Monday, February 28, 2011

Month in review: February

If it weren't for the fact I got married in February, it would probably be my least favorite month. The snow and cold have long lost their appeal, and it's so short! Made even more so this year by my awesome tropical vacation. As you may remember, I put up a poll asking for your help in selecting my vacation reading. I brought 7 books with me and read the following:

  • XVI by Julia Karr
  • The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
  • I Am J by Cris Beam
  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis
  • Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda
Yes, I definitely overpacked when it came to books, but I liked having choices. Short reviews for all of those are up at Goodreads - and I even have a profile picture up there now! I have a ton of reviews that need to be posted in addition to these, so reviews might go back up to five a week for a little bit so I can get somewhat caught up.

After all of the excitement in January, February was a bit quieter. Nominations for the Nerds Heart YA tournament did open up though - and they continue through March 7th! Please continue to send in your nominations through the handy-dandy form - check out the criteria to see if your favorite under-represented 2010 book could find a place in the tournament. I had fun last year as a judge, and I'm totally excited and honored to be participating this year as a consultant, helping to pare down the longlist of nominated titles into a shortlist of book that will be placed in a cutthroat tournament.

Or not so cutthroat, really. Book bloggers are pretty mild mannered, most of the time. But come on, make the consulting job hard for us and nominate a bunch of awesome books, okay?

Okay. Now off to go write up all of those long-awaited reviews...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Love Drugged by James Klise

Found via: I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell do I Read?

The basic premise of this book is fraught with the possibility of going down a baaaaaaaaaaad road. Gay kid starts taking a pill that will make him straight. Not hard to see how this could open up some really bad plot lines, or at least unfortunate implications - and I can't tell you how relieved I am that it does not go in that direction!

Love DruggedJamie Bates is 15 and if he knows anything about himself it's this: he's gay. But for Jamie, that's just about the worst fate he can imagine - he's sure that he'd be ostracized at school and maybe even kicked out of the house he shares with his parents and his grandparents. So as he enters high school, Jamie figures he needs to play it straight, if you will. He's going to keep a low profile, and just try to fit in. When one of the most beautiful girls in school starts paying attention to him, Jamie figures he might as well go for it - maybe he just needs to meet the right girl, right? And Celia Gamez is pretty much everyone's idea of the right girl - beautiful, funny, smart, and rich since her dad is a big name in the pharmaceutical development industry.

Jamie enjoys spending time with Celia, but isn't feeling much of a spark - until he discovers that her dad is developing pills that will eliminate homosexual desires in men. Desperate for some medical help, but unable to discuss this openly with his girlfriend's dad, Jamie starts stealing pills and taking them on the sly. As his relationship with Celia escalates, the drug starts having worrisome side-effects, and Jamie has to create an ever-more elaborate series of lies to explain his behavior, even as it's becoming obvious that whatever the drug is doing, Jamie isn't acting like the person he wants to be.

Klise is a debut author, but he handles this potentially fragile subject with sensitivity and deftness - explained perhaps in his author's note where he acknowledges that when he was 15 he just might have taken such a pill if it were available to him. I think anyone who has questioned their sexuality will recognize themselves in Jamie - the fear of being discovered by the wrong person, the internalized homophobia, and an overwhelming desire to just feel normal. Klise does an excellent job of bringing Jamie fully to life, flaws and all.

I'd say about 90% of this book is excellent - some of the plausibility is lost in the last chapter as the villain is revealed and the hijinks escalate to Saturday morning cartoon proportions. It's a weak note to leave the story on, but isn't insurmountable.

Love Drugged also presents a bit of a twist on the overworked-oblivious parents routine - instead of being high powered workaholics, his parents are working constantly to try to keep the family's heads above water. They moved in with Jamie's grandparents years ago, promising it as a temporary solution, that has slowly grown more permanent. It's not exactly a nuanced portrayal of how middle class families respond to economic crises, in part because most of the adults are two-dimensional and hardly have any screen time, but I appreciated a multi-generational household being presented as more-or-less normal.

I'm still accepting suggestions on which books I should take on my vacation! Check out yesterday's post and add your vote!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Thoughts: Vacation Reading

I leave for my first real vacation in ages on Saturday - taking a week-long cruise! It'll be awesome and relaxing. We've already planned all sorts of excursions, but there's going to be lots of downtime as well - downtime that will best be spent reading!

