Month: December 2020

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Exploring Cultural Identity in Young Adult Literature

Exploring Cultural Identity in Young Adult Literature

Rashael Apuya, Teen Services Librarian

When I was a teenager, there weren’t many books that portrayed modern, realistic, diverse main characters. In school, I was reading classics and learning about topics like slavery, the Holocaust, and the Trail of Tears. The historical tragedies of brown (Latinx, Black, Indigenous American, etc.) people were being taught, but not their modern struggles, and certainly not their joys. For fun, I was reading popular books like The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Both of these series have diverse characters, but they aren’t main characters that add to the main plot in a positive or meaningful way. It was years later, when I was 23 years old, that I read a young adult book for the first time that had a mixed-race girl, like me, as the main character (“Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon). I remember reading sections that described her hair or skin color and being genuinely shocked that I could relate. And the book wasn’t about her race, which was equally surprising.

There has been a trend in the last few years in young adult fiction toward featuring main characters from minority cultures and their experiences. Sometimes those experiences are harrowing, and sometimes they aren’t. It is equally important to portray the challenges faced by people of color as it is to show that they exist in everyday life. The following books are recent releases that have diverse, modern main characters whose stories may be fiction, but have themes that will resonate with real readers.

The Goodreads Choice Awards 2020 winner for Best Young Adult Fiction, “Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a novel in verse. Yahaira Rios lives with her parents in New York City. Every summer, her father travels to the Dominican Republic alone to visit family. Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt and looks forward to her father’s visit every summer. Even though both of her parents are from the Dominican Republic, Yahaira doesn’t feel connected to her family’s culture – not like Camino. Camino can only dream of the rich, private school lifestyle Yahaira has. Yahaira and Camino find out they are half-sisters when their father dies in a plane crash.

If you’re looking for a rom-com plot that also confronts what it’s like to be first-generation American, you should check out “Frankly in Love” by David Yoon. It follows high-schooler Frank Li, who is Korean-American and who is trying to find a balance between his parents’ traditional expectations and being an average American teenager. Frank’s parents will only let him date Korean girls, but he’s falling for a White girl. His fellow Korean-American friend, Joy, has the same problem. Frank and Joy decide to fake-date to please their parents while they date the people they want.

Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson is a hard-hitting commentary on the experience of young Black women in the entertainment industry. It follows Enchanted Jones, who lives with her family in the suburbs and who is the only Black girl at her school. She is a talented singer who gets discovered at an audition by the charming Korey Fields, a legendary R&B artist. Korey’s stardom and lush lifestyle dazzle Enchanted at first, but she sees Korey’s true colors when he becomes controlling. One day, Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and no memory of the night before. Korey is dead and the police have questions.

You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson is about Liz Lighty, who lives in a wealthy midwestern town and who can’t wait to go off to college and become a doctor. When Liz learns that she will no longer be receiving the financial aid she was banking on, she is forced to consider other options. Her small town is obsessed with prom – so much so that there is a scholarship given to the prom king and queen. Liz feels too Black, poor, and weird to win the title of prom queen, but she is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Campbell, Indiana and into her dream school.

Find these and more diverse books at the Manhattan Public Library! If you’d like personalized book recommendations, you can fill out a request at

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Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077

by Jared Richards, Learning and Information Services Supervisor

After multiple delays, one of the most anticipated video games of the year, “Cyberpunk 2077”, has finally been released. It is a large, open-world game, set in a dystopian future, where you play as a mercenary outlaw trying to track down a cyber implant that could grant immortality.

As you may have guessed from the title, the game has a very specific aesthetic. Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that portrays a gritty future filled with technologically enhanced body modifications, mixes punk and hacker cultures together, and has a strong 1980s vibe. This last part makes sense because cyberpunk really started making a name for itself in the 1980s with writers like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Katsuhiro Otomo, a Japanese manga artist best known for “Akira,” which is credited with starting the cyberpunk movement in Japan.

When it comes to science fiction, I tend to be more drawn to time travel and time loop stories. But as I patiently waited for “Cyberpunk 2077” to be released, I became more interested in the authors and books that have helped create and popularize the cyberpunk subgenre.

A good place to start is “Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology” edited by Bruce Sterling. This is a collection of short stories that will give you a taste of cyberpunk, without having to commit to a novel or whole series of novels. Science fiction, and cyberpunk in particular, can be densely packed when it comes to world-building and story, so it doesn’t hurt to dip your toes in with a short story to see if the water is right for you.

Neuromancer” by William Gibson, first published in 1984, is viewed as one of the most influential cyberpunk novels, and went a long way in popularizing the subgenre. The protagonist, Henry Case, is a hacker and data-thief that is caught stealing from his employer. As punishment, his nervous system is damaged so he can no longer enter the matrix. This is a term you may be familiar with because the movie “The Matrix” starring Keanu Reeves was highly influenced by this novel.

