Tags: books: ya/children's

mmm books

Cashore, Kristin - Bitterblue

(sequel to Graceling and companion to Fire, though I feel Fire is much more relevant)

Bitterblue is the young queen of Monsea, and she gradually learns that what she knows about her kingdom isn't quite what is going on.

Or: terrible synopsis trying not to spoil previous books.

As a summary, this book has many things I like, from ciphers to people learning how to handle their power to the process of recovering from trauma, both to individuals and to the entire country. It also has many of Cashore's other flaws, such as terrible, terrible naming and prosaic prose, along with some new ones in terms of pacing and character development. Bitterblue's character in particular suffers from the pacing; I was very frustrated when she would frequently have the same realization over and over and over. Which, realistic, but not particularly fascinating reading. There's also a bit too much bait-and-switch in the plot when Bitterblue is trying to find out who is telling the truth and who is lying, so much so that it makes some of the later reveals less shocking because you're so frustrated by the switching back and forth. The romance is also much less interesting than the ones in previous books.

I found the book very slow going until the last third or so, but I also think the last third is worth getting to, especially if you're interested in governance and recovery from widespread trauma. Still, it could have used much more editing.

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Recommended if you like books about people learning how to govern or books about individual and institutional trauma and recovery, though you do have to slog through a fair amount to get there.

Also, randomly, what books do people know and/or rec about people learning to govern? It's a theme I really like, and one that many things handwave after the Glorious Revolution. I find this frustrating because I'm much more interested in what happens after the new rule is in place. Most of the ones I can think of also involve female rulers, but that's probably just because I read mostly female protagonists. Mine: Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic series, Laura Kinsale's Shadowheart, Lloyd Alexander's The Beggar Queen, probably some of Ono Fuyumi's Twelve Kingdoms series (haven't read all of them), bits of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy and def. the Shadow Queen books, I think Michelle West's House series (haven't read), Megan Whalen Turner's King of Attolia, ... ?

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teru teru

The Hunger Games (2012 movie)

I've read books one and two and been thoroughly spoiled for three. I enjoyed the first book but didn't think it was the Best Thing Ever, and I was rather disappointed in book two.

I think I probably liked the movie better than I liked book one, largely because the worldbuilding of the book is a bit skimpy for text format, but makes for excellent visuals. Also, I really don't remember many of the details in book one, since I read it about three years ago and never reread. The movie had many of the same major flaws the book (the race stuff, my generally wanting it to be more about revolution and less about the Games), with a few of its own added in, and one major point of awesomeness that made me really love it.

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Mostly, though, Katniss made the movie for me.

Links (assume spoilers for first book/movie!):
- my review of Hunger Games the book and Catching Fire (spoilers for book 2 as well)
- [personal profile] sanguinity's review
- [personal profile] diceytillerman's review
- [personal profile] grrlpup's review

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calvin and hobbes reading

Diversity in YA

The links in question:

Disclaimer: Rachel Manija Brown is a close friend of mine.

I am not an agent, editor, book publisher, or author. I'm a reader who sometimes—less often than I'd like of late—writes up what she reads on her blog. And honestly, I think the point of the first post about the lack of LGBTQA YA isn't that there are evil homophobic people out there, but that systemic inequalities are easily perpetuated.

The sentence that caught my attention most in Joanna Stampfel-Volpe's response was: "Changing this starts with the readers. Scott Tracy has a great post about this on his blog. If more people buy books with these elements, then publishers will want to publish more of them. Sounds simple... yet, it's not so simple."

As a reader, I'd like to agree that it isn't so simple. And, in fact, pinning the start of the change on readers vastly oversimplifies things. I don't think there's ever single start to overturning systemic oppression. The change needs to start everywhere, or else you get stuck in an endless loop of chicken-or-egg: "As a reader, I try to support diversity in YA, but it's kind of hard to when there are only [x] number of books out!"

My experience as a reader is that it is pretty damn hard to find books starring characters with diverse sexual orientations, race, levels of ability, and class out there. I've actually had a bit more luck in YA with regard to race than I have with SF/F and romance, but if you're like me and you love SF/F, it feels like the choice is to either read about POC teens in YA in contemporary settings, or white people doing white people things in YA SF/F. Ditto with LGBTQA characters. You can read about them in contemporary settings, but if you're looking for genre, good luck! POC LGBTQA characters? In YA SF/F? Watch the numbers drop even further.


