It’s time for another set of mini reviews. I’m reviewing three realistic fiction novels today: Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson, Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale by Gigi Levangie, and Beijing Doll by Chun Sue. I hope these reviews will help you find an interesting book to read.
Pub. Date: 2017
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Jade seeks every opportunity that will help her get out of her neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Her mother has encouraged her to take every opportunity that comes her way, and Jade has. She rides the bus to a private school where she feels like an outsider and where she can get a lot of opportunities. One opportunity that she receives and doesn’t welcome is Woman to Woman, a mentorship program that promises a scholarship at the end of two years. Her mentor, Maxine, is Black and an alumna of her private school, but that doesn’t mean Jade’s mentor understands her life. She wants people to recognize that she wants to give back to the community, and she doesn’t want people to keep seeing her as someone who needs to be fixed. Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together examines the intersectionalities of identity to make Jade stand up for what she wants and to inspire action against everyday microaggressions.
Jade has developed a certain level of practicality and purpose in all that she does. While she understands why her mother wants her to take every opportunity available, she only takes them when she sees something beneficial might come of it. Example: she only went to this private school not because of the scholarship but because it gave her the opportunity to go to a Spanish-speaking community.
The other characters are developed too. Sam, her new friend at the private school, helps emphasize that this book covers racism, classism, poverty, and privilege. Their friendship was one of the key relationships for me in this book. The tensions between Jade’s mother and Maxine are unexpected and interesting. The relationships change as Jade negotiates with herself about her identity and what she wants from each woman. Uncle E.J. makes for an interesting male character in this book. They all fit perfectly into the book and change as Jade changes.
- I love that Jade tells others what she wants once she realizes that she’s not being heard. Instead of bottling everything up until she explodes, she selects communication. That’s one of the themes of the novel: communicate your thoughts, desires and feelings.
- I like that we actually see Jade study. I don’t see this enough in books where the protagonist is smart or is trying hard to get into a good college. I like that she studies, whether it’s Spanish or another subject.
- I like seeing how important it is for her to learn and practice Spanish. Her desire to go to a Spanish-speaking country isn’t a fleeting wish, and it’s shown repeatedly through the book.
- The cover is beautiful and perfectly matches the content of the book.
- It ties up every loose end. I’m not used to that anymore, but it’s fine.
- Since this is first-person narration, I like that it is clear that the characters have concerns and lives that don’t entirely center around Jade.
- The descriptions of the bus systems, the neighborhoods of Portland, and the banding together of neighbors makes me want to move there.
This book taught me a lot and made me see angles I hadn’t considered about the world. I highly recommend Piecing Me Together.
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Pub. Date: 2013
Genre: Contemporary YA, Comedy
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
NOTE: I never finished reading this book, but I stopped before the last deadly sin (about 72% of the way through the book). I stopped reading it because I got distracted with schoolwork and then didn’t want to pick up where I left off.
A Latina high school student, Perry Gonzales, is applying to college with this book. The book is one long admissions essay about her adventures as a babysitter for the wealthy in Beverly Hills. To earn money for college, she starts babysitting and tutoring the wealthy and privileged children at her school only to discover how dark they are. The creepiest by far is Wrath, but Gluttony is a close second. It’s hilarious and creepy to read.
If you’re looking for satire or a light read, this is the book for you.
Translator: Howard Goldblatt
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pub. Date: 2002, 2004
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Semi-Autobiography
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
A book is immediately intriguing if it’s been banned, and Beijing Doll was banned in China, according to the blurb on the back of it. A Chinese girl, who loves rock music and interviews bands, hooks up with boys and explores the world around her. It explores self-expression, love, youth, and society.
I was a little annoyed to find that the Beijing Doll is semi-autobiographical because I was under the impression that it was nonfiction since the protagonist’s name is the same as the author’s. (Yes, I see “A Novel” on the cover.)
Things I Liked
- The list format at the front to give a background of the protagonist’s life.
- A lot of the characters are creatively named in ways that are clearly not names, like a series of letters or a certain phrasing. It’s an interesting way to protect the identities of certain characters.
- I like that she pursued rock music journalism.
- She goes out of her way to do what she wants in love, work, and art. I like that she dyes her hair, has a sexual awakening, and works to pursue music and the career she wants.
- She talks about changes in Chinese law and society as they applied to her freedom to do what she wanted.
Things I Disliked
- The fact that it’s semi-autobiographical.
- Since this is limited first-person narration, her voice gets a little annoying.
- The ending was weird and unsatisfying.
If you want to read a coming-of-age novel from China, this is worth a read.