Jan 23

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think I’ve become too accustomed to reading plots designed for teenagers; I kept expecting this story to follow a traditional plot line, and while the evidence throughout was that Adichie was not following a typical narrative story line, I still found myself surprised at the end.  I got to the end, and sort of thought, “Oh.  That’s it?”  Not in a negative way, like the author left me hanging (as many of these series writing author’s do, teasing me into reading the next book), but just in a sort of unexpected way.

I don’t know that I can even tell you my overall feeling about the book…it’s just too complex for that.  I liked that the rhythm and pattern of the storytelling was like nothing I’ve read before.  I like that it offered an unfamiliar (to me) perspective of race in America.  I like that the book kind of was and was not all about race.  (I know that last one is super confusing, but just read the book and then ask me what I mean if it’s still unclear.)

It’s a book that is just going to simmer a bit in my brain, and that is perhaps the very best sort of book.

Jan 19

Quote of the Day

I’m currently reading a book called Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  The protagonist is a Nigerian immigrant to America and has a blog where she writes about her observations about race in America.  The blog is successful enough that she is being asked to speak at conferences and such, but she quickly realizes that the people who she speaks to in conferences and workshops are not the same people who read her blog; thus, she realizes that she needs to say different things to the two audiences.

The narrator writes, “During her talks, she said: ‘America has made great progress for which we should be very proud.’ In her blog she wrote: Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”

Jan 18

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

So, I’ve just finished reading all three novels nominated for the YA category of the California Young Reader Medal.  The first two I read kind of left me feeling “meh,” so I was all set to be unimpressed with this one as well.  I’m so delighted to tell you that I was wrong.

The story is told from the perspectives of four different characters, and I loved how Sepetys begins the narrative by telling of the same opening event from each character’s view point.  After that, things unfold a little slowly, but it is completely worth it as you approach the climax…by that time, I was completely invested in each of the characters and was absolutely riveted to what was happening to them.

I’m also terribly impressed that Sepetys tackles telling a story from the “wrong” side (Germans during WWII), painting the characters not as the accepted “evil” caricatures but as real human beings caught up in a horrific war.  In doing so, she sheds light on a human tragedy that so few of us know anything about (myself included) because it happened to the Germans as they were losing the war.

I will warn potential readers that the end of this novel does get rather graphic and emotionally wrenching, as you would expect in a novel about war and death.  Although writing for a young adult audience, Sepetys does not gloss over the terror, panic, and trauma of the events.

Mar 29

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

I absolutely loved this book!  I suppose I’m a bit partial to stories told in poetry, as I’ve really enjoyed all of the YA novels I’ve read that are written this way, but I’m just so impressed at how these authors use this medium to tell incredibly powerful stories about difficult topics.

This particular book addresses issues of racism as well as tackling issues involved with being bi-racial in America, something that hits particularly close to home for me as I’m raising bi-racial children.  While the story is set in 1969, I think so many of Mimi’s experiences still resonate today–everything from being followed around a store by a suspicious salesperson to being a wallflower at your first middle school dance.

Of course, the other aspect that I’ve fallen in love with in Marilyn Hilton’s writing is her ability to capture images so beautifully in her poetry.  This section, towards the end of the novel, is particularly touching:

I used to think the people of Vermont

were like the snow–

crusty,

chilly,

and slow to thaw

But now I think

they’re what’s underneath.

Like the crocus bulbs making flowers all winter

in the dark earth–

invisible until they push through the snow–

and like the cicadas growing

underground for years–

until they burst from the ground–

the people of Vermont

do their hardest thinking

and their richest feeling

deep inside,

so no one can see.

 

Oct 17

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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I’ve got mixed opinions about this one.  I mostly enjoyed reading it, but towards the end you begin to realize that you are being set up for a sequel, which disappoints me every time.

I really did love the premise…especially how Riggs uses the old photographs as part of his narrative, but I’m just a bit underwhelmed overall.  I love how Riggs brings up the idea that all of these children are stuck emotionally in adolescence, but then he doesn’t really ever develop that and build it as a plot point.

For some reason, the end feels very similar to The Golden Compass for me.  Everything is very rushed and the tone of the narrative gets much darker and everything builds to a climax that doesn’t mesh very well with the rest of the narrative and leaves so much unresolved that I’m just frustrated rather than intrigued.

Unfortunately, a colleague has already lent me the next book, so I feel obligated to continue with the series.  Maybe…

Aug 25

Summer Reading

After getting off to a rough start, I actually did do a bit of reading over the summer, though some of it “doesn’t count.”

