Jeez, that was awfully satisfying, especially once it got going. I wasn't hooked until about a third of the way in -- big commitment -- but then I didJeez, that was awfully satisfying, especially once it got going. I wasn't hooked until about a third of the way in -- big commitment -- but then I didn't want to put it down. Political-historical-romance-fantasy-epic brain candy! ...more
I had high hopes for this book, so my two stars may be more reflective of my disappointment than of the book's overall quality.
It's 1971 and FrannieI had high hopes for this book, so my two stars may be more reflective of my disappointment than of the book's overall quality.
It's 1971 and Frannie lives with her Deaf brother, her often-absent (but loving) father, and her pregnant mom on the black side of the tracks. She worries a lot: about her mom, who has already lost babies to miscarriages, about her handsome brother, who's scorned by hearing girls, about her best friend, who's becoming increasingly religious, and about the new kid in her class, a white (maybe?) kid that all the other students call "Jesus Boy" because of his long hair and pale skin. He's mysterious -- he knows sign language, cries in class, and stirs up all sorts of strange emotions in his classmates. Frannie's best friend thinks that he may well be the Messiah redux, but at the end of the book she's convinced otherwise and it's up to Frannie to didactically ruminate that "perhaps Jesus is in all of us."
This is a short book, and perhaps it's the length that made it feel choppy and unfinished, with loose ends that turn out more baffling than poetic. Surprisingly, for a storyteller of Ms. Woodson's caliber, this book felt like a cautionary tale about "showing, not telling": I felt like it was a series of lessons, but without much real substance. Also, I couldn't help being irked by some of older brother Sean's passages: in addition to his saintlike personality, his conversations with Frannie have awfully grammatical English syntax that just didn't seem to flow in the way that ASL does. I know that this was a stylistic choice, as I've read that Ms. Woodson studied ASL for many years and knows whereof she writes. But along those same lines, one weird moment in the book was when Frannie is in the car with her dad and reflects that it's strange to hear him speak because "it's so quiet in the house, what with all the signing and all." (I paraphrase here.) It might be just my experience, but every time that I've been in Deaf spaces, silence is rarer than it is golden: all sorts of sounds are around.
Even though it felt a little idealized, I did love that Sean was attractive, smart, funny, cool, independent, and Deaf, with a foot in both Deaf and hearing cultures... and I don't know of any other African-American Deaf characters in fiction for young people. Even though the hearing girls are rude to him, it's clear to Frannie and to any reader that they're ignorant and just plain wrong. I wish we saw more characters with those qualities, but even more fleshed-out. ...more
Fast, page-turning read.... I read it straight through instead of cleaning my house as intended. But I'm not a fan of how the issues of consent playedFast, page-turning read.... I read it straight through instead of cleaning my house as intended. But I'm not a fan of how the issues of consent played out, not to mention his "protective" nastiness (which felt like abuse more than banter), and I'm left feeling icky. ...more
ETA (!) - on a reread, five stars. I think her coming to power worked very well, as did the ambiguity of good/bad - right/wrong with all the characterETA (!) - on a reread, five stars. I think her coming to power worked very well, as did the ambiguity of good/bad - right/wrong with all the characters. Reread in preparation for Bitterblue - now to reread Graceling!
Withholding judgment on this one -- in terms of stars -- until I read it again. Which I might do this week! I enjoyed reading it, but had a few gripes that I can't reconcile on just one read: writing style was one, the use of "monster" was another, the fact that it took me over half the book to figure out what was going on*, how I feel about Fire a victim... I just don't know. I want to read it again now that I don't have to grapple with the figuring out what's going on.
*it felt like reading Jellicoe Road to me -- I kept going back to reread and see if I missed something, because I was too confused to figure it all out. 1>...more
This is an old favorite of 70's YA that I found for a quarter and decided to re-read. It stands up surprisingly well; dated in its environment, but noThis is an old favorite of 70's YA that I found for a quarter and decided to re-read. It stands up surprisingly well; dated in its environment, but not enormously in its attitude. I love when she goes to the guide dog training and meets the housewife and the college professor who are also blind and clearly independent even without having guide dogs yet.
