First Love by C. Truth

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firstlovePublisher/Date:  Penny Publishing, LLC, June 2011
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Out, Young Adult
Pages:  181
Website:  http://www.bflyctruth.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

As much as I want to, I can never tell a book character what to do. And not just because she’s not a live, breathing person, but because when it comes to a teenager like Savannah in FIRST LOVE by C. Truth, she wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

She’s 17, a high school senior and falling in love with best friend Bree. She can’t talk to her by-the-Bible mom, who wants a better friend for her daughter than the openly-gay Bree. And she can’t tell Bree she likes her, because she has a girlfriend. She has virtually no one to turn to with her feelings.

I wish she would listen to me. But what could I tell a book-smart, hard-working girl like Savannah, coming from someone older?

  1. Don’t get a boyfriend just to please your mother. When handsome football player Marco approaches and asks you out, say no. Just because he’s 5’7’’ with chocolate skin and deep waves in his hair, and he’s the guy all the girls want, doesn’t mean you really want to go out with him and you shouldn’t get him caught up in your confusion about your sexuality. It can only lead to heartache for both you. Especially when you kiss him and you’re thinking about Bree.
  2. Be honest with yourself. Savannah, you spend a lot of time in your room pondering your sexuality, and that’s good. But you also beat yourself about liking girls when that’s truly where your heart is. Stop it, be who you are. There’s nothing wrong with liking girls. I spent my own high school years denying whom I was, only to feel like I should have just owned up to my feelings.
  3. Tell Bree how you feel. Girl, it’s hard, I know. Telling someone how you feel is never easy. But this is Bree, your homie. You’ve known her since elementary school. She’s told you all about her girlfriends, and you know she would do anything for you. I find it hard to believe she would abandon you after you told her the truth. And don’t worry about that girlfriend of hers; she’ll reveal her true colors – and whom do you think she’ll coming running to advice and comfort?
  4. Don’t make such a big deal about sex. I know at 17 it seems like sex is the best thing on earth. Don’t get me wrong; it’s amazing. But you know what, Savannah? It’s better with the right person. Feel me. Don’t be in such a hurry to give what’s your most precious gift. Cause when it’s right, ooh wee!
  5. Get your mother a boyfriend. Your mother is a piece of work. These praying rants y’all do to save you from lesbianism aren’t going to work. Since your mother is forever beating down the church doors, find her a deacon to work out her own issues with.

Now that I’ve taken care of Savannah, let’s move on to C. Truth. First Love is a dramatic book for sure, but the both the story and the writing needed work. There are more than a few grammatical issues, and some of the situations Savannah found herself in seemed too far-fetched, like her first college visit which went swimmingly considering how complicated her life became by that point. I read so many 5-star reviews for First Love, and while I was reading, I was a little disappointed in how the story unravelled.

Full of youthful decisions and text messages, First Love is good for the drama and the angst of beginning love. Some girls could identify with the identity and parental issues Savannah faces. Teens can read it also for C. Truth’s 8 Love Lessons she provides at the end of the book. Too bad she didn’t make Savannah follow any of them.

[rating-report]

Reviewed November 2013

About C. Truth

I was born in Kansas City, KS, and raised by my Great-grandmother in Kansas City, MO. After high school I went straight to work. I spent five years with the worlds largest electronic retailer, then left the Store Assistant Manager position and enrolled the University Of North Carolina at Charlotte and began writing full-time. I have been living in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2007.

I began writing in my early years of high school. Teachers, friends and family had mentioned to me that my writing was something special, but I didn’t gain the courage in my writing until I started blogging on downelink.com, a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered social networking site in 2008. The comments left on my page about the blogs gave me the inspiration I needed to complete my first five novels titled First Love, a love story; Intoxicating, an anthology of short stories; Fly Truth, an anthology of thoughts, Second Love, a continuation novel; and iEscaped, an anthology of poetry.


If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

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Farizan_IfYouCouldBeMine_REV.inddPublisher/Date:  Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Transsexual Issues
Pages:  256
Website:  http://www.algonquinyoungreaders.com/author/sara-farizan

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The hunger to have the girl you love is magnified tenfold in a country where women are kept covered and veiled, and same-sex love could mean your life. Sara Farizan depicts this longing in unadorned language in IF YOU COULD BE MINE, with anger and hurt expressed through Sahar, a 17-year-old Iranian girl willing to undergo a sex change to marry her best friend.

Sahar fell in love with Nasrin when they were six years old, Nasrin commanding Sahar’s heart with her bossy attitude, and now as high school seniors, it’s clear not much has changed, except the fact that Sahar no longer has her mother, who died five years prior. Her Maman was the one to whom she confessed her love for Nasrin, and was told to never speak of it again.

Yet Sahar pursued her dream girl, their love expressed in sweet kisses behind closed doors. Watching Nasrin dance to American songs while Sahar studies to get into university. Holding hands in the street (it’s considered innocent). Their secret love feels like child’s play in their fantasy world – especially after Nasrin is promised to an older wealthy suitor, a doctor no less. Sahar is heartbroken, and that’s when she gets the idea to have a sex change to stop this impending marriage from happening.

