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Review: Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

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My Interest

Julie Murphy is one of the voices of this current generation. She is amazing! I loved Dumplin‘ and I loved Puddin’ the other two books in this trilogy. I also loved Ramona Blue. Julie Murphy gets high school. She understands the kids on the sidelines. (My reviews of her previous books are linked).

The Story

Like Dumplin’ and Puddin’ this book takes place in Clover City, Texas. Waylon and his twin sister Clementine (their parents, he says, “won the queer lottery”) are both gay. They go to high school with WIllowdean, Beau, Millie, Calie and the others from the previous books. Waylon is a self-proclaimed fat, gay guy who hides in the polo shirts and cargo shorts his Mom buys him. He’s spent his life trying to stay out of way of the jocks and cliques in his high school–his best friend, other than his twin sister, is the school’s nurse with her amazing collection of wigs. He adores his grandmother and loves to watch a drag queen show Fiercest of Them All. Now, a few weeks before high school graduation Waylon’s world is about to change in some amazingly good ways, but how can he ever suspect that when his sister shares a video he made of his own “just for fun” audition for Fiercest? And then there’s the Prom Court to deal with. Hold on, folks, this is a fun ride, bumpy, back roads ride–a Texas-sized back road, of course, taken at full speed in a pick-up truck named Beulah.

My Thoughts

What I love about Julie Murphy’s books is that they are not only about the gay or queer kids–they about all of those for whom high school is not fabulous–though also not necessarily unendurable. The kids in her books are smart, capable, and may even have a great plan for their life. They may take a stand. They are believable. That’s the big thing. These are not characters written by people who have no contact with kids of today.

I absolutely adored Waylon. I totally understood wanting to be invisible in high school. I loved, too, that he was becoming a man–gaining confidence, leaving boyhood behind at his own pace. He was mature in the right ways–he had not, as he put it, “gone all the way” and it didn’t bug him. He appreciates the great parents he has, he adores his grandmother, and genuinely likes being with his family. As he puts together who he wants to be–really be–even at Clover City High School, he shows the confidence a loving family gives a child. He finds his self-respect and embraces it. We don’t all do that. He finds role models for who and what he wants to be and is respectful toward them.

All of this might sound overly precious, but I assure you Julie Murphy does not do “precious” unless it’s snarky or someone’s nickname. This book was totally today, fun, and respectful to all–even to a church. That was a great surprise. Kids need to know that “all X” cannot be said about any group. I applaud her for that, especially. I sat in my driveway listening to “more” each night when I got home. I couldn’t bear to turn Waylon and Clem and and their story off.

Today I have a massive book hangover. That, to me, is the hallmark of an excellent book. Special shout out to audio performer Chris Burris who totally rocked Waylon’s story.

My favorite quote

“Nothing says high school lesbians in love like wearing each others’ combat boots.”

My Verdict

4

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy’s new book, If the Shoe Fits (not a Dumplin’ book) comes out on August 3rd and is available now for pre-order.

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Review: With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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My Interest

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Acevedo’s debut, The Poet X,  so I knew I had to read this the minute I could get my hands on it. When I saw that she was again performing the audio version, that was even better. What a great commute I had listening to this book!

The Story

Emoni Santiago nearly derailed her life by becoming a mom at the end of her freshman year in high school. But, thanks to her Puerto Rican grandmother and a lot of grit, she is about to graduate on time and with a true vocation–this young woman is a natural chef. As she navigates the new immersion elective in Spanish Cusine while coping with working and raising her daughter, Emoni finds there is more to herself than she ever imagined.

What I Loved

I loved that she found her first name a hindrance and fought with the baby’s father to name her daughter “Emma”–even though she always calls her “Baby Girl.” But even better than that was her approach to food. This book is part coming-of-age story, part Chocolate and part Like Water for Chocolate–but somehow totally original. The energy Emoni brings to her cooking is so real I could feel it. I could smell those herbs and spices and longed to taste everything.

As this is a Young Adult book, I was especially glad that she reveals she had almost no sexual experience–that she most likely became pregnant her first time. While Emoni acknowledges that she needs to work harder in school, she does do her work, she does follow rules, she does respect her Grandmother and she does not lose a lot of sleep over her father not being there. She does everything possible to be a responsible parent. Her pregnancy was not intended, but she has stepped up and learned to be a real parent.

I especially loved this scene in which a mean girl “outs” her as a parent:

“I force myself to keep smiling. I’m not ashamed of my baby. I’m not ashamed I had a baby. I’m not ashamed I’m a mother. I lift my chin higher. ‘Babygirl’s real good. She just started daycare little over a month ago. Thanks for asking.'”

This hard-earned maturity even leads her to set very conservative limits on a new relationship. That, to me, was as great as the cooking. Kids need to hear that it is ok to do that.

My Rating

Iron Chef!

Four Stars

I cannot wait for Acevedo’s third book! She is now one of my MUST READ authors!

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Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

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Thank you to Browsing For Books for bring this book to my attention.

The Story

Xiomara Batista, twin sister to brother Xavier (aka “Twin”) is growing up in Harlem under a very strict immigrant mother intent on her raising daughter in step with the manners and morals of the Dominican Republic and a very traditional view of Catholicism. X, however, is trying to obey her parents, but be a decent American teenager. She studies, does chores, but wants to date. She is in high school and that is the norm in her world. Her frustration, ready to destroy her, finds its “out” in poetry. She fills the notebook her brother gives her with her mighty words–“Metaphoric legos.”

