Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

by A. S. King
First sentence: “So we drank it – the two of us.”
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Content: There’s some swearing — including multiple f-bombs — plus some frank talk about sex. It’s definitely a more mature book, and is in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Eighteen-year-old Glory O’Brien has had her mother’s suicide hanging over her for practically her whole life. It’s kept her father from doing his art; he stays home, eating, and working as an on-line tech consultant. It’s kept Glory from doing much of anything, really, frozen with the expectation that she, too, will commit suicide eventually.

And it doesn’t help that no one ever talks about It. Or her mom.

Then she and her best friend (by default, since they live across the street from each other), find a dead, mummified bat in the barn. It gets turned to dust, and they mix it with beer and drink it up. And then they start seeing visions.

Glory’s visions are of a horrific patriarchal future, where women’s rights are completely taken away, and the country ends up in another Civil War. This fascinates and terrifies Glory — what’s her role in this future? How does it come to be like this? Will it? — and the act of having these visions pushes her into action.

Trippy doesn’t even begin to cover this book. It’s wild, weird, trippy, odd… King has bitten off a huge piece of cake here, and I’m not sure how well it worked for me. On the one hand, I was thinking it was a Handmaid’s Tale-esque feminist warning about what will happen if we give up the fight and stop questioning the status quo. But the longer the book went, the more I wondered if there was a point to all this, aside from spurring Glory and her dad to action. Maybe there wasn’t. And while I am glad that Glory actually made decisions and started living her life, I kind of wish there were a less trippy way of doing it.

So, in the end, even though I liked the individual elements of the book, I was unsatisfied with it as a whole.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

by Meg Medina
First sentence: “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. The real reason it ended up in the Teen (grads 9+) section is for the bullying and the violence. It’s pretty graphic and the fallout is pretty severe.

Piddy Sanchez is starting a new school. It’s one of those inner city schools in a Hispanic neighborhood in Queens, the kind that justifies every bad stereotype there is. Just a few weeks in, and someone informs Piddy that Yaqui Delgado — whom Piddy has neither seen nor spoken with — is going to kick her ass. Why? Because she thinks Piddy is flirting with her boyfriend. (She’s not.)

It’s this threat, among other things, that begins defining Piddy’s life. She doesn’t feel like she can talk to her mother, who is working extra shifts to try and provide for the both of them. She does turn to her aunt Lila, but even then she keeps the awful details to herself.

It’s a harsh journey, one that I wouldn’t wish on any kid. I did like that there was a range of diverse people in this one; not all white characters were “good” and not all Latin@ ones were “bad”. There was a wide range of personalities, and the color of the skin just happens to be incidental. I also enjoyed how Piddy embraced her culture and loved her neighborhood.

I was glad for the solution to this one, as well. No one really “learned their lesson” and the bully wasn’t reformed and they didn’t become friends and live happily ever after. No, it was much more realistic and messy and showed that sometimes the best option isn’t always the most noble one.

It was a tough read, emotionally raw especially for me (because of the whole daughter thing), but I’m glad I did.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green and David Levithan
First sentence: “When I was little, my dad used to tell me, ‘Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.'”
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Content: There’s a lot of swearing in this one. A. Lot. So, it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I think the last time I read this, four years ago, I cheated on the review. It’s like I had nothing original to say. And perhaps, because I read it when everyone else was reading it, I didn’t.

So, I decided it deserves a proper review.

Will Grayson (1) is one of those people who just kind of goes with the flow. His best friend, for better or worse, is Tiny Cooper — who is anything but tiny — and he is the sort of person who creates drama. In fact, he’s written a musical, aptly title Tiny Dancer, about his life and is staging  it.

Will Grayson (2) is on medication for clinical depression, and by any account is less than enjoyable to be with. He has exactly three friends (sort of) but is harboring a crush on his on-line friend, Isaac. So when Isaac suggests that they meet up in Chicago, WG2 jumps at the chance

Except, Isaac isn’t real. And, WG2 meets WG1 (and Tiny) instead. And, lives were changed. Mostly for the better.

A lot of what there is to be said about this book is about the format. Green wrote WG1 and Levithan wrote WG2, and at the beginning, you can tell. It’s jarring traveling back and forth between the Will Graysons, but after they meet things become easier. And more fluid. I love how Tiny goes back and forth between the Wills but still ends up being Tiny. I also love the inclusiveness of this novel. That being gay is not an Event. It’s more who you are. And that’s okay. I also love that there’s a terrific example of non-romantic love. (Watch this video for what I mean.) While it’s not my favorite John Green book, I found myself touched by the end, by Tiny’s inclusiveness, and by his friends’ ultimate desire to help him realize that he matters. And by extension, that we all matter.

I’m glad I had an opportunity to reread it.

Conversion

by Katherine Howe
First sentence: “How long must I wait?”
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Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Content: There is some mild swearing, and talk of sex, but nothing actual. It’d be happy in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I might put it in Teen (grades 9+) so I can get the adult crossover.

