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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 5,219
26. Monday Review: SCIENCE COMICS: CORAL REEFS by Maris Wicks

Synopsis: First Second Books' new series Science Comics is no doubt something that I would have loved as a kid. There wasn't nearly the selection of graphic novels or educational comics in the 1980s, though. I had a pretty good collection of Charlie... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Monday Review: SCIENCE COMICS: CORAL REEFS by Maris Wicks as of 1/1/1900
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27. Thursday Review: THE FOG DIVER by Joel Ross

Check it out--no whitewashing here!Synopsis: The Fog Diver was this year's Cybils Award winner for Elementary and Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction, and I've been intending to read it for several months now—so when it won the Cybils I made a... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Thursday Review: THE FOG DIVER by Joel Ross as of 3/17/2016 11:54:00 AM
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28. Review: Roman Muradov’s ‘The End Of A Fence’ is cryptic, but beautiful

Immensely talented Russian illustrator Roman Muradov has quickly established himself as one of the most complex cartoonists around, both visually and narratively. In Muradov’s hands, the simplest fable can become a massively abstracted exercise that is usually part giddy, part confounding. If you’ve been alienated from his previous work because of this, The End Of […]

2 Comments on Review: Roman Muradov’s ‘The End Of A Fence’ is cryptic, but beautiful, last added: 3/16/2016
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29. Bread & Roses by Bruce Watson


This review originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Z Magazine. I'd forgotten about it until somebody today mentioned that it's the anniversary of most of the striking workers' demands being met (12 March 1912), and so today seemed like a good one to post this:


by Bruce Watson
New York, Viking, 2005, 337 pp.

Lawrence, Massachusetts was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, what might be called one of the greatest mill towns in the United States, but "greatest" is a difficult term, and underneath it hide all the conditions that erupted during the frigid winter of 1912 into a strike that affected both the labor movement and the textile industry for decades afterward.
           
Bruce Watson's compelling and deeply researched chronicle of the strike takes its name from a poem and song that have come to be associated with Lawrence, although there is, according to Watson, no evidence that "Bread and Roses" ever appeared as a slogan in Lawrence until long after 1912.  This fact might suggest that Watson's position is one of a debunker, but he offers less debunking than revitalizing, and the ultimate effect of his book is to show why the romantic notions behind the "Bread and Roses" phrase do a disservice to the courage and accomplishments of the strikers.


Watson's greatest strength is his ability to weave weighty research into a narrative that is lively and seldom ponderous.  There are costs to this approach, because the minutia of a strike's planning and execution are not always suspenseful, and so, as Watson strives to hold the reader's interest there are times when the sentences sound like the narration of "America's Most Wanted" and swaths of yellow from the journalism of 1912 seem to have seeped into the book's pages.  This is a minor annoyance, though, in a book filled with vivid portraits of ordinary workers and their families, and with precise, careful renderings of an age and culture.  Again and again, Watson brings the book back to the circumstances of the immigrant workers who started the strike, and he compares their lives to those of other workers throughout the United States, to the owners and administrators of the mills, to the politicians, to the police and the soldiers who were sometimes fierce combatants with the strikers, sometimes bewildered and beleaguered sympathizers.
            
It would be interesting to watch a free-market ideologue respond to Bread and Roses, because again and again Watson presents damning evidence of the failures of unbridled capitalism to produce anything but misery for people who worked in the mills.  He includes a budget created by one of the workers' wives; she lists such expenses as rent, kerosene, milk, bread, and meat.  Watson lays out the family's other expenses, the fact that they couldn't afford to buy coal and so their only heat during the brutal winters came from the bits of wood their children could scavenge, the luxuries they couldn't buy (butter and eggs), and then comments: "Like most mill workers, the Bleskys could not afford clothes fashioned in Manhattan sweatshops from fabric made in Lawrence.  ...  The Bleskys each wore the same clothes until they wore out.  When the strike began, Mrs. Blesky was still wearing the shawl, skirt, and shirtwaist she had bought in Poland three years earlier, just before coming to Lawrence.  Ashamed of her shabby appearance, she almost never left her home."
             
Searching through numerous archives, Watson has unearthed one story after another like this one, and each undermines the fanciful justifications and accusations made by the mill owners, which Watson also chronicles well.  To his credit, though, he does not present the owners, the politicians who supported them, and the reporters who often printed even their most outrageous lies as caricatures, creatures so obsessed with profit that they would happily trod over the people who created that profit for them.  Instead, he tries to divine the self-delusions and paranoid fears that motivated the workers' many antagonists.  While on the surface it may seem immoral to try to portray the masters of such misery as flawed and idealistic human beings, the result is both complex and useful, because ideology was as much a part of what created the misery as was greed.
             
The Lawrence strike became a national cause, and it attracted the attention of celebrities and rising stars of the labor movement, including Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn of the IWW and John Golden of the AF of L.  The events and tactics that brought so much attention to Lawrence are particularly fascinating, and Watson does an admirable job of showing how the strikers decided to carry out the strike and advance their cause, particularly with the controversial and immensely effective "children's exodus", where the children of strikers were sent to the homes of union members in New York, Vermont, and elsewhere.   With each new day and week of the strike, more groups joined in, until the strike itself became, for a short time, a panoply of people from all around the world.  Numerous women, too, who had often been relegated to the background in labor struggles before, became vital players in Lawrence,  and the book includes a marvelous photograph of a parade of women holding their hands high, joyous smiles on their faces as they march down the street, defying the martial law imposed on the city.

Even as more and more strands are added to the story, the tale itself stays clear.  Watson manages to show how the different segments of the labor movement both aided and undermined each other, and he doesn't smooth over the conflicts that broke out when the national interests were different from the local ones.  (On the whole, though, this strike was remarkably unified compared to others both before and after it.)  Haywood and Flynn in particular make for great characters in the story, but Watson skillfully keeps them from stealing the stage, always bringing the story back to the lives of the workers in Lawrence, the people who would have to live with the consequences of the strike once the nation's interest turned to other events.
             
In the end, it is the ordinary workers who remain the most remarkable element of the Lawrence strike, as Watson tells the story, because here were people from vastly different backgrounds, experiences, religions, and even political views who found solidarity and, through this solidarity, a certain amount of success.  The epilogue is not misty-eyed about the effects and consequences of the strike, but it also offers a kind of quiet hope for the future: for all the possibilities that imaginative, energetic, and compassionate mass action can create.

