Tag Archives: Fiction

Review: “Babylon’s Ashes” and “I’m Just A Person” + Summer Reading Update

That’s right, two reviews and an update; I’m jamming all my info into one post because I’m too busy-lazy, or buzy (PRONOUNCED: boo-zee – adj: the state of having so many things to do that elective pastimes fall by the wayside).

The other reason I’m jamming these two reviews together is because I don’t actually have a ton (good or bad) to say about either. The first book was on my summer reading list (I’ll have more to say about that later), so one down, and the other totally counts towards my goal of 10, so two down.

Babylon’s Ashes – James S. A. Corey

Anyone who has spent some time reading this blog (first of all, thank you! Also, wow I have a lot of asides going on in parentheses today!) will know that I’m a big fan of what some call the “space opera.” The hubs and I both got (deeper) into Scifi lit after reading The Martian years ago and that led to a rabbit hole of books about space travel, exploration, colonization, political strife, and so on and so forth. So anyway, I found the Expanse series back in 2015, started it, introduced Hubs to them, and we’ve never looked back. Book 6 of that series, Babylon’s Ashes, was the most recently published and I finally broke down and bought the hard copy [which messes up my series of paperbacks aesthetic (other volume reviews here)]. This one took me almost a month to read for two reasons: 1) it is 600 pages and 2) I’m buzy.

 

Now, concerning the book. As previously implied, I’m obsessed with this series. In fact, I just sent the first and second volumes off with friends this week in the hope of recruiting more geeks. So why, then, did I only give it 3 stars on Goodreads? Generally speaking, it was satisfying and it gave me some time *cough*a month*cough* with characters I consider to be old friends. However, also generally speaking, it felt like this volume was a filler. Have you ever read a volume in a series that felt as thought it was just there to connect the books before and after it? That was this book for me. A lot happened in this volume, don’t get me wrong, but nothing of the caliber of the other volumes. Giving a synopsis would either be a spoiler for those who will read the series or would be pointless for those who will not, so I won’t. The good news, though, is that this volume insinuated that big things are coming in future books (of which there will be 3, I think), so that pleases me. It was meatier than it needed to be, but it was fun to get lost in space again.

I’m Just A Person – Tig Notaro

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on here that I love the podcast Professor Blastoff. It’s hosted by Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsburger, all successful comedians who have a direct line to my funny bone. In the midst of hosting that podcast, Tig had an earth-shatteringly, record-breakingly bad year, in which (no spoilers, don’t worry) she found out that she had pneumonia, which led to C-Diff, then she endured a breakup, then her mother died unexpectedly, then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of this she related – with great poise and often even humor – on the podcast. She did a stand-up show in which she told the crowd about her cancer but still managed to be funny, and she was later nominated for a Grammy for the recording of that show. She had an HBO special and an Amazon Original show, she’s been on all the late night shows, and she wrote a book.

 

As I wrote in my brief Goodreads review (gosh, I’m just a living plug for Goodreads today), I’d be curious to know for whom this memoir was written. For PB fans like myself, or just general Tig fans, none of what was in this book was news. I not only knew about her many trials and tribs of 2012, but I had already heard podcast episodes in which she related the news to her fans, still finding ways to weave in jokes about how her boobs must’ve gotten tired of her making fun of how small they were for the past 40 years, so they’re rebelling from the inside. I much prefer the podcast format, since it was raw and real; nothing had been thought out over years or filtered by 5 editors before reaching me, someone who cares about her. This memoir was more formatted as her ruminations on her childhood, her relationship with her family, especially her mother, her emotions, her “impostor-syndrome” at being called brave, and so on. I think it is meant to be more personal, in that we get to the root of her thoughts and feelings. Going back to my original question about audience, oddly enough, I think this book is perfect for anyone who is a casual fan, or even a complete stranger to Tig. Anyone dealing with death, tragedy, illness, or just plain old growing up will find value in this memoir. Tig manages to find humor in strife, and I think more people would do well to emulate that. However, being a big Tig fan, I found this book to be a watered-down version of the podcast. I knew it all already and, whereas the book makes you feel like an audience-member to her one-man-show, the podcast makes you feel like a friend in a room with a friend who is dealing with something really big. I prefer the latter. Somehow, this became a plug for Professor Blastoff.

