Monday, March 18, 2019

Review: Damsel

Damsel Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the second 2019 Printz honor book I have been really disappointed in; though I did manage to finish this one; I really did not care for it at all. My advice is to skip it altogether.

I get that it's supposed to be a feminist fairytale re-telling, and it's supposed to be about empowering women and rejecting the patriarchy and toxic masculinity (let's see, can I come up with any more current buzzwords to throw in?) but rather than giving a nice "girl power" feeling, it had a really creepy, sinister vibe that just made me feel very....discomfitted. The summary sounded really intriguing, and the idea for the story is great, but I found the execution very lacking.

Aside from the creepy, eerie mood, the writing was laughable at times, referring to a man's penis as his "yard", or even worse "...the thick meat of him, a fleshy tusk, white like ivory in the bed of curled black hair." Are you kidding me? This is nearly-award-winning prose? I thought the historical romances I used to read were bad, but geeze louise...at least they never pretended to be anything more than the cheezy, mind-candy that they were. And referring to a baby in the womb as "...swimming in the hot stew of his mother's juice." Yes, that's a lovely way to refer to pregnancy.

The prince starts out seemingly like a brave, decent, guy, but as the story progresses he becames very unlikeable. He is possessive and controlling, humiliating the damsel when she does something he doesn't like, and sexually assaulting her. It becomes very clear that he does not see her as a person, but simply as a possession to serve his needs and bear his child. In fact, the message is quite clear and not in the least subtle: In this place and time, women exist soley to be a vessel, filled by men. The damsel is told this by everyone she comes into contact with.

While I sympathized with the damsel, at the same time she was not the most likeable character either, coming across very cold and having no emotion or personality, which made it more difficult to be truly invested in the character, and I just wanted to hurry up and get to the end to see whether she chose to give in or found a way to escape to be done with the book. She just didn't feel like a real person to me, and at times it really feels like the book was written by a man because the damsel is so two-dimensional and the writing so labored. And totally predictable.

(view spoiler)

Unless you like predictable, obvious, cheezy-yet-dark-and-creepy, I would recommend skipping this. There are better feminist fairytales out there, like Melissa Bashardoust's Girls Made of Snow and Glass, which has not one but two strong female characters who save themselves.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Review: Damsel

Damsel Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the second 2019 Printz honor book I have been really disappointed in; though I did manage to finish this one; I really did not care for it at all. My advice is to skip it altogether. I would not recommend this to anyone.

I get that it's supposed to be a feminist fairytale re-telling, and it's supposed to be about empowering women and rejecting the patriarchy and toxic masculinity (let's see, can I come up with any more current buzzwords to throw in?) but rather than giving a nice "girl power" feeling, it had a really creepy, sinister vibe that just made me feel very....discomfitted.

Aside from the creepy, eerie mood, the writing was laughable at times. Referring to a man's penis as his "yard", or even worse "...the thick meat of him, a fleshy tusk, white like ivory in the bed of curled black hair." Are you kidding me? This is nearly-award-winning prose? I thought the historical romances I used to read were bad, but geeze louise...at least they never pretended to be anything more than the cheezy, mind-candy that they were.

And totally predictable. (view spoiler)

Unless you like predictable, obvious, cheezy-yet-dark-and-creepy, I would recommend skipping this. There are better feminist fairytales out there, like Melissa Bashardoust's Girls Made of Snow and Glass, which has not one but two strong female characters who save themselves.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: Cinder

Cinder Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Initially I didn't really want to read this book as the idea of a story about a cyborg girl didn't really seem that appealing to me, but it was one of our options for our series fiction module in my YA Lit class. I initially chose to read Shusterman's Unwind instead, but decided since I had heard many people mention this series I would at least check the book out and flip through to get more familiar with it. I read the first couple of chapters, and then I couldn't put it down! I ended up being very suprised by how much I liked it.

Even though this is sci-fi, it really is so much more. This story of a cyborg named Cinder with an unknown past trying to make her way in the world has a little bit of everything: family drama, bigotry, action, international intrigue and threats of war, romance, and death; the fairytale feel and "magical" abilities of some people in the story will also appeal to the fantasy lovers.

I loved how Meyer used the classic fairytale of Cinderella as the inspiration for this story, but interpreted it in such a creative and different way (the same is true for the rest of the books in the series). Cinder has no memory of her life before she woke up as an 11-year old cyborg, or the accident that resulted in her being so severly injured that extreme scientific intervention was necessary to save her. She was adopted by a man who died of a new mysterious and deadly plague before he could tell her anything about her past, leaving her with a stepmother who resents her, and two stepsisters, only one of whom accepts Cinder.

