Tag Archives: teen

Challenge: October 2020 Lines Read Out of Context

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I realized scrolling through my blog the other day that I am reading an almost entirely new set of books since I last pulled some lines out of context, and I thought it would be fun to revisit that idea as an update on what I’m reading since I’ve read a fair bit recently but haven’t managed to pull together any completed reviews.

But Doomsday for whom? (How to Train Your Dragon, Book 11: How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury by Cressida Cowell)

“Now put away your weapons before Gunther is obliged to chop off your head.” (The Trials of Apollo, Book 5: The Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan)

Hope you and Dan are having a blast. (Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen)

Harry expected them to go through it, but instead Mr. Weasley seized him by the arm and dragged him to the left, where there was an opening leading to a flight of steps. (Book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling)

“He’s gone.” (Timekeeper, Book 2: Chainbreaker by Tara Sim)

CAN I do anything with those? The line from Harry Potter is annoyingly specific while also not specifying the “it.” There are a lot of names in this set….

Let’s give Harry, our de facto narrator by virtue of that longest sentence, an internal monologue. He worries how the day will end as he is traversing some sort of passageway with something that one could go through (“it”) at the end and an opening on the left leading to a flight of stairs. He remembers a correspondence that he… wrote maybe. Perhaps it was the last correspondence with… whomever he expects to find at the end of this journey. And at the base of the stairs, he discovers that… someone (maybe Dan?) is gone. Perhaps he was chasing someone. Perhaps he is looking for someone. Someone else is there at the bottom of the stairs with Gunther, who would like to chop off Harry’s and/or Mr. Weasley’s head.

So I definitely would have to drop you mid-story and mid-scene:

But Doomsday for whom?

Hope you and Dan are having a blast.

Harry expected them to go through it, but instead Mr. Weasley seized him by the arm and dragged him to the left, where there was an opening leading to a flight of steps.

“He’s gone.”

“Now put away your weapons before Gunther is obliged to chop off your head.”

I’m… going to take this set a bit further than I did the last. These lines need new context.

But Doomsday for whom? Harry wondered. “Hope you and Dan are having a blast,” he had written to her. Had she gotten the message before all this began or did his words ring hollow? They were most certainly not having a blast.

There was a door at the end of the hallway. Harry expected them to go through it, but instead Mr. Weasley seized him by the arm and dragged him to the left, where there was an opening leading to a flight of steps.

They reached the stairway’s foot and flung themselves to a stop as they saw not the boy that they had chased but two heavily armed mercenaries instead.

“He’s gone,” Mr. Weasley gasped.

The smaller of the mercenaries nodded. “Now put away your weapons before Gunther is obliged to chop off your head.”

It’s difficult to complete separate the original lines from their original contexts, but being unable to do so makes for some interesting crossover actually.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this fun foray into the novels that I am currently reading. If you take up this challenge for yourself, let me know. I would love to see what others do with the idea.

Book Review: The Goblet of Fire 20 Years Later

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and discussion guide.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out 20 years ago, 20 years ago as of July 8. 20 years ago, then, was my first midnight release party. This was the first book I brought home after midnight and stayed up late reading while a friend read her copy in the bed beside me.

This book is even before my most recent fight with Lyme disease, the last Harry Potter book that I would read without the mental handicap that the disease gave me.

The wait between this book and the fifth book in the series set me on the path to becoming a writer as I discovered that I could write stories to imagine what would happen in the sequel and that people would want to read those stories. I discovered self-insertion. Ugh. You all will never see some of those dreadful stories. Some of them are locked away in my closet where I dare not look at them either. But we all start somewhere.

To say that my relationship with this book comes with baggage for me is to under-represent it.

I had last read Goblet of Fire in 2015 (and if I remember, that was a slow, plodding read, taking many months if not more than a year).

A lot has happened to the world and to me in 20 years. A lot has happened in the five years since 2015!

SPOILERS! For this book and for those that follow.

I was struck re-reading this book in 2020 that it has now been as many years since I left high school—and coincidentally as many years since the release of the last Harry Potter book if you need a more fixed point in time—as between Voldemort’s defeat at Godric’s Hollow and his rebirth in the cemetery. It’s an interesting perspective, reading with such a clear marker of the passage of time. 13 years seems a lot longer when I have a distinct time to link it back to. I’ve managed to maintain friendships with only a few friends that I knew 13 years ago while not living near them, fewer actually than appear in the graveyard. How many friends do you have that you met more than 13 years ago? How many have you lost touch with that you thought you would never lose? (I did recently reconnect with a friend after 13 years, a mutual goal bringing us back together.) I suspect, though, if I were to send out an invitation to friends I haven’t spoken to in 13 years for a major life event—a wedding or some such—some of them probably would come.

How long is 13 years of relative peace? Is it long enough to make you feel safe from the threats that knocked on your door 13 years ago? I don’t think for me that it is. But then I say that in the midst of a pandemic that echoes one that we fought in 1918, 102 years ago, while we never came home from a region we invaded in 2001, 19 years ago. (International readers, yeah… I’m sorry for how little my apology can undo or change.)

