You could say that one of my guilty pleasures is, and has been since I was a teenager, Oprah's book club. Though I don't really feel guilty about it b...moreYou could say that one of my guilty pleasures is, and has been since I was a teenager, Oprah's book club. Though I don't really feel guilty about it because I think those books are really good! They tend to be literary fiction, many of the titles about women of color overcoming suffering, which, as I've said many times before, is my favorite genre. When Oprah's Book Club 2.0 (uh, what IS that?) was announced, I wasn't too excited about Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and the second selection, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, slipped under my radar, but I was excited to read The Invention of Wings. Having read The Help, I was a little nervous about The Invention of Wings. I had a great experience reading The Help, but I did have some issues with the way that the black characters were portrayed (see my review of The Help for why). I was nervous about The Invention of Wings, but as far as the narrative of the black character and the relationship between the white character and her slaves went, I thought it was a far superior and more historically accurate (and Kidd notes what she has changed for the sake of bettering the narrative) portrayal. (However, The Help was a much more emotional journey.)
The Invention of Wings switches between the story of Sarah Grimke, an aristocratic girl who is smarter than all the boys, but whose education is limited because of her gender, and Handful, the slave who is assigned as Sarah's personal slave, and in fact, given to her for her birthday. The two girls are the same age, and they grow to their forties, their lives and fates intersecting at various times. Sarah, like her slave-owning brothers and fathers, hates the institution of slavery, but unlike the others, refuses to have anything to do with it, despite what it costs her. Eventually, that cost involves her estrangement from her mother and even her city of Charleston. While I was reading about her, I expected the other shoe to drop--that being a slaveowner would completely destroy her moral compass. After all, there are plenty of accounts of slaves whose "good masters" became cruel due to the institution of slavery, and how there really is no such thing as a "good slaveowner." However, Ms. Grimke gives back her slave, not bearing to be a part of the institution, though she knows full well that her mother will not treat her as kindly as she does. It's a complicated story, and I can see why it's a great one for a book discussion. Handful's yearning to be free, and her defiance even to her "kind master" was also a really powerful plot point.
Sarah's story wasn't something I'd heard of before, and I was fascinated by it. She was SO progressive, to the point where no one would marry her because of it. She renounced slavery and tried to teach the slaves in her slave Sunday School class to read, and she refused to marry anyone who would prevent her from continuing her abolitionist work, effectively rendering her a lifelong celibate. It was a good complement to Handful's story. I appreciated this story very much, particularly the way that Handful didn't fall into slave tropes. She was justifiably angry at her lot in life, and didn't allow herself to be whipped into submission.
I would recommend this to anyone interested in the following: historical fiction, women's stories, abolition, fictional slave narratives(less)
First things first. I listened to this on audiobook two times, and I did not know *WHAT* was happening. I have a feeling that this is mostly an audiob...moreFirst things first. I listened to this on audiobook two times, and I did not know *WHAT* was happening. I have a feeling that this is mostly an audiobook narrator issue. I've often listened to middle grade or YA books and wondered why they're not narrated by children or teens. It's just kind of strange to hear a deep baritone narrating the perspective of a nine year old boy. So at first it was a nice surprise to hear the voice of an actual kid (Olivia Campbell) narrating Gingersnap, Patricia Reilly Giff's latest book. It gave the book more authenticity instead of just making me distracted by the sound of a fifty-year-old woman pretending to be eleven years old. But then I discovered that this audiobook had the opposite problem. Campbell isn't the greatest when it comes to doing the adult's voices, and that became incredibly distracting. Also, she's a good reader, but she tends to emphasize every word she reads, so there isn't a lot of subtlety, and it's hard to focus. Ok, I don't want to keep saying negative things about a kid so I'll talk about the book itself.
Jayna lives with her foster mother/landlady, Celine, in upstate New York and her brother, Rob. She was orphaned a long time ago, and doesn't remember her parents. Rob is all she has left in the world, so when he gets called for duty in WWII and is subsequently MIA, she doesn't know what to do. But before he left, Rob told Jayna that they might have a grandmother in Brooklyn, and gives her a recipe book with an address for a bakery. Jayna sets out for Brooklyn to find her long-lost grandmother. I really liked how there were soup recipes throughout the book, most of them war-time rationing recipes (like "don't-think-about-it soup," which consists of meat stock and onions). But there are SO many books about orphans trying to find a long-lost relative (Moon Over Manifest, Keeper, Three Times Lucky, and so many more) that this doesn't stand out in any way.
Three years ago, when I read One Crazy Summer (to which P.S. Be Eleven is a sequel), I loved it so much, that I was so disappointed that it got a Newb...moreThree years ago, when I read One Crazy Summer (to which P.S. Be Eleven is a sequel), I loved it so much, that I was so disappointed that it got a Newbery Honor rather than the gold (which went that year to Moon Over Manifest). Looking back on it, it wasn't quite as strong as some other Newbery winners, but I still really like that book for tackling some dark issues while maintaining a sweetness and innocence--basically some great balance, and tackling a historical fiction subject (Black Panthers) that I can't say I've read about in kidlit before. P.S. Be Eleven takes place immediately after the events of One Crazy Summer and is a kind of inverse of that plot. Whereas in One Crazy Summer Delphine, Vonetta and Fern experience the culture shock of being immersed into Oakland/West Coast/Black Panther culture, in P.S. Be Eleven we see how they have appropriated the Black Panther culture and experience the shock of coming back to Brooklyn.
Delphine has returned to Brooklyn with her sisters and is looking forward to being with her father, grandmother, and friends again. But when she gets back, things have changed, just as she and her sister have. Her beloved teacher has gone for the year, replaced by an exchange teacher from Zambia, Mr. Mwila. Meeting someone who was born and raised in Africa causes Delphine to see the "Back to Africa" movement and her mother's act of taking on an African name in a different light. Also, Mr. Mwila is different from other teachers Delphine has ever had. He treats them like adults ("upperclassmen and women") and expects them to do research with sources and arguments. Delphine's friends are paying attention to clothes and boys, but no one in Brooklyn lives up to Hirohito Woods, the boy she met back in Oakland. There are big changes in their family, too. Their father, who has long ignored the advances of the church ladies, is not dating a mod woman named Ms. Marva Hendrix, who volunteers on Shirley Chisholm's campaign. Uncle Darnell is home from the war, but something is different about him. And the girls discover a singing group they're desperate to see perform in Madison Square Garden: the Jackson Five.
Like One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven handled tough subjects like drug use in a very innocent way without shying away from the realities of these issues, which is a pretty tricky thing to do. The title of the book comes from Delphine's mother Cecile's letters to her, which admonish her to stop wanting to grow up and read Things Fall Apart, and to stay eleven, even when she turns twelve. It's funny to follow up one coming-of-age novel with another one, but clearly Delphine still has some growing up to do, so I very much hope that there will be a third book.