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30. Review of the Day: Dwarf Nose by Wilhelm Hauff

DwarfNose1Dwarf Nose
By Wilhelm Hauff
Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
Translated by Anthea Bell
Minedition
$19.99
ISBN: 97898888341139
Ages 8-12
On shelves April 1st

It seems so funny to me that for all that our culture loves and adores fairytales, scant attention is paid to the ones that can rightfully be called both awesome and obscure. There is a perception out there that there are only so many fairytales out there that people really need to know. But for every Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty you run into, there’s a Tatterhood or Riquet with the Tuft lurking on the sidelines. Thirty or forty years ago you’d sometimes see these books given a life of their own front and center with imaginative picture book retellings. No longer. Folktales and fairytales are widely viewed by book publishers as a dying breed. A great gaping hole exists, and into it the smaller publishers of the world have sought to fulfill this need. Generally speaking they do a very good job of bringing world folktales to the American marketplace. Obscure European fairytales, however, are rare beasts. How thrilled I was then to discover the republication of Wilhelm Hauff and Lisbeth Zwerger’s Dwarf Nose. Originally released in America in 1995 by North-South books, the book has long been out-of-print. Now the publisher minedition has brought it back and what a beauty it is. Strange and sad and oddly uplifting, this tale has all the trappings of the fairytales you know and love, but somehow remains entirely unexpected just the same.

For there once was a boy who lived with his two adoring parents. His father was a cobbler and his mother sold vegetables and herbs in the market. One day the boy was assisting his mother when a very strange old woman came to them and starting digging her dirty old hands through their wares. Incensed, the boy insulted the old woman, which as you may imagine didn’t go down very well. When the boy is made to help carry the woman’s purchases back to her home he is turned almost immediately into a squirrel and made to work for seven years in her kitchen. After that time he awakes, as if in a dream, only to find seven years have passed and his body has been transformed. Now he has no neck to speak of, a short frame, a hunched back, and a extraordinarily long nose. Sad that his parents refuse to acknowledge him as their son, he sets forth to become the king’s cook. And all would have gone without incident had he not picked up that enchanted goose in the market one day. Written in 1827 this tale is famous in Germany but remains relatively obscure in the United States today.

DwarfNose4I go back and forth when I consider why this fairytale isn’t all that famous to Americans. There are a variety of reasons. There are some depressing elements to it (kid is unrecognizable to parents, loses seven years of his life, etc.) sure. There aren’t any beautiful princesses (except possibly the goose). The bad guy doesn’t even appear in the second act. Still, it’s the peculiarities that give it its flavor. We’ve heard of plenty of stories where the heroes are transformed by the villains, but how many villains give those same heroes a useful occupation in the process? It’s Dwarf Nose’s practicalities that are so interesting, as are the nitty gritty elements of the tale. I love the use of herbs particularly. Whether the story is talking about Sneezewell or Bellyheal, you get the distinct feeling that you’re listening to someone who knows what they’re talking about. Plus there are tiny rodent servants. That’s a plus.

We like it when our fairytales give us nice clear-cut morals. Be clever, be kind, be good. This may be another reason why Dwarf Nose never really took off in the States. At first glance one would assume that the moral would be about not judging by appearances. Dwarf Nose’s parents cannot comprehend that their beautiful boy is now ugly, and so they throw him out. He gets a job as a chef but does not search out a remedy until the goose he rescues gives him some hope. I was fully prepared for him to remain under his spell for the rest of his life without regrets, but of course that doesn’t happen. He’s restored to his previous beauty, he returns to his parents who welcome him with open arms, and he doesn’t even marry the goose girl. Hauff ends with a brief mention of a silly war that occurred thanks to Dwarf Nose’s disappearance ending with the sentence, “Small causes, as we see, often have great consequences, and this is the story of Dwarf Nose.” That right there would be your moral then. Not an admonishment to avoid judging the outward appearance of a thing (though Dwarf Nose’s talents drill that one home pretty clearly) but instead that a little thing can lead to a great big thing.

DwarfNose2When this version of Dwarf Nose was originally released in the States in 1994 the reviews were puzzled by its length. Booklist said it was “somewhat verbose to modern listeners” and School Library Journal noted the “grotesque tenor of the book”. Fascinatingly this is not the only incarnation of this tale you might find in America. In 1960 Doris Orgel translated a version of “Dwarf Long-Nose” which was subsequently illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The School Library Journal review of Zwerger’s version in 1994 suggested that the Sendak book was infinitely more kid-friendly than hers. I think that’s true to a certain extent. You get a lot more pictures with the Sendak and the book itself is a much smaller format. While Zwerger excels in infinitely beautiful watercolors, Sendak’s pen and inks with just the slightest hint of orange for color are almost cartoonish in comparison. What I would argue then is that the intended age of the audience is different. Sure the text is remarkably similar, but in Zwerger’s hands this becomes a fairytale for kids comfortable with Narnia and Hogwarts. I remember as a tween sitting down with my family’s copy of World Tales by Idries Shah as well as other collected fairytales. Whether a readaloud for a fourth grade class, an individual tale for the kid obsessed with the fantastical, or bedtime reading for older ages, Dwarf Nose doesn’t go for the easy audience, but it does go for an existing one.

Lisbeth Zwerger is a fascinating illustrator with worldwide acclaim everywhere except, perhaps, America. It’s not that her art feels too “foreign” for U.S. palates, necessarily. I suspect that as with the concerns with the length of Dwarf Nose, Zwerger’s art is usually seen as too interstitial for this amount of text. We want more art! More Zwerger! I’ve read a fair number of her books over the years, so I was unprepared for some of the more surreal elements of this one. In one example the witch Herbwise is described as tottering in a peculiar fashion. “…it was as if she had wheels on her legs, and might tumble over any moment and fall flat on her face on the paving stones.” For this, Zwerger takes Hauff literally. Her witch is more puppet than woman, with legs like bicycle wheels and a face like a Venetian plague doctor. We have the slightly unnerving sensation that the book we are reading is, in fact, a performance put on for our enjoyment. That’s not a bad thing, but it is unexpected.

DwarfNose3When Zwerger’s Dwarf Nose came out in 1994 it was entering a market where folktales were on the outs. Still, libraries bought it widely. A search on WorldCat reveals that more than 500 libraries currently house in on their shelves after all these years. And while folktale sections of children’s rooms do have a tendency to fall into disuse, it is possible that the book has been reaching its audience consistently over the years. It may even be time for an upgrade. Though it won’t slot neatly into our general understanding of what a fairytale consists of, Dwarf Nose will find its home with like-minded fellows. Oddly touching.

On shelves April 1st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Misc: Check out this fantastic review of the same book by 32 pages.

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31. A Few Things

One thing I forgot to mention in my write-up of Long Way to a Small Angry Planet yesterday was how much the book is about violence and the ways in which cultures and individuals deal with it. I mentioned Dr Chef’s species the Grum who had destroyed themselves in a war and the survivors had decided it was not worth rebuilding their society, they had ruined their right to exist in the galaxy and so the species is going extinct.

I also mentioned the captain of the ship, Ashby. As an Exodan human he is a pacifist. When humans were still on Earth and doing their best to destroy it and each other, the wealthy picked up stakes and moved to Mars, creating a colony there but only for the people who could afford it. Those left behind on a planet that was no longer hospitable to human life, made a last ditch effort to survive by building ships and launching out into the unknowns of space with no real destination. Some of them survived because they were found by one of the species of the Galactic Commons. As a result of their experiences, the Exodan humans developed a culture of pacifism that is often so extreme they refuse to even defend themselves when attacked.
 
