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Books in Brief: Not the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi; Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome

YOUNG ADULT
Not the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi; Feiwel and Friends, 327 pages ($17.99). Ages 14 and up.
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Lulu (short for Leila) Saad is always attracted to the wrong kind of boy ("Why couldn't nice boys smell like peppermint and gin?"), and we first meet her emerging from a closet at a party after a make-out session. Then she gets infuriated with the unnerving directness of the conversation of a random stranger and pushes him into a swimming pool.

The fierce, unforgettable voice of Lulu is just one of the many charms of this hilarious, probing, coming-of-age novel by Aminah Mae Safi. Lulu, the daughter of an Iraqi immigrant and a Louisiana woman, always finds herself caught between worlds, not quite belonging to the world of her three best friends and her Texas prep school or her large extended family where she causes a scene after uttering an unforgivable insult at a Ramadan gathering.

When one of her best friends starts dating a racist, Lulu can't be silent and suddenly finds herself on the outs with everyone, including her own family. Then she decides to find an ingenious way of exacting revenge on a popular classmate for what amounts to a sexual assault in public. Lulu has also experienced another deeper hurt she has never shared with anyone until she confides in James, the boy she pushed into the pool.

Safi has created a marvelous protagonist in Lulu - at once prickly and vulnerable, courageous and confused - and her debut novel is a beguiling mix of feminist coming-of-age tale and teen romance.

NONFICTION

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James E. Ransome; Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books ($17.99) Ages 3 to 8.

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This excellent picture-book biography of the sisters from Compton who rocked the world of tennis comes from the husband-and-wife team who have collaborated on award-winning books for young readers about Satchel Paige, Frederick Douglass and Alvin Ailey artistic director Robert Battle.  In vivid and colorful prose, Lesa Cline-Ransome sketches out the girls' earliest years in tennis, the hours of practice on the public courts of East Compton, where they had to sweep up glass and trash before they could play, the vigorous exercise routines  of track and ballet and throwing footballs to improve their serves, the need to run faster to catch the low bounce of secondhand, flat tennis balls.

Their dramatic ascent to the top of the tennis world is a thrill to read "Long-legged, brown-skinned, beaded cornrowed sisters stood out in a sea of white tennis attire, white fans, and white opponents."), and includes the personal element of what it was like for sister to face sister on the court.  (Interesting that their dad had thought to prepare them in childhood for taunts and boos, by paying kids to come to their practice to hurl insults at them.)

James Ransome's colorful, multi-media illustrations are a visual delight. (In one, the girls and their father have dropped to the ground after hearing gunshots near the court, a perfectly composed drawing of the three, with balls and rackets in a circle of yellow light, with darkness all around. In another, the sisters, silhouetted against the sky, are playing so fiercely, the rubber bands in their hair break, sending colored beads flying.)

 

 

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