I have a ton of books checked out from the library (or libraries, really, since I'm now in an open relationship with both Queens Library and the New York Public Library, thanks to the former's lack of book buying for the next several months). Far more than I could ever take on this trip, but since I'll have a lot of time on my hands I'm not necessarily worried about reading the books in order of when they'll be due back. So I thought I would solicit some blog-reader input on which books I should take with me! Let me know either in the comments or in the embedded poll which books you think I should read while on vacation!

(Links lead to Goodreads pages)
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Badd by Tim Tharp
Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
Captivity by Deborah Noyes
Edges by Lena Roy
Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
To Come and Go Like Magic by Katie Pickard Fawcett
Teenie by Christopher Grant
Cry of the Giraffe by Judie Oron
Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon
Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

...What's kind of sad is that that isn't even the complete list of what I have checked out - just what I haven't decided for sure to take or leave. I know I'll be taking The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson and Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda with me because I'm super excited to read them (and the only reason I haven't already is because I just picked them up today and I already have another book in progress!).

Feel free to lobby for votes in the comments! If you make a really great argument, I might just include your choice(s), even if it doesn't make the voting cut...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer

Found via: Ari at Reading in Color

Ari has been raving about this book for months - I'm so glad I could finally get my hands on it! My reaction (spoiler alert!) isn't quite as enthusiastic as hers, but I still found it to be a worthwhile read.

When the Stars Go Blue: A NovelSoledad Reyes knows nothing but dance. Since she first set foot in the ballet studio as a child, she's known she wants to live life on the stage - preferably as a ballerina, even though physically she's quite different from ballerina norms. But when she starts a passionate romance with Jonathan, a guy who's as passionate about music as she is about dance, Soledad wants to give his type of performance a try for a summer, and joins the exhausting and exhilarating world of competitive drum and bugle corp. The local group is putting on an ambitious adaptation of Carmen, and Soledad will be perfect for the title role.

As Soledad is drawn deeper into the drum and bugle corp, and into her relationship with Jonathan, Soledad is tired but happy. Until a handsome Spanish soccer player arrives and along with his team seems to be following Soledad's team from county fair to county fair, and Soledad's summer begins to have some eerie parallels to the opera she's starring in.

In the midst of this novel, I absolutely could not put this thing down. I was totally absorbed from page one. For one thing, Ferrer has nailed the descriptions of the thrill of performing. I was never much of a dancer, but I did musical theater for most of my life, so I definitely got Soledad's passion and need to be performing. I also liked how the romance doesn't take much time to heat up - there's no extended, frustrating flirtation here. Once Soledad and Jonathan know how the other one feels it starts getting steamy.

All through Soledad's passionate affair with Jonathan and the new world of drum and bugle corp performance, I was right there with her, soaring with her highs and absolutely crushed with her lows. Thrilled with the innocent flirtations of the handsome Spanish soccer player and crushed every time something worked to keep Soledad and Jonathan apart.

But when I finished the book, and started to just didn't hold up. While Ferrer hits all of the emotional beats just right, and does an excellent job of describing those emotions, there are moments of more tangible actions where the description is lacking. Like I'm still not sure I totally get how drum and bugle corp works - when Jonathan shows Soledad a DVD of a previous performance, Ferrer does an excellent job of describing Soledad's emotions, to the point of not really describing what she's actually seeing!

I was also really uncomfortable Jonathan's behavior, and Soledad's overall reactions to it. Ferrer does an amazing job of showing how a passionate relationship can quickly slip into an emotionally dangerous one, but I felt Soledad was way too willing to forgive and rationalize Jonathan's behavior in the end - and I can't help but feel in the end she's setting herself up to be hurt all over again. She tells us how her new relationship has and will be different - but I never saw any clear signs that it will be.

I wasn't familiar with Carmen going into the book, and the story of the opera is also never really fleshed out, just like the world of drum and bugle corp. However when I looked up the opera on Wikipedia, it looks like Ferrer has done an amazing job weaving in parallels between Soledad's and Carmen's stories.

But there was also a lot to like here, too. I loved Soledad's confidence in her body, even as she acknowledges she's physically different from ballerina norms. Her relationship with Mamacita is beautiful, and while her dance partner Raj flirts with some fabulous stereotypes, I did like that his presence illustrated that there was some diversity regarding sexual orientation in the all-male corp, and gave Soledad someone to talk about boys with in a story that has only three female characters.

