Sorcerer to the Crown Review

February 26, 2016

I kept hearing about this book. I kept meaning to read it. I finally got around to it. Now I get it.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is the magical feminist fantasy novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s funny and fun and smart. Every time I thought there was something that was going to make me groan unhappily, it got flipped on its head. My only complaint is the continued use of “female” as a noun, and I think that might just be a pet peeve of mine.

The characters are strong and relatable and, occasionally, ridiculous. The plot is engaging and the writing is great. I wanted to keep reading — not only to find out what would happen next, but because it was an enjoyable experience.

Seriously, this book is delightful. It has something for everyone. I whole-heatedly recommend it. It’s the first in a trilogy and I don’t even care that I have to wait (OK, I care a little bit). I’m all in.

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I know that book nerd-dom comes in many varieties, but I’ve always felt that going to book events (assuming they’re available) was a good book nerd behavior. And so it’s embarrassing to admit that even though I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over a year, I haven’t gone to a single book/author event. Until tonight. 

Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be A Woman and How To Build A Girl, as well as comedian, columnist, TV/film writer and all-around awesome human being was at the Free Library of Philadelphia tonight. She was honest and raunchy and absolutely hilarious. It was a fantastic event.

After the talk/reading and Q & A she signed books upstairs. The line moved a little bit slowly, but that was just because she actually spoke to every single person, giving them hugs and taking pictures. When it was my turn I was a little star-struck, but she was just so lovely —thanking me for coming and saying all of these amazing things that I want to cherish forever — that I kind of just felt like I was talking to a friend. A friend who is hilarious and spectacular and makes me feel better about myself and the world.

Caitlin Moran comes across like a hella-awesome lady in her writing, and she really, really is. Her books are amazing, she’s amazing, my night was amazing.

And because I am that kind of book nerd, here are my pictures from the night:

The fabulous Caitlin Moran.

The fabulous Caitlin Moran.

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Reading from How To Build A Girl

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Close-up of Caitlin Moran reading from How To Build A Girl

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Seriously, she’s so nice and enthusiastic.

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We just had a little chat before she signed my book.

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Also, she’s super silly, and it’s fantastic.

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Love her!

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My signed copy. It has such a great memory to go along with an already fantastic book.

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).

Those of you who follow me on instagram (and if you don’t you’re missing awesome book pics …and cat pics, but shush) know that I was super excited about Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I started reading it almost immediately after I finished Not That Kind of Girl. It was so weird going straight from Dunham’s book to this. Lena Dunham is quite the controversial and polarizing individual (perhaps more than she should be and I have loads of opines about that re: the media and public perception of/reaction to a woman being successful and owning her sexuality and poet at a relatively young age). Then there’s Amy Poehler, whom I love and everyone loves and if you don’t I may subject you to a rigorous background check to make sure you’re still a good person because how can you not be pro-Poehler?! But I digress…

Poehler writes about funny things and difficult things and sad things, all with honesty, grace, and humor. The book does occasionally feel a bit gimmickry, but not overwhelmingly so and since she is a comedian, I expect a little schtick.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book. It was a quick, fun, and funny read and it made me think about a few things — like how you should say “yes please” to anything that life throws at you. And for that I thank Amy Poehler. I may have read this in 2014, but it’s 2015 now, and having a “yes please” attitude going into the new year seems like a good idea.

YA and Feminism

October 4, 2012

I was on the subway this morning and happened to see a young girl reading Twilight. Though I cringed inwardly, I did think, “well, at least she’s reading.”

But then I stopped and thought about that. The “at least they’re reading” argument is a good one, but if ‘reluctant readers’ are reading less to begin with, they aren’t being exposed to as wide a variety of characterizations, so wouldn’t we want them to be exposed to more positive messages?

I don’t know if this girl actually is a ‘reluctant reader,’ but if she is then she’s being exposed to a female protagonist who lets herself be entirely defined and controlled by a man. The “team Edward” or “team Jacob” phenomena is baffling to me as both characters attempt to control Bella and she lets her entire being get swallowed up by their worlds. Even were she given the opportunity to think for herself, she wouldn’t take it.

Look at this in contrast with Hermione in Harry Potter. I’m not trying to make Hermione out to be the feminist model in modern YA literature, but to prove a point, she thinks for herself (and often for others) and isn’t afraid to hide who or what she is. She even ends up with a date — with a celebrity no less (remember Krum?) — because she’s smart, not despite the fact.

Today’s girls need empowering reminders that it’s OK to be smart and know and be who you are.

It’s also OK to want to feel pretty though. Putting aside any issues I might have with the beauty and fashion industries, a tube of lipstick or a pair of heels can also be fun as long as they’re not dictated by someone else’s expectations.

Yes. This is what I think about on my way to school.