2020 has been a year of upheaval, with one crisis or fight following on the heels of another. (You all know this.)

Re-reading “The Parting of the Ways” while living in the US in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s hard not to see Dumbledore as Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts spelling out exactly how President Trump and the American people need to respond to the pandemic—Voldemort’s comeback in this fantastical world. And it’s difficult not to read Fudge as Trump, bluntly refusing to believe the experts and act upon their advice—even believing the conspiracy theories, printed in HP by Rita Skeeter—because the crisis will hurt his chances of remaining in office. Just. Ouch. I hope that this parallel can’t be continued much further than this scene because it sure seems a lot of people who followed Dumbledore die because of the ineptitude of Fudge’s inactions—but if that ain’t ever coming true now in real time.

I had this late-night revelation too re-reading “Padfoot Returns”: It took a genocidal cult leader rising to power and a power-hungry politician wanting the poll boost that being “tough on crime” gave him for the Aurors to be given permission to kill instead of capture. As we struggle here in the US with violent police, the idea that for so long the Aurors were denied this power (presumably until the height of Voldemort’s first rise to power) is comforting somehow. And it gives me hope that this is a reversible policy in the wizarding world, even if here I fear that the struggle will be harder. As we struggle with government forces being sent into cities to quell protests, it’s a chilling notion that the poll boost of being “tough on crime” was reason enough for Aurors to be given the power to kill.

One thing that I feel that Rowling did well was prepare us to see corruption and ineptitude in many forms within in the government.

But, this reading, I struggled with Rowling’s use of accents. The use of accents is something that I have come to be wary of in fiction. It is a way othering the speaker from whichever characters are not written with accents.

Rowling uses accents, actually especially before this book when wizards from outside of Britain first occur to Harry, on non- or part-human characters and to mark under-education.

British characters written as having accents are Stan Shunpike, Rubeus Hagrid, and Dobby and the rest of the house-elves.

Stan often appears as something of a joke and as comic relief when he does appear in the text. In Half-Blood Prince, he is arrested as a Death Eater, and Harry and Dumbledore both agree that it is unlikely that he would be, though he does in Deathly Hallows appear as part of a group of Death Eaters attacking Harry. His accent seems to denote him as laughable and under-educated, a non-threat because of it, despite evidence.  (I thought Rowling had revealed that he did not attend Hogwarts, but now I’m not finding any conclusive statement to that effect.)

Hagrid is the first major character to appear in the series and be given an accent. I know that Rowling proclaims Hagrid one of her favorites, but he is othered. He is “too big to be allowed” (SS 14). Harry finds him frightening at first when he knocks down the door of the shack by the sea. In Goblet of Fire we find out that Hagrid is not fully human. His mother was a giantess who possibly sided with Voldemort in the first war. And we know almost right away that Hagrid is not a fully qualified wizard, that he never graduated Hogwarts, though he did briefly attend. He is not meant by law to be able to perform magic.

The next major character to be given an accent or odd speech pattern is Dobby. And Dobby’s accent is even more problematic, particularly as we learn in Goblet of Fire that it is not unique to Dobby but is an accent shared among his race: house-elves. This accent is particularly problematic, I think, because house-elves live if they are not raised (we never see house-elf children) alongside wizards, meaning that they are exposed to a speech pattern that they could learn and adopt (like learning to code-switch, which shouldn’t have to be a reality but is), but that house-elves either choose not to or are unable to adopt the speech patterns used by wizards. Could it be a voluntary choice and a shared language that brings house-elves pride? Maybe. But so little seems to be a choice for house-elves. I think it more likely that Rowling uses the house-elves’ accents not only to other them as separate species from wizards but to mark their lack of formal education. Many slave-owners in the US limited the education available to their slaves. I think it likely similar limitations are imposed upon many house-elves by the wizards to which they belong. It’s even possible that they are forbidden from speaking as wizards do.

House-elves are problematic beyond the othering that occurs in the house-elves peculiar speech patterns. House-elves are a race of creatures born to enslavement. They are magically tied to the family, passed down in wills, magically unable to disobey a direct order from their masters. (I’m drawing here on things that we learn in later books as well, but the points stand.) They are a race bred to slavery, who claim to enjoy their enslavement (bar the odd black sheep, namely Dobby). The very existence of such a race, the creation of one in fiction, is worrying. Though Rowling always paints the abuse of house-elves as wrong and signals that house-elves are best treated with human decency and kindness and as individuals with all that that entails, the ownership of house-elves is something in which even Harry becomes complicit when he is left an elf in a will.

Hermione in Goblet of Fire launches a campaign to free the house-elves, inflamed by her realization that Hogwarts itself is serviced by this race, the students’ and staff’s meals cooked, their laundry done, their fires made, and their rooms cleaned all by enslaved creatures. Her quest takes on a distinctly white savior story line because she does this without asking the house-elves whether they want to be freed, and when she is told by them that they don’t wish it, she decides that she knows better than they do and continues to push for their freedom and even tries to trick them into accepting freedom by leaving clothes about the common room.  While her motivations are laudable, she would have done better to consult the house-elves to see how she could improve their lives rather than assuming that she knew how best to do so.  (I hope that the lives of house-elves do improve post-Potter, but the movement needs to be led by and done with the house-elves.)

