24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Abby Reads: Hit by Lorie Ann Grover

Hit by Lorie Ann Grover
Blink, 2014, 213 pages
Young Adult Fiction

When high school senior Sarah falls for her poetry teacher (a college student fulfilling a teaching requirement for his program), things get a little cloudy. While Mr. Haddings thinks he’s made it clear that there is no chance of a romantic relationship, Sarah isn’t so sure of his intentions. Dealing with the shift of control of her life from her mother to herself and trying to make a decision about college, Sarah has plenty to worry about before Mr. Haddings mistakenly hits her with his car during a rainstorm on her way to school. In alternating perspectives, Sarah and Mr. Haddings ruminate on their relationship, her recovery, and the future.

Grover’s idea of a student pining for a teacher is nothing new, but the market is there (and I’m part of it), so Hit starts off with an intriguing premise made all the more interesting by the layered conflict. Not only does Sarah have a thing for Mr. Haddings, but now Mr. Haddings has hit Sarah with his car and, medically, it doesn’t look great for Sarah. But that’s about the extent of the merits of Hit: the premise. Unfortunately, Grover’s actual execution of the concept is flawed.

The most evident issue in Hit is its writing style. The sentence structure in the novel is painfully simplistic, leaving the reader with an unrealistic and borderline offensive demonstration of teen communication. This is compounded by the topics, metaphors, and vocabulary Grover uses in the first-person narrative and dialog. Grover fixates on stereotypical teenage concerns when it comes to Sarah — her appearance, boys (excessively, I think, and well beyond the plot of student-pining-for-teacher and emphasized by her unwillingness to attend a women’s college), and her relationship with her mother. These stereotypes seem extra repetitive when combined with language that varies little. Despite Sarah’s poetic aspirations, her ability to use unique and descriptive language falls significantly short.

Hit alternates between Sarah’s and Mr. Hadden’s points of view. With Sarah in-and-out of consciousness, it’s perhaps the only way to tell the story with a regular pace, but this style choice’s utility ends there. Anything gleaned from the inner thoughts of the two main characters could have just as easily been conveyed through third-person narration. The differences between Sarah’s and Mr. Hadden’s narration styles are minute, if at all existent, and therefore do not contribute to their character or character development.

Grover brings her novel to the end with a moralistic outlook, but it doesn’t quite feel deserved. None of her characters are easy to sympathize with and the story, which covers only a few days, has an uncomfortable flow to it that can’t be attributed to the inappropriate relationship brewing between Sarah and Mr. Haddings. If you’re looking for a well-done scandalous student-teacher relationship in fiction, this isn’t quite it.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl

The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, 2015, 272 pages
Young Adult Historical Fiction

In The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela McColl, readers are brought to 19th Century Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott is surrounded by strong women in the form of her mother and sisters and philosophy from the mouths of her father and his friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. As a part of the Underground Railroad, Louisa and her family sometimes house former slaves on the run. When Louisa’s mother travels to New Hampshire in search of work to support the family for the summer, George, one such slave in search of refuge, needs shelter while he waits for his family to join him in the North before continuing on his journey. Louisa takes on the responsibility of keeping him hidden and communicating with another piece of the railroad network. Things aren’t so easy as a slave catcher in search of a monetary reward shows up and threatens Louisa and her family. To make matters worse, an old friend, Fred, has returned and brought with him new affections for Louisa, who just wants to focus on her writing and becoming an adult.

The Revelation of Louisa May is an entirely charming novel with a similar tone and style to Alcott’s most famous work, Little Women. The prose is both homey and beautiful, as if light dances through it on a pretty spring day. Despite some of the more difficult themes in the book such as slavery, poverty, and murder, McColl describes Alcott’s world with inviting and warm language while bringing to life an engaging plot with fascinating characters.