Holling Hoodhood is in the seventh grade at Camillo Jr. High on Long Island. It's the 1967-68 school year, and Holling has your typical middle school...moreHolling Hoodhood is in the seventh grade at Camillo Jr. High on Long Island. It's the 1967-68 school year, and Holling has your typical middle school travails. And it all starts with this: he is the only Presbyterian kid in the seventh grade, in a town full of Catholics and Jews. A teacher can tell by your last name or where you live what religion you are, and what you do on Wednesday afternoons. The Jewish kids all go to Temple Beth-El for Hebrew school, and the Catholic kids go to catechism. But not Holling. He doesn't get to leave school early, and is stuck with Mrs. Baker, his teacher, who "hates [his] guts." A series of misadventures occur. Here are some examples:
Mrs. Baker doesn't want to go over the regular schoolwork with Holling, since he's just have to hear it again, so she decides to make Holling read The Tempest and other works of Shakespeare (another proof to Holling that she hates his guts). Much to his surprise (but not ours as the reader), he ends up enjoying it, but I like how Holling still thinks it's a little boring and that Romeo and Juliet are stupid. At the same time, he adopts phrases like "pied ninny" into his speech and even inspires the school bully to use it.
One day, Mrs. Baker gets several dozen cream puffs, promising Holling that he can have one when he cleans all the erasers. However, they are ruined when people realize that that white dust at the top... isn't sugar. When his classmates find out, they are livid that Holling got a cream puff, and promise him that he's dead if he doesn't get cream puffs to his entire class. To do so, with his limited allowance, Holling is at the mercy of the baker, Mr. Goldman, who gives him the cream puffs at the discount, but only because he needs "a boy who knows Shakespeare." Turns out he's directing the local community theater production of The Tempest and wants Holling to be Ariel. A fairy. So he has to wear yellow tights. With feathers on the you-know-what.
One more vignette: Mickey Mantle is coming to town to sign baseballs at Baker's Sporting Emporium, that (no coincidence) Mrs. Baker's brother-in-law owns. Holling can't wait to meet his idol. But there's only one problem. The production of The Tempest is the same night, across town, the same one where Holling is wearing feathers on his butt.
The Wednesday Wars is a really nice mix of middle school problems and real-world problems. What I mean by that is the above described scenarios. Most of them are things that we as adults can look back on in a "Well, that sucks, but no one's going to die or anything." But we can all remember (or for the junior higher reading this, relate to) going through something that felt so excruciating that we weren't sure that we wanted to come back to school. At the same time, there are some serious things going on, related to the time period. Some are only addressed subtly or in passing. For example, Mai Thi, the Vietnamese refugee student. Or the Bobby Kennedy assassination, at which point the characters' reactions made me cry. (It's interesting that they didn't mention the MLK assassination, which I understand happened in that same year.) To me, that's kind of how life is: a mix of the trivial and serious.
I couldn't help comparing The Wednesday Wars to its companion novel, Okay for Now, which I read first, even though The Wednesday Wars came first. Okay for Now just blew me away that year, and I was shocked that it didn't win any major awards, though looking back, I can kind of understanding. The ending was bad, but it was one of those books where you just don't care because the rest of the book was so beautiful. Not so with The Wednesday Wars, which won the Newbery Honor in 2008 (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village took the top prize). It is all-around awesome. I listening to this on audiobook, which may contribute to the five-star review; there's no way of knowing, but I think this may have been a 4.5 or 4 star review had I not listened to it. Narrator Joel Johnstone does a fantastic job, and I will seek out works narrated by him in the future. I spent half the book with a big grin on my face. Holling's can't-seem-to-get-anything-write life reminded me so much of middle school, and Johnstone has just the everyman aw-shucks voice to tell it. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, I did spend part of the book in tears. It's sad, but not like Okay for Now, which is SUPER sad. And both characters (Holling and Doug) have grade-A jerks for fathers, although Doug's definitely takes the cake. Now I want to re-read Okay for Now, but listen to it on audiobook, and this time look for mentions of Holling.
From time to time, people look down their noses at me for reading children's literature. I don't really get that, because sure, there's trashy books (The Adventures of Captain Underpants) just like there's trashy books in adult lit (Fifty Shades of Grey), there's also some GREAT writing as well. And if you think that somehow kidlit doesn't have the subtlety, the writing style, the character development that adult lit has, check out Gary Schmidt. Well, don't read What Came from the Stars. That one was weird.
Ages 10-12 (audiobook is ideal for someone taking a car trip with middle schoolers!)(less)
And once again, the Printz committee chooses for its medal winner... a book I've never heard of! Seriously, no Elizabeth Wein and John Green here. Sti...moreAnd once again, the Printz committee chooses for its medal winner... a book I've never heard of! Seriously, no Elizabeth Wein and John Green here. Still, I went ahead and put a hold on the book as soon as the award was announced. In Darkness tells two gradually interwoven stories. The first is the story of Shorty, a fraternal twin who lost his twin sister and father to a rival gang. At the time of the story, he is lying in the rubble of a collapsed hospital after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. He is surrounded by dead and decomposing bodies and it is pitch black, hence the title. As he lies there, dying of hunger and thirst, he looks back on his life and the path that led him to be in that hospital. The other story takes place centuries prior, with a character decades older: Toussaint L'ouverture, the Haitian revolutionary who fought for the freedom of slaves and started the process of freedom from France (yup, Napoleon makes an appearance here).
Would I recommend this book? Hard to say, because I can't really say I enjoyed it. I thought that Shorty's story was a lot more interesting, because I prefer modern stories, and it's a little more relatable than Toussaint's. That's one thing I don't like about stories that switch back and forth like that--one story is always a lot more interesting than the other, and it feels like a chore to get through the other one. I do like when two stories that seemingly have nothing to do come together and you see threads of how, all along, they were affecting one another. Nick Lake does bring them together, but it's really weird (I won't say how he does it, as that's a little spoiler-y).
I did like reading about Haiti, since it's not a country I know a whole lot about. Stephanie, the French UN worker who is in love with Biggie, the lead gangster of the slum, Site Solley, was an interesting character, and I wanted to know more about her. Like I said, the Shorty story was more interesting--how he got separated from his twin sister and was on a quest of sorts to find her, how he got involved in the gang life, their perceptions of Americans/westerners/foreigners and how they live, commentary on Wyclef Jean. I can't speak to how accurate this book was historically and culturally, and Lake doesn't provide any list of sources, which would've been helpful.
Far and away my favorite part of Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad is the dedication in the beginning. I paraphrase, "to the librarian w...moreFar and away my favorite part of Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad is the dedication in the beginning. I paraphrase, "to the librarian who taught me to shine my light." (This could be really wrong, by the way.) It made me want to be that librarian for people, and it also made me sad about the librarians who aren't helping people become the person they're meant to be. Ok, that was really cheesy so... moving on.
Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad is a wordless picture book about a girl living in the South during the Civil War who finds a runaway slave hiding at her family's farm. She has to make the difficult choice to keep the slave's hiding place hidden, even when her family is questioned by Confederate soldiers.
There's a long note in the back of the book that explains this plot and why Henry Cole chose this particular story to tell. Otherwise, I might not have known that the hidden person was a runaway slave at all, since all you see is an eye peeking out through a field. I guess Cole is trying to tell this story that even an act of silence can make a difference.
