Friday, April 28, 2017

Contemporary Fiction: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Shout out to the UTSA Library for having Shanthi Sekaran's Lucky Boy on their shelves, and for being able to not only hold it for me, but also deliver it to my office. Having a brand new library book, that no one else has read yet, hand-delivered to you is a special feeling. Plus, I was excited to delve into this story of two very different families and the little boy they would both come to love.

The Situation: Solimar, or Soli, has decided that she must leave Mexico and head north, like many of the other young people that used to live around her. The small town of Popocalco simply has nothing to offer her, and she longed to live a life of possibility and hopes in the US. She would attempt to make the dangerous and long journey to Berkeley, California, where her cousin Silvia already lives with her two boys. Her father has made a deal with a man to help his daughter cross the border, even though that may mean Soli having to lay in a small hidden space in the man's car. 

Kavya and Rishi are an Indian-American couple already residing in Berkeley, him as a ventilation specialist for a large company, and her as chef for one of the many sororities on the UC Berkeley campus. As a somewhat typical Berkley couple, both Kavya and Rishi would consider their lives to be fairly complete. Naturally, they both wish they were a bit more successful than they are in their respective fields; they would like to have more money to spend; and they would like it if they could live up to their parents' near impossible expectations. But more than anything, they would like to have a child, and after months of trying, it becomes clear that this is not going to happen in the usual way.

The Problem: As soon as Soli's journey begins, things become difficult and dangerous. The man that was supposed to help her across the border has other ideas. Plus, being a woman alone on a journey north is an incredibly perilous thing, even after she manages to join up with a group of young boys determined to make their fortune in Arizona. But Soli does what she has to do, and manages to make it to her cousin's apartment in Berkeley both tired and victorious. And pregnant. It is her child that will end up being the answer to Kavya and Rishi's prayers. After deciding to foster and adopt, Ignacio El Viento Castro Valdez would be the child to end up in their home. When both Soli and Silvia are discovered to be illegal immigrants following an incident in the city, they are sent to jail, and then to immigrant detention centers, which means Ignacio is now officially under the care of the state of California. For Kavya it is love at first sight, and she cannot imagine life without him, even as the fear that he will some day be taken from her and given back to his birth mother hangs over her and Rishi's entire existence. And though Soli's situation seems hopeless, she refuses to give up on her son, or on herself.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set mostly in present-day Berkeley, California. Soli ends up there after traveling up from Mexico, though the journey is not easy, and there are many moments when she is not sure she will make it. And even after she arrives, she struggles to earn a living as first a housekeeper, and then a nanny once her son is born. Her story centers not only on immigration policies in the US, but also the dangers that come for those who decide to take that often perilous trip north; how many immigrants, particularly female immigrants, are often treated in detention centers; and just how powerful a mother's desire to be with her child can be. For Kavya and Rishi, though mostly Kavya, the story revolves around the intense desire to have a child. And when it is not possible to have their own, they are more than happy to take on someone else's, as long as there is a little body occupying space in their home and in their hearts. Rishi even notes to himself that his wife seems to have become a different person, not only when they are trying to get pregnant, and when they finally take Ignacio into their home, but also when the reality sets in that he may not get to stay with them. And when custody does eventually become an issue, the question ultimately becomes who should Ignacio stay with? Does Soli, as the birth mother, have ultimate and final rights to him, even if that means he will be deported back to Mexico with her? Or should Ignacio stay with Rishi and Kavya, a fairly stable Berkley couple with whom the child has lived with and now knows as his parents? This is not an easy question, but there still has to be an answer.

My Verdict: In the synopsis, this book is described as one with no obvious hero or villain, and for the most part, I can agree with that. Soli is not a bad person or mother. She took chances, a lot of them, and some worked out while others failed miserably. And unfortunately for her, the US is typically not kind to illegal immigrants who make mistakes. Kavya and Rishi are not bad people either: not for wanting to adopt Ignacio, and not for doing everything they can to keep him under their roof. Sekaran does an excellent job keeping things objective, mostly by telling the story from both points of view. Of course, there is a strong possibility that a reader will end up picking a side anyway...I certainly did. And the third person omniscient narrator does not offer any recommendations or commentary. Nor does the narrator give only the facts, but instead manages to tell an emotional story of how one boy came into existence, and then managed to have two families that loved him dearly. Whichever side you end up on, Lucky Boy is a book that will challenge what we believe about motherhood and adoption.

