After Tupac and D Foster

This books, guys. Oh, this book. Emotions. Emotions.

Obviously, the title of said book is After Tupac and D Foster, written by the lovely Jacqueline Woodson. The book is narrated by a young girl living in Queens, right across the street from her best friend, Neeka. And one day, when she and Neeka are sitting on a stoop, D Foster turns the corner and enters their lives. And then, well. Nothing is the same.

The girls become close friends, sharing stories, experiences, and, of course, music. Specifically, the music of Tupac Shakur, a songwriter and rapper who seems to understand them. But D is a puzzle–she “roams,” as she likes to call it, walking the streets of New York City. “I saw all the trees and got off the bus and just starting roaming over this way,” she says when she first meets them.

Neeka and her friend don’t even know her real name.

As the story progresses, the girls grow. They turn into teenagers. They get into arguments, they laugh, they listen to Tupac. They worry together when Tupac is shot. And then he’s shot again–just a little while after D disappears, spirited away by a mother who’s ready to try again. And the first time our narrator talks to D in ages, it’s when D calls, saying, “Hey, girl. Our boy ain’t gonna make it.”

The characters in this book. God, I loved the characters. I just want to make everything better. I want to give Neeka’s brother Tash a guy he’ll love and who’ll love him back. I want to erase his jail time, because he shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place. I want to help Neeka to be the somebody she so badly wants to be. I want to protect Tash’s brothers–when he tells them never to end up where he is, it just hurts. Tash knows some people are going to judge them before they even open their mouths. And finally, I want to put the two halves of the nameless narrator together, for her to find herself in all those books she’s reading all the time.

And God, D. I want to hug D. I want to wrap up the life she should have had and put a bow on it and give it to her for her birthday. D is awesome, and she’s been through a lot. When she tells her friends about her mom wanting to try again, I felt a physical something in my gut. Jacqueline Woodson’s characters are so well-written and real, and I love them so much. They’re strong, and they’re human.

I also love THE WRITING. Trust me when I say that this author is a GREAT writer. Her prose flows and the voice of the narrator is so strong. I feel like I should post like five quotes or something, just to show you. So if there’s more than one quote at the end of this post, you’ll know why. The writing is freaking awesome.

Tupac and D Foster is definitely a book I recommend. It’s a fairly quick read, but it packs a lot of feeling and awesomeness into those 100 and something pages. It’s a truly great book, and I intend on checking out more of Jacqueline Woodson’s books soon.

Also, because it would be a sin to write a review of this book and not to link to some of Tupac’s music, here’s one of the two songs mentioned in the beginning of the book:

Have a wonderful Mother’s Day everybody!

Bookish Quotes of the Day:

“It’s like he sees stuff, you know? And he knows stuff. And he be thinking stuff that only somebody who knows that kinda living deep and true could know and think.”

“It’s because we black and we kids and he’s black and he’s just a kid–even though he’s twenty-three–and every single song he be singing is telling us a little bit more about what could happen to us and how the world don’t really care . . .”

“The summer before D Foster’s  real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.”

P.S. The part with Tash and his brothers also made me think of this amazing poem by Javon Jones:

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl

Hi, everyone! Remember when I wrote that post a couple weeks ago about This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl? Well, I got the book. I finished the book. And I swear I’m going to try to be somewhat intellectual and coherent about this, but. . .we’ll see, I guess?

The first thing I noticed about this book when I pulled it out of the packaging and flipped through it was the presentation. First of all, there’s that gorgeous cover, featuring Esther’s smiling face. 🙂 The pages are color-coded depending on their content–diary entries, essays, posts on Esther’s CaringBridge website, and more. And. . .I can’t even describe the awesomeness. See for yourself:

TSWGO Collage 1TSWGO Collage 2TSWGO Collage 6TSWGO Collage 7I took a lot of pictures. But there’s a lot of gorgeous there. Now, on to the deeper stuff. . .