Colleen Rowley is a senior at St. Joan’s Academy, a high-profile, all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts. Everything is going great… mostly. Colleen is a tenth out of valedictorian position, something which stresses her out because her college acceptance to Harvard (only one of many Ivy League schools that have wait-listed her) is hinging on her senior year academic performance. She’s not the only one under pressure; all of her friends and many of her classmates are as well.

And then something strange happens: Colleen’s classmates, one by one, succumb to a mysterious illness that pulls them out of school. Some develop Turette’s Sydrome-like tics, others loose the use of their legs; still others’ hair is falling out. It’s an epidemic. Except Colleen, spurred on by some anonymous texts, is suspicious. And when she starts looking into the real events behind The Crucible, which they’re studying, especially Ann Putnam’s story, she finds that there is possibly a connection to what’s happening in Danvers now, and what happened in Salem back then.

Told in alternating storylines, Howe gives us both the story of the girls of St. Joan’s and Ann Putnam’s confession about the incident that began what came to be called the Salem Witch trials. She doesn’t spell things out for the reader; instead, she trusts our intelligence and in our ability to draw parallels between the two stories. And although the characters — especially Colleen and her friends — are quite sympathetic, it’s finding the parallels and solving the mystery that fascinated me most about this book.

Unfortunately, the ending didn’t hold up to the rest of the book. Howe kind of goes off into muddle-land, and doesn’t hold up to the suspense that the book built. Even so, it wasn’t enough to completely kill the book for me (it was more of a “HUH?” moment). And it’s made me curious about Howe’s adult books, which is a good thing.

Dorothy Must Die

by Danielle Page
First sentence: “I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday — one year after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and begin exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy handed to me by my manager who said “Get on this.”
Content: A pregnant teenager, a moderate amount of swearing including a few f-bombs, and some violence. The book belongs in the store’s teen section (grades 9+).

At first glance, the idea of this book is awesome: Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, didn’t want to be in Kansas after she went home, and found a way back to Oz, where she has taken over and is not only a tyrant, but she’s a bully. And she’s draining Oz of its magic. It is going to take another girl from Kansas — Amy, of the trailer park — who finds her way to this new and drained Oz, to kill the tyrant and save Oz from certain ruin.

See? Sounds pretty cool, right?

Well, not so much.

It’s not that this one was Horrible, per se. There were a lot of things to like about it, starting from the cool idea. I liked the way that Page developed the magic in the world, and made the Wicked Witches if not the good guys, at least the better ones. I liked Amy, and her willingness to try even though the odds were against her.

But that was about it. I won’t delineate my entire complaints (which include having Amy say “I was used to cornfields back in Kansas..” UM, where??), but rather my main one, this: why is this book not a stand-alone? There really was nothing in this book that either 1) warranted that it be 460 pages or 2) meant for it to go longer than one book. I think with some better plotting and editing (and less of the pregnant bully in the beginning) this could have been a tight, fun, cool romp in a unique version of Oz.

I guess I’m a bit miffed that it’s not, and that’s effecting how I see the book. Others (who don’t mind the whole drawn-out-ed-ness of this one) may find it more enjoyable. Part of me hopes she finds success with this, because it’s a really cool idea.

I just wish the execution was better.

The Impossible Knife of Memory

by Laurie Halse Anderson
First sentence: “It started in detention.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a fair amount of swearing, but no f-bombs (I’m pretty sure, anyway), and some violence (some of domestic) and drinking and drug use, some of which involve teens. For that reason, it’s in the teen (grades 9-12) section of the bookstore.

Part of me wants to get off doing the easy thing here and say, “It’s Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest book. OF COURSE YOU SHOULD READ IT.”

Because, really? That’s all you NEED to know.

But, I suppose, you would like to know the plot?  Okay…. Hayley, 17, returns to school after being on the road with her rig-driving, veteran father for the past five years. The reason they move back to his home town is that he can’t seem to keep a job anymore. And that seems to be the case, now. Her father (who had several tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan) spends his days and nights drinking and smoking pot. How could she WANT to go to school and “assimilate” when the life of someone she loves is going to hell?

Or perhaps the reason you should read this (other than it’s Laurie Halse Anderson)? Because even though Anderson writes about PTSD, she doesn’t just write about the disease. She writes about the people.  The people you come to know and love. And she doesn’t just write about the disease, she writes about the issues surrounding it, like how hard war is on both the vets and the families; and how the community, however well meaning they may be, doesn’t always understand how hard war is; and like how no matter how much you love a person, they’re not going to be able to get help until they want to get help.

And then there’s Finn. Oh, man, I fell for him. But I don’t want to make it seem like this is a love story (it’s not, even though there is kissing! In a pool!) or that he saves the day (he doesn’t, though he is a catalyst and a support).

No, you should read this because it’s the story of a father and a daughter who have lost their way, and how they find it again.

Or you could just read it because it’s Laurie Halse Anderson.