Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review of Crafty Cat And The Crafty Camp Crisis by Charise Mericle Harper

As I mentioned in my review of Yellow Owl Workshop's Make It Yours here, I have always been into crafts. I was the kid who would rather receive a gift card to Michael's than Toys R Us any day. So, that, combined with my deep-seated love of graphic novels (especially the offbeat ones published by :01, the publisher of the Crafty Cat series), led me to request a free review copy of Crafty Cat And The Crafty Camp Crisis by Charise Mericle Harper and see how these two interests of mine would mesh. Note: The Crafty Camp Crisis is actually the second book in the series, but it is easy enough to pick up and follow along without having read book one. I didn't have access to the first volume, myself, and I was able to track with the story in volume two just fine.

I wasn't a big fan of the cover design. Though I liked how it featured both Birdie and her alter ego, Crafty Cat, and I thought it was cute that the title and author were displayed in dialogue bubbles, there was too much going on at once, with too many small details and not enough larger images, and the chaos got in the way of using the cover to gauge an overall mood or theme for the book.

However, the cover does give a good representation of the illustration style used within the text. The pictures have simple lines and a palette of only a few colors, and they look as if a child (albeit, a talented one) would've drawn them, giving an air of youthful fun. One of Harper's strengths is conveying facial expressions, and I noticed her characters eyes and mouths always seem to show very effectively how that person is feeling, which should help younger kids who aren't strong readers use context clues to read the dialogue. Also, the text is difficult to read in some graphic novels, so I appreciated that it was a little larger than normal and clearly legible here, as kids this young would probably simply give up, rather than trying to decipher print that was too small, or a font that didn't quite look like the lettering they're used to.

As one would expect of a graphic novel for 6-10 yr olds, the plot is kept relatively simple. Birdie (aka Crafty Cat) and her best friend Evan are excited to attend Monster Craft Camp at their school over the summer until Birdie's archnemesis Anya, a classmate with a bad attitude and a tendency toward mean-spirited actions shows up and does whatever she can to ruin the craftsperience Birdie has been eagerly anticipating.

Because of some specific choices about the way Harper told the story, I had trouble getting into the book from the very beginning. The way the narrative begins with an illustration of the earth, then with several panels of Crafty Cat assembling her craft supplies on the way to her first day of Monster Craft Camp struck me as odd. Wouldn't they have craft supplies there? I kept wondering that, and it pulled me out of the story. Also, near the beginning, Harper began using the convention of inanimate objects or animals talking, either to comment on the story, or to interact with the characters directly. (The first instance is a talking tulip saying something that adds absolutely nothing to the story. Then, there are birds on the roof, whose dialogue also does nothing to enrich the narrative. And, finally, there's a cloud. Its presence seems to have a purpose, and it actually interacts with Birdie, but their conversations don't make much sense, and quickly become annoying.)

More bothersome--and less about personal and stylistic storytelling preferences--was the way Birdie, who is supposed to be a kind, empathetic protagonist, pigeonholes the school custodian who is leading craft camp. This character isn't even given a name, and Birdie initially refers to her as, "the lady janitor." The character then responds that custodian is nicer than janitor, and that they can call her C.C. for "crafty custodian." ...really? So, just because somebody keeps a school building clean for a living, that means she doesn't get a name!? I think this is an offensive message to send the young kids to whom this book is targeted, especially because they're very likely to engage with custodians at their schools. Additionally, Birdie is dismayed to find that C.C. will be leading the crafting sessions, imagining that all of their crafts will be made out of cleaning supplies like mops, buckets, sponges, and gloves. That was an ignorant thing to include. Though Birdie doesn't mistreat C.C. and does show her a gesture of kindness at the end of the story, the book never addresses how Birdie judged C.C. for her blue collar job at the beginning of the narrative, which I felt sent entirely the wrong message, and was a missed opportunity to show some character development and make the protagonist more dynamic.

