Exploring Biracial Identity in The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

The Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondFormat/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: January 2014
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Contemporary middle grade
Rating: ★★★★
GoodReads Indigo | IndieBound Wordery

Violet is a smart, funny, brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blonds. Her mom is white, and her dad, who died before she was born, was black. She attends a mostly white school where she sometimes feels like a brown leaf on a pile of snow. She’s tired of people asking if she’s adopted. Now that Violet’s eleven, she decides it’s time to learn about her African American heritage. And despite getting off to a rocky start trying to reclaim her dad’s side of the family, she can feel her confidence growing as the puzzle pieces of her life finally start coming together. Readers will cheer for Violet, sharing her joy as she discovers her roots.

Earlier this year, my mom and I read Black Berry, Sweet Juice by Lawrence Hill, a non-fiction book which profiles the experiences of biracial Black Canadians. That book opened my eyes to the unique challenges biracial people can face. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond explores those challenges from a middle-grade perspective.

This book focuses on Violet finding her space within both her White family and her Black family. There are brief yet important discussions about race. For example, when Violet mentions her Greek friend’s grandmother’s belief that ‘there is no race, just the human race’ and Violet’s grandmother responds, “It’s not so simple, Violet. White folks made the race laws in the first place, and our history is complicated” (pg. 165). Violet’s grandmother’s initial negative attitude to her son marrying a White woman is also addressed. There are other places that allude to debated issues on racial identity, but as Violet is just 11 years old and learning for the first time about what it means to be Black and biracial. She isn’t drowned in too much information and neither is the reader.

Early in the book (around page 50), Violet learns about the circumstances of her father’s death, which explains why Violet’s paternal grandmother doesn’t like Violet’s mother. In two short sentences, Woods reveals the awful truth. Violet yelling at her mother caused me to cringe. I can’t imagine what it would be like to learn that about your parent’s past. The backstory is pretty intense way explain the disconnect between Violet and her father’s family.

I think this would be a good book to ease kids into the concept of and challenges surrounding what it means to be biracial, as well as to start a discussion about coming to terms with a particular identity. A young adult novel featuring Violet as a teen would make an excellent follow-up, giving the opportunity to delve further into ideas that Woods briefly introduces in this book.

The Bottom Line

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond features a spunky protagonist who learns what it means to be biracial. The book can serve as a good introduction to discussion about race and identity for younger readers.

Further Reading

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #2

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Star-Crossed by Barbara DeeMattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Goodreads | Whoohoo,  I finally get to review this book! I had it on hold at the library for sometime before it was released March 14. I felt like I had to wait agggeeees for it to come in. I would have bought it at Chapters but they didn’t have it in store. Anyway. I was able to enjoy the entire book last Sunday while I was out at the lake.

What I love most about Star-Crossed is that it doesn’t complicate Mattie’s feeling. Mattie recently had a crush on a boy, and now she has a crush on a girl. Some of her friends try to comment on that (Can you like boys and girls? Is she gay now?) but Mattie avoids any attempt to label herself. She’s only in grade eight, and all she knows for now is that she has a crush on a girl (and that doesn’t mean she can’t have a crush on a boy). I imagine at that age, when you’re just figuring things out, it’s not necessary to come away with a concrete definition of your sexual or romantic identity.

Mattie does fret a little about what her classmates may think of her. She wonders that while hypothetically her classmates aren’t homophobic, how would they react around a real girl who likes another real girl? The overall arc of the story is less about Mattie coming to terms with her feelings (she likes girls and boys, she knows that) and more about Mattie making her own decisions. The people she comes out to don’t make a big deal about it and are supportive. I cheered for Mattie at the end, which I thought was a perfect conclusion.

The story also feels very realistic and grounded in how Mattie’s crush develops and how she interacts with her friends and classmates. I thought the development of her crush on Gemma in particular was very cute. I recognize myself going through similar motions when I was in middle school!

How Dee incorporated Shakespeare both through the class play and classroom lessons also really impressed me. I actually just saw a production of Romeo and Juliet a few weeks ago, so the play was fresh in my mind. I remember studying the play in high school. My classmates had many similar reactions as Mattie’s classmates. Dee makes Shakespeare intriguing and fun, showing that his work doesn’t have to be indecipherable for young people.

Further reading: Review by Danika @ The Lesbrary | “Please Don’t Talk About Your LGBTQ+ Book”: Barbara Dee on “Star-Crossed” and Her Recent School Visit Experience (interview @ SLJ)

 Released but Not Yet Read: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

The People of Forever ARe Not AfraidYael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

Goodreads | This book has been on my TBR for a veery long time (#78 out of 718). I don’t think I’ve read any novels set in Israel. This own voices book sounds like an intense read.