Favorite Moment: Any time Soli manages to defy all odds and get herself out of what looks to be an impossible situation.

Favorite Character: Kavya's mother Uma can be an impossible woman to get along with. She does not understand why her daughter has not had a child yet, and is not shy about voicing her disapproval when the subject of adoption comes up. But the first time she meets Ignacio, it is clear that she will be a great grandmother to him every chance she gets.

Favorite Quote: "Just weeks before, this trip had felt impossible, but now she saw that impossibility was only ignorance shrouded by poverty."

Recommended Reading: A book with similar themes but a very different plot is The Light Between Oceans by  M.L. Stedman. Both books are emotional and present difficult situations that do not have easy solutions.     

Friday, April 21, 2017

Science Fiction: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

This blog is sadly lacking in the science fiction department. And really, that isn't any one's fault but my own. It just isn't my favorite genre, and I have a hard time being genuinely interested in the premise of books with a heavy science fiction presence. With that being said, Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty caught my attention. Now that The Long Earth series has finally finished, I will need to find something to fill the blog's admittedly tiny science fiction void. But books like Six Wakes just might do the trick.

The Situation: Maria has just woken up inside of a cloning vat on board the spaceship Dormire. This is not all that strange, since the year is 2493, and cloning has become a common practice among all humans on Earth, and on the Moon. The science behind cloning has progressed to the point that when a new clone wakes up, he or she will even remember everything that happened right up to the point of their most recent mindmap. So if a mindmap was done five minutes before death, then the new clone will wake up with almost no gap in their memory. Yes, rules and laws had to be put into place once it was clear human beings were taking the technology to a dark place, because we can never have nice things. So the Codicils that were established in 2282 make it clear that only one copy of a single person can be in existence; suicide is still a crime; and complete rebirth (as in starting life again all over as baby) is forbidden, with some exceptions of course. Maria and her fellow crew members are on the Dormire with thousands of other sleeping passenger clones that are all to be woken up once they reach the new planet they are to colonize. For Maria and the crew, it is a chance to wipe clean their criminal histories and start again.

The Problem: As soon as Maria wakes up, it is clear that this is not like the other times. For one, she can clearly see her old body, which appears to have been brutally murdered with a knife wound to the back of her neck. Also, there are three other bodies visible that were also killed, and the clones of all six crew members are now waking up. Finally, and probably most worrisome of all, Maria cannot recall the last 25 years or so of her life, all of which were spent on the Dormire. No recent mindmaps were made of any of the crew, or if they were, they have been deleted along with everything else from the ship's computer. Whoever attempted to kill the crew also tried to sabotage the mission completely. But there are only six crew members working the ship, all of which were cloned. Fear and paranoia take hold as everyone quickly attempts to figure out who is the killer. All of them have a criminal history, so no one is above suspicion, and all of them could still be in danger.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel that tackles many issues. Obviously, there is the cloning of humans, and the myriad of ethical issues that always brings up. As mentioned above, the Codicils make it where people cannot simply have multiple copies of themselves running around. But the clones also cannot have children, and "hacking" is a very serious crime. Hackers essentially are able to go into someone's DNA and make alterations that can be as simple as changing eye color, to something more complex like changing someone's beliefs or desires. It isn't just cloning that becomes an issue, but the value of human life. For the crew of the Dormire, it is no secret that they are all on the ship because they desire a clean slate and an escape from their criminal pasts. But what crimes they actually committed are kept a secret, which seems like a good idea, but serves to only breed suspicion. Everyone has done something horrible in a past life, or seems to have a secret agenda in this one, even the good-natured and down-to-earth doctor, Joanna. There is a startling reveal in almost every character's history. Even the ship's artificial intelligence, IAN, may be more than what it seems.