All of the various species in the book have stories of violence and war in their collective histories. The Galactic Commons itself is a kind of galactic UN. How each culture came to terms with their violent past makes for an interesting examination of responses to violence. One culture goes in for communal orgies while another becomes so rule-bound that spontaneity is not heard of and would probably get you thrown into prison anyway.
 
Then there are the Toremi, a species whose whole existence is shaped by the continuous wars between the clans. They all believe the wars are sanctioned by the Pattern, the belief system by which they live. The violence doesn’t just exist between clans but within one’s own clan as well. It is a kind of dog-eat-dog existence and the more you kill the more respect you garner. Any offence no matter how slight, might get you killed or prompt you to kill someone else.
 
One of the great things about the book is that while all of this is there, it is never posted with flashing neon signs nor does the author make any intrusions and tell us what to think. We are being offered options, different ways of being and the reader gets to choose and decide for herself.
 
And this is why blogs are so great for talking about books – we aren’t bound to one review and done, we get extra innings.
 
While perusing the Baileys Prize longlist I spied The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. This is the book that has the tête-à-tête with the charismatic squirrel in it that I am waiting my turn for it at the library. I have moved up to 27th place. Alas I was hoping I would have that book and the next Squirrel Girl comic about the same time but it is not looking likely. I am already up to number 8 for Squirrel Girl.
 
Since I am on the topic of books on prize lists, The Vegetarian is on the longlist for the Man Booker International. I’m sure all the books on the list are good but I can’t imagine that any of them could be as good as Kang’s. I hope she wins!
 
Another unsolicited distraction arrived in my mailbox yesterday. This one is by Janet Todd. That would be the same Janet Todd who has written biographies of Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Aphra Behn, and many others. Except this book is a novel, A Man of Genius. Because of the cover (a Venice canal) and the cover blurb rapturing on about love, obsession and “decadent glory,” I was in the process of moving it to the pile of books to get rid of when Bookman stopped me. You know who Janet Todd is don’t you? The name was familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. Then Bookman connected the dots for me and suggested I might want to not be so hasty in getting rid of it. He was right. So now it is on my poor reading table.

The book is historical fiction featuring a woman who makes a living writing cheap gothic novels. She meets and becomes the lover of Robert James, supposed poetic genius. They go to Venice. Spies, intrigue, madness, revelations ensue. Sounds like a potboiler and not my typical choice of reading but I will give it try. Just don’t know when yet. But that probably surprises no one.


Filed under: Books, New Acquisitions, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Baileys Women's Prize Longlist, Elizabeth McKenzie, Han Kang, Janet Todd, Man Booker International, squirrels

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32. The Marvel Rundown: Marvel’s best new book will take you by surprise

560aacd474e5bMarvel characters are becoming more relevant everyday. Since the Guardians of the Galaxy characters became a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one question has been littering the minds of long time Thanos fans: where the hell is Adam Warlock? With the release of The Infinity Entity #1, we get our answer. Not only that, we also get the launch of […]

5 Comments on The Marvel Rundown: Marvel’s best new book will take you by surprise, last added: 3/11/2016
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33. Seeking the fearless in women’s arts & letters

The Minola Review welcomes arts and letters from all female-identifying writers. Interested in work that is fearless and unsympathetic and goes where others are uncomfortable or afraid to go. Open to submissions of poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews. Deadline: rolling.

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34. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

I have been looking forward to telling you all about The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers since I finished it a few days ago. It is one of those quiet books that you want to tell everyone to read because you loved it so very much and just did not want it to end and you want everyone else to love it as much you do. And then I find out it has made it onto the Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist and did you hear me go Squeee!? Because now for sure more people will know about this book.

The Long Way is Chambers’ debut novel. It was originally published because of a Kickstarter. Chambers found herself almost through a draft when her freelance writing work dried up. She had two options, shelve the book and return to it later or see if she could get funding to get it published. Thank goodness she got funding!

The book is one of those stories that is about everything and nothing. There is not much of a plot and hardly any action but I loved the characters so much every time I picked up the book I wanted to hang out with them and never leave.

The story takes place in the distant future. Humans have destroyed Earth, colonized Mars and headed out to the stars. But we have also gone back to Earth to try and fix the damage. As a result we have a number of different human societies with vastly different values. We’ve also met other species out there in the galaxy and become part of the Galactic Commons. The Wayfarer is a tunneling ship. They take jobs where they create tunnels through space and time to shorten the distance between areas of the galaxy to make space travel easier and faster. Basically they create stable wormholes from point A to point B.

The ship is owned and captained by the genial Ashby, a human of the Exodans, which means he is a pacifist among other things. His crew is composed of Rosemary, a clerk and new hire he brings on to do all the paperwork at which he is really bad and because of that is in jeopardy of not being able to pick up good work. Rosemary is a Martian human and running away from something. Then there are the ship’s techs, Kizzy (human) who loves fire shrimp, crazy outfits and keeps the engines running and the systems in operating order, and Jenks (human) who is the computer wizard and keeps the ship’s AI, Lovey, in tip top shape. Jenks is a small man because his Gaian mother did not believe in vaccinations and other sorts of medical interventions. Lovey, the AI, is sentient and she and Jenks are in love.

Also on the crew is Sissix. She is the pilot and an Aandrisk, a species that to humans look like person-sized lizards with feathers on their heads. Dr Chef is both the ship’s cook and doctor. He is a species called Grum, a six legged kind of insect-y looking individual. He is one of about 300 left of his kind because they had a great war and pretty much destroyed themselves. The survivors decided that as a species they no longer deserved to reproduce and so they are on the verge of going extinct.

We also have Ohan, the navigator. They are a Sianat pair, a species that is tall and furry. Long ago some of them were infected with a virus that allows them to see space and time like no other creature in the known galaxy. The culture developed so that each Sianat is deliberately infected with the virus at a certain age and at that time the infected individual goes from being singular to being a pair. Those who refuse to be infected or who partake of the cure, are heretics exiled.

Finally there is Corbin. He is the ship’s algaeist. The ship’s fuel is mostly algae and it is Corbin’s job to grow the algae and do all things algae. He is really good at his job and really bad at being a decent human being. Perpetually grumpy and uncomfortable around others, he is perfectly happy spending all his time with the algae and minimal time with the rest of crew.

The Wayfarer has been awarded a big and well-paying job by the General Commons. They are to create a new tunnel into Toremi Ka space. The Toremi Ka are a species that is perpetually at war among their various clans. There has recently been a schism and some of the Toremi Ka have made a treaty with the GC, protect us from the other clans and we will give you unlimited access to ambi, a hard to harvest and expensive fuel. It will take the Wayfarer a year to reach the spot in Tormei Ka space where they are to create the tunnel. And so we follow the crew over the course of the year as they go from place to place, making stops to visit friends and family along the way, pick up supplies, and have a few unexpected things happen. They arrive to do the tunnel, a few more things happen.

And that’s it. The whole story.

