24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Abby Reads: What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 304 pages
Travel Memoir

Drawing from the same well of humor that provides lines for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Kristin Newman brings her international travel stories to the page in What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding. After several failed relationships, Newman sets out on many trips betweenWhat I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman show writing season and pursues short-term flings with whatever local men are available — or not — in the places she visits, which she calls “vacationships.” While for some journeys Newman brings along a friend or two, she often travels alone throughout her twenties and thirties, allowing for plenty of opportunity for self-discovery and global awareness.

Despite Newman’s enormous privilege to do all of this traveling, she’s seemingly unaware of it. Newman regularly complains that her friends can’t join her, blind to the amount of money and time away from a regular job it takes to travel the way she does. She goes out of her way to stay at inexpensive hostels and motels, which she uses as a strategy to meet other young, single people. This leads her to make comments about the poor conditions of her stays.

Arguably worse is Newman’s tendency to engage in offhand racism (which she admits is racist, but ultimately does nothing about it and even seems to find some pride in it) and general cultural unawareness. Although Newman has these many opportunities to explore the world and learn from other cultures, she is quick to point out things that are “weird” or otherwise lesser-than her American experience. Newman eventually recounts a specific event in which she declines a date with an Asian man through a dating app simply because he is Asian. Newman has minimal shame in admitting this — and arguably none at all, given her willingness to not only tell the story once, but refer back to it once or twice in later pages. She underlines this with a few blatantly anti-Asian jokes. Asians receive the brunt of Newman’s disrespect, but her general racism is evident in phrases that suggest otherness and exoticism like “gorgeously colored people” without many other descriptors, as if their whole being is tied up in the color their skin.

Readers might expect Newman’s book to be mildly offensive, like many sitcoms are. However, her offense does not stop at racism. There are also moments of homophobia and slutshaming — even in the same breath. “The nice thing about a gay club is there is no possible way to be the sluttiest person in the room,” she writes. This is par for the course for Newman. She regularly inserts comments that slutshame, claiming it’s okay because she’s the most promiscuous person she knows, while also putting down individuals who choose a more monogamous lifestyle and even telling of instances where she tries to get those individuals to move into a lifestyle that better matches and suits hers. Newman doesn’t even pause at rape jokes.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler, if you’re concerned about that kind of thing here — and it’s a big one, but something I feel is important to discuss given everything we’ve gone over at this point.

Newman isn’t a likable person, and the unshocking ending only serves to reinforce heteronormativity and a dangerous dependency on the patriarchy. Despite Newman’s past, it is a man and her relationship with him that ultimately saves her from herself, if she chooses to view her promiscuous lifestyle as destructive (which, as an undercurrent, it seems she does). She is only “cured” of her own personality (distasteful as it may be in its racism, slutshaming, and so on) when she is essentially forced into playing the role of the wife and mother. And I’ll just add another sentence of words here so the last words don’t stand out and inadvertently spoil anyone who cares about being spoiled and mistakenly sees the last words of the actual paragraph because they’re the last words.

Okay. Spoiler over.

The one redeeming quality of Newman’s memoir is a theme she returns to regularly, though perhaps doesn’t follow as closely as she might think. Her philosophy when traveling is this: Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. This is a bit more nuanced than “when in Rome,” I think, and provides not just for doing as the locals do, but also doing things as opportunities present themselves — as both the time and place are right to do them. And as you are right to do them. This is a great takeaway for a travel memoir, and I only wish Newman had been more conscious of herself as a representative of America in her travels and as a writer when later relating these stories.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #8, “Read a travel memoir,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
Penguin Books, 2004, 229 pages
Historical Fiction

Decades after the murder of the Romanovs, an elderly man previously known as the Romanov’s kitchen boy tells the family’s story to his American granddaughter through recorded tapes and sends her on a journey. With his narrative taking the the bulk of the prose, the kitchen boy The Kitchen Boy boy Robert Alexanderdescribes the final days of the Romanovs and his involvement. Rich with detail and research, The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander is a stunning look into a fictional take on the horror of the death of the Romanovs.

A brief disclaimer — anything I could say about this book won’t truly communicate what an incredible work it is. Just read it.

