Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

She Commands Me and I Obey by Ann Leckie

It’s a testament to the complexities of the characters and cultures and worlds that Leckie creates that I’ve been sitting here for several minutes trying to figure out how to explain this short story.  (Without giving away the plot, of course.)

It’s a story about intrigue and politics. About athletes and warriors and courage.  And it’s a story about choices and morality and ethics.

Like all good political intrigues, there’s several mysteries here as well.

It’s also the story of a young boy, named Her-Breath-Contains-The-Universe, a novice in the Blue Lily Monastery, and why he’s drawn to the only unnamed statue in a stadium of hundreds of statues of deified ballplayers.

Like the other works of Leckie’s that I’ve read (and loved) it’s also a story about change and sacrifice, and how change is always both gradual and sudden at the same time.

It’s truly excellent, and I know I’m not the only one that nominated it for a Hugo.

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cover image for Does My Head Look Big in This?Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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.

cover image for How Beautiful the OrdinaryHow Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart

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.

cover image for Lucy the GiantLucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith

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.

cover image for Data RunnerData Runner by Sam A. Patel

Jack Nil has a plan. One that includes college, not becoming a data courier like his friends.  Ferrying data wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t so dangerous – but now that the internet is no longer free, data runners are the only way for anyone to send practically anything, and capturing the being sent data often involves harming the runner. Then Jack’s dad loses a card game to the wrong person, and all of Jack’s plans fall apart and he finds himself running for his life.

Data Runner has an interesting premise, it just isn’t very well written.  Which I could have forgiven, if there had been more than one significant female character in the whole book.  It wasn’t so bad that I won’t try another by this author (the one female character was at least interesting, and the cast was racially diverse) but not good enough that I can recommend it.

cover image for FledglingFledgling by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Theo Waitley might be a little clumsy, and her school group might not always get the best marks, but she’s doing well enough, and she couldn’t be happier being where she is, living in the suburbs with her mother and the man she calls father, and commuting to the Wall for school.  Until, suddenly, her mother announces that she and Theo are moving into faculty housing, and Theo doesn’t have a say.  Making matters worse, the stress of the move and the constant surveillance of living in the Wall means that Theo is messing up even more than usual; with so many notes in her file, will Theo soon be declared a Danger to Society?

It took me a while to like this story; thankfully, it’s an easy and pleasant read even before that, so I never wanted to throw it against a wall or anything.  I think my main problem was that coming in during the middle of an established series meant that I had Questions. That weren’t being Answered.  And it took a while for the questions that were more pertinent to this particular plot to dominate my curiosity instead.  Once it was established that there was logic to what the adults were doing (well, some of them, anyway) and Theo got off the ship (and stopped putting herself down so much) it got much more interesting.

cover image for Sister Emily's LightshipSister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen

An eclectic collection, this anthology has some hits and some misses, as they often do.  My favorites include “Become a Warrior”, a tale of patient vengeance, and the initial story, “The Traveler and the Tale”, which is perfectly placed and sets up a dialog about the meaning of narrative and how it shapes what we believe and hope for.

As a collection though, it’s a bit odd.  The anthology as a whole lacks balance and cohesion.  The jacket copy claims that the stories were chosen “show off [Yolen’s] art to it’s fullest” but the effect is more one of disarray than a demonstration of depth and variety.  It will appeal to fans of Yolen’s work, of which there are many, and particular stories are sure to stand out, but the anthology itself fails to make a memorable impression.

cover image for Ancillary JusticeAncillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq once served the Radch Empire, but not as a mere soldier. Rather, she was once a ship, the Justice of Toren, and her intelligence lived in both the ship itself and in the thousands of ancillary soldiers – repurposed corpses – assigned to the Justice. Now, her existence confined to a single ancillary, she travels the galaxy in search of answers and revenge.

Books about ships aren’t supposed to make me cry, but this one did. The world – worlds, really – that Leckie creates are not only full of detail, they are also full of humanity. Full of people and relationships, jealousies and desires. Ancillary Justice is about what it means to be human.  Not merely as an individual, in the traditional golden age science fiction sort of way, but as a part of a system, a culture, someone whose sense of self is defined by their connection to others.

Oh, and it also does this really fascinating thing where Breq constantly uses female pronouns to refer to everyone – at least in her head, anyway – because that’s how her culture does things.  It’s disorienting and thought provoking in the best way.