Monthly Archives: February 2016

Book Discussion: Finding Audrey

Finding Audrey Cover Jpeg

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Summary

After facing a traumatic incident at school, fourteen year old Audrey develops an anxiety disorder. She barely leaves the house, gets extremely uncomfortable talking to anyone outside of her family and counselor, and avoids eye contact with everyone except her four year old brother.

And therefore, it is extremely inconvenient when Aubrey’s older brother makes a new friend. Linus, a complete stranger, regularly comes over to her house and even wants to hang out and talk to her. And Audrey is completely torn – she develops feelings for Linus. But how will her disorder effect her relationships? Aubrey

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

I’m torn at this score. On one hand, Audrey and Linus are cute. Their romance is sweet, and very  age appropriate. Sophie Kinsella has a knack for writing comedic, fun stories – and she portrayed their romance in that way.

And  that’s also the downfall of this story – it’s a little too fun when dealing with a hard topic. Audrey is facing a seriously debilitating condition, and it’s written about somewhat trivially. Audrey romance nearly cures her disorder – and that’s not how social anxiousness works. I can’t speak for someone with social anxiousness, but I don’t believe the seriousness of the disease is appreciated.

Feminist Score:  You’re Trying  Rosie

Audrey is only fourteen, so her own decision-power is pretty limited by her (overbearing) parents. This is a rom-com style book (author Sophie Kinsella is best known for her Shopaholic series)… and pretty fluffy. I don’t think you can give this a high feminist score.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score:  Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Despite my qualms (see romance section), I really did like that a best-selling author wrote a fun, romantic story about a teenager with a mental illness. And while I don’t think it’s a perfect portrayal, I do think it’s a step in the right direction.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

This was a fun, quick read. Sophie Kinsella is a hilarious author – and some of the conversations between Audrey’s mom and dad made me laugh out loud. I wish the book delved into the actual mental illness (and the counseling process), but it’s a good start and a fun read.


Favorite Character

Frank, Audrey’s older brother. His logic when arguing with his mom is perfect, and the conversations between Frank, Audrey’s mom, and Audrey’s dad are hilarious.

Favorite Line

One thing I really appreciated about the story is that Audrey doesn’t have to explain what happens to her.

We don’t have to reveal everything to each other. That’s another thing I’ve learned in therapy: it’s okay to be private. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not going to share that.’ So, if you don’t mind, let’s just leave it there.”

What happened to Audrey isn’t the focus of the book – it’s her recovery. And while I don’t think telling her story would be disability porn per se, it could be done tastelessly, and the author chooses not to go into detail. And I really, really liked it.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Finding Audrey was a fun, fast read – especially for a snowy day! But I don’t think it’s particularly hangover worthy. 

Fun Author Fact

Sophie Kinsella, most famously known for the Shopaholic series, also wrote and published several books under her real name, Madeline Wickham. In an interview with Time Magazine, she explains her decision to write as Sophie:

“I didn’t want to confuse my existing readers. I felt instinctively that this was a new, fresh voice and it should be under a different name. It was like I was starting again. So Sophie is my middle name, Kinsella is my mother’s maiden name, and when I put them together, they just seemed to fit perfectly.”

Read This Next

For a more serious look at depression, try My Heart and Other Dark Holes by Jasmine Warga (our podcast discussion can be found here). Aysel knows she is ready to kill herself, and is looking for a suicide partner. While looking through online forums, she finds FrozenRobot, another teen looking for a suicide partner. FrozenRobot is perfect – he’s local, her age, and ready to kill himself. But as Aysel and FrozenRobot start to spend time together, she starts to see another side of him. Suddenly, she’s not sure she’s making the right decision.

 

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 Chat: Not If I See You First

Not If I

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Summary

Parker Grant has established The Rules.

The Rules – a set of guidelines created by Parker- keep her life in order. The Rules include not treating her differently because she’s blind, letting her know when you enter a room, and, most importantly, no second chances. This one has kept Parker the safest of all.

But after Parker’s father passes away suddenly, she finds her world torn apart. Her aunt, uncle, and cousins move into her house, and two local high school combine – and suddenly, Parker has to deal with hundreds of people who don’t know “The Rules.” How will Parker navigate these changes – and the return of an old love interest?


Favorite Character

Parker – I love her attitude about life. She makes every effort to make sure she controls as much of her life as possible. I also love how fiercely she loves her friends, despite her sarcastic and somewhat abrasive personality.

