Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Most Serendipitous Book Pairing Experience

I read a lot of books.

At the end of my school year as testing season took hold I found myself picking up two great books – Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton and, Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina.

I picked up both books for entirely different reasons. Full Cicada Moon is written in verse, my all all-time favorite way to take in a story. Burn Baby Burn is an audio book by one of my all-time favorite authors.

I believed I was reading and listening to two different stories. And I was…..but I wasn’t. These books became a super cool serendipitous book pairing and experience for me. And, like I said…I read a lot of books. This doesn’t happen often. I will attempt to explain...

When I listen to a book I feel the story more intensely than when I read it on a page or a tablet. I cannot skim to the good parts or page back to find a line or a paragraph that really got into me. When I began Medina’s Burn Baby Burn I was completely entranced first by the seventies setting. In 1977 I was, ahem, ten years old….a preteen with big eyes and ears that wanted more than anything to be in the adult world.

Thank goodness I had a few years to grow into myself. But, that summer was the summer of Son of Sam…and fires in New York City and feminism and growing pains for the US. In Burn Baby Burn, main character Nora took me back in time. I found myself laughing out loud when Nora and her best friend Kathleen discuss being feminist while debating the benefits of Prell v. Wella Balsam shampoo all in the same breath. Just the mention of those fragrances took me right back to the time.

And, I was a budding news junkie. My Dad had us watch Walter Cronkite in the evenings…and listen to talk radio in the car by day. I remember hearing about Son of Sam—being creeped out by the thought of it. There are serious threads throughout the fun that makes this novel more than just a fun read.  Medina’s plot recreates the paralyzing fear reported by the media covering a serial killer against the tumultuous political, social and economic backdrop of the times.
Oh, and there is disco (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1O9VAAzTliQ0. 

You got it, baby….the music that Nora and Kathleen listen to the summer they turn eighteen and discover serious boyfriends in NYC keeps the beat throughout the novel. Nora is Cuban-American…in a single parent home with a sibling that is abusive on multiple levels. A neighbor, Stiller, is a card-carrying feminist with the bumper sticker and buttons to prove it. The boyfriend is Puerto Rican…and goes by an Anglo name. This is not an easy time for a young woman to set her own course. But that is Nora’s journey and challenge.

Medina writes with heart and courage and love. I can imagine her writing with both laughter and tears as this fabulous story came together under her fingertips. I will not be at all surprised with this historical fiction (oh, gawd----the seventies are now ancient) starts picking up 2016 awards. And, the narrator in the audible version is fantastic! Here is a youtube trailer for the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co8NS-9v6Bk

At first glance, Full Cicada Moon is a completely different story. It’s the story of junior-high student Mimi Oliver in 1969-1970. Mimi, from sunny California and daughter of a Japanese woman and
African- American man, move to Vermont where her father has taken a position as a professor at an unnamed university.

Mimi has a journey that includes simultaneously attempting to fit into small town Vermont while being different from everyone around her. She must figure out who she is lest it is determined by the neighbors and classmates around her that aren’t familiar with the cultures of either her mother or father.

Mimi has big dreams. She wants to touch the moon--literally. She and neighbor-friend Timothy watch coverage of the moon landing in 1969. A life of science and technology and moon landings is what Mimi dreams of. However, her science project in the school competition is sabotaged, kids ignore her new best girlfriend’s mother is from Georgia….a place where friendships between blacks and whites let alone biracial kids is not typical.

So, why do I see this books as a serendipitous book pairing experience?

From the simple…..both Nora and Mimi are strikingly strong in their desire to work toward dreams. They both have a love of woodshops and power tools that make them quirky and yet pioneering young women for their times. They are both women of color in worlds that deem them other. Mimi and Nora are at different stages of life and problem solve in their unique ways…but both draw strength from their roots while stretching their wings. I adore both characters and their journeys. Both novels gave me a deeper appreciation for the unnamed women of my past that paved the way for Nora, for Mimi, for me….for my daughters.

I highly recommend Burn Baby Burn for older teens that are ready to understand the complexities of dating including the notion that birth control was a revolutionary idea for the times. Full Cicada Moon is a perfect book for middle school students finding their way into who they are as people. Both are perfect historical novels for adults that enjoy as mirrors to our not so distant pasts.
Happy Reading

Hilton, Marilyn Full Cicada Moon. New York: Dial, 2015. Print.

Medina, Meg. "Burn Baby Burn." Audible.com. Candlewick on Brilliance Audio, 8 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 June 2016

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