A framed story, most chapters describe Leonka’s experience with the Romanovs with brief passages visiting his granddaughter’s travel from America to Russia. Each moment with Leonka and his story is a gift made of a rich voice, totally formed and unique to any other narrator I’ve ever encountered. Alexander’s grasp of his character is extraordinary and is the foundation of this phenomenal book. Leonka tells his story with tension and, while the reader likely knows the fate of the Romanovs, the tension remains high throughout. Even as the reader knows death approaches, they hope for the release and survival of the Romanov family.

Alexander does take some liberties in the story — it is, at the end of the day, a fictional take on a real story. The twists that bring the story together are shocking. Alexander’s ability to mislead and redirect while maintaining a plausible narrative is another element that sets this novel apart from others. These twists are grounded in prose which is wholly immersive. Despite the very fine detail with which Alexander writes, there is never a sense of tedium or overwhelm. This style provides a story to savor and digest slowly and deliberately.

The prose also delivers wholly developed characters, from inconsequential guards to the Tsar himself. Leonka’s unique position as a family aid gives him particular insights into the family which others might be without. The culmination of these observations create a vivid look at the Romanovs as people, as captives, as royalty, as a family. Leonka himself makes for a fascinating character, particularly as the story builds and pieces of information are revealed.

The Kitchen Boy is a novel so far ahead of anything else I’ve read (at least to my memory) that I didn’t feel I deserved it. It was engaging, endlessly fascinating, fantastically clever, rich and detailed, breathtaking and more. It’s a book into which you put your time and energy, carefully chewing each sentence to get to a truly amazing center and a satisfying end that will shake and astound you. Fall into the Romanov’s story with this as a start and you’ll never want to leave that world.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Knopf, 2016, 320 pages
Fiction

Two sisters separated by social conventions and later by slavery and marriage open this long line of family stories that travel between Africa and North America in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Alternating between the two lines of the family, Homegoing transcends time and space as it moves through the ages, encountering culture and politics. With each chapter featuring a new small plot, the work as a whole focuses on the impact of slavery and colonialism.

Gyasi’s careful planning and mapping of her characters and plots is evident throughout the book. Though not strictly a novel, Homegoing reads like one, even with each chapter and element tied so loosely together. It is largely the attention to detail Gyasi bestows that transforms the work from simply a collection of stories to what feels and reads like a novel. At the same time, readers who prefer small bites rather than sweeping epics will see the opportunity to get the best of both worlds.

What’s interesting about seeing the generations over the years is how each family has a personality, making each line a sort of character of their own. In our own lives it can be a challenge to see beyond one or two generations, but watching personality traits and traditions get passed on is fascinating. There is not necessarily a single thread that runs through either family, but there’s a clear cause-and-effect between parents and children that appears in key ways. Gyasi knows her fictional families well, showing once again her attention to detail and planning.

In including so many individuals for such a lengthy story, however, Gyasi does fall into the trap of losing momentum. Earlier characters are much more defined than later characters are. This may be a symptom of simply getting tired of the story and losing energy or it may be the nearness. With less historical separation, Gyasi perhaps loses her ability to see characters as separate from herself. Because they are not living in such a different world than she is, she’s more able to rely on things she already knows to inform her characters, which then causes her to include fewer personal details to illustrate them. But this is only a theory.

Meanwhile, her writing style leans heavily toward the story-telling tradition, which is fitting for the African backdrop. This style also softens some of the more brutal aspects of the story — the slavery, rape, and racism that is present on both sides of the Atlantic is rarely graphic, yet Gyasi still achieves a powerful narrative. While she’s under no obligation to make these horrendous aspects of black life over history and in present, Gyasi’s prose style has that affect. Whether this is a positive or negative thing is up to the reader, and likely differs for each reader. Some may feel it was a disservice to omit the reality of these horrors, while others might feel a taste of the horror is enough to get the point across without turning readers off. I’m inclined to feel it’s somewhat a disservice, but recognize that Gyasi’s priorities may have been elsewhere.

If you’re a reader who prefers short stories or novellas to whole novels, Homegoing is a good alternative. It’s slow-moving at points, but overall captivating and an achievement in research and self-introspection. Gyasi has certainly done her ancestors proud in representing them here, as not just victims of their circumstances, but as people.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ms. Marvel Vol 1 – No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Marvel, 2014, 120 pages
Graphic Novel

Dealing with a lack of self-esteem fueled by external and internal Islamaphobia and the usual challenges of being a teenager, Kamala in Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson only wishes she could be like her heroes. When she stumbles into the appearance and powers of Ms. Marvel, she finds being a hero is a bigger challenge than she could have imagined, especially as her family begins asking questions.Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (Ms. Marvel Series) by [Wilson, G.]

