Book Review: All The Rage

alltherageAll The Rage
Courtney Summers
Young Adult fiction
337 pages
Published 2015

Wow. I finished this book, sat back, and stared at it in silence for a while. This is an emotional wringer of a book that more people should read. It’s also full of trauma triggers, so beware.

Trigger Warning. Rape and Recovery.

All The Rage is about a girl. It’s about rape culture. It’s about her trauma, and the aftermath. The book flashes back and forth a little – it includes a triggered flashback to her rape, and her memories of it. The font choices show how mixed up she is sometimes, and how hard it is for her to tell what’s really happening, what is a memory, and what is a flashback. Her rape is never written about in high detail. One Goodreads reviewer made a good point – the details being scant makes the shadows larger for the devil to hide in. (Her review is is posted in full on her blog, and it’s a powerful one.)

The book was an easy read, technically – I read it in an afternoon – but it was a very hard read, emotionally and mentally. The main character, Romy, talks about how no one prepares girls for this, and she’s right. As a society, we don’t. We tell girls how to avoid those kinds of situations, but not what to do when actually IN them. Or how to determine the best course of action. Because surviving an attack is usually the priority, and screaming and fighting isn’t always the best way to do that. Romy froze, and she blames herself for the failure to fight. But she also blames society for not teaching girls what to do. And once the unthinkable has happened, society abandons the victims. That was one of the hardest parts of the book – the victim-blaming. No one believes Romy. They call her a slut and a liar. Her high school classmates do horrible things to her.

The book is dark, but there are points of light. Leon is a coworker at the diner, and he’s sweet on Romy. The book uses the relationship to show how rape can affect any future intimacy. Romy can’t trust him, because her rapist seemed sweet, too. Until he wasn’t. Romy’s mother and mother’s boyfriend are both supportive, caring, and loving. They don’t understand what she’s going through, mostly because Romy won’t tell them, but they do their best anyway.

All The Rage is a really good book. It’s also a very important book, and personally I think it should be required reading in high school. (That will never happen, it’s too graphic and would offend parents, I’m sure. But it should.) If it’s something you’ve experienced personally, it’s very triggery and should maybe be avoided. But if it isn’t? Read this book. You need to know.

(The author of All The Rage is Canadian, which I didn’t realize until I was reading the blurb on the back, so this counts for my Read Canadian Challenge. Rape Culture is also a major problem facing the world today, so I’m counting this as “A book about a problem facing society today” for the PopSugar 2018 Challenge.)

From the cover of All The Rage:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything-friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time-and they certainly won’t now-but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, Courtney Summers’ new novel All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

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Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

childrenChildren of Blood and Bone
Tomi Adeyemi
Fantasy
600 pages
Release date March 6, 2018

Have you ever reached the end of a book and yelled “NOOOOO!!!”? Because I just did. Children of Blood and Bone ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, and I’m even more upset about that than I would be normally – I got this book as an advanced reader’s copy through Goodreads. So not only do I have to wait for the sequel to come out, THIS BOOK ISN’T EVEN OUT YET. *screams internally*

That massive frustration aside, I LOVED THIS BOOK. African-inspired fantasy novels are starting to crop up, along with other non-European based fantasy, and I’m loving it. (You can find Russian inspired fantasy that I’ve read previously here and here, and Jewish/Arab fantasy here.) Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American author, and this is her debut novel. It definitely shows some hallmarks of a debut novel – the dialogue is a bit stilted in places, and it’s a little bit formulaic – but the world building is excellent.

Children of Blood and Bone is a story of oppression, and the sparks of a rebellion. I assume the rest of the trilogy will deal with the actual rebellion, but given the cliffhanger it ends on, I’m not actually sure of that. When Zélie, the main character, was very young, magic failed, and the king, who was afraid of maji, took the opportunity to kill every maji in his kingdom before they could find a way to regain their powers. Since then, every person who could have become a maji as they grew (they’re marked by their white hair) has been treated as a second-class citizen. They’re forced into slums, used as slave labor, kicked around by nobility and guards, made to pay higher taxes, and forbidden to breed with the other classes. They don’t have magic – and they have no way to get it – but they’re treated as trash by the king that hates them, and accordingly by the rest of his subjects.

At the beginning of the book, a magical artifact resurfaces that restores magic to any diviner (potential maji) that touches it. This, of course, is not okay with the king, and most of the book is about the race to use the magical artifact while being chased by the king’s son and his guards who are trying to destroy it. The conflicted prince has secrets of his own, though, and as the book weaves through jungles, mountains, and seas, he wavers in his mission.

