Posts Tagged ‘identity’
Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim is sixteen and about to start her third term as an eleventh grader at the exclusive and expensive McClean’s Prepatory Academy when she realizes that she’s ready to wear the hijab full time. But is she ready for the assumptions people will make about her – about her parents and her abilities and her dreams – if she starts wearing the hijab to school? To the mall? To job interviews? And yet what will it say about her, and her faith, and her country if she lets fear and prejudice keep her from making her own choices.
Despite the rather slow moving plot and lack of action, I found myself liking this book quite a bit. It’s not just that it offers a very compassionate and balanced view, and presents readers with a perspective that is sadly in short supply in YA. Abdel-Fattah writes in a very compelling and engaging voice and I look forward to reading more books by her.
Boys who love boys. Girls who love girls. New loves and old loves. Teenagers forced to hide their true selves. How Beautiful the Ordinary collects twelve stories from twelve authors who know what it’s like for their normal selves to treated as different, as outside the norm.
I expect a mixture of quality and taste when it comes to the content of anthologies, but that doesn’t excuse the disrespect for others that I found in a handful of the stories in this particular collection:
William Sleator’s Fingernail has it’s Thai protagonist and narrator telling readers that ” [English] is the most important language in the world” and pointing out that were it not for his abusive, European ex boyfriend, he never would have met his current, loving boyfriend from the West. It’s not that it’s inconceivable for a young man like this to exist, and to have these kinds of thoughts, but that it’s not really appropriate or responsible for an white American to be putting these words into the mouth of a Thai character he created.
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s The Missing Person is in many ways a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of a girl who everyone else sees and treats as a boy. Unfortunately, it also uses the misfortune that befalls a Taiwanese exchange student as a metaphor for the main character’s own struggles, rather than as an experience belonging to the exchange student herself, and as a source of common ground.
The stories are not all disappointing, however. Jacqueline Woodson’s Trev is elegant and full of sorrow, determination, and hope. Margo Lanagan’s A Dark Red Love Knot is twisted and cruel and beautiful. Emma Donoghue’s Dear Lang, a testament to the meaning of family, left me in tears. And lastly, Gregory Maguire’s The Silk Road Runs Through Tupperneck, N.H. contemplates paths not taken and shows us the costs of hiding in closets.
Fifteen year old Lucy Oswego has always towered over her classmates. Not that she needs to in order for people to remember her, Sitka is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone else – and their business. Which is how all the bar owners know to call her when her dad gets so drunk he can’t even stumble home on his own. So it’s no surprise that Lucy wonders what it would be like to blend in, to fit in – to be someone other than Lucy the Giant. And when a crabbing boat crew mistakes her for an adult, and invites her to sign on, Lucy finds her chance to do just that.
Have I mentioned how much I love Smith’s books? Lucy the Giant is no exception. Smith has a gift for finding the extraordinary in the everyday, and for centering the kinds of characters that tend to exist on the fringes of most mainstream narratives. Lucy the Giant is a deceptively simple story; more complicated and subtle than it appears at first, and one that packs a punch despite it’s short length.
Kami Glass no longer has to keep what she knows about her town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, a secret. Now practically everyone in town is aware that magic is the town’s legacy, and of the power that the Lynburn family once held over everyone else. But the person Kami most wants to talk to is no longer speaking to her. Which poses a danger to more than just her heart, for Kami is going to need all the help she can get to stop Rob Lynburn from turning Sorry-in-the-Vale back into the Lynbrun’s own private kingdom.
This books starts with killer scarecrows and kisses in the dark and mistaken identities – and just keeps going from there. SO MUCH WACKY DRAMA. (in a good way.) I appreciate that Brennan didn’t undo everything that happened at the end of the last book, and that Kami and Jared (and others) instead have to live with and deal with the choices they made and the things they said. Best of all, Brennan is really great at the overwhelming angst and other emotions that is typical of young adult novels, but without resorting to the kind of situations where everything would be solved if people would just talk. And when people aren’t talking, it makes sense.
When does the next book come out again?
A seventeen year old girl wakes up without any memories of who she is. All she knows is what she’s been told. Her name (Jenna Fox), where she is (in her parent’s house), and why she doesn’t remember anything (accident, then coma). Her parents give her videos to watch, images of a past she doesn’t remember, in the hopes that they will help heal her. Instead they simply prompt more questions, questions that no one seems willing to answer.
I think what I love most about this book is that it’s the kind of story that’s best told with a teenaged protagonist. Not that I’m against young adult genre novels where the teens take on more adult roles, however unlikely that may be. But I really do love when authors come up with scenarios that not only make more sense with teens as the center of the story, but that demonstrate how certain questions are best asked in that context. It’s an easy read, but thought provoking nonetheless.
