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Monday, May 22, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (48)

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.

Two Girls Staring At the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Published: August 5th, 2014 by Schwartz and Wade which I think is a division of Random House
Genre: YA Contemporary/Poetry
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 257 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): This novel-in-verse—at once literary and emotionally gripping—follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness.

Chess, the narrator, is sick, but with what exactly, she isn’t sure. And to make matters worse, she must share a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. Where Chess is polite, Shannon is rude. Where Chess tolerates pain silently, Shannon screams bloody murder. Where Chess seems to be getting slowly better, Shannon seems to be getting worse. How these teenagers become friends, helping each other come to terms with their illness, makes for a dramatic and deeply moving read.

Thoughts: I quite enjoyed this! I don't read a lot of poetry or books in verse, but every time I do, I always think I should read more. This has a very unique format, too, where a line down the centre of the page represents the hospital curtain. It sounds super confusing to explain but it works very well when you actually get to reading it. And it works so well for the conversations.

And I had absolutely no problem connecting to the characters, which is a real strength considering novels in verse are shorter and quicker to read than novels not in verse, and over half the book is dialogue, probably.

I can't speak for how accurate the chronic illness depiction is, but it felt heartfelt and while I was looking around, I found the author's website and it turns out this is in fact an ownvoices book, so that's a good sign. And I kinda liked that the book didn't turn into Crohn's 101. Chess doesn't have all the answers about her illness, and she's just trying to deal with learning about her diagnosis. I mean, we obviously need books about the living with it part, too, but I think this format of verse where it's so immediate and in the moment works very well for a character who's just being diagnosed.

All in all, this was a solid read. I really enjoyed the format and think it would definitely appeal to selective readers since it's so unique.

I wish I had remembered to take a picture of the jacket, though. The back cover basically mirrors the front, depicting both Chess and Shannon with the title going down the spine between them, like the hospital curtain. It's so clever and well designed.

(And yes, the picture is wider than all the others on this post - my normal dimensions made it look funny since it's a wide picture, and I didn't want to squish it.)

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Published: It was first published in 2010, but this edition is from Scholastic in 2012
Genre: Historical MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 216 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Yes, there are three of these with the most recent coming out in 2015.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Thoughts: There are four award medal things on this cover. There's almost more awards than cover! It well deserved them all and more. I'm so glad I read this one. I have a note saying that this would also be a great classroom book and I really do think that's true. The book is set in a part of history that I know I as a white kid didn't learn about in school, aimed at a young audience in a way that is honest and stark while still being approachable for it's young readers.

It's not very often that the acknowledgements play into a review, but I want to quote them. Rita Williams-Garcia says:
"I wanted to write this story for those children who witnessed and were part of necessary changes. Yes. There were children."
I think that is as true today as in 1968, if not even more so. Kids like that deserve books like this. They deserve books that show how incredible they are, and how important they are to the history they're making. They deserve books that don't sugarcoat things.

It's not a very common book that can manage the blance of the type of historical events that happen in the book while also allowing its young characters to have silly and joyful moments. It shows that even though they are doing such important things, they are still allowed to be children and sometimes just play and have fun with their friends. And I don't think I've ever read a Scholastic middle grade book where illegal abortion is mentioned, albiet not by name, but the implication is definitely there and it's not really that subtle. The book is ballsy.

It's also very, very sweet when it needs to be. I know I would have loved this as a kid. Delphine reminds me a bit of Dicey Tillerman, and I loved those books as a kid. She's got the weight of the world on her shoulders, and her voice is wonderful. I really, really want to read the sequels and will likely be ordering them soon. Such a good, important book.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Published: May 3rd, 2016 by Flatiron Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 273 plus two author's notes and acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Standalone.
Got via: The library. I really should read some books I bought just so I can type something different here once in a while.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won't be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

Thoughts: So, normally when I review books I don't read other reviews. That's just how I do things. But in this case, I feel that would be irresponsible. Also, I don't actually think my review matters that much. I want to give my platform and my support to this book, and that's why I'm choosing to do a review of sorts at all, but there are a lot of people out there whose voices matter more. So what we're going to do here is I'm going to link to a bunch of ownvoices reviews (giant thanks to this blog post for giving me a starting point) and we're all going to read them together, okay?

