Books read in August 2018

Hello YA-centric August.  Brought to you by Jenny Han.  It started with the Netflix movie and led to three days of frantic reading, and the purchase of all three novels in the trilogy.  I also read some other good things. And some so-so things. So it goes.

Young Adult: Finding Yvonne. Also the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series
Young Nonfiction: Otis and Will Discover the Deep

Pink is for Boys
Read for Librarian Book Group
I was not a fan of this book and I can’t really put my finger on why. Part of me is probably resistant because I find the idea that colors are associated with genders ridiculous and something that should probably go extinct and something about this book makes me think it’s not helping. I enjoyed the style of the illustrations, but I found the text to be choppy. 

Cardboard Kingdom
Chad Sell (and others)
Read for Librarian Book Group

The antics of many different neighborhood children are depicted by Chad Sell and other authors who helped shape the narrative. This neighborhood includes many different types of children, all around the same age.  Colors are bright and panels are clear. Words are minimal. I enjoyed the different types of play the children engaged in and would have liked to live in such a neighborhood when I was growing up.

The Brightsiders
Jen Wilde

More of the “famous” genre. In this case, the story of a trio of teenagers who have managed to become a massively famous band before the drummer turns 18.

The writing plunged headlong into plot, and at times seemed a breathless and relentless pounding of words, with not much time for reflection or even backstory. I had many questions as to how the band was formed, and how they gained stardom so fast. None of these were answered. The story itself was so present focused it was overwhelmingly underwhelming.

However, the reason to read this book is how normally so many different gender identities are present. While many more gender identities are appearing in the YA books I read, this is the first book I’ve read that wholeheartedly embraced the “no big deal” aspect of how people identify and who likes whom. Characters had problems due to outsider’s reactions, but within the friend group, there was a take-all-comers attitude.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary
NoNieqa Ramos
Read for Librarian Book Group

When people talk “voice” this is what they are talking about. I loved reading Macy’s dictionary, her asides to the reader, and her honest reflection of her life.

Macy’s life is tough and because I cared about Macy, it made it very hard to keep reading this book. In fact, I read two other books while on break from this one. Macy regularly encounters relentless poverty, neglect, discrimination, prostitution, family incarceration, a sibling absent due to removal by Child Protective Services and a sub-par schooling experience, with the exception of one teacher.

This book is worth reading, so I suggest you press on through any discomfort you might feel. And when you finish reading you might have to convince someone else to read this too, because you’ll want to discuss the ending.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Jenny Han
When I was in high school, sometimes my feelings about a boy would overwhelm me and I’d write a letter to that boy, then hide it away among the books in my bookshelf. I still have those letters, but I still can’t bring myself to read them because the feelings are too much.

Lara Jean also writes letters to boys when the feelings are too much, but she puts them in envelopes and addresses them.  Somehow, those letters she wrote are mailed to the boys in question and thus begins the conundrum of the story.

This novel could have happily settled itself in the quirky, fun YA category, because all sorts of plot shenanigans can happen when you and a boy pretend to be a couple. However, Han takes the story up a few notches and we get really interesting sisters and family relationships as well as a good exploration of how to navigate the early stages of romantic relationship. Or, in this case, the early stages of pretending to be in a romantic relationship.

Finding Yvonne
Brandy Colbert
Let’s talk about the slight flaw in this book first and get it out of the way. Yvonne plays the violin, and her changing feelings about the violin take up a lot of the story.  Her feelings of love and confusion regarding her instrument were clear. However, many aspects of the violin story were unclear. She was still playing in the school orchestra, so presumably she was still bringing her violin back and forth to school and practicing. But there were laments in the story about how she used to have her violin with her all the time at school and now it gathers dust. How can both those things be true?  This was a very small part of the book, but it showed up enough to become the one quibble I had.

  Now, on to what I liked.

I loved so many things about this book. It depicted what dating culture looks like when two people are interested but aren’t committed. I rarely see that in YA books.  I loved the portrayal of the dad who was very much a “so-so” dad meaning that he was great at providing Yvonne a home and clearly loved her but was not really emotionally available.  Both race and class issues were present. There were friendship issues around judgement about who and how many people one chooses to have sex with and there was also a contemporary issue that I feel doesn’t get discussed enough.

I also love books about teenagers where the main character has no friggin idea what they want to do with their lives.