As a reader, I also don't think the way to start change is to make publishers publish more, or agents buy more, or authors write more. Or for readers to buy more/read more/blog about more. I think the way to start change is all of the above. And all the above actions are not actions that run in sequence, but rather, actions that run in parallel. I can blog about LGBTQA books, make lists, buy the books, and suggest to various local libraries that they should buy the books (all of which I have done). Publishers can put out a ton of books. Agents can try and represent. But if you only have one portion of the equation working, the entire thing falls apart.

Again, my experience with this is more in finding POC characters in YA and/or SF/F. And it is hard. I subscribe to a number of blogs that focus on POC in YA, on international SF/F, on POC in SF/F (books and otherwise), as well as reader groups who make it a point to find these books and talk about them. Even with all this support, it feels like uphill work. When I asked my local librarian for more YA with POC protagonists, I began to realize how limited that sphere was when I had either read or heard of almost every single book she pulled out, and not only that, but that I knew of upcoming YA with POC protagonists before she did.

Furthermore, most books tend to only deal with a single underprivileged identity at a time, a character at a time. It's hard enough finding YA with LGBTQA protagonists, but it's even harder finding YA with someone who is bi, poly, mentally ill, and lives outside of the US. Within YA with Asian protagonists alone (not a huge number of books), how much more difficult is it to find narratives that don't come from East Asian hyphenated families from a very specific set of economic circumstances?

I put this out there not as a way of giving out cookies to individuals who do look for diversity in their reading, but to say that the main point I got from Rachel and Sherwood's article was that the system sucks. And that the most important part of the post isn't even that, it's the part beginning "What You Can Do":

If You're An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. [...] If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. [...] If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren't white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.

If You're An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying "we appreciate diversity" could mean anything. [...] For instance: "I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin."

If You're A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. [...] Your reviews don't have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. [...] [annotated lists of books provided in the original post]

If You're A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville's pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.

If You're Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.)

Full article

I want more diversity in my reading. I want to see all the ANDs and the intersections that go into identity, how it's never as easy as picking "I am female" or "I am Chinese" or "I have depression." And we're never going to get it unless everyone starts somewhere.

* I like Robin Talley's It's More Complicated Than #YesGayYA note on terminology, especially given Lo's pie chart on the gender divide in LGBTQA YA.

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mmm books

Lin, Grace - Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Minli is a vivacious girl living in village on drab Fruitless Mountain. Her family has never had the best of luck, and in order to change that, she sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon.

This is an incredibly charming book that includes tales and stories from everyone Minli encounters along the way. I am partial to this, as I love getting additional stories, and I love the way Lin remixes and retells Chinese folktales. I had a lot of fun hunting through for the bits and pieces of story that I remember, or trying to guess at where Lin had gotten the original inspiration from. She does include a bibliography at the end, though I really want a DVD commentary type thing that goes into exactly what changes she made. I was very familiar with all the stories she used, although I don't know if other people will be? Comments?

I was a bit put off by "brown" equating drab in the beginning description of the book, but I suspect that may be a personal thing.

I also love how Lin gradually includes more and more characters, and although some of twists and turns were easy to guess for an older reader (I think the target audience is 8-12), I think Lin's playing around with tropes and stories is enough to capture the attention of readers of most ages.

Also, this is a bit of a minor detail, but the book production is gorgeous. Each chapter is headed by a painting by Lin, all done in the style of paper cutting. The tales and stories within the tale have a fancier font, and the book is printed in color, not just black and white. It's really gorgeous, and now I want a copy for my own shelf.

Really fun, and entertained me beyond expectation for a book targeted for 8-12 year olds.

- [personal profile] starlady's review

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mmm books

Smith, Cynthia Leitich - Blessed

This is more a direct sequel to Tantalize, though there are also overlapping elements from Eternal as well.

We return to Quincie P. Morris right after the events of Tantalize, which was nice, since I think the previous book ended very abruptly. Quincie is trying to reverse some of the events from the previous book, most of which I don't remember because I read it so long ago. Smith also continues to expand her world of vampires and angels, and I kind of enjoyed all the snippets from Dracula. I feel current vampire mythology is now very far from the handsome caped guy turning into a bat that it was a bit refreshing to go back to Bram Stoker.