Most of you are probably aware that many fans have broken with Rowling over her most recent virulence on Twitter. I include myself among them, though for all the reasons and more enumerated above, it has been difficult for me to sever my ties to the books (and I was in the middle of this one when her most recent incendiary tweets were published). This is the not the first time that Rowling has used her Twitter platform in particular to spout hateful rhetoric.

I feel I would be remiss to post any kind of review or reflection on a Harry Potter book now without addressing this—at least a little.

It saddens me that a woman whose books have been proven to increase empathy in their readers, a woman who spawned a fandom that has done so much good (look up the HP Alliance and Harry Potter and the Sacred Text), has become so distant from the very ideals that her books imparted to us.

I worry now that these books imparted more to us than we realized, and I hope we do the work—and trust that we can do the work—to untangle what is good and helpful and what is harmful.

For those who don’t know, the words that Rowling has recently been saying on Twitter (or was saying as of early June; I have since unfollowed her because I was saddened rather than heartened or informed by her tweets) have been harmful to the trans community. And this latest string of tweets and actions has been particularly brutal.

Rowling has long been called out for a lack of diversity in wizarding Britain and Hogwarts, particularly a lack of racial representation and an absence of relationships other than heterosexual ones. She has made some attempts post-publication to remedy this, with the revelation of Dumbledore’s and Grindelwald’s romantic relationship, very subtly hinted at in a line of text in Deathly Hallows, and the casting of Black women to play Hermione and her daughter in the original cast of The Cursed Child. (Neither of these moves I would argue has largely been seen as enough.)

The representation of Rita Skeeter in Goblet of Fire has been suggested as one of the strongest warnings we should have seen of Rowling’s anti-trans views.  Though not explicitly transgender, Rita is described as having “large, mannish hands” (307) with fake nails, a “surprisingly strong grip” (303), heavy make-up, and bright outfits, Rita Skeeter is a reporter who thrives on gossip and ruining reputations. She is generally ridiculed and disliked. She is also a shape-shifter, an Animagus. She is trapped in beetle form and kept in a jar by Hermione for at least a week at the end of Goblet of Fire. Few others in the wizarding world are described as having such garish make-up.

All of this complicates my relationship personally to these books that have done a lot to shape me, that have helped me through a lot of difficult times in my own life. I think it’s important that we question and interrogate what is important to us.

The media that we intake and the language and ideas that that media espouses, overtly or subconsciously, can effect our own views in subtle and less subtle ways.

Listen to those who say that they have been hurt. Learn why. Do better. Do the best you can.

But too. I think it’s important to be willing to speak up and be willing to make mistakes, be willing to be called out, be willing to make mistakes and then learn from them when you’re called out. “If you’re holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time” (454).

Rowling, J. K. Book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Intended audience: Grades 3-12.

*Page numbers are from a paperback copy of the US edition of Goblet of Fire and a paperback copy of the US edition of The Sorcerer’s Stone (SS).

This review is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Scholastic, Inc., or anyone else associated with the world of Harry Potter. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Lines Read Out of Context

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I want to try something new for the blog. I am pretty terrible—and have been especially recently—about picking up a number of books and being in the middle of ALL of them. I’m wondering if I can do anything with that. I’m wondering if I can have some fun by pulling the last line that I read in each of the books that I am currently “reading,” and creating something new, a new scene, maybe a crossover.

The answer is… questionable. Some of the books I am “reading,” it’s been so long since I’ve read them or I’ve been reading them before bed and I was so exhausted at the time that I last put them down that I’m uncertain which is the last line that I read.  (The other books that I tried to include are Virgil’s Aeneid, translated by Stanley Lombardo; Roddy Doyle’s The Giggler Treatment; and Natasha Trethewey’s memoir Memorial Drive.)

But pulling the lines that I can identify as last read from the books that I have been reading or have left unfinished with the intention of returning to them and picking up where I left off, in descending order from the most recent to the book I picked up least recently, they read:

 

There was a moment of silence, where Declan considered what he wanted to say in front of Ashley, and Ronan enjoyed the effect that awkward silence had on his brother. (The Raven Cycle, Book 1: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater)

Still, there was nothing in sight. (Book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling)

“I always do.” (Timekeeper, Book 2: Chainbreaker by Tara Sim)

“I hope you’re ready to tell the truth.” (Book 1: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi)

Not great in that order, but there’s a scene to be built there pretty easily. A few small reversals of the order is all it takes actually to build a better scene:

Still, there was nothing in sight.

There was a moment of silence, where Declan considered what he wanted to say in front of Ashley, and Ronan enjoyed the effect that awkward silence had on his brother.

“I hope you’re ready to tell the truth.”

“I always do.”

I imagine that it’s Declan in this new scene that speaks first and Ronan who answers.  I’m not sure what they were expecting to appear (or maybe what Ronan was expecting to appear), but whatever it was didn’t manifest itself.  Declan, maybe thinks that Ronan’s been lying about the existence of whatever it is (a night horror maybe or an Irish elk made of bones).

