Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Book: The Lost Girl
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Eva has always known that her life doesn't belong to her. She is an echo. Like the backup of a hard drive, her sole purpose is to absorb all the details of another girl's life, so that if that first girl dies, she's on hand to step in.

But Eva wants her own life, not Amarra's. She wants to create art, she wants adventures that haven't already happened to somebody else, she wants to love the boy she picks and not the one Amarra loves.

Then Amarra dies, and Eva must travel from England to India to take her place. The only people who know she isn't the original Amarra are her new family members, and since echoes are illegal in India, she has to be extra-careful to pass with Amarra's friends and boyfriend.

She's always known that she's not Amarra, but now those differences could mean the end of her.

I feel as if this book could have used another pass through the editing process. The beginning is slow and my interest didn't really kick in until  Eva got to Bangalore. The world building is also somewhat rickety. Everything seems contemporary, but the echo creation process has been (so we are told) in place for 200 years.  Echos are well-known enough to be legislated, but there's only three people in  the world who can create them, Also, Eva spends a lot of time being irritatingly passive, accepting her fate until someone drags her into action. This fits with her life experiences (she's always been told what to do and how to do it), but it doesn't fit with the way other people talk about her as someone bold and daring.  I wish we could have seen more echoes, or at least heard of them, to get a better picture of how echoes actually do fit into the world.

What I did like? Eva's tense, wobbly relationship with Amarra, like a younger sister always in her older sister's shadow, with the older sister resenting that she exists at all. The portrait of the parents' grief, both assuaged and heightened by Eva's presence. There was also the boyfriend's grief, which is a complicated beast, all tangled up with sadness and guilt and interest in Eva. The setting is also a view of India we don't often get, a well-to-do middle-upper-class world with light touches of non-Western detail.

If there's another book about echoes, I'm interested in the premise, but I would want a stronger execution.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: While We Run by Karen Healey

Book: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Published: 2014
Source: ARC from a friend

In 2127, Tegan Oglietti is a symbol of hope for the world. The first girl ever to wake from cryonic suspension, she tours internationally, along with her boyfriend, Djiboutian music sensation Abdi Taalib. They're fundraising for the Ark Project, a spaceship that will take cryonically frozen humanity to the stars.


Except that it's all a lie.

Captured by the government shortly after the events of When We Wake, Tegan and Abdi are held prisoner, subject to brutal physical and psychological torture if they don't do and say exactly what they're told. The Ark Project is a lie. It's stocked with the rich of the world, but it's also stocked with the poorest of refugees, and it's not hard to figure out what the power structure will be on the new planet. That's if anybody besides Tegan can ever be revived successfully in the first place.

When help comes from an unexpected and possibly untrustworthy source, Abdi, Tegan, and the rest of their friends have to go on the run while trying to figure out how to tell the world what they know, without bringing about the end of it.

Healey tells this story from Abdi's point of view, which was the right choice for this twisty, turny, suspenseful story. Abdi is a political thinker. He manipulates people almost automatically, and sometimes it's a struggle for him to be totally honest even with the people he cares most about. This is all tangled up with his own PTSD from captivity (his captor was an especially sociopathic one) and his perspective as a "thirdie" or third-world, outsider in the "firstie" world of Australia. This last forces the reader to think uncomfortably about our own world and how we view the others in it. He's especially conflicted about Tegan. He loves her, but sometimes he hates her too, from their experiences in captivity. It takes a long time for them to start working together again.

I have to mention the diversity in this book, too. Healey just does that right. It's plentifully stocked with characters from many races, backgrounds, and faiths (there's a running thread about Abdi's atheism contrasted with his family's Muslim religion), as well as two lesbian characters, one of whom is also transgender. And they're just that - characters. They don't exist to be diverse, they exist because that's the way our world looks and they are people with flaws and gifts as well as labels.

