You Must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

“I am Layla, I am loud, I’m weird, random, funny, smart……. I’m my own person and I’ll always be Layla. Don’t you forget it.”

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

“With her long skirt and headscarf Layla certainly stands out at her new high school. Everyone thinks they know her, just from a glance. But do they? And does Layla really know herself?”

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

Layla’s story is a very important story and it was told in a very fun and engaging way. Layla’s flaws were what made her human and humans can only take so much in different situations – especially at such a young age of 12-13 in year 8. This story was important as it showed no bounds in exploring the social injustices that exist in our time from racism to Islamaphobia – how it can go from derogatory comments to violence even in the school yard.

This story was so engaging – although there was a time I wanted to throw this book at the wall because of the injustice Layla was facing, a lot of the story was vibrant and fun and a story you would read to cheer you up when you’re not having the best day.

I loved following Layla and how she deals with her own cultural identity being of Sudanese heritage practicing Islamic faith living in Australia to changing from a comfortable school environment to a prestigious school where she is different. The friendships she had previously and the new ones she makes were particularly fun to read – she is living proof that true friendship is unconditional.. and of course how could we forget her cute yet amazing invention!

As an adult reading this I enjoyed it so much so I recommend this to all readers even as young as 9-10 years. It brought back memories of junior high school for me though dialogue has changed a little from my generation – even the social media tech!

“Forgiveness liberates the soul and removes fear..” -Nelson Mandela

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book – please visit our Instagram Page: @read3rz_revu for the top ten ‘this or that’ video with author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

-Annie

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

“But even in difficult situations, especially in difficult situations, you can’t lose hope. Things change”

FANTASTIC BOOK!!! A story that had me hooked from the first page and I read it in a day..

Life is pretty ordinary for Amal and her village in Pakistan.. Amal is one of the select few girls who can read and write and has a love for poetry and she is busy pursuing her dream to be a teacher however her dreams are momentarily crushed when she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings as it is her duty as the eldest daughter. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope then the unthinkable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Although written for a middle grade audience, I thoroughly enjoyed this as an adult and believe other readers who dive into YA or MG would enjoy it just the same. With themes that cover gender equality, education and social justice, I truly believe this to be an important book for all readers. I love and adore our protagonist Amal and there were times I wished I could just hug her and commend her courage and strength. I really felt her pain and realised my own problems were so small compared to girls/women like Amal. Amal’s character, her journey and her story was so real, raw and honest. I felt her emotion, her confusion, her outrage even her tears whether happy or sad, she’s a character I really love. What resonated with me was the book’s underlying message – to never give up hope..

Honestly, this author Aisha is a true inspiration to me and I intend to continue to follow this path: “We don’t have to make headlines to help change the world for the better. Everything we do in our communities and beyond to impart good is important and matters.”

Special thanks to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book – definitely one of my 2018 favourites!!
-Annie

Read3r’z Re-Vu celebrate multicultural diversity in books on Harmony Day: 21 March 2018

Multicultural diversity is one of the reasons why Australia is such a great country. Harmony Day is a celebration of our cultural diversity and belonging. Celebrated on 21 March, this occasion has been celebrated since 1999 and more than 70 000 events are held in workplaces, community groups, schools, childcare centres, churches and religious organisations as well as Government Departments. Given how culturally diverse Read3r’z Re-Vu is, this is one celebration we could not miss!!!

The theme colour for Harmony Day is orange as it represents social communication and meaningful conversations – the freedom of ideas and encouragement of mutual respect.

Some Facts as found from the organisers of Harmony Day
-Australia’s cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths and it is the heart of who we are.
-Approx. 49% of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was.
-Australians identify with over 300 ancestries
-85% of Australians agree multiculturalism is good for Australia and more than 70 indigenous languages are spoken in Australia.

As part of this special occasion, this specific blog post is celebrating the books that relate to, promote or represent cultural diversity. The following are books as recommended by Read3r’z Re-Vu and our friends in the wider literacy community.

