Tuesday, November 29, 2016

DNF: Things I Should Have Known

Can I just write: "NOOOOO, not another 'autistic person as a burden' book?" and leave it at that?

Why do authors think that this narrative is still okay?  Why do publishers promote it as "heartwarming" and "invigorating" and, my personal favorite (in Bizarro World, obviously, where "favorite" means "loathed"), "inspirational."

NEWSFLASH: Neurodiverse people do not exist to make neurotypical people feel better about themselves.  Writing books that reinforce this stereotype is harmful and close-minded.  It is not Literary Fiction, which I'm sure everyone will be hailing this as.

As a confession, I did not read the entire book.  Maybe it gets better as it goes on.  It probably does not.  The plot of this is like a sad, outmoded romantic comedy, but without the romance or any comedy whatsover.  In the first few chapters, readers are hit with fat-shaming, the Evil Stepparent trope, the guilty sibling trope, the oversexed teens trope, and the "You complete me" trope.

Let me talk about that last one a bit.  As a single person, I think it would be nice if I found someone and fell in love with them and they with me.  However, I do not think that I need to find a person in order to become fully myself.  That's ... just a really strange idea.  Am I not enough as I am?  This is why that line in Jerry Maguire bothers me so much: it's manipulative and just plain untrue.

I may be trying to distract myself from the giant, flaming dumpster fire that is Things I Should Have Known by referencing a twenty-year-old Tom Cruise movie.  Yep.  Okay, time to face my anger head on.

Let's just pull some quotes, okay?  I know this is from an ARC, so these are subject to change, et cetera, et cetera, but honestly?  I've not read too many ARCs where a substantial change was made to a problematic quote (one I can think of is There Will Be Lies, by Nick Lake.  The main character's weight was upped from 100lbs to 115lbs, which takes her out of the Death Zone and into Still Pretty Darn Tiny).  Please remember that the narrator is a teen girl whose older sister, Ivy, is autistic.  Presumably, she has lived with this sister since she was born.

"I don't know much about autism, but I know about high school guys, and it looks to me like he's interested in her."  I beg your pardon?  The main character, Chloe, who has spent roughly seventeen years on this Earth with her sister, who is autistic, doesn't know much about autism?  Tee-hee!  It's so much more fun to talk about boys!  Boys!  Boys!  YOU, madam, are a terrible advocate for your sister.

" 'I will say I'm jealous of how you can eat whatever you want and stay thin, Chloe.  I never had your metabolism.' "  That's their mother.  And Chloe takes it as a compliment!  Hey, number one way to screw with a girl's head: make comments about her weight.

Chloe's main pastime is making out with her super-hot boyfriend, Jason.  Jason isn't exactly what I would call a prime catch, based on what he thinks of intelligence in girls:" 'If I have to choose, I'd say that brains are overrated.' "  Please go fall in a hole, preferably one with pointy sticks at the bottom.  Also, Chloe agrees with this sentiment (the bod over brains one, not the falling in the hole one).

" 'I'm going to make this my mission--to get Ivy a boyfriend before I leave for college.' "  Noooooooo.  Noooooo.  The author is using Ivy's autism to make her less than a person, and more of a Barbie doll to be dressed up and paired off with a guy.  Because obviously autistic people don't know how to date properly.  Obviously they would need their neurotypical siblings to play matchmaker/fairy godmother and explain the sex and the kissing and birth control and how humans love other humans.

Hey, here's an idea, Chloe: Let Ivy live her life.  She doesn't need you to fix her, and she is not your super special project.  She does not exist to make you feel better about yourself.  You don't get brownie points for "helping" an aneurotypical person to be "normal."  There is so much wrong with that.  You are telling them that they are not good enough as they are.  That you don't love them as they are.  That you don't think they could ever succeed by just being themselves.

I don't want any teen reading this to think, "Oh, I'm like Ivy.  I can't date anyone without help."  I don't want teens to feel othered and alone, but that's exactly what this book does.  And that's wrong.  Publishers, stop promoting this point of view.  Stop selling highly problematic narratives just because they make people feel good about themselves (oh, sorry, only the neurotypical people feel good about themselves.  Neurodiverse people feel pretty crappy.).

