Girl Mans Up

by M-E Girard
First sentence: “There are four of us dudes sitting here right now.”
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Content: There’s smoking and drinking, a lot of swearing (including multiple f-bombs) and talk of sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’m going to say this up front: I’m glad this book exists. I’m glad that this book is out there for the people it represents, and for people to understand those who are different. I understand the value of this book, even if I didn’t finish it.

Pen Oliveria just wants to be herself. She likes playing video games, and she likes dressing in jeans and tshirts and hanging out with guys. She’s attracted to girls, but she doesn’t want to be your stereotypical “feminine” girl. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold up with her old-world, traditional Portuguese parents, and no one at school — even her friends — seem to get this.

I bailed mostly because I wanted to punch Pen’s best friend, Colby. He’s the definition of toxic masculinity, picking up girls to hook up with them and dump them, judging them solely on their looks. He claims that loyalty is the most important thing, but he is constantly making fun of his friends and leaving them high and dry.  He tolerates Pen because she reels the girls in for Colby to bag and bang, but when she decides to be done with that — after Colby gets a girl pregnant and says it’s not his problem — he’s done with her. I literally wanted to punch him every time he opened his mouth. And Pen’s parents were no better. They are constantly upset at Pen’s older brother, Johnny, for not having a “real” job — Johnny owns his own landscaping business that is slowly gaining a good reputation — because he doesn’t want to work at the factory where their father works. And they’re constantly railing on Pen for not being feminine enough. It’s awful and toxic and a good way to ruin a relationship with your children.

Between the two of those things, I just couldn’t finish. Call it wrong time for me and the book.

 

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Audio book: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman
Read by Cathleen McCarron
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Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some disturbing material, and quite a few f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Eleanor Oliphant is fine. She has a job — the same job she’s had since she graduated from university — as a finance clerk in a graphic design firm. She goes to work, she comes home, gets drunk on weekends, and talks to her mom (which is not a pleasant experience) on Wednesday nights. She has food, shelter, and work. It’s not a bad life.

Then, one day, she sees a musician that she decides she wants to have a relationship with, so she starts changing herself superficially. And at pretty much the same time, she ends up talking to Raymond, an IT guy in the building, and purely by happenstance, they end up helping an older gentleman who took a bad fall outside a store. And suddenly Eleanor’s life opens up.

This was such a delightful book! It has dark undertones with emotional and physical abuse, but it wasn’t graphic, and it played a role in Eleanor’s growth arc. As a character, she was delightful to spend time with, and the other characters that Honeyman populated the book with were absolutely charming. I appreciated that Raymond and Eleanor developed a close friendship, but not a romance (though that door wasn’t completely shut). That, and the narrator was absolutely delightful! It was one of the those books that I found myself immersed in, and one I didn’t want to get out of the car when I was listening.

An excellent read.

Dying to Meet You

by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
First sentence: “By turning this page and the pages that follow, you hereby release the compilers of this correspondence from all liability related to thoughts, ruminations, hallucinations, and dreams (good or bad) of or pertaining to ghosts, friendly or otherwise.”
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Content: So, this is a weird one: the narrator’s an older man and there’s a bit of a love story, but the skill level is beginning chapter plus it’s full of illustrations. My professor has this as a middle school-level book, and the vocabulary level is a bit high, but I’d be tempted to put it in the Beginning Chapter books (Grades 1-3) section of the bookstore.

I’ll say this up front: the best part of this book is the names. Celebrated children’s author I.B. Grumply is looking for a house to rent so he can finish the latest book in his best-selling series. He rents 43 Old Cemetary Road, which is, unfortunately, haunted by the ghost of a librarian and unpublished writer, Olive C. Spence. It also comes with a kid,  Seymour Hope, whose parents (awful as they are) have up and left him. The basic plot is this: I. B. Grumply wants peace and quiet, doesn’t believe there’s a ghost, and rages at Seymour until his convinces Grumply that the ghost is real (and cooks a mean dinner) and then they set about purchasing the house so they can all live happily ever after.

So, this was one of the books in the mystery unit for school, and I have to disagree: there is NO mystery here. It’s a ghost story, plain and simple. And it works as a ghost story. I liked the humor — the names are the best — but otherwise, this one was entirely forgettable.

Ask the Passengers

by A. S. King
First sentence: “Every airplane, no matter how far it is up there, I send love to it.”
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Content: There’s almost sex, references to pot smoking (by an adult), and a number of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

Astrid Jones’ parents moved her from New York City to Union Valley, a wealthy small town somewhere in Pennsylvania (or Ohio; I never quite figured it out) when she was 10. In the seven years since, Astrid has felt like an outsider, and so, as her family slowly dissolves — her father off smoking his pot, her mother to her job, her sister to being popular — Astrid spends her time surviving, trying to figure out if she’s gay, and sending her love to the airplanes that fly above.

Of course there’s more to the story than that: Astrid has a girlfriend she’s keeping secret from everyone, she and her friends get busted for being underage at a gay bar, she explores the philosophy of Socrates, and she and her family try to (maybe) figure out how to be a family.

