Monday, May 22, 2017

Recently Read: The Inexplicable Logic of my Life

Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Genre: Young Adult- Contemporary
Publication Date: 2017
Page Count: 452
Rating: 5/5

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Also By Benjamin Alire Saenz:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 


Sal is about to start his senior year of high school. He loves his life with his best friend Sam, who is really more of a sister, and his adoptive father. But thoughts about his unknown past and a tragedy leave Sal, and those in his life, dealing with grief and uncertainty. Sal doesn't like the way he's dealing with these changes, by throwing his fists at anyone in his way, but is it an inevitable part of his DNA?

I loved Aristotle and Dante when I read it earlier this year and was surprised to see that Saenz had a new release that I hadn't heard anything about! I loved this one, not quite as much and Ari and Dante, but I did love it. 

Of course, this book has great diverse representation. Sal is white, but was adopted by a gay Mexican-American father and both of the other teenage characters in the book are Mexican-American as well. I really enjoyed Sal's father, both as a character and a diverse representation, as parents are usually M.I.A. or unlikable in YA novels. Sal's father is so loving and so kind, and very much likable. 

I love the way that Saenz writes teenage male characters and father-and-son relationships. He doesn't write stereotypical male characters, who hide their feelings and rely of a tough image; his male characters are realistic, but honest about their feelings and gentle. Sal was such a sweetheart, and so was his dad. I loved their relationship and think it's great to see healthy parent-child relationships in YA. 

Another element of this book that I loved was the lack of romance! Sam and Sal have been best friends since they were small children, and even though it would have been easy for Saenz to put them together romantically, he chose to explore their friendship/sibling relationship instead. I loved that, and I really think it added to the beauty of the story. 

This book deals with a lot of interesting and usual YA contemporary topics such as friendship, grief, self-discovery, etc. But it also deals with a few unique topics such as faith and religion, having a gay parent, being adopted into a culture you weren't born into, and platonic male/female relationships. I thought all of the themes and topics were well-done, and are all things I would love to see in more books. 

I thought this book was the perfect combination of sad and sweet. I couldn't stop reading once I got to know the characters; the story flows beautifully and the short chapters make it hard to put down. I definitely consider myself a fan of Benjamin Alire Saenz, and will be keeping an eye on all of his new releases. I highly recommend you pick this up! 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Recently Read: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult- Contemporary
Publication Date: 2017
Page Count: 453
Rating: 5/5

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I'm sure you don't need to hear a synopsis of this book since it's been everywhere lately, so I will keep it short. Starr feels like she maintains two versions of herself. The version of herself that goes to a suburban prep school and the version of herself that she is at home in the poor black neighborhood where she lives. One day. Starr is the only witness to the shooting of her best friend by a white police officer, and she must decide if, and how, to use her voice to speak up for her friend and her neighborhood. 

I loved this book, and I'm so glad that everyone else is loving it too. This is one of the only books that I actually thought that the use of slang and pop culture added to the book instead of just being an aspect that will leave the book feeling quickly outdated. Starr talks and thinks like a REAL teenager and I loved that. Of course, I also loved the political themes in the novel and the accurate representation of the current political culture and movements such as Black Lives Matter. I thought the political events and story line were realistic and very well done. I love that teenagers are getting involved in the political culture of today and using their voices through social media, and this story reflected that. 

This book covers many important topics very well including youth activism, police brutality, gang violence, love between different cultures, and the importance of using your voice. Of course this book deals with very serious and harrowing topics, but it also contained large amounts of humor and love. This book never felt too heavy or hopeless, and all of the characters felt real, despite how small of a part they may have played in the story, I couldn't read the second half of this novel fast enough and flew through it. 

This is a book that I would love to use in my classroom in the future, as well as a book I will be buying a copy of to have on my classroom library shelves. I think this book is so important, but also entertaining and heartfelt. It delivers its important message, but it also delivers a message of hope and persistence, which is equally important for the younger generation to receive through art. 

Have you read this? Did it live up to the hype for you? I'm very glad this book exists and is getting the recognition it deserves!  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Library Haul (and what I will be reading next)

I've got a few things out from the library right now, both in physical form and ebook form, so I thought I would share them with you as they will be what I am reading and reviewing next. I've really been loving getting my YA new releases from the library lately, especially contemporaries, as those tend to be really hit-or-miss for me.



The Hate You Give 
by Angie Thomas
This book has been everywhere lately, and rightfully so! I've already read this one and loved it! I'll be reviewing it soon, as well as buying a copy for my classroom! 

This book is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and follows Starr who witnessed the shooting of her best friend by a police officer. 

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I'm currently reading this one, so again watch out for a review soon. I didn't even though this book existed until a couple weeks ago, is it just me or is no one talking about it? I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe earlier this year and loved it, so I was eager to pick this one up. It's not grabbing me as fast as Ari and Dante did, but I'm only about fifty pages in. 

This novel focuses on a Mexican-American teenager starting his senior year of high school. Sal is the adopted son of a gay dad, and that's really all I know at the moment! This one has a lot of potential and I have high hopes. 