It's also where I learned about the LOC services for the blind, which are happily still in existence, although also happily no longer provided solely on records. ...more
Oh, man. I'm finding this book very difficult to write about. I really want to like this book. Before I was a librarian, I was a disability rights advOh, man. I'm finding this book very difficult to write about. I really want to like this book. Before I was a librarian, I was a disability rights advocate; and of the many experiences that I had during those six years, one of the most intense and formative was supporting a young woman my age who had CP and was nonverbal. She was a client and then a friend, and much of our time together was spent supporting her to learn how to use a speech device to communicate in her own words. She passed away a few years ago, and I miss her. Our friendship, and the experience of supporting her to learn to speak using her own words, necessarily colors my reading of this book and others like it - so that's why I feel the need to include it in a book review. My family experience with disability in general and CP in particular changes my perspective too. It makes me an unobjective reader, and prone to judge the book on my own experiences - so of course, take my review with a grain or ten of salt. Please excuse any rambling!
So as a reader, and in my librarian life, I frequently look for books for teens and kids that star characters with disabilities. There are truly wonderful ones (Rules) and terrible ones (So B. It). I particularly keep my eyes open for books that star characters with depth, complexity, and personhood, rather than ones that use people with disabilities as a foil or plot device acting on characters without disabilities. And I frequently get irritated at authors who write ridiculous, inauthentic portrayals of PWD (*cough* So B. It *cough*). I know that gifted authors can write anything -- whether or not it's close to their own life experience -- but I have found that for the most part, authors who write what they know about PWD rather than what they've gleaned from inaccurate pop-culture representations, tend to write better books.
So when I heard about this book, shaped in part by Sharon Draper's own experience as the mother of a child with CP who is nonverbal, I had high hopes. Even though she's not writing about her daughter, her writing must be informed from her experiences - and in some ways, it's really successful. When Draper describes Melody's physical reactions -- really all the ways that everyone can see her from the outside -- it rings true. Her descriptions of Melody's physical reactions are pitch-perfect, as are the reactions she gets from many people around her, the special ed classrooms, and the incredibly frustrating nature of being confined to limited language. Clearly Draper has a lot of insight and an insider perspective that's valuable to us as readers. And she has a worthwhile agenda: she wants young readers to question their assumptions about PWD, including nonverbal people, and to recognize that Melody is brilliant, more than she appears, and underestimated.
I think this is where the premise derails -- from the first page, really. The story is unapologetically didactic, but also stilted in its writing. Melody lacks complexity as a character -- she's brilliant in kind of an Encyclopedia Brown way, with a photographic memory, the ability to retain anything she learns, and perfect spelling. Unfortunately, she has about Encyclopedia's level of depth and well-roundedness as well.
It's not just that this is unlikely -- that people's brains don't develop their neural pathways in quite that orthographic way without a lot of verbal and written practice, regardless of their intelligence. It takes a long, long time with a lot of practice to learn how to be fluent in verbal and written communication, whether you have a disability or not. It doesn't hold water - it's unrealistic and painfully hopeful.
But let's assume that we accept Melody's Encylopedia-Brown-like reality, and suspend disbelief. If we believe that Melody has instant facility with spoken language -- or learned how to use a complex speech device in a single weekend without the support of a speech pathologist -- it makes no sense that Melody wouldn't have been able to communicate effectively with her family and peers. If she has access to even a low-tech letter board (which we know she does), with her perfect spelling and syntax she can communicate almost as effectively as a person who can speak. With a speech device that she can program and use fluently, and the will to use it and 24/7 access to it, she's unstoppable. It's impossible to believe that with such skills and involved parents, she would be so totally disenfranchised in her school and her life in general. Why is she in that isolated special ed classroom in 2010? Where is her IEP and her case worker? She has a 1:1 aide and an effective speech device -- clearly her parents have prevailed through MAJOR negotiations with insurance, school and state funders -- but isn't mainstreamed full-time? Where is her internet, for goodness sakes? It doesn't make any sense, in a real-world context. I could believe it if she had insurmountable barriers to communication, developmental delays, uninvolved or uninformed parents, or a school district that really stonewalled advocacy. Or even if she wasn't the world's best speller. I just can't believe it of her -- and I think it doesn't recognize the many nonverbal people who DO communicate and advocate for themselves effectively despite massive physical impairments. People type out Morse Code with their heels, use a head switch, or use a single working finger to access speech devices.
