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Maddie Reviews: Emma by Jane Austen

9 Jul

Earlier this year, I decided to deviate from my usual reading material and go for something a bit different. I got a copy of Emma through a free book something-or-other, and decided- why not? I had been inspired to start reading Jane Austen because of Gwyneth Paltrow, The Mother Daughter Book Club series, and just because it sounded like something that would be more interesting to me. I figured that if I was going to finally start to brave literature from the early 1900s, why not start with something a bit gossipy and love triangle oriented?

You’ve probably heard of this book before. It was the last book that the famous Jane Austen published in her lifetime. Its heroine is the witty and intelligent but extremely nosy Emma, a member of the higher branch of English society from around the eighteen hundreds. As the publisher description adequately describes her, “she was beautiful, clever, rich, and single.” She is set apart from her peers (and, I think, other heroines of her time) by being content to remain perfectly clever and single. As she says in the book, “’I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature, and I do not think I ever shall.’” Certainly, the main plot point of the story is her delightful nosiness.

In the very beginning, she sets out to match her new charge/protégé, the young Miss Harriet, an orphan of unknown parentage, to the handsome, young, and wealthy Mr. Elton. Emma decides she must take Harriett under her wing after her main companion, the former Miss Taylor turned Mrs. Weston, is married. Making matches and getting into people’s business is our dear protagonist Emma’s favorite pastime. The story evolves to include the interesting twists and turns of Emma’s scheme, with some things extremely unexpected, and others that could be guessed from the beginning – for, really, what is a Jane Austen novel without romance?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I noticed how Jane Austen seemed to use some facts of English society in the story, remark about them in a clever prose, and then (very subtly) make fun of them, as if to say, through her characters and their actions, that some aspects of society were just plain stupid. To give a specific example I have in mind would spoil some of the book, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Another thing I liked about this book were all the different characters. There is the disagreeable friend of Emma’s, Mr. Knightly, her father, Mr. Woodhouse, who seems to have a rather stalkerish obsession with their town doctor, Perry (and health), the young, slightly dimwitted Miss Harriet, and the dapper Mr. Elton.

I also love her use of language. It was the kind of book that you are bursting at the seams to read in a British accent, and cuddle up with a cup of mint tea, a blanket, and a small dog by the fireplace.

There were things about this book that I wasn’t as fond of. First, there are spaces in places they simply shouldn’t be. The same can be said of the letter u, and other odd things that appear in places that they don’t in American English. The book, while much more interesting, than, say, The Scarlet Letter, is still a bit tedious and hard to read at times. The plot as well, or at least parts of it, was extremely predictable. For example, I knew that ______ would end up with ______ and that ______ would, like, NEVER work out, and they’d end up back with _______ . . . I think you get my point. Saying all of this, though, it was still readable.

If you struggle sometimes with regular English, let alone older English, and classics just aren’t for you, then you may want to wait a few more years to tackle Emma. On the other hand, I highly recommend this book if you like classics, or want to start reading them. This book is most definitely a great place to begin! Also, if you appreciate love complications and just all-around extremely satisfying (read for five hours straight in a very large generously stuffed chair) books, you’d definitely adore this one.

So, pick up Emma, by Jane Austen: It’s a great way to start reading classics, and to perfect that British accent.

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Originally published in 1815 by John Murray

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are also posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog.

Maddie Reviews: Code Name Verity

4 May

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!

Code Name Verity was an amazing and thought-provoking book. As I have said before to those I know (in post-novel babbling disorder), I love fantasy and science fiction, and yet, despite this love, the genres that really GET me. . . the genres that affect me and leave a lasting impact are realistic and historical fiction. Code Name Verity is, I believe, the epitome of why this is true.

This story starts out with the narrative of “Verity”, a prisoner of the Gestapo in Nazi occupied France during World War Two. The time is October of 1943, and “Verity” is a Special Operations Executive for the Allies. She was sent to France to help with the French Resistance, but in the first 48 hours of her mission, she looks the wrong way when crossing the street and someone notices, which leads to her capture. She arrived in France by way of plane flown by her best friend (Maddie Brodatt, an English First Officer with the Air Trasnsport Auxiliary), but their plane is hit by an antiaircraft gun and crash lands. “Verity” gets out by parachuting, but she never finds out what happened to Maddie before she is caught. She (and the Gestapo) can only believe that Maddie is dead. Through torture by the Nazis, she goes on to reveal her story to the captain. She tells much of it through the eyes of her best friend. The book has many, many, many unexpected twists and turns, and has so many delicious spoiling opportunities, I can’t even explain farther than the first 57 pages without giving away something you really wouldn’t want to know.

I loved this book.

It was brilliant. It was historical. It was heart-wrenching. It was heart-warming. . . it was, without a doubt, an illustrious, absolutely stellar novel. I loved the characters – Queenie, “Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous”. The one who you would normally think of as the character you hate, but. . . you just. . . can’t. Then Jamie, the favorite brother and subject of Fear Number Three. There was the Bloody Machiavellian Intelligence Officer, who really doesn’t have a huge role, but whose “name” is brilliant. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, the Nazi captain with a soft spot for children. They all resonated with me, in some form or another.

In this book, I also loved the historical aspect. Now, I know that it IS historical fiction, but this book seemed especially well-researched and thought out. It almost felt like you were reading an extremely descriptive biography. I don’t know that much about World War II, but I certainly learned a lot by reading this, especially about how women were involved, specifically in the UK.

This leads me to another thing about this book that I appreciated. It showed a different, less explored point of view. Regarding the second World War, most of the fictional literature that exists is about the Holocaust – or, at least, everything I have come in contact with. This book shows the different perspective of the people actually fighting in Britain. To tell the truth, I have never really thought about that viewpoint.

Finally, this book made me cry. All of the best books that I’ve read make me cry – and they are all historical or realistic fiction. You get so wrapped up in the story, and, as I mentioned earlier, it feels like you are reading a biography. The characters come to life, and it takes a few minutes when you’ve finished to remember that they’re fictional. Code Name Verity really provides some thought (and makes me appreciate my nickname).

I loved this book a lot, but there were a few things that were less perfect. I suppose that the time it took Verity to write her confession novel was a bit unbelievable. Would she really have gotten that much time? Probably not. Also, Verity’s many names were hard to either keep track of or adjust to. Right after you had just gotten familiar with calling her one name, she would introduce another, and you would have to re-order your picture of her in your mind to get familiar with it, just like some of the plot twists in the story. Oh, the plot twists! I sometimes pride myself in predicting what is going to happen in a book, for, really, I am usually right. But in THIS book, I was continually shocked and surprised, marveling at how I really didn’t see some of the things coming. I loved it. Nevertheless, as with the name changing, it got confusing, which I believe can be both good and bad. It is puzzling the first time around, and you may want to reread some paragraphs over again, but in the long run, it makes you want to reread the book. Basically, the quote from the New York Times on the front cover explains it nicely: it’s “a fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel.” I feel that it is one of the books that doesn’t get old very easily, and you can spot something new every single time. Lastly, I suppose the worst thing about this book was that it took me six days to read the first 84 pages. The start seemed very slow, and I kept reading it in little increments. I discovered that you have to start this book when you have a good long time to just sit down and READ. After you get over the initial hump, the plot drags you in, and then you’re glued until the finish.

I would recommend this book to absolutely EVERYONE to read. If you like historical fiction, then this is a must. Its plot, as well as its characters, are well-crafted, and it tells an inspiring overarching tale of friendship that makes you love it to bits. That said, though, you have to have tolerance for descriptions of things you may not know anything about, like wireless operators, Puss Moths, and Nazi officer rankings, so you might want to have an interest in the time period.

So, the bottom line is. . . READ THIS BOOK. It is amazing, thought provoking, and tells a tale of friendship that you simply cannot miss.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (2012)

Maddie Reviews: The Diviners

25 Mar

Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show last year when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog and here’s one of her latest reviews, which I thought you all would enjoy!

I have very interesting friends, and it is because of them that I read this book. My one friend was reading this in the library at school, when my other (slightly crazy) friend came up behind her and started reading her page aloud with various interesting voices. The next thing I knew, my slightly crazy friend was reading the book too, and giving more commentary. (“Ooo! I think Tommy’s going to die! DON’T GO IN THERE, TOMMY!”) They both talked about how good the book was, and had several silent screaming fests when they discussed it afterwards. . . So, my curiosity got the better of me, and I absolutely had to read it.

The Diviners
This book, The Diviners, by Libba Bray, primarily focuses on the main protagonist, Evangeline (Evie) O’Neill. It starts out with her being exiled to New York City to cool off (the reasons being along the lines of her accusing the town golden boy of knocking up a chambermaid at a particularly boisterous party). It takes place in the 1920’s, so as the cover remarks, New York is stuffed to the brim with speakeasies, pickpockets, Ziegfeld girls and silent pictures. “The city ran on corruption as much as electricity.” Evie’s only reservation about leaving her small town was that she’d be stuck living with her Uncle Will, who owned a museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, otherwise know by New Yorkers as the museum of Creepy Crawlies- a place “arrears on its taxes”.

Anyway, Evie, known to her small town as “that awful O’Neill girl” a flapper through and through, also had a gift- or rather, a supernatural power. She could take an object that was important to the person whose item she was examining, and get. . . sort of. . . transported to a scene in the person’s life when they possessed that object.

Also going on in this book are POV’s (points of view) from different characters, the other main POV being a character named Memphis, who was a numbers-runner for Papa Charles, “the undisputed king of Harlem”. Memphis too, had a gift- a different gift, though he hadn’t used it in a long time, for when he needed it most, his ability had failed him. There are other characters in this story, too, ranging from the reserved assistant of Evie’s uncle, Jericho, who (guess what!?) hides a secret, to Theta, a Ziegfeld girl and friend of Evie’s. She, (Theta) lived in an apartment with her “brother”, fleeing from her past-and, yes, her gift.

There are many interesting characters, but the main plot point of the story is about a series of murders, done by a serial killer whom the reader knows from the beginning, called Naughty John. The victims were branded with a cryptic, mysterious symbol and a note. Evie’s uncle was called to the scene by the police, as the killings seemed to be religious or occultish in nature, and the rest of the book unfolds with Evie realizing that her gift could help catch the killer. Evie, Sam, (another character; a NYC pickpocket), her uncle, and Jericho discover in the process of solving the case that the killings were the start of something bigger.

Personally, I enjoyed this book (for the MOST part). I loved the complicated weaving of the storyline. I loved the third-person storytelling, and how it switched POV’s constantly from a random aristocrat to the wind. I loved the names- especially me, being a name fanatic, encountering names such as Memphis and Theta gives me an embarrassingly large dose of satisfaction. Perhaps, my favorite thing, though, was the historical fiction aspect. I swear, I’ve learned more about the twenties, the Harlem Renaissance, and Prohibition than I have from ever watching a PBS special. Because of this book, I can recite ten examples of flapper slang off the top of my head. Finally, I started reading it the same afternoon I got it, and finished it the next morning. So, yes, it was THAT good- the kind of good that you sit and stare at for a couple minutes afterward, and get bug-eyed when you realize that THERE IS A SEQUEL.

There were things about this book that I did not appreciate as much. . . the main thing being the ending. It had a very last-minute relationship plot twist that I just did not like. Besides that, the only other real flaw that stayed with me was that the characters sometimes aggravate the reader- (Dude! Don’t go in there! Are you STUPID!? There’s a creepo! OR THERE! DON’T WALK INTO A RANDOM ABANDONED WAREHOUSE!!! OR under a creepy bridge! ESPECIALLY when the psychic ten-year-old told you NOT to!) . Lastly, depending on your perspective, you might think that the book talks a little bit TOO much about Prohibition and other subjects along those lines.

I would not recommend this book to someone who doesn’t like really creepy books-there are scenes from the POV of some of the victims (at one point, it seems like someone dies every other chapter). Also, if you do not like more complex plots or the whole Armageddon bit.

BUT, if you DO enjoy any of the above. . . or, well, even if you don’t, you should pick up Diviners by Libba Bray, because you can bet on your life-ski that you’ll enjoy it.

Maddie’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012)

Guest Review: Sloppy Firsts

15 Aug

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

Jessica Darling’s life began to change the night her best friend Hope “U-hauled ass out of Pineville.” It’s the middle of the school year and Jessica’s remaining social network consists of the “Clueless Crew”, three girlfriends with whom she has nothing in common, and Scotty, a friend from childhood whose changing feelings for her leave Jessica continually doubting the sincerity of his friendship. Alienated in her own life, Jessica begins to push her own boundaries and finds an unlikely friendship in a forbidden stranger named Marcus Flutie.

Sloppy Firsts is a story about how life begins to change and how the choices we make affect that change. As this blog reminds us, Young Adult isn’t just for teens. As a matter of fact, I’d argue that the term “young adult” has been co-opted to apply to teens when in truth it’s a sliding timeline. Through the vulnerable, yet bitingly hilarious voice of her 16 year old protagonist, McCafferty offers timeless insights on friendship, love and even gender roles – “Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or Smart. Guess which one I got?” Jessica Darling’s observations are sharp – her responses to them honest and hilarious.

I was totally drawn in by Marcus Flutie and Jessica’s quest to unravel her interest in him. McCafferty beautifully develops the connection between Jessica and Marcus as a tender one of mutual discovery, while still stinging with adolescent realism. I especially like her use of the female body to illustrate how physical and emotional experiences intertwine. Though, at first I was disappointed in myself for getting caught up in the “romantic” aspect of the story, the characters offer more depth than a trite teen crush. Marcus speaks to what Jessica is lacking in herself. Whereas her friendship with Hope was a safe place where Jessica could be herself, unchanged and unharmed, her friendship with Marcus offers her a site for discovering what is unknown, even within her own head and heart.

I’m definitely getting Second Helpings.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Broadway (August 2001)

Blogger We Believe In: Capillya of That Cover Girl

5 Jul

We are excited to welcome Capillya of That Cover Girl to Love YA Lit this month to share some of her YA faves. In addition to loving her blog and her focus on cover art, we also follow her book reviews on goodreads and suggestions on twitter and run to the library/bookstore to check out any book that gets her stamp of approval. While she’s still not quite sure she’s a legit blogger (since she doesn’t own any animals nor has ever watched Friday Night Lights), her love of design and reading inspired her to create a blog dedicated to awesome (and awful) YA cover art. Her producer job helps finance her unhealthy spending on sneakers, baked goods, and of course, books.

First off, can I say how honored I am to even be on Em & Nora’s blog talking about a few of my favorite books? It’s an interesting breath of fresh air to not pick apart a novel’s cover art, that’s for sure. I’ve spent so much of my time just looking at design, typography, negative space and texture. I’ve gotten distracted by die-cuts and debossing, so much so that it’s a little awkward to talk about a novel’s real story. I hope I give these few books the respect they deserve without completely turning you off by my incessant fangirling.

I’ll start with this gem of a novel:

I didn’t understand what authors meant when they talked about “voice” until I read Marcelo in the Real World. I was immediately taken in by the sweet and gentle Marcelo, a teenager living with a form of autism. At its heart, Marcelo tackles the harshness of the real world as experienced by a perspective that was completely strange to me — Marcelo didn’t understand the greed, selfishness, and heartlessness outside his safe boundaries of his home and school. He didn’t understand how that translated within his father’s law firm and spread throughout his social circles. It was so different just being inside his head, and I loved every minute of it. I loved Marcelo so much that I wanted to know more about the characters and where they would journey to after I finished the last page.

As someone who generally doesn’t like faces on covers, I named Ally Carter’s Heist Society one of my top covers of 2010. And while I don’t feel like the Katarina Bishop on the cover represents the character within its pages, it did absolutely nothing to tarnish the story inside. Heist Society is exactly what its title states, a story about a group of con artists — professional (teen) art thieves. Katarina Bishop is one of my all-time favorite characters. She’s quick, calculating, discerning, and her brain is always on fire. What’s more, she heads up an amazing ensemble of characters, each written completely differently yet fitting perfectly within the group. And most people who are fans of this book will ooh and ahh over Hale. Well guess what? I’m a card-carrying member of that fan club, too.

Oh, Parker Fadley. Your story was one of the grittiest ones I’d ever read in the YA realm. You are the queen of the mean girls, and yet I couldn’t help but love you in the end of this novel. Yes, Cracked Up to Be was the debut brainchild of the talented Courtney Summers, folks. It was this novel that put her on my insta-buy list from now and forevermore. Cracked Up to Be is a no holds barred story about a girl with a messed up past, trying to make sense of the messed up present, and where as a reader you’re trying to decipher her messed up future. There’s a mystery element to it, and while I realized what was happening pretty early on in the story, it didn’t repel me in the least — Summers’ razor-sharp writing kept me turning quickly from page to page.

Every time I see this cover it makes me cringe, but the story of Meg and John kind of makes my heart want to explode. It’s an interesting feeling, that’s for sure.

The first Echols novel I’d read was The Ex Games, which I enjoyed. But I wasn’t sure what to think about Going Too Far when I first picked it up (especially when I saw that hideous cover). Shortly after reading it, I declared Echols the YA queen of dialogue, tension, and storytelling all rolled into one person. Both Meg and John are driven by two completely different motives throughout this novel and yet they molded so perfectly to each page. Curious that not a lot of things actually happen in this story, but the way the characters are written and how they interact — you never want to see them apart, ever.

I couldn’t agree more with Jaclyn Moriarty’s blurb on the front of this silly-lookin’ cover. Every time a blogger likens an upcoming novel to Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen, my eyes go all wide, full of expectation and hope. With one of the best summaries I’ve read on the back of a novel, Dairy Queen is one of those stories that hit close to heart because swimming around in its soul is the essence of family. It also hits close to home because my husband’s grandparents are small-town dairy farmers, and D.J. Schwenk is freakishly similar to how I envision my mother-in-law was at her age. I just loved D.J. as a person. She’s hard-working and no-nonsense, but also still a realistic teen with her worries and attitude. I still haven’t brought myself to read the other two books in the series because I loved the way this novel ended.

Be sure to visit Capillya over at That Cover Girl! You will not be disappointed!

Girl Power: the Nineties Revolution in Music

11 Jan

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

My record collection is organized by race and gender and it pains me to say that the white male section is nearly the same size as the white women, non-white women, and non-white men’s sections combined. Clearly this is not completely accurate research, but I use this example to illustrate how dominant white male influence has been on the music industry, even in the personal collection of an educated, girl-band supporting feminist. However, the largest decade reflected in my female collection is the 90s, a pivotal decade that permanently inserted the female experience into music. From Bikini Kill to Britney Spears, Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music chronicles women’s integration into and influence on music in the 1990s and reminds us of a host of revolutionary acts that are in danger of being lost on current and future generations.

Meltzer’s manuscript is a cohesive fusion of history, advocacy and personal narrative that ultimately serves to inform. The author’s investment in her subject matter is directly attended to as she inserts her own experience into the dialogue, offering a personal experience of one girl that also reflects the unique experiences of many. I was in my formative years during the 90s, ages 12-22 to be exact, and from Madonna to Hole to Tori Amos, I discovered and defined myself by my relationship to that music. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville remains one of the most influential albums of my life – required listening for every teenage girl.

Girl Power is chock full of information and the first few chapters offer an insightful history of the riot grrrl movement and the creation of female-billed music festivals. Meltzer guides her readers through a timeline that chronicles the shift from grrrl power to girl power, the former a feminist movement reflecting girls’ concerns and the latter a marketing tool employed by the music industry to capitalize on young girls’ increased consumer presence. She also offers interesting insights on the cultural implications reflected in the changing landscape of pop music, i.e. the difference between Madonna and Britney. My only critique is to suggest that the 90s also the decade to boasted a proliferation of black female artists: Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, TLC, En Vogue. Though there are brief mentions of Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, little attention is given to non-white artists or any genre outside of rock.

Meltzer closes with a call for community and collaboration, and a subtle hint towards girl made music – “When girls in their bedrooms around the world recognize they’re connected – via the internet, their experiences, their love of the same pop culture – they will see that the flaw in girl power is to fixate on the individual; real power will come when they decide to band together.”

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Marisa Meltzer
Publisher: Faber & Faber (February 2010)

Note: In the book Meltzer discussed the film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains. See this movie! It is awesome and stars Diane Lane and Laura Dern when they were teens!

Girl Power Playlist from Alicia

Silent All These Years – Tori Amos
Bitch Theme – Bratmobile
This Ain’t Pleasure – L7
Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
Drunk Butterfly – Sonic Youth
Flower – Liz Phair
Cannonball – Breeders
anonymous – Sleater Kinney
Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple
Asking For It – Hole
U.N.I.T.Y. – Queen Latifah
Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
That I Would Be Good – Alanis Morrissette
On & On – Erykah Badu

And a few video highlights from the playlist!

Guest Review: The Carrie Diaries

9 Nov

Our good friend Jacinta recently connected us with Alicia – a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and will be guest posting with us here at Love YA Lit from time to time!

Sex and the City the television series ended six years ago. One might find this hard to believe, considering the characters and the lavish lifestyles they live have been far from gone in the mainstream media. The latest installment in the SATC enterprise is The Carrie Diaries, author Candace Bushnell’s young-adult novel that introduces audiences to Carrie Bradshaw as they’ve never seen her before – 17, virginal and unsure of how to fulfill her dream becoming a writer. The young Bradshaw struggles through adolescence the same way her adult self struggled through her 30s, and with just as much, if not more, wit and insight. It’s easy to see how Carrie became Carrie as Bushnell chronicles a very real, and entertaining, teenage experience using the skills we’ve come to know her for: realistic dialogue, relatable, yet flawed, friendships and capturing the excitement and emotion of the first moments of love.

As a feminist scholar and critic, and an advocate for girl-friendly media, I was plagued by very familiar annoyances in the reading. Although adult Carrie admits in SATC (season 4, episode 17) that her father left when she was a toddler, Bushnell posits high-school Carrie as the eldest of three girls being raised by their father since their mother died a few years earlier. Although a single dad raising three young women is certainly an alternative to the status-quo, it is not more or less feminist than a mother, working full time and raising 3 daughters. And in the case of the latter, it provides something very important missing in both fiction and film – positive female role models.

The debate over Bushnell’s characters and their choices has been raging since the debut of the original series. In The Carrie Diaries, the author offers her own feminist commentary that is neither subtle, nor convincing. In a chapter dedicated to Carrie’s discovery of feminism, the 12 year old visits her local library to see her mother’s favorite (fictional) feminist Mary Gordon Clark speak. The young Bradshaw is chagrined by the woman’s gruff and judgmental manner, leaving her to ponder “How can you be a feminist when you treat other women like dirt?” An excellent question, though I’d be interested in asking Bushnell “Why all feminists must be represented as angry, elite meanies?”

Unlike her adult counterpart, whose friendships offered support, honesty and resilience in the face of obstacles, the high school Carrie is surrounded by a group of friends that are competitive, highly emotional, or just plain bitchy. Her most passionate moments include falling for a narcissistic, but gorgeous guy who eventually cheats on her with her best friend, developing her voice as a writer with the support of the Brown-attending George, and eventually being published in the school paper, with the help and support of the paper’s editor – her friend’s boyfriend.

As a lover of pop-culture and an advocate for media literacy among the youth, especially girls, I was encouraged to find the positive elements of a story that will surely resonate with a large audience. Although Carrie’s mother is absent in reality, she is ever present in the lives of her daughters, all of which are struggling to maintain her legacy while evolving into who they will be as individuals. The biting, yet quirky, humor that endeared me to Carrie on SATC punctuates the tensest moments in the novel as Carrie offers teen-appropriate insights like, “Funny always makes the bad things go away.” Unfortunately, comparing the young Carrie to the character she became on the series leaves me no less than disappointed. The Carrie created here comes out an evolved and matured being, moving forward into the next phase of her life, something that was remiss of her character when the SATC series ended, and further exacerbated in the following two films. In fact, I’d favor a film version of The Carrie Diaries over both SATC films.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Candace Bushnell
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 2010)

Review originally posted at pop!goesalicia July 2010.

Author Adele Griffin on Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War

30 Sep

“You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set up here. The greed part—a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part—watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they’re safe in the bleachers. That’s why it works, Carter, because we’re all bastards.”
–Archie Costello, The Chocolate War

It has been over thirty-five years since Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War was published—a book that holds a third place position in the American Library Association’s Most Banned Books of this past decade. Wow. Who knew. (Me, I didn’t, until I looked up the list.) So what’s the big deal about this book, one of my own top three most beloved YA novels of all time? Aside from its violence, strong language, and the sacrilege of corrupt priests who make tactic agreements with their most powerful students in order to enforce Groupthink? Well, sure. There’s that. But I believe what really makes Cormier’s The Chocolate War the Oh-No-He-Didn’t book of Time Unending is its philosophical position that human nature is an inexorably dark place, and that the power of the mob is most dangerous when it is turned onto the spectacle of suffering. It’s a grim summation, diametrically opposed to the viewpoint most notably expressed by Anne Frank’s earnest (if ironic) belief that: “Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart.”

When I first read this book, many years ago, I, too, was attending a small Catholic school very close to Cormier’s Leominster, Massachusetts. At the time, most of the book’s so-called shockers glanced off me. I wasn’t undone by the intellectual, bullying Archie—my school had its share of brutal manipulators. And I’d had my run-ins with real-live meanie nuns. For me, the most brilliant angle of Cormier’s multi-faceted, near-perfect gem of a YA was the fact that no matter how chaotic, how insufferable Jerry Renault’s life became, he still had. To go. To school. Had to show up and endure whatever fresh pain and humiliation lay in store for him. Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, Jerry Renault had to adapt a stance, and from that stance, just deal. And Cormier knew that like no other author I had ever read before.

The unique conundrum of the Young Adult novel, the one unalterable plot point of the genre, is that you can’t quit high school. As in: you can’t be promoted or fired or relocated or get saved by a Sabbatical, or even—except in the most rare of instances—just take a semester off. In order to survive, you need to figure out your strongest sense of self, and kick that self out the door into another day, every single day, until you get your mortarboard.

In my own book, The Julian Game, where the online bullies are anonymous and home has ceased to be a respite from the daily grind, my protagonist, Raye, is in the same predicament, and that mortarboard feels very far away, indeed. But it would be impossible for me to write a YA novel about betrayal, revenge, violence, bullies, self-reliance, and the stance of the Peaceful Warrior without looking at the path Cormier has forged. While he chose a rough setting in which to place his diamond, and while the entire story unfolds without a single text message or Google search, any teen today could slip inside Jerry’s skin and know that it fits as easily and protects as thinly in 2010 as it did in 1974. It is the book’s relevance, above all, that continues to dazzle us, not just from the summit of any given Banned Books list, but from the apex of literary excellence.

– Adele Griffin, September 28th, 2010, Banned Books Week

Adele Griffin is a critically acclaimed author of novels for children and young adults. Be sure to check out Adele’s beautiful new website, the quirky-fun site for The Julian Game, and of course her novels for young adults! Thank you for sharing with us!

Adele’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Pantheon (1974)