While many of the characters have somewhat two-dimensional personalities, their motivations are always crystal clear and unwavering in their strength, which serves to heighten conflicts. This is especially the case when fundamental motivations of characters are at odds. Louisa May’s characterization is true to what history has suggested (which I particularly enjoyed as someone who visited the Alcott home in Concord) and readers will be none too surprised to see many parallels between the fictionalized Louisa May and her real-life fictional counterpart, Jo March. In one tense moment toward the end of the novel, it appears that Louisa may abandon the characterization built up to that point as she ignores a rather anti-feminist sentiment which Fred expresses (as an aside, please stop telling women to “calm down.”). Louisa ultimately responds as readers and those who are familiar with the real Alcott would expect, an excellent example of McColl’s grasp and knowledge of Louisa and her life.

As Louisa runs about the town, Concord is as lively as the title character. With plenty of descriptions and atmospheric language, McColl draws readers into the world of 19th Century Concord with grace and ease. McColl’s background in history pays off with her attention to detail and excellent use of dialog to help set the historic scene.

The plot of The Revelation of Louisa May is, perhaps, a bit far-fetched, especially given that Louisa is all of fifteen during the events of the novel. However, the narrative provides a fun mystery along with comfortable-yet-elegant prose and well-researched characters and scenes while introducing some of the more upsetting topics of Louisa’s life and the world around her to her young fangs in a delicate manner. This absorbing and charismatic little book is a great companion to Alcott’s own work or, if you can swing it, a visit to her home in modern Concord. If you’re looking for a pleasant spring or summer read, this is it.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: By Your Side by Kasie West

By Your Side by Kasie West
HarperTeen, 2017, 352 pages
Young Adult Fiction/Romance

In Kasie West’s By Your Side, Autumn has plans to head out to a cabin with her friends for the weekend and is about to hop in her crush’s car when she realizes she has to use the restroom. She runs back into the library — only to be locked inside. And what’s worse, it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, so she’ll be in there until Tuesday morning. It’s bad enough to be trapped in a library, but things take another dive when Autumn discovers she’s not alone. Dax, the local troubled kid, is there, too. With three days stuck together, Autumn and Dax have plenty to learn about each other and plenty more to sort through once they’re free.

Look, I’m a librarian. Books about books and/or libraries is for me what catnip is to my cat. (Probably one of my favorite episodes of Arthur is “Locked in the Library!”) So when I saw my local library had a copy of this book on order, I immediately placed a hold on it and waited with anticipatory glee until it arrived, was processed, and placed neatly on the holdshelf for yours, truly. I have some disappointing news for my fellow books-about-books lovers: By Your Side is not a book about books or even a book, really, about being trapped in a library. While a good deal of the plot takes place in the public library, most of it does not — and the parts of it that do are pretty devoid of all things libraries.

I could forgive that. We all know (at least those of us in public libraries know) that getting teens into the library and, y’know, reading, is hard. So it’s not totally unreasonable that fictional teenagers trapped in a library for a three-day weekend might be more concerned with food and warmth than they are with books. I guess. (I kid.) But the primary issue I had with the plot was that it was totally implausible. West runs her two teens through a whole series of attempts to escape — they consider pulling the fire alarm to get fire trucks, and therefore adults, at the scene; they pull at the bells in a tower to alert nearby individuals that there are people inside; they yearn for their cell phones, which are conveniently unavailable or out of minutes; they look for a panic button under the circulation desk. But it never occurs to them to either put a sign in the window or use a landline. I realize landlines are a bit archaic (again, I kid), but if Autumn went behind the circulation desk to look for a panic button, I’m just not willing to believe she didn’t see a phone. Yeah, okay, maybe she would have had to dial the 9 to make an outgoing call (though she might’ve just called 911 and the whole thing would have been wrapped up), but there’s really no way around this. I try to suspend my disbelief for fiction, I really do — but this was just too absurd to me.

But moving on. Autumn and Dax, despite having three full days to get to know each other and expose their personalities, are kind of flat and boring individuals. Autumn’s defining feature is her apparently-clinical anxiety and Dax’s, his troubled-and-mysterious past. And, really, that’s about it. Autumn does not seem to have any significant interest in anything beyond her relationship with her crush, Jeff, and Dax’s interest extends only to escaping his foster home when he turns eighteen. Either of these might be interesting in depth, but the superficiality with which West explores these characteristics leaves Autumn and Dax two-dimensional and any potential chemistry between them is all the more diminished for it. (I also have to note that West apparently named Autumn after one of her daughters, which I just couldn’t get out of my head as I read, thanks to the dedication of the book. So uncomfortable.) The simplicity of the characters ultimately made for some pretty predictable content, too.

