Plots

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmad

I was pacing the shelves in my library a few weeks ago, ecstatic to find myself completely alone in the YA section, when I stumbled upon Down and Across. I’d seen this book on a list of YA books by authors of color, and now it’s blue-green spine was staring back at me. I decided to check it out.

Saaket Ferdowsi aka Scott hasn’t been able to stick with much of anything in his life. So, while his parents are in Iran he decides to leave his Philly internship to chase down a D.C. grit professor. What ensues is a lot of growth, some pain, and of course grit. Grit is defined as courage, resolve, and strength of character. My dad had brought up this concept to me a few years ago and recommended I watch a Ted Talk on it so I was familiar with the concept. This book dealt expertly with how grit applies to real life without making it dry or too academic.

Mostly, this was executed by our main character Saaket/Scott. He’s honestly just a normal 16 year old and the first person narrative exemplifies that, we’re in his head. We get to be first hand witnesses to his irritations and excitements. We see the internal struggles he faces as the child of immigrants and his childhood wounds. He’s witty, honest, and sometimes deep.

And it’s not just Saaket, Ahmadi shows expert character building in each member of this cast. Fiora: the fierce female lead with family wounds. Trent: the caring friend with a plot twist. And Cecily Mallard: the transformative Georgetown professor.

The only character I didn’t like was Jeanette. She’s a token Christian girl who’s a complete jerk. As a Christian, I was highly irritated with how one-note she was: racist, homophobic, clingy, irritating, the whole nine yards. I’m wondering if she stemmed from a negative experience the author had with a Christian. I hope not, but if so, I hope he and all his readers understand that not all Christians are jerks like that. Just like everyone else, we hate to be generalized about.

Stepping away from characters, I want to draw attention to a main theme in the book: crossword puzzles. I’m not a fan of crossword puzzles by any means, but I loved Ahmadi’s use of them in this book. They didn’t simply provide an activity for the characters to engage in, but they were symbolic to the narrative. The crosswords represented life and fate, the intersections of people, and the things in life we can’t control. They showed order and creativity, a set of rows and columns but with infinite possibilities.

Truly, this book was a fun read and I’m stoked for Ahmadi’s 2019 release!

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Have you read Down & Across? What stereotypical characters irritate you?

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Music · Plots

Author’s Notes & Aux Cords: Animal Farm

So, I’m back with another Author’s Notes & Aux Cords because they’re just so much fun to write! If you missed my first one check it out here. And, you know the drill: beware of spoilers!

Today’s book is Animal Farm by George Orwell, hands-down my favorite required reading for my British Literature course of sophomore year. It’s a satirical novel, telling the story of a farm run by an oppressive farmer. The animals decide to take control of their situation and overthrow Mr. Jones, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, assume authoritative roles and chaos ensues. This story tells the underlying story of a totalitarian government and a revolution. But it tells those truths using a classic animal story reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web or something similar. The narrative of Animal Farm tells transcends to any time period and any governmental system. It’s a quick read that’s sure to change your life. So, let’s look at the playlist!

Freedom | Lecrae ft. N’Dambi

“I’ma go pursue my happiness, they told me it was free
But I’m still payin’ for it, I’m indebted to this thing”

The animals on Manor Farm are fed up with life under Mr. Jones, so they stage a rebellion and take over the farm. After grasping their freedom, they believe happiness will follow. However, years later, they’re still oppressed and working harder than ever under the rule of Napoleon the pig.

Wake Me Up | B.A.P

“자각해 타락해버린 진실
분열된 주체 속의 껍질”

“Be aware of the corrupt truth
And the outer layer of the broken subjects”

Napoleon lives off of broken subjects and corrupt truth. The animals aren’t aware of his lies and they’re vulnerable. They’ve been hurt for so long that they want answers, and Napoleon comes along at the right time and in the right way, providing empty solutions

Alexander Hamilton | Hamilton: An American Musical

“Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came”

Because many of the farm animals can’t read, the pigs can keep changing the commandments of animalism to uphold their motives. In addition, the animals neglect to pass down their history to their offspring. Eventually, there are young animals that don’t remember life under Mr. Jones or the rebellion. Some of the animals’ grief and oppression could be solved if they knew their history and knew how to read.