The point is not the plot, not the tunneling job. The point of the story is the journey there, the characters, their thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears, their relationships with each other. It is a story about getting along with people who have vastly different backgrounds and beliefs. There is much here about tolerance and acceptance. There is a crisis moment when someone is dying but can be saved by a medical intervention that goes against every single one of their beliefs.

It is hard to say why I loved this book so much. Maybe it is because the characters are so well developed? Maybe because I liked them all so much, even the grumpy Corbin. There was no slow part, not once did I wish the book would move along faster but many times I wished it would slow down so I could linger longer.

I know a lot of people don’t like science fiction but I think this is a science fiction book even non-SF reading people might like. And if you are an SF fan and I tell you the book has a Firefly feel to it, you might understand a little more why I loved it so much. That’s the best I can do. Read the book. It deserves more attention. It certainly had my vote for the Bailey’s prize.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Baileys Women's Prize Longlist, Becky Chambers

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35. The Vegetarian

cover artWhat to make of The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I have been waiting so very long to read this book. I first heard about it around this time last year over on Three Percent. I thought it sounded amazing. It wasn’t available in the US, had not been published here. In the meantime, it began turning up on blogs of people who are not in the US and I wanted to read it more each time. Finally, in November of last year it appeared in my library catalog as being “on order.” I immediately put myself at number one on the holds queue. And I waited. And Waited. And then waited some more. Until at last the book was at the library and ready for me to pick up. Was all that waiting worth it? Oh yes.
 
The Vegetarian was ably translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. It is a beautiful book about mental illness, family, beauty, responsibility, refusing to comply with social rules and family expectations. It’s tone is quiet and gentle even when some of the situations are violent. It is sometimes overwhelmingly sad and sometimes breathtakingly gorgeous. Occasionally it is mildly humorous. Most of the time it is disturbing, unsettling. This is not a comfort read.
 
Yeong-hye is the vegetarian in question. She is married but the relationship is not a loving one. Her husband chose her because she was convenient, submissive, and no trouble. He is trying to climb the corporate ladder and impressions are everything. Yeong-hye takes care of the house and all her husband’s needs, she doesn’t complain when he works late or needs to go out for a drink with the boss. She is a maid with benefits and her husband doesn’t once stop to consider her needs or desires because he does not care and they do not matter. Her job, her position, her life is to be there entirely for him.
 
One night Yeong-hye has a dream. We are not privy to what the dream is right away, though we learn about it later and it is horrific. It is this dream that makes her decide to become a vegetarian, more vegan actually since she throws out all the milk and eggs and meat in the refrigerator and refuses to cook anything other than vegetarian for her husband. This effectively upends her husband’s well-ordered world as once she refuses to eat meat, she begins refusing to do other things as well. The consequences are terrible in the true sense of the word.

The next section of the book is narrated by her brother-in-law who is an artist. He falls in love with Yeong-hye. He conceives an art project that involves painting flowers on her naked body and filming it. The flowers are vivid and alive, different than anything he has done before. Yeong-hye loves them and does not want them to wash off. There are some beautiful scenes in this section, almost transcendent moments and I got the feeling that if Yeong-hye could be perpetually covered in painted flowers that everything would be ok for her. But of course this is not the case.

The third section is narrated by Yeong-hye’s sister, In-hye. Yeong-hye has been committed to a mental institution and now refuses to eat anything. She is wasting away and medical staff keep trying to intervene but their attempts are unsuccessful. In-hye is the good sister, the one who follows all the rules. She has her own successful business, a young child, and while she is no longer married to her artist husband, she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. The rest of the family has disowned Yeong-hye so it is In-hye who is paying the medical bills, who consults with the doctors, who visits regularly and tries desperately to make her sister well.

Gradually, In-hye begins to understand the things behind Yeong-hye’s refusal to eat, not through long heart-to-heart conversations with her sister, but through her visits and sitting silently with her and being forced to think about their childhood, their father, their lives. In-hye realizes how much anger she has inside of her and can only imagine if that is what she carries, what must her sister be holding inside? The book ends with the sisters and brought tears to my eyes, is bringing tears right now as I type this.
 
Most of the story is told to us through the eyes of Yeong-hye’s husband, brother-in-law, and sister. Only in a few short places early in the book does Yeong-hye speak for herself. Her silence is not just in the narrative but in her life too. She has some short dialogue in a few places but it is reported through someone else’s narrative. The others comment frequently on how quiet she is, how she won’t talk and this causes no end of frustration to all involved.

I loved The Vegetarian. It is not a lighthearted read. But it did not leave me depressed either. It manages to walk that fine line of tragedy without tipping over the edge into making you feel like you’ve been through the wringer. Instead, when I turned the last page I felt sad and stunned and sat there saying wow, wow, wow over and over. And then I spent the rest of the evening telling Bookman at random moments how good the book was.

I am very happy that Kang has a new book out, Human Acts. It is getting much praise. Hopefully I won’t have to wait an entire year before I get to read it.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Han Kang

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36. Thursday Review: MARTians by Blythe Woolston

It's hard to see, but that's a pattern of little shopping carts in the background...Synopsis: So far, everything I've read by Blythe Woolston—that being The Freak Observer (reviewed here) and Catch and Release (reviewed here)—has been a tiny... Read the rest of this post

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37. All the Birds in the Sky

cover artAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders got lots of prepublication buzz. So original and unexpected and really really good. I thought the plot synopsis sounded good and I have read a few of Anders’ pieces on i09 and really liked them so I figured, why not take a chance? I hopped on the library list and got in pretty early in the queue for a change. I am not going to fall in the with the “it’s so amazing and original” crowd because I didn’t think it was either of those. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the book, it was an enjoyable read and the plot was a little out of the ordinary but not so far out I’d call it original.

What is the plot? It follows the lives of Laurence and Patricia from childhood to their mid-twenties. Both of them have insanely draconian parents that I found a bit hard to believe. Patricia and Laurence are both a little odd. Laurence is a super computer genius kid who builds a two-second time-travel watch he found the specs for on the internet. When he decides to go to Boston to see a rocket launch from MIT but doesn’t tell his parents, he meets the designers of the rocket who are all impressed with this little kid and who give him hope that one day he might do great things. His parents aren’t so pleased. They send him to a school where discipline in strict and rote memorization is the teaching method of choice. Laurence’s parents also decide he spends too much time indoors, and somehow are completely clueless that he is building a super computer in his closet (do they not look at their electric bill and wonder why it is so high?), so they regularly send him to outdoor adventure camps.

Patricia has an older sister who likes to terrorize small animals, chopping the heads of birds and squirrels and other creatures. She’s a demented serial killer in the making. But because she follows her parents’ rules and gets good grades in school she is the favorite child. Patricia doesn’t like rules and spends far too much time running wild in the woods behind her house. While trying to save a bird with a hurt wing from her sister, Patricia learns she can understand bird language. The bird asks her to take him to the Parliament Tree so off Patricia goes, deep into the woods. She eventually finds the Tree, the Tree speaks to her, tells her she is a protector of Nature. The birds at the tree all speak to her as well, calling her a witch. When Patricia tries to find her way back home, it is well past dark and when she finally returns her parents are furious. In order to reign her in and try to make her normal, her parents send her to the same school as Laurence.