The thing that struck me most — and this is just because of who I am and my personal experiences — is that King nailed the feeling of being on the outside. Especially when you’re on the outside in a small, conservative, wealthy town. Where everyone knew each other from the time they were little and then you move in and they never really — even if you do have a couple of friends — accept you for who you are because you don’t fit their idea of “acceptable”. There was  LOT in here about appearances and labels and fitting in and caring what other people think of you, and that’s what resonated. I think, especially since this was published seven years ago, that our ideas of LGBT and labels about sexuality have changed (mine have,  at least) and so the fact that Astrid felt that she needed to come out as definitely gay was a bit off-putting: everyone around her pushed her to label herself, whereas I think now we might be more open to her saying “I’m in love with a girl” and not making her label herself as “gay” because of that. But maybe I’m wrong.

At any rate, this gave me a lot to think about. I loved it.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

by Jack Gantos
First sentence: “At school they say I’m wired bad, or wired mad, or wired sad, or wired glad, depending on my mood and what teacher has ended up with me.”
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Content: It’s short, and it’s got short chapters, so probably good for reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Joey Pigza has problems sitting still and focusing. It’s just the way he’s “wired”: he has an excess of energy and he just can’t focus. Unfortunately, that tends to get him in trouble, especially in school. That is, until one day when he accidentally hurts another student with scissors. Then he’s sent to a “special ed” (ugh) school in order to figure out how to behave better. Which not only involves getting Joey the right medication, but als teaching him how to focus so he can learn.

Honestly? I wanted to smack the adults in the book. I guess my parenting style is “let them be who they are” which I suppose doesn’t always translate well into strict social situations, but HONESTLY. I know Joey has ADHD, and couldn’t focus, and it was a medical condition that was interfering with his learning, but I wanted to shake every single adult that told him to sit still and be “normal”. NORMAL? Really?

But Joey, I felt so bad for him. His mother abandoned him (but came back), his grandmother was abusive, his teachers were impatient with him… he just needed some time, some caring, and some attention to help him focus. Okay, so maybe there’s a lot of class issues in this one as well: they were lower class — his mom worked at a salon — and so she didn’t have the time to sit at home and interact with him in ways that he needed. And his diet of candy and fast food also is a class thing. Maybe I’m reading too much into this one, but there’s a lot to unpack about class there, I think. And bad adulting. And about kids with ADHD.

All this from a lower-end middle grade book. Go figure.

The War That Saved My Life

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
First sentence: “‘Ada! Get back from that window!’ Mam’s voice, shouting.”
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Content: There is some depiction of abuse, and tense moments when there is bombing. The bookstore has it in its middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but the state awards deemed it for 6-8th graders.

I know I’ve needed to read this one for a while now, and when my class did a unit on other awards and we were instructed to read a Schneider Family Award winner, I jumped at the chance to finally cross this one off my list.

Ada was born with a club foot. And, because her mother is AWFUL, she was raised to think that somehow her foot made her less. She wasn’t allowed out in public, she couldn’t walk, and her mother shut her in a cupboard and hit her every time she did something her mother didn’t like. And then Germany threatened invasion, and the children of London were sent to the countryside. Ada wasn’t on the list; her mother really was that cruel, but she decided she couldn’t let her younger brother go by himself, and so she went too.

Once there, they were placed with Susan Smith, who had been grieving the loss of her friend, Becky (it was unstated, but I believe they were partners), for two years. Susan didn’t want children, but she made the best of it. And, that simple act changed everyone’s lives.

It is a simple book, following Ada as she figured out how to live a life. Bradley does really well at portraying a traumatized child; Ada is sullen and ungrateful and unresponsive, and has panic attacks set on by the smallest things. But Susan is patient and kind and Ada flourishes. This really is a testament to kindness and resilience and the human spirit.

Very good.

Daughter of the Siren Queen

by Tricia Levenseller
First sentence: “The sound of my knife slitting across a throat feels much too loud in the darkness.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: February 27, 2018
Others in the series: Daughter of the Pirate King
Content: There is violence, obviously, and a LOT of sexual tension and kissing, but nothing ever happens. It’ll be in the the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Daughter of the Pirate King, obviously.

Picking up where we left off, Alosa has a copy of the map to the secret Isla del Canta, where the legendary treasure of the sirens lay. Initially, she plans to help her father find it, and then help rule the seas with him. Except, when she and her crew show up at the keep, Alosa discovers a secret that turns everything upside down. Suddenly, Alosa and her crew are no longer working with her father, they’re racing against him. And it will take everything that Alosa has to beat him to the island, and ultimately, defeat him.

Again: So. Much. Fun. There really isn’t a whole lot more to these (except for a very woke love interest), but man, female pirates are fun. Alosa is a great character, and I loved her relationship with Riden and with her crew. I loved that Levenseller was ruthless; she killed characters I thought were safe, which upped the ante and made the tension that much greater. I have a slight quibble with the end, but I’m going to let it go because it really was just fun to read.

And… it’s only a duology! So the story wrapped up. YAY! That said, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with Alosa and her crew again.