Saturday Personal Readathon

Today, I’d like to escape this world with a few good books. It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down on a Saturday afternoon and read, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Michael and I might go see Spiderman later today, but between now and the time I go to bed, I will be sitting on my couch and reading. I already spent most of the morning reading With My Body by Nikki Gemmell. I’m also reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa. Also on the list to read today: Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and more poetry

With My Body by Nikki Gemmell – When Harper Perennial pitched this book to me, I wasn’t really looking for a well-written alternative to 50 Shades of Grey, but the enthusiasm of the person from Harper who sent the email really convinced me. It’s written in the second person, which is usually something I despise, but I am actually loving it. I’m about 200 pages in.

After finishing – I ended up writing so much about this title, I decided to save it for another post. I liked it, but it wasn’t perfect. Now! On to Hicksville.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore GIVEAWAY!

I have had Bitterblue on preorder for about as long as was possible, but when I was offered the chance to read and review this one a few weeks early, I jumped at the chance. Receiving this book in the mail was like Christmas as a kid. I jumped up and down and squealed and shook it and then ripped it open with glee, trying to find a person in the office who would understand how exciting it was to have a Bitterblue galley. (Alas, I couldn’t find anyone. So I made my friend read the entire series. She’s onto Bitterblue now.)

I started reading it immediately, desperate to be back in Katsa and Bitterblue’s world. I liked Fire, but I adored Katsa and Po and Bitterblue. I missed their world. Fortunately, Bitterblue was everything I wanted it to be. If you haven’t read Graceling or Fire, I recommend you stop reading now, because I won’t be able to avoid some spoilers.

Bitterblue takes place nine years after Katsa and Po rescue Princess Bitterblue from her evil Graced father, King Leck. Bitterblue is the queen, still trying to untangle her kingdom and her court from the snare of Leck’s lies. She is frustrated by her limits as a queen. Much of what Leck did while he was king is still a mystery to her and she believes that people are still lying to her about her father. She doesn’t trust her court, especially after she begins sneaking out at night, disguised, to listen to the stories her citizens tell at night. While listening to the story, she befriends two thieves who teach her more about Monsea than any of her advisers.

When I wrote my review for Graceling, I listed all the many reasons I had to love it. Since I loved Bitterblue almost as much, I think I’ll do the same thing here.

1) Bitterblue! – Bitterblue is a different heroine from Katsa. She’s not Graced, though she is in a position of power. Like Katsa, she’s not always sure of herself, or her abilities as a ruler. She breaks the rules, gets frustrated, but she tries to do the right thing. She is a regular girl thrown into an extraordinary situation.

2) It’s not an adventure novel, it’s a novel about politics, recovery, and healing. There is a lot of adventure in Bitterblue, but unlike Graceling, I would not call Bitterblue an adventure novel. This story is very much about power, the abuse of power, and the healing that has to take place after such an abuse has taken place. Leck is an unimaginable monster and when it is revealed what he did, it’s horrific. Most of Bitterblue’s staff, Bitterblue herself, and the entire country are still dealing with what they experienced under Leck.

3) Raffin and Bann! I loved the relationship that was hinted at between Raffin and Bann in Graceling. In Bitterblue all our suspicions are confirmed and the relationship between the two men is out in the open. This made me so happy!

4) Giddon! I just reread Graceling and I had forgotten how much of an ass Giddon really was. There’s really not another word for it. In Bitterblue, he’s put nine years between his infatuation with Katsa and his hatred for Po, and he’s grown up for it. I loved seeing that transition.

5) The realism. There is a way that you want this novel to end, but it just can’t end that way. It wouldn’t make sense for the characters and it wouldn’t make sense for the story. You feel everything that Bitterblue feels. The story can sometimes get tedious while Bitterblue works out the reality of Leck’s horrors, but it should be. You feel Bitterblue’s frustration and her helplessness. It’s never easy and I would have been disappointed if it were.