West’s prose in By Your Side is basic and unremarkable. Though easy to read and straightforward (perhaps an option for reluctant readers who seek something that is really very basic), for the bookworms this novel might pretend to appeal to in its marketing, the writing disappoints. There are no significant faux pas in the style, it’s just bland and uninspiring.

West has several other YA romances (you’ll notice the covers are all variations of the same image) and, while I haven’t read them, I get the sense from By Your Side that they’re probably pretty generic and formulaic. It’s hard to do that kind of thing well, but West’s work here really suffered. Though a few moments (particularly a late scene with Jeff) stood out as well-done, By Your Side is overall not as pretty inside as its cover. This one gets one-and-a-half hearts.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Crisis Contacts

I’ve seen nifty posters for where to find help in the library on tough topics floating around the internet. Sometimes, these resource lists will be on bookmarks, instead. I love the idea of these lists — we know people, teens included (or especially) will avoid asking right out for these kinds of resources. It can feel embarrassing or cause other distress. But when we tape posters in small print with this information or put out bookmarks, we require a person to go up to the poster and examine it in full view of whoever else might be in the library in order to get any use out of it. This is a step toward anonymity, but we can do better.

So I had the idea to post some resources in a much larger font in the teen area at Alexandria Public Library in Alexandria, VA. The theory was that teens visiting the area could be easily sitting at the table in the middle of the bookshelf-enclosed space and easily be able to glance up and see a resource and a phone number or simple URL without being obvious about it if they preferred to do it without notice.

The door included both local and national resources for the topics that I felt would be most relevant to the community. This, of course, doesn’t mean I didn’t miss some potentially important resources. The placement of the door and the fact that past “displays” had a history of being destroyed or marked up with crayons (particularly lower pieces) meant I was pretty severely limited with size. And because it was important to me that the text was reasonably readable at a distance, I could only fit so many resources on the board.

Another challenge was making the board interesting. Because of the serious nature of it, I didn’t want to go overboard with cutesy designs or glitter. Instead, I went with simple speech bubbles with encouraging phrases like, “I hear you,” and “You are important.” The orange borders complemented the blue accents on the resource pieces.

I gave the display a title of “You Matter.” Looking back, I might use a different phrase, since I later realized this might be seen as an attempt to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement, which was of course not my intent. I left this up longer than I do most displays on the door, and ultimately chose to permanently keep the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at the top right corner of the door regardless of what other displays I put up.

The limitation of space kept me from including more variety in the forms of resources. While online chat and text resources exist, they were not largely featured in this list of resources due to those limitations. I can’t offer any kind of indication as to how successful or useful the board was since much of the point of this resource was anonymity, but I hope it helped a few at least. I’ve since left my position at Alexandria Public Library, but hope the suicide prevention number remains. Any library considering a similar project should consider how to improve anonymity and access to these resources for their own community.

Abby Reads: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015, 272 pages
Fantasy Graphic Novel

With the ability to shapeshift and a great admiration for Lord Ballister Blackheart, Nimona has decided it’s time to be a sidekick. Though her origins are hazy, Nimona will not be denied by Blackheart and she eventually wears him down by taking what she wants and showing up to work against the Institute of Law Enforcement alongside Blackheart. With each battle, Nimona wreaks havoc on Blackheart’s plans but there’s something in Nimona that tugs at Blackheart and perhaps something nefarious going on at the Institute of Law Enforcement. With a mash-up of medieval times and science fiction, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a highly original adventure that is far more than it first appears to be.

One of the impressive things about Nimona is that the story is far more complex than I can get into in a review. There are backstories, lies, hidden identities, layers of loyalty, and all sorts of plot subtleties that round out the story as a whole and complete narrative. With an ending that isn’t entirely conclusive, Stevenson leaves readers with the ability to insert their own ending, but not at the cost of the readers feeling lost or unfulfilled.