Surprisingly, sexual reassignment surgery is legal in Iran, and this is the route Sahar is willing to undergo to be with Nasrin. Her desperation is visible in the transsexual support group she visits to weigh her options, where she’s blinded the promise of what could be with Nasrin. Changing her gender is not necessarily what she wants, and who can blame her? She’s aware of the horrid way men treat women in her country, behaving by a rigid patriarchal code, but what else can she do to keep Nasrin to herself?

This is not an easy decision for Sahar, especially since she keeps her plans hidden from Nasrin, which nagged me as I read. If there’s anyone she’s supposed share everything with, it would be the girl she loves. However, it’s Sahar’s indecision (and the significant people her life) that dominate the book. A sex change is not something one can decide on a whim, especially in her case since it could create more problems than not. Not that I believe Nasrin, with her self-absorbed self, would appreciate it.

Goes to show teenage love is the strongest love (at least at the time). You’ll think you and your first girlfriend will be together forever, even when this love is trying on wedding dresses to marry someone else. Yet, Sahar has to come to this conclusion on her own. Her story graciously and truthfully captures those emotions: from giddyness, to despondency, to anger at not having the love seemingly perfect for her. However, the silver lining of Mine is that Sahar stays true to herself.

I enjoyed Farizan’s writing style in Mine – simple, profound – and creating such a brave, intelligent character like Sahar. I wonder if the author will venture revisiting Sahar in adulthood. I’m quite sure her story doesn’t end here.

Reviewed October 2013

About Sara Farizan

Sara Farizan was born on August 2, 1984 in Massachusetts. Her parents immigrated from Iran in the seventies, her father a surgeon and her mother a homemaker. Sara grew up feeling different in her private high school not only because of her ethnicity but also because of her liking girls romantically, her lack of excitement in science and math, and her love of writing plays and short stories. So she came out of the closet in college, realized math and science weren’t so bad (but not for her), and decided she wanted to be a writer. She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Sara has been a Hollywood intern, a waitress, a comic book/record store employee, an art magazine blogger, a marketing temp, and an after-school teacher, but above all else she has always been a writer. Sara lives near Boston, has a cool sister, loves Kurosawa films, eighties R&B, and graphic novels, and thinks all kids are awesome. If You Could Be Mine is her first novel.


BrookLyn’s Journey by Coffey Brown

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brooklynsjourneyncodPublisher/Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2012
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age, Identity
Pages: 258
Website: http://www.coffeybrownbooks.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

There were times reading BROOKLYN’S JOURNEY by Coffey Brown I didn’t quite know what to feel.

On one hand, it’s an affecting story about 18-year-old BrookLynn Scott living an abusive home. On the other hand, the unlikely love story surrounding her and Gabriella Michaels is almost like an fanciful fairy tale, because Gabby saves her in a way BrookLyn never thought possible – with unconditional love.

Growing up with a belt-swinging father and a snitch of a mother caring only to save herself, Brooklyn is trapped in her own house. She is the baby of the family, her brother and sisters long escaped, and her goal is to excel in high school so she can attend college far away from her parents. Since she wasn’t allowed out except to go to school or church, no parties and definitely no boys, her plan seemed attainable.

It also seems like fate when she runs into Gabby, and her church mate uses this chance to finally be with dream girl BrookLyn. As Gabby confesses her affection for the quiet girl in the choir and asks for her trust, BrookLyn imagines a life free of pain. With an inheritance and her own home at 19, Gabby woos BrookLyn with promises of love, protection and most of all, normal teenage experiences. In every step of their relationship, it appears impossible that BrookLyn has found someone who will love her, scars and all, but she holds on tight to this impossibility – because if not, what else does she have left?

I applaud Brown for the message she sends with BrookLyn’s Journey, because the questioning BrookLyn has about her sexuality is authentic to what some teenagers face when they’ve been sheltered and discover their first attraction to the same sex. Her portrayal of the horrid emotions of child emotional and physical abuse, as unfortunate as it sounds, was too real. I wanted BrookLyn to leave this house or to have someone, her older siblings especially, to take her away from her awful excuse for parents. No one would save the studious girl who missed days at school so her bruises wouldn’t be noticed.

Yet when that someone comes in the form of Gabby, I was skeptical at first. With everything BrookLyn’s been through, I didn’t want to see her hurt again, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around how quickly they fell for each other, more so Gabby. She is totally in love with BrookLyn, and I think being in her situation, BrookLyn was grabbing on to any life preserve she could find.

But the one thing I love about BrookLyn is that she’s resilient; she may not know what love is, but she surely knows what love isn’t. And that’s what she sees in Gabby – someone who won’t hurt her again. That kind of love is powerful, and I wish every child, neglected or not, has someone – whether a parent, teacher, aunt or uncle, best friend or significant other – she can receive that kind of love from.

