Required Reading: Emergence

Required Reading is (another) new format at Cardigans & Capes: This category refers to a novel, text, or series that was so important / innovative / resonant that this same text has stayed with us for the rest of our lives. Thus, for our dear readers, it is… Required Reading.

EmergenceTitlePalmer, David R. (1984). Emergence. New York: Spectra.

Keywords: Post-apocalyptic worlds, hominids, evolution, Russian Scare

When I first read Emergence at twelve years of age, I had no idea how important this novel would become (to me, at least. After the 1985 nomination for a Hugo, Palmer has enjoyed relative obscurity as far as I can tell). For some context: I have always been a reader. I started my voracious consumption of novels with ghost stories and Nancy Drew (The Secret at Shadow Ranch 4Evah!), and when I turned ten, I thought I’d give a fantasy novel a try (This event will be detailed in another Required Reading post…). By twelve, I had branched into Anne McCaffrey and some other adult sci-fi novels. But Emergence was something else.

Emergence occurs in a post-apocalyptic world where homo post hominem  — the next stage in hominid evolution — has arrived. Narrated by a twelve year old girl who methodically picks her away across the bionuclear fallout zone that was the United States, Emergence is told through an amalgamation of shorthand styles (think Pitman shorthand) and in a conversational tone addressed to the reader, who is often saluted with, “Hello, Posterity!” Even now, this phrase makes me smile. The novel follows the main character, Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, as she searches out other hominems. The novel culminates when she engages in a dangerous mission to save her fledgling species. The characterization, the narrative style, and the plot are deliberate and excellent choices that, when added together, create a rollicking read. The sheer imagination and scope of the novel is tremendous, and such fun! The reader is left with a feeling of, “Goll-eee, that was great!”

But Emergence resonated with twelve-year-old-me on a fundamental level: Never before had I seen myself (or rather, how I wanted to imagine my future myself) in a novel. Many other readers, librarians, and cultural analysts know and comment upon this phenomenon: Readers want to identify with the characters; they need to “see” themselves in the stories they consume. Candy, the main character, was a polymath with a hard work ethic, a nigh telepathic animal sidekick, and a black belt. I, also twelve, was an awkward fat kid with a hearing loss (and a related speech pathology).

So… we were not quite the same.

However, Candy seeded in me the idea that I could — someday — become a polymath and obtain a black belt and do anything I wanted to. As I grew up, reality presented itself: With some privilege, some luck / chance, and hard work, I could accomplish some goals. Not everything that Candy could do, true. But some of them. And though reality has intruded and my ability to continue faking adulthood seems to be successful, I will never forget the joy of possibility I felt when I read Emergence for the first time. I realized then that I didn’t need to be limited to what I was, or what I had been. I could be more. And that is a precious, precious gift.

Review: Control

Title: Kang, Lydia. (2015). Control. New York, NY: Speak.

Book cover with metallic background.
Mutated genotypes are so fun!

Keywords: Dystopian thriller, genetic mutations, orphans, unconventional families

Caution: Plot Points Ahead

I read Control in two weeknights. I tend to read fast but this book read very quickly. I did have difficulty engaging with the novel at first but once I met the supporting cast of characters (around Chapter Three), I finally settled in to finish the novel.

Control is a YA novel set in a dystopian future of the United States, where in 2150 AD federal law is in abeyance and the States have since coupled up to form regional entities (and identities). The main character, Zelia, describes this phenomenon in offhand asides, such as Inky (Indiana and Kentucky) and Neia (Nebraska and Iowa). Zelia is also quick to inform readers that manipulation of the human genome is legally prohibited, and those with diverse or mutated genotypes are destroyed. Thus, we have the ingredients for a dystopian futuristic thriller.

Teenaged Zelia has a beloved younger sister Dylia, and a mysterious, almost absentee physician father. Often left to their own devices, both sisters are directed to study a variety of disciplines by their father for unknown reasons. The family also moves around, never settling in one place for longer than ten months at a time. The sisters are orphaned early on in the novel, and then separated into different foster environments. At that time, Zelia meets new housemates and a new love interest — all of whom have unique genotypes (some of which are expressed in the character’s phenotype, too). It is then no surprise to the reader that Zelia, too, has an unusual genetic trait.

Lydia Kang, the author, is a practicing physician, a poet, and non-fiction writer. Her medical background clearly informs her choice in plot and characters, and the breakneck pacing and the accessible vocabulary made the pages fly by. I had one problem that, really, is not central to this novel: the cliffhanger ending which separates young lovers that I see so much of in the YA thriller genre. This means that the reader has to wait until the next novel to discover more. Personally, that particular plot device drives me mad. I like an ending that feels as though the character has resolved something. Furthermore, the brooding bad boy love interest felt textbook.

