Category Archives: Advance Reading Copy

bright lines by tanwi nandini islam

brightlinesIn a week, on August 11, 2015, a fantastic book entitled Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam will be released. This is hand’s down the best book I’ve ever received as an Advance Reader’s Copy from the First to Read program. If you know what’s good for you, you will snatch it up/request it from your local library instantly! Bright Lines features many dynamic characters who are all fully fleshed out — each of the characters all exist with their own qualities and back stories and aren’t simply devices to advance the plot, which unfortunately has been rare for me to find in books at times.

The novel shifts perspectives throughout the story from the patriarch of a family, Anwar, to his biological daughter, Charu, to his adopted child, El, who is the orphaned child of the patriarch’s deceased brother-in-law. Each of these characters struggle through their own individual turmoil and to find themselves, proving that a “coming of age” experience can occur even when you’ve passed middle age as it does for Anwar.

The novel takes place about ten years ago in Brooklyn, specifically an area that I spend a lot of time in today. This shared geography definitely added to my enjoyment of Bright Lines, but I think the setting is so well described that any reader will be able to easily imagine the environment where the characters reside. These illustrative descriptions of the setting continue when the novel shifts momentarily to Bangladesh, both when Anwar reflects on his youth in the country and when the family chooses to return for a family vacation.

Anwar owns an apothecary and isn’t always present in his own life and his family’s dilemmas because he spends a lot of time toking up. At times, his herbal habit influences him to be a bad father and spouse. He ultimately attempts to remedy his mentally and morally absent behavior, but the reader is left to decide if it’s too little to late. Charu, Anwar’s teenage daughter, experiences the most familiar “coming of age” story that I’ve read before, but Nandini still writes Charu’s story in an interesting way.

The journey I was most engrossed with was El’s, Anwar’s adopted child, who moves from their home country of Bangladesh to America. El explores their sexuality, gender identity, and place within their adopted family, each of which is beautifully detailed by the extremely talented Nandini. None of El’s story  seems rushed or superficial and I felt like I was authentically accompanying El on their self-discovery.

Please, please, please read this book! Each of the stories are radically different and are beautifully interwoven. Plus, as a reader, you’ll get to enjoy exploring Brooklyn and Bangladesh with Nandini’s characters. 

If you’re in the Brooklyn area, come join me at Greenlight Bookstore on the book’s release date for a conversation between the author and Kiese Laymon. More details can be found by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

Expected Publication Date: 11 August 2015 by Penguin Books. Format: Ebook.

Author: Tanwi Nandini Islam web/@twitter/instagram

undocumented: a dominican boy’s odyssey from a homeless shelter to the ivy league by dan-el padilla peralta

undocumented by dan-el padilla peraltaUndocumented is a fantastic memoir that depicts one person’s journey as an undocumented person living in America. When Dan-El Padilla Peralta is a young child, he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his family. His family didn’t acquire US citizen documentation and soon their travel papers expired and he and his mother were eventually living in America illegally. Dan-El beautifully articulates the struggles that he encounters because he doesn’t have documentation – his mother isn’t able to legally work so they had to move into a shelter when Dan-El is young and move frequently until they are able to find a more stable home thanks to public housing; he isn’t able to “officially” work (on paper at least) when he is offered a mentorship job when he’s in high school; he has no idea how to apply to college and if he will even be allowed to attend; and more struggles that are too numerous to list (and would also spoil some of his life story if I included them here).

It is so, so important that stories like Padilla’s are captured and made available to the public. Moving to the US and overstaying your initial papers and eventually living in America illegally is more common than a lot of people think. You may even have someone in your life who is undocumented and you have no idea. With Padilla’s story of his life, he’s able to share his experience with those who may not be aware of the realities that face being undocumented in the US, and also provide comfort to others who have lived those experiences. I talked about this book with my friend who was undocumented for most of his youth and he said that it would have been incredibly reassuring to know a book like Undocumented existed because for a long time, he didn’t know anyone else outside of his family who was undocumented. He told me that if he had been able to read about someone who shared his experience in some way, he wouldn’t have felt so isolated about his status and his situation.

That said, Padilla is quick to remind readers that he doesn’t have the answers for someone in similar situations to him. He was able to acquire a lot of well-placed connections and a valuable support system based on his specific circumstances, which may not be widely available to everyone. His book isn’t about teaching others specifically how to navigate their own situation, but purely serves to detail his own life experiences.

After the acknowledgments section of the book, there is a glossary of Spanish terms used throughout the text. Since I had an e-galley of this book, I didn’t notice this until I had finished reading. There are hardly ever full sentences in Spanish within the book, and most of the Spanish terms are sprinkled into the text occasionally in a way that isn’t distracting if you don’t know Spanish. Thus, a glossary wasn’t necessary to me, but some could find it helpful.

The only thing I would have changed about the memoir is the epilogue – it felt awkward to read and seemed as if it was hastily strung together. It’s very vague about how many years had lapsed between the epilogue and the last chapter of the book and if there had been any development with one of the major plot lines of the book. I also wish there had been a greater call to action at the end of the book; Padilla speaks extensively about the DREAM Act and I felt like the epilogue could have included a request for readers to contact their local representatives about this bill or listed activism groups that they could either directly be involved with or contribute to if they desired. However, if you couldn’t tell from the rest of this glowing review, I definitely recommend reading this book. It’s well written and represents a perspective that I haven’t read before. If you’ve read books that cover similar territory, please recommend them to me!

