I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog since getting hooked on GoodReads. If you particularly care to subscribe, you can read my GoodReads RSS feed; for now, here’s what I read in July!
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 1:17:36 PM
author: Garth Nix
average rating: 4.28
book published: 2003
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
A delicate, magical book; a book that manages to truly evoke a sense of the numinous while being grounded in the earthy details of life, with beautiful writing.
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:47:46 AM
author: Elizabeth Bear
average rating: 4.17
book published: 2008
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age books have this much in common: heartbreaking, intense, complicated personal relationships, and politics that go way over my head. My solution is to read for the personal relationships and shrug off the politics, though that won’t work for everybody.
This book focuses on Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and on the Elizabethan reign, which is being subtly supported both by the magic in plays and verse and by the faerie realm. Marlowe is killed early in the book – or thought killed, anyway, and taken to faerie, where he is drawn into a tangle of politics and relationships; Shakespeare, meanwhile, is called upon to support Elizabeth’s reign with his plays and in other ways.
The book’s great strength is in how Marlowe and Shakespeare feel completely like real people, complex and multi-dimensional and sympathetic but flawed. I have the urge to give Marlowe a hug and some hot chocolate, not that it would help! Bear also knows how to write sex scenes that are intimate and revealing but not mechanical, perhaps better in this book than in any other of hers – which always comes as a pleasant surprise when I read so much YA…
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:36:13 AM
author: Jamie Martinez Wood
average rating: 3.67
book published: 2008
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
I loved the premise of three Latina girls from wildly different backgrounds coming together, becoming friends, studying magic and conquering their own personal challenges. There’s hippie girl Fern, who has her first serious crush on a boy but is nervous about pursuing him; rich Marina, who has a complicated relationship with her mother and her heritage; and Xochitl, a recent immigrant from Mexico still reeling from the death of her twin sister.
The book ended up not working for me, though, because the prose is just too clunky. Emotions are a little too bluntly stated, lumps of background information stick out, and a lot of the plot and characterization sticks closely to predictable templates.
Also, it may just be my own personal issue with things that are new-agey, but it’s a book that may induce eye-rolling in people who are skeptical regarding new-agey things.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 3:42:48 PM
author: Ken Kesey
average rating: 4.24
book published: 1960
date added: 07/22/08
It’s hard to dislike a book that has a lot of lovely writing, a clear sense of structure and story, and quite a few good bits in it.
It’s hard to like a book that expects me to seriously believe that the world is ruled by an evil matriarchy.
At that point it’s hard for me to have any response other than “Aaaaaaaargh.”
Thursday, July 03, 2008, 3:57:54 PM
author: Sharon G. Flake
average rating: 3.99
book published: 2000
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/03/08
Maleeka is dealing with poverty, peer pressure, teasing, and the hideous clothes her mother sews – which also provide the only relief her mother finds after the death of Maleeka’s father.
Sharon Flake is super popular among the preteen/young teen girls I see at the library, and I can see why. It’s all too easy to be sensationalistic or condescending or didactic when writing about inner-city children, and this book is none of those; it feels honest and real in a rather low-key kind of way.
While I didn’t feel like it was quite polished enough or crafted enough that I really loved it, it’s definitely a good solid book.
Libby is one of the popular kids at school, but she’s dissatisfied, bored of everything including her popular friends and her own popularity. On a whim, she signs up for an internship at the zoo, where she is mortified to be working with an astronomy nerd (who wants to be an exobiologist) and a little person, Tina (“Tiny”), who her group has always mocked.
This book has what I love from Cecil Castellucci: the conviction that teenagers can be awesome people when they have goals and useful things to do, the conviction that creativity and art and science and craftsmanship and hard work are at least as important and interesting as who is kissing who, the sharp observation of human nature and social situations. Libby’s makeover isn’t too fast or too dramatic; she wanders around for much of the book bored and restless and sick of herself, as annoyed with the cool people as the uncool people and with no idea what to do about it. But in comparison with Castellucci’s other books, I thought this one was a little thin and shallow.
A weak(er) Castellucci book is still nothing to sneeze at. Absorbing and enjoyable.
Dewey Kerrigan, raised by her grandmother until she has a stroke and goes into a nursing home, is sent to live with her father is New Mexico. Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1943: the place where chemists, physicists, and other scientists are working on creating the atomic bomb. All of this is shrouded in secrecy, and Dewey herself knows nothing of it. Her life is concerned with smaller things: having conversations with Enrico Fermi and Richard Feynman, bonding with a loving but overworked father, working on projects with scrap metal and electronics. Then her father is sent away, to Washington, and Dewey is left with family friends and their daughter Suze. Deeply awkward around each other at first, Suze and Dewey slowly form a friendship.
