Oh Marie Lu, how much do I regret accidentally spoiling this series for myself?

Prodigy by Marie Lu

I had heard that this series was good, really, really good so when I saw one of them on shelf I was like “hey! this one looks like the first book, let’s listen to it on the drive to work.”

It wasn’t the first book.

On the other hand, it was really, really good.

So I strongly recommend anyone who liked Hunger Games or Divergent pick up this series immediately if not sooner. Also anyone who likes smart writing. Or cool heroes and heroines. Or really books. If you like books you should hunt down this series. Right now.

It’s basically impossible to talk about this book without spoiling it, and also the books that come before it and it’s bad enough I spoiled that for myself, I don’t want to ruin it for everyone.

Instead then I will mention a bit about why I think this world is so cool.

The Republic and the Colonies make up the former United States in this book and their distinct cultures really made sense. The Republic is militarism taken to an insane level, a country where the military doesn’t just fight enemies but it is literally the only thing you can do with your life. The Colonies take consumerism and drive it to an oppressive level. I thought this was amazingly cool. Two huge factors in American society, culture and identity ,which are  kind of at war with each other in the lives and policies of American people and political structure driven to a place where they are both destructive and crippling for the people who live in them. Neat, complex and really what futurist fiction should do – drive us to question the present.

I also loved the international community’s view of the former United States. As rogue nations that continues to wage war on each other with no interest in peace and a dependency on foreign aid.  It’s hard to consider, once you’ve got to know and love people in the Republic, what our attitudes towards other countries are when they are in similar situations and not feel a little guilt and confusion. Again, great fiction is meant to make us think about our lives and our society and our choices.

And of course, mixed in with this is an awesome story of two people trying to find their way through a world they don’t understand. And that’s awesome too.

Now, go forth and read this series.

Last movie I watched:

Despicable Me 2!! Or as I like to call it, Minions. It was adorable

Last TV episode I watched:

Charmed. BYE BYE PRUE

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A truly Wonder-filled book

Wonder by R J Palacio

This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. Like ever. It was completely breathtaking. And laugh out loud funny. And sob alone in your car sad. And restore your faith in humanity happy. And crippling hatred towards horrible judgmental humans sad. Complex and incredible.

It’s the story of August Pullman, born with a staggeringly unlikely combination of genes that left him with an incredibly unusual face. Years of life threatening complications and plastic surgeries have kept him from attending school. But now he’s going into grade 5 at a real school.

That’s all. Just the story of a boy going to school for the first time. But it’s so much more because Auggie is an amazing boy. Most of the story is told from Auggie’s perspective but we also get to hear Via (his older sister), Jack and Summer (August’s new friends), Justin (Via’s boyfriend) and Miranda (Via’s former best friend). And there’s so much I’d love to talk about, but I really, really, really think this should be required reading before you can get a driver’s licence so I’m going to try not to spoil anything.

Instead I’ll just mention a few things that I thought the book handled really well. One would be disability. August opens the book explaining that he thinks he’s just a normal boy, but the world will never see him that way and he says he won’t describe his face, because whatever we’re thinking is probably worse. And as the book went on I found myself keeping track of the little details dropped about August’s face but it kind of made my uncomfortable with myself. After all, does that make me like the people in the story? Preoccupied with August’s face and missing the smart, fun, kind kid underneath? But the book also does a good job with handling that too. Jack particularly says that August’s face is hard to get used to, but once you do, he’s a great friend and that’s why I think the book has a complex and realistic description of how we handle people who are a little bit “other.” We have to adjust to them, and that doesn’t make us bad people, but it does hurt them, because in their world they are as normal as anyone else.

I also really enjoyed how the book wasn’t just about August’s struggle. Each of the narrators hurt really badly in their own way, the thing that makes them “others” wasn’t visible, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Via has struggled her whole life with the feeling her parents care more about her brother, and despite loving him, is struggling with her identity as his older sister. Summer, August’s very generous friend lost her father a few years ago. Jack’s family is extremely poor and most of their money pays for his attendance at the prep school, so even with his friends he feels isolated. Justin aches for parents who care about him at all, longs for Via’s loving family. Miranda’s parents divorce drives her life in a different direction suddenly, away from Via and Auggie. I really liked the idea that everyone’s got a pain they hide, but August just doesn’t have that option, and that makes his life that much harder.

Lastly, although it was a little heavy on the feel-good factor, the impact Auggie has on his school makes it really hard not to hope that the world is getting better, despite some pretty terrible events, and sometimes that’s just nice.

Also note that the audio production was really well done, with different narrators doing each character’s voices in turn. That was neat.

I saw a talk once by an author who said we needed our children to read because reading encourages empathy. This book is the absolute prime example of that. It’s not subtle but it’s important.

Last movie I watched

I Frankenstein. So I liked the literary references and the effects had their moments for sure, but over all I think…. WTF?!

Last TV episode I watched

Charmed! One of the creepiest ones ever ’cause the baddy was actually just a person doing crazy things. So you know, life like.