Of course neither of them fit in. Neither of them want to. They form a friendship that is fraught with outcast angst and eventual betrayal. Eventually both end up escaping from the school, Laurence to go to a special school for smart science kids, and Patricia to run away from home to attend a school for witches. Years pass before their paths cross again.

When they do meet again their values are in conflict. As a witch it is Patricia’s work to heal people, mostly without them even knowing it. But she also casts spells and hexes on people who intentionally harm others. Laurence is now working with a group of super geniuses, funded by a rich tech guy. They are working on anti-gravity. It is science versus Nature magic with both groups believing they are doing the right thing even if it might ultimately mean destroying humanity.

And that is what the book is ultimately about, science versus nature, the rational versus the wild. Patricia and Laurence are kind of like Romeo and Juliet in way, only they get a happy ending. The ending is a sort of weird melding of science and nature that is supposed to somehow save the world. Does it? We don’t get to find out for sure though we are left with a hint that the future is bright and promising.

Other than Patricia and Laurence the characters are not very well developed, their flatness is disappointing because it causes some gaps in our understanding of Patricia and Laurence and why they think and believe the way they do. The story moves along at a good pace as it changes back and forth between Patricia and Laurence. It isn’t exactly an alternating chapter kind of telling which is actually good because that would add a forced feeling to the story. Instead the alternating viewpoints have more of a flow between them that works nicely.

I was hoping for more than I got with this book, that’s the danger of buzz. I did enjoy it however, and don’t regret reading it. I suspect a good many people will like the book quite a lot. It seems to me those who don’t consider themselves avid fantasy or scifi readers would like All the Birds as it is a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll but not full out either one; a comfortable read for someone who wants to “try out” the genre.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Charlie Jane Anders, science versus nature

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38. Review of the Day: The Storyteller by Evan Turk

Storyteller1The Storyteller
By Evan Turk
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
$24.99
ISBN: 9781481435185
Ages 4-8
On shelves June 28th

Credit the internet age for doing what the television age never could. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is a movement around the world that can be interpreted as nothing so much as a direct response to our digital age. You may have noticed it in small things, like the rise of Steampunk or the sudden surge of interest in Maker stations and the kinds of “hacking” that look suspiciously similar to activities found in shop class in days of yore. All this comes about because people have come to believe that we do not create enough tangible objects in our day-to-day lives anymore. And while this is true, let us not forget that we do not create enough intangible objects either. I’m talking about storytelling, that ancient artform that is currently seeing a worldwide resurgence. It isn’t just the increase in storytelling festivals and podcasts like The Moth here in the States. Young people in countries worldwide are doing what their elders have desired for decades; they’re asking to be told a story. Taking his cues from the newfound interest of young Moroccans in Marrakech in the ancient storytelling tradition, author/illustrator Evan Turk uses the folktale format to craft an original story about storytelling, weaving, history, and language. The end result is a twisty turny story within a story within a story that challenges young readers even as it lures them in.

Once, in the great country of Morocco, storytellers flourished and the cities’ fountains flowed with cool, clear water. As time went on the people became comfortable and forgot about the storytellers, and so they disappeared over the years. So too did the fountains dry up, until one day a boy went looking for some water. What he found instead was an old storyteller. As the man told his tale he would end his story with a story within a story and the boy would find his brass cup filled with liquid. Even as this was happening, however, a desert djinn saw the drought as an opportunity to reclaim the cities that had previously held him back with their fountains. Yet when the djinn was set to level his town, the boy managed to delay him with his storytelling. And as he wove his tale, the people were able to refill their fountains until finally storytelling and water ran freely in the cities once more.

Storyteller2My brain is not what it used to be. Remind me again. What’s that term for a story that tells a story that tells a story that ends only when the innermost story doubles back and each tale is finished in turn? Is there a word such a thing? I suspect that the storytellers amongst us would know. The most obvious similarity to this book that comes to mind is, of course, the tale of Scheherazade. Indeed, the boy uses his stories to trick the djinn. And what could be a more natural comparison? In both tales it is storytelling that proves to be the saving of us all. Our thirst is quenched and we are tied to our history like never before. The obvious question then is whether or not Turk’s text is too complex for kids to follow. Sure, he distinguishes between the tales with different colored fonts, but will that be enough to allow them to remember what came before as they plunge deeper and deeper into the narrative? I think there may be some confusion at work, certainly. I wouldn’t necessarily hand this to a three or four-year-old. However, Turk’s text takes pains to remind the reader where the tale was before. The art helps as well. Confusion, such as it is, will be held to a minimum.

I first knew of Turk’s work when he illustrated Bethany Hegedus’s Grandfather Gandhi. In that book he integrated real spun cotton threads into the art, knowing full well the importance spinning had to Gandhi and his followers. In this book, weaving is the craft of choice so I wondered, not without reason, if woven threads would make their way into the art. As it happens, there are plenty of water-soluble crayons, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, and even art created by heat gun and fire in the illustrations, but nothing so simple as thread. Turk mentions this on his publication page and he puts a little note to the reader there as well. It reads, “Look for a blue glimmer of hope to appear around each story!” and a small blue diamond appears. Naturally, I was curious so I looked. Sure as shooting, after each story’s text a diamond appears. However, as the stories appear within stories within stories, the diamonds grow more elaborate and decorative. Then, as the stories end one by one, the diamonds simplify once more. I began searching the art for more diamonds and here Turk doesn’t disappoint. If you look closely at the borders of the book, you see that the diamonds appear when there is hope and fade from blue to brown diamonds when hope dries up. As the storytelling increases the borders fill in more and more blue, just as the townspeople fill their fountains with bowl after bowl of water. Point out to a child reader the diamond motif and you are sure to be surprised by all that they find hidden in these pages.

Storyteller4I should probably say something about Turk’s art itself. When I reviewed Grandfather Gandhi I had difficulty putting into words precisely what Turk does with his images. So I looked at the book’s professional reviews. His art causes reviewers to use terms like “dynamic visuals”, “stylized” and “strikingly patterned”. They say his art displays “bold, expressive imagery” or that he “mixes carefully detailed renderings with abstracted expressions of emotional struggle.” I agree with all of that but no one mentions his faces and hands. The patterns here are striking and upon closer inspection they yield such marvelous details it wouldn’t take much for this art to spin wildly out of control, opting for an abstract approach to the proceedings as a whole. Instead, Turk centers his art through the hands and faces of his characters. Look closely and you’ll see what I mean. The old storyteller’s hands are gnarled and wonderfully expressive, even as his audience of one clutches a single brass bowl. The hands of a cunning neighbor stroke her child as she schemes, while a princess, escaping on the night before her wedding, holds up her hennaed hands in despair. Hands. Heads. Hearts.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about diversity in children’s literature. Specifically, some of that discussion has concerned those books written by white people about other cultures. It’s not a new phenomenon but what is a bit new is the increasing understanding that if you are going to use another culture, you need to do your homework. If, for example, you are setting a story in Morocco, then you need to make the readers understand why you made that choice. That it wasn’t arbitrary. This is yet another of the many reasons I’m so impressed with Turk’s work here. That he sets his story in Morocco (contemporary Morocco, by the look of it) is deeply purposeful. The Author’s Note at the end explains further. From this we learn that Morocco’s public storytellers or hlaykia have told tales for “nearly one thousand years” and yet “Only a handful of master storytellers remain”. All is not lost, though. Renewed interest in storytelling has surfaced, specifically at a restaurant called Café Clock in Marrakech. Turk then closes with a small Bibliography of sources on everything from storytelling to carpet weaving. The book then is not an appropriation of an “exotic” culture done on a whim but rather a considered, thoughtful selection that serves as an ideal setting for a tale about storytelling then, now, and in the future.