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Overall, this felt like a much steadier book than the previous two, probably because Smith had the first two for worldbuilding and character introduction, and a much, much more satisfying conclusion than the previous two. Still, her website says there are going to be more books set in this world, which I am looking forward to. They're not substantially different from a lot of the YA fantasy out there right now, but I like Smith's sense of humor (animal shapeshifters that aren't just sexy ones, including possums! I also really like that Smith has been including more multiracial characters in her books, and am really hoping she continues to do so.

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mmm books

Singh, Vandana - Younguncle Comes to Town

This is the first of two books about Younguncle, so called by everyone who knows him, no matter what relationship, including his own parents!

Here, Younguncle comes to visit his older brother's family. Younguncle is very much kids' ideal of a favorite relative: someone who is still rather childlike himself, willing to play and have fun and get in trouble, and not too worried about fussy adult things like jobs and money and taxes and marriage. Younguncle's sister-in-law and brother of course do worry about such fussy adult things and occasionally try to get him interested in them as well, to not much success.

The book is set in that time period that's very common to a lot of the childrens' books I grew up on; recent enough to have cars and phones and modern technology but without much mention of the Internet or cell phones (if any; I read this months ago and of course don't remember). The prose is charming and effortless, and nothing too bad happens. There are stolen cows and shirts that the baby wants to eat and a ghost that might be a monkey, and although I am sure I will use the word "charming" far too many times in this review, it really is a charming book.

Fun and happy-making and, yes, incredibly charming. I hope US publishers end up publishing the second book in the series as well.

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mmm books

Pratchett, Terry - I Shall Wear Midnight

Tiffany Aching's adventures in Wintersmith have attracted the notice of an old enemy to witches, the Cunning Man, and she has to deal with that along with her relationship with Roland and her relationship to the people of the Chalk now that she's their witch and not just little Tiffany Aching.

I've seen people mentioning here and there that this will be the last Tiffany Aching book that will be published as YA, and this book does indeed start out dark. On the other hand, despite the series being YA to date, I find the Tiffany Aching books to be some of the darker Discworld books, adult or YA, largely because they're about Tiffany growing into her power and acquiring more and more responsibilities as the books go on. As such, they're my favorite out of all the Discworld series.

That said, this isn't a very fair review, because I spent the entire book wondering if the voice was off or if I was just making things up. So I was pretty distracted while reading and focusing more on the nuts and bolts of prose rather than what was going on. I'm still not sure if it was me or the book; it's been a few years since I last read the Tiffany Aching books, so my memory, already terrible, is even worse.

So... the villain was very creepy, I loved the folk tradition woven into the ending, I'm curious to see how Pratchett handles Tiffany + romance, I continue to love how Pratchett always brings in so many different women of different ages in the witches books, I really liked how he handled Tiffany's relationship with Letitia, but I felt really distant from the book while I was reading it. I suspect this will be one of things that changes on a reread.

ETA: Also, let me know if you have a review of this! I know I missed people's while I was waiting for my library hold to come in.

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mmm books

Lockhart, E. - The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Finally I read something that is not a romance! Oh brain, I missed you so!

The book opens with Frankie Landau-Banks' letter to the administration of the exclusive Alabaster Prep, admitting to being the brains behind various deeds of wreaking havoc. But the Frankie we're introduced to is a fairly normal girl, not someone who seems like a criminal mastermind, and the book is largely the story of how she gets to be that way.

Lockhart's narrative voice is a wonderful and snarky omniscient third person (first?), and it notes down things such as how Frankie's reaction to being excluded from the guys' world is different from the normal reactions most girls have—eschew it all together and have girls' nights out, go but then stay on the sidelines, or go to events and out-guy the guys. Frankie, on the other hand, wants to take over. And this captures most of my ambivalence about the book; I am very much one of the women who decides to have my own, majority-female version of an activity rather than battle with the guys, and although I understand Frankie's desire to rule over the guys, it's an understanding that's more intellectual than emotional for me.

This is coupled by the fact that Frankie's most important relationships in the book are with the guys—her ex, her boyfriend, and Alpha. Although she talks with both her sister and her roommate a lot, I felt they were much less central to the plot of the book and they were more confidantes, rather than the people Frankie was most influenced by. I also thought some of Frankie's attitude toward the girlfriends of the Order of the Basset Hound were rather similar to that of people who dislike female characters on shows.

