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When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. In college, I would read Georgette Heyer during exam weeks to relax. As an adolescent, I really liked that "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Well, maybe you're not so bad" storyline in a historical setting. So I picked Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge off the Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction nomination list for one reason and one reason only: The main character has been raised to marry and murder a demon who has had control of her country since before she was born but falls for him before she can complete her task. Okay, it was paranormal and not historical, but I was dealing with a speculative fiction list, after all.
Now, though I seem to read a lot of fantasy, it's mainly because a lot of children's and YA books are fantasy. It's not because I'm so fond of it. I don't get excited about fantasy elements, as a general rule. I'm not crazy about houses that are always changing, for instance, as the one in Cruel Beauty does. I was kind of mystified about who the Kindly Ones were in this book, especially since there seems to be an alternative Greek mythology thing going on here and where do the Kindly Ones fit in? But that didn't matter because the demon was very witty and clever and our protagonist wasn't a particularly nice person, which I like in a heroine.
Yes, Teen Gail would have loved this thing. Cruel Beauty should be on a list of teen vacation reading that is totally inappropriate for school papers.
But If You Want To Write A School Paper On It, Try Talking About Jane Eyre
However, if someone really wants to sell this as a subject for a high school paper, I think they might be able to do a Jane Eyre
comparison. Cruel Beauty
is being marketed as a Beauty and the Beast meets Greek mythology tale, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre
was not assigned reading for me when I was a teenager. I read it on my own, as I read a great many things back then. I did not find it particularly memorable, except for the scene where poor Jane sits on the sidelines during an evening event at Mr. Rochester's house. That probably speaks volumes about my adolescence. I didn't become a fan of Jane's until I re-read it in 2003
after reading The Eyre Affair
. The Good Reading Fairy
had hit it, and I've become a bit of a Jane Eyre groupy, looking for and reading retellings
. Cruel Beauty
may not be an intentional retelling, but I still think an enterprising student could make a case that would convince a teacher to at least accept a Beauty/Jane Eyre
is about a prickly young woman who doesn't inspire affection in traditional relationships, such as the one with her aunt. In the course of acquiring what is by the standards of her time a good education, she is not treated very well. She enters a wealthy (wealth is power) man's home as a governess. Said wealthy man is unhappy and bitter over the life he has been forced to live. These two damaged, unromantic people find something in each other.Cruel Beauty
is about a bitter, angry young woman, her father's least favorite child, the one he bartered away to a demon. He provides her with what is by the standards of her world a good education so she can kill the demon he's marrying her off to. The plan will mean her death as well, explaining her bitterness and anger. She enters a powerful male's home as his wife. Said powerful male is amusing and attractive but resigned to a fate he brought upon himself, one we're not aware of for a while. These two damaged, I can't say unromantic because I'm sure we're supposed to think they are, people recognize something in each other.
In Jane Eyre
, there's a madwoman in the attic. In Cruel Beauty
, there's a little something in one of the house's many rooms.
Jane and Mr. Rochester's story in Jane Eyre
is framed with a beginning piece about Jane's rough youth with her family and boarding school and an ending bit about her suffering after she leaves Rochester. Nyx and Ignifex's story in Cruel Beauty
is framed with a beginning piece about Nyx's rough youth with her family and an ending bit about her suffering after she and Ignifex are separated. Some have argued that Mr. Rochester's blindness is a punishment for what he planned for himself and Jane, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him. A clever high school student could argue that Ignifex was punished for all he had done, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him.
There you've got it, folks, the beginning of a Cruel Beauty/Jane Eyre
Wait! There's more! It's kind of a stretch, but if enterprising students wanted to, they could claim there's a bit of a torn-between-two-lovers thing going on in Jane Eyre
what with Jane being proposed to by both Mr. Rochester and that creepy minister named St. John. The author of Cruel Beauty
does something interesting with the torn-between-two-lovers cliche.
Okay, lads and lasses. You're welcome to this material, but put it into your own words.
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is about a group of teenagers who set out to increase To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity by making it appear to be disappearing and thus unavailable. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? Part of their plan is to take their project viral. Some readers might think that they were unrealistically successful with that. All the characters, teen and adult, are amusing and clever, though some readers might find that they sound a lot alike.
Yes, yes, "some readers" is me.
