Jenny's Library

Reading Round-up 2013: week 43 – novels and short stories

Posted on: January 12, 2014

cover image for Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Moyer Justice and her friend Maddie have just come back from the funeral of Celia Forester, a fellow pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary and a quiet girl they barely knew.  It’s Rose’s job to write up a report on Celia’s final flight – and the speculation is that Celia lost control of her plane while trying to take down one of Germany’s flying bombs. Leaving Rose to wonder what she would do when faced with a similar choice. What kind of sacrifices would she make for others? How far would she go to ensure her own survival?  Questions she’ll have to answer several times over when her own service in the war effort finds her trapped behind enemy lines – and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

The problem with talking about how amazing Wein’s books are is that I hate giving out spoilers.  Rose Under Fire doesn’t have quite the same kind of twists that Code Name Verity does, but I still find myself wanting to say that it was brilliant the way that Wein…and then I have to stop because I don’t know how to explain it without giving to much away.  Not of the plot, precisely, but of the experience of reading the book and traveling on Rose’s journey with her.

What I will say: you should read this. Yes, that means you.  Also, I loved the way that poetry was used throughout the book: to connect Rose to the life she used to have, as currency in the camp, and as a way for her to process what was happening to her – to all of them.

cover image for Team HumanTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

“Friends don’t let friends date vampires.”

Mel lives in New Whitby, a town whose bragging rights include being the first city in America to welcome vampires. For the most part, they stay on their side of town, and humans stay on the other, and that’s just the way Mel likes it.  But paths are bound to cross sometimes, like when a friend’s father, a psychologist who treats both humans and vampires, runs off with a vampire patient.  Still, it’s very much NOT normal for a centuries old vampire to decide that he’s interested in attending high school, of all things.  So Mel has her suspicions about Francis from the start.  And then he starts showing an interest in her best friend, Cathy…

This book is definitely different, but in a good way.  A clever and funny way.  I like how wrong Mel gets things sometimes – and the fact that she’s not the only one making mistakes.  It’s also nice to see so many different family dynamics being explored.  It’s a wonderful story about friendship and family and community – and I want more!

Speaking of, weren’t we supposed to get a sequel?

cover image for A Big Year for LilyA Big Year for Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher and Mary Ann Kinsinger

Lily Lapp loves the long days of summer, but she can’t wait for school to start again so that she can play with her friends at recess. In the Amish town Lily and her friends live in, everyone’s houses are too far apart for little girls to go by themselves to play at each others houses – and besides, it’s not like she minds the schoolwork.  Until then, at least she still gets to see everyone on Sunday, at church, and there’s plenty of adventures to be had at home with her brothers.

A Big Year for Lily is a nicely written tale about school and friends and family, along the lines of Ramona Quimbly, Betsy and Tacy, or Little House on the Prairie – only this time the story is about a little girl who happens to be Amish.  The chapters don’t always seem connected to each other – except that they do go in chronological order – but it works well for the book because Lily, at age nine going on ten, is still rather distractable.

For the most part reading about Amish life was merely interesting, and Lily’s life didn’t seem all that different from the lives of most other little girls in other parts of the US.  While the chores that Lily and her brother are responsible for are highly gendered, that sadly isn’t all that different from the rest of the country – it’s just more noticeable in the book because the chores are different and because the chores being gendered is condoned rather than ignored.

That said, I was taken a bit aback when Lily switched to women’s clothing at age ten and her first comment about wearing her new dresses while playing was that getting stuck by the straight pins used to hold them together would take some getting used to.  Perhaps there was simply something wrong with how Lily’s pins had been put into her dress? But I got the impression that instead it was more how Lily was moving (and amateur internet research backs that up) – which is just rather awful if it’s true, as that sounds like that would be rather restrictive of girls’ and women’s movements.  Not that there aren’t plenty of really crappy things the rest of us make ten year old girls do, but…still. ugh.

cover image for Magic StepsMagic Steps by Tamora Pierce

It’s been over four years since Sandry first came to live at Summersea.  Her friends – Triss, Daja, and Briar – have all left with their teachers on travels that will keep them away from Winding Circle for years.  Although she misses them, Sandry has plenty to keep her busy.  Not just keeping up with her own studies, but also looking after her Uncle, who refuses the get the rest he needs to recover from a recent heart attack.  Soon Sandry has has even more to take care of: a pupil of her own to teach and a mystery to solve.

The premise of this quartet – that Sandry, Briar, Daja, and Triss are responsible for teaching the mages they find, no matter how young they are themselves – is not the most credulous.  (And yes, I realize I just said that about a book that centers around magic.)  It is fun to watch though, and I always appreciate the way that Pierce centers craft – particularly “womanly” ones like textile arts – in these books.

cover image for Paper DaughterPaper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold

The death of someone you love is supposed to turn your life upside down, but not quite like this.  When Maggie Chen’s father is killed in an accident, she and her mother struggle to carry on with out him.  But while going through his papers – clippings of articles he’s written, notes for future stories, mementos of a life he’s no longer there to live – Maggie discovers that her father’s life might never hav been his to begin with. That her father may have lied about who he was from the moment he met Maggie’s mother.

Although interesting at times and clearly well researched in terms of the history of Chinese immigration to America, Paper Daughter is also a good example of why authenticity is important.  Rudine Simms Bishop talks about the difference between books that are intended to be read by children of color, versus books that are about children of color but intended more for white audiences – and the way that the latter tend to define racism as requiring active malice and often include “lessons” for the characters of color about not expecting all whites to be racist.  Unfortunately, this book definitely fits in that category.

It’s not an awful book, and as I said, includes fascinating bits of history and culture.  It also has engaging characters  and – the problem mentioned above notwithstanding – thoughtful and poignant moments.  Recommended, but with reservations.

cover image for grl2grlgrl2grl by Julie Anne Peters

In ten short stories, Peters shares with readers significant moments in the lives of a variety queer youth.

I think what I like best about this collection is the way that it doesn’t try to provide readers with any solutions or answers. Novel length stories about queer youth are so often about dealing with the baggage that tends to come with being queer in a heteronormative society, and thus even when well written usually come to “it gets better” type resolutions. This collection is made up of only glimpses into people’s lives, and the length of the stories precludes any kind of universally uplifting resolution.  Peters is also not afraid to be honest here, and shows us not only heartbreak but the joy of discovery and hate motivated violence as well.  The end result is a collection that’s not only honest and real, but complete in a way that happy endings aren’t.

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3 Responses to "Reading Round-up 2013: week 43 – novels and short stories"

Speaking of, weren’t we supposed to get a sequel?

Yes, but as per SRB’s answer to a question at an event a few years ago, it’s not happening. Sigh, because I really liked this take on vampires and the dynamics between the characters.

oh, no. And yes, so did I. 😦

[…] like the third book, A Big Year for Lily (which I read first), this is a rather sweet story about a little girl from an Amish family; it offers an interesting […]

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