So, the greatest act of self-care I have indulged in since this year started is listening to Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature by Sparky Sweets, Ph.D.
In case you’re not familiar with the greatness that is Thug Notes, here is a brief intro, using a story we’re all familiar with:
As part of my passion project, I’ve recently finished (and loved) two of Walter Dean Myers’ early picture books: Where Does the Day Go? (illustrated by Leo Carty) and Fly, Jimmy, Fly! (illustrated by Moneta Barnett).
Where Does the Day Go? is delightful. A group of kids are in the park with one of the children’s father, and they have a pretty serious conversation about what happens to the day when it turns into night. Each kid has a theory, but each theory leaves the group with questions. So they take turns telling their theories and trying to answer the questions.
Let me just start by saying that I was going to recommend the WHOLE SERIES, but since I haven’t read the other books yet (except Cinder, of course), I don’t think that’d be prudent. I mean, there are five of them after all. But this book has effectively made me want to read every single word that Marissa Meyer writes in The Lunar Chronicles (and possibly beyond), so take that as you will.
Now. Let’s talk about Scarlet.
SCARLET. Oh, man. This book.
I honestly don’t know where to begin. So, a (non-spoilery) list.
1. The characters are so great. SO GREAT.
I found Scarlet herself infuriating in the best possible way. She’s so headstrong and determined and desperate, but she is also so caring and honest and FIERCE.
Cinder and Kai show up in this one, and they are just as delightful as they were in the first book. Also, [spoiler] Iko is back, and she is THE BEST, and I love her, so obviously that made me happy. [/spoiler]
Scarlet’s grandmére is so badass and amazing. She was a pilot in the military! She chases people away from her door with a shotgun! Also, she is the kind of person her granddaughter would absolutely die for, and she raised a complete badass, so, you know. Grandmothers, man. Also, I kind of love badass old people (see also: Grandpa Noirtier from The Count of Monte Cristo).
Because, my dear friends, these twelve children have lived their entire lives without a public library. As a result, they have no idea how extraordinarily useful, helpful, and funful—a word I recently invented—a library can be. This is their chance to discover that a library is more than a collection of dusty old books. It is a place to learn, explore, and grow!
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein is SO FUN. It’s sort of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Westing Game hybrid. Mr. Lemoncello is this super eccentric rich dude who builds the world’s greatest library and then holds a contest for a selection of kids. And the contest is a scavenger hunt/the world’s best board game. I mean.
The book is one huge love letter to reading, authors, libraries, and librarians. Oh, and to smart kids and games, of course.
The kids are so great, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be Sierra. She is THE BEST. She plays the game, but she’s much more interested in exploring the books and reading. I love her.
There were a lot of allusions to tons of books (most of which were super easy to get, but it is a middle grade novel, so that makes sense). I started making a list, but then stopped because it got too long. So, the books/authors mentioned either outright or via allusion are:
- The Giver
- The Hunger Games
- Oh, the Places You Will Go
- Little House on the Prairie
- When You Reach Me
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
- Frederick Douglass
- The Westing Game
- Ella Enchanted
- The Great Gilly Hopkins
- The Red Pyramid
- Maniac Magee
- A Wrinkle in Time
- Great Expectations
- Goodnight Moon
- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
- Bridge to Terabithia
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
- The Three Musketeers
- A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
- The Phantom Tollbooth
- The Wind in the Willows
- Tuck Everlasting
- The Rats of NIMH
- Al Capone Does My Shirts
And that is an incomplete list! Basically, a book or author is referenced on every single page. EVERY PAGE. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
The book is not without its flaws (the characters are kind of flat, the ending a bit predictable), but I really enjoyed the emphasis on teamwork and, of course, how much awesomeness there is to find at the library. Love the library. LOVE the library, and therefore love this book.
I am of charm and strange.
(Yes, I know. This is not the first nor will it be the last book that will get points off for sadness even if, you know, that’s part of the point of the book.)
Ultimately, though, I have decided to mark it as a recommendation because I cannot stop thinking about it.
In fact, this book has a lot in common with Pointe by Brandy Colbert, a book I recommended a few weeks ago. Both books deal with teens who have endured a trauma, and both explore how the teens deal with that trauma.
Charm & Strange differs from Pointe in that main character Drew’s trauma occurred when he was around 9 whereas Theo from Pointe’s trauma occurred at 13. While it may not seem like a big difference, it actually is. Because Drew was so young, his trauma affected what is referred to in the text as his system of meaning–how he understands and relates to the world. Homeboy is disturbed.
Charm & Strange is almost impossible to talk about without spoilers, especially since the book is written specifically to keep Drew’s trauma hidden until he’s able to discuss it. In fact, the point of view is part of why I wasn’t sure if I would recommend this. At times, I found it off-putting. There is SO MUCH narrative distance that it’s hard to connect with Drew, even though the reader is in his head. Again, given the trauma and the narrative that makes perfect sense—and works really well for the novel—but that distance makes it hard to connect with Drew (which, again, is the point. Still). I found myself wishing it were in third person so the distance wouldn’t feel so great, but Drew is so disconnected from himself that the first person shows that more clearly.
However, in the end, it all pays off and makes perfect sense.
So what I liked about this book:
– I like that the catalyst for change is a girl, but not in the ways that are typical of most current YA novels. Jordan is new to the school and curious about Drew, so is willing to talk to him and ask him questions, which most of his classmates don’t do or have learned not to do.
– I really like that his former roommate looks out for him even as Drew tries to push him away. And why? Because he knows Drew’s secret, one of the things Drew thinks distances him from other people.