There are some strong feminist moments in here that had me cheering early on - Soledad's confidence in her body and sexuality, as well as Taz's encouragement of a little girl who dreams of playing soccer (I'll admit, I teared up a little. I'm a sucker for encouraging girls to follow their dreams!) were big bonuses. And of course, there's the novelty of getting a book about a young woman of color where her ethnic background is an integral part of her character but not the focus of the story. But ultimately the reactions to Jonathan in the end left me feeling on the fence overall. This is an excellent romance in multiple senses of the word - including the cliche of the genre that you shouldn't think too hard about it. Accept that it's hot and sexy and just go with the flow.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Links: Self-promotion - again!

During the Bloggiesta, I was asked by Carina at Reading Through Life to do an interview as part of her Reading Roots series - and the interview goes live today! Check it out!

Last year I was a judge in the Nerds Heart YA book tournament (check out my posts from last year here and here). The tournament is back for another year and nominations are open! If you know of a book that hasn't received a lot of blog love and falls into one of the tournament's seven under-represented categories, please nominate it! I'm not judging this year - instead I've been selected as one of the consultants who will be helping to whittle down the longlist of nominations into a more manageable shortlist. I'm incredibly excited to be working on this end of the tournament - it feels like I'm getting some sort of validation for the hard topics I like to address on the blog (because seriously, a lot of those "under-represented categories" are right in my wheel house: LGBTDisabilityCLASS?! Hell yeah!).

In non-book related news, the podcast that I mentioned a few weeks ago is still going strong! In honor of Valentine's Day, this week my husband and I are talking about geek love - and true to my geeky self I bring up lots of YA examples. Twilight and Stolen get some harsh words, while I praise Graceling and Uglies for their more nuanced approaches to romance. I'm actually re-reading Graceling now - I've had an incredibly stressful month so far, and all of the current books I have checked out from the library are all dealing with high stress topics, so I needed something relatively light (or at least not based in reality) to get my mind off of things. I am SO EXCITED to start my vacation this weekend - escape from all the stresses (and cold!) of regular life. I'm planning on having reviews go up during the week, but I won't be around to check out comments - I'll be too busy sipping margaritas on tropical beaches!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Review: Five Thousand Years of Slavery by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen

So in the rest of the world, it's an exciting day. Clearly it's Valentine's Day, and also the Cybil Award winners are announced today. And what am I posting about? A slavery book. My timing, it's not excellent. Sorry for being a downer!

Five Thousand Years of SlaveryThis is a much more in-depth look at slavery than the books I'm used to. For one, it has a much wider focus - most accounts of slavery I see are focused on the African slave trade and how it relates to US  history - so a relatively short period of time and a geographically focused story. This one, as the title says, covers five thousand years of history, from the ancient Egyptians and the pyramids, to 21st century textile factories in Asia.

This is a heavy book, not just because of the subject matter, but because of the detail as well. This is 160 pages of dense text all about one of the worst aspects of humanity that has followed us across cultures. And even in those 160 pages, stuff gets left out; the examples of slavery are very Western-oriented (accounts of slavery in Asia aren't picked up until European colonization in the 18th and 19th centuries), and some types of abuse are glossed over (not only was rape a constant threat for female slaves, but sex trafficking, a common form of modern slavery even in the United States, is never mentioned). You'd probably need a set of encyclopedias to fully examine the horrific history of slavery, but these two omissions stood out for me. It doesn't detract from the value of what is there, but especially where oppressed groups are concerned we need to keep in mind which stories we aren't reading.

Because of the Western-bias, some of the book starts to feel a little repetitive. British slave traders didn't vary their tactics much, whether the slaves were being transported to the US or Southeast Asia. I can see this being more useful in spurts than as a book to just sit down and read.

I also have to critique one design element. I can't stand sidebars and other pull-outs from the narrative that span multiple pages - in order to get the full anecdote I need to stop reading the main text, flip forward a page to finish reading the sidebar, and then go back to the main text again. This book is filled with sidebars of specific examples of slaves' lives, and that's awesome - except when I have to flip the page to get the rest of the story. And then in the final chapter there's a sidebar that takes up the margins from page 153 until 156. It's an important story (of Iqbal Masih and Craig Kielburger), but the formatting of it was irritating. If your "sidebar" is going to take up four pages, maybe you need to figure out a different format for the story.