There is a prince, and a ball. But there is also the threat of war with the Lunars, the population descended from a colony on the moon thousands of years early. The Lunar people have mutated and evolved to have the ability to control peoples moods, emotions, and perceptions, which is how the cruel royal family has maintained tight control over the Lunar population. But now, Queen Levana is not content just to rule the moon, and has set her sights on Earth, though there are rumors of a missing princess who could usurp the throne. In addition, the deadly plague that killed Cinder's adoptive father years earlier continues to spread, and has now infected her youngest sister Peony.

While one significant part of the story is very predictable, so predictable it may be intentional, I found this unique re-telling of Cinderella to be interesting, relatively fast-paced, with good character development, and I think it could appeal to a wide audience. Even though it is technically sci-fi, the focus is more on the people than the science, and though Cinder is a cyborg, and her technology does play a significant role at time, the focus is really on her humanity.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Review: The Night Diary

The Night Diary The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is told in diary form, with each entry written as a letter from a young Indian girl to her mother, who died shortly after giving birth to her and her twin brother. Set in 1947 amidst the horrible violence that broke out among the different religious factions (Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs) in India after English rule ended and India was divided into Pakistan, set aside as a homeland for the Muslims, and "New" India for the Hindus, Sikhs, and everyone else. The caused a mass migration as Sikh and Hindu families, like Nisha's, had to leave their homes in what was now Pakistan, as Muslims moved in, and violence ensued, with many deaths.

This is a very moving story that will leave the reader shaking their head in disgust at all the senseless fighting and killing over religion. It is well-written and well-paced, and the relationship between Nisha and the family's cook, Kazi, is particularly touching. My only real criticism is that much of the time the writing was too flowery and lyrical, too mature and sophisticated to be convincing as the voice of a 12-year old, and sounded more like an adult remembering and describing events that happened when they were a child, that being written as they happened by a child. It did not bother me overmuch, except in a couple of places, but I do wonder if that would make it less accessible and relatable to children.

I would recommend this to those interested in historical fiction and learning what it is like for other children who have lived through such conflicts, ages 10-14.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review: The Poet X

The Poet X The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like most books in verse, this one took me a little bit to get into, but once I did I couldn't put it down.

Xiomara is the teenage daughter of Dominican immigrants who are very strict and conservative, with her mother being devoutly relgious to the extreme. Xiomara's mother's religious zealotry causes her to be completely close-minded, controlling, and even cruel in the way she treats Xiomara, whose only "crime" has been being unable to stop her body from developing voluptuous curves that attract unwanted attention from boys and men. Xiomara has no voice at home, and instead pours all her feelings into her journal and her poetry. Eventually things reach a breaking point, triggered by her mother catching her kissing a boy, and skipping church to go to poetry club.

This book reminds me of a some others I've read, Gabi: A Girl In Pieces, I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and Love, Hate & Other Filters, which all feature daughters struggling to find their own identity and live their own lives under the weight of their parents' expectations, control, and obsession with them being "good girls". While these stories happen to feature Latino or Muslim families, I can attest to the fact that this type of repressive and controlling parenting of girls can happen in families of any ethnicity, culture, or religion. Though it was never taken quite to the extreme as in these stories, I grew up in a similar environment were daughters were treated as someone subservient and needing to be kept under strict supervision and tight control so they didn't become "bad girls" and go out and get a bad reputation or get pregnant.

Though I'm no poet, I could strongly identify with Xiomara's feeling like she had no voice, no identity as an individual within her home, and feeling like no one saw her for who she was, or even wanted to. In some ways, I still feel that way. I also related to her twin Xavier's feeling of just trying to lay low and suffer through until they could leave for college. My heart ached for both of them, being unable to express their true selves, and to be loved and accepted for who they were. I found myself getting so angry at the mother, but was pleasantly suprised to see their priest be the voice of reason, reminding her mother that anger and cruelty were sins as well, and encouraging Xiomara to keep asking questions and seeking answers until she was satisfied.

I think all teenagers (or people who have been teenagers) can relate to sometimes feeling like that have no voice, feeling the pressure of others' expectations, and many teen may deal with major conflicts with parents, particular when cultural and religious beliefs are extremely conservative, repressive, and fundamentalist, so this story could appeal to a wide audience.

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