Tag Archive | human rights

Payback (fiction)

There are laws against forced marriage in England.
But if Halima returns to Pakistan with the family for her brother’s wedding…

On this World Wednesday, we see today’s England through the eyes of a young teen girl who emigrates to London from rural Pakistan with her family.

There, dusty roads and the rules of village elders. Here, motorcars and subways, small enclaves of immigrants clustered together against the big city, speaking their native languages in neighborhood shops.

There, all marriages are arranged by family. Here, young men and women meet people outside their clan, outside their region, outside their religion.

Halima is not trying to rebel for the sake of rebellion, but she does want the opportunity to choose a Muslim husband on her own, not be promised to someone far away as mere repayment of a debt.

Rosemary Wells’ excels at putting real-life situations at the heart of her books – grab Payback today at your local library or independent bookstore and read another story behind the headlines.
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Book info: Payback / Rosemary Hayes. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009. [author’s website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: When Halima’s father whisks their family from rural Pakistan to London, she worries – will he truly allow her to finish school there before arranging a marriage? In the village, he’s an important landowner who has worked overseas for years to send money back home; in London, he’s just another immigrant laborer who speaks English poorly and clings to old customs.

It’s difficult, going to middle school understanding so little English – if only Ammi had allowed Halima and her older sister to watch the village leader’s satellite television to hear the language! Their brothers had moved to London earlier with Baba, so they know the language and the subway and everything.

Thankfully, there are other Pakistani girls at her school and teachers who patiently help all the immigrating students learn English. Meeting boisterous red-headed Kate at high school helps Halima bloom, as the friends join the debate society and try to understand each other’s world.

But things aren’t smooth at home, as Baba continues to control his sons’ lives, as Ammi counts on her daughters as translators, as the parents begin to arrange marriages as if the family was still in Pakistan.

When Halima finds out that she was promised in marriage years ago by Baba to settle a debt, she decides that her future belongs to her. Can she really leave her family? Can she run far enough away to escape their control? How far will her Baba’s sense of family honor push him to find her?

Halima’s struggle to honor her Muslim heritage while continuing her education is based on a true story of forced marriage and kidnapping in England today. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (book review) – cyberCinderella, human prince, true love?


As a plague rumbles across the Earth,
the Lunars’ queen plans conquest.
Can one teenage cyborg-human make a difference?

On this Future Friday, we get a new look at an old story as Marissa Meyer takes Cinderella’s tale into the celebrations commemorating the 124th anniversary of the end of World War IV (yep, more World Wars). Damaged body parts can be replaced with cybernetic-mechanical ones – although most full humans consider cyborgs to be lesser-class citizens. Across the earth, letumosis plague fells rich and poor, young and old, as scientists race to find a cure for the Blue Fever.

Those humans who colonized the Moon centuries ago are Lunars now and have developed mysterious powers. The Lunar queen wants to expand her kingdom, but needs an heir related by blood. Her relentless messages asking for an alliance with Prince Kai’s realm escalate into a personal visit to New Beijing’s palace. Can the Earthers resist her mind powers?

Hurry to your local indie bookstore to get the first book in The Lunar Chronicles series – Cinder will be published on January 3, 2012. In the meantime, you can listen to chapter one of the audiobook version free, and read the prequel story “Glitches” on Tor Books’ website now.

We’ll have to wait for the sequels, of course: Scarlet in 2013 (based on Red Riding Hood), Cress in 2014 (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).
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Book info: Cinder (Book One of The Lunar Chronicles)/ Marissa Meyer. Feiwel and Friends, 2012. [author’s website] [author’s blog] [publisher site] [fan-made book trailer]

My Book Talk:When the prince brings his android for repair, Cinder wonders if he suspects that she’s a cyborg. She’s the best mechanic in New Beijing, but must avoid public notice so she can keep her job. Otherwise, her stepmother Adri will sell her to doctors testing plague cures on cyborg teen girls.