I know that seems like a lot of critiques, but I really did find the book worthwhile. I only critique it because it's so good at so much, that I can only wish it went further! Slavery is truly horrifying, and I think it's so important to hit home the point that just because the US had the Emancipation Proclamation doesn't mean the peculiar institution has ever left us, in the US or abroad. Five Thousand Years of Slavery does an excellent job of introducing this fact, but clearly the emphasis on slavery in the past (or away from the US), shielding readers from the uncomfortable knowledge of what often goes on here, right under our noses.

Nonfiction Monday

This week's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Wrapped in Foil. Be sure to stop by and check out the other great nonfiction titles highlighted this week!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Two weeks ago I reviewed Donnelly's Printz honor winning A Northern Light as the inaugural book in my What I Missed reading challenge. I chose A Northern Light to go first because I knew Donnelly had another book out that was getting rave reviews, and I figured I might as well read the books in publication order. I am happy I didn't delay any further, because wow, was Revolution ever a trip.

RevolutionAndi is one angry, troubled young woman. After losing her brother, her father took off and her mother is still having difficulties coping. Andi lashes out at anyone who tries to come close to her and refuses to put any effort into her schoolwork, even as the due date for her thesis approaches. The only thing Andi cares about anymore is her music - and sometimes even that isn't enough to keep the demons away.

Incensed by his daughter's near failure in school, Andi's dad insists she spend Christmas break with him in Paris so she can focus on her schoolwork while he works on a centuries-old mystery: identifying the owner of a heart long said to belong to Louis-Charles, the young prince who was imprisoned during the French Revolution. Though Andi's determined to finish her thesis in record time, she's distracted by the discovery of a diary written by Alex, a young woman who served the royal family right at the height of the Revolution. She is drawn to the diary and can't escape until she reads Alex's chilling final entries. That is, until an ill-fated trip into Paris' famed catacombs leads Andi to re-emerge into Paris in 1795, where everyone seems to think that she's Alex. Is it a bad drug trip, or has Andi actually stepped into the past? And if she's really there, can she change the future?

Wow, is Andi ever a painful person to read about. She is just so angry and hurt by her brother's death and her parents' reactions and Donnelly's writing made her ragged emotions just jump off of the page. Just devastating and heartbreaking. Donnelly also does an excellent job of describing Andi's rapidly declining mental state as Andi relies more and more on anti-depressants to keep her world in focus. Operating under the theory that if one is good, more is better, Andi takes an increasing number of pills throughout the novel and it's never quite clear if some things are happening because she is on too many drugs - or not enough.

It took me to get about halfway through the book before I was totally comfortable with using Alex's diary as our viewpoint into the past. Part of me wanted this to be a straight-up historical novel without all of Andi's angst. Or perhaps the story could have alternated chapters so we were fully immersed in Revolutionary-era France. But as Andi herself became more invested in Alex's story, so did I become invested in Andi as a character and the ways her and Alex's stories complemented and contrasted with each other.

Music fans of multiple stripes will have a lot to love in this book. I was never that great at musical theory, so some of the subtleties of Andi's obsession with the composer Mahlerbeau were lost on me, but this is an extremely musical novel filled with descriptions of both classical and ultra-contemporary music. Bigger music fans than me will probably enjoy sifting out all of the various musical references.

As she proved in A Northern Light, Donnelly has a gift for bringing the past to life through her excellent writing. With much of Revolution set in the 21st century, she proves that she's equally gifted with contemporary characters and problems, but by weaving in elements of history she helps illustrate just how timeless many stories are.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Keep Sweet by Michele Dominguez Greene

Found via: 2011 Amelia Bloomer Project

I'm kind of beginning to feel like when it comes to stories of fundamentalist religious societies, all of the stories have been told. This is the third title about FLDS compounds I've read for young adults that has been published in the last three years, and all of the stories share the exact same structure (the other two titles being Sister Wife and The Chosen One)

Keep SweetAlva Jane has never questioned the tenets of living amongst the FLDS faithful in Pineridge. She comes from a long line of women who keep to the Principle - that a man must engage in plural marriage in order to secure his and his family's places in heaven. She is anxiously waiting for her period to start, signalling that she is a woman and ready to marry - hopefully to the young and kind Joseph John, which would also give her the status and privileges associated with being a first wife.

But when an innocent meeting between the two love birds is witnessed, both are fiercely punished, and Alva finds herself married to a cruel man old enough to be her father - a man who viciously beat one of his wives for attempting to escape Pineridge. Does Alva have the strength to defy the will of her husband, her family, and the very tenets of her faith, to find refuge in the world outside of Pineridge?

Well, if you've ever read any other books about young women in FLDS compounds, you already know the answer to that. You probably also know what Alva discovers immediately before she takes off. In an author's note, Greene notes that when she read accounts of women who've escaped FLDS life, their stories were all hauntingly similar, from British Columbia to New Mexico. That similarity is reflected in how many similarities Keep Sweet has to other YA books with similar settings. Obedient daughter who is enamored with a young man is punished for her curiosity by becoming the lowest wife on the totem pole to a much older man. About the only difference between Keep Sweet and other titles is that Alva Jane's parents show little to no remorse for the harsh treatment they heap upon her - they are more concerned with their own standing within the community than their daughter's happiness. This doesn't add much to the characterization of her father because he is so distant for much of the novel, but it does make her mother an interesting, if villainous, character.

On its own, there are few faults to be found with Keep Sweet, aside from an irritating habit in the first few chapters to go on page-long info-dumps about life in Pineridge and her family. If Keep Sweet were the only FLDS novel I'd ever read, I'd probably think it was pretty decent. However, the book doesn't exist in a vacuum, and ends up feeling quite derivative with nothing to separate it from the pack.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review: Nothing by Janne Teller, translated by Martin Aitken

Nothing wasn't on my radar at all. And then it walked out of ALA with a Printz Honor, along with the Batchelder award for best translated novel. Suddenly it was a must-read, and that was even before I saw the summary

NothingSet in a fictional town in Denmark, the lives of a class of seventh graders is turned upside down on the first day of school when Pierre Anthon seems to suffer an existential crisis. He stands up and declares that "nothing matters" so he isn't going to continue going to school. Instead he starts spending his day in a plum tree, pelting his former classmates alternately with plums or barbs about the uselessness of life.

So the class decides they need to prove to Pierre Anthon that there is meaning in life. They start collecting items that have meaning to them, and piling them up in an abandoned saw mill. When the heap of meaning doesn't seem to be impressive enough, the real challenge begins, as the students individually challenge each other one at a time to give up something meaningful. It starts small and simple - a pair of earrings, a pair of shoes, boxing gloves - before quickly escalating into hair, pets, adoption certificates and beyond.

The writing in this is just devastating and absolutely beautiful. The design is also top notch, as space is used with great effect. Every couple of chapters there's a page where Agnes foreshadows or drops a bomb on the reader that is only a line or two long and centered in the middle of the page. It's like a punch to the gut. Nothing good comes from of these pages.

Agnes is an excellent choice for a narrator. She is at once an outsider and a complicit accessory to the collection of meaning - her tribute is made fairly early so she gets off relatively easily, but she also plays a part in ramping up the escalation. She has a somewhat distant voice, and about halfway through she starts unexpectedly engaging in silly word play that made me wonder if a psychotic break was imminent. And then there's her aforementioned empty pages. An excellent and haunting choice.

The number one comparison this book seems to elicit is to Lord of the Flies, and I have to admit I haven't actually read that one. But from what I've heard, the comparisons are accurate. "The Lottery" is another one, though at least the violence in this one is explained, if no less senseless. It's not a happy book. I had to put the book down a couple of times, just for a moment to compose myself, as the tributes to the heap of meaning escalated. This is a book that will haunt its readers, and it's no wonder it was showered with multiple awards this year.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Fairy tale retellings have been popular...pretty much as long as I've been reading books. However, at least recently in YA, the re-tellings have focused on expanding the slight germ of a story from original sources like Grimm. They take a barebones story and expand it within its original fairy tale setting, like Princess of the Midnight Ball, or alternatively take the basic themes and set it in a totally foreign and modern setting, like Sisters Red. A Tale Dark and Grimm takes a slightly different approach, as it great adds depth to the original fairy tales while still maintaining the original spare-but-gruesome style.

A Tale Dark and GrimmHansel and Gretel have a tough life, even in the original fairy tale, and Gidwitz ramps up the difficulty for them, giving them a father and mother who behead them in order to save the life of a beloved servant. When the children are put back together (it'd be an awfully short story if they weren't!), they decide they can't live with such awful parents, and set off into the forest to find new parents.