I reread the 50 Shades of Gray books…sort of a guilty pleasure.  They are not particularly well written, and the content is not really appropriate for most conversations, but I just couldn’t help myself.  I needed something that was going to be light and fun and that would pull me in…one of those books you just can’t put down.  These were a perfect fit.  So, I sped through them but will not be counting them toward my reading goal for the year.

I picked up and put down several books during the summer that I may or may not come back to.

For now, I’ve been sucked into the Outlander series.  Part of me didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon, but honestly, the book has been sitting on my shelf for over a decade just waiting for me to get to it, so it was about time.  I recently started book three.  I’m only a couple of chapters into it and it’s already to the point where I have a hard time putting it down for the evening.

So, it seems I’ve kind of had a summer of fluff, but that’s about all I could handle while taking care of the twins all summer.

Apr 27

Macbeth (Graphic Novel) by Gareth Hinds

I LOVE this!  I love the idea.  I love the execution.  I particularly love Hinds’ endnotes where he explains his choices both for the illustrations and the changes/cuts to the original text.  He clearly has a very good grasp of not only the original play, but also the historical context.  I love that!

As a middle school teacher, I definitely feel that this adaptation makes the play accessible to my more advanced students.  One word of caution, however–it’s a fairly bloody story, and the illustrations reflect that.  There’s also the issue of the witches, if that’s something that concerns you, but they are also in the play and are depicted faithfully in this version.

Now, to go track down more of Hinds’ adaptations (Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Beowulf).

Apr 27

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

I must say, I’m disappointed.  I discovered this book from a list of “books every woman MUST read” sort of thing, and I still don’t understand why this book was on that particular list.  There’s nothing about the story that appeals to or directly speaks to being a woman.  BUT, that’s not the only reason why I didn’t particularly like this book.

Maybe if you chose to read the book because you wanted a glimpse into the sordid lives of slum dwellers in Mumbai, you might actually appreciate the book.  The story isn’t really about an individual character, or even about the characters at all, but about the political and social constructs that serve to keep people in poverty, about the corruption in the government that, while professing to advance the cause of helping these people, only serves to perpetuate injustice.  If that’s what you are reading it for, to see an absolutely horrific depiction of Indian social services, then by all means, read on.  If you prefer to read something that uses character development and plot to more subtly put forward ideas and truths, look elsewhere.

The other thing to keep in mind as you read this novel is that it is written by an American reporter.  While I do not question Boo’s qualifications and knowledge of the topic, it’s good to remember that she is an outsider with an agenda.  However positive her agenda may be, and however knowledgeable about the Indian slums and the plight of the poor she may be, I couldn’t help but wonder as I read how the narrative might have been influenced by her Western lense and how it might have been different if written by an Indian author.

Feb 11

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

 

Eventually, this one redeemed itself for me.  The last half of the book, once all the exposition is out of the way, gets really interesting and does eventually reach the point where you can’t put the book down.

I think Dashner’s strength here is really in his character development.  Even once the action begins, the characters’ actions and choices align with what you’ve learned about them, and while some of those choices lead to tragic consequences, they are completely in keeping with the characters’ personalities and experiences.  It’s nice to see this kind of thought and sophistication put into a novel geared toward young adults.

In addition to my complaint about the frustratingly slow start and exposition, I was also bothered by what seems to be the standard strategy for serial writers…the ending that leaves you with more questions than answers.  I’ve only read a handful of YA novels that deal with this well, where the current storyline is given just enough resolution to satisfy me as a reader while leaving enough of a door open to entice me to continue reading the series.

Dashner really treads that fine line and doesn’t quite make it for me, leaving me frustrated enough that rather than being eager to begin the next novel, I just want to toss this one in the corner.  Okay, maybe not that strong of a reaction, but the jury is still out on whether or not I’ll pick up the next book in the series.

Feb 08

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

This is really such a delightful novel.  The story is told in verse, but in a way that I think will still be very accessible to young adults.  I love when author’s take risks like this and write for young adults as though they think and feel and are capable not only a grappling with difficult subjects but also with challenging vocabulary and text structure.  What a refreshing follow up to The Grimm Collection.

Although the story is steeped in Hindu beliefs, the spiritual concepts and truths dealt with transfer very well to just about any faith–the idea of devoting what you do to God rather than to self.  The main character’s growth through some rather serious life events–injury, loss, death–is so beautifully illustrated without being didactic.