Summer Reading Update:

So, I went to do some pre-planning yesterday with my 9th grade team and we realized we hadn’t read several of the works that were often taught at this school in 9th grade. Thus, my summer reading list has morphed slightly. I warned you all that this might happen. I must say that I’m far from excited about most of the texts, which I’m letting be a gauge for how the students will be even less excited. Off to a bad start.

I’ll show the texts below, in case someone has happy, blessed things to say about any of them, but before I do that, I’ll say that we want to tie in all the works to the theme or topic of “growing up.” We’ll definitely be reading To Kill A Mockingbird (YAY!!) and Romeo and Juliet (ugh, teen “love”), but we also need to tie in some non-fiction, short stories, articles, diversity, juvenile justice, etc. If anyone has any suggestions, they will be most welcome and appreciated! 

 

 

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L: Reviews of Smith’s “Grasshopper Jungle” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Lots to talk about, so let’s get started.

Review of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle:

First things first:

This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it. You know what I mean.

In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

Immediate thoughts upon finishing: “Now THAT was an ending.” I’ve written before about how endings of books or series often feel like afterthoughts, like the author planned in vivid detail the exposition, rising action, and climax and then threw a good enough but unsatisfying resolution onto the end and called it a day. Smith’s ending to the long and complicated saga that was Grasshopper Jungle was completely unexpected and utterly satisfying.

Since the Goodreads synopsis was wildly insufficient, I’ll elaborate by saying that the main character is sixteen-year-old Austin, who is navigating puberty in an ungraceful but painfully honest chronicle of what he calls “the end of the world.” Austin dates Shann. Austin is in love with Shann. Austin’s best friend is Robby. Austin is also in love with Robby. As if that isn’t complicated enough, Austin and Robby accidentally set in motion a series of events that lead to a world-wide epidemic and they’re the only ones who can save the world.

Sounds familiar, right? Yes, it sounds like every other YA book where the world and the fate of humanity rests on only slightly qualified teens. That’s the popular fantasy: the hero’s journey; “in a world of 7 billion, I’m special.” I get it. We all want to feel like there is something that sets us apart, so it’s no wonder this is such a popular theme in YA lit. The thing about Grasshopper Jungle, though, is that it’s absolutely ridiculous and it knows it. Almost as though making fun of the hero’s journey, our narrator, Austin, is a freaking mess of a boy. He’s faced with the likely end of the world and all he can think about are typical teenage boy things; it’s unrealistic to assume that weight of the world suddenly forces maturity, so he’s thinking about the end of the world and also threesomes or whether presidents poop or what he should name his testicles or his Polish lineage.

I’ve seen people criticize that it’s too weird and it jumps around too much. Yes, it’s weird; no doubt about that. Yes, it jumps around. Smith incorporates so much backstory and ancestry and parallel character lines into the story that, at times, he spends a whole page describing all the many ways that everything is connected. Without knowing it, everything, everywhere, and everyone involved is connected. If you go into reading this seeing the value in that, you’ll be fine. Let me be clear in saying that this book will NOT bee for everyone. Read this if you like and/or don’t mind the following: YA Contemp. Lit, small town stories, sexuality exploration, heritage exploration, hero’s journey, giant bugs, graphic detail, adventure, and action. It was a little long for my taste and I often had trouble relating, but I never had trouble enjoying it.

Review of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale:”

Go ahead and start practicing your “sick” phone voice, because you need to call in sick to work tomorrow.

Last summer I read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and had a lot of feelings. I’ve been seeing the *COMING SOON* ads for Hulu’s adaptation of the tale and I finally penciled in a day where the hubby was away long enough for me to binge the three released episodes. Reliving this story is, again, an emotional rollercoaster. I refuse to say that the show is better than the novel. Won’t say it. I WILL, however, say that they are so incredibly different that I can’t imagine how I existed with only one instead of both.

I’ve been trying to think of how to verbalize how different they are and I think it hinges on seeing it. When you’re reading something, you visualize it; for Handmaid, visualizing it was about imagining what it would look like to be oppressed and owned. Offred gave detail in a way that almost felt blasé to me. I think that was purposeful, on Atwood’s part, since our narrator had been living in this oppressed state and was used to punishment going along with speaking out, standing up, or even remembering. Our narrator has to be cautious and callous, since failing to get her *ish* together could get her killed. I have never experienced Offred’s horrific circumstances nor have I (yet) lived in a society where I have anything but complete freedom. Thus, imagining and visualizing could only take me so far.

