Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi; Balzer + Bray, 384 pages ($19.99) Age 13 to 17.
A girl who has been groomed since birth to be a "warrior princess" in her father's plans for a separate Black nation struggles to forge her own path in this brilliant novel from acclaimed Haitian-American author Ibi Zoboi.
A year after her mother left after giving birth to a boy, 16-year-old Nigeria Jones has a major role to play in her father's plans for his Black revolutionary movement: researching (and apparently writing) his new book on "The Black Man's Constitution," leading the Youth Group, going to the shooting range with new recruits and keeping life running smoothly in Freedom Village, the movement's communal home in Philadelphia.
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Nigeria has been home-schooled in the all-Black commune all her life and is shocked to discover that her mother had wanted her to attend a mostly white Quaker high school. This is only one of many shocking discoveries Nigeria makes about her mother's growing disenchantment with her husband and his movement. "What started out as protest and social justice work became nation building and decolonizing and dismantling everything. I'm trying to make things better, he was making my life worse."
Through Nigeria's stirring first-person narration, Zoboi offers a fascinating portrait of a girl traumatized by her mother's absence, thrown into a majority-white environment for the first time in her life, struggling to be true to her revolutionary ideals and respect for her father and her people while starting to rebel at the movement's patriarchal attitudes as she forms a new vision of how her life might be.
Zoboi was a National Book Award finalist for "American Street."
Ruby Lost and Found by Christina Li; Quill Tree Books, 304 pages ($19.99) Age 8 to 12.
A 13-year-old Chinese-American girl finds new friendships and ways to heal when she is forced to spend the summer with her grandmother in this poignant novel set against the colorful backdrop of San Francisco's Chinatown.
Ruby Chu is reeling from loss – her beloved paternal grandfather died, her best friend moved to New York City, her older sister Viv will be leaving for college. When Ruby is given detention at school, her irate parents ground her for the summer and order her to stay at her Nai-Nai's apartment during the week as punishment.
Viv is a top student, with plans to major in engineering at Carnegie-Mellon, and Ruby is keenly aware that her own lackluster academic performance has always disappointed her parents. Alone in her sorrow, Ruby is prickly and argumentative with her grandmother's friends at the senior center and nasty to a classmate who is in need of a friend. She slowly warms to her new reality and enlists the classmate in her desperate effort to save May's Bakery, a Chinatown institution, from falling victim to the gentrification of the neighborhood.
When she goes to a friend's sleepover and her grandmother forgets to pick her up, Ruby becomes aware for the first time that her grandmother is having memory problems.
The narrative flips between the present day and the special times Ruby spent with her grandfather including the scavenger hunts he set up just for her. Li offers colorful descriptions of the streets of San Francisco, May's Bakery with its egg tarts and coconut bread, games of chess in the park, the community garden.
Corner, written and illustrated by Zo-O; translated by Ellen Jang; Owlkids Books ($19.95). Ages 3 to 7.
A crow sits in the corner of an empty white space (the corner fits into the gutter between the tall book's pages), then sprawls upside down before slowly starting to transform the room, with a bed, a plant, a bookcase, a lamp in this fascinating, mostly wordless picture book celebrating the individual's power to bring about change.
The crow transforms the blank walls with a mural of yellow rectangles, then gets a giant stepladder and the mural grows more elaborate. He adds music (cue wild dancing), but observes "something is still missing" before cutting a window to the outside where, in a mirror image of the empty room, someone is waiting to say hello.