I feel as if I should have re-read When We Wake, because I know I didn't catch all the subtleties, but as it is, I was held captive by Abdi and Tegan's story. They're trying to do the right thing, but everyone seems to have a different perspective on what the right thing is. It's not black and white in any sense of the word, but dappled in shades of grey, and that's the most interesting pattern if you ask me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Review: Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery

Book: Temple Grandin: how the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world
Author: Sy Montgomery
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Temple Grandin was different from every other kid she knew. She could zero in on the tiniest details, but missed the subtleties of body language. Things that didn't faze them caused her intense distress, but she could work all night and day on her out-of-the-box inventions. Her mom and friends knew that she would grow up to be something special - but what?

If you were to ask the average person on the street to give the first name that they associated with autism, odds are most of them would come up with "Temple Grandin." (Unfortunately, some of them might come up with "Jenny McCarthy" but that's a fight for another day.) Grandin is arguably the face of autism for many Americans, and it's because she's made a success out of what most would consider a disability.


As I read the chapters on her childhood, I was struck by how often young Temple came close to being institutionalized or marginalized, and how often a supportive adult or accepting friend was there to let Temple be who she was. Part of this was being autistic in the 50's and 60's when many people still thought it was something that could or should be fixed. Part of that is still around today, which makes me think about the valuable role of people who work with kids.

Though the author spends a lot of time on matter-of-fact explanations of the experience of having autism, that's not all the book is about. Alongside the biographical chapters, the author intersperses chapters on the engineering and animal science that made her famous. Some of the details of the animal slaughtering and the inhumane conditions that Grandin battles might be pretty strong for sensitive kids. Still, for its science, its biographical information, and its message that true success lies in embracing your own abilities, no matter how atypical, this is an invaluable book for any library.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Book Review: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Book: The Fire Horse Girl
Author: Kay Honeyman
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Jade Moon is the unluckiest zodiac combination for a Chinese girl: a Fire Horse. Stubborn, argumentative, hot-tempered, a Fire Horse girl is a curse on her family because she can never conform to the ideals of Chinese womanhood. And nobody in Jade Moon's household or village will ever let her forget it.

When a handsome young man named Sterling Promise offers her and her father the chance to go to America, Jade Moon thinks it's a new chance at a life she never could have lived in China. But a long sea voyage ends in detainment at Angel Island. The promise of freedom seems further away than ever. To get to America, to find a place that will allow her to truly be herself, Jade Moon is going to have to embrace all the things that make her a Fire Horse girl.

So, we've all heard about Ellis Island, which was often no picnic for the European immigrants who funneled through there. Angel Island was a lot worse - Jade Moon is held for long, dull, dehumanizing weeks before she finds her way to San Francisco. The picture of Chinatown, too, isn't pretty. Jade Moon finds herself in the midst of the tong underworld, working as a bullyboy (literally; she disguises herself as a boy) for a Chinese crime boss.

While I liked the different immigration story, and (oh, let's be honest) the love story, what I loved best about this book was Jade Moon herself. She's definitely a Fire Horse girl, and often immature and impulsive along with all her other flaws. It's only when she learns to channel her fiery nature that she's able to control it, and find places and people who will not only accept her, but value her too.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Reading Roundup: June 2014

By the Numbers
Teen: 13
Tween: 7
Children: 0

Sources
Review Copies: 4
Purchased: 1
Library: 12

Standouts
Teen: TIE
While We Run by Karen Healey
The link leads to my 48-HBC entry, which kinda says what needs to be said. Until the full review goes up, anyway.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
When all her old love letters go out to the boys who were never supposed to see them, Lara Jean deals with the consequences. Equally as interesting, at least to me, was the subplot about her trying to step into her older sister's mother-figure shoes and keep the family together.
Tween: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez
It's never a good time for your mom to get cancer, but when you're just hitting the tween years might be the absolute worst.
Children: none this month

