Brief Book Reviews, Fall 2018

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the novels I’ve been reading recently.

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The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas

I read this one for Banned Book Week back at the end of September.  I just wanted to give it another mention because it deserves it.  Aside from the relevant topics of police shootings and race relations, I really loved the depiction of Starr’s family.  Starr’s parents are not perfect people, but they are good parents.  Her family life can be messy, but it is loving, and I think that’s a great thing to show in a YA novel.  Also, I really want to know Starr’s reaction to her favorite player LeBron moving to her hometown Los Angeles!

Vicious

VE Schwab

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Don’t you just love a book that gets you to root for the sociopath?  After loving Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series, I picked up another of her books and was blown away.  If ADSoM had a weakness, it was the villains, and this series avoids that neatly by having all the characters be villains! 

Well, that might be overstating it a bit, but I love a good “grey” character, and this book is full of them.  It centers on Victor and Eli, who were college roommates studying EOs: people with ExtraOrdinary abilities caused by near death experiences.  Ten years later, Victor is out of prison and going after Eli.  I loved the way the story unfolded in both time periods, picking up a strong supporting cast.

It was also a great read for the Halloween season, having some of the same themes as Frankenstein.  Plus it starts and ends with the characters digging up bodies in a graveyard.  Can’t ask for better atmosphere than that!

I read this in anticipation of the sequel Vengeful, which is out now, so check back soon for my thoughts on that one.

Into the Bright Unknown

Rae Carson

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A solid conclusion to the Gold Seer trilogy, a YA historical fantasy series.  After an Oregon Trail scenario in the first book, and a more standard conflict with the main villain in the second book, this one switches it up with a heist story.

While I appreciate the effort to show the contributions of women and minorities to American history, I did find it a bit funny that these books were apparently trying for the title of most woke series ever.  Some examples:

  • Only the villains own slaves.  Even the closest thing we have to grey characters, some prospectors, make sure to mention that they are from Ohio and therefore abolitionist.

  • A villain deliberately misgenders our protagonist Lee as an insult.

  • The male lead asks for affirmative consent before kissing Lee.

  • A random white male bank clerk in California is sexist, then a few pages later also racist.

  • Lee is rebuked several times for playing white savior

This kind of black-and-white morality is a not quite subtle enough for me, but I think it serves YA fiction well.  Overall, I’d recommend the series to anyone who likes YA light fantasy and the Wild West.

The Rose Legacy

Jessica Day George

36314263This book is for all those little girls (or former little girls) who are horse crazy!  It’s a charming light fantasy, middle grades story of an intrepid girl and her horse companion who get involved in secret plots affecting the whole kingdom.  I didn’t find it quite as strong as the author’s other books, but still enjoyable.

The opening of the book reminded me of a favorite, The Blue Sword.  As an orphan, Anthea has been bounced around between family and now goes to join relatives past the wall in the north of the kingdom, where there are rumors of secret magic things (like horses).  The story has some interesting twists, and the characters are pretty good, especially one that reminded me of Mrs. Coulter from The Golden Compass.  The ending could have been tighter, but there will be a sequel coming next year.

The Potion Diaries

Amy Alward

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You may have seen this one under a previous title, Madly.  This cute fantasy adventure would be a great beach read, a fun mix of princes, puzzles, and pharmaceuticals.  I liked the magic and the characters were fun, but ultimately it was on the forgettable side.

 

 

 

 

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Banning Books Silences Stories: BBW 2018

Every year, the American Library Association and other groups sponsor a week-long celebration of intellectual freedom: Banned Book Week, the last week in September.  The main goal of BBW is to protest censorship and acknowledge books that have been challenged, praising them for their value and meaning and their ability to change lives.

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All graphics from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/freedownloads

The theme this year is very meaningful in light of the #ownvoices movement, speaking to the idea that banning books takes away the voice of authors and readers who are seeking to validate their own identities and experiences through fiction.

Did you know that books are challenged in schools and libraries every year?  In 2017, there were 354 challenges, up from 323 in 2016.  Here are the top 10 most challenged books from the last year.

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It is an interesting mix; the majority of the books deal with racial or LGBT+ content.  There are classics, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, which was also included in PBS’s Great American Read list.  And there are some brand new books, such as The Hate U Give.  This is a very interesting inclusion because it was only published in February of last year, yet it already made the most challenged list.  That says to me that it is a powerful book, which is certainly corroborated by the number of awards it has won.

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I’m excited to be reading The Hate U Give this week.  It has some difficult subject matter; as you can see, it was challenged for its “vulgarity” and depictions of drug use, to say nothing of its very timely portrayal of a police shooting.  You can read more about the challenges against the book on the Banned Books Week website.

As a parent myself, I understand the instinct to want to shield our kids from anything upsetting or dangerous, thinking that they are not prepared to handle it.  But drug use and police shootings are facts of life, and how will kids ever be prepared to handle these concepts if they don’t first read and think about them?  We are not required to agree with the viewpoint of everything we read; in fact, we can better understand our own feelings and opinions by reading points of view that challenge them.

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The Hate U Give has a lot to offer readers of all ages, including a fresh, young, authentic voice in its protagonist Starr.  I love Starr’s progression as she processes her grief and trauma, finding her voice and speaking out for justice with courage.  I really recommend it, and I’m looking forward to the movie adaptation coming out next month, too.

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Have you guys read any of these (or other) banned books?  Which is your favorite?