Get It Together | India Arie

“Dark future ahead of me
That’s what they said
I’d be starving if I ate all the lies they fed”

Believing Squealer, the animals consume the propaganda that tells them they’re better off than before. When in reality they’re starving while the pigs are getting fat, filling them with fear of the future.

No More Dream | BTS

“But 사실은 I dun have any big dreams
하하 난 참 편하게 살어
꿈 따위 안 꿔도 아무도 뭐라 안 하잖어
전부 다다다 똑가같이
나처럼 생각하고 있어”

“But actually, I don’t have any big dreams
Haha, I live quite comfortably
Even if I don’t dream, no one says anything
Everyone is thinking
the same way as me”

Gone are the days when the animals had ambitions for a better life. Now, the citizens of Animal Farm have lost their dreams and are eating the mass of lies that the pigs feed them. None of them question, none of them dare to think differently, none of them refuse the lies, they all think the same thoughts.

Clarity | Andy Mineo

“All I, all I want is clarity, clarity
‘Cause all of my heroes are frauds just like me, just like me
So let every man be a liar, let only God be truth
And all of your heroes are frauds just like you”

At the end of the narrative, the animals witness the pigs, who spoke ill of humans, the pigs, who promised a better life, the pigs, who led them to their future, turn into men right before their eyes. Sadly, the animals’ heroes become frauds in front of them.

This book is amazing and I could fangirl about it all day so leave something in the comments if you’re a fan of Animal Farm.

Here’s the playlist, I’d encourage you to take a listen even if you don’t like Animal Farm because these are good quality bops.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Music · Plots

Author’s Notes & Aux Cords: This Side of Home

IMG_20180502_120835

Music and books are two of my favorite things, so when I had the idea to combine them I couldn’t wait. This series is where I create playlists of songs that remind me of or match with my favorite books. First up is This Side of Home by Renee Watson. If you want more general info about this book and author check out this post. Also, this post contains some mild spoilers since I’m discussing the plot along with the songs, so please be aware. Without further ado: the playlist!

 

17 | Mahalia

“But I’m tired of hiding for the benefit of my peers
What’s so wrong with shining?
Why’ve you got so much fear?”

The main characters of this narrative: Maya and Nikki are 17 in the story. Maya especially feels as if she’s hiding because she dates a white guy and doesn’t believe her friends will approve, especially because they see her and she sees herself as a very woke activist-minded type of person. As the narrative progresses she develops more security in who she is and realizes that who she dates doesn’t change who she is.

Ma City | BTS

“I don’t know what to say 나 죽어도 말 못해
내게 억만 금을 주고 딴 데 살라고?
ah no thanks”

“I don’t know what to say. Even if I die, I can’t say it
Even if you give me a hundred thousand dollars to live somewhere else
ah no thanks”

As Portland becomes more and more gentrified, Maya and Nikki come to grips with what it means to love and support their city. Although economically, it may be better to sell their house and move on, their hearts belong to Portland and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Put Your Records On | Corinne Bailey Rae

“Maybe sometimes we feel afraid, but it’s alright
The more you stay the same, the more they seem to change
Don’t you think it’s strange?”

When the twins were children, they made plans with their friend Essence to attend Spelman College all together. As they get older though, Essence moves away, the twins move farther apart, and their lives move forward in different directions. Maya thinks she’s stayed the same and all the things around her have changed.

Bubbles | Jamila Woods

“Black girl be in a bubble, bubble
Floating quietly out of trouble, trouble
They call you shy
Always ask why you listen before you speak”

This book deals a lot with Maya’s experience as a black girl, always having to hold back, answer others questions and deal with consequences for speaking up. She has the heart of an activist though and although she is in a sort of a “bubble” she manages to pop it over time.

Younger | Seinabo Sey

“There is a light to all this darkness if only we
Fight against them telling us how we should be
I refuse to have you break me
When you know you ain’t getting any”

I thought this song fit, first of all because the twins last name is Younger. But more than that, this story deals with gentrification and the effects of that on Maya, Nikki, and their neighborhood. As more white and Latina students move into their school zone, their principal starts to give special treatment to those students and doing things like cutting the Black history program in favor of a diversity fair. Maya and her friends fight back against this and refuse to simply accept the unfair treatment in their neighborhood and school.