There are other things about BrookLyn’s Journey – the sometimes awkward dialogue, the plausibility of the love affair – that I question, but Brown does a decent job giving BrookLyn a voice that teenagers will undoubtedly relate to and cheer for.

Reviewed October 2013

About Coffey Brown

Stacey Pierce aka Coffey Brown was born and raised in Orange County, New York. She graduated from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Fairleigh Dickinson University and New York University. She has been a social worker for almost twenty years. Stacey will be publishing fiction and non-fiction books in various genres hence the pen name. However, she will be using the pen name for LGBT fiction. She recently relocated to the Charlotte area with her partner of fourteen years. BrookLyn’s Journey is her first novel, followed by The Awakening of Graye Moon.


The Gerbera Series: The Preludes, Clear Sense and The Sweetness by Ninamaste MaTuri

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Publisher/Date:  Lulu.com, Mar. 2011 (The Preludes); Nov. 2011 (Clear Sense); May 2013 (The Sweetness)
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages:   56 (The Preludes); 78 (Clear Sense); 96 (The Sweetness)
Website:  http://www.ninamastematuri.com

The Preludes:★★★½☆ 
Clear Sense:★★★★☆ 
The Sweetness:★★★★☆ 

Ninamaste MaTuri’s The Gerbera series has all the makings of childhood love, pain and laughter – and at the helm are Melanie, Adrianna and Nicole, three very unique girls diverged on the path to womanhood.

thepreludesTHE PRELUDES is just the beginning. It takes one back to your early school days: experiencing first crushes, attempting to fit in, and realizing your parents can be either a best friend or a major disappointment. It introduces tomboy Melanie, mother’s baby Adrianna and lovelorn Nicole, all wishing for something much needed in their lives. Melanie, with a white mother and black father, would like to accepted and not out of place in her class, being the only brown face with a lopsided Afro, and a cousin who teases her because of it; things begin looking up when her new teacher, with deeply brown skin and wavy black hair, comes into her classroom. Adrianna’s story starts at her mother’s funeral; after the service, the grief of missing her mother is exacerbated by father’s womanizing ways. Nicole’s father, on the other hand, is the shield against her mother’s unhappiness of Nicole’s masculine demeanor, but daydreams of Crystal help soothe her mother’s harsh words.

The Bottom Line:  Although each story is told very quickly, The Preludes sets itself up well to continue the girls’ journey. While Melanie stood out as a leader, I was enthralled most by Nicole, whose resilience to be herself and her relationship with her father shine. On the other hand, it’s evident Adrianna has a long road ahead of her, and she’s is the one I connect to the least.

clearsenseThe trip continues with CLEAR SENSE, and as the girls are now teenagers, their issues and desires become deeper. The novella reminds you of how intense we all felt about our problems at that age (or so it seems), that we would do anything to have what we want. Melanie’s secret admiration of Tiffany seems to be in vain, because Tiffany thinks the loving gestures are the work of her boyfriend, and Melanie has to concoct a plan to show her how she feels; will she finally get her dream girl? Adrianna has had it up to here with her father’s casual treatment of women since losing her mother, made even more apparent when Adrianna believes she’s found the guy she thinks could be the one. Can she really trust him? Nicole spends most of Clear Sense hiding her true feelings for Crystal, and at the same time being a good friend to her. Will her concern of Crystal lead her to something more?

The Bottom Line:  Clear Sense is a good continuation of the Gerbera series, and we are privy to Adrianna and Nicole’s aches, and Melanie’s antics with her cousins. It’s the more humorous of the series. Yet they all have more growing up to do, though, especially Melanie, who realizes something important in her pursuit of Tiffany. Watching them go through it is worth the transition you see in the next book in the series.

thesweetnessThe third book in the Gerbera series, THE SWEETNESS, is just that, but I would venture to add it’s a tad bittersweet. The girls are now young adults, living in the real world with bills, marriage and college on their minds. Melanie, now working hard at a 9-to-5, has a model for a girlfriend and enjoys the perks that come with having a beautiful woman on her arm; too bad it’s someone else she shares sparks with. Adrianna wants to move from her tragic past to a future with Thaddeus, the love she met in Clear Sense. It’s the first man in her life, her father, she has to heal her heart with in order to give her all to Thaddeus. College-bound Nicole has found the sweetness with Shelia who loves her unconditionally after Crystal’s absence. All seems to be bright in her life until her mother makes an unexpected appearance. She’s a tough cookie, though, and knows it’s something greater in store than what’s in her past.

The Bottom Line: The Sweetness is the best of the three novellas in that plots are fleshed out and we see a superb progression from the girls’ upbringing to adulthood. I see Melanie and Adrianna slowly learning how to love. Nicole, though, is the one I rooted for the most because she grew from a broken home and her mother’s abuse to a confident young lady through her father’s love. The Sweetness is also the book where characters from each girl’s story merge together. MaTuri promises more in her next book – centered around family planning – and I’m waiting to see what lessons life will teach these women next.

