Yes, everything. Including my Monday reading check in. And I just realized I haven’t put up the October link up for Diversity on the Shelf. I’ll get to that tomorrow perhaps. Right now, I’m trying to squeeze this post in before exhaustion completely overtakes me.
I’m tired is what I’m saying. And there’s a hurricane coming so I went to the store today to get supplies. Because, of course, there are huge holes in my hurricane preparedness. But on the plus side, my parents loaned me a flashlight, so if both my and my daughter’s phones die, at least we’ll be able to see.
I love The Good Place, basically. Which is a little terrifying, quite frankly, given that most of the shows I loved last year were cancelled. But, to be real, that’s exactly why I am talking about it. (I already lost The Grinder, guys. I can’t take another hit.)
Also, the start of the semester. One of those is more impressive than the other. Hint: it’s the one related to school.
Hello! I haven’t participated in this meme in a while (since mid-July! wow!), but I read two awesome books this week and wanted to share. I was going to do an August wrap-up, but honestly, all you need to know is that the best book I read last month was Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, which is, of course, a re-read. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had a friend like Frog? I think so.
Like most boys, he’d grown up believing girls were emotional and fragile little things. Since moving to Kansas it was obvious the women he’d interacted with didn’t know that.
Stepping to a New Day is the seventh book in Beverly Jenkins’s Blessings series, set in the fictional (and delightful) Henry Adams, Kansas.
I have to confess that I haven’t read the other books in the series, which meant it took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the story and the rules. However, once I figured out that it’s basically a soap opera with rotating frontburner and backburner characters, I was ALL IN.
I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz has been on my radar since it first came out–not only because it has won so many awards and is lauded by many, but also because my summer book club picked it a few years ago. I didn’t read it then because I had required reading fatigue (it’s a thing I tend to get every summer), but I knew I would get back to it eventually. Well, eventually came this year once I found out Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) did the narration for the audiobook.
The plot of the book is pretty straight-forward: Aristotle (who goes by Ari) is a lonely 15-year-old who befriends Dante one day at the swimming pool. Then, you know, life and stuff happens. Big life and big stuff. I am avoiding spoilers here, obviously.
What I Liked
– First and foremost, this is a friendship novel. I LOVE FRIENDSHIP STORIES. They make me happy. Friendships can be easy and challenging and hard and beautiful, and that’s exactly what happens here.
– Dante is pretty fantastic. He’s such a great character: open, honest, frustrating, angry, challenging. He’s just so earnest! Ah, it’s adorable.
– Ari is pretty great, too. He’s the narrator, so the reader is more privy to his thoughts, and he is struggling to find his place in the world. I liked that he is pretty much just doing what comes next like a checklist for life, even if he isn’t sure what he wants yet. I think that’s pretty accurate for how many teens do things.
– This is a kissing book. Lots of talk of kissing here. Lots of kissing happening, too. I approve.
– THE PARENTS. Both boys’ parents are excellent. They are supremely flawed human beings who are doing the best they can, which means they screw up sometimes but that they love their kids so, so much–and the narrative acknowledges it. Also, Dante’s father is an English professor, so that automatically raises his level of awesome for me.
– Gina Navarro and Sophie (I can’t remember her last name). These are girls Ari grew up with who drive him insane but also love him a super lot and force him to participate in life stuff. At first, I was jarred by their presence, but I really like how they challenged him and how he came to see their place in his life.
– So basically all of the characters were great is what I’m saying.
– THE ENDING. I 100% love the ending to this book, and that’s what took me from liking it to really liking it. And when I say the ending, I don’t mean the last chapter. I mean pretty much the whole last act, starting from the moment Ari’s parents sit him down for a heart-to-heart until the very, very end. It was pretty much perfection.
– The dialogue is super realistic and I loved, loved, loved any time the characters were talking to and interacting with each other. I could pretty much see every single one of those scenes playing out in front of me. They were so great.
– One of the running threads through the book is this idea of being a “real” Mexican. I loved that exploration of the boys’ identities and how the idea is tied into not only cultural expectations but also outside stereotypes. It’s really well handled and Saenz is subtle in how he completely and most emphatically states that the only thing that makes someone a real Mexican is being Mexican. Love.
– Lin-Manuel Miranda is A+ as a narrator. I would listen to another book he reads. Also, he can definitely roll his r’s. I tried over and over to say Bernardo the way he does, and it just wasn’t happening. I also don’t speak Spanish, so you know.