Here’s the link to the Spotify playlist if you want to check it out, and feel free to follow me on Spotify!

 

Leave a comment below telling me what you thought about the playlist. If you’ve read the book, do you think my choices fit?

Stay fly,

~Akilah

Plots

In Which a Ghost Runs From Himself

“And it felt good to feel like one of the teammates. Like I was there-really there-as me, but without so much scream inside.”

Castle Cranshaw, a.k.a. Ghost, can run. It’s something he’s been doing for much of his life, but now that he’s joined a track team it’s not just about running anymore. Can he let go of his anger and his past enough to be a part of the team?

Ghost is the first book in the new Track series by Jason Reynolds. Jason Reynolds is one of my favorite authors so I was excited to read this book. I haven’t reviewed any if his books on the blog yet, but my favorites are coming soon, I decided to start with this one as it was the most recent one I’ve read.

Let’s talk aesthetics first: if you’ve read any of my other book reviews then you know that I love minimalist cover designs. This yellow background with the black lettering looks so sleek. Plus, I love the rippled effect of the letters as Ghost runs by.

Written in first person point of view, this book allowed me to easily connect with Ghost’s voice. He’s hilarious, blunt, and reminds me of people I know. I definitely cringed many times because he would do stupid things, but that was part of his character arc and made for a satisfying ending.

Another character I appreciated was the coach known as…Coach. He genuinely cared about Ghost not only as a runner but as a person. Ghost’s “squad” also cared about him, their relationship started out rocky but they grew closer, and I’m hoping that in the next book there will be more of them together.

I wish there would have been more scenes with Ghost and his mom, we heard about their relationship but didn’t see much of it. A tragic event led them closer together and I would’ve loved to see the effects of it further explored. This narrative was well-written and the cast of characters were the standout piece.

Ghost’s life events are quite complicated, he often feels less than because of where he lives, who he is, and what he’s been through. Thus, this book explores whether the end justifies the means in certain scenarios in Ghost’s life. It asks hard questions about whether the wrong thing is still wrong even if the motives were right. Personally, I don’t identify with the “end justifies the means” perspective. Sin is sin and what’s illegal is illegal, end of story. Most times when we’re being honest with ourselves, the right reason we have for doing wrong can be achieved by doing right. This was the case with Ghost, as you’ll find when you read the book. I was quite satisfied with the resolution and the overall story. I definitely recommend it.

Stay fly,

~Akilah

If you liked Ghost you might like:

 

Plots

The Hate U Give ~Angie Thomas

“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen -people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right.” ~The Hate U Give

I’ve been waiting for so long to read this book. It’s one of the most hyped books of 2017 and shocker its a hyped YA contemporary that I actually wanted to read. The premise sounded interesting, I’m always searching for more “YA of color”, and Jason Reynolds, one of my favorite authors, acclaimed it, so it was a perfect fit. 

The Hate U Give is about sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses her best friend Khalil get murdered by police. I’m ecstatic that a book about hard topics like police brutality and race relations by a debut woman of color author is getting buzz. I hope that this will lead to more  authors of color getting the recognition they deserve, especially in YA. Also, as there’s a movie in the future (with the great Amandla Stenberg I might add) I hope that the movie will do it justice and expand the platform even further.

I love the cover, first of all. My book cover aesthetic is very clean and minimal and I love the white, black, red, and brown color scheme. I appreciate that it isn’t a photo, as I’m not a fan of photos on book covers, but that it features a WOC on the front (representation matters).

Starr is a wonderful character, multi-faceted and imperfect. Her obsession with Jordan’s and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air make her quite endearing. On a side-note I loved the descriptions of shoes in the book and hearing which J’s are Starr’s favorite.

Family is also a major part of this book, Starr’s parents and siblings are developed in a satisfying way and add to the book. Seven, Starr’s older brother is the epitome of cool and her younger brother Sekani adds bits of humor to the family. I also love how strong  her parent’s relationship is, even after a messy past. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a police officer, which adds an interesting dynamic to this issue of police brutality, making her perception of police complex.