Storyteller3It was once part of a children’s librarian’s training to know how to tell a story from memory. Here in America it was even considered part of a children’s librarian’s heritage, though in the last few decades it has been fast forgotten. There are still pockets that remember, though. That’s why books like Turk’s give me the oddest little sense of hope. As I mentioned before, storytelling everywhere is seeing renewed interest. It seems odd to say, but this book, wrapped as it is in classic motifs and themes dating back hundreds, even thousands, of years, is one of the freshest, most timely picture books I’ve had the honor to read in a long time. Visually stunning with a storyline to match, Turk is beginning to make good on his talents. This is a man with storytelling in his blood and bones. Our children reap the rewards. A can’t miss book.

On shelves June 28th.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Frederick by Leo Lionni
  • Tell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb, ill. David McPhail
  • The Girl Who Saved Yesterday by Julius Lester, ill. Carl Angel

Misc:

See more images from the book here.

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39. Quick Monday Reviews: THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN and THE DETOUR

Two very different titles (genre- and style-wise) to cross my desk this past week were Terry Pratchett's final Tiffany Aching book and S.A. Bodeen's latest action-packed suspense tale. The Shepherd's Crown brings to a close that subset of the... Read the rest of this post

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40. The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

All Julia really wanted to do this summer was hang out with her best friend, Taylor - and maybe her neighbor/friend/secret crush Peter, too. Then Alyssa moves into the neighborhood. Julia immediately doesn't like her; Taylor does. And just like that, Julia's best friend has a new friend, and Julia has a rival.

Alyssa is really into a ball-bouncing game called Russia. At first, Julia doesn't care for it, but then she realizes that she might be able to beat Alyssa at her own game. Over the course of the summer, while Julia tries to hang on to her friendship with Taylor, she also attends band camp, bonds with Peter over a TV show she's not supposed to watch, and challenges Alyssa to an epic game of Russia. She also avoids cicadas and tries to talk her parents into letting her move into a different room in their house.

Julia's an only child, born to parents who love her and - get this - love each other. It's refreshing to read a book in which the parents are happy together, and it's wonderful to see how the child reacts to that relationship. In this case, Julia feels left out, not only because she is the youngest member of the household AND the only kid AND she has to go to bed earlier than her parents, but also because her parents are so close, she feels like there's no room for her sometimes - like she's interrupting something. There's a beautiful moment in which Julia overhears her parents talking outside, their voices drifting up to her window:

They were laughing a lot, and they sounded like something other than a husband and wife, something other than a mom and dad: they sounded like best friends.

Not only does this perfectly capture their relationship, it also ties back to Julia's concerns about her own best friend. Taylor is spending more and more time with Alyssa and less time with Julia. Teasing, confusion, and jealousy ensue. (Goodness, I don't miss middle school!) But thankfully, instead of being your typical mean girl story, this book offers something more plausible, something more satisfying and more age-appropriate, with the Russia showdown and the additional revelations in the denouement.

The Battle of Darcy Lane is a solid story for young readers. It's kind of like a modern-day Now and Then. Julia tries to test the boundaries a little a couple of times, and she sometimes struggles over the right thing to do, but overall, she has a pretty good head on her shoulders. Though the word "tweens" or the term "tween fiction" may not appeal to everyone, it's appropriate when you consider what it means: between. When you're eleven and twelve, you might feel trapped between your little kid years and your teens, torn between wanting to feel more grown up and wanting to stay a kid. This is best exemplified by the scenes in which Julia feels compelled to put away her dolls and knickknacks, even though she still kind of likes them.

Tara Altebrando has a knack for depicting honest relationships between protagonists and their families and friends, and I regularly recommend her YA books to teens looking for realistic modern-day stories. Now I can give The Battle of Darcy Lane to slightly younger readers. I also plan to read her other middle grade novel, My Life in Dioramas.

And who knows - maybe I'll have the opportunity to play Russia somewhere along the way, too.

The end of the book includes instructions on how to play the ball-bouncing game referred to as Russia or Onesies, Twosies. I also found instructions at the website howstuffworks.com. Have fun!

Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Review: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
Review: Love Will Tear Us Apart by Tara Altebrando (as Tara McCarthy)
Review: What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando
Review: Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando
Review: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando
Interview: Tara Altebrando (March 2006)
Interview: Tara Altebrando (August 2006)
Interview: Tara Altebrando (November 2012)

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41. Review of the Day: ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z by Lulu Delacre

OLINGUITO¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z
By Lulu Delacre
Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books
$18.95
ISBN: 978-0-89239-327-5
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

Adults, I have a little secret. Have you ever wanted to sound smart at dinner parties? Knowledgeable in the ways of the world and how it works? It’s easy to do if you know the secret. Come closer… I’ll whisper it to you. Read nonfiction children’s books. Seriously, do that and watch as your brain expands. If I can talk with any competency about the Donner Party or the siege of Leningrad or the Pentagon Papers, it is because I read nonfiction written for people half my age and younger. Most recently I learned about olinguitos. Ever heard of them? If not, you aren’t alone. These shy little rainforest denizens were only discovered and announced as recently as 2013. Not too much is known about them, which makes placing them into picture books a bit of a challenge. Author/illustrator Lulu Delacre had a plan, though. All she’d need to do would be to turn the story of the discovery of olinguitos into a bilingual/alphabet/nonfiction/search & find title. You see? Easy peasy. Or, put another way, so incredibly difficult that no one else would have ever attempted it. But that’s what I like about Ms. Delacre. Sometimes the craziest ideas churn out the most interesting books.

Olinguito1A zoologist from Washington D.C. is in the cloud forest today. He is searching for the elusive olinguito, a squirrel-like mammal that dwells in the trees. Along his path we meet the rainforest in an abecedarian fashion. From the A for the Andes to the M of moss and monkey, finally ending with Z for the zoologist himself, the book observes the many denizens that call the cloud forest their home. The book is entirely bilingual and backmatter (also bilingual) consists of notes on the “Discovery of the Olinguito”, facts about the Cloud Forest, information about the illustrations, hints on how to be an explorer, a heavily illustrated Glossary, “More Helpful Words”, and an extensive list of Author’s Sources.

