Jenny's Library

Archive for May 2013

I’ve read few books that have made me as angry as Rishe-Gewirtz’s debut novel, Zebra Forest, has.

[Caution: Serious spoilers ahead!] Read the rest of this entry »

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Five  Must Read Posts

cover image for DeliriumDelirium by Lauren Oliver

Lena is almost old enough to be cured – of Love.  She can’t wait until she no longer has to worry about becoming sick, like her mother was.  But we need a plot, so of course she falls in love with another uncured before the procedure can happen.

With a different premise – one that actually makes a tiny bit of sense – this wouldn’t have been a bad book, only pedestrian.  Sadly, though, we don’t get any kind of logic.  This isn’t a Vulcan type suppression of all emotion, nor a focus on romantic love only. It is, for no apparent reason, a singling out of Love of all kinds.  Including the love parents have for their often obnoxious and time-consuming offspring. Yet no explanation is given for how this utopia managed to curb infanticide.  As this bad bit of world-building was just one of a great many things that annoyed me about this book, I strongly suggest not attempting to read it.

Cover image for Hold FastHold Fast by Blue Balliet

Early’s home has never been fancy.  But she’s always had one, and her parents have worked had to provide for her and her brother – and to fill their lives with words, poetry, and books. But when her father, Dash, goes missing and thieves ransack their apartment, Early, Jubilation, and their mother, Summer, are left with no choice but to move into a city shelter. Will Early ever have a home again? And how can she find her father when her world is in such disarray?

A respectful and suspenseful story about what it really means to be a child without a home.  The neatness of the ending stretched belief, but it’s appropriate in a novel for elementary school readers and it managed to stay away from false platitudes.  It may give some kids hope, or at least help them feel less alone, and it will certainly expose many to the challenges that other children face.

cover image for The Truth About ForeverThe Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Macy has the perfect boyfriend. The only problem is that he’s going to be away for the summer, leaving Macy to fill in at his job at the library.  But even though her coworkers hate her and she’s not a genius like Jason, Macy is determined to be perfect at it anyway. Because being perfect is the only thing that has kept everything from falling apart.

Drama! Angst! Romance!  Everything one expects from a Dessen novel, including the protagonist figuring out how to talk to her mothe.  And realizing that she deserves a better boyfriend than the one she has.  Not Dessen’s best, but entertaining enough.

cover image for Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big HillBetsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maude Hart Lovelace

Betsy and Tacy and Tib are old enough to go on even more adventures by themselves, and wander even farther from home than before.  They aren’t sure that their parents would be pleased to discover that they’ve gone all the way over the Big Hill and into the town below.  But when they meet a very interesting girl from the other side of the hill while picnicking atop it, they figure they only polite thing to do is to go visiting.

Now this was a fascinating story to read.  I was rather pleasantly surprised to find not only a Syrian community in a book written almost 75 years ago, but also a fairly respectful description of said community.  Although, not one completely without Fail.  Also, the entire story culminated in a parade that wasn’t just a celebration of America, but very much about American superiority over the Syrian’s homeland.  Still, despite its faults, I’m very much tempted to keep a copy on hand for the next time someone talks about diversity in children’s books as if it were a recent liberal invention.  Not to mention the next time someone tries to argue that we’ve made great strides in that area! – yeah, not as much as you think; I’ve definitely read books that are both more racist and more recently published.

cover image for OrleansOrleans by Sherri Smith

I’m going to attempt to do a proper review for this soon, so for now all I’m going to say is that it’s awesome and you all should read it.

Chapter 4: Pollution of Agency

Russ spends much of this chapter demonstrating that even though it’s no longer scandalous for women to be writers or actresses, women writing about certain aspects of their lives is still considered immodest and renders the author unfit and unloveable in the eyes of popular culture.

photo of actor Quvenzhané Wallis

How sweet is Quvenzhané Wallis in this (and every) picture?

Sadly, I think the mores of the past are not nearly as diluted as all that.  Actresses may no longer be considered “used goods” but sometimes it seems only barely.  As I was reading this chapter my mind kept going back to the appalling behavior of this year’s Oscar host.  Not just when McFarlane called then nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis a gendered, sexual slur on national television.  Not to mention the myriad of other gendered and sexualized insults aimed at the women that were supposedly there to be honored.  But also how important it was to the punchline in his “We Saw Your Boobs” song and dance that the actresses mentioned felt ashamed for having done the job they were paid to do.  To the point that, rather than leaving it to chance, they filmed staged reaction shots showing the actors mentioned hiding their faces and looking shocked and embarrassed.  This wasn’t just a silly song about boobs, it was above all a song about how it’s shameful to be a woman who has let the public see her breasts.

photo of actor Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron wants to know how anyone finds McFarlane funny.