I did like how Harper showed an illustration of Crafty Cat turning back into Birdie as she exited her room on the way to Camp early in the story, though. I thought it might be helpful for younger children who are reading the book to understand the concept of an alter ego, even if that term is never used. I also appreciated how Birdie's best friend Evan seems to be a very energetic little boy who can almost behave in what's supposed to be a low-key crafting environment (which provides nice comic relief), and that Evan comes through for Birdie when it matters.

Also, after the story ends, the book includes a section with detailed illustrated instructions for making the five crafts featured within the narrative. This is a fun feature, especially for kids who picked up Crafty Cat in the first place because they love to do crafts themselves. However, it would be more useful if this section had been made so the instructions were pull-out cards, or if the book binding allowed the pages to remain flat when opened, as I can imagine 6-10 year olds struggling with keeping the pages open to the craft instructions while attempting to cut and glue.

Ultimately, because of the lackluster storytelling, the offensive, ignorant depiction of C.C., and the frustrating practical problem of how to keep the book open while using the crafting instructions, I don't recommend Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book Review of Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung by Min Kym

I first heard about Gone by Min Kym on the Blogging for Books website, where I noticed it was garnering five star review after five star review. I had never heard of Min Kym. Lindsey Stirling is my favorite violin soloist, and when it comes to classical solo string performers, I am much more of a cello listener. What could be so compelling about a memoir written by a violin soloist about having her instrument stolen? I remember wondering. And then, I recalled a television interview I'd seen years ago, in which blues guitar player B.B. King spoke emotionally about the experience of having his guitar Lucille stolen. Two things stuck out in my mind about that interview: 1) That King rushed back into a burning building to rescue his guitar, and that when he found out the fire was started because two men had been arguing over a woman named Lucille, he knew what he had to name his beloved instrument, and 2) That an instrument could be so integral to a musician that he would run into a burning building to save it, risking his life without hesitation. So, of course I requested a free review copy of Gone. I had to see if her story was as unique, interesting, and emotional.

Though I understand why each element of the cover design for this book was selected, I don't personally like it. Conversely, I think the author picture included in the back of this book is one of the best I've ever seen, and I think it would've made a wonderful cover for Gone! I find it more aesthetically appealing and memorable than the actual cover. Plus, I'm dying to ask Min Kym how, exactly, she gets her hair to do that. Clearly, if she decides to move on from the world of professional music performance, she could really rock the YouTube hair tutorial videos. Also, seeing this author photo left me with one question: Kym mentions owning and playing several different violins over the course of the memoir. Which one is pictured here?

On the surface, it seems as if Kym has succeeded despite overwhelming struggles. She emigrated from Korea and grew up in London. She was admitted to the renowned Purcell School for musically gifted children, where she excelled and people quickly realized she was a violin prodigy. With a father who was constantly absent due to work that took him abroad for long stretches of time, a sister she never mentions except in the context of playing the piano alongside Kym's violin, and a mother who had the highest expectations of her daughters, but only showed affection through food, possibly creating a toxic atmosphere in which Kym's anorexia thrived, (Strangely, this is only mentioned in the last chapter of the book.) Kym found herself in music.

However, her confidence and her ability to speak up for herself were mostly non-existent. Kym found herself in a relationship with a manipulative man who had previously preyed on other Korean girls, finding them easy targets because the cultural values of submission and self-sacrifice with which they had been indoctrinated made them easy to control. Any time Kym succeeded in recognizing what she wanted and gravitating toward it, or meekly voiced her concerns in an attempt to stand up for what was important to her, he shut it down, ultimately leading to the theft of her beloved Stradivarius violin--a world-class instrument valued at more than many houses but, more importantly, the vessel through which Kym expressed herself emotionally and upon which she built her career professionally.