Okay, let's talk about the intriguing things in I Kill the Mockingbird:
- This book really is about literate teens. These kids aren't just spokespeople spouting the party line on classics. They can actually discuss a book. They know why not everyone loves To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. No, no, I am not one of the dislikers. But, nonetheless, I understand why not everyone embraces it and appreciate that mindset being expressed.
- This book is about religious observance. I do not mean it is about dogma or doctrine. It is about kids who go to religious services and religious school. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who attend the services related to whatever faith their families follow. I don't see a lot of that reflected in children's books.
- This book does have some of the "this-is-an-important-book-about-death" thing going on. Though it's more an-important-book-about-not-dying-and-having-to-get-over-it thing. And, yes, that's different.
- I liked the father's reason for thanking God--it's always good to be polite. And the mother's argument that we are only able to enjoy living because we're able to pretend we're not going to die. And the discussion of "Ordinary Time," a season in the Christian church calendar? The main character gives a meaningful explanation of its significance. Though I was a Catholic child, I didn't learn about the church calendar until I was a Sunday school teacher in a Congregational church. I thought Ordinary Time was just that period of the year when nothing else was happening.
I liked I Kill the Mockingbird
for all the odd little things I found in it. It's getting all kinds of loving
from people who probably liked it for other reasons.I Kill the Mockingbird
is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade category
I was very taken with Peter Sis's book The Wall back in 2008, so when I heard he'd written and illustrated another book, this one about Antoine St. Exupery, for whom I'm a groupy, I was enthusiastic. I've never really understood The Little Prince, and I don't really get Sis's The Pilot and the Little Prince, either. It's beautiful (and very well reviewed), but I'm embarrassed to say that I find the layering of information difficult to manage. There's narrative, sometimes there's little facts in circles in a straight line above the narrative, and sometimes there are facts sprinkled above that. An older child who is into nonfiction and just plain loves facts might eagerly suck this stuff up. This older reader is stuck in her ways and needs a more linear reading experience.
A New York Times reviewer said, " Sis suggests in his new title that the Pilot of “The Little Prince” is Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince his child self." I totally missed that. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I didn't get it.
However, I did pick up on the fact that Guerlain named the perfume Vol de Nuit for one of St. Exupery's books. That's the kind of thing a St. Exupery groupy wants to know.
The Pilot and the Little Prince is a Cybils nominee in the picture book category.
Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French is one of the first pieces of fiction with an environmental setting/theme that I think I've read for this project. It deals with a boy from the city who learns of an endangered old growth forest of redwoods and gets involved with a child-directed initiative to save it. It's very much a city-people-with-money-bad, rural-farm-people-good story. That kind of stereotype is not a big drawback in children's publishing because child readers have not had time to become widely read. Old scenarios are new to them. In fact, Operation Redwood won the Green Earth Book Award in the children's fiction category in 2010. For this adult reader, the most interesting part of the book was the Author's Note in which French, an environmental lawyer, describes the history of redwood preservation, which also gave some idea of the inspiration for some of the events and characters in the book. The novel includes a lot of information and could easily be a reading list staple for school environmental units.
Reading this book raised lots of questions for me about environmental fiction. For one thing, what exactly is an environmental theme? In the case of Operation Redwood, I would say that it's that humans have a responsibility to act as caretaker for the Earth. But what would other themes be? Are there other themes? Is there any way for a writer to use the humans-as-caretakers theme without making it instructional instead of thematic?
And what about my desire to see environmental books that include an immersion in some kind of natural experience? Can you get that particular type of sense of place while working a plot?
How does Saving the Planet & Stuff fit in with all this? Thematically, that book is about having to decide how we'll live our lives. There's an environmental setting. There are environmentalist characters. If there's any kind of environmental theme, I'd say that it's the difficulty of living an environmental life.
Wait! Wait! Go back three paras at which point I asked for other environmental themes! I just came up with one!
Well, I look forward to reading more environmental fiction and obsessing on this further.
I definitely liked All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, which I'm going to describe as a literary mystery. (Though, wait, it's also a romance.) I liked it enough that I tried to find time during the day to sneak in some reading. I liked it even though there were some odd little quirks that would normally bother me.
- It took me a few pages to grasp the book's episodic nature, even though the episodes, often quite short, were clearly defined by Roman numerals. The episodes were usually in the main character, Judith's, present, when she is living in a socially rigid village where she has returned after having been kidnapped around the same time that one of her friends was murdered. But sometimes the episodes were in her past when she was kept captive by a dangerous man who released her after maiming her so she couldn't speak.