Reviewed September 2013

Read the Meet This Sistah Interview with Ninamaste MaTuri

About Ninamaste MaTuri

Ninamaste MaTuri was born in southern California. She lived in various cities throughout her early years. San Francisco was one of her favorites because of its diversity. Her family relocated to Minnesota when she was in middle school. She currently resides in Minnesota.

Ninamaste enjoys writing, and hopes to continue writing stories. She also enjoys hiking, visiting museums, and traveling, in her spare time.


37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon

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37thingsiloveoldPublisher/Date:  Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), May 2012
Genre(s):  Young Adult
Pages:   224
Website:  http://www.keklamagoon.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Summertime is what most high school students look forward after a year of homework, teachers and exams. Ever walk down a school hallway after the final bell has rung on the last of day school? You might get mowed down.

For Ellis, though, the summer means spending more time with her friends, but most especially with her father, still in a coma after a work accident two years prior. She currently skips her first period class just to see him, though he can’t hear or notice she’s there. Her father’s condition is also a source of contention between Ellis and her mother, believing it’s time to take him off life support. Ellis knows he will wake up one day, and become the man she remembers, take her on new adventures, reassert himself as no. 1 of one of the 37 things in her life she loves.

Most of the 37 things – from goldfish crackers to warm chocolate chip cookies to rain on a stain-glass window – in some way remind her of her father or the void he leaves in her life.

One thing she loves, her best friend Abby, manages to distract her, whether it’s telling Ellis about her million and one boyfriends or sneaking her out to a party, which turns out to be one crazy night (it involves jello – that is all). Abby’s selfishness is a welcome distraction so she won’t have to think about how strained things are with her mother or the therapist she forces Ellis to see. But her shallowness slowly becomes the thing that makes them drift apart because Abby can’t relate to Ellis’ family woes. But one person can.

Cara. Both Abby and Ellis’ former best friend became estranged from them for reasons unknown to Ellis. Chalk it up to high school differences, but when her and Cara reconnect, Ellis discovers how much she missed their friendship; it gives her the warmth she needs to deal with her so-called life. Their connection also sparks something tenuous between them that Ellis isn’t sure she can handle right now, but doesn’t want to lose — even if it means giving up Abby.

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) is heart-wrenching, because as a daughter who’s lost her own father, I can empathize with Ellis. It’s tough to watch the man who seemed like the strongest man person in the world, wither away, and on that note, I got Ellis. But there were times I felt I didn’t get enough into Ellis’ head, and I wasn’t too keen on how Abby took advantage of Ellis and never offered much in return. In a lot of the book, Ellis is a pushover, the only real fight she shows is battling her mom to take her dad off life support. The brightest spot comes in Ellis possibly discovering love for the first time with Cara; it’s sincere and sweet. Magoon captures Ellis’ confusion well, and the end of 37 Things may find you caring for just one more thing.

Reviewed August 2013

About Kekla Magoon

Kekla Magoon is the author of four young adult novels: Camo Girl, 37 Things I Love, Fire in the Streets, and The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics, including Today the World is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration 1957-58 and the forthcoming PANTHERS! The History and Legacy of the Black Panther Party in America. Raised in a biracial family in the Midwest, Kekla now teaches writing in New York City, conducts school and library visits nationwide, and serves on the board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Kekla holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her online at www.keklamagoon.com.


On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story by Hannah Weyer

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onthecomeupPublisher/Date:  Nan A. Talese, July 2013
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages:  320
Website:  http://www.hannahweyer.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

“It came to her just before sleep, an idea crystallizing in the dark—how maybe the size of your world ain’t what matter, whether it expand or shrink up or expand again—how maybe it was about finding your place in it. Hurdles to jump. You jump. Erase the lines, draw new ones. Chart a course and follow.”

By the time AnnMarie Walker realizes how to make her way in the world, she’d already been pregnant at 13, starred in a motion picture at 15, and fallen in love with a woman at 18. Her life had been full of accomplishments and setbacks, laughter and tears, kisses and bruises – but along the way, she never stopped dreaming.

It’s the thing I love most about AnnMarie, and it’s also the reason ON THE COME UP: A NOVEL, BASED ON A TRUE STORY is one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year.

A novel based on a true story, On the Come Up by filmmaker Hannah Weyer recounts the coming-of-age of AnnMarie, a teen embedded in a Far Rockaway, Queens housing project after being shuffled around the foster system. She’s back living with her mother, Blessed, who left Trinidad to escape her abusive relationship. Brooklyn-born AnnMarie has typical teenage hopes: making money for back-to-school clothes (Diesel jeans especially), wanting to be noticed by the older guy on the block, better known as Darius Greene. A wannabe music producer, Darius begins to flirt with AnnMarie, and she’s in love. This love manifests itself into sex with no protection, eventually leading to a baby – and of course with foolish promises of being together forever.

At her school for pregnant teens, AnnMarie spies a flyer for a movie audition. Despite being 21 weeks pregnant, she lands a lead role in a film about female friendship, and the set, the cast and the director inspire her to dream beyond Darius’ disappearing act, her mother’s disability and deal with her new life as a mother. The movie encourages her to see a world beyond the Rock as she is swept into Sundance movie premieres and sees herself on the big screen.

