I’m writing this post because if I don’t I’m going to be mad at myself tomorrow. I am two weeks behind!
1. So I was diagnosed with IBS a few years ago. I lost some weight, started exercising, and things were going better. But I have been having terrible flare-ups lately, and even though I have been eating less than normal (in part because of the flare-ups) and I am back to exercising regularly (I never really stopped since I was walking over 10,000 steps most days), I have gained weight and not lost it. And did I mention the terrible flare-ups? Anyway, so I talked to a doctor (not my regular doctor), and she told me to do the low-FODMAP diet, which I knew about and had read up on, but since I don’t do drastic diet shifts unless directed to by a doctor because of my history, I stored the information away. And now I have to use it.
When I was a teenager, one of my friends had a brother who beat her up. At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant and couldn’t reconcile it with what I thought I knew about sibling relationships. To me, the fact that he “beat her up” meant that they got into fights sometimes. And, for me, then, fights were fair and equal matches that both people signed up for.
I remember I mentioned it/them to my parents once, and my dad even remarked with a shake of his head on it. “Isn’t that the boy who beats up his sister?” he asked. And I corrected him. “No,” I said. “They get into fights sometimes.”
I was young and had a limited understanding of the world. However, I knew about intimate partner violence and child abuse by parents/guardians because of soap operas and books. I had no clue that sibling abuse was a thing. I thought that siblings could fight or maybe get on each other’s nerves or participate in schemes and manipulation (okay, yes, this is all stuff I read in Sweet Valley High), but not once did I understand that domestic violence could occur between siblings.
If you guessed Levana from the Lunar Chronicles, you guessed right! Homegirl is CRAY. Like, certifiably so. And we get to find out just how much in Fairest: Levana’s Story by Marissa Meyer.
Before I get into the (non-spoilery) review, I just want to say I wish all of my students would read this because it has one of the best examples of tragic irony I have read in a long, long time. I mean, seriously. It is super great. In that horrible tragedy way. You know what I mean.
I missed posting last week because I was grading, grading, grading.
And I was all set to post something this week, but then the Ferguson decision happened and the shooting of Tamir Rice happened, and I was consumed by rage and so many words that I couldn’t even get them out.
What it all boils down to is that I’m tired.
It’s exhausting being a black person in America. I cannot keep having the same conversations where I have to keep asserting my worth and the worth of my family and the worth of my child and my friends.
I have so many words that they are all inadequate to express my rage and frustration and grief.
So I am infinitely grateful to the people who are able to articulate their rage, frustration, and grief. To the ones who write think pieces and explain over and over and over and over and OVER again that Black lives matter, that diverse fiction/media is important, that racism has not gone away and here are all the ways we can see it playing out over and over again.
A student asked me on Tuesday if it was wrong for him to be nervous about going to FSU (there was a shooting there), and I told him, no it wasn’t wrong. But I also told him that he was probably in more danger just walking down the street. To which he kind of shrugged and nodded.
That’s why I’m tired. Because we both know that’s true, and so many other people are still failing to see that that’s the reality we live with. Those people are instead choosing to condemn us because we’re upset and angry.
(Yes, I know. This is not the first nor will it be the last book that will get points off for sadness even if, you know, that’s part of the point of the book.)
Ultimately, though, I have decided to mark it as a recommendation because I cannot stop thinking about it.
In fact, this book has a lot in common with Pointe by Brandy Colbert, a book I recommended a few weeks ago. Both books deal with teens who have endured a trauma, and both explore how the teens deal with that trauma.
Charm & Strange differs from Pointe in that main character Drew’s trauma occurred when he was around 9 whereas Theo from Pointe’s trauma occurred at 13. While it may not seem like a big difference, it actually is. Because Drew was so young, his trauma affected what is referred to in the text as his system of meaning–how he understands and relates to the world. Homeboy is disturbed.
