South Branch Staff Picks Category: Books

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Misadventures of awkward black girlIntroverts rejoice! The self-proclaimed “awkward” Issa Rae is utterly charming and just as hilarious on the pages of  The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl as she is in her comedy YouTube videos (they won a Shorty Award for Best Web Show in 2012). Looking around popular entertainment and not seeing a “respectable reflection” of herself, Issa Rae prepared to take on the world, one “misadventure” at a time.  Each humorous essay takes readers to a moment in her life that helped her hone her voice as a writer and performing artist. It’s easy to laugh along with her during her growing pains: youthful forays onto online chat rooms, learning to love her “nap-tural” hair, her dancing abilities (or lack thereof), her love of men, her love affair with food, and so much more.

Look ahead to Insecure, the new HBO show co-created by (and starring) Issa Rae set to air in October 2016.

Funny memoir read-alikes:

The Princess and the Pony

the princess and the pony cover Are you a young princess with ambitions to become a fierce warrior? If so, you’re in for a treat because Kate Beaton has comically captured such a struggle in her children’s book The Princess and the PonyAdult readers may be familiar with Kate Beaton’s distinctly quirky drawing style and sense of humor from her webcomic series Hark! A Vagrant. Beaton adapted one of her original characters, a dumpy pony, to delight a younger audience as well.

Princess Pinecone is the protagonist of our story. She is the youngest warrior in a kingdom of warriors and is desperate to prove her fortitude in battle (though battling in Princess Pinecone’s kingdom seems to consist mostly of spitballs and general scuffles). All Princess Pinecone really needs to succeed in battle is a horse—one big, strong, and ready to charge! As her birthday approaches, the princess figures that this birthday will be the one where she finally gets a horse instead of yet another cozy sweater.

She thought wrong.

Instead of the stallion she so desires, Princess Pinecone receives a pony. Not just any pony—one decidedly stout, stumpy, and above all, adorable! How can Princess Pinecone strike fear in the hearts of the other warriors with such a pony? Still, the princess graciously accepts her gift (even though his eyes point in different directions!) and tries to make the best of the situation. Pinecone tries to train her pony for battle, but it proves difficult to try and turn a chubby pony into a fierce warhorse.

When the day of the battle finally arrives, Pinecone and her pony enter into battle– and surprise everyone with a secret weapon. Goofy illustrations will make younger readers giggle while adults will enjoy the nonsensical, deadpan humor.

If you liked The Princess and the Pony, look for Kate Beaton’s latest children’s book, King Baby!

Reviewed by: Anique A.

The Book of Unknown Americans

Book of Unknown Americans coverThe Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez, is a novel written as a series of interconnected stories, each of which could stand on its own. The book tells the story of several immigrant families from Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua and Latin American countries who end up in Delaware. The stories are told in first person and are narrated by different members of the same family. We learn their backstory, what brought them to the United States, and in some cases a little about how they got here, as well as getting a vivid picture of what life here is like for them, living as immigrants in a country with a culture and language so distinct from their own and one in which immigrants are not always openly welcomed.

The families all live in the same apartment complex, owned by another immigrant, and their lives are at once interconnected and often isolated, each family with its own challenges and obstacles to overcome. The core of the stories involve a family who comes to the US to provide educational opportunities to their daughter, who was brain damaged in an accident, and her relationship with the son of another tenant. At the same time, Henriquez interweaves this story with that of the other tenants, who face language barriers, economic hardship, and discrimination, among other challenges.
Hernandez’s writing draws you into the lives of her characters and you feel their disappointments and frustration and their small moments of joy as well. When I finished the book, I was left hoping there would be a second book so I could continue following their stories.
Written by: Rachel L.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover cover imageThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander is a book popping up on a lot of different school summer reading lists. For some students, reading is the last thing they want to do when school is out. It can be hard to get your student to read when the nice weather is calling their name. We get it. However, if you’re given a choice on which books to read, this is a great one for students who don’t like to read.

This book is unlike any book I’ve read before. Written completely in verse, there are no more than 50 words on a page. So, just by looking at the pages it doesn’t seem all that bad. It’s a super quick read and the subject matter is very tangible and realistic.

We’re following a pair of twins who are obsessed with basketball, and sometimes girls. Sometimes things are great – you’re winning all your games and you’re getting A’s in all your classes. However, there’s always those times when you’re mom starts making weird dips trying to get you healthy, you’re fighting with a best friend, or your mind just isn’t in the game.

