Archive | November, 2010

The love that dare not speak its name, v 2.0

27 Nov

“Who’s that writer my mum has pinned to her corner of the study — Audre Lorde? ‘My eyes are open now, I see clearly and they hurt.'”

The first book I picked up from the YA section of the Harvey Milk Memorial Branch of my new SF library home was love you two, by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli. It is about the abrupt maturation of Pina, a sixteen year-old of strong Italian descent growing up in Adelaide, Australia. When she finds out that her hippy mother is polyamorous—in love with and in an open relationship with both her husband and another man—Pina’s world is understandably rocked. But she is just touching the tip of the iceberg, and in the course of the next 300-some pages she encounters just about every type of love you could imagine.

Until she stumbles across her mother’s email, Pina’s greatest concerns are battling the buildup of pounds on her tummy and zits on her face. But that innocent email reveals the loving but confusing relationship her mother has been in with both her husband and boyfriend. In a moment of anger at this new side of her mother, Pina gives up her virginity, but regrets it immediately. Hurt and confused, she flees the mess to stay with her uncle Don and his Vietnamese partner, Wei Lee. But the relationships around her refuse to fit in their previous nice boxes, and as she finds more and more definitions of “love,” the ties of her own family begin to come undone.

Poor Pina just wants some normalcy after discovering her mother’s secret. But everyone she meets seems to challenge her conceptions in new and often difficult ways. Uncle Don is bi-sexual, a neighbor maintains a fiction for his family while he dies of AIDS, the mother of her homophobic best friend just moved in with another woman, and her grandfather had a son with another woman before her staunchly proper Italian grandmother. The book takes place in the current day, where homosexuality has gained something of a cultural acknowledgement if not acceptance, but Pina is still faced with a huge number of yet more diverse manifestations of the ways 6ish billion people can find to love each other. At heart, it’s about relationships: mother-daughter, familial, inter-racial, hetero and homosexual, with the future and with the past.

At the end of the day, Pina’s acceptance of her mother is one of the easier choices facing her, and you spend a lot of time waiting for her to get there. And as might be expected, almost every one of the varying types of love is portrayed positively, rationally, and in a pretty clearly biased light (of course the dying gay man chooses Pina to give a special gift to, even if they’ve only met 30 seconds ago). However, the portrayal of the Christmas meal with Pina’s extended family is much more complicated and thus, interesting. Three generations and about 100 different kinds of love clash over the table, and it’s a lot more challenging to pick a side, proving that Pallotta-Chiarolli can write like hell when she wants to. Also of note is the pitch-perfect example of traditional Italian family dynamics and the Australian street slang. Pezzi di pane!

Pina herself is a pretty typical sixteen year-old; up until she finds the incriminating email, she sees about as far ahead as the end of her nose. She does some emotional damage to others and to herself , but most of the story is a teenager trying to wrap her head around what she has been told is wrong, or what she never even knew existed. By the end of the book, she has managed to gain a more long-sighted perspective far beyond her years. She isn’t going to be the poster-child for polyamourous relationships, but her small act of support for her mother is the teenage equivalent of petitioning Washington.

Thus I’m creating another rating for the PSA – Jennifer Garner. This rating is for a really awesome chick, saddled with a mediocre story. On her own she’s the best, but because her plot/writing/etc is so weak, she’s likewise weakened. I.e. Pina is genuinely interesting, likeable, and relatable (what would you do if you found out your mother was having an affair but that your father was okay with it?) but Pallota-Chiarolli’s obvious bias towards these other couples makes it a lot harder to swallow her message without question. Thus love you two rates a JG on the PSA.

“May you hover like butterflies and only land on flowers that are open to hold you.”

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Pickychick Notes: A Thought At Thanksgiving

25 Nov

I hope you’re all out there having a wonderful holiday with family and/or friends and are safe and happy!
As this blog focuses on adolescent girls and continuing positive education and development for them, I thought I might throw a little something up here to think about.

http://www.girleffect.org/
This is the Girl Effect, an organization that focuses on keeping young impoverished girls in school, which makes each girl exponentially more likely to stay out of child marriage and thus less likely to contract HIV, die in early childbirth, or enter into prostitution. It also increases her children’s chances of being born healthy and staying in school themselves–thus continuing the cycle.