 

If this is what dance class is actually like, no wonder I dropped out

Dance Class: So You Think You Can Hip Hop? by Beka and Crisp

Well this book is pretty much everything I hate about girl books.Like pretty much everything. The cover of the book is enthusiastically pink and purple. The characters are the 1) pretty blonde girl 2) the black girl 3) the bitch and 4) the fat one. Seriously, this is a thing that actually happened. It’s brutal and chock full of all the anti-feminist drivel you can possibly handle. Including, but not limited too, a token minority who’s race has nothing to do with her identity (because your race isn’t in any way important to who you are or how you’re perceived at all), the “fat one” who isn’t actually fat in the pictures but we know is fat because the other characters talk about how she’s fat (please let’s talk about how this is the worst possible message we could give to girls), the bitchy character who is mean for no reason at all (because all girls are bitches to each other, it’s the only way to get what we want), and the blonde one who exemplifies everything we should all strive to be (because if we’re nice, work hard and are pretty enough, there’s nothing we can’t do).

Annoying crushes that aren’t based on anything remotely real, bitchy cat fights over lead rolls, jokes about outfits and dating, absolutely the kind of book my daughters won’t need to read.

I mean, if they want to, of course I’ll let them, but they aren’t gonna be laying around the house to be found, that’s all I’m saying.

Last movie I watched:

Oh probably either Dune or About Time. Both are fantastic.

Last episode I watched:

Charmed! Wesley’s date from Angel is an evil, snake wearing, cleavage bearing long dead witch

A lovely, lovely, love story

The One by Kiera Cass

Okay straight up, I have to admit two things. 1) This story had plot holes I could drive a convoy of elephants pulling all the trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge through. 2) It was such a lovely sweet love story that I couldn’t bring myself to care.

These two points will be my thesis for the blog post. Because I like to write blog post essays. ‘Cause I’ve been out school for long enough I’m starting to think about writing essays as an enjoyable activity. Oh god, what have I become?

This book had huge plot holes (here there be spoilers). Really, really big ones, the kind that I would only associate with poorly thought out science fiction, and dramatically increased by the fact that the author was more interested in writing a love story then a political novel. Some of the obvious problems include but aren’t limited to 1) what happened to the Southern Rebels? Am I honestly expected to believe that, now that Maxim is king they’re just going to back off and go about doing nothing? The last three books built them up as horrible monsters, and in the final battle it was pretty clearly proven by the brutal murder of Celeste, but now that they’ve killed the old king they’re just gonna let his son have a happily ever after? I highly doubt that and even with the support of the Northern Rebels, it’s not like that fight’s just ended. Plus everyone took the murder of their friends and family pretty lightly didn’t they? No one wants revenge on the cold blooded murders who put bullets in the brains of innocent girls, brave women and countless soldiers? Everyone’s so excited that Maxim is in charge now that they’re just going to forgive and forget? I don’t see it. Other questions include 1) America had a big revelation about realizing no one knew where the Southern Rebel, but then we never learn where actually get them. Unless they’re slowly killing off soldiers, but that doesn’t track with the first few books, or at least, not as I remember them. 2) Are we just going to accept that Anne went missing? People die in war, I get that, but her loss wasn’t moving or upsetting or anything. It was downplayed and kind of unfair for a character who was pretty important to the story. 3) What happened to Paige? We went through a lot of personal details for a character who was only in it for a chapter. 4) Why was Koda such a prick? That served almost no point in the story, he just continued to be unfortunate with no resolution and no real purpose. Sometimes you can leave holes for legitimate literary reasons, I get that too. But these just seem to be the author got distracted by writing a beautiful love story, so she ignored them all.

Having said that, I loved the love story. Maybe the difference in my level of enthusiasm between book two and book three is I fell in love between reading the them. America and Maxin do all the amazing messing things that I got to do. Fifty thousand miscommunications, lost opportunities, moments when the absolutely wrong thing was said, or the right thing left unsaid but still the incredible drive to be with each other. No matter how much they screw up and fumble through their relationship because no matter how many times they make each other cry or scream or hurt, they still have to find a way to make it work. Lots of movies and fiction kind of gloss over how bumpy the start of a relationship can be. And then there’s also the amazing, heart exploding happiness as well. This book did an amazing job of that feeling too, and I just related to it so much that I am comfortable overlooking all those gaping plot related mistakes to giggle about how happy I am, and how nice it is that America and Maxim are happy too.

Last movie I watched:

Still Children of Dune (FAVOURITE MINI SERIES EVER) or About Time (FAVOURITE LIFE LIKE MOVIE THAT INVOLVES TIME TRAVEL)

Last TV episode I watched:

Charmed. I’m pretty sure that Leo and Piper are going to temporarily break up this episode and it’s stressing me out.

No wonder I discarded this

The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer with the XMen: X marks the Mutant by Gail Simone, Jason Lethcoe Hi-fi, Dave Sharpe, Mike Raight, Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley

Well, it’s pretty unshocking why no one  read this particular piece of work. It’s a story about Gus, who is the symbolic ultimate nerd child, and like most symbols, isn’t remotely interesting to anyone ever. The book is split into two different parts, one a hand drawn lame adventures Gus imagines himself in. The other one, the “real” one is mostly Gus having very uninteresting “typical” school aged problems, bragging about how he thinks he’s an X Men only to have the X Men show up and inform him that his baby sister actually is a mutant.