Another of Nimona’s strengths is its dedication to humor. The stark visual contrast between Nimona, who is short, pudgy, and pink-haired, to the tall, thin, dark-haired Blackheart is enough to make readers giggle to start, but the real gems come in the form of dialog. Nimona, a chronic over-reactor, regularly spurts lines of hilarity that are not, from her perspective, intended to be funny, but are amusing nonetheless. Stevenson’s skill in employing humor in a story that is so complex might remind some readers of Vonnegut, despite the radically different format. Readers won’t just smile from humor, however; Nimona is ultimately a story of heart and courage. The brand of courage in the graphic novel is more of a surety of oneself rather than, say, Men in Black courage of defeating aliens (although, if you liked Men in Black, you will also very much enjoy Nimona, I think). The book is immensely heartwarming at every turn, though particularly in scenes that feature Nimona and Blackheart alone.

Each character is carefully crafted with their own motivations, desires, backstories, and visual design that both serve to mirror and contradict their personalities. Stevenson succeeds a great deal in playing characters off one another, creating a sense of chemistry that is hard to find in other narratives. With the depth of each character, no relationship can afford to be truly superficial, even in instances of acquaintances.

Nimona is highly relevant for today — the attempt at diversity (which seems to be an excellent and still-emerging theme in media more and more) is evident (the story features a female lead who is decidedly not traditionally feminine outside of her pink hair, a woman in the ultimate seat of power, gay secondary characters, and a secondary character with a prosthetic limb — and not only this, but the primary relationship featured in the story is not of the romantic, or even friend (arguably), variety). Characters of color are few and far between and socioeconomic status appears to be a non-issue in many ways, so there are gaps, but Nimona remains one of the most overtly diverse pieces of fiction I’ve encountered in a while.

The relevance does not end at diversity, however. The politics of Nimona’s world are strikingly similar to what we see in many modern governments — a lack of trust between the government (or, more specifically, the Institute of Law Enforcement — the acronym of which you might notice could be anagrammed to the word “lie” — yeah, maybe I’m pushing it here, but still) and the people of its domain features heavily, though ultimately, the government is not acting on the best interests of the people.

Great for teens and adults alike, Nimona is a fresh take on old tropes that is both fun and thought-provoking (and hilarious). Stevenson’s work on the project was clearly done with loads of love and planning, and, from someone, you’ll remember, who isn’t huge on graphic novels, it comes recommended with four hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Surviving the Death of a Sibling by T. J. Wray

Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies by T.J. Wray
Harmony, 2003, 247 pages
Non-Fiction, Self-Help

There are a whole lot of reasons I don’t want to do this review. I lost my brother to injuries sustained in a car crash in July 2016 and quickly discovered that there are almost no resources for grieving siblings. There are a few Facebook support groups, some hidden in-person groups if you’re lucky, a handful of articles written by people who have probably experienced the death of a sibling but aren’t professionals, and a few obscure books, some of which focus more on being a memoir than on being of use to a grieving sibling. T.J. Wray’s experience losing her own adult brother brought her to write Surviving the Death of a Sibling. The book came highly recommended on the two or three Facebook support groups I’m in and I’d come across it in my search for some kind of literature that would offer practical advice and comfort. So, I read it, and here I am to review it, because I think it’s important we discuss and promote what resources are out there because they are so few.

Wray has a background in religious studies, which may automatically turn some readers off. However, I found the presence of religion to be light in the book, which generally uses the famous stages of grief to move through its content. Although faith of various kinds pop up now and then, Wray does not push any kind of religious agenda nor insist that religion is the way through grief. Her background contributes, however, in making her especially sensitive to the counseling needs of others. Although she experienced her own sibling’s death, she always recognizes the circumstances of other grieving siblings may be very different from her own, and therefore they may find X, Y, Z, or some other, undefined strategy more helpful than what she herself found to be a useful tactic in her process.

