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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.

diversity people circle icon

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: Zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Summary:

Carr Luka is a rising star in the future sport of “zeroboxing” – basically MMA fighting in zero gravity. As he continues to succeed, his league invests in him – getting a brandhelm (brand manager) for him and sending him on a marketing tour. But, as his star rises, he also learns a dark secret about a deeply hidden crime-ring. In the middle of fighting his way to the top, Carr also becomes the lightning rod for tensions between people still living on Earth and the populations that have chosen to spread across the solar system.


heart Romance Score: Good Effort

Carr’s attraction to Risha is immediate and fairly superficial at first. The physical attraction is written well, but it’s a little hard to see why the relationship grows into anything more. While Risha seems to be driven by her career, she also has no qualms mixing business and pleasure and I found that slightly confusing. But, she’s also young and she spends most of her time with Carr, so I understand why this unfolds. While their relationship felt natural and Carr’s excitement about it came across as genuine, I feel a little surprised at the depth of their feelings by the end.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

There are a few things that stand out: Carr likes girls and he likes to have fun with girls, so there’s some disrespectful “let’s find girls for fun” talk among other zeroboxers. Carr’s first interest toward Risha is all about her appearance (and he calls her “exotic” several times which made me feel gross), but he does eventually come around and appreciate her for her personality and skill. Risha’s story is intriguing – I was really interested by her position between the Earth-born and the Martians and I wish that story had been expanded on a bit. And, while it’s obvious that she’s very good at her job, we only see her in the “taking care of Carr” aspect of it and that was a little disappointing.

In addition, the other two main female characters are two mothers -Carr’s and Enzo’s- making dubious choices. Carr’s mother highlights the difficult position of women in poverty – they have few choices and often those choices are between “Bad” and “Really Bad.” I appreciate that, but it’s still disappointing to have another struggling mother/woman making choices story. And, Enzo’s mother is another common storyline – a poor woman that cares more about her next hit than about her child. Of course, these kinds of characters exist in real life and Carr’s childhood is part of what inspires him to succeed, but I still wish the lady characters rotated a little less around the men and had a little more strength among them.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot of diversity among the zeroboxers – denoted by name when not by outright description of their families and backgrounds. There isn’t the same kind of clear distinctions we might expect from a present-day story since much of the population and national borders seem to have melted in Carr’s time, but there’s still skin color and ethnic variation among the Earth-born population.

More importantly, there is a clear demarcation between Martian/outerspace populations and Earth-borns. Throughout the story, we see the tensions between the two groups growing and this culminates at the same time as Carr’s personal story. I REALLY wish this part of the plot had expanded, because I find it a fascinating way to explore the perceptions of difference and how we (today) determine who is in- and out-group. I was really disappointed about where the story ended because I was incredibly anxious to see what would happen after the big revelation (I would love to see Carr’s world 5, 10, and 20 years out from his big fight!).

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I found the idea of zeroboxing really interesting and I liked Carr’s character – he was a good mix of earnestness, emotion, and teenage boy – we got the action and drive while still sympathizing with him. I also appreciated the complexity of his position and thought this was a great way to explore identity and politics while still having some intense, awesome fight scenes. A few times during the fights, I got breathless wondering what punch or kick was going to come next, so you know Lee can write some action!


Favorite Character

Uncle Polly – how can you not love the dedicated old coach with grit and just enough tenderheartedness to earn his athlete’s respect and love? I also appreciated his struggle to come to terms with the secret.

Favorite Line

“Victory was a better high than a hundred bliss bombs. Perfect and real, lasting for days, even weeks, before being polished and stored in its own special nook of his soul, each win unique and everlasting, wanting nothing except more neighbors.” (79)

This is exactly how the best days of life get stored in our souls (also, reminds me of Inside Out and the core memories).

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES! I started this and struggled to put it down for bed. I took it on the metro and almost missed my stop. There’s a ton of action and it really does feel like a cage fight is happening in front of you.

Fun Author Fact

Fonda Lee once wrote a book on a graphing calculator. ‘Nuff said.

Read These Next

Dove Arising by Karen Bao about a girl living on a Lunar colony and fighting for her family or Origin by Jessica Khoury about a girl who discovers a secret and has to make a difficult choice.

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: Dorothy Must Die

“She wore a long, formfitting, beaded gown that flared out at the bottom and was corseted so severely that I wondered how she could breathe. Her breasts weren’t the only thing Dorothy was trying to show off: the fishtail was slit up the side, revealing her most important assets.

