Review: Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle

Two countries.
Two families.
Two sets of words.

It is impossible not to be entranced by Enchanted Air, a book that is as beautiful and buoyant as it is acutely observant. In this work of memoir in verse, Margarita Engle transports readers back to the early 1960s: Told in short free verse pieces, Enchanted Air follows Engle’s early adolescent years traveling between Cuba and the Los Angeles. When Margarita and her sister travel to see their mother’s family in Cuba, Margarita feels like a truer version of herself than the one who lives in smoggy Los Angeles – as if she had an “invisible twin who never left this island.”

The vacations are curtailed when the Cold War casts fear and suspicion in the United States. With their Cuban mother and Ukrainian American father, Margarita struggles with a profound sense of fragmentation. But in spite of tense sociopolitical relations, Engel shows how hope can always be found in books, writing, travel, and art.

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And of course, since I’m always interested in the connections between literature and the real, lived experiences of immigration, I’ll be connecting this book to the experiences of transnational teens today: specifically, Palestinian American teenagers growing up in the U.S. during the Israel-Palestine conflict, just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Engle’s book and the accounts of these American teens will hopefully shed light on each other and ever-evolving definition of “American.”

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6 Things I’m Thinking About

A rare Saturday edition! My apologies for the late post. (Midterms are hitting hard.) Rest assured that every Friday hereafter, you can look forward to 6 things  🙂 Now, onward to discussing the multidimensional immigrant experience, first gen/immigrant students at school, and YA!

    1. This a reminder of why I started this blog! A compilation of immigration stories, from Latino NPR reporters’ families, shows that there is no single immigration story. They’re multidimensional and should be celebrated and appreciated in their nuance.
    2. More from NPR, how we teach English Language Learners. Not an exhaustive article, but still an illuminating read both for teachers in the classroom and for people outside of education.
    3. Supplementary reading: I recently wrote an article for my school’s arts & culture magazine on American Born Chinese, the ten year old graphic novel that opened up the possibility for first gen Asian Americans to appear in literature. Isn’t the artwork stunning?

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      Source: Artwork by Michelle Ng, for Post- Magazine.

    4. Have you been keeping up with these Filipino American History Month tweets? I look forward to them every day.
  1. But has grit really even left YA? The New York Times follows the shifting of this dynamic genre.
  2. Need some inspiration and perspective? (Midterms aren’t exactly making my life better, either.) Buzzfeed collected these powerful quotes about the immigrant experience. Which one is your favorite? I’m fond of this one:

“It's said you can never go home again, and it's true enough, of course. But the opposite is also true. You must go back, and you always go back, and you can never stop going back, no matter how hard you try..jpg

Hope you’re off to a wonderful weekend!

Book review: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Pull up a chai and get ready for Intrepid’s first book review for Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed!

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Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (2015)

First things first: The cover is a gem. A teenage girl with long, dark hair looks wistfully up at a crescent moon. She’s bordered by a stunning, jewel-toned blue and purple pointed arch.

“They will accept us one day,” I insist… “One day, we’ll show them there’s another way to look at all of this. I wasn’t exactly planning to fall for you. I just did. It’s going to happen to them too.”

By the end of senior year, 17-year-old narrator Naila has finally convinced her parents to let her go to college and become a doctor. Her parents, conservative Pakistani immigrants, have let their daughter make more or less her own choices, except for one: Years ago, they told Naila that while she could choose her clothes and her career, they would decide on her husband.

The one knot in the plan is that Naila has already fallen in love with Saif, the dreamy boy on the soccer team, and they have been secretly dating for a year.

When the secret gets out (in a spectacularly nasty blowup), Naila’s parents book a last-minute summer vacation to Pakistan. As the summer passes, Naila becomes slowly aware that her parents have an arranged marriage in mind – and that they don’t plan on her leaving Pakistan anytime soon.

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Representation & the YA Novel

Let’s be clear: Representation matters.

In a 1990 essay on the paucity of representation of children of color in children’s literature, Rudine Sims Bishop wrote of books as windows into others’ worlds and doors into new experiences. Anyone who grew up a lover of stories can attest to this joy, the sparking of wonder in a book.

Sims points out that books are also mirrors. Children can see themselves in positive, empowering light, reflecting their possibilities. But what happens when we consider children of color, who comprise 50% of public school students but who only populate roughly 13%  of children’s stories? Where are their mirrors, and what possibilities do they see?

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