– The characters are really well-drawn even when the reader only gets glimpses of them. Some great character work here. And Drew’s brother! Oh my heart. Just…right in the gut. He broke my heart the most.
– I really, really, really like that these kids realize they’re in way over their heads with Drew and get adult help in the end.
– More importantly, the book shows the power of one or two people actually paying attention and how much of a difference that can make in a person’s life. The book isn’t preachy at all about that, by the way, but the message is there.
– While the story is sad (so very, very sad), it is ultimately hopeful as almost all good YA is.
– Oh, and it should be pointed out that the cover matches the book perfectly.
In conclusion: This is a complex and satisfying read that I could not stop thinking about after I finished it. It is a little dark, though, so be prepared for that.
This week’s Recommendation Wednesday post is also a part of Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge!
For one thing, it features a regular teen doing (mostly) regular things. There are two big conflicts in the story. One is that Lara Jean’s sister has left home, so Lara Jean is trying to figure out her place in her family/how to be the big sister. The other one is that the secret letters she has written all of her former crushes have somehow (and it’s pretty easy to figure out how, though I love that Lara Jean seriously doesn’t figure it out on her own) been sent to them.
As I’ve said before, I really love to see teens doing regular teen things in books because family/school life is fraught with drama. All of the extra stuff that most authors pile on their main characters are just not within the realm of most teens’ experiences.
The real highlight of this book for me, though, is that it features fake dating. FAKE DATING. I love fake dating stories. Because I know that eventually one or both of them will fall for the other, and it is glorious figuring out the moment it goes from fake to real. I LOVE IT.
This is a thing I didn’t even really knew I loved until I was excited that it showed up in this story.
So. Fake dating. Yes.
Lara Jean also has a completely unrequited and borderline inappropriate crush on her sister’s boyfriend, which is also delightful. Because I love unrequited love! It is where I live, so it speaks to me.
Also, I looooooove the cover.
All in all, this was a really solid and fun story.
This week’s Recommendation Wednesday post is brought to you by Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge. The parameters for the challenge are very simple:
- Read and review one book
- Written by a person of color
- During the last two weeks of September (September 14th – 27th)
I really liked this book, even though it is super dark. (And by super dark I mean it deals with really dark subject matter: child abduction and child rape.) While the book does deal with heavy subject matter, I think what keeps it from being too is that Colbert keeps the focus on main character Theo and her relationships with her friends, her parents, and, of course, ballet. So while the book starts with Theo’s childhood best friend Donovan returning home after being abducted, the story is mainly about how Theo navigates her feelings about it while going about her day to day life.
That means, of course, going to school every day and dealing with everything that goes along with that. And keeping up with ballet practice.
Because Theo interacts so much with so many other characters–all of whom are affected by Donovan’s return in some way, though none as directly or deeply as Theo–the narrative takes much needed breaks from the turmoil Theo feels because she has to do stuff like run the concession booth at school.
God, I’m making this sound boring. It’s not.
What I Liked
– That cover!
– Theo is a fascinating character who is friends with fascinating characters. She is flawed and believably so. Honestly, I just wanted to give her a big old hug when the story was over.
– I really love that Theo is screwed up and comes from a normal family. She has loving parents, she has a relatively good life, but at the same time, her life is a mess. So often in literature, there’s a straight line from trauma to family, and in this one, there is no straight line. Theo’s parents love her and they’re involved, but she’s just…a mess. And that’s something that happens in real life.
– I also love that, ultimately, Theo has to ask for and get help from adults because her problems are so big that she can’t tackle them on her own.
What I Didn’t Like
– The book isn’t perfect. One thing my book club agreed on is that we wish there had been more ballet and more of Theo processing her feelings through ballet. (The cover is misleading in that way. Though Theo is a ballerina, the cover makes it seem as though dance is the crux of the story. It’s not. The story is about a dancer, not about dance.) And one woman thought the book read a little like tragedy porn. So those are things to be aware of.
In conclusion: While more of a focus on the use of dance to process feelings would have been nice, the characters (especially main character Theo), relationships, and overall plotting make this an engrossing and worthwhile read.
Okay, it’s a bit presumptuous of me to recommend an entire trilogy when only two-thirds of the books are available to read, but I really liked A Corner of White and Cracks in the Kingdom absolutely DELIGHTED me. I was delighted! I mean, I seriously read the last third or so of the book with a smile on my face because it was making me so happy.
That almost never happens.
I loved the second book so much, and I don’t even know if I can articulate why. I think, mostly, it has to do with the fact that the book is fanciful and full of fantastical elements, but there’s this edge of sadness and melancholy to all the events. Characters are in denial or they’re a bit lost or they’re trying so hard to make things right or everything’s falling part. And at the same time there’s this wonderful relationship between Elliot and Madeleine developing that’s kind of flirtatious but not really but also kind of really but mostly just both of them finding someone they can talk to about the insane things that are happening in their lives.
Did I mention that Madeleine lives in England (aka the World) and Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello, and they communicate via letters through a parking meter?
I mean, of course they communicate via letters (this is Jaclyn Moriarty after all, queen of the epistolary novel), but they communicate through the parking meter because there’s an illegal crack open between the two worlds.
I know. I can’t believe I like it either.
Except I can.
(I should point out that these are not epistolary novels, though the reader does see some of the letters the two characters send back and forth.)
Some of my favorite moments are the ones with Princess Ko’s family (LOVE HER. She is super clever and smart and brave) as well as Elliot’s interactions with the princess. And everything with Madeleine and her friends, of course. (Of course.)
I cannot wait for the third book. Cannot wait.