They have this cool animated video that is really interesting, and as now is the season for giving thanks, I encourage you all to check it out.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Presenting Kim, the Magician!

22 Nov

This is the cover for the paperback omnibus of the two books

If you enjoyed Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles (the first of which was reviewed on 09/25) then you’ll love her Magic and Malice series, aimed at a slightly older YA audience. The pair of novels—Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward—take place in Regency London, and follow the adventures of street thief Kim, as she gets embroiled with a world of magic, mystery, and (you guessed it) malice after falling in with a street magician who turns out to be a real wizard in disguise.

When Kim is commissioned by a shady gentleman to poke about in the cart of Mairelon the magician, she doesn’t expect to find herself in the hands of a real wizard. But instead of turning her in, Mairelon takes her into his service as he chases down a stolen set of magical silver. She helps him spy around while he teaches her to read, write, and speak properly, until discovering her own magical talent. In the second book, he assumes legal guardianship over her and she finds herself battling the strictures of polite society and wizardry lessons while they investigate the disappearance of several other wizards as well as a rash of mysterious thefts.

I found these books to be similar to the Mary Russell series that was discussed on 08/12—a young protégée is schooled in the ways of subterfuge and investigation by a master. But this is aimed at a middle-grade readership, and is a great deal more light-of-heart. In fact, the denouements of both books involve a lot of whodunit-style revelation placed in the middle of intense action between a multitude of characters that verges on farce comedy, with people popping up and turning out to be someone else and fainting and pointing guns and in general being very confused.

An interesting point about Kim is that even when Mairelon takes her on as his ward and she finds herself living a comfortable life that her former street-thief self couldn’t have imagined, she still holds herself apart. Though she knows a return to the streets would mean prostitution, she refuses to bend to the overbearing rules of London society when they ask her to be ashamed of her disadvantaged past. It’s a testament to her own willpower and dignity that she risks scandal and the displeasure of her benefactor to stay true to herself.

Featuring lots of romps through the English countryside and seedy taverns as well as tea houses and ballrooms, Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward are chalk full of humor and mystery. Highly recommended whatever your age (I enjoyed re-reading the series as much as my twelve year-old sister enjoyed reading it for the first time), these books score an easy AJ on the PSA!

Pickychick Notes: Brief Hiatus

18 Nov

You’ve all probably noticed that I’ve been absent the last few days–I moved house on Monday and am still in the process of getting settled.
My internet is not hooked up yet, and I haven’t gotten a new library card either, both of which make posting rather difficult 🙂
But never fear! I will endeavor to have something up by Monday, rain/snow/sleet etc. So stick around and I’m sorry for the radio silence!

LHI4BW Day Seven: The Last Warrior

14 Nov

The final book of the first official Pickychick Let’s Hear It for the Boys Week is The Warrior Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima. This book follows Jack Swift, a normal high schooler in Ohio who gets swept up in an ancient ritual to preserve the balance of power between the Weirlind—a society of wizards and warriors living among us—at the least cost of life. Each Weir faction sponsors a warrior in the Game, a battle to the death, with power given to the winning warrior’s faction. Now Jack is caught up in the war for power, and he’s one of the last remaining warriors. Which means he’s got to play the Game.

Jack’s life is pretty normal, except for the heart condition that has plagued him since birth. But when he forgets to take his medicine one day, instead of feeling near death, he feels stronger, faster, and better than ever. It turns out his medicine kept his warrior powers suppressed so he could stay hidden from the warring factions of the Weirlind, who need warriors so desperately that they would kill him to keep the other branches from getting him. Warriors are a dying breed (like really, it might just be Jack left), but necessary in order to play the Game to determine the next ruling faction. He is thrown into desperate training to become ready in time for the Game, while constantly under threat of discovery.

