I got a copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt back at BEA 2013 and due to school and life and disorganized bookshelves after moves, I didn’t pick it up until the start of this year.

This book received a lot of buzz and praise and all that, but if I’m honest, it felt a little lacking.

I didn’t actively dislike it, I just thought it was fine. I often have very passionate feelings about books, so to be so completely “meh” about one is kind of weird for me.

The protagonist is fourteen, but I kept forgetting how old she’s supposed to be. I think Brunt fell into a common trap of writing an extremely precocious young narrator — sometimes she reads way older, and other times way younger. While this is sometimes an accurate representation of precocious children (more mature than their peers in some ways, but significantly behind in others), on the page the disparities are jarring. Additionally, I found that there was something off, or not quite believable about the personal relationships between the characters — especial the family members.

This is another book that just wasn’t for me. For one, I’m not necessarily the target audience. Sometimes I think that I forget that when I read YA. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with adults reading YA — in fact, I think it’s good. But, YA is (and should continue to be) for young adults, which means that sometimes it just isn’t going to be totally up my alley. And that’s fine. That might have been my problem here, who can really say?

Author Shannon Hale just posted a great piece on her tumblr. She writes about how at a recent school visit to promote her new book Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, the school administration had only given permission for the female students to leave class for her talk.

Let’s be clear: I do not talk about “girl” stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do  a “Your Menstrual Cycle and You!” presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have “princess” in the title, I’m stamped as “for girls only.” However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.

Hale says that this is not the first time that this has ever happened. And I’m willing to bet that other female authors have had similarly bizarre experiences.

She also comments on how this tendency to gender books can be damaging, but I want to weigh in.

This situation is ridiculous. Anyone presented with it can see it is ridiculous. And yet so often people try to classify something as a “girl book” or “boy book.”

Studies have shown that it’s harder to get boys to read after a certain age, which may account for some of the targeted marketing, but does not account for all of the discrepancies. People don’t give boys enough credit — they think that if the protagonist of a book is a girl (or the author is female — ask Joanne why she published as JK), then boys won’t be able to relate and won’t want to read the book. Those factors didn’t seem to stop girls from enjoying Harry Potter (or any number of “classic” works of fiction with male protagonists) or boys from enjoying The Hunger Games or His Dark Materials.

By labeling books as “boy” and “girl” books, we’re signaling to kids that certain books aren’t for them. There will be the outliers who will read them anyway, but so many will hold back out of fear or embarrassment, while others simply won’t have those books on their radar.

Reading is important because we see ourselves, but we also see others. We relate to characters and learn how other people see and experience the world. This is why we need diverse books and why we need to read diversely. It’s why boys should be allowed to read “girl” books (and attend assemblies about them).

If you’ve been on social media in the last 24 hours then you’re probably aware that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird and famous for staying out of the spotlight has a new book coming out in July.

Bookish circles have long wondered why Harper Lee never wrote another novel (a question never satisfactorily answered, despite hints, in the contested memoir The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills), and now we have a sequel. Go Set a Watchman is a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird (though it was written first) and takes place when Scout is a young woman returning to Maycomb.

There is so much excitement about this book that I’m worried it might be drowning out some important questions. Lee’s sister Alice was in many ways Harper’s protecter. She shielded her from people who tried to get too close and take advantage of her or gain power over her estate after her stroke. Alice died last year and Lee’s lawyer seems to be the main line of defense now. From what I gather, it seems the lawyer is also the person who found the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman.

So I’m worried. I’m worried that the release of this book is not necessarily what a Harper Lee with her full capacities wanted.

At the same time, I desperately want to read that book. The publisher is planning a print run of two million copies (that’s a ton, trust me) and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy (fun-fact: as of now, Go Set a Watchman is ranked #1 on Amazon. The AP broke the news at 7:05 this morning.)

For more info, check out Book Riot, Jezebel, and the NYT.

We Need Diverse Books

November 7, 2014

I was initially going to write a long-ish expository post in which I’d ask you to think about your own reading habits as a child and the reading habits of children you know, then to think about the children’s, middle grade, and YA books you knew of, slowing leading you to the conclusion that we need diverse books, but I’m just going to jump straight there.

Walk down the aisle of any library or bookstore and pick up some books at random. Of the say 10 or 20 that you might pick up, how many do you think would be by women, people of color, or people in the LGBTQ community? How many of those books have protagonists who are people of color, in the LGBTQ community, are disabled, etc.? Feel free to actually do this exercise, but I can tell you that generally speaking, the answer is far too few.