Case is approached by a new, mysterious employer named Armitage, who offers to fix Case’s nervous system in exchange for joining a team comprised of a street samurai, a psychopath, and the digital consciousness of Case’s dead mentor. The team is tasked with joining two artificial intelligences (AIs) in order to form a super-AI, something that is currently prohibited by law. The job seems straightforward enough, but “Neuromancer” is a fairly dense novel, and things aren’t always what they seem.

William Gibson has left his mark on science fiction and cyberpunk, by coining terms like ‘cyberspace’ and the idea of the matrix to describe a virtual space. Neal Stephenson, author of “Snow Crash,” has left a similar mark. He helped popularize the word ‘avatar’ to describe someone’s digital representation, and coined the term ‘metaverse’ to describe the shared virtual space created by virtual and augmented reality, and the internet.

In the world of “Snow Crash,” corporations have gained more power than national governments and everything from jails to mega-churches have become privatized and franchised. Even individual communities, called ‘burbclaves,’ have been walled-off and operate as city-states with their own constitutions and laws.

Hiro Protagonist, our protagonist, or maybe our hero, delivers pizzas in the real world, a business now run by the mafia, but in the metaverse he is a well-known hacker and programmer. The plot of the novel is centered around a neuro-linguist virus, both in the real world and the digital metaverse, that has its origins in ancient Sumerian culture and the Tower of Babel myth. This retelling of that myth says that in order to beat the same virus in ancient times, which used the Sumerian language in concert with a physical virus to program people’s brains, an anti-virus was created. This anti-virus prevented humans from understanding the Sumerian language, thus preventing the brain reprogramming, and led to the creation of the languages we have today. Like many protagonists, Hiro is tasked with saving the day, and I am partial to this story because he is aided along the way by a virtual librarian.

I now find myself with the dilemma of wanting to play “Cyberpunk 2077,” but also wanting to read the stack of books I have checked out from the library. No pressure, but if you start putting some of these books on hold, I will be forced to read them just a little bit faster. Everyone wins.

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Those Things Kids Do

Those Things Kids Do

by Jennifer Jordan, Children’s Librarian

As a new parent, I’m learning the things children do that are frustrating but also hilarious. Hearing the stories my mother had of what my brother and I did seemed ridiculous until I start noticing it with my son and the children that come into the library. When my mom would be prepping a meal, I would sneak the best way a 3-year-old could and steal raw vegetables off the cutting board. Anything and everything that was on the ground was edible. This included a dead spider my dad tracked in from outside that my mother had to pull out of my mouth. My mom’s hair? That’s a toy that is asking to be pulled and be tangled around my fingers. If my parents gave me a piece of paper and some colored pencils, I decided that the wall would be a better canvas. Whatever it was, they love talking about how ridiculous my brother and I were and how now, it’s hilarious.

Right now, my little guy is being very vocal but can’t say words yet. He just yells “ma ma ma” or “da da da” to hear his voice. Wondering which word would be his first, I brought home “You’re Baby’s First Word will be Dada” by Jimmy Fallon. In this book, Fallon made a simple read with illustrations of different animals. The parent animal keeps saying “dada” where the baby animal replies with the sound each animal makes. It’s very true to how me as a parent and other parents try to get their baby to repeat dada or mama back to them. Fallon has a follow-up, “Everything is Mama”. This book, illustrated in the same style, has the parent animal trying to get their child to say things like sun and waffle. Instead, the kid animals will say only one thing, mama.

A word that I dread my little one to learn is “no”. I want him to know the word and use it well but what I’ve heard is a toddler learning “no” pairs with the toddler’s opinions. They say no to vegetables, no to baths, no to diapers and the best is no to naps. “No More Naps!” by Chris Grabenstein is a read that will make parents laugh out loud. The toddler in the book is fed up with taking naps and refused to take one. The dad has an idea to try taking her on a stroll around the park to calm her and have her fall asleep. They meet many people who decide if she doesn’t want her nap, they will take it instead. This read pairs well with a book about an alien toddler who is a very picky eater. “Nerp!” by Sarah Lynne Reul has many hilarious words in it. Nerp, meaning no, is what the toddler says when their parents put a plate food in front of them. They will eat nothing the parents give them and when the parents are ready to give up, they hear slurping. He found the bowl of alien dog food on the ground and the dog is eating all the food the parents gave their child.