For example, while Wray had the benefit of having other siblings to share and understand her grief (although they grieved differently, which caused other challenges), she notes that plenty of siblings suddenly find themselves only children and struggle with that identity, if that is how they choose to view the shift in their life. In other passages, Wray emphasizes that some siblings have the ability to say goodbye, while others do not. She notes this can cause those who watch their siblings pass from illness to go through more than one grieving process (speaking simply, with acknowledgment that the “grief process” isn’t a process in that it eventually comes to an end — it is, in fact, ongoing and evolving rather than something that can ever be considered “finished”), but she also appreciates that many siblings would gladly go through that pain for the chance to say goodbye. Ultimately, Wray’s sensitivity to variables is part of what makes the book so relevant.

Over and over again, I found myself nodding or even stopping to cry when a particularly accurate passage appeared. Wray hits on so many of the things that not only have I felt, but that I’ve seen expressed in the Facebook support groups again and again. Probably most prevalent is the frustration of having the sibling’s grief considered to be disenfranchised. While family, friends, acquaintances, and so on regularly ask siblings how their parents are responding to the tragedy, many forget that the sibling, too, is grieving, and not only this, but has lost a significant part of their past, present, and future.

Wray explains that siblings are often the one constant thing in a person’s life. No one else has quite as similar experiences as our siblings. No one else had our parents or grew up in our home. No one else shares private memories of events at which only the two of you were present. And it’s painful to confront the realization that you are now the sole keeper of these memories and experiences. Maybe you haven’t yet gotten your first “real” job, been married, had children, bought a house — whatever big life events matter to you — and your sibling will not be there to witness them. You’ve lost not only your past, someone with whom to reminisce, but also a part of your future. And any of the events they might have witnessed for you, you may now miss out on witnessing for them.

Earlier chapters of the book are filled with concrete advice readers can put into place in their own lives, particularly for the days immediately following the sibling’s death. Practical advice on funeral arrangements and such are especially useful, though I don’t know that anyone quite has the mind to read in those few free moments during the time of funeral planning.

Wray provides examples not only from her own life, but from a number of interviews she conducted for her research. Ages, causes of death, and other circumstances are varied in these examples, ensuring that readers will find at least a few anecdotes that apply specifically to them. These quotes help to not only offer a source of familiarity of situation but also contribute to the relaxed style of the book. Early on, Wray pledges to write in a style that isn’t overly complicated or burdensome. She recognizes that the reader is probably already overwhelmed and does not need a book full of complex sentence structures and words in the moment. This doesn’t stop the prose from being interesting and engaging, however. Wray is gifted at writing in such a way that holds the attention without drowning the reader.

One drawback I found was outdated resources referenced in the book. A jewelry maker, for example, who does memorial pieces was mentioned in the text and again in the appendix. When I sought out the resource online, I found the jeweler was apparently no longer in business or else known by something else. While I didn’t visit all of the listed resources, I imagine others are now outdated as there has not been a new edition of the book since it was originally published in 2003. (Consequently, I’m hoping to put together a resource list in the next few months.)

Wray’s writing is clear and sympathetic without being pitying. She recognizes the many emotions that come along with being a part of this “club” and offers what wisdom she has gathered over the years since her brother’s death to those who have been grieving for years as well as those who have been grieving for hours or days. If you are a grieving sibling or care about a grieving sibling and wish to better understand their new normal, Surviving the Death of a Sibling is a great place to start.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
McClelland & Stewart, 1985, 311 pages
Dystopian Fiction

As a handmaid, Offred’s life is monotonous. She spends most of her days in the home of those who own her or around town with Ofglen, shopping for the needs of her household. With flashbacks to how the oppressive world of Gilead (modern-day Maine-area) came to be, Offred is only safe in her imagination until she begins to put small amounts of trust in those around her, including the Commander; his wife, Serena Joy; Nick; and Ofglen. Perhaps even those upholding the military dictatorship under which the characters live want something more. But Offred The Handmaid's Tale by [Atwood, Margaret]must first decide if she’s willing to find out at the cost of her life.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic, and there’s no denying that. As it happens, the book is resurging as an important piece of literature as many readers see similarities between the book and our current and future state as a country and as a government. Literature is powerful.