If you somehow stumbled across this review because you’re in high school and are wondering how you can ever go to college if you’re undocumented, my friend, who was in a similar situation to you, applied to universities via QuestBridge, which is a service dedicated to helping low-income students apply to college. You do not have to report a Social Security number if you apply to college this way. Good luck as you navigate this very complicated process!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

There’s currently a giveaway for this book for readers residing in the US on GoodReads through June 22, 2015.

Expected Publication Date: 28 July 2015 by Penguin Press.

Author: Dan-El Padilla Peralta Publisher Page

local girls by caroline zancan

Local GirlsIf I had read Local Girls during winter, I probably would have given it 3 stars and I’m not sure how to articulate why, as I feel the warm rays of sunshine on my back as I type this, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars because the mood matches the season.

This book follows the stories of four nineteen year old girls and interweaves the stories of their individual and shared lives with the events that take place on one summer evening when they’re hanging out at their usual dive bar and someone (a celebrity) unexpectedly joins them. The way each vignette, peering into each of their character’s lives, are strung together is reminiscent of how a person would tell you their own life story, stopping and pausing along the way to fill in gaps that they accidentally made earlier as they were trying to tell you the most complete story possible. The following quote, something one of the girls says toward the end of the book, also adequately summarizes the method of vignette-style storytelling that occurs within the novel,

“the kind of thing that stuck with you and drifted back up in the middle of other, unrelated thoughts and conversations long after you heard it, sometimes for no reason that you could think of when you tried.”

For anyone who has grown up with our celebrity-obsessed culture, I’m sure you’ve daydreamed about a celebrity seamlessly joining in on your fun one night, which is exactly what happens to this group of friends. They all, for the most part, try to play it cool, just as you imagine yourself doing if a celebrity were to infiltrate your friend group on a night out on the town. This is the main event that counters the vignettes of the past.

Some reviewers have criticized Local Girls because they found it difficult to tell the characters apart – I think the similarity of the characters is partly intentional because most of the friend groups I knew in high school were largely indistinguishable to outsiders from the individuals who made them up… and sometimes even indistinguishable even to those who were in them. This book takes place as the girls are figuring out that they aren’t as in sync as they used to believe they were and they’re on the verge of going their separate ways to “discover” themselves. However, the majority of them don’t go to college to discover themselves as most YA books depict and maybe that’s why this novel feels odd to some readers. The natural untangling of the friend group is very slow-paced, as it normally is when these things happen in real life, and as happened to my own high school friend group after we graduated. This novel is definitely a slow burn, but it perfectly captured some very real moments that I experienced with my own friends as we went our separate ways that I haven’t seen in other contemporary novels lately. The plot mostly revolves around their, for the most part, very normal lives, which may not be for everyone, especially if you’re trying to mentally depart to an exotic place with a summer read.

Side note: One of the characters in Local Girls mentioned A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf in a beautiful way which caused me to instantly add it to me TBR pile as I’ve never read any of her works. Are there other Virginia Woolf related things I should read soon?

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

If you live in Canada, you can enter to win a copy of Local Girls by Caroline Zancan on Goodreads until 30 May 2015! If we’re not friends on Goodreads yet, add me 🙂 I’d love to get updates on what you’re reading!

Expected Publication Date: 30 June 2015 by Riverhead Books. Format: Ebook from Penguin First to Read.

Author: Caroline Zancan @twitter

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences by Alexandra Petri

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reading Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin. 

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences by Alexandra Petri

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences by Alexandra Petri

Lately, the book market has been saturated by fun, humorous, and self-deprecating memoirs written by young women. Compared to all the similar memoirs I’ve read, Alexandra Petri manages to write her version in a more entertaining and unique way.

The main reason that Petri’s book stands out also makes parts of her book inaccessible: she dives deep. Petri was the nerdy child that a lot of bookworms tend to be and identify with, but the beauty of nerdiness is that you dive so deep into your particular subject that sometimes the only people who can talk to you (read: stomach you) are your fellow specific nerds. This means that when Petri spends an entire essay detailing one sect of her nerdiness, you can feel left out if you’re not familiar with the topic being discussed. However, when Petri discusses a nerdiness you experienced, reading the essay feels like curling up with a cozy blanket and chatting with your best friend on the couch for hours.

Overall A Field Guide to Awkward Silences is a pretty enjoyable read as long as you skip the essays that you feel don’t jive with your own particular brand of nerdiness or humor. Unfortunately, I’m one of those annoying people who feel like they need to read every chapter, even within a set of unrelated essays, and force myself to slog through things that don’t really interest me. If I hadn’t done this, I probably would have enjoyed Petri’s memoir more than I ultimately did. The essays I enjoyed the most were “Ten General Rules”, “How to Join a Cult, by Mistake, on a Tuesday in Fifty-Seven Easy Steps”, “Trivial Pursuit”, “We Are Not a Muse”, “The Dog in the Manger”, and “So Far, So Good.”

If you’re interested in finding out what you think of A Field Guide to Awkward Silences before its release date, the publisher is currently hosting a giveaway on Goodreads. They’re giving away 150 copies so you have a decent chance of being selected if you reside in the US! You can enter the giveaway until 15 May 2015.

Publication date: 2 June 2015 (expected) by New American Library (NAL). Format: Ebook, Advance Reading Copy

Author: Alexandra Petri @twitter/column/facebook