South Branch Staff Picks

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao) by Junot Diaz is a fascinating mix of genres and styles, combining fiction, non-fiction, history, science fiction and fantasy that reflects the extremes and absurdity of life under the regime of the dictator of the Dominican Rep. The Brief and Wonderful Life of Óscar Wao (La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao) by Junot Diaz is a fascinating mix of genres and styles, combining fiction, non-fiction, history, science fiction and fantasy that reflects the extremes and absurdity of life under the regime of the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the country with extreme cruelty from 1930 until he was assassinated in 1961.

The Brief and Wonderous Life of Óscar Wao tells the story of multiple generations of the León y Cabral family and the fukú, or curse, that followed them from their grandfather’s generation to the present day. The story focuses on Óscar, an aspiring writer whose love life is non-existent and who aspires to lose his virginity in an attempt to prove to himself and the world that he is a true Dominican male. The story shifts back and forth between the present and the past, with multiple literary and historical footnotes for those unfamiliar with science fiction-fantasy and/or the history of the Dominican Republic. The story of Óscar and the fukú that follows his family is a fascinating story on its own, and interwoven in the history of the DR, the story draws the reader in even more, as the personality and outrageous acts of violence committed by Trujillo seem even more like they should be a work of fiction than the story of Óscar’s family itself.

In spite of its complexity, the essential story is easy to follow and draws you in with sympathetic, complex characters. You find yourself turning the pages, waiting to see what catastrophic event will fall over the family next and hoping that by the end, somehow the family will find a way to finally rid itself of the fukú, as the DR finally rid itself of Trujillo.

If you like this book, you might also want to try How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez or Por estas calles bravas by Piri Tomas.

Written by: Rachel

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La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao por Junot Díaz es una mezcla fascinante de géneros y estilos que combina la ficción, la no ficción, la historia, la ciencia ficción, y la fantasía y refleja lo absurdo y extremo de la vida bajo el régimen del dictador de la República Dominicana, Rafael Trujillo quien gobernó el país desde 1930 hasta que fue asesinado en 1961.
 La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao cuenta la historia de múltiples generaciones de la familia León y Cabral y el fukú, o maldición, que les siguió desde la generación de su abuelo hasta el momento actual. La historia se centra en Óscar, un aspirante a escritor, cuya vida sentimental es un fracaso y que aspira a perder su virginidad para probar a todo el mundo que es un verdadero macho dominicano. La historia alterna entre el presente y el pasado, con múltiples notas al pie de la página tanto literarias como históricas para los que no conocen bien la literatura de ciencia ficción o fantasia y/o la historia de la República Dominicana. La historia de Óscar y el fukú que le sigue a su familia es una historia fascinante en sí, y entremezclado en la historia de la República Dominicana, la historia capta al lector aún más, a medida que la personalidad de Trujillo y las atrocidades que cometió parecen más ficticias que la historia de la familia de Óscar en sí.
 
A pesar de su complejidad, la historia básica es fácil de seguir y te capta la atención con personajes complejos que inspiran simpatía en el lector. Te encontrarás pasando las páginas, esperando para ver la próxima catástrofe que caerá sobre la familia y esperando que para el final, la familia encontrará como sea una forma de deshacerse del fukú, al igual que la DR por fin se deshizo de Trujillo. 
Si le gustó este libro, sugerimos también De cómo las muchachas Garcia perdieron el acento por Julia Alvarez o Por estas calles bravas por Piri Tomás. 
Por Rachel

The Siren by Kiera Cass

The Siren title pictureImagine having the ability to speak, yet being forbidden from doing so in public! Could you live for 100 years like this?

This is the life of Kahlen, and she is fine with it. She even understands her duty to the Ocean, and why things have to be this way.

The Ocean understands her, loves and protects her from the overwhelming guilt that comes from each singing.

However can the Ocean protect her from the way only true love can hurt? How much will Kahlen sacrifice, will she sacrifice love itself?

Each Siren has her own story and each of them has to live with the stringent rules the Ocean sets, but they all have to come together and sing until they manage to quench the hunger that steers inside the Ocean.

This book is like: Storm & Salt by Kendall Kulper, Wake by Amanda Hocking, and Dreamology by Lucy Keating

Written by: Maria R.

March Graphic Novel Series (March: Book One, March: Book Two, March: Book Three)

March Book OneMarch book twoMarch book three

As you hear about marches and movements—large and small—happening all over the country, do you wonder how you fit in, what role you might play, or what difference YOU could make? Or maybe you already know: you are active in your community, and online, and you know how to make your voice heard!