Most origin stories for superheroes involve origin stories that pull fans in with drama and excitement. Kamala’s introduction to her powers is, by contrast, anticlimactic. This is, perhaps, somewhat intentional — another highlight of how truly ordinary Kamala imagines herself to be and maybe even is. With no fascinating spider bite to explain her powers or any overly dramatic emotional baggage, Kamala encounters her new abilities as part of the every day.

Marvel superfans may find this origin story more interesting as it ties into other parts of the greater Marvel universe, but for the casual comic book or graphic novel reader with limited exposure to Marvel, the opening of Kamala’s life as a superhero is unremarkable, save for her predictable shock at her new state. This story line, however, is truly the central plot line despite its stark simplicity. Few other plots are formed or deep enough to create a robust narrative.

Meanwhile, Kamala’s family represents a set of interesting dynamics. Kamala’s mother holds strong opinions and is often hard on her daughter while the father of the family is more forgiving. With an older brother, Kamala often finds herself in competition with her sibling but also has a supporter in her brother.

Islamaphobia is one of the elements of Kamala’s life which contributes to her low self-esteem. Interestingly, the bulk of Islamaphobia featured in the graphic novel is the insidious kind. Zoe, the primary perpetrator, doesn’t seem to be consciously anti-Muslim. Instead, the Islamaphobic language she uses and suggestions she makes seems to be more of a convenient vehicle for her more general dislike of Kamala. Zoe is, to some extent, the “I’m-not-racist” racist. This is useful because readers who might not otherwise see their language and actions as racist might view their own behavior in new light thanks to Zoe’s antagonism.

Another interesting character lives in Kamala’s friend, Bruno. Despite his bad-boy skater look, Bruno is the lawful good of No Normal. Bruno expresses romantic interest in Kamala and backs those feelings up with respect and care. Though he appears in few panels, Bruno’s influence is clear in Kamala’s actions. Moments of strength sometimes seem to come from memories of Bruno’s kindness and integrity.

No Normal isn’t my style, but works as an introduction to the world of superheroes, particularly for girls who may feel intimidated by the genre. With a sketchy illustration style, Kamala’s story is just beginning and future volumes are sure to grow in excitement.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #18, Read a superhero comic with a female lead,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher

The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece  by John Pfordresher
W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, 256 pages
Literary Criticism/Biography

In The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher, the Georgetown University professor posits that Jane Eyre is a largely autobiographical work written in response to an affair that wasn’t in Brontë’s life. I came upon The Secret History of Jane Eyre through an event at the Arlington Public Library in Arlington, VA in September 2017. The library would host Pfordresher in his lecture on the book at the Central Library. I read the book in preparation for the event and was gravely disappointed. Reader, it was absurd.

While I no doubt agree that writers inform their work with their personal lives, claiming that Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre are the same is ludicrous. In my years of English classes — including a Bachelor’s degree in English from Hollins University and, too, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San José State University for which I further examined literature from a scholarly perspective — I likely fell into the trap of comparing the author to the narrator or main character. I can’t recall a particular time I might have done this, but I am certain it was whipped out of me quickly. Ascribing intent, as Pfordresher does here, in a writer’s work is literary criticism suicide. We can, by all means, suggest that a piece of literature can be read in such-in-such a way or that a piece of literature can be interpreted thusly, but to straight out assert that Jane is Charlotte and vice versa is a leap most educators would not find acceptable in a midterm paper, let alone a published work. I happen to agree.

On top of a rather ridiculous premise, Pfordresher fails to really support his ideas. Though the organization of his work is solid — he chronologically exhibits both events from the novel and events from Brontë’s life side-by-side, lending the only credibility to his claims I was able to find — the evidence is weak at best. The majority of Pfordresher’s evidence relies on speculation and emotional projection. For example, he supposes Jane’s low moods, especially reflected in a cold and barren opening scene, are reflective of Brontë’s feelings of entrapment as she tended to her temporarily-blind father after he had eye surgery. Surely, he asserts, Brontë felt sad and cooped up, and so she wrote Jane the same. While letters from Brontë to friends might suggest these feelings, to then assume these emotions were all-consuming and, what’s more, the basis for her novel is, again, a leap. Self-insertion narratives exist, no doubt, but we cannot make that kind of claim here without more evidence, at least. How many letters have I written to friends about how I’m hankering for a sandwich? And later, how often do I mention a sandwich in my own fictional pursuits? Often enough, I suppose, but this does not mean that my characters are me, nor does it mean I am utterly enthralled with sandwiches. We don’t write just about things we obsess over: we write about the everyday, too, and Pfordresher ignores this fact in his points. Pfordresher may suppose Brontë felt sadness at being bound to her father, but how much is he supposing based on how he expects he would feel in the same situation? The language he uses in this particular example seems to indicate, even, that he is projecting his own experiences onto Brontë, who, according to him, is projecting onto Jane.

Other outlandish assertions include Jane’s love interest, Mr. Rochester, being modeled primarily off of Brontë’s brother and father (along with the man from her affair-that-wasn’t); that Brontë was interested in domineering men (though Pfordresher provided contrary evidence in that she referred to her own husband as “my boy”), thus explaining Mr. Rochester’s character to a greater degree; and that St. John Rivers was not modeled after anyone (which, while I might agree with that, it seems a copout to write an entire book stating that Jane and Charlotte are the same without, again, supporting it in every facet). These are only a few of the big jumps Pfordresher makes, always within the frame of intent, as opposed to possible interpretation.

When I confronted Pfordresher about his premise and evidence at the Arlington Public Library event, I simply stated I wasn’t convinced. He agreed that other critics and readers had pointed out his evidence was insufficient for them, but that he stood by his thesis. I asked for further evidence and his primary source of confidence, he said, was a letter Brontë wrote to George Henry Lewes in which she alluded to the combination of nature, truth, and imagination in her writing. Still, without documentation from Brontë herself stating that Jane is truly herself, this letter means nothing more than that Brontë was perhaps influenced and informed by her own life in her writing.

In terms of prose, Pfordresher has a slow and tedious style with little sentence and vocabulary variation to keep things running. Though it’s fairly readable — and he admitted the book had been rewritten after original criticisms that the first go was too academic for a mainstream audience — it is still not exactly pop literary criticism, leaving the book in this odd place between popular and academic writing. Combined with the barely-there evidence, this style renders the book practically useless. (No personal offense to Professor Pfordresher, and I do mean “practically” here in the sense of the word “practice.”) There is no useful application for this material excerpt, I suppose, as an opportunity to publish material that argues against it, and I suspect it could be done very, very successfully.

Though Pfordresher explained the origins of the book came from a woman who heard his interview with Diane Rehm some years back and requested a text on how Charlotte Brontë came to write Jane Eyre, the book ends up feeling like the result of pressure to publish as a working professor. That is a kettle of fish I really know nothing about, though at first glance I worry that this is often the result of arbitrary publication rules around tenure and careers of teaching. Pfordresher, in his lecture, noted that he had not already drawn his conclusion at the time he started his research, perhaps as a way to placate my concerns over his lack of evidence — if he had been swayed throughout his time working on the book, certainly I could be by what he presented. If the evidence is there, Pfordresher does a poor job at selling it — but, frankly, I don’t think the evidence is there to begin with.

The Secret History of Jane Eyre doesn’t add anything new to the canon of literary criticism, relies on outdated and unreliable sources for evidence, and spends a lot of time turning supposition into fact. It’s not something I can imagine any professor I’ve ever had accepting as an idea for a paper, let alone as the paper itself. Unless you’re interested in preparing a rebuttal (I’ll edit!) to this work, it’s not worth the time. Skip it.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Free to Make by Dale Dougherty

Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds by Dale Dougherty
North Atlantic Books, 2016, 336 pages
Non-Fiction

Emphasizing the importance of the maker movement in modern society, Dale Dougherty sets out to meet makers, describe makerspaces around the world, and convince his readers that makerspaces are here to stay. The book’s opening chapters imply Dougherty will also explore what makes a good makerspace and an all-around how-to when it comes to implementing a makerspace or maker program at, say, a public library. This was one of my main motivators in reading the book. As someone in the library science field, I’m naturally interested in emerging trends therein.