Anyway, there’s not much to say about it other then lame. And also there were a series of these.

People thought other people’s kids would like to read a whole bunch of those. Good god, why? I’ve read better fanfiction then this.

Last movie I watched:

Children of Dune! Again. Possibly that’s a mini series. In which case it was About Time still, so beautiful, so very, very beautiful.

Last TV show I watched:

Charmed. I think. Same one as last time. The learning about not using powers for personal gain one.

Sad but true (and truly sad) story (but totally fictional)

Mud City by Deborah Ellis

I, at risk of revealing myself as both a bad Canadian and a bad children’s librarian, have never read the Breadwinner. But I just read Mud City, which was beautiful and terrible and really, really complex.

My respect for Deborah Ellis is enormous. She writes for kids, but she doesn’t dumb anything down, she doesn’t hide the truth and she doesn’t candy coat anything. Her characters are complex, and even the ones who seem for lack of a better word, evil, are probably not. It’s beautiful, in a stark, upsetting way.

The story is of Shauzia, fourteen years old, who has fled Afghanistan to escape the violence of  Taliban. But she finds herself trapped in a refugee camp, working for Mrs Weera, who runs the Widow’s Compound, where single women and children can live. But she’s unhappy there, and she runs away, hoping to get to France. When she gets to Peshawar, the nearest city, she finds living on her own is much harder then she realized. After working, begging and using her dog Jasper’s tricks to earn her money, she’s arrested, thrown in a boy’s prison and rescued by an American family. She’s able to stay with them for a while, but unable to adapt to their lives or understand the limits of their generosity she winds up back in the refugee camp. There she struggles, with her feelings and confusion about whether she should continue putting herself first or if she should become more like Mrs Weera, who she doesn’t like, and take on the suffering of others as her own. She survives food riots, poverty and a barely functional medical system and in the end, decides that she can help her people too, and sets out to follow Mrs Weera back to Afghanistan to help the refugees who didn’t make it out before the American invasion.

I think the most devastating  and realistic part of the story is the genuine characters. The American family took Shauzia in and were very fond of her, gave her whatever she needed and took care of her. They told her they liked to help people, but after she let in every beggar that came to the door, fed them all and let them sleep in the family’s beds the American family has to return her to the refugee camp. Kindness has it limits, no matter how much you have to spare. The man who beats her and steals her flours does so to feed his own children. Because everyone draws a line, of just how far away from themselves they can carry their ultimate concerns. For this man, it was far enough to protect his starving children, but not far enough to help a stranger’s child.

As a person of relatively extreme privilege (in the I have enough to eat, I get clean water and sanitation, I share my living space with only one other person and absolutely choose that person to share my space, have access to medical attention way not in the I’m rich enough to have my own house kind of way…. geeze I’m just a young librarian)  it’s kind of uncomfortable for me to consider myself in a large world, when Shauzia’s fictional experience is probably a reality for millions of kids. I give just over one hour’s pay once a month to organizations that help other people, but I’m not really directly involved, and when framed in how much money I make versus how much money I give away, it’s pretty hard to feel like I’m doing enough to help the world. I’m less generous then loads of people, but more generous then others.

And it’s all relative too. If Jim Parsons, who apparently makes a million dollars per episode of the the Big Bang Theory, gave away one hour of his pay every month, it would be more then I make in a year. Does that make him a better person then me? And maybe he does. I’ve never met him, but I’m sure he’s a really nice person who probably does try and make the world better. On the other hand, my grandmother lived on old age security and still found the money to support causes she believed in, which makes me think she’d be the most generous of all of us. Still, I don’t feel like I can spare that much more. Would I, if I knew I had enough for a house and children and a summer vacation with my family every year? Or would I always feel like I could only afford one hour’s worth of pay? So kindness has limitations. Generosity has it limits.

And ultimate concerns only extend so far. I fiercely defend my right to be with the person I love, and would probably advocate for my rights if I had to (thankfully I live in a country where I don’t) but that concern hasn’t extended far enough for me to start sponsoring Ugandan refugees who could face life a life sentence in prison for asking for the rights I enjoy. So my ultimate concern is only for me and mine. If my family was starving, would I beat a child to feed them? Obviously,I wish I could say that I never would, but I’m not sure that it’s the truth.

Now, obviously I don’t expect a child to go through all this crazy soul searching. I love kids, and I totally think they are smart and empathetic and capable of thoughts that would astonish adults. On the other hand, they are also people and people are a lot of things, not just symbols, not even of ideas like hope and innocence. But there also isn’t an answer either, so the longer people have to mull it all over the better we all are. Either way, the kids who live like this should get to have their stories told too.

Last movie I watched: DUNE!! Which is actually a TV miniseries and therefore might not count. If it doesn’t count, the last movie might have been About Time. Which is just the most beautiful movie ever.

Last TV episode I watched: This Charmed episode. That one where Phoebe realizes she probably shouldn’t murder people with her power.