My Verdict: Even if science fiction isn't your thing, Six Wakes is a fantastic murder mystery. And there is not so much science fiction in it that the mystery gets buried or lost. From the very first page, when Maria wakes up, the pace is set and never lets up. And most importantly, Lafferty keeps you guessing. Sure, it is fun to try, but there is enough action and information thrown at you that the identity of the real killer is not 100% clear until near the very end of the book. There were moments where, for me, the science behind everything was a little too much and I found myself getting lost, though never bored. What becomes clear is that, while the cloning of humans has had its advantages for the world that Lafferty created, there have been some serious drawbacks as well, mostly when it comes to how human life is valued. It did not seem to me that the narrative attempted to land on either side of the issue. At its core, Six Wakes is a science fiction murder mystery, not necessarily a discussion on the ethics of cloning.

Favorite Moment: When IAN is allowed to restore himself to 100% power and becomes the sarcastic, almost fully sentient type of AI that is fun, while also unnerving to be around, given how much power he has over the ship.          

Favorite Character: Joanna is a constant stabilizing force throughout the entire story. Sure, she has her own criminal past, but if I were stuck on the Dormire with these people, she is the one I would trust the most and seems the least likely to murder someone.

Recommended Reading: Goodness, I have no idea. I simply do not read enough science fiction. So instead I will recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It's a very different kind of book, but it is also set in a future where things are done very differently from how they are done today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Today's post has been brought to you by the impulse buy at Half Price Books. It is not often that I will pick up a brand new book at the used book store. I usually reserve such purchases for Amazon or the rare chances I get to stop by BookPeople. But while I was waiting for my latest shipment from Amazon, I found myself staring at Robin Roe's A List of Cages and lamenting that it was not going to be included in my next package. So I decided to go ahead and just buy it then and there...along with a few others.

The Situation: Adam is a senior in high school and can hardly sit still. It is not because he cannot wait to graduate, or even because his classes are boring, though they are. Adam has ADHD, but manages to keep it pretty under control without hardcore pharmaceuticals. He may have a hard time reading social cues, and can never seem to stop talking, but as long as he is able to get up and move around occasionally, he is fine. For one of his senior year electives, his task is to track down a troubled freshman who has a habit of skipping sessions with the school psychologist. Adam is glad to be able to move around for once, but he does not expect for the troubled freshman to be Julian, the foster brother he has not seen in years. Julian lives with his Uncle Russell now, having lost both parents at a very young age. The two boys could not be more different, with Adam being outgoing and popular, and Julian being withdrawn and awkward. But Adam is glad to reunite with the brother he lost.

The Problem: It is clear that Julian is going through something, but the young boy is so timid, and so hesitant to share anything, even as he and Adam become friends despite the differences in their social standing. It is a friendship that even Adam's closest friends do not quite get as it becomes more and more normalized, and soon Julian is one of the gang. But there is something about his life at home with his Uncle Russell that Adam does not like, but he cannot quite put his finger on it. Julian will suddenly stay at home sick for days at a time, and when Adam finally comes upon the truth, he is torn between telling an adult, and honoring Julian's wish to keep things quiet. But Julian's problems may end up spelling trouble for the both of them if someone does not step in soon.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that follows two young male narrators. Adam is the popular and almost constantly moving senior in high school, while Julian is the socially awkward freshman who hates English class because the teacher makes him read out loud. When they were both in elementary school, Adam's mother took Julian in as a foster child after his parents were killed in a car accident. They would have kept Julian with them forever, had his Uncle Russell not shown up and decided to take him in instead. Five years later and the two boys are now attending the same high school. Adam is still the same hyperactive boy with the friendly smile whom everyone seems to adore, but Julian is more like a frightened and wounded animal than the stubborn and creative boy he used to be. Perhaps it is Adam's ADHD that makes him not care at all how people look at him when he hangs out with Julian. Not even the menacing and angry looks from his best friend, Charlie, keep him from inviting the freshman along on every adventure the group plans. It is not a book only about the foster system, or troubled teens, or child abuse, or ADHD, though it does contain all of those things. If anything, it is about what can be accomplished when we extend a hand, even if we do not get a positive response right away.