After her dizzying turn as an actress, reality plays a bigger role as AnnMarie raises baby Star without much help from Darius, and without a high school diploma or GED. It’s her determination that lands her a job being a home nurse, while time after time taking hard-knocks.

The harshest lessons AnnMarie learns are about love. Without a father figure, AnnMarie sees how proud Darius is to make a baby, but not enough to raise their child. He could dog her, beat her, and still want to call himself a “father,” until AnnMarie recognizes his mistreatment is not worth tolerating just so Star will have the father she never had. Surprisingly, it’s a woman who shows AnnMarie what love is, someone who actually cares about the well-being of her and Star. The kind of love AnnMarie is worthy of.

AnnMarie Walker…engaging, smart, and endearing. Those are the best words I can use to describe her. On the Come Up, I must admit, is not a book for everyone – the omission of quotation marks to indicate who’s speaking makes it hard to follow at times; the vernacular and grittiness of the characters aren’t certain folks cup of tea; and the secondary characters could be stronger. However, On the Come Up is authentic. It’s a credit to Weyer, a screenwriter whose credits include the HBO movie Life Support featuring Queen Latifah, who won a Golden Globe for her role. She’s worked with teens in the media arts for 15 years, and it’s evident. AnnMarie could have been any girl growing up in her neighborhood, but her insightfulness and fortitude is shown even from the first pages, as she’s selling her kool-aid pops and Polaroid pics near the beach, when she takes the A train to an against-odds audition, as she’s falling in love…

She thought, What the fuck you got to be afraid of. You is you. Fuck everybody and they opinion. If you love her, then you love her.
You is you.
Be happy.

Amen, AnnMarie.

Reviewed August 2013

four-stars

About Hannah Weyer

Hannah Weyer is a filmmaker whose narrative and documentary films have been screened at the Human Rights Watch and the New York film festivals and have won awards at the Sundance, Locarno, Melbourne, Doubletake, and South by Southwest film festivals. Her screenwriting credits include Life Support (2007), directed by Nelson George, which earned a Golden Globe Award for its lead actress, Queen Latifah. Weyer has worked with teens in the media arts for the past fifteen years and, along with her husband, the filmmaker Jim McKay, started an after-school film club at a public high school in Brooklyn. On the Come Up is her first novel.


Lion’s Den by Azure

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lionsdenPublisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 2012
Genre(s): Romance, Young Adult
Pages:  304
Website:  http://lionsdenbyazure.wordpress.com

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Chaz is 22, a recent college graduate transplanted to Chicago to start her career as an IT engineer and a life away from her family. What she finds in the Windy City is drama LION’S DEN by Azure. It follows her, though some of it is by her own doing.

At the novel’s onset, a night out leads to meeting and falling for an older woman named Samantha. It’s good for a while, yet Chaz recognizes her options – younger, sexy ones – and settling into a committed relationship becomes a chore.

Not when she has Jazmine. And Lori. And white girl Kelly. Plus a few others.

All Chaz’s bed hopping does a have a root, though. Coming out at 19, she wrestled with living in a Christian values home where her sexuality was a sore spot for her parents, her dad especially, as well self-esteem issues stemming from being treated as the ugly duckling. Therefore, Chaz only felt attractive when around the lesbian community. It’s a high-speed carousel from woman to woman, and you can feel dizzy just reading.

That’s my issue with Lion’s Den. From all the partying, sex and drugs, has Chaz really learned anything? Lord knows she’s smart and aware of her shortcomings, which is great; she’s also young and allowed to make mistakes, but her life choices pained me at times.

Azure is a good storyteller, and Lion’s Den has plenty of action. However, the writing was choppy, there were excessive grammatical errors, and not enough dialogue. However, young adults could relate to Chaz, and hopefully for them, it will be a cautionary tale.

Reviewed December 2012


I Ain’t Yo Bitch by Jabulile Bongiwe Ngwenya

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iaintyobitchPublisher/Date:  Paper Bag Publishing, Aug. 2009
Genre(s): Coming of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  163

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

If I AIN’T YO BITCH was defined by a current song, it would sound like Drake’s “Crew Love.”

Mainly because Tebogo’s world revolves around being the lone female in her crew, honing her music craft, partying, and appeasing her groupies. Nothing else matters.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tebogo’s almost bipolar tale is deep, rooted in the loss of her mother and surviving a family betrayal. Living with her father, Tebogo relied on her grandmother’s gentle counsel, friendship and discipline. It is she, unlike her father, who accepted her granddaughter’s sexuality with love and understanding.

“Will it get easier? Sometimes I think there is something wrong with me,” said Tebogo, tears welling.

“Where have you ever heard of such a ridiculous idea?’ laughed her grandmother, opening her arms to embrace Tebogo. She held the child, gently rubbing her back with soft, gnarled hands. “You’re different. You like different things. I don’t understand how that’s wrong? God created a variety of flowers in his garden. Not everyone will like roses, not everyone will smell the daffodils, but someone will fall in love with a daisy or lily.”