We Need Diverse Books is a movement — now a nonprofit organization — that addresses this. They work with authors who write diverse books, as well as publishers, in order to produce more high-quality diverse books and get them into the hands of readers in the community.

There is nothing that I don’t love about this. Nothing.

And that’s why I’ve already donated to their Indiegogo campaign. I try not to make you guys spend money. I’m a huge advocate of using your public libraries and all that. But if ever there was a good cause that deserves your extra cash, this was it. Also, donations are tax-deductible, so it’s a win-win. The campaign is running through November 24 (though I’m sure they’ll take donations in other forms after the date).

If you are a female reader of a certain age, the name Louise Rennison might mean something to you. She wrote the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series — 10 books about a British high school girl named Georgia and her “Ace Gang” of friends as they navigate the adolescent world of school, boys, family, etc.

I always liked the Georgia Nicholson books — they’re fun and kind of ridiculous — but they are also a bit cringe-worthy. Georgia and her friends are so incredibly boy crazy and self-involved (as most teenagers are, at least some of the time) and sometimes it felt like there was very little else going on beyond chasing after boys and worrying about clothes.

I bring this all up because Louise Rennison has a new series: The Misadventures of Tallulah Casey. There are three books so far — Withering TightsA Midsummer Tights Dream, and The Taming of the Tights — and they chronicle the life of Tallulah (Georgia’s younger cousin) as she attends a (somewhat dilapidated) performing arts academy somewhere Up North. Tallulah is younger than Georgia and a little bit kooky and while she certainly has boys on the brain, there is a lot of other stuff going on as well.

The Tallulah Casey books also depart from the journal-entry only style that Rennison employed with the Georgia books, which I think allows for a lot more freedom in the narrative. Everything is still through Tallulah’s point of view, but as readers we get to see a bit more of the action.

These books are zany and cute and fun and I definitely recommend them (for readers of multiple age groups). In some ways I think Tallulah is a better role model than Georgia. She’s less superficial and while she still has her boy crazy moments, she doesn’t let that rule her life. She’s a supremely loyal friend and she’s true to herself and these are characteristics that girls should see in the protagonists of their books.

I recently finished reading the graphic novel adaptation of Joseph Joffo’s autobiographical A Bag of Marbles. I have been meaning to read this book for ages. I learned about when I was at work (seriously, my TBR list has grown so much since I started working there. But it’s annoying because I have to keep track of release dates.) Then I got a e-review copy from NetGalley, but did not get a chance to read it before I lost access. But finally, finally I got it from the library and eventually got around to reading it.

And I have to say, it wasn’t nearly as striking as I thought it would be. It is the story of a young Jewish boy and his family living in occupied France during WWII. The artwork is laudable, but the narrative feels disjointed and stilted.

This is an adaptation in translation, so I’m somewhat inclined to believe that something was simply lost in translation. All the same, I felt a disconnect with this book and was left feeling somewhat disappointed.

I may, at a later date, try to read the original novel and see if the narrative flows better in that format.

Matilda on Broadway

July 13, 2013

Last night I got to see Matilda on Broadway.

I’ve been so excited about this show. It started out in England (beginning in Stratford, then moving to the West End) and got great reviews. Matilda has finally come to New York where it has continued its streak of critical acclaim, winning a number of Tony’s, as well as additional awards in the theatre community.

But to be honest, even if the reviews were bad and the award committees indifferent, I would still have wanted to see Matilda. I love Roald Dahl’s books, and Matilda, with its emphasis on being true to yourself and the power of books, stories, and imagination has always had a special place in my heart. I own the movie adaptation of the book and watch it fairly often. Seeing the Tony performance just confirmed my burning need to see the show — it’s an adaptation of an awesome book and it looks spectacular!

So anyway, (due to circumstances I won’t go into here) a family friend was unable to use her tickets for the show and generously offered them to me.

And so, a dream came true.

Matilda was everything I could have hoped for and more. It was hilarious and heartbreaking, sweet and inspiring. The cast was superb. I can’t even begin to express my awe at the talent, especially considering the average age is so young.

My favorite line has to be when Matilda asks Ms. Honey, “am I strange?” I desperately wanted that to be on one of the t-shirts, but, alas, I remain unsatisfied. That is a missed merchandising opportunity if ever there was one!

But seriously, the show made Dahl’s story come alive. It’s magical and inspiring and I have to go read the book again. If you get a chance to see this show, I highly recommend it. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman is a truly beautiful book. It is set in Sri Lanka between the years 1979 and 1983 when there was a great amount of civil unrest and tension among different religious and ethnic communities.