Read3r’z Re-Vu Committee

NJ recommends Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim
“A heart-rending story set in real-life dystopian history of China’s cultural revolution. A story of friendship, hope, and freedom… I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Freedom Swimmer, I was attracted to this book initially because there weren’t many books written in English on the cultural revolution in China. During the revolution period of 1962-1976 people living in China had to use ration tickets in exchange for food, clothing and furniture. This was a period where family members turned against each other, teachers and business owners publically whipped and shamed for being “exploitative”, and young students recruited to the Red Guard to spread the words of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao). Mao Zedong’s words and ideology brainwashed and manipulated a generation of young men and women, putting them through unimaginable suffering, separating them from their families and “re-educating” their ideals; in short, robbing people of their freedom to choose and think for themselves.”

Meredith recommends Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
“Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah. I can’t believe that I just finished a book that took me on emotional roller coaster ride. It’s been well over a decade since that has happened. The tears are still coming. Throughout Autoboyography I was crying my eyes out, squealing with joy, felt like my heart is braking in two and slowly mending again…”

 

 

Crystal recommends Who’s Afraid? By Maria Lewis
“This Urban fantasy brings out a mix of Maori Culture and the supernatural. The protagonist is Tommi Grayson, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. Werewolves are one of my many favourite mythical creatures so it’s no wonder this book captivated me like it did. I couldn’t help but be amazed at how the author managed to blend in street art, music and the colourful parts of everyday life so effortlessly. Tommi isn’t your typical everyday woman & neither is her name, this book takes you on such a journey and I truly enjoyed how Tommi came across as such a feminine character and yet so powerfully adaptable. She has some sass about her but not the overwhelming kind which is why I found her to be such a loveable character & her hair being blue had me pausing while I resisted the urge to go out and buy some blue hair dye. Definitely a book for the girls with lots of shirtless male scenes and blushing moments.”

 

Read3r’z Re-Vu is a network of readers and host sessions once a month. A time where we take a couple of hours out of our busy schedules to get together and talk all things books!! Rather than a book, a theme is assigned to each session so we can endorse wide reading. It is a reason why our TBR has sky rocketed over the years. Within our network we have made many friends with other readers, bookish entrepreneurs, authors and bloggers who catch up with us at our sessions and are based around Australia!!! Here are some recommendations from the bloggers in our network of readers…

 

Tien of Tien’s Blurb recommends Laurinda by Alice Pung
“I loved Laurinda as it tells the story of Lucy Lam, daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who won a scholarship at a prestigious school for girls. It was absolutely intense as Lucy literally straddled East and West and had to basically adopt a double identity. Hiding the worst of each world from the other. On top of all of this, she has to navigate this new school in which she tried to cruise unnoticed but then discovered its sinister side. The author herself, Alice Pung, is a daughter of Vietnamese immigrants so those aspects of the book felt truly authentic to me. I also felt that the struggle between reconciling East and West to be very honest in this book and is something all us, immigrants, refugees, all had to struggle with on a day to day basis. I’d highly recommend this read to all and I am looking forward to its adaptation!!!”

                                  

 

 

 

 

 

Lyn of Storyline recommends the PsyChangeling series by Nailini Singh
‘This series is set in 2080 has the most wonderful descriptions of her characters diverse genetics and an ongoing warning of the dangers posed by those that seek ‘racial purity'”

And for the kids… Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
“Every day all over Australia, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same or speak the same language, but inside, they are just like you. This story weaves its way across cultures and generations, celebrating the bond that unites us all.”

 

Both Verushka of Edit Everything and Sarah of The Adventures of Sacakat both recommend When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

“Seeing an Indian Girl on a cover, someone I could possibly identify with – yes, even though this is YA, it still means something to see myself (at that age) reflected on the cover of a book. Rishi might give me some reservatons but the cover and the book that revolves around an Indian girl, who is trying to forge her own path, is something I identified with.”
-Verushka

“This book game me a warm and fuzzy overload (and I mean that’s a good thing). There are bits of humour sprinkled throughout this awkwardly adorable love story about juggling parental expectations and following your dreams. I loved the positive examples of arranged marriage portrayed in the story.  Everything about this book was a breath of fresh air to me.”
-Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creators of The YA Room, Melbourne Sarah and Alex both recommend When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah and Between Us by Clare Atkins

“We chose ‘When Michael Met Mina’ by Randa Abdel-Fattah and ‘Between Us’ by Clare Atkins because they are both such sensational novels that are set in Australia and they’re equal parts gripping and realistic. It’s s interesting and so necessary to read #LoveOzYA novels with a diverse range of characters, especially protagonists who are minorities. These two novels absolutely blew us away and we need more books like this – books about Australia and for Australian Teens that show what is going on in our own country. We cant recommend these two novels enough!!”
-Sarah and Alex