Not Yet Released: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and GlassAt sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

Goodreads | This one popped up in my GoodReads feed just the other day. Sounds like a retelling I can get behind! It’s not clear from the description, but reviewers have been mentioning a relationship between two girls. Look for it on September 5.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Spring 2017 Diverse Reads

2017 Diverse Reads banner

  • March (disability – club foot) – Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
  • April (mental health – depression) – More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
  • June (sexuality and gender identity – transboy) When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook for Dragon Slayer'sThirteen-year-old Princess Matilda, whose lame foot brings fear of the evil eye, has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

 

  • First book I read by Merrie Haskell, though I have already read another!
  • This book received a positive own voices review at Disability in Kid Lit, which led me to select it for the March topic. Aimee Louw writes far more eloquently about Tilda’s club foot than I could, so be sure to check out her post. I especially agree with her observation that the “dichotomy between the desire to improve or better oneself and the perceived need to overcompensate for the lower expectations placed on oneself because of disability was portrayed exceptionally well.”
  • One aspect of the book I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did was the setting. Handbook for Dragonslayers takes place in a more realistic medieval setting than I’ve encountered in most children’s literature. The presence of religion plays a significant role in that. I love that Tilda wanted to join a cloister so she could copy books. The concept of sin influences Tilda’s actions; she celebrates Christmas Day. Other details that added realism for me included Tilda’s duties as a princess and the design of the castle.
  • I found it a little heartbreaking that part of the reason Tilda wants to become a grand writer is to disprove the cruel things people believe about her. I don’t have the direct quote, but there was a line about how Tilda wanted to be free of people who thought they knew her (pg. 52). That’s a feeling I think many readers have experienced at one time or the other. It gives able-bodied readers like myself a better insight into what Tilda experiences.
  • Although not much else about the plot or characters stands out for me now, fans of the genre will likely enjoy Handbook for Dragon Slayers  (as long as they don’t expect too much of the dragons!).

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than NotIn the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

 

  • Finally read a book by Adam Silvera! He’s a popular author in my Twittersphere. If it weren’t for this challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of his books as I’m generally not a fan of the genre (contemporary) or the type of stories (mostly dark, romance-centric) he writes. That’s the main reason for my low rating. More Happy Than Not just isn’t the my thing.
  • That being said, I thought the story picked up when the Leteo Institute started to play a role, and I enjoyed the later part of the novel far more than the earlier part.
  • A lot of things about the book didn’t suite my tastes; that doesn’t mean they were poorly written or objectively bad. Own voices reviewers have highlighted how important the story is to them and how realistic it is (1 | 2 | 3 ; thanks to Taryn for bringing some of these to my attention). However, I found Aaron’s stubborn opinion on Thomas’ sexuality frustrating and wish it could have been identified as problematic within the story. And I’m not even talking about bierasure – I was thinking about making assumptions about other people and taking that as truth with no truth from the person themself.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was OursTo everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

 

  • Thanks to Monika @ The Lovely Bookshelf, from whom I won a copy of this book in a giveaway! You can read her review here.
  • Ooh, what to say about this one? When the Moon Was Ours exemplifies why I love magical realism (it can make me fall in love with a YA novel!). All those wonderful things you’ve heard about it are true.
  • McLemore’s prose elevates this book to a high rating for me. In crafting a magical realism tale, she takes the opportunity to describe wonderous sights and miraculous happenings. Her descriptions of the colour of pumpkins and roses, the relationship between the Bonner girls, and the glows of Sam’s moons are just a few examples that come to mind.
  • McLemore’s prose creates not only beautiful imagery; she also builds her characters through evocative descriptions. One example that stood out to me: “Because together they had so much shared gravity they pulled toward that navy blue houses anything they wanted. Because they were four brilliant red lynxes, and she could not run” (pg. 44).
  • I was totally into the romantic relationship. Gasp, a romance I can get behind?! I liked that Sam and Miel already had a strong relationship at the start of the novel and were essentially ready to proceed to a romantic relationship. There are some steamy scenes in this book, which I credit entirely to McLemore’s evocative and creative writing. She addresses physical interaction without being too explicit – i.e. it’s still beautiful prose without turning to clunky descriptions of physical movement, yet it is also specific enough to clearly portray the interactions (and the complexity of those interactions) between Miel and Sam.
  • Even the afterword I found touching. It sounds like McLemore drew a lot of inspiration from her and her husband (who is trans)’s relationship in writing this novel.
  • Highly recommended. Will likely be in my top ten reads of the year.

These last three books are pretty diverse in their genres, let alone their characters. Have you read any of them? Which one would you be most interested in reading?
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #1

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Finally, I’ve written a Diversity Spotlight Thursday post! The purpose of this meme is to share three diverse books: One you’ve read and enjoyed, one release that you haven’t yet read, and one that hasn’t yet been released. I actually enjoy reading this meme on other blogs. It’s a great way to promote diverse books and find new ones to add to the TBR. (I haven’t seen many posts about this lately so I’m not sure it’s a still a thing?? I like the idea anyway, haha.)

