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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

On 01, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Running DreamFrom GoodReads:

Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She’s not comforted by the news that she’ll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don’t know what to say, act like she’s not there. Which she could handle better if she weren’t now keenly aware that she’d done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she’s missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that’s not enough for her now. She doesn’t just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.

This one was a light read despite the technically depressing subject. It was enjoyable, but it was a bit too upbeat for my tastes. Maybe it was realistic, but I felt like there would have been a bit more of a struggle on Jessica’s part coming to terms with the loss of her leg. Of course, that could just be the cynic in me. That being said, I think it did an admirable job dealing with a difficult subject. I also think it could be really heartening for the right reader while also having a broader appeal. As far as the writing, it took me a little while to get into it. But the short chapters and terse sentences really won me over.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: In Darkness by Nick Lake

On 15, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free …

I loved this book so much I’m not even really sure I can write a review that would do it enough justice. It didn’t help that I was caught totally off guard. I mean the last Nick Lake book I read was about ninja vampires. It was awesome, but it was still ninja vampires. In Darkness was so dark, brooding, sickening, saddening, and hopeful. Shorty is not a hero, he admits to doing some really awful, unforgivable things. He may have done them for the right reasons, but even he confesses that he should never have gone down that path. But all that doesn’t make him any less sympathetic or make you want him to live any less either.

This was an interesting book, for me, to read after finishing a chapter in another book about how exposure to a variety of people, cultures, and ways of living can essentially combat prejudice. I think there is a real lack of exposure in the U.S. to a mix of cultures (ancient and modern), histories, and viewpoints and this makes people blind to much of the world.

When I was in college I came to know a much broader world through my anthropology classes. I was fed a steady diet of history books and ethnographies.  It was incredibly eye opening and also maddening that my friends’ worlds were not opening up in the same way. In my junior year I spent six months studying in Cairo, Egypt which was a far cry from the England and France study abroad programs my peers were doing. Those six months were pivotal for me in that I suddenly realized how lucky I was to live in the U.S.; how lucky I was to have running water and a toilet; how lucky I was to live in a real neighborhood; how lucky I was to live in a country with social services; how lucky I was to live in a country that didn’t station its military on nearly every street corner (this was pre-Arab Spring); how lucky I was to live in a country and in a society where women were, comparatively, treated equally.

I think short of having such an eye-opening experience like that young adults can read widely and read a variety. I know not everyone will and I certainly wouldn’t expect it, but I do encourage it. In Darkness gives such a vivid and heart-wrenching picture of living in absolute, abject poverty. Site Soley is hell on Earth and I can’t imagine how the people trapped there manage to get up every morning and face life. The book was also incredibly informative about the history of Haiti and how it came to be the poverty-sticken, corrupt place it is. I was unaware of Toussaint L’Ouverture but found his story to be incredibly inspiring and fascinating.

But despite being didactic In Darkness never felt like preaching. It was an exciting story laced with tension, war, voodoo, and some very interesting characters. I could really see it appealing to boys, which is another plus.


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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

On 18, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

In a recent interview I read on NPR with John Irving he made a comment that kept coming back to me as I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post. He noted, “…how thoroughly intimidating and confusing and conflicted the world of adult sexuality seemed when you were on the doorstep of it but still standing outside.” I suppose this is a place we’ve all found ourselves, but it was especially true of Cameron who finds herself there on the eve of her parents death. Add to that the confusion of the realization that she prefers girls, something that has never been explicitly condemned in her world, but she is sure would be.

While I wasn’t sure I loved the book, despite it’s buzz, I did find it incredibly compelling and relatable. The story is all about figuring out sexuality, love and relationships and the confusion that comes with the inexperience of the teenage years. Cameron may have the added confusion of being a lesbian in a place where homosexuality is discouraged, but I think ultimately her struggles aren’t really unique to lesbians. Like any teenager she’s trying to figure out that “world of adult sexuality”.

Despite Cam’s relative inexperience, this book isn’t for the prudish. Kissing and sex abound, as does pot smoking and language. But the struggles are so relatable and so universal that none of it seems to be gratuitous or there just for the sake of scandal. The book also seemed to move lazily through the years considering how predictably the plot unfolded. But I think that was kind of the point, or at least the explanation I was going with, because it certainly reinforced Cam’s naiveté. The rest of the characters in the book always felt authentic and never came across as two dimensional. Even though this really isn’t a book for the religious set, I thought it was very fair-handed in how it dealt with evangelicals and their teachings. I also think the well-rounded characters helped keep the plot feeling less like a vehicle for a Message than a real story.

While Cam’s situation, as an orphan and lesbian in a small conservative town, may be familiar to some, it isn’t these particulars that give the story its power. Nor was it the sex scenes that will titillate some. Had I read this book as a teenager I know I would have found it incredibly provocative. Not because I was struggling with my sexuality, but becuase, like most teens, I found sexualtiy and relationships, as John Irving said, incredibly confusing and even a bit frightening. And at heart, Miseducation is all about figuring those things out for yourself and overcoming the fear.


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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

On 06, Dec 2012 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Update 11/14/2016: This book is a whole lot of no. I did enjoy it, but now I see it’s problems. If you want to know more, and you should, please read Debbie Reese’s comments on it here. It is problematic for the way it portrays natives. I’m embarrassed that I liked this so much and now looking back on it it isn’t at all enjoyable. Please don’t recommend this one.

From GoodReads:

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

Normally I read quite a bit of fiction to keep up on current publications and I enjoy the large majority of what I read. It isn’t what I would choose to curl up with on vacation, but I still find things to like in most of the books. I can also see how they would appeal to certain kids. However, every once in awhile I come across a book that really resonates with me. Sometimes I can just feel my high school (or middle school) self connecting with the book. Those books are like a little shot of sweet nostalgia. Sarah Dessen does that for me, as do the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. Sometimes I just really enjoy the story. Ship Breaker was that way. And then, occasionally, there is a book I just fall in love with. It’s frequently for a reason I can’t predict and they tend to be a disparate set of books. I always feel a little funny saying that about a novel intended for someone a good 10-15 years younger than I am, but it’s the truth.

Tiger Lily was one of these books. I am already predisposed to like new takes on familiar stories, although Tiger Lily was really more the story behind and before the tale we know of Peter Pan. But it took a story that I have always found a little ridiculous and made it so real, so realistic, and so relatable.

I think at heart Tiger Lily is someone every girl imagines herself as at some point. Awkward, not beautiful, different, independent and unhappy about that. I think every girl finds herself falling in love with someone they know they shouldn’t and yet decides to take the risk.

There are a few aspects that make it more of a fantasy or magical realism, but don’t dismiss it out of hand for that. If you suspend a tiny bit of belief, it has the very real fear of being different; the intense flush of love; the terror and exhilaration of losing oneself in a relationship; the fear of growing up and the knowledge that comes with that; the pain of loss; the shame and anger of betrayal; the hopelessness of feeling trapped by a destiny. Even all the fantastic characters- fairies, mermaids, even the pirates and lost boys to some extent- are vehicles for these emotions and feelings. The adults as well as the younger characters show a range of age-appropriate emotions and I think this is why it was appealing even to me on a personal level.

Tiger Lily was one of  those books that I emerged from and wondered how life continued on so calmly and methodically around me.

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