- I was a little put off by the lack of definition as far as the setting was concerned. It seemed to be a Puritan world to me, but the text never makes that clear and an attack from the homeland is not consistent with the Puritan era, at least to my knowledge.
- On a superficial level, Judith seems to be like Belle in the Twilight series. Men are mysteriously attracted to her. However, though the author doesn't clearly state it, I was able to see the logic of what was happening. In one case, Judith was not actually an object of desire, she was merely available. In another she is being pursued by someone hoping to take advantage of her. Only with the third man is there a real relationship. I can believe one.
Among the many things I liked about this book:
- It doesn't scream "I'm a mystery!" Though the book is supposed to have received a lot of attention last year when it was published, I didn't know anything about it. The fact that this is a mystery was sort of slowly revealed as I was reading it.
- There's a big battle scene early in the book. It was what would have been THE big climactic scene for many writers, but it came early. I definitely was wondering what was going to follow that.
- A secondary young woman character could have been a stereotypical twenty-first century teen bitch placed in a Puritan village. But she's not.
- Judith's slow understanding of what happened to friend Lottie, as well as of things she saw while a captive, and her slow reveal of what she knows, make sense.
I think an argument could be made that some scenes border on melodrama, what with one character throwing herself upon her injured beloved, another throwing himself off a cliff, and still another stripping naked to ford a water in river. Evidently I like a little melodrama.
I'm not big on reading holiday books these days. I'll often think that it would be nice to read something related to Christmas during December, but my mind runs to things like Hogfather
and I never get around to reading even those. I ended up reading Zeke Meeks vs the Horrendous Halloween
by D.L. Green
with illustrations by Josh Alves
because I heard on Facebook yesterday that the eBook edition was on sale for 99 cents. I love an eBook sale and Zeke Meeks
is a series for young readers, something I was interested in
a few years ago.
And thus I read a Halloween book.ZM vs the Horrendous Halloween
is a book for kids in the early grades. It involves a realistic story about one thing after another going wrong for Zeke on his big day, Halloween. Nothing is random here. Everything that's brought up about a character is used at some point. There is a dry, sly humor that works and good use of recurring material. I'm thinking, for instance, of the Princess Sing-Along lyrics, which I liked from the very beginning. "Don't feel that you have to change. It's okay to act real strange." Zeke Meeks vs. the Horrendous Halloween
was quite a nice Halloween surprise because it's different from so many of the other books for this age group I've seen, books that didn't involve any kind of intelligible story because of the random action, characters, and so-called humor. If The Horrendous Halloween
is representative of the rest of the series, other Zeke Meeks
are worth giving a try.
Regarding the eBook edition: Some eBooks with illustrations don't translate terrifically to the eBook format. This one was just fine. The 99 cent sale is supposed to be continuing this week, though I don't know when the week ends.
It most definitely was
is the third in The Lunar Chronicles
, which began with Cinder
, a book I definitely enjoyed. Scarlet
I wasn't quite so taken with. I'm back on board with Cress
does really well is get readers into the story without leaving them mystified because this is part three of a serial and who remembers what happened in part two? Book One was a clear and clever Cyber Cinderella story. Book Two was an intriguing take on Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, but connecting it to Cinder's story a little awkwardly. The awkwardness is gone in Book Three.
Cress is a techie Rapunzel figure, trapped on a satellite for years doing the evil queens bidding. She is also an inexperienced romantic who believes the space cowboy she ends up leaving the satellite with is the hero of her dreams. It makes sense that she gets pulled into Cinder's scooby gang, which is plotting to save a Prince Charming from having to marry an evil Moon Queen who is planning to...
There's some romance going on in these books. It's pretty clear to me that all kinds of couples are going to come out of these Chronicles
. I don't usually care for romance. But there are clever things going on with these people. Cress, for instance, is such an over-the-top sucker for romance and the object of her affections is so bad-boy questionable that there is almost a little parody going on there.
This is a serial, and I do wish I'd been able to read them in a binge instead of over a few years. That's pretty much my only complaint at this point.Cress
is a Cybils nominee in the YA Speculative Fiction category
How does a cookbook fit in with my interest in environmental books that provide an immersion in some kind of natural experience? Pam McElroy, one of the editors of The Green Teen Cookbook, Recipes for all Seasons Written by Teens, for Teens, (Laurane Marchive is the other) writes that "When it comes to food, going green" is, in great part, about shopping seasonally and buying locally. That's a lifestyle, a daily experience. McElroy also says, "Our eating habits form such an important part of our daily lives that questions of what we eat are transformed into questions of who we are. We don't say, 'I eat a vegetarian diet.' We say, 'I am a vegetarian.'"