6) It’s stunning. I only found this out once my preordered copy came in the mail, but I have one piece of advice: spring for the hardcover. I’m sure the paperback will be lovely, but the hardcover has such a beautiful cover jacket and there are beautiful drawings throughout the novel. A big part of the novel are ciphers and these are drawn throughout the story.

7) This post from Kristin Cashore. I know I can’t seriously complain that Cashore is not coming here, because everyone comes here, but I am still sad that I won’t get to go to one of her readings. I would have loved to meet her. Hopefully she’ll do a reading here soon!

I really hope this isn’t the last we see of the Graceling world or the last we see of Katsa and Po and Bitterblue. How about a novel about Raffin and Bann, eh Kristin Cashore? Please?

GIVEAWAY: Penguin has generously offered the coolest of giveaways. They partnered with an artist on Etsy to bring you this very cool tote bag. I think it’s pretty great that Penguin has partnered with Fencing and Archery to bring you something so unique. I am already very jealous of the person who wins! One winner will receive this tote bag and a copy of Bitterblue. In fact, all you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment. I’ll randomly choose a winner next Tuesday. Please be sure to leave a valid email address, either in the comment form or in the body of your email, so I can get in touch with you if you win.

(Giveaway is open to US addresses only.)

Relevant links: Greaceling Realm Website | Kristin Cashore’s Blog | Graceling Realm on Facebook | Scribd excerpt of Bitterblue

Nerds Heart YA!

I’m a day late! I know. I have lots of excuses. Like “I’m moving!” Actually the real excuse is that I thought that this post was supposed to go up on the 27th, but fortunately I checked my calendar and realized that I was way behind schedule. So yesterday I had a reading marathon (please don’t judge my procrastination) and I am happy to say that I have come to a decision. Maybe.

Let’s start with the basics. Pull and Jumpstart the World actually have a lot in common. Last year, I read two books for this competition that were so drastically different. I still think I chose the right book, but that doesn’t mean that the other wasn’t great. That’s true this year too, but there’s a lot more to compare here. Both of these books are told in the first person by young people who are suddenly forced to change their living situations. Both books feature a serious accident as a catalyst in the novel. Both take place in large cities, Jumpstart the World in New York and Pull in Chicago. Both characters have a talent that they use to help them heal. Both main characters have strong, realistic voices that totally pulled me into their stories.

I really liked both of these novels, but I didn’t necessarily love either of them. For very different reasons. With Pull, I loved David’s voice and I thought it was realistic, but I didn’t always like what he had to say. In Jumpstart the World, the characters were very real, and Elle has a consistent, believable voice, but I almost groaned when Elle’s next door neighbors begin talking about activism. It’s just so obvious, we all knew that this is where Jumpstart the World was going, but I really didn’t like that Hyde felt the need to spell it out so clearly. As if we wouldn’t have gotten it on our own. Nothing gets me riled up like when an author doesn’t believe her audience is smart enough to get it on their own.

But Pull’s narrative structure left a lot to be desired and it ended much too conveniently. Though I did really like the decision that David made. It’s not what I expected, but it was probably a lot more realistic and honest. As far as the characters in Pull, we are so completely in David’s mind, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but one dimensional. Yolanda, David’s love interest, is a little bit more complex than that, but everyone else really just seemed flat, especially when compared to the ways we saw the characters through Elle’s eyes.

The characters are much more complex in Jumpstart the World and I felt like I could connect more with Elle over David. But Jumpstart the World is just so convenient. There are mothers out there who would dump their children for a boyfriend, but what mother would then rent a entirely separate apartment for that daughter? In New York City, no less. Really? I just had a hard time believing any of it. But I did believe Elle’s emotions and I did believe everything that happened after.

When it comes down to it, I liked and disliked Jumpstart the World and Pull in pretty much equal measures, but I have to go with the novel that I connected to more. I think that the way Jumpstart the World explained and represented a cisgendered girl encountering a transgendered man for the first time was really impressive and this book’s greatest strength. And that really is the point, isn’t it? I am perfectly able to look beyond some of the faults here to admire completely the gentle way Jumpstart the World starts the conversation about how difficult it is to be transgender, even in a place like New York City.