Gone is the story of Kym's upbringing, her training as a violin prodigy, her discovery of the violin that would define, amplify, and clarify her voice as a person, and as a performer, and the devastating loss of that gorgeous instrument. It differs a bit from a traditional memoir. For one thing, despite the fact that there are assuredly pictures of Kym from her extensive professional performance career, I found it odd and disappointing that they weren't included in the book. Also lacking were photos of the various violins Kym owned and played over the course of her life as a violin soloist, which would've been integral to the story, considering that the importance of her instrument is the essence of the book. And, since Kym goes into great (helpful, and interesting) detail about the parts of a violin, and which ones she tweaked in order to adjust each instrument to work for her as a performer, some diagrams displaying that information would've been useful and informative to the reader. I did appreciate, however, that Kym included generous amounts of information about luthiers, and about today's violin trade. I also enjoyed the parts where Kym would give context about the classical pieces she was working on at that point in the narrative, describing the feeling of the piece, or even going into personal detail about the life of the composer. These anecdotes served to educate me as a reader, but they also underscored for me how personal this music is to Kym, and how intimately she knows it.

However, there is one thing tied into Gone that I haven't seen with a memoir: music. At the very beginning of the book, there's a list of nine tracks which closely relate to the narrative. They are solo pieces recorded by Kym, which are described in the book at various points. In addition to the suggested listening list, those points are marked by a music note and a number in the margins, so readers know when to start each track. But, as wonderful a tie-in as this concept is, the music isn't available to listen for free on YouTube or Kym's website, and the book doesn't come with download codes. Instead, the reader is given instructions on where to purchase the music. So, the publisher expects readers to pay $25.00 for the book, and then pay more (about $15.00 on Amazon for the CD) to listen to the music for the full experience? And, many readers may not know they are supposed to buy music to go with the book beforehand, so they may have brought the book with them somewhere to read where they can't download the music. I feel like the cover price of the book should've been increased, and the book itself should have come with download codes or a CD of the music, this requiring only one purchase for the full experience. This aspect of Gone was poorly designed.

Overall, Min Kym's writing was refreshingly honest, self-aware, and beautiful in a simple, poetic way. There were some grammatical errors I feel her editor should've caught, but it's obvious that Kym knows how to tell a story. Also, Kym didn't shy away from aspects of her life that didn't put her in the best light. Gone isn't the story of a girl trying come off as perfect, though it so easily could've been. Kym writes vulnerably, and the result is powerful, endearing, and sad. It shows how integral an instrument can be to a musician, and how crucial it is for women to be taught as girls that what they say and how they feel matters, and that they shouldn't suffer the company of anyone who disagrees.

Highly recommended.

As a little sidenote, I just noticed this is my 100th review for Blogging For Books. This is a great program, and I really enjoy participating in it! I never would've discovered many books I've truly loved without BFB, Gone being one of them. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review of I See Reality: Twelve Short Stories About Real Life by YA authors, compiled by Grace Kendall

One of my earliest introductions to YA, the genre I hold nearest to my heart (and enjoy writing the most), was actually not a YA novel, but, instead, a collection of short stories by authors whose works had been banned or challenged, edited by none other than the famed Judy Blume, called Places I Never Meant To Be. Half of my lifetime later, with as much reading as I do, I've never been able to find a YA short story collection that captured the same feeling. I gave up long ago, acknowledging that it was magical enough to have captured lightning in a jar just the once. ...and then, lo and behold, my sneaky book ninja friend gifted me with an ARC of this little gem. By the time I'd sunk my teeth into the second story, I knew: I See Reality had filled a second jar.

Had I found this book on a bookstore or library shelf instead of piled in amongst other books in the best type of care package--a box unapologetically stuffed with books--I would've selected to read it because of two of the contributing authors whose work I've loved: Trisha Leaver and Heather Demetrios. I posted a review here of The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, in case you're curious. (After eagerly awaiting it for way too long, the book still blew my socks off.)