This cookbook actually includes essays. In my experience, you have to be a bit of a foodie to read essays on cooking, and I don't know how many teenagers have that much of a commitment yet. But I very much like that editors McElroy and Marchive respect their potential readers enough to include them. They also do some neat things with taking the same recipe and changing it according to the seasons and the availability of fresh ingredients.
The recipes here include basics like French toast and tuna salad, swing into your more veggie type things (fried tofu with peanut dipping sauce), and take a shot at what some of us think of as more demanding fare (risotto with arugula pesto). The Green Teen Cookbook is a classy work that takes its subject seriously while also recognizing that people need to know how to cook regular food.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
I've said before that my idea of an environmental book is one that immerses readers in some kind of natural experience. I'm not sure that Lifetime, by Lola M. Schaefer with illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal, really does that. As the Kirkus reviewer said of it, "Is this book about the natural world? Counting? Statistics? Solving math word problems?" But the natural world is in there.
I can't say I know a lot about math. But what seems to be going on in Lifetime is an introduction to the concept of counting as well as the recognition that counting things is part of life. This isn't a traditional counting book, as in "1 papery egg sac," "2 caribou," "3 alpacas." It's just about counting. You can count the number of antlers a caribou will grow and shed in a lifetime. (10) You can count the number of beads a rattlesnake will add to its rattle. (40)
There are all kinds of animals out there, and you can count things related to them.
Hmm. Maybe there is an immersive experience here, one in which we take a human created activity and apply it to the natural world that animals live in.
I blew through the two most recent issues of The Horn Book
while riding in the car off and on for more than two weeks last month.
The July/August issue was also the annual awards issue
. This is never one of my favorites, but this year it ran an article by Elissa Gershowitz called Newbery 2014
that was essentially about books that didn't make the cut. It has just a little bit of the tone I saw this past year in articles about why the hell Tatiana Maslany
didn't get an Emmy nomination for every clone she plays on Orphan Black
. Usually the awards coverage in The Horn Book
is incredibly respectful and, um, maybe just a little bit warm and fuzzy? I liked this change of pace.
Reviews I found interesting:A Girl Called Fearless
by Catherine Linka. I was reading the review and thought, Gee, this sounds like The Handmaid's Tale
. The reviewer thought so, too. That's not a bad thing.The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang. Because it's by Gene Luen Yang.Hi, Koo!
by Jon J. Muth. I liked the panda.
The September/October Horn Book
carried a story on Robert McCloskey by Leonard Marcus and Folklore vs. Fakelore
by Jane Yolen.
Reviews:The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
by Dana Alison Levy. Maybe The Penderwicks
for guys?Very Little Red Riding Hood
by Teresa Heapy, illustrations by Sue Heap. A toddler Red Riding Hood. Hahahahahah.Edward Hopper Paints His World
by Robert Burleigh, illustrations by Wendell Minor. I like art books. I saw a couple of Hoppers at the Carnegie Museum of Art
, though, and I was kind of disappointed. Does Minor do him better?
I picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly
by Sharon Biggs Waller
as a sort of return to my teen reading when I was into historical fiction. Mad, Wicked Folly
was a bit of a roller coaster experience in which I went "I'm loving this," "No, it's a torn-between lovers scenario," "Wait, something different is going on here," "Yes, I love the art stuff."
Vicky is the child of upper middle class parents in 19 ought England. These are rigid folks who have specific expectations of their daughters. Vicky, however, has a talent for art and a willingness to study it. I loved the art aspect of this book. I don't have any desire to create art, myself, my interest is in its historical and cultural aspects. I loved all that in this book. I knew nothing about the pre-Raphaelites
. Now I'm beginning to know something about them.
Vicky also becomes involved with the suffragist movement in England. Loved that, too. Waller uses the term "suffragette" instead of "suffragist," which always annoys me because I learned that the "ette"ending is derogatory. However, in her end notes she explains the suffragist/suffragette issue, definitely to my satisfaction.
The torn-between-two-lovers thing, which was a little predictable to this experienced reader, was far more palatable to me because of the great art and feminist world that it existed in.The teenage Gail who read historical romances would have been far more appreciative.