What I Didn’t Like
– I thought this was a summer book. It’s not. When Ari went back to school, I was so confused and a little upset. This is all about my expectations as a reader, but it is what it is.
– I am pretty sure Ari is depressed throughout most of the novel (thought it’s never explicitly stated), and that’s fine. He’s also a pretty interior character, which is also fine. However, what that meant for huge chunks of the novel is that Ari is completely in his head and most of what he thinks is expressed in negatives. There is a lot of “I don’t know why I did this” and “I don’t know why this” and “I didn’t say anything, but” or “I didn’t ask him this.” Those moments (and there are A LOT of them) made the narration and the story drag.
Also, one thing I was taught when I studied creative writing was not to describe what a character doesn’t do and so I am hyper aware of when an author does it.
Those moments may have played out better in the text than in the audio, but just imagine listening to someone tell you for five minutes straight all the things they didn’t do in a given situation. It would get real old real fast.
On the plus side, it did make the moments of dialogue and character interaction that much more enjoyable, so.
In conclusion: A really powerful look at friendship, family, and love with great characters and an excellent ending.
I should be at the gym is what I’m saying. But no. Bands of rain with squall lines are coming through. RUDE.
This past week, I read:
3.5 stars, rounding up
Great characters, EXCELLENT ending. Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an A+ narrator. Will review on the blog.
I. Love. Grandmère.
That is all.
I made it about 1/3 of the way through this book and just could not bring myself to pick it back up again.
I find all of the characters grossly offensive and problematic on pretty much every level. If the author was aiming for satire, she missed. By a lot.
As of today, I’m reading:
I am still making my way through my library book sale finds, so I started Dear Bill, Remember Me? and Other Stories by Norma Fox Mazer last night. It’s a definite palate cleanser after Kill the Boy Band.
I’m currently listening to some podcasts so my audiobook adventures are on hold for now. However, I’m going to have to start packing soon (as in, I should have started yesterday), so I should really get on finding my next read.
Happy reading, everyone!
Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee is another Friends of the Library book sale find. I probably picked it up because the main character is Korean—and completely ignored the football uniform. There’s a lot of football in here is what I’m saying. Basically, Chan’s parents move him and his sister Young to Minnesota from L.A. to take over their uncle’s store. There’s no soccer team so Chan joins the football team and encounters some violent racism under the guise of “necessary roughness.”
What I Liked
- There’s some really good family stuff here, especially with Young and Chan’s dad and his brother and how that affects his relationship with Chan.
- Chan frequently acts as a translator for his father, but his father expects him to be quiet and respectful at the same time.
- I especially like that O-Ma is not to be slept on. She constantly comes through in surprising ways. She gets things done is what I’m saying. She’s probably my favorite.
- As is Mrs. K, their neighbor. She and O-Ma have a great relationship.
- Young and Chan are both good kids, so the conflict doesn’t come from rebelling against their parents but just from them trying to figure out their new town and how they fit in.
- One of my favorite parts is Chan trying to find someone–anyone–of color he can relate to. And finding that in this particular town, that’s not an option. That is so real, especially when you go from a place with a lot of people of color to a lily-white town. It is jarring and weird and also means trying to recreate that feeling of home as best you can.
What I Didn’t Like
- FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL. Listen, there’s a lot of football in this book, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it’s important to the main character, so he would talk about it a lot. But I find that the focus on drills and stuff in books only works if it’s to explore other stuff like relationships between characters.
- There are a lot of dropped threads plot threads here: Young and Chan’s uncle, the bullying incidents, the money issues.
- There are a lot of rushed and not satisfactorily resolved endings as well: the bullying incident, the money issues, Chan’s relationship with a girl, and the actual ending.
- I really wanted more from this book: more character and plot development and more of a sense of the school beyond football–especially for Young. Even though the story isn’t told from her point of view, I don’t really get a sense of what her experience at the school is.
- The tagline on the book is “Sometimes offense is the only defense.” Yeah, that wasn’t realized in the book at all.
In conclusion: This book had a promising start but left me wanting more. Reluctant readers who like sports might go for it, though.
I picked up A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich by Alice Childress at the Friends of the Library book sale one day, probably because I recognized the title and figured it’s a book I should have read by now. It’s a pretty classic problem novel about a kid named Benjie who is addicted to heroin. (The tagline on the novel is “Benjie is young, black, and well on his way to being hooked on heroin” lest there’s any confusion about its problem novel status or the topic of the book. But I digress. )
The story is told in alternating first-person POV chapters from Benjie and the people who his drug use affect, including his mom, stepfather, grandmother, teachers, and friends. The chapters really serve as character studies to let the reader know who populates Benjie’s world as well as how they view not only Benjie but the neighborhood and other people in it.