And actually, since I drafted this blog post, I’ve read on in two of these, so we could try adding:

He knew he was facing the thing against which Moody had always warned… the unblockable Avada Kedavra curse— and Voldemort was right—his mother was not here to die for him this time…. (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

“Do you think there would be any point to someone spying on us,” Gansey said, “if we weren’t on the right track?” (The Raven Boys)

I was going to try to do a whole new scene using the four books, but actually… I like these lines as a continuation and clarification of the previous new scene, which I think I would rearrange to read:

“Do you think there would be any point to someone spying on us,” Gansey said, “if we weren’t on the right track?”

Still, there was nothing in sight.

There was a moment of silence, where Declan considered what he wanted to say in front of Ashley, and Ronan enjoyed the effect that awkward silence had on his brother.

“I hope you’re ready to tell the truth.”

“I always do.”

He knew he was facing the thing against which Moody had always warned… the unblockable Avada Kedavra curse— and Voldemort was right—his mother was not here to die for him this time….

Which I would interpret as:  The group has just discovered that their being spied upon.  Ronan is leading them all to… something, something that Declan wants very badly—or Ashley does.  They haven’t found it yet though.  Declan’s suspicious.  He thinks it’s possible Ronan is leading them on a goose chase.  Ronan replies that he always tells the truth.  Ronan thinks his life is at stake.  He suspects someone in this group—the searcher—will kill him if he’s lying, if he hasn’t found whatever it is.  Ronan must have run into Voldemort earlier in the search who reminded him that his mother died to save him from such a curse before, but he won’t have that protection a second time.  Moody, I suspect, is an Aglionby teacher in this new crossover world.

Do you read more than one book at a time? Let me issue the challenge to you:  Can you build a scene using only the last lines that you read?  Share what you can build or what lines you last read in the comments please!

This is an easy challenge to revisit another time.

Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2019

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I had genuinely forgotten until last year’s popped up as having been viewed on my stats page that I had been in the habit of pulling together these lists for you all. So while I am posting 2019 recap lists this month, have just I think one more.

This is a comprehensive list of all of the books that I read in 2019 that I rated 5 stars. Some of these are re-reads and have appeared on other such lists from me before. Some are new.

The last two years I have been on top of this and posting in January and using these to guess which books might win awards. The ALA conference is long-since past, so this year it’s a straight list.

Some of these books I had forgotten that I read and so enjoyed, and so I hope this list might remind you of a few favorites too or help you to find new ones. Go out and read! 

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

MIDDLE GRADE (AGES 8-12)  

TEEN (AGES 13-19)

ADULT (AGES 20+)

 

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2019

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It’s Pride Month! And it’s time to do another review of the books that I read the previous year that included LGBTQIA+ characters. I read 141 books in total in 2019. 15 of those included a character who identifies as LGBTQIA+. 10% of the books that I read in 2019 included LGBTQIA+ representation, up 5 percentage points from last year.  This year, the books I read represented a greater diversity of identities too (last year’s characters were all gay except for Apollo, who is bisexual).

Board Books and Picture Books (Ages 0-8)

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Beer’s book represents all kinds of families including gay and lesbian parents.

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Candlewick, 2018.  Julián Is a Mermaid won a Stonewall award, so the committee thought that Julián’s actions mark him as transgender, but I see his actions less so as necessarily identifying him as transgender though certainly rejecting heteronormative gender binary performance. That being said, Julián and his abuela identify Julián as a mermaid and not a merman even as she continues to call him mijo.

Love, Z by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2018. Z is nonbinary, never given a gender within the text. I suspect that Beatrice’s love for her female friend with whom she holds hands as a young woman is more than platonic, but that is my supposition from knowing this author’s work and not explicit in the text.

Middle Grade Readers (Ages 8-12)

9 from the Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.  This is a series of short stories set in the world and featuring the characters from Magnus Chase. One of those characters is Alex, who is genderfluid and uses he/him/his and she/her/hers pronouns at different times within the series.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. & The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Apollo, the protagonist of this series, is openly bisexual. In The Dark Prophecy, the protagonists stay with an older, lesbian couple who left immortality to love one another.

Teens (Ages 13-19)

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. Make Me a World-Penguin Random, 2019. This book. The protagonist Jam is transgender, but her coming out is not the focus of this story and her identity is not presented as any kind of problem for her family, friends, or society. Her best friend’s parents are in a polyamorous relationship. One of his three parents uses they/them pronouns*Emezi uses they/them pronouns themself.

The Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2018. The protagonist is asexual! (Though she never uses the word in the text.) That excites me so much! And her brother is bisexual. And his lover is gay (I think; we never see him interested in any human other than Monty).

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. Delacorte-Penguin Random, 2019. Several of the girls, including one of the main characters, Hetty, are queer.