Reading this book made me realize that there is a way to get me to read romance. Have some really good content of another nature in the book.
I liked Alice, I Think by Susan Juby very much, but I'm not sure what the story is here. This may be one of those books you have to be zenny about and just experience.
Alice is the offspring of crunchy parents who homeschooled her because on her first day of traditional first grade (she didn't attend kindergarten), she showed up dressed as a character from The Hobbit. Things didn't go well for her. One could say that learning to read early leads to no good.
I was never a hundred percent sure why Alice was seeing a therapist, unless it had something to do with poor socialization because she was homeschooled. It was probably one of her parents' ideas. Alice heads out to regular school at fifteen, inspired by her younger brother who has always attended school. He may have been too bright for their parents and had some instinctual knowledge that you just don't dress up in costumes for school. Alice says outright that she has no problem with playing favorites. She definitely prefers her brother to her mother and father.
Oh, and Alice aspires to be a cultural critic.That is a fantastic aspect of the book.
Juby describes Alice, I Think as a Teen/Adult book, and I think that's very apt. There are aspects of this book that adults are going to find more entertaining than I think teens will. The section on the people holding some kind of memorial to the late, lamented Princess of Wales, for instance, is probably far more meaningful to adults than the younger than seventeen-year-olds who don't remember the world-wide mourning at her death. As much as I liked the cultural critic business, that might be for your more sophisticated teen readers, too.
Some of you may remember that my first Juby book was Home to Woefield, definitely an adult novel published in 2010. Next I read her teen book Getting the Girl, published in 2008. I thought the main character was wonderful, "like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield." Alice, I Think was published in 2003, and I think the young girl in the 2010 Woefield might be a variation on her.
Interesting to read so much of an author's work and see her world.
Alice, I Think has a sequel. In addition, a one-season TV series was made in Canada. Yes, I may try to get hold of it. If I watch it, you can be sure I'll let you know.
Roger Sutton recently had a post at Read Roger in which he expressed frustration over reading books and finding out, without warning, that they aren't complete. They're the first in a serial. Oh, yes. I've had that happen so many times. He concludes, "Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”
I didn't have that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood. I had that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, which was the first book in this serial. The Interrupted Tale is the fourth. I've liked them all, but The Interrupted Tale took a long time to get into. These books have a very distinctive voice, one I enjoy, but it's not a very natural one.
I enjoy binge-reading adult mystery series. While I was reading The Interrupted Tale, I started thinking that binging might be the way to read serials, too. How great it would have been if I could have read all The Incorrigible Children books one right after another. There would have been no "getting to know you" period for each book. I could have just lived in the serial.
So what do those of us who enjoy binge-reading a serial after it's concluded or a series after there's plenty to binge on need to do? As Roger pointed out, we often don't know that a book we're reading isn't a complete story. Once we've accidentally stumbled into a serial, do we just put reading the rest on hold for years until the serial has been completed? And when we are aware of a "new trilogy," do we avoid it and make a list for sometime in the future?
Hmm. Perhaps I'll have more on this in the future.
Last week during my tai chi class, I trained with a more experienced student. At the end of the class, my instructor informed me that I should tell my classmate, "Thank you, older sister" (in Chinese), not because Susan is older than I am, but because she's more experienced. I will spare you the details of how meaningful I find this in terms of the distinction between taekwondo and tai chi culture. I'm just mentioning it to explain why I was dwelling on the sister issue while reading Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones this past week.
Reflections is a collection of Wynne Jones' short nonfiction pieces written for magazines, speeches, and professional groups over several decades. She collected them herself a few months before she died, meaning these articles were ones she felt had particular significance. One of the things I like about this collection is that because it isn't written and edited all in one piece, there is repetition here. The repetition creates recurring themes related to Wynne Jones' attitudes about her work.
But I really like about this collection is that so many of Wynne Jones' attitudes are ones I share. She talks about creating experiences with her writing. I've thought of writing as creating worlds. She objects to writing that is supposed to instruct. Dear heavens, how I hate that. Over and over again I'm finding things in this book that make me feel that I've found some kind of soulmate.
Oh, and though there are a couple of chapters here on heroes, if Wynne Jones even mentions The Hero's Journey, I missed it.
And, finally, the book concludes with an address one of her son's gave at her funeral in which he talks about the tweets they'd seen recently about his mother's books being comfort books for this one or that one. Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci novels are my Number One comfort books.
