Monthly Archives: October 2015

Book Discussion: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Summary

Minnow’s parents decide to follow the Prophet into the wilderness. As part of the select group lead by his prophecies, they’re17185496 community learns how to live truly and serve the Prophet’s rules. But, Minnow is able to remember life before the Prophet. And when she makes a friend with someone she shouldn’t, the questions that had been slowly growing finally bloom into full doubt. But – that’s not when we meet Minnow. No, we meet her after. After she’s lost her home. Her family. Her community. Her arms. And maybe herself.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Part of Minnow’s relationship with Mr. Woodsman are cute, but ultimately, it’s two damaged teens trying to find solace from situations that are pretty messed up. And, while I’m glad she was able to think through and get over her community’s racism, I still feel like it happened pretty quickly. And, while Mr. Woodsyboy is sweet and there for Minnow when she needs someone, he tries to do the exact same, possessive stuff that she experienced at the community.

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

This book is SO MESSED up in several ways – the community’s treatment of women, the perpetuation of rape culture (women are the holders of men’s honor, women need to dress modestly because it’s all their fault), and the ultimate punishment doled out to Minnow – so many wrongs. But, there are a couple of stand outs – Minnow herself doesn’t allow the Prophet to erase her humanity, Minnow’s roommate doing what she can to protect the newbie, and Minnow’s mother finally breaking out of her abuse-induced daze (maybe). I’m going to focus on the positives of Minnow’s resiliency and strength – and willingness to accept her broken spirit to heal – instead of the awful, brainwashed women in the community, especially Minnow’s sister.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

I’m giving this book points for including a minority religious group – although there is something to be said for who gets to decide what is a “legitimate” religion or not. I definitely think the Prophet’s group is an unhealthy, unsafe, cruel place/cult, but I think we should consider not discounting small congregations just because their different from the mainstream. Points also for Minnow arm loss – living without limbs means moving through the world differently, having to adapt everyday tasks, and I think the book did a good job of showing that – especially while Minnow is in detention. I also give points for showing up life in the detention center without making it exotic. The girls in there have done things, but listening to most of their stories we learn – through Minnow – that the world unfairly punishes them for protecting themselves.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

All the pieces come together to make an intense read. The community, the escape to a tree house, finding a sweet, innocent love outside the confines of the Prophet’s rules, and Minnow’s desire to keep her own secrets all create a pretty great whole. It was a little too much at times, but I still have recommended it to several people. I think the ultimate lesson that girls need to take their fate into their own is the takeaway.


Favorite Character

Angel – she does what she can to survive, keeping her hard exterior as protection, but she never really totally eliminated her heart.

Favorite Line

“…and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down. It’s the only kind of lie that I’d be happy to live with.”

Even in a dark place, Minnow can hope…even if it’s sexy times that gets her there.

Is it worth a book hangover?

Honestly, it’s a disturbing read, but I couldn’t put it down. I really liked Minnow’s voice and the cast of characters that joined her.

Fun Author Fact

Oakes based this off the fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.”

Read These Next

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for another girl finding her way through (or out of) a religious community or Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert for a boy lead by faith trying to decide how much he should say during an investigation into his father’s actions.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Discussion: The Witch Hunter

 

 

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Summary

Elizabeth and best friend (and secret crush) Caleb are the best witch hunters in the kingdom. They regularly capture witches and wizards for Lord Blackwell, the king’s uncle and head of the witch-hunter guards. With the rise of magic (and witch-burnings) in the kingdom, their services are highly valued.

But when Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft, she has a new challenge: How can she stay alive in a world where an accusation of witchcraft leads to almost immediate death? She has to rely on the very people she tried to capture to keep her alive.

Witch Hunter

 

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort  

The romance between Elizabeth and a certain young wizard is (naturally) complicated. They each bring their own baggage and prejudice, and are forced to live life-and-death situations every day. I thought the romance was nicely developing, but not particularly swoon-worthy. I’m excited to see where the next book in the sequel takes us.

Feminist Score: A+ SuccessRosie

Elizabeth kicks ass. She saves herself over and over again, puts her friends first, and doesn’t allow crushes to get in the way of what’s really important. She’s the kind of friend and protector you want on your side. Her personality reminded me of Kel from The Protector of the Small series, though of course in a different context.
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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This was my one big gripe with this book. I didn’t think it was particularly diverse. The characters were, to my knowledge, white and straight. The author created her own world (based loosely on Tudor England), so she had a lot of flexibility with creating more diverse characters.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The Witch Hunter was an interesting take on medieval times with (real) witchcraft. I enjoyed Elizabeth, her friendships, and the plot development throughout the book. I do wish there had been some more diversity, but overall, I liked the story.