The show, however, forces perspective. Offred’s experiences are right in your face, for better or for worse, so you MUST acknowledge them for what they are. Raw. A Dystopia at its finest. While the book allowed you to escape since it felt like it was all in the past, the show forces you to parallel the society with today, meaning that you, the viewer, have to acknowledge that this regression of freedoms is still entirely possible. It lays it all out via flashbacks and inner thoughts, detailing how the government tricked the public into thinking that a terrorist cell attacked and individual rights are being suspended in order to protect citizens. You see the brutality; you see the consequences; you see respectable individuals fight and beg for today’s basic rights; you see the 1% thrive and the 99% suffer. This is exactly the show that we all need to be watching right now.

Has anyone else seen it? I got a lot of buzz on my review of the novel, so I’d love to know if those same souls and others have feelings on the show. Talk to me!

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Masochistic Reading

WHY?! Why do I read things that hurt me?!

I just finished Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King and I’m SO DEPRESSED!! My Goodreads review simply stated, “this was sad 75% of the time, and I’m not about that life,” but AM I?

I am known for my commitment to intake as much WWII and Holocaust information as I can (seriously, I imagine my Nexflix documentary history has me on some sort of watch list). Now, we all know how those stories turn out; aside from the general overthrow of the Nazi party, there is very little about that time that was… uplifting. Every time I read Holocaust literature, it makes me cry. It gives me nightmares. It weighs on me as I continue living my privileged life. Nevertheless, as soon as I finish one, I anticipate which will be next. If these stories continue to break my heart, why do I continue to seek out more? In this particular case, it’s hard to explain, but it’s a matter of respect and remembrance. My life has been beautifully and blessedly persecution-free, so the least I can do is read the stories of those who have endured things beyond my comprehension in order to give respect where respect is undoubtedly due.

If you know anything about The Serpent King, you may be asking, “why are you rambling about the Holocaust?” Valid question, since Zentner’s work has nothing to do with WWII. However, similarly, it was crushingly sad for the majority of the novel. It tells the story of three high school kids living in a poor, rural area in Tennessee. It addresses difficult topics like domestic abuse, child pornography charges, being disowned by one’s own parents, depression, bullying, and the loss of a loved one. It was heavy and disheartening, and I know of at least 5 trustworthy reader friends who LOVED IT. WHY?!?!?! Why love this? Yes, I’m from the South so yes, I find the small-town characteristics to be relatable. Aside from that, nothing about this book was relatable. I wasn’t bullied or “othered” in high school, I don’t find myself swimming in a sea of racism every time I go home to southern Georgia, I didn’t endure alcoholism or abuse or extreme poverty during my childhood and I didn’t watch friends endure it. This depiction of life in the South is far more severe than my actual experiences while growing up there, so why did others from the South recommend it to me?

I think we all have our own “thing.” That something that speaks to you and calls out to your interests. Whereas Holocaust literature is something that educates me on the experiences of a certain peoples, it may be Southern Lit that educates others. Again, my privileged childhood may be the reason that I can’t find solace in this depiction that directly contradicts my own experiences, but it may parallel the experiences of others. And sadly, it may parallel the experiences of my current and/or future students. I couldn’t disconnect the experiences of the protagonists with the possibilities that my own students are enduring these horrible circumstances, which further contributed to my depressed state. This book hurt my heart; I will NOT seek out more books like it, nor will I recommend it to anyone who enjoys being happy and unburdened. The fact still stands, though, that people I trust derived joy from this text. It caused them sorrow; it made them cry; and yet they value it. Book masochism at its finest.

First of all, sorry for all the caps. The wound is still fresh. Secondly, does anyone else experience this? Are there any stories that cause you pain but you just keep coming back for more?

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L: Review of Ware’s “The Woman in Cabin 10”

Life got busy; these things happen. Luckily, I found a hot minute to type up some musings, so here goes nothing.