Out of the twelve short stories included in I See Reality, I was moved by ten. All of them made me think, question, and gain new understanding. From Three Imaginary Conversations With You, in which Heather Demetrios introduces us to a high school senior who wants to break up with her older, controlling boyfriend to Kristin Elizabeth Clark's light touch when dealing with a gay protagonist finally gaining self awareness, each author brings unique characters in realistic situations to life in compelling and exciting ways. Kekla Magoon drives home the realities of poverty, racial identity, and abuse in Makeshift with such vivid sensory details that I felt WITH her characters--not FOR them. Jason Schmidt turns his narrative of a school shooting into the simplest and most touching story of a boy and a girl in Things You Get Over, Things You Don't. Prescription drug addiction and the pitfalls of high school romance come alive in Coffee Chameleon by Jay Clark. Marcella Pixley presents readers with a disturbing story of grief and mental illness in Hush, and Trisha Leaver speaks to everyone who hides his or her light under a bushel because of someone else's sins and other people's perceptions in Blackbird. In her untitled pithy short comic, Faith Erin Hicks makes a heartbreaking situation less painful with hilarity, while Jordan Sonnenblick sums up four years' worth of lessons in mere pages with The Sweeter The Sin. Capping off the whole emotionally reeling collection is The Good Brother, Patrick Flores-Scott's tale of two brothers: one who is in our country legally, and one who is here against the law.

If nothing else, that rundown should've illuminated the very breadth and variety of issues and situations the authors whose works are included in I See Reality have explored in depth. Whether your eyes caught the names of some of your favorite YA authors on the list of contributors, or you're just interested in good YA short stories depicting diverse characters in a multitude of difficult situations, I See Reality is a fantastic choice. I can't recommend this one enough!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Book Review of The Physics Of Everyday Things by James Kakalios

I like understanding how scientific concepts apply to common things in everyday life. For example, no science lesson sticks out in my mind more than the time my AP Bio teacher gave an in-depth explanation of how a hair dryer works. I don't know why, but I've always found that sort of thing fascinating. So, it was without hesitation that I requested a free review copy of The Physics of Everyday Things: The Extraordinary Science Behind an Ordinary Day by James Kakalios. And I thought I was in for a real treat--an entire book about what I'd loved so much from that class session. From the cover design, I surmised that the book was fun and pithy, possibly full of wordplay, and definitely jam-packed with full-color illustrations and diagrams to help readers understand the concepts being explained.

Nope. That couldn't be further from the case. The Physics of Everyday Things took a reader who was excited to learn about science and turned that opportunity into a snooze. There were no color illustrations of any sort within the book. The only diagrams were boring and very minimalist. Kakalios' idea of an "ordinary day" is somewhat asinine, except for a high-powered employee of a Fortune 500 company--I'm pretty sure that isn't going to be the demographic for this book. The pages within are mostly wall-to-wall print, thick with long scientific terms. And Kakalios does little to temper this dry material and information-dense text (most of his efforts therein come in the form of awkwardly using second person POV, which completely does not work in this application).

All in all, I truly have no idea who would want to read this book. Readers who would willingly slog through all of the scientific terms with a complete lack of visual interest would be better served by more advanced book, or an actual textbook, and would probably be annoyed with the second person usage and tired scenarios used to present the information (You Go To The Doctor, You Go To The Airport, You Take A Flight), which come across as ill-contrived as a pizza delivery at the beginning of a bad porn film. And readers who might feel buried underneath all of the scientific terms and hungry for the brightly-colored pictures and helpful diagrams the cover design promised would probably just give up and stop reading well before the end of Chapter One. Not recommended.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review of The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

As a writer, reader, and lover of YA, I heard about The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver almost a year before its release, and I was so excited that I actually marked the date in my planner in addition to immediately adding it to my book wishlist. I entered a contest to win an ARC, but didn't get one, so you can bet I had this title on preorder. All that to say: there was a lot of anticipation about this book for me, and I certainly wasn't disappointed! Merely reading the premise: that identical twin sisters are in a car accident, one survives, the other doesn't, and the surviving twin assumes the identity of the deceased twin was enough to get me interested, and the more I found out about the book, the more I knew it would be a must-read. But, in an epic book blogger fail, I forgot to post my review of this gem, and it has been sitting around in draft form ever since. As I went to post my review of I See Reality, a YA short story anthology with a short story by Trisha Leaver included, I wanted to refer back to this post, and that's when I realized my mistake. I love the cover design so much that, until my bookshelf got too crowded--what a good problem to have--it had actually earned a face-out.