As far as friendships, Angie Thomas uses Starr’s relationships with her friends to deal with deeper issues, which is perfect. Also I admire her friend Maya, I would definitely hang out with her in real life. The only person close to Starr I did not like is her boyfriend Chris. I understand what Angie Thomas was trying to do with exploring interracial relationships (Chris is white) but I didn’t like his character. Their relationship seemed unnessecary and I wish I could just cut out his scenes.

I would love less Chris and more Khalil. I knew going in that Khalil was going to die, yet I still let myself love him so much. Why do I do myself like this?? I cried, physical tears when he was shot (and at other times during the book) because he was just so kind, funny, and he loved Starr. They grew up together and I would love to see a prequel of their childhood. Also, his love for his momma and grandma is so sweet, Angie Thomas did a fantastic job of revealing his character even after his death. Starr’s character development also continues throughout the whole book. It was amazing to see her growth over the course of the story.

My only other complaint aside from Chris is the language in this book. It’s like a PG-13 movie, but I find language even more bothersome in books. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone under 13, it also can be a little intense at times so be aware.

This book was bomb, and I’m glad it’s getting so much acclaim and I hope the movie delivers like the book did.

Stay fly

~Akilah

What did you think of The Hate U Give?

If you liked T.H.U.G. you might like…

  • When I Was the Greatest ~Jason Reynolds
  • Piecing Me Together ~Renee Watson
  • Scorpions ~Walter Dean Myers
  • Maizon At Blue Hill ~Jacqueline Woodson
Plots

Shooting From the Free Verse Line

“See when I play ball,

I’m on fire.

When I shoot,

I inspire.

The hoop’s for sale,

And I’m the buyer.”

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is an epic mash-up of free verse and hip-hop poetry which creatively tells the story of Josh Bell, young basketball prodigy. The narrative revolves around Josh and his twin brother Jordan as they rule the court, but also as their relationship evolves.

I was tempted to title this post “Love and Basketball” but I’ll refrain since I haven’t seen the movie. Anyway, I enjoy watching basketball, and reading books about it so when I saw this book I was intrigued. Then, I found out it was written in verse and I couldn’t wait to read it.

The mixture of free verse, rhyming hip-hop poetry, and play-by-plays by Josh immediately hooked me. There are also short pieces called “Basketball Rules” which are similar to proverbs or life advice. All these pieces are organized into sections named with basketball terminology (1st quarter, overtime etc.) which I found very creative.

Sometimes in novels written in verse it becomes harder to connect with the characters, but in this story I immediately felt connected to the characters, especially Josh. His personality was quite distinct from Jordan’s and his voice came through clearly. I also loved his parents, instead of being faceless like in some books, they had personality and a real relationship.

Plot-wise this book was amazing, there’s an unexpected twist at the end, so definitely read it!

Stay fly

~Akilah

Plots

The Prize of Education// Up From Slavery Booker T. Washington

“From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most favoured of any other race.” -Booker T. Washington

Up From Slavery, the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, engrained itself in the list of classics, and in the list of books that have impacted me. From slave boy to college founder, Booker T. Washington’s life is already remarkable, but it is even more so reading it in his own words.

Education was an important theme in this book. Education was Booker’s childhood dream, driving force, and ultimate destination. One thing that resonated with me was how deeply Booker, his family, and community hungered for education. For them, Hampton Institute was paradise and education was the prize. When Booker returned from Hampton, the elders in his community longed to know about his experience, “they had spent the best days of their lives in slavery, and hardly expected to live to see the time when they would see a member of their race leave home to attend a boarding school.” 

But Booker didn’t believe in traditional education only, he wanted to equip black people in “book-learning” but also in trade and life skills. This was important especially in Reconstruction because newly freed slaves needed both kinds of this intelligence to thrive.

The imagery in this book was wonderfully vivid, from the descriptions of the European countryside during Booker’s vacation to descriptions of poor people with only one fork per family but an expensive piano no one can play.

Booker T. Washington’s heart for black people-his people, and his work at Tuskegee was woven expertly through this narrative. I whole-heartedly recommend this book as a window into the life of an amazing orator, educator, and college founder.

Stay fly,

~Akilah