Review by Emma at Pop Culture Catchall. Review by Casey Plett at Plenitude Magazine (shout out to a fellow Voigt fan!). Review at Queer Lit on My Mind. Review by Shenwei at Reading (As)(I)an (Am)erican. Review by Alaina Kailyn (I like your name) and Heather Miller Cover at On Wednesdays. Twitter thread from Shelly because I'm still angry... and now I'm getting into weird corners of the internet searching now. Feel free to send me links - I'd love to add more!

So, having linked to those, and since I'm cis, I'm probably not gonna talk about the trans rep. I know I have in the past, but I prefer only to do it when I can't find ownvoices reviews, and mostly just because I don't want people to read books on my recommendation and get hurt because of me. So let's talk about the other stuff I enjoyed, okay? Because this is such a sweet book, and I really did like it a lot. It's a very well-balanced book, I feel, in how there are very serious parts, but there's also a lot of adorable, dorky sweet moments and a lot of really funny humour.

Amanda is so sweet. I just wanted to give her giant squishy hugs and make her safe and happy. I loved what a giant nerd she was. She's an incredibly sweet character and I just really, really enjoyed this story. It's beautiful, and I hope it paves the way for the dozens of other books with amazing, nuanced, diverse trans rep that deserve to follow it.

This review is terrible, sorry. I just really liked this book.

The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz

Published: August 3rd, 2010 by Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: I don't want to get up and check right now.
Part of a series? Nope, standalone
Got via: The library of course.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Amy Finawitz’s best friend Callie has moved away to the heartland, leaving Amy to cope with eighth grade all alone. So now, while Callie is going for hayrides with boys named Bucky, Amy is stuck eating Chinese food at a table for one, hanging out with geeky girls who knit, and crushing on hottie, John Leibler, all by herself. But then Amy finds a friend in Miss Sophia, the little old lady who lives down the hall. Miss Sophia introduces Amy to a Hasidic boy named Beryl. Beryl is no John Leibler, but perhaps he understands Amy and her problems better than she realizes?

Told in wry emails and brilliant little one-act plays, this laughout-loud debut novel offers quirky characters, a whimsical tour around New York City, and an appealing story about what it means to be a good friend.

Thoughts: For the most part, this is a cute story with an interesting format. It had a couple of issues I'll address, but it's mostly sweet and funny. I'll admit it took me a couple chapters to remember that email existed and Amy was getting replies we didn't get to read from Callie in a short time, not sending things through the mail. This was despite the time and date stamps. This is entirely my own fault for forgetting what century it was.

There's a lot of humour, and the setting is very vibrant. Amy is most definitely a New Yorker, and it plays an important role in the book. Amy spends a lot of time learning about New York history, specifically related to the school assignment the plot revolves around, and that is incredibly interesting. I also liked the kind of subplot/message about going out of your comfort zone and making new friends. And I really enjoyed reading about Amy's Judiasm, and how she compared her experience to other peoples'.

There were like two things I didn't like though. One was smaller, but like the obsession of her mother with dieting and eating low-carb and how she forced that on her family, and also replied to her daughter expressing body confidence issues basically with, "Excercise." I'll admit I'm a little more sensitive to these things than most, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. There's not really any fat characters who aren't, like, old ladies, either.

I also think this book is unrealistically white amongst the main characters (it's New York, come on) and not queer friendly at all. Amy describes some of her brother's friends as "gender benders" and it's not used in a kind way. Her brother is also constantly described as a "bum" for dropping out of college - the entire book is very unfriendly to the idea that college isn't for everyone - and there's a really weird crossdressing running "joke". At one point Amy's parents go to see her brother's play, and due to someone getting sick, her brother plays a female character, including costuming. Her parents yell at him, an adult actor, in public, for doing this. The narrative basically says it's okay, though, because her brother's not actually a crossdresser. This is repeated a lot. There are jokes about drag. A lot.

It's not funny honestly. And since this is a young YA, this is aimed at a younger audience. Amy is in eighth grade. That's a very impressionable age. It is seven years old already, but I found that very distasteful in an otherwise sweet book. I'm left with mixed feelings in the end.

And I think that's everything. That is four, right? *counts* Yeah, we're good.

So what have you guys been reading lately? It's a long weekend in Canada, so I've hopefully just bought a bunch of books at garage sales.

Happy Victoria Day!

Peace and cookies,

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