Review: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

deathTitle: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia
Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 272
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Review copy: the charming library
Availability: May 28, 2013

Summary: Frenchie Garcia can’t come to grips with the death of Andy Cooper. Frenchie’s obsession with death and Emily Dickinson won’t help her understand the role she played during Andy’s “one night of adventure.” But when she meets Colin, she may have found the perfect opportunity to recreate that night. While exploring the emotional depth of loss and transition to adulthood, Sanchez’s sharp humor and clever observations bring forth a richly developed voice. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I was drawn to this book because, well, I’m a sucker for long and elaborate titles. Fortunately, my love for long titles did not lead me astray. Frenchie Garcia’s obsession with death is a very real one — she lives on the down the street from a cemetery. But, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that her preoccupation with death is not only caused by her locale. The death of her classmate Andy Cooper occupies her thoughts and takes a toll on her relationship with her closest friends. Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia reads more like a mystery than anything else. The story of Andy Cooper’s death and Frenchie’s role in it is slowly revealed as Frenchie’s life unravels.

Bits and pieces of Emily Dickinson’s poetry help take Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia to the next level. Frenchie loves Dickinson’s poems and finds comfort in her one-sided conversations with Dickinson. Each poem in the book gives meaning to Frenchie’s experiences. It’s also a great crash course in Dickinson’s poetry if you’re not familiar with it.

The book’s strongest point is the portrayal of Frenchie’s relationships with her close friends and parents.  Even though the book is from Frenchie’s perspective, you can really get a sense of what her friends think of her and how they treat her. Frenchie’s emotional turmoil leads her to sabotage her own friendships, but they hold strong. Still, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia is an interesting reflection on death and those it affects, as well as the strength of friendship.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a fan of Emily Dickinson!

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Works in Translation

I have to admit — I’m a lazy reader. I prefer books that make me laugh out loud over heavy dystopian books that make me think about the evolution of society. I want books with lots of snappy dialogue and easy-to-swallow plotlines. I wish all my books were light summer reads, even if it’s the dead of winter. It’s like how I constantly crave junk food.

Sometimes, though, I crave the kind of language you can only get through translated works.* Now, I’m not about to go back to reading translations of modernist Japanese lit (never again! okay, maybe someday). Fortunately, there’s a few translated Japanese YA lit and middle grade books out there. Here is my favorite one:

brave storyTitle: Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

Young Wataru Mitani’s life is a mess. His father has abandoned him and his mother has been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Desperately he searches for some way to change his life; a way to alter his fate. To achieve his goal, he must navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly. And to complicate matters, he must outwit a merciless rival from the real world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Brave Story is a long read, but worth every minute. It’s the sort of book that has such beautiful and detailed language that I just want to bask in the flow of words — you know, that kind of book. The intermingling of Wataru’s real life and fantasy world is gracefully done. Wataru’s adventure can be a bit puzzling at times, but if you just keep reading, it’ll all come together.

Note: Brave Story is written by Miyuki Miyabe, who is a Japanese author in Japan — not a POC written work from America, England, etc. But a change of pace is nice, isn’t it?

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New Releases

Happy book birthday to My Basmati Bat Mitzvah which will be released tomorrow on October 1st:
batm

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Amulet Books

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

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Review: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood

jane austenTitle:  Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood
Author: Abby McDonald
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 336
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: April 9, 2013

Summary: Hallie and Grace Weston have never exactly seen life eye to eye. So when their father dies and leaves everything to his new wife, forcing the girls to pack up and leave San Francisco for a relative’s house in shiny Beverly Hills, the two sisters take to their changing lot in typically different styles.
[Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review:  The moment I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to read it. I’m no Janeite, but I’ve got some love for Jane Austen. This book is based on Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility which I haven’t read in a while so… I cheated and reread the summary on Sparknotes. (Shhh. Don’t tell my English professors.)

Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is a pretty fun modern adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. The 18th century gentry of Jane Austen’s time are replaced by two sisters living the rich life in Beverly Hills. At first, I was put off by the super wealthy lifestyle of almost everyone in this book, until I realized how perfectly it matched Sense and Sensibility. After that, I managed to sit back and enjoy the ride. The light tone of the book reminded me of the movie Clueless (a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma!).

A variety of side characters come and go, bringing humor and color to the story. (My favorite was Grace’s lab partner, Harry the Asian skater boy.) I was pretty impressed by the way each of the characters was updated. The younger sister Grace is sensible and cautious, while her older sister Hallie is a drama queen dreaming of making it in Hollywood. I was also put off by Hallie’s constant dramatics and lack of perspective, but, once I decided to just enjoy the book, Hallie stopped being irritating to me and became hilarious.

Overall, the book was a hilarious read. The Gatsby-esque parties and over-the-top characters did take some getting used to, but I had fun waiting for Grace and Hallie’s respective romances to pan out.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you’re planning to swing by the library — especially if you’re a Jane Austen fan or just looking for some light summer reading.

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Judging Covers

So I took a YA lit class not so long ago — yes, this is a thing — and we had a book cover artist come in to talk to us about cover design. She went over some cool stuff — elements of cover design, the iconic imagery of the Hunger Games, etc. And then she pulled up a slide with fifteen YA book covers. They were sorted into three categories: Pretty Dead Girls, Sad Girls in Pretty Dresses, and Girls With Flowing Hair. She went on to beg us to never, ever create Pretty Dead Girl covers because those were so overdone.

In my head, I misremembered the whole thing and switched out Pretty Dead Girls with Dead White Girls. When I went home that day, I told my housemates about the funny book cover lady who lamented over the gazillions of Dead White Girl covers being put out every year. I wasn’t really wrong — there are an awful lot of tragic white girl covers gracing YA books. [Images via Goodreads]

adslfjsdfthe unquiet

First of all, what’s with the tragic/languishing/dead look? Kind of feels like passivity and vulnerability are considered the best way to showcase an attractive girl, eh? (Sexism rears its ugly head.) And don’t get me started on how every girl seems to have the same cookie-cutter good looks. Second, why is everyone white? If I judged YA lit by its book covers, I’d think that 90% of its books were identical stories about a sad girl languishing. This is simply unfair to YA lit as a whole. In recent years, attention has been drawn to the prevalence of these kind of covers and the issue of whitewashed covers.

At the same time, it’s not enough to simply point out that wow, there are a lot of tragic white girl covers and then hashtag it. Awareness may be the first step, but it’s not the last. After all, these book covers are nothing new. I like what Justine Larbalestier had to say on the problem of whitewashed book covers:

“I hope it gets every publishing house thinking about how incredibly important representation is and that they are in a position to break down these assumptions… I really hope that the outrage the US cover of Liar has generated will go a long way to bringing an end to white washing covers. Maybe even to publishing and promoting more writers of color. But never forget that publishers are in the business of making money. Consumers need to do what they can.”

Now let me change consumers to readers. (I tire of the implication by authors and publishers that ‘true activism’ is fueled primarily by buying power. Ugh, no.) Readers, a flexible role that bookworms, library patrons, editors and writers all take on, need to do what they can. We can recommend, review, buy, and promote beloved books that feature good cover design and diversity and quality writing — it’s not just about the covers, after all! As Cindy Pon puts it,

Whitewashing book covers is never okay, but it is easier to do when it is only happening to a few books—because the vast majority of other books feature no characters of color. It is something that, despite causing an uproar online in pockets of certain communities, can still be swept under the rug and soon be forgotten.

We see so many of the same YA covers because there is so little diversity within YA lit itself. The covers are only the symptom of a greater problem. Readers need to do what they can. To back up my words, here are some awesome books and their lovely covers:

book covers

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Half World by Hiromi Goto
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Since You Asked by Maurene Goo

Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, concludes her article (definitely go read the whole thing!) on the disappearance of race from YA lit by saying,

“So, to all the teenagers out there, whoever you are and from wherever you come, I say this – you deserve all the stories: the ones about people like you, and the ones about people unlike you… You deserve stories that make your existence larger, not smaller; stories that expand rather than limit your reality. And when you walk into a bookstore, you deserve to be surrounded by a crowd of faces, of all colours and cultures and races, and to know that behind every one of those faces is a new world waiting to be discovered…and all it takes to experience it is the turn of a page.”

For more reading: Another great resource discussing YA book cover trends (and problems!), complete with lots of pie charts: Uncovering YA Covers: 2011 by Kate Hart

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New Releases

Here are two lovely books being released tomorrow (9/3)!

zero fadeZero Fade by Chris L. Terry

Curbside Splendor Publishing Inc.

The debut young adult novel by Chicago writer Chris L. Terry. Zero Fade chronicles eight days in the life of inner-city Richmond, Virginia teen Kevin Phifer as he deals with wack hair-cuts, bullies, last-year fly gear, his uncle Paul coming out as gay, and being grounded. [Summary and Image via Goodreads]

 

 

 

lord of opium The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

The new book continues the story of Matt, the boy who was cloned from evil drug lord El Patrón in The House of the Scorpion. Now 14 years old, Matt rules his own country, the Land of Opium, the only thriving place in a world ravaged by ecological disaster. Though he knows that the cure for ending the suffering is hidden in Opium, Matt faces obstacles and enemies at every turn when he tries to use his power to help. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

I need to get ahold of House of the Scorpion to reread — I can’t wait to read the long awaited sequel!

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