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. Wednesday-St. Martin’s-Macmillan, 2019. Shane’s cousin Leo comes out as gay while she is abroad.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2017. Double D ranch was owned by a lesbian couple. When her lover died before her, Darlene turned bitter and began a cockfighting ring.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. First Second-Roaring-Holtzbrinck, 2018. The prince enjoys dressing in gowns and sometimes feels uncomfortable with the image of himself as a man.  When in gowns, she calls herself Lady Crystallia. The prince uses masculine pronouns when he is dressed as a man and feminine pronouns when he is dressed in gowns. Genderqueer is how Wang described Sebastian/Crystallia in an interview with Forbes, but she says his identity is open to readers’ interpretations.  His queerness is outed by a neighboring prince, and Sebastian exiles himself from the royal court. His parents track him down, however, and in solidarity the king and his men dress in Frances’ gowns and parade them down the runway.  The king calls his son “perfect.”

Adults (Ages 20+)

Vox by Christina Dalcher.  Berkley-Penguin Random, 2018.  In this dystopian, future America, people who engage in homosexual relationships are forced into concentration camps. One of the leaders of the failed revolution, Jean’s college friend, Jackie Jaurez, is lesbian. She joins Jean and Lorenzo in their final flight at the novel’s end.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 1 by Michael Dante DiMartino.   Dark Horse, 2019.  Korra and Asami are officially a couple in this second comic book series after the ending of the television series. Both girls are bisexual, based on what we know from the animated series.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie.  Random House Audio-Penguin Random, 2015.  Geronimo Manezes’ uncle, for whom Geronimo works and with whom he lives after immigrating to New York, is gay, and through his uncle, Geronimo encounters gay culture in New York. Geronimo is one of Dunia’s descendants who is present at the final battle between Dunia and Zumurrad for the control or the freedom of the human world.

As always, if you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these, please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Review: Healing and Unlearning with a Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and samples.

Having read and loved the second book in this series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, I knew I would go back to read the first. I expected this to leave off nearer to the beginning of the second, but it did not. I stand by my assertion that you can begin this series with the second. The two are really individual stories.

Little is said in this novel about Felicity’s childhood or what brings her to the Scottish bakery on which the second book opens.

This novel focuses on the elder Montague, the heir apparent, Henry “Monty” Montague. The book opens on the morning of Monty’s departure with his best friend Percy Newton on their Grand Tour, on which Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, is to accompany them a small part of the way on her way to finishing school in Marseilles.

But Monty’s father is determined that this should not be the dissolute last hooray that Monty hopes it to be. He assigns them a chaperone. He warns Monty that he will not embarrass the family and especially not be caught in any compromising situation with another man or he will not be allowed to return home to his position.

But Monty knows already that he has developed romantic feelings for Percy.

The three are not long on the Continent before the trouble begins.

Spoilers ahead!

Monty is caught sans trousers with a woman in the apartments of the duke of Bourbon, and the Montagues and Percy leave Versailles in a cloud of whispers.

That might have been smoothed over, but Monty’s idle fingers filch a valuable object that looks like a useless trinket from the duke’s desk.

Their carriage is waylaid by a violent group disguised as highwaymen on the road to Marseilles.

Separated from their carriage, their chaperone, and their possessions, the three teenagers stumble to Marseilles.

But the revelation of the fate that awaits Percy at the end of this tour—not law school as he has told the Montagues but an asylum where he is being committed because of his incurable epilepsy—makes Monty especially question the direction of their tour.

With much cajoling from Monty, the three are pulled off course, abandoning their chaperone and carriage and leaving with only the money that Monty is able to wheedle from a young bank teller on the strength of a silver tongue. Their sojourn in Barcelona introduces an element of magic into the story.

The tour becomes a quest—a race against the duke of Bourbon—to retrieve a possible panacea (making this a particularly poignant read just now; who doesn’t want access to a panacea?) that Monty hopes will cure Percy, free him from the institution, and make it easier for the two of them to somehow be together—even if Monty isn’t at all sure what a happy ending with Percy could possibly look like in a world that expects him to step into the role of an earl and produce heirs of his own to continue the aristocratic line.

This book had everything that I wanted. It was an exciting adventure novel with pirates and swordplay and magic and music and mystery. And it dealt with contemporary issues well. Monty struggles with the world’s reaction and his own reaction to his bisexuality and is deeply effected by the parental abuse that he has suffered. Poor Percy struggles not only with the world’s reaction to his epilepsy but also to his mixed race heritage, the racism of white Europeans towards his darker complexion. Felicity fights against sexism and the future that society has planned for her—a loveless marriage and a life of minding house (her struggles especially are further explored in the second book).

The book is weighted by angst that helps to balance the swashbuckling and dissolution of the external journey that the characters take.

As the world went sideways and everything here in the US began to shut down, I handed this book to a number of customers (enough that we sold through our stock in paper- and hardback) as just a fun, action/adventure, and a way to visit faraway places without leaving the safety of the house.

Right now I am unable to return the library’s copy. I may just have to read it again.  I have already re-read parts of it, particularly the ending.

I hope that the third book comes out on schedule this summer so that I can spend some more time with this writer, Monty, and the Goblin.

****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 1: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2017.

Intended audience: Ages 13+

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Wilder Girls, Infected and Quarantined

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's bio.