My Verdict: Yes, there is difficult subject matter. Yes, you may cry because there is a pain described in these pages that no one, much less a small child, should experience. And oh yes, there are moments of pure frustration because the solution seems obvious, though the characters ignore it, and we as people and readers are incapable of not playing the "if they had only just" game. But given all of that, it is a book worth reading and confronting. It is not hard or painful just for the sake of being hard or painful. And I do not get the sense that Roe is trying to make us all better people and teach us a lesson. The story does not come off that way. Instead it comes off as a heartbreaking tale of a young man who has accepted less than what he deserves because it is all he has gotten for so long, and he has been told it is all he should get. But it all changes because someone decides to show him otherwise.

Favorite Moment: When Julian and Charlie are able to have a one-on-one conversation without Adam in between. Charlie is the very definition of the big scary senior, but the two manage a short conversation where both sides get to be honest.

Favorite Character: I did not care for him much at first - although I guess I was not supposed to - but Charlie eventually became my favorite. He's big, he's angry at the world, and he cannot stop complaining about everything. But when it comes down to it, he just wants attention like everyone else and hates feeling forgotten.

Recommended Reading: Kids of Appetite by David Arnold also switches between two teenage narrators, but this time it is a boy and girl as they tell the story of how they ended up in separate interrogation rooms at the police station.    

Friday, April 7, 2017

Nonfiction: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Here we are with yet another classic I was somehow never forced to read, but I do remember my brother bringing it home from school once and being so incredibly curious about the title. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is only part one of her seven-part autobiography. In honor of her birthday earlier this week, I thought I would cover this classic from an amazing woman whose career spanned more than 50 years.

Genre, Themes, History: As the first in an autobiographical series, this book is nonfiction and starts with the early life of Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928. The book begins with Angelou's early life in Stamps, Arkansas; covers her brief but traumatic time living with her mother in St. Louis; back to Stamps with her grandmother; and then ultimately ends after she moves to Oakland, California to once again live with her mother. At the close of the book, Angelou is 17 years old and has just finished high school. It may seem like Angelou and her brother Bailey were moved around a lot, but there are few moments when her living situation felt tenuous, especially when she was living with her grandmother, whom she referred to as "Momma." Angelou recalls growing up poor and black in the segregated south, working in her momma's store, which prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II. Angelou also talks about the man that sexually abused her, and whose subsequent murder was the reason she stopped speaking for nearly five years. It would not be until an encounter with a friend of the family that she would be encouraged to talk to other people besides her brother Bailey. In this coming-of-age story, Angelou touches on identity and racism as she talks about the earliest years of her life.

My Verdict: Angelou's story is told in such a way that it is honest without being abrasive; poetic without glossing over the hard stuff; and incredible without becoming out of reach or hard to believe. This woman had been through a lot, and this book only deals with the first 17 years. Despite the hardships and intense racism that Angelou had to deal with, the book is fairly easy to read and is never boring, but almost always inspriational. With her brother Bailey almost like a sidekick, Angelou's story includes adventures as well as misadventures, and observations about growing up that are only obvious in hindsight. They are the kind of observations nearly everyone can relate to, but I do not think anyone could tell these stories the way Angelou does.

Favorite Moment: When Angelou slaps one of her dad's girlfriends when she calls her mother a whore.

Favorite Quote: "Didn't Moses lead the children of Israel out of the bloody hands of the Pharaoh and into the Promised Land? Didn't the Lord protect the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace and didn't my Lord deliver Daniel? We only had to wait on the Lord."

"The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance."

Recommended Reading: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, as well as The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward.     

