Book Review: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

MY TWO CENTS: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is unlike any YA I’ve read in 2017. A raw, unflinching, and surprisingly hilarious book, it’s organized as a series of definitions, like a dictionary, but with vignettes instead of sentence-long explanations. This is an ambitious book with a concept that is effortlessly pulled off, and it has one of the most compelling and authentic voices I’ve come across in a long time. The entire book is presented as the writings of Macy Cashmere MYOFB in real time, and I never once questioned it; that’s just how good this story is. Macy is self-aware of her challenging predicaments—a mother who seems to care more about the men who visit her than her own daughter, a brother stuck in another family’s home due to a CPS intervention, a father in prison—but the book is vibrant in discussing such weighty issues. As dark as this book gets at times (I flat-out bawled the final thirty pages or so), Nonieqa Ramos never lets this book fall into despair. No, Macy is unbelievably alive, and the energy conveyed through Ramos’s immersive writing is one of many things that makes this a compelling, electrifying read. There’s a chapter here where Ramos manages to reference a machete, Fabuloso, and Agüeybaná in the span of a few pages, and not once does it come across inauthentic.

There’s no mistaking how vulgar and gritty the text feels at times, but it’s all part of the convincing, believable world that Ramos builds. These people feel so real, so completely fleshed out that you begin to ache for them before you’re halfway through The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. And the bulk of that sympathy lands on Macy. While Ramos doesn’t shy away from portraying the full experience of a young girl with ADHD, compulsive behavior, and who has been deemed “emotionally disturbed,” I can only imagine the sheer power this must give to people like Macy who have never seen themselves in a book, let alone as the protagonist. Simply put, this book feels larger-than-life, the kind of endeavor you’d expect from someone who had been publishing novels for years. Somehow, this is Ramos’s debut, which makes me eager to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.

For now, though, this is a book that is easy to devour, but will haunt you long after you finish it. It is unique, shocking, and heartbreaking; it is also the kind of novel I want kids everywhere to read. It is certain to be one of my top recommended novels for 2018.

TEACHING TIPS: There are a number of issues that Ramos speaks on through Macy that are ripe for a moderated class discussion: drug use, sex work, mental illness (and the stigmas that come with having a mental illness), foster care, misogyny, and racism. The book is populated with a diverse cast—many of these people are not common in YA in general!—and the language/slang is modern and convincing, so I expect students will find themselves captivated by Macy’s unique voice. Because of the way that the book is broken up, it will be easy to assign writing prompts or topics based solely on one of the definitions. I would recommend discussions about “CLANG,” “DOLPHIN,” “FEED,” and “GOOD-BYE.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family.

WHERE TO GET IT: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary releases a week from today! To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.

 

Book Review: Joyride by Anna Banks

 

22718685By Cindy L. Rodriguez

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTIONA popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

MY TWO CENTS: In Joyride, Anna Banks creates two easily likable, sympathetic characters who are struggling between wanting to have normal, fun teenage lives and dealing with serious family issues.

Carly Vega is a smart, hard working Mexican-American teen who juggles going to school and working, sometimes until the early morning hours at a convenient store, to help raise enough money to bring her deported, undocumented parents back to the U.S.

Arden is a popular former football star who battles with his violent father in the wake of his sister’s suicide, which has left his mother heavily medicated and despondent.

In the opening scene, Arden pretends to hold up his uncle, Mr. Shackelford, outside the convenient store in an attempt to get him to stop driving drunk. Carly, who is working when this happens, responds by pulling out the store owner’s shotgun and chasing the masked bandit (Arden) off. Arden knows then that Carly is the perfect candidate to be his pranking buddy, a position once held by his sister. Love blossoms as the two spend more time together doing funny, gross things around town that are risky because Arden’s father is the racist local sheriff responsible for deporting Carly’s parents.

Throughout the novel, Carly struggles with competing desires. She wants her family to be intact again and wants to do all she can to help raise the thousands of dollars needed to help them cross the border again. She also wants, however, to do what normal teen girls do, like hang out with her boyfriend and use her money to buy things like new clothes and a laptop computer.

Without giving too much away, I’ll say that this YA contemporary, which tackles serious issues and has heavy doses of romance and humor, also has a plot twist that adds a whole new exciting vibe to the story. Carly and Arden’s relationship is threatened and they end up in a dangerous situation involving law enforcement and the illegal smuggling operation that promises to bring her parents home.

Told in alternating points of view–Carly’s is first person and Arden’s is third–Anna Banks’s Joyride is a page-turner filled with interesting, complex characters who fall in love and find common ground despite economic, racial, and cultural differences.

