24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: March 2015

Abby Reads: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, 2012, 408 pages
YA Fantasy

Blue Sargent grew up around psychics and, for a while, it seemed like nothing could shock her. But then she gets involved with the Aglionby Boys — the boys with the ravens on their school badges and a mission involving a dead king and mysterious lines of energy that get stronger when Blue nears them. With a prophecy hanging over her head, Blue can’t stay away from the adventure of it all, even while she watches the self-destructive behavior of her new friends — Gansey, Noah, Ronan, and Adam.

I purposely waited getting started on The Raven Boys series because I already knew I liked Stiefvater’s work and figured I’d enjoy this series as well. I’m glad I waited because September (when the last DSC_0221book comes out) doesn’t seem nearly as bad a wait as it could have been! Stiefvater does an incredible job in manipulating the reader’s perspective in order to produce well-rounded characters. I really admire her ability to make the most of the setting and objects relative to characters to build the story and its inhabitants in subtle ways. Her language is rarely ever overbearing or too little, but works as a constant hum as you read. Stiefvater’s abilities have only grown since her earlier books (I read and enjoyed both Lament and Shiver years ago), and it’s exciting to see how she improves even when you think it can’t get any better.

The beauty of Stiefvater’s writing style does have a consequence — almost (almost!) to the point of overstimulation, the writing sometimes obscures the plot. While this can help contribute to the mystery of things in some cases, in other instances (when the mysteries are being unveiled, for example) it doesn’t work as well and having to reread passages to get through the sensory mire (and what a beautiful mire it is!) makes the book slow-going. It’s an enjoyable process nonetheless, but requires a bit more attention from the reader than most other YA novels I’ve read. I still have some questions about The Raven Boys but opted not to read and reread and reread until I understood because (a) I’m a busy individual and can only reread a sentence so many times and (b) it was entirely possible the reality of the story was meant to be obscured and not truly revealed until a later book. Either way, I figured things would clear up with future books regardless of when the actual reveal was, just based on context. If not then, there’s always the internet!

As I mentioned, Stiefvater’s characters and phenomenally sculpted with very well-placed and thought-out details which you don’t even realize are teaching you about the characters until much later on. Surprisingly, I found Blue, at times, to be less-developed than the surrounding characters. I think, however, that is a result of Blue being a character who doesn’t really know who she is yet rather than a manifestation of poor writing or planning. I guess we’ll see with the next book (which I’ve started after reading the next two reviews-to-come: Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles).

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Out and About: Shut Up and Write! Diversity Edition

Last night, March 11, I attended an event at the Arlington Public Library. On a regular schedule, the APL features a panel discussion called Shut Up and Write, which addresses issues regarding young adult literature. I had attended the one in January on retellings of classics (panel members were Jon Skovron (see a previous post on one of his novels here), Paige Harbison, and April Lindner). This month, Skovron led a panel on diversity featuring Sherin Nicole, Robin Talley, and We Need Diverse Books President/author, Ellen Oh (who gave out WNDB swag you see in the featured photo).  Including questions about a perceived need for permission, dealing with criticism, and what we can do to keep diverse books as a topic of conversation in the coming year, the event had a number of quotable moments. Here are some of my favorite things from the panelists:

“You want to see yourself as a hero.” – Sherin Nicole, talking about the importance of representation in books and other media. She went on to emphasize that it’s important, especially for youth, to see themselves reflected in the stories they read not always as the sidekick or the villain, but as the hero. The point that non-white communities tend to exhibit lower reading levels may be due to the fact that the kids in these communities are disinterested in reading the myriad of stories schools provide (due, in large part, to the lack of diverse titles available) which feature only white protagonists. As a result, many of these kids choose not to read and consequently have lower reading levels.

Nicole also proposed a solution to the fear some writers encounter when taking on characters that are unlike themselves and the overall issue of lack of diversity: “We just need to make it a thing — like [writing about diverse people]’s what one does.”

