Helen

They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood by Sugar Rodgers

If you are looking for a book for reluctant readers – this is it. If they won’t read this book, they won’t read anything.  It is a fascinating story, very well told. Here are a few random snapshots.

Sugar Rogers spent part of her childhood homeless. Her house was condemned by police, as her mother lay bedridden and dying inside it. She says she doesn't like going to parties growing up, because someone always ends up getting shot. Her friends convince her to go to one and, sure enough, shooting starts. As she lays in the backyard, pinned down by gunfire, she thinks to herself, “who brings a machine gun to a party?” 

Much later, once she is playing basketball professionally, a coach suggests she go to therapy. She says, “therapy is for white people!” Nevertheless, eventually she goes and concedes it is helpful. She cries a lot. She looks up at one point and her therapist is crying too! She wonders, “are they supposed to do that?”

Ms. Rogers succeeds despite terrible personal loses. Before she’s finished school, her nephew (more like a brother), is shot and killed, her aunt and brother go to jail and both her parents die. And yet she finds humour and positive lessons everywhere. Ms. Rogers has a warm and charismatic voice and a lot of wisdom to share. Her ultimate success is one of the most emotional reading experiences I’ve ever had. 

Beyond these endorsements, let me say there are a few good tests of a book. One is the number of times you want to share parts of it. While reading this book, I mentioned something from it so often, that at one point my husband suggested that I should just read the book out loud to him. (Sadly, he was joking.) This book feels like Ms. Rogers is talking to you. Please read it, to hear what she has to say.

YA Non-Fiction pr6154909

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen

I try to read challenging books because worthy causes deserve support. It’s the least we can do, to read these books, especially if we are privileged enough and/or lucky enough to have never experienced sexual assault, residential school, racism, war or other horrors that people in our world face. However - especially with the uncertainty of living during a pandemic -  sometimes a reader hits a wall. One just wants to read something funny. If you are there - or you know a young reader who needs a break - look no further!!

I listen to audiobooks while running. Listening to THIS book – available in MP3 Audio - I laughed out loud. And then I literally stopped running and bent over and laughed. And yes. I do worry sometimes what my neighbours might think. Anyway. I really just had to stop and laugh. People say LOL a lot, but I - for one - actually DO it infrequently. So, mostly this book is absolutely hilarious.

It also succeeded in getting me to empathize with drama kids. In my high school I… um… did not empathize. The author presents mostly objectionable characters whom our protagonist – Alison - also finds annoying if not insufferable. Nevertheless, as she does, we the reader come to love them, in all their arrogant and/or socially awkward and/or rude and/or self centered glory. Eventually, Alison and the reader come to understand that most people are doing the best that they can.

For bonus points, this book features LGBTQ characters, including Alison, this book is a debut and the author is Canadian. Alison’s romance is surprising and charming. Some LGBTQ themes are handled extremely well; but, nothing didactic here. There are many more things I’d like to say about this book. However, I’ll settle on one. Please be kind to yourself. Please read or listen to this brilliant debut.

YA Fiction pr5871706 / Audio CD pr6406137

Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew

The protagonist of Walking in Two Worlds is Anishinaabe teen Bagonegiizhigok Holiday, or “Bugz” for short. She lives in a near future world on lands where her people have lived for thousands of years. She has learned to harness the power of their home, in a virtual gaming universe called the Floraverse. There she lives in harmony with nature and has learned to manipulate plants and the elements, befriend animals and create creatures from her people’s myths. Among other things, she deflects bullets with flowers and defeats helicopters with Thunderbirds. In the Floraverse she is renowned and invincible. In the real world, she attends a pow wow and sharply contradicts an outsider who calls her regalia a costume. She demands respect, and when she receives it, she shares her home, traditions, and family, with pride and an open heart. Eventually, she also shares her virtual world secrets.

A couple of sentences cannot adequately describe the awesome beauty and power of this novel’s central metaphor. I hope, however, that these words will pique your interest enough to get to know Bugz yourself. She is peerless in my experience. If readers loved Firekeeper’s Daughter - as I did -  hand them Walking in Two Worlds, and tell them to hang on to their hat!

YA Fiction pr6234854

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