Friday, March 31, 2017

Graphic Novel: Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer

I have decided to take a bit of a gamble and picked up Wires and Nerve, the first in what will be a series of graphic novels by Marissa Meyer. While it may be the first of the graphic novels, Wires and Nerve actually continues the story that was initially started in Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series, which began with the best-selling Cinder in 2012, and ended with Winter in 2016.

The Situation: It has been a few months since Cinder has claimed what was rightfully hers: the throne of Luna. Finally, there is peace between Earth and Luna, and Cinder has big plans to keep it that way. All of her friends that were introduced in the Lunar Chronicles series have more or less gone their own way. Emperor Kai continues fulfilling his role as leader of Earth; Cress and Captain Thorne remain together on his ship, the Rampion; Scarlet and Wolf have settled into a life together on her farm in France; Winter is now an Ambassador, with Jacin forever at her side; and of course there is Iko, the android with feelings, who is now the heroine of the story. It was not long after Cinder took the throne that the misdeeds of the former queen begin to cause problems. The men she recruited for her army, and then forced to go undergo mutations that gave them wolfish tendencies and a taste for humans, have begun attacking people on Earth. Iko figures she is the ideal person, or android, to help track them down.

The Problem: Because she does not have actual human flesh, and is skilled in various methods of combat, Iko does prove to be incredibly good at tracking down the packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers that have been wreaking so much havoc on Earth. It seems that because of her efforts alone, attacks have decreased, and entire packs are going into hiding. However, for every pack she finds, there is always one or two that get away, and it seems these fortunate few have managed to team up with a leader determined to get revenge on Cinder for her ancestor's misdeeds. Despite being told otherwise, he believes he and his followers can be returned to their previous form, and is resolved to do whatever it takes to get to the lunar queen. The mission alone is enough for Iko to deal with, but she must also deal with often being forgotten, as she is left out of historical accounts of the events that led to Cinder claiming her throne. Also, it seems that only her closest friends seem to understand that Iko can be an android and also have feelings. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a graphic novel that can also be labeled as young adult, science fiction, and fantasy, and is a continuation of the Lunar Chronicles series, also by Meyer. Full disclosure: I did not read any of the previous books in the Lunar Chronicles series, and I most likely never will. This is something I did think long and hard about, but ultimately I am satisfied with the summary of the story we receive in the opening pages of Wires and Nerve, and I am happy to be a part of what happens next, now that peace has supposedly been achieved. I am usually the first to complain when a well-loved series has reached a satisfying conclusion, only for the author to decide to write more books. But in this case, I support the decision, though mostly because I skipped the first round, and the second round is in a different format. Iko, the narrator, occupies that grey area of not being human, but having feelings. More than one person questions her ability to really know what feelings are, as many want to believe that anything she says and does is just a simple trick of her programming. She certainly benefits from being able to recover from almost any injury with a repair and reboot. But having wires instead of veins makes it easy for some to dismiss her, despite a fair amount of evidence that she is capable of being much more than a service android.

My Verdict: I was dubious, but only because I am essentially coming into the bigger story right in the middle. Thankfully, we are provided just enough back story to set up the new one, but not so much that I feel like those who did read the first four books (plus the bridge books) will be annoyed by the recap. I am sure many who are like me and did not read the first four will be intrigued enough that they want to go back and start from the beginning, and I can certainly understand why. Iko may be the protagonist, and a complicated one, but each of the other eight characters make at least one appearance and will seemingly have some part in the events to come. The story is fun, full of adventure, and manages to keep a fairly comedic tone for some scenes, while being incredibly serious in others. Iko may have had a smaller role in the previous books, but now she is front and center, and out of the nine, I think she is a smart choice. Naturally, I cannot speak for those who have been following the series since the beginning, but I think anyone who is just now joining in will be pleasantly entertained.

Favorite Part: When Captain Thorne surprises his incredibly dubious father with a tremendous act of bravery.

Favorite Character: I do wonder if I would feel the same way had I read the other books, but right now I enjoy the stories and characters of both Cress and Scarlet. 

