Tess of the Road

by Rachel Hartman
First sentence: “When Tessie Dombegh was six and still irrepressible, she married her twin sister, Jeanne, in the courtyard of their childhood home.”
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Others in the series: Seraphina, Shadow Scale
Content: There are many allusions to sex (including rape). It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

As a head’s up, while this one references Seraphina and Shadow Scale, it’s a completely separate story, and you can probably get away without reading them if you’re not interested. (I didn’t re-read them, and so really didn’t remember much, and still enjoyed Tess.)

Let me say this at the start: I love Hartman’s writing. It’s not elegant like Laini Taylor or Maggie Stiefvater, but Hartman knows how to tell a story in such a way that you lose yourself in it. Tess is a human girl — Seraphina’s half sister — who just wants to be intellectually challenged. But raised in a strict household (they’re paying for Seraphina’s “sin” of being a dragon), what’s expected of her is to marry well. But Tess messes that up when she gets pregnant (at age 14!) and has a baby. And now, when she’s 17, faced with the prospect of raising her twin sisters children or going to a convent she does the unthinkable: she disguises herself as a boy and takes to walking the road, ostensibly to help her quigutl (a sub-species of dragon) friend find the World Serpent.

This is such a remarkable book: a heartfelt and emotional tale as Tess’s story unfolds through a series of flashbacks, but also an adventurous one, as we experience Tess and Pathka’s adventures on the road. It’s a deeply feminist book as well, as Hartman explores the consequences of not teaching your kids sex ed or discouraging girls from getting an education, if they want. It’s all about expressing anger and compassion and helping others out along they way and redemption and forgiveness.

And it’s left open-ended, so we may (or may not) get to join Tess for more adventures.

It’s wonderful.

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Amal Unbound

by Aisha Saeed
First sentence: “I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amal has a goal: she loves school, and wants to go to college and become a teacher. It seems simple, but for a 12-year-old girl in a Pakistani village, it’s means everything, She sees her future before her, and feels like she can make a difference.

That is, until one day she decides to stand up for herself… with the wrong person. Jawal Sahib is a member of the Khan clan, the people with the most money and influence in the region. And he’s not a person you cross. So, the next thing Amal knows, her father’s debts have been called in (he took out loans to cover his orange groves), and he can’t pay. So Jawal Sahib takes Amal as “payment”. She’s put to work in the household as a personal servant for Jawal Sahib’s mother, Nasreen Baji. It’s not something Amal wants, but she has no choice. And so, she tries to make the best of a (very bad) situation.

There’s more to the story than that; Saeed not only deals with involuntary servitude but also the treatment and education of women, she touches on corruption in politics and commerce in Pakistan; the Khans are so influential because they have bribed so many people. It’s enough that Jawal Sahib feels that he is above the law, and everyone beneath him is resigned: that’s just the way things are.

It’s a very stark picture of what life can be like in Pakistan, and how many people are just scraping by while a few get rich off their backs. But it’s not a depressing one: Amal is an incredible character to spend a book with, one who really does find ways to make life bearable and who tries to make a difference wherever she goes.

And Saeed knows how to tell a story that will keep younger readers engaged as well.

Excellent.

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

by Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: “The day she buried her husband — a good man, by all accounts, though shy, not given to drink or foolishness; not one for speeding tickets or illegal parking or cheating on his taxes; not one for carousing at the county fair, or tomcatting with the other men from the glass factory; which is to say, he was utterly unkonwn in town: a cipher; a cold, blank space — Agnes Sorensen arrived at the front steps of Our lady of the Snows.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are more mature themes and some swearing (though I’m not remembering any f-bombs). It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

I have a tortured history with short stories. I want to like them, but I find them much like poetry: I don’t get them. They’re words, and often pretty words, but I just don’t… well… understand them. (Even Neil Gaiman’s stories, which I seem to have a bit more affinity for.) And this collection was more of the same: I liked the stories, but I need someone else to read them and then explain them to me. (Especially the title story. I know it’s a metaphor, and I’m sure I’ll smack my head when someone tells me what it’s a metaphor for, but right now, I’m a bit lost.)

Barnhill is a gorgeous crafter of sentences, and this is no exception. She has a beautiful way with words, and it does pull you into the story. I especially liked the final story, which is more of a novella (which could be why), because the world that Barnhill built — a comet flies by once every 25 years and endows pre-born children with magical powers which a minister then harnesses for his own means — was so fascinating, but also because the writing was just so beautiful.

And maybe, someday, I’ll figure out how to read short stories and actually understand.

Module 11: Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX

letmeplayBlumenthal, K. (2005). Let me play: The story of Title IX. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

Genre: Non-fiction, history.