I just want a book to be scary!! Is that too much to ask?!?! Ruth Ware’s most recent novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, was included in a list of “October Reads” and we all remember how much I obsessed over SWEET (the dust-jacket blurb comparison is uncanny), so I really just threw myself at this book in full-fledged desperation. Firstly:

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

As is often the case, I think all the hype that preceded this book’s release was a contributing factor in my semi-disappointment. But… I don’t think I’m really disappointed in the text itself. It did everything it promised. I think I have myself to blame for the fact that it just wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. Maybe I watch too many scary movies, read too many scary books? Maybe my understanding of “scary” does not align with the general public’s “scary,” so I have gypped myself out of a whole slew of typically scary books. Regardless, I didn’t consider this book to be scary even for one moment. I found it to be adequately suspenseful, but those words are not synonymous in my mind.

So, we’ve determined that the hype set it up as a good “scary” read, and I’m afraid I have to disagree, but who cares, right?! On the other hand, it was also often paralleled with The Girl on the Train and I will go right ahead and concur, good sirs! Except, in all the ways that I found The Girl on the Train to be unlikable, I found The Woman in Cabin 10 to be utterly victorious. The characters were likable!! Imagine that! We have a protagonist who is still a hot mess, no doubt, but Lo Blacklock is familiar and relatable in ways that remind the reader of herself, or at least that one friend about whom you find yourself saying “bless her heart.” Lo is the spirit animal version of every woman when she’s set aside thriving & is just worried about surviving. Thankfully, Lo’s particular circumstances are not familiar to most of us, but the novel is written in a way that makes it seem entirely plausible and personal. Readers are able to relate to Lo’s trepidation, fury, mistrust, and desperation without actually experiencing the horrible events that result in such feelings. Thank goodness!

The mystery aspects of the novel were great! I kept thinking, “wow, I just cannot wait to see how all this gets resolved” because, let me tell you, it was a tangled web she wove. No one was safe, no one could be trusted, and every moment was a potential clue. I thought the mystery itself was masterfully written, but I will say that I found many aspects to be repetitive. For instance, insomnia reared its ugly head enough times that it eventually felt like beating a dead horse. “Yes, OKAY! She’s so incredibly tired. Got it. What else?!” Similarly, there were entire swaths, paragraphs and eventually pages, that I felt were just there to take up space. I counted 18 pages towards the end that recounted Lo’s panicked thoughts that could have been summed up in one page. I noticed Ware repeating herself and rephrasing the same thoughts many times throughout the book. Maybe this was a plot device? Who am I to judge? However, I do know that my students do this in order to use up more space on a page requirement, so… that’s not out of the realm of possibility for me.

I’d love to read In a Dark, Dark Wood in order to experience more from Ware without preconceived ideas of what the novel will be. I thought The Woman in Cabin 10 was good enough for some, but just not for me.

Scarier, please!

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L: White’s “And I Darken”

I’ll cut right to the chase: I didn’t like this book. I blame myself as much as I blame the book. I heard about this one when the publisher company was book talking new and upcoming releases at my local book store. Ultimately, I was under the impression that this would be a very different book than it ended up being and, unfortunately, the version in my head was way better than the reality.

How did I get the wrong impression? Well, the book talker may have given a synopsis and, in my desire for a killer book, I misunderstood and came up with my own assumptions. On the other hand, the book talker may not have actually read the book and book talked it according to what she thought the book would be, so my assumptions matched her misleading book talk. Regardless, I was under the impression that the book would have vampiric elements; not like Twilight-style, but similar to the original vampire story, Dracula. I feel as though that assumption is totally validated when the main character is the daughter of literature’s most famous vampire, Vlad Dracul. I was dead wrong.

Let’s review the blurb:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point

Nothing to indicate vampires in there, I agree. But still, don’t sass me about anticipating vampires in a book about Dracula. No, there was 0% vampiric activity; instead it was, honest to God, 90% feelings, which is decidedly not my jam. There was anger and resentment about being unhappy and there was anger and resentment about being happy. There were attempts to navigate the turbulent waters of sexuality, and there was crying. So much crying. Don’t get me wrong; I, too, have emotions and often enjoy seeing them reflected in my readings. But as is the case in real life, overdoing anything can result in a lack of poignancy. A smattering of emotions throughout the book would have been better than the pouring out of hearts on every page. I grew tired of it and it lost its meaning.