Recommended Reading: Had I read any of the previous books, I would recommend them. So instead I will recommend The Reader by Traci Chee.     

Friday, March 24, 2017

Historical Fiction: A Star-Reckoner's Lot by Darrell Drake

I was asked to review Darrell Drake's A Star-Reckoner's Lot, a story that takes place during the Sassanian Empire in Persia. I typically stay away from fantasy, but it was the unique and imaginative synopsis that led me to venture outside of my normal comfort zone and follow Ashtadukht on her strange journey.

The Situation: Ashtadukht has been trained to be a star-reckoner, but she is terrible at it. Her path to where she is now was never a straight one, and is full of ups and downs, mostly downs. After an interaction as a young child that left a favorable impression with the King of Kings, Ashtadukht was sent away to become a star-reckoner. But now, many years later, and after suffering the tragedy of losing her husband, Ashtadukht sets out on a journey with her cousin, Tirdad, to find the being responsible. It is clear from the beginning that the trip will be a difficult one, if only because of Ashtadukht's illness. It will take the pair across the Iranian countryside, and at one point, they will end up picking up a companion who shares the same unfortunate heritage as the being that killed Ashtadukht's husband. Divs are creatures of the Lie, and Ashtadukht serves the Truth. So to have such a creature as part of her traveling party will prove to be challenging, and it may also prove to be unwise. 

The Problem: Ashtadukht, Tirdad, and Waray, the div, encountere various obstacles as they journey from city to city. Ashtadukht's primary objective is always to vanquish any div she finds along the way, with Waray being the one exception. At first, her story seems little more than an odyssey of adventures, but the more the trio travels, the more they learn about Waray, the truth behind Ashtadukht's husband, and the truth behind Ashtadukht. Turns out there is a reason why she is terrible at star-reckoning, and there is an explanation for Waray's strange behavior beyond it being because she is half-div and half-human. There is even a reason for Ashtadukht's mysterious illness that she has always known as part of her life. The longer they travel, the more the group finds out, and the more bitter, resentful, cruel, and harsh Ashtadukht becomes. She has not made as much peace with her husband's death as she believed, and the trials of the journey may prove more than she can handle.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fantasy novel set during the Sassanian Empire of what is now Iran. Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner, though a terrible one, and her cousin Tirdad has be sent on the journey along with her at the request of her father. The two set off on one grand adventure that is made up of many smaller adventures along the way, allowing them to come across all sorts of people, cities, villages, and of course, divs. There is not simply one brand of divs. The beings come in all shapes and sizes, but it seems they all smell terrible and cannot be trusted. Even Waray, who is half-human, must be regarded with a great deal of caution. But the longer Ashtadukht and Tirdad travel with her, the more they come to like her, and even trust her. At first, the novel may seem like one grand adventure for justice and retribution, and while it most certainly is, it is also a cautionary tale of what holding onto the past can do to a person. Searching for truth and justice is one thing, but doing so when you are not fully ready for what you may find is something else.

My Verdict: I thought I was in for a unique story with the type of characters I do not regularly come across in the books I normally choose, and with A Star-Reckoner's Lot, I was right. I enjoyed reading about Ashtadukht's adventures as she traveled across Iran. Every chapter contained a different confrontation, new divs to fight or conquer, and new information that would give a new layer to what was happening to and around Ashtadukht. The story did become more difficult to read as it went on, if only because it was clear Ashtadukht was not headed in a noble direction, and things were only going to get worse before they ever got better...if they got better. If you like a blend of historical fiction and fantasy, then I recommend this novel.

Favorite Moment: When Ashtadukht comes face to face with what she really is. It may cause her great pain, but her recent actions make her less than likeable, so seeing her suffer a bit brought me a certain amount of satisfaction.

Favorite Character: Tirdad is the type of traveling companion you would want for this type of journey. Though Ashtadukht does not appreciate him as much as she should, and Waray cannot stop pulling tricks on him, he manages to remain patient, kind, and protective.  