Autism is not a plot point.  Autism is not a curiosity.  Autism is not a project to be completed, or an error to be fixed.  It is reality, and YA literature really needs to step it up in having more Own Voices represent neurodiversity instead of this saccharine, Hollywood version that will end up giving you a horrific ache in the pit of your stomach.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mini-Review: Maresi

On an island far, far away, yet close enough to be reached by those in need, sits an abbey. The Red Abbey takes in all girls left to its care: unwanted girls, abused girls, runaway girls, and even the rare girl whose family wishes her to become more educated.  But no man can stay on this island.  The few men who wash ashore and require medical assistance are cared for, and then quickly sent off again.  For the isle of Menos is the domain of the Goddess, and the abbey's sisters are her devoted servants.

The day when Jai arrived on a ship was like most others.  Maresi was harvesting mussels from the ocean when she saw the vessel.  Men do not often approach the island, and when they do, the Teeth of the bay eat up their ships if they have bad intentions.  But this ship of men delivers living cargo in the form of a terrified, mud-encased girl.  The girl, Jai, is assigned to the cot next to Maresi, and Maresi becomes her guide in a corner of the world where women hold all the power.

Despite Maresi's tales of the Goddess saving the First Sisters on the island, Jai is terrified of her father.  She knows, deep in her bones, that he hunts her across land and sea.  It is not a question of love but of honor: he must find his renegade daughter before she causes him any more shame.  Indeed, the simple life led by the sisters of the Red Abbey is turned inside out when Jai's father leads an attack on the island.

Now, Maresi must find the strength within herself to face her darkest fears and the most terrifying aspect of the Goddess--the Crone, avatar of death.

Maresi is a rather short novel, but it is exquisitely written.  Turtschaninoff's world comes to life in full color as you read.  Although the novel never lingers on secondary characters, they don't feel secondary.  Sister O, Ennike, Mother, Dori, and Joem brim with vitality and personality.  Maresi's coming of age takes her through contemplations of knowledge, power, and femininity--broad concepts for any novel, but ones that are perfectly handled in the narrative.

I cannot wait for the next book in the Red Abbey Chronicles to be translated and released in the United States.  I mean it--I keep looking at the Finnish reviews thinking, "Ah, that doesn't look too hard to translate!  Maybe I could learn Finnish..."  Speaking of the translation, it's beautifully done and not at all clunky.

If you are all about the girl power but don't like to shout, Maresi is for you.  It is a quietly compelling examination of faith, feminism, and finding yourself.  Most highly recommended.

*Edited to add*

I know readers are going to react very differently to how the Rose distracts the invading men from raping all of the sisters by offering herself instead.  For me, it was very clear in the novel that in her aspect as Maiden, she used her sexuality as a tool and as a weapon.  Others may not see it that way, and I understand why.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I have approximately 90 billion ARCs to read, plus I want to challenge myself to do backlist reviews in December, so I'm completely all over the map when it comes to reading this week.  Here's what I'm reading right now:

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.  This is beautifully written.  I'm taking it slowly, savoring it.

A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann.  To be frank, I am very confused about this.  At first I thought it was a a less romance-y version of A Conspiracy of Us (which had a good premise, but too much love angst), and this pleased me.  Then it turned into Indiana Jones with killer rooms and stuff but built during the French Revolution by a mad noble dude trying to escape the guillotine.  Whaaaat?  I have to keep reading to see what happens, though.

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker.  This is a fun, if slighlty uneven, pop history/crime book.  Part of my ennui may be just that I spent A LOT OF TIME in college studying the reign of Louis XIV and his many, many, many lady friends, so rehashing it is a bit exhausting.  However, the sheer amount of poison in this book is ridiculous.

Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios.  I just started this one, but I have high expectations for a book about a toxic, controlling relationship.  Hopefully I will like it more than The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker.

The Wages of Sin by Kaite Walsh.  Ok, historical mystery people: get this one on your list now.  I'm turning pages like a fiend, not least because of the fantastic protagonist/heroine and oodles of dead bodies.

Undertow by Michael Buckley.  My last audiobook, Rotters by Dan Kraus, came back to the library.  The book, while beautifully written, was also relentlessly brutal.  That's just not something I can handle right now.  I thought Undertow would be less dark, but we're already into segregation and hate crimes.  I cannot escape it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Hate U Give

I wanted to write about how Angie Thomas' brilliant debut novel, The Hate U Give, affected me.

And then I realized that I was making it all about me.  And that's not right.