Favorite Line

One of my favorite parts of this book is the deep, complex friendship between Sarah and Parker:

“For a year I’ve been telling you what love isn’t but maybe I should’ve been telling you what it is. I have the perfect example right here; I love Sarah. I don’t want-to-have-sex-with-her love her, but I love her like crazy. I wish more than anything I knew how to make her happy again.” 

Fun Author Fact

Eric Lindstrom worked in the interactive game industry.  He was Editor and Co-Writer for Tomb Raider: Legend… which officially means my husband and I have *almost* read a book/video game by the same author/designer. This doesn’t happen very often.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! This book is fun, fast-paced, and teaches you about blind culture without being a “lesson book.” 

Read These Next

Try Push Girl by Chelsie Hill & Jessica Love (our podcast review here), a story about a smart,  brave girl learning to navigate the world after an accident leaves her wheel-chair bound. 

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: Akata Witch

 

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Summary

Sunny has albinism and lives in Nigeria; her distinct appearance garners lots of attention and she’s tired of dealing with her frustrating classmates. After she gets into a fight and finds herself defended by another student, Orlu, she discovers there’s a lot more to the world – and herself – than meets the eye. Joining with her neighbor, Chichi, and newly arrived troublemaker, Sasha, the group of four are quickly embroiled in a dire race to stop the end of the world. They must quickly learn complex magical skills and gain wisdom beyond their years to stand against the evil that is coming. Together, the four discover truths about friendship, loyalty, and bravery.

akata witch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This score is almost a default because this is definitely on the younger end of YA (really MG) and there’s no real romance. Sasha and Chichi end up flirting and getting a little involved with one another, but there’s still not much there to gauge. You can see where friendships can turn into deeper, more romantically inclined relationships, but it’s not happening in this book.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

There are a ton of role models in this book – Sunny, Chichi, Chichi’s mother, Sugar Cream, tons! And for the most part, they’re able to be themselves without harsh judgment. For example, it’s very clear that Chichi’s father has left his family behind, but because of her life choices – intentionally never marrying and focusing on knowledge – Chichi’s mother never comes off as pitiable, pathetic, or an “easy woman” (all stereotypical ways that an unmarried mother could be treated). Sunny and Chichi both have strong skills and are respected for them. Power and magical strength also generally comes through the mothers in this world, so there’s a lot of respect there. Plus, Sunny calls out and fights for equality in several situations – once the sun can’t bother her, she won’t give up her chance to play soccer with the boys. Being a girl won’t get in her way.

The one thing that drops this down from a full score is Sunny’s father and the way he treats both his wife and daughter. It’s never really made clear why he dislikes Sunny so much, except that he didn’t want a daughter and definitely not one with albinism. That’s obviously a big reason, but it doesn’t explain why he never moved past the disappointment and embraced his child. He’s also not the most tender of husbands, but it’s hard to tell if this is rooted in dissatisfaction with the “odd” mother-in-law he married into or general unhappiness with his situation. But, the lack of clarity is somewhat fitting for a younger narrator. And, I can see how this would give comfort to girls living in a similar situation – here’s a powerful character with a father and brother that don’t like her much, but that doesn’t hold her back from being amazing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

So, this is one of those books where this score could go a couple of different ways depending on where you’re reading it. In Nigeria, it might get a lower score, although having a character with albinism does add some weight. Plus, two of the characters have lived/were born in the USA, so that’s different. In the US, this obviously tells a story placed outside the country’s borders with characters that look different from those currently the majority in most books. Really, no matter where you read it, you’ll get some level of representation that is generally lacking, so I’m going with the highest score.

BUT, big caveat – there can be an issue mixing albinism and magic. This is a huge stereotype and something that can lead to horrific treatment of albino people (especially in Africa). I think this gets a little bit of legitimacy because Okorafor is Nigerian-American, so she’s aware of the issues, and because Sunny is not the only magical person. Her three friends don’t have albinism and they’re just as magical as she is. This helps offset the “magical albino” trope quite a bit. It’s also clear that Sunny is not magical because she is albino, but that it’s an inherited trait from her grandmother, which further works to disconnect it from the stereotype. Still – something to be aware of.

