What We Read in January

Platypuses like to read. And we decided that we will compile a list of the best of children’s and YA books we have read each month, in case something sounds good to you. You can also tell us about children’s and YA books that you have been reading.

story of a girlStory of a Girl
Author: Sara Zarr
About the book: Story of a Girl is a YA novel dealing with the puritanical attitudes still prevalent in small-town USA and how sexual policing and and rampant slut-shaming affect Deanna, the protagonist of the book. Deanna was caught having sex with her older brother’s friend in his car and has been living with the repercussions of its fallout ever since. Her father ignores her, her mother is largely absent and she has only two friends at school who managed to look past her ‘bad girl’ past. Sara Zarr writes with sensitivity and compassion about Deanna and doesn’t shy away from going into the messy, complex realities of teen lives.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Read this book if you like: Sex-positive books, books with unusual protagonists

You Bring the Distant Nearyou bring the distant near
Author: Mitali Perkins
About the book: A multi-generational drama and coming-of-age story set in the US. Perkins’ book features a Bengali family migrating to the US in the 60s and bringing up their multicultural daughters in a new country, while trying to hold on to their Bengali identities. Each generation of the family faces unique set of challenges and Perkins writes a masterful story which keeps your invested in the Das family’s fortunes.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Read this book if you like: Jhumpa Lahiri’s books, books about the American-Indian community



What Maya Saw.jpg

What Maya Saw
Author: Shabnam Minwalla
About the book: A YA novel, set in an old college in Mumbai, this is the story of Maya, fifteen and exceptionally bright, who is invited to join special summer classes researching the history of the city. And while there are mysteries, and the undead, and the traumas of growing up, what makes this novel a must-read is the loving documentation of the history of Mumbai, with local histories, bizarre details of buildings, statues and the idiosyncratic people who live in the city. And of course, Shabnam’s beautiful writing and gentle humour.
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Read this book if you like: Local history, coming of age stories.

The Lotterys Plus One
Author: Emma Donoghue
About the book: A middle-grade novel about a most unusual family–and how they cope when a conventional grandparent comes to live among them. The eleven Lotterys–two sets of gay parents of either gender, and seven kids of different races and abilities–live in the Camelottery, a large rambling house where they are all homeschooled in unusual ways. It is a very idealistic world–and clearly there is no larger society which is troubling this unconventional family at all. But then one grandparent is ill and must come and live with them–and all kinds of troubles arise, which needless to say, are satisfactorily resolved.
The book is funny, but the family sounds so satisfied about its ideal composition and offbeat ideas that it gets a bit tiresome after a while.
Publisher: PanMacmillan

Read this book if you like: Funny stories about unusual families

the-boy-in-th-striped-pyjamasThe Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
John Boyne
About the book: This is such a classic now that one hesitates to say anything about it. Bruno’s father sent as the commandant to a place which Bruno only knows as Out-with. Lonely and bored in this strangely isolated place, Bruno goes exploring and finds an unlikely friend across a barbed wire fence. Bruno and his new friend Shmuel meet every day and become friends. Then one day, Shmuel’s father goes missing and Bruno decides to help. He goes across the fence, wearing a pair of striped pyjamas that Shmuel has found …
The book is a comment on the ‘wilful ignorance’, not just of the German peoplebut the entire world. People have criticized the naivete of Bruno. How could he not know what was going on? The concentration camps went on for years, argues John Boyne, but the world did not know what was going on. So why would a little boy, who sees his father as a hero, imagine the horrors that are taking place under his father’s command?
My one quibble with the book is that it presupposes a lot of knowledge from the reader. Without understanding the context of the concentration camps in the Third Reich, the book would be incomprehensible.
Publisher: Vintage Books
Read this book if you like: Books about the Third Reich and Hitler, books about friendship

boy on mountainThe Boy at the Top of the Mountain
John Boyne
About the book: This is John Boyne’s second book set in the time of the Third Reich and he says he could not have written it without first having written The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Pierrot, a boy with a French mother and a German father, is orphaned. With nowhere else to go, he is sent to his aunt, who is the housekeeper at a house on the mountain. This is Hitler’s house, Berghoff, in the Austrian Alps. Pierrot is made to change his name to Pieter and told to never mention his French mother or his Jewish best friend in front of Hitler. Over the years, Hitler takes a shine to the boy. Heady with the attention of the Fuhrer and the power that comes from it, Pierrot changes from a caring, considerate boy into a terrible person, who does some unforgivable things.
When the war is over and Hitler is gone, Pierrot has nowhere to go. That’s when a German girl he works with tells him not to ever pretend he didn’t know about the horrors that were initiated from the house on the mountain. He knew it all, and that made him complicit.
The book carries forward the idea of wilful ignorance and the complicity of knowledge. It’s remarkable for having a protagonist who is not just dislikeable but truly a horrible person. The slow corruption of the gentle little boy by power and proximity to it is wonderfully done.
Both the books should be required reading for children everywhere, especially in some states in India, which have experimented with textbooks exhorting Hitler as a great leader.
Publisher: Corgi Books
Read this book if you like: Books about the Third Reich and Hitler, books with negative protagonists.



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