WIB: September 22-28
Why hello there. I’ve got a lot to do this month so I want to keep up with my book reviews. That means, you know, actually posting them. I’m rested, I went to the gym, the cats aren’t trying to claw each other, and Candy Crush is safely downstairs on the iPad so as not to tempt me. The perfect recipe for a post.
Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Shade of the Moon came out last month, and I finally got it from the library. But before I read that, I reread the third book in the Last Survivors series, This World We Live In. I’ve raved about this series before–how it caused me to begin Foodpocalypses, and how I had to read it by the fire because it was freaking me out, but I remembered I wasn’t crazy about the third book.
Having gotten a little distance from it since the last reading, I can say that it fascinated me even more, and I was happy to have reread it before getting into the fourth book. In the series’s first book, Life as We Knew It, the sixteen-year-old diary-writing narrator, Miranda (oh, I just got that; “brave new world” and all that), struggles along with the rest of her family during a lengthened winter brought on by a slight shift in the moon’s orbit. While her older brother is adult enough to better handle the situation, and her younger brother is fairly coddled and protected, Miranda is just old enough to know she should be acting like an adult, and just young enough to have to work hard to push off her sense of entitlement when the world she knows is taken away from her and she is thrust into a daily struggle to survive. In the second book of the series, The Dead and the Gone, we are introduced to Alex, who lives in New York City, sadly so close to the coast that he watches everything around him destroyed by even more natural disasters than Miranda is suffering in Pennsylvania. The third book brings together characters from the first two books, and the thing that bothered me in the first read-through seemed all too realistic the second-time around. Miranda immediately feels that she’s an adult, and that bothered me the first time around because we know she is not. In fact, she’s making all kinds of decisions that adults perhaps would not. And yet this time I could say that her PERCEPTION that she has become an adult is in line with a world that has no definition for adulthood, after the destruction of a world that barely had one to begin with.
Which brings us to The Shade of the Moon. I love this series, and I hate the idea of someone coming in to read this and getting spoiled for the first three books. So here are some non-spoilery things I loved about the book: It connects the previous struggle with survival with class struggles; it doesn’t need us to like the main character, which is fine because there’s little to like; it tells us that we cannot stand alone no matter how much we’d like to; it highlights how quickly people, especially children, become accustomed to privilege. And this last part is important. I think that when we look back at this time and this series, we’ll see that entitlement and privilege become two constant talking points, from the entitlement and privileges in real life, to that of places like the Capitol in The Hunger Games, to characters like Miranda, Alex, and their siblings in this series, and it will be this series that shows the true difficulties of this generation’s children. Miranda, Alex, and their siblings are Millennials, and right now the focus in real-life media is on their “selfishness” and “laziness”–and the backlash response of being handed the responsibilities of a tanked economy, a country without enough jobs, and so on. We’re discussing dystopias in our book club this month, and my friend Zee and I were talking about how certain themes occur when society is especially anxious, and how we’ll look back and see that especially in our literature, and I really think this series should be looked at. Even in this world where few have enough to eat, there are those who are being told they’re better, more necessary, more human, and are they dealing with it differently than any other generation? If so, why?
So I really did like the book, by the way, not just as a way to look at our own society, but on its own merits. There’s a part where I’m sure some people were pulled out of the reality of the series, but I actually would argue with them that it’s absolutely realistic to believe anything you’re told about something you believe is inferior. But I don’t want to detail that because I don’t want to say too much. This is the problem with wanting to talk about books with people who may not have read them yet.
So go read them and then we can talk!
I saw Sara Farizan speak at BEA and I was sad the whole panel wasn’t about her and her book, If You Could Be Mine. It was actually about the process of publishing a book, and I think ultimately people were there to figure out what makes a book special enough to get published, and we were told “Well, if you’re a grad student whose prof knows someone at a publishing company…” Which is, of course, what no one wants to hear, because it’s too who-you-know and not what-you’ve-done. But Farizan’s work was special to the person who suggested it; she said, “If I were only going to suggest one book, it would be this one.” I can see why. The book’s main character, Sahar, is in love with her best friend and has been since kindergarten. But they live in Iran, and being together is not an option unless they are willing to risk execution for their love. This is not an American love story, where you fight the system and win, although Farizan is Iranian-American. This is an Iranian story.
It’s also very YA, and I think that’s its weak point. Farizan does a good job balancing the reader’s possible lack of knowledge of Iran without bombarding us with tons of exposition, which other authors struggle with, but ultimately the book at times feels like a walk-through of every letter of LBGTQ through an Iranian lens. At the end, you don’t feel you’ve just learned something about the culture by accident while reading a good book, which is how you should feel; you feel like Farizan has had to Say Something about everyone, even if just a little bit.
I’m excited to see what she writes next, and I would recommend this book completely, but I think her desire to touch on everything in one book ends up with a sense of skimming through what could have been a much harder, even more touching portrayal of two young women in love in a country where such love is illegal.
Then I decided to knock out two Batman graphic novels, Matt Wagner’s Faces and Brian Azzarello’s Joker. I wasn’t super-crazy about either of them. Faces didn’t line up with any Two-Face portrayal I’ve ever read before, and Azzerello’s Joker would’ve been better as a non-DCU story. It seemed like he was trying to write more of a Ledger/Mafia Joker story but trying to make the weirdos fit in too hard. Like watching a grim-and-gritty Spider-Man, which should never happen. As an Elseworlds-like title, it was interesting, but as something with the Joker? Not that interested. And a Harley Quinn who does and says nothing, but exists mostly to be topless and sexy? No thanks.
I finally finished up Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, edited by Leonard S. Marcus. This was a tough one to get through, because it’s a ton of short interviews, where so many of them begin with the first meeting of the interviewee and L’Engle, and end with her death. So, yeah, depressing as heck. However, a fascinating look at a person from multiple perspectives. I suggest reading this with her memoirs; it’s quite the contrast. Everyone from L’Engle’s grandkids to Judy Blume have something to say about her. I wish there was more from the family, but I can understand why there isn’t. I was expecting a much less personal look; it’s quite intimate. Many people saw completely different things, not just aspects of her, but entire realities. I wonder how people would see me. Actually, I wonder how they see me all the time. Hm.
Finally, finally, finally, in both sense of the word, I completed To Kill a Mockingbird, which was SO DIFFERENT than I remembered. I mean, I read it for school when I was fifteen, and can’t remember if I read it again at any point, but I’d forgotten whole chunks of that book. It’s wonderful, it really is, and I’m sad my daughter and I got sidetracked on our conversations about it with her summer reading project for high school, but I’m also glad we talked about it when we did, and I’m very glad I read it again. Poor book fell apart in my hands, but I’m guessing that has more to do with age than me, or the kid. MAYBE.
So that was the almost-end of September. Next up: romance, dystopia, Ann M. Martin’s non-BSC stuff! Woot!