Book Summary:  A history of how Title IX came to be passed as law, the reasons behind why it was proposed and the effects it had on girls’ education and sports, focusing mostly on sports equality.

Impressions: I loved this! Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I vaguely knew about Title IX, but I didn’t really pay attention to the details. Going back and reading this made me realize just how much work not only had to be done but how much progress was made. I liked the insets featuring the people who were the primary movers and shakers behind the law. My only complaint was that it wasn’t terribly diverse, but maybe that was a side-effect of the times. The effect of Title IX on minority populations would be an interesting topic to explore, though.

Review: The reviewers called it a “thoughtful, enlightening and inspiring” look at Title IX and the effects it had at on womens’ education in America. They were really critical of the design of the book calling it an “absolutely criminal treatment from the designer”, which effected their overall view of the book.

Staff. (2006). Let me play: The story of Title IX: The law that changed the future of girls in America. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/karen-blumenthal/let-me-play/

Library Uses: This one would be good on a library display about sports, feminism or in a women’s history month display or programming.

Readalikes:

  • Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin –  The story of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team in 1907 and how they became the “team that invented football”. Written by one of the great non-fiction writers of our time, this is a remarkable story.
  • Women in Sports by  Rachel Ignotofsky –  A collection of one-page biographies of women in sports from the 1800s to today. It also includes interesting facts about muscle anatomy and statistics about pay.
  • Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports by Gregory Zuckerman – A series of short biographies of women who rose above challenges in their lives to compete at the top of the game in their various sports.

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.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

The Belles

by Dhonielle Clayton
First sentence: “We all turned sixteen today, and for any normal girl that would mean raspberry and lemon macarons and tiny pastel blimps and pink champagne and card games.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 6, 2018
Content: There is some physical and emotional abuse and an attempted rape scene, but it’s not overly graphic. It will probably be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Camille is one of the Belles, the only people in the kingdom of Orléans who was born with color and who have the ability to manipulate the bodies of everyone else, and she is determined to be the favorite of the Queen. This means she’s the best, the chosen, the, well, favored.  Only she’s not chosen to be the favorite… and from there, she starts unraveling the mystery that is the Belles, and discovers the lengths that the royals will go to keep the Belles in their control.

So the tagline on the ARC was “the revolution is here” which is REALLY misleading, so I’m glad they changed that. This is a very long (almost overlong), very opulent, set up to whatever is going to happen in the next. There’s a lot of world-building here, and quite of bit of it leaves questions hanging. We discover things as Camille discovers them, which means we are left as frustrated and impatient as she is. I liked the world and I liked the characters… for me the downfall was just the descriptions. Everything was food (buttercream, chocolate, caramel, honey) and fabric, and I felt almost smothered in it all. Underneath, I could sense a criticism of plastic surgery, of the desire to change one’s appearance, but I’m not sure I could find it underneath all the clothes and makeup. But that’s just me (though I do admit that I’m curious about the sequel). There will be readers who gobble this up and love every minute. I’m just not one of them.

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded

by Sage Blackwood
First sentence: “A secret nearly cost Chantel her life, on a dark summer morning when the rains ran down the stairstepped streets of Lightning Pass.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some frighting parts. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Chantel (pronounced shan-TAL not CHAN-tel) has grown up learning magic in Miss Ellicott’s orphanage/school. She’s quite talented at it, one of the best students, except she has a problem. All the magic users in their walled city-kingdom are supposed to be “shamefast and biddable”, and those are two things that Chantel, well, isn’t. It turns out to be a good thing though, for when Miss Ellicott and the rest of the kingdom’s seven sorceresses disappear, Chantel takes it upon herself to Figure Out and then Solve the problem, which grows to include an invasion, treachery, and a dragon.

On the one hand, this is a delightful magical tale, well and complexly told, by a very talented writer. I loved Blackwood’s Jinx series, and while this one is a stand-alone (hurrah!) it’s much more of the same elegant, interesting writing with a good dose of snark, something that I think the most reluctant readers will enjoy.

On the other hand, this is a fantastic allegory about the state of women throughout history. (Or at least, that’s what I saw.) I saw women taking their power and conforming it to the patriarchy (in this case, there was a king, but the men who ruled the kingdom were called The Patriarchs), working to maintain the Status Quo, because upending it is unthinkable. And then there was a girl who asked “WHY?” and started doing things differently, even though she was told — by the king, the patriarchs, the older women — that she Couldn’t. Still, she persisted, and Change — not just small change, but Large Sweeping Change. It was not only entertaining, but it was hopeful and empowering.

And I loved it.