P.S. I Still Love You
Jenny Han
Lara Jean’s story continues in this book.  Aside from continuing to mark the ways a family changes as the children age and mature, this book also includes several main characters playing a game.  I love books where the characters play games!  In this case it’s Assassins, a long-form game that was one of the things the then-friends used to do in middle school. The game added a lot of verve to the plot, as did the confusion and elation that comes with liking two boys at the same time.

This book also takes time to examine how friendships change from middle school to high school and the ramifications what is and isn’t left over.

Han is also great at marking the small losses in adolescence as in this quote:

I’m lying down on my back in the tree house, looking out the window. The moon is carved so thin it’s a thumbnail clipping in the sky. Tomorrow, no more tree house. I’ve barely thought about this place, and now that it’s disappearing, I’m sad. It’s like all childhood toys, I suppose. It doesn’t become important until you don’t have it anymore. But it’s more than just a tree house. It’s goodbye and it feels like the end of everything.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic
David Arnold
Read for Librarian Book Group
This was–disappointingly–not a very good book. It started out strong, with interesting characters with some good things to overcome. But a shift happens and the bulk of the book’s execution heads in a different direction than the beginning of the book. While reading through that section I felt adrift, unsettled, and grumpy that there had been a bait and switch. In the last bit the book shifts back and an unnecessary additional thing is piled on to that part of the plot.

The kicker is that the writing is quite good. I leave you with a number of delightful quotes I flagged.

Iverton, Illinois, is the personification of its resident youth: someone gave it the keys, a credit card, and no curfew, and now it thinks its shit doesn’t stink. The suburb is populated by these gaudy, homogeneous brick houses, each a clone of the one next to it; driveways and garages are stocked with a variety of shiny SUVs, lawns are pushed to the greenest of greens, and trees grow in suspiciously symmetrical fashion.

Will and Jake Longmire felt out of the douche tree and hit every nozzle on the way down. Also, and not entirely unrelated, they’re really good looking, but in the same way Lochte or the Hemsworth brothers might be called good looking, by which I mean, when one sees them, one senses the overwhelming urge to punch them in the face. 

Pontius Pilot is a Chicago-based recording artist who performed in the Iverton High School auditorium last year as a reward for our junior class having a decent magazine fundraiser. Nothing takes the wind out of a concert’s sails like a Tuesday morning billing; even so, the student council dubbed the event Magazine Mega Gala, and, like that, Pontius Pilot became a legend. Though collectively, the Iverton High populace felt about his music the way one feels about their fourth-grade soccer trophy, or the crinkle-cut fries in the cafeteria: it’s a nostalgic love, weak at the root.

Sometimes talking with a sibling is like hiking in a foreign country only to round a corner and find your house. Penny and I are so different in so many ways–and yet, I know this place well.

One final note. I very much appreciate this movie for calling out the horrible racism present, via Micky Rooney’s character, in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The more people can get the word out, the fewer people will have to experience the slack-jawed discomfort I did.

Always and Forever Lara Jean
Jenny Han

Taken together, these three books encompass a picture of the many changes that happen during the final two years of high school. Relationships are formed and dissolved, people mature, families morph and change, and then there’s the question of what to do when it’s time for college.

In this final book Lara Jean works through the last few months of high school, which means navigating the college admissions acceptance and rejection, figuring out what is going to happen with her boyfriend, and helping her family to combine to accept a new member.

This is a new side to Daddy–bickering, losing his patience just barely. Trina brings it out in him, and I know it sounds strange, but I’m glad for it. It’s something I never realized was gone in him. There’s making do, living a pleasant life, no big ups or downs, and there’s all the friction and fire that come with being in love with someone. She takes forever to get ready, which drives him crazy, and she makes fun of his hobbies, like bird-watching and documentaries. But they fit.

Otis & Will Discover the Deep
Read for librarian book group

A short illustrated nonfiction story of two scientists/adventurers who take a very small vessel very far into the deep depths of the ocean. The illustrations capture both the curious spirit of Otis and Will, the claustrophobic confines of their deep sea vessel and the wonder of what they found in the deep water. The words capture the excitement and trepidation.

The one thing missing from this book was a clearer setting in time. I couldn’t tell from the illustrations or the text what year the deep sea dive was. The excellent back matter divulged that information, but it was distracting while reading the book.

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