Friday, December 16, 2016

Two book clubs met this week

Nearly our whole roster (17 out of 22) made it to the rescheduled 10-12 Book Club this Tuesday. Thanks again to the 6+7 Club for pushing their meeting so they could!

We discussed Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, and though some liked it very well, we were surprised to find that no one loved it quite as much as Anarda and I did, perhaps because their expectations were heightened by all the hype. Most were impressed with the level of detail on the characterizations, but didn't necessarily find the love story convincing; they couldn't believe that two who were so different would get together. These readers are tough--no willing suspension of disbelief on this one! One also commented that she was surprised Park didn't get more flack for being "the only Korean in Kansas." Everyone, of course, loathed the step-dad, and the ending was pronounced either tragic or annoying. It received a respectable rating of 7.65.

For January's discussion, we are reading Lock In, by John Scalzi, in which people with a debilitating disease that renders them completely helpless are able to move through the world either by piggy-backing in someone else's body (only people who had the disease and got over it can provide this service) or by using a "threep" mobile robot (named after C3PO). So what happens when a murder is committed and no one knows who was using what body or threep? A complex conundrum.

For February's meeting, we will be exploring a (sort of) similar story in David Levithan's Every Day, in which a person wakes up each day in someone else's body!

Other books we considered (in descending order of popularity):
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
Proxy, by Alex London
I'll Meet You There, by Heather Demetrios
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

We meet in January on the 3rd (unless I hear from club members that they don't want to meet while still on winter break, in which case we will have a repeat of this month's scramble!).

The 8+9 Club met Wednesday night to review The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, and after more than a year of promoting that book to the club as a great read, George S. was not in attendance! Its other major fan, Brenden, held up the side, though. As did everyone else--this book was immensely popular (even with Mohammad!). Everyone liked the setting (an America made up of a giant archipelago of islands), the characters (Joel and Melody were most cited, but everyone also felt for Fitch and loved/hated Professor Nalizar), and the drawings, oh the drawings! The diagrams, the chalklings, the technical aspects and the wild ones. My grousing about unexplained phenomena was ignored, and the club gave the book a big fat rating of 9, which is the highest rated book this year! Now the wait for the sequel (due out "in 2017," which as one club member pointed out "could be next month or could be December [sigh]") begins.

Our book for January is The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and although our small group of 14 (out of 24! what happened, everybody?) went home with books last night (thanks to the two who said they could raid their older siblings' shelves for this book), we are still waiting for 11 more to be delivered from the midwestern warehouse, and three to come from Amazon. So anyone who wasn't in attendance at last night's meeting, wait to hear from us before you come to pick up your copy.

For February, the group chose Jackaby, by William Ritter. Other books we considered, in descending order of popularity, were:

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
Court of Fives, by Kate Elliott
Sabriel, by Garth Nix
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
Enchanted Ivy, by Sarah Beth Durst
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares

January's meeting (and every other meeting for winter/spring of 2017) has changed its day and date! We will see you on TUESDAY, JANUARY 24th! Same time, same place. And please look at your book club listing on our website to see the other revised dates!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What we're reading: Romance with issues

The Problem with Forever, by Jennifer Armentrout, is...well...that it goes on for, know?

I hovered over the three-star rating I'm giving it. I hovered. Because there IS a gap between "I liked it" and "it was okay," and I wasn't sure we had bridged that gap.

There were parts of this book I did like. First of all, kudos to Armentrout for taking on this subject matter--children who are severely damaged by falling through the cracks of the foster care system. That's the main reason I picked up the book, was to experience the dynamic between foster kids, the flawed system, and the horrifying possibilities if the people who took you in didn't have your best interests at heart.

I liked that both Mallory and Rider got out, that they were able to find people who cared about them, and who were willing to help them work through all the deficits their background caused, so they could begin to have a real life. And speaking of real life, I liked the detail of the book The Velveteen Rabbit being their solace. But...

First of all, if she had typed just ONE MORE ELLIPSE, I was going to throw the book across the room. Mallory, after 13 years of being told not to speak (she was trying to avoid unwanted attention from her violent foster father), finds talking a big hurdle. So she chokes, she stutters, she strains to get words out, and...she...pauses. A lot. Thus...the ellipses. The weird thing about Mallory's speaking problem was that once she did manage to say something, she then said it again...and again...and again, in slightly different words. This resulted in a book of more than 400 pages. Editor, listen up: This book could have been 250 pages and been just as (or probably more) effective with some judicious pruning.

Romance is a big, important part of this book. In fact, I would say the book is dominated by it, although that wasn't its stated theme (abandoned foster children, remember?). The descriptions of first love are sweet (and sometimes a little cringe-worthy), and that aspect of the book felt real and touching. But...I have to ask: Has anyone ever met, in real life, a boy as hot as Rider was in high school, and with a name like Rider Stark? C'mon. These are the fantasies that paperback romance novels with Fabio on the cover are made of! Also, because Mallory has been home-schooled by the people who saved and adopted her, although she is a senior in high school she is experiencing all the angst usually reserved for stories about freshmen; so even though there are feelings and physicality appropriate to older teens, the emotional age of the protagonist is young.

