psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (Default)
Not Your Sidekick, C.B. Lee. Charming teen superhero YA science fiction romance. I suppose technically this is authorities-with-secrets but, I don't know, it never made me roll my eyes about it? Like there were reasons that these particular kids ended up in a position to uncover the lies and fight the system other than Their Innate Teen Resistance To Conformity or whatever. Anyways, I thought it was all pretty obvious but fun and nice and had some good character beats and I appreciate recommendable happy queer teen romance. I mean, adult readers might find it too young for them, but I like there being Good Books For Teens out there, if that's not too patronizing. I mean, I can see some young bisexual Asian girl being like "holy shit A Protagonist Like Me, and she gets the girl, eeee", I don't think we're even at the point yet where we have an abundance of those. I certainly remember compulsively rereading every teen romance I could get my hands on where the girl was taller than the boy (the pattern of many of my early crushes), which was, like, one Sweet Valley High novel and a novella in a collection I've never been able to track down again. Anyways, it turns out this is the first of a trilogy and the next one's going to focus on the trans shapeshifter character, yay.

When The Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore. I picked this up because it won the 2016 Tiptree, and I admit I found it very slow going for awhile. Super-poetic magical realism family drama angst romance. I did eventually get through it and did enjoy some of the imagery and language, and how it unfolded, but I still kind of think it could have been about half as long for the actual story. But, much like the previous book, that may be because this book was not For Me; I totally think some young trans person is going to read this and it's going to be Their Book, the thing they write quotes from in their journal and get tattoos of when they turn 18, or at least put on their list of their ten books that most explain who they are. Older YA, if only because I'm not sure younger YA readers would have the patience for the style.

The Lotterys Plus One Emma Donoghue. Did I randomly find a book about a poly family on my library's middlegrade new books shelf? I *did*! Well, it turns out the two dads are married and the two moms are married and they're probably not polying much except to live in one giant house and have kids together, but, like, I am not trying to erase the distinctions here between romantic and familial love, but a middlegrade book probably isn't going to get much into that distinction anyways. This book is definitely from the wish-fulfillment-fantasy genre one might call "what kind of life would we make if money was no object" - there is an enormous lottery win in the backstory - and would probably make a fascinating period piece for people outside the contemporary-liberal cultural context, either past or future. The Lottery dream life is joyously racially and ethnically diverse, warmly accepting of disability and difference (we are very overtly taught the word "neurodiversity"), self-consciously Wacky (so many cutesy names and misheard words) and Unstructured (so much homeschooling) and Literate (some of the books that get name-dropped seem more random than others). I was... not entirely convinced on the main theme about adjusting to accepting a grandpa with dementia into their family instead of finding a dedicated care facility for him... his dementia is conveniently at just the right stage to elide some of the more gritty burdens of caregiving, and his racism and homophobia conveniently soften once he gets to know everybody (there is probably a book to be written that seriously grapples with the question of asking minor children to endure microaggressions in their own home in the name of non-institutionalized caregiving/loving generously, but it wasn't quite this book. probably needs to be own-voices.). And there's a few bits of other weirdness (an AFAB kid who says they're not a girl but is still given she/hers pronouns because they also don't claim to be a boy... I swear we have a good third pronoun for this situation...). But overall it was sweet and goofy and I've always had a fondness for the wacky slice-of-life adventures of characters with an abundance of family and money, going back to, like, Eight Cousins and Cheaper By The Dozen (which both have some uncomfortable racist content as I recall so yay for contemporary readevenvaguelyalikes). If you ever thought it would be cool if Dykes To Watch Out For and the Ramona Quimby series had a baby and it was a feelgood middlegrade, here you go!
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The Girl Who Drank The Moon, Kelly Barnhill, 2017 Newbery. A fairy tale type fantasy that's mythic at its best, uncompelling at its worst - "plotless" would be the wrong word, there's a pretty satisfying core story, but there's not a lot of action, and particularly not of the rising action/falling action sort. The story sets itself up, and then about where I started to expect some kind of breakout that would catapult us into a more urgent, immediate storytelling mode, just kept right on unfolding in a sort of methodical, sometimes repetitive way, until eventually all the pieces came together in the sort of "Janet? Brad! Janet? Dr. Scott!" climax that I'm not even considering a spoiler, because, look, this is middle grade, Romeo's not passing the messenger on the road back from Mantua here. There are some good strands of the plot web meanwhile, though; this is probably the best take on the mother-whose-child-is-taken fairy tale trope I've ever seen, with a mother who refuses to vanish quietly out of the story. And I feel like the characters and metaphors in general might have more power for actual older-middle-grade readers, who might also have fewer expectations about pace and tone? Or maybe not. I wonder if it might actually be the right amount of story for a movie - maybe a bit too much backstory, but it would be gorgeous in, like, a Miyazaki adaptation (and already in the right tone, you wouldn't need a dubious tonal shift like the Howl's Moving Castle adaptation, this is right along the emotional lines of Spirited Away. Oh, man, now that this has occurred to me my brain is redrawing my vague mental pictures of all the characters into anime designs and it's *perfect*.)