The book felt like Julie Anne Peters's books to me: yes, the issues in her books DO arise for many LGBTQ youth. Is it realistic that they'd happen to her characters in that way? Not so much.
Oh dear. I could go on about my thoughts on this book for a long time, and I don't mean to disrespect Ms. Draper's intelligence, experience, and hard work as an author. The book shines in the authenticity of its "shown" rather than "told" details - it's in those moments that it rises above the didactic and flat elements of the story. I wish we'd had more moments like those, and I appreciate that they were there. ...more
I'm reserving some judgment on this one -- I'd like to see what smarter, more informed reviewers than I have to say, particularly those from the politI'm reserving some judgment on this one -- I'd like to see what smarter, more informed reviewers than I have to say, particularly those from the politicized disability community.
On the one hand, I really liked seeing the range of characters with disabilities in this book. On the other hand, it was hard to avoid the "magical cripple" overtones as D.Q. led Pancho on his path to enlightenment and Pancho mused about how Rosa was like an angel, "on another plane," etc. But then... I don't know, maybe that's really what a guy in his situation would have thought and said? I don't know any siblings of people with developmental disabilities who have that perception of their brother or sister, but maybe it's true for Pancho?
I think that's part of the problem -- none of the characters felt truly developed and rounded to me, so perhaps the fact that none of the characters with disabilities got beyond flat was really indicative of something the book lacked as a whole. The good ones were too good; the bad ones were too bad; Pancho was too obviously drawn, the misunderstood kid with the heart of gold just yearning to be revealed. The story didn't really keep me turning pages either: we knew what Pancho would choose, we know how he'd get there, we even knew how he'd feel at the end. The only question was whether D.Q. would die before the end.
Maybe my hopes were too high? I loved Fire upon rereading, and I thought this would be at least as good, if not better -- certainly it has the necessaMaybe my hopes were too high? I loved Fire upon rereading, and I thought this would be at least as good, if not better -- certainly it has the necessary ingredients for a harrowing, character-driven political fantasy. It just felt clunky, like it needed better editing or was trying to do too much with telling rather than showing, and it lacked a certain complexity in the characters and relationships -- though there's no reason it should have, because certainly the background/world-and-character-building was there.
I think that at its core, it had the opportunity to do the same thing as The Reader: a quiet, painful reconciliation with the fact that beloved individuals had participated in atrocities. I think it almost got to the intangible ambivalence of The Queen of Attolia... just not quite. There was a part in the last 100 pages that got close, dealing with Leck's history coming to light, but ultimately Bitterblue didn't feel tightly crafted and didn't have the pacing to sustain itself either. One or the other would have made it really succeed, but it tried to do a little too much, maybe. Or maybe the opposite -- maybe it tried to please too many people, filtering out some of the darkness or ambivalence in the fear of creating too upsetting a story for young readers. Obviously there was a lot of upsetting *information* about Leck's actions and rules, but when it came to the human implications of those things, ultimately there were few moments in which the characters actually made mistakes or used their agency in complicated ways. It felt like a lot of "telling-not-showing."
I think the core of my disappointment is that this was a very different book in its heart than the first two. Katsa and Fire are both in truly untenable situations where there are no good choices that they can make. It's not just that there are challenges, it's that there are no clearly moral answers for them or the reader. For Bitterblue (the character), there's a lot standing in her way, a lot of pain, and a lot she has to come to terms with, but ultimately both she and the reader always know the right thing to do and those are the choices she makes. It all comes together perfectly in the end: she's suffered, but there's no ambiguity for us or, really, her. We know she's done the right thing and it's worked out as perfectly as it can. So in that, I think this book is much less complex and powerful than the others.
There was a lot I liked here, for sure. I love Cashore's worldbuilding, though Bitterblue depended heavily on the first two books for that (and appropriately so). I had really liked the not quite explicit queering of Graceling, but I also liked the explicitness of it in Bitterblue for readers who thought the first book was unclear about it. Honestly, I read this book and thought, hey, I bet I would get along with this author on a personal level - I respect her as a writer and thinker, and if we met at a party, maybe we'd be friends. When the next book comes out, and I hope it does, I'll most certainly read it.