As for the art, the realistic, shaded, pencil drawings remind me a lot of Brian Selznick's work. And that's never a bad thing.
Wow. I haven't been this disappointed with a book in a long time. And even more than that, disappointed with myself. I had expected to loveCode Name...moreWow. I haven't been this disappointed with a book in a long time. And even more than that, disappointed with myself. I had expected to loveCode Name Verity, which is the recipient of no less than SEVEN starred reviews (alongside The Fault in Our Stars, which I LOVED). It has an unreliable narrator, which I love, and strong female characters, which I also love. But. It was not engaging for me, at all. I really only bothered to keep reading because I had read such good things about the book. But I didn't really enjoy it )and even then, it was a mild enjoyment) until the second half of the book, which was more twisty and changed narrators. I kept wondering what I was missing, and trying so hard to love it. But in the end, I just wasn't that into this book.
I appreciated the character development--like I said, there are strong female characters, and they have interesting jobs (WWII pilot and spy). I appreciated the fierce love and friendship that they had for one another. And I was impressed by how Wein kept it from getting confusing even though the two main characters have 3 or 4 aliases. But I was so bored by the first 150 pages that the really moving or shocking moments left me nonplussed. Judging from the nearly-universal love for the book, I guess it's just not for some people, but I'd recommend it to those with a love of historical fiction, particularly that time period.
When thirteen-year-old slave Isabel's master dies, she thinks that it finally means freedom for her and her five-year-old sister, Ruth. Their former m...moreWhen thirteen-year-old slave Isabel's master dies, she thinks that it finally means freedom for her and her five-year-old sister, Ruth. Their former master had stipulated that the girls were to be free upon her death in her will. Isabel dreams of no longer being owned, and being able to work and provide for her sister. But their master's brother doesn't honor the will, and sells them to a couple in 1776 New York City called the Locktons. Madam Lockton makes life hell for Isabel, and a young slave boy named Curzon tries to get Isabel to spy on the Locktons, who are Loyalists, for the Patriots. But Isabel's loyalties lie only with whoever can provide freedom for her and her sister, as the "freedom" the Patriots are seeking doesn't apply to slaves. Isabel starts to feel differently, though, when Madam Lockton sells Ruth, who is epileptic, and sends her away. Curzon and other Patriots are locked into the jail, given no food or blankets and left to freeze and starve to death, and Isabel realizes that she can no longer be chained.
It's hard to create a character who is so lacking in agency and power (Madam Lockton does some really atrocious things to Isabel in the book), yet so strong-willed. There's a great quote: "'Yes, ma'am,' I mumbled, my hands doing the work of a slave, my mind racing free." That's the juxtaposition inherent in the character development throughout the book. Isabel somehow manages to keep her strong spirit. There are some really clever devices where Isabel is able to turn some of the ways that Madam Lockton tries to enslave her into images of empowerment.
The topic of this book (slavery in the American Revolutionary period) isn't as well represented in historical fiction as it should be, but there have been a few books now on the topic. But it's alarming how few people know that the Founding Fathers, so passionate about freedom for our nation, owned slaves. And it's so baffling that slaves fought for the Patriots, since the British were anti-slavery. This is addressed in Chains. I was surprised, and forgot most of the time, that this book was written by Laurie Halse Anderson, since this is so far from the "problem novels" she's known for (anorexia, rape). Those are written well, of course, but just seem so different from historical fiction. But then, this is also about a teen girl who has been trampled on emotionally and physically, and who perseveres with strength and grace in her own way. Chains is an important book and should be taught in (middle) schools.
Well, I just don't know what to think of Grave Mercy. On one hand, I absolutely loved most of the book (the first 500 pages, I'd say). I love the hero...moreWell, I just don't know what to think of Grave Mercy. On one hand, I absolutely loved most of the book (the first 500 pages, I'd say). I love the heroine and the setting and mythology of the fantasy was great. But the last 50 pages I just hated. I felt like I was duped into reading a romance when I expected action/fantasy. I was really disappointed and kind of upset at the book, actually. I think I'm alone in that (the book has four starred reviews), so it's probably a case of expectations.
Ismae grows up knowing that she is a child of Death himself. She was an unwanted child, and her mother drank poison to rid herself of the child in her womb. Proving that she was sired by Death, the poison doesn't kill Ismae, but leaves an ugly scar on her back, proof of her lineage. When she is forced to marry a grotesque man so that her father can be rid of her, she is cast into a basement when the man learns, to his horror, of her scars, and infers that she must be a child of Death. Ismae is rescued and sent to a convent where she and other girls, also sired by the god/saint of death, Mortain, learn to kill those who who Mortain has marked for death. Ismae trains in poisons, weaponry, and feminine charms (for that is how the daughters of Mortain get close to their targets) for three years, yearning for the day that she can destroy men, since they are the ones who have mistreated her all her life. She finally gets her opportunity after three years of training, when she is sent to spy on a nobleman in the duchess of Brittany's court, trying to uncover potential treachery. Ismae is excited for the opportunity to seek vengeance for her god, but she is less excited about having to pose as the nobleman, Duval's mistress. As she lives in the duchess' court, however, she starts to suspect that Duval may actually be acting in the interests of the duchess and Brittany, and that someone else may be betraying the duchess in favor of France. At the same time, she starts to develop feelings for Duval, and starts to question the purpose of her convent and killing those who Mortain has marqued.
Grave Mercy has a lot of great suspense, and I really liked that almost all the characters in the court other than Duval were historically accurate. I guess I just expected that this would be an action/adventure story where Ismae kicked butt, not a romance. I was not a fan of the way that the story resolved. I'd be giving away too much to tell you the ending, but suffice it to say that it turns into a romance novel, and I really don't like romance novels. So I guess I might recommend this book (and it does have four starred reviews, after all), but it's always best to manage expectations.
I'm just going to copy and paste the text from the back of the book (or CD case, as it were, since I listened to this on Audio CD), and then put my ac...moreI'm just going to copy and paste the text from the back of the book (or CD case, as it were, since I listened to this on Audio CD), and then put my actual review behind a cut, because if all you have to go by is the back of the book, the actual plot of The Pox Party would be quite spoilery (to use the technical term). Honestly, I feel that the back-of-book text is pretty misleading, for reasons that I'll get into in the review itself.
Here's the blurb:
He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy's regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians' fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them.
I've seen other blurbs, on Amazon and the like, that actually reveal more of the book's actual plot, as well as alternate book jackets that do so, but I'm going to just go off the cover of the one that I listened to. Anyway, I'll just get to my review...
(view spoiler)[ Quickly (within the first disc or so, I think), you discover that Octavian is actually a slave. His mother had been a beautiful princess of the Oyo kingdom in Africa, and was kidnapped and Octavian's father killed by a king seeking her hand in marriage. When she refused, she was sold off into slavery. The Novanglian College of Lucidity, as the aforementioned group of philosophers call themselves, have taken Octavian's mother, and Octavian, as he is in her womb at the time, and made them part of their experiments to determine whether persons of African descent are, in keeping with popular thought, of lesser intellect than whites. This is set in a time just before the Revolutionary War, in Boston, and as Octavian begins to understand the situation of his birth and upbringing, he also comes to terms with the struggle between Patriot and Loyalist, and is thrust into the position of having to choose between the two. But which of the two-if any-will give Octavian the liberty he has come to realize that he desperately needs?