Jumpstart the World moves on!

Nerds Heart YA is a bracket-style competition that was started by Renay. This is my second year participating and it’s one of my favorite blogging events every year! Pull by BA Binns was originally reviewed by The Rejectionist and I have to say, I definitely agree with their assessment about David. Jumpstart the World was first reviewed by TATAL, and while I didn’t love Jumpstart the World as much as they did, I am still pleased to have it move on in the competition!

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I admit, when I first heard that Gayle Forman was writing a sequel to her lovely If I Stay, I was not on board. If I Stay is, in many ways, an unbelievably good book. The description of the novel evokes more Lifetime movie than intelligent, character-driven story, but If I Stay is exactly that. Mia, her boyfriend and her family felt so real to me and the story of their tragic car accident was not simply a conceit to manipulate the reader, but rather a storytelling device that allows the readers to explore the deepest grief possible with Mia.

But could Gayle Forman really pull that off twice? I should have had more faith in her, because Where She Went is just as good as If I Stay, and sometimes, it’s better. At this point, if you have not read If I Stay, I suggest you stop now. There will be unavoidable spoilers for If I Stay in this review. Where She Went picks up three years after Mia’s accident. Instead of being narrated by Mia, Where She Went is narrated by her boyfriend Adam, a brilliant move. Adam has become a famous rock musician and Mia a famous cellist, but they are no longer together. While Adam originally poured all of his grief and emotion into writing a best-selling record, now he’s being forced to face the reality of what happened between him and Mia.

Where She Went takes place over one night and there are plenty of coincidences. There are many plot points, from the fame that Mia and Adam have found to their coincidental run-in, that are unbelievable, but I’m not really sure that’s the point. The point is not that Forman is telling a believable story plot-wise, but rather an emotionally realistic story. There is not an easy happy ending in either If I Stay or Where She Went, life is not that simple. Mia and Adam both deal and speak of grief in a way that feels so real and palpable. I am consistently amazed by what Forman can do as a writer and storyteller. When you are reading it, Forman makes you feel it and that is the mark of a talented writer.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

There are plenty of reviews of this around the web, so please check out the book blog search engine to see more!

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Whenever I sit down and review a book like this, I can’t do it.  How do I explain to you what the experience of reading this series is like if you haven’t read it?  I can’t, but I guess it’s my job to try.

This is a series of books that doesn’t stop moving from the very first page.  It can be overwhelming at times and I know some people have complained about the pace of these books.  There’s rarely a chance to come up to breathe.  Though I myself wasn’t disappointed with Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, a lot of people were and this just might be the perfect antidote.

Ness never makes things easy for Todd and Viola.  I don’t want to ruin this for anyone who hasn’t read the rest of the series, but it will break your heart over and over again.  I have shed more than a few tears reading this series.

Is it really over?  I can’t believe it.  There’s definitely more room for Ness to return to this world.  Maybe not with Todd and Viola, but with other characters on the same planet.  I hope he does.  I’m not ready to leave it.

We get the perspective of another character in this book and it is perfect.  This series is so unbelievably innovative and original.  I’m just at a loss for words right now.  This book is amazing, this series is perfect.  Read it.

Like many reviews of this book have done, let me just point you straight to Nymeth’s review.  How she manages to be so articulate about the Chaos Walking series I will never know, but it might be one of the best reviews of a book I’ve ever read.  Just like this series is one of the best I’ve ever read.  So you know, what are you waiting for?

September 11th

Today, for September 11th, I thought I would repost my review of Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan.  This review was originally posted on April 12th.