For those of you who are dubious that a mix-up like that could happen, I point you to this story: which actually took place at the college I attended for undergrad while I was a student there, in which two completely unrelated girls were involved in a van crash and were misidentified as each other. They didn't even look like they could be sisters!, one could see how this is certainly possible with identical twins. Also, because of this issue, I kept noticing that Leaver set up lots of circumstances to explain the questions of any potential doubters (Maddie was wearing Ella's clothing, when asked her name by first responders right after the accident, Ella was struggling to utter Maddie's name in a feeble attempt to ask about Maddie's condition, and Ella was driving Maddie's car at the time of the accident).

As the story continued past the car accident, what I found most powerful and compelling about The Secrets We Keep was that Ella, the quiet, studious, independent sister seemed 100% sure that her identity was devoid of value--that nobody would miss her. That misconception, combined with the crowds of people vociferously showing their support for "Maddie" right after the accident caused Ella to confuse popularity with personal value. ...not to say that Maddie didn't have value as a person, but just to say that she wasn't a better or more worthwhile person simply because she was more popular than Ella was. It took actually stepping into Maddie's (highly uncomfortable) shoes and pretending to be her sister for several weeks to realize that, while Maddie might have had many supporters and admirers, Ella was the beneficiary of unconditional love. Though not a "people person," her strong and meaningful relationships with her best friend (and potential boyfriend), her parents, and her art make the choice of which twin to be, which seems like a no-brainer to her at first blush, a truly difficult decision as time passes.

The Secrets We Keep deals genuinely and movingly with many serious issues: self-value and awareness, the true meaning and cost of popularity, personal ethics, the lesson that what we do can have a sometimes life-altering impact on others, substance use and abuse/underage drinking and drug use, grief, and unconditional love. If you enjoyed If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman, you may just like this book even more. This is one of the most powerful pieces of YA I've read in a long time. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Review of The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae is one of those books I've been wanting to read since it came out last year. So, when I opened my Glommable Glombox here and discovered a shiny new copy, I was stoked! I got even more excited when I saw it had been blurbed by Mindy Kaling, as I've read and enjoyed both of her memoirs--link to my review of Why Not Me? here. I found the cover of Misadventures instantly charming. Everything from Rae's awkward facial expression to her quirky ensemble was endearing to me. The bright, bold colors gave me a hint about the bright, bold personality I hoped would emanate from the memoir.

As I read more of Misadventures, I realized it was like a mashup of Kaling's memoirs (WOC whose body type doesn't align with societal standards struggles to fit in, but is considered a dork by her peers, and uses humor to gloss over here glaring social inadequacies), and Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (POC with one parent born in Africa, who has spent years living there, and who looks at Black culture part as a participant and part as an amateur Sociologist, through the veil of humor), of which my review is here. Since those are all ingredients I find supremely compelling within a memoir, and I loved Kaling's and Noah's books, I was left perplexed that I didn't enjoy Rae's own take on social awkwardness, Black identity, extended family living in Africa, and body image struggles. After all, it was well-written, equally balanced in apt observations and shameless self deprecation, and full of charming 90s pop culture references.

Rae, herself, is an empathetic narrator. I found myself rooting for her from page one. But, ultimately, I think my sense of humor just isn't compatible with her humor writing style. And, even though I didn't enjoy reading this half as much as I thought I would, I came away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the unique and timely public persona Issa Rae has crafted. That said, if you're a fan of hers, you'll want to give The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl a try. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review of Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Since I enjoyed Mindy Kaling's first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), so much, I jumped at the chance to get a free copy of her second book, Why Not Me?, for review from Blogging For Books. It did not disappoint.

I love that Kaling's writing is witty and approachable. I love that her take on women's issues and her attitude about Hollywood are both totally real and grounded. I love that every facet of this book, from the back cover design to the endpaper graphics, from the photos to the author bio is completely in line with Kaling's identity and absurdly hilarious.

