Half Bad

by Sally Green
First sentence: “There’s these two kids, boys, sitting close together, squished in by the big arms of an old chair.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment
Content: There’s talk of imagined sex (none actual), and some (mostly mild) swearing. But the talk of the abuse Nathan takes is hard to get though, even for me as an adult. It’s in the teen section ¬†(grades 9 and up) because of that. Be wary of giving this one to an overly-sensitive person.

I was talking this book up in January to a group of educators, saying to look for it, that Green turns the whole “white=good and black=bad” thing upside down. How little did I know.

It does do that: sure. But to say that’s all this first in a trilogy does is to woefully underestimate it.

Nathan is the illegitimate child of a White Witch — his mother — and the baddest of all Black witches. Marcus, Nathan’s father, has alluded the White Hunters for years. And so, to say that having his kid in their midst irks them is a gross understatement. So the council imposes Codes — restrictions — on all Half Bloods. They start mild, with yearly assessments, but get increasingly more restrictive as Nathan gets older. It ends with him being held in a cage for two years. This is partially because of a vision Marcus saw that Nathan would kill him. The White Hunters want to make that happen: he’s ostensibly being “trained” to murder his father. Not that he has any say in the matter.

So, yes, Greene is turning good and evil upside down; how can the “good” people treat someone who is different from them so atrociously. (And believe me, it’s worse than bad.) But, the black witches don’t fare so well, either. Marcus, from all reports (granted, they’re ¬†untrustworthy) is a despicable person. And the one time we see him, he doesn’t entirely acquit himself either. And the only other black witches we see aren’t that much better. Perhaps it’s more a treatise on how power corrupts, and how differences become so ingrained that we can’t see those who aren’t the same as us.

And even though it was difficult at times to get through, emotionally, it did give me a lot to think about. I’m quite interested to see where she goes with this series, and if she can keep up the complex nature of the characters.

Lifesaving Lessons

by Linda Greenlaw
First sentence: “Confrontation was imminent.”
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Content: There’s some swearing, including a number of f-bombs. Plus some discussion of sexual abuse of an adult and a minor.

I read a few of Linda Greenlaw’s books way back when and although I didn’t keep up with what she was doing, when I found that she was coming to the store for the paperback version of her latest memoir, I snagged at the chance to both see her and read the book.

This one is a memoir of how she became a mother, of sorts. It’s the story of a girl who came to the island from an abusive family, with an uncle who was seen as a savior. That is, until she escaped one night, and the truth came out: her uncle was sexually and emotionally abusing her. It’s not a pleasant story to read; Greenlaw pulls no punches when talking about the abuse. She’s not graphic either, but rather giving us the full emotional heartache that her daughter — and the island — went through because of this. And how she ended up the legal guardian — and eventually feeling like a mother figure — of the girl.

It’s a hopeful book in the end, though. It’s not an easy road, with a lot of ups and downs, but Greenlaw takes us along for the ride in her frank, yet engaging way. I was drawn into her island way of life again, and worked through her problems with her. I wanted things to work out the best for Greenlaw and her ward, and it was that desire that kept me plugging through what usually would be considered Other People’s Problems.

I’m not sure it’s a book for everyone. But I did find the journey interesting.

Speak

by Laurie Halse Anderson
ages: mature 12+
First sentence: “It is my first morning of high school.”

I was wandering through the bookstore a couple months back, and I chanced upon a display with the 10th anniversary edition of this book. Some part of my brain recognized it (aside from “Hey, that’s the woman who wrote Chains!”) as an important/noteworthy book, and willed me to stop. I picked it up, read the back and the first section, and was hooked. I didn’t walk away with it that night (ah, self control!), but went home and put it on hold at the library. (I think I may have to go buy it now, though.)

Melinda is beginning her freshman year as a complete and total outcast because she called the cops on a party a few weeks prior to the beginning of school. And the year goes downhill from there. Melinda spends the year trying to survive (and not always making it), while her grades fall and she spends more and more time locked inside her head. As it turns out, calling the cops wasn’t so much a tattling thing (as one might initially suspect) but a real cry for help from Melinda, who was raped at the party. As the year progresses, Melinda comes to terms with what happened to her that night, as well as the person who did it to her.

Jen Robinson pointed out two things in her review that I thought were worth mentioning. One, that it’s a scarily accurate portrayal of someone who is monumentally depressed. Melinda is hopeless, and while she spends much of the book living in her head, and trying to escape her world, it’s not a hopeless book. She’s funny on occasion, and her powers of observation are keen, especially about the stupidity of the high school world. Secondly, Jen mentioned that Anderson hopes that teenage boys will read this book, if only to get a sense about what a young woman who has been raped would possibly go through. One of the things I liked most about the book was realizing that while Melinda was suffering in silence, she wasn’t necessarily the only one suffering; her actions caused her parents, teachers, and, yes, even old friends (at least the ones who noticed) worry, and while that worry was often misdirected and misapplied, they were affected by her.

But the thing that got me most was that Anderson was able to take something as harsh as rape and put a human face on it, and make you feel something (depression, anger, triumph) for Melinda. That’s a mark of a good writer. And a good book.