Excitement Level: I’ve got the next book on order at the library.

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I checked this book out from the local library, and reviewed it on my own.

Review: Scarlett Undercover

Teenage girl in red hooded sweatshirt.
She’s more Veronica Mars than Nancy Drew…

Title: Latham, Jennifer. (2015). Scarlett Undercover. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books.

Keywords: Mystery, young adult, Muslim-American, thriller, suicide

Scarlett Undercover features a Muslim-American Veronica Mars who does not wear a hijab, or observe all haraam practices, in the fictional city of Las Almas. Jennifer Latham’s debut work adopts the gumshoe patter of the mystery genre, and sprinkles the novel with literary or historical allusions, such as the Baker Street Bridge (Sherlock Holmes) or the librarian named Melvin (likely a reference to the founder of the Dewey Decimal System, Melvil Dewey). Hired by a young child to investigate her brother’s strange behavior after his friend’s suicide, amateur detective Scarlett (a teenaged orphan who graduated high school early and lives with her medical resident sister Reem) probes the suicide and the brother’s behavior, and of course, discovers more than she bargained for.

Scarlett is tough, confident, smart, knows the martial art of Muy Thai, and is surrounded by a truly diverse cast of supporting characters. In addition to having a parental older sister and a detective friend on the local police force, she also has a (somewhat forced) romance with a hot Jewish love interest

Oy yeah.

At different moments throughout the novel, I discovered instances of “…too much______.” For example: Some of the dialogue was too pat; Scarlett was rendered too tough; and the surrounding environs too gentle for their purported level of scary. These instances broke my suspension of disbelief long enough to register the disruption. That being said, the story was engaging and sheer fun. I sped through it.

While this novel undoubtedly belongs in the YA genre, I wasn’t sure if the novel was a young adult mystery novel – or a young adult fantasy novel. I’d be fine with either, or both at the same time. But the introduction of jinn and demons halfway through the novel felt like a potential turn aside from what was promised to the reader at the outset. The fantastical elements were voided, in the end, by rational skepticism: “I remain unconvinced.” Furthermore, the novel (with its very rich backstory) felt like a second novel within a series rather than a debut. The pacing came across as though all of these characters had been established in a prior novel. While I do understand the purpose of in medias res, I would have appreciated exploring Scarlett’s origin story in more detail.

Scarlett Undercover, which features a Muslim-American teenager of Sudanese descent in a contemporary setting, is written by a white, middle-aged woman. Rather than get into the nuanced and complicated debate about whether white people should write characters of color (for which I do not have a satisfactory answer), I do want acknowledge that Latham obviously did her research on Islam and on the contemporary Muslim-American experience. Furthermore, in the afterword, Latham writes that she reached out to a friend and colleague with more knowledge than she to assess the novel for misrepresentations or inaccuracies. Whether it’s “right” or “wrong” for white authors to write characters of color, I appreciate the effort and the thoughtfulness she employed in ensuring that she wrote a nuanced and accurate character.

Excitement Level: Half a Maltese Falcon. Or, three solid stars.

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I checked this book out from the local library, and reviewed it on my own impetus.

Review: Kill My Mother

Details: Feiffer, J. (2014). Kill My Mother. New York, NY: Liveright.

Keywords: 1920s, graphic novel, noir

Review: I had prepared myself to love this graphic novel. I have a longstanding love affair with both mysteries and the noir genre. I took a noir literature course in college and fell in love with Hammett, Cain, and Chandler. Since then, I love a story with good patter, dark deeds, and a protagonist rife with existential angst and who teems with suppressed emotion, seeking purpose in this seemingly empty life….

Anyways, back to this graphic novel: Kill My Mother has an edgy title and a pale blue-gray-white-black color palette — all of which promise noir glory. The premise features primarily a group of women: a widow who lost her cop husband to an unsolved homicide; a daughter who hates her widowed mother; a strange, tall and blonde woman in the alley; and a host of supporting male characters (including the [necessary] verbally abusive, drunk detective). The art is unique and very apropos: The squiggly linework that depicts both character and scene creates a surreal atmosphere that lends itself to a story that features abuse, severe mental health issues, and murder.

But overall? The art, the color choices, and the story just didn’t grab me. If any character stirred me, it was the daughter — a loathesome character with an irrational hatred to her mother that was then too easily resolved at the end. Underwhelmed, I finished the graphic novel with a sense of ‘Meh.’ Jules Feiffer, the artist-author, is an award winner several times over for his work in comics, particularly political cartoons. With such a robust body of work, perhaps in the future I’ll find something else of his that I’ll enjoy. However, Kill My Mother was not my cup of tea.

