Blog

Mary P.

This Tender Land

In Minnesota during the Great Depression, the Lincoln School was tasked with "re-educating" Native American children and erasing their culture. Odie and his brother Albert escape the school alongside little Emmy and Mose, all of them orphans. The four children begin their journey in a canoe and set out for St. Louis, where Odie and Albert hope to find their aunt and form a family—but they'll have to put their lives on the line and offer up their souls for salvation first.

Along the way, the kids meet a cast of characters that enrich their travels and strengthen the unifying thread of love and hope throughout the story. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger has touches of Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath and would be an ideal read for someone looking for a new book after finishing Where the Crawdads Sing.

Catherine T.

The Stationery Shop

Set in 1950s Tehran, this ill-fated love story features teenagers Roya and Bahman. Roya's favorite place is Mr. Fakhri's stationary shop and she goes there every Tuesday after school to indulge her love of novels, poetry, and everything stationery. It is here that she meets Bahman, a young political activist and, despite parental disapproval, class differences, and Iran's political unrest, their love blossoms.

The story actually begins 60 years later in Boston. Raya has spent her adult life in America as an immigrant, always wondering why the love of her life never showed up to their rendezvous in a city square amidst a violent coup. Out of the blue, she discovers that Bahman is a resident in a nursing home nearby. Will visiting him finally give her the answer? Has their love lasted a lifetime?

I really enjoyed this romantic tale by Marjan Kamali, who writes very evocatively of the 1950s streets of Tehran. Her descriptions of Persian food had me looking up recipes, especially for the cooling melon ice that she mentions multiple times in The Stationery Shop (2019). I went out and bought some cantaloupe the next day and it was just as refreshing as I imagined!



Catherine T.

The Night Tiger

Set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, The Night Tiger follows the adventures of several local children amidst a spate of mysterious deaths, which some people are attributing to the mythical weretiger.

Ren, an 11-year-old house boy, is on a mission to find the severed finger of his recently deceased master, an old British doctor. He needs to bury the finger with the doctor's body before the 49th day after death to ensure the doctor's soul will be at peace.

His story merges with that of Ji Lin, a young girl working at a dance hall to earn extra money to pay off her mother's debts. One night while dancing with a salesman, she ends up with a mysterious item from his pocket, a preserved human finger. Her subsequent search for the owner of the finger leads her and her brother, Shin, into intrigue and danger.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (2019) interweaves the supernatural and Malaysian folklore with themes of colonialism and class and gender divides, all mixed together in an intriguing murder mystery.



Jennifer

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)

In this lyrical and leisurely novel, debut author Fatima Farheen Mirza introduces us to a Muslim Indian family gathering for a wedding. The story is nonlinear, jumping forward and backward, giving us glimpses of the siblings' childhood, their parents' initial meetings, and their post-wedding relationships.

A Place for Us is a moving story shared from multiple perspectives. This interesting narrative structure might sound challenging, but the story is not difficult to follow. Read this book when you have a chance to delve deep into a story and emotionally invest in characters.

A great pick for book clubs: discuss familial relationships and expectations, cultural heritage and traditions, and characters and their choices. 


Denise

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (2014)

There are several layers to this novel. It starts with the Rivera family, who moves to the U.S. to get help for their teenage daughter, Maribel; she suffered a traumatic brain injury in Mexico. They settle in Delaware, in an apartment complex that houses many other immigrant families from Latin American countries. They befriend the Toro family from Panama. Narration alternates between Alma, the mother of the Rivera family and Mayor Toro, a teenager who develops a close relationship with Maribel. This storyline is inspiring and heartbreaking, with engaging characters and plot twists.

The other layer provides an insightful exploration into the immigrant experience. Interspersed throughout the book are brief chapters narrated by other immigrants, who live in the same complex. They relate their experiences, including the reasons for leaving their home countries and the many struggles they endure after arriving in the US.

The Book of Unknown Americans is an eye-opening tale of the challenges and barriers people often face when coming to America with hopes and dreams for a better life. And there's a local connection—author Cristina Henriquez wrote part of the book at the Hinsdale Public Library.



Kathy

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry with a dark twist—one of the sisters happens to be a serial killer. In its darkly humorous telling, this book explores universal questions about the relationship between two sisters and how their lives intertwine in ways that can never be undone. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a character study, a love story, and a family drama all rolled into one. Oh, and given that one of the sisters can't seem to avoid murdering any man that shows interest in her, it's also a bit of a crime drama too.

This is a book about love and loyalty that asks the question: How do you choose between doing the right thing and doing what you know to be right?



Catherine T.

Golden Child by Claire Adam (2019)

In her debut novel, Claire Adam takes us on a tragic, thought-provoking journey to rural Trinidad. The Deyalsingh family struggles financially, but father, Clyde, finds it hard to accept help and feels suffocated by his wife's extended family. Their twin sons, Peter and Paul, are at the difficult age of 13. Peter is the 'golden child,' both academic and diligent, while Paul has always been deemed mentally challenged due to complications at birth.

The story revolves around the sudden disappearance of Paul when Clyde is faced with a parent's worst nightmare. Claire Adam's Golden Child is an emotional roller coaster of a book!