Recommended Reading: I recommend Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler. Though Butler's story may take place in 20th century America, and involves vampires instead of divs, it is also a story or justice and retribution, as well as identity and acceptance.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Yound Adult Fiction: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star ended up being one of the four books I picked up during my annual Christmas Day trip to BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Every year I somehow manage to find myself in the young adult section, not able to find the book I had planned on buying, so I pick something else. However, I have yet to be disappointed by my second choice book, and this year proved no different.

The Situation: Natasha and Daniel are two teenagers living in New York City, but their lives are incredibly different. Natasha is originally from Jamaica, but has spent most of her life in the states. She loves early 90's alternative rock (think Soundgarden and Nirvana), plans to be a data analysis when she grows up, and believes in facts and science, not feelings and love and God. Daniel is a Korean-American who has an interview that could set him up to attend Yale. His parents more or less have his future mapped out for him, but not necessarily because they are strict and unbending (although they are). They simply want their sons to have it better than they did. But Daniel does not want to go to Yale and become a doctor. Daniel wants to write poetry and do stuff he is actually passionate about. As I said, Natasha and Daniel could not be more different, but that does not keep the two of them from meeting in Time Square, and falling in love before the day is over.

The Problem: Two things that stand in the way of Natasha and Daniel living happily ever after. 1. Daniel's parents will never go for him dating, much less marrying, a black girl. 2. Natasha and her family will be forced to leave the country by 10:00pm tonight. The have overstayed their visas, and due to her father's unfortunate error in  judgment on the night of his big break, their status was found out and revealed, and now they must leave a place they have called home for ten years. These are two huge hurtles, but Daniel cares less and less what his family thinks with each passing hour, and Natasha is doing what little she can to have her family stay in the country. Knowing the truth about her situation, Natasha initially pushes Daniel away, but being a romantic, as well as persistent, he is not so easily deterred. So the two of them spend an almost unbelievable day in New York City, both wanting to believe that fate and destiny are on their side, but knowing that everything could end as quickly as it began.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in present-day New York City. Natasha and Daniel's adventures all take place in less than 24 hours as they travel through Time Square, Koreatown, Harlem, Brooklyn, and a good chunk of Manhattan. Natasha is certainly the more practical of the two. She loves science, facts, studying the stars, and is dubious when it comes to fate and destiny. Originally, her father moved to the US from Jamaica to pursue his dream of acting. But after years of little success, the family of four is still living in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. And now they are being deported. Daniel is a dreamer, and he admits it. His entire life, he has always been second best behind his older brother Charlie, but that changed when Charlie was put on academic dismissal from Harvard. Now the pressure is on Daniel to get into Yale and be a doctor. While the novel mostly switches between the first-person points of view of both Natasha and Daniel, often it will go into an explanation of some seemingly small scientific fact, or it will explore the history or mindset of a minor or side character, basically asking the "what if" question and following the answers through to the end. Probably the main point I gained from these side stories was that while one decision may lead to a happily ever after, it won't be a happily ever after for everyone involved. 

My Verdict: Yes, Natasha's love of hard facts coupled with her cold and hardened personality gets tiresome. Yes, Daniel's persistence and romanticism gets annoying at times. But ultimately, this is a fantastic and well-crafted story about two teenagers who find each other in the weirdest way, in one of the biggest cities in the world, and despite being incredibly different, manage to make a connection that many people never make for their entire lives. Is it easy? No. Does it come with many challenges? Absolutely. But they go for it anyway, and that, to me, is almost always impressive, as is this story. There is a reason it received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award from the American Library Association. It is a book about real issues, while still managing to be romantic and sweet and fun. 

Favorite Moment: When Daniel stands up to his brother, and also when Natasha stands up to her father.

Favorite Character: Natasha and Daniel both have their good points, but Daniel's optimism is almost infectious when it is not bordering on annoying. Then again, Natasha's honesty and forthrightness are not without their charms either.

Recommended Reading: I will recommend Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, another YA story that is told by more than one person using shifting points of view.