Unfortunately, Dougherty doesn’t really deliver in that arena. While some digging in the book might bring out some gems as to what makes a good makerspace and how to go about successfully designing a maker program, there was nothing deliberate in the text that got at this concept. Instead, Dougherty focuses on stories of individuals making things independently — often inspired by, but not necessarily directly involved in, makerspaces and making. He describes the origins of Arduino and as sous-vide machine, for example. And, while these kinds of projects are certainly attainable for many makers, the concepts are simply too advanced for most makers. The individuals in these stories essentially dropped their lives to work on their projects, which isn’t a thing that can happen in reality for most people. Although Dougherty discusses how making is a thing of democracy and equity, I wasn’t convinced. It takes a lot of time and often money to develop these projects, which makes them inherently inaccessible to many.

While readers may draw their own conclusions from that path of thought, Dougherty does little to emphasize the implications of the maker movement beyond the first couple of chapters and his conclusion. Instead, the book reads like a lengthy article profiling a handful of makers who, excuse the pun, made it. And while that’s interesting to some folks on its own, it doesn’t make the work especially useful, particularly in the context of its subtitle, “How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds.” Another point toward the article-esque feeling of the work is the writing style. Dougherty’s background with Make: magazine means this writing style makes sense, but it doesn’t serve the nature of the thing he’s writing. What is perhaps readable and even interesting in small amounts becomes tedious in a book-length piece.

Dougherty’s focus suffers as he notably emphasizes making that revolves around technology and what you traditionally think of when you think tools. There’s a brief moment in which Dougherty nods to crafters (and we can go on about how “making” is masculine and “crafting” is feminine, but that’s for another time), but despite the fact that crafting is making, its sadly absent from the pages of Free to Make. To be sure, it does not fit neatly within the maker movement. Craft fairs, with pre-made and made-to-order items available for sale have been around for years, taking up booths in high school gymnasiums and boasting the skills of their crafters (read: makers). And yet (and, I’ll return briefly to this, because I do think it’s important, if not strictly relevant — I think this may be because crafting is feminine and making is masculine so we as a society, Dougherty included, place more value on making than we do crafting), crafting is not a thing in Dougherty’s maker universe.

All said, if you’re a librarian, teacher, educator, or maker looking for information on how to go about building a makerspace or even making a case for a makerspace, you likely won’t find much of use here. Free to Make is full of fascinating case studies, but it doesn’t deliver what it advertises. Though easy to read and inspiring in many places, the contents are not what I’d lean on for any research on the topic.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #13, “Read a nonfiction book about technology,” and I leave it behind with three hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Books with Bite

Around the beginning of autumn, it’s easy to fall into the spirit of the season. Pumpkin spice starts appearing in stores in absurd amounts, party stores suddenly become Halloween emporiums, and the idea of curling up with a spooky read and a cup of your favorite fall beverage is awfully tempting. Vampires, werewolves, and other monsters-turned-romantics might have somewhat gone out of style since the Twilight boom, but the pseudo-genre still has its fans. While at the James M. Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Public Library system in Alexandria, VA, I put together this book display of books featuring our fang-toothed friends. While many of of the titles include elements of paranormal romance, several are your standard young adult horror fare.

Young Adult Horror Novels Book Display

The sign for this display was inspired by this incredible large-scale piece. I was totally blown away by that work and, with my limited space, wanted to do something similar. This worked pretty well and added a nice three-dimensional aspect to a small space without overwhelming it. Plus, it was creepy and horror-inspired without too much gore. I really love the thorny background, which beckons feelings of fantasy.

Young Adult Horror Novels Book Display

Using the beloved “Chiller” font, I inserted some super-simple bookmarks that alerted browsers that the books were on display to be checked out.

Young Adult Horror Book Display

Young Adult Horror Book Display

Finding books to include was easy enough — quick subject searches of the four kinds of monsters I focused on yielded tons of results and even browsing what was on our shelves for books with the horror genre sticker led to several finds.  This is the time to start thinking about Halloween and horror displays. You might find some of the forgotten novels of last year’s (okay, 2007’s) genre find new hands and eyes with something fun and spooky!

Abby Reads: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Vintage, 1970, 224 pages
Fiction

Toni Morrison’s famed The Bluest Eye opens with an idyllic Dick-and-Jane description, typical of the image of an all-American-white-middle-class family in the 1940s. This image crumbles quickly as Morrison zooms in on the lives of a small black community within a larger white community in Ohio, and focuses further on young Pecola, whose family life is severely wanting of stability and who struggles with the external pressures of racism.