My Thoughts

“We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.”
(The Poet X)

SLAM!! I LOVED this book! I was concerned when one blurb mentioned religion–“Here we go…” I thought. But, no! X is merely a normal teen, questioning things in a normal way. She butts up against her mother’s very traditional Catholic faith. [Yes, she does one thing that would appall very traditional Catholics, but it is not anything you’d ever immediately think of!] X works hard in school, she wants to do well.

She sets and enforces boundaries with the boy she likes out of respect both for herself and for her parents. She is not out to reject anything just to reject it. And, the Church? Interestingly, the Priest is a very good man and does his job well. This is not a tale of abuse of any kind. For once, it is not a miracle scholarship, nor a chance meeting with a celebrity nor atheletics that “saves” the teen, either. [No spoilers].

This book is SUPERB. Slam! Slam!! Slam!!!

My Experience

I have a child who also found a voice in poetry/rap lyrics. It helped so much. This quote IS my child at X’s age:

“…music videos…I fell in love with Nick Minaj, J Cole, with Drake and Kanye, with old school rappers like Jay Z and Nas and Eve. Every day I searched for new songs and it was like applying for asylum. I just needed someone to help me escape from all the silence. I just needed people saying words about all the things that hurt them. Maybe this is why Poppy quit listening to music. Because it can make your body want to rebel, to speak up and…music can become a bridge between you and a total stranger.”

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The Rapper Nas by PH 2009. Copyright protected–do not copy.

I wish this book had been around in 2009. What a better year my child would have had!

My Verdict

4.5 Stars

And get the audio for this one–it is so worth it! The author is a fabulous performer.

The Poet X: A Novel by Elizabeth Acevedo  

 

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Review: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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If your idea of YA involves vampires it’s time reacquaint yourself with the genre. Julie Murphy, like John Green, appeals to a wide array of ages. This is the third of her books that I’ve read and loved.

The Story

The Shamrocks Dance Team are THE thing in Clover City, Texas. Callie is a “legacy” Shamrock poised to compete at Nationals 20 years after her mother’s team won the same contest. Millie is a fat girl. She embraces the word “fat” having given her summers to fat camp until now. Now she wants to go to Broadcast Journalism Camp. To say that these two girls live in different worlds is an understatement. Until a prank lands them together. [Trying not to write spoilers!] Then their worlds colide, change, morph, transform, cynergize, you name it!

What I Loved

Julie Murphy writes absolutely believeable characters. I almost stopped listening–it was too real and my daughter, a one-time high school cheerleader, and her friends seemed to have shown up in this novel. Thankfully, I kept listeneing. I like that parents ARE present, aren’t totally ignored and sometimes even get a listen. I also like that consequences happen, suck and are endured. Most of all I loved seeing the characters grow, discover, test or exceed boundaries, mess-up, try a new approach, a new way of living, evaluation and keep going. These are the kids who were in and out of my house till 3 years ago, right? It sure seemed like it!

Cali and the Shamrocks expose the shallowness, sex and self-centeredness of so much of teen sports culture. But Julie Murphy manages to also show how wrong people can be about that perceived shallowness–just as wrong, in fact, as the jocks could be about the nerds, dorks and fat chicks.  High school is right up there with Marine Corps Basic Training in terms of difficulty.  Murphy’s deft hand and deeply formed characters let us see just how brutal it can be, but also how sweet it can be when it all works.

Book Club Suggestion

So make a King Ranch Casserole

pop open a Dr. Pepper and get your craft groove on while you discuss the book. Bring in high school year books. Was anyone in dance team? Get their opinion. Make some cute crafts together! Pick a quote to cross stictch–even if only in your mind. Paint each other’s fingernails! Come on! Have fun! Stick around and watcha  romcom after!

Here’s the Pioneer Woman’s Recipe. Not sure how similar this is to the one Callie makes for dinner, but it sounds fun doesn’t it?

Dumplin’ and a Rom-Com Suggestion for November or Later:

The film version first book in this series, Dumplin’ will start airing on Netflix in November with Jennifer Aniston as one of the stars. Of course, the music is by Dolly Parton. Who else?

King Ranch Chicken
  • Total: 1 hr 15 min
  • Active: 15 min
  • Yield: 8 to 12 servings
  • Level: Easy

Ingredients

  • Butter, for the baking dish
  • One 10.5-ounce can cream of chicken soup
  • One 10.5-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
  • One 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles, such as Rotel
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 16 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
  • 1 roasted whole chicken (rotisserie chicken works great!), cooled and torn into chunks
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 jalapeno, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Make the soup/tomato mixture, which is very bizarre and might scare you off. But please: Be brave and stick with me through this challenging time. You won’t be sorry! In a large bowl, combine the soups and diced tomatoes and chiles. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and chicken broth. Then–this is the time to be strong–stir it all together. Trust me!

Line the bottom of the baking dish with half of the torn tortillas. Layer on half the chicken. Add half the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno. Sprinkle on half the cheese and pour on half the wacky soup mixture. Then repeat the layers, beginning with the rest of the tortillas, and ending with the rest of the you-know-what.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake until bubbling, another 15 minutes.

Look at that! Serve it with a salad and a dang hearty appetite.

To make ahead and freeze: Fold foil over the unbaked casserole and freeze until solid. Then, lift the foil-topped casserole out of the pan, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and freeze until needed. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap, put the foiled-topped casserole back into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and thaw. Bake at 350 degrees F following the baking instructions above.

You can access this receipe on the Food Network website here.