The first place they find is a cabin made of cakes and candies, where a kindly old woman lives and insists on feeding the children as much as they can possibly eat. Well, you probably know how this story ends. From here, Gidwitz retcons several more obscure Grimm tales in order to place Hansel and Gretel, either jointly or in solo missions, as the stars and heroes, with a narrator along for the ride that often interjects to let us know that the story is about to get darker and grimmer and bloodier and grosser and really any little kids in the room should have been sent to bed long ago.

This is a relatively dark and gorey book, but the narrator's presence really helps lighten the tone, even when he's warning us of doom and gloom. We know something bad is coming, so we can steel ourselves and be prepared. And really, even though Disney has bowdlerized a number of fairy tales, those can still get dark and creepy. The Wicked Queen in Snow White falls to her death (as does Mother Goethel in Tangled), the Beast is stabbed by Gaston and Mufasa is murdered by his own brother. While in A Tale Dark and Grimm bad things happen to the good guys, which can be more disturbing in some ways, I still never found it to be over the top.

Because the violence isn't the point of any one of these stories. While fairy tales were originally cautionary tales, the themes in A Tale Dark and Grimm are much more uplifting and aspirational about the meanings of love and family and kindness and sacrifice. These aren't warnings that good little girls and boys should stay out of the woods; these stories encourage recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in yourself and others, and being helpful and good whenever you can.

I absolutely loved that, unlike many classic fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel are equal players in this, and both get their fair share of adventuring and problem solving. Gretel really does get to wield that sword she's holding on the cover - no damsels in distress here! And speaking of that cover - it's absolutely fabulous, bringing to mind old woodcut illustrations. The design staff was clearly in communication with editorial when designing this cover, because everything there comes into play in the story eventually. Even that dragon!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Links: Bitch, Please: Bitch removes titles from YA feminist list

Last week, Bitch Magazine posted a list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. Considering I'd just put together my own list of feminist YA books the weekend before, I was definitely interested. I didn't have time to do a deep analysis of what made the list and what didn't, but I was happy to see that there was quite a bit of overlap between the two lists - including books that I consider slightly more obscurely-feminist, like Rampant and Sisters Red.

So imagine my surprise when I get on Twitter tonight and find that the list has been changed! First I was hearing about Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels being removed. Upon further investigation into the comments, I find that Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl and (gasp) Sisters Red have also been removed.

A couple of us at the office read and re-read Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl this weekend.We've decided to remove these books from the list -- Sisters Red because of the victim-blaming scene that was discussed earlier in this post, Tender Morsels because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance, and Living Dead Girl because of its triggering nature. Ashley McAllister
Cue internet freak-out.

Bitch totally has the right to use whatever criteria they wish when making up their personal list - but their reasoning here for changing that list is discomforting. Let's break it down:

  • Tender Morsels: character uses rape as vengeance and isn't critiqued/discussed. If you have to have your hand held through Tender Morsels to realize that rape is Bad, you're not mature enough to be reading this book. This is a difficult, gut wrenching book to read. I didn't love it, I felt it dragged, but I never really had a problem with the violence (aside from generally feeling uncomfortable, which I felt was the point), because it's pretty damn obvious that this was all BAD. As commenters at Bitch have pointed out, Tender Morsels is about realizing that you can't hide from the pain and dangers of the world - a very feminist message, as most feminist literature is based on the idea that women need to share their stories, even the hard and painful ones, in order to break the silence around "shameful" things, LIKE RAPE.
  • Living Dead Girl: triggering. Really? We're dropping a book because it may be triggering? Triggering (something that can give a survivor of violence - the sort that often leads to PTSD - terrifying flashbacks) is totally real and a legitimate concern in the feminist community. But to remove a book just because it is triggering is the opposite of the goals of feminist literature discussed above. Living Dead Girl is another terrifying and discomforting book, and could certainly be a trigger for survivors of abuse. But what about the survivors who find solace in knowing that they aren't the only ones who have suffered and survived? And Living Dead Girl is far from the only potentially triggering title on the list - Scott Westerfeld points out in the comments that he has actually received letters from cutters who found Pretties to be triggering.
  • Sisters Red: victim blaming. The Book Smugglers critiqued Sisters Red because of one passage where Scarlett and Silas are dismissive towards young women who are dressed perfectly to attract the attention of the killer werewolves. Yes, it is classic victim blaming. Scarlett, however, is also a troubled young woman with anger issues, and Silas...well, I never totally dug him anyway. Is it a problematic passage? Absolutely. But it clearly wasn't so problematic that it negated the feminist qualities for the people who recommended the title to Bitch and for those readers who chose to ultimately put it on the list. If you re-read the book knowing there's a problem, of course it's going to stick out with out-sized importance. I'm afraid that distracted the re-readers from the other excellent qualities of the book.
I think a lot of us became interested in feminism because we recognize the world isn't a fun loving and happy place - especially for women and other oppressed peoples. We search in vain for feminist literature that not only reflects the realities of the world, but reaffirms that we're right to fight back and offers examples of young women and men who do so - whether it's Frankie orchestrating epic pranks to illustrate institutional sexism or Katsa fighting prejudice against her abilities and her gender to show she can save the day as well as (or better than) any man. Removing a few titles because they illustrate some of the darkness of the world in a way that makes some people uncomfortable is pretty much the antithesis of feminism. Make a note about which titles are potentially triggering, but editing the list this way is insulting to everyone invovled.

