readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rgz Salon: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on Girls Who Try to Help

Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann has been the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The book is in its third print run and is available for order. (Don't forget to read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)

We're honored to have Lyn here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, she reviews Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon (Simon & Schuster, 2011) and The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante (Putnam, 2011):

"In the first year of my MFA program, I wrote a YA novel about a 14-year-old girl who takes a number of risks in order to help a boy she wants as a friend. As a result of my own project, I’ve been drawn recently to novels about other tween and teen girls who also get involved in the troubled and perhaps dangerous lives of younger boys. Two of those books, Kekla Magoon’s Camo Girl and Danette Vigilante’s The Trouble with Half a Moon portray young protagonists who are, like mine, biracial or bicultural.

"Magoon’s second novel, following the acclaimed The Rock and the River, explores a 12-year-old girl’s conflict between her loyalty to her oldest friend and her one chance to become popular. Shunned by most of her classmates and teased for her vitiligo, more visible because it’s on her face and she’s biracial—African American and white—sixth grader Ella Cartwright finds companionship in Z, a white boy who lives in a fantasy world. Z used to be Ella’s neighbor and consoled her when her father died, but his life fell apart after his father abandoned the family, his house was foreclosed, and he and his mother started to sleep at the Wal-Mart where she works. When the handsome, outgoing new student Bailey—the only other black student in the class—wants to be Ella’s friend, she begins to neglect Z in favor of Bailey and his friends.

"Ella feels guilty when she pulls back from Z, and her abandonment of him sets off a spiral of events that lead him into danger and she and Bailey following in a last-ditch effort to save him. Did she, in fact, betray her oldest friend for the cool new kid? Is she responsible for what happens to Z, or are his problems beyond her ability to fix? Camo Girl addresses these questions in a way that is poignant and realistic, leaving much for the reader to think about in terms of standing up, fitting in, and our responsibility to each other.

"Vigilante’s main character, 13-year-old Dellie, is of Puerto Rican and Afro-Caribbean heritage, living in a culturally diverse housing project in Brooklyn, New York. Ever since her five-year-old brother died in an accident resulting from her negligence, Dellie has not been allowed to leave her suddenly overprotective parents’ sight. They are consumed with grief and emotionally distant. When five-year-old Corey and his irresponsible, abusive mother move downstairs, Corey fills the emotional void that Dellie’s brother’s death left. Dellie finds herself becoming increasingly involved in Corey’s precarious life at the same time as she grows more distant from her best friend and worries that a boy she likes may be attracted to a cleverer rival. Another new neighbor—an older Jamaican woman with deep spiritual roots—shows Dellie the way to help Corey, her parents, and herself.

"Pitch perfect dialogue and strong, complex characterizations made this debut novel a gripping story from the very beginning. Vigilante does a good job of creating a five-year-old boy who acts his age and reveals only enough to get what he needs without drawing too much attention to himself and provoking more abuse. Little Corey, in fact, becomes a flashpoint in the conflict between Dellie and her friend, which grows out of her friend’s relationship with a boy with whom Dellie does not get along. As in Camo Girl, the climax of The Trouble with Half a Moon comes when Dellie’s devotion to the younger boy puts her own life in danger as well as his, and she learns the limits of her love and protection." -Lyn Miller-Lachmann


Lorie Ann Grover said...

"Pitch perfect dialogue" sounds amazing. Thanks, Lyn!

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Checking back late because I was at my third MFA residency in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (from which Kekla graduated a few years ago). One of the other great things about these two books is that the covers feature girls of color rather than whitewashing or avoiding characters' faces altogether.

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