Kids eventually stop using the one worded sentence and move on to full statements and questions. They are just as curious and now have the voice and vocabulary to have conversations. “Are you Eating Candy Without Me?” by Draga Jenny Malesevic is a book where four children are wondering what their grownups do when they leave. Do they go to fancy parties? Do they eat cake and ice cream while riding ponies? The most important question, are they eating candy without them?

Any of these books would be great for a story before bed. The best book would be a bedtime story about a parent reading a bedtime story. “Interrupting Chicken” by David Ezra Stein is a story about a little chicken and papa chicken that will make parents laugh out loud. Little chicken wants a story and papa chicken agree only if he doesn’t interrupt when he reads. Little chicken can’t help it and needs to stop the characters from making the mistakes they do in the story. Over and over papa chicken will start and must remind little chicken to let him read and finish the story.

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Hick Lit Pairings for “Hillbilly Elegy” Film

Hick Lit Pairings for “Hillbilly Elegy” Film

by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor

With the recent adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” to film, now seems like a great opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite niche genres – rural noir, or hick lit. A couple years ago, I began to notice a theme in the books I was devouring – they were set in Kansas, Missouri, the Ozarks, and Appalachia. The characters weren’t always likeable, yet you were invested in their stories. They were intricately plotted, character driven novels. Many authors balanced a gritty yet lyrical writing style, which constructed a story with the devastation of realistic events told in a beautiful, flowing narrative. This was rural noir. If you’re interested in characters that are flawed, conflicted, and sometimes even insufferable, I have a few suggestions for you.

Although there are other well-known authors who write within this genre like Daniel Woodrell (“Winter’s Bone”) and Sharyn McCrumb (Ballad Series), Laura McHugh has mastered the craft of creating compelling characters in all of her novels. In her most recent novel, “The Wolf Wants In”, McHugh weaves a story between two alternating perspectives. In Blackwater, Kansas, Sadie is grieving the death of her brother, Shane. At only 36, Shane died suddenly at home of what was deemed to be a heart attack. Yet, Sadie is suspicious of the uninvestigated death and subsequent decision to not perform an autopsy by her sister-in-law. Weary of the lack of police intervention in her brother’s case, Sadie begins her own investigation. Meanwhile, Henley belongs to a notorious local family she dreams of escaping. When her mother disappears on her most recent bender, Henley takes over her housekeeping position to save money for her getaway. However, her new employer complicates her plans. As the reader becomes entangled in the stories of the two women, Henley races to unfurl family secrets and the secrets about Shane before she is ensnared or worse. Be aware, McHugh does an excellent job with pacing in this book. It may be difficult to put down, and you might find yourself reading into the early hours of the morning.

Since our last hick lit article, Amy Engel has released her novel “The Familiar Dark.” Set firmly in the Ozarks, Engel’s newest adult novel follows Eve Taggert, a not-yet-grieving mother hunting for her daughter’s murderer. After the murder of 12-year-old Junie, the local police, including Eve’s brother, Cal, have no leads. Eve enlists the help of her estranged mother, while determined to avoid deteriorating into a resemblance of the hard woman who raised her. Junie is brought to life through Eve’s memories, as she comes to grips with how easily her life would’ve mirrored her mother’s without her unplanned pregnancy twelve years prior. As Eve continues to spin further out of control in her quest for an answer, readers wonder what the answer will cost her and whether the price is worth justice for Junie. Although Engel’s novel is fictional, it resonates with the topics in Vance’s memoir. Eve poignantly observes, “The world might be changing in some places, but not here. Here it was still the same old merry-go-round of drugs and poverty and women being chewed up and spit out by men. People in other worlds could wear black evening gowns and give speeches about equality and not backing down, but out here in the trenches, we fought our war alone and we lost the battles every day.”

For those interested in a less suspenseful and more literary novel, Stephen Markley’s “Ohio” is a perfect companion for Vance’s memoir. Markley utilizes a slow-burn narrative as chapters change perspective between four former friends, each returning to their small hometown in Ohio for different reasons. The characters are intricate and complex, and Markley’s writing style reflects the stream of consciousness of each character. Readers follow Bill, once energized by left-wing ideas, but now desperately running an illegitimate errand for cash; Stacey, a scholar looking for answers and reconciliation; Dan, a soldier home from Iraq; and Tina, returning to confront her high school abuser. With themes of the recession, post-9/11 America, opiate addiction, homophobia, assault, and more, Markley’s debut earns NPR’s description of “Wild, Angry, [and] Devastating”. This novel provides a window into washed up small towns across America, not just in Ohio. Although “Ohio” is not an easy read, its characters and their provocative questions stick with the reader long after the conclusion of the book.

There is a world of rural noir recommendations waiting for you at NoveList with your Kansas eCard!