TEACHING TIPS: Joyride could be an option when teaching about immigration. I’m sure students would have lots of questions about the issues brought up with this book around Carly’s family’s situation. Do people really pay someone to escort loved ones across the border? What are the risks? Is it really that expensive? What happens if they get caught again? How often are American born teens separated from parents who are deported? Reading this novel as a companion to non-fiction research on these issues could offer multiple perspectives and make Carly Vega seem even more “real,” in that her situation is a common one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): NYT Bestselling YA author of The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012) OF TRITON (2013) OF NEPTUNE (2014). Repped by rockstar Lucy Carson of the Friedrich Agency. I live with my husband and daughter in the Florida Panhandle. I have a southern accent compared to New Yorkers, and I enjoy food cooked with real fat. I can’t walk in high heels, but I’m very good at holding still in them. If you put chocolate in front of me, you must not have wanted it in the first place.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Joyride visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Also, check out the Q&A we did with Anna Banks earlier this week.

 

Q&A with NYTimes Bestselling Author Anna Banks About JOYRIDE

 

22718685By Cindy L. Rodriguez

The latest novel by Anna Banks, the New York Times Bestselling Author of the The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012) OF TRITON (2013) OF NEPTUNE (2014), releases today. JOYRIDE, a contemporary with a Mexican-American main character, is a change for Banks, but you’ll see that she was ready to cleanse her fantasy palette and that the seeds for this particular story were planted years ago.

First, here is a description of the book:

A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

CINDY: This is a genre shift for you after the very successful Syrena Legacy Trilogy. What sparked you to shift gears and write contemporary fiction?

ANNA: Before we begin, I just want to say it is my pleasure and an honor to be here today. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I enjoy your website and am very supportive of its goals and focuses.

JOYRIDE was sort of a palette cleanser between fantasy worlds. I was ready to write a standalone for once, and Carly’s story kept haunting me at night. To be honest, writing something in the real world was more of a challenge because I had stricter boundaries to abide by, and my characters had only their natural abilities to use to get them out of situations. But it was also a pleasure to have those boundaries, because writing characters who had to use their natural resources, to me, made them stronger and more realistic.

CINDY: And while we’re talking genre, JOYRIDE really is a mix of realistic, romance, and thriller. Was this intentional while you were plotting? Did you want to have some twists that are not always typical with a straight contemporary, or is that just where the story went as you were planning?

ANNA: While I was writing JOYRIDE, I didn’t realize I was writing so many twists in it. To me, it seemed like the natural way things would have to go. Of course, I’ve never written contemporary before (and if I’m being honest I don’t read much of it either), so I wasn’t aware there were sort of “rules” to writing a straight contemporary. Now I realize I’ve written this steroidal hybrid, and I hope contemporary readers can move past that and embrace it. Pretty please? :.)

CINDY: Let’s talk about craft for a bit next. You have a dual narrative, but you use a first-person point of view for Carly and a close third-person for Arden. As both a reader and writer, I’m always curious about these kinds of decisions. Why did you decide on this format instead of a dual first-person?

ANNA: This is me recognizing a weakness I have in writing. I can write a strong female heroine in first person, but for the hero, I need to take a step back and put some distance between myself and him, to distinguish my voice from his voice. I don’t want readers as familiar with my hero and his most inner feelings and thoughts in the way writing in first person would give them access to. In fact, I considered writing JOYRIDE from only Carly’s perspective, but Arden was just too funny to put behind stage.

CINDY: The topic of immigration and deportation are complex, often contentious, social and political issues. What made you want to write about the life of a Mexican-American girl whose parents were deported? What kind of research did you have to do? Was it difficult to write outside of your cultural experience?

ANNA: Living in the Florida panhandle, I live and work and play among many Mexican immigrants—both documented and undocumented. When I was a teenager in particular, I worked at a restaurant where there were some undocumented immigrants, and as we became friends, they told me their stories. They told me their anxiety about being deported, about missing their family, about the fear of being separated from the family they’ve established in the United States. It really left an impression on me. As a teen, I wondered what I would do if my parents were deported, if I was here all alone. I guess Carly was planted in my head all those years ago and I didn’t even know it.

I didn’t have much research to do, because I learned it first hand from my friends and coworkers. That you didn’t want to get pulled over because instead of a speeding ticket, you’d get deported. That you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself. That you sent money home as often as you could. That there were people they called coyotes who helped them cross the border and desert, who demanded large sums of money to help them get set up in the United States. That when you cross the border, you cross with what you can carry, and that’s it.

I’m white, and so writing outside my own cultural experience was terrifying. I wanted to do it respectfully and realistically, because I deeply respect the work ethic and the family values of immigrants, and I wanted to share their plight with the world. But sometimes in writing it, I did wonder if it was my place to do so. But I had a story to tell, and I felt it was an important one, so I kept going.

CINDY: Do you plan to write more contemporary YA? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

ANNA: Right now I’m working on an Egyptian based fantasy called NEMESIS and its sequel, ALLY. It’s about a princess who possesses the power to create energy who escapes her father, who wishes to weaponzie it, only to be captured by an enemy kingdom where she discovers her powers could be used to fight a terrible plague.

I write when I have a story to tell, and usually my muse takes me across a lot of different genres. As for writing contemporary again—sure, why not? But I have to have a story to tell. If I find myself wanting to add time travel or wormholes in the contemporary, I’d better just set it aside. :.)