Up on the Moon, the Lunars under Queen Levana’s mind control never catch the fatal letumosis. The ruthless Queen continues to hammer at the Eastern Commonwealth for an alliance by marriage, even as its King suffers with the plague’s agonies. Peony also falls ill with letumosis, and Adri blames Cinder for her stepsister’s illness.

If Prince Kai chooses an Earthen bride at the Spring Festival Ball – that would stop the Queen’s plans of conquest. Every young woman in the city prepares her gown for the ball – except Cinder. Her stepmother removes her mechanical foot and turns her over to the research lab; no cyborg has ever come back out.

Queen Levana is coming to New Beijing – in person! Will she be able to control every Earther mind? Can Prince Kai find a way to keep their kingdom free? Will Cinder escape the research lab? Why can’t she remember anything before the accident that led to her body being repaired with mechanical cyborg parts?

This fascinating retelling of the Cinderella tale is the first book of the Lunar Chronicles series, with many secrets underlying the familiar story. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Brother’s Shadow (fiction)

To keep your family alive…
would you lie?
would you cheat?
would you steal?

Germany’s people go to sleep hungry in 1918, as young men and old men go to fight in the Great War. Kaiser Wilhelm assures them that the war is almost won – his lies do not fill empty bellies or heal maimed soldiers.

Moritz does all he can to support his mother, sister, and grandmother with his older brother Hans still fighting in the trenches, their father dead in the war. What about his dreams of becoming a writer?

We stand in the ration lines with Hedwig, hear the radical speeches at secret meetings, and see protesters cut down by government police as Moritz struggles to make sense of his world. Schroder, author of Saraswati’s Way (review), accurately portrays defeated Germany as the seeds of its future actions toward Jews and the rest of the world are planted in the bitterness of the War’s closing days.
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Book info: My Brother’s Shadow / Monika Schroeder. Frances Foster Books/FSG, 2011. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Moritz knows he’s lucky to work at the printers – Berlin in 1918 is a place of hunger and desperation. Older brother Hans is now fighting on the Western Front, leaving the 16-year-old as head of their household; Father died at Verdun in the early days of this Great War.

His mother and sister trudge home day after day, reeking of chemicals from the munitions factory, chilled to the bone from standing in ration lines that shortchange them on food. The British have successfully blockaded all German ports for 4 years now.

The Kaiser says that Germany is winning the war, but secret meetings of the social democrats call for public demonstrations to end the fighting. Moritz discovers that his mother not only attends these forbidden meetings, but is a leader in the anti-war movement, now hunted by the police.

Desperate to feed his family, Moritz is pulled into his brother’s old gang of thieves, stealing from rich men’s brimming pantries and bakers’ dwindling supplies of chalk-tainted flour. He meets a young lady in an unfamiliar neighborhood and wonders if there will ever be a peaceful time to discuss books with Rebecca Cohen.

A letter in unfamiliar handwriting arrives – Hans has been wounded badly. Will he survive? Will the Kaiser really agree to an Armistice to end the war? Can mother and Hedwig stay safe in the protest marches? Revolution? Is more fighting the answer to everything?

This compelling story takes readers into Germany’s dark times during the closing months of World War I, when anti-Semitism began to take root and the massive reparations demanded by the Allies would cripple the Germany economy for decades. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Zahra’s Paradise (fiction)

Fraudulent elections.
Violence against protesters.
Hospitals invaded by the Revolutionary Guard.

World Wednesday takes us to Iran in the bloody days following the June 2009 elections which were manipulated by the powerful Supreme Guardian Council. Hundreds of thousands of students descended on Freedom Square in Tehran to demonstrate – many never returned home.

This unflinching graphic novel began as a webcomic about an anonymous Iranian blogger attempting to let the outside world know how Iranians felt about the election results. His family’s search for Mahdi represents all the missing students and the agonies suffered by their families while searching for them. Two chapters are still available on the book’s website with translations in ten languages.