There's just been an amazing amount for me, personally, in this book, making me feel an incredible connection to this woman I will never know.
I found another good book for our club.
I didn't expect to like Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World
by Laurie Lawlor
with illustrations by Laura Beingessner
as much as I did. Picture book bios are often problematic to me. They sometimes seem too old for picture book folks, too young for older ones, so who are they for? This one, not so much. Definitely for mid-grade school readers. Maybe third or fourth grade.
The first thing that struck me about this book is that very early on we hear that Rachel as a child explored the outdoors by herself and had a mother who had an interest in nature. This child got her start without any formal environmental instruction, such as we would want for children these days, and, yet, she turned into Rachel Carson.
Another thing I liked about this book, and, yes, this is just me, is that it describes a woman
's story. Carson as a young woman had needy family to deal with. As often happens with achieving women of her era, she had help. In her case, her mother hustled to pull together money for school. She was encouraged by a female college professor. A male superior at the Bureau of Fisheries advised her to submit work to The Atlantic
. She was a professional woman without a personal family. If you read the Epilogue, you'll find that after Silent Spring
was published critics referred to her as "an hysterical woman." Someone asked "why a spinster with no children was so concerned about genetics."
Okay, so maybe I got into this story because of the feminist angle I read into it. But, really, the part in the beginning about simply growing up enjoying the outdoors was very significant, too.
Love the period illustrations, too.
My 48 Hour Book Challenge weekend started a little around 3:00 this afternoon, and I just finished my book around 4:45.
I always like to have a theme for 48HBCs, and this year I accepted the official 48HBC theme as my own. Diversity. I haven't done any reading of the many, many things that have been written on the subject these past couple of months. When selecting my books, I didn't even use any book lists. I had a chance to hit a couple of libraries this past month and for the most part just picked up whatever I found that seemed to fit the bill.Life is Fine
by Allison Whittenberg
(who needs a website) was an interesting read for me because I picked it up nearly a month ago. By the time I started reading it today, I no longer remembered what it was about. I like when that happens.
I want to get one thing straight right away. I liked this book. I think one could make an argument that there were a lot of cliched problem novel elements in this thing--neglected child with a single mom who needs men in her life, illness and the specter of death turns up, literature changes lives--and, yet, I liked it. I think main character Samara has a little bit of attitude that shows up not so much in her first-person narration but in her interactions with people. I liked very much the way race was handled here. There are no characters wearing metaphorical signs saying "I'm the African American character!" "I'm the Puerto Rican character!" Yet they are there. Now this may be why you want to see books by ethnic writers. They may be able to create ethnic characters who just are
Now, after all this, I will tell you the really
neat thing about this book. Teenage Samara falls for her substitute teacher--who is seventy, if he's a day. I would have loved to have seen a lot more about that.
I definitely would be interested in reading more of Whittenberg's work.
When I first heard about Josephine Baker
, way back in my youth, I found her fascinating. I don't know if it was the banana costume, the gyrating hips, or the life in France, but I was impressed. So when I heard there was a picture book bio, I decided to keep an eye out for it. Josephine, The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
by Patricia Hruby Powell
with illustrations by Christian Robinson
is a sharp and arty book. It's written in free verse that is both effortless to read and expressive and intense. Many picture book bios don't cover an entire lifetime. This one does. I think Hurby Powell is able to do that because she uses dance and Baker's experiences with the segregated world she was born into as threads that keep her focused.
Baker's experience with segregation and work as a civil rights activist give this book another level of interest. As with Persepolis
, it doesn't feel as if the reader (this reader, at least) is being instructed. A segregated world is just the well-defined setting for the book.
Oh, my gosh. How could I have waited so long to read Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
? How soon can I get hold of the second volume?
I probably would have been even more blown away by this memoir of living through the fall of the Shah of Iran, the fundamentalist takeover of that country, and its war with Iraq if I hadn't read Reading Lolita in Tehran
, which deals with some of the same period but from an adult's experience. What's amazing in both cases is the way people living under those conditions tried to maintain normality, continuing with their social gatherings in secret, collecting western pop culture trinkets. Oh, my gosh.
No wonder I see this book on my local schools' summer reading lists so often. But this isn't instructive, you-ought-to-learn-about-this-culture stuff. This is simply little Marjane's life, and she has quite a character. She's a very little revolutionary at first, but when the revolution leads to a fundamentalist takeover, she doesn't buckle under to that.
