Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Diverse Reads 2013

For the past few years, I've devoted the month of February to "Anne Reads Books By & About People Different From Her." While the title still perfectly expresses my goals, I've become sick of of typing it, so this year we're just going for "Diverse Reads." 

It all started back in February of 2010, when I wrote this:

"Supposedly people don't like to read books about people other than themselves. Never mind that this assumes people of color don't read. It also assumes we read to find ourselves. While this is certainly true at times, I also read to escape myself. I read to travel, I read to experience, I read to learn.

"I also hate people telling me what I do and don't read.

"Yet yet yet... I read the other day that 13% of children's books published each year in the US contain diversity. I keep track of every book I read. So I went back through my list and counted. Last year I read almost one hundred books. Of those hundred books, five were written by a person of color."

Since then, I've discovered numerous beloved books, and a rich diversity of authors, both in February and throughout the year. I love using this month to escape the confines of my tottering to-read pile, and to read authors I've never read and books I've never heard of. And I love sharing my discoveries with you.

So without further ado, here's some of my planned reads for the month:

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: "Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be." Stonewall Book Award (2013), Printz Honor (2013), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2013), Pura Belpre Author Award (2013)

Did you see all those awards? Wowzers! How could it not be the top of my list? I actually finished this one last week, and I'll share my review asap.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: "Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave."

I'm tearing through this one at the moment, and again, will hopefully share my thoughts next week!

The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Pérez: "After a marijuana-addled brawl with a rival gang, 16-year-old Azael wakes up to find himself surrounded by a familiar set of concrete walls and a locked door. Juvie again, he thinks. But he can't really remember what happened or how he got picked up. And this lock-up seems more than a little different from the one he knew before. For one, no one comes to visit or even calls. Stranger still are the hours he's forced to spend observing another inmatea white girl his own agethrough a one-way mirror. And then there's his file, which has a heavily redacted newspaper account of the brawl. Between observation sessions, Azael occupies himself with recalling his extremely difficult upbringing as one of three children of illegal Salvadoran immigrants and as a member of the MS-13 gang."

I read (and loved) Pérez's What Can't Wait last year, so am really looking forward to this one!

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi: "American-born Skye knows very little of her Japanese heritage. Her father taught her to speak the language, but when their estranged Japanese family, including Skye's grandfather, suddenly move to the United States, Skye must be prepared to give up her All-Star soccer dreams to take Japanese lessons and to help her cousin, Hiroshi adapt to a new school. Hiroshi, likewise, must give up his home and his hopes of winning the rokkaku kite-fighting championship with Grandfather. Faced with language barriers, culture clashes and cousin rivalry, Skye and Hiroshi have a rocky start. But a greater shared loss brings them together. They learn to communicate, not only through language, but through a common heritage and sense of family honor. At the rokkaku contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival, Hiroshi and Skye must work as a team in order to compete with the best."

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman: "In 1960, thirteen-year-old Sophie slips through a maze into 19th century Louisiana and finds nothing is as she expected." Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature (2012), Andre Norton Award Nominee for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (2011)

This is another title that's gotten a lot of praise, but I've never been able to get around to reading it (and that cover...gah!). But it's currently on-hold at the library, so I'm looking forward to reporting back!

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith: "Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn't stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy's gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her."

This was on my list last year, but I never got to it. The description still sounds amazing, though, so it's also waiting for me at the library!

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson: A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

This one was recommended by Karen at Musings of a Novelista. It's not out until March, but I can't WAIT to dive in! And look at that cover!

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya: "Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima enters his life. She is a curandera, one who heals with herbs and magic. 'We cannot let her live her last days in loneliness,' says Antonio's mother. 'It is not the way of our people,' agrees his father. And so Ultima comes to live with Antonio's family in New Mexico. Soon Tony will journey to the threshold of manhood. Always, Ultima watches over him. She graces him with the courage to face childhood bigotry, diabolical possession, the moral collapse of his brother, and too many violent deaths. Under her wise guidance, Tony will probe the family ties that bind him, and he will find in himself the magical secrets of the pagan past—a mythic legacy equally as palpable as the Catholicism of Latin America in which he has been schooled. At each turn in his life there is Ultima who will nurture the birth of his soul."

Has anyone ever read this? It's been on the periphery of my brain since high school, and over the years I've continued to hear rumblings about it. Apparently it's a canonical text among Latino / Hispanic communities. Really curious to see what it's all about.

That's it for me at the moment, though I've got a few other ideas and authors to check out. And I'd love to hear your recommendations for diverse reads! 

On Thursday I'll ponder some of my complicated thoughts about what counts as a "diverse read", and next week I'll hopefully start posting some reviews. And at some point, I promise I'll share where I was these past few weeks, along with some gorgeous pictures. Stay tuned!

*Thanks to Goodreads for all the images and summaries*


  1. Replies
    1. Well, they do have to be books I WANT to read! ;)

  2. You'll have to let me know what you think of HENRIETTA. I listened to the audio book last year and I really enjoyed it. I think they are making an HBO movie of it too.

    I can't wait to get my hands on THE SUMMER PRINCE. We'll have to talk about this one when we're done. :)

    Great list!

    1. Probably will say a short bit about it on Tuesday, but I LOVED Henrietta. I found it compulsively readable, which isn't usually how I feel about non-fiction. And I couldn't stop TALKING about it to anyone who would listen! Really fascinating book. It would make a great book club book.

      And yes, already looking forward to the book chats about Summer Prince!


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