Book Review: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists

ALERT: Great graphic novel by two BIPOC authors ahead.

Looking for a graphic novel introduction to the women’s history, look no further than: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A.D’Amico.

This is a great introduction to some fascinating, fierce, diverse female leaders throughout the history of the world, some that I had not heard of until I opened the book. Each page had so much to look at and gave me some new people to research. I had just been reading Stamped from the Beginning and A Woman of No Importance (Virginia Hall,) so it was also nice to see some familiar names, names that I am intrigued to read even more about.

The only thing that didn’t always work for me was the narrative surrounding and connecting the history bits. The class traveling through time to see these women was a very cool concept and often worked really well. I also liked the dialogue about race that the student’s had with each other, as they learned the history bits. However, sometimes the students asked a question and the instructor said “We will come back to that” or “You’ll find out more later” and they didn’t. I get that it was a lot of material to juggle and it didn’t ruin the reading experience. Just something I noticed.

Definitely worth a read and some book-inspired future reading.

On Happy Endings

Over the summer, I am tutoring one of my former students.

Together, we have been reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, their summer reading work.

During tutoring time this week, we got into a conversation about happy endings, or “fairy tales.” They animatedly started explaining that they cannot stand that everything they read and watch has a happy ending. They noticed that in many books the parents push their child hard to succeed, the child rebels, but it all ends up okay in the end.

I asked them what the problem with that was.

They said: “Well, because that’s not what happens in real life.”

I kindly challenged them to think about why we read and watch things: often to escape and sometimes people need happy endings, when there are none in the world. They conceded but offered up the Series of Unfortunate Events as an example of entertainment that people liked, but did not have a happy ending.

Checkmate. I’ve taught you well.

At the end of the day, I agree with them. There seem to be a lot of happy endings in what we read and what we watch these days. And my student speaks the truth real life does not always have a happy ending. So, that made me think: are we setting people up for disappointment?

I say nay.

If we read to escape, to learn, to be entertained, there is a place for a happy ending. I say this without rose colored glasses. I think happy endings bring hope. We can only endure the harsh reality if we have hope that things can be better, that we can make things better.

However, trouble can ensue when the reader starts believing that fiction is reality; that happy endings will always arrive, no matter what. And, they mistake hope for certainty and naivety.

But, that does not mean that people cannot enjoy a happy ending every now and again. Right?

Review: Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

I had just finished Erik Larson’s new book on Winston Churchill and found myself wanting, no, needing to know more about the veritable force that was his wife Clementine. One of Goodread’s recommended books on her was Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict.

I was very excited to jump in, but to be honest, I did not love what I eventually jumped into.

The stories were interesting. I liked to see her point of view of her husband, her role in politics, and in the women’s suffrage movement. However, the story was told in first person, present. I am not the biggest fan of this form a narration and it influnced my reeading experrience.

Did I learn about her? Yes. Did I love the reading experience? Not exactly.

But if you want to read more about Clementine and you do not mind this type of narration, this may be a great read for you!

Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Before I start, I acknowledge again that I am hard to please with mysteries and thrillers. I still read them, because even if I am not wowed, I usually find something enjoyable in the reading experience.

The Sun Down Motel was billed as an exciting and frightening ghost story. What I read was a little different.

The POVs of the book alternated between Viv in 1982 and her niece Carly in 2017. Viv disappeared in 1982 after a shift at a creepy motel and Carly arrives 35 years later to find out where she went. Listen, that mystery was interesting. Big fan over here. And I liked the mysterious Nick Harkness. I wanted more of him…just like Carly.

However, the ghost story that surrounded it didn’t seem necessary to my enjoyment or understanding of the mystery. I felt like I was looking for an explanation for the ghost appearances beyond what I was given. That one is on me. I am willing to admit it.

Again, I am hard to please. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t wowed, you may be!

Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

From what I can tell on Goodreads, people loved this book. Any moderately exciting thriller ends up with rave reviews because people have never read anything like it. And if people are going to read, I love it! Even if I don’t necessarily get as excited about the same book.

But, listen, mystery/thriller books do not always shock or surprise me. I have read all of them. I’m almost not kidding, I have been reading mysteries and thrillers since I was six years old and I think I have encountered almost every possible incarnation of this genre.