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All that said, I think this is an extremely thought-provoking book about activism and feminism. While I don't necessarily agree with Frankie's focus, the narration is such that I don't think I'm meant to. What I like best is how Frankie's quest costs her, how isolating it is, how even when she succeeds, she doesn't. It reminds me of the stories of people becoming more aware of social justice and how it often serves to alienate them from relationships, how all of a sudden the ground beneath your feet is more stable and completely upside down at the same time. It reminds me of how efforts toward social justice are so easily explained away by people so that even when you've tried to overturn the establishment, the establishment just swallows you right back up. And the way Frankie is casually dismissed and ignored and subtly told she's great as long as she needs her boyfriend and isn't better than him, all of that rings too, too true.

There's sadly very little about race in the book; Frankie is Jewish and although that's not the center of the book, it's also not forgotten. My main impression is that Alabaster is (unsurprisingly, given the name) very, very White. I'd like to think that Frankie outside Alabaster would be anti-racist as well, but sadly, I know too well how social justice on one axis doesn't always transfer to another. There's also quite a bit of class commentary in the book, given the exclusive prep school setting, and I especially love how Lockhart knows that the same action can be rebellion for one person and just a prank for another, depending on how much privilege they have and how much they have to lose.

In conclusion: very thoughtful and layered, and it does so while being extremely funny as well. Recommended.

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mmm books

Pfeffer, Susan Beth - The Dead and the Gone and This World We Live in

Respectively second and third in the Last Survivors trilogy (series? It feels unfinished). The Dead and the Gone stands on its own, like Life as We Knew It, but This World We Live in is less standalone.

The Dead and the Gone - This covers the same apocalypse as in the previous book—a meteor (meteorite? I forget the difference) crashes into the moon, knocking it closer to earth, which causes all sorts of natural disasters. However, it's with a completely different set of characters in a completely different place, so the only thing the two have in common is that they cover a similar (or the same?) period of time, from the moon getting hit to approximately a year later.

Alex Morales must take care of his two younger sisters as New York is devastated and he cannot find his parents. There's more infrastructure in place in New York, but of course, things are still bad.

What I remember most about Life as We Knew It is the claustrophobic sense of the world getting smaller and smaller, until it's no bigger than a single room in your house. Here, the world stays a bit larger because it's set in New York City rather than a suburb, but there is the similar sense of worsening conditions, of food growing more and more important, and your circle of loved ones slowly shrinking.

Religion (Christianity) also has a much larger role in this book, or at least from what I can remember; Alex's entire family is very Catholic, and one of his sisters wants to be a nun. There's some examination of faith in the book, particularly with regard to the apocalypse and etc., but it didn't strike me as particularly nuanced or different.

And while I like having POC characters in the center, the gender stuff from book 1 continues in here, with the added downside of it looking like stereotypical macho Latino guy stuff.

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Although I found the first book gripping, I feel the bits I disliked about it get worse in the next two without giving more story to recompense for it.

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mmm books

Collins, Suzanne - Catching Fire

Ha, my fluffy romance reading kick is now officially over. Instead, I am so depressed about school that I have turned to books in which you feel like you can trust no one and must fight tooth and nail for your life. I suspect the rationale is: "Hey, school sucks! But at least I am not stuck in a game arena with millions of killer traps or stuck in a sadistic school in which half the students would literally knife me in the back. My life now looks so much better!"

You can tell because the next books on my reading list are by Susan Beth Pfeffer and Octavia E. Butler. Any recs for other books like this welcome!

Second book in The Hunger Games trilogy

I liked the first book, and it was an incredibly compulsive read, but I wasn't quite as bowled over with it as most other people were. In the first third, I thought I would absolutely adore this book, but unfortunately, Collins makes some very strange authorial decisions. I don't dislike the book, but it's very flawed.

Also, while book one can be standalone, this one very much cannot.

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I really hope the third book knocks it out of the park, because the trilogy deserves a great final book. Alas, this one doesn't just succumb to middle-of-the-trilogy problems (made particularly obvious because I read it right after Duey's book 2 in her trilogy), it succumbs to all the normal problems and then adds a few more of its own!

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