It’s fortunate, as it turns out, that so many are reading it at once. There are plenty of discussions going on about the book and, while I haven’t yet sought any out myself, it’s to the book’s benefit. I was certain as I read the novel that I would have gotten a much better sense of a variety of angles Atwood approaches had I had the opportunity to discuss the book in a classroom or even book club setting. Atwood is no stranger to literary allusions, and I know I missed more than a few in this novel. While many biblical nods are easy to pull out, Atwood no doubt includes many others to works with which I both am and am not familiar. This is not, of course, a shortcoming of the book — in fact, I admire books which handle allusions with skill and subtlety. Instead, it’s a shortcoming of myself and my reading environment.

Atwood writes the book with a first person narrator in the present tense, which requires the reader to continue guessing Offred’s (the narrator) end. With so many authors choosing first-person narration to aid in the surprise of the death of a character, readers might wonder if Offred is approaching her earthly end. I won’t give it away for those who haven’t yet read the book, but this first-person present narration is an interesting choice beyond just the fate of the narrator due to a final chapter in the novel.

Juggling a military dictatorship, a past, a present, and the philosophical feminist ideology throughout the text, Atwood does run into an issue of ambition — maybe. Offred’s descriptions of characters and their personalities beyond the Commander and the caricature of Serena Joy are limited. I never fully felt I got a grasp on any of the characters’ true personalities. I’m caught, however, between believing this was a point for improvement in the novel or if it was deliberate, showing how not only Offred attempts to protect identities from her apparent disobedience at recording her story at all, but also how the regime has forced people into limited displays of their true selves. This isn’t to say that each character is entirely flat — for the most part, they differ from each other and are individuals, just not to the extent I would expect given the skill in craft in other areas.

The same issue occurs with the worldbuilding. While readers do not get a full tour of Gilead and the world beyond Offred’s immediate space in any sense, perhaps this was deliberate. Offred, in her reality, may believe anyone accessing the material she creates is already familiar with Gilead, and so there is no motivation to describe the nuances of the world and make it real (I think of Harry Potter, of course, and the relatively inconsequential Diagon Alley, of which I know far more than even I know about the whole of Gilead). So, unintentional, or deliberate? I can’t say.

Atwood does accomplish a great deal with tension. With strength in syntax and, yes, withholding information, the prose creates an atmosphere that urges the reader onward with a great deal of discomfort, not unlike a great horror movie. Although few moments in the book are truly exciting, the almost-there is what does it for most scenes, the what-ifs and if-only Offred did this or that and oh, she is so close to doing it. The psychology within the novel is projected into the reader’s mind and veins, amping up with every page and bringing it to a crescendo toward the end.

And by the end, we are left with only ourselves to look at.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #16, “Read a book that banned or frequently challenged in your country,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
W. Norton & Company, 1966, 176 pages
Fiction (Published Fan-Fiction)

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea takes a famous secondary (tertiary, really) character of a classic and fleshes her out to full person-hood. As a prequel to Jane Eyre, the novel explores the life of the woman in the attic before she was driven to madness. Her childhood in the Caribbean, her marriage to Edward Rochester, and her imprisonment in his manor are all examined in Rhys’s narrative, supplemented by chapters about Rochester as a young man and his struggles with his unwanted marriage and a wife he perceives as insane. Whether Bertha Mason, known as Antoinette Cosway in Sargasso, is in fact mad in earlier chapters is unclear, though her insanity by the end is clear. The path to that point is muddy, though, resulting in a text that is thought-provoking if confused.

Rhys provides no context for her story, even opting to use an alternative name for Bertha/Antoinette for much of the story and hardly ever naming Rochester. Without the knowledge that Sargasso is, in fact, intended as a prequel to Jane Eyre, readers will find few clues to the connection and may be therefore lost for the purpose of the novel and its implications. This issue of vagueness is exacerbated by a prose style that utilizes dialect (both in pronunciation and grammar) which, while perhaps accurate to the location and helpful in characterization, serves to further obscure the content of the novel in a text that is already confusing.