I read four novels in full and half of another and about 30 pages of one more for Barnes & Noble’s new YA Book Club in 2019. This was my favorite of them all. It was advertised to me as Lord of the Flies with a female cast. In Power’s novel a strange disease has struck an isolated island that is home to an elite girls’ school. The island has been quarantined, and the girls have already survived eighteen months in isolation when the story begins. The girls form new social strata. They form strong bonds with fewer people. But they form bonds. It is not every girl for herself. And there is order to their society. The few remaining adults still hold authority over the loose coalition of cliques.  There is still a sense of acting towards a collectively good and a collective goal of survival of as many as possible.

It’s honestly been too long since I last read Lord of the Flies for me to intelligently compare the two.

The disease, which affects everything living on the island—human, animal, and plant—turns things more wild, monstrous. The trees grow taller and the forest more dense. The animals in the forest grow large and turn carnivorous while their still living bodies begin to decay. It affects the girls in different ways. Some have protruding, spiked spines breaking the skin along their backs. Some glow in the dark. Some sprout scales. Girls die of the Tox—or of the changes that their bodies undergo because of it.  But some survive, and not everyone who survives the painful changes views these changes as monstrous.

The government sends supplies, but there are never enough supplies, and there is never a cure.

This is a novel that explores what makes a person human.

This is a story about survival and friendship and love, about trust or distrust of the authority, particularly male and adult authority over girls. This is a story about the ties between families and friends and what might sever those bonds.

I don’t remember this being a particularly uplifting story, but it is a story about surviving disease and about surviving quarantine that some of you might find timely.

The novel itself is fairly short, clocking in at 357 pages, and I found especially its latter third fast-paced.

SPOILERS:

When Hetty, one of the POV characters, is chosen for the elite group that crosses the island to fetch the supplies from the dock and bring them back, she discovers that one of the few remaining adults, Ms. Welch, is making the girls dump many of the supplies that are sent. It is not until later that she understands that she is trying to keep the girls from being either poisoned or cured.

The disease is revealed to be a disease released from melting permafrost, so this is a science-fiction more than a fantasy, though I hope no such disease is caught in our ice.

****

This review is fairly incomplete, but I’m afraid it’s now been 6 months since I read it, and I passed it quickly to a friend who wanted to read it. I’m writing this one from memory, and my memory is failing me.

Power, Rory. Wilder Girls. New York: Delacorte-Penguin Random, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Rory Power, Delacorte Press, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: DNF But I Have Opinions

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Now for something a little different

This year there were a few books that I never finished but about which I still wanted to say a few words. I realized that when I pass them on to someone else and take them off my Goodreads lists as neither read nor to be read, I will lose any reviews that I might leave on them, so I’m taking advantage of having a blog, and leaving those thoughts here. Even if I never finished these books, I hope my thoughts will help you decide whether or not to begin them yourself.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and awards list.

Mahurin, Shelby. Serpent & Dove, Book 1. New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 14+.

I left off reading the ARC of this book at page 257 of 514, but I want to take a moment to organize my current thoughts about the novel:

I’ve struggled to enjoy this one.

First I didn’t realize going into this book that it is far more a new adult novel than a young adult or teen novel. I perhaps should have known, knowing that the protagonists are married. I have read so few new adult or even adult novels that I wasn’t prepared for the tone and the themes.

But what is most keeping me from connecting with it I think is the seemingly unequal power dynamic of the supposed romance, which thus far in the novel, does not feel like a romance, though Reid is starting to begin making an effort towards connection with Lou. Lou is choosing to live with the threat that Reid poses to her because he poses a threat to those who would harm her too, choosing to live with him though she knows that if he knew her secret he would regard her as inhuman and fit only for death. That to me is unsettling. Perhaps we are meant to think that she too poses a threat to him, but Lou hasn’t killed; she does not view even witch-hunters like him in the same inhuman way as he does witches. I don’t like to see that sort of unequal power dynamic romanticized or marketed as a romance.

I think I would have given up this book entirely after the book club discussion except that I read a summary of the plot, and I now know where the novel is headed. I like the spoilers that I have, but I don’t know if it will be worth slogging through the uncomfortable relationship to get to see them acted out, and after several months of not touching the book I have decided to give up and give my copy of this book to someone who I hope can enjoy it more than I.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and reviews.

Wen, Abigail Hing. Loveboat, Taipei.  New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2020.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

Spoilers between the asterisks.

There are so many parallels between this and Christine Riccio’s Again, but Better. The protagonists of both books are girls whose parents set them on tracks for medical school but who would rather pursue the arts, who travel for the first time abroad to study, who find ways to circumvent their parents’ plans for their time abroad, who struggle with liking boys who already have girlfriends, who make lists of things that they will do to reinvent themselves while abroad, who drink for the first time, who dance in a club, who kiss a boy.

But Wen’s was so much better written!

I all but forgot every character of Riccio’s except the main romantic pair, Shane and Pilot, after reading this book—and Shane I keep wanting to call Christine for her strong parallels to the author, a booktube celebrity, and Pilot I was never sure I wholly liked.

