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The Eyre Affair

The Eyre AffairUnknown.jpeg

by: Jasper Fforde

Penguin Books, New York, NY 2001

ISBN: 0-670-03064-3

Jasper Fforde has a delightful literary world populated by Thursday Next who words for the Special Operations Network.  That’s a government organization that deals with the repercussions of the literary world leaking over into what is essentially modern England.

Of course things are a little different too,  like Wales as an independent state and the mega-corporation (the Goliath corporation) that controls most of the world.  Thursday’s father was a SpecOps agent too.  He worked in the ChronoGuard.  When the literary world leaks, time travel and all of it’s potential and flaws leak as well.  Someone needs to keep an eye on the historical time line.  That would be ChronoGuard.  They may, or may not always be successful.  It certainly gives Fforde plenty of leeway for a world that isn’t “quite” the one we live in.

The world Fforde has evolved is a readers delight.  People CARE about literature.  Fforde writes with wit and literary allusions on every page.  People change their names to match their favorite characters.  Shakespeare machines recite scenes for a quarter on the street corners.  I’ve read several of his novels from this series.  I’ve probably even read this one before.   That’s the problem.

These books are too clever by far.  They engage, they entertain, but (at least for me) they don’t stick.  I never find myself totally immersed in the story (although occasionally Fforde’s characters do).   I’m too busy catching the references, laughing at the puns embedded in the character names, and even joining the debate about who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

When I read one of these novels I know I’m in for a quick romp with lots of nods to the reader on the side.  They are great books for waiting rooms and long rides.  I may pick one up from time to time just because I’m intrigued with the title.   I’m never going to be a real fan.

 

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The Year They Burned The Books

The Year They Burned The BooksUnknown

by: Nancy Garden

Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, NY  1999

ISBN: 0-374-38667-6

I found this to be a surprisingly emotional novel.  It’s a high school drama seeped in political discourse.  The main characters are the student staff of the school paper.  These are kids who believe what they’ve been taught about journalism and freedom of the press. When local conservative Christians rise up to moderate the content of the school paper these students fight for their journalistic integrity.

I suspect this novel was written specifically because Nancy Garden had a previous book banned from school libraries.  The town meeting scene where they debate maintaining morality for the children could have been taken directly from a transcript.  This story manages to touch just about every imaginable red button topic that has caused books to be banned.

Having said that, I was impressed (and marginally disappointed) with where Garden drew her lines.  There is no explicit teen sex.  However, the sex education curriculum and the availability of free condoms in the high school nurses office make the issue of teen sex a large theme.  Several of the main characters are gay, and in various stages of acceptance.  Teen suicide is touched on, but we do not lose any of the characters in the book.  Book burning happens, but the people having the bonfire used books they’d purchased, not the library books they represented.

One of the issues is that an opinion piece in the paper should not have to present both sides of the conflict.  It’s an opinion, not the news.  The students actually work very hard to find contradictory opinions and even their articles nod at some validity in their oppositions viewpoints.  This book as a whole tries to do the same.

All of the characters, even the self righteous ones, are drawn with some depth.  Everyone is portrayed as trying to do the best they can for what they believe to be right.  The gay characters are harassed and struggle internally with their identities.  They are not “out loud and proud” and they are very aware of the risks of simply allowing themselves to be who they are.

This really is a teen driven story.  The adult characters have weight and impact, but it is the teens who are affected.  I would highly recommend this book as support for kids questioning their own identities.  I would also recommend this book to people who are friends and parents of those kids.

 

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Hard to Die

Hard to Dieunknown

by: Andra Watkins

Word Hermit Press LLC   Charleston, SC

ISBN:13978-0-9908593-7-6

 

I tagged this book with “historical fiction” because the characters are certainly historical.   The primary character is Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr (remembered primarily for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel).   Theodosia died under “mysterious circumstances” and therefore has found herself in Andra Watkins Afterlife series.

Those whose deaths are unresolved find themselves in Nowhere.  They have limited memories of the circumstances of their deaths, and no memories of their time in Nowhere.  Each has a “conductor” who charges them to help a living person make a better choice in their lives.  The dead have 13 chances to find resolution or they will be trapped forever in this in between place.

Theodosia’s life was filled with political intrigue.  Her father was tried for treason.  Her godfather was probably a spy.  She herself was highly educated and involved with many of the movers and shakers of her time.  (She makes an appearance in the musical Hamilton.)  It is not a surprise that her Afterlife story would also be filled with spies, treason, and political intrigue.

Set in the Hudson River Valley near West Point, the geography and legendary history of the area also play a role in the story.  The scenes in New York City revolve around Grand Central Station and its starry skied ceiling.  Theodosia is having her past life in 1950.  Her mission is to help one of the West Point cadets make a good choice towards a better life.