Sometimes I like to tell you the  story of how I came to read a book, because the story is so coincidental, and the book is so amazing, it’s as if divine intervention put the book in your hands.  You didn’t choose it, it chose you and there’s really not a whole lot you could have done about it.  Now, I requested Love is the Higher Law from the library, so I had some hand in it, but I never expected to read it the day I picked it up from the library, I never expected to read it one sitting, I never expected to love it.  I requested a random book from David Levithan simply because I know Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a join effort by Levithan and John Green, is out and I wanted to be at least a little familiar with Levithan.  I picked Love is the Higher Law, because I had seen a good review over at Bending Bookshelf and I had little interest in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.  Plus, Love is the Higher Law is an awesome title.  I only started reading it as soon as I got it because the library lost one of my holds and went searching for it.  So, what does a person like me do when they have to wait somewhere for a long time?  We read.

And I read.  And then I got in my car and all I wanted to do was keep reading.  Then I got home and I read and I read.  I cried a little.  And then I read some more until the book was over and all I wanted to do was keep talking about it.  Maybe I’m a sucker for books about September 11, but I can’t help it. 10 years later, I still want to tell you where I was and what I was doing.  And I still want to talk about how none of my sisters remember it at all because they are so young, and that, among everything else, will probably define where our generation ends and begins.  Because I remember what it was like before.

The point is that, not only do I want to tell you, but I want to hear it.  I want to hear where you were, and what you were doing and how this huge thing changed your life.  That’s what David Levithan does with Love is the Higher Law. Essentially, this book is about grief.  It’s about grief that’s bigger than one person, than one family, than one city.  It’s about a grief that holds over an entire country, but that each individual person feels acutely in some way, shape or form.  Yes, this book has plot and there are characters, but who the characters are doesn’t really matter, because it could be you or me or your next door neighbor.  The thing about grief is that it is the most universal and yet most individual feeling in the world.  Explaining what grief feels like seems impossible, it’s too much bigger than words.  Somehow, though, David Levithan manages to make this a story that’s even bigger that September 11 by the end.  This book is about 3 New York teenagers who are trying to sort through their feelings about what happened, while at the same time dealing with going away to college for the first time and trying to find love.

Claire, Jasper and Peter become friends through coincidences.  Claire and Peter are acquaintances at school, who are both at a friend’s party.  Jasper is there too, a friend of another friend.  Jasper and Peter have a flirtation that does not end well.  Jasper and Claire randomly meet each other again and have beautiful conversations.  They form an odd friendship, the three of them, but it is the best kind of friendship.  How it began is too coincidental, too strange to even seem real.

The narration switches from three main characters and I think out of all of them, Jasper was the strongest.  I would have liked more Claire and Peter, but Jasper really carried this book.  More than anything, I think the alternating voices give different perspective to the event itself.  Claire was at school, but ended up leaving to find her little brother.  They walked with the rest of the elementary school to a safer part of the city and her description of what that was like was absolutely terrifying.  Jasper was house sitting for his parents, who are visiting family in Korea, and slept through the whole thing.  Can you imagine going to sleep and waking up to find the entire world has changed?

If I could, I would quote this whole book to you.  But I will settle with this conversation:

She went on, “There’s the drown of things and the swim of things, I guess.  I’ve been going back and forth, back and forth.  I feel the weight of it. […]  Have you talked to people about this?”  Claire asked me.  ”I mean, about what happened?  I’ve tried, but it never works.  I don’t know what I want from it, but I’m never satisfied.  I can’t talk to my mom about it.  And even my friends are strange to talk to, because they’re all caught up in their own versions, and every time I bring it up, they make it about them.”

I almost forgot she’d asked me a question.  Then she paused, and I said, “Oh.  Me?  I haven’t really talked to anyone….  I mean, what’s the point?”

This wasn’t really a question meant to be answered, but Claire looked out to the water and gave it a shot.

“I think the point is to realize you’re not alone.” (103)

I think everyone should read this book, because we’re not done talking about September 11th.  We’re going to have to explain to kids what it was and what it meant and how things were different before.  How will we do that?  How will I explain to my children where I was and what I was doing and how confusing and terrifying it was for a 12-year-old? There are no answers to those questions, I know that.  The readers who are the target audience for this book are kids like my sisters, they were there, but they probably don’t remember it too well.  This book will explain something, will explain the loss we all felt.  But they aren’t the only ones who should be reading it, so please, get out there, grab this book and read it.  It’s beautiful and heart breaking and one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

So go read this!:  NOW| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Mrs. Magoo ReadsBook AddictionReading Rants!The Book ObsessionRead this Book!She is too fond of booksBending BookshelfThe Reading ZoneRead What You Know.