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While I am unable to commit myself politically, emotionally, and so on to every cause I believe in, I admittedly put in more effort when it comes to WNDB. As someone who grew up in New Hampshire where the population is relatively homogeneous, perhaps the cultural shock I experienced when moving to the South would not have been so severe had I read or had the opportunity to read more diverse books (in lieu of being exposed to people who didn’t look, think, act, talk, and so on, very much like myself). Diversity in literature is not only important for the individuals who are underrepresented (another symptom of marginalization and being a minority), but to the people who are ignorant of other groups.

Another important topic the panel discussed was the role of empathy in these situations. Ellen Oh, in particular, emphasized that children who have parents with racist beliefs may be less likely to grow up with those same beliefs if they have the chance to empathize with characters who are different from them in literature.

Most important of all, Oh said, however, was that we try. We being writers. Writers must ignore the fears and doubts they have, accept that they will likely get some things wrong and even anger some people, but put in their best effort anyway. Because if we don’t start somewhere, we don’t start at all.

 

Abby Reads: Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
Viking Books for Young Readers, 2013, 384 pages
YA Science Fiction

Boy lives and works in a New York City theater with his parents, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride and a cast of creatures and creations alike. Hungry for a more human experience, Boy heads out on his own, gets an apartment, a job, and is soon joined by his crush. But after unleashing a computer virus he’s been obsessing over for ages, everything starts to fall apart at the seams.16756864091_8e12d1bc94_o

Man Made Boy features a set of well-developed and, for the most part, interesting characters. Skovron uses modern and not-so-modern myths to help populate his Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel, largely by drawing from and retelling pieces of some classics, Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  The complexity of the characters led me to believe that various problematic behaviors different characters exhibited (particularly Boy, who was often misogynistic among other things) would eventually be eradicated (or at least dulled) from the characters as they learned and grew. This was not the case. I was disappointed to see, instead, Boy speaking as a sort of mouth piece for the men in the world who subscribe to “meninism” and who believe in the “friendzone.” Several times one character or another (again, mainly Boy, as the narrator of Man Made Boy) said something which so reflected such an anti-women philosophy that I almost put the book down or, at the very least, rolled my eyes. I felt that it was important to continue, however, with the hope that these characters would change (as characters do) and the general belief that a political or social disagreement does not warrant my censorship in my own reading. Besides, what if there was some other really great thing about the novel I would miss out on if I gave up?

That all said, I’m not convinced the rest of the book was worth it for me. I became frustrated with the pacing and the proportions of action (getting a bit into theory here, referring to rising/falling action and the like) felt awkward. I never felt like I was reading just one solid plot line, but rather a mix of small plot lines with one vague one that sort of stood out sometimes.  I should point out that this is also how I’ve felt about Frankenstein the few times I’ve read it. So make of that what you will. As a Sci-Fi plot, Skovron did well with the details overall, and I enjoyed the off-the-wall theater setting for the earlier bits. I did find I asked myself frequently, “Where did Boy get his consciousness, his self?” because Boy was, like his father, assembled from pieces of other (dead) individuals. Assuming the same was done for his brain, (and remember we’re working in a universe where this is possible) he’d start off with the consciousness (and personality, language, memories, etc.) of someone else. So is this really “Boy” at all? Skovron dodges this issue entirely, though deals with other oddities and enigmas in better detail.

There was nothing in Skovron’s writing style that stood out to me, other than a few awkward phrase here or there and my general disbelief that a teenage “boy” would say many of the things Boy did. Skovron divided the book into parts, heading each with a philosophical and foreboding quote from one source or another. I didn’t feel these quotes added anything special, though they did help guide the theme for readers who may struggle with identifying themes (hint: if you need a book for a book report/paper, this might be a good option). In the “grand finale” of the book, I was generally confused about what was going on. Here, the writing seemed to go from “okay, but nothing special” to “ehhh, not so great.”

I was unimpressed with this one and reading it with a feminist lens really sealed the didn’t-like-it feeling for me.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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