Here’s the deal: I’m a white person who grew up in a very white state. I have basically no context for The Bluest Eye and, while I’ve broadened the diversity of people in my life thanks to a move to Virginia almost seven years ago, I’m not an expert on racism nor have I ever experienced racism personally (and I never will because that’s how racism works). So, while I don’t think it’s appropriate to let my personal experiences influence my review of this novel, I do think it’s appropriate to acknowledge that my experiences influenced my perception of the content of this novel. I can, and will, still speak about the novel as a piece of literature or writing as I would any other novel with reminders dropped in here and there that my understanding of The Bluest Eye is inherently incomplete in a variety of aspects and, therefore, I may misinterpret sections and I welcome you to call those moments or anything else out either privately or in the comments.

With that said, The Bluest Eye is primarily a piece on internalized racism at various levels: the personal (especially Pecola and her desire for blue eyes, which she sees as the epitome of beauty and, generally speaking, a feature of the white population only — there are certainly people of color with blue eyes, but for the purposes of Pecola’s experiences, no such people exist), the familial (Pauline’s frustrations with Cholly often seem to manifest in using words seeped in a context of racism), and the community (schoolmates of Pecola shun and harass her for the color of her skin). Morrison also includes broader versions of racism, including systemic, among others, without ever overwhelming readers, though her characters are clearly overwhelmed by the unrelenting presence of racism in their lives.

Not only does Morrison handle this heavy topic with a great amount of skill and literary grace, but her prose on its own is something to marvel at. Specific and leaning toward a sort of magical realism (particularly in a chapter which discusses the origins and current state of a character known as Soaphead Church) but without the actual magic, Morrison manipulates her readers through a deliberate choice in language and syntax.

Morrison sets up fascinating character dynamics, including Claudia’s precocious refusal to buy into the internalized racism both Pecola and Frieda (Claudia’s sister) exhibit. She, unlike the other girls, refuses to befriend a new light-skinned girl in their class and, though she can’t fully articulate why, she hates Shirley Temple. The most engaging use of characters mimics a Greek chorus, as Claudia’s mother and her mother’s friends discuss or gossip about others. Although Morrison often shows readers specific events (such as Cholly’s abuse of Pecola), the chatting women rehash the event and provide further context and perception on the events as Claudia overhears their conversation. This is especially helpful as the nonlinear narrative is sometimes difficult to follow.

With issues at hand such as racism, incest, child abuse, rape, poverty, and other heavy points, Morrison’s novel is mercifully compact while still having a great impact on readers. As a modern classic that continues to be relevant today, The Bluest Eye ties together a heartbreaking story with skillful prose into a read that challenges in more than a few ways. Morrison paints a candid and stark picture of life as a black American in the 1940s but the implications of the novel follow to modern American and shed light on how we can be better humans today.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #17, “Read a classic by an author of color,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage by Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016, 336 pages
Young Adult Fiction

With many, many brave young women coming forward to share their stories of sexual assault, Courtney Summers’ All the Rage certainly finds extreme All the Rage by Courtney Summersrelevance in the lives of young adult readers. Romy, living in a small town where the wealthy get away with what they will and she struggles to get by after her trauma, is one such girl. But after bringing her story to people in authority, the town turns on her. Left with remnants of relationships and the gentle heart of a boy at work, Romy is shocked when an old friend goes missing. Already condemned for coming forward, Romy prepares to once again confront the actions of her assaulter with the hope of preventing more sexual violence.

Summers craftily moves Romy about in a timeline, back and forth with sleight of prose to place the reader in a confused and unsteady mindset. With flashbacks that may or may not be flashbacks and history repeating itself, the story does not always move in a linear fashion, but rather keeps the reader grasping for one anchor or another to determine the order of events. As frustrating as this is — especially if you’re reading this over a long period of time or reading other books concurrently — it has a significant hand in setting the tone and mood for the book, which might not otherwise pack quite the punch that it does. Readers are with Romy, not just in her story, but in her emotional journey from chaotic traumatization to control.