I knew very little about The Pox Party before reading it, and so went into it expecting a book fantasy/thriller of some sort, and quickly discovered that this was a work of historical fiction, which I don't tend to seek out. I wasn't ever bored with it, but I was a bit put off by the changed perspective. I think that if I hadn't had that experience, I would have enjoyed the book more, because it really does make you think, in the same way that M.T. Anderson's Feed (looooved that book, by the way!) does. Like I said, I don't really seek out historical fiction, particularly not during that time period, but it's really interesting to read something that puts a twist on the Revolutionary period. I'd certainly rather read this than anything in the "Dear America" series.
Recommended if you like: historical fiction, novels in the form of letters, diaries, etc. (hide spoiler)] Ages 14+["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Out of The Easy tells the story of seventeen-year-old Josie, who lives in 1950 New Orleans. She is the daughter of a prostitute, and not a "hooker with a heart of gold," either. Her mother steals from her and treats her with very little regard, even missing Josie's high school graduation. Josie's mother humiliates her and estranges her from her classmates, who refer to her as "the daughter of that whore," referring to the time her mother showed up drunk to seventh grade parent-teacher conference, wearing nothing but a rabbit fur coat. Lecherous men stop her in the street, asking when she plans to "start working." Josie pores over the society pages and longs to be normal, but she knows that that won't happen unless she gets away from New Orleans, "Out of the Easy," far away from her mother's reputation and influence.
Life isn't all bad for Josie, however. She has a part-time job in a bookstore, friendships (and maybe more) with two handsome college boys (I have to say, I groaned when the love triangle was introduced), a budding friendship with society girl Charlotte, and mentors and pseudo-parental figures in Willie, her mother's madam, and Cokie, Willie's driver. One day, a rich man named Forrest L. Hearne walks into the bookstore where Josie works, and assumes that she's a college girl. Having an important person assume that she's actually worth something starts Josie dreaming about going to college, and she becomes fixated on Mr. Hearne, dreaming that he's her father (or as she puts it, "that one half of me isn't rotten"). But the next day, Mr. Hearne is killed, the same day that Josie's mother skips town with her abusive mobster boyfriend. Josie becomes obsessed with solving his murder, as well as going away to Smith College, where her friend Charlotte attends.
Josie experiences her fair share of setbacks, and struggles to achieve her goals without becoming like her mother. There's something really compelling about strong women overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacle (or what I like to call "the Oprah's book club genre"). Josie's strong moral compass made her a character to root for. Actually, my eyes were glued to the page, hoping that nothing else bad would happen to her. I know that the plot sounds a bit over-the-top, but it was more or less realistically depicted and the pacing was perfect. The only flaw I could find was the ending, which, like the one in Between Shades of Gray was a bit abrupt. It wasn't as bad as Between Shades of Gray, though. However, I wasn't disappointed with Out of The Easy at all, and would recommend it to just about anyone.
Every review I've read of The Mighty Miss Malone describes it as an "angry book." Maybe it's because over the past few years I've been exposed to pove...moreEvery review I've read of The Mighty Miss Malone describes it as an "angry book." Maybe it's because over the past few years I've been exposed to poverty (and had plenty to be angry about), but I thought that there was a range of emotions present in the book--anger, sure, but also a great deal of sadness, some humor, and glimmers of hope.
Deza (pronounced Deh-zuh, not Dee-zuh) Malone is a twelve-year-old girl living in Gary, Indiana with her father, mother, and fifteen-year-old brother, Jimmie. Father hasn't been employed in months, since the only work for African-American men in town was working in a factory, which affected his breathing. Her mother works as a housekeeper for a rich white family in town, the Carsdales. They love each other very much ("My dearest darling daughter Deza," her father calls her each day), but they are extremely poor. There are some shocking moments that depict their poverty, like when Deza finds worms in the oatmeal and her parents pop it into their mouths anyway, because they're too poor to throw it out. Then there's the heartbreak in the scene where Deza overhears her father talking to her mother, saying, "Do you know what I automatically do every day when Deza runs up to give me a hug and a kiss? Did you know I find myself turning my face or breathing out of my mouth the minute I'm close to her?... I don't want to say it, but it's the truth. I've found I can't breathe out of my nose when I'm around Deza because of the smell of her teeth. How sick is that?" You see, Deza's teeth are rotting away, and the Malone's can't even afford a dentist to pull the teeth. Besides which, Jimmie's been stuck in the body of a twelve-year-old for the last three years, and it's undoubtedly improper nutrition, which they can't afford, which has caused his growth to stop prematurely. That's how things are at the beginning of the book, and they continue to get worse and worse until the Malones are left with almost nothing.
This is a follow-up to Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy, and Bud appears in the story, although he isn't named, so you'd have to read the book to get it. I suppose it's darker in tone--Bud seemed to be a lot lighter to me, although it's been a while since I've read it. But I liked Deza Malone very much--she's a great character, with great spunk. No two ways about it, this is an unflinching portrayal of African-American poverty during the Great Depression. Nothing is sugarcoated. But like life, things are hard, miserable, and even tragic, but the fun moments keep us afloat.
These days, it seems like the only genres I read are YA dystopian novels and middle-grade historical fiction about African-American and white race rel...moreThese days, it seems like the only genres I read are YA dystopian novels and middle-grade historical fiction about African-American and white race relations. This falls into the latter category, but it's interesting because it doesn't take place in the 1960s or 50s, like a lot of books I've read, but in 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina. For those familiar with the race riots and civil rights marches of the 1950s and 60s, it would be easy to think that the Jim Crow laws sprung up immediately following Emancipation, but Crow depicts a black middle class, and even a few upper class blacks who lived in the white neighborhoods. For a community only two or three generations removed from slavery, the characters in Crow are more or less thriving. There are even democratically elected black aldermen and black police officers. But all that starts to change as there's a big push from white supremacists to remove blacks from positions of power, as well as whites who are sympathetic to equality.
Moses's father is a reporter for the Record, the only Negro (this term is used because it was the acceptable and respectable term used at that time) daily newspaper in the world. He is an educated man who attended Howard University, and teaches his son to only use proper grammar. This sometimes puts him at odds with his wife, an uneducated maid, and his mother-in-law, Moses's "Boo Nanny," who was a slave for the first thirty years of her life. When Alexander Manly, the editor of the Record, writes an editorial suggesting that African-American men were unfairly portrayed as violent brutes and pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in white slave masters raping their black slaves but the public seeing it as impossible for a white woman and black man to have a consensual sexual relationship, it's reprinted all over the South, and white men are calling for his head. Rumors fly that the African-American community have arms (when, in fact, it's illegal for them to purchase them) and that they are planning an attack on the white community. A self-proclaimed "Committee of Twenty-Five" puts pressure on the democratically elected officials who are in favor of equality to step down.