Her shoes, of course. “

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Summary

Amy Gunn hates her life. She lives in rural Kansas with a less-than-present mother and a school full of bullies who refer to her as “Salvation Army trash”. She’s dying to get out of Kansas, and get out of her life. One day, a sudden tornado transports her to the land of Oz. Amy is familiar with all the stories, and is excited to meet Glinda and Dorothy. But she soon learns that the Oz she knows is not the real Oz. A tyrannical Dorothy has taken over Oz, enslaving the flying monkeys and terrorizing the munchkins. She is unstoppable, and sucking all of the magic out of Oz. But can another girl from Kansas stop the reign of Dorothy?

This incredible retelling of The Wizard of Oz makes us rethink the good versus evil dynamic, how power corrupts, and what happens after “happily ever after”.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

Dorothy Must Die is primarily a story about fighting a tyrant and finding yourself. While there is a bit of romance between Amy and one of the main male characters, it is not central to the story. I actually love this about the book. Between learning to use magic and trying to understand the dynamics of good and evil in Oz, Amy is pretty damn busy. Maybe she’ll have time for romance once her mission is done.

FRosieeminist Score: A+ Success  

Amy is a kick-ass heroine. I love her strength and passion, and the sense of justice she has. Amy faces a number of really scary situations, including a lot of violent battles and the threat of torture by the Wizard of Oz hero. She fights bravely and alone, and there’s a lot to admire in this woman.

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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This book isn’t particularly diverse. Most of the characters are white, and though we don’t know much about any of their sexuality, Amy is straight. However, I liked that Amy was from a poor broken home. As discussed in the I Was Here review, diversity in economic circumstance is an important component of diverse books.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

From the time my first grade teacher read Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad PigI’ve always loved books that retell stories from a new point of view. This retelling was particularly well-written, and I love how Dorothy and the world of Oz were portrayed as so dark and violent. This book surprised me in the best way. I can’t wait to read the second installment, The Wicked Will Rise


Favorite Character

By far, Amy Gunn. Amy is a smart, quick learner with a temper not unlike mine. She’s a heroine you can relate to, and totally get behind.

Favorite Line

“A chill shot down my spine as I remembered that things were never easy around here. good and evil were always changing places with each other.”

One element of this book that I loved was how none of the sides were purely good or evil. All parties use torture and manipulation to get their way, and Amy learns early on to trust no one.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely, especially if you like fantasy and fairy tales. 

Fun Author Fact

Danielle Paige has written several books retelling the Wizard of Oz, including three novellas from Dorothy’s point of view.

Read This Next
Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad PigA seriously under-rated childhood favorite of mine.

… but if you’d like to read something young adult, I’d try the Wicked Years Series by Gregory Maguire. The inspiration for the Wicked play, this series tells the story of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Beneath My Mother’s Feet

Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar

Summary3124412

After her brother leaves the family and her father is injured at work, Nazia finds a lot of the responsibility to care for her family falls on her shoulders. Her mother does what she believes is necessary to support her three children, pulling Nazia from school and becoming a maid for several women in the city’s rich neighborhood. As things with her father deteriorate, Nazia must navigate friendships, social barriers, and the line between right and wrong to decide what kind of life she will make for herself – while continuing to honor her beliefs.

heart

Romance Score – Not A Bit

Nazia has long known she is destined to marry her cousin. The wedding becomes imperative once the family’s situation worsens, but her mother’s decisions put the pairing in jeopardy. Nazia’s feelings toward her future husband are ambivalent at best and, once she meets him, even less positive. It is not the idea of an arranged marriage, but the economic and family pressure coupled with the lack of interest Nazia has toward her betrothed that drop the score.

RosieFeminist Score – A+ Success

Without spoilers, I can say that Nazia makes decisions about her life for herself, choosing the path that will make her happy and, ultimately, probably will enable her to help her family even more. Her mother is also a pretty awesome figure, doing what she believes is right for her children even when it means suffering indignities and abuse from her employers/life. This book highlights the various situations of women in Pakistan without making it an “oh, look at the poor foreign women” story (more on this below). There is some cruelty rained down from the wealthy mistresses, but because Nazia is such a strong, self-respecting character I’m saying it balances out (and that this is more classist behavior than woman-on-woman, although ignoring classism is definitely a big part of the problem with some current feminist movements). This book does fall a bit into the “all men are bad, let’s hate them all” category, but if you remember that this is ONE story of multitude then I can get over it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score – Good Effort