The characters of Wen’s novel are fully-fledged and interesting. Their lives are complicated. They have motivations and individual desires. They are many of them shaped by their parents’ expectations.  They each get to defend themselves, to explain themselves to Ever.  They don’t feel like props or catalysts for the protagonist Ever. Two characters are dyslexic. It feels like anyone of the characters could have held the story on their own.

Reading Wen’s novel, I was given a peek into another culture than my own. Almost every character is Taiwanese American or Chinese American or a local Taiwanese citizen. The default is not white.

Despite it being outside of my usual genre, I found compelling Ever’s fight between her passions and her duty to her family and their expectations for her. I might have continued to read if it were any closer to a genre that I generally enjoy. I may hang onto this one, and I might go back to it one day, but there’s no magic system here for me to explore, there’s not a whole lot of the type of adventure that I enjoy, and frankly the drama of teenage romances is just… not holding my attention. It didn’t in high school, and it doesn’t now.

But I want to know if Xavier can finally get the help that he needs. I want to know if he’ll be okay. (If someone who has finished this book wants to tell me the answer to that question in the comments, I’d thank you.)  I already read a spoiler * promising that Ever gets her parents’ approval of her passion for dance in the end *—though I have not found out yet which path she ultimately pursues in college.

This is a book I will recommend to those who tell me that they enjoy this genre—and definitely to anyone who read Again, but Better.

I am currently on page 240 of 414 of this ARC.

This review is not endorsed by Abigail Hing Wen, Shelby Mahurin, HarperTeen, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2019: Part 1: The Novels

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It’s Black History Month here in the US, a time when we stop to recognize specifically the achievements of African Americans and the influence they have had on our history, society, and culture. And that seems a good reason for me to post my annual review of the books that I read the previous year that included people of color, some of whom are African American.

I read 141 books altogether in 2019. 69 of those included a character of color, 49% of the total, very nearly half (28% in 2018, 27% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015). 26 of those included a character of color as a protagonist, 18% of the total.  38% of the books with a character of color at all (7% of the total in 2018, 14% in 2017, 9% in 2016). Those numbers are far better then than any year for which I have done this survey of my own reading.  Finally some significant increases in the numbers of characters of color represented!

28% of the novels that I read had a person of color as a protagonist. 61% included a person of color in any capacity. I read 4 with African American protagonists. I also read 4 novels with protagonists of East Asian descent (or protagonists from fictional cultures influenced by East Asian cultures). I read 4 books with Latinx protagonists. I read 2 with Spanish protagonists.

I’m using the location on Barnes & Noble’s shelves to help me determine the intended audience on a few of these that I think could easily be read and enjoyed by younger audiences too.  Use your own discretion when deciding whether or not a book is appropriate for the intended reader.

Fiction for Young Children (Ages 4-8)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Japanese Fairy Tales by Theodora Yei Ozaki. 1992. Originally published 1903.

Being a book of Japanese fairy tales, the characters and the stories in this book are Japanese. The stories were translated in 1903 by a woman who is half-Japanese, half-British and split her life between the two countries.

Middle-Grade Fiction (Ages 8-12)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

New Kid by Jerry Craft. 2019.

Earning a well-deserved Newbery (the first to go to a graphic novel!), this book follows Jordan Banks as he attempts to navigate his new school, one that is primarily white while going home to his neighborhood, which is primarily African American. This book deals particularly well I feel with the damage of microaggressions.

Young Wizards, Book 1: So You Want to Be a Wizard? by Diane Duane. 1983.

Young Wizards, Book 2: Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane. 1985.

Young Wizards, Book 3: High Wizardry by Diane Duane. 1990.

One of the two main protagonists of the series, Kit Rodriguez, is Latino American. He and his family speak mostly English with the occasional word or two of Spanish.

Demigods & Magicians by Rick Riordan. 2016.

The two magicians, Sadie and Carter Kane, are mixed race, their father is African American, their mother is a white, British woman.

Stargazing by Jen Wang. 2019.

This is a story partially about growing up as Chinese American. The characters listen to Korean pop music.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

9 From the Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan. 2018.

This book features short stories loosely threaded together. Each character gets a story in which they are the protagonist, but the book itself has no one protagonist. Those protagonists include a Muslim, Iraqi American who wears a hijab; her fiancé, who is also Arab American; an African American civil war veteran; a Mexican American character; and a darker skinned Svartalf.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

PopularMMOs Presents a Hole New World by Pat and Jen (PopularMMOs). 2018.

The one darker skinned character, Carter, is a rival for Jen’s affections and not much liked by Pat. He helps the pair on their quest to save Bomby, but he has been poisoned by Evil Jen and betrays them once before redeeming himself.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. 2015.

Magnus is white, but he is helped by Sam, who is Muslim and Iraqi American and wears a hijab. Among his hall-mates is TJ, who is an African American civil war veteran. He is also helped by Blitz, who is dark skinned.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. 2017.

Apollo and Meg are helped by Leo, who is Latino American and by Jamie, who is descended from the Yoruba in Western Africa.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. 2018.

