American Heart

by Laura Moriarty
First sentence: “One thing someone just meeting me might want to know is why I have two first names.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 30. 2018
Content: There are some disturbing situations, including an almost rape and violence against minorities. It will be in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Sarah-Mary and her younger brother are living with their aunt in Hannibal, Missouri, because their mother is one of those Bad Mothers who can’t take care of her children. Her younger brother is okay with this (except for the missing mom part), but it chafes with Sarah-Mary. She has a limited amount of freedom, which chafes. And then, she and her brother meet an Iranian woman, whom Sarah-Mary ends up calling Chloe, who is  on the run, avoiding the mandatory Muslim registry that has been implemented for “our safety”. Her brother begs Sarah-Mary to help get Chloe to safety in Canada, and of course Sarah-Mary promises. And thus begins the adventure.

It’s not a pleasant one, either. Moriarty attempts to focus on the wrongness of profiling people by race or religion (there’s this scene where Sarah-Mary witnesses a raid on a house where the person was harboring Muslims) and touches on prejudice and discrimination. She also make sure that the dangers of two women hitchhiking are amply described.  Nothing “bad” ever happens, but the novel brushes up against it several times, and it’s only through luck, wit, and technology that Sarah-Mary and Chloe get away.

And along the way Sarah-Mary learns the one great lesson that we all need to learn, especially right now: people are people. They all have hopes, dreams, and stories. And that judging a whole religion or race by one person’s actions not only is not fair, it’s wrong. However, the Muslim registry doesn’t miraculously go away at the end of the book, nor does Sarah-Mary’s actions have a larger Meaning, so maybe Moriarty missed the mark on something big here.

Perhaps, though, that’s also the problem with the book. That Sarah-Mary (read: white people) needed a Muslim woman (read: any diverse person of color) to Show Her the Way. As a concept, it’s clumsy, and I’ve read some responses on the book that lead me to think that it might be harmful, reinforcing White Stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, and just the White Savior narrative. I did enjoy this while reading it, but in retrospect, I’m not sure it was the best idea for a white woman to tackle something like this.

 

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If I Was Your Girl

ifiwasyourgirlby Meredith Russo
First sentence: “The bus smelled of mildew, machine oil, and sweat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some almost sexytimes, teen pot smoking and drinking, and a few instances of the f-bomb. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to get this out of the way, first. Whether or not this book is Good, it’s Important. It’s a book about a trans teenage girl written by a trans woman, and that perspective is invaluable. Period.

It’s an interesting plot, though, focusing not on the act of transitioning, or the reasons of transitioning (those come through flashbacks throughout the story), but the after-effects of the transition. Andrew grew up knowing he was a girl, and that he was just in the wrong body. And after a suicide attempt, his mother approved his transitioning — not just in name, Amanda now, but fully, with hormones and surgery. So, when she’s beaten up by a man for using the “wrong” restroom (because she was known in the their town; also, how very timely…) she heads to rural Tennessee to live with her father, who bailed on the family when Andrew began his transition to Amanda.

The goal is to pass: she is beautiful, and no one really can “tell” she wasn’t always biologically a young woman. And, at first, it all goes well. Sure, she’s hiding her past, but she’s living as her truest self, so it all seems like it will be okay. She has friends for the first time in a long time. She has a boyfriend. The problem is that even though she’s living as her truest self, keeping her past a secret isn’t always a comfortable thing.

(I hope I’m writing about this right.)

What this gave me, as a cisgender straight woman, was perspective. I did enjoy the romance; Amanda and Grant were super cute together and Russo does know how to write some good almost sexytimes. But what I found I enjoyed more was the understanding, the humanizing of Amanda. I’ve said that books are an excellent way to gain empathy for those who are different from you, and this was no exception. I feel like, through Amanda, I got to know one trans person’s story. And while that’s not to be taken as Everyperson’s story — as Russo points out in the note at the beginning of the book  — it’s a start. It made Amanda’s hopes, dreams, and feelings real to me, and that’s important.

So, even if this book wasn’t any Good (and it was very well written; Russo does know her South!), it’s Important. And that counts for a lot.

Audio book: Six of Crows

sixofcrowsby Leigh Bardugo
Read by: Jay Snyder, Brandon Rubin, David LeDoux, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, and Tristan Morris
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, some of it on the graphic side. Illusions to prostitution, and two swear words (they stood out). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’m glad I read it. It’s probably on par with Hunger Games, so if your kid/you can handle the content of that, this one is probably okay.

I put this one off. I know I did. I know I should have read it last fall when it was Hot and Everyone was reading it. But, I was busy, and I kept putting it off. Until I was in need of a new audio book and I stumbled across this one. I finished it, went into work and declared “So THAT’S what I was missing!” Yeah.

Kaz Brekker has worked his way up in the Dregs — a criminal gang in the island city/nation of Ketterdam — and has a reputation for being brutal and willing to take anything on. So when he’s tasked with springing a scientist out of the most secure prison in the world — the Ice Fortress in Fjerda — of course he accepts. The price is right, after all. He gathers together a crew of six people — ranging from a merchant’s exiled son to a Grisha —  and they set out to achieve the impossible. Of course, they don’t get along, there’s a lot of internal mistrust and bickering. And, of course, things go badly. (I was wondering how it was all going to fit in one book. The answer is it does but it doesn’t.)

This was enormous amounts of fun. Perhaps part of that fun was the audio form: there were five different people doing the five different narrators, which helped immensely. I really enjoyed the way each one did the other characters slightly differently as well as the way each actor interpreted their own character. It definitely added something more to the book.

I have to admit that I liked this one better than the Grisha books. For whatever reason, I love heist books, I love books with twists and turns (though some of the twists were unfair; she didn’t give me enough information to see things coming and I was genuinely surprised a couple of times) and this one had both. I came to like the characters — Matthais the Fjorden had the most character growth (I wanted to throttle him in the beginning), but I loved the rest of the crew as well. I liked the diversity — it felt effortless and natural rather than an author just trying to be diverse. Bardugo expanded the narrow world she’d created in the Grisha books, and gave it much more depth, which I absolutely adored.

I’ll most definitely be picking up the next one (maybe even in audio) to see how this adventure ends.