Friday, July 6, 2018

March 2018 Reads and Reviews

During the last half of this past school year, I started a book club for students and this is the first read I picked.  It was not a hit with the students who joined, so together we didn't end up finishing it, but I finished it after we found a new book to read (which you'll read about later in this post).  

This book was pretty slow-paced and it took quite a bit of effort to read.  Not knowing about Gordon Parks but knowing he spent a good chunk of his life in St. Paul (where I currently live and teach), I was interested in seeing what he was known for and how he had reached that point.  But he told us this in a meandering way, so it took me a while to get through it.  

Slow moving or not, this was an interesting read.  Gordon Parks led a tough life and he had to be really resourceful in order to make ends meet and make things work.  I thought this was incredibly admirable and inspiring to read about, that no matter what happened and how low things got in his life, he kept going, he made connections, he worked his way from one opportunity and place to the next.

I give 'A Choice of Weapons':

This book kept popping up as a recommended read on GoodReads and other blogs and so when I saw that my county library had an audiobook version of this book, I jumped at the chance.

What I liked about this book is that it sheds light on immigration and what it's like to be deported.  Natasha is a Jamaican citizen, but she has never called Jamaica her home.  She doesn't know anyone there, she doesn't know the culture like her family does... she quickly feels like she's falling.  And it's all due to a dumb mistake that was made.  This is probably due to my reading habits, but I haven't read a lot of books that talk even a little bit about immigration and deportation.

What I didn't like about this book is what I call Disney Channel Movie Syndrome.  It's when a character, when considering their future endeavors, is given a choice.  In real life, they could easily take both choices, but their friends or family trick them into thinking that they can only take one choice and it's the choice they want.  This kind of happens in this book.  Daniel is an arts person but his parents have other ideas and make him feel guilty for his interests and wanting a future that follows those interests.  Then on top of that, Natasha is a hard science type of person.  Both Daniel and Natasha kind of look down on the other for their interest.  That's how it felt, anyway.  I guess I'm just tired of the arts and the sciences being pitted against each other because more often than I ever realized, they overlap.

So overall, this was an okay read.  I give 'The Sun Is Also A Star':

This read is special to me because not only did I fall head over heels for it, but a student recommended it for me and also very kindly and generously brought me a bookmark signed by the author!

I loved Dante and Ari's friendship.  I don't feel like there are enough books out there focusing on friendships between boys who are growing up and having to figure it all out.  Maybe this is just how I read, but I read this a lot about girls and women but not so much in men or boys.  It's interesting to see development in boys as they figure out who they are and what's possible for your lives.  This book deals with masculinity and what it means to be a man, particularly a man who might be attracted to other men.

I love this because Saenz shows that boys don't have to be testosterone-fueled sex machines who need to be at times violent and controlling and tough in order to be seen as worthy.  I think that's the image of manhood that too often we're sold in media (books, movies, TV shows, etc.).  It's okay to be sensitive, quiet, not a jerk... It's showing a different path to manhood that I personally feel more men and boys need to know is possible to follow.

Besides this, I love the writing style of this author.  The shorter chapters are nice (I've discovered this about myself somewhat recently... I like stories that are broken up into small chunks) and I like the conversational style.  It makes it easier to read and yet it doesn't take away from the intrigue of this story.

I love this book and I want to get a few copies for my classroom so that my future students can read it and fall in love with it too!

I give 'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe':

This book has been on my TBR for a while and it took me a while to get through it.  I'll keep this review short.

Kate Bornstein has some interesting ideas on gender and sexuality and how we should move forward as a society in this respect.  Some of her ideas are a little outdated.  I looked it up again and this book was originally published in 1994.  That's as old as I am.  Anything is bound to change in almost 25 years, so I'm definitely not faulting Kate Bornstein.  Things change.  I know there's an updated version of this book though, so I might, at some point down the line, flip through that and see what changed were made.

I think this book was meant to be a stage play.  At least some parts of it were.  This was a strange read because it felt like it was a stage play in a book.  And I don't mean I was reading a script, even though that was true at times.  But I could see the play before my eyes, the direction was so specific.  It showed different ways of looking at and thinking about gender.

This was just a strange read for me as a whole.  It's going to take a while to process.