(And THAT'S what we call stream-of-consciousness reviewing!)...more
**spoiler alert** What an odd egg that E.L. Konigsburg is... also, the 70's were a truly strange time in fiction for young people! This definitely fal**spoiler alert** What an odd egg that E.L. Konigsburg is... also, the 70's were a truly strange time in fiction for young people! This definitely falls into the bizarre-70's-empowerment-fiction genre.
Winston is a wordy, awkward, strange child of a Pittsburgh millionaire. He detests his younger sister Heidi -- he calls her a "troglodyte", "a golliwog," "repulsive," etc -- but primarily, it seems, because she's manipulative, spoiled, and acts cutesy-babyish. The father is distant; the mother escapes to get her hair done; the children are imprisoned in their castle of privilege. It's gradually revealed that Heidi actually has a host of disabilities, from hearing loss to mobility issues, but that the family simultaneously babies her and pretends that everything's fine.
Meanwhile, Caroline arrives: she claims to be the father's long-lost daughter, kidnapped sixteen years previously and back just in time to claim her share of the family fortune.
Regardless of whether she's the real thing -- oddly, there's no discussion of what happened with her kidnappers, why she's back now, or anything logistical like that -- Winston connects with her immediately. The book's primary plot is actually not about Caroline's authenticity but her mission to rescue the siblings from their castle/prison by proving that Heidi is extremely intelligent and needs accommodations and confidence rather than babying.
This being an early Konigsburg, though, it's not quite that linear. There are wacky stylistic choices, a severe lack of contractions, and a sufficiently confusing story that I had to go back and reread pages several times. Who *were* the middle-school readers of the 70's and early 80's that devoured these books, and what are they like now? ...more
I am just not the reader for this book. I hesitate to even give it a star rating because I know that my opinion of it is shaped by my appreciation ofI am just not the reader for this book. I hesitate to even give it a star rating because I know that my opinion of it is shaped by my appreciation of it rather than any sort of objective rating.
I liked: the relationships
I disliked: the prose the structure (the alternating chapters)
I bet if it had been the same story with a different writing style, I would be waving it around and trying to get everyone I know to read it. But really, I disliked it for the same reasons that I disliked The Underneath -- faux-folksy language, overwritten, rhymy, heavy-handed poetical prose -- and I think that this is most likely a book for adults. I'd love to be proven wrong, however! In fact, I have a reader in mind that I'd like to hand this to, and I will update my review as soon as I get it in her hands and hear her response... ...more
I'm scandalizing myself by giving this two stars, but I just couldn't stand it. Florid, purple prose and metaphors that often came across as nonsensicI'm scandalizing myself by giving this two stars, but I just couldn't stand it. Florid, purple prose and metaphors that often came across as nonsensical. Forget the vocabulary overkill, this read like a parody: obscuring an interesting life with obtuse verbal fussing. Even in the endnotes, for heaven's sake! Felt both pretentious stylistically and condescending in its content. I love biographies because they illuminate a life, and this felt like Fleischman considered his prose stylings to be the star of the show.
12-year-old Sunny is caught between worlds: she’s Igbo Nigerian-American, born in the United States but living in Nigeria, a wonderful soccer player w12-year-old Sunny is caught between worlds: she’s Igbo Nigerian-American, born in the United States but living in Nigeria, a wonderful soccer player who rarely goes in the sun because of her albinism, and most of all, discovering that she’s the only magical member of her non-magical family. Oh, and she has to save the world. Okorafor has taken an undeniably formulaic fantasy structure – a feisty outsider heroine makes friends, learns to control her powers, and discovers her true self -- and created a fresh and exciting story packed with nonstop action, engaging (if uncomplicated) characters, thorough world-building, and a vividly realized, contemporary, urban African setting. Although it’s marketed as YA and includes some mild profanity, Akata Witch reads like a middle-grade fantasy, with character development and pacing that has more in common with Rick Riordan than Kristin Cashore. A must-have for public and school libraries; don’t be surprised when patrons come back asking for more. ...more