In either case, you’ll want to pick up these books.  Any non-violent movement in this country today is a “child” of the Civil Rights Movement, and it’s vital to know where we came from if we want to know where we’re going.

The March books tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s principally through the eyes of John Lewis. Today he’s a congressman for Georgia in the House of Representatives, but in the 1960s he became an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement. The three graphic novels are an innovative collaboration between John Lewis and Andrew Aydin on the writing, and Nate Powell as the artist.

In this immersive vision of storytelling, we bear witness to the late-night strategy meetings, tense phone calls and legendary conferences, as well as the beatings, bombings, and other brutalities suffered by protesters. We are with John Lewis as he grows from joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in college, to preaching sermons and leading marches in the South, and later finds himself elected as the Chairman of SNCC in 1963.  He shares his multiple imprisonments, his dedication to stay nonviolent in protests, and challenges to keeping the movement whole.  Through John Lewis you get to know other key figures you may not have heard about before, and learn about the complicated relationship between the different organizations that guided the Civil Rights Movement.

The whole story is beautifully juxtaposed with President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech in January 2009, such that when he says “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors,” your heart breaks with the weight of those sacrifices (March: Book Two, pg 176).

Maybe I’m taking on too much by grouping these three in a review together—there’s definitely more than enough to talk about in every single one—but after reading the first, you won’t be satisfied until you’ve read all three!

In case you needed any more motivation to pick these up today…Maybe you’ve already heard about all the awards March: Book Three has won? How about: the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and the YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction!

What are you waiting for? Click on the links or pictures above and request a copy today!

Read-a-likes: Maus, Persepolis, V is for Vendetta, any other political graphic novels?

Written by: Allison

Hello, My Name is Doris

Hello My Name is Doris coverGidget’s all grown up in Hello, My Name is Doris, a goofy comedy starring Sally Fields. Doris is an eccentric older woman with a young spirit who lives on Staten Island with her cat and a house stuffed with, well, stuff. When an attractive young man starts to work at her company, Doris takes interest and finds herself stepping outside her shell and living the life she had always wanted. This movie is fun for millennials as well as a more seasoned audience.

If you liked Lars and the Real Girl or Florence Foster Jenkins, then Doris is sure to delight you!

Written by Anique

La Casa Chica

La Casa Chica coverLa Casa Chica by Mónica Lavín interweaves imagined or re-imagined stories into historical figures from the twenties to the sixties in Mexico. Notable figures such as Frida Kahlo, Conchita Martínez, Lupe Vélez and Emilio “el Indio” Fernández, who led dramatic and often turbulent public lives, are given a reimagined equally dramatic back story, based on, as the author says, “information obtained from various sources, including books, newpapers, magazines, conversations, Internet.” The author recreates their conversations, thoughts and feelings of their romantic lives using what is known about their lives and what she imagines could have happened in parallel. Often tragic and always fascinating, these are stories both about what was and what could have been and together they form, as the author herself points out, a portrait of the Mexico that was and is no more.
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La Casa Chica por Mónica Lavín entrelaza historias imaginarias o re-imaginadas a las vidas de figuras históricas desde los años veinte hasta los setenta. A figuras notables, tales como Frida Kahlo, Conchita Martínez, Lupe Vélez y Emilio “el Indio” Fernández, que tuvieron vidas públicas a menudo dramáticas y turbulentas, se les da una historia re-imaginada igualmente dramática, como nos dice la autora, “basada en información obtenida de diversas fuentes: libros, periódicos, revistas, conversaciones, Internet.” La autora recrea sus conversaciones, pensamientos y sentimientos de sus vidas románticas usando lo que se conoce de sus vidas y lo que imagina que podría haber ocurrido en paralelo. A menudo trágicos y siempre fascinantes, éstas son historias que tratan tanto de lo que fue y lo que podría haber sido, y juntos forman, como nos indica la autora, un retrato “del México que se fue.”
Written by: Rachel L.

Pelé: Birth of a Legend

Pele: Birth of a Legend

Pele: Birth of a Legend

Most people know who Pelé is and how he is the greatest soccer player in history. However many do not know who Edson Arantes do Nascimento is and how he came to be Pelé. Pelé: Birth of a Legend gives us but a glimpse into the life and struggles that he had to overcome at a early age. Without giving you much of a spoiler into a the movie, let’s just say you might need a tissue paper or two. Besides learning who is the man behind the legend, I did learn a lot about soccer and the different type of soccer styles. Definitely a must see movie for anyone!

Written by: Maria R.

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.
(Read alikes Funny memoirs) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants by Jill Soloway, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang.

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.