books

Apr. 4th, 2017 02:35 pm
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
Like a River Glorious, Rae Carson, second in the trilogy that started with Walk on Earth a Stranger in which a girl who can sense gold dresses as a boy and plays Oregon Trail. I liked this one less well than the first one: [spoiler cut]
Read more... ) Anyways, I'll surely read the third one.

Frogkisser!, Garth Nix. Enjoyable, super-readable middle-grade fantasy, nice twists on fairy-tale tropes. Reminded me a great deal of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest books which is an excellent thing for there to be more of in the world. I'm hoping I can get Junie to read it although it's got "kisser" in the title so she's reluctant.
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
One Half from the East is a middle-grade novel by Nadia Hashimi, an American child of parents from Afghanistan, set in contemporary Afghanistan, about a ten-year-old girl whose family decides to make her a bacha posh, a girl who is temporarily dressed as a boy so that the family will have a son. I've been obsessed with gender-disguise narratives my whole life (well, gender narratives more generally, gender-choice and transition and so forth, but as a kid in the 80s and 90s, what you got was mostly girls who wanted to wear pants so they could do stuff), so obviously I was going to read this. And it was very interesting! It wasn't clear from the book whether Hashimi had, like, interviewed people, or was working from secondhand sources, or just using her imagination - it turns out there's a companion novel for adults, following one of the other characters, which I'm hoping might have more extensive author's notes or a bibliography - anyways, it's hard to say how much of the story is an American sensibility of what this kind of gender situation would feel like, or how much is authentically Afghan, but it felt plausible and nuanced to me as an American reader. I actually thought the strongest part emotionally were the parallels between the protagonist and her father, who recently lost a leg in a terrorist attack, who are both struggling to accept the changes in their lives. Anyways, I thought it was very well-written, and interesting both for telling me about a real-world practice I didn't know about, and as a realistic-fiction contrast to the gender-adventure genre.
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
The Case of the Phantom Frog and The Case of the Treetop Treasure. Something slightly Dark-Knight-esque in the extent to which the existence of McGurk's detective organization brings into being mysteries created by kids who want to hoax it. Am ever-so-vaguely starting to think about a 30fic about these guys, although there's a lot to figure out in what year exactly to pin their ages to, etc. But, you know, what have they all been *up* to as adults... one wonders...

books

Dec. 5th, 2016 11:34 pm
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
The Raven and the Reindeer, T. Kingfisher who is Ursula Vernon, 2016. A nifty YA novelization of "The Snow Queen" fairytale, with shapeshifting, and the having-to-overcome-feeling-stupid part of being a hero, and lesbians, and realizations about dangling after jerkboys. Recommended, especially if you like Fire and Hemlock.

A Closed And Common Orbit, Becky Chambers, 2016. Sort-of sequel to Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, although most of the characters from that aren't in this one. This one is more serious and intense, grapples SFnally with some not-unfamiliar brain stuff? Also I criiiiied so much oh my gosh, really hit some of my buttons for that. Recommended but while I think you *could* read them in either order, this one definitely spoils some stuff that happens in Long Way so my suggestion is to read them in publication order.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly, 2016. Sequel to Evolution of etc. Kelly has answered my objection about the previous book and laid out a path by which Callie might actually escape and make it to college! Really hoping we get a third one of these with some bigger time jumps so we can see her do it. Are series that start with a juvenile protagonist and follow them all the way into adulthood rarer now than they used to be? I mean, there's Harry Potter, but I feel like stuff like, oh, all the big classic old timey girls series, Anne and Little House and Betsy/Tacy, and then the fantasy classics like Dragonsong and Alanna, there's this whole thing where the content (and, especially in the older series, the complexity of the writing), "grows up" along with the characters. I don't know whether someone could sell a series like that today - specifically I don't know whether Kelly might have. I guess there's Princess Diaries, hrm.