Apollo and Meg are helped by Piper, who with her father the (former) movie star is Cherokee. Leo returns briefly.

NewsPrints by Ru Xu. 2017.

Jill and the Admiral seem to have a skin tone faintly more dark than that of most in Nautilene. The mayor and newspaper owner and head of Blue’s found family—all one man by the name of Nancy—has a skin tone that is a little darker still. A few of the boys in Blue’s family share his tone. There is one nameless woman employed by the navy to build and repair ships whose skin tone is even darker. Nothing is made of these variations in this novel.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

The Giver adapted by Craig P. Russell from Lois Lowry.  2019.

All the speaking characters are white that I remember, and only two of those characters can see color at all—literally not figuratively. This is a world that has given up color among other things to eliminate choice and to eliminate violence. I have never read the original novel to know if Lowry writes all these characters as white.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 3: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan. 2007.

Zoë Nightshade is described as looking like a Persian (Iranian) princess. You might infer that from that her whole family looks Persian, but godly or Titanic DNA seems to be a very odd thing, and the gods at least can choose how they appear in this series.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan. 2008.

Kelli the empousa, who is a reoccurring antagonist in this book, is described as appearing to be African American.

Teen Fiction (Ages 13-19)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. 2019.

Every character I think in this novel is African American. Jam’s father Aloe peppers his English with Igbo, a language spoken primarily in Nigeria.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. 2019.

A fight is sparked at a high school football game when racial slurs are slung. The two narrators, Lena who is African American and Campbell who is white and working class, at the school and the police’s response to it, spark a protest that becomes a riot on one of the city’s more commercial streets. The two narrators trade chapters and react to the encounters with the other’s reality. They come out nearer to being friends than they were at the beginning of the novel.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. 2019.

An American oil baron and his family, including his Spanish wife, travel to Madrid to make a deal with Franco. The story follows their mixed race son Daniel Matheson as he bonds with the maid assigned to the family by the hotel, Anna, and then with her family. Together Anna and her family and Daniel unravel the secret snatching of children by the orphanage. The Mathesons adopt a daughter from one of these orphanages.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. 2017.

The Soria family of Bicho Raro, Colorado, the main characters of this novel, is Mexican American. People come to them for the miracles that they perform. Some of those that come to them are Latinx themselves including Padre Jiminez and Marisita. I listened this year to an audiobook preformed by Thom Rivera, which really brought the characters to life. If you have the choice, I recommend listening to rather than reading this one.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. 2018.

Sim, an African, Muslim pirate, finances Felicity’s cross-Europe trip and accompanies her on that trip before taking her to Africa, where they chase the dragons that Sim’s family protects.  Sim makes a good go, really, of being a protagonist herself, but the POV is Felicity’s.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. 2019.

None of the three protagonists are cued as other than white, but one of the girls, Julia, on Boat Shift with Hetty is darker skinned and one of the girls at the school is Chinese American.

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. 2019.

Shane herself is white. One of her roommates in London is Sahra who is Indian American. I think she is in the pre-med program that Shane’s parents believe that Shane is in. Atticus’ last name is Kwon, which cues me that he is likely Asian American, but I didn’t remember this and only found his last name researching this book for this review. Frankly, I don’t remember Atticus.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. 2018.

Prince Sebastian does welcome a visiting princess whose clothing and coloring seem to place her as being from a culture inspired by India. Frances is portrayed with a skin tone darker, so perhaps she is of a different race, but I can’t find any other review or interview that claims this to be the case, and the difference is slight, perhaps indicating the amount of time each character would have spent in sunlight.

Adult Fiction (Ages 20+)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part 1 by Faith Erin Hicks. 2018.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 1 by Michael Dante DiMartino. 2019.

The world of Avatar consists of four main cultures that are inspired by Eastern Asian cultures. The Water Tribes of the North and South Poles, of which the titular character of the second series, Korra, is one, are darker skinned than people of the Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation who share physical features of more like those of the people of Japan, China, or Korea. In the previous series, the Air Nomads had one living descendent. His children and grandchildren are in this series. His wife was from the Southern Water Tribe. She and her brother are protagonists as part of Team Avatar in Imbalance.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. 2015.

This is a difficult book to describe or summarize with prose that jumps between time periods and a battlefield that encompasses the whole of two parallel worlds, our Earth and Fairyland. The jinniyah known alternately as the Lightning Princess of Qaf or as Dunia, the name that she chose when she appeared as a mortal woman around the year 1195 CE, love ibn Rushd, the Spanish, Muslim philosopher and bore him many children. In a future not long past our own present, their descendants have spread across our Earth, their unifying physical feature being their lack of earlobes. Among these descendants are Geronimo Manezes who is the illegitimate child of an Indian woman and a British priest, Jimmy Kapoor who becomes the hero of his unpublished graphic novel, and Storm who appears as a baby on the mayor’s doorstep swaddled in an Indian flag.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Vox by Christina Dalcher. 2018.

Jean’s college roommate is an African American woman. She is a vocal protestor of the new administration. She is eventually rescued by Jean and her Italian lover. Her part was small.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.