Piper Perish
by Kayla Cagan
I really don't know much about this one expect the main character is an artist. Art is a book buzzword for me, so I decided to place a hold on it. I've been eager for more YA books with art elements ever since Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun.

Piper is in her senior year and dreaming of art school in NYC. But as things start to shift in all parts of her life, will her art be enough to get her through?

Let me know if you've read any of these! 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Recently Read: Belle Epoque

Author: Elizabeth Ross
Genre: Young Adult- Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2013
Page Count: 336
Rating: 3/5

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Maude has run away from her home and father to avoid an arranged marriage to a man more than double her age, and she has landed in Paris. There she finds the city to be a difficult place to survive on her own, until she comes across an ad in the newspaper offering work to young women. Maude soon finds out that this work is acting as an average-looking foil to the society women who want to appear more beautiful. Maude must decide if this work, and a new-found friendship with her first client, is worth the sacrifice of her pride, or if the job even requires any sacrifice of her pride at all.

I ordered this book from Book Outlet quite a while ago and didn't know much about it, besides the basic idea of a foil and it taking place in historical Paris. I'm glad I ended up picking this one up, as it was an enjoyable read. 

The pacing of the book was spot on, and Maude was a likable character. I was intrigued by the idea of beauty foils and was not surprised to find out that this practice is rooted in fact. It is interesting to examine the lengths that women of the past and present go to in order to obtain 'beauty' and how that idea of beauty changes with time.  If you're a fan of historical fiction, this one is worth checking out. It was quick and enjoyable and the historic Paris setting is always amazing to visit.

One of my favorite elements of this novel was that it was set against the backdrop of the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which the majority of people detested at the time. This worked perfectly as a metaphor for the changing ideals of beauty, as the Eiffel Tower is now the most well-known symbol of Paris and one of the most recognized structures in the world. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Recently Read: The Sun is Also a Star (And Thoughts on Fate)

Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publication Date: 2016
Page Count: 348
Rating: 5/5

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Natasha is about to be deported. She is spending her last day in America trying to find a way to stay instead of returning to Jamaica, a place she doesn't feel like she will ever fit in. Daniel is on his way to an interview for Yale, where he will go to be a doctor, just as his Korean parents expect him too. Fate, the universe, or random chance brings them together on Natasha's last day in a America and the meeting impacts them for the rest of their lives. 

I have a weakness for books that deal with fate. I'm fascinated by the idea of fate and the invisible governing force in the universe, whatever that may be. Because of this, I was really interested in reading this novel, and I really loved it. I flew through this book and lost myself in it. I liked both Natasha and Daniel, they felt real; I love when a young adult novel reminds me of what it's like to be a teenager and feel intense emotions and this novel definitely did that. Natasha and Daniel's interactions made me laugh, they frustrated me, and I found myself quite emotional at the end of the novel, which is always a sign that a book is a five-star book for me. 

I've seen quite a few reviews that complain about 'insta-love' in this novel, and I can see their point, but I think they are missing something. I think the point of Natasha and Daniel's immediate and intense connection is that it's governed by fate, or that higher power that orders the universe. I didn't find they're relationship unrealistic; there was growth and doubt in their relationship. I believe that you can feel connected to someone very quickly, and outside circumstances can heighten that connection and cause a sense of urgency. So in short, I didn't see this novel as a case of insta-love, and I really enjoyed Natasha and Daniel's connection and relationship.

This book made me do a lot of thinking about fate. What makes fate so interesting to me is that it can function as an alternative to religion for some people. I myself, am not religious, but I can't deny there seems to be some higher power that orders the universe. Many people, myself included, are uncomfortable with the idea of the universe and our lives being completely random and in our own control, so fate or destiny can act as that higher power we can blame in bad times or hope to in uncertain times.

The idea of, and desire for, a higher power is something shared between all humans, and in my opinion is one of the greatest appeals that religions make to human nature. This makes fate such an interesting and common theme to explore in art, and I think this novel is a thoughtful and well-done addition to that list of art. 

In short, I really liked this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think: everything I could want from a novel.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Poetry Spotlight: Wilfred Owen (Happy National Poetry Month)


In my second year of college I took an Introduction to Poetry class and I fell in love with reading poetry. Before then, poetry was always a little intimidating and a medium that I didn't have much experience with. But after that class, I became addicted to reading poetry, and during the class I actually found myself thinking in and expressing myself in poetry- which I never would have guessed would happen in a million years. So, with this series I'm here to share some of my favorite poems in a way that I'm sure will turn out rambley and unorganized.

SEE THE REST OF MY POETRY SPOTLIGHT SERIES HERE


There's a lot of stuff going on this month. It's the 100th anniversary of the U.S.'s entry into the first World War, and it's national poetry month. So as a lover of history and poetry, naturally, I have combined them into today's post about one of my all time favorite poets Wilfred Owen. The poems I will be talking about today come out of Penguin's Little Black Classic collection of his works, which I highly recommend. This edition has all of the essential Owen's poems, in a small and affordable package.