I kept hoping against hope that Crow would have a "happy ending," but, as you can imagine, especially if you know the history, that's not the case. It has a lot of mature content, including discussions of rape, lynching & murder, and lots of other forms of violence. I've seen it consistently cataloged in the children's section at libraries, but it might be more on the middle school/young teen side of things.
At first, I was kind of dragging through reading Crow, because it moves a bit slowly (also, that turn-of-the-century time period is not my favorite). But as the tension started to build, I was a lot more interested, and at the climax at the end, I was really... outraged and upset that something like this happened. It seems more of a book that I'll recommend to advanced readers, but I hope that many people read about it and learn of these historical events, and learn from them.
I don't often listen to audiobooks. I prefer reading books with pages and jackets and covers and the like (plus I worry that I miss out on little deta...moreI don't often listen to audiobooks. I prefer reading books with pages and jackets and covers and the like (plus I worry that I miss out on little details when listening to, instead of reading, books). But since I have a longish commute, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by starting in on my goal to read every Newbery award winning book of the last ten years, and have something to do while in the car. I thought that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village seemed like an ideal candidate to listen on audiobook since it's a series of dramatic monologues, so it's meant to be read aloud. Also it's very short--only two discs (96 pages), and I was able to listen to it in its entirety in only two days. It's a very interesting and historically accurate (as well as comprehensive) take on life in a medieval village. What's interesting about it are that all the characters are kids or in their early teens. Performing monologues are characters like Hugo, the lord's nephew, Edgar, the falconer's son, Jacob, the moneylender's son (a Jew), Nelly, the sniggler (who sells live eels to feed her family), and so on. I like the range of desperately poor to son/daughter of a tradesman to son/daughter/nephew of a lord so you can see the different living conditions a person of different socioeconomic status would have. There are also a few historical notes, which shed light on things like trades and the Crusades, which were brief but educational.
I thought that the performers in the audiobook were great, dramatic and emotional, but not too over-the-top. But it was interesting that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village was written for 5th grader performers, and the characters are all children, but the performers on the audiobook are adults. I don't have a huge problem with that choice, since I find them all effective performers, but thought it was worth mentioning. Also, it's quite sophisticated for fifth graders to be performing--you'd have to be a fifth grader reading above grade level to understand it. (For background author Laura Amy Schlitz, a librarian at the Park School in Baltimore, wrote Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village as part of the fifth grade curriculum on medieval life, for the students to perform. I am in awe of that fact.) In terms of kid appeal, this is likely not something a kid would pick up and read, even if booktalked to them, unless they were assigned it or they were a big medieval history buff. I thought it was really interesting and educational, but if you want something with more entertainment value, try one of Karen Cushman's books.
Like many people, I've heard of the "Little Rock Nine," the group of nine black students who integrated Little Rock's Central High School amidst daily...moreLike many people, I've heard of the "Little Rock Nine," the group of nine black students who integrated Little Rock's Central High School amidst daily taunts, death threats, and other forms of harassment. I've seen the images of the students surrounded by screaming and spitting mobs, restrained by 1,200 members of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division. But what I didn't know about is Little Rock's "lost year," the subject of The Lions of Little Rock, during which all four of Little Rock's high schools were closed for a full school year, in an effort to prevent integration.
Marlee is a very quiet twelve-year-old girl. She talks to her father, sister, brother, and occasionally her mother, but very rarely talks in class, unless it's in math, her favorite subject. When her brother moves away to attend college and her sister takes her brother's vacant room, Marlee feels more alone than ever. But when she starts the new school year, she makes a new friend, Liz, who is capable of drawing Marlee out of her shell. And Marlee's crush, the dreamy JT, asks her to tutor him in math. But things start to fall apart. Marlee's sister Judy gets sent to Pine Bluff to live with their grandmother so that she can attend school. JT, it turns out, only wants to copy Marlee's homework, not learn from her. And Liz suddenly disappears from school, leaving behind the rumor that she was really a colored girl trying to pass for white. Marlee doesn't care about that, she only wants her friend back. But even if she and Liz are both willing to cross racial lines to do that, doing so will affect their friends, family and society in a big way. Using a few historical characters and organizations, Kristin Levine tells this story in an approachable but powerful way.
I really liked The Lions of Little Rock because it had complex characters and a fast-paced plot. I also thought it was interesting that it dealt with the subject of "passing," which another recent middle-grade book, Jefferson's Sons also talks about. I really like this nuanced topic in race relations because it introduces a lot of questions that kids (and adults) don't often think about: like what it is that makes someone black. And why, when you learn a person's race, after already having formed a first impression, is your opinion of them subject to change? It also paints a picture of a world very different from our own, and made me so grateful to be living in 2012. I also really appreciated the nuance that came with having a white narrator (though it wasn't as removed as Glory Be in not having any black characters). You could see that despite the hatred and bigotry that the world saw of Little Rock, Arkansas in the media in the late 1950s, there were plenty of people who despised segregation, or at the very least, were indifferent to it. But there's also that theme of standing up and speaking out, as Marlee later learns to do, and that simply thinking something is wrong is not enough. I appreciated the realism that no character radically turns around and goes from being a bigot to ally. I thought that The Lions of Little Rock would be a great addition to a civil rights historical fiction collection.
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, as you might expect, is the story of slaves travelling on the Underground Railroad. The prose is extremely...moreUnderground: Finding the Light to Freedom, as you might expect, is the story of slaves travelling on the Underground Railroad. The prose is extremely short and to-the-point: "We wait." "We hide." "Some of us don't make it." But coupled with the images of huddled, tense slaves, it becomes very powerful. I like the artistic choice to make all of the images in shades of dark blue (since it all takes place at night). The really fascinating thing is that the slaves, people hiding them, and the people searching for them are more or less all the same shade. And the blue shade takes away the black/brown/white labels from the picture. I really liked Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, and I think that the simple (yet powerful) text and images make it suitable for a really wide range of ages.
In 1964, Sam Cooke's single "A Change is Gonna Come" was released, which later came to exemplify the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 1964 is also...moreIn 1964, Sam Cooke's single "A Change is Gonna Come" was released, which later came to exemplify the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 1964 is also the year that Glory Be takes place, in a summer where change is at the breaking point. Gloriana "Glory" Hemphill is a preacher's kid whose teenager sister wants to move out of their shared room and doesn't want to hang out with her. Glory's best friend, Frankie, has been influenced by his racist father and brother, and their relationship is changing because they don't agree about the town's segregation. The catalyst for the change centers around the town (whites-only) pool, which the town council has closed for "repairs" (but really to prevent any African-Americans from trying to use the pool). A group of "Yankees" have arrived to try to provide services and try to integrate the town, but are met with lots of opposition. Glory's new friend Laura is among that group. Glory is forced to choose between Laura and Frankie, tradition and change.
I enjoyed Glory Be, but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would have (historical fiction about civil rights is a favorite genre). I didn't find Glory's letter to the editor of the newspaper to be believable... it was much too eloquent compared with the way she communicated throughout the novel. I also liked most of the characters, but I felt that they weren't developed enough. For books about segregation, there are some better options, but it's still an enjoyable book.
