Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

Title: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Author: Edited by Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 127
Availability: On shelves now
Review Copy: From the public library

Summary: Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race. Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form. -- Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: Open Mic provides glimpses into that territory of straddling two cultures. Ten different authors used a bit of humor, remembrances from their past, and their writing talent to create a unique collection of works that spoke to me in different ways. I appreciated that there were even a variety of forms. The book contains poetry, non-fiction, a comic, and short stories to show readers what it can be like to live between cultures.

At the very beginning, Mitali Perkins shares a few rules about the humor in the stories. To view the rules, visit her guest post over at Cythia Leitich Smith's blog. She seems to believe that humor can make conversations more pleasant, less serious. I would have to agree.

As I look back over the ten stories, I notice that although many of them contained humor, a significant number of them were dealing with pretty serious issues. The line, "I thought I knew the face of racism" from "Confessions of a Black Geek" speaks volumes. Gene Luen Yang's comic is a fascinating look into a bit of activism delivered in a matter of fact tone. Other stories, simply tell about life as a teen and include some of the complications of living between cultures and facing typical teen issues.

The pieces that wrung my heart the most were "Confessions of a Black Geek" by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, "Brotherly Love" by Francisco X. Stork, and "Lexicon" by Naomi Shihab Nye. The face of racism is exposed in one and a heart is broken, a boy sees himself through his sister's eyes in another, and the other shows the soul of a loving man, friend to all.

Others in this collection came with more laughter than tears. I loved the amusing game that a family plays on the subways and the stereotype defying characters in several stories. There are playful moments mixed with everyday events and on occasion ugliness. Overall, the stories are upbeat and encouraging. Beyond sharing cultural issues, the stories also speak to anyone who has been an outsider for any reason.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers of young adult lit. The pieces are fresh and meaningful without being preachy. I would love to see more works like this and am hoping for a second volume.

Podcast "Mitali Perkins Steps up to the Mic"

Guest Post on Cynthia Leitich Smith's Site by Mitali Perkins

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