I give 'Gender Outlaw':

I didn't know what to expect when I opened up this book.  Appropriately, it was like walking through a museum or a mausoleum... or both.  It's a place to look, not touch.  Listen, but don't say anything in return.  And that's exactly how Alison Bechdel's home was like growing up.

This book has a way of drawing you in and you don't quite feel comfortable, but you're intrigued and that's why you keep reading.  You keep reading because you have more questions than answers.

If you're looking for a light read, you won't find it in this book.  But it's an amazing look into an odd family situation and discovery of one's sexual orientation... although mostly a focus is on the odd family situation.

I give 'Fun Home':

Earlier in this post, I mentioned the first read our book club attempted to read but ultimately failed to read.  This was our second attempt at finding a good read and this is the book that ultimately got us off the ground!

The world that 'Renegades' encompasses is really intriguing.  What appealed to me and what appealed to the book club kids were the superheroes and the powers and how the villains interacted with the heroes (also called the Renegades, which is a little ironic since the word means to cause trouble... maybe this is foreshadowing?).  It kept all of our attention.

What didn't work so well in this book was the story being told from dual perspectives.  While I grew to like Adrian a little bit more as a character, I found that I really didn't care about his chapters.  I just felt like he didn't really add too much to the story other than knowing a lot about the Renegades because his dads are a couple of the big wigs in the Renegade world.  So it was hard to get over the feeling that this 500+ page book could have been about half of the length and could have just focused on the experience of Nova.

On that note, I LOVED Nova.  It's clear that a lot of work went into her.  From her complicated backstory and what happened in her childhood to her leading a double-life with the Renegades.  There are so many things that are part of her character and story that make you want to know more and feel invested in what happens to this character.

I liked a lot of things about this book and there were a number of things that were iffy about this book.  The next book is coming out in November and I think I will be reading the next book to continue the story.  It feels like things are only just getting interesting.

I give 'Renegades':

This is a read that won't lift your spirits, but I think it's such an important read.  It wrestles with stereotypes and police brutality.  While keeping a journal and writing letters to Dr. King doesn't help Justyce find any specific answers, it's his way of processing what has happened to him, to people in his neighborhood, and his friends.  Regardless of their circumstances and where they're heading in life.

It's a reminder of how powerful stereotypes can be and how that can have an impact on other people and their futures... including whether or not they have a future.  But it's not just a reminder.  It's a call to action as well, which is the most important thing that this book does and that other books like it are doing.

Here's what's powerful about fiction... fiction, good fiction at least, makes you care about people you've never met and will never meet but resemble real people with real lives.  So when bad things happen to them, your empathy is triggered.  And with an issue like police brutality, too often people realize what is happening is wrong, but they don't feel that urgency because usually it's not someone they know.  It's easy to separate ourselves from the situation when we don't have to deal with it directly.  Books like Dear Martin and The Hate U Give, among their other goals, are there to have you empathize with characters like Justyce and Starr to make you realize that this type of situation will keep happening over and over again unless we stand up and do something.

I don't mean to lecture or to belittle anyone, but it's true.  Reads like this one are important to read and spread the word about.

I give 'Dear Martin':

I watch Giovanna Fletcher's videos on YouTube and I knew that she was a writer, but this was the first book of hers I've gotten.  I think I preordered this one.

It's more aimed at adults while her others have been young adult or possibly younger reads.  I think young adult is the proper label, not having read books like Billy & Me.  But I really liked this book!

It's about Lizzy who has been dating this guy forever and instead of getting engaged like she thinks is going to happen, she gets dumped.  Then she goes on a quest to figure out who she is as a single person-- just Lizzy and not "Lizzy and [insert name of person she's dating]."  As someone who has also been with one person forever, this is something that has crossed my mind before-- who am I without my partner?  I feel very lucky to have been able to explore this within my marriage (it sounds a little backward, I know, but bear with me) and that I didn't need to go through a break-up in order to figure this out.  That's why I take time to travel solo occasionally.  And on top of that, my husband and I have some solo habits and that lets us be ourselves instead of the merged entity of us as a couple that just tends to happen when people have been together for a while.

Despite this horrible and gut-wrenching situation that Lizzy is going through, this is actually a very uplifting and empowering read.  It was funny at times and it had me shouting out as I was reading this book, which really confused my husband.

I give 'Some Kind of Wonderful':

Thanks for reading!


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