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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

New Kid / Class Act by Jerry Craft | Thoughts

I first heard about Jerry Craft's New Kid and Class Act over on Helen's blog. Both books have always had a long waiting list at my library and then after a few 'Deliver Later' attempts, it was some time before I finally got to reading New Kid

In New Kid, Jordan Banks would like to go to an art school, but his parents have a different idea - they enroll him at a prestigious private school that had mostly white students and a social makeup that didn't match his current lifestyle or neighborhood. He isn't sure if he will ever fit in even after he meets the handful of black or brown students enrolled at the school. As the school year progresses, he learns how to deal with micro-aggressions and also respond when he is expected to teach the black perspective and experience to his white teachers or students. His friend, Drew Ellis, who is also black, struggles more than Jordan does, if it is even fair to compare experiences in racism and micro-aggressions. Class Act focuses more on Drew and his struggles at the school - how he is intentionally set apart by some of the teachers and his race-related experiences treated as imaginary.

I loved both New Kid and Class Act. The thread of race and racism runs through both the books - a lot of Jordan's and Drew's experiences are colored by it, whether they are trying to find a book at the library (and are constantly handed out books about survival versus say, magic kingdoms), or they play sports (and are expected to be very talented), or they talk about their neighborhoods (and are assumed to be poor). Much of the race treatment is not overt as they sometimes are not in institutions that are trying to be more race-aware but very implicit and full of false assumptions. 

Both books do a great job of showing how many race-related incidents a colored student may run into on a typical day at school. There is a constant expectation, even if unstated, to prove one's commitment and capabilities. The people talking about anti-racism are almost always the people least affected by it and often colored people are treated as interchangeable and names mixed up (gosh - the number of times that has happened to me - it's frustrating). 

If there's one issue I had, it's that there was some stereotyping of the lone Indian character in the book - bangles, bindi - stuff that's very common in India but not seen commonly in US schools. This just proved that trying to understand a community means intentionally looking beyond what you already know or have heard of - this isn't easy. And complaining (as so many are doing now) that people are too sensitive is just another way to admit that one would rather ignore the damage caused by continued racism than confront one's role in continued perpetration of racism.

New Kid and Class Act are written for the middle grade audience but very well-written for anyone to read and enjoy.