Jenny's Library

Reading Round-up 2013: Week 8

Posted on: April 10, 2013

cover image for Writing the OtherWriting the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

The main portion of this book is the titular piece; essentially a workshop on Writing the Other bound into a book format.  There are examples and exercises to go along with the arguments; it’s definitely intended to be useful to writers.  Added to the end of the slim volume are some related works by the Shawl: Beautiful Strangers, Appropriate Cultural Appropriation, and an excerpt from The Blazing World.

I was commenting to the friend I borrowed this from that it felt very “how not to be a racist writer, 101 level” at times, and she pointed out that it’s not only several years old already, but grew out of a specific incident and conversation two decades old, so that’s to be expected somewhat.  Nevertheless, Shawl and Ward make some very good points here.  Not just about writing people different from you, but about thinking about characters in general, and keeping in mind that readers will also be different from you in many ways.  They do a very good job of demonstrating, throughout the book, that being aware of these things makes you a better writer, no matter what kinds of characters you are writing about.

cover image for The Lives We LostThe Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe

With her family gone, taken away by the plague, and the situation on the island worsening by the day, Kae decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands.  With only a handful of friends to help her, Kae sets off with the cure her father created, desperately searching for someone who has the knowledge and equipment needed to make copies of the vaccine.

Crewe’s third novel isn’t the type of to prompt glowing superlatives, but it’s a definite improvement from the first book in the series, and more than good enough to convince me to read the third when it arrives.

While the tone and style is similar to The Way We Fall, this middle book has a more interesting and active plot – and one that better fits the atmosphere that Crewe creates.  Where Kae spent much of the first novel simply watching her world crumble around her, the second book is instead in the mold of the classic quest, zombie plague style.  There are no zombies here, but the illness that has wiped out a huge chunk of the population does involve a very chatty stage where the infected are also at their most contagious.  Together with the bleakness and lawlessness of the landscape (it’s winter in Canada and there are mercenaries after them at one point) it’s very reminiscent of stories like 28 Days Later or the second and third Resident Evil movies.

And it works.  Not brilliantly, but well.  The lack of brains eating stage in the sickness is also a plus in the end, for it creates a stronger emotional resonance when friends and loved ones become infected.  Actual zombie movies are filled with cohorts promising each other a bullet to the head the moment symptoms appear, making what should be a tricky ethical question an obvious one, and thus robbing the decison of much of its angst. Here our protaganists struggle with the choice between maintaining their humanity and saving the world – via doing whatever it takes to get the cure to someone who knows how to replicate and distribute it.

cover image for The Revolution of Evelyn SerranoThe Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

It’s 1969 in New York City’s El Barrio and the tension in fourteen year old Evelyn Serrano’s home is mirrored by the clashes between activists and the establishment happening just outside their front door.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this book didn’t work for me.  I think perhaps the problem was that it felt very juvenile at times, and not simply in the “age appropriate” sense.  The basic story was interesting and well done, the characters intriguing and believable.  The sentences just didn’t seem to flow together very well, as if the author felt she couldn’t or shouldn’t get too complicated or fancy in terms of vocabulary or structure.  It’s still a book that I might consider for a library collection because of the plot and themes, but chances are I’d choose other books first.

cover image for The FoxThe Fox by Sherwood Smith

Back home in the country  Inda has been exiled from, the war is not going terribly well and his friend Sponge despairs of keeping his promise to restore Inda’s honor.  Aldren-Sierlaef, Sponge’s older brother and heir to their father’s throne, is still pursuing Joret, despite her obvious lack of interest – and the fact that he is promised to someone else.  Meanwhile, just about anyone who might want Inda alive knows that he probably is, and desperately hopes he can be found.  Inda himself is, of course, in danger once again, his crew of private marines having just been captured by a notorious pirate and facing certain death.

I’m pretty sure I inhaled this book rather than read it, so I don’t remember the details quite as clearly.  While I did start to get impatient for Inda to be found already, dammit! I was also fascinated by the politics and intrigue – and possibly over-invested in the characters, just as I was with the first book in this series.

cover image for OffsideOffside by M.G. Higgins

I requested this from Netgalley because it was about soccer.  That was a mistake; this book was just awful.  I know it’s meant to be a hi-low novel, but that’s no excuse.  I can forgive some of the clunky writing, not because its impossible to write an elegant hi-low book, but because it’s is vastly more difficult to do so. However, the vocabulary constrictions that the hi-low category presents still don’t explain the lack of plot logic, nor the fact that there is absolutely no depth to any of the characters.

cover image for The Face on the Milk CartonThe Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Janie Johnson wishes she had a more glamorous name, not to mention parents that are a little less overprotective.  Janie’s wish is granted when she recognizes the face of a missing child on the back of a milk carton one day.  The face is her own, which means that Janie is not her name, and her parents are not her parents.

Whenever anyone points to the current resurgence in young adult novels, and the depressing number of Twilight clones, and wonders what all the fuss is about, I want to point them to horrendous novels like this one.  Because not so long ago, this was the standard for popular reading for teens.  Cooney’s books in particular were must haves for any library.

What makes this book so awful?  Well, we can start with the fact that in 1990, when it came out, the pictures of missing kids no longer appeared on milk cartons (they came in flyers on the mail).  Yet, that could have been a forgivable misstep – IF the story itself was good.  But, honestly, Punky Brewster did a better job with this plot line back in 1985. The writing was so miserable to read as well; no matter how twee or purple prose-y young adult paranormal romance gets, it never gives us sentences like: “The only thing Janie liked to do with her hands was put nail polish on them and dial phone numbers.” I can also promise you that Janie is even more annoying than Bella and that sparkly vampires make more sense than the cult twist Cooney came up with in order to make neither Janie’s adopted nor biological parents at fault.

At least I understand the reasons why teen paranormal romance is popular; the appeal is in wrapping up all of teen girls confusion and doubt and the conflicting messages they get into a comforting package.  It doesn’t necessarily make for good literature, but it tends to be readable and even sometimes entertaining in an angsty sort of way. I am completely confused, however, by the fact that The Face on the Milk Carton spawned three more sequels.  What about the first novel was appealing enough to warrant even one more book?

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