Monday, September 25, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (57)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason. I should probably write more reviews, but life is busy. What can ya do?

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Published: May 2nd, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 324 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Not that I know of.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn't have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace's mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

Thoughts: I quite liked this. It's a really good summer read since there's such amazing descriptions of the beach, but read it no matter what time of the year it is. Grace is my favourite kind of prickly main character. The romance is adorable, and I really, really enjoy seeing characters talk about being queer and using the word positively in YA, and labels being used. I could be completely off base, but I think Grace being bi is handled very well.

The book also does a ton of things that I really thought were great, like asking permission before kisses, and that whole thing where Grace masturbates and it's completely normal. The relationships are great, characters are very strong, the book freaking made me cry, and I sat down to read like one chapter last night and finished the whole thing. I don't really have much to say about this besides it was really good, you should read it, and I look forward to future books from the author.

Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Published: June 13th, 2017 by Salaam Reads which is a fairly new imprint of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers that focuses on Muslim books.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 325 plus the acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Thoughts: This starts out a little disjointed and bounces around a little, but I kind of think that's what it was trying to do, so once I got past the first couple chapters, I was fine with it. I actually didn't know what this was about like at all when I went into it. I just knew I wanted to read it. Honestly I wasn't entirely sure even what genre it was - I was half-expecting like werewolves or something. So this turned out heavier than I expected, but that's not the book's fault, and I think it's very responsibly handled for the most part.

I'm kind of jumping all over but I guess I'll just say it so kinda spoiler warning, but - straight up giant trigger warning for attempted rape. That's basically the main plot of the book, Janna dealing with the aftermath of that and deciding what to do next. It's a very nuanced depiction for the most part. The only thing I had some problems with is how the idea of not reporting is treated, like it's a sign of weakness. It almost borders on victim-blaming honestly. There's not a lot of discussion of how hard reporting is, or why someone might not.

And something that made me wince...

If you can't read this, first of all, sorry it's a bit blurry, but second, this is basically a part of the book where a character says "it's normal to like people". Okay yeah. It's also normal not to feel romantic or sexual attraction, and not to get crushes. Luci actually talked about this on twitter, and I really agree. This is casual aphobia, and I'm not a fan of that.

Related, there's like no queer people in this book, not a ton of disability rep, and the fat rep is INCREDIBLY lacking. I'm not sure there was even one fat character besides a cat.

I honestly really hate having to point this stuff out because I mostly liked this. It made me cry, and I think it's a super important book. It has super poignant and also super adorable moments. The characters are awesome, and I loved how Janna starts to realize that people aren't just one thing, like with the character Sarah - that people have many layers and depth. I read this basically all in one sitting and it's super hard to put down. I would still recommend this, absolutely, but I do have criticisms so... here they are.

Over all, a really good book that does some super interesting and important things, but a few flaws. I still recommend it! I just... can we not? Do these things? Cool.

Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen

Published: April 13th, 2004 by Rayo
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 225 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): They call Gabriela Tree Girl. Gabi climbs trees to be within reach of the eagles and watch the sun rise into an empty sky. She is at home among the outstretched branches of the Guatemalan forests.

Then one day from the safety of a tree, Gabi witnesses the sights and sounds of an unspeakable massacre. She vows to be Tree Girl no more and joins the hordes of refugees struggling to reach the Mexican border. She has lost her whole family; her entire village has been wiped out. Yet she clings to the hope that she will be reunited with her youngest sister, Alicia. Over dangerous miles and months of hunger and thirst, Gabriela's search for Alicia and for a safe haven becomes a search for self. Having turned her back on her own identity, can she hope to claim a new life?

Thoughts: Only a dude would start a middle grade book by having its MC sexually assaulted and chased up on a tree, and then having her mother, knowing this happened, ignore the whole thing and ask if she finished her homework. And have this be treated as a positive thing.

I have no words.