Max knew he wasn’t late to the pier, but the ship that was supposed to take him and his family to India was no where to be seen. And neither were his parents. Now Max’s grandmother is insisting he move in with her until his parents return, but all Max wants are answers and some independence. Suddenly presented with a pile of problems and mysteries, Max decides that his only option to be the person who finds the solutions.
I kept feeling like I ought to like this book, but instead it left me feeling like I was merely trudging through in order to be done with it. I suspect it will hold more appeal for it’s middle grade target audience, but not nearly as much as it could have.
I am going to skip the synopsis this time around because I CAN’T with this book. It’s a badly needed update of Judy Blume’s Forever (at least, that was my impression, and I’m clearly not the only one) and while I’d recommend it over that any day, and I’m so very glad both books exist, I was still frowning through most of this novel.
To be fair, this is in part because, in trying to show that it’s normal and ok and healthy for teens to have sex – as long as they are responsible – one ends up presenting that specific relationship as a model for how to Do Things Right, rather than exploring these characters in particular. And this book really could have done better when it came to exploring the characters.
It’s the caveat (the “as long as they’re responsible” part) that’s the kicker. Everyone should be responsible, not just teens, and putting that condition on teens’, and only teens’, right to take pleasure in their own bodies is bound to imply that only certain people have the right, and those certain people are usually going to be the ones that adhere to the status quo. This may not have been was Myracle was going for, but it is the impression I got, particularly because of the way Wrenn and Charlie’s relationship was compared to Charlie and Starrla’s. I suspect Myracle was simply trying to acknowledge that not all sex is healthy, but it came across as more: not all sex is healthy for teens.
And on that score, this book does have much to recommend it: teens having sex, girls in particular finding pleasure in sex, and all without either of the two main characters being punished for it! Still, I am rolling my eyes so hard the way the book ends and absolutely everything involving Starrla – the sexually promiscuous and not very nice girl who acts as a foil to Wren’s innocence.
Everybody lies. We say that we adore gifts that we hate, profess delight in meals that are lacking, and assure our parents that yes, our homework is all done. For most of us, the lying ends there. Not for Micah though, she doesn’t just tell the occasional white lie, she’s a compulsive liar. “But [she’s] going to stop.” She has to. So pay attention, because she’s going to tell you the truth and she’s “going to tell it straight. No lies, no omissions.”
Layer by layer, Larbalestier peels back Micah’s deceptions to expose the truth and banish the lies, but they are rarely what you’d expect. Micah doesn’t pretend to know bands that she has never heard of, claim to own trophies that she never earned, or fake an illness to get out of class. Rather, she decides to wear a Venetian mask to school – and forges a doctor’s note to justify it.
There is a peculiar and unexpected honesty in Micah’s fibs. False as they are, they also let her push against the edges of conformity and let Micah be herself without forcing her to claim to know who she is when she doesn’t yet. At the same time, they also act as role to play and hide behind – even from herself.
When her friend Zach disappears, however, Micah discovers that her lies might finally cost her more than just the goodwill of her peers. No longer simply a cathartic confession of past sins, Liar quickly becomes an especially twisted kind of mystery, with Micah’s admissions of falsehood and guilt taking on the urgency of someone both digging for the truth and fighting for survival.
The twists and turns that Micah’s story takes also do more than keep readers on their toes. Because of the way that the story is structured, the lies rely as much on our assumptions of what constitutes normalcy as they do on Micah’s audacity. It’s beyond brilliant, exceptionally appropriate in a novel for young adults, and Larbalestier deserves nothing but praise for pulling it off.
This is a novel that, like Micah, refuses to be boxed in. It’s not simply that it flirts with genres the same way that Micah plays with her identity. Rather, like Micah herself, how you classify it and how much you enjoy it will greatly depend on which parts of her story you choose to believe.
Larbalestier’s clear understanding of the fandom traditions of genre fiction bleed onto the page, demanding that the conversation expand beyond the reading of the book itself. Liar is a novel that is meant to be talked about, it’s value and interest is fundamentally tied to comparing notes and possibilities afterwards. The obvious conundrum is that spoilers for a book such as this – even mild ones – would also impose points of view that would limit the discussions afterwards.
So when I tell you that you must read it – and now – know that I say this not just because I adored it, nor because it is lacking flaws, but because I am eager to hear what you thought of it.
Larbalestier, Justine. (2009). Liar. NewYork: Bloomsbury.
Best for Ages: 14-18
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