Month in review: January + New Feature: Un-Lurking!

Fun fact: I started doing my month in review posts at the end of last January - I really like taking a few minutes to look back at what I did over the last month. I spend so much time moving forward that sometimes I need this little reminder to slow down and reflect!

After my blogging hiccup in October-November, and my pledge to pick the pace back in December, January is the first month I've been blogging really consistently again - down from 5 posts a week to an average of 3. This probably means I'm going to have to re-evaluate my policy of reviewing every book I read, because when I read a book roughly every two days, a huge gap ends up emerging between when I finish a book and when the review is actually posted! Not sure what criteria I'll end up using - because I really don't want to turn into one of those "I only review what I like!" blogs. No judgement for those who choose to review that way, it's just not how I want to run my blog.

January had two major events: the 2011 ALA awards, which people are still talking about, and the latest Bloggiesta! I've already posted my reflections on the Bloggiesta, so I won't re-hash all of it. Summary: tons of fun again, and previous experiences have taught me better blogging habits to make each Bloggiesta easier.

As part of Bloggiesta, I've also started using Goodreads more often. I have my whole TBR list on there, and am trying to write quick and rough reviews up there before I sit down to write a whole blog post. I don't always have time to write a full, coherent blog post if I finish a book during the week, but Goodreads allows me to get my basic thoughts out there so I won't forget anything before I have a chance to write the proper review. I also want to be more social on Goodreads, so please feel free to friend me on there and start recommending books!

In non book blogging news, I've also started a new online project with my husband: we're podcasting now! You can find our show A Couple of Geeks at Geekshow Entertainment. It's basically an hour of my husband and I riffing on anything and everything geeky - because we adhere to the theory that everyone is geeky about something. YA books will be coming up fairly often, as that's my major geek outlet - in our pilot episode, all about zombies, I give shoutouts to Rot and Ruin, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves. Give it a listen and geek out with us!

And finally: I want to try out a new feature here, inspired by some of the other blogging communities I'm part of as well as the annual Comment Challenge. I don't know about you guys, but I tend to be something of a lurker by nature. I'll comment somewhere if I have a burning need to add to the conversation, or if a blog/website looks like it's pretty new and doesn't have a lot of other people hanging around yet. But I hardly ever comment in more established spaces. Don't really know why, and don't feel like psychoanalyzing myself at the moment to figure it out! However, I do know that if I know other new people are going to be showing up, I'll talk more. Thus when other blogs put up periodic de-lurking posts, I'm more likely to poke my head in. Same with the Comment Challenge - I commented exponentially more than usual because I knew lots of other people were putting themselves out there on a limb as well!

I don't get a ton of comments here, but my Google statistics tell me I'm not sitting here talking to myself! So I'm hoping to do a post like this every month - perhaps as a stand alone post, or continue bundling it in with my month in review like I am this time. This is where I encourage you to jump in a take part in the blog! Bloggers live for comments, and I would love to hear from you. Introduce yourself and say hi! Don't know what else to say? Here are a few ideas:

  • What are you reading at the moment? What made you pick it up and how do you like it so far?
  • What was the last movie you saw?
  • Are you currently being snowed in by a blizzard?
Like I said, I know I'm not talking to myself here, and I'd love to get to know my readers! So if you're like me and feel intimidated about jumping into a blog post uninvited...consider this your official invitation to join the party!
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