Month: April 2021

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Romance Novels

Romance Novels

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning & Information Services

The romance genre sometimes gets a bad reputation, but I have always enjoyed reading about how other people work through their struggles and find happiness. In the last few years, I started hearing more about fantastic diverse romance novels. Within the comfort of my favorite books, I get a glimpse into lives that are different than my own. Here are some of the best I’ve read.

I have to start off with one of my favorites, “A Phó Love Story” a young adult novel by debut author Loan Le. Bao and Linh are both the children of Vietnamese immigrants, they both work in their parents’ Vietnamese restaurants, and they both go to the same high school, but in spite of everything they have in common, they have only talked once. When they were small children, they had a delightful hour playing together before their parents came along and made it clear that a family rivalry existed that would make it very difficult for them to become friends. Linh lives to create art, but her parents want her to go into a more practical career, like engineering. Bao drifts through life without much direction, managing to do “fine,” but still not near the excellence that his older brother has achieved. When Bao sees Linh behind her family’s restaurant experiencing a very bad day, they form a secret friendship that changes their lives and families forever. Touching on the trauma of the flight from Vietnam and the racism faced by immigrants, Le still creates a hopeful and humorous story of young love.

In “The Dating Plan” by Sara Desai, Daisy Patel is tired of the suitors that her family continually forces her to meet. She thinks her life is full enough with her software engineering job. Then she literally runs into the guy that broke her heart ten years ago when he never showed up for their prom date. Liam Murphy has come a long ways in the world since the night he lost his best friend and missed finally taking out the girl he had been crushing on for years. Now a successful venture capitalist, known for his womanizing ways, he is completely thrown off-track by seeing Daisy again. When Liam finds out that he has to get married to get his inheritance, he hopes to take advantage of Daisy’s desire to get her family off her back by convincing her to join him in a fake marriage. “The Dating Plan” is a funny and heartwarming story of how love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

We step into the past with “An Unconditional Freedom” by Alyssa Cole. Daniel Cumberland is a member of the loyal league, an organization of Black spies that are conspiring to overthrow the Confederacy in the Civil War. Although he was born free, Daniel was once kidnapped and sold into slavery, and still carries the trauma with him. When he is partnered with Janeta Sanchez, the daughter of a Cuban plantation owner and an enslaved woman, his anger and inability to trust threaten their ability to work together. Janeta is a double-agent, but she learns from her work in the league that her privileged upbringing has skewed her perception of the War. Well-developed characters and a gripping plot allow Cole to share insight into opposing views of the Civil War while telling a beautiful story of broken hearts mending.

In “Boyfriend Material” by Alexis J. Hall, Luc O’Donnell has all of the disadvantages of fame with none of the advantages. He doesn’t know his father, a reality star who has been in and out of rehab for decades, but that doesn’t stop the paparazzi from following Luc and splashing his most unfortunate moments across the internet. After a photo is publicized of him sprawled in the gutter while wearing bunny ears (due to an ill-timed stumble while exiting a costume party), Luc’s boss draws the line and insists he find a respectable boyfriend to improve his reputation and his ability to get positive PR for their non-profit. Friend-of-a-friend Oliver comes through, even though he’s boring as can be and shares absolutely no common interests with Luc. A fabulous balance of laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenchingly romantic, “Boyfriend Material” shouldn’t be missed.

Find more books to warm your heart at We’re open for checking out print materials, but we still have a wide selection of ebooks and downloadable audiobooks for your convenience.

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Young Adult Books on Anti-Racism and Systemic Racism in America

Young Adult Books on Anti-Racism and Systemic Racism in America

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

In the past year, Black Lives Matter and anti-racism have gained growing mainstream attention and support in the United States. White Americans are finally beginning to reckon with the devastating frequency with which Black Americans are killed by the police and the systemic racism that allows these killings to continue. For teens (or adults) who want to learn more about Black Lives Matter, anti-racism, and the history of systemic racism in the United States, here are some books to get you started.

Jason Reynolds’s “Stamped” remixes Ibram X. Kendi’s history of racism in America, “Stamped from the Beginning,” into a text that’s accessible for teenagers. Most chapters are shorter than 10 pages, and Reynolds includes breaks for readers to process the heavy truths they’re learning. Kendi and Reynolds follow racism through American history and label historical figures as segregationists (wanting to keep whites and Blacks separate), assimilationists (wanting Blacks to change themselves to be accepted by whites), and antiracists (wanting Blacks to be accepted as they are). Even as someone who doesn’t normally like audiobooks, I loved the audiobook version of “Stamped”—narrated by Reynolds, it’s quick and engaging, clocking in at just over four hours. A children’s version adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul, “Stamped (for Kids),” comes out in May.

