FIC FEL (Reviewing “Wishing Upon the Same Stars”)

We changed our family schedule and it has led to the loss of reading time for me. It’s not a bad thing, it just means that it takes me a long time to get through a book now. So a book that would take me a couple days is now taking me a couple of weeks. I’m working to figure out how to regain the reading time I lost, but it will take me a bit, so bear with me!

This week’s read was “Wishing Upon the Same Stars” by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman. A great middle-grade text, this story touches deeply on the themes of family, friendship, community, and diversity.

In foreground, two girls hold hands while walking through a field of flowers. In the background is a river and hills and a night sky filled with stars. The text "Wishing Upon the Same Stars" is at the top of the image.
Cover of “Wishing Upon the Same Stars”

Twelve-year-old Yasmeen Khoury is the eldest child in her Palestinian-American family, living in Detroit, Michigan. When she learns that her family will be moving to San Antonio, she wishes for nothing more than to fit in, but she quickly realizes that unlike her Arab neighborhood in Detroit, she’s the only Palestinian girl in her new school and feels like she doesn’t really fit in. Yasmeen tries to navigate making friends at school, but finds herself the target of a group of mean girls. She also is forced to hide her budding friendship with her classmate and neighbor, Ayelet Cohen because Ayelet’s family is Israeli-American and both of their families still carry the pain and devastation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict they experienced in the Middle East before they moved to America. Yasmeen must navigate not only the tension of this new friendship and the lies she’s keeping from her family, but must also navigate the expectations placed upon her by her family and what home and heritage mean to her now that she has been displaced herself.

Feldman’s text is autobiographical adjacent – her father was a Christian Palestinian raised in Jerusalem who immigrated to the United States. And like Yasmeen, she made a Jewish best friend at 18 years old (who later became her husband). Feldman’s deep connection to the story can be seen and felt in the text – it makes the world Yasmeen is experiencing rich and filled with detail and emotion.

3 Defects

These are going to be nit-picky. The book was really excellent and these are SMALL defects. The first of these small defects is that

  1. I felt like there was a little TOO much happening in the story – dance lessons, math competitions, mean girl drama, friendship crossing cultural borders, grandma moving in, keeping in touch with old friends, budding romances, etc. MAYBE some of the smaller side stories could have been cut down to focus the story a little more? It would have strengthened an already great book.
  2. Sometimes the 12-year-old characters describe or explain things in a very “grown up” way. One of the students refers to themselves as a Dreamer (as in Hispanic/Latinx Dreamer), another deeply describes traditions, etc. While the explanations are needed, especially in a book for middle grade readers, these explanations coming from student to student seem… “beyond their years” wise.
  3. Lots of mini climaxes in the book leading up to the big one – while this keeps the story moving, some younger readers may have trouble following along with the story, especially in exposition periods between the peaks.

3 Delights

  1. The level of “world building” that Feldman has done is fantastic! I feel like I’ve walked into Yasmeen’s house and I’ve met her family members just based on the level of description laid out in the story.
  2. I really appreciate how well all of the conflicts and deeper issues were described and dealt with in a middle grade appropriate way. The novel touches on a HUGE range of social issues in a way that the average middle schooler or upper elementary student can understand. The novel would be a great jumping off point for non-fiction pairings or a social issues unit. The novel has SO many possibilities social issue discussions!
  3. The story and characters are just so SOLID and beautifully written. I appreciate how deeply I could connect to what Yasmeen was thinking and feeling and how lovely the conclusion of the story was – sometimes it’s just really nice to read a novel that has a happy ending (even though some people might find it too idyllic). The novel ends in a place of hope and community and it’s great.

FIC CAR (Reviewing “The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora”)

A brief warning – this is a reread for me. It’s part of the 2020-2021 Wisconsin Battle of the Books list for the middle school level and I am on the BOB committee. Typically, I am a speed reader; I sometimes miss the finer details in a story because I glaze over them as I’m speeding through the plot on my merry way. But when you have to stop every few paragraphs or pages to write a question, you catch things you missed on your first speed through. I always find a second read of books enjoyable slightly because of my tendency to speed through the text.

“The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora” written by Pablo Cartaya, is a 2018 Pura Belpre Honor Book. In the story, Arturo is part of a large extended family, all of whom work in or support the work of his Abuela’s restaurant. When the lot next to the restaurant becomes available for development, Arturo’s family jumps at the chance to submit their plan for the lot to the city; they want to build a room for parties, weddings, and other events. But they soon discover that they’re not the only applicant for the lot. A developer by the name of Wilfrido Pipo has also applied for the chance to build on the lot, and when Arturo and Carmen (the girl Arturo has a major crush on) start to dig deeper into the glorious “community center” of a high rise that Pipo has promised, they realize that the building isn’t going to just be built on the empty lot, but also on the land where the family restaurant stands. Arturo, with the help of his friends and family, tries to save the family restaurant and the neighborhood.

Themes include: family, community, gentrification, and social justice

3 Defects

  1. This book uses quite a bit of Spanish, which makes TOTAL sense for the character and his family, but it doesn’t provide much direction translation and depends on the reader to use the context clues to figure out what was said. For an adept reader, this won’t be an issue at all and adds to the depth of the character, but it may make for difficult reading for readers who struggle to use context clues to decipher text.
  2. Arturo has a couple of friends who feature briefly in the book, but interaction between the friends is fairly minimal. I would have liked to see the characters a little more? Super nit-picky, though.
  3. The villain is pretty ‘one note’ and stereotypical (but so too, are some business people I can think of…). We also have some plot holes that would be lovely additions to the novel if they were filled.

3 Delights

  1. Arturo is such a lovely, gentle character who embraces family, embraces his identity, and discovers that he holds power, even when it feels like he has none. Family is a CENTRAL theme in this book and Arturo feels confident in his place/roll in the family and it shows through his gentle introspection.
  2. This book is appropriate for a WIDE range of students. From 4th grade (as long as you don’t mind a little “crush” and a kiss for this age group) all the way through 8th, I think students will connect with the novel on a variety of facets. The reading level sits solidly at a W, but if you have a young reader who needs an “appropriate” W text, this is a great one.
  3. All of Cartaya’s characters (minus our villain) feel authentic, even those we see for very brief moments throughout the novel. You really get a feel for the Canal Grove neighborhood where Arturo’s family lives. Without the supporting cast of characters, the story wouldn’t mean as much; Arturo wouldn’t be a great without the family and friends who support and bolster him.