It would be nice if, just once, it wasn't the girl (Rider's nickname for her is Mouse) who is the weak, conflicted, helpless one who needs protecting, encouraging, care-taking, coddling. That theme does get flipped--a little bit--by the end of the book...but the tale of Mallory's shortcomings previous to that is nearly interminable.

So as I said, I waffled, I hovered, but then I gave it the three stars, mostly for effort. I know that some teens will love this book passionately for all the reasons I found to be critical of it, and that's okay. It's not a bad book, it's just not quite what I was looking for. (It does have a pretty watercolor cover.)

Those who really want to read a book focused more on foster care and less on romance could try The Last Chance Texaco, by Brent Hartinger, The Boy From the Basement, by Susan Shaw, Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt, or What I Call Life, by Jill Wolfson. For older teens (a little edgier and more mature), try Ron Koertge's Strays, and Solace of the Road, by Siobhan Dowd.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Award-winning Teen Fiction Post #7

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Hyla is in grade 7.

Everlasting Memories
by Hyla Etame

Sometimes when I close my eyes, memories play in my mind. One memory is of when I was a young boy, fishing with my father in the Niger River, or when I went hunting for the first time with the other boys and men from my village. But, these joyful memories are instantly invaded by a flashback I don’t want to relive, but can’t erase out of my mind: The look of fear in my brother Emeka’s eyes when we were captured and sold to slave traders, forced onto a crammed ship with several hundred others, to embark on a brutal journey over seas that lasted for weeks. I never saw my younger brother again after that ship. A part of me hopes he died so that he only knew life as a free man, and not life as a man weighed down by chains.

When the ship finally docked in America, the traders gave each of us a new name. Some were asked what their name was, and if they answered incorrectly they would be hit with a cane. The traders looked me up and down, as if I was a cow up for auction (I would soon realize how close I was to the truth), then one of them said that my new name was Eddie. I was confused at first to why it was necessary to change our names; later when I would ask this of my friend Noah, on the Davis plantation, he would say, “It’s just another way for them to control us, to show how they own us.”

When I first came to the Davis Plantation, I had no friends and I didn’t talk to anybody. I was too eaten up by guilt, anger, and frustration to even notice that I had built a wall around myself blocking everyone and everything else out. I felt guilty about how I couldn’t protect my younger brother, I was angry with everyone who controlled me and got away with it, and I was frustrated about the situation I was in. The first time I was whipped was when I didn’t respond to my master calling my “name.” It was only a few lashes. I didn’t even care about that. I was just ashamed and embarrassed about the fact that the whole plantation watched me get a beating.

My first friend on the plantation was Noah. He showed me the ropes of how to survive slavery, so that you aren’t on the master’s kill list or on his favorite list.

“I was born on this plantation, so was my father,” Noah explained, “But my momma was born in Africa.”

“Where are your parents?” I asked him while I chopped a block of wood for the project the master set us working on.

Noah’s face turned gloomy, and I regretted asking. He then said, “Momma was sold to another plantation. I don’t even know how old I was. And my father was killed because they suspected him of trying to run away.”

“I’m sorry. I know how it feels to know that you’re never going to see your family again,” I replied, thinking of my family back in Africa.

Noah just nodded. He then turned around and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was in earshot and whispered, “What was it like in Africa?”

I sensed that if the master or the overseer caught us talking about this subject we’d get in trouble, so I whispered back, “Beautiful. Our village was by the Niger River, and we fished a lot. Then some nights we’d listen to the griots--storytellers--explain the history of our people and tell us legends. My best friend was Ekene; his goal was to become the best hunter in our whole village. My little brother, Emeka, was very good at herding the goats, he never let any of his flock get lost,” I paused, the memory of the terrified look on my brother's face flashing before my eyes, but I continued: “I don’t know what happened to him. I never saw him again after we were captured and placed onto that ship.”

We continued working on our project and with our conversation. Noah said that I put too much blame on myself about what happened to Emeka, my beloved younger brother, and I told him that I couldn’t help it. That I shouldn’t have let my desire for hunting make me ignore the villager’s warnings of people being abducted, and that I should have fought harder for my freedom as well as my brother’s.

I shared a cabin with 10 other people. Getting sleep was hard at first; the master didn’t provide any of us with proper furniture. The cabin had a dirt floor, and our “beds” were pieces of straw and old rags, with only one blanket to keep us warm. The youngest person in the cabin was Abraham; he was about eight years old. He had a hard time falling asleep too, so I would tell him stories of growing up in Africa and my childhood. I could tell by looking in his eyes that he was fascinated by my stories; the only environment he has ever known is Davis plantation. After a few of my tales, Abraham would fall into a deep slumber. I would fall asleep a few minutes after he did, but I always tossed and turned throughout the night. Abraham once asked me why I was such a restless sleeper, I simply replied, “Nightmares.” I could tell he was confused by my answer, wondering how a grown man could have nightmares.

I still suffer from the guilt of not knowing what happened to my brother. I can only face what my actions have led for my life: A life of a man weighed down by shackles; a life of a man being haunted by his everlasting memories.