This book started off as a very middling and unmemorable thriller. Therapist tries to reach mute, accused murderess/artist. You do not know who is telling the truth and you are always questioning character motivations. I felt like I had seen it all before. That means, for much of the book, I was saying to myself “Why do people even like this? It’s okay, but I am not even kind of shocked by any of this.”

Boy, was I wrong.

Until the end, I felt like the book moved slowly and was not the most engaging, but by the end, I changed my mind. I was finally suprised and I call that a win for me and the author.

Definitely worth the read.

On YA Tropes

Tropes get a bad reputation in the literary world. And I get it.

They are seen as “the easy way” out for writers and any book with these tropes cannot possibly have the same literary value as a text without them.

I even stumbled upon a checklist of tropes and how to avoid them in writing.The blog post claims that readers of YA are sick of them (and some are) and avoiding them or innovating them can help make your writing better (very true.)

As a reader who reads often reads for comfort and enjoyment, I think I like tropes. Well…some of them. They are predictable, relatable, and deliciously cringeworthy. There is something to be said for knowing how something is going to end.

My favorite tropes are “All adults are useless,” especially in a boarding school setting and “The love triangle.” As a 32 year old adult and teacher, I shouldn’t like these tropes. No one is ever in a love triangle basking the symbolism of choosing between their past and present or two sides of themselves through a romantic partner. And, I am an educator! I would never leave students unsupervised long enough for them to solve a murder. It is our job to pay attention!

However…

What I like about these tropes is that they allow for the ultimate literary fantasies to be played out. Isn’t it wonderful to immerse yourself a world where the main character can prove their daring and intelligence, running around and solving conflict without interference from overbearing adults with no sense of fun or visible moral compass? If you are a teen, this trope reinforces the idea that you have a voice and that you can change the world. Isn’t it also wonderful to imagine that you have the choice between two great partners that represent different sides of yourself, choosing who you really want to be with and choosing who you really want to be in the process? Oh, to be young and fictional.

If all of that is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

I do hate forehead kisses and fainting to change the scene…but that is for another day.

How do you feel about tropes? Favorites? Least favorites?

Book Review: What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

A few years after its publication, I finally got around to reading What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. After reading it, I realized why it took me so long to get to it.

What If It’s Us tells, in alternating POVs, the story of the ultimate meet-cute. Ben and Arthur run into each other at a post office in New York. Ben is mailing things back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur followed him into the post office, because he thought Ben was cute…duh. Sparks fly. A flash mob starts. They lose track of each other and spend the rest of the book trying to find each other. Cute right?

Ehh.

I love me some teen drama, but this was almost too much drama. I felt like no one in the book had any fun ever. But that is just me! I appreciated all of the Broadway allusions and the meet-cute was super cute, but I just wasn’t a huge fan of the book in general.

Also, I wish that the book alternated fonts with POVs. Sometimes, I lost track of whose POV it was supposed to be.

Maybe I am not the target audience for it and that is okay. Check it out because it might be for you!

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Once again, I picked up a book thanks to a list. This time it was a list of Queer YA Books, from Buzzfeed. So much love for Buzzfeed Lists. The premise looked great and I am a big fan of the author. I saw them speak at Book Con in 2015 and just had to devour everything they write.

In Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore deftly wove magical realism, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. The novel followed the POVs of three characters connected by family, by Romani culture, and by the dancing plague of the 1500s. Two characters were modern teens and the other, a teen from the 16th century.

I do not say this often, but I loved, loved, loved this book.

I was drawn in the magical worlds, the magical words, the culture, the history, the diversity of love.

I cried. I squealed. I sighed.

I’ll probably think about this one for awhile.

That being said, if magical realism is not your thing or if you, like some of my wonderful bookish friends, cannot get through historical fiction, this may not be your thing. But, if you are like me, and love a little magical realism with a little historical fiction, this book is for you.