To be entirely honest, I know almost nothing about Sri Lankan history before reading this book and while a stronger grasp might have been beneficial in providing a larger historical context for the story, it was certainly not necessary to understand the story.

On Sal Mal Lane focuses mostly on the children on the lane, especially the Herath children who live in a somewhat perfect bubble of music, fraternal understanding and cooperation, and academic achievement.

The beauty and tragedy of this book is how the children along the lane begin to learn of the world beyond that of their small community — where instead of the petty differences and disagreements there are much more volatile prejudices at work.

On Sal Mal Lane chronicles the loss of innocence and the resilience of community. It is touching and profoundly sad, yet with redemptive overtones. It shows some of the horrible things people can do, but it is about the wonderful things people can do.

It is great, it just leads to inappropriate displays of emotion on public transportation.

Back to Work

January 15, 2013

Alas, my break from classes has come to an end and I shall be busy as ever this semester. I think it should be good though. I’ve only had one of my classes so far, so can’t comment on what I think my academic life will be like, but I like my new job and I think my internship at the museum will be a great experience (that orientation is tomorrow).

I will try to keep reading and reviewing. Or, rather, I assume I will keep reading and I will try to start actually posting reviews again.

Anyway, moving on to reviews:

I recently finished the Archivist by Martha Cooley. It’s supposed to be all about an archivist and a scholar who clash (intellectually) over the library’s collection of letters written by T.S. Eliot to a woman named Emily Hale. This conflict and the intellectual sparring figure prominently, but there are all these other narrative threads that distract from the main arc of the book.

An entire section in the middle of the book is essentially an excerpt of Judith’s (the archivist’s wife) journal. It is interesting and does inform a bit on Matthias’ (the archivist) character, but it doesn’t really fit into the rest of the book until the last little bit when everything is all tied up in a neat little bow.

And the main conflict — the thing with the scholar — seems to be in the background a lot of the time. I am critical because I think that this story could still have been character driven without being so confused and divergent.

All in all, I enjoyed The Archivist while reading it, but it didn’t leave a great lasting impression.

I also just finished We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It’s an epistolary novel, which I wasn’t expecting. I think it’s an interesting concept given where Shriver went with things, but it played out in a strange way. In epistolary novels, the revelation of information is key, and I think it was kind of sloppy and poorly executed in some places.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is, at the most basic level, about a school shooting, and even with that benchmark in place, it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

I finished Ender’s Game a while ago, but I’ve been having trouble formulating a solid opinion of it because I don’t think I really liked the ending, but I also acknowledge that it couldn’t really have ended any other way without being entirely unsatisfactory. I’m not sure if I can discuss my thoughts on this book without spoilers, so consider this your Spoiler Alert.

Perhaps reading the following books in the series will help me better discern my feelings about this book, but I think the most gripping part is really the child soldiers/battle school. With the end of the Bugger war and the peace after the League war, that becomes somewhat of a non-issue and childhood becomes just that again. Obviously there’s the hibernating queen arc that could complicate things, but the goal is still not to start another war. I think I should read at least the next book in the series before making a decision.

I have some more books that I’m nearly through with, so hopefully those reviews will be up soon. I’m also really excited about my classes this semester and my internship, so maybe you’ll see more library-related posts in the future. Only time will tell.

I recently finished I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. It’s a collection of essays about living and working in New York. Three guesses why it resonated with me…

In all seriousness though, despite the fact that Crosley’s life bears no resemblance to mine beyond the city we live in, I felt like her experiences were mine, like she spoke with my voice. Perhaps she just captures that post-adolescent awkwardness and anxiety so perfectly that any woman of this generation will see herself reflected in these pages. The writing is good, but I doubt that’s it.

Though the stories are very different, I can’t help but draw certain parallels between I Was Told There’d Be Cake and Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Both are raw and wry and perhaps too-true  (or mostly-true) for some people, but they show the flaws of humanity that make me realize that I’m not the only crazy neurotic person out there, and I appreciate that. Also, they’re hilarious.

I often think we read books when we’re meant to, and that was certainly the case this time around. I think that I still would have enjoyed it if I read it at another point in my life, but right now it’s extremely fitting.

The one thing that bothers me about this book: the title is I was Told There’d Be Cake, yet there are no references to it that I can recall within the text. Maybe that’s the joke?

Either way, this book is definitely worth a read. It’s funny, it’s real, there are ponies. What more could you want (besides cake)?