Vlogger Maisie whose booktube channel can be found on Sleepy Wired Studios recommends Pilate’s Wife by Antoinette May and Emma Vol. 1 (Manga)
Pilate’s Wife: “I really enjoyed this book,  story about a daughter of privilege in the most powerful empire the world has ever known, Claudia has a unique and disturbing “gift”: her dreams have an uncanny way of coming true. As a rebellious child seated beside the tyrannical Roman Emperor Tiberius, she first spies the powerful gladiator who will ultimately be her one true passion. Yet it is the ambitious magistrate Pontius Pilate who intrigues the impressionable young woman she becomes, and Claudia finds her way into his arms by means of a mysterious ancient magic. Pilate is her grand destiny, leading her to Judaea and plunging her into a seething cauldron of open rebellion. But following her friend Miriam of Magdala’s confession of her ecstatic love for a charismatic religious radical, Claudia
begins to experience terrifying 
visions—horrific premonitions of war, injustice, untold devastation and damnation and the crucifixion of a divine martyr whom she must do everything in her power to save”


Emma Vol 1. (Manga): “This volume had a great introduction and the art is very cute as well. I also loved the character interactions. In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.”

 

 

 

Kelly of Diva Booknerd recommends Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.
“This is a narrative that will resonate with Australian readers. A young part Indigenous boy is ostracised by the community of Corrigan, a predominately white town in the nineteen sixties. Jasper Jones is a harbinger of disorder, culpable for crime and leading their youth astray, his white father is an alcoholic who has abandoned his sixteen tear old son. Charlie is a Caucasian young man sharing experience, the town of Corrigan is fuelled by racial tension and exclusion during the Vietnam war era, experienced by Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey Lu and his family, having migrated by Vietnam. Rural Australia prejudice and bigotry is confronting, although Charlie’s white narrative tends to obscure the explicit nature for the adolescent audience. Indigenous Australians are often excluded from our discussions surrounding diversity in fiction and characters like Jasper Jones only further highlight the atrocities of colonisation and the continuing racism faced by our Indigenous population.”

 

Jessica, Emily & Amber aka The Book Bratz recommend American Panda by Gloria Chao

“The book we chose is American Panda by Gloria Chao! You get exposed to a lot of culture in this book. We learned a lot about Taiwanese/Chinese culture, marriage practices, and language in this book, and it was really refreshing to be exposed to something like that — because we think reading diversely and expanding your cultural knowledge and experience is something that should be important for everyone — and as Gloria Chao says in her author’s note, hopefully there will be more Chinese writers and storytellers coming forth in the future!”

 

 

Deanna of Deanna’s World recommends The Last King by Katee Robert.

Ultra wealthy and super powerful, the King family is like royalty in Texas. But who will keep the throne? (The Kings, Book 1)

“I liked the diversity in this book because the heroine was Indian and the author was not shy about talking about her heritage even giving her a obviously Indian name like Samara. Both her parents had very traditionally Indian names as well and she called her mother “amma” which I think is Indian for “mum”. You don’t see many Indian characters in books, so I was glad to see it in this one.”

 

 

Finally.. my own thoughts and recommendations…
I was born and raised in Australia. My mother is Indonesian from the Island of West Java which makes her Sundanese and my father is Australian of Irish ancestry. Growing up in a multicultural household can be challenging as one may feel trapped between two cultures but in all honesty, it is an amazing experience of having the best of both worlds. Having the ability to speak both languages (Indonesian with bits and pieces of the Sunda dialect and English) and getting in touch with both cultures is a wondrous experience a lot of us in Australia do take for granted. As an avid reader, one of my favourite themes is fantasy fiction, especially fantasy fiction stories that are inspired by culture – some may call it alternate history, some call it speculative fiction – I just call it awesome. There are a lot of books I have read over the years but just have a few recommendations here.