The other issue is that the character weren’t very likable to me. There is something to be said about feeling an emotional attachment, or maybe relating to a character. I saw nothing of myself in any of these characters and, on top of that, I did see reflections of personalities I generally find unlikable. Lada was meant to be a strong female protagonist, and sometimes she was, but other times, the character was so determined to be independent that she was often highly destructive to others and herself. Lada is not a female character that I would ever want young female readers to emulate. She had some serious self-damaging issues. The two other main characters were Lada’s brother, Radu, and their mutual friend/captor/whatever else he was, Mehmed. I didn’t like either of them, either. Radu started as a sniveling little whiny baby and grew up into a sniveling little whiny young man. He faced some issues, yes, and I gave him credit for being brave and mature when he earned it, but honestly, 75% of his presence is just self-pity and self-loathing. Now, would a troubled young man learn something from reading Radu’s story? I cannot say; I could never read from that perspective, myself. There may be some value in Radu’s story and some readers may relate to his trials and find solace. If so, AMAZING! Otherwise, I disliked him very much. Essentially, the same goes for Mehmed. He was an entitled brat who treated his friends like garbage and was so very emotional. No thanks.

This book contained constant displays of unhealthy relationships, not stopping with showing realistic depictions, but almost validating the extreme circumstances and making it seem as though the moral of the story was that love makes you miserable. Such may be the case in some instances, but it shouldn’t be lauded as the best way to love, nor the only way. Some love is mutual, respectful, unconditional. There was no such love in this story. Love did some serious damage in this book and I would hate to hand this book to a teen who is only just learning how to give and receive love, since I think it could do more to damage them than to help.

I wish I hadn’t bought this one. Usually, if I dislike a book, I can validate a purchase by making it a classroom library text, but I will need to keep a close watch on who is reading this one.

Has anyone else read it?! I’m honestly dying to know what others think and to talk with someone who liked it! Maybe I’m being too harsh? Talk to me!

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L: Yoon’s “Everything, Everything”

I read this book in one day. Granted, it was a day spent alone in a strange city waiting for my fiancé to get off work, but the point is that this book can easily be devoured in one lazy day and then you can consider it a day well spent.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Everything, Everything fits into the genre fiction category of “sick lit,” meaning that one of the main characters suffers from some sort of illness. This genre is gaining momentum in the literary world, especially in YA. As you now know from the synopsis, Yoon’s protagonist, Madeline, has a disease that essentially has her under house arrest. Now, you’d think this would be the prime opportunity for some stereotypical teen angst and sulking, but instead, readers have been gifted with the most optimistic, buoyant, and humorous (and clearly fictional) teen I’ve ever encountered, in real life or books. This disease confines Maddy, undoubtedly, but it does not define her and she finds joy in the simple things in a way that I, as a reader, envied. Of course, all of that goes to crap once she gets a crush on a boy, but even imaginary teens are still teens.

Yoon deftly navigates readers through some really murky waters, addressing love (obviously), death of loved ones, domestic abuse, self-confidence, the value of life, the loss of trust, and forgiveness. To me, I found the humor to be the most powerful and ongoing influences within the text. If anyone has a right to be crabby, it’s Maddy, and she certainly experiences an exhausting range of emotions throughout this novel, but her humor persists, showing that each individual chooses how s/he will react to any and all circumstances. The characters were relatable and likable, so the emotions while reading were strong and meaningful, and the writing truly felt like I was in the mind of a teen, albeit an abnormally mature one.

I think this is one of those books that could speak to teens on a lot of levels, and in most ways, I trust the messages kids can read out of this text. Sick lit may offer some severe depictions, but I think it touches upon the feelings of isolation and other-ness that teens often feel, usually based on the smallest of differences. Take, for instance, Maddy’s freckles. They are mentioned numerous times in the book; for Madeline, they are a source of embarrassment and a flaw, while for Olly, they’re a source of attraction, a unique eye-catcher. Madeline disliked her freckles until Olly came along and liked them, and now she’s all proud. If I were one of her freckles, I’d be like, “um, no, gurl. That ship has sailed. You had your chance.” I understand that the emphasis on freckles was included because teens, especially females, often to hate the traits that separate them from the pack, and maybe this book hoped to speak to them and ultimately show them that our differences are what make us uniquely beautiful, but why, oh why, do we always need someone else to come along and tell us that?! Why did Madeline’s self esteem need to be gallantly saved by the man brave enough to see beauty in her flaws?! This is where I have to give endless props to Emmy Laybourne’s protagonist in SWEET. That right there is a girl who is beautiful and needs no man’s reassurances, and I think YA needs more confident girls and fewer girls in need of reassuring. Rant over.