Charm & Strange is almost impossible to talk about without spoilers, especially since the book is written specifically to keep Drew’s trauma hidden until he’s able to discuss it. In fact, the point of view is part of why I wasn’t sure if I would recommend this. At times, I found it off-putting. There is SO MUCH narrative distance that it’s hard to connect with Drew, even though the reader is in his head. Again, given the trauma and the narrative that makes perfect sense—and works really well for the novel—but that distance makes it hard to connect with Drew (which, again, is the point. Still). I found myself wishing it were in third person so the distance wouldn’t feel so great, but Drew is so disconnected from himself that the first person shows that more clearly.
However, in the end, it all pays off and makes perfect sense.
So what I liked about this book:
– I like that the catalyst for change is a girl, but not in the ways that are typical of most current YA novels. Jordan is new to the school and curious about Drew, so is willing to talk to him and ask him questions, which most of his classmates don’t do or have learned not to do.
– I really like that his former roommate looks out for him even as Drew tries to push him away. And why? Because he knows Drew’s secret, one of the things Drew thinks distances him from other people.
– The characters are really well-drawn even when the reader only gets glimpses of them. Some great character work here. And Drew’s brother! Oh my heart. Just…right in the gut. He broke my heart the most.
– I really, really, really like that these kids realize they’re in way over their heads with Drew and get adult help in the end.
– More importantly, the book shows the power of one or two people actually paying attention and how much of a difference that can make in a person’s life. The book isn’t preachy at all about that, by the way, but the message is there.
– While the story is sad (so very, very sad), it is ultimately hopeful as almost all good YA is.
– Oh, and it should be pointed out that the cover matches the book perfectly.
In conclusion: This is a complex and satisfying read that I could not stop thinking about after I finished it. It is a little dark, though, so be prepared for that.
I really liked this book, even though it is super dark. (And by super dark I mean it deals with really dark subject matter: child abduction and child rape.) While the book does deal with heavy subject matter, I think what keeps it from being too is that Colbert keeps the focus on main character Theo and her relationships with her friends, her parents, and, of course, ballet. So while the book starts with Theo’s childhood best friend Donovan returning home after being abducted, the story is mainly about how Theo navigates her feelings about it while going about her day to day life.
That means, of course, going to school every day and dealing with everything that goes along with that. And keeping up with ballet practice.
Because Theo interacts so much with so many other characters–all of whom are affected by Donovan’s return in some way, though none as directly or deeply as Theo–the narrative takes much needed breaks from the turmoil Theo feels because she has to do stuff like run the concession booth at school.
God, I’m making this sound boring. It’s not.
What I Liked
– That cover!
– Theo is a fascinating character who is friends with fascinating characters. She is flawed and believably so. Honestly, I just wanted to give her a big old hug when the story was over.
– I really love that Theo is screwed up and comes from a normal family. She has loving parents, she has a relatively good life, but at the same time, her life is a mess. So often in literature, there’s a straight line from trauma to family, and in this one, there is no straight line. Theo’s parents love her and they’re involved, but she’s just…a mess. And that’s something that happens in real life.
– I also love that, ultimately, Theo has to ask for and get help from adults because her problems are so big that she can’t tackle them on her own.
What I Didn’t Like
– The book isn’t perfect. One thing my book club agreed on is that we wish there had been more ballet and more of Theo processing her feelings through ballet. (The cover is misleading in that way. Though Theo is a ballerina, the cover makes it seem as though dance is the crux of the story. It’s not. The story is about a dancer, not about dance.) And one woman thought the book read a little like tragedy porn. So those are things to be aware of.
In conclusion: While more of a focus on the use of dance to process feelings would have been nice, the characters (especially main character Theo), relationships, and overall plotting make this an engrossing and worthwhile read.
Here’s the thing. I liked a lot about Something Real by Heather Demetrios. The book follows a girl–Chloe Baker, now seventeen–who grew up on a reality TV show. Think Jon & Kate Plus 8. Yes, exactly. Only her family is Baker’s Dozen. So, her family is off TV, and she’s trying to lead a normal life. The fallout from growing up on reality TV and the impact it has on the family relationships are all well-handled and interesting.