The Case of the Invisible Dog and The Case of the Secret Scribbler, E.W. Hildick, illustrated by Lisl Weil. We've finally caught up to McGurks I remember! Not all or even most of the details - I think I would have read these in like 1984, and never re-read them past elementary school - but there's bits where I'm like "oh yeeeah, this is familiar." Invisible Dog is really charming, and Secret Scribbler involves an Actual Crime TM!

The Storyteller, Evan Turk, picture book, 2016. I don't follow the Caldecott (so no idea what they've been awarding) but I could see this making the list. Really neat story about storytelling, with nested framing stories. Junie was intrigued and wanted to discuss further, which she rarely does about her reading!

Zoom, Istvan Banyai. Q was fascinated by this wordless picture book in which steady "zooming out" reveals scenes to be pictures cleverly inset in other scenes. After we went through together he spent a long time flipping back and forth through the pages "zooming".
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
The Case of the Nervous Newsboy and The Great Rabbit Rip-Off. Have yet to hit one I remember from my own childhood. The copy of Newsboy the library sent us was a reprint edition and it turns out I feel Very Strongly about the original illustrator Lisl Weil, do not approve At All of substitutions. Her drawings just have so much character! I mean, look at this: https://goo.gl/photos/YfFPShbQH9svEse5A (this is an experiment linking a photo in Google Photos). Someday someone's going to request McGurk as a Yuletide fandom and I'm going to be so excited.
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
Man, maybe when I'm all the way down the Duolingo tree I should celebrate by reading a book in Spanish, I haven't tried that in twenty years.

Anyways. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly, is a middle grade about an 11-year-old girl in 1899 Texas who becomes interested in evolution and bonds with her naturalist grandfather. It's been awhile since I read anything in the "girl in historical setting resents limitations/expectations of her gender" genre (although heck knows I used to devour them when I was younger) so I don't remember if they all felt this bittersweet - Callie longs to go to university and see the world, but there's zero indication that this is going to be possible, and quite a bit of indication that she's going to be expected to give up her dreams and conform. So it's more like a "she's getting this magical time in her young life before reality descends" book than "and then she totally grew up to be Kate Sessions" (or whoever your fave lady naturalist is at the moment), despite her grandfather name-dropping a list of historical lady scientists. (Curie, Martha Maxwell, Anning, Kovalevskya, Isabella Bird.) There's apparently a sequel, I'll be curious to see whether this changes.

Company Town, Madeline Ashby. Near-future thriller is not my favorite genre, but as I often think about these books, this one has some clever sfnal ideas in and around the running around, including a woman whose birthmark is natural face-recognition-software camouflage, and post-Singularity AIs trying to meddle with the past. It more or less all hangs together - I found some of the scenes/plot developments at the end kind of muddled, so that I had to reread a couple of times to sort out what was meant, but I got there eventually. And it was very readable in general, in the sense of pace and momentum, and had some good lines, and a neat setting, and, I mean, near-future thriller isn't my *least* favorite genre either, sometimes it's fun to read about someone running around having fights/solving murders/etc and this one has a good protagonist and perspective, so, hey.

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell. Waaaah nostalllgia. Better critics than I have written about the somewhat awkward handling of race in this novel, so let me just say, that's there, but my white privilege let me focus more on the teen-romance parts than the dubious-representation parts, and Rowell does so well with capturing the immensity of that first romance and the intensity of every particular tiny step? I read so much slashfic where people confess their feelings and someone has a dick up their ass five seconds later, I really love the contrast of teen stories where someone very daringly touches a collarbone on the eighth date. Anyways, I ended up crying on the couch at one in the morning listening to "Get Lost" very very loud in my headphones (which isn't even my personal teen heartbreak nostalgia soundtrack, that would be more like REM/U2/Metallica, but it's become the iconic album of those emotions for me), which was an excellent outcome as far as I'm concerned, so, recommended if that sounds good to you.
psocoptera: ink drawing of celtic knot (ha!)
Smek For President is maybe not *quite* as charming and awesome as the original, but, I mean, we're talking about, what, one of the top ten middlegrade books of the 2000s? Top five? Smekday, When You Reach Me, Coraline? (I'd be curious to hear what else people would put on this list, actually, I don't have good reading logs before 2010 so I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff.) Anyways, Smek For President, Adam Rex gives good sequel, both hilarious and thoughtful, I got misty-eyed at the end and I may have sold Junie on the series by mentioning the hoverbutt. Recommended to all ladies and gentlemen and ladygentlemen and gentleladies and gentlementlemen and mentlegentladies and gentlemenmenmenmen.

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