Now after her grandmother’s recent passing, Tebogo is a 19-year-old local hip-hop star trying to make it to the big leagues with her boys: Welile, Siphiwe, and cousin Andile. In the group, SWAT, her image is wrapped up in being “Tube,” which means being one the guys.

She thinks she’s one of them, proud that she can do anything the boys can…except she’s a girl…a fact she doesn’t fully realize until it’s too late.

Though the male posturing is a bit much, I Ain’t Yo Bitch is true to its portrayal of a girl’s coming of age in the hip-hop era. The success she and her boys aspire to have is based on American rap culture, which causes you think about the types of messages, often negative, we express to the world in our music.

What’s also interesting is that being surrounded by men, Tebogo can’t discern that what will gain them the success they crave is her femininity, not in a Nicki Minaj way, but adding her experiences will help them stand out and combat the misogyny pervading hip hop. Because truthfully, the real Tebogo is the sweetness she demonstrates with her grandmother. That’s what I wished there was more of.

But then, it wouldn’t be the same story now, would it?

Reviewed June 2012


M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin (Aug. 2010 Pick of the Month)

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m+o4everPublisher/Date:  Houghton Mifflin, Apr. 2008
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  176
Website:  http://www.tonyacheriehegamin.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The dreams we have as children are very powerful, involving fearless feats and aspirations we carry to adulthood, cradled in the hope that the dreams will become reality.

That’s what Opal anticipated when she made the decision to take her best friend, Marianne, away from their small-town life in M+O 4 EVR. The novel from Tonya Marie Hegamin relates an emotional excursion of what happens when wishes are deferred by life’s disappointments.

Best friends, Marianne and Opal’s bond was an unspoken one, full of longing and hurt and not-so-unrequited love. The girls lived in their Pennsylvania town as outcasts, the only few Black faces in the mountainous county. They only had each other, as little girls who held hands on their first day of school, a shield from the world that couldn’t possibly understand them.

Home is where their hearts are. Opal is raised by sassy Gran while her parents travel to provide for her; Marianne lived with her white mother and grandfather, and never knew her black father. Their families were intertwined and nurtured the girls’ closeness. They were privy to the love Opal had for Marianne, though it was never said – even to Marianne herself.

While Marianne has some idea of Opal’s feelings for her, she can’t see past her own pain to reciprocate. Marianne felt lost in her own skin and never wanted to accept her “loser” status assigned based on her light complexion. She strived to be popular, one of the cool kids. And eventually she did attain the crown – becoming the first black homecoming queen – at the expense of leaving her best friend behind. The victory was short-lived when only hours later, a tragedy strikes Marianne, and all the dreams Opal had for them dissipate.

All Opal wanted was have Marianne to herself, in the way she did when they danced through the milkweeds, carved their names into their favorite tree, or pressed lips together under the blackberry bushes. Now all she’s left with is painful memories and theories on how things got to this point. For Opal, her ache came from knowing what they could have been. But with her future in her hands, she soon discovered things happen for a reason.

The sentiments M+O 4 EVR are sweet, raw and heartfelt. Who can’t relate to the story of innocent love and the slings and arrows of growing up? Hegamin writes about loss and love, while also tying in the spirit of a runaway slave to anchor the tale to how much we sacrifice for the love of one person.

However in the end, we and Opal learn taking care of ourselves is what’s most important.

Reviewed August 2010


Manjani by Freedom Speaks Diaspora

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manjaniPublisher/Date:  Sun Cycle Publishing, Aug. 2008
Genre(s):  Coming of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  320
Website:  http://www.manjani.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Never will you read a novel with a more outspoken, unwavering young lady than MANJANI, a tale that narrates a girl’s coming of age and chronicles her ultimate self-fulfillment written by Freedom Speaks Diaspora.

The title character, Manjani, is one to be reckoned with. When she speaks, she speaks the truth. The problem is that it’s her version of the truth. Manjani wants to be a revolutionary, bless her heart. Although she means well, she uses her most powerful weapon – her voice – to annihilate anyone who impedes her growth and doesn’t ascribe to her way of thinking – including her teachers and even her own friends.  Determined to lead the charge to cure her “deaf, dumb and blind” peers, she sets out to prove how gullible “African-Americans” are, ignorant of the full history of their Afrikan people. It’s not that her message is flawed, it’s that the way it comes across leaves people turned off.

But never mind that. Manjani has a mission: to be revolutionary. With her father a member of an Afrocentric band and her sister, Aniba, a student at a healer’s school, Manjani has a few examples of role models to follow. However, her family is torn apart when a fire destroys their home, and Manjani is left with her father and younger brother while Aniba is missing. Living in a new home, her father decides to enroll her in Catholic school, where she is one of the few black faces there.