While Antoinette’s plight is certainly one for pity (at least from what I could tell), it’s difficult to feel sympathy for her when readers are left feeling so uncertain of the events and circumstances. The novel is full of maybes — maybe Rhys’s depiction of people of color who live on the island (generally in a service capacity, as is accurate to history) is racist, but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear; maybe the novel gives Antoinette more agency and calls into question her insanity, but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear; maybe Rhys layers a newer generation of feminism onto what is generally considered to be an early feminist novel (Jane Eyre), but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear.

Maybe I’m missing something or was choosing to read this as a leisure read rather than as an academic one. Maybe this book is better suited for the classroom, where discussion around the maybes and professor-provided context can shift the focus to pieces that I overlooked. Wide Sargasso Sea is, no doubt, a great opportunity for scholarly work. But ultimately, it’s not something to read for fun, even for fans of Jane Eyre.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #11, “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location,” and I happily leave it behind with two hearts.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2016, 640 pages
YA Fantasy

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury follows up on A Court of Thorns and Roses (SPOILERS ahead for A Court of Thorns and Roses). For those who read the first in the series, you might feel like the book concluded the narrative enough to not warrant a sequel — the great thing about the sequel, however, is that it turns everything of Thorns and Roses on its head. I’ve struggled with Maas’s work. I wasn’t a big fan of Throne of Glass and gave up sixty pages into the sequel the first time. But reading Thorns and Roses and its sequel convinced me to revisit the Throne of Glass series (and so far, I’m pretty glad for it, even if I still don’t love it). Mist and Fury picks up as Tamlin goes about protecting his lands from various evil forces. With Feyre still living in his castle, Tamlin determines to keep Feyre inside at all times, for the sake of her safety — this, despite Feyre being an accomplished and capable hunter, proven on multiple occasions. Honoring the deal he made with her in Thorns and Roses, Rhys shows up as Feyre makes her way down the aisle at her and Tamlin’s wedding to pluck her from Tamlin’s court and bring her to his for the week. As Feyre is passed between the two courts, Rhys notices the wear Feyre begins to show as a result of Tamlin’s control.

One of the biggest achievements of Mist and Fury is, from my perspective, its complexity. While I generally don’t love overly-political high fantasy, I think Maas strikes a pretty good balance with this series, including enough politics to make the plot plausible but not so much so as to drown the readers in policy, diplomacy, and other red tape. It is complex enough that I can’t easily add it in the summary above, but suffice to say, new players and old players come into antagonistic roles that could destroy more than just Feyre’s life. And it makes for a fascinating read.

Like most books with plenty of politics, however, there’s a whole lot of build-up involved with subtle plot turns which later become more significant with context. Except for a few exciting moments (Rhys’s appearance at the wedding being one — really, any scene with Rhys made for good entertainment; Feyre so seldom interacts with anyone due to her practical imprisonment, that really any appearance by anyone made things more interesting), the first three-hundred pages are slow. But by the end of the book, I was fangirling harder than I have in years. We’re talking approaching-Harry-Potter levels of fangirling. It was great.

Back to Rhys. Maas is an author who you can see takes criticism seriously and works to rectify it in her future writing. Characters in Mist and Fury, but especially Rhys, are developed with not just layers, but layers that make sense and tie into each character’s history and their relationships with each other. Fine subtleties in character are sprinkled throughout the book and each choice, from the way a character holds their fork to the way a character chooses to scream or not to scream in anguish in battle, is fantastically deliberate. It’s evident that Maas plans very carefully, and follows characters’ development not just in the immediate moment, but in their past and future.

I do think the exception here is Feyre. Feyre still winds up being somewhat bland and trite as far as (fantasy) female first-person narrators/main characters go. Feyre’s painting hobby comes back into play, slightly (though still not enough to warrant such a cliché, in my opinion). Even her hobby aside, Feyre does not have an extraordinary amount of personality. While her sisters, who appear in only a few scenes, feel far more real, readers can’t get a full look at Feyre beyond maybe-tough-girl who hunts and paints and is stubborn. But these traits are portrayed with superficial passages most readers will find familiar to many other similarly designed characters in other novels. Maybe this is a trait in and of itself: Feyre cannot accurately portray her own personality through her first-person narration. The series conclusion, which will be out in May, I suspect will give readers more insight on this issue.

