The Authentics

The AuthenticsThe Authentics by Abdi Nazemian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Authentics tells the story of Daria in the year leading up to her Sweet Sixteen. Like many teenagers, she’s been through a shift in her close friendships, is uncertain about her place in the social hierarchy, and is chafing against the expectations of her parents. Through research for a school assignment, she also uncovers a family secret that challenges everything she thinks about herself and the people she loves.

In The Authentics, Nazermian shows us a community that is not often seen in American teen literature: Persian Americans in California. Readers will learn that Persians don’t all share the same religion or relationship with the history of their nation of origin. Readers will have an introduction to some Iranian foods, words, and customs. Nazermian also shows us a caring nuclear family setting as well as some healthy high school friendships.

Unfortunately, at no point did Daria feel like a real and fully developed person. Nazermian name-drops Beverly Hills, swanky hotels, the music and movie industries, real estate development, and Chanel, yet he expects that his readers will accept Daria as “too poor” for a family trip during school vacations. Much of his writing has been for films, and the setting for this book shows the unrealistic wealth that is often on display in the movies. That, coupled with Daria’s impulsive, dangerous, and irresponsible behavior makes it difficult for her to be perceived as a sympathetic or authentic character.

I really liked the idea of this book and wanted to love it.

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Mr. 60%

Mr. 60%Mr. 60% by Clete Barrett Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mr. 60% tells the story of Matt, a high school senior. His guidance counselor sees him going nowhere, the school’s administration can’t wait to get rid of him, and the kids at school only pal up to him as a means of scoring their next high. Matt puts in just enough effort at school to pass every class, but not excel. What no one knows about Matt is that he is putting in 100% to keep himself and his Uncle Jack alive and housed.

Smith has created compelling characters in Matt and Amanda. Their sadnesses and struggles are believable, as are the strategies they employ to try to fix things. This is an excellent read on its own, but the story also reminds the reader to look beyond appearances and think about what might make someone behave as they do. What circumstances are they dealing with that you cannot see? What could make someone do things they shouldn’t? And, is it possible for us to compassionately help one another?

Despite some bullying and drug references, this is a fairly tame story and would be suitable for young teens. Although, Smith’s depiction of the world of drug dealing and smuggling is a little too tame. Young readers may get the wrong impression regarding how dangerous it is to transport illegal drugs.

Highly recommended for high school and public libraries, teachers looking for a classroom novel, readers age 12 and up.

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All the RiversAll the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this book for what it begins. Rabinyan tells the story of two young people, from opposing sides of a conflict, falling in love in an in-between state. A young Arab man and an young Israeli woman, both temporarily in New York for professional and artistic reasons, cannot ignore the pull they have towards one another. And they cannot ignore the fact that they have no future together.

There is some really chewy beginning of an exploration of their deeply held beliefs and different understandings of current events, but it doesn’t last. A big chunk of the book is just the two of them having irritating lovers’ spats, so annoying to this reader that I just wanted them to break up already. And the ending Rabinyan gave them handily kept them from having to figure out an adult resolution.

Lately, I seem to be picking up novels that center on difficult themes and fill in the crevices of my ignorance. Many are translated into English from a variety of other languages. I’m grateful to writers and translators for helping me widen my world and my vision.

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Moving KingsMoving Kings by Joshua Cohen

What do you do when you are released from a world in which your job is to obey orders, and now you get to decide for yourself? Who will you be when everyone you meet projects on you, and you don’t like any of their choices? How will you go forward with your life when the world has mis-used you at every turn, putting you in danger and cutting you no slack?

Uri and Yoav were Israeli soldiers in the West Bank who have no idea how to be peaceful working adults. David is a non-religious Jew in an ugly business. Avery/Imamu was an American soldier in Vietnam, returned home with hopes of making an honest life, but cannot escape certain aspects of American culture and ends up drug addicted and foreclosed upon (where all their stories interconnect). (Ruth and Tammy and all the other women are underdeveloped stand-ins for female “types.” But that is in keeping with the way the males in this book thought of them.)

I don’t know how many stars to give this disturbing, enlightening, confusing, and well-crafted book. Cohen did what I often say I want from a writer: characters and situations I wouldn’t likely imagine myself; an ending I wouldn’t say I didn’t see coming, but that did surprise me; a glimpse into parts of the world I have never, in real life, seen up close. But boy was it uncomfortable. And sad. And also disgusting.

I’ll admit that I was confused at times and suspect I lack the contextual knowledge to understand everything Cohen was conveying. I hope someone else I know will read this so we can talk about it. This would be a great choice for a book group that is willing to do background reading and have uncomfortable conversations.

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Review: Meddling Kids

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very wild ride.

They spent their teen summers solving gentle crimes in a vacation town in the Pacific Northwest. Now, they are young twenty-somethings derailed by the remnant horrors of their last case, unable to move forward and become functioning adults. In an attempt to finally put things to rest, they get the band back together and head back to face what may be truly supernatural.

If you remember Scooby-Doo, are a fan of Lovecraft, and enjoy horror, action, super long sentences, odd vocabulary, and a dose of silliness, you will probably like Meddling Kids.

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Review: Rabbit Cake

Rabbit Cake
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was very good. But it was not funny. Why do blurb writers always have to say everything is hilarious? Rabbit Cake is thoughtful, unique, maybe quirky, and has interesting and wonderful characters. But it is sad. Moving. A little hopeful towards the end. Not funny.

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Review: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine
Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Originally written as an undergraduate essay, Wonder Woman Unbound, definitely still reads as a college paper. While there are some interesting parts about the history of comic books in North America and the evolution of superheroes, the book could have been improved with editing. There are sections which are repetitious, some of the footnotes are just side jokes that the author thought were cute, and the writing style didn’t hold my attention. I found myself reading faster and faster just to finish.

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