When I hear "If You Lived Here: Houses of the World," I imagine typical houses around the world from the current time period: suburban tract homes, ap...moreWhen I hear "If You Lived Here: Houses of the World," I imagine typical houses around the world from the current time period: suburban tract homes, apartments/flats, houseboats. But Giles Laroche travels through different time periods in this book, and most of the houses are pretty fantastical--a Swiss chalet, a castle with a moat, a tulou (round donut-shaped house) in China, a "green" waterborne house in Australia. A few are more typical: a yurt, cave dwellings, etc. But for the most part, the intent is to show houses that are far removed from the ones in which a child reading this might live in (most are from different time periods as well). I found the houses really fascinating. Each house has a little fun fact and some historical information. But what's best about If You Lived Here: Houses of the World is probably the illustrations. They're very intricate papercut collages that show a lot of detail. This would be a good book for a first or second grade classroom.
Considering that I've never (or not in recent memory) read a book about life during Stalin's regime in the USSR, it's note-worthy that two award-winni...moreConsidering that I've never (or not in recent memory) read a book about life during Stalin's regime in the USSR, it's note-worthy that two award-winnings books were published in the same year. While Between Shades of Gray was an excellent depiction of life in the Eastern Bloc, and being sent to a Siberian labor camp, Breaking Stalin's Nose is a more complex telling of growing up behind the Iron Curtain.
Sasha Zaichik is excited for what tomorrow will bring: he will have the red scarf of Communism tied around his neck as he joins the Young Pioneers (the Stalinist version of the Hitler youth). Not only that, but he will have his scarf tied by his father, who works in State Security, exposing spies, a man that Stalin himself has called "an iron broom purging vermin from our midst." However, things get turned upside down when Sasha's father is arrested in the middle of the night, and Sasha becomes a child of the enemy. Will he still want to pledge his allegiance to communism, and to Stalin, or will he choose his father, who has inexplicably been branded a traitor?
Although Breaking Stalin's Nose takes place over the course of two days (and really, only 24 hours), a lot changes for Stalin, and it's difficult for him to wrap his head around it. A reader from a capitalist country like the United States (where I'm sure most readers will be from) will wonder at the propaganda that Sasha believes. For example, at the beginning of the book, Sasha's neighbor (he lives in a ommunal apartment building with one kitchen shared between 46 tenants) gives him a carrot, which he treasures while ignoring his gnawing hunger pangs. He feels grateful when he thinks about the children in capitalist countries, who may never get to taste a carrot, and who will never have the opportunities that he will. Even if you're not familiar at all with the horrors that Stalin perpetrated in the USSR, you'll soon realize just how naive Sasha is, and you'll realize, quite a lot sooner than Sasha, that things are not as they seem. People are getting arrested and killed without a trial, on suspicion of being an 'enemy of the state/Stalin.' People are even accusing innocents of being enemies for their own personal gain.
There are illustrations throughout the text, and I find it a little confusing when a sentence is interrupted by two full-page illustrations, but they mostly serve to illuminate how Sasha lives for the reader. You see the crowded kitchen, the enormous statue of Stalin, the titular nose that the character breaks off a plaster statue of Stalin, and other plot elements that a US reader might not be able to picture. We only see a couple portraits of characters in the story, and they are almost cartoonish in their evil expression. However, I don't see this as a negative, because this is a narrator who is used to viewing people in black and white.
Perhaps it's best that this story takes place over such a short period of time, because it's difficult to imagine anything but a bleak life for Sasha from this point forward. But it's a captivating tale, as Sasha begins to understand what Communism, under Stalin's regime, truly means for the people in Russia.
Of the many atrocities that occurred during WWII (and afterwards), the story of the Soviet labor camps is largely untold. I have to admit that while I...moreOf the many atrocities that occurred during WWII (and afterwards), the story of the Soviet labor camps is largely untold. I have to admit that while I'd heard of prison/labor camps in Siberia, I didn't know much beyond that, and I hadn't read any historical fictitious accounts of it, in television, films, or books. In her afterword, Ruta Sepetys implores us to not only read this fictionalized account of Lithuanians sent to labor camps in 1941, but also to tell others, and to keep this history, which was silenced for so long, alive. I'm grateful that Sepetys has told this story.
This is the story of fifteen-year-old Lithuanian Lina Vilkas, who, a day after her father's disappearance, is sent, along with her mother and younger brother, to a labor camp in Siberia. These teachers, professors, artists, writers, and other "cultured people" are told that they are criminals, sentenced to 25 years of hard labor, and sent to dig for potatoes and beets, without warm clothing, food other than scraps of bread, clean living conditions, or medicine. Some of them are used for sex, all are treated as disposable. A woman is taken from the hospital seconds after giving birth. To get to Siberia, they crowd into dark, unventilated train cars. Lina doesn't know where her father is, or whether she will ever see him again. For that matter, she doesn't know whether she will survive malnutrition, disease, and the harsh Siberian winter.
I read this story breathlessly, shocked at the horrors the characters went through, and saddened by each death chronicled in the book. Just as Sepetys asks, I wanted to research more, and learn more about this history. Unfortunately, Between Shades of Gray had a rather abrupt ending, which felt a bit forced. Also, throughout the book are italicized accounts of Lina's former privileged life. A twelve-course meal, a trip to the tailor to have a dress made, an Edward Munch print arriving in the mail. These are supposed to be tied to Lina's new life of rags and hunger, but I didn't necessarily see that they added to the narrative. Nevertheless, this was an excellent book, and very deserving of every accolade.
William C. Morris Finalist, 2011 Carnegie Medal nominee
I put off reading Dead End in Norvelt for a long time because it seemed too similar to Okay for Now, which I just loved and seemed the superior of the...moreI put off reading Dead End in Norvelt for a long time because it seemed too similar to Okay for Now, which I just loved and seemed the superior of the two. Besides being works of historical fiction, the only similarity between the two is the cover: a blue background with a boy in a white t-shirt covering his face with a yellow sign. Both are awful covers, by the way, and Dead End in Norvelt's really put me off from reading it.
However, I'm glad I picked up the book, right before it was named the 2012 Newbery Medal winner. (Even though I was only halfway through when the medal was announced, I'm still going to count it as a triumph in the "read it before the win was announced" category.) Even though it's kind of about death, and the main character, Jack, has constant brushes with death, it was really really funny. And when's the last time a funny book won a Newbery award?
Jack Gantos uses his interesting life as fodder for his books, and so the main character of Dead End in Norvelt is called Jack Gantos, growing up in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, where author Jack Gantos grew up, in roughly the same time period (the 1960s). Kid character Jack is caught between his feuding parents, and when he, on his father's orders, mows down his mother's beloved corn patch that she harvests to feed the poor, he is grounded for the entire summer. However, Jack is saved from a monotonous summer vacation spent reading history books in his room by Miss Volker, an elderly woman and "original Norvelter" who enlists him to type up the town obituaries and perform other tasks that her heavily arthritic hands can't manage. Miss Volker made a promise to Eleanor Roosevelt, who founded the town (Eleanor Roosevelt = Norvelt? Took me a while to figure that one out!) to take care of it, and she fulfills that promise by writing the obituaries of all the last Norvelters, the old ladies who were involved in starting the town, all the while reminding the town of history, and how it's connected to the deaths. Norvelt was a town founded on the principle of giving poor people a chance to buy land to give them a better future, but as all the original Norvelters die off, their homes are being sent away to West Virginia. Though Norvelt was intended to give people going through hard times more opportunity, times are changing, and people are more profit-seeking. Jack's mom can no longer hope to barter pickles or jarred fruit in exchange for an operation to cauterize Jack's nose and stop the daily bloody noses he experiences. The weekly deaths in Norvelt symbolize the death of the town, that is moving away from what its founder intended for it.