Whatever Feyre’s deal, I’m eager for the final book, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Not only does the ominous title make me reach for the May release date, but with the amount of fangirling that went on in the final moments of Mist and Fury (really, Feyre doesn’t have more character than she does in those final moments — wow), I can only imagine what the grand finale will feel like.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls (Volume I) by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Image Comics, 2016, 144 pages
Graphic Novel

Paper Girls, written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Cliff Chiang, got incredibly lucky — not only was the execution fantastic, but it emerged in a year in which Netflix’s Stranger Things took off, providing fans of the show with more fantastic science fiction Eighties nostalgia revolving around kids who display maturity that adults often forget they had as kids. When Erin joins a group in the early morning hours of November 1 to deliver newspapers, she finds empowerment in being part of the first group of girls to serve as paperboys. Although twelve years old, Erin already has a solid grip on the world around her — until everything is turned upside down with two different sets of invaders in her neighborhood who seem to be at war with each other. Are they aliens? Are they from the future? Are they here to harm the people of Erin’s town? Already, the adults have lost their minds and the paper girls are on their own.

Erin’s love of scientists, evidenced by a woman scientist (I’ll keep it a surprise as to who) appearing in her dream, draws the reader in right away. While the girls in Paper Girls are girls, you won’t find any stereotypes here. Each character lives in their own flaws, toughness, capability, and sensitivity, a luxury rarely afforded to female characters particularly in this specific genre (by which I mean a sort of action-adventure about kids in the Eighties, in which you generally either have one token girl amongst a group of boys who, still, is either “girly” or a tomboy with no spectrum between the two, and neither is ever truly viewed favorably).

Instead, though each are different in nuanced ways that make them individuals you might recognize from your own childhood, Mac, Erin, Tiffany, and KJ are not terribly influenced by their gender beyond the pride of being the first of the paper girls in a town of only paperboys. Vaughan’s ability to write real girls sets Paper Girls apart from so many other stories about girls and women. This is especially impressive given that, in reality, the graphic novel is in many ways about what it is to be a girl. Vaughan creates a fascinating and apparent paradox, writing girls who are seemingly genderless by society’s and fiction’s standards while maintaining characters that are more true to girlhood than characters of other narratives that specifically highlight facets of girlhood.

Meanwhile, Vaughan refuses to ignore other important conversations on privilege. Mac, for example, is the embodiment of privileged America. Her dialogue and beliefs can be highly offensive, even within the “historical” context of the Eighties, yet without being too obvious about it, Vaughan nods to the moral issues there. Though Mac’s first utterance of a gay slur was shocking, something beneath the surface of the narrative suggests Mac is in fact being set up for major character development, which is massively exciting — it has been so rare, in my experience, to see true and meaningful character development for adolescent girls in fiction that goes beyond the role of women in relation to men. How refreshing it is to see it unfolding in Paper Girls.

The concept in plot is equally riveting. It’s difficult to say much without giving it away, but I was impressed by the complexity that develops throughout the graphic novel and felt it brought up some great questions and dilemmas, causing the reader to look both inward and outward at themselves, society now, and society in the future. The premise is loaded with relevant allegories, but is supposed heavily by a great story that promises to get even better.

Finally, a word on the art — I often, as I’ve mentioned before, struggle with art in graphic novels. Though I recognize it’s an inherent and important part of graphic novels, I typically find it distracting and overwhelming. Chiang’s illustrations for Paper Girls, however, are mind-blowing. The simplicity of colors and outlines with a jaw-dropping and buzzing palette made me want to get large prints of several of the panes to decorate my walls with. I loved this art, from the style to the execution to the concept, and I can’t overstate how engaging it made the material as a whole.

Paper Girls does have moments of confusion. As a first volume, I expect some of that is intentional as we learn more about what is actually going on and about the world in which the story takes place. I’ll be watching my libraries for Volume II, to find out what happens next and get another eyeful of that spectacular art. If you’re a fan of Eighties nostalgia revival, complex girl characters, and science fiction (or even if you’re not a fan of any of those things but trust me just a little bit), I hope you’ll join me.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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