While The Warrior Heir is a fabulous book, the reason it makes this week’s list is because while it spends most of its time behaving like the typical training-of-magical-warrior-type-book, it has these moments where it breaks free to make an interesting commentary. A la Hunger Games, the Game in this book functions as well… a game for the factions and non-combatants, aka everyone but Jack and his opponent. For them, it is a fight to the death, yet not for their own benefit or choosing. It follows the theory of greatest good for the largest number of people, but at the expense of the warriors. And these rules have gotten out of hand—instead of using their own warriors, the factions are picking off their opponent’s.

Warriors are the only way to gain power, and so everyone wants to command one. Jack can’t trust anyone: not his trainer, not his doctor, not his ex-girlfriend, not his crush or his neighbors. All of them have their own agendas, and all of them need Jack—also very similar to Katniss’ situation, though The Warrior Heir did come out first. Those regular humans whom Jack should be able to trust are always vulnerable to becoming pawns of the Weir in order to ensure Jack’s cooperation.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Do not continue reading if you don’t want to know a point or two about how the book ends.

But where Jack really makes a mark is when faced with the fight at last, he doesn’t trounce his enemy like we jaded readers expect. Instead, he refuses to go through with it. Never mind the training, the magical blade, or the threats that got him into the Game to begin with. His rebellion, and ultimately his triumph as a character, come from what he doesn’t do. His refusal actually accomplishes more than even if he had won the battle—a point we would all do well to recognize.

Particularly in times like these, when our country has been locked in war for nearly a decade, a warrior bred to be a killing machine that instead takes a stand for peace and justice is a valuable role model indeed. He sees a broken system and calls it out, but he doesn’t bash it down himself like a vigilante, instead behaving more like a conscientious objector who refuses to be a part of the system at all. As the only person to do that in the past hundred or so years, it’s a pretty radical step.

The series continues in The Wizard Heir and The Dragon Heir, and the jury is still out on whether the series will actually continue or not.

LHI4BW Day Six: He’s a Maniac, Maniac On the Floor

13 Nov

“A couple of people truly remember, and here’s what they saw: a scraggly little kid jogging towards them, soles of both sneakers hanging by their hinges and flopping open like dog tongues each time they came up from the pavement.”

Meet Maniac Magee, boy who changes race relations in a small town in Pennsylvania, one person at a time. Written by Jerry Spinelli, the book has one numerous awards including the Horn Book Award in 1990. It is popular in elementary school curricula as it deals with issues of homelessness and racism.

After Maniac’s parents die in an accident, he spends several painful years with his relatives before setting off on his own. When he jogs into Two Mills, PA, the twelve year-old finds a town divided sharply down Hector Street—the East End belonging to African American residents, while the West End is populated by whites. After some feats of athletic prowess (untying the infamous Cobble’s Knot, hitting a homerun off Junior McNab’s fastball, and beating Mars Bar in a race by running backwards) he becomes something of a hero, and is half-adopted by families on both ends of town. But Maniac runs up against racism on both sides of Hector Street, but what can one orphaned, homeless kid do about it?

Maniac makes this week’s countdown for a series of reasons. The first is that at the beginning of the book, he is completely unaware of the difference of people’s skin tones. He gets taken in by the Beales of the East End and he doesn’t even notice that he’s the only white kid on the block. He interfaces with everyone on the same level regardless of ethnicity; he stays with the Beales, the McNab’s from the West End, and when those don’t pan out, the buffalo in the zoo. Black, white, buffalo, it doesn’t matter to him.

Secondly, when he becomes aware of the racism on either side of Hector Street, he doesn’t just accept it. He actively sets out to change things—staying with the Beales, trying to talk down the supremacist McNabs, tricking East Ender Mars Bar into coming to a birthday party in the West End. He sees the inherent wrong of racism, and tries to do something to end it, in his own small way, in this one particular town.

And finally, Maniac is a pretty kick-butt character. He’s an impressive athlete in the sort of Sandlot-type classification of kids: the fastball that can’t be hit, the throw that can’t be caught, the race that can’t be won. He runs on the two inch-wide rails of the railroad tracks. He lives to push the mental boundaries of the people of Two Mills, before he even starts on the racism stuff. Furthermore, when living with his relatives gets miserable, he sets out on his own, just like that. He survives, essentially homeless for a good portion of the book. He mooches food or goes hungry, he sleeps wherever someone will let him, or with the buffalo. And he’s twelve. No noble idea of living rough, no complaining, just taking care of himself.

It isn’t often that you find a book for lower and middle-grade readers that deals with big issues like racism in such an open way, and Spinelli’s writing is so engaging that though it presents a tough situation, the book is endlessly entertaining whatever your age. It was made into a movie starring the adorable Michael Arangano, which I haven’t seen but is in its entirety on YouTube, so you best believe I’m going to! Spinelli has written about 28394293870593 more, which you should check out—I personally just picked up a copy of Milkweed, and we reviewed another of his books, Stargirl, back in August. But Maniac Magee is the best!

LHI4BW Day Five: Colin Singleton, Serial Dumpee

12 Nov

I read An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, on advice from a reader (Katie, to be exact) and from the first page was immediately enthralled. It follows former child prodigy (now that he’s graduated high school) Colin Singleton as he and his friend Hassan—who is not a terrorist—embark on a roadtrip in the wake of Colin’s dumping by the nineteenth Katherine that he has dated. They only make it from Chicago to Gutshot, Tennessee, but emotionally Colin’s journey wraps around the known world.

Colin is plagued by constant insecurity brought on from the fact that up until now he has been a child prodigy, spending his days anagramming and learning languages (he knows nine), and dating—then being dumped by—girls named Katherine. But in the wake of being crushingly dumped by Katherine XIX and no Eureka moment to show for his child prodigy buildup, he falls into depression, which basically consists of lying face down on his bedroom floor.

When flagrantly irreverent Hassan drags him off on a roadtrip, neither boy expects to hit the brakes in Gutshot, but a sign advertising the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a smart girl, and a big-hearted woman lasso them into a huge (pink) mansion. Colin spends his days there trying to perfect a mathematical formula to predict the relationship arc for any two people given a few variables like popularity, attractiveness, and age. But Gutshot slowly entices him out into adventures—hunting a wild hog, getting in fights, and spending hours listening to stories from the 864 residents of the town. Despite himself, he might actually find life worth living beyond his previous boundaries.

Dripping with humor and snarky footnotes (though all the technical math to the Katherine Formula is contained in the Appendix–yes, the formula works) An Abundance of Katherines is a great book for upper level readers, and maybe some advanced middle-grade. Colin’s morose self-absorption easily walks the line between pitiful and satiric, and his genuine surprise in slowly discovering what real life is like, makes it a quick and pleasurable read.

Despite his fanatic obsession with the Katherines (particular Katherine XIX) this isn’t the boy-version of chick-lit. This is a story about a kid who knows the area in mi² of Kansas off the top of his head, but doesn’t know a whole lot about life. A kid who has been told for the last eighteen years that he is one thing, only find he’s got nothing to show for it, and no idea what to do. Colin makes the LHI4BW lineup because of his journey, which reminded me a lot of (500) Days of Summer—particularly with all the non-chronological jumping around and flashbacks—but also in its clear vision on the end of relationships.

It’s ironic that as Colin struggles to force human connection to conform to a graphable mathematical equation, he is surrounded by a web of complicated relationships in all stages: a former uber-geek now hott and dating her former tormentor, a big-hearted woman driving her business into the ground to save her town, a best friend who establishes a safety word for when they veer too close to an uncomfortable truth. Everything around him proves that you can’t predict humanity, but he just clings closer to his formula as a way to anchor himself and his identity.

Green also wrote some other fabulous books, including Looking for Alaska, and Paper Towns. There are rumors of several movies in the works, but so far we’ve seen nothing concrete.