Review: The Hypnotist By Lars Kepler

I found The Hypnotist on a list…as I do….of thrillers that kept readers on the edge of their seats. While I have been reading a lot and writing a lot about “guilty pleasure” reads and YA books, I have not been reading too many mysteries. And, I love a mystery. The first chapter books I remember reading were Nancy Drews. My mother and grandmother were always reading mysteries. It’s a family thing.

Any ways, this book is un-put-down-able. In my opinion. Seldom do I find a book that can surprise me and capture my attention. I don’t want to say too much, but, the book follows Detective Joona Linna as he tries to solve the murder of a family; a murder that was witnessed by one child, who lies in a coma. He turns to a disgraced hypno-therapist to help him question the surviving boy. What results is a fast-paced and, at times, anxiety producing story.


I devoured this rather lengthy mystery/thriller in record time. It was fascinating, horrifying, and never predictable. I kept trying to solve one layer and then, another layer of another case was exposed. What a ride.

I will say….Don’t read this one alone, at night.

On Graphic Novels

Now that it is summer time, I fill the void of a highly scheduled teacher life, with a highly scheduled personal life. It is how a Type A person like me survives.

There is time for reading, for walking, for lifting, for watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, for socializing safely, for writing, and for taking professional development classes. Currently, I am enrolled in two classes. One is on using graphic novels in the classroom and the other is on using reading to support socio-emotional growth. As a teacher and a reader, I approach courses with the same mindset: ‘Okay, how do I use these concepts in my classroom and don’t those books sound fun to read and review?” Are those thoughts at odds? I think not.

As a reader, one who revels in reader response theory, I want to enjoy what I am reading and feel all of the feelings that come with it. As a teacher, I am often asked to put that aside and think about literary devices and standardized testing. However, I find that my students are the most engaged when I do both. I give them something to enjoy, that we can also talk about, analyze, and write about.

One of my courses has gone into great detail about how graphic novels are misconstrued as not challenging texts. Is this another situation where something fun (like romance novels) is not considered academically worthy? Perhaps. I love recommending graphic novels to reluctant readers and I love reading graphic novels. I love being immersed in the complex world that each author and illustrator creates. The colors and style can help to set the tone, sometimes even faster and more effectively than straight text.

The following is a discussion post that I submitted for the course to answer a question about how to use graphic novels in the classroom. I share it because my thoughts about how to use them as a teacher reflect how I see them as a reader:

As a sixth grade teacher, I am fortunate to have some creative freedom and to teach a population of students that are still excited about school and learning ( a devastating but true sentiment.). They want to have fun and from what I can see, graphic novels would be academically valuable and fun resources. I read that graphic novels can provide a rich and challenging reading experience, even though they have less text than a traditional novel.  Students in my class could use a graphic novel to discover character traits and types of conflict, without being bogged down in the comprehension of a difficult text (especially my students with language disabilities or my english language learners.).  I am also excited by an idea in “In Defense of Graphic Novels” to use graphic novels for complex analytical tasks.  The article says, “Eric S. Rabkin discusses how he uses graphic novels to focus his class’s attention on how narrative time unfolds. He explains that he will have “students in turn focus on a single frame of a graphic narrative, speak aloud whatever they see and whatever they infer, including their reflective and proleptic understandings of how the frame fits into the flow of the larger narrative” (Hansen 2012.)  One of our standards in sixth grade is to discuss how a scene in a book affects the plot or overall theme.  We do this with episodes in The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel with some pictures, and the exercise is fairly simple.  Doing the Rabkin exercise with a frame of a graphic novel, would allow for more complex thinking from our students, as they infer actions. traits, themes, etc from text and complex illustrations. And of course, graphic novels are inherently more fun.  They seem, to students, to be not school work, because they have pictures and are related to comic books.  When students see pictures, they often connect them to their own sources of entertainment (like cartoons, movies, comics, and video games.). Completing school assignments using a medium that they consider fun will encourage and excite students.  Sixth graders want to have fun in school and using graphic novels can bring that fun, with valuable learning experiences. 

As I wrote this, I realized that I could substitute “Students” for “I or me.” I am always more engaged in something when it seems fun, vibrant, or interesting. Graphic novels never cease to pull me into a story and are often the first things that I recommend to my struggling or reluctant readers.

How do you feel about graphic novels? Do you have any favorites?