My favorite part of Why Not Me? was easily the section with the chapter about beauty advice here Kaling talked about hair. She uncovered the--let's be honest, no longer surprising--truth that pretty much everyone on TV has fake hair. The picture of "her" before all of the Hollywood styling (a photo of Gollum from LOTR made me laugh out loud... not just because I have a friend who has hair thinning due to some medical problems who recently described herself as having had "Gollum hair," but also because I admired the ladyballs (yeah, just like in Easy A) to admit that nobody looks like they do on screen in real life, and to encourage the women reading her book not to compare themselves and their appearances to a standard of beauty she herself can't even attain without a whole team of stylists and a barrage of beauty products.

If you like Kaling herself and find her funny, enjoy her TV show, or devoured her first book, grab this one for sure!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review of Where The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

I remember how Something Like Normal got me through several tedious hours during an extended hospital stay. So, when I came across Where The Stars Still Shine, also by Trish Doller, on a list of recommended YA titles that portrayed PTSD well, I knew I had to check it out from my local library. However, I'm not a fan of the cover design, because I feel it doesn't capture the mood or themes of the book at all. I don't know if I'm like other readers of Where The Stars Still Shine, but I spent the entire time desperately wanting to see the inside of that Airstream, so I wish that had been incorporated into the cover concept somehow.

Where The Stars Still Shine opens twelve years after Callie's mom Veronica--a woman clearly not fit to be a custodial parent, who is off her meds for Borderline Personality Disorder--has kidnapped her and raised her on the run, so as to keep Callie away from her father and extended family in Florida. When Veronica is pulled over for driving a stolen car on yet another one of their last-minute moves to flee from yet another one of her scary boyfriends who is inappropriate with Callie (There have been many--hence Callie's PTSD.), Callie finds herself suddenly in the custody of a father she hasn't seen in over a decade, and amidst a huge extended Greek family in a Florida tourist town, not quite knowing where she fits in.

There were many things to like about Where The Stars Still Shine. I particularly enjoyed the contrasts shown between modern Greek-American culture and Greek-themed performances and products meant for tourists. I also appreciated Doller's representation of Callie's PTSD, which was both apt and sensitively done. The awkwardness and difficulty Callie experiences in renegotiating her relationship with her dad upon their reunion feels realistic, and develops both characters well. And her friendship with cousin Kat keeps things lively and interesting. Also, this book features one of the most hilariously-run bookstores I've ever encountered in fiction. (I would love to browse through its cheeky shelf-talkers, maybe even more than browsing for the books themselves!)

One small thing that bothered me--and is so typical in YA--is that Doller gave Callie, a girl who refuses to attend school, and who hasn't been enrolled in years, a deep-seated love of books and reading. Of course, I have nothing against characters who like to read! But, the problem comes in when, like in Callie's case, this trait, which is oft mentioned and shapes a minor sideplot of the story, feels as if it was taken from the author's own life and has been plunked down onto a character for whom it is the most unlikely of fits. In addition to the fact that most kids who enjoy reading wouldn't be totally opposed to attending school, there's the added issue that none of the books mentioned really felt like they had any connection to Callie's character, reflecting things she was trying to work through, or themes from Where The Stars Still Shine itself.

I feel like this happens quite a bit in YA, and it is an example of lazy writing, because authors do it when they don't want to do the work of truly developing a character on the page so, instead of showing readers who that person is, they try to give cultural benchmarks like "girl who would pack books when given five minutes to pack everything she wants to take before a last-minute move," or "angsty better-than-your-pop-music-listening-self teen character who is a fan of the Smiths," or, really, any of hundreds of YA characters who are featured in books set in the past few years and have inexplicable preferences for 80s movies and music, just because that's when their authors were growing up.

