Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dear Martin - Nic Stone

I was a little put off by the premise of this book before I read it.  I saw a few stacks of it at the Young Adult literature festival in Charleston back in November, and I wasn't sure if it was going to be the kind of book that I would like, so I didn't pick it up.

I'm still not sure that I'm sold on the premise.

Here's a quick synopsis: Justyce McAllister is a high-flying student in a small private school in suburban Atlanta.  He hangs out with his friends, who are primarily white, and as he navigates the difficulties of his senior year (college looms, but which one?), he struggles with the pull between what he sees as distinctions in his identity.  He goes and visits his mom back at "home" in the "real world" of the poorer sections of Atlanta where he feels more connected because of his race but less connected because of the culture.  He goes back to the dorm and hangs with his friends that he connects with culturally (sometimes) but then feels like a race traitor in some ways.  

Racial struggles are difficult for me to understand, seeing as I've always been a member of just about every type of "majority" that exists.  I recognize the importance of this book, and the critics raved over this author's prowess (it's her debut), but I am not 100% sold on the format.  The book is called Dear Martin because Justyce (whose name is a little bit on the nose, if you ask me) writes letters to Dr. King in a notebook in an attempt to help him sort out his complicated emotions.  "Martin, what should I do about these girls?"  "Martin, how did you always respond peacefully?"  You get the idea.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff

Books don't typically make the news.  I guess it's because many Americans don't read as much as they used to: you're much more likely to see a news story about a television show or a movie premiere than a book's release.  Yet, we live in interesting times.  And if a book makes the news, what kind of reader would I be if I didn't read it?  That'd be like passing on a coffee and croissant in Paris or a coffee and a nap in Costa Rica or a coffee and a rain poncho in London.  Why are all of my metaphors coffee-driven?  Let's move on.

Fire and Fury is controversial to even those people who haven't read it, which is interesting.  There has developed somewhat of a cottage industry of people who are willing and able to comment on things they haven't experienced.  This weekend, while searching for some potential nonfiction articles to read and discuss with my class, I read a blog post by a man condemning the new Black Panther film that got into its fifth paragraph before he admitted circuitously that he hadn't seen it.  Likewise, this book was immediately repudiated (at least by some on my Facebook feed) as being heretical and blasphemous against Trump himself for characterizing him in any light other than one of impending sainthood.  I'd previously read Wolff's The Man Who Owns the News, and I've also read a few of his columns over the years, so I knew he had a reputation for playing a little loose with the facts.  Nonetheless, for an administration that coined the phrase "alternative facts," the charge of embellishment is a little odd.

As this book details what is a developing story, one question that I have is why now?  I suppose Wolff sets the deadline of around a year as his timeline for writing, but this book seems like it ends prematurely.  As with many other issues surrounding this White House, it seems like there are so many things still on the table, and reading this book a few weeks after its publication makes it seem extremely outdated.  There are so many developments that have happened in the days since, it's tough to limit the narrative to these pages.

Scythe - Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is an author that seems to have his finger on the pulse of what his audience - typically high school students - really wants.  He is not shy with his plots: a book of his I read many years ago allows parents to invoke a version of abortion on their unruly teenage sons and daughters; another had kids trapped in a purgatory-like setting after a grisly car accident.  Although his plots are often dark, they are not always depressing, however.

Shusterman also works with a designer that knows what he or she is doing - the book jacket for this book is emblazoned with everything to make a potential reader think this book is chock-full of violence and spectacle with little introspection.  That's what made me avoid it for a while.  I'm glad I didn't avoid it for too long.

I struggled to describe this book to an avid reader I was talking to at church last night; I'll try to do better here.  Imagine a future society that isn't post-apocalyptic, because there was no apocalypse.  Instead, humans are still very much alive and living longer than ever, thanks to advancements in technology and medicine.  Humans seem to have just about everything they need; resources are allocated perfectly, and that isn't by coincidence.  At some point in the distant past, humans' reliance on "the cloud" as a means of digital storage turned slightly as "the cloud" gained artificial intelligence.  It oversees humanity, but unlike a Schwarzaneggar plot, "The Thunderhead," as it is now called, is actually a benevolent dictator.  The Thunderhead maximizes resources intelligently on a worldwide scale, solving the basic economic problem of scarcity in a way that previous forms of government could only attempt, thus rendering human governance obsolete.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Bird Lake Moon - Kevin Henkes

I've been a fan of Kevin Henkes for a number of years now, but I wasn't a good fan, it seems, because I didn't know he'd written anything other than short picture books.  Turns out he's written around a dozen "chapter books" for young readers, and if they're all like his picture books (which typically feature mice), they don't shy away from difficult subjects.

Bird Lake Moon is a good example of what makes Henkes a good author, although this book has an unusual resolution.  In this book, the chapters are told from alternating perspectives: Mitch, a twelve-year-old boy who is living with his mom in her parents' house in the wake of his mom's and dad's unexpected split, and Spencer, a ten-year-old boy who comes to live at the lake for the summer with his family, 8 years after his older brother drowned there.

The book is short, but in it, we get a view of children having to tackle emotional difficulties, and we get children noticing adults struggling to do the same.  That's perhaps one of Henkes' best tricks - helping to humanize the adults in children's stories.  Mitch and Spencer begin to build a friendship, and Mitch also does with Lolly, Spencer's seven-year-old sister.  Mitch first views them as trespassers on his imaginative life - he calls them intruders - but he begins to see things from their perspectives.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware

I'd heard good things about this book, but it seemed like it was going to be somewhat derivative.  I really liked The Girl on the Train, and maybe it was just the way the title was structured, but I wasn't sure if this was going to be simply more of the same.  It kind of was, and it kind of wasn't.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is a mystery that features an unloaded Chekov's gun.  I won't tell you what it is, but there's a big hint of something coming that doesn't ever happen.  Instead, let me talk about what does happen.

Lo is a journalist for a travel magazine who has been tapped by her boss to attend the maiden voyage of a small cruise liner.  The ship is scheduled to take her passengers (there are only 10 cabins aboard) on a cruise of the North Sea, perchance to take in the Northern Lights.  The high-profile billionaire (think Richard Branson) owner of the ship is staying in cabin 1 and is intent on showing everyone a good time.

Lo is getting ready to leave when she is burglarized in the very beginning of the book.  She spends her time drinking, doubting herself, falling around (it's apparently hard to walk around a small yacht in heels after a bunch of wine), and collapsing into a heap on her bed.