Review: All the Rage

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Details: Summer, Courtney. (2015). All the Rage. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Keywords: Young Adult, Contemporary, Abuse

Review:

I have to start out this review with some major trigger warnings, that of rape and pretty extreme bullying. I know that doesn’t really bode well for the rest of the review but I want to make sure everyone knows what this book has in store if you decide to read it.

I knew what I was signing myself up for, having read the summaries and reviews. But I don’t think there is really any way to prepare for the emotional response you will have to a book like this, even if you haven’t gone through these things personally. It’s more than hard. It is devastating.

I am not going to spend so much time summarizing the story. As hinted at above, the main character, Romy, has been sexually abused by a classmate’s brother at the beginning of the book. She has had a falling out with her best friend and is chastised and mistreated not just by her classmates, but other members of her community, who think that Romy is lying. This is in part because her abuser is a “golden boy,” and the son of the sheriff.

The most compelling, and the hardest thing about this book is Romy’s inner life. She is not only scared and unhappy, but she is filled with understandable rage at what has happened to her. She has shut down in many ways but the more volatile feelings cause her to act in ways of self-preservation. It’s really hard to put all of this into words because my reactions to Romy’s experience were on a much more visceral level, but I guess what I am trying to say is that this was an incredibly realistic portrayal of trauma. Even when Romy is making choices that seem unwise or even unfair to others, based in what she has gone through, it makes sense. Courtney Summers does not shy away from the really grim realities of Romy’s life.

I think that books like this are extremely important on many levels. First, as mentioned above, just giving a voice to the victims of sexual assault, of what the experience actually is, rather than just becoming a statistic or a news item. It humanizes this experience in a way that while it is extremely unpleasant, is necessary to understand that this is a common place experience for many people, and, in my opinion, can bring more compassion to the experiences of others.

I also think that the actual themes that this book grapples with are vital, especially when you remember that this book is intended for a teen audience. Not only is the harming nature of toxic masculinity a major point in this book, but there is a lot of attention placed on what it means to be a girl in our society, how you are meant to act, who your body really belongs to, how you are treated. One of the repeating thoughts is that “there is more than one way to kill a girl,” which just about broke my heart. Because it’s so true. The myriad of ways that girls are mistreated and abused, even if it is not physically, is so important to get teenagers to understand. Maybe if they are aware, they can make the changes in their own lives.

On a lighter note, the writing in this book is brutal but beautiful. Summers does not use more than she needs to in her writing and it really serves the story. The flashbacks are done in an interesting way, in that while the story is written in first person, the past is almost dissociated from the main story, but intertwines with it. The characters were well developed, though my one criticism is that I wish there had been at least a few allies for Romy besides her mother. It seems like there would at least be one other person who believed her. But maybe that is just naive of me.

Read this book if you can. I won’t say it is enjoyable, but it is extremely well written and important in the themes it discusses.

Excitement Level: Five emotionally draining 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: Among Others

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Details: Walton, Jo. (2011). Among Others. New York: Tor Books

Keywords: Faeries, Wales, Diary Style, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Books

Review:

I can’t remember how I originally heard about Among Others, but it was one of those books that started showing up everywhere. I noticed it at bookstores, people I knew reviewed it or mentioned it, so I figured the book gods were trying to tell me something. Never ignore the book gods.

I’m not even sure where to start with this book because it is one that kind of sneaks up on you. It’s very quiet, written in journal form from the point of view of fifteen year old Morwenna, a Welsh girl who loves—LOVES—to read. She can also see faeries and do magic.

Let’s start with the faerie thing since it’s the most obvious selling point of the book (it’s where my mom went “ooh” when I was giving her a summary so, I am guessing other people would be intrigued by that too. Hi, mom). The magic in this world is subtle, more of a nature magic that exists only for those who believe in it. I’m actually surprised this is categorized as a fantasy book because it reads much more like magical realism.

