Monday, March 13, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (42)

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. Or apparently I just want to get all my bad feelings about books out at once.

Jars of Glass by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler

Published: October 4th, 2008 by Dutton Juvenile
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 246
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound / AbeBooks because I think this might be out of print? Kindle version is available, though.

Summary (from goodreads): Teenage sisters Chloe and Shana recall fondly the days when their mother wove stories about kingdoms under the sea. Now that Mom is away, Chloe does not allow herself to believe in fairy tales. She is too busy caring for her adopted brother, Micah, because Dad has become withdrawn. Shana copes by escaping every night under the cover of Goth garb. The day the family visits Mom for the first time is the day Chloe learns why Shana will never allow their mother to return. It is up to the sisters to pull together and form a new definition of family.

Thoughts: This was mostly an okay little book. Honestly I've got a cold and haven't been able to talk for five days because I've lost my voice so badly. My brain is a little fuzzy. I've been watching a lot of dorky movies and Come Dine With Me, and mostly sleeping for eighteen hours a day. (I've got antibiotics now, so I should be feeling better in a couple days.) Words are just really hard right now. But overall, while I enjoyed this, I don't think I could recommend it because of the ableism.

Things I liked: The relationship between Shana and Chloe, the humour at times, the writing almost all the time.

What I didn't like: There is definite ableism. Spoilers ahead. The fact that their mother is sick is treated with very little sympathy, almost like she did something wrong by being mentally ill. Honestly, the idea that because their mother has schizophrenia and did a very bad thing, that they get to decide that she never gets to come home is kind of scary. Doesn't matter if she gets treatment, doesn't matter if therapists say it's okay, the two teenage girls know better that she should never be allowed to leave the hospital again. I think there's some messed up reinforcing of bad stereotypes - people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent - and, really, if you have a family member with schizophrenia or you yourself have a mental illness, you are probably going to be really freaked out by this book.

Can you imagine getting sick enough that you did something you would never do if you were well, and then never, ever being allowed to work past that? That's horrible.

Beyond that, these girls have essentially become the caretakers of both their younger brother and their father. One is basically parenting the brother, and the other is basically running their father's business with the janitor. That can't last forever. These girls are fourteen and fifteen. They're gonna get ulcers before they're eighteen. A fourteen year old should not be expected to replace her mother, and that's essentially what's happening with Chloe. She's having to mother their little brother, since their mother is gone and their father has checked out and is avoiding everything to do with life, basically.

Meanwhile, the little brother probably needs so much therapy - as do all of them - but, nah, therapy's only for "lunatics". Little dude can't even look at their mother without screaming. He needs to talk to someone. I liked the story of two sisters bonding and coming together to overcome hard times, but the way the book ends? It leaves so many questions open as far as I'm concerned, but the happy ending can't last if you think about it for a few moments. These girls are being put in adult roles before they're even finished high school, and there is no way that is substainable.

So I liked this while I was reading it because the voice is good, but I would not recommend this one. Like, if I think about a kid whose mother is schizophrenic, would I give them this book? No, I highly doubt I would. I wouldn't want them to basically be told that they can never have a relationship with their mother again, and that there's essentially no hope for her to be well. And what about teens with schizophrenia? This would probably scare them so much! I think if you're going to tackle a subject like this, you need to really think about whether you'll be adding to existing stigma, and I think this doesn't work against stigma at all. It reinforces it. And frankly, that can be dangerous.

So even though I did like the writing and the relationship between the sisters, and I enjoyed reading this, I can't recommend it in good conscience. Perhaps other books by the authors are better.

The Thing About the Truth by Lauren Barnholdt

Published: July 10th, 2012 by Simon Pulse
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 285 plus excerpts and stuff I don't care about.
Part of a series? Dear God I hope not.
Got via: The library, thank goodness.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kelsey’s not going to let one mistake ruin her life. Sure, she got kicked out of prep school and all her old friends are shutting her out. But Kelsey’s focused on her future, and she’s determined to get back on track at Concordia High.

Isaac’s been kicked out of more schools than he can count. Since his father’s a state senator, Isaac’s life is under constant scrutitny—but Concordia High’s his last stop before boarding school, so Isaac’s hoping to fly under the radar and try to stay put for a change.

When Kelsey and Isaac meet, it’s anything but love at first sight. She thinks he’s an entitled brat, and he thinks she’s a stuck-up snob. So it surprises them both when they start to fall for each other. Kelsey’s happy for the first time in months, and Isaac’s never felt this way about anyone before. But nothing’s ever completely perfect. Everyone has secrets, and Isaac and Kelsey are no exceptions. These two may have fallen hard, but there’s one thing that can ruin it all: the truth.

Thoughts: I'm going to ruin this book. If you have issues with that, just skip to the next one. There will be spoilers.

Because honestly I hated this book. The only reason I kept reading it was because it cost me overdue fees and by that point I was angry at it. The entire premise of the "giant lie"was that Kelsey lied about being a virgin. That's it. Previously in the book, we'd gotten the amazing line of "a kiss is like a promise" which, no. A kiss is a kiss. It is not a promise of anything. Nice rape culture, though. Thinking about having sex with someone is not an obligation to tell them how many partners you'd had in the past. Everything about sex in this book is so messed up.

I just - I don't even understand the big disaster that is the whole thing the book is revolving around. Isaac punched her ex at the school thing they organized, and... stuff? I don't know. It's not explained well. It isn't wrapped up. Everything is left open and unexplained and it would be more frustrating if I cared. I still don't know what a Face It Down Day is. Two schools got together in the gym of one and... talked? I don't get it. And you want me to buy a senator's son got possibly-expelled from public school for punching someone?

There's more I don't even care enough to go into. Nothing that makes the plot make sense, but more complaints.

