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Monday, June 19, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (50)

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. Wow, I've done 50 of these.

Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson

Published: May 2nd, 2006 by Henry Holt and Company.
Genre: Historical YA.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 229 plus an about the author.
Part of a series? No.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Jean has cerebral palsy and gets around in a wheelchair, but she's always believed she's just the same as everyone else. She goes to normal school and has normal friends. She's never really known another disabled person before she arrives at Camp Courage. But there Jean meets Sara, who welcomes her to 'Crip Camp' and nicknames her Spazzo. Sara has radical theories about how people fit into society. She's full of rage and revolution against pitying insults and the lack of respect for people with disabilities.

As Jean joins a community unlike any she has ever imagined, she comes to question her old beliefs and look at the world in a new light. The camp session is only ten days long, but that may be all it takes to change a life forever.

Thoughts: First of all can I just say how much I like this cover? It reminds me of the black notebooks you used to write in with gel pens. Remember those? Very nostalgic, which I think really fits the book considering it's set in 1970, which I didn't go in expecting. I've talked before about generally not being fond of books set in the 90s because I think it's often unnecessary, but the historical context here is absolutely necessary. I consider myself fairly socially aware, but there's a lot in here that I had no clue about. Did you know it was against the law for people with epilepsy to get married in 1970?

This is very obviously a book written from experience and there's an almost brutal honesty to it. Johnson didn't shy away from talk of bodily functions, discrimination, or really any uncomfortable situation, and there are a lot of them. The author never talks down to the audience, either, or sanitizes things to prevent the reader's discomfort. With the historical context of the time period adding discussions of social structures from capitalism to communism, segregation... it's incredibly mature.

Sara's character especially seems to reflect the author's views. I read a few of the author's articles, and I just really, really wish she had been able to write more. This was so interesting as a historical novel, but I think the author could have written such interesting contemporary books too.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Published: June 19th, 2001 by HarperCollins
Genre: Contemporary... upper MG to lower YA, in my opinion.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 135 plus an author's note.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It's been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia's Indian Camp in their mostly white midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again—at least through the lens of her camera.

Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved she wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss?

Thoughts: I won't lie - when the first line of the book is about a magazine being an ad for "makeup, clothes, and bulimia", I'm not exactly pleased. First of all, this is a pretty young YA. Rain is only going into ninth grade in the fall (it's summer in the book), and it's borderline upper MG. The main audience for this is pretty young, and this is done so casually. It seems incredibly unnecessary and it adds nothing.

I don't know. I think the representation of Rain in this is excellant. It's nuanced and complicated and obviously written from experience. Honestly I wish the book had been longer because even though it's good, it almost feels rushed at times? It's not a very long book at all, and there's a lot going on in it. There's like six subplots and I don't really think any of them have enough time to really be developed or given emotional depth.

Also I didn't like the weird girl hate that doesn't really have time to be resolved/slut shaming moments at all. You two were in eighth grade! Nobody "stole" anyone's boyfriend! This is such a weird plot. Maybe it's just because it's already sixteen years old. There's tape recorders and Meat Loaf and Fabio references. But there's just not enough... depth, I guess. Even the grief of her best friend's death felt kind of shallow. Maybe because I just read Far From You and the grief in that is so visceral. I don't know. I just wanted more from the story, I guess.

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Published: June 19th, 2012 by St. Martin's Press
Genre: YA Horror
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 322 plus some acknowledgements and stuff.
Part of a series? There's a 1.5 novella sequel.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It's the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won't stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn't sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she's failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up.

As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she's forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group's fate is determined less and less by what's happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

Thoughts: Well, I liked most of this book. I think the voice is incredibly accurate for someone who's depressed - removed, shut down. Not to get too personal, but it is reflective of my own experiences. There's not as much action as I would expect, honestly, and a lot of the book is about the monotony of the situation.

I actually kind of preferred that - to be honest, I'm kind of a wimp and the climax of the book was pretty intense for me. Horror's not really my thing. But I could see other people not being into it, because, well... for like 85% of the book, there's very little that actually happens.

And I kind of hated the ending. It is very, very unresolved. And not like a few loose threads dangling - this is the kind of unresolved where the protagonist is in exactly the same place they were at the beginning and I don't even understand why there was a book, really. It's so incredibly frustrating and if you don't like open endings, you'll probably be just as frustrated as I am.

Trigger warnings for: Suicidal thoughts, depression, violence and gore you'd expect in a typical zombie setting, and parental abuse.

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

Published: Originally published January 1st, 2014, my edition was released March 1st, 2015 by Albert Whitman Company
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 249 plus acknowledgements and what not.
Part of a series? I do not believe so.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from the back of the book, but here's the goodreads link): All Abby really wants is to meet her father. It's not that she's ungrateful for what she has - nice mom, adorable grandparents, great friends - but she feels like something's missing. But she'd never tell anyone that.

Abby's about to find out that her dad lives a very different life in a very different country. From Bollywood movie premieres to the colorful and sometimes gritty streets of Mumbai, she is about to experience it all, for better or worse. This is what happens when all your wishes come true... Is Abby ready for the truth?

Thoughts: Aw, well. This is pretty sweet. I actually thought this was going to be YA and was a little surprised by the fact that it was middle grade. This has some fatphobia, like when a woman is described as "comfortably plump but not overweight", and sometimes the voice is a little over the top, maybe trying a bit too hard to be cool and hip. (I am obviously not cool and hip, going by the fact that I use the expression "cool and hip").

I also am not personally a giant fan of stories about kids dealing with estranged fathers - as someone who grew up with one who wanted very little to do with me, they don't always ring true to me. While the book is obviously own-voices with the racial rep, the author says in the acknowledgements that the parental situation is not her experience, and I kind of felt that reading it. This is... actually this is really similar to "What a Girl Wants" plot-wise. And both of those are a little... wish fulfillment. But the funny thing is, I'm not sure if it's actually wish fulfillment for the kids who don't have relationships with their fathers or other people who think it's impossible to be happy with one parent.

I realize this is kind of a weird thing to bring up, but thinking about myself at the age this is aimed at... I might have enjoyed this, but I also might have been a little annoyed because that was never something I wanted. But my experience isn't everyone's experience, so your mileage might vary. And I don't think it's harmful or anything, and I still had fun reading it.

For the most part, I really liked this. It's very sweet, and Abby's experience of going to Mumbai for the first time is a great way to showcase it, and the book is honest about the not so nice things like the poverty while still being age appropriate or only for shock value. Abby also has an anaphalactic allergy, which I don't see in books a lot, but isn't really a big part of the book and is somewhat minimized. Cool addition, though. This one overall isn't my absolute favourite, but it was a fun read and I enjoyed it. It's cute.

Also, there's a mention of one of her friends wearing, "her favorite outfit, neon leggings and an oversized T-shirt with a swirly pattern". I find it absolutely hilarious that descriptions of clothing in 2014 could be straight out of 90s books. It's just sweet and funny.

Okay, I think that's everything!

Peace and cookies,

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