When I found out the book was made into a movie (starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield, no less!), I wasn’t very far into the book and was surprised because it didn’t seem like there was really enough plot to hang a movie on, but I was wrong about that. While the beginning is pretty light on plot and heavy on premise (Benjie’s on drugs and people notice–seriously, that’s it), as the book goes on, there’s actually a lot of stuff that happens between characters, and it’s all pretty deftly handled. The characters reflect more on how they feel about what’s happened than detailing what happened to get the characters to that point. I mean, we find out, but the chapters don’t follow the standard this happened and then this happened and then this happened progression.
While I ultimately found the book just okay (it’s super short but took me a ridiculously long amount of time to read it given the length), I really enjoyed all of the relationship stuff with the mom and stepfather, and I am 100% in love with the ending. THAT ENDING. Not to mention, all of the familial relationship stuff is ace. Yeah, so that was pretty great. Also, there’s a really interesting conflict between the white teacher Mr. Cohen (who has A LOT of contempt for his black students) and the black nationalist teacher Mr. Green across the hall. They are both effective teachers but they do not particularly care for each other and they have very, very different views of the children and neighborhood they serve.
Anyway, I’m going to end this by just quoting Mr. Green because, through him, Childress basically says what I was trying to get at in my diversity fatigue post:
Look around your city and let me know if you see coloreds represented fifty-fifty in the white community. No, it doesn’t go down that way. I’m sick of explainin and talkin race. Race is the story of my life and my father’s life, and I guess, his father and all the other fathers before that. As a kid, I was in on “race” discussions in school, at home, in church, everywhere. It’s a wonder every Black person in the U. S. of A. hasn’t gone stark, ravin made from racism…and the hurtin it’s put on us.
Also, for anyone doing any banned book challenges, this book was successfully removed from a school library in 1975.
So, I have watched all manner of television in my life. When I was a kid, I used to stay up insanely late watching Nick at Nite (old school: ask me about Dobie Gillis) and whatever else I ran across on television. One of these shows was V.I.P. starring Pamela Anderson.
I legit do not even know how me and my family found this show. I think it came on after Showtime at the Apollo. Maybe? I don’t know. All I do know is that it came on at some godawful hour in the middle of the night, and after watching it once, we totally kept tuning in.
Anyway, it is absolutely as ridiculous as you think and it was 100% amazing and fun.
I mean, I would totally watch that right now if it were on the air. Because FUN.
For the A to Z challenge, I’m blogging about fannish pursuits (aka things I’m a fan of or have strong feelings about). Tune in tomorrow to see what I picked for W!
This past week, I finished:
Even though I didn’t finish The Kane Chronicles, I really like Carter and Sadie, so it was nice to spend some time with them without all the extra that comes with their series. It’s always fun to see characters from different stories interacting with each other, and seeing the similarities of Percy to Sadie and Annabeth to Carter was extra fun. So yeah, I really liked this.
Me: I have been reading this book forever. I am going to finish it today because I am sick of saying I’m still reading it.
Mom: Sounds like you need to make a necessary ending on that book.
Me: Yes, exactly.
There is a lot of really useful and helpful information in this book, and I got a lot out of it. Most of it is stuff I had already learned, but I did learn some new strategies and think about some situations differently, both in the NE group I was in that made me decide to read the book and in the book itself. For example, I learned that I didn’t actually hate my job; I was just burnt out so needed to end some of the practices around it. I also had to make a personal necessary ending, which I probably wouldn’t have cast in those terms before. So, you know. Useful.
I think it took me so long because the writing is kind of dry and I kept reading it right before bed. Also, I lost the book for about a week, which didn’t help with the whole finishing it part. But it’s done now, and that’s all that matters.
If you’re trying to figure out how to end something you know you need to but don’t know how, this book may be helpful to you and I recommend it.
Last week, I posted:
More A to Z!
[wrap-up-posts week=”16″ year=”2016″ category=”Blogging A to Z” listtype=”ul”]
As of today, I’m reading:
I’m still making my way through Furiously Happy which is funny so far, and I can see why it strikes a chord with my daughter. I started Alex + Ada Vol. 2 today and should also be getting to Scrum later this week. Of course this is my insane grading week (end of term! finals!) so we’ll see how far I get with any of those.
Happy reading, everyone!