So what I can tell you is this:

The Hate U Give is the most important book of 2017.

It's also one of the best-written.

The teens that populate this novel--Starr, Khalil--are teens that I know.  I heard them in my head as if they were standing next to my ear, pouring their truths into my being.  They're so authentic that they reach off of the page and pull you into their world, which is our world.  Just the one we don't like talking about.  The world where innocent kids are shot because of the color of their skin.  The world where people feel comfortable spray-painting swastikas and racial slurs on buildings.  The world where Black children are again told to go to the back of the bus.  This isn't history: this is reality.

Whenever white people on the internet, specifically White Book Twitter, act all confused about how or why something is racist, or why their words are part of systemic oppression, or why Black people would dare to demand that their lives matter just as much as White lives: give them this book.  I'm going to just start tweeting the cover of this book with a finger pointing down at it.

Starr shows us the power of a voice--your voice.  Use it.  Never take it for granted.  Speak up and speak out.  Proclaim the glory of this book to all the teens in your space and to your coworkers and your colleagues and anyone you meet.  And then listen.  Listen to what Black voices are telling us, and change.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Long May She Reign

I have spent the past day trying to convince myself that this was goodish.  I'm not even shooting for good--just relatively okay.  But I can't do it, and that saddens me.  A book with a logical, scientist queen deserves a better plot and more nuanced characterization that Long May She Reign.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

Everything about this book is amazing.  Like A+, hilarious, please-give-me-more-sir-I-need-it-I-WANT-IT-NOW amazing.  Shannon and Dean Hale have done what I would have thought impossible--taken Ryan North and Erica Henderson's mind-blowingly brilliant Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic series and novelized it while keeping the spunk of the original work.  Also, it is super-appropriate for tweens and also-also will make your inner nerd extremely happy.  Like, there will probably be squeeing.

I squeed.

Gracious, that sounds a bit dirty, doesn't it?  Oh well!

Doreen Green is 14 and has just moved to New Jersey from California.  She has to start Junior High as a 9th Grader in a new school without her best bud, Monkey Joe.

Monkey Joe is a squirrel, by the way.  Oh, and Doreen?  She has a huge, bushy tail, and a penchant for nuts.  She's a squirrel-girl.

Luckily, Doreen's parents, Dorian and Eileen, have always been supportive of her.  They just ask that she keep her tail tucked into her stretchy pants when outside the house.  Doreen has the booty some girls dream of, and others girls make fun of, but she honestly doesn't care.  One of the best things about Squirrel Girl is her complete confidence in herself and inhabiting her body.  She is proud of what it can do, and if haters gonna hate, then they're gonna hate, hate, hate.

Doreen has more pressing matters, anyway.  Like checking in with the local tree squirrel population and trying to make friends in junior high.  Guess which one is harder?

Yeah, middle school is basically the worst.  However, Doreen's irrepressible good nature and positive attitude slowly wear down the reserve of her lunchtime seatmate, Ana Sofía.  Ana Sofía is Deaf, super proud of being trilingual (English, ASL, and Spanish) and enjoys the fuzziness of socks.  Her deafness is respectfully handled (Cece Bell was one of the beta/sensitivity readers) and Doreen tries really hard to learn ASL so she can better communicate with her BFFAEAE (Best Friend Forever And Ever And Ever).  Then there's that other guy who sits at their table.  His name is Mike, and he has a large vocabulary but a rather limited set of social skills.

Here in the wilds of New Jersey, Doreen rescues a sassy squirrel named Tippy Toe from a squirrel death trap, runs afoul of LARPers in the park, and gets mistaken for the Jersey Devil by a band of bullies who call themselves the Skunk Club.  But the more she explores, the more problems she finds.  Dogs are being tormented by high-frequency-emitting robot bugs, and then there's that whole squirrel-killing cage thing.  Someone out there is not playing nice with nature, and Doreen's determined to discover the culprit.

With Ana Sofîa, Tippy Toe, and a joint coalition of both tree and ground squirrels (there's a difference!), Doreen begins her hunt for the anti-animal jerk.  With her bear hoodie covering her face and her tail untucked, she becomes Squirrel Girl!

