I’m sorry, what?

September 19, 2010

“…In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography. One such book is called ‘Speak’.”

Come again?

This is a quote from an article by one Wesley Scroggins, published recently in the opinion section of the Springfield, Missouri paper The News-Leader. Needless to say, a storm of internet outrage has been launched over his insensitive portrayal of Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK, which tells the story of a teen victim of rape. Now, I’m not sure how Mr. Scroggins feels, but I would certainly hope that most people don’t get off on this book.

I am not a person that believes in many completely objective truths, but one of them is this: rape is not the fault of the victim. Laurie Halse Anderson happens to be in agreement with me. So when I hear “…the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page,” I think there’s some gross misrepresentation going on there. And furthermore, does that sound like porn to you?

Help get the word out about this– don’t let people like Scroggins keep such a beautiful and important book off the shelves and away from youth whom it can help. Declare your support for SPEAK by Tweeting #SpeakLoudly, and check out these other blog posts on this topic:

Laurie Halse Anderson answers the charges herself.

Cheryl Rainfield writes about how she feels about this affair, as a survivor of sexual and ritual abuse, as does C.J. Redwine.

Myra McEntire gives a laudable Christian perspective.

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Book Review: Mockingjay

August 26, 2010

In 2008, Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel The Hunger Games reached popular and critical acclaim for its compelling portrayal of the intricacies of love and loyalty when set against the human desire to survive. Its sequel, Catching Fire, moved seamlessly into the lengths to which an oppressive ruling power will stretch to maintain their fragile control, and what it takes to forge a revolution. In Mockingjay, the third and final chronicle of the Hunger Games, Collins takes us on a spare-no-glance tour of the cost of war on a nation and on the human soul, and of how far we are willing to go in defense of a fragile conception of moral right.

Katniss Everdeen, the Girl Who was on Fire, has survived two of the infamous death matches known as the Hunger Games and has unintentionally made herself into the symbol of the resistance against the Capitol’s tyrannical rule. Peeta, the one person who has been through as much as she has and understands, has been captured by the Capitol. District 12, her home, is a firebombed ruin. All around her war rages– the districts are revolting, and at last President Snow’s regime will be toppled or will crush them all.

Katniss is safe in the hands of the surviving District 13, protected as the face of a revolution must be. Inside, she is terrified by the loss of Peeta, enraged by the abuses of the Capitol, and discomfited by the “allies” who seek to use her standing for their own ends. The only stable thing in her life seems to be Gale, her oldest remaining friend, and even he seems to be someone she doesn’t quite recognize any more. Amidst all of this, Katniss must put aside her misgivings and come to terms with the fact that she is the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for a nation, who is responsible for countless lives.

Anyone who has read one or both of the previous Hunger Games books knows that Suzanne Collins pulls no punches with her vivid prose, but even knowing this I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of Mockingjay. This is a book about love, trust, family, and heroism, true, but above all else it is a story of war and what war does to us. You will not necessarily like this book; you may come out of it hating Collins, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, or any other of the numerous characters. But it will resonate with you, and that, combined with your hatred, will be how you know Collins succeeded in what she set out to do– her characters are human. They have human lusts, fears, weaknesses, and strengths. Their every defeat is diluted by hope, and their every victory is tainted by regret. At the end, you will be hard pressed to say who won, exactly, because each side– every individual, in fact–left so indelible a mark on the outcome that the idea of “winning” seems nothing more than a nostalgic fantasy from before everything was set in motion.


Book Review: A Dog’s Purpose (Cameron)

June 22, 2010

*ARC Alert*

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron will be released on July 6th, 2010 by Forge Books (Hardcover, $22.99, 320 pages).

Ever since around the time Marley & Me came out, the “dog book” has been a strong genre. Mostly they’re memoirs, but the occasional novel, like this one, fit into the group by following the formula, which parallels actual dog ownership– laughter and love, ended by heartbreak. A Dog’s Purpose takes this journey across multiple lifetimes with the dog who is first Toby, then reincarnated as Bailey (the name I’ll use for this review), Ellie and Buddy. Each time he finds purpose and meaning by linking his life to humans, and each time he dies thinking that his journey has ended and his duty fulfilled, only to discover himself born again in search of an even higher calling.

The best, most pervasive part of this book was how absolutely dog the narration was. Of course, we can’t know what goes on inside our furry friends’ heads for sure, but as of the first chapter of this book, I imagine it to be exactly as Cameron paints it. (I’ve found that it benefits my puppy as well– instead of being angry when she gets into the garbage, I laugh at her imagined confusion in response to my reprimand. “The girl is obviously confused. How can it be a bad dog idea to eat out of the can? Does she know that there’s chicken in the can?”) Bailey is full of such doggy wit and wisdom in all of his incarnations. In fact, the only thing that matches his humour is his heart– just like any good dog.

As necessitated by the “dog book” genre, I cried a few times in the middle and definitely at the end. However, mostly I laughed, and laughed often and out loud. When I was finished I handed it off to my mother, who enjoys such books, and she had pretty much the same reaction. I would recommend this to anyone who loves dogs, or humour, or stories about life, or humourous stories about dogs’ lives. I think Kirkus Reviews put it best when they described it as “Marley & Me combined with Tuesdays With Morrie“. Truly, a touching tale.


Book Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Pearson)

March 8, 2010

Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens after more than a year in a coma to find herself in a life—and a body—that she doesn’t quite recognize. Her parents tell her that she’s been in an accident, but much of her past identity and current situation remain a mystery to her: Why has her family abruptly moved from Boston to California, leaving all of her personal belongings behind? Why does her grandmother react to her with such antipathy? Why have her parents instructed her to make sure not to tell anyone about the circumstances of their move? And why can Jenna recite whole passages of Thoreau’s Walden, but remember next to nothing of her own past? As she watches family videos of her childhood, strange memories begin to surface, and she slowly realizes that a terrible secret is being kept from her. (synopsis from School Library Journal)

This is one of those books that makes me feel somewhat out of the loop. Apparently it was something of a Big Deal. Like Keturah and Lord Death, it’s not the next great American novel or anything, but well-received and sort of acclaimed. I had never heard of it and picked it up on a whim. But I am glad that I did.

Now, personally, I will gladly debate almost anyone on politics/religion/the big questions- American culture, Christianity’s merits and flaws, LGBT rights, whether the human race deserves to go extinct… just about the only thing I won’t touch is medical ethics. This is because medical ethics are very, very scary. Drawing a line between doing right and saving lives and playing God, meddling with what shouldn’t be meddled, that is something which I refuse to have an opinion on, because it seems like a question so convoluted as to be impossible. With the kind of technology we have today, and will have in the years to come, we can do some amazing things to help people. But atque in luce, sic semper in tenebra (“as it is in light, so always in darkness”), and so on. We as human beings always manage to hurt people with our miracles, and the capacity for harm in some of the things we’re developing is mind-boggling. I don’t want to get involved.

So when someone, in this case Mary E. Pearson, tackles the very questions I’m too wussy to examine with literary grace and aplomb, I tend to cheer them on. Not only is this book full of deep thoughts, but it presents them in a way that provokes further examination long after you’ve closed its covers. Ultimately, it even presents a funny kind of hope, though the limits Pearson defines are too far past my own personal lines for comfort. It’s only 265 pages, almost slim, but is weighs on you heavily enough that it feels much longer. Gripping and powerful are the two words that come to mind, overused though they may be.

The romance seemed a little thin to me, and never quite got the point of the character Dane- he could probably have been cut out and I wouldn’t have missed him- but otherwise I liked it. Jenna herself seems to be emotionally distant for much of the book, but it fits with her lack of/developing identity, so it works. Four stars.


Book Review: It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Authors Famous &Obscure (SMITH Magazine)

February 19, 2010

So Harper Collins sent me a free uncorrected proof/advance-copy-that-wasn’t-an-advance-copy-because-this-book-came-out-in-January a few weeks ago, and I read it, and now I’m reviewing it because I can only assume that that’s what they wanted. A hearty thank-you to you, Harper Collins; I’m a big fan of the six-word memoir books. I have no idea why you sent me this, since it’s doubtful that you mistook me for a high-profile book reviewer. But thanks.

But anyway, the book. It’s fantastic. I bought myself a copy of the first one, Not Quite What I Was Planning, after hearing about it online, and loved it, then took it around and showed it to everyone I knew, then took it around again and annoyed them all with how much I loved it. But the first time they loved it, too.

The premise of the books is obviously to write your own life story in just six words (see more here), a practice inspired by a famous legend about Ernest Hemingway. He was challenged, it’s said, to write a novel in six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Also according to the legend, he once called it his best work. It certainly hit me harder than The Old Man and the Sea.

The best thing about these books, though (there are currently four of them out) is that the writers actually are “famous & obscure.” In It All Changed in an Instant, you’ll see memoirs attributed to Somebodies like  Michael Moore and Isabel Allende right next to ones by people you’ve never heard of. Even better than the best part, these people-you-have-never-heard-of write the best ones! Anyone, literally anyone, can submit a memoir to SMITH for consideration. I myself have done a few. Just head on over to the link I supplied above and give it a go. As The New Yorker said in their six-word review, “You could spend a lifetime brainstorming.” Five stars.

P.S.- it is my advice to take these a few at a time for best effect. After a while, as with all little-this-and-that books, they tend to blend together if you read too many. And seriously, take your copy around and share it. People will love you more.

EDIT: Mystery solved. LibraryThing sent it as a part of the early reviewer program that I signed up for. I was merely confused because right there on my homepage, it said I hadn’t received any books from them yet. If you click on that, though, you can see that by “no books” they mean “this book.” Oh, LibraryThing. Love ya.