It’s always difficult to review books without giving too much away about the plot, so I won’t say much more about the events. I really enjoyed that they rode giant cats – leopanaires. Zélie and her allies ride a lion leopanaire, which is apparently somewhat unusual. Most of the guards ride leopards or cheetahs, while the royal family rides snow leopanaires. The magic is unique, the gods and religion are beautifully fleshed out, and overall I just really loved this world, and I’m very sad it will be so long before I can dive back into it.

This is also my “Book published in 2018” for the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

From the cover of Children of Blood and Bone:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leopanaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Book Review: The Rules of Magic

rulesofmagicThe Rules of Magic
Alice Hoffman
Contemporary Fantasy
385 pages
Published 2017

So I actually didn’t know that Practical Magic the movie was based on a book. But when I saw The Rules of Magic billed as the prequel to a movie I had loved, I knew I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did. The Rules of Magic is, well, magical. Magical and nostalgic and spell-binding. Most book worlds feel different than their respective movie-worlds, but this felt like a logical prequel. (It may be because I haven’t seen the movie in some time – I intend to remedy that soon, and I might just have to read the book as well.)

Practical Magic, the well known movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, centers around the two girls and their elderly aunts. The Rules of Magic is the aunts’ story. And what a story. It begins in New York, as the older of the two aunts is turning 17. On an Owens’ girl’s seventeenth birthday, they receive an invitation to spend the summer at the Owens home in Massachusetts. Frances, the older of the two girls, receives the invitation, and her two siblings won’t let her go alone, so all three of them (yes, three, the movie doesn’t mention their brother that I recall, though I suppose Bullock and Kidman’s characters had to come from somewhere!) pack up and head to Massachusetts, where they meet their Aunt Isabelle. Over the course of the summer, they learn their family history, and get verification that they are indeed witches. (They’d had certain powers throughout childhood, though their mother tried to deny it.)

It was Vincent’s storyline that intrigued me, since I knew where Frances and Jet ended up. There was an unexpected curveball that I won’t spoil here, but I enjoyed it. It was Jet and Frances’ storylines that had me crying at the end of the book, though. Not the very last chapter – it ended on a hopeful note – but the few chapters preceding it had me in tears. (It was midnight, and everyone else was asleep, so I had myself a good cry over my book, and then had to try to sleep on a wet pillow.)

If you enjoyed Practical Magic the movie, you should read this book. It’s a perfect prequel.

From the cover of The Rules of Magic:

Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

Book Review: The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Historical Fiction
369 pages
Published 2014

The Invention of Wings is one of my PopSugar Reading Challenge books, for the prompt “A Book from a Celebrity Book Club.” It was Oprah’s 3rd pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Oprah interviewed Sue Monk Kidd in the January 2014 issue of O Magazine.

I can definitely see why Oprah was so affected by this book; the two main characters are Sarah Grimké, an early abolitionist and women’s rights activist, and Hetty Handful, the slave gifted to her by her mother when she turned 11. In an afterword, Kidd explains that she did try to stay mostly historically accurate, and Handful was gifted to Sarah when she was 11, though she apparently died not long after. In Kidd’s book, however, Handful survives. Sarah and her younger sister, Angelina, were real people, and really did most of what is ascribed to them in the book, though Kidd passes a couple of their deeds from one sister to the other. The Grimkés were from Charleston, South Carolina, and born into an aristocratic, slave-owning family headed by a prestigious judge. Their abolitionist actions get them exiled from Charleston and from their church. Meanwhile, Hetty, her ownership having returned to Sarah’s mother, dreams of freedom and plots rebellions of her own.

I was a little wary going into this book; I’ve read a couple of Oprah’s picks before, and generally found them dry and uninteresting. This one, though, was very well written. The voices of both women came through clearly, as did some of the brutality of slavery. Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees, which got a lot of attention. If it’s anything like this, I might have to finally read that as well.

(I know the author is white, but I thought, being about slavery and abolition, it would still qualify for Black History Month.)

From the cover of The Invention of Wings:

A triumphant story about the quest for freedom and empowerment, Sue Monk Kidd’s third novel presents the extraordinary journeys of two unforgettable women: Hetty “Handful” Grimké, an urban slave in early-nineteenth century Charleston, and Sarah, the Grimkés’ idealistic daughter. 

Inspired in part by the historic figure of abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, Kidd’s novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. The Invention of Wings follows these two women over the next thirty-five years as both strive for lives of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.

 

Book Review: