Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, ApproximatelySometimes one needs to relax and unwind and be carried away on a light breeze of someone else’s problems–someone else’s not-too-big-to-be-overcome problems, that is. For me, this is what a perfect escapist read is: good writing, good story, minor issues and a tidy little ending. I use these kind of stories for palate cleansers in between heavier books and for days where I don’t want to be disturbed or sad (birthdays, holidays, vacation). So when I read about  Alex, Approximately in several review journals, where it received lots of good reviews, I mentally filed it away for a day that I would need it.

That day, it turned out, was this past Saturday, during my Birthday weekend. It was a warm and sunny day, one of the few we’ve had this season, and I just wanted to relax on the porch with a book. Alex, Approximately, turned out to be the icing on this relaxing cake of a day. Described as a kind of YA version of You Got Mail, this delightful teenage romp follows 17-year old Bailey “Mink” Rydell, as she moves across the country to live with her Dad in an idyllic California coastal town. Bailey is a classic movie buff and has made online friends with a fellow movie buff named “Alex,” who also happens to live in this idyllic coastal town. Unsure whether she is ready to tell this online person that she has moved close by,  the guarded and (literally, it turns out) gunshy Bailey decides to scope him out in person before revealing herself as his online friend. He could be a creep for all she knows! As you can imagine, hijinx ensue as Bailey quickly falls for her cocky, handsome surfer boy coworker.  I’ll let you fill in the You’ve Got Mail parallels for yourself.

I fully expected the usual romantic comedy plot line of meet cute, misunderstanding/breakup, resolution/reunion. While some of the usual tropes exist in this sweet story, it features an edge and a depth that I didn’t expect. Both Bailey and her love interest have a traumatic experience in their past that keeps them from being completely straight forward with each other and others. And a troubled local teen with a serious drug problem frequently shows up to bring real menace to their otherwise idyllic life. Still, Bennett has written an entirely pleasurable story that will keep you interested, invested and most importantly, distracted. I was sad to see it end!

Prescribed for: Anyone in need of a sweet pick-me-up of a story who doesn’t mind teen drama and perspectives. And all YA fans.

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

5-Minute Book Prescription: #ProtectTransKids or, Try a Little Empathy

When it comes to the experience of Transgender kids and which bathroom they should be allowed to use, I often hear people say, in an exasperated way, “What is the big deal with bathrooms, anyway? ” and “I don’t care if someone’s trans, I’m just tired of it being in my face all the time.”  In addition to making me grit my teeth, and clench my fists behind my back, this kind of sentiment crushes my soul a little bit. Folks, the issue is so much bigger than bathrooms. The bathroom thing is really just a symbol for a larger movement toward acceptance and understanding.

I get that it can be hard to understand the transgender experience, especially if you don’t know anyone who is transgender or gender fluid. But why not try to understand?  Books, as I’m sure you expected me to say, are an amazing resource for encouraging understanding. What better way to understand the trans worldview, than by walking in their (literary) shoes?   Here are two GREAT reads, aimed at younger readers but very accessible to adults, about being transgender.

George by Alex Gino

31ff9qjnbnl-_sx329_bo1204203200_When the world looks at George, they see a boy. But in her heart, George knows that she is a girl. She has kept this painful secret for a long time, but when her teacher tells the class that they will be doing a production of Charlotte’s Web, George is determined to play Charlotte. Her teacher tells her she cannot try out for the part, because she is a boy. George and her best friend Kelly, hatch a plan to show the class who George really is.

A very sweet, honest look into the mind and heart of a transgender kid. An ideal introduction to a different life experience for elementary-aged kids and grown ups  alike.

If I was Your Girl  by Meredith Russo
if-i-was-your-girlAmanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Fleeing a violent attack in her hometown, Amanda has come to live with her previously estranged father. With the fresh start, she quickly makes friends and attracts the attention of a few boys, one of whom she immediately falls for. But Amanda has a secret and she is terrified of the violence and hatred that might happen if it comes out: At her old school, Amanda was Andrew.

This is such a beautifully written, suspenseful love story. I really, really loved it. Highly recommended.

Prescription: These two books are essential reads for anyone struggling to understand what the “big deal” is with transgender bathroom rights. Or for anyone curious about what life is like for a transgender person, particularly a child or young adult.

 

 

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

Five Minute Book Review/Prescription: My Lady Jane

my-lady-janeSometimes you just need a distraction. And that is exactly where I found myself when I picked up My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows.  Having just started and abandoned no less than three other books (which shall remain nameless!), I was starting to feel desperate.

I was definitely attracted to this book when I saw the cover. But when I read the description, I was ALL IN.  My Lady Jane tells an alternate version of the fate of Lady Jane Grey, who was, in actual history, queen of England for nine days before being beheaded by Mary Tudor, aka Bloody Mary. In this retelling of  Tudor history, the three authors have followed the facts to a certain point before tossing it aside and writing their own, happier ending for Jane Grey.

This in itself is an intriguing and fun idea, but the authors have taken the idea even further out there, by reimaging the struggle between Catholics and Protestants as one between Edians and non-Edians. What, pray tell is an Edian? Edians are humans who have the ability to turn into animals. Some Edians have masterful control and can change at will, whereas others experience their “change” as more of a curse, and have no power over when it comes or goes. Some people in England find Edians to be abominations and would like to see them all rounded up and imprisoned or killed. Others, Lady Jane Grey included, would like to see a hospitable and collaborative relationship between Edians and Non-Edians.

The authors have made no secret of how much fun they had writing this book, and it is evident in the prose. Readers are treated to three points of view in alternating chapters: Lady Jane Grey’s, her new husband Gifford Dudley’s (an Edian who spends his days as a horse) and the sickly teenage King Edward Tudor’s. All three are an absolute delight to spend time with and their anachronistic, hilarious, sarcastic and sweet world view will make you love them. Indeed, I was so sad to reach the end of this book. In all honesty, I could not love it enough.

Prescription: The perfect read for anyone looking for something humorous, romantic and  good natured, but still steeped in historical references. Will also appeal to fans of Tudor history in general, even if everything you know about the Tudors you learned from the Showtime series, as I did.

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Prescription: Something In Between by Melissa De La Cruz

something-in-betweenWith the recent actions on immigration by President He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I keep thinking about Something in Between,  Melissa De La Cruz’s excellent and timely novel about an overachieving high school senior who discovers that her family is undocumented. Eighteen-year old Jasmine de los Santos has worked  hard throughout her school career to ensure that she will get into the  best college.  A nearly perfect student and the captain of her cheerleading team, Jasmine wins a coveted national scholarship and can’t wait to share the news of her achievement with her Filipino immigrant parents. Only, they seem less than pleased to hear the news. In fact, they seem crushed. Turns out, Jasmine and her entire family are undocumented. Her parents came to the U.S. with legit work visas, but did not leave when they expired. Jasmine has no social security number and is therefore unable to redeem her scholarship.

What’s worse, her family is in imminent danger of being deported if they are discovered, or if her father gets pulled over while driving. Jasmine is in shock. And to top it all off, she has just met a cute new boy whose father  happens to be a Republican Congressman dead set on crushing an immigration bill that would give her family a path to citizenship.

With all of these these things swirling around, Jasmine is forced to re-examine her life and goals. She must decide what steps to take and how to take them. Melissa De La Cruz does has written an excellent character in Jasmine, whose thoughtful, compassionate and level headed decisions make her sympathetic, relatable and admirable. De La Cruz expertly balances the drama of a teen romance with the practical concerns of a family in crisis.

A great read for anyone interested in, or even going through an immigration crisis of their own. Would also make a great read for someone who lacks sympathy and understanding of the plight many illegal immigrants with families. The Trump administration has a tendency to paint “illegal immigrants” as dangerous criminals, which is completely untrue and dangerous. Something in Between does a fabulous job of portraying a complex and difficult reality that many families are facing right now. Highly recommended.

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

accident-seasonI started reading this book from my library’s digital audiobook collection mostly because it was immediately available and I needed something to listen to right away! Turns out, it is a story that hits so many of my literary sweet spots. Read by excellent Irish narrator Colbie Minifie, this eerie story follows the lives of one family who, every October, are mysteriously afflicted with what they call “the accident season,” in which family members are subject to injury and disaster. From minor bumps and bruises to fatal car accidents, the accident season wreaks havoc physically and psychologically.  This year, 17-year old Cara is particularly anxious as she investigates why a missing classmate has been showing up in the background of every photograph she takes with her phone. Dark family secrets and clues to the origin of the accident season will rise to the surface. Spooky, atmospheric and overflowing with lush prose, this book will transport you to the cobblestone streets of Dublin, broken down houses in the countryside, and the chilling quiet of an Irish forest. Fanastic!

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Prescription: All we Have Left by Wendy Mills

all-we-have-leftThere are several new books for young people out about September 11 this year. Incredibly, this is the 15th anniversary of that terrible day. The significance of what happened that day is different for kids, who weren’t yet born but have grown up in the world it created. Wendy Mills’  All We Have Left is a sad, intense and action-packed read for kids about September 11. The story is engagingly told through a split narrative.

In 2001, 16 year old Muslim teenager Alia lives in New York City, where she dreams of being a comic book artist. Proud of her faith, but unsure whether or not she will wear the hijab (her mother chooses not to and has left the choice up to her), Alia struggles with being herself  and balancing both her parents expectations and desires for her and her own hopes and dreams. In other words, she is a typical teenager girl.  Until September 11. After an argument with her parents, Alia impulsively decides to visit her father at work, where she can talk to him more. His work? Inside an office near the top of the twin towers.

In 2016, Jesse is a troubled teenager girl whose brother died in the attacks on September 11.Maddeningly, his family has no idea what he was doing in the towers that day. Since his death, when Jesse was only a toddler, her family has been slowly unraveling. Her father drinks too much and yells at the news on TV, distorted with rage and pain over the loss of his son. Her mother soldiers on, seemingly oblivious to the disorder at home and frustratingly absent when Jesse needs her the most. Jesse gets wrapped up with a group of hateful kids who spend their evenings tagging local businesses and landmarks around town. After a split second decision to help them deface a new Muslim Peace Center in town, Jesse finds herself in BIG TROUBLE.

And so the story goes. Alternating chapters tell of Alia’s harrowing experience inside one of the towers on the day of the attack and Jesse’s rapidly disintegrating home life and fallout from a foolish act. At the center of the story is a mystery. As she fights her way out of the towers, Alia has a companion, a blonde, blue eyed boy who just happens to be Jesse’s lost brother.  What was he doing there ? Will Alia make it out alive? Or will she die along with Jesse’s brother?

This was a truly great read that really picks up in pace as you read it. In the beginning, it feels a lot like any other teen story. The setting and the problems are familiar. But as the action unfolds and the characters’ backgrounds are revealed, you will find yourself more and more invested. Wendy Mills does a wonderful, sensitive and nuanced job of portraying a difficult subject matter. You will feel for Jesse, despite her poor decision making and Mills does a fantastic job exploring her confused, complicated emotions about September 11 and what might make a young person participate in a racist act. Similarly, Alia is an incredible likable character who you will love spending time with . It was a pleasure to read about some of the customs and beliefs of  Islam through her wonder-filled voice.

I started the book late Friday night and finished it Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a good cry.  Despite the teen protagonists, the language and interaction between them is mild, making this a perfect read for middle school and up.

Prescription: A worthy addition to the growing canon of 9/11 literature and a story that kids will relate to. With all of the anger-fueled hate and misunderstanding still broiling in this country, All We Have Left, feels powerful and relevant.

 

 

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions

Five Minute Book Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

billyOh. This book. I listened to the entire eleven hours on audio over the course of just a few days. It was wonderfully performed by Oliver Wyman.  Billy Lynn tells the story of a group of soldiers involved in a harrowing, deadly attack in Iraq that happened to be captured on camera by a Fox News crew. Footage from the attack was widely shown on television and the (surviving) members of the Bravo squad are sent home on a whirlwind  “victory” tour.  Focusing on one dizzying stop on their tour, most of the book takes place during a Dallas Cowboys game in which the squad is awkwardly placed at the center of a firework-laden halftime show starring Beyonce.

Author Ben Fountain really drives home his painfully accurate but satirical perspective on America during the mid 2000s, when Bush was still in the White House. Readers observe the absurdity of the soldiers’ experience through the somewhat innocent view of 19 year old Billy, who held his friend’s  head in his lap as he died during the attack. Billy is in a state of flux. Traumatized by the attack and nauseated by the bland, disconnected bullshit of clueless Americans congratulating him on his “sacrifice, bravery, courage,” etc., Billy struggles with the knowledge that, following the tour, they will be sent right back to Iraq.

The most powerful part of this story is Billy’s interaction with his sister, who blames herself for Billy’s presence in Iraq. After a car accident left her face somewhat disfigured, her fiancee broke off their engagement. Protective younger brother Billy attacked the fiancee’s car and, in lieu of jail time, was encouraged to enlist. Billy and his sister’s relationship is so sweet, so dead on accurate, it will absolutely break your heart.

In November, it will be released as a major motion picture directed by Ang Lee. Check out the trailer here.

PRESCRIPTION: The perfect read for anyone who still thinks it was a good idea to invade Iraq and Afghanistan (do those people exist?).  This is a great book to illustrate the futility of war, the irreparable damage it does to those who fight it, and the hypocrisy of rich white men riding high on a false sense of the “glory of war.” You may also want to send it (anonymously) to any Trump supporters in your life.