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Favorite Character

Elizabeth – She is fierce, brave, and smart.  She’s a witch hunter. What a bad-ass.

Favorite Line

I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m injured. I’m confused. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’ve got to do. I am what I always feared I’d be: alone. I’m going into that tomb alone; I’m going to die alone. This is what Nicholas knew, what he didn’t want to tell me. He didn’t have to. Because deep down I knew it, too.

In this line, Elizabeth learns that she has to (once again) face her biggest fear to save her friends. And in this moment, she has to decide what kind of person she wants to be – the witch hunter she always was, or the friend of the witches she’s starting to become.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I enjoyed the book, especially the plot an d the development of the main character, Elizabeth. It’s not quite on my “hangover” list, but it’s a good read.

Fun Author Fact

Virginia is a huge English history buff. Many of the settings for The Witch Hunter are based on real places in castles and  manors in England.

Read This Next

Try The Selection series by Kiera Cass. While the plot seems a little silly (think The Bachelorette for the next princess), the series is set in a dystopian kingdom with lots of political changes. Check it out!

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Big Fat Disaster

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum

Summary

Colby just wants to avoid the limelight as much as possible while her dad runs for a Senate position. But, when the FBI beginsBig Fat Disaster
 to investigate her dad’s very big secrets, the limelight turns into a spotlight – with Colby in the center. Suffering from raging insecurity and the target of her mom’s disparaging comments about her weight, Colby’s life unravels. She ends up moving to small town Texas with her mother and her little sister where she struggles to fit in. On top of all of this, her cousin posts a cruel video making fun of her weight and school becomes a hell. When she tries to end everything, things finally fully fall apart. Colby must face her mother’s selfishness, her own shame, and the weight of living.

(Trigger warnings for body issues, mental health, suicide, death, rape, emotional and physical abuse.)

 

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

There’s no love interest in the book and, if there were, I’m pretty certain Colby wouldn’t be ready or able to recognize it as a possibility. She does get to watch her parents’ marriage dissolve and their behavior is pretty heart-breaking. I felt a lot of sympathy for Colby’s mom for the situation she ended up in, but also hated her for being her.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ success

I thought about taking points off because Colby’s mother is awful and it’s clear that she was terrible to Colby even before life fell apart, but I decided her story is a great one for feminism as well. At one point, she admits that she’s never opened her own bank account and I just thought “this is why girls and women need to be able to stand on their own two feet before they settle down into a long-term relationship.” And, while I hated the mother pretty thoroughly by the end, I still think her struggle to survive and provide is a great example of crawling back from a horrible place. Plus, she’s a great example of why it’s important to identify the toxic people in your life and remove them – even family.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

This gets a high score for representing three things really well. Other than those things, it was a little lacking in color – especially for Texas. But, Colby is fat and the book fully describes what that’s like. It’s not just “she’s fat, moving on with the story.” Being fat is key to how Colby moves in the world, what she buys, how she interacts, everything. I really appreciated that the book showed the struggle – for clothes, for sitting down, for fitting in school desks. And, this isn’t the kind of book where she is miraculously skinny by the end; it’s clear that the end goal is mental health not thinness while Colby works to control her eating. Edit: HOWEVER, this is not a positive fat portrayal and it’s perpetuating the “fat people have miserable lives” stereotype. Looking at this in hindsight, this score should have been much lower because of the fat-life protrayal.

Secondly, I appreciated the shift in socio-economic status. Colby’s family went from wealthy to no money at all. Fortunately, Aunt Leah is there as a safety net, but the family is still having to choose store brand and shop at yard sales and wait to repair a broken window. It may not be total poverty, but they depend on the school for meals and that’s not something you see in YA often. Lastly, I appreciated that Colby and Leah and Tina all had mental health problems. Depression is a real, hard, daily struggle and Colby’s story is important. As is Tina’s willingness to talk about her eating disorder and Leah’s openness about dealing with the aftermath of growing up in her awful family and being married to an abusive jerk. The stigma about talking about these things needs to end and this book is a good start.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really wanted to hear more from Colby. Sometimes unhappy characters are difficult to get into because they’re hard to connect with (not saying they have to be likeable, I just have to care), but I didn’t have that trouble with Colby. From the first chapters I was drawn in to the family’s troubles and wanted to see how things would play out. I wasn’t expecting the story to leave the father behind as much as it did, but I liked the women alone even more. I think it’s important to remember that some families are truly awful to each other and we need to be there for those trying to minimize the scars.


