24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Author: abbyrhargreaves (page 2 of 13)

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 ❤❤❤❤❤

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.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