Amir and Khalil also include information on the Omid Memorial, “hope” in Persian, which collects the names and stories of those who have perished in Iran while standing up for human rights since the 1979 Khomeini revolution.

Strong feelings, unfettered language, detailed black and white art – Zahra’s Paradise is not for the faint of heart, but is a call for human rights and freedom.
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Book info: Zahra’s Paradise / written by Amir; artwork by Khalil. First Second, 2011. [book website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Iran, summer 2009 – students protest against rigged elections, and Alavi’s brother doesn’t come home. It makes no sense; Mehdi was studying for his final exams so he wasn’t out partying. As Alavi and his mother search Tehran’s hospitals in this graphic novel, their despair deepens – is Mehdi one the many who have disappeared into Evin Prison, that horror of abuse and degradation?

Alavi prints up missing person posters with Mehdi’s picture, meeting a sympathetic copy shop owner near the university and a beautiful woman who reminds him of well-respected Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. In 2003, Zahra was taken into Evin Prison for questioning and came out in a coffin. Chief Justice Mortazavi said she had tripped; an autopsy showed that she had been tortured and raped.

Swirling connections of corrupt officials and powerful politicians continue to block every avenue that the Alavis pursue in search of Mehdi. The few people who dare to help them are well aware of the risks involved, but what decent person wants another dead son dumped into an unmarked grave in Lot 309? Ah, Zahra’s Paradise, the cemetery named for the wife of the Prophet, has a growing hidden section that no one publicly mentions.

This intense graphic novel about struggle, power, and loss is a brutal testimony to the thousands of Iranians who asked for free elections and were silenced. The closing pages of the book contain their names, page after page in the smallest readable font, as part of the Omid Memorial, so that they may not be forgotten, even though their final resting places be unknown. It is no wonder that the author and artist published this compelling story using only fictitious first names.

Now is the Time for Running, by Michael Williams (fiction) – soccer, escape, survival

book cover of Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams published by Little BrownWorld Wednesday, and time to see what’s happening right now, the reality that doesn’t always make news headlines.

School, soccer, and time with friends – that’s what Deo’s life in Zimbabwe should be like. But as in too many places in the world, powerful forces take away his teenage dreams, take away his family, take away his future.

It’s up to Deo to help his older brother survive, as they avoid soldiers, wild animals, brutal prejudice, and the gangs of the big city. South African author Michael Williams shows us how hope tries to survive in the face of dire adversity – you won’t want to miss this book!
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Book info: Now is the Time for Running / Michael Williams. Little Brown, 2011. [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk: The soldiers didn’t care that the homemade soccer ball was Deo’s prized possession. They didn’t care that Deo’s village was hungry. They didn’t plan to leave anyone alive to complain…

Suddenly Deo and his older brother Innocent are on the run through the scrublands of Zimbabwe, fleeing the President’s soldiers – the President who fought for liberation from foreign rulers, like Grandfather did. It’s up to Deo to keep mentally disabled Innocent safe as they seek help from friends in Bikita, then trek onward toward the border, trying to find their father who was away when the soldiers came.

The dangers of crossing the river into South Africa, crossing the wild lands of the lions and hyenas, finding a place to hide in the city that wants no more refugees – how much can one teenager do?

Will Deo ever be able to just play soccer again? Or return to school? Or find a way out of the grim shanties and shadows to a place with soap and water so that Innocent can wash up and be happy again? Can he escape gangs and drugs and hatred all around him?

A compelling story based on the real lives of too many refugees in Africa, Now is the Time for Running starts in a faraway place and takes our hearts and minds even further. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

For the Win (fiction)

Quick! Which of these is fictional (not real):
a) Online game playing as prison punishment?
b) online gamers forming a trade union?
c) Gold farming?

If you said (b), then you win! Cory Doctorow’s newest book delves into the world of gold farming, where some teens play online games to make a tiny bit of money to survive, not for fun. When they try to form a union so they can keep part of the “gold” that they win online instead of turning it all over to their bosses, both big business and their governments get angrily and mightily involved to protect their economic interests.

Make no mistake – in places where labor is cheaper than technology, real people are being forced into gold farming yet earning hardly anything, right this minute (like the Chinese prisoners noted above). And now scripted ‘bots can be set loose to play a low-level character on auto-pilot, earning a little gold, then repeating – lots of bots can equal a fair amount of pocket change, along with the risk of being discovered and banned from the game.

If you want to read the WHOLE book online, go here with Cory’s blessing. Yes, the author wants you to read his book online for FREE. That’s because Cory knows you’ll want to buy a copy so you can reread it, share it, and even remix it – yep, Creative Commons License. The guy is a genius! (seriously! I’ve read all his short stories and books online, then gone on to get the print books)

On World Wednesday, this fast-moving story takes you to China, India, Singapore, and the United States – who will really win?
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Book info: For the Win / Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen, 2010. [author’s website] [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Playing games online all day, every day sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But for young people packed into smoky internet cafes in Singapore, Shenzen, and Mumbai, it’s a matter of survival.

People have discovered how to turn online “gold coins” and “magic gems” into real money, so the biggest online game worlds have larger economies than many nations, and youngsters in less-developed countries are recruited as “gold farmers,” playing online in teams and turning over their winnings to the bosses who hold their return-home tickets.

But what if the gold farmers organized, banded together for better working conditions? How does a kid from LA wind up in China to help the gold farmers unionize? And what happens when the big businesses who own the big online worlds strike back?

Meet young teens in China, India, and Malaysia who work as gold farmers to feed their families, who face violence from police and rival bosses when they’d rather go to school, who risk their lives to make a difference. This page-turner looks big, but reads fast, a techno-thriller that could happen tomorrow or might be happening today! 480 pages (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Briar Rose (fiction)

Shh… Sneak-in Saturday has a double meaning today, as we consider an adult book that snuck itself into teens’ hearts and then snuck onto numerous award lists before I could blog about it.

Originally written as a novel for adults, Briar Rose won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 1993, but gathered such a following among older teen readers that it was re-released as a Tor Teen paperback in 2002.

Memories of less-often told stories of the Holocaust spill into the present day as Becca tries to carry out her grandmother’s last wishes on a trek to Poland that becomes a heart-wrenching journey into the hellish days of World War II.

A strong, faithful book that reminds us that history’s headlines are not the only important stories.
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Book info: Briar Rose / Jane Yolen. Macmillan/Tor Teen, 2002. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Becca always loved her grandmother’s story about Briar Rose, no matter how many times Gemma told it to her and her sisters. The princess, the black-booted witch’s curse, the mist that covered the kingdom and made everyone sleep for a hundred years… not the same Sleeping Beauty story that you heard or read in books.

Years later, grown-up Rebecca promises her elderly grandmother that she will find out the rest of the story. Upon Gemma’s death, she inherits a small box of photos and papers – clues to the past and the rest of the Briar Rose story that journalist Rebecca must uncover.

From research to refugee camp, Becca traces Gemma’s mysterious arrival in the United States from Europe in the closing days of World War II. The path leads back to a Nazi extermination camp in Poland, not a concentration camp, but a place so deadly that only 4 men ever escaped… and no women ever left it alive.

Why does Gemma’s paperwork say that she came from that place of death? Is she the princess of Briar Rose? How can Becca find her family’s roots when no one in Chelmno will talk about the camp?

A powerful retelling of Sleeping Beauty that explores the brutal depths of the Holocaust. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Annexed (fiction)

Anne Frank and the Annex – so many have read her story through her diary. Radio messages from the Dutch officials exiled in London during World War II reminded those who remained in the Netherlands that their diaries and memoirs would be testaments to the Nazis’ atrocities. Anne knew this as she wrote, always striving to be “a writer” and telling the tales of hope and deprivation and worry that circled and recircled in the Annex.