Favorite Character

Leah – because she is strong and loving and even after a terrible, terrible thing happens to her, she still opens her heart to Colby and does what she can to save her from their awful relatives.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes you’ve got to succeed in spite of your parents, instead of because of them.”

Mr. McDaniel, the principal, was the best kind of school administrator. Lots of the teachers at Colby’s school were the compassionate, kind, supportive teachers we all hope we can have, but speaking from my own stereotypes, I will say I’m a little surprised that so many of her teachers were able to see through the football/rape scandal and her being an  “outsider” to stand on her side.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. This book is important because real fat characters are underrepresented and there are many subplots that are also important. I thought Colby was well-rounded and her story fascinating. But, it’s not a positive fat representation.

Fun Author Fact

Not fun, but Fehlbaum also struggles with an eating disorder and works to help abuse survivors so the book is very close to her heart.

Read These Next

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy about a fat girl owning her size and being amazing or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga for another character fighting the darkness of depression.

Post Author: Jess 

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: One

one

One by Sarah Crossan

Summary

“People always want to know.

They want to know exactly what we share

               down there,

so sometimes we tell them.

Not because it’s their business

but to stop them wondering – it’s all the wondering

about our bodies that bothers us.”

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins; though they are two separate people, they share one body. Although they’ve grown up with many challenges – endless medical issues, expensive alterations and adaptions for their needs, and sharing a body – it is the cruel comments from others that they never really get used to.

Though Tippi and Grace have been homeschooled their entire lives, they are suddenly able to attend a private school in Hoboken, New Jersey. And now the twins must navigate a regular high school every day. Between their ever-present health concerns and challenges at school, will Tippi and Grace ever get a taste of teenage normalcy?

Snipping

heartRomance Score: Good Effort  

Given Tippi and Grace’s shared body, any kind of romance has some complications. Yet, there was a sweet, developing romance in the story. Tippi faces all the complications of teenage romance (Can he really like me?) with all the additional complications of her health.

I really appreciated that the story didn’t delve deeply into the bodily complications of any kind of intimacy. From one of the first paragraphs, the author made it clear that this kind of morbid curiosity would not be tolerated, and I liked that this story let us focus on the twins as people.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

This book doesn’t have a particularly feminist lean, but the characters do defend themselves and do not live in a constant world of pity or hatred. I would have liked to see a little more education to the general public on the cruelty they face, but I also understand that this story is more internally focused than a battle for their rights.
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Diversity Score: A+ Success

Tippi and Grace’s story is told with respect. The story focuses on their emotional journey through battling health problem and attending a new school, not the specific details of their bodies. Definitely an A+ for the diversity of the main characters. And even the supporting roles, including new friends Yasmeen and Jon, have their own unique stories and challenges at the school. One did a really good job respectfully delving into a hard topic.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

One is a surprisingly emotional story told beautifully in free-verse. From the first few paragraphs, I was immediately hooked, and remained much more invested that I expected. By reading the story from only Grace’s perspective, you get a glimpse of what it’s like to share a body, but not the mind, of the second sister. Though the ending was a tad bit predictable, I still found myself caught up in the agony and struggles of Grace and Tippi.

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Favorite Character

Dragon. I love her energy, devotion to dance, and her interesting relationship with her older sisters.

Favorite Line

There are so many beautiful verses in this story, but here’s the one that stuck with me:

Sometimes I follow his lead

read along in The Grapes of Wrath

               until I find a dog-eared page

then stop

 

so I can inhabit the rhythm of his reading,

feel how

it must have been for him to

               turn those pages,

               see those words,

trace the outline of his

thoughts.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. One is beautifully written and well told. It is also a fairly short read – you can easily finish it in one day (or one long run on the treadmill, if you read while you run.).

Fun Author Fact

Sarah Crossan runs her own book blog on her website, where she interviews other authors about their books. A+ for promoting collaboration and mutual success, Sarah Crossan!

Read This Next

I don’t think I have a good recommendation in the same theme as One, so instead, I’ll recommend a book from Sarah’s blog that is now on my list. Check out Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, a book an eighteen year old girl who is tragically violated at a party, the aftermath, and the myth of the “perfect” rape victim.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary, High School