The boy stuff.
Oh my god, the boy stuff.
My two big issues with the boy are:
She sacrifices the best friends at the altar of the boyfriend.
The character and the boyfriend fall in instalove.
The boyfriend is also perfect in every way, which compounds issues one and two.
I think my biggest issue here is that the narrative didn’t support either of the decisions the author made.
What follows contains mild spoilers for the book, but, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t give away any major plot points.
Let’s start with the best friend stuff, shall we?
In the story, Chloe has been at her current school for a year and a half. In that time, she has made two best friends. She doesn’t want them to know about her past life, so she never invites them over and when she’s stressed out, says she has “family stuff” going on. She talks to them every day and hangs out with them most weekends.
She has a crush on this boy Patrick who sits behind her in government class (“gov” in the book), and they engage in some heavy flirting.
So, of course, when Chloe’s secret comes out, Tessa and Meredith (her best friends for the past year and a half) avoid her because they are angry and betrayed. Patrick, the boy she went on one date with, totally doesn’t care and just wants to be with her because he really, really likes her and none of that fame stuff matters. And he goes out of his way to see her privately just to tell her how little it matters and how much he likes her.
Best friends = year and a half.
Boy = one date.
Both best friends are mad, btw. Both of them avoid her. Neither of them reaches out to her or makes an effort to pull her aside to find out why she felt she couldn’t trust them or to reassure her that it’s weird, but they’ll, you know, figure it out. One of them gives her a “WTF?” in the hallway and then fades into the background.
Instead we get an entire chapter of new boy saying how okay this all is and, like, a one or two paragraph make up session with her friends.
And so it continues throughout the book. It isn’t long before Patrick and Chloe are declaring their love for each other. The tabloids come around and he’s totally fine with all of that. Because he loves her. All of their fights are about how she doesn’t trust him, and he just wants to be with her and he doesn’t care about the fame stuff! He really doesn’t! Why can’t she believe that?
Somewhere in the narrative, Demetrios points out that Chloe has been burned before by people only wanting to be close to her because of the show.
And I found myself thinking that the novel would have been much more believable if Patrick had ALREADY BEEN her longtime boyfriend. Like, why did it have to be new boy who she just met? Then, at least, his annoyance at her lack of trust would make sense. Then, at least, his frustration at her constantly pushing him away with this big news would make sense. But don’t sell me this remarkable love story about this girl who just started dating this dude, and now they’re in love and he’s totally fine risking his privacy for a girl he just started dating.
If they had been dating when the story started and it was established that they had been in this relationship, and then he found out she was the girl from the TV show, and he was willing to stand by her, I would have found that a much more compelling and believable love story. Since the structure of the novel (and the cover) are prizing this as a love story, I think that’s more emotionally honest than having the boy the main character is crushing on be this amazing and unflappable boy even though they barely know each other.
It also would have been much more respectful of the teen audience.
And it would have been much more respectful of Chloe’s relationship with her best friends.
It’s also especially annoying because everything else about the book was so good. Sigh.
I haven’t written a proper review since October?! That’s just not on. Especially considering I have read a ton of books since then. Me and this blog have a lot to hash out in the next few days/weeks. In the meantime, here are some mini reviews.
1. Saints by Gene Luen Yang – This is half of a two-part series about the Boxer Rebellion in China. I thought the two books would come in together, but I guess whoever had the first book wasn’t done with it. I was planning to read them as a set, though.
What I liked about this book is how small in scale it is, even though it deals with a huge conflict. Saints follows Four-Girl as she discovers Christianity and leaves her family’s home. I really liked that she is not really directly engaged with the rebellion and is instead just trying to figure out her place in the world. The rebellion does directly touch her life, but the focus of the novel is on her day-to-day struggle to fit in with her family and community. So often stories about war are, you know, about war, so that was a pleasant surprise. Another unexpected and interesting approach Yang takes is with regards to Four-Girl’s conversion to Christianity. It’s less about spirituality and more about protection and rebellion. As far as the art goes, the graphics are delightful as usual. I love Yang’s artistic style.
2. Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet (illustrated by Clément Oubrerie) – It took me a little while to get into this slice of life graphic novel set in the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s–mostly because the artwork inside the novel isn’t quite as detailed as the cover, so that was disappointing. The novel also doesn’t really have a clear plot right away; it mostly establishes the setting and relationships in the beginning. Once the relationships and setting are established, the drama starts to pick up, and I became much more interested. The main takeaway of course is that people are the same everywhere. Some of the cultural mores are different, yes, but, in general, Aya and her friends/family deal with family, work, and societal drama. There’s a “who’s the daddy?” plot, a plot about a boy who disappoints his father, several plots about infidelity, etc. I mean, you know, the usual. By the end I was engaged, but I’m not necessarily interested in picking up the next part of the collection.
3. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan – I continue to be delighted by this series and by Rick Riordan. The best part of this book is that all of the demigods get a chance to narrate so the story feels more balanced, and a lot of character development happens. I have to give Riordan props for anticipating my needs/wants as a reader as well. At one point, I found myself thinking, “Man, I really miss [specific character]” and then that character showed up within a couple of chapters. I also started getting annoyed with how heteronormative all of the characters/relationships are, and then he introduced a gay character. So I have much respect for Riordan as an author based on those two instances alone. Also: plot, characters, etc. I’m also starting to warm up a lot more to the characters I didn’t feel a proclivity towards, so that’s nice as well. I’m looking forward to seeing how everything shakes out.
I did read more books than the three featured here, but I’m trying to figure out the best way to discuss them. Mostly, with them, I’m concerned with certain patterns or trends I noticed, so they aren’t really fit for typical reviews, I think. We shall see.
I just decided that life was like a farmer standing in a field and a kid racing down the road on a Kawasaki, arguing about whether the fence posts are rushing by or standing still. Each thinking the other is crazy or blind or both, neither willing to give up until the other sees the light.
I decided to read The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde because it’s about an alcoholic teenager who actually goes to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. A lot of books mention teen drinking, but few that I’ve read talk about treatment. Or, if they do, they don’t name the treatment program. So I was particularly interested in a kid who goes to AA and not just “rehab” (not that there’s anything wrong with rehab, of course).
Brief summary, avoiding major spoilers: Thirteen-year-old Cynnie has an alcoholic mom. She hates that her mom drinks and doesn’t take care of Cynnie or her little brother, Bill, who has Down’s Syndrome. One day, the pain gets to be too much for Cynnie and she does what her mom does when the pain is too much: she has a beer. And it’s all downhill from there. Cynnie is then forced to attend AA meetings after getting into a lot of trouble.
When I first started this book, I didn’t think I was going to like it. I found the writing too simplistic, and Cynnie is a really young thirteen. However, I realized that (a) all 13-year-olds do not talk and think like my daughter and (b) part of Cynthia’s character is that she avoids thinking a lot. She doesn’t really read or care that much about school. She just hangs out with a couple of the neighborhood boys and tries to avoid her mom.
I don’t mean to imply that Cynnie isn’t intelligent or that she doesn’t think deeply about things because that’s not true. The quote I pulled about the fence posts is from early in the book, for example. She thinks a lot; she just doesn’t use a lot of complex language to do so. Her voice is also pretty immediate, and I could imagine a 13-year-old kid telling a story the way she does: “I did this and this. My mom did that. I was mad so I did this. Then I went to my room and threw things,” etc. I mean, if a kid isn’t trying to feel her feelings, she’s not going to have a whole lot to say about them.
But that’s a big reason of why I didn’t think the book would have staying power. I was wary that the author was going to keep things simple and kind of on the surface.