So hearing Peter’s voice brings more to the story, like looking at a familiar statue from another angle gives us a different perspective. Not everyone has been pleased with this alternate view of the Annex, but Dogar’s comments on the controversy reveal that she wrote Annexed because she and her daughter wondered what happened after the Diary ended, not to rewrite Anne’s history.

A gripping story well worth reading (with hankie in hand).
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Book info: Annexed / Sharon Dogar. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Peter walks slowly, savoring the sun and wind before he enters the Annex. Who knows how long the Franks and his family will stay there, Jews escaping the Nazis in Holland by going into hiding?

Yes, those Franks. This is Peter’s side of the struggle for survival chronicled in The Diary of Anne Frank, as the young man gives up his first romance, his training, his future, just trying to stay alive day by day. Oh, the story was whispered in Amsterdam that both families had fled, far from the ominous army trucks which loaded up in Jewish neighborhoods and returned to the city – empty.

Peter longs for his woodworking tools, not the books that Anne and Margot seem to live in. How appropriate that a bookcase covers the hidden door into the Annex! How difficult it must have been for others to bring food to those in the Annex when there was little to find.

As time passes, books become more appealing to Peter… as does Anne, who is no longer the child who entered the Annex. Anne – who writes to tell the truth, who writes as a testimony against the cruelty of the Nazis.

We know that this saga does not end well. Peter’s tale continues on the horrific train journey out of the city, to the brutalities of the prison camp called Auschwitz. Annexed is a powerful story for mature readers, no less real because it uses the voice of fiction. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Journey of Dreams (fiction)

Let’s go to Central America for World Wednesday, where the designs of Guatemalan huipiles tell stories, woven into the cloth, strand by strand, using a backstrap loom. It would take many weeks for Tomasa or her mother to weave enough cloth for an entire skirt or blouse.

Tomasa tells her story as she would weave a huipil, strand by strand, row by row, along the jungle paths and strange city streets of their journey. Guatemala’s long civil war was at its height in 1984, when thousands of Native Mayan families like hers fled from their land as soldiers destroyed their villages. Many thousands more were killed in the government’s “scorched earth” campaign – it was a bitter time.

Questions about refugees or immigrants often have no easy answers, but hearing the stories of others’ lives can help us understand how their world is different and perhaps show us ways to make life better for others.
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Book info: Journey of Dreams / Marge Pellegrino. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009. [author’s website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: As she and her mother weave, Tomasa hears the helicopters carrying soldiers. As they wash clothes at the river, she worries aloud about the planes spraying poisons, trying to force people from their small farms. Stones are thrown at their house, wrapped with notes threatening them to keep quiet about the planes and the pesticides.

Maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight, the army will come for the older schoolboys, like her brother Carlos, to make them soldiers against the rebels who are trying to save their land, to make them shoot at their neighbors.

Mama and Carlos slip away one night, escaping to the north. Soon, Papa decides it is too dangerous for the rest of the family to stay, and they flee in the darkness, just ahead of the soldiers who burn the crops, bulldoze down the houses, try to erase their village from the map of Guatemala.

Tomasa helps Papa lead her little brother and baby sister through the jungle, across rivers, and even into cities, looking for Mama and Carlos. When sanctuary workers locate them in the United States, the journey becomes even longer and more perilous.

Can the family get through Mexico to find Mama and Carlos? Will they die crossing the borders, as so many refugees have? Who can hear Tomasa’s dreams of running, of friends left behind in the ruined village?

Tomasa weaves into her huipiles many symbols from the Qui’che legends that Papa retells, the faith of the Church, and the love of her family in this compelling look at the Central American refugee experience, as seen through a 12 year old’s eyes. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.