As a newly-minted superhero, Squirrel Girl tries to contact the Avengers for some supervillain-catching tips.  And as it turns out, squirrels can even break into the Avengers Mansion and steal some phone numbers.  Squirrel Girl texts various members of the Avengers team but totally nixes getting any help from Tony Stark--he's just the errand boy.  Or so she's been told.  The text conversations with the superheroes are screamingly hilarious--I dare you to read the one with Bucky and not laugh. And yes, there are shawarma jokes.  The universe has been good to us by giving us Shannon and Dean Hale.

The Hales use footnotes from Doreen to mimic her running commentary in the comics at the bottom of the page, and this is also a huge win.  First of all, I love comedic footnotes (see also Beauty Queens by Libba Bray).  Secondly, it's a great way to have that same sort of inside scoop and squirrely snark.

If you want a book with positive role models, awesome friendships, and squirrel power, you've got it in Squirrel Meets World.  Preorder this one NOW!  Chik-chickk-chiiiik!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ocean of Storms

"The suspense is terrible.  I hope it'll last."
Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (as lifted from The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde)

The first third of any book is my favorite.  It encompasses wonder and exploration and mystery all at once.  Who are these people?  Where is this place?  What are the rules of this place?  Particularly when it comes to the story of a mission (fantastical, scientific, or otherwise), the setup is my favorite part.

But that doesn't mean the story should cease and desist from following any rules of logic after the first third.  Please do not do this to me.  I want happy memories of the build-up to the asteroid impact/alien invasion/deadly epidemic/what-have-you.  Please don't tarnish them by going completely off the rails in parts two and three.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mini-Review: Lazarus, Vol. 4: Poison

My trajectory with the Lazarus series seems to be inverse to that of most other readers.  I read the first volume (full confession: sneakily, and in a Barnes and Noble because at that time, my local library system didn't really buy trade paperbacks of any comic) and loved it.  It pushed all my happy reading buttons:

  • Dysfunctional family
  • Kick-butt heroine who is not itsy but super-muscular and fierce
  • Post-apocalyptic setting
  • Genetic enhancements
Hmm, looking at that list, I may seem a bit intense.  Oh well!

The basic premise of Lazarus is that the world as we know it is over, and sixteen families took over the globe in this sort of psychotic oligarchy.  Each family has a territory over which they rule, and Waste to manage.  Waste are people, actually.  Unmodified humans whose existence is misery and toil.  

NOTE: This is not a dystopia.  In a dystopia, everyone would think life is hunky-dory and then one person would realize, "Dear lord, life is awful!  Those rulers are murderous megalomaniacs!  I must fight them!"  Said savior either succeeds (modern dystopia, i.e. The Hunger Games) or is crushed by the system (1984).  Lazarus is not dystopian fiction because the vast majority of the population is unhappy with this system of government, and no one is kidding themselves that life is perfect.  

Okay, mini-rant over.  Anyway, each of these ruling families has made the most of advances in genetic engineering, and has created a Lazarus to protect and represent themselves.  A Lazarus is an unkillable (okay, super-regenerating) killing machine in human form.  The protagonist of the series is Forever Carlyle, the Lazarus of House Carlyle.  

In volume 4, the Head of the House of Carlyle, Marcus, has been poisoned by a rival House.  With this act, House Hock declares war, and both Houses battle for control of Duluth (who knew Minnesota would have strategic cities in this bleak future?).  These battle scenes are what ruined the volume for me.  Michael Lark obfuscates every panel by smothering them in white dots because Minnesota=snow.  I had no idea what was going on during the battle scenes, and the soldiers of the fighting houses look so similar that I had a hard time keeping track of who was who.  

Mostly, I just feel perplexed, because there were supposed to be two big twists in the story, but ... did I miss them?  I suppose that when I hear "twist" I automatically go to Luke-I-Am-Your-Father-level twist.  Ultimately, the story of this particular arc underwhelmed me, especially coming off of the amazing sword fight at the end of the last volume.  One reviewer noted that Rucka has background in choreography, which definitely explains why those wordless panels were so amazing.  I want more of that type of art, not this fuzzy, wartime grit that permeates this volume.

However, I really enjoy reading Ever as a character, and I find Johanna Carlyle deliciously twisted.  Hopefully, the art in the next volume will improve and the writing will be clearer as to what is actually going on.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Transatlantic Conspiracy: Or, The Review Journals Were Right, But Did I Listen? NOOOOOO.

I really wanted this book to be amazing.  I mean, look at that cover!  It is gloriously betentacled!  How can something with such lovely tentacles go so wrong?