And then Cynnie starts drinking. And I was just so worried about her, and I wanted her to not drink and find another way and to get help. And I had to keep reading to see what was going to happen to her and to make sure she was going to be okay. Because she’s just a kid who got caught up drinking and is in pain and needs help. And she’s so sad and I don’t want her to be sad.
And then! Then she has to go to AA and I’m hopeful! But it’s not easy for her, and I want to see how she pulls through and if she commits to sobriety and overcomes her struggles with sobriety. Also, I want her to believe in herself the way that I do.
So I kept reading, and I was invested in the narrative–not just how the author was going to portray a teen alcoholic in a treatment program.
As for how AA is handled, I think the program is presented in a straightforward and accessible way. Hyde doesn’t do any info dumps or long drawn out exposition of how the program works. Everything is presented through Cynnie’s experience in and with the program. Sometimes she asks questions, sometimes she explains something she’s learned, but the story is never preachy and never says AA is something any one person has to do. Hyde just shows how this character experiences AA and how it affects her life. AA is also not presented as some magic cure-all. Sobriety takes work, and the narrative shows how difficult maintaining sobriety can be, no matter how far along in the program someone is.
I know I spent a lot of time talking about Cynnie and AA, but that’s because most of the story focuses on those two things. The other characters that populate the narrative are not given that much page time, but they’re all fully realized and memorable. I understand the relationships and motivations of all of them.
I think this book would be good for teens who know someone who attends AA or who may need AA themselves because it really demystifies how the whole thing works and isn’t preachy or didactic at all.
My only complaint is that there’s no mention of Al-Anon or Alateen made at all. Even one line saying when she’s ready, Cynnie might want to consider Al-Anon/Alateen since her mom is an alcoholic would have been nice.
What I’m saying is everything was A+. I believed all of the relationships. I loved the way everything was resolved. I mean, the way things ended with Tina, holy crap.
Rowell has this way, too, of giving a lot of information with small details. Like, Eleanor is poor, right? And it’s like, okay, so she has to share her room with all of her brothers and sisters. But you really understand just how poor she and her family are when she wishes she could save pads from a prank girls play on her because “what a waste.” Maxi pads touched by another person are a waste. Or how you understand that her mom’s boyfriend beats the mom and then forces her to have sex with him because she has a bruise and a hickey. Small details.
The sexual abuse is well-handled as are the hints that maybe it has happened before. Oh, and that Eleanor thought her father was terrible until she realized there are worse things than selfish. (That doesn’t mean her father is good or even decent, but just that he could be a lot worse.)
I was also quite impressed that even though Richie is a terrible, terrible, terrible person, Rowell still managed to make him a little sympathetic in the end. I mean, I hated him, verily, but still that sliver of humanity she gives him makes all the difference.
Oh! Another thing I liked is that my attachment to the characters grew as they grew more attached to each other.
Park’s parents are seriously the best. Flawed, yes, but excellent parents.
I also love that Park is embarrassed because they’re so affectionate, and you get the whole ugh annoying parents, but then there’s Eleanor not bringing people home because, again, worse than embarrassing.
I think, ultimately, that I liked this book so much because aside from the awesome characters and the fantastic relationships and all of the A++ writing, I completely bought Eleanor and Park’s growing attraction to each other. I liked that it didn’t quite make sense because these things don’t always makes sense, and I loved that the characters were aware of how much it didn’t make sense, but that it didn’t quite matter whether or not it made sense because they got each other.
Oh, and the last thing I absolutely loved is how Rowell would show how different characters saw the same situation: Eleanor’s gym suit, Park’s mom seeing Eleanor at the store, etc. Oh and good Lord, everything with Eleanor and her siblings broke my heart.
Also, I love how every time I think I’m done saying everything I love (and these are the non-spoilery bits!), I keep thinking of something else. I mean, Eleanor’s makeover! Park’s fight! So many things to talk about!
So what I’m saying is this book is awesome and you should read it. Easily my favorite read of the year so far.