I’m in two minds about this score – on one hand, it could go to A+ Success because it’s set in Pakistan, has only Pakistani characters who are (mostly?) Muslim and for most of the US audience this would be a huge check in the diversity box. BUT, for Pakistani-Americans or Pakistanis, this would be a book about their culture, families, and homeland with little diversity. Even so, there are wide ranges of economic classes, education level, and employment types in the book, so other types of diversity are on full display if we discount nationality and religion. Plus, since we’re reading in the US, I’m grading based on that and I’m so excited to see a book about Muslims in another country just going about their lives like everyone else – though, it does feel like the author may have a bit of a n ax to grind about women’s treatment in Pakistan.

wow iconAwesome Score – Good Effort

I really liked reading Nazia’s story- I admired her efforts to see the best in people and to do what she can to ease her family’s and friends’ pain. She is strong and resourceful and stubborn, all things I like in my characters. I loved that the book was about a mother and daughter butting heads but still able to show and share their love for each other. Also, I truly felt like this was about Pakistan, with small details capturing every day life while not alienating the (non-Pakistani) reader. It’s a little light on depth and not super original, but I liked Nazia’s spunk enough to give it a higher score. The story is pretty negative towards men and I do worry that it repeats a lot of tropes/stereotypes about life in a Muslim country, but I think that it is also an honest portrayal of what life can be like. I think, if it’s coupled with another Pakistani story that’s completely different, that would go a long way to ameliorating the “one story” problem.


Favorite Character

Maleeha – Nazia’s best friend never gives up hope and is the kind of person we should all be lucky to have in life – she’s willing to tell you the difficult truths, keep your secrets, and rescue you for a day at the beach when you really need it. I liked that we had this image of girls supporting each other through thick and thin (and the contrast with Nazia’s other friend).

Note: I could have gone with Sherzad because he kept his spirits up and was so positive, but since we don’t know what happens to him in the end I couldn’t let myself choose him.

Favorite Line

Fun Author Fact

Her characters will get into her mind and take over, making it hard to concentrate and even sleep (!) until the story is fully developed and ready for writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think you can get your sleep with this one. It’s an interesting story but it doesn’t pull you in like some others. I would also recommend this for younger YA rather than YA/NA readers. I do think it’s important to remember that this is ONE story about ONE girl’s life in Pakistan. Not every girl will have the same life – even Maleeha, a girl from Nazia’s neighborhood and economic class would have a totally different story.

Read this Next

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (reviewing soon!) or Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth.

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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: I Was Here

I Was Here by Gayle Forman18879761

Summary

Cody and Meg were best friends throughout their childhood. They dreamed of leaving their small, boring town and moving to Seattle together. But once high school ends, Meg is able to leave for college, and Cody is stuck left behind. But one day, the unthinkable happens: Meg commits suicide, and Cody is left with the responsibility of gathering her personal items. Cody is determined to figure out how and why Meg died.

I was here 3

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

Because of the relationship between the three main characters, one of whom is a dead best friend, I really couldn’t get into this romance. I just think it goes against friend-code, but I don’t want to give away too many details.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort 

Cody’s a strong, interesting character who wants to figure out why (and how) her best friend killed herself. I liked her determination to find answers, even in hard places.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

One thing I really, really liked about this story was that Meg and Cody were not wealthy. Everything was a struggle for them – from paying off a laptop to getting a bus ticket to the new town. I appreciated that level of diversity – and think it’s one that is often skipped.

wow icon Awesome Factor: You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book tackles a hard topic with grace. You rarely get the perspective of a suicide from a friend’s point of view, and the devastation that it causes on a family and friends. On the other hand, there were definitely some relationships that I couldn’t condone, and that lowered my overall score.


Favorite Character

Scottie (Meg’s little brother). I liked the perspective of a younger child effected by his sister’s death.

Favorite Line

“Amazing Grace. How Vile the Sound.”

I’ve always thought that music at funerals, especially if you’ve been to a lot of them, must be really sickening. This line captured that thought perfectly.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Honestly? I think it would be for some people, but I just couldn’t get very into it. I love one of Gayle Forman’s other books, If I Stay, mostly because of the main character. I would recommend that book as “hangover worthy”, but not I Was Here .

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Gayle Forman bombed the SATs, but is still a world-famous author (with a movie adaption!)

Read This Next

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This book also tackles suicide (and the influence of anonymous online forums), with an interesting romance and suicide pact. I also recommend The Pact by Jodi Picoult, though it’s not a YA book.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors

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