Being able to see faeries and do magic, mostly to protect herself from her evilish mother, is certainly important to Morwenna, but it serves more to shore up other things happening in her life. In this way, the book would be perfect for someone taking tentative steps into fantasy as a genre, especially if they come from reading a lot of literary fiction. (While I love Tolkien, he is a lot to spring on someone new to the genre. Manys the time I have heard the complaint “so much description! Too many landscapes!” Welcome to high fantasy, nerds.)

Another treat this book delivers is the aforementioned love of books. Morwenna mentions hundreds of sci-fi and fantasy books, enough to make any book loving heart go pitter pat. The LOTR references alone are glorious. And since the book is set in 1979-1980, it’s a snapshot of that time in the genre (plus a mandatory Star Wars mention). Someone on Goodreads had enough foresight to make a list of all the books mentioned in the book. I do love a good book list.

As it’s in journal form, the book recounts a lot of everyday, sometimes mundane activities. But rather than slowing the story down, it makes it very rich in character and setting. Morwenna’s life, rather than her struggle with her mother which is what I was expecting to be the main point of the book, is what’s most important. The plot is secondary to Morwenna’s inner experience and it is totally compelling. I happen to like books like this though so be warned: there’s not a lot of action.

My criticisms are that I wanted more details that showed the seventies as the setting. The only real clue is the books that Morwenna reads. In fact, with the boarding school setting and Morwenna’s sometimes old fashioned voice, I sometimes caught myself imagining the story set in the 1930’s or 40’s. I also think that some of the relationships needed more development. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Morwenna’s twin sister is dead from the beginning of the book. I would have liked to have seen more of an emotional tie to her sister as they were obviously close, and her death triggered some important plot points. The same goes for the romantic relationship. It almost felt like it was shoehorned in at the end and I would have liked to see it developed more fully. But this could also be a byproduct of Morwenna’s personality. All of her connections to people seemed a bit standoffish, which makes sense considering her circumstances.

On the whole, this was a great book. I am definitely going to check out Jo Walton’s other books.

Excitement Level: Gorgeous frolick with the faeries

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

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

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Details: Ahdieh, Renee. (2015). The Wrath and the Dawn. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Keywords: Retellings, Arabian Nights, Young Adult, Fantasy

Review:

I was expecting to like this book based on all that I had heard about it. Not only was it talked up at the bookstore where I currently work, but I had the opportunity to see the author on a panel at ALA about diverse books. The panel was excellent and got me pretty excited about reading all the books featured which I plan to do.

That being said, I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. The writing while beautiful, was not overly purple, but just rich enough to really capture the imagination. The world building was brilliant, evoking a historical Arabia with a hint of the fantastical. And I am a huge sucker for retellings and I liked that although this was inspired by Scheherazade, it was not hemmed in by trying to be ultra-faithful to the original, but truly became its own story. I would also like to give kudos to the author for including a “big misunderstanding” but not drawing out to the point of hair ripping. It was really refreshing to have the answers when they needed to be revealed.

The characters were probably the strongest part of the book. Shahrzad was complex and interesting, and definitely qualifies as a super badass lady. Smart and strong and not willing to take crap from anyone, but also possessing enough faults that I did not find her to be the perfect heroine. Really, all the characters were complex, even ones that don’t appear as often, like Shahrzad’s father (who does have a rather important part, but appears very little).

I also want to mention the relationship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden, Despina. I always like when there is a relationship between women that seems real. Their mix of wanting to be friends and not trusting each other rings true for the situation that they are in, but the friendship that develops between them is awesome and full of hilarious snark.

My only real problems with the book were one, Shahrzad’s overnight acceptance of Queenliness. Like, she starts ordering people around right away. It just seemed a little out of the blue for someone of her personality. I also felt there was a tad bit of insta-love that went on, but it is kind of explained later so I wasn’t as annoyed by it as I usually am. And the romance is pretty steamy is some parts, so I was placated, because damn, do I like a good steamy love story (for further details, see my extensive romance novel reading list).

Excitement Level: Swirling Sands of Awesomesauce

I received a free copy of this book at the American Library Association Conference. I was not asked to do this review, just decided to do it all by my onesie.