Rhonda's Book Reviews

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Detransition, Baby: A Novel Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: December 26, 2021

This groundbreaking novel, written by a trans woman, explores the intersecting lives of two trans woman (one who decides to de-transition) and a cis-woman who consider what it would mean to parent a child together as a family.  It examines issues of gender, sexuality, relationships, and motherhood, posing complex questions that linger long after it draws to a close.  A bold, provocative and original work that delves deeply into the interior lives of its characters. 

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The Year We Learned to Fly Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: December 26, 2021

This companion to Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez’s beautiful picture book, The Day You Begin, follows a sister and brother through each of the four seasons as they face different challenges and obstacles. Dazzling and detailed illustrations show the siblings as they follow their grandmother’s advice to leave their anger and boredom behind and take a trip outside of their minds. An uplifting book about nurturing our strength, resilience, and imagination—just right for the 2022 new year.  

The Night Watchman: A Novel Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: November 28, 2021

The Night Watchman is a marvel of historical fiction, based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather who successfully led the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in their fight against termination during the 1950s. I immediately felt the magical pull of a master storyteller whose beautiful writing and deep love of her characters animates every page.  I loved every moment of reading this extraordinary, humanity-affirming novel. - Rhonda 

Dream Street Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: November 12, 2021

Gorgeous! This loving tribute to the Roxbury neighborhood where cousins Ekua Holmes and author Tricia Elam Walker grew up, went to school, and nurtured their dreams gives children everywhere the inspiring message: “Dreams do come true (with lots of hard work along the way)!” With its stunning illustrations and joyous celebration of community, DREAM STREET is a perfect gift for the holidays.

In December, Belmont Books and Roxbury’s Frugal Bookstore are partnering to virtually bring this creative team and their powerful message to Belmont- and Roxbury-area schools. Consider contributing to our READ IT FORWARD program to donate copies of DREAM STREET to Boston public school students. Click here to donate and to find out more information about the DREAM STREET event and READ IT FORWARD. 

 

The Wrong End of the Telescope Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: October 28, 2021

I was immediately engrossed in the fascinating mediation on the Syrian refugee crisis, told through the lens of Mina—a trans lesbian woman and an American doctor of Lebanese-Syrian origin--called to the island of Lesbos, Greece to provide medical support to refugee families.  I loved Mina and the other unique and complex characters, especially Mina’s big-hearted brother who travels from Lebanon to Lesbos to reunite with his sister; Mina’s compassionate and wise wife; and Sumaiya, a strong Syrian mother holding her family together while dying of cancer in the refugee camp. Passionately told in short chapters introduced with evocative titles, this is a mind-opening tapestry of a novel, beautifully told. 

Ground Zero Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: August 28, 2021

This gripping novel will help kids and adults understand many of the complex issues surrounding the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and what led to the tragic events we see unfolding every day in the news. Gratz alternates between two page-turning parallel stories. Nine-year old Brandon’s story takes place on September 11, 2001, and puts us in the middle of the attack on the World Trade Center as we follow Brandon’s and his father’s harrowing struggle to escape with their lives. 11-year-old Reshmina’s story takes place on September 11, 2019, and takes us to a remote village in Afghanistan where Reshmina and her family struggle to survive the devastating violence between the Taliban and the U.S. military that has torn her family apart. You won’t want to stop reading until you find out what happens to Brandon and Reshmina and their families. In the end, Reshmina’s determination to find a different path, rejecting both the Taliban and the U.S. government, offers a glimmer of hope. Suspenseful, heartbreaking, and important.  Grades 4 - 8  -- Rhonda 

Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: August 28, 2021

 

This book is a treasure!  A biography of Judith Scott, a renowned fiber artist born deaf with Down Syndrome, is lovingly told by her twin sister Joyce. To Joyce’s great sorrow, Judith is institutionalized at age 7. Thirty-five years later, Joyce arranges for Judith to leave the institution and move in with Joyce's family in California. She enrolls Judith in creative arts school, where Judith's artistic talent unwinds and flourishes as she creates intricate wrapped sculptures out of found objects with secrets hidden inside. The sculptures, and Melissa Sweet's illustrations, are colorful, fascinating, and beautiful. A moving and inspiring story about the power of art and the power of sisterhood.  – Rhonda 

The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: July 29, 2021

I loved this beautiful exploration of gender identity and fluidity set in Nigeria among a tightknit community of mixed-race families. The brilliant prose, the multiple perspectives, the complex characters, and the unfolding mystery of how Vivek Oji died kept me turning the pages. I opened my heart to a new generation’s break with tradition to embrace and to nurture Vivek’s true self. And I was moved to tears by Vivek’s parents’ struggle to let go of the tentacles of tradition to see their child with new eyes--to accept, to love, and to honor Vivek through the painful revelation of his death. Thought-provoking, heartbreaking, heartopening, this short novel will stay with me for a long time. 

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: March 26, 2021

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the “unspeakable” massacre of the residents of a thriving black community in Greenwood, Oklahoma by a violent white mob. The power of this extraordinary picture book is in the unflinching truth of the telling and the exquisitely moving illustrations by Floyd Cooper, whose grandfather witnessed the massacre, that focus our gaze on the humanity of the children, women, and men who lost their lives, their homes, and their beloved community to racial violence a century ago. The ending calls on us to “reject hatred and violence and to instead choose hope.”  Read the book (and the excellent authors notes) with your children to help them understand the deep wounds that racism has inflicted on African Americans, and how this long-suppressed history shapes who we are as a nation today. Painful. Necessary. Unforgettable. 

Resistencia: Poems of Protest and Revolution Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: September 30, 2020

This incredible collection of poems gives us the voices of Latin American poets who have raised their voices in protest against injustice, oppression and dictatorship. You’ll find here poems by literary icons Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral and César Vallejo, as well as exciting contemporary poets from across Latin American and the Caribbean who write in diverse languages about feminist, queer, and environmental issues. As Julia Alvarez writes in her passionate introduction, their voices are “defiant, alive, presente!”  The poems appear in their original languages side-by-side with exceptional English translations. Inspiring!

Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted: September 30, 2020

This beautiful picture book lovingly portrays two best friends and the emotions they experience when one moves away. Gorgeous digital artwork, full of color, energy and movement, express the vibrant relationship between these mejores amigas—the joy of connection, the sadness of separation, and the comfort of a friendship that endures.  A gem.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America Cover Image
Reviewed by: Rhonda
Posted:

The author sets her personal experiences as a Muslim immigrant within a historical, social, cultural, and political context as she eloquently shows the many ways that immigrants, people of color, women, religious minorities and poor people are systematically excluded from the full benefits of citizenship. Conditional Citizens is a timely call for each of us to reimagine what we want our American democracy to be and to become. Lalami reminds us in these troubled times that "despair is never without consequences. It is a gift to the status quo."