Unfortunately for Theo,  Nowhere is hardly a solitary place.  There are several other characters from Theodosia’s life who are also struggling with resolving their deaths.  The interplay between what has past and what is happening in the story, still our history, adds to the intrigue and suspense.

Andra’s novels bring historical characters into three dimensions. She makes her characters come to life and places them in settings that contribute to the story telling. Hard to Die grabs the reader from the start and hangs on tightly through all the twists and turns. I’m not sure I like Andra’s Theodosia, but I found her fascinating. Looking forward to more Nowhere novels.

 

Also by Andra Watkins:

toliveforever

 

 

 

 

To Life Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis   This is Andra’s first novel and the first in the Afterlife series.  Meriwether Lewis is quite the character and the harrowing run towards the place of his death along the Natchez Trace adds color and history to the story.

notwithoutmyfather

Not Without My Father   A memoir of her journey as she walked the Natchez Trace, her father along as her back-up and support.

natcheztrace

Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time   The photo journal of Andra’s walk

 

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Luna

Lunaluna

by: Julie Anne Peters

Little Brown and Company  NY, NY 2004

ISBN: 978-0-316-00127-3

 

Luna is a typical coming of age story.  It is a story of siblings in their teens each struggling to find who they are and each looking to move into a world outside their disfunctional family.  These siblings understand each other in ways no one else can.  Still, they are teens and neither is aware of the damage their own struggle is doing to their sibling.

Luna is an LGBTQ novel.  It is the story of a teen struggling with gender identity.  It is the story of how hard it is to find yourself in a world that expects you to be something you simply can not be.  It is about finding the strength and courage to be honest with the world about who you really are.

Luna is an outsiders tale.  There are no surprises here.  The transgender dynamic and sibling relationship is established in the first chapter.  The point of view character is the sister of the transgendered teen.  She is the protector, the peacemaker, the refuge for her sibling.  The story is about her struggle.  She accepts her sibling, but doesn’t believe anyone else will.  She is an outsider because she must stand by an outsider, be impacted by an outsider.

The author is very free with her use of gender pronouns.  The transgender character is identified as both he and she by the sister.  Some of the gender use is “situational”.  She uses the gender for her sibling that everyone expects.  Some of the gender use is “role based”.  She uses the gender based on how her sibling is actively presenting.  Some of the gender use is simply the sister coming to terms with the reality of who her sibling really is.

This is a sweet and honest look at some of the emotional struggles family members may have with a transgendered sibling.  Because of my exposure to the disability community I am very much aware that siblings and sibling’s emotions can get short changed when families are confronted with a “real” problem.  This story allows the sister’s experiences to be “real” as well.

On the other hand, it doesn’t offer much of a lifeline to the point of view of the transgendered youth.  There is definitely a sense of “It gets better”.   There is a clear representation of the repression of role playing and the freedom to be who you are. But for all of the LGTBQ content, this is not an LGTBQ story.  It is a sibling story.

I really do recommend this book.  It’s a point of view that isn’t well represented in the literature.   This book would be welcomed by the sibling of any “outsider”.  I also think that it’s a generally LGTBQ positive rendering of a difficult family story.

This book is about gender, not about sexuality.  There is some banter about being gay.  The name calling is teen typical (if inappropriate, it still underlines character and it’s interesting that as supportive of the sister is of trans/queer she doesn’t hesitate to call a teacher retarded).   There is teen attraction, but nothing beyond a kiss.   I would say that makes this book very appropriate for pre-teens interested in the topic.

 

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2017 Reading Challenge

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Everywhere I look I’m seeing new reading challenges.   I get them on Facebook.  My friends are talking about them.  The library wall is covered with recommendations to meet them.  It seems like 2017 is the year to expand the scope of what readers read.

I look at the lists and mostly think “no problem”.  Sometimes I find a category that would be a challenge for me (like sports).  I haven’t found a category yet that I can’t think of SOMETHING I’ve read along those lines.

Certainly there are genres that I prefer and those I don’t.  I read plenty of science fiction and fantasy.  I read a lot of YA novels.  I’m fussy about the non-fiction I pick up.  I honestly don’t enjoy reading graphic novels.    We are all entitled to our preferences.

The point of most of the challenge lists is to encourage people to expand their point of view.    One of my lessons in 7th grade English was to look at “To Kill a Mockingbird” and try to “put on someone else’s shoes.”   Reading is an opportunity to see the world differently, to have experiences that go beyond the scope of our own lifetimes.

Challenges are supposed to be challenging.  So I decided perhaps it was time to do another year of reviews, in support of all those reading challenges.  I’m going to try and write another 50 reviews.  This time I’ll work to tag them with typical reading challenge categories.

So, if you’re looking for something to fill in that spot in your reading challenge list, I hope this will help.

Happy Reading!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 22, 2017 in Reading Challenge

 

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