Top Ten Books I Was Forced to Read

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday Rewind, I decided to go with a post I started but never finished. Obvious choice seems obvious, right? In an effort to stop reusing books, I am not going to list As I Lay Dying or Assata again (both of which I read for school) since I have mentioned them several times already.

Top Ten Tuesday

1. The Percy Jackson series — My daughter agreed to listen to Harry Potter in the car on audiobook, but only if I promised to read Percy Jackson once we were through. I did, and I loved the books. You can tell because they have their own tag.

2. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale — Read for the children’s lit summer book club I belong to. LOVED.

3. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe — I first read this in a graduate seminar, and I was delighted at how clever and easy to read it was. I was also shocked to learn that Uncle Tom is actually a cool dude. Apparently, Uncle Tom as a derogatory term didn’t originate with the book but rather with the minstrel show tradition.

4. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs — I read this in the same graduate seminar as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s the only slave narrative I’ve read that was written by a woman, and I found it heartbreaking in a lot of different ways.

5. Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson — This book was also assigned in that graduate seminar, but! I had already read it before for another class. It’s a fictional account of a Northern slave–lest we think slavery was strictly a Southern thing.

6. A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen — I assigned this play to my students having never read it myself. The issues explored in the play are modern and relevant. My students and I both enjoyed it.

7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon — I assigned this book in my Best Books for Young Adults course having never read it myself (I do that a lot). It took me a while to get into the book, but it was well worth it since the last line almost made me cry.

8. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card — Personal politics aside, this is a fantastic book. “Read this,” my friend told me. “You have to.” I devoured it in two days. Devoured.

9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley — I read this book in a theory class as an undergrad, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it. I really was expecting the whole Boris Karloff deal (or, rather, all the silly spoofs of it), and the book is nothing like that at all.

10. White Butterfly by Walter Mosley — My first Mosley and another grad seminar book. It was always refreshing to have books assigned that felt like leisure reading.

Book Review: The Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers

Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. KirbyI didn’t much care for Matthew J. Kirby‘s middle grade novel, Spell Robbers. There’s a stunning lack of diversity, and I didn’t find the characters that interesting. However, Kirby does add a wrinkle to his narrative by having main character Ben engage in a process I don’t see a lot of in these types of stories: skepticism.

Ben is never 100% convinced that he can trust the grown-ups around him. He considers why and how they may be lying, and he doesn’t willingly accept what they say as truth. It’s really quite fascinating.

A brief plot synopsis: Ben is an actuator who can manipulate reality. (This practice is connected to quantum physics in the story, which is actually a clever way to introduce advanced science to kids.) One day, the teacher he’s working with is kidnapped, and he and his friend Peter are whisked off to this training camp for actuators so they can be turned into, well, superheroes, basically.

So, Ben’s teacher is kidnapped by the bad guys. Then, Ben and Peter are saved by the good guys. BUT. Ben doesn’t think that just because the good guys (The Quantum League) call themselves good guys and that the so-called good guys saved him and Peter from the bad guys means the good guys are actually good. He stipulates that The Quantum League may not be as bad as the kidnappers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good by default.

I love that.

Part of what makes Ben question The Quantum League is (a) their motives and (b) their methods. As is usual in a good v. evil story, the League wants to keep the bad guys from having the teacher and the technology because the bad guys want to do bad stuff with it. But the League is never clear about what they want to do with the technology themselves. Not to mention, part of bringing Ben and Peter into the league means the boys severing ties with their families against their will–something Ben is totally not down with.

Which, come to think of it, is also interesting. Normally, a boy like Peter–one who feels alienated by his family or doesn’t have one, even–would be the typical hero in this type of story. Unlike Ben, Peter does welcome the new life and enters it with no resistance whatsoever. Ben, however, loves his mother and doesn’t want this new life. Though he struggles with where he fits with his classmates, he knows he is loved by his mom and is pretty secure in his identity as such.

So Ben remains skeptical. The grown-ups in the story treat him like a pawn, and he’s aware of that, which makes him wary. He never fully buys what they’re selling, even if he has no real choice but to go along with what they ask of him.

While the story as a whole didn’t work for me, I did appreciate that one element. And that Ben’s mom is in grad school. That was pretty cool, too.

Adventures through Awkwardness: 2/12

Source: Library

Book Review: Fangirl

I just have to say up front that Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the type of story I love to read, and the type of story I want to see more of in YA lit. It’s about a girl who goes to college and has to navigate the new setting, relationships, and teachers she has. She also needs to figure out her old relationships with her family. No super heightened craziness, just regular everyday life.

In fact, it hits on quite a few of the items on my YA reading wishlist:Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  1. mental illness – Cath’s dad has bipolar disorder, and I love the way it’s revealed and the way that it explains so much of Cath’s issues.
  2. alcoholism – One of the characters gets busted for alcohol poisoning, and the whole discussion about how she isn’t going to stop drinking because “everyone else drinks” is classic alcoholic behavior (the idea that s/he can drink like everybody else).
  3. nerdy/quirky teens unashamed of their nerdi-/quirkiness – Cath loves Simon Snow, wears her Simon Snow swag, and is just fine talking about Simon Snow. She may not tell everyone that she writes fanfic, but she’s not ashamed of her love or knowledge of the world.

Bonus points for exploring the bullheadishness of students and their lack of awareness when it comes to (a) plagiarism and (b) not following directions. Oh, and female friendship, of course. Oh, and learning disabilities! Also, Cath is so codependent.

Extra bonus points for having a romance in the story and not letting the story become about the boy. Cath’s relationship with the boy is one of the many relationships she navigates, but it doesn’t overshadow or become more important (narratively, I mean) than her relationship with her sister or her father or her other friends.

Also, Rowell’s love affair with redheads continues. There are TWO in this book.

A couple of things that didn’t quite work for me:

1. The story starts out slow because Cath spends the beginning of the book being a mopey hermit. Rowell keeps the narrative from getting too bogged down by showing Cath’s forced interactions with her roommate and classmates. Yay for dialogue.

2. Several times in the story, the characters comment that Cath has online friends, but there’s nothing that shows Cath’s online friends are her actual friends. There’s this undercurrent that those friends don’t count. Cath is a BNF (big name fan), so she would be interacting with her online friends A LOT. This idea of online fans as being isolated in real life but not online is important, and I wish it had been explored more.

3. I liked the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and fic as framing devices for the chapters. I absolutely HATED that huge chunks of parts of the narrative was Cath reading her fic out loud to someone and what she was reading was transcribed in the book. I am not a big fanfic reader of the shows and books that I actually know and love. To read fanfic about a world that doesn’t actually exist–about characters I had zero investment or interest in–felt extra pointless.

All in all, though, I found Fangirl to be a solid read, and I breezed through it. Loved the characters, loved the relationships.

Source: Library