Anyway, this will be a hot item on my classroom bookshelf, I have no doubt. However, this is certainly a girl book, no doubt about it. Lots of feelings in this one. I ultimately gave it 5 stars for being so sweet and so positive and so so CUTE!

Side note: I do not understand the title or cover art, so someone please enlighten me.

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Combo: Review of Myers’ “Monster” and Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary (…)”

I’m doing a combo review today, partly because I’m tearing through these books like a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms, and partly because I don’t have too terribly much to say about a few of these books. But first, the obligatory synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:

This New York Times bestselling novel and National Book Award nominee from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.

Fade In: Interior: Early Morning In Cell Block D, Manhattan Detention Center.

Steve (Voice-Over)
Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady prosecutor called me … Monster.

Monster was one of those books that I’m convinced could truly help readers of the right audience, but the fit would have to be juuuust right. The story is told as a screenplay as the main character, Steven, goes through his trial.

The good news is that the story includes journal entries here and there, which give chilling depictions of Steven’s time in juvie and these journals could easily speak to readers who are facing similar circumstances or choices. The bad news is that the story also includes transcripts of courtroom proceedings and, thus, a lot of legalese. The jargon regularly overwhelmed the story and, although it offered readers a glimpse of a life spent fighting for freedom, the transcript style was far less convincing and relatable than the journals. I was filled with sadness for Steven while simultaneously being utterly unsure about what happened in that convenience store. I think this was on purpose, since Myers wanted readers to decide whether Steven was guilty based on evidence, just like a juror. I just finished with the stong hope that none of my students ever endure circumstances like those, which was a powerful and meaningful take-away.

On the one hand, I think this would be a valuable read for students who may be struggling with friend groups or decisions about life paths, but on the other hand I think the legal emphasis could easily overwhelm and discourage that same student. Regardless, I was not the intended audience and that was painfully obvious throughout my reading, but it didn’t prevent me from seeing value for other readers.

Another recent completion was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Synopsis:

Born poor and hydrocephalic, Arnold Spirit survives brain surgery. But his enormous skull, lopsided eyes, profound stuttering, and frequent seizures target him for abuse on his Indian reservation. Protected by a formidable friend, the book-loving artist survives childhood. And then – convinced his future lies off the rez – the bright 14-year-old enrolls in an all-white high school 22 miles away.

That synopsis manages to symplify a book that is anything but simple. I completed this one via Audiobook and, I’ll just be honest, while I appreciated that the author narrated it himself, his voice was distracting. It was some sort of stoner/dracula/Bob Dylan combo, that served no purpose but to distract me with every passing word.

Aside from that, the story was so unbelievably depressing at times and hopeful at others that I was just exhausted. This kid, Arnold, has to take the cake for the most pity-enducing story, what with his physical deformaties, mental handicaps, extreme poverty, alcoholic parents, bullying neighbors, racist classmates, friend turned ex-friend, murdered pet, and the fact that loved ones keep dropping like flies. I can understand an author seiezing one or even a few of these tropes and writing about them, but all of them?! Are you trying to make me die of sadness overload?

Don’t get me wrong, the book had beautiful, profound, stunningly hopeful moments that really gave hope to readers, but make no mistake it beat you into the ground before it even thought about picking you up and giving you a reason to smile. I have a number of friends who love this book, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is one of those books that was ruined by the narration, and I’ll certainly have it in my classroom for students who might be enduring any of the countless hardships Arnold Spirit navigates with relentless humor and positivity. It is just as uplifting as it is devastating; such is life.

I have a lot more reviews to complete, but I also have a few more books for my summer classes and those take prescedence, so I hope you all will be patient with me. More to come soon, but feel free to follow me on Goodreads for quicker updates. Happy summer readings!!

 

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