Another note, Sasha and Sunny are both treated a little differently because they’ve lived in the US for extended periods of time. You do get a bit of the mistreated immigrant story line, mostly through microaggressions, like calling Sunny akata which is a negative term used for black Americans. Sunny, however, tries to accept and then find power in the term – so we get an immigrant narrative in a country that is not the US (!) and someone subverting an insult to find power.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Right between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really loved getting to know Sunny and her friends. I loved the world that she discovers as she learns more about the Leopard People and I LOVE a magical realm that is centered somewhere besides Europe with a distinctly African flavor, but which does not totally ignore the existence of magic across the globe. And, this is very specifically placed in a particular country and town (because Africa isn’t a country!). I would love to know more about what happens and how Sunny’s life changes as she grows into a young woman. I also would love to see how she balances the two lives and her relationship with her family…You know a book is good when it leaves you wondering what happens after you close it.

The one downside is that it felt like the end wrapped up very, very quickly and in a much tighter little ball than expected. I have seen Okorafor post on twitter that the published ending was not her intended one, so hopefully she will get a chance to expand on the story and flesh things out for us! (Note: A sequel should be here late 2016!)


 

Favorite Character

Orlu – I feel for him so much! He is like little-me – the rules are there for a reason, the rules help and guide us, don’t break the rules! And yet, he finds the strength to do what he must.

Favorite Line

“Neither (brother) even glaced at the counter. She smiled. Her dumb brothers never cooked. She didn’t think they even knew how! A human being who needs food to live but cannot prepare that food to eat? Pathetic. In this case, it was an advantage. They weren’t interested in any food until it had been cooked for them.”

Okorafor has a way of pulling out issues with just a few phrases – showing inequality, family dynamics, and Sunny’s personality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! It’s fun, it’s about magic and magic school, and the characters are engaging. And, it’s closer to middle grade so you get some of that innocence and joy that can be missing in “older” YA.

Fun Author Fact

Nnedi Okorafor is a heavily awarded writer and at least 3 of her stories are optioned for film or being adapted into a screenplay at this very moment.

Read These Next

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall for a middle grade, magical Mexican story about five sisters and their journey from Texas to Mexico to return a dead man to his family or Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for a Brooklyn based, Carribean-flavored story about magic and fighting for your family (review coming soon!).

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: Uprooted

uprooted

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Summary

 

Every ten years, the Dragon takes one girl from the Valley. He chooses between all the seventeen year old girls in the villages and keeps her in his tower for ten years.

Agnieszka is seventeen this year – and she is dreading the Dragon’s arrival. She knows that her best friend, Kasia – the most beautiful and sweet girl in the Valley – will be taken away from her by the Dragon. Once he chooses her (and he always chooses the most special girls), she’ll never be the same. After their ten years of service, Dragon-born girls always choose to leave the Valley forever.

But what happens when the Dragon arrives… and chooses Agnieszka instead?

 

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort [Warning: Includes Spoilers]

The romance between Agnieszka and the Dragon is built on shared power and understanding. In most situations, I would not be okay with a (seemingly) kidnapper-victim romance, but this story is so much more complicated than that. Their romance takes a while to develop, and the Dragon resists at every turn, but by the time it does, Agnieszka is powerful in her own right. I love that she instigates their intimacies and his gruff but well-meaning resistance until she wins him over.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort Rosie

Both Agnieszka and Kasia are powerful heroines and best friends. They regularly put their lives in danger for each other, and play a leading role protecting their Valley. I love that Agnieszka is so powerful, even more so than the Dragon, and harnesses her magic to defend her people. I also like how Kasia uses her… changes… for the good of the kingdom.

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Diversity Score:  You’re Trying

This book wasn’t quite as diverse as I would like. While there was one witch of color, most of the main characters are pale. And perhaps this is wishful thinking – but I would have loved if the most beautiful girl in the land, the one the Dragon would choose for her beauty alone, was not another blonde, pale girl with delicate fairy features.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

really enjoyed this book. I didn’t expect the regular twists and turns of the story, and was constantly surprised. I also liked the world itself- the interaction between a kingdom, an enemy land, and The Wood.


Favorite Character

Agnieszka – From the beginning of the story, she’s extremely brave and willing to put herself in danger for her best friend and others in the village. I loved watching her discover her power, and soon have more skill and knowledge than the Dragon himself.

Favorite Line

There are many beautiful passages in Uprooted, but I love the opening few lines:

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacfirice, and he were a real dragon. Of course, that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted ot eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Woods, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you love dark fairy tales. The world itself, strong friendships, and twisted plot will keep you reading way past your bedtime! 

Fun Author Fact

Naomi Novik is a first-generation American who grew up listening to stories about Polish fairy-tales. Agnieszka’s name comes from an old Polish fairy tale, Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba.

Read This Next

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (check out our review here). Mare is a poor girl from a large family facing conscription in the army. But when she learns she has magic – a power that only the Silver upper-class possess – her life is changed forever.