Author Bio
What makes Owen such a remarkable poet and recorder of history is the fact that he served and died in WWI. Up until WWI, many of the poetic recording regarding wars in America, the Civil War is a great example of this, were recorded by poets who were not fighting the wars and were only outside observers. During WWI, we see a shift in the attitudes regarding war in art. In the Civil War, for example, poetry highlights the honor, righteousness, and even beauty associated with war and defending one's country, but in WWI, the poetry highlights the horrors of war and even suggests it's lack of purpose. This has everything to do with the advanced technology of war that debuted in WWI including machine guns, trench warfare, mustard gas, and fighter planes. The death toll for this war was unlike anything the world had ever seen, and it left a whole generation of men missing, or "lost" as Gertrude Stein phrased it (hence the literary movement named The Lost Generation). Young men lined up to join the war, eager to earn the honor and respect that the older generations associated with war, but many felt that nothing had been gained from the conflict and all of the bloodshed was for naught after the war's conclusion. There was no clear winner or loser. This is also the first time we as a society come to recognize and try to treat PTSD or shell-shock as it was referred to.

Owen was from England, and wrote all of his poems in the just-over-a-year that he served in the British army before being killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, another well-known and excellent WWI poet, in an army hospital while being treated for shell-shock, and the two became friends. Sassoon was responsible for publishing much of Owen's works after his death. 

You can read more about Owen at the Poetry Foundation
  
Spotlighted Poems 
Like I mentioned above, WWI poetry was revolutionary for the way it talked about war. In many poems, the divide between generations regarding the purpose of war and the honor associated with participating in it. Poetry of this era is honest and brutal and even bitter and sarcastic. Owen is one of the best poets to come out of WWI, and his poems are breathtaking and so poignant. Many of these poems left me speechless after reading them for the first time. 

Poem titles link to poems 

Dulce et Decorum Est- If you read one poem from this post today, make it this one. This poem left me absolutely speechless after I translated the last line of the poem from Latin (It is sweet and proper to die for one's country.) If you have taken a literature course, you have probably read this poem, and rightfully so. This poem forces the reader to face the horrors of the trenches as a solider would, while also applying traditional poetic techniques such as rhyme and alliteration, causing quite the contrast. This poem has that bitter and sarcastic punch ending that many war poems have, and also highlights the shifting attitudes towards war. 
Bonus: Here it read by Christopher Eccleston here.

Anthem for Doomed Youth- This is another poem that illustrates the shifting attitude towards war by the young generation that is currently facing it. The "Doomed Youth" of this poem is of course the generation of soldiers fighting in the war. Again, Owen paints a clear and horrifying picture of life at war with traditional poetic devices. 
Bonus: Here it read by Sean Bean here.

The Parable Of the Old Man and the Young- This poem alludes to the biblical story of Abraham and his son Isaac, whom God asks Abraham to sacrifice in order to prove his devotion. Owen uses this story to create a parallel between Isaac and the soldiers. Once again, we see the shift in thinking from the older generation to the younger. 

The Chances- This poem is interesting because it deals with all of the chances a man takes when he signs up to be a solider. Owen lists all of the bad things that can happen, including going "mad." This is an early poem to deal with the psychological and physical affects of war, and Owen does it in a very powerful way. 

As usual, leave me your favorite poems or poets below! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Recently Read: V for Vendetta

Author: Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Genre: Graphic Novel/Comic
Publication Date: Originally serialized in 1982-1985
Page Count: 296
Rating: 3/5

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This graphic novel takes place in a bleak London future. The government is fascist and all-controlling, but even worse, the people have lost their lust for revolution and justice. A mysterious, masked figure named V aims to restore that lust for revolution through any means possible.

I hadn't read anything by Alan Moore, but his graphic novels have become a staple to the genre, so I wanted to check them out, and I thought this would be a good place to start. I was also unfamiliar with the movie version of the novel, so I knew nothing about this story, and I think that added to my enjoyment of the novel. 

The art is traditional comic book art. It's dark and realistic; it's nothing mind-blowing, but it suits the story perfectly. I was really entertained by the first half of this novel. I lost myself in the first half and kept turning the page to find out exactly what was happening and what the motivations of each character were, and I even forgot I was at work while reading it. The second half, however, was a little slow for me. It was still entertaining, but I feel like it dragged out a little too long. 

Don't get me wrong, this story is quite over-the-top and self-indulgent, but it was entertaining. I found the masked figure of V to be compelling and was a big fan of the symbolism weaved into his character. I found some of the characters, particularly the government leaders, to be difficult to keep track off, but I was still able to follow the story just fine. 

This story was written in the 80s in serial form, so it was interesting to see the past's fears for the future. If you are a fan of dystopians or conspiracies, this novel is worth checking out. It's an interesting look at the function of government and revolution in the lives of humans. I'm really interested to watch the film adaptation, as I have a feeling it will be very different from the book, but I think it will be a good film as this is a story that will translate well to film. 

I'm glad to have my first Alan Moore under my belt, and I'm looking forward to moving on to his other works. Watchmen comes highly recommended to me by my brother, so that might be the next graphic novel I tackle.