Read and Enjoyed: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina's Voice

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Goodreads | I’m also participating in the 2017 Diverse Reads Challenge, which has a theme for each month. I somehow mixed up April and May’s themes, which meant I read Amina’s Voice in April. (I had selected it to keep with May’s themes of ‘religious diversity’.)

I’m going to talk about this book from my personal perspective, a White girl who attended church as a kid. (I think this book would be a great read for Pakistani-American kids, but that’s not really my case to make.) Many of my friends also attended Sunday school. I didn’t know anyone who was particularly zealous about it. For most of us, it was just something we did. In Amina’s Voice, going to a mosque, participating in a religious community, etc. are everyday activities – ones that won’t seem so ‘foreign’ for church going kids.

Some of Amina’s problems come from those activities (she has to participate in a Qu’ran recitation competition but she has severe stage fright), but she worries about her friendships as much as you would except a middle grader to. The relationships Amina has with her friends and family felt very realistic. Her parents are positive figures in her life. In particular, I appreciated the missteps and assumptions she made about her friendships with Soojin and Emily. There is a lot for readers to connect with in this book, whether in the joys and trials Amina finds in her religion or in her relationships with friends and family.

The book that I should have read in April (mental health) but am going to read this month instead is…

Released but Not Yet Read: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Goodreads | More Happy Than NotTwitter brought Adam Silvera to my attention. I decided to give him a go for the Diverse Reads challenge, as I likely wouldn’t pick up his books otherwise (I’m not big on contemporary YA). I have heard a lot about his new release, History is All You Left Me, but MHTN’s premise appeals to me more. I always forget about that little scifi bit at the end – I’m definitely curious as to how it plays out.

Not Yet Released: the Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

The Library of FatesNo one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Goodreads | That gorgeous cover and library reference in the title convinced me to add this to my TBR without even knowing what it is about. Look for it on July 18.

This post focuses all on 2017 releases. I hope to highlight more backlist diverse books in future posts. What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Celebrating Elizabeth Goudge

Hosted by Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

Back in March, Lory announced she would once again be inviting readers Elizabeth Goudgeto celebrate the birthday of Elizabeth Goudge by reading one of her works and sharing their thoughts. I hadn’t heard of Goudge, so I ventured over to Wikipedia and learnt that one of the works she is most known for is called The Little White Horse, a children’s novel I would classify as a mix between historical and fantasy. Although this book won’t appeal to everyone due to its particular tone and simple plot, I found it a comforting read.

When orphaned young Maria Merryweather arrives at Moonacre Manor, she feels as if she’s entered Paradise. Her new guardian, her uncle Sir Benjamin, is kind and funny; the Manor itself feels like home right away; and every person and animal she meets is like an old friend. But there is something incredibly sad beneath all of this beauty and comfort—a tragedy that happened years ago, shadowing Moonacre Manor and the town around it—and Maria is determined to learn about it, change it, and give her own life story a happy ending. But what can one solitary girl do?

This book kept me grounded this week. I had just begun to take my apartment search to the next level by scheduling a few viewings. I had always known this would be the most stressful part of the ‘getting into grad school’ process. Starting the search made that really sink. The point being, I read The Little White Horse when my mind was all abuzz with concerns of practical adult life. Although I found it difficult at times to focus, this lovely little tale kept me grounded by being the just what I needed to put my head in the clouds. 😉

Despite the title, the ‘little white horse’ plays only a small role in the story. The conflict stems from historical family feuds, with Maria stepping into the role of the one who can finally set everything right. That story is simple enough and resolved relatively easily. What I enjoyed most about this book are the descriptions of the Kindgom of Moonacre. Maria finds herself in a wonderful world, tucked away in its own corner of England. I think many lovers of fantasy would be happy to trade places with Maria, to experience the decorated manor, homecooked meals, and beautiful woodlands would appreciate the scenes depicted in this book. Illustrations by C. Walter Hodges compliment the mood of the story. I particularly liked the map of Moonacre Manor.

Some aspects of the story feel dated. 10 year old me, accustomed to the middle grade fantasies of the nineties, probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this book.  There is some emphasis on God, and womanly duties (though Maria certainly isn’t constrained by them – I think she exemplifies how a character can be feminine and still a hero). The talk of marriage between Maria and Robin felt a bit out of place. But these things all gave the book a unique sort of charm, different from the sorts of contemporary fantasies I read today.

I’m glad I picked up this book. This is one of those little gems I wouldn’t have stumbled upon without book blogging. Goudge has a number of other novels, including more children’s. I wonder how her other works compare to this one… Have you read anything by Elizabeth Goudge? Check out Lory’s blog tomorrow (Friday) for a wrap-up of Goudge Reading Day posts. 

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