Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Book Review Club - The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
YA

While I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, the chair of my department, Paula McClain, hired me to be one of her research assistants, caveat - I was the only white person. I had no idea what that meant when I started. I knew what it was like to be a minority. I'd lived in German during Desert Storm, when Germans protested the war, stoned the Kennedy Haus just meters from my apartment. It was the first time I tried to "pass" for someone I was not, namely German. I was afraid to be American.

In the years that followed, while I worked as Paula's research assistant, I had the rare opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. I began to understand how subtle racism can be, and how overt, but missed by somebody white because I only saw the world through white eyes.

I'm still learning. This book is seminal in that process of learning and understanding. Although it's been said a lot before, it's a timely story, one that fosters dialogue, that opens a window into what it means to be African American in the U.S. today. It's a book much-needed by our polarized culture.

Basic premise: Starr Carter, who is from a poor neighborhood and goes to school at a preppy suburban school, is the only witness when her friend, Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer one night. Starr is caught between her two worlds and deciding, basically, what kind of woman she wants to be. How will she handle the situation? Will she speak up? Will she keep quiet? Who are her real friends? Was she really Khalil's friends? This book is packed with so many existential and hard issues, decisions, and transforming situations. Every chapter is a discussion waiting to happen. It's challenged me to re-view the way I see the world, the way I interact with others, the way I perceive.

One of the most interesting craft aspects of this story is the use of language. Thomas moves between the way Starr talks when she's at home in her neighborhood (Garden Heights Starr), to the way she talks when she's at school (Williamson Starr). Khalil's death forces Starr's two worlds to collide, and Thomas cleverly uses linguistic variation and mixing to underscore and heighten the merging of those worlds.

While I worked for Paula, I collected data for updates to her book, Can We All Get Along. It's no easy feat. There are a lot of possible points for clashing. The Hate U Give addresses some of them, and what happens when we refuse to see beyond the easy answers, the stereotypes, when we don't see why those stereotypes may exist, or the role each of us plays in making our culture.  Ultimately, Paula gave me hope. Thomas gives me hope. Because they challenge me to grow and engage in getting along.

For more thoughtful reads this Spring, visit Barrie Summy's website. She's got a bundle!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Book Review Club - The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star
Nicola Yoon
YA

Whenever a book gets a lot of buzz I am, for mysterious reasons, wary and skeptical. However, with The Sun is Also a Star there is plenty of merit to the buzz.

Basic Premise: Natasha and Daniel meet one fated day in NYC. Daniel is supposed to be pursuing the next step from high school to becoming a doctor--an interview for Yale. Natasha is doing everything she can to avoid her family's deportation. Their paths cross and they discover a new kind of love, one held shortly but as brightly as a supernova.

From a craft perspective, there is a lot to take away and chew on. Yoon weaves in the concept of muliverses, i.e. multiple universes existing at the same time (the Trekkie in me was thrilled). She also uses multiple POVs, as well as storytelling formats, to underscore the multiplicity of life going on in, around and through us.

Her use of both has me thinking hard. Sometimes, ever so rarely, a new form of storytelling is born, such as script format, play format, epistolary novels, text format, email format, a combination of all of the above. I don't think this particular combination of multiple POV, as well as light play format to divulge backstory and concurrent stories, will become a new form of storytelling. Rather, Yoon's compilation of pieces of different forms of storytelling to underscore the multi-nature of her story is singular, perhaps unrepeatable, because of its singularity of purpose and style, but it works. And it has me wondering, what else one could combine to underscore a story's plot, character, etc.

The other significant issue going on in this novel is that of immigration. In this case, Natasha's family is clearly, unequivocally, illegally in the U.S. from Jamaica, whereas Daniel's family moved her legally from Korea (and, ironically, eventually goes back to live between the two countries). There are novels of material for discussion here. How are immigrants treated, especially in the current U.S. climate? What happens when we deport illegal immigrants--to them, our society, and their native society? These are questions painfully in need of discussion now, if for no other reason than they help us as individuals mine and discover, perhaps even expand, the boundaries of our own humanity. Embracing the difficult conversations is something that seems to be getting lost in the current climate, and yet it is so integral to fostering a healthy, ethical, evolving community and country.

Okay, okay, enough of the soapbox. Enjoy The Sun is Also a Star. Writers, there is plenty to steal. Readers, there is plenty to ponder. For more pilfering great finds, sneak over to Barrie Summy's website. She's got a whole van full (down by the river :-).

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Book Review Club - Spare and Found Parts

Spare and Found Parts
Sarah Maria Griffin
YA - Horror

I cannot watch scary movies. Can't do it. I went to Nightmare on Elm Street for my 16th birthday. It was the first and last scary movie I saw in a theater. I still have nightmares. Which is why I love the literary horror genre so much. It's limited by the reaches of my imagination, which is scared (and satisfied) with a lot less fright than your apparent horror movie buff. I'm such a wimp. Still, I have found my horror outlet. Yay!

Add to that that Spare and Found Parts is a retelling of Frankenstein (I own the annotated version because what is horror without proper annotation, I ask you?) set in a future Ireland. Irish horror? I'm hooked already.

Basic premise: Society was brought down by the almighty machine, i.e. computers, and is now in a post-computer (read: computerless) age. Humankind has suffered a pandemic that killed millions. Still, people are born without certain body parts. Enter Nell Crane. She became sick with the pandemic as a child and needed a new heart. Her father, renowned prosthetics maker, Julian Crane, fashions one out of metal for her. It ticks (there are overtures of The Wizard of Oz here too). The ticking makes Nell feel separate from others, not like them, so as her contribution--her buy in into society as a grown up--she decides to fashion a partner completely out of metal, a "new/old" android. The only thing missing is a brain, which her father ultimately supplies in the form of a contraband computer memory slip. Thus, Nell awakens her own monster, one to parallel her feelings of monstrosity. Will they fall in love? Can they? Will Nell's contribution be accepted or cause her to be ostracized from society? One must read to find out!

There is a lot more going on in the story, of course--an unrequited love interest toward Nell on the part of the local undertaker's son, Oliver, his secret claims to her, Julian's attempts to reanimate his dead wife, hidden computer archives, a best friend, an enormous statue fashioned by Nell's late mother that is a surrogate sister to Nell, and a grandmother who is a naturalist  and thus adamantly opposed to Nell's artificial life/monster--that add to the richness of this story.

There is one craft issue that has me puzzling. Griffin tells the story in omniscient third; however, she will, from time to time, in a separate chapter, use second person to hone in on Nell, but also step back from her. Nell is the focus of the soliloquy. It was unclear to me if the speaker is Nell reflecting on herself or an unknown narrator. Nor am I entirely sure what the change in POV is supposed to elicit. It does pause the storytelling and force the reader and Nell to focus more particularly on a particular event and/or moment in time. I don't dislike it. It isn't jarring. I just haven't quite puzzled out how I can take and make my own as a writer because I haven't discovered what it does for the piece for me. Again, always the sign of good writing for me--it makes me think.

For more good reads and things that go bump in the night, sneak over to Barrie Summy's website. There's no telling what stories (dead or alive) lurk there. Bwahahahahaha!!!!




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