Because I Want To Awards
Sex is Not Love, TYVM: The Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols
In another book, Tia Cruz would have been labeled as "the slut" and probably brought to see the error of her ways or something. In this one, she's just a girl who likes to fool around but runs away from love at speed. By the end, she still likes to fool around, but she's going to try out that love thing. And guys, I adored that.
Not Really About Bullying: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
I've seen this everywhere as a "bullying" book. While that's an accurate representation of one of the major plot threads, I found it to be a background to the story of a girl and her mother learning to see each other clearly.
Simultaneous Hug and Smack: Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach
Oh, Felton Reinstein. If it weren't for those other two books, yours would have been the standout. I spent most of the book wanting to either smack you or hug you, and often both.
Awwwwww: A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar
I mean, seriously. It's hard not to just awwwwwwwwww your way through this book.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Revenge of the Flower Girls by Jennifer Ziegler

Book: Revenge of the Flower Girls
Author: Jennifer Ziegler
Published: 2014
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley.com

Triplets Dawn, Delaney, and Darby are shocked to learn that their adored big sister, Lily, is getting married to her dull, allergy-ridden, armadillo-looking boyfriend, Burton. Disaster! Calamity! Unthinkable! They just know that it will be the biggest mistake of Lily's life.

Burton is booooring. His favorite president is Franklin Pierce. He got them sparkly buzzing toy cats meant for six-year-olds. He looks like an armadillo. Worst of all, he doesn't make Lily happy, they just know he doesn't. Not like her old boyfriend, Alex, did.

Somehow they've got to stop this wedding. By hook, by crook, by schemes and plots and plans, inopportune sprinklers and pirated USB sticks and faked phone calls, these redoutable triplets are going to stop this wedding. And when all else fails, they'll bring in the big guns: Alex himself.

Ever had a day where you just needed a book that made you smile? Yeah, so do I, and this book filled that bill,. It's nonstop fun. Not only the crazy schemes they get up to (one involves Darby being held out the window by her ankles, and taking the inevitable tumble), but the narration made me laugh out loud. I also really enjoyed that the girls are obsessed with politics and the US presidents, just as a facet of their characters.

Plotwise, it doesn't hold up particularly well, but this is such a romp of a book, I was mostly able to switch off my nitpicks. If there's one complaint I have, it's that it was awfully hard to tell the difference between Darby, Dawn, and Delaney. Yes, they each had their little quirks (one is the ball of energy, one is super-shy, one is the yakker) but the first-person narration and the focus of the story being on someone other than the narrators made them all blend together. It didn't really detract from the story that much. The effect was mostly of one girl who managed to be everywhere and do everything.

I'll be watching for more of these triplets, and more of Jennifer Ziegler.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez

Book: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel
Author: Diana Lopez
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Erica is a regular girl dealing with regular problems like annoying siblings, struggling with school, and wondering whether any boy, ever, will notice her. Then her mom drops a bomb on the family: she has breast cancer.

Suddenly, Erica has a whole host of new problems on top of her old ones. She has to step up and take on more responsibility for her younger brother and sister. She's scrambling to fulfill a promesa made to La Virgen - five hundred names on her sponsor list for Race for the Cure. Her friends are all acting different around her and don't seem to understand any of her worries. With all this weight on her shoulders and all the confusing emotions piling up inside of her, even the best mood ring could get confused.

I have to say, this book hit me where I live. Like Erica, I had a mom who got breast cancer. (She's fine now.) I also grew up Latina, with Spanish and English in my ears and Tex-Mex cooking in my home. And of course, no matter what your ethnicity, everybody can relate to the agonizing experience of being a middle-schooler.

Erica is a Latina girl, but not one who emigrated from another country or suffers from prejudice or poverty. Like millions of American girls, her background is simply there, in family traditions like the promesas, the bits of Spanish floating around her house and neighborhood, and even dishes like migas (eggs scrambled with fried tortillas and salsa, nom nom nom!) It's refreshing after many books that are about being Not White.

For a book with a cancer theme, this was surprisingly light and sweet. Even though her mom is in treatment, Erica is still a preteen with all the usual preteen problems. Though her mom's fate is left somewhat up in the air (she's still doing radiation as the book ends), you have the feeling everything is going to be okay.