Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Full of Beans

Full of Beans Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Jennifer Holm's Turtle In Paradise, and I've wanted to read this book every since it came out, but just never found the time until now. Full of Beans is actually a prequel to Turtle In Paradise rather than a sequel as I'd first thought, and depicts Key West during the Great Depression and the reform movement that saved it by making it a tourist destination, telling the story of how Beans and his friends came to be "The Diaper Gang".

My favorite vacation spot is an area on Manasota Key that has not yet been overly developed and still has several "Old Florida" homes built in the 40's and 50's on sizeable properties with plenty of wildlife and native tropical forest remaining, so I love books like these that are set in the pre-development days (or like Carl Hiaasen's that have a conservation, anti-development message). The addition of famous authors and artists known to visit Key West is a nice touch. Holm did her research and it shows in the feeling of authenticity the story has. The only thing I question is the use of divinity candy in the plot, as I've always heard that cannot be made on humid days, so I wonder if you could really make a decent batch in Key West.

This is a farily quick, mostly light read, even though it does touch on some serious topics like poverty and consequences from using fire alarms as a distraction, and I would recommend it for young readers from 8-12 who are open to realisitic and historical fiction; it would likely appeal to fans of Beverly Cleary's books, possibly Korman fans as well, and those who aren't quite ready for the gritty reality of some of Paulen's works.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A story that has been told before in clinical and legal terms, but deserves to be told again in human terms.

The author did an excellent job telling the story of these girls who were so callously used and discarded by their employers. She captures their joy and comraderie, as young, independent girls, working in what was perceived at the time as a glamorous job, completely oblivious to the deadly poison they were putting into their bodies every day. She also captures their pain and sufferring as they begin to develop strange symptoms and debilitating pain as their bones begin to rot away or become cancerous. We see the toll it takes on their families as well, both emotionally and financially. We also see their courage as some of them by shear force of will fight to hold their former employers accountable.

This book is very well-written and well-paced, with enough background information and details to give a full picture without becoming too boring or slow. It flows in a nice chronological sequence, making the events easy to follow, and captures the heart of the people involved. It is both enraging and heartbreaking to see how these employers treated these young girls, lying to them time and time again, hiding information, stealing bones from a dead body (!), refusing to help them, as well as how many others in the medical community let them down. We have certainly come a long way in terms of workers' rights and workplace safety, but the attitude of treating employees as expendable resources still persists, sadly.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Review: This Book is Gay

This Book is Gay This Book is Gay by James Dawson
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I am hesitant to give this book a rating or a real review as I am not the intended audience of teenage/young adults who are questioning whether they might be LGTBQ, or adjusting to the realization that they are. I am middle-aged and straight, though I do have an adult child who is gay. So, I'll just share a few thoughts and concerns, rather than a true review.

As an adult, I found the breezy writing style a bit irritating after a while, and hard to take seriously. But, that's probably what would make a teen more comfortable reading it. I do think the author tries a little too hard to be funny, and I wish they had backed up their opinions with some research, in addition to the testimonials from teens. Also, at almost 5 years old now it is a bit dated, and I think there are some cultural/language differences between the UK and the USA that can cause some confusion.

I did like how a lot of basic information was presented that teens might be embarrassed to ask about, like gay sex, having babies, and emphasizing safe sex, and that there was a glossary and list of other sources of information and support. I really liked how the overall message was very positive, supportive, and affirming....basically "you do you, and that's great!"

I do think that even though the book tries to be inclusive, it is really more geared for those who are definitely male or definitely female, interested in sexual relationships, and gay. As the author states, his "experience as a gay, white man is not representative of every gay man, let alone the thousands of gay women, bisexual men and women, and trans people...." Non-binary genders and those who are asexual are not really addressed.

Which brings my to my final concern. In the quote above, the author clearly identifies himself as a "gay, white man", and is putting himself in the position of mentor and advisor to teens who are questioning their identity and orientation. Yet, as I was about to write this non-review, I discovered that just a year after this book was published, the author announced they were actually trans and would now live as a woman named Juno.

So, I can't help but question the validity of a book written to supposedly help questionning teens figure their shit out, when clearly the author had not figured their own shit out yet, and what's worse, did not even own up to their own clearly continued questionning and/or possible fear of living openly as their true identity. Yes, some or most of the information is still useful, but there is a lack of honesty and self-awareness there that I find troubling from someone putting themselves in a position to have potentially significant influence over teens.

Given that, I would imagine that in the last 4-5 years other books have been published that might be better, more inclusive, more representative of current affairs and viewpoints, and more honest and forthright.

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It makes you feel all the feels in its depiction of life on the reservation through the eyes of Arnold Spirit, a young teen who has lived his whole life on the Spokane Indian reservation. He tells of being targeted and bullied by kids and adults alike his whole life, simply because of being percieved as weak due to health problems stemming from being born with hydrocephaly and having a generally more sensitive nature, as well as the general hopelessness of the whole population, the resistance to leaving "the rez," and perception of those who do as being traitors.

It is heartbreaking at times for sure, but Arnold, better known simply as "Junior", tells it in a very straight-forward way and with a touch of humor, and the sketches and comic panels by Ellen Forney make a great addition to the text. While the story does make the mass despair of the community, fueled by poverty, depression, and rampant alcoholsim, very clear and shows the tole it takes (Junior is only 14 and has already been to 42 funerals, and 90% of deaths are alcohol-related), it does not have an overly depressive mood, as Junior describes how his parents love him and are supportive and caring, if imperfect, and he fights for a better future. It is sad, yet also humorous and hopeful at the same time.

I know the author has now fallen out of favor due to recent allegations of sexual misconduct, but I think this is still an important book, and while I understand some may choose not to purchase it or read it because they don't want to support and imperfect author, I think it is a professional obligation to at least be familiar with it if you are a librarian or teacher. Also, I'm pretty sure if we look too closely at many famous authors we will find things we don't like. They are human and therefore flawed, and I think you have to separate your opinion of them as a person from their work.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Review: We Were Liars

We Were Liars We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

17-year old Cady has been suffering from debilitating migraines for the last 2 years, every since she sufferred a traumatic event that may have included a possible head injury. She knows something terrible happened, but she can't remember. She knows the rest of her family knows what happened, but won't tell her after doctors advised it was best she remember it on her own. Perhaps a summer back at the family island where it happened, where she can be with her beloved cousins and friend again, is just what she needs. But will she be able to handle the truth when she remembers?

Tear-jerker warning!! Be prepared to ugly cry when reading this book. It is so beautifully written, with such heart-warming relationships full of love and loyalty among the four "Liars", yet so tragic and heartbreaking. But not really depressing. A good choice for someone who needs a good, cathartic cry. Not a good choice to read in public or around other people in general.

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