The Maze Runner – James Dashner

I have a feeling that this review is going to come across more negatively than I intend.  I read this whole book on an 8 hour car ride and was really into most of it.  I enjoyed it and while I did have problems with The Maze Runner, let me just start off by saying that this book is one I can recommend.

The Maze Runner is about Thomas, a young boy, who wakes up one morning surrounded by other young boys (between 12-19) in a very strange place.  He can’t remember anything about his life, except for information about life in general (ex: what pancakes taste like, but not who made him pancakes).  He slowly begins to learn about this mysterious place he has been dropped into, most of it absolutely terrifying.  The most important thing he learns is that there is a maze, and every night the maze changes, and it is the goal of specific boys called runners to figure the maze out.

Unfortunately, since Thomas knows nothing and the boys decide to be mysteriously ambiguous about the maze, it makes for a slow start.  I had a really hard time getting into the book and even asked She who had read it if it was worth continuing.  Fortunately things picked up and the rest of the book kept my interest, but there were just some aspects that could have been fleshed out much better.

Some spoilers to follow.

The arrival of Teresa was when the book finally got exciting, but at the same time, the whole storyline of one girl in a community full of boys completely fell flat.  There could have been a lot of psychology explored here that was totally left behind in favor of action.  But it was not just the way the plot line about the girl was handled, but all the other missed opportunities to explore the psychology instead of action.  At first I was willing to chalk this up to the fact that it is a YA book that is mostly a thriller, not much else.  Then I remembered when Step Su compared The Maze Runner to Ship Breaker on Twitter.  In a lot of ways, they are similar, but while Ship Breaker had an unrelenting plot that was almost continuous action, it still took time to explore what exactly the main character was feeling.  Most of the time, in The Maze Runner, I just didn’t get that same connection with Thomas, Teresa or the other characters.

My other biggest concern is with the writing.  Take the following passages:

Why do I remember these animals? Thomas wondered. NOthing about them seemed new or interesting – he knew what they were called, what they normally ate, but not where he’d seen animals before, or with whom?  His memory loss was baffling in its complexity. (44)

He returned his gaze to the Deadheads, a glowing disk still floating in his vision.  Blinking to clear it away, he suddenly caught the red lights again, flickering and skittering about deep in the darkness of the woods.  What are those things? he wondered, irritated that Alby hadn’t answered him earlier.  The secrecy was very annoying.  (45)

Well yes, you just spent the last two sentences explaining how baffling it is, no need to explain.  And I too am annoyed by the secrecy, so please, don’t tell me about it.  Either Dashner got better about this or I was too absorbed in the plot to notice it later in the book.

But eventually, the plot won out for me.  I can still give this one a favorable review because I have read a lot of YA dystopian/futuristic society novels and this one still stood out for me.  No, it’s not the best and it has some serious flaws, but I still enjoyed reading it and I will be picking up The Scorch Trials when it finally arrives.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Other reviews: Books And Movies, Devourer of Books, My Friend Amy,  Rhapsody in Books, Reverie Book Reviews, Presenting Lenore, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Steph Su Reads, Fantasy Book Critics, Books By Their Cover, A Book Blog. Period., S. Krishna’s Books,  GalleySmith, Medieval Bookworm, Hey Lady!.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

The thing I really love about dystopian and post apocalyptic fiction is the way the world is revealed.  I love it when the differences and similarities between our world and the future world of the novel are unveiled slowly and seamlessly.  Ship Breaker did that perfectly.  There is that delightful confusion at the beginning, followed by complete understanding of a complex world.  What I loved even more about Ship Breaker was that you were still discovering things about the world by the last page.  There was always more to learn, nothing was told, everything was shown slowly and perfectly.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s dystopian novel is about Nailer, he himself is what is known as a ship breaker, or a worker who goes through the ducts of old oil tankers, now immobile and deteriorating on the beach of the US gulf coast, looking for useful metals to scavenge.  Ship breaker crews live in hope of finding a Lucky Strike, or a hidden collection of oil that can be sold on the black market.  A Lucky Strike could bring in enough money that a ship breaker can buy his or her freedom and be secure for the rest of their life.   When Nailer does get his Lucky Strike, it’s in a way that he doesn’t expect.

I loved pretty much everything about Ship Breaker.  It is original, the characters are believable and sympathetic, the villain is very villainous.  One thing that made me particularly happy was that we never quite learn everything about this world.  There are still more things to discover, explore and understand.  It’s not necessarily that Bacigalupi left things out intentionally for a sequel, it’s just that this world is so rich that there will always be more to flesh out.

This book is made even more poignant by what is happening in the Gulf Coast right now.  To top it all of it is all action, a never ending tour-de-force, without sacrificing emotion.  I can’t wait to read The Wind-Up Girl and whatever else Paolo Bacigalupi writes.

Favorite quotes:

“You think they even know we’re here?” Moon Girl asked.

Pima spat in the sand.  “We’re just flies on garbage to people like that.”

The lights kept moving.  Nailer tried to imagine what it would be like to stand on deck, hurtling across the waves, blasting through spray.  He’d spent evenings staring at images of clippers under sail, pictures that he had stolen from magazines that Bapi kept in a drawer in his supervisor’s shack, but that was as close as he’d ever gotten.  He had spent hours pouring over those sleek predatory lines, studying the sails and hydrofoils, the smooth engineered surfaces so different from the rusting wrecks he worked every day.  Staring at the beautiful people who smiled and drank on the decks.

The ships whispered promises of speed and salt air and open horizons.  Sometimes Nailer wished he could simply step through the pages and escape onto the prow of a clipper.  Sailing away in his imagination from the daily mangle of ship-breaking life.  Other times, he tore the pictures up and threw them away, hating that they made him hungry for things he hadn’t known he’d wanted until he’d seen the sails.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Reading Rants!, Presenting Lenore, Fantasy Book Critic, Kids Lit, Becky’s Book Reviews, Wordbird, The YA YA YAs, Charlotte’s Library, Killin’ Time Reading, Sarah’s Random Musings, Bart’s Bookshelf, books i done read, Dreams and Speculation.

Fat Cat & Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I know this post is long, but it’s full of LOVE.  So let me give you a tl;dr version, because I’d hate for you to miss out on these two books: I LOVE Fat Cat and Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande TO PIECES.  They are fabulous.  GO READ THEM.

A couple months ago, when I was still doing the awful commute to work and school, I listened to Fat Cat by Robin Brande.  Guys, I loved that book so hard that I couldn’t even review it.  I know, that doesn’t make any sense, but somehow I just never got around to writing up a review of it.  I don’t know why; maybe I just couldn’t articulate what was so awesome about it.  Now that I’ve read Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, I think I have a better idea about why I love Brande so much.

Fat Cat and Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature are two of the best YA books I’ve read in recent memory.  The two stories are very different, but both feature a strong young woman as the protagonist, both heavily feature high school science and high school science teachers, both have wonderful romances.  Whereas  Fat Cat is about a young woman who decides to change herself, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is about a high schooler who unknowingly begins to change her entire community.

Mena belongs to an extremely conservative church, but when she is witness to something that she finds to be very wrong, her entire church turns against her, including her parents.  All of the people that were once her friends become her enemies, but it just might be the best thing that ever happened to her.  Her lab partner in Biology class, Casey, broadens her horizons, introducing her to a lot of things that her strict religion kept her from, like Lord of the Rings and science fiction and science in general.  With the help of Casey’s older sister, they try to stop Mena’s ex-friends from taking on the best teacher in the school, Ms. Shepherd by disputing evolution and trying to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum.

