"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

25 April 2018

One True Way

Hitchcock, Shannon. One True Way. Scholastic, 2018.

Allie and her mom move to the South after her brother dies in a car accident and her dad separates from her mom. Allie meets Sam at school, and quickly learns that Sam likes girls and that Allie herself also likes girls. But this is 1977, and it's not safe for girls who like girls to advertise this fact. Allie discovers that two of her female teachers are also not just roommates. She and her mom seek advice from their church regarding Allie's sexuality.

What I Liked: The book reads as a solid middle grade story. It's told in a simple matter. Religion is featured prominently but is not mocked.

What I Didn't Like: The 1970s setting makes this read more like a memoir for Generation X adults rather than a book for middle grade students. There are so many things that date this story - Allie's use of a typewriter, the mimeographed notes that Sam receives from a friend, even simple things like Allie's choice to change into a dress before dinner. These date markers almost mark this as historical fiction, but the topic itself rates this as a contemporary book. I think it would have been more successful as a memoir aimed at adults rather than a cute middle grade story with an important message hidden in a very dated wrapper.

Recommended for: adults, really; middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Annie on My Mind

23 April 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED: Miles Away From You

Rutledge, A.B. Miles Away From You. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Miles fell in love with Vivian, a transgender girl. Vivian attempted suicide and has been on life support for over a year. He takes a trip to Iceland, has sex with lots of people, and deals with the fact that he wants to let Vivian die with dignity while her parents have deadnamed her, taken her off of her hormones, and are continuing to fund her life support.

Why the low rating? This twitter thread by a trans person will help you understand the trans perspective on this book. Also, the main character is not sympathetic, likeable, or relatable (how many teens do you know whose parents can fund a trip to Iceland on a whim?). I could not in good conscience give this book to a transgender teen, an asexual teen, or a nonbinary teen. There are much better books available.

Red Flags: transphobic language is just the start
Overall Rating: 1/5 stars

Read Instead: Autoboyography, Mask of Shadows, Noteworthy, Tash Hearts Tolstoy

20 April 2018

A Closed and Common Orbit

Chambers, Becky. A Closed and Common Orbit. Hodder & Stoughton, 2016.

Lovelace was supposed to be the AI aboard the ship, however, due to events in the first book in this series, her program was placed into a body instead and she has been sent to live with Pepper. Pepper is a human who has a complicated past as well, and this book alternates chapters of Pepper's past with the story of Lovelace adapting to being in a body instead of a ship.

That description makes this book sound really dry, which it definitely is not. Sidra (the name Lovelace chooses for herself) has to deal with all the overwhelming sounds and sights of the beings around her all the time, and she has to adjust to being confined to a body with certain programming protocols (for example, she can't lie). In addition, she's not actually allowed to inhabit a body, so her very existence is illegal. Add that to the descriptions of several alien species and their various languages, habits, festivals, etc., and you get a fantastic mix that's perfect for any Star Trek fan.

On top of this we have Pepper's story. Pepper was bred to be an employee in a factory. She and her fellow workers (it's never clear if they are all clones or whatnot) never see the sunlight and never interact with anyone else. When there's an explosion at the factory, Pepper doesn't even know what to make of the "big blue ceiling" she sees outside the walls. But she escapes and ends up living in an abandoned shuttle, which she works on repairing so she can escape. These sequences are equal parts The Martian, combined with any "escape from a cult" type story you can imagine, because Pepper doesn't know anything about the outside world.

Bottom Line: This book is positively fantastic, and my only complaint is that I've finished reading it and the next one isn't out until later this year. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens, adults
Red Flags: Pepper's language develops around the time she turns 14 - she learns to swear and therefore uses her new language abilities extensively
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

18 April 2018

The 57 Bus

Slater, Dashka. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BYR, 2017.

I was living in San Leandro, CA, right next to Oakland, when this event occurred. I remember the news stories; I remember hearing about the "skirts for Sasha" day, and I remember being scared for my spouse, who is trans, who also occasionally used the 57 bus to get home when the BART wasn't working or was going to take too long.

This was an amazingly well done account of this event. The story is written in a highly compelling and readable fashion, and the author did a fantastic job delving into the background of both the victim and the perpetrator, to the point where even I felt some sympathy for the perpetrator and the situation he was facing with a possibility of being tried and imprisoned as an adult. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens and adults
Red Flags: one teen set another teen on fire on a bus
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

16 April 2018

Head On

Scalzi, John. Head On. Tor Books, 2018.

Head On continues where Lock In left off, with Chris, a rookie FBI agent, and Chris's partner, Leslie, solving cases. This case involves a new sport called Hilketa that is primarily played by Haden's survivors. An athlete dies in the middle of a game - a first for the league and the sport, and Chris and Leslie are rushing to uncover the truth as witnesses die and evidence is tampered with.

This is a standard detective novel with the added twist that Chris and other Haden's survivors navigate the physical world using Threeps, robot bodies that they can control with their minds so they can speak, drive, work, and be with the rest of the world while their bodies are "locked in" in their beds. These Threeps are also what they use to play Hilketa, a game where one player is chosen at random and the other players attempt to remove that player's head and score points with it. I had a bit of a shock when I started reading this book and learned about Hilketa, but had forgotten about the use of Threeps and thought that players were actually ripping each other's heads off. Hilketa is a brutal and violent game, but the damage is only to the Threeps.

I initially read Lock In because it won an Alex Award, which is given for adult books with teen appeal. Since then I have read Scalzi's other novels, including the Old Man's War series, which I particularly enjoyed. Lock In and Head On are detective stories, and they would make great read-alikes for fans of gritty detective novels and crime procedural shows like Criminal Minds, Law & Order, Bones, etc. Another interesting point is that never once during either of the books is Chris's gender revealed. Scalzi wrote on the Tor blog about this choice, and I think it's really interesting. During the first book I assumed Chris as male, probably because Chris is often referred to by their last name, Shane, which is typically a male name.

Recommended for: older teens and adults
Red Flags: language, violence similar to that in crime procedural shows like Criminal Minds
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.