In short, life is a nightmare for Manjani. It doesn’t get any better when she realizes the school supports racist traditions – one that Manjani can’t stand for. Soon she’s kicked out of school, and joins an academy for future revolutionaries like herself. The Black Nationalist Academy is where she envisions achieving her life’s purpose with students and teachers who have the same goal in mind. Except the more she learns, the more Manjani realizes the world isn’t black and white, but several shades of gray. It’s even more complicated when she falls in love with a woman, who is both her teacher and mentor. But revolutionaries can’t fall in love, can they?

As the story progresses, Manjani finds out being true to yourself is the best cause she could fight for.

Manjani is a clever, energetic novel from an author who creates an honest character. Diaspora has a method to her writing that is introspective, but doesn’t come off as too preachy. I enjoyed the rise of a true woman warrior who knows her value and endeavors to make a difference with it.

Reviewed June 2009


The Lesbian’s Wife by Sidi

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lesbianswifePublisher/Date:  Harlem Book Center, Mar. 2006
Genre(s): Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages:  282

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Imagine being abducted from the life you knew and the woman you fell in love with…

That’s the predicament Aisha Kone finds herself in when a vacation to the motherland goes horribly wrong in THE LESBIAN’S WIFE. Aisha’s story begins in New York City, where she grew up the daughter of an African immigrant. Despite the worship of her father in the Islamic community, Aisha was being tortured at his hands, as well witnessing the mistreatment of her own mother. Being a woman in an Islamic household meant she had no power, and she vowed never to be tied down to religion if it means giving up being whom she is.

While seeing her case worker, Aisha meets Beyonce (no, not the singer), and they begin a romance, finding solace in helping each other overcome their tragic upbringings while falling in love. Once her father finds out, he is outraged. He figures he has to do something about his wayward daughter before it’s too late. So he arranges a trip for Aisha’s birthday, an African vacation to her homeland of the Ivory Coast.

Aisha naively accepts. She’s so excited, so much that she doesn’t realize the trap about to befall her. She makes it to her destination, and the trip begins with much excitement. She visits areas she’s only dreamed about and talked with people who paint her a colorful image of the land where her father grew up. When Aisha’s about to depart the beautiful country, however, she’s abducted.

Forced to be with an older Islamic preacher, Aisha becomes one of four wives of the Marabout, arranged through her dear old daddy, and and is forced to be with the older Islamic preacher. She’s held captive as a concubine and doesn’t know when she’ll see her family again, most importantly, her girlfriend Beyonce. How will she ever find her way back home?

Author Sidi has created a tale that could very well happen in this day and age. The Lesbian’s Wife has promise as an energetic, informative piece of work, but some details could have been a bit sharper. It’s too bad Aisha never followed her instincts – otherwise she might not have been in the situation she was, but she learns a valuable lesson that she shares with others. And in the end, it only makes her stronger.

I enjoyed the relationship between Aisha and Beyonce, which demonstrated that the power of love can survive even the direst of circumstances.

Reviewed February 2008


London Reign by A.C. Britt

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londonreignPublisher/Date:  Ghettoheat, Sept. 2007
Genre(s):  Street Life, Young Adult
Pages:  224
Website:  http://www.ghettoheat.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

If your back is against the wall, what do you do? Do you cower in fear or fight back?

If you’re 16-year-old London Walters, the protagonist of LONDON REIGN, you’re both a lover and a fighter. For most of her young life, London has been fighting against everything – living with an alcoholic father, surviving the inner-city Boston streets, being gay and being perceived as a man. Unbeknownst to most women she dates, London is a man trapped in a woman’s body. The love-em-and-leave-em playboy needs a special woman that can handle her and give her a reason to settle down.

London thinks she might have the one – until one night she is forced to leave home. It’s not something she wants, especially since she would have to abandon her little sister, Shantell, whom she always promised to protect. But she leaves anyway, taking a bus ride to Detroit, where she settles with little money and nowhere to stay.

She looks for employment in an auto shop, and runs into the boss’ daughter, Mercedes. London finds her attractive but hesitates because Mercedes is a bitch with a capital B; she doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure. The pair begin dating, yet it comes to a head when Mercedes learns the truth about London’s past. It jeopardizes her job and her well being.

But London’s a hustler, and has never let anyone keep her down for too long.

A.C. Britt’s London Reign takes you into the world of doing what you gotta do to stay alive. London is a real stud-thug, but you see she has heart. Good storytelling is the gift you’ll receive in reading London Reign. You’ll want to know what happens next to the bad boy, and if she makes it out.

Reviewed February 2008


From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson (Aug-Sept. 2006 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Puffin, July 2010
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Family, Lesbian Parents
Pages:  160
Website:  http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Black lesbians with children take note: FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF MELANIN SUN is a must-read book. The compelling novel follows Melanin Sun, a 13-year-old dealing with the complexities of adolescence and his mother’s newfound sexuality.

It’s summertime, and Melanin is looking forward to the finer things in life: hanging with friends Ralphael and Sean, pursuing his crush on Angie, and writing his innermost thoughts in his treasured notebooks.