This book is relevant, it’s smart and it’s different.  These kind of things are happening all the time.  This book will give kids like Mena the courage to step up and say something when being silent is the easier option.  This book completely refutes the idea that a scientist can not be religious and a Christian cannot be a scientist.  Though Mena has been excommunicated from her church, she still maintains her beliefs.  This was so entirely refreshing, even though I personally don’t share Mena’s beliefs, because Mena never once turns on what is true to her, she simply is open to new ideas and incorporates her new knowledge into her belief system.

I like YA books that have the ability to affect change, especially in teenagers who have formed such strong opinions because an adult has told them too, not because they understand the issue.  The teenagers in this book do some truly awful things, but how much can we blame them when all the adults in their lives were telling them they were doing the right thing?  Maybe Mena can change their minds; if they see someone who is so much like them, altering their opinion and becoming more open to what the world can offer, maybe they will too.

Just look at this passage, it’s perfect:

“And this,” [Ms. Shepherd] said toward the end, “is why evolution rules the day.  Because nothing is static.  Everything changes.  That is the BEAUTY of life.  And the successful organisms – the ones like you and me and viruses and sharks and everything else that’s out there today – we owe our existence to the genes that kept mutating and adapting all along.  THANK YOU, MUTATIONS.”

I love it when she says things like that.   Like she doesn’t even care how weird it sounds.

“If you think about it,” she went on, “not a single one of us is exactly like anything that came before.   In a way we’re all truly freaks of nature.  That’s what it takes to survive – the freaks shall inherit the earth.  Look how well viruses are doing.  They mutate and adapt constantly – it’s why we have to develop new vaccines all the time to keep killing them.

“Which raises an interesting question,” Ms. Shepherd said, glancing over at the Back Turners.  “Because if  you don’t believe  in evolution, then you must not believe that diseases change over time.  In which case there would be no need for anyone to get new flu shots every year, because obviously if we’ve vaccinated once, that should last forever, right?”

“Brilliant,” Casey whispereed.

“Just something to think about,” Ms. Shepherd said.  And then the bell rang.

And I just sat there.  I didn’t want to move.  I wanted to sit there and understand everything I’d just heard. […]

Not to be too dramatic, but when Ms. Shepherd explained that about the flu shot and about us all being freaks of nature, it was like something reached inside my chest and yanked on my soul.  Like somebody opened up my head and shouted down into my brain, “Do you get it?  Mena, are you listening?”

It’s just that it all makes sense. In the same way that God makes sense to me sometimes and I really think I can feel Him. I can see the order  to things, His purpose behind them. I wish I felt that way more often – about God, I mean – but whenever I do, it’s like someone has pumped up my heart with helium,and I can barely keep from floating off into space.  (75-76)

Where Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature has Mena taking on her entire church and finding out about herself along the way, Fat Cat is about the main character Cat finding herself.  She believes a lot about herself, a lot of which has to do with her weight, but she finds out that she just might be a completely different person, and her longtime enemy might not be everything she thinks he is, either.  Cat is amazing as a narrator.  I loved every single thing about her, I wanted to be her best friend.  I saw parts of myself in her, parts of my best friend, parts of my sisters.

I thought Fat Cat could go a lot of ways – the plot is essentially that Cat uses herself as a science experiment, to live as prehistoric hominids did.  She begins to lose some weight, a lot of weight, and her life changes along the way.  This is not a book about fat being bad and skinny being good.  This is a book about getting healthy – for you.  Not for the boys,  not for your family, but for yourself.  At the same time, that is not really what this book is about at all.  It’s not a preachy book about weight loss, by any means.

What it all boils down to is I saw myself in Mena and Cat, and I think every girl could.  I want to give these books to my sisters, my cousins, my friends, my mother, my grandmother.  That’s not to say that boys wouldn’t enjoy them too, there’s a lot of crossover appeal here.  The other big plus here?  There was romance, but THESE BOOKS ARE NOT ABOUT THE ROMANCE!  When Cat loses weight, there are a lot of boys interested in her, but the way the romance plays out is perfect,when it could have so easily failed.

