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.

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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.”
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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.

Moxie

by Jennifer Matthieu
First sentence: “My English teacher Mr. Davies rubs a hand over his military buzz cut.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are several f-bombs as well as other mild swearing. There’s a description of an assault, plus some definitely crude t-shirts worn by guys. There is also teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid who is interested.

I picked this up on a whim, partially because I met Jennifer Matthieu last fall and she was delightful, but also partially because it looked, well, cool. (Which I am not.) I didn’t realize I was in for a complex and interesting feminist anthem.

Viv is a junior at East Rockport High, where football is king and the boys, literally, get away with anything. Demeaning girls in class. Doing a “March Madness” ranking of them. Play a “game” of “bump-n-grab” (yes, it is exactly like it sounds). The girls complain, but the administration turns a deaf ear. In fact, one could even say they’re part of the problem: doing random dress code checks in which they publicly shame girls for “breaking” the code. Viv has spent her whole life flying under the radar, but after discovering some of her mother’s old Riot Grrrl zines, she decides to take a stand. She starts Moxie, an anonymous zine that she distributes in the bathroom. Initially, she doesn’t know how it will be received, but over the months, the zine takes a life of its own, and helps push back against the culture of the high school.

I loved this one! I loved it for Viv, and her slow awakening — her realizing that there was something she can do to help (maybe) make a difference. I loved it for the ways in which she made a difference, for the realization that feminism is an embracing not a dividing. I loved the slight love story. I loved that Matthieu gave us a diverse high school — we interacted with Latina girls, black girls, gay girls, straight girls… all sorts of girls. I really loved the zines, and the fierceness that is inherent in them: a Moxie girl doesn’t take any crap. Which is really what I loved about this: Viv and her friends learned how to stand up for themselves, demand respect from those around them (especially men!), and enjoy each other.

Give this one to any teenage girl, if only so they know they’re not alone.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

by Anne Helen Petersen
First sentence: “On November 8, 2016, I woke up early and said, to no one in particular,’I’m so excited to vote for our first female president!'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of f-bombs. It’s in the Sociology section at the bookstore.

I picked this up after hearing an interview with the author on the It’s Been a Minute podcast (which is a fantastic podcast, by the way). It was a smart, interesting interview and I found myself wondering if the book was going to be as smart and as interesting.

And it was. Petersen looks at the representation of women in the media/popular culture through profiling ten celebrities she’s deemed “unruly”, literally not abiding by the set “rules” of culture. They each have a chapter and a reason why they’re unruly, ranging from Too Strong (Serena Williams) and Too Old (Madonna) to To Shrill (Hillary Clinton) and Too Slutty (Nicki Minaj). It’s an interesting look at each of these women’s careers, as well as the public perception of them. I thought it was fascinating. Some of the chapters are stronger than others (the Madonna chapter was actually more a critique of Madonna’s reactions to the cultural perception of her and a wish that she’d be better at resisting aging “gracefully”), but they’re all equally fascinating. There is a lack of people of color (Serena and Nicki are the only two), possibly because there’s a lack of women of color in the celebrity sphere… but I’m not the right person to judge that. I did find it a good, critical look at how we (men and women) perceive female celebrities and, by extension, how we perceive women in general.

A good read.

Newsprints

newsprintsby Ru Xu
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 31, 2017
Content: The story line is a bit complex, but nothing that a 10+ year old could handle. It’ll be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

Blue is an orphan girl who disguises herself as a boy to deliver newspapers. There’s a war going on, and she loves working as a newsie for the Bugle, but she worries that once people find out she’s  a girl she’ll be out of a job. Then, she discovers an absent minded inventor and a boy that’s a lot more than he seems, and all of a sudden people discovering she’s a girl is the least of her worries.

It took me a while to get into this (possibly because it was an advance copy and in black in white; I’ve discovered I like graphic novels better in color), but once I did, I was hooked. Blue’s a great character, and the world that Xu has created is this futuristic-retro thing. There’s a war between fictional countries, and there are robots and flying ships and super fast trains, and… newsies. It’s weird and wild and fun.