The thing abut this book is that it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s so expansive and unique, from containing samples of Esther’s artwork to transcripts of her YouTube videos. It’s hard to give a description that could possibly encompass everything held within This Star Won’t Go Out‘s pages, from diary entries to essays to stories to blog posts. But, anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Esther Grace Earl, born on August 3rd, 1994, was an extremely empathetic, loving, and creative person who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 12 years old. Many of you have probably already heard of Esther, who also became friends with John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars. Esther became Internet-famous when John featured her in a video on his and his brother Hank’s YouTube channel, but it has been said many times that John’s book isn’t her story. But This Star Won’t Go Out is.

The book follows the trail of Esther’s life, starting out with a look into her earlier years and then going deeper, starting in 2007. It evolves by showing various facets of her day-to-day life: Writing notes to family members, watching Doctor Who with her brother Graham, visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston, and more.

When John Green said in this video about the book that Esther had a voice, he wasn’t kidding. I could still hear her distinctive tone in my head after closing the pages, playing in the background of my mind. Every one of her words is infused with her personality–whether she’s writing a diary entry about being upset, a Happy Mother’s Day note to her mom, or a funny page in a journal she shared with some of her friends that she met online.

Esther becomes so real in these pages. She is so alive through her writing and others’; she lives and breathes and loves in the words. As I kept reading, it became more and more impossible not to believe that she was at home, typing in an online chat or making a funny YouTube video.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were the parts concerning Esther and the group of friends she met on the Internet, collectively called Catitude. Keeping in touch through chats and Skype, they would stay up late into the night talking with each other, about all kinds of things. From the essays included in the book, and from Esther herself, it can be seen how strong Catitude’s friendships really are. I loved reading about these awesome people and how much they genuinely care for each other and love each other. It’s the kind of friendships that are truly valuable and real, and it’s so powerful and lovely to read about.

It feels like one of the absolutely best parts of the book–yes, one that made me cry–was the Make-a-Wish weekend. For her Wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Esther opted to have an IRL (in real life) weekend with her friends from Catitude and beyond, staying in a hotel in Boston. They played games, cuddled, had espresso, and hung out. (John Green joined them and made a video here.) Of the weekend, Catitude member Lindsay Ballantyne said, “Hours were spent cuddling, gorging ourselves on candy, and laughing at nonsense. Mostly cuddling. After all, that’s what the trip was for: spending time with people you love and finding little ways to show that you loved them.” (Page 262)

That love–that complete feeling of caring for those around you–just pours from the book. Especially from those parts of it.

When we review books, we often focus on the big, important stuff–plot, writing, clarity, whether it makes sense, etc. And those are all vitally important, majorly important. But (and I don’t even know if I’m saying this right) the book has to have a feeling, too. I think it has to have some sort of emotion to it, some sort of liveliness that can truly make it that thing we all want in life–a good book. When I reread the end of Eleanor & Park a couple nights ago, I could feel an ache in my stomach. When I think about SPOILER SPOILER in The Fault in Our Stars, I’m just like GAH. These books hit us and knock us over and make us feel, because they have feeling. But even that’s not exactly like This Star Won’t Go OutThis Star Won’t Go Out has a similar effect, but somehow it’s different–this book is about a girl named Esther Grace Earl, and, very much because of this, it’s also about love. It’s about loving someone completely and absolutely and unconditionally and that love is everywhere. It’s in the essays and the blog posts and the introductions and it pours out of the book and into the reader. It makes itself known. (As evidenced by the fact that I’m tearing up.)

Love is at the core of this book. That’s one of the biggest reasons that you should read it, because you shouldn’t miss out on that, and you shouldn’t miss out on Esther.

I know I’m not going to be able to get all that this book is down into a blog post, even a mammoth one. I can’t completely describe how I like Esther’s fiction, that her father’s comparison of her and John Green to a companion and the Doctor gave me so many feelings, that her family started a non-profit in her honor that’s really, really awesome. That’s why you have to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that it’s awesome, it’s wonderful, and, of course, it’s supermegafoxyawesomehot.

This is a book I can honestly say everyone should read. Esther Grace Earl should be heard, and other people deserve to hear her. I’m so glad that her family and friends put this together and shared her with the world. I’m really thankful for that.