I’ve read plenty of Spanish bilingual picture books in my day. In doing so, I’m a bit handicapped since I don’t speak the language. Still, there are things that I can observe from my end. For example, the difficulty Ms. Delacre must have faced in writing two texts, both of which had to contain specific letters of the alphabet. Now the primary language in this book, to a certain extent, is the Spanish. For each letter the Spanish sections get a lot more use than the English. Take the letter “J”. In the Spanish language section it reads, “Jigua jaguey y jazmin brotan, crecen en tal jardin.” Pretty straightforward. Now in the English: “Jigua, fig, and coffee trees sprout and grow in this garden.” Were it not for the “jingua” we’d be out a J. To be fair, sometimes the two languages get equal use of a letter. “I”, for example, is “insectos incredibles y una inerte iguana” and also “incredible insects, and a resting iguana.” However, more often than not the Spanish gets more words with the chosen letter. This is particularly true near the end of the book where the English translations at times completely do away with the letter at all. In “X” and “U” (surprisingly) not a single word in the English portions begin with those letters. What is clear is that the Spanish is the focus of the book. With that in mind, the book acquires another potential use; excellent reading for people learning Spanish.

Olinguito2It’s been a long time since I reviewed a Lulu Delacre book. I think the last time I seriously considered one was when Ms. Delacre illustrated Lucia Gonzalez’s The Storyteller’s Candle. There, the book integrated newspapers and other mixed media to tell the tale of two children introducing their immigrant neighborhood to the library. Here, the art is also mixed media but there’s a smoothness to it that was lacking in Storyteller’s Candle. In the back of the book Ms. Delacre mentions that there are real pressed leaves and flowers in every picture (something I entirely missed on my first, second, and third reads). There is also a zoologist in every picture, like a fuzzy little olinguito-seeking Waldo. Add in the colors, angles, and gorgeous spreads and you’ve got yourself one heck of a colorful outing. Ms. Delacre even mentions in her note at the book’s end that, just to be honest, these pictures are entirely too clear. “I decided to remove the clouds and limit the vegetation. I represented the fog and mist with squares of translucent paper framing the alphabetic letters. This allowed the species to be in plain sight.” Not only is she honest but creative as well.

I’ll level with you that I’m not entirely certain how one goes about using this book with kids. That is not to say that I don’t think it can be done and done well. But what Ms. Delacre has conjured up here isn’t a simple book. It’s not simplistic. The English text lacks much of the fun alliteration of the Spanish, which means the teacher or parent who reads this with their non-Spanish speaking children will need to span that gap themselves. It’s not a readaloud in the sense that you can just read it to a group without comment. This is an interactive text. You need to be spotting the zoologist, naming the vegetation and animals, flipping back and forth between the pictures and the glossary for clarification on different names, etc. In other words, this book requires the adult reader to be an active rather than passive participant in the reading process. Olinguito is more than mere words on a page.

There’s a soft spot in my heart for any book that proves to kids that there is more out there to find and discover than they might expect. The oceans haven’t been mapped out. Outer space remains, in many ways, a mystery. And hidden in the rainforests are tiny creatures just waiting to be discovered. Our world still needs explorers. If it takes one tiny mammal to prove that to them, so be it. A clever, lovely, wise little book. Knowledge of Spanish helpful, but not required.

On shelves now.

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42. 10 Years of Great Graphic Novels

Can you believe it's been TEN years since First Second Books began publishing high-quality graphic novels for kids, teens, and adults? It's incredible but true. And at Finding Wonderland we're proud to have done our part in supporting their efforts... Read the rest of this post

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43. The Marvel Rundown: The Weak Point in Marvel’s Line-up is not the Return of Karnak

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 12.21.42 PMWelcome Karnak back to the Marvel Universe in style.

3 Comments on The Marvel Rundown: The Weak Point in Marvel’s Line-up is not the Return of Karnak, last added: 2/26/2016
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44. Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!

falatko_snappsy the alligatorSnappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!
by Julie Falatko; illus. by Tim Miller
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-46945-8   $16.99   g

The omniscient narration begins normally enough: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.” After a bit more in this vein, Snappsy turns to the reader: “This is terrible!…Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?” So proceeds this book-length sparring match between the exasperated protagonist (“You’re an awful narrator. You’re just describing what you see in the illustrations”) and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy (“The story is really boring now”), ignores his pleas to scram, and saddles him with unwanted idiosyncrasies, including a predilection for foods that begin with the letter P. The story’s meta aspect, the alligator’s rib-tickling madder-by-the-minute agitation, and the simple primary-color-avoidant illustrations outlined in black may all owe a debt to Mo Willems — but it’s still a pretty terrific book. It’s distinguished by Falatko’s ability to sustain the tension at length; by Miller’s savory palette, largely in underripe greens and purples; and by the unvoiced suggestion that when fiction is working well, a character can take on a life of his or her own.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book! appeared first on The Horn Book.

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45. The Story of My Teeth

cover artWhat to make of The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli? The story is told in seven parts and each part’s title lets you know what sort of flavor that portion of the story is going to take on. For instance, part one, “The Story (Beginning, Middle, and End)” is told in a straightforward way. But the rest of it, not so much. We have part two “The Hyperbolics” in which we are told:

I am not a naive man, and I knew my teeth were not as valuable as John Lennon’s, but I could raise their value by the apposite use of my hyperbolic method. For each tooth, I would tell the hypertrue story of one of my favorite people, in the style of the profiles of Suetonius wrote. After all, as Quintilian says, a hyperbolic is simply ‘a fissure in the relationship between style and reality.’

There are also “Parabolics” and “Allegorics.”

The story is about Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez who prefers to be called Highway. The book is Highway’s “treatise on collectibles and the various values of objects” and it is the story of his teeth.

Highway lives in Ecatepec, Mexico. He has bad teeth and hardly ever opens his mouth because of it. He does well in school and at the age of twenty-one gets a job as a security guard at a factory that makes juice. After many years in the job and a series of events, he is promoted to Personal Crisis Supervisor. From here his career spirals to ever greater heights and he eventually becomes the greatest auctioneer ever. Highway buys Marilyn Monroe’s teeth at an auction and when he becomes rich enough, has all his own teeth pulled out and Monroe’s teeth implanted in their place. He saves many of his old teeth and later in the book he auctions them off one by one.

What makes an auctioneer so great, Highway tells us, is the stories they tell about the items up for auction. The stories add value to the item so that what people are actually buying is the story and not the item itself. And can Highway tell stories! He tells them with such confidence and assuredness that we have no reason to doubt them even when they seem like they couldn’t possibly be true. In the ultimate auction, Highway sells himself to his estranged son, Siddhartha, who then drugs him and pulls out all of Highway’s teeth and steals all of Highway’s collections from his warehouse.