We Are Not Yet Equal,” by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden and adapted from Carol Anderson’s “White Rage,” treads similar ground. Anderson introduces the concept of white rage—the white response to punish and negate any progress Blacks make towards being equal citizens. White rage has many forms, including laws and Supreme Court rulings, and Anderson traces the impact of white rage from the Civil War through Barack Obama’s presidency. “We Are Not Yet Equal” is a heavier read, with more explicit descriptions of anti-Black violence than “Stamped” and covering its topics in greater detail with more specific examples.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s “When They Call You a Terrorist,” adapted for teens by Benee Knauer, is the memoir of Khan-Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. This book follows Khan-Cullors from childhood into adulthood, from young outsider in her family to finding a place and a voice as a queer Black woman. Throughout the book, Khan-Cullors and bandele detail the over-policing of Khan-Cullors and the Black men in her family, making overt connections to systemic racism and other instances of police brutality against Blacks. The many vivid stories from Khan-Cullors’s life make the concepts covered by Reynolds and Anderson more personal and immediate, and Khan-Cullors’s story may inspire budding teen activists who are looking for ways to positively change the world.

This Book Is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell provides a guidebook for those looking to become anti-racists in the form of 20 lessons. In each chapter, Jewell presents major concepts related to anti-racism, then follows those up with activities that encourage the reader to engage with these concepts and commit to being an anti-racist. Jewell focuses on the intersectionality of racism and oppression, explaining how America’s dominant culture privileges those who are “white, upper middle class, cisgender, male, educated, athletic, neurotypical, and/or able-bodied,” and any deviations from this dominant culture results in increasing levels of oppression (p. 12). Jewell’s text challenges readers’ complacency and directs them to take solid action in the future in whatever way they can.

In “The Black Friend,” Frederick Joseph combines instructional text and memoir to provide teaching moments for white readers and mirrors for Black readers. Joseph emphasizes that educating white people is not his duty as a Black man—rather, he chooses to share this gift, but tells his white readers not to expect the same of their own Black friends. Joseph presents race-related incidents and reflects on how he handled things then and how he might handle things differently now, using the examples to explain different aspects of systemic racism and white supremacy. Joseph includes interviews with Black writers in each chapter and caps the book off with “An Encyclopedia of Racism,” suggested areas to expand your anti-racist research, and a playlist of all songs mentioned in the text. If you’re looking for a book that holds your hand while explaining how to be anti-racist, this is it.

The library has many more books on all of these topics, ranging from books you can use to discuss the concepts with young children to more scholarly books for adults. If you’d like help finding any of these books, reach out to the library, and we’ll help you continue your education.

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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

by Bryan McBride, Adult Services Librarian

I pulled “American Dirt off a display largely because of a blurb on the cover from bestselling author Don Winslow that called it “A Grapes of Wrath for our times.” That was a great story and a great movie about a period and a location in American history that I enjoy studying, so Winslow’s description caught my attention, and I decided to give “American Dirt” a try. Many have already read the book, as a recent statistic published by the library showed it to be the fourthmostread fiction book in our library in 2020. Turns out there are many people who could recommend this book to those who haven’t already read it.

Lydia is the owner of a small, local bookstore in Acapulco, Mexico. Her husband, Sebastian, is a local journalist who has researched and written an article about the man behind the ruling drug cartel in Acapulco. He has published similar articles in the past and he and Lydia are aware of the dangers. Finally, Sebastian goes too far, and the cartel murders their entire extended family at a family gathering. Only Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca, survive the attack. At this point, I’m thinking about Winslow’s quote, and not seeing the connection. Keep reading? I do.

Lydia knows that no one in Acapulco can be trusted, as the cartel has burrowed deep into the local institutions, including hospitals, police, and government agencies, with a network beyond into all of Mexico, so she and Luca are on the run. Lydia decides the only possible way to camouflage herself from the cartel is to take the migrants’ trail to the United States border, and from there on to Denver, Colorado, where a distant relative settled years ago. Now it does begin to parallel “The Grapes of Wrath.A personal event has created the need to join a mass migration to a place where they will not be universally welcomed, like the Okies at the California border.