Klages really gets what it’s like growing up as a nerd girl: the way adults can be easier to talk to than people your own age, the way one’s projects can be so fascinating that you don’t even care (that much…) when you’re unpopular, how Popular Mechanics is the most exciting magazine in existence, how great it is when you can share obscure knowledge with a friend like a secret code. I don’t know if I really believe the ending–it has one of those Big Misunderstandings I’m thoroughly sick of–but it’s such a warm and knowing picture of friendship and growing up, with the historical information woven in unobtrusively.
I think I like the book’s approach to the atomic bomb best of all. It’s not foregrounded at all. It’s top secret, and up until almost the end of the book, you only get vague rumors of a gadget that could end the war. But when it does show up, Klages doesn’t spend a lot of time arguing for and agaist the use of the atomic bomb. Dewey certainly doesn’t get to decide that. The scientists working on the bomb can argue about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but ultimately, it’s out of their hands. Instead, Klage approaches it from three different perspectives–there’s the scientific perspective, and given Dewey’s fascination with science and engineering throughout the book, it’s easy to get caught up in this idea of– Wow! Science did this! And then there’s the political perspective, pro-ending the war as quickly as possible, with as little loss of (American) life as possible. Dewey is a child of her time, casual about using slurs against the Japanese. And finally, you just have to be floored with fear and trembling at the idea that human beings can obliterate each other on such a massive scale. The last chapter is wonderful when it comes to bringing all of these things together without hitting you over the head with them.
Patti Yoon is wilting under the pressure of overachievement; she is Assistant Concertmaster of the all-state high school orchestra, after three years of being Concertmaster, and she got 2010 on her SATs instead of the 2300 she needs to get into HarvardYalePrinceton. She is thinking about applying to Juilliard and pursuing her love of the violin, but her parents think a career in music is too risky.
Enter Ben Wheeler, who plays trumpet in the same all-state orchestra and guitar in his spare time. He listens to punk music and is very, very cute. Patti’s growing friendship with Ben leads her to sneak over to his house to play music – and to reconsider the direction of her life.
It’s an all-around competent book. It doesn’t cut through to the heart of overachievement in the way that An Abundance of Katherines does, but Katherines is one of my favorite books ever so I may be setting the bar a little high. I started the book concerned about how it shows a rather stereotypical side of Asian-American culture (academic excellence, strict parenting, and playing the violin) and in some ways that’s true, but I think the cultural details (like all the food – spam sushi!) give it the weight of truth and authenticity, not “Hey, here’s a stereotypical Asian-American family!”
It’s a book that does some very nice unexpected things, and I especially like the way the ending shows the vastness of possibilities for life after high school, no matter what your SAT score.
Tiny spoilery quibble after the break:
Emma-Jean is very logical; she’s Data logical, Spock logical. Now, if Data had to be a middle-school-girl, his head would immediately explode from the sheer illogicality. Luckily for Emma-Jean, she’s a little bit too dense, too insulated from the viciousness of middle school, to really understand her own social status. (This feels realistic to me; at least, it mirrors my own middle school experiences). So Emma-Jean is odd and happy in her oddness until she comes upon Colleen Pomerantz crying in the bathroom, and decides to solve her problem by application of logic (and also Quark XPress; one wonders how Emma-Jean, who certainly would never stoop to software piracy, got such an expensive program, but we shall disregard that for the moment). It seems to work; it seems to work too well. Emma-Jean sets herself to solving more people’s problems.
I started the book ready to dislike it, to rather deeply dislike it. I just feel like there’s nearly no juvenile/young-adult literature that really understands nerd girls, and Emma-Jean’s voice did not feel real to me. It felt overly studied and somewhat contrived. She reminded me too much of a sitcom character rather than an actual girl. But then – well, I started to like Emma-Jean. Maybe I never believed in her voice, but I started to believe in her. Then all of a sudden I started crying. This isn’t always an endorsement; it’s more an indication of my own sentimentality than the book’s merits. But in this case, I don’t think there was anything sentimental about the sadness in the ending; it was a matter of the author slowly, carefully, building up a character and her reality until her feelings seemed as true as mine.