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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: African American

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ward, Jesmyn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Jo Jo and his mother Leonie have been living on a farm in rural Missisippi for their entire lives. Jo Jo's father, Michael, has been in jail for drug related crimes, and thus most of Jo Jo and his sister Kayla's upbringing has been done by their grandparents: the gruff but ultimately loving Pop and the cancer-ridden matriarch, Mam. Everyone's world is about to be upended, though, as time grows near for Michael to get out of prison.

Writing any sort of synopsis for this book was particularly challenging, as there's not much in the way of plot. I don't mean that in a bad way. I sometimes love books that focus solely character development, and that is absolutely what this is. The writing is insanely gorgeous and it's obvious from the gruesome beginning scene as to why this won the National Book Award.

Ward manages to make almost all of the characters relatable or lovable even as they do and say and think terrible things. She absolutely captures some of the wonderfully horrible aspects of the human condition, and here is a lot to love in this book.

That being said, I did not much care for certain aspects of the audiobook. First, by the time I got the book, I had forgotten what it was actually about. I did not remember that ghosts were a part of the story and was really confused for the first part of the book (are these flashbacks? how is that character here? I thought he was dead?), but I eventually figured it out. For me, the ghosts detracted from the story and I could have done without that element, even though magical realism is often my jam. The biggest problem for me, however, was Rutina Wesley's performance (which, hilariously enough, is why I went for this in audiobook format - I liked her in the few seasons I watched of True Blood). It was over enunciated especially given that Leonie is from Mississippi, and I found her parts to be melodramatic as there were a lot of weird pauses and words said breathlessly. It just didn't work for me, and I wanted to skip all of Leonie's parts.

If you would like to read a gorgeously written character study/family drama with a compelling setting, then this is a great bet. Just read it, don't listen to it. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur BFF Vol. 1
Montclare, Brandon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lunella Lafayette is smart. Really really smart -- so much so that her parents and middle school classmates struggle to understand her. And as a latent Inhuman exposed to the terragen mists she should start expressing some kind of superpowers any day now. Nothing that being telepathically linked to a giant red Tyrannosaurus won't fix, right? This all ages comic works as the author has genuine respect for the voice and age of its protagonist. While the circumstances of this pairing are a little fantastic, the friendship is very real. This book is a great introduction to the wonder of comics for younger readers, and a great reminder for older ones.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca O.
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Duffy, Damian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
Booked
Alexander, Kwame
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Nick Hall has everything going for him: he's doing well in school, he's got a solid flirtation going with his crush (or...limerence as it were), and most importantly, he made the soccer travel team. And so, of course, everything starts to go wrong. His parents separate, he starts to get bullied and his best friend ends up on a soccer team 30 miles away.

Booked is absolutely in no way the type of book I would normally pick up, but despite that, I thought it was fantastic. It's a sports fiction novel written in verse neither of which are my thing, but man, I get why Crossover won that Newbery if it was anything like this. In very few words, Alexander manages to develop complex characters, create humor, and develop and subsequently neatly (a little too neatly, perhaps, but hey, it is a book for kids) tie up several plot lines. Oh! And the words! There is a fun little subplot in which Nick's dad wrote a dictionary, and it leads to some really awesome word play. I also learned a few new fun vocabulary words to throw around.

Anyway, my final thought is really just...wow. I'm impressed. I'll definitely be booktalking this one. And even though, like I said, it's not my thing AT ALL, I'll probably read Crossover, Alexander's other book. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
All American Boys
Reynolds, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Rashad Butler, ROTC student, budding artist, and black teenager walked into a local corner store to get some chips one day. A lady next to him getting beer tripped over something and fell into Rashad. Next thing Rashad knows, he's on the sidewalk getting crap beat out of him (in a loses consciousness/internal bleeding sort of way) by the white policeman installed at the corner store.

Quinn Jones, a white boy, witnesses the entire thing. And the policeman who beat up Rashad for no discernible reason? Well, that's Quinn's bestie's big brother, Paul. And Paul was almost like a big brother to Quinn growing up, as Quinn's dad died in Afghanistan when he was only 7. So Quinn has some thinking and deciding to do - does he betray Paul (and this is how its put to him by Paul) and quell the truth, or does he go to the police?

All American Boys is obviously a social justice book, and it's a timely and important one. I tried to read it, but didn't get very far due to having trouble with the vernacular (it didn't feel authentic), but when I listened to it? Wow. The narrators were fantastic. It was powerful, and made me cry on my way to work several times. I was left with the overall impression that everyone should read this book - if I were a teacher, I'd teach it in my classroom. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Taylor, Mildred D.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Wow. This book was amazing. It was so well-written that I felt like I was there experiencing everything with Cassie. I wonder if I could be as brave as the Logans when faced with bodily harm. The courage of all civil rights activists blows my mind. My mother's family lived in Mississippi in the 1930s and were white. I hope they were sympathetic to the plight of African Americans, and not racists. But in reality, they were likely racists like most other whites during that time. What would I have been like if I was born during that time period? I like to think I'd be sympathetic and would stand up for what's right, but if you're raised with inequality as your reality how do you overcome it? I guess with education and experience and a knowledge of right and wrong, justice and injustice. But still, would I have had the bravery to stand up for what's right if it means physical harm? I hope so. Brilliant book. Perhaps my favorite children's novel of all time.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Bryant, Lynne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I chose this book for my book group to read not knowing much about it. As one person in my book group put it "An unexpected pleasant surprise of a book". Lynne Bryant told a gripping story of a small town in the south that even though things in our country have progressed, they really haven't. It is the story of Roxanne who has her own secrets and how she becomes friends with an elderly black woman and her life is changed forever. Lynne Bryant really knows how to write characters that are so life-like, that you just want to meet someone like Grace, Adelle, and Mattie in person. This is a wonderful book for book groups because there is lots to discuss.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa