Tyler Johnson Was Here (2018) Book Review

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Summary: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.
Pros:
Colorful Characters. We meet a lot of characters in this story. They all stand out on their own I think, with their own usefulness, nicknames and what they mean in Marvin’s, and by extension, Tyler’s life.
  • Marvin Johnson. He is our narrator and he’s just a regular teenager in Alabama. He’s considered an “oatmeal creme pie” because he’s black but “acts white”, whatever that means lol, along with his two best friends. He’s smart, but unlike his brother, he’s the less popular one and maybe more awkward. Marvin wants to go to MIT, he knows that life is challenging due to the color of his skin and he tries to make sure he’s never in the position where his life is threatened, sometimes it just happens. When they have an encounter with an officer in the beginning, he watches his twin become increasingly distant and he worries. He often thinks he should do or say more than what he does, so when Tyler dies, he feels a tremendous guilt that he should have done something to help Tyler. As the book continues, we learn more about his anger, his extreme pain as he feels like his life has been taken away from him because his brother was taken away from him. Marvin is likable, and you really feel for him, but you also root for him to find peace. The fact that the book is told in his point of view, really allows for an up-close and personal look.
  • Tyler Johnson. Yes, he does die, but in the beginning of the book, we get to meet him and love him, and feel conflicted the same way Marvin does. Tyler and Marvin are close, but after an encounter with an officer in the beginning, Tyler becomes distant and we learn that he gets involved with a group of kids who he really shouldn’t. He says that it’s because he wants to help their mother out more around the house, but I think, that he was doing it because he wanted to feel safe or feel that he could protect himself if the time came down to it with another encounter. We don’t really know for sure, but I feel like, from what we’re told about him, that I really do like this kid and I wished he could have lived to live out his life.
  • Mama Johnson. You really feel for their mother. I believe they live in Alabama so she’s constantly worried that something will happen to her two black sons. When Tyler first “goes missing” she believes Marvin’s lie that he was at a friend’s house, and she’s hopeful, especially with the nonsense that happened at the party that everyone heard about. She breaks when Tyler’s body is discovered, and you really hope that she doesn’t remain broken throughout because Marvin needs her as much as she needs him. It’s sad watching her through Marvin’s eyes and how he feels like he can’t do anything for her, but she remains a strong presence for him, especially at the end.
  • Ivy & G-Mo. I put them together, but they are Marvin’s best friends and they complete the “Oatmeal Creme Pie Group”. They are ride or die friends, no matter how much Marvin might push them away in the story, they understand which I liked. They didn’t turn on him in his time of need which showed the strength of their friendship. Anytime Marvin called them and needed them, they answered and came. It was really sweet. Plus, whenever all three of them together, know there might be some corniness going on.
  • Faith. She starts out at this mysterious girl Marvin sees at the party. I at first thought, she was just going to serve a purpose and never show up again, but she becomes a large part of Marvin’s life. She starts out affiliated with Johntae (the gang member Tyler started hanging around) and Marvin goes to her for help, she at first refuses, but his persistency causes her to get more involved. She becomes another lifeline for Marvin and she’s really sweet to him. I wouldn’t have minded if she wasn’t in the story, but I saw the purpose she served, she was someone who entered his life because of the tragedy and remained.
The Story. The idea of a teenaged black boy being killed by a police officer is unfortunately nothing new, especially now. This book is very relevant considering its nature and I think that’s what makes it so powerful and emotional. It’s told from Marvin’s point of view, and we get to see him experience atrocities such as having guns pointed at him, dealing with his wrongfully incarcerated father, his brother who he feels pulling away from, not to mention his brother missing for a large chunk of the book, and worrying about where his life will head next. I think all of this is something that most people, especially young black people will experience and relate to. The principal in the school was absolutely ridiculous and I think people experience that in real life. I just think the story, at its core will hit very close to home.
Powerful Message. The book talks a lot about grief, loss, police brutality, blackness, among other things. I don’t think it rushes past anything, I think the grief is handled as realistically as possible. Marvin is in pain from losing his brother, but he feels a strong guilt as well that he should have done something. Justice, hatred and racism is a large part of the story as well, and Marvin gets to experience it first-hand. Just be prepared to go through a lot during this book, but it’s not preachy. It doesn’t feel heavy handed.
Realistic/Emotional. I teared up in quite a few places while reading. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record in the nature of the book, but I think it’s imperative to know that this isn’t an easy book to read. I mean, what it’s talking about should be something that’s acknowledged and talked about in society period, and Marvin often shares his feelings, I mean it’s in his point of view, but he doesn’t shy away from his anger, confusion or frustration. Reading about him watching his mother fall apart, or reading Marvin trying to make sense of his feelings, or his reaction when he finally sees the video of Tyler’s final moments. It’s pretty heartbreaking.
The Ending. So, I’m going to kind of mention this later, but the actual ending of the book was beautiful. I know what it’s like to have to spread ashes of a family member, it’s kind of weird experience, so I can relate to Marvin in that way. However, while there are still a few things that need to be tidied up, we get a sense of “moving on” for everyone, even Tyler.
The Cover. I mean just look at it. It’s beautiful. I love the flowers and the softness of the black boy. I just like that it’s not aggressive or sensual or any of the typical covers with black teens on the cover. I like that a lot of these young adult covers with black characters are going this route. It shows that our young people can be soft too.
Cons:
Starts off Slow. Because you pretty much know that Tyler dies at some point thanks to the description, you’re waiting for that moment while reading the book. It’s like you’re tense for most of the story, which is a good thing in ways, but it’s also a bad thing, because it takes a while to really gain some traction. I didn’t really get sucked into the story until a bit later, the first few chapters were for setting up, but it did really slowly.
Drawn Out. There are a lot of moments in the book, mostly towards the end, where it felt like it should have concluded many times. There was a part where it was damn near a perfect ending and I don’t think I would have been upset with that being the ending. The actual ending is great, don’t get me wrong, but I got the sense that Jay Coles tried to wrap everything up as best he could, but he could have done it many times.
Overall, I liked Tyler Johnson Was Here, the cover is beautiful, and I wanted to read it from the moment I saw it. I love the cover with the flowers and the soft, handsome black boy on the cover. I like all of the main characters, we definitely get some hated characters like the principal, and Johntae, and of course the police officer, but mostly all of the characters are likable. Especially Marvin and his friends. Marvin is our narrator and he tells the story with an emotional connection that keeps you invested once the story really picks up. It’s a realistic and emotional story that hits close to home with the tragedy of a black boy being murdered by a police officer, not to mention the many encounters of police brutality. I think the dialogue is pretty witty and sounds like black southern teenagers haha, I never felt like they were just characters in a book because some teens talk like that in real life. My only negatives are that the book takes a while to pick up, it starts off with a bang but then it slows down for a while. It kind of does that throughout as it feels like it’s being drawn out, there were many moments where the book should have ended, but it kept going. Don’t get me wrong, the ending was great but there were a lot of moments where it could have ended well. WITH THAT SAID, this is a great read and a great experience. Check it Out.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
What I’m Reading Next:
Scott Pilgrim– Bryan Lee O’Malley (but I’m not going to review these)

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The Last Black Unicorn– Tiffany Haddish (might review this, dunno)

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Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now (2018) Book Review

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Summary: I’ve got seven days to come clean to my new dad. Seven days to tell the truth…

For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Pros:
Characters. We actually met a LOT of characters in this book but I think going through all of them or even mentioning would kind of ruin you getting to know them as Tiffany does so I’m not going to do that.
  • Tiffany Sly. She is our protagonist and our narrator. She just turned 16 and is traveling to California to live with a father she’s never met. In the first chapter, we learn that she is terrified of flying, and also terrified to meet Anthony Stone. She has anxiety and she’s always worried about things that could possibly kill her. Irrational fears and what not. She is very nervous about meeting her father, but she’s also a bit in doubt since not long before she departed, another man came to her home, thinking he might be her father and he wants her to take a DNA test. So she’s thinking about that, plus, the other man is going to serve her father a court order so she has to take a DNA test and she’s thinking about that time frame. Seven days to confirm who might be her father. She marches to the beat of her own drum, she doesn’t conform, at least not completely, she does try not to test the waters, but she can’t help but to speak out against certain things she finds ridiculous that her new family does. She’s easy to befriend Marcus, even though he did come off as weird in the beginning and everyone freaks out about him, but she was pretty easy about it. She’s from Chicago, so she tries really hard not to be a stereotype in this new place, that’s also majority white. I really liked Tiffany, there wasn’t anything about her I didn’t like. She’s super tall, so of course people assume she likes and/or plays a sport but she’s into music. I loved her “nerdiness” and just how it was just natural and a part of her and not something shocking because she’s a black girl into what she’s into.
  • Anthony Stone. He is a potential father for Tiffany, but he is the one she’s going to live with. We don’t really get to meet him until the second or third chapter, and he’s interesting but also seems very detached and I did not like him, mostly in the beginning. I softened up to him more towards the end, but it was a hard journey. I felt like Tiffany when it came to him. She was kind of awkward with him, but unsure if he could be her father, especially once she meets him and sees what he looks like. There are moments where it feels right, where you wonder “Wow, maybe he is her father” but then he does something outrageous and you’re like “NO! He can’t be her dad!” I mean this dude has some pretty ridiculous moments, but he’s also kind of tragic in ways. A lot of things that dealt with him made me cry, especially at the end. Oh man. I had so much whiplash with him but I think Dana L. Davis wrote an interesting man.
  • Marcus McKinney. Definitely my favorite character of the book, he’s definitely a secondary leading character but I loved every bit with him. When we first meet him, I was a little unsure to what he was doing, or what he looked like because of his description but it becomes clear later. It does take a while to learn what is up with him but I think that’s part of his charm as well. He doesn’t care anything about what other people think about him and he just lives his life because it’s his to live. There is something different about him and Tiffany doesn’t really pick up on it until later, but she never makes a big deal about anything. Marcus doesn’t either. He became a great friend for Tiffany and she for him. He wrote a book in the book and I actually want to read his book.
Realistic Dialogue. I definitely have to give Dana L. Davis praise, because the dialogue in this book was very realistic. Especially for the teenage characters. I always complain when I read certain young adult books because it seems like the authors don’t really understand how teenagers respond to things, or how they speak to each other. Sometimes it comes off really pretentious or childlike and just ugh, but Dana L. Davis does it so well. Tiffany sounded like a true 16-year-old teenage African-American girl. The conversations she would have with her grandmother on the phone, with her best friend, even the conversations she would have with London and her other sisters. It just really flowed well and it sounded genuine instead of generic and awkward. I mean outside of Tiffany being awkward in general.
Humorous. I laughed quite a lot reading this book. The dialogue is so funny, and the interactions between characters is always entertaining. The book is told in Tiffany’s point of view, so we get a lot of her inner thoughts and her reactions to things, her irrational fears, her though processes, or her telling us how other characters are looking at her, or reacting was very funny. Also, Marcus being so enigmatic as he was, was also pretty funny too and he did it without trying it was just part of his character. Also, Neveah is maybe where most of the humor comes from when it comes to dialogue. That little girl will say whatever it is she wants and doesn’t find the problem with it.
The Family Dynamic. Tiffany’s mother passed before the events of the book, she is still very hurt from it, but she has hope, since she is going to live with her father in California. She’s never met him so it’s a first anyway, but I think we see of the family is pretty interesting. I don’t necessarily agree with what the Stones do, or even believe in, I think it’s a little extreme, but that’s how it is for some families and I appreciate that the book really touched on that. Their family was dysfunctional and they tried to pretend like they weren’t. I always find that very interesting because there is so many options to explore. Also, when Tiffany gets added to the mix, it’s very weird and awkward at first, but as the book progresses, the women of the family, well some of them, really become a strong lifeline for her, or her for them. It was a great natural progression.
Very emotional. I cried. A lot actually. The book deals with death and grief, and loneliness and family, and abandonment and I can understand a lot of that. I’m definitely not going to get into anything, but I do think if you’ve lost a parent, or someone you were close to, this would really hit home for you. Also, Tiffany has anxiety, among other things and seeing her deal with that, or dealing with her father who doesn’t believe in that kind of stuff, it’s hard and challenging but the way it’s handled is really beautiful. I think the end, the last few chapters are what really got me, especially after the trip in Malibu. Oh man, I can imagine if you don’t cry but don’t be surprised if you do.
Thought provoking. Marcus McKinney is a fantastic character, probably my favorite in the story but he is so smart and his beliefs are truly amazing. I’ve never met anyone like him but I can imagine I’d befriend him as well. He’s a bit odd at first glance, sure, but the way he thinks about God and energy, I was like “he’s legit” and I actually feel the same way in some instances. I talked about it with my coworker the other day and we both were like “so deep”. I mean, I really thought about it while he would explain it to Tiffany. Plus, there was something special about him anyway, so he felt like a pure person.
Cons:
Unfinished Plotlines. I do think there is a lot that happens in this book. We get a lot of information and while I do think the book handles a lot of it really well, I do wish it would have gone a bit deeper, particularly with Pumpkin. She apparently she’s on the spectrum and at first I thought it was just something the mom made up, or they thought because they didn’t know how to really parent her outbursts, but the mom does try but nothing else really comes of that. Not that it had to be a big part of the story, but since it was brought up and since it was something Tiffany was around, I thought we should have seen more of that. Also, with London, there is something that happens with her and it does kind of become a little big something, but it kind of just ends. It was kind of strange to be honest.
Overall, I really loved Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now because it felt like an authentic story. Tiffany was a realistic teenager, she didn’t feel like an adult’s view of a teenager which I appreciated. I loved her interactions with other characters, and how she just marched to the beat of her own drum, she didn’t care because it was who she was. She loved her music, she loved the idea of what a father would be like to her and I think that’s all beautiful and so realistic for a teenage girl whose never had a father. I thought while complicated, Anthony Stone was a great character and someone who I ended up really liking and thinking was tragic by the end. Marcus was my favorite and I just want to sit and speak with him and also read his book. It’s funny, it’s emotional, it made me go “TELL EM AGAIN GIRL” and I finished it in a day so I loved it. My only real negative was that I felt there were a few storylines that didn’t get wrapped up as easily and I thought about it afterwards. But regardless, fantastic story.
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars.
What I’m reading Next:
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

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The Sun Is Also a Star Book Review

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Summary:
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
Pros:
The Characters. The way this book is written, we get to meet and learn about a lot of characters, including the supporting ones. But I’m not going to really get into all of that here, just a few, mostly the two lead characters.
  • Natasha Kingsley. She is Jamaican-American, and her family is being deported for being illegal immigrants. She is trying to figure out how to stop that from happening.  She ends up meeting Daniel by chance. Natasha comes off as cynical, she really loves science and believes everything should be able to be explained by science. She is a bit brash, likes honesty and says what she wants when she thinks it. She has a determined personality and doesn’t believe in fate.
    • I quite liked Natasha. I thought she was a very realistic teenager in how she thinks, how she reacts to things considering how she’s grown up. I loved the fact that she was black with a large afro and that she carried herself confidently and that she was extremely smart and interested in science. There were times when I wish she wasn’t so… cynical about life and hope etc but I thought that was kind of realistic for what was happening and how her life had been.
  • Daniel Jae Ho Bae. He was my favorite. Korean-American, he and his older brother were born in America but his parents are immigrants from South Korea and his father especially is steeped in doing what’s best, not doing what they want. He wants to be a poet but his parents want him to go to Yale, become a doctor, marry a Korean girl and all of that. While he wants to do his own thing, he doesn’t know what that is. He happens to meet Natasha by seeing her dancing across the street in New York City and a series of events allows him to actually meet her.
    • I like Daniel a lot, like I said he was my favorite. I like guys who are romantic without being “too much”. I like the fact that it was him who fell first and that he was intelligent enough to talk to her, to let her know he wanted to know what she knew. He was quite the charmer and he seemed like if he was real, he would be really interesting to talk to, I’d think I’d like him. Plus, the Noraebang (karaoke) scene was the best.
The relationships. A big part of this novel is how Daniel and Natasha interact with other people, as well as each other. Due to the way the novel is written, we are able to see a bit more into some of these character’s backstories, which helps humanize them in a way they might not be through what is thought and said by Daniel and Natasha. It’s great.
  • Daniel and Charlie. Charlie is Daniel’s older brother and he’s a major douche nozzle. We learn from Daniel the moment when they started to drift apart and they basically have an antagonistic relationship moving forward. Charlie seems to hate Daniel but I don’t think Daniel necessarily hates Charlie, it’s just that he doesn’t get why his brother seems to dislike him so much and Daniel had to learn how to stand up to him.
  • Daniel and his parents. Definitely an interesting dynamic. His mother is like a mother, a bit nagging but loving. The tone of Daniel’s day really starts because his mother tells him something about his brother than Charlie overhears, but we really don’t spend that much time with her. When we meet his father, it’s at their shop and his father discovers that Daniel is with a black girl and he basically tells him “no” and that he needs to stick to the plan. It’s quite interesting.
  • Natasha and her father. We do meet her mom and brother but it’s really the relationship with her father that is most prominent and interesting. She is upset with him, it’s his fault they’re being deported, she hates him because of something she overheard him say to his wife and she hasn’t said a word to him about it. But we learn a lot about him through her eyes, as well as from his backstory tidbits we learn throughout the novel
  • Natasha and Daniel. Obviously, being the main center of the story… they just work.
The Style of Writing. The way the novel is written is very different. The story is told in present tense in Daniel and Natasha’s point of view, it switches back and forth between the two. Sometimes it’s a few pages of a chapter and other times, it’s just a page or two. It also includes backstories of other characters they have come into contact with as well as minor histories of things such as: the Black Hair Care business, fate etc. I quite liked it. It makes for easy read and it helps to understand side characters because even if they are minor, they all have reasons to be involved with the story.
The Story/Romance. It’s a romance, but it’s a tentative one. The characters have to progress into it. Natasha is so cynical that she doesn’t believe in love the way that Daniel does, who is a romantic. They really do spend the day getting to know each other, learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and it was natural, the way young adults would. I thought Nicola Yoon handled their personal problems well, their inner voices, their struggles and all of that built into what they grow into.
Cons:
Starts off slow. It did take me a moment to get into this book. I normally don’t like reading books told from different points of views. Sometimes it’s not done well and it’s annoying. That didn’t bother me here, it was just that it took a moment to get started. Once the day actually begins with Daniel and Natasha being away from home… it starts to pick up.
Not for everyone. This is the kind of book I would think is not for everyone. I mean, no book is, but definitely noticeable here. I think if the characters and the writing didn’t sweep me up, I might have disliked it. If you’re not into romance, don’t read it. If you don’t like it when characters doubt where things could go… then don’t read it. Personally, I do think this book could change your perspective on that but just saying.
Overall, I loved this book. I don’t think I’ve loved a book like this in a long time. One that featured non-white leads, written by a black woman and that didn’t have some fantasy element to it. I like adventure/fantasy type books and I loved this book and it had none of that. I loved the characters, I loved the way they interacted with each other. Normally, I’m wary of young adult books because the dialogue could sound older than what it is but I didn’t think that here, and the times where I might have, it wasn’t jarring. I loved their romantic progression, it wasn’t forced. The ending tore me up inside and was filled with hope. I cried. If a book can make me cry and no one died… well done.
Rating: 4.7o out of 5 stars.
Also by Nicola Yoon: Everything, Everything.

 

Forged By Fire Book Review

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The second book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy, Forged by Fire, is not as emotionally driven as the first book, but the way the story is told, allows for different emotions, other than grief to surface. I didn’t get as emotional as I did in the first book, but it does drum up emotions in various areas. For me, it was mostly towards the end.
*Summary: When his loving aunt dies, Gerald suddenly is thrust into a new home filled with anger and abuse. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes Gerald miserable, and the only light in his grim life is Angel, his younger stepsister. Gerald and Angel grow close as he strives to protect there from Jordan, his abusive stepfather, and from their substance-addicted mother. But Gerald learns, painfully, that his past can’t be extinguished, and that he must be strong enough to face Jordan in a final confrontation, once and for all…
Pros:
Characters. The main character is Gerald  and it’s mostly his story. We see the world through his eyes, from when he’s a child to him being a seventeen year old young man. His young stepsister Angel can be considered the second leading character as well. Outside of them, there are three supporting characters.
  • Gerald Nickelby. When we first meet Gerald he’s a three year old and we’re introduced right away to his story. He lives with his single mother, Monique who is a drug addict and neglectful. His mother leaves him alone one night and he accidentally sets fire to the apartment, she doesn’t return until after he’s in the hospital. Gerald ends up living with his Aunt Queen, who raises him till he’s 9. With Aunt Queen, he learns how to live his life and be a child without worrying when his mother will return. When his mother reenters his life, he meets Angel, his younger sister and he immediately takes to her. He’s protective of her, and teaches her how to be brave. Unfortunately, Aunt Queen dies and Gerald has to live with his mother and her new husband and at such a young age, Gerald has to mature. He’s physically abused by Jordan but he remains strong for himself and mostly for Angel. Throughout the novel, even after Jordan is jailed and returns… Gerald remains strong for his family even if he feels like ehe can’t protect the women in his life. It’s easy to tell, even later in the novel, when he’s a teenager, that he still yearns for the love of his mother.
  • Angel Sparks. She starts off as a seven year old, who is physically and sexually abused by Jordan making her a shy and meek child. When she meets Gerald, she immediately takes to him and when he moves in with them, she views him as her protector. As she gets older, she has a passion for dance and is described to be very graceful and pretty. When Jordan comes back into their lives, she’s obviously afraid but tries to be hopeful, that he truly loves their mother, that he’s changed and he just wants to be in the family.
  • Jordan Sparks. Very much the villain of the story, he sparks fear into his entire family. He’s described as a big man and he physically abuses his family as well as sexually abusing Angel. His character is very much one dimensional as nothing changes with him even if he pretends to be. He’s meant to be scary, imposing and intimidating.
  • Monique Sparks. Gerald and Angel’s mother, she starts off being neglectful to Gerald. She is drug addict and neglectful as she leaves him home alone often. When he’s injured in the fire, she’s jailed. Later she returns with the hopes of him living with her now that she’s changed and for the most part, it does seem like she’s doing much better than before. At first, she refuses to acknowledge Jordan’s abusive nature and is very upset when the kids manage to get him arrested and jailed. But without him, they all do much better.
The Story. A connecting theme in these novels is “self discovery”, Gerald’s story leads him into becoming brave and a man. Something he wasn’t always. Unfortunately, he has to deal with a lot of hardships before being able to get to that part. It’s a very simple story but the journey must be experienced in order to feel relief in the end. The story at it’s basis is a good one, but I’ll talk about this more below.
The Title. I didn’t mention this with Tears of a Tiger but the title of this novel, is pretty clever. Fire is a big part of the story. It’s what takes Gerald away from Monique in the beginning and it’s what brings him closer to her in the end. According to dictionary.com, “forged” means: to form by heating and hammering; beat into shape which is the better definition for this particular story. Gerald, at a young age is forged by the first fire from a scared and neglected child into a determined and loved little boy which leads into who he becomes as a young man. He’s not necessarily exposed to fire again literally, but instead figuratively, as he goes “out of the frying pan and into the fire” while dealing with Jordan. His mother was enough in the beginning but Jordan is much worse. Later, when there’s another fire, Gerald this time, instead of being afraid must protect those he loves.
Cons:
Silly Dialogue. Like I said in my review for the first novel, I’m sure it has to do with the time period as well as the environment, but that doesn’t make it any less funny.
Too Short. I’m sure these books weren’t meant to be that long, as the third book is the longest in the trilogy but I think the depth of the characters and the story would have benefitted if it was longer. Due to it being so short, while the story and characters are interesting, it would help the reader to relate get more emotionally attached to Gerald and Angel especially. Plus, there’s just so much going on, so much time passes in this short novel that it feels overcrowded.
Melodramatic and Shallow. Now, I think these books are very good for young readers, especially African American preteens and teenagers to read, and while the basic story is a good one, everything surrounding it can be a bit “extra” making the story “soap opera-ish.” It becomes “shallow” because it only scratches the surface of the problem and only allows us to get but so close to the characters. It might have been different if the story was told fro Gerald’s point of view, or maybe even started with him being a nine year old, with him remembering how he got to that point… something else to help give some depth.
Character Development. I like the characters, I think they’re still pretty strong but they also falter in that there’s not enough development for them. It’s probably contradictory but what we’re given is some good skeletons, that could have benefited from more meat. This is why I think the story is suffers from being too short because there’s not enough time to really dig into these characters due to the amount of “stuff” going on.
Timing/Continuity/Consistency Issues. There are a few times where it’s really easy to get lost in when this is all happening.  Gerald starts out being a three year old, but when he first meets Angel, he’s nine and she’s in the first grade, then cut some years later and he’s seventeen and somewhere in there, it’s get a little confusing to what the ages are, how many years have passed, how long Jordan’s been in jail and what not. There are no real transitions for us to know time timing.
Overall, I still love this novel and I do think it is better than Tears of a Tiger, except I think that novel does character development a bit better as it does focus solely on Andy and fleshing him out through him and other characters whereas in Forged By Fire, we only know  so much about Gerald’s personality, but we get a lot about what’s happening to him. A good character should move the plot forward instead of the plot happening to the character. Otherwise, they become uninteresting. But anyway, the book has interesting characters, the story at it is basis is interesting and relevant, the title is great foreshadowing for Gerald’s journey but at the same time it suffers from only scratching the surface, not giving the main character, especially, strong character development.  I recommend the book due to it’s nature and leading black male character.
Rating: 3.96 out of 5 stars.
*Summary is taken from back of novel.
Have you read Forged by Fire? What do you think of the novel? What is your favorite or the best emotionally driven novel you’ve read? Please respond in the comments below! Don’t forget to like this piece and follow!
Next Book Review: Darkness Before Dawn

Tears of a Tiger Book Review

 

Wow. I haven’t read this book since middle school and I cannot believe how much I love it and how much it affects me emotionally. Tears of a Tiger is the first book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy and it comes right out the gate with a bang and it’s unforgettable. It is also Sharon M. Draper’s debut novel.
*Summary: Andrew Jackson was driving the car that crashed one night after a game, killing Robert Washington, his best friend and the captain of the Hazelwood High Tigers. It was late, and they’d been drinking, and now, two months later, Andy can’t stop blaming himself. As he turns away from family, friends, and even his girlfriend, he finds he’s losing the most precious thing of all– his ability to face the future. 
Pros:
Characters. There isn’t a large cast of characters in this novel, as the novel itself is short, however you are able to get enough of them to understand their relationships with Andy to an extent.
  • Andrew “Andy” Jackson. He is the main protagonist of the novel, he’s seventeen and a basketball player. He is described by other characters to be lively, outgoing, a bit of class clown, charasmatic and he is absolutely devastated by the death of his best friend. He does a complete 180, until he manages to pull a mask on in front of everyone except the reader and his girlfriend Keisha. His character is so emotionally impactful that’s impossible not to feel for him.
  • Keisha Montgomery. She is Andy’s girlfriend and she is portrayed so strongly in this novel, she hasn’t been dating Andy long but she is so loyal to him, so supportive that even though she has a hard time dealing with his depression she remains because she cares for him and knows he needs her. It’s so prevalent in every conversation they have, in her diary entries and I do think she could possibly split readers’ feelings towards her. She was right in letting go because she couldn’t handle it anymore or she should have stayed with him because she was the only person who really saw him.
  • Andy’s Family. Andy’s father is pretty distant in his life and Andy often references that. His mother is a woman who seemed like she used to try and be supportive but she’s caught up in her own life that she often forgets her son. Lastly, Monty is the younger brother and their relationship is the strongest in the family. There is a great scene between the two that really shows the impact Andy has on his brother.
  • The other characters: Tyrone, Gerald, B.J, and Rhonda also have presences in the story. Tyrone and B.J were involved in the crash, they all tried to save Rob but failed and they were also affected but they found solace and peace in a relationship (Tyrone/Rhonda) and faith (B.J). Gerald was also a friend of theirs and he seems very similar to Andy, with a lot of his own problems at home but he deals with it in a different way than Andy which I think is a nice parallel especially as the second novel is Gerald’s story. The parallel is two young black boys who have dealt with tragedy take different paths in dealing with it. It’s quite amazing.
Writing Style. This novel is written so differently that it helps to enhance the story. Draper uses a plethora of ways to tell this story. There are diary entries from Keisha, clippings from the school paper, essays, poems, written letters, notes passed in class, and dialogue between characters. The most notable dialogue pieces are between Andy and his therapist and other characters. Each time a character writes something for class, or writes in a diary or a letter, the font style also changes to help individualize the characters so when the reader turns and sees the font, it’s possible to recognize who is “speaking” before their name is shown.
Emotional weight. Without spoiling, this book is so emotional and deals with real life emotions, especially for black teenagers. Each time Andy speaks to a person, another layer of his emotions is pushed aside for the reader to get closer and closer to him. As he speaks with his therapist, the readers get to understand him better, as the other characters write letters, or essays or talk about him in general, we get to see him through their eyes and we understand him more. There is a scene where Andy has a nightmare and that moment alone is powerful.
Timeless. Tears of a Tiger is one of those novels that the subject matter is timeless because people deal with death in various ways. The characters can be removed from this time period and placed in other ones, which is a big thing as the time frame is never actually stated. There are dates such as “November 9” etc but the year is never specified, which I’m sure was intentional. The book was published in 1994 and the language definitely can help date it as well as certain other things, no talk of cell phones etc but outside of those minor details, it’s easy to think this novel is set in present time.
Cons:
The use of different fonts. What? But you just said this was neat, which is it, don’t get me wrong. The problem I have is that since the font is different for everyone, the girls have this really curly “handwriting” that makes it hard to see at times. Normally, this book is published as a tiny one, which prevents the words from being larger anyway. I like the fact that they’re there, I just would have liked them to be a bit more legible or larger.
The Dialogue Bits. Not the dialogue itself but the way it’s set up. The use is definitely unique and when it first starts out it’s easy to follow, but once more and more people begin to talk and get involved, the reader can no longer really follow who is speaking. A name didn’t need to beside the dialogue like a script, but when more people spoke with each other, there could have been more cues to let us know who is speaking. Especially since we know their voices on their own, but together it’s harder to distinguish.
Emotional. What?? Hahaha. This is more of precaution and something I remember thinking the first time I read it, it’s soooo heavy. It’s soon emotional which is also one of the major strengths of the novel but it’s also a big weakness because it’s so sad, it’s so emotional that even though Andy constantly tells people he’s “fine” the readers know otherwise and it’s personally hard to see light at the end of the tunnel here.
The Language. There isn’t any profanity, at least nothing bad but I think this may also have to do with the location, which I know is in the north, not sure where, and the time period. This may seem like a contradicting con but now that I’m older, the way the characters spoke is definitely something I paid more attention to this time around. There are a few times in the novel where the characters are saying slang that is soooo dated that it’s almost amusing, and some of the stuff they say makes you wonder if Ms. Draper was really in the mindset of teenagers or was actually being an adult writing teenagers, which I think some adult authors have a time with, as well as being a woman writing for a teenage boy.
Overall, I absolutely adore this novel. Tears of a Tiger was Sharon M. Draper’s first book and I think it’s obvious due to it’s the only book in the trilogy written the way it is, with the unique style but the writing is the weakest. Andy is obviously the standout character in the novel, as it is about him, Keisha is a prominent character and helps push Andy along, though may not be in the way she wants. The characters are all interesting and it’s easy to see why the others involved in the accident were able to move on in a healthy manner. It’s easy for the readers to get invested in Andy’s wellbeing even if they cannot identity with the tragedy or even the hardships and confusion of being a young black male. The negatives are there, with the way the characters speak, the hard to read fonts for certain characters’ written pieces, the lack of distinguishing who is speaking in dialogue pieces and the heaviness of the story. It may become a bit too much for some readers and may hit the nail a bit too hard on the head as well as becoming “preachy” but all in all, this debut novel creates a world that is easy to relate to especially for black teenagers.
Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars.
*Summary is taken from back of novel.
Have you read Tears of a Tiger? What do you think of the novel? What is your favorite or the best emotionally driven novel you’ve read? Please respond in the comments below! Don’t forget to like this piece and follow!
Next Book Review: Forged by Fire

August Speciality: Sharon M. Draper

Hey!
It’s been a little while since I’ve posted but ya know, life is busy. Definitely trying to get back together so to jump back in, I have a few things planned. I’m going to see Nerve (2016) tomorrow so there will be a movie review, some creative writing posts for the Daily Post word prompts AND August is my favorite author Sharon M. Draper‘s birthday month.

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I first read her in middle school, I’m not sure which I read first, I think it was Romiette and Julio and I was in love with her writing ever since. She also inspired me to start writing creatively, to actually do it. Even to this day, I adore her young adult novels. I always recommend her to black teenagers when they come searching for books with protagonists that look like them in the library.
Most of the time they end up loving the books. I haven’t met anyone who has read them and didn’t like them. Maybe not all of them but the ones they’ve read, they’ve liked. My youngest sister wasn’t much of a reader but when I started working at the library I made sure she read. She was twelve, I started her off with Sharon M. Draper’s books and she loved them. Now she checks out at least 6 books at a time. So, once again, Ms. Draper has inspired.
So in honor of her, I’m going to spend this month, reading as many books written by her as I can and review them. There’s not going to be an order or anything unless it’s a series/trilogy or something then those will be read in order.
I look forward to my first “speciality” event. I hope everyone enjoys and stays tuned.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Review

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Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Released: February 21, 2012

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

I had to do a bit of soul searching after finishing this book.  I really wanted to like it more because a co-worker recommended it to me and she just loved it. I adored Eleanor & Park which I had just finished reading at that point and she put this book on my shelf. It sat there for a while before I finally decided to read it. So because of her high recommendation, I was expecting to really like this. The cover is also beautiful.
Pros:
  • Beautiful cover. I mean look at it, it’s definitely eye catching. Book covers help pull readers in. This one definitely does that.
  • Character of Aristotle. I liked him for a few different reasons. He was an angsty teenager, which can either go positively or negatively and for the most part I liked him. I mean, understand that he was also really annoying too at times, but he’s a teenager who is an internal person, he kind of sort of gets a pass. While he was the one mainly telling the story, he almost remained a mystery to not only the reader but to himself. He’s very much a loner, lives with his parents and two older sisters and has a mysterious older brother who is in jail. Over the course of the book, Ari grows up but pretty much remains his own person. Until the end which I will get to later.
  • Aristotle and Dante’s friendship. I love to read young adult novels that feature two characters exploring their friendship. I had no idea what this book was about outside of reading the inside flap so I was expecting a story about two teenage boys who are complete opposites but manage to find solace in each other’s friendship. Which is what we get in the first part of the book. They meet because Ari goes to the swimming pool to escape his family’s silence but he cannot swim, which is weird, but Dante notices and offers to teach him. It begins that way. They also connect over the “silliness” of their classical names. They spend the entire summer together, Dante is the loud one of the pair and he just talks and shares his poetry while Aristotle just listens and experiences Dante’s boldness and just overall eccentricities.Their families are even different (though they all eventually become friends), Dante’s parents are loving and involved, which surprises Aristotle that when he goes over to his house, it’s almost like a complete shock.  Eventually summer is over and Dante is moving to Chicago so their friendship comes to a dramatic end almost.
  • Shared moments with his father. I think his father was the only other family member I actually liked. He was a Vietnam war veteran and he’s very similar to Aristotle. He’s silent. Of course Ari feels shut out from his father because of this, but at the same time, he thinks it’s their only form of communication is that they’re silent together. I actually kind of liked that. Later, his father opens up to him more, he shares with Aristotle the truth about his older brother which allows for a bit more closeness.
  • The Parents. Very supportive people, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how great these parents were. Sure, Ari’s dad was a bit far to reach but when he and Ari begin to understand each other, it’s all good. I really loved the mothers, especially when they were together. There’s also this great character addition of this dog “Legs” whom I also just loved to pieces.
  • The talk of identity. YA books are full of identity searching which can include a lot of things. As the book continued, it was obvious to me that Dante was gay and that he was in love with Ari, whereas I was thinking Ari’s discovery was that he was angry for being left behind by his family, for being kept out of family secrets, for feeling alone and that he could actually be happy about his life once he finds a way to talk about it. Dante worries that his parents won’t accept his choice but the do as they love their son, Ari accepts it as well because duh Dante’s his best friend, his only friend but during this time period, not everyone is going to which is okay. There’s a parallel with Aristotle’s aunt who passes away, Aristotle’s extended family didn’t all show up for the funeral due to the aunt’s lifestyle which causes Ari to think and be sad for her.
    • A big struggle is also Dante dealing with his Mexican heritage. He often questioned and struggled with it. It was pretty interesting.
Cons:
  • Slow. The beginning was extremely slow. It took forever for me to really start getting into it. I’ve always loved to read and I’ve always chosen books that sucked me in pretty quickly. It’s very rare that I read a book and it takes me a long time to even get started. This book started off so very slow to me that I it took me a long time to really get moving. I would read a few chapters, put it down for a while, read a few more chapters and it really began to irritate me because I was already bored. It picked up in the middle.
  • The Plot. Still, after a long time, I’m not sure it actually had one. I mean, it had moments, and things it talked about but if I had to actually describe the plot of this book to someone, there’s no way I could because… what exactly is the plot? That’s problematic.
  • Dialogue. Sometimes YA books come off a bit pretentious and tedious to me. These were 15-16 year old boys in the 80s. Their dialogues, especially with each other, I thought was strange. It was trying too hard to be deep and meaningful and I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t natural. t didn’t know they were supposed to be teenagers, I would have assumed they were college students set in current times. Just too contemporary. Of course, teenagers don’t sound like idiots, at least not all of them, but I think some authors forget how teenagers talk and act (Looking at you John Green). They’re not adults yet. Allow them to be teenagers because while adults read YA, mostly teenagers read these books.
  • The sudden introduction of Aristotle’s sexuality. As I said before, it was obvious that Dante was gay and in love with Ari. It wasn’t like BAM but it wasn’t completely subtle either. Which is fine. I thought it’d be interesting to have two male best friends, where one is gay and the other is straight and they’re okay with being friends. There wasn’t any hint, at least to me, that Aristotle felt the same about Dante, that he was hiding it. The book was in FIRST PERSON! Shouldn’t there something in his head if he EVER thought that? He read everything he thought, even if he did hide it later, we at least knew about it. If there was cues that he thought about it, or that he wasn’t sure how he felt then it’d be different but he never showed interest. He wasn’t jealous when Dante talked about kissing or being with other guys, he didn’t seem to care, he just accepted that his best friend was gay. When Dante wanted to kiss him, Ari refused and seemed very uncomfortable with the idea, even though Dante was being rather pushy about it. They kiss but Ari even says he felt nothing which hurt Dante’s feelings. The only time anything was ever indicated was when Ari was infatuated with a girl at school and was obsessed with kissing her.
    • What made it worse is the fact that the adults seemed to force what Aristotle should be feeling on him. There’s a scene where Dante tries to help a bird that is in the middle of the street, Ari saves him and is extremely injured. So, the doctor was so sure that he did it because he cared for Dante more than just a friend. I remember thinking “Okay… what’s your point? If Ari thought he could save him then does it have to be more than that? Especially if this is the first time he’s had a friend?” Even Ari was confused as to what he was trying to indicate. Then his parents literally sit him down and pointed out all the reasons why Aristotle loved another boy: He beat up some kids who beat the crap out of Dante, he saved his life from the car and that he did both of those things without hesitation. I’m sorry, but why? If this is supposed to be a self discovery of identity why have adults tell this kid how he feels and that he should feel it? If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t. Since this is towards the end of the book, the positivity I was feeling started to deplete. Again, I wouldn’t have minded if it was a gradual realization for him but it wasn’t. It was so random that I thought that reveal was damaging to the character that was built upon throughout the story.
  • The ending. The ending shouldn’t be something that I dislike about a book but I feel as if the author was grasping at straws in the last third of the book. After Ari’s sudden realization (In my mind it’s still bull), moments happen and finally Ari and Dante take Ari’s truck to the desert. Dante tells Ari he can’t be friends with him anymore due to his feelings for him that aren’t reciprocated. Ari tells him how he feels and that he lied about how he didn’t like the kiss before and now it’s all great! Let’s kiss again! Ari asks Dante to kiss him but Dante refuses and insists that Ari does it this time which he does. Now they’re together in the bed of the truck and Ari goes through a few last thoughts: wondering why he was ashamed in the first place to love Dante? (probably because it wasn’t true until his parents made it true), realizing that he loved Dante all along and that he found the secrets of the universe in Dante (which I understand discovering who you are thanks to the influence from someone who seems more “well adjusted” in life than you but again bull) and now everything is perfect. *rolls eyes*
Overall, I really wanted to like it. So many good and glowing reviews, the beautiful cover, the ‘ohmigosh it’s so beautiful! It’s so honest!’ bleh bleh bleh… outside of the beautiful cover, I don’t see it. It had it’s moments but I can’t say I liked it those moments enough to vouch for the rest of the novel. There isn’t a plot, it drags on for sooooo long, there are very few likable characters (it’s really subjective) but if you like someone then I think it’s easy to remain attached to them for the most part, the dialogue is nice at times but for the most part it’s pretentious. I really disliked the ending and I didn’t like the “twist” either. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is not a book I would probably pick up again to read but I would kind of recommend it as the journey will be different for someone else.
3 out of 5 stars. A half a star for the cover most definitely.
Similar books with identity themes, coming of age, LBGT, etc:
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (superior to Aristotle & Dante)
Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (meh)
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
Hero by Perry Moore