Although Jack is constantly spouting blood from his nose like a faucet (at one point, he wakes up with his pillow looking like "a bloody loaf of bread pudding"-ew!), and often writing obituaries and verifying the deceased, Dead End in Norvelt is very light! I suppose it's a little easier to take since the people dying are old and the reader doesn't know them. There are also a lot of GREAT lines in the book. Not uproarious laugh riots like, say, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda or the like, and not beautifully eloquent like something you'd put on a bookmark, or an inspirational poster, but lines that make you chuckle or make you think. Yet they still sound like something an everyday person would say. Things like "if you think about it a refrigerator is just a coffin for food that stands upright." Even though Jack's parents are constantly feuding, and he spends most of the book under house arrest, you still get the sense that they really care about him, like when Jack's mom "gets that love look in her eyes."
I try to read award winners and books getting a lot of buzz, even if I don't think I'd like them. But I put off reading Inside Out and Back Again beca...moreI try to read award winners and books getting a lot of buzz, even if I don't think I'd like them. But I put off reading Inside Out and Back Again because I really can't stand novels written in verse. In my mind, why write a novel in verse, when it seems so much more effective to write in prose? I read an interview with author Thanhha Lai, in which she said that she chose to write in verse because it is similar to how Vietnamese is spoken. Having the vaguest of familiarity with Asian languages, that does make sense, and I was surprised by how much of the plot was effectively told through verse.
Ha (sorry, I don't know how to use diacritical marks in goodreads, I don't think, so imagine an accent over the 'a') is a ten year old living in Saigon. She is poor, as a result of the ongoing war, but she still enjoys eating papayas and toasted coconut. However, the war grows every closer, until Ha, her mother (her father is missing in action) and her brothers are forced to flee the country and head to a refugee camp. After weeks there, they are sent to Alabama, where they must learn about their strange new land, where there are no papayas. Inside Out and Back Again takes place in the span of one year, from Tet to Tet (the Vietnamese name for Lunar New Year).
Thanhha Lai accomplishes something really neat here; each poem can stand alone, but they all serve to tell the story. I especially liked the chapters about learning English. For example, "Passing Time:"
I study the dictionary because grass and trees do not grow faster just because I stare.
I look up Jane: not listed
sees: to eyeball something
Spot: a stain
run: to move really fast
Meaning: ____eyeballs stain move.
I throw the dictionary down and ask Brother Quang
Jane is a name, not in the dictionary.
Spot is a common name for a dog.
(Girl named) Jane sees (dog named) Spot run.
I can't read a baby book.
Who will believe I was reading Nhat Linh?
But then, who here knows who he is?
Lai tells this story with a great mix of humor and homesickness. She really portrays the cultural dissonance of being Vietnamese immigrants in Alabama well. I read that this is based on Lai's personal story (but condensed into the span of a year, and six brothers turned into three). I don't know if I'd continue to seek out other novels in verse, but I liked this one a lot!
National Book Award winner (Young People's Literature category), 2011(less)
In this sequel to the Newbery Honor book Our Only May Amelia, Jennifer L. Holm writes about more adventures of May Amelia, her spunky 1900 protagonist...moreIn this sequel to the Newbery Honor book Our Only May Amelia, Jennifer L. Holm writes about more adventures of May Amelia, her spunky 1900 protagonist. May Amelia is a twelve-year-old living in Nasel, a tiny farming town in Washington State where she has to take a boat to get to her one-room schoolhouse, and, with six older brothers, no other girls around, including at school. This isn't a tale of idyllic farm life. May Amelia's Finnish-American family, the Jacksons, work hard, share their beds with each other, and step in cow pies. When a salesman comes to Nasel promising to develop the town into the next Seattle, and selling stocks in his company, the Jacksons believe that their luck has turned. Although there is a climax to the story, and it's not exactly an everyday tale, The Trouble with May Amelia is really just a story about life in 1900 Washington State. After all the fantasy and adventure I've been reading lately, sometimes it's refreshing just to read about a normal girl, albeit a Finnish one from the century before.
The Book Thief, a story set in Nazi Germany and based on author Markus Zusak's grandmother, is mostly a work of historical fiction. The only thing tha...moreThe Book Thief, a story set in Nazi Germany and based on author Markus Zusak's grandmother, is mostly a work of historical fiction. The only thing that puts it in the fantasy/magical realism genre is that it's narrated by Death (talk about an omniscient narrator). This is a really interesting device that doesn't become too gimmicy. In fact, I often forgot that Death was the narrator of the story until he would interject with a comment reminding me of who he was (something along the lines of, "It would be two years later until I saw him again, as I knelt beside his body and took his soul").
The Book Thief is a beautifully told story of Liesel Meminger, an eleven year old girl who is separated from her mother (already having lost her father) and whose brother dies. She is sent to Molching, Germany, to live with the Hubermann family, Rosa and Hans, who are parents to grown children who have moved out of the house. Rosa is an angry woman with a foul mouth but a soft heart for Liesel (though she tries not to show it), while Hans is a kindred spirit, an house painter who also plays the accordion, and becomes a more than adequate father substitute. Liesel's best friend is Rudy Steiner, a poor boy with five siblings who wishes more than anything to be Jesse Owens, even painting his face and body black (you can imagine the reaction in Nazi Germany). The air raids, rationing, and other aspects of the war affect Liesel and the Hubermanns, but nothing changes them more than when they take in a Jew and hide him in their basement.
When Liesel arrives in Molching, she is more or less illiterate (placed in the very lowest class with the 5 year olds at school). But when she is burying her brother, she notices a book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, fall out of one of the grave digger's pocket. She takes it, and becomes the book thief. Through the course of the book, her love for reading books--and stealing them--profoundly alters her life just as much as her interactions with Max, the Jew.
Although The Book Thief can almost always be found on the YA shelf, I don't think it's a YA book--more like a book for adults that teens may also like. It's not particularly fast-paced, although it is interesting, and took me almost a month to read (I was reading other books at the same time, though). Still, it was beautifully written, haunting, and sad--with some great funny moments as well. Besides, I learned some insults in German. What's not to love?
Prior to taking a Young Adult Literature class last year, I didn't think too highly of the genre. All I could remember reading from my early teen year...morePrior to taking a Young Adult Literature class last year, I didn't think too highly of the genre. All I could remember reading from my early teen years were R L Stine novels and Sweet Valley High. But the class changed my mind. I realized how truly masterful writing for YAs could be, and fell in love with Looking for Alaska, Feed, Boy Meets Boy, I Am the Messenger, and, of course, that cultural juggernaut The Hunger Games. Hey, YA lit could be good! And not just angsty melodrama about relationships I didn't care about!