Let’s also not pretend that this scorn of women performing sexuality is something only raving sexist pigs do.

This morning my timeline was all a-twitter over Ms. Magazine’s Spring 2013 cover story about Beyonce, her feminist viewpoints, and her work as a performer.  Most of the women of color that I follow were rightly pointing out that Mainstream (= White) feminists and feminist organizations are a lot quicker to question the feminist credentials of performers of color, while at the same time defending white feminist creators (such as Lena Durham), even when their version of feminism is clearly problematic.

photo of Beyonce

Beyonce doesn’t have time for all this bullshit.

I wonder too if there’s not something to the fact that Beyonce’s public persona, unlike Madonna’s or Lady Gaga’s, is perceived to be Diva rather than Avante-Garde.  There’s echos of the porn wars here, with Lady Gaga being given a pass where Beyonce is not because the latter is perceived as showing off her body only because it makes her money, while the former is assumed to be showing skin in order to make an artistic statement.

photo of Madonna

Madonna wants to remind all of us that we live in a Material World.

An assumption that is also racist.  First for ascribing loftier goals to the white performer.  But also in they way that this viewpoint assumes that black women’s experiences with the Beauty Myth are (or should be?) the same as white women’s, when that’s clearly not true.  Beyonce being beautiful, talented, and sexy during the Super Bowl half time show means something very different culturally than a white female performer doing the same.  Any discussion of her feminism that doesn’t take that into account is going to fail by definition.

In conclusion, knock it the hell off Ms. Magazine; I suspect Russ would be very disappointed in you today.

Apologies for the radio silence, I’ve been a bit busy lately.

Class finished up last weekend.  The weekend before that I flew out to New York (state) for Pippi to Ripley, an academic conference on “the female figure in fantasy and science fiction.”

I presented on how the media talks about science fiction “for girls” and got to meet Tamora Pierce, who gave the keynote speech. Ms. Pierce was so very nice and spent a good deal of time with everyone who wanted her autograph, talking to them about her books and answering questions.

As you can guess, it was a great weekend.  It was also a friendly but low key conference; I strongly recommend it for fans in the area and/or other first time presenters looking for a place to get their feet wet.

However, I’m completely crap at taking notes at these things, so if you want more detailed information, I suggest heading on over to Kate Nepvue’s livejournal.  Be sure to check out her post about her own presentation as well, it was quite interesting and well done.

cover image for HuntressHuntress by Malinda Lo

When a never ending winter threatens the kingdom, it’s clear to everyone why the oracle stones have chosen Taisin, one of the most promising students at the Academy of Sages, as part of the envoy sent to the Fairy Queen for help.  What’s less clear is why Kaede, the very unmagical daughter of nobles, is chosen to go along as well.  But Kaede’s addition to the small group makes Taisin nervous for an entirely different reason; Taisin has been having disturbing and prophetic dreams about Kaede.

The pacing here was much better than in Ash, the characters deeper and full of life, and the plot had more purpose and direction.  Where Ash was interesting and angsty in a mellow sort of way, Huntress was much more complex and immediate, and the action moved more quickly and came with more tension.  There was still room for improvement, but it’s a good story overall. And yes, the romance between Taisin and Kaede is a big part of what makes it enjoyable.

cover image for The ChaosThe Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

The volcano that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of Lake Ontario is the least of Scotch’s problems. She’s more concerned with finding her older brother, getting rid of the tar-like rash she’s picked up, and dealing with the disembodied horse heads that have started following her.

This was an odd story.  Not necessarily in a bad way; much of the oddness was fun even if it didn’t make any sense most of the time.  The problem came, as it often does in Wonderland stories, in wrapping everything up.  Lessons were Learned, Relationships Grew, and Nothing Was Ever Going to Be the Same – but how exactly does one return from Wonderland when the problem is that Wonderland has come to you?

That said, I suspect much of the story not making sense to me has to do with my ignorance of various myths and tales from non-Western, so I may have to reread it after having done some more research.

Also, may we have more YA characters like Scotch please?  In speculative fiction in particular.  All too often the Scotches of YA, when they exist, get relegated to realistic fiction; I, for one, would like to see more of them taking on volcanoes, Baba Yaga, and whatever else the universe might want to throw at them.