Please. Robin Brande, write more books.   I feel like you’re writing them just for me and I need some more!  Right now!  Please?

So… if you haven’t figured it out, go read these!: now | tomorrow | next week  | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: (Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature) Teen Book Review, Liv’s Book Reviews, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Ten Cent Notes, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Reading Rants!. (Fat Cat) Confessions of a Bibliovore, Becky’s Book Reviews, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Steph Su Book Reviews, Reading Rants!, Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf, Reading to Myself.

Girlhood friendship in Woodson’s “After Tupac and D Foster”

When I read If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson back in spring, I was completely blown away by the beauty and the tragedy of it.  It’s a simple, lovely novel that has the power to change lives.  So really if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and go read If you come softly. You won’t regret it.   After reading it, I wanted to read every Jacqueline Woodson book I could get my hands on, so when I saw After Tupac and D Foster on my library shelf, I grabbed it right away.

Where If you come softly was a story about romantic love, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three black girls who are best friends, Neeka, D and our narrator.  D mysteriously enters their lives the summer before they turn twelve and just as quickly leaves right after they turn 13.  Tupac plays an important role in the girls’ lives, with the book beginning when Tupac was shot for the first time and ending with his death.  D looks up to Tupac and she feels as though he is talking directly to her through his music.  They become closer friends through their passion for the musician and it gives the novel the perfect arc.

What I loved best about After Tupac and D Foster was the narrator and her voice.  She’s very mature, but not unbelievable, and she is just looking for a little bit of beauty in the world.  The novel captures an era and a place perfectly.  The love that the three girls share is so perfectly described, but it manages to be about bigger things than that.  It is a short book, but one that encompasses so many parts of life, from the challenges to the perfect moments.   I loved the inclusion of Tupac in this book because it puts it in a precise moment of time, New York in the 90s.  Tupac is a fascinating man and I highly recommend the VH1 documentary about his life.  There are so many things that I didn’t know about him, but having watched the documentary beforehand really gave me a greater sense of the emotional way that the girls reacted to Tupac and just how important he really was (and is).

But Woodson does not stop at the girls’ friendship or their relationship with Tupac.  There is so much more in this book and it’s amazing how much Woodson captures in 150 pages.  One of the most touching scenes is when the narrator and Neeka go visit Neeka’s brother Tash in jail.  He was wrongfully accused of assaulting an old friend, but really it was a crime against Tash, in which he was beaten as well.  Tash, a gay man, must avoid being beaten or worse in prison and he has a conversation with his mother that will absolutely break your heart.

“Why did you roam, though?” I asked.  Whenever D talked about her roaming, I always asked why.  I wanted to understand — deep — what it was like to step outside. […]

“Uptown they got those fancy buildings.  Out in Brooklyn they got those pretty brownstone houses.  West side got Central Park and people going all over the place in those bright yellow taxicabs.”  D looked at us and I knew a part of her knew how much me and Neeka lived for the rare moments when she showed us where she’d been and, by doing so, we got to go to those places too.

And then it made sense to me — crazy-fast sense in a way it hadn’t before.  D walked out of her own life each time she stepped into one of those other places.  She got off the bus or walked up out of the subway and her life disappeared, got replaced by that new place, those new strangers  — like big pink erasers.  Before me and Neeka started asking D about her life, we were erasers too — she got to step into our world with all the trees and mamas calling from windows and kids playing on the block, and forget (18).

And that is exactly what Woodson does for her readers.  You so perfectly step into this world, onto this  street and you are completely with the three girls that it does not feel like you are reading a story, it’s more real than that.  There are many other passages that I want to quote for you, but I think I’ll let you discover them for yourself.  Jacqueline Woodson has done it again and I plan on reading everything she has ever written, because if all her books are only half as good as If you come softly and After Tupac and D Foster then they will all be  excellent.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Color Online & The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

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