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 Chat: The Weight of Feathers

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The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summary

Cluck is a Corbeau, a feather-growing, tightrope-walking family. Lace is a Paloma, a family of mermaids that dance in the water. Their families have been enemies for as long as they can remember. Each knows that contact with anyone from the other family would mean infection from black magic. But, when an industrial accident nearly kills Lace and Cluck is the one to save her everything they’ve ever known turns upside down. They have to decide if they can stay true to themselves and let their hearts guide them.

weight of feathers


Favorite Character

Tia Lora – She hasn’t let her past bring her bitterness like some of the other women in the feud and she does her best to give Lace the strength and love she needs to survive within the Paloma family.

Favorite Line

“He was beautiful in ways that made him ugly to his family.”

Fun Author Fact

McLemore has her own mermaid tail! It’s red.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! It is beautifully written with some amazing lines and great characters. The families and their stories are just as interesting as the main characters and the interwoven storylines make it richer and deeper than “just” a story about Lace and Cluck.

Read These Next

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt for another Romeo and Juliet-esque story set in present day Georgia or Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for another couple divided by family and social expectations with a hint of magical realism.

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: The Secret Sky

18350034The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Summary

Fatima and Samiullah have been friends since childhood – even though his family is Pashtun and own the land that Fatima’s Hazara family and friends farm. When Sami returns from the madrassa a young man, Fatima realizes they’ve both grown. But neither realizes just how much trouble trying to keep their friendship alive will cause. Sami’s cousin discovers their secret meetings and triggers a swirl of events that brings in the local Taliban, violence, dishonor, and death.

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Romance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship between Fatima and Samiullah is pretty cute and I appreciate that it builds on their childhood friendship rather than on a fleeting glance or an instant connection. They have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going which bumps up the sparks. But there are things that happen that make it difficult to give a higher score. The relationship springs from real respect and love, but they’re forced into a decision that is rooted in a very unromantic cultural situation.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Again, it is really difficult to give a score for this. Fatima herself is awesome and I love her determination to live the life she wants. But, there are so many things stacked against her socially and within her family that I can’t give it anything higher. Fatima studies and cherishes her reading lessons from her best friend’s grandmother. The small part that the grandmother plays is important because she shows what life could be like and encourages Fatima to dream of a life more than the farming, wife-ing, and mothering that is her likely future.

But, when her family finds out that Fatima and Samiullah have been meeting and he’s interested in marrying her, things rapidly go downhill. Horrible things happen, and one of the worst parts is her mother’s behavior.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is set in Afghanistan with Muslim characters, one family is very poor and the other is wealthy. In many ways it’s winning in the representation field. But, the Taliban comes into the story and things just go downhill. I’m really excited to see more international characters with stories giving us a fuller picture of the world. But, I’m a little concerned that we’re falling into the “one story problem” with young girls from South Asia. I know these are important stories, but they’re also the only stories we see in the news and mainstream media. I’d love to see something counter to the mainstream stories. That being said, I know that the authors do struggle with their decision to write these stories – Aisha Saeed has talked at length about her fear of writing her forced marriage book, Written in the Stars, because she didn’t want to be providing another negative story. It just illustrates our need for greater breadth of representation for all groups.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The writing in this book in beautiful and I think Abawi captures the people and landscape beautifully. I really liked Fatima and her determination to carve her own path. I liked the alternating point of view and that, while the story is centered on Fatima and Samiullah, Rashid gets a lot more depth as the story proceeds. It’s also great to see characters redeemed, though it’s a rather sad redemption. I would still recommend this book, but I’d emphasize that it continues the narrative of Afghanistan that is most prevalent in the media.


Favorite Character

Fatima – because she’s determined and hopeful and optimistic even when the situation is terrible.

Favorite Line

“This is when I realize that my mother doesn’t love me anymore. Her children aren’t people to her. We are her accessories, like a new payron or bangle. She wanted me to marry the boy in the other village because it would have made her look good, not because she was looking out for my welfare.”

I know this is kind of a depressing line, but it struck me because it is so true for some mothers everywhere. Sometimes they forget that they are bringing people into the world and not beings to maneuver.

Fun Author Fact

Atia Abawi has worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN in Afghanistan, Israel, and many other countries. Her work experiences inspired this story.

Read These Next

Like No Other by Una LaMarche for another couple fighting cultural and social expectations to be together or Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar for another South-Asian girl fighting cultural norms to fulfill her dreams.

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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