If you like this book, you’ll enjoy Kwame Alexander’s other book Booked, Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes, and Rocket Man by Jan Coates.

Written by: Megan Y.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Although probably best known for his novels, many of which exceed 400-500 pages, Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of 4 novellas that will keep you reading long past the time you should have turned off the light and gone to sleep. The book opens with the longest of the novellas, “1922”, about a man who kills his wife to protect his land and the devastating repercussions that act has on him and his son and on those around them. The story is reminiscent of the Edgar Allan Poe story, The Telltale Heart and has an ending that readers definitely will not expect.
Cover image for Full Dark, No Stars2 of the stories, “Big Driver” and “A Good Marriage”, have strong female protagonists who suffer horrific experiences and whose responses will leave readers cheering for them. In “Big Driver,” a woman is brutally attacked after doing an author visit at a library. Her self-deprecating sense of humor and resourcefulness in seeking out those responsible for the attack turn her from a victim to a vigilante whom the reader can’t help but root for to be successful in her quest. In “A Good Marriage”, possibly the most disturbing of the stories, a woman finds out her husband is not who he seemed to be, an extreme version of Jekyll and Hyde, and readers are left wondering if they too, would be capable of similar actions if faced with the fact of living a lie after more than 20 years of marriage.
One of the most entertaining and twisted stories of the group is “Fair Extension”, in which a man is offered the chance to reverse his terminal cancer diagnosis for a period of time. But of course, nothing is ever free and so he must chose someone on which to visit tragedy in exchange for the temporary restoration of his previously good life. Who he choses and what happens to that person and his family is treated in an almost comic vein, and while truly awful, the reader never totally loses her sympathy for the protagonist.
Although hard to call stories with such horrific events depicted in them enjoyable, it truly was a great collection of novellas. They are page turners that kept me reading and at the end, wishing there was just one more story in there so that the book wouldn’t end.
Review by Rachel L.
Also available in Large Type and Audiobook.
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Aunque se le conoce mejor por sus novelas, muchos de lo cuales tienen más de 400-500 páginas, Full Dark, No Stars es una colleción de novelas cortas que seguirás leyendo hasta después de la hora que deberías haber apagado la luz y haberte acostado. El libro empieza con la más larga de las novelas cortas, 1922, que trata de un hombre que mata a su esposa para proteger su tierra y las repercusiones arrasadoras que tienen sobre él, su hijo y la gente alrededor de ellos. La historia me recuerda al cuento de Edgar Allan Poe, The Telltale Heart y tiene un final inesperado para los lectores.
Dos de las historias, “Big Driver” y “A Good Marriage”, tienen protagonistas femeninos fuertes que sufren unas experiencias terribles y cuyas respuestas llevan a los lectores a apoyar totalmente sus acciones después. En “Big Driver”, una mujer es atacada brutalmente después de hacer una charla literaria en una biblioteca. Su sentido de humor crítica y su iniciativa para buscar a las personas responsables del ataque la convierten de una víctima a una justiciera, y el lector desea con todo corazón que tenga éxito. En “A Good Marriage”, que es posiblemente el cuento más inquietante todos, una mujer enfrenta el hecho de que su marido no es el hombre que parecía, una versión extrema de Jekyll y Hyde, y los lectores acaban preguntándose si ellos también, sería capaces de acciones similares si tuvieran que vivir una mentira después de casi 20 años de matrimonio.
Uno de los cuentos más divertidos y perversos del grupo es “Fair Extension”, en el cual se le ofrece a un hombre la oportunidad de retroceder su diagnóstico de cáncer durante un periodo de tiempo. Pero, como siempre, no hay nada gratis así que tiene que elegir a alguien sobre el que le caerá la mala suerte a cambio de la restauración de la buena vida que tenía antes. La persona a la que elige y lo que le pasa a esa persona y su famila es tratado casi de manera cómica y aunque lo que pasa es de verdad horrible, el lector no pierde la simpatía por el protagonista.
Aunque puede ser difícil decir que el lector disfrute de la lectura de estas historias tan horrorosas, es una gran colección de novelas cortas. Son cuentos que me obligaron a pasar la página para seguir leyendo y al final, quería tener una historia más en la colleción para no terminar el libro.