Just as “The Grapes of Wrath” was a fictional story within a historic event, so is “American Dirt.In the story, one migrant trying to re-enter the US speaks of Arivaca, Arizona as a hateful place to be avoided. Partly out of curiosity and partly out of an interest to check the factual content of the book, I researched Arivaca and found plenty of truth in Cummins’ use of the town. Here’s a true story to support the idea that migrants from south of the United States border are not welcomed by everyone north of the border: Arivaca, Arizona, a town of less than 700 people, earned a reputation with migrants as a place to avoid when it became a frequent destination for anti-immigrant militant groups using this small town as a gathering place to discourage migrants from entering the United States and encourage the building of a national border wall. In 2009, anti-immigrant vigilantes invaded the home of a family in Arivaca, claiming they were searching for illegal aliens, when in fact they were hoping to find drugs and drug-money to finance the Minutemen American Defense. They killed a father and daughter and nearly killed the mother. Incidents like this put Arivaca on the migrants map as a place to be avoided. (ABC News, 2011)

Interestingly, to me, Cummins also uses Arivaca within her story to introduce some philosophical wisdom by relating Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. For every

action, there is a response. Likewise, paraphrasing Cummins from her text, for every hateful act, there is the possibility of redemption and forgiveness. 

American Dirt” has much to offer on so many levels, especially insight into the sweeping dangers migrants face in just making it to the Unites States border. For those who study American history, the historical parallel of the Okies is unmistakable. All of that stirred in to a story that has the suspense of running from the long reach of a drug cartel and the human relationships built under the stresses of people on the move for a better life in the United States.

As has often been said, the best fiction carries the ring of truth. “American Dirtcarries the ring of truth, from Central America all the way to Arivaca, Arizona. If you enjoy reading historical fiction, in addition to reflecting on a great American novel, with “American Dirt” you will engage in a story that is history in the making on our southern border.

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April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month

By Julie Mills, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

April has always been my favorite month and not just because it is my birthday month! It is also because it is National Poetry Month. I remember writing poetry every April in high school and even having one of my poems published in the Young Kansas Writers magazine. Poetry is not just about rhymes or fashioning together perfect phrases. It is whatever the writer wants it to be. Reading and even writing poetry is also a great tool for working with people processing grief and loss, or who are experiencing severe memory loss. It can help with processing and healing memories much like music can. Listening to and writing poetry is a great way to help the elderly to communicate special times from their past.

Here are a few titles from adults to children to get you in the mood for celebrating National Poetry Month:

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Songedited by Kevin Young, is a brand-new collection of poems celebrating the works of Black poets. This new book is published by the Library of America, whose mission is to champion our nation’s cultural heritage and celebrate the words that have shaped America. The poems are collected from many familiar, forgotten, and new authors and spans decades of history from 1775 to 2020. Today is also the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and this expansive anthology includes a poem by Gerald Barrax written in memorial to Dr. King, entitled “King: April 4, 1968”.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am: 100 Poems of Discover, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else” edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah is a compilation of over 100 poems that help the reader discover more about who they are and who they are becoming. Poetry can speak as many different messages as there are people. This is a book that touches on them all with a lot of grit, laughter, and tears. It will lead you on a vibrant journey to yourself. This is a great selection for both adult and teen readers who are looking to start their journey into reading and perhaps writing poetry.

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners” by Naomi Shihab Nye is filled with poems that offer peace, humor, inspiration, and solace. All original works, the award-winning author writes to honor the many diverse artists, writers, poets, historical figures, and ordinary people in her life. By celebrating the ones who have inspired her the most, we are also being asked to open our hearts and do the same. The overarching message woven throughout is to find peace and empathy for ourselves and others.

For younger readers, “Hello, Earth!: Poems to Our Planet” by Joyce Sidman is a great choice. The combination of imaginative poems and stunning art work helps the reader to think about the wonders of the world. It also includes teachable science information at the end to encourage young readers to learn more about things from tectonic plates to why the ocean has tides. “Hello, Earth!combines art, science, and the humanities in a way that captivates and celebrates our planet. You can check this new Children’s book out in time for Earth Day on April 22nd.

Whether you are new to poetry or have been enjoying it for years, the library has poetry books for all ages and tastes. You can find these titles and many others to help you celebrate National Poetry Month at the Manhattan Public Library. Email us at or call 785-776-4741 ext. 300 for other recommendations!