Meet Piper Perish, up close and personal! This first person, journal-style book gives the reader a front row seat to Piper’s brain, and that’s a fun place to be because she’s an artist, a teen finding her way in a new city, and a gal who is discovering that she can make meaning, not just money — which is good because she has a lot more meaning than money!
Young adults will key into Piper’s search for authenticity in the fashion world of New York City. Plus, it’s fun to see what everyone is wearing! They’ll also celebrate her triumphant assertion of her own identity when she stops letting others use her talents and takes the steering wheel of her own artistic life. The romantic subplot works better than most because the not-the-one guy becomes a friend. Readers may want to check out the book preceding this one, Piper Perish, but it’s not required.
For NYC buffs, this book holds a special treat. As Piper explores the city — from the furniture left on curbs to the Empire State Building to homeless folks to the iconic public library (remember the lions?) — she sketches and creates a hashtag, #NYSeen, for all the spots she’s seen. These come in handy later, but you’ll have to read the book to see how!
I enjoyed my peek into Piper’s first months in NY, as her initiative and creativity grow and she comes into her own as an adult. Piper’s voice is one I’m going to miss now that the book has ended. Her ups and downs are fun to follow because her journal (the book in our hands) keeps her honest. She admits to faults and conflicting feelings as well as confessing her hopes and values. Ultimately, Piper succeeds in matching her insides to her outsides, as she says, bringing the best of herself off the page and into the world.
“What are you?” my friend’s nephew was asked. He is Peruvian and African American.
I’ve been asked this, too. A lot. In fact, mixed kids report being asked this quite a bit. Their skin is brown, but their eyes are blue. Or their hair isn’t what people expect, given their bone structure. I sound white, but look vaguely indigenous. I have been assumed to be Chinese, Navaho, Mexican, and European. I’m actually Guatemalan-American, descended from basically Brits and Mayans.
Born in Iowa, my Guatemalan side stood out there. I was the only brown kid in my class, maybe in my school. The town was small enough that my Guatemalan dad was a bit of a celebrity. I never heard a cruel word about my parents’ marriage, nor my permanent tan. When I got to Texas, I was seen differently. Latinxes thought I spoke Spanish, which I didn’t. But more than once, a light kid insulted immigrants from south of Texas, not realizing that I was the child of one. I was first asked “What are you?” at church, another time in a job interview, and many times since.
Admittedly, the question is dehumanizing. Along with “Where are you from?” since mostly, we mash-ups in the US would say “Here!” But, you know what, I don’t mind it the way I used to. I think most askers are trying to open a new folder in their brains and aren’t sure what to call it. Undoubtedly, other askers are trying to fit the mixed person into a box that carries assumptions and stereotypes, but the people I’ve run into are mainly curious. They’re often intrigued when they find out my background and think it’s cool. If we lived in Brazil, we could visit three states that actually designate a holiday, June 27, as the day to celebrate “mestizos,” or mixed folks.
It’s not as easy for every mixed person out there, though. Many speak of taunting coming from both sides — name-calling, ostracizing, and the implication that they aren’t “black enough” or “Korean enough” or whatever-enough to be part of the community. Barack Obama was criticized for marking Black on the 2010 census because he his half white and half black. His choice shows that he knows he is perceived as black, and therefore, is living the experience of a black man, despite his mother’s being white.
Mixed people don’t always admit their mixed-ness, and for good reason. Before 1967, when the Supreme Court cleared the way for two people to marry regardless of race, it could be damaging to reveal a mixed bloodline. In overtly racist areas, the stigma of having a black ancestor could threaten livelihoods and even lives. Also, the US census only starting offering the choice to check multiple race boxes in 2000. Statistics show an increase in mixed kids in this century partly because it’s now possible to report it.
On the other hand, mixed marriages and mixed kids are more noticeable now than ever. The famous royals, Harry and Meghan, aren’t alone. We probably are experiencing an increase in the real number of multi-racial people in the USA. The UK shows rises as well.
The up-side is that we mixed kids tend to grow up appreciative of cultural variety and are fluent in more than one way of being. We live the truth that our parents’ human-ness is the same, regardless of race. Some of us are bi-lingual, and some grew up in two faith traditions. It’s natural to look at us as symbols of harmony among all peoples.
Symbols, maybe, but we aren’t the solution to ending racism forever. If only. For that, we need to work on many fronts for years to come, including emphasizing how artificial all divisions really are.
But let’s celebrate our multi-ness and the bravery of our parents. Let’s teach people to say, “What’s your background?” if they’re curious and not intending to insult. Let’s enjoy the creativity and flexibility of mind that mixed folks add to this world.
And when it comes to answering the question, “What are you?”, as my friend and I said that day about her nephew, in unison, “Tell them you’re a human being.”
Thoughtful, logical Lucy finds herself thrust into her emotionally raucous Italian family when her dad ships out for Vietnam in 1971. During his absence, she and her mom adapt to living with herb packets, chicken claws showing up in odd places, and her Nonnina’s pink kitchen. Well, mostly. Now that Dad is returning, though, everything will go back to the way it was before–the highly organized life of a doctor in training and his family.
But soldiers returning from war are never the same. And the world they come home to isn’t either. As Lucy deals with one emotional slam after another, her creative coping skills such as a Homeostasis Extravaganza make her relatable and also admirable. What she wants is to be brave and reasonable, but it might be time to add expressive to that list. With a new friend, a deepening appreciation for her huggy Italian family, and a vet family to track down, Lucy is learning to trust her heart.
My two cents: Loved it! In a nuanced weaving of history, closely observed characters, and poetic language, Tracy Holczer captures the both the discriminating mind and the open heart of her reader. Recommended!
Kids aged 10-14 will enjoy meeting Evangelina and her family as they flee their village in Mexico during the Revolution in 1911. Gone are the scrumptious fruits of their hacienda and elaborate plans for Evangelina’s quinceañera. Instead, their lives turn to surviving a nighttime escape and a cold welcome in a Texas town. Readers will root for observant, kind Evangelina as she faces racism and condescension in school and throughout town. When her intelligence is noticed by a doctor, she finds a way to shine in the midst of cruelty.
My two cents! With lovely turns of phrase, a well-drawn historical context, and emotional depth, this book is a must-read at this time in US history, when we need to grasp both the horrors that refugees have endured and conquered, and the gifts and talents they bring to their new homes.
Looking for a book with head AND heart? Tae Keller’s THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS laces Natalie’s science notebook to her quest to save her mother from depression. With friends Twig and Dari, Natalie sets out to win an egg dropping contest that will fund her plan to show her mother a miracle in New Mexico — the Cobalt Blue Orchids that grow in toxic waste. Her mother studied the flowers back when she went to work, back when she left her bedroom every day, back when she left her bed. Now that their own orchid has died, it’s up to Natalie to remind her broken mother how beautifully tough orchids can be and how alive. Even as she finds herself breaking rules, breaking in to her mother’s lab, and breaking out of her therapist’s expectations, Natalie’s hope never cracks. Recommended!
Stuff I liked most: 1) Keller’s honest portrayal of complex emotions, such as the moment when Natalie finds out that almost everything she thought about the orchid in the greenhouse was wrong 2) the fact that Natalie is realistically rendered — for example, her mom’s a scientist, but she herself is bad at science!