And I liked the friendship between Blue and Crow, the boy she meets, and how Blue’s willing to do just about anything to defend him. Also, the underlying feminism: Blue’s questioning of the way the system is, why she needs to disguise herself, and wanting the system itself to change.

It’s definitely only a start of a series, but it’s a strong start and a series I’ll definitely be paying attention to.

 

 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

tenantofwildfellby Anne Bronte
Fist sentence: “Dear Halford, When we were together last, you gave me a very particular and interesting account of the most remarkable occurrences of your early life, previous to our acquaintance; and then you requested a return of confidence from me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a lot to digest: a lot of characters, etc. and there’s some reference to… unsavory… things but nothing actual. If you can handle any Bronte or Austen book, then this is for you. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up on M’s recommendation (I’m not a Bronte fan); she said it was her favorite of the Bronte books she had to read in class, and that I might like it.

The basic plot is this:  a woman — Mrs. Helen Graham — moves into an empty house with her son. She soon becomes the subject of gossip in the neighborhood, and garners the interest of a young man, Gilbert Markham, who soon professes his love for her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Graham isn’t free to love, and she — through letting Gilbert read her diary — confesses all to him. And the all is sordid. She thought she was marrying a good man (or at the very least, an okay one that she could reform) and it turned out that she, well, didn’t. He was a liar, a cheat, a philanderer, and not very kind her her. She put up with it for a while, for the sake of their child, but eventually had enough and left.  Which was unheard of in 1847.

So, on the one hand: good for her! Good for her for getting her and her child out of the marriage. Good for her for sticking up to her beliefs. Good for her for staying strong.

But.

Ugh, why do the Brontes have to be SO moralistic? Was it just a Victorian thing? Even though she was the victim, and I think her husband was all sorts of Awful, she was SO very moralistic. She had absolutely no faults about her, and was always right. Which makes for a very boring main character. It was all: oh! look at the virtuous woman and how she suffers. And I don’t mean to demean women’s suffering or the fact that they were (are!) treated badly at the hands of men. It’s just that, as a character in a book, reading about someone who is So Good is kind of, well, dull.

And then there’s the end. (Spoilers ahead.) She goes back to her husband when he gets ill (really?) because she’s So Good. And then he dies, so she’s free to remarry Markham and live happily ever after. Nice and all, but I dislike the Victorian (again!) notion that a woman is only happy with the (right) man. I’ll give Anne props for including the (right); I’m sure societal conventions were more along the lines of marry the girl off, as long as he’s rich who cares. (See: Jane Austen.) It makes me glad for how far we’ve come.

Or maybe just reading the Brontes makes me irritable. They’re all melodrama and no humor or societal observation. Give me Austen any day.

Three Books for Women’s History Month

In other news, before I begin: we’ve got a date, a theme, a logo, AND a hotel for KidlitCon. This being in charge thing isn’t half-bad. 99% of that reason is because I’ve got an excellent team cheering me on, giving me (indispensable) advice and basically helping me manage this. Now, if only I had someone to do the dishes.. (Wait a minute…)

You can check out all the KidlitCon goodies at the website.  I hope to see you there! (Or here…)

I centered this month’s three books (no surprise) on Women’s History month. And even though I didn’t have a choice for older teens, I really like these three books. A lot.

9780786851423Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Faulkner- A history of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffrage movement. It’s not only fascinating, it’s fun to read! (It helps that Matt Faulkner illustrated my favorite Thanksgiving book: Thank You, Sarah!)

9780872866836Rad American Women by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl – When I met the authors (and illustrator? I don’t remember) at KidlitCon back in Sacramento, I thought that this would be a good book. Now, it’s my go-to when people come in looking for a good feminist read for their kids (and surprisingly enough there are a few here in Wichita!). Nominally an alphabet book (“C is for Carol Burnett”), this book also has brief biographies as well as single-sentence statements on each woman, so it can be enjoyed by varying age levels. Be sure to check out the website as well!
978014751812550 Unbelievable Women and Their Fascinating (and True!) Stories by Saundra Mitchell – This one’s not out until the end of the month, but it’s an excellent collection of facts, art and biographies of 50 women from Catherine the Great to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and more. Great for upper elementary through middle school.
There are a ton of great books out there for women’s history month. What would you have chosen?