While the book does have a little bit of a thriller angle to it, the treatment of sexual assault is overall sensitive, if gritty. Fairly graphic depictions may deter some readers, but the novel remains an important work for those of us wondering what we can do to better support survivors of sexual assault. Summers creates a rich and realistic world as she handles layers of intersection in the lives of Romy and those who know her. Poverty is clearly an issue in her hometown, as is racism, which we see with Romy’s black sort-of-boyfriend (and his awesome dentist sister, who is miles away from any stereotypes I could think of — yay!). The book deals with privilege from so many different angles, but it never feels bogged down with it. This can be a great opportunity to start conversations for readers who might not know where to start on such topics.

Characters are breathed into fully with symbolic quirks that pull them from the page and onto the couch next to you. Romy’s continuing theme of nail polish as a sort of armor helps outline her character in a way that, while perhaps a bit overdone, is absolutely clear. The same is true for her mother’s boyfriend and all other characters throughout the novel.

All the Rage isn’t perfect. Its excessively unclear at times and can be a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism, but as a piece on a topic that is difficult to discuss and even more difficult to experience, Summers’ novel doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of humans. Summers successfully makes the topic real for those who haven’t experienced it and spurs them to action while providing a tale of strength in the face of vulnerability and pain for those who have.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall

Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall
Swoon Reads, 2015, 288 pages
Young Adult Fiction

The cover of Signs Point to Yes is fit for a queen of bookstagram. With a gorgeous pastel design (and a beautiful matching look for Hall’s other young adult romance, A Little Something Different), of course I had to pick this one up. While the cover art may be a dream, Hall’s novel doesn’t quite meet the standard set by the Easter egg-esque binding.

For Jane, life in general is pressure. Pressure to pick and get into a college, pressure to make money, pressure to come out of the shadow cast by her older sister, pressure to be more. After much nagging from her mother, Jane takes on a nannying job, caring for three young girls who happen to be old friend, Teo’s sisters. As the trope goes, Jane develops feelings for Teo as they interact throughout the summer and Teo finds a confidante in Jane with his best friend, Ravi, out of the country for a while. When Jane discovers Teo is seeking his biological father, she decides to put her strong Internet research skills (thanks, fanfiction) to the test. Teo, meanwhile, has no idea what’s coming.

Signs Point to Yes comes down to a case of seemingly-rushed editing. While the concept is solid, interesting, realistic, and relevant to many modern young readers, the prose simply doesn’t meet the challenge. Hall writes with a simplistic and unpolished style, which, while making a leisurely read, can also make the story boring at times. The simplicity of the prose and the overall plot suggests a novel that might be better suited as a movie. With scenes taking place during sunny summer days at the pool and cool summer nights atop rooftops, the book is certainly picturesque enough to warrant a film version.

Though the parameters of time for the book — summer — are clear, the pacing overall is stilted. Too many words are spent on some unimportant chunk of time and too few on the more significant moments. Despite Teo’s despair at his friend being away for the majority of summer, Ravi appears (or is otherwise indicated to be present in the characters’ lives) more than he is not, making Teo’s complaints seem unfounded. Fourth of July seems to take place farther in the summer than it actually does and the narrative passes onto uncomfortably unexpected plot points that might’ve flown better had the timeline moved at a more natural pace. At the same time, Teo, especially, reacts unreasonably in many situations without any clear logic. Though emotions certainly are not logical by nature, his outbursts do not suit the character that is otherwise drawn for the reader.

But perhaps one of the most irritating things — especially considering its actual impact on the overall book is minimum — is Jane’s obsession with fandom and fanfiction. The obsession itself is not problematic, but rather how this interest is presented in such a way that excludes readers who are unfamiliar with fandom and fandom culture. Hall references fairly common pairings or ships (romantic combinations between fictional characters often expanded upon with fan art or fanfiction, either canon or otherwise), but uses fandom vocabulary and concepts without explaining them. Perhaps readers in fandom will enjoy this inside joke of sorts, but as someone who spent a lot of time in fandom, I found the exclusion to be, well, exclusive. There’s a condescension taking place without being blatant about it, and, though I don’t suppose Hall intended it, it’s another thing that a few more rounds of editing ought to have caught.

Signs Point to Yes is a few hairs below mediocre. It’s not awful and may be worth grabbing at a used bookstore if you’re looking for something quick and maybe a bit bland (palate cleansers are important in reading, too!), but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this one.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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