But what he looks forward to and treasures most is spending time with his mother Encanta, a single mother working hard to make a living for her child. The two are inseparable, leaning on each other through the best and worst of times and having a mother-son bond so deep they know each other’s moods and the simplest of facial expressions.

Melanin’s perfect relationship is demolished, though, when day at the beach ends with Encanta revealing she’s gay—and in love with a white woman. This piece of earth-shattering news devastates Melanin to no end. He can’t imagine that his mother could ever fall in love with a woman, and a white woman at that.

The one thing that helps him is his notebook. There Melanin pours out his heart, recording every emotion he’s feeling: from anger to shame, from frustration to understanding. It helps him slowly work out the issues with his Encanta, the shyness he feels over approaching Angie, and the ruined friendship with Sean once he finds out his mother’s a lesbian. As the story concludes, Melanin realizes that life doesn’t get easier as you grow up, only more complicated as the days go by.

Woodson approaches From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun with a great understanding of what it’s like to be a young black male and the sentiments of dealing with a gay parent. She makes you see the issues a child can have with your coming out, and how to survive it. As always with Woodson, the writing is superb, and the novel is heartwarming and real, a story with even a small page number manages to have an impact. Children and parents alike should read this with open eyes and an open heart – they both could learn more than they realize.

Reviewed Aug-Sept 2006


The Sista Hood: On the Mic by E-Fierce

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sistahoodPublisher/Date:  Atria, July 2006
Genre:  Young Adult
Pages:  209
Website:  http://www.thesistahood.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Move out the way, Jay-Z!

Girls can rhyme, too, and nothing proves this more than author E-Fierce’s THE SISTA HOOD: ON THE MIC, the first in a series about four young women united through hip-hop.

Fourteen-year-old Mariposa (or MC Patria) is the narrator of this tale, a Puerto Rican tomboy whose skills and lyrics are tight. The only issue she faces is to make her best friend and fellow rapper Ezekiel (aka MC EZ1) realize that and fall in love with her. The only thing that stands in her way is his white girlfriend, Jessica, another MC known more for her sex appeal than her rhymes.

Her plan to win his heart? Win her school’s talent show and win his heart, and she has three friends that will help her make it happen: Sadie (Soul Siren), Liza (Pinay-1) and Evita (DJ Esa). The girl become fast friends and help each other through rough times, such as abusive boyfriends, dysfunctional home issues, and discovering sexual preferences. Although Mariposa’s intention is to impress the boy she loves, she realizes that her deep friendships with her homegirls are what really counts.

Author E-Fierce (aka Elisha Miranda) is an excellent writer, and The Sista Hood: On the Mic is definitely hot stuff for the younger crowd. It’s real without being preachy, and true to the stuff young people face today. This is a book your daughter will be excited about, and you could read yourself. The Sista Hood does a terrific job of portraying girls of varying ethnicities working together despite their differences. It also has a great message for girls that they can be anything they want to be with a little hard work.

That’s a song worth listening to.

Reviewed Aug-Sept 2006


Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair

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coffeewillmakeyoublackPublisher/Date:  Harper, Feb. 1995
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Coming Out
Pages: 256
Website:  http://www.aprilsinclair.net

Rating: ★★★★★ 

I can remember reading COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK as a teenager. It was the first novel that truly moved me. Rereading it years later, it still touches me.

Coffee Will Make You Black, the classic coming-of-age novel by acclaimed author April Sinclair, follows Jean “Stevie” Stevenson as a teen growing up late 1960s Chicago. Back then, times were truly a-changing: black folks were still known as colored, but were slowly beginning to embrace the mantra “Black is beautiful.” It was an era where parents wouldn’t let their children drink coffee for fear it would darken their skin color. Social unrest and the civil rights movement were in full force. Born to working poor parents—her mother a bank teller, her father a janitor—Stevie, as she’s affectionately known, is just a black girl is trying to make her way through adolescence in one piece.

At the novel’s beginning, Stevie is 11 and a half and in the sixth grade. She’s in that awkward stage, flat-chested and taller than most of her male classmates. Her skin is the color of Cracker Jacks, but “most Negroes didn’t get excited over folks who were darker than a paper bag.

Stevie’s only desire is to be popular, to hang with Carla, the girl everyone adores. She finally gets her wish when, after an altercation, the two become fast friends. Carla’s a lot faster than Stevie and teaches her a lot about life.

The novel traces Stevie’s five years of her life, from first crushes to first kisses to first love. She learns a lot about herself through her friendships and her family, all while trying to pave her way in a racially-conscious time. But Stevie does make a white friend in Nurse Horne, one of the few Caucasian faculty members at her predominately black school. Nurse Horne believes in her and tells her she can become anything she puts her mind to. She also lets Stevie know it’s ok to be “funny,” to embrace her blossoming sexuality.

Written with great heart and down-home humor, Sinclair’s debut novel sizzles and makes a bold statement about being black and being yourself. Coffee has a fresh voice and takes you back to being young and trying find your way in this world. Sinclair has crafted a novel that 10 years later, still resonates with the little black girl in all of us.

Reviewed December 2005