Katie

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017)

amerstreetFabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti and coming to live in Detroit. But when Fabiola's mother is detained in New Jersey, Fabiola is left to travel onward to her aunt and cousins's home.

I fell into the world that Ibi Zoboi created; blending an American city with Haitian Vodou. Where the average person might see a homeless man on the corner, Fabiola sees Papa Legba.

Fabiola's struggles immediately draw you into the story and when she is presented with an opportunity to help her mother by spying on her cousin's boyfriend, readers will feel for Fabiola.

It's been several months since I've listened to American Street, and I can hear Robin Miles's beautiful narration when I think of the story and the characters.

This Abe Lincoln nominee (PDF) will possibly break your heart (it did for me), and everyone should read it.

 
 
 
 
Katie

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (2017)

aminasvoiceAmina loves music and especially loves to sing. But whenever she stands on stage, words never come out. And Amina has more than just stage fright to worry about: friends, family visiting from Pakistan, and her parents have signed her for a Quran recitation competition! Can Amina find her voice in time?

Hena Khan writes a realistic, relatable character in Amina. Readers will cheer for Amina throughout the book; even when Amina makes some mistakes, she is quick to make amends.

I thought that the story was fast-paced and very engaging for readers. I had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen to Amina.

Amina’s Voice is currently on the Bluestem 2019 Nominees list for grades 3-5. Make sure to pick up a copy of our challenge log when you check out a copy in the K&T Department.

 
Jez

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark (2017)

lagomDespite living a few months of the year without sunlight, Sweden regularly appears highly on the Happiness Index. Almost everything, from their friendly, welcoming communities (which take in more refugees than any other country) to eco-friendly construction to their trademark interior decorating can be traced back to the Swedish philosophy of lagom. Roughly translating to “not too little, not too much,” lagom is all about taking life in moderation.

In Lagom, Niki Brantmark explains Swedish culture through the eyes of an adopter, discussing how to balance life in a large number of ways. You don’t need to deny yourself pleasures, nor do you need to ignore responsibilities—you just have to find the right amount of each. With tips on crafts, holidays, decoration, health, relationships, diet, and more, Lagom is the perfect whole-life introduction to living like a Swede, wherever you are.
Heather

Dash by Kirby Larson (2014)

dashI knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.
Jennifer

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (2014)

unknownamericansTold in alternating first person narratives, The Book of Unknown Americans details the experiences of multiple Latin American immigrants living in a Delaware apartment complex. Cristina Henriquez’ moving, compelling tale showcases families, communities, triumphs, and tragedies.

I loved this book – the endearing characters, the enthralling story, and the lyrical writing grabbed me, prompting me to keep frantically turning the pages, only to be disappointed when there were no more pages to turn.

For other immigrant experiences, check out our bibliography here.
Hugh

Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy (2014)

citizenscreekThis book is arranged in two parts: first about Cow Tom, born a slave and sold to a Creek Indian chief before he was 10 and then about his granddaughter, Rose who was born free. Tom gained his name while tending the tribe’s cows under the direction of his mentor, Old Turtle. Tom wanted more than living on someone else’s land, doing another’s bidding; he wanted marriage, a son, and most of all freedom. Both Old Turtle and Chief Yargee recognize Tom’s special skills with language and the Chief allows Tom to apply part of his earnings as a translator towards his and his family’s freedom.

Rose dearly loved her grandfather and desperately wanted to find her place as a respected member of the family, the tribe, and break the family curse of only girl babies. These stories show family and tribal commitment from black slaves and freedmen at a time of conflict and removal of tribes from the southeast into Oklahoma Indian Territory. In Lalita Tademy’s Citizens Creek, the reader can easily become involved with the characters from their loyalty to one another and their conversations about their problems and struggle to reach their goals.
Hugh

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (2013)

sycamorerowA very rich man (Seth) kills himself by hanging and leaves much of his estate to his black caregiver by a holographic will. Of course, Seth’s family challenges the will; a jury must determine whether Seth’s handwritten will is valid.

John Grisham’s masterful storytelling leads the reader through the trial, the families’ histories and a look at justice and redemption. This is one of Grisham’s best novels set in Clanton, Mississippi, with a street lawyer (Jake) from A Time to Kill as the principal character. Grisham teases the reader to find out why a deceased man would abandon his children and grandchildren in such a manner; how he accumulated such a fortune; and what became of his brother who is mentioned in the handwritten will. Amazing characters, afflicted with greed, stupidity, racism and drink color the story in Sycamore Row and entertain the reader as he navigates through this engaging tale. For more information, read this review in the New York Times.
Hugh

Mandarin Gate by Eliot Pattison (2012)

In this seventh of the Inspector Shan series, we have culture, politics, and a compelling mystery to keep one reading another page when it is time to turn off the light and go to sleep. In Mandarin Gate, neither the reader nor Inspector Shan (now demoted to irrigation ditch inspector) can see a reason for the terrible triple murder but can only speculate as to a possible cause. Beijing wants the crime solved without international ripples and Inspector Shan is very concerned that the recent suicide of his friend, an unregistered Tibetan monk, may have implications in the case. Readers concerned about China’s dismantlement of Tibet’s culture and religion will find much to think about while reading Eliot Pattison’s compelling novel.