But Highway refuses to be beaten. He keeps telling stories and eventually meets a writer and hires him to write his story. Part six of the book, “Elliptics” is written by the writer and it is the first inkling we get that Highway’s story may not be what we thought it was. Highway’s job is to tell stories and he tells us a whopper and we raise our auction paddle and buy it with pleasure.

The final part of the story, “Chronologic,” is written by the book’s translator. Luiselli invited her to write a timeline of events for the story. But it is not just any timeline, it is one that fits in so perfectly with the book that not until the Afterword when Luiselli talks about it did I believe it was written by the book’s actual translator.

The Story of My Teeth is fundamentally about stories. It is funny and charming and pulls the reader along at a fast pace. There are literary references galore throughout, some subtle, others not so very. Some of the ones I enjoyed most came as part of stories Highway told about relatives like his uncle Marcelo Sánchez-Proust:

who had many theories about many things, [and] used to say that a man should marry a woman who had an understanding attitude toward this natural condition of men. ‘You have to find a madame,’ he would say, ‘who tempers the fury that accumulates during the long sleepless hours of men who are sensitive to the elasticity of time.’

Ha! He also has an extremely existential cousin named Juan Pablo Sánchez Sartre.

While the story rollicks along in an often outrageous fashion, I got to like Highway and his seemingly indomitable spirit. But when we come to “Elliptics,” the story got rather sad in a kind of Don Quioxte way, meaning you want everything the great Don relates of his adventures to be true but the glorious tale doesn’t exactly match up with reality. But then, the whole book asks us to consider truth and stories. And, just like Don Quixote fighting dragons in the shape of windmills, wouldn’t we rather have the value-added of Highway’s hyperbolics and allegorics than the strict facts?

Luiselli wrote Story of My Teeth for the workers at the Jumex factory in Mexico, the very factory where Highway began as a security guard. She wrote in pieces with the intent that the workers would read it aloud (the book was a commissioned part of an art exhibit). They did and then they would give Luiselli feedback and she would write the next section accordingly. In this way, she sees the book as a kind of story collaboration. There is the further collaboration with her translator who wrote a chapter of the book. But it goes beyond that too because Luiselli knows English even though she writes in Spanish. She and the translator worked together to write the story in English which Luiselli considers not so much a translation but more of a “version” of the original.

Luiselli has a couple other books, one of which is a book of essays called Sidewalks that has gotten high praise. I will definitely be looking into it some time. As for Story of My Teeth, I am certain I would benefit from rereading it, it is that kind of book, so full of things that you can’t catch them all on the first go around. The book is slim so a reread would not take long at all. Unfortunately my time with the book expired and I had to return it to the library so other people waiting for it could read it. Maybe in a year or two I will remember to request it back so I can discover what other treasures are hiding in its pages.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Valeria Luiselli

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46. Review: Julia Wertz’s thoughtful and healing style of self-deprecation

Julia Wertz’s Eisner-nominated Drinking At The Movies, originally from 2010 but here with a handsome reissue from Koyama Press, is renowned for its humorous self-deprecating pile-on. At its root is the suggestion that beating yourself up is probably just part of personal growth. And that’s not just meant to make you feel better, but an […]

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47. Review of Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!

shea_ballet cat dance dance underpantsBallet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!
by Bob Shea; illus. by the author
Primary   Disney-Hyperion   56 pp.
2/16   978-1-4847-1379-2   $9.99

Dance diva Ballet Cat returns for her second early-reader performance (Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, rev. 7/15), and once again she’s paired with a reluctant partner/friend. Butter Bear likes dancing but draws the line at leaping. Ballet Cat can’t imagine why: “Super-high leaps are the best part of ballet.” Ballet Cat gamely accommodates her pal’s concerns…at first. When Butter Bear resorts to tried-and-true stalling tactics — she’s hungry/thirsty/has to go to the bathroom “in the woods” — normally sunny Ballet Cat cracks. Shea knows how to get maximum expression out of thick black lines. His characters’ pas de deux is choreographed on solid-color backgrounds with a minimum of props, giving new readers a leg up on the energetic and funny speech-bubble text. An audience of “underpants peepers” is what has Butter Bear grounded; Ballet Cat’s perspective — “If you dance with all your heart, the only thing they will see is the beauty of ballet” — 
lifts everyone’s spirits. Underpants are on full display, but “ballet conquers all!” (Shorts under tutus would help, too.)

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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48. Review of Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!

falatko_snappsy the alligatorSnappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!
by Julie Falatko; illus. by Tim Miller
Primary   Viking   40 pp.
2/16   978-0-451-46945-8   $16.99   g

The omniscient narration begins normally enough: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.” After a bit more in this vein, Snappsy turns to the reader: “This is terrible!…Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?” So proceeds this book-length sparring match between the exasperated protagonist (“You’re an awful narrator. You’re just describing what you see in the illustrations”) and an offstage storyteller-foil who criticizes Snappsy (“The story is really boring now”), ignores his pleas to scram, and saddles him with unwanted idiosyncrasies, including a predilection for foods that begin with the letter P. The story’s meta aspect, the alligator’s rib-tickling madder-by-the-minute agitation, and the simple primary-color-avoidant illustrations outlined in black may all owe a debt to Mo Willems — but it’s still a pretty terrific book. It’s distinguished by Falatko’s ability to sustain the tension at length; by Miller’s savory palette, largely in underripe greens and purples; and by the unvoiced suggestion that when fiction is working well, a character can take on a life of his or her own.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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49. Review: Tommi Musturi shows that hope isn’t easy

Finnish cartoonist Tommi Musturi’s The Book Of Hope is as mysterious and elusive as the human being it examines. Set in a family cottage following retirement, Musturi settles into his narrator position calmly in order to scribe, without judgment or even much push for clarity, the experience of one man as he inhabits the time […]

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50. Review of Our Moon: New Discoveries About 
Earth’s Closest Companion

scott_our moonOur Moon: New Discoveries About Earth’s Closest Companion
by Elaine Scott
Intermediate   Clarion   72 pp.
2/16   978-0-547-48394-8   $18.99   g

This deep dive into the science of the moon includes explanations of its formation and composition, as well as details about the all-important Apollo missions (1963–1972) and the latest in lunar exploration. Scott begins with a history of human surmise on the moon’s appearance, including the maps of early astronomers. Subsequent chapters provide the latest scientific consensus (known as the “giant impact theory”) on the creation of the moon during the earliest days of the formation of our solar system, the formation of craters and maria, and on the geology of moon materials (the so-called “moon rocks”) that were collected during the Apollo missions. Most exciting is the final chapter, in which lunar missions from 2007 to 2014 — and the scientists who worked on them — are profiled. During this timeframe, scientists have confirmed the presence of water on the moon, examined its dust, atmosphere, and gravitational field, and are currently considering what it would take for humans to live on the moon. Color photos and additional text boxes found on nearly every page are as informative as the main narrative. Appended with an extensive glossary; a brief list of further resources, both online and in print; and an index.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Earth’s Closest Companion appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Earth’s Closest Companion as of 1/1/1900
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