Where You See Yourself by Claire Forrest

When I went to university – albeit centuries ago – all common paths included stairs and old heavy doors and often long distances. Paths between classes, the cafeteria, the library, the Great Hall, a student activity centre, parking lots, the residences, washrooms and main campus. To get from one to another on time you often needed to jog. I don’t remember any elevators or doors that opened with buttons. If there were elevators, they were not in the halls I used. My classmates and I didn’t think anything of that. I can’t remember seeing a single student using a wheelchair. Even my convocation ceremony required going up and coming down two small flights of stairs.

In this debut novel, our protagonist – Effie - uses a wheelchair, and she’s deciding which university to attend. She’s academically unstoppable, talented as well as extroverted and hilarious. Her parents are affluent and otherwise supportive. She should be able to attend any university she chooses; but, her choices are limited by accessibility. She visits various campuses that she gets into academically. However, she can’t physically “get into” at least one building in her visits, without her mother’s help. Paradoxically, that school also offers her a scholarship. Another campus she visits, her student guide is also a wheelchair user and has had wheelchair using students for decades.

Effie’s adventures also involve skipping classes with friends, a “sit-in“ protest, romances, going to prom, parties, Effie’s first kiss, etc. Wheelchair users will find it refreshing to see their perspective from a protagonist. Other readers – like me – will cheer for Effie and learn from her as well.  

Young Adult Fiction pr6846004

What Does Hate Look Like? by Sameea Jimenez

Reading about hate can be heavy going. To avoid getting discouraged - skip ahead. Read Chapter 5, “How Can We Move from Bystanders to Upstanders?”, Chapter 6, “Why Should We Care?” and Chapter 7, “What Does All This Mean For You?”

This book will be lots of things to lots of people. Chapter 6 succinctly expresses how this book is helpful to me. It asks, “What can you do to make positive change? You can learn about your own bias.” (Page 85). Reading this 95-page book helped me progress with that, even though it’s for kids, and I am (allegedly) a grown-up.  For example, it taught me that I have – unfortunately - perpetrated microaggressions, against friends. Oh dear! However, now I know. Empowered with a bit more knowledge, I can try to do better. 

Chapter 5 offers five ways to empower yourself against hate. It also includes examples where kids did something that made a difference. One guy relates how he came out to his school as trans and asked them to use his chosen name and pronouns. He got a standing ovation. Another kid talks about making friends with a kid who everyone bullied. They became close friends. She changed her new friend’s life. Readers can see that kids made those successes really happen. (Hooray!)

Chapter 7 provides useful, succinct, bullet point lists for “How to React to Hate” for “Victims,” “Upstanders,” and “People Who Inflict Hate.” Other engaging aspects of this book are boxes throughout, that start, “What would you do if…” These boxes offer concrete situations a reader might experience. A good example is, “What would you do if you received an email that said something racist about one of your friends?”

Largely, however, this book succeeds in answering the question in the title. As in Chapter 5, real kids describe real things that happened to them. Brave kids talk about experiences they had with hatred. Importantly they talk about how these incidents made them feel - self-hatred, anger, confusion, humiliation, embarrassment, upset, invisible, etc. Victims, “upstanders” and “people who hate” can all learn about themselves and others from this book. If we want to be part of the solution, it’s good to learn about the problem. Oh, one more thing. There are lots of inspiring quotations in this book. “No one person is born hating another… People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

Juvenile Non-Fiction pr6896283

Ravensong by Cayla Fay

There are tropes that get overused. It’s fun when an author uses one and it really, really works. Neve begins the novel as a compelling, believable, snarky, aloof loner. Everyone at her high school is afraid of her, for good reason. She is absolutely unapproachable. She literally speaks to no one.

She has a strident encounter with a “new” girl who immediately drives her up the wall. The new girl is excessively nice. She helps Neve when Neve doesn’t want help. Neve can’t stand it. Incidents ensue. The new girl gets bullied. Neve decides to stick up for her. Now Neve tolerates eating lunch in her company. The new girl makes friends with other outsiders. The friends sit with Neve and the new girl at lunch – initially in trepidation if not terror. Then they start to tease Neve. She is incensed. Their amusement grows.

Oh, I forgot, Neve’s sisters are immortal. Neve will be immortal when she turns 18 in a few months. Together, they are the Morrigan.

Back to the tough loner trope. As you expect, Neve warms up to the new girl. Neve and the new girl fall in love. What you don’t expect is that Neve – although tough and constantly in mythic battles - keeps getting the living daylights kicked out of her by immortal baddies. It’s refreshing that the strong, fearless heroine gets hurt, occasionally. Bravery is more admirable, when danger is real. The teenage banter, grudging friendships and kickass fight scenes – I LOVE swords – are great. The romance is sweet and steamy and credible.  All of that says to me that the writing is good and the character development is excellent. I hope that’s enough to pique your interest. There will be a second book. I really want to know “what happens next.”

YA Fiction pr6875012

What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski

I’ve read juvenile fiction books and young adult books that made me realize – with a sinking heart – that I bullied other kids. I didn’t stop the bullying. I didn’t even try. I didn’t really recognize what was happening was bullying. I wish that I had. I wish I’d been empowered by those books then.

What Happened to Rachel Riley? made me realize that when I was a little girl, “the boys” sexually harassed me and my friends. We didn’t do anything to stop it. We didn’t tell teachers or our parents. We didn’t really recognize what was happening was sexual harassment. Girls who read What Happened to Rachel Riley? will. They will be empowered by reading this book, and if they are sexually harassed, they will know what to do. That’s the most important thing to say about this book.

Secondly, starting with the title, the central mystery around Rachel Riley instantly engages the reader. Our protagonist, Anna, is the “new girl” at her elementary school. As she gets to know her peers, she learns that last year Rachel Riley was the most popular girl at the school. Now no one talks to her. No one will talk about her. Anna sets out to find out why. This fantastic, suspenseful format, turns a fairly serious subject into a page turner.

Juvenile Fiction pr6774647

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