Excitement Level: Meh.

Loot Count: American Library Association Annual Conference 2015

What is a Loot Count? Loot Counts are posts where we glory in our nerd hauls from conventions, conferences, and shopping expeditions.

Where + When: American Library Association Annual Conference 2015, San Francisco, CA

Rebecca’s Loot:

  • The Young Protectors, Alex Woolfson (Signed!)
  • Artifice, Alex Woolfson (Signed!)Image of comic books and novels.
  • Artist Prints from Mike Maihack (Signed!)
  • Avatar, The Rift, Gene Luen Yang (Signed!)
  • Fuse Vol. 1, Justin Greenwood & Co., Image Comics (Signed!)
  • Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (Signed!)
  • Sarah Vowell, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, ARC

Rachel’s Loot:

  • Nimona—Noelle Stevenson—signed!
  • Ember in the Ashes—Sabaa Tahir—signed!
  • Avatar—The Rift—Gene Luen Yang—signed!
  • This is Your Life Harriet Chance—Johnathan Evison (ARC)
  • Court of Fives—Kate Elliot (ARC)
  • Walk on Earth a Stranger—Rae Carson (ARC) signed!
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States—Sarah Vowell (ARC) signed!
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here—Patrick Ness (ARC) signed!
  • Infandous—Elana K. Arnold—signed!
  • Vengeance Road—Erin Bowman (ARC)
  • Valiant—Sarah McGuire (ARC) signed!
  • The Wrath and the Dawn—Renee Ahdieh—signed!
  • The Rose Society—Marie Lu (ARC)
  • Saving Montgomery Sole—Mariko Tamaki (ARC) signed!

There are more that are still living in San Francisco at the moment, waiting to be brought to me by my very generous step-father, but I can’t remember what they are! Further, I bought a few things like:

  • The Young Protectors—Alex Woolfson—signed!
  • Super Mutant Magic Academy—Jillian Tamaki—signed!
  • A Monster Calls—Patrick Ness—signed!

We made a field trip to the famous City Lights bookstore, where I bought a copy of Eyes Like Leaves by Charles DeLint. I was also given a fabulous birthday gift from Rebecca of ABCDEFGeek, by Otis Frampton, as well as a print of his of Gandalf with the Balrog. Thanks buddy! [Note from Rebecca: You’re welcome!]

Thoughts: You might not know this but library professionals get a lot of swag and loot at library conferences. We meet authors, artists, and vendors, all of whom are determined to raise awareness about their products. Which means they give away free promotional items — such as books, comics, and prints. Even if you don’t get free stuff, you can still meet with prominent authors, buy from their catalog, and take selfies with them. So when we — Rachel and Rebecca — went to the American Library Association in June 2015, we made time to see authors and buy cool stuff.

This is an excellent way to lighten your wallet. And besides, you totally needed that extra suitcase for the flight home. Totally. Loot Count 2

Rebecca: One highlight of the conference for me was meeting Noelle Stevenson and Alex Woolfson Noelle is the author of the webcomics Nimona (and co-author of a new favorite, The Lumberjanes). Delightful in person, Noelle signed my copy of Nimona and graciously took selfies with a number of ardent fans. Alex Woolfson is the author of the Young Protectors and Artifice, comics series about superheroes and science fiction (respectively). I plan to review each volume independently of this post, so I’ll wait to gush about those comics.

One highlight that coincided with the conference was the SCOTUS 5-4 Decision in favor of gay marriage. To be in San Francisco on that historic weekend, at a library conference, and alongside a best friend, meant the world to me. I’ll remember where I was when I got that text message informing me of the good news until the day I die.

Rachel: As Rebecca mentioned, the SCOTUS decisions was an amazing highlight, especially being in San Francisco and with my Dad and his partner. Everyone was so blissed out and happy.

It was wonderful. And the Pride Parade was nuts!

Loot Count 3
Alex Woolfson is the best!

As far as the conference, I met some authors that I really love like Sarah Vowell and Patrick Ness. I informed Patrick that his book had me gross sobbing, and I am not sure how he took that, but at least I was honest (btw everyone go read his Chaos Walking trilogy cause it is so very good). I also got to see some pretty sweet panels, like one about Gender Diversity and Queer comics, and one with a group of authors writing diverse books for young adults, all of which are right up my alley.

Also got to talk with Mike Maihack, the author of “Cleopatra in Space,” who had some amazing prints for sale. I bring up this anecdote because we talked about Neil Gaiman and I actually admitted out loud that I thought Stardust was a better movie than the book. And then I was struck by lighting and I died (or I would have been if the nerd gods had been listening more closely).

Excitement Level: Bazillion.

Loot Count 4
Rachel’s Treasure