And to Esther. Thank you for sharing the gift of yourself with the world. Thank you for changing it for the better, and for continuing to do so. Thank you for existing and being you. Nobody could ask for more.

Rest in Awesome, Esther Grace. I love you to infinity and beyond.

Some Quotes (because I can’t pick just one):

“I’m not sure if it was entirely sadness that caused the tears, but there was so much love. And that’s all that mattered. Despite the fear, despite the sadness, despite the pain, there was love. To me, that’s how Esther was. She was all things human: imperfect, flawed, scared. But to me, what makes her so remarkable is that she was also so, so full of love and so willing and eager to share it.

Catitude continues to be imperfect, flawed, and scared, but we have a lot more love in our midst thanks to Esther. And we love her so much for that. I love her so much for that. I miss you, E.” –Teryn Gray (Page 270)

“I was just thinking how I don’t know if I’ll live. I’m so scared. God means so much to me, but I wish He could heal me. Is that vain? selfish? stupid? That I want to be better is, I think, any sick child’s wish. You know how God especially loves children? I’m a child–right? Well, I just want him to lift me up and hug me, like in all those pictures of Jesus and the children . . . Is that too much to ask for? Maybe so, I don’t know.” –Esther, diary entry (Page 71)

“Sometimes I just sit and watch the chat and everyone is so funny and intelligent and caring for one another. It’s like this truest, purest, most wonderful form of love and friendship. I don’t know. It’s just the best. And Esther was part of that. She was that. The best.” –Alysia Kozbial (Page 203)

“So I keep going between wanting to use correct grammar, punctuation, capitalizing skills and overall good writing, and not worrying about it. See, that night there was a briiiiiilliant LOL VIDEO! I meant sentence. bah aha oh man #nerd” –Esther, Catitude Stalker Notebook (Page 217)

And finally, here is one of Esther’s YouTube videos, and a video of the Wizard Rock band Harry and the Potters performing their song The Weapon with the crowd at the TSWGO launch event:

This version is pretty awesome, too, and this is a great song written for Esther, also.

I hope you all have a great week, and stay safe!

Love you all,

Nora

Two Boys Kissing

Hello again! If this book looks familiar, that’s because I’ve already gushed about it here. But that wasn’t enough. It deserves more.

(Unfortunately, this post has actually been languishing in my Drafts for months. Which is horrible, considering how much I absolutely love the book. I am ashamed.)

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan, revolves around several characters. Harry and Craig are trying to set the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss–32 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds. (WHOA.) Peter and Neil are dating, whiling away companionable hours in bookstores and on the sofa, watching movies. For Cooper, such hours don’t seem to be in reach. In fact, they’re practically in a parallel universe. Instead, Cooper spends his time online and on apps, flirting with strangers and hoping he feels something, for once. Avery and Ryan meet at a gay prom, and that’s the start of something (they hope). Tariq is friends with Harry and Craig, and he’s trying to help them, whilst trying to survive himself.

All of these characters are trying to navigate love, the times, and life itself. They’re trying to be themselves and to have others be okay with that. They’re trying to live, and this book is a snapshot of what that’s like for them right now. Harry and Craig kissing, Cooper being glued to his phone. . .their individual lives and how they interact are the focus of the story. And, honestly? The result is fantastic.

Each of these characters is unique and well-drawn. They’re special, each standing out in his own way. They all are deep and real, and their stories are compelling and captivating, showing pain and love and hate. There’s brutality and feelings and music and books and GAH. I cared about them so much. (Not to mention the fact that I completely agree with Peter and Neil’s idea of fun. Browsing the Young Adult sections of bookstores? Yes, please.)

But the narration of this story adds so much, too. The way it’s done–in the voices of a former gay generation, who fought prejudice and injustice and many of whom lost their lives to AIDS–contributes a whole new dimension to the various plots, as well as insights, so many insights. (I was tearing up as I typed this. No, really.) It’s painful and honest, and the writing is so amazingly beautiful in and of itself that I wanted to cry because it was so great. The way the experiences of the characters are described is perfect. Levithan’s writing is gorgeous and I don’t even know how to fully describe it. I can’t do it justice.

IT’S THAT GOOD.

The characters’ lives and their stories are revealed masterfully, complete with revelations and feelings and yes yes yes yes it was amazing. It’s funny, serious, and so important. Really. I don’t even know how to fully articulate my feelings for this book, because they are the kind of feelings you don’t know how to write about. This is the kind of book that you just want to share. You want to shout its name from the rooftops, and you want to buy a million and one copies just so you can push it into every pair of hands you see.

David Levithan, I will literally kneel down and worship the ground on which you stand. Everything was just amazing. Get the book. You should get the book. GET THE BOOK.

NOW, PLEASE.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt abut how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.” —Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

P.S. If you need more convincing, there are more amazing (spoiler-free) quotes to be found here. BUT FORGET MORE CONVINCING. JUST GET THE BOOK ALREADY.

P.P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I now have a Tumblr. Yes, ’tis true! I won’t be posting full blog posts there, but I’ll be reblogging book-related things, fandom stuff, etc. Please note: Since I’m reblogging stuff that I didn’t write, there may be the occasional curse word. Have a great weekend, everybody!

Catalyst

Psst. Guys. Hey, hey, guys. You. Yes, you, staring at your computer screen. HEY.

Midterms are over.

THANK YOU DUMBLEDORE!

Now that those horrible, ugh-worthy things are over, guess what that means? LONG WEEKEND! READING! WASTING TIME ON THE INTERNET! AND A BLOG POST FOR ALL YOU LOVELY PEOPLE!

Whoops. Sorry for the caps attack.

Anyway, as you have no doubt noticed, this blog post is about Catalyst, written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Which I started to read completely by accident. You know, when you pick a book while you’re waiting for something and you’re like, “I’ll just read a few pages.” And then, inevitably. . .

Yep. I was hooked. I had to finish it. So let’s jump right in: A summary!

(Be glad my review summaries aren’t like the summaries I have to write for school. Because it appears that I have an issue with a thing called brevity.)

The star of our story is Kate Malone–a senior in high school with a sharp mind, a sharp wit, and an even sharper desire: To get into MIT. Honestly, there isn’t even really a choice in the matter. Because it’s the only school she’s applied to.

No, really.

As the days tick by and she waits for her letter (her acceptance letter), Kate is getting by  fine. Really. So what if she can’t sleep? A person can get loads of things done in the night when everyone else is snoring. She’s fine. She’s got great grades, she’s got Chemistry, she’s got her friends and boyfriend.  She’s got running. It’s all good, great, she’ll have that letter any day now.

And then everything just kind of goes a little crazy.

The Litch family’s house catches on fire. Kate ends up sharing her room and home with Teri Litch, who made a habit of beating her up in elementary school. College is still hanging over her head. At least Mikey Litch is an adorable little bundle of joy.

And just when stuff is starting to look maybe a little bit better. . .it all blows up again. Only even more.

One of the things that really struck me about this book is Kate’s voice as a narrator. I love it. More than anything, I think that’s what made me want to keep reading after I sat down and read those few (17?) pages. There are some really, really, really golden lines in there, and the way Kate narrates is very uniquely hers. Her attitude is so much fun to read.

The characters are all well written, and Kate’s friends, Travis and Sarah, were definitely fun and unique. The plot was well done, too, and Anderson added a number of little touches and other conflicts, which made Kate’s community and world seem all the more developed and real. Kate’s problems with her father, Reverend Jack Malone, for example, or the little snippets of science and math references, because those subjects are both a big part of Kate and her life. The way the book is formatted is also really cool, containing snippets of science and chemistry terms that are fully integrated into the book itself. I don’t particularly like science, and I found it neat.

So, all in all, Catalyst was a really good read, and I would definitely recommend it, especially if you’ve enjoyed more of Anderson’s work. Actually, her new book, The Impossible Knife of Memory, has just been released!

I hope you’re all enjoying your long weekend, and guess what? Guess what?!

