lose weight – she loved to eat and generally seemed happy with her body. It was more that she was worried that society tells us that fat girls are unlovable and that boys wouldn’t be able to see beyond her weight to who she actually is.

Side note, I also loved that Molly took medication for anxiety, but that it wasn’t part of the story. There wasn’t a sub-plot about her overcoming anxiety, she just takes medication and that helps her, end of story. Overall, I thought this was a sweet, coming-of-age story that had a ton of diversity! I know everyone is obsessed with Albertalli’s other book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but I actually found that one a little heavy handed and preferred the Upside of Unrequited!