No, that's not true. I have a lot of words. First of all, on a technical level, the writing isn't great. The dialogue is really stilted and strange and doesn't flow well, and there are multiple times when a line is repeated almost word for word and it's very obviously not on purpose. It's just super repetitive. The author also lacks the ability to make you understand what the main character is really feeling. The narration tells us... sometimes... but she comes across as not being affected by what happens to her.

And a lot happens to her! People constantly get murdered, often right in front of her. Her teacher and six classmates are murdered in front of her. Her entire family besides for one sister is murdered. She literally witnesses a massacre (also, sidenote, this is an MG book where the main character watches multiple women get raped, beaten, and murdered - that's a little dark, guys) and basically never really reacts.

The acknowledgements say that this is the true story of a woman who still works the resistance movement in Mexico. I get how she wouldn't feel safe coming forward and using her real name, and maybe - hopefully - she would approve of this, but I feel like it's stripped of its emotional depth. Maybe this would have been better as a young adult or even adult book, but even then, I really don't feel like this is a white dude's story to tell. It doesn't read as an authentic young woman's voice, and the one conversation about there always being a war Gabi will fight because she's female comes from a man and feels very... mansplaining.

This just... it's not very good. It didn't work for me at all. The only thing that's good is the idea, because it's based on someone's actual life, and she sounds awesome. I wish I had read something from her instead.

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

Published: October 26th, 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Genre: YA Fantasy/Horror
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 258 plus acknowledgements and such.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions.

But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

Thoughts: Well, this was not my favourite thing. I'll talk about what I think it does well first - the main character is bisexual, as I think is another character in the book, and there are other queer characters, too. I think the rep on that front is decent, but could roll into some not so great territory too. I'm not bi, so I defer to others here. This review, for instance, raises some red flags. I saw others that liked it, though.

I also think that the time slip idea is honestly cool. (And to point out, this is, in my opinion, a time slip book versus a time travel book. I have feelings about that. I may do a blog post at some point.) There's also another plot element that reminds me of a book I actually really liked as a kid but I don't wanna spoil, and I thought it was cool, and a bit of a surprise when we got there. I honestly do think that the creepy elements in this are pretty good. The world-building could have been better, but it isn't bad.

But there were things that I really don't think worked well at all. I think the attitude on mental illness is bordering on dangerous. Reiko has a lot of thoughts of suicide and fairly obviously has some problems. She's on a lot of medications. She says her antidepressants make her hollow and empty. At one point she decides to flush them all away and suffers no problems from this. I've mentioned before that I hate this because it can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly. The resolution of that is also... bad. Magically healing mental illness, anyone?

And there was so much fatphobia. Don't get me wrong - I get that Reiko is supposed to be unlikeable. I do. But the author's choices in how that was depicted rubbed me incredibly wrong. The only maybe-kinda-chubby character is constantly depicted as eating even when no one else is, called gluttonous and has it stated that needs to be "punished", and fatshamed so much both by other characters and by the narrative. There's nothing to counteract that. Honestly, it's enforced by the narrative stating that Reiko has lost a fair amount of weight and thinking she should be proud of that. The opposite side of the fat shaming coin is thin praising. Weight loss is not inherantly a good thing.

I also think that it's... somewhat obvious that this is not an ownvoices book when it comes to the Japanese rep. I think the author did a lot of research and it shows... but unfortunately it shows a little too much. It comes off a bit info-dumpy, and clunky, and just like it's not written by someone who's super familiar with the material. I'm working on a bit of a time crunch right now, but I'll try and find some ownvoices reviews before I schedule this. Editing Laina: I found three on goodreads, here, here, and here.

I wanted to like this, and I almost did, but I had so many problems with it and I would not recommend it. Wish I could have said better things!

(TWs for suicide, self-harm, violence, fatphobia, and ableism on this one.)

Sorry this didn't end on a better note, but that's where I am. Thanks for reading anyways!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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