The 3rd season of Sherlock premieres in the U.S. tonight.

If you need me, I’ll be sobbing and fangirling in the other room. No doctors are needed, but cookies are always appreciated.

Bye!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Sweat trickles along the bones of my face and licks my neck. Running, sweating, evaporating. . . I’m distilling myself in the dark: mixture, substance, compound, element, atom. The ghost is getting closer. Run faster. Push beyond the wall, push beyond my limits. My chest is flayed open; no lungs to breathe with, no heart to pound. The air flows around and between my shiny bones. My skin is silk. I take it off when I get hot. . .

I wish I never had to stop.” —Catalyst, by Laurie Halse Anderson

P.S. If any of you are interested in Vidcon, which is a convention for YouTubers and vloggers, the video below has a great idea for it. (The video she made previously that she mentions can be found here.) (She’s a great YouTuber!)

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.

Monster

Hello all. So I had been meaning to read a book by Walter Dean Myers for a while, but I really wanted to after I saw him at the National Book Festival last year. He was definitely interesting to listen to, and his book sounded equally intriguing. So I got one from the library. The book in question is Monster, the story of teenage Steve Harmon, whose life may be a tad different from yours. He’s in jail.

The book tells the story of how he ended up there, as well as what’s it like for Steve, being on trial for murder and all. For me, it was kind of like Night, by Elie Wiesel, in that it offered an up-close and personal look at what it’s like for a kid going through an awful and striking experience, the kind of look that sort of smacks you in the face and makes you think, “Wow.” Myers really succeeds in making his story seem real, which is one of the best things about it. The book is also written in a unique format. It’s a mash-up of Steve’s journal entries and the script for a movie he’s writing, to help him cope with what he’s going through. At first, I was worried that this would take away from the enjoyment of the book, but it didn’t; it was actually pretty interesting. The plot is gripping, especially since Myers continuously holds off on letting the reader know if Steve is actually guilty or not. The characters are just as well-written and interesting, and Myers definitely manages to make Steve, a suspected criminal, a human being, despite the prosecutor’s assessment of him–that he’s a monster. One of the other things I liked about the book was that it offered a look at life in and relating to the courtroom that was pretty new for me, which only makes the book better. All in all, I would definitely suggest you read Monster. It’s an important book, and it deserves it.

Literary Quote of the Day: “When you’re young, you make mistakes. The big thing that’s different now is that when I was a kid, you could survive your mistakes. We didn’t have guns. Today, kids have access to guns. The same kids that would have been in trouble and gotten a stern talking-to are now going to jail for fifteen or twenty years. Instead of bloody noses there are bodies lying in the street with chalk outlines around them. The values are basically the same, but it’s easier to mess up.” –Walter Dean Myers

The Fault in Our Stars

Okay, so I know I mentioned this in my last post, but I just loved it SO MUCH that I feel it deserves a review of its own. Plus, I just finished another book by the author, the incredibly awesome John Green, and then was reminded of this book, and one thing led to another, and POOF! New post.

This book is titled The Fault in Our Stars, and tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who spends most of her time inside rereading (and rereading and rereading and rereading) the same book over and over. That, and watching episodes of America’s Next Top Model. Until her mother convinces (or forces) her to start attending a cancer kids support group. It is at one of these meetings that Hazel makes the acquaintance of Augustus Waters, a  former osteosarcoma patient who immediately starts hanging out with her. And–

Okay, here’s the thing I’ve realized about this book: It’s an amazing book. It really is. And it is also a ginormous pain to describe. Like, I could write “And Hazel and Augustus embarked on a long journey of self discovery” or something equally formal, but that wouldn’t really fit in with the rest of the post, now would it? Basically, this story of Hazel and Augustus has a lot of stuff in it, like big ideas and champagne and romance and epicness and all that jazz that makes it so awesome and sad and thought-provoking. It’s a really good book. I love the writing, the story, and the characters (particularly the character’s names–John Green is a genius with names), and I think that other people would, too. It is totally worth a read. So go. Get it. Now.