I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. Very pleased. Maybe a gift for my brother-in-law, who likes history but probably has never read a graphic novel.
My only complaint--the print seemed small at first. But once I was into the book, I no longer noticed.
My last two Book Challenge books.
First off, this is a two volume set. Be sure to read Boxers first.
Boxers and Saints are Gene Luen Yang's terrific historical graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion. They're treated as one work because the books treat the same material from different points of view. I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion before 3:00 this afternoon. By 8:00 this evening, I had a working knowledge!
So in 1900 a secret organization in China called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists led an uprising of peasants against western foreign influence, including the spread of Christianity. They were known as "Boxers" to the west because they practiced exercises they believed would give them powers. Presumably westerners thought they looked as if they were boxing. The Boxers fought against and killed "western devils" and "secondary devils"--those Chinese who either worked for westerners or accepted Christianity, the western devil's faith.
Boxers deals with the experience of a young villager named Little Bao who becomes the leader of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Saints deals with the experience of Four-Girl, a young villager who becomes a Christian. One of the particular pleasures in these books is that Four-Girl, the protagonist in Saints, is a minor character in Boxers. Little Bao, the star of Boxers, is a minor character in Saints.
Though, really, neither of them could be called minor.
Earlier today I had trouble with the long descriptions in Haters. The thing with a good graphic novel, and these are good graphic novels, is that the graphic images carry the descriptions and even some of the action. The author doesn't have to stop everything to tell readers how someone is dressed or what their surroundings look like. You can just suck in basic story, character, information.
Reading a good graphic novel is such a rush because you can take in so much so fast.
I am out of books, but it's 9:00 PM on Sunday, anyway. I'm ending this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge on a definite high.
Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez was a rough, slow read for me. This is a boys-boys-I-like-cute-boys, shopping-and-clothes, and mean-girls book. That just is not a story situation that holds my attention. I had to start skimming the long paragraphs describing clothes and houses. Also a chapter on shopping and some dating sections. I am very aware, however, that there are many, many of these kinds of books in YA, meaning that there are plenty of people who do like reading them. Those readers may embrace Haters.
So Haters is a boys-boys-I-like-cute-boys, shopping-and-clothes, and mean-girls book with ethnic characters. It's also a kind of teenage fairy tale with all good things coming to main character Paski. A couple of interesting points:
In this LA world, beauty and money are great equalizers. Being Hispanic, Vietnamese, or any variation of African-American isn't an issue for people who are beautiful and rich. That's probably the case in real life.
In one of the magical realism episodes, Paski is visited in a vision by a child who will become the grandmother of her Japanese/African-American classmates/neighbors. This child has the knowledge of the adult she will become and of the world after she leaves it. She says something to the effect (and I'm paraphrasing here), I put in time in a Japanese internment camp as a child here in America so that my grandsons could be treated like crap when they get to high school not because they're Japanese but because they're chess geeks and just middle class? What the hell? With ya on that one, gram.
Spring Blossoms by Carole Gerber with illustrations by Leslie Evans is another one of these experiential books I'm fond of. With this one, you just sink into the experience of spring by focusing only on flowering trees.
The early part of the books involves just how some flowering trees look. After you get used to that, you move on to trees that bear both male and female blooms. Moving on, we come to pollen moving from male blooms to female blooms on balsam firs. There's a progression from less sophisticated information to more sophisticated.
I'm aware that I've been focusing a lot on picture books for this environmental book club. I'm working on that.
If you've heard lots of good things about Dare Me
by Megan Abbott
, believe them. This is a terrific adult thriller about those YA cliches, bitchy cheerleaders.
Main character Addy is the beta female in a cheerleader squad. She serves her alpha "captain," Beth, and initially seems very comfortable in that spot in the hierarchy and with her relationship with the traditionally awful Beth. The two of them are tight, tight, tight. Their world is disturbed right off the bat when a new cheer leading coach comes in, one as badass as Beth. I wondered, myself, if she wasn't a former Beth, reliving the good old days as best she can. To do it, though, she has to battle Beth. Among the things they're battling for is the beta, Addy.
Oh, yeah. And there's a guy.
