Book Review | Manjani by Freedom Speaks Diaspora

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ManjaniManjani is a new and riveting novel by an author by the name of Freedom Speaks Diaspora. From the beginning of the novel, the heroine, Manjani, springs to life as she describes how she was “born conscious.” From that point on, it is clear that Manjani is not your average teen girl.

She’s a rather fierce character. On one hand, she’s wise beyond her years. On the other hand, this young lady has a lot to learn about life, love, family, happiness, and her purpose in life. From birth, she has had a militant belief that blacks have been and continued to be oppressed in “Amerikka” and that she will be a leader who will lead her people to The Revolution. The novel is bursting with vibrant themes such as adolescent challenges, sexuality, spirituality, and race relations. At the same time, the novel centers around a young girl’s coming of age, and her struggle to save not only her own family, but also the world. Manjani wants to see change – in her own life and in society. However, Manjani discovers that not everything in life is as black and white as it appears.

After her family faces a tragedy, things begin to fall apart for Manjani. Problems in school and at home force her out into the world and she has to make some very difficult choices about who she is and what she has become a part of in her quest to lead her people to The Revolution.

The style of the book is captivating. After an initial shock at the blunt truthfulness of the language, the book instantly became a page turner. Crucial issues facing communities across America are discussed in a meaningful way, throughout the dialogue of the characters and in each situation that Manjani faces. This book will make you challenge your own attitudes about sexuality, spirituality, and race relations.

From the publisher:

“Manjani Jackson is a mouthy New York teenager who believes her life’s purpose is to lead her “deaf, dumb, and blind” brothas and sistahs into The Revolution. On one of the worst days of her life, tragedy strikes, landing her at an all white school. Although she is working on getting along, the racist students make it impossible, and before long, the administration crosses the line, forcing Manjani into political action. Then one of her events gets out of hand, sending Manjani on the run. Her journey leads to a place where bittersweet lessons about liberation are learned as her comrades turn against her. Only tough love, spiritual revelations, and self-determination will help her find her place in the struggle.”

Suncycle Publishing

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Short Story Review: “The Karate Kid” by Gary Soto

“The Karate Kid” is the story of a young boy, Gilbert, who wants to protect himself from a bully. Inspired by the classic movie Karate Kid, he finds stands up against the class bully, only to be badly embarassed in front of his classmates, including a girl that he likes very much.

Instead of letting himself continue to get beat up by Pete the Heat, the “not so bright fourth grader,” Gilbert decides to take karate classes. He enrolls in the classes, but his teacher is lousy and lazy, accusing the kids of being disrespectful while practically ignoring them and putting no heart into his teacher. The instructor, Mr. Lopez, closes the karate school due to “bad business” and Gilbert is relieved. He has found karate to be painful, difficult, and useless in helping him defend himself against Pete the Heat.

When Gilbert’s mother offers to send him to a new karate school, he tells her that it’s not necessary, and that he she will never hear about him getting beat up again. The reader can assume that this does not mean that he no longer got beat up, but that he simply no longer told his mother about it.

The title of the short story, “The Karate Kid,” turns out to be ironic because the reader learns that Gilbert is not a fighter in any sense of the word. His skills at fighting are lacking and he has no “fighter” in him because he does not press on to become skilled enough at karate to fight back. In fact, he loses interest in karate altoghther, preferring to stick to reading comic books which, “didn’t hurt.”

There are several themes throughout this short story; the theme of childhood memories as Gilbert’s mother is motivated to pay for the classes due to her own unrequitted ballet dreams. There are themes of fighting, winning, and losing. The fighting represents Gilbert’s stuggle to prove himself, for his friend Raymundo it may symbolize letting a friend down (when he does not help Gilbert, calling him a menso) and for Pete the Heat it symbolizes a way for him to hide his own weaknesses.

One can write a whole character analysis on Mr. Lopez, the lackluster instructor who aids in dashing Gilbert’s dreams of becoming a great fighter.

Gary Soto is a short story master and I have been reading many more of his works in Baseball in April and Other Stories while my 8th grade students have taken an interest in his short stories about love.