The first one I want to recommend is Snow, Fire, Sword by Sophie Masson. This was the first book I ever came across in my reading life that is derived from Indonesian culture and explores myths and legends that were told in my own family in West Java!!! This is a story that follows a perilous journey of a Kris (small dagger) apprentice and a Kampung (village) girl as they race against time to discover the heart of an ancient secret: the truth about Snow, Fire and Sword. Set on the backdrop of mythological Indonesia, the referencing to Indonesian culture, food, landscape – even language is so accurate, you can just imagine the fan-girling going on in my house as I was reading this book!!! A very special book as it was a book I was able to share with my Mum, we were forever talking about this book, going back to it and reading extracts that referenced legends.. This is definitely a collectable for me.

Throughout the blog, you would have seen quite a few recommendations. Most recently I read the final showdown of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton. This trilogy is inspired by the Arabian nights tales which are my absolute favourite – stories of the desert – a story with djinn.. swords.. sand.. amazing trilogy really worth investing in!!!

Taking it to contemporary YA now, there are a few books that have resonated with me: I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, Hate is such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub, and When Michael Met Mina by Randa-Abdel Fattah just to name a few that explore the struggle of cultural identity and our sense of belonging. One that resonated with me that explored Indigenous Australia was Nona and Me by Clare Atkins.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in this post, for being involved in Harmony Day – Read3r’z Re-Vu style and for your amazing recommendations and links to your fantastic blogs. Having beautiful people like you as part of the Read3r’z Re-Vu network makes it such an incredible experience!!!

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy Harmony Day!!
A day to celebrate culture and bringing everyone together..
For more information on Harmony Day, visit: http://www.harmony.gov.au/

Harmony Day special blog post compiled by Annie (Founder of Read3r’z Re-Vu)

I am Thunder… and I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan

“A thought-provoking and empowering story which will encourage readers to question what they see and hear.”

One of the most confronting books I have read this year and a story that really hits the nail on the head. A new YA voice that demonstrates how far one can go to protect what they believe in and accurately depicts the world today. I really want to take this moment to thank the author, Muhammad Khan, for writing this story. As a Muslim woman reading this book – I felt this was a real eye-opener for non-Muslims and a warm hug to the Muslim brother/sisterhood as he stated in his author’s note.

“I am Thunder” is told by protagonist, 15 year old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a novelist but is trapped between 2 worlds: controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor and growing up in a world that tells you to be what you want to be. As Muzna’s father lost his job, Muzna is forced to move to a new school in South London at a critical time of her life and after her best friend is shamed in a scandal.

Whilst dialogue among teens can be cheesy, I found the book to be very well written and honest. It’s a book that will definitely spark positive discussion. I had such a personal connection to the story and the character but felt extremely thankful I didn’t experience absolutely everything Muzna went through.

When Muzna is thrown into this new school, just like the real world, she realizes bullies are everywhere and yes difficult times are ahead but do you take a stand and fight for what is right or do you fade out because it’s easier? Struggling with home life and school yard prejudice against her culture and faith, the world looks bleak for Muzna until she meets Arif – her knight in shining armour – or so she thinks…

The author did a fantastic job in demonstrating the constant confusion in families who put culture first, Islam second which is a leading cause of clash and confusion in families and the wider community. Cultural identity is a real challenge especially among the youth and I really felt for Muzna being an only child growing up in the western world with strong ties to her cultural traditions and expectations, it can be a challenge but it can also be an opportunity. I felt Muzna had the right idea of wanting to be a novelist as a means to set a passive example that demonstrates that these acts committed do not represent her or her faith.

In addition to cultural identity, the fury Muzna and her parents felt when waking up to headline news of terrorist attacks and murder of innocent victims carried out in the name of Islam was all too real for me. It was a wave of mixed emotions – anger for what this mob do in our name and the compounding weariness of stepping out of our house wearing the hijab, that need to constantly be vigilant in your own home in case you’re next to be on the receiving end of hate attacks for crimes you never committed or endorsed but refusing to live in fear. 

The story is so real – with strong characters making poor decisions or turning a blind eye to things you think is so obviously wrong, but that’s exactly why it was so real – because it demonstrates exactly how extremists operate. They select articulate, intelligent individuals and targe their vulnerability as leverage for their own agendas.

Again, this book is extremely well written and fast paced. I am sure readers will have an emotional reaction to the story. I gasped, cringed, laughed, cried and I even had to put the book down for a moment as I was getting so worked up over it (it’s so real). I feel this is an important story and I do recommend this as your next read. Suitable for the YA audience from ages 14 years and up.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book as part of the Summer Readings Blog Tour.
-Annie