I'm being dramatic (as is appropriate, I think), of course. It wasn't that bad. I just think that this type of book isn't for me. In fact, it took me a while to get to reading it, due to the cover. It makes me imagine, without knowing the plot, a 1950s jazz singer enveloped in a murder mystery. Which is kind of what it's about! Anyway, it just didn't really interest me, and were it not for the Printz buzz it's getting and a recommendation from a colleague I really respect, I wouldn't have picked it up.
Kit Corrigan is a 17-year-old Irish-American triplet from Rhode Island who has moved to NYC in 1950 to pursue her dreams of dancing on Broadway. However, she can't shake the memory of her passionate relationship with Billy Benedict, her 19-year-old boyfriend, who enlisted in the army directly following their break-up. In NYC, she "runs into" Billy's father, lawyer for the mob Nate Benedict. He offers her a free apartment in the East Village, a box full of expensive Bonwit Teller clothes, and a job opportunity at the prestigious Lido club. All this in exchange for "checking in" on some well-known gangsters and a request to get back in touch with Billy. Kit accepts these gifts, then learns (obviously) that there are strings attached, and more consequences than she bargained for...
A lot of times, YA books are hard for me to read because I hate seeing the characters make BAD CHOICES (I'm such a boring adult...). This was one book where I kept yelling at the protagonist. Um.... isn't it obvious that this arrangement is going to end badly? And what was Kit doing with Billy, who flashbacks showed was a very volatile person, erupting with jealousy when Kit so much as talked to another man? Get out of that relationship!!!
Just because I didn't care for Strings Attached, doesn't mean that I wouldn't recommend it to teens. I admit, I had to think about who would like this book because I didn't care for it. But I realized that it's very "juicy" with a lot of drama (most of which I thought was completely unrealistic and implausible). It's not super historical, just has a lot of little details here and there, such as mentions of the Korean War, but it could be set at any time, I think. It's actually a bit of a step up from popular serial novels such as Gossip Girl, and should be of interest to girls who like lots of drama in their books.
This *should* be a 5-star review. The Help had all the elements of a 5-star book for me. I couldn't put it down (read all 450+ pages from 5pm to 2pm t...moreThis *should* be a 5-star review. The Help had all the elements of a 5-star book for me. I couldn't put it down (read all 450+ pages from 5pm to 2pm the next day). It made me angry, laugh, and weep throughout the course of its pages. And it was largely about women of color and their relationships with each other (one of my favorite genres).
However, I had a nagging feeling while I was reading it, mostly about the author and her choice to write in first-person from the perspective of two African-American maids in 1960s Mississippi (the other main character, Skeeter, is a white woman). It's always dangerous to write in the perspective of another ethnicity. I despised Memoirs of a Geisha because the voice of its protagonist didn't ring true to me, and it reeked of a white man (author Arthur Golden) trying to write as an Japanese woman. Now, in the book, there is a clear delineation between how Minny and Aibileen (the two black maids) speak, compared to Skeeter (the white writer). There is also an uncomfortable "Mammy" (i.e. Gone With the Wind) depiction of the black maids. That said, having read this website/blog, A Critical Review of the Help (http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordp...), I don't think it's *that* bad and disagree with many of the criticisms. I just think that it's important not to take the depictions of 1960s maids in Mississippi as completely representative.
Anyway, if you haven't heard of this NYT bestseller that's being made into a film before (^.^), it's about a young white English and Journalism major from Ole Miss who moves back home to Jackson, Mississippi after finishing college. Unlike her friends, who are all married with young children, she wants a career as a writer. When thinking about original ideas, she thinks about the black maids who care for children and houses in Jackson, getting the idea to interview her friends' maids in secret. These maids include Aibileen and her best friend Minny, who risk everything (in the midst of beatings, lynchings, and segregation) to tell their stories, hoping to make a difference. Minny works for a voluptuous housewife from the wrong side of the tracks, desperate to fit in with the society set, who doesn't see the "lines" between black and white, rich and poor. Aibileen is the maid of one of Skeeter's best friends, Elizabeth Leefolt, and raises Elizabeth's daughter, Mae Mobley, in the midst of Elizabeth's negligence.
It's an extremely powerful story, and it really sucked me in. There are definitely some anachronisms, many of which are acknowledged by Kathryn Stockett in her afterword, so if you're looking for complete historical accuracy you'll be disappointed. And there is a chapter 3/4 through the book told in third person (the rest are chapters in first person told by Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter), which just feels a little incongruous. However, I was really liked this book, I couldn't put it down, and for me that deserves 4 stars.(less)
I read The Sign of the Beaver a long, long time ago, back when I was in 4th and 5th grade and trying to read all of the titles on the Newbery poster i...moreI read The Sign of the Beaver a long, long time ago, back when I was in 4th and 5th grade and trying to read all of the titles on the Newbery poster in the school library (for that reason, I was surprised to learn that The Sign of the Beaver has a Newbery Honor and not a Newbery medal, which is what I had "remembered" all these years). A refresher on plot, for those who have forgotten (as I had): Matt is a 12 year old boy from Massachusetts who journeys to Maine with his father in 1769 to settle on Indian territory. Together, they build a log cabin in the middle of the woods, and Matt's father leaves him there with some rations and a gun, promising to be back in a few months with Matt's mother, sister, and new baby sibling. However, when Matt's gun is stolen during the first week his father is gone, he is unsure how he will survive, until he meets Saknis, a Penobscot Indian chief, and his grandson Attean, who is just a year older than him. In exchange for Matt teaching Attean to read (so that the Indians may learn to read the contracts that white men present them with), Attean teaches Matt how to set traps, and provides him with food. With settlers encroaching on Saknis and Attean's territory, though, it looks like the Indians will move west. Will Matt follow the only friends he's had for months, or wait for his family, who are several months late?
This time around, I read this book for a project I was doing about racist stereotypes of American Indians in children's literature. Having nothing but fuzzy memories about The Sign of the Beaver, I was surprised to learn that most American Indians find its depictions problematic. Of particular concern is the use of the word "squaw," which is considered derogatory due to its condescending usage. Also, the character who most often uses this term is Attean, who is Indian. However, Debbie Reese (of the blog American Indian in Children's Literature) believes that that is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to The Sign of the Beaver. You can read more about her thoughts, as well as others', here: http://americanindiansinchildrenslite...
I certainly agree that whenever someone writes a novel about another ethnic group, particularly one that is always maligned in the media, like American Indians are, there is nearly some amount of bias and stereotype present, no matter the research that has been done. However, I thought that the issue of genocide and scalping was handled relatively well. It is a children's book after all. It certainly wasn't glossed over. However, I realize that I have a lot to learn about American Indians in children's literature and will be following Ms. Reese's blog more closely in future, and reading her recommended titles.
On another note, I was astonished while reading the book that Matt's father left him along for several months by himself in the middle of a forest with no other "settlers" for miles and miles and that he knew how to kill and skin his own animals (not to mention that he did it without being squeamish). Kids grew up a lot faster back then...
Newbery Honor book, among other awards and honors Ages 9-12(less)