And I really, really didn't care about anyone in the book. I didn't like any of the characters in this book. They're all terrible people, and I don't know why I should like them. The two main leads spend half the time being really mean to each other, and not in like the banter "I hate you, I hate you more, whoops now we're making out" way, but in a, they were supposed to be together already, and they were just being cruel to each other, way. How am I supposed to root for people who, when they have relationship problems, become petty and cruel to each other? They've only been together a month! If this is how they act after a month, what's a year going to be like for them?

This entire book is pretty much based on stereotypes. Sexist stereotypes seem to be a big one, where boys think only of boobs and cars and all girls are "crazy" and bad drivers. There's literally one character who isn't white and she's a sexist, racist stereotype. Having one Latina character be your only non-white character, and that character's entire personality is boobs, "slut", and "crazy"? That is so not okay. Feminism is treated as joke, like a trend that's more funny that serious. There is so much girl hate and slut shaming. Oh, and the jokes about how sexy for the dudes it would be if two of the girl characters made out.

Also, frankly. If one of your characters gets so drunk that they can barely remember the night before, and someone kisses them and they don't feel like they're capable of stopping that person, I don't care if that character is male. That does not read like cheating to me. It reads like sexual assult. And I don't find the idea of a guy being scary when he's angry sexy, Kelsey. You should probably talk to someone that you do, because that's not a good sign. And joking about it being a red flag doesn't make it better. I'm actually worried for you.

I'm sorry, I try to be well-rounded in my reviews and point out the good and the bad, but I'm just sitting here angry that I wasted money on overdue fees for this. There is so much stuff left hanging, like every single subplot, and I just... hated this book constantly while reading it. It's unpleasant to read about these characters. There's maybe one character in this book who isn't awful.

A Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen

Published: December 23rd, 2014 by Zonderkidz
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 186 pages
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Young James, the duke's son, asks too many questions. At least that's what everyone at Callendar Castle thinks after all but the last of James’ tutors quits and his uncle ships him off to be educated at Cranford Abbey. Unfortunately, the once-beautiful abbey has problems of its own, including cracked walls, a leaking roof, and shattered windows. Not to mention the pesky herd of unicorns that continue to enter the abby's orchards and claim them as their own.

The only hope to save the abbey is money raised by Abbot Aelian's golden apple cider. But that means getting rid of the orchard's unwelcome visitors. And, as everyone knows, unicorns have very sharp horns. Monks do not.

James has an idea that could help defeat these hungry beasts, but first he must find someone to listen to him. For once, he might be the only one asking the right questions. And the only one who knows the perfect hero for the job.

Thoughts: This is a fairly new book, but it feels old-fashioned. And that's not necessarily entirely bad. I think this is ultimately a middle of the road MG fantasy book. It doesn't do much new, but it's enjoyable and sweet. I think having a boy main character in a book about unicorns is a little different, and James is a sweet character. Jane Yolen's writing is always enjoyable, and the sneaky humour she uses is great for adult readers, and this is no exception. All in all, this one is decent. I don't think it's exceptional, but I enjoyed it. More girls would have been nice, along with, you know, not white and not straight people, but not a bad book.

Also, hey, side thought - do you guys remember a few years ago when Zombies vs. Unicorns was a thing? Like not the actual book itself, but the concept as a whole?

I think zombies won.

Confetti Girl by Diana López

Published: June 1st, 2009 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 194 plus a glossary.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I bought it from amazon.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Apolonia "Lina" Flores is a sock enthusiast, a volleyball player, a science lover, and a girl who's just looking for answers. Even though her house is crammed full of books (her dad's a bibliophile), she's having trouble figuring out some very big questions, like why her dad seems to care about books more than her, why her best friend's divorced mom is obsessed with making cascarones (hollowed eggshells filled with colorful confetti), and, most of all, why her mom died last year. Like colors in cascarones, Lina's life is a rainbow of people, interests, and unexpected changes.

Thoughts: For the first forty-seven pages, I was enjoying this book quite a bit. And then on page forty-eight, the book dropped the r-word out of nowhere.

From Lina, our protagonist. And it's never addressed by any of the characters or the narrative. It's seriously just apparently no big deal. Honestly the book seems to act like it's a bigger deal that the kid she calls that called her a whooping crane. Book, this is not okay. This was published in 2009, so there's no excuse that it was the 70s or anything. This book is middle grade, probably aimed at nine to twelve year olds. I'm not okay with a book for that age range having the protagonist drop ableist slurs and it never being addressed!

I had really high hopes for this, and I'm just disappointed. I loved how diverse this is. The parts where the book is exploring Lina's family and talking about their traditions and everything are probably the strongest parts of the book. But the voice is somewhat lacking to me, sounding not entirely authentic for a twelve year old girl, and the characters are a little underdeveloped. Honestly, it sometimes felt like the characters had two traits and that was the extant of their personalities. The conflicts also tend to be resolved too easily, and it takes away the tension.

I'm super bummed about this, honestly. Love the concept and certain elements of it, but I wish the book was a little better executed. That wouldn't stop me from recommending it to others, but the ableist slur does, unfortunately. That makes me not comfortable recommending it, and I'm honestly not even sure I'm okay keeping it. If I reread it, I think I would be wincing waiting for page forty-eight to show up, and I don't think I could do it. Sadly, I think I'm going to have to pass this one along.

I will say props to the cover designer because the legs on the cover are actually brown to represent Lina, and it is adorable. I honestly adore this cover, and it is perfect.

Well, this is an incredibly negative post! Here's some pictures of trees because it was a free stock image download and it's pretty.

That's actually pretty close to what it looks like right now. Winter is terrible, but this picture is nice.

Peace and cookies,

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