Whenever I read an adult book with a young protagonist, my immediate question is Why? Why is this an adult book, not a YA or children's book? Theme, I was told once, is an important factor in what makes YA YA. Dare Me
falls well within the noir genre, and the noir themes that apply here are far more adult than YA. Okay, my understanding of noir is shaky. But I've been reading about themes involving a fate that can't be avoided, as well as despair, darkness, and obsession. None of the cheerleaders in Dare Me
are made happy by anything they do or achieve. And their coach? She knows things aren't going to get any better.
Is this all there is? How's that for a theme? It's not one traditionally associated with YA, which usually deals with moving into the adult world, finding a place in society, etc.
I felt the homoerotic touch was unnecessary. It risked making the story just a common all-about-love thing. On the other hand, don't noir protagonists often have at least a sexual attraction to a femme fatale? In which case, Dare Me
was giving a neat twist to classic noir.
Early on in Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty
with illustrations by David Roberts
, young Rosie creates something that fails. And she feels bad about it. And I thought, Oh, this is going to be a girl self-esteem book. While this late twentieth century feminist is all for young girls having good self-esteem, I've read about it before.
But I was wrong. This isn't a girl self-esteem book. This is an importance of failure book. There's something I haven't seen a lot of. The main character is a female because the main character had to be something. She could have been a genderless anthropomorphic bear, that's how little sex roles have to do with this story.Rosie Revere
deals specifically with the value of failure in engineering. In many such tech fields, failure brings practitioners closer to reaching their goals because it narrows the field of things to try. I think you could argue that failure is an important part of many fields. I could also do an old coot rant about how our educational system values artificial success (A's! Check pluses!) over the reality of work. Hey, but I'm not going to get all wound up.
How important is the basic premise of Rosie Revere, Engineer
? According to the engineer I eat with most nights and twice on Sundays, failure was how those people worked a century or two ago. Those were the days before engineers had adequate knowledge of properties of materials, and may not have had much in the way of materials, for that matter. So if they built a bridge and it failed, they built another, differently. No, it doesn't sound very efficient or economical and wouldn't have made a great movie. Progress is a very fine thing, isn't it? No one would want a bridge to go down during rush hour just because failure is how you move forward toward success.
Nonetheless, failure before
you get to the bridge point, in the early invention period that Rosie Revere, Engineer
deals with, is another thing. Accepting failure and understanding its uses is an old idea that's due for a comeback.
I Kill the Mockingbird
by Paul Acampora
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
review copy from the public library, but I'll be buying a copy so I can transfer all my dog-eared pages
We rarely review YA books, but exceptions can be made.
This is a book for book lovers.
Three good friends on the brink of high school hatch a fake conspiracy to ensure that everyone will actually read their summer reading assignment -- To Kill a Mockingbird.
There's a romance subplot, a cancer subplot, and a poke-mild-fun-at-Catholics subplot. There are literary allusions to children's literature right and left (the three good friends are, and have always been Readers).
Oh, and there's a teaching subplot. Mr. Nowak, Fat Bob, has these words of wisdom before he dies of a massive coronary:
"It's not enough to know what all the words mean," he continued. "A good reader starts to see what an enritre book is trying to say. And then a good reader will have something to say in return. If you're reading well," he told us, "you're having a conversation."
I raised my hand. "A conversation with who?"
"With the characters in the book," said Mr. Nowak. "With the author. With friends and fellow readers. A book connects you to the universe like a cell phone connects you to the Internet."
Mr. Nowak's the one who inspires the three culprits who hatch the I Kill the Mockingbird plan. And in the end,
"All the teachers are talking about it...If you're a teacher, you dream about having students who will try to change the world someday because of something you do or say in the classroom."
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I like books that stay on task, as I always put it. It may be that as a reader I get distracted if there are too many different things going on. I found the cookery part of Getting the Girl, A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby distracting.
Sherman Mack is a wonderful character, like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield. The mystery he's investigating, who singles out girls to be turned on by the general population, is a serious one, if maybe a little over the top. Sherm's interest in cooking ties in to the mystery by the end, but it seems unconnected until then. Same with his out-there Mom and the neighbor guy who serves as a father figure for Sherm.
Juby does a couple of interesting things here. First, she does a neat twist on the cliched mean girls stereotype. She also has created a world in which every popular kid in school, whether they earned their popularity with their looks, their athletic prowess, or something else, isn't hateful. They certainly aren't heroic or particularly positive in their behavior, but, again, they aren't the evil stereotype we're used to seeing.
I have another one of Juby's books here that I hope to get to in the next few weeks.