Ultimately, though, I found Where The Stars Still Shine to be a quick and enjoyable read--not for the romance plot, but for the family issues, the new hometown struggles, and the bits about Greek-American culture. Also, I enjoyed the setting of Tarpon Springs (which is described fairly accurately in the book, from what I can tell). It felt unique and also homey. I'd recommend this book to fans of Finding Carter and The Face On The Milk Carton.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review of When We Collided by Emery Lord

I checked out When We Collided by Emery Lord from my local library after encountering it on a roundup of YA books that do a good job portraying characters with mental illness. However, it did not live up to that promise, which was surprising, because the author's note alludes to this being an #ownvoices title. Ultimately, it felt like a  less well-written Sarah Dessen novel mixed with many plot points shamelessly copied from Party Of Five. The cover design was a disappointment to me. With Vivi's keen interest in fashion and her job at the pottery studio, and the picturesque vacation town setting, I feel like there were many aspects from the plot to draw on that would've been visually pleasing while still related to the story.

Vivi is staying with her mom in Verona Cove for the summer and working at a paint-your-own-pottery studio. She loves vintage fashion, and often sews her own clothing and undertakes other creative projects. She also has bipolar disorder. Jonah is helping to take care of his younger siblings and keep his large family together, as well as trying to keep the family's restaurant running in the aftermath of his dad's sudden death. His mom is mostly non-functional, due to grief-induced depression. When We Collided is the story of Vivi and Jonah's relationship over the course of a summer.

Aside from weak writing, plot and logic inconsistencies, and a general feeling that most of the aspects of this book were shamelessly taken from other sources and smashed together, my main complaint about When We Collided is how Emery Lord dealt with bipolar disorder and mental illness through the character of Vivi. The author's note is written in such a way that makes me think this is an #ownvoices book, inspired, at least in part, by Lord's own experiences with mental illness. That's why I found her free usage of words like crazy and insane when describing Vivi shocking. More than that, Vivi is written like just your average MPDG YA character: she has a flair for original and vintage fashion, she's impetuous and moody, she breezes into the life of a guy with real substance and shakes everything up, seemingly just because she can. 

This treatment of Vivi's character--and of Jonah's responses to her behavior--made the whole story feel like one tired YA trope, instead of a true look at what it means to be in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder. Vivi doesn't come across as an empathetic character who has a health challenge--she comes off as selfish and immature when she leverages charm and originality to get away with everything she does. To me, When We Collided didn't read as a YA summer relationship/romance-y type novel that also dealt with serious issues, as much as it read as kind of a horror story: Jonah got hooked by Vivi, and then I waited on the edge of my seat to see just how much she was going to wreak havoc on his already stressful life. It felt to me like Jonah was Vivi's victim, more than he was her love interest. I feel that's entirely the wrong way to present a character with bipolar disorder, and a relationship between that character and another one. For those reasons, I absolutely don't recommend When We Collided by Emery Lord.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review of The Princess Saves Herself In This One by Amanda Lovelace

The Princess Saves Herself In This One by Amanda Lovelace came out a few months ago, but I haven't been in a poetry mood since its release, so I didn't check it out until now. It has been on my TBR since I heard the title, which is simply irresistible, and I finally got to borrow a copy and see what Lovelace's debut poetry collection was all about. On her website, she says of this volume,  "i explore a wide variety of topics relating to child abuse, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, eating disorders, self-harm, alcoholism, death, suicide, cancer, grief, and others." So, yeah, it felt pretty heavy at times. But, she also balanced out her adept reflections on traumatic experiences and difficult feelings with poems that celebrated her love of books in general, and Harry Potter specifically. I appreciated the minimalist cover design.

As someone who would rather do pretty much nothing more than read, but struggles to build friendships, this poem echoed through my mind long after I finished reading it.

And I enjoyed these two poems because they both made me smile. I loved the simple truths they conveyed about how girls are made to feel versus how they should be free to feel. Strong feminist overtones tinged the whole book--even its darkest parts--with a sense of hope for the future. ...if not the writer's own hope for herself, then her hope for the next generation of women.

Sometimes, Lovelace's voice is light and sarcastic. Others, like when she talks about her mother's abuse, the eating disorder that stemmed from her doctor telling her mother that Lovelace was overweight and the resulting over-restrictive diet she was put on, and her journey through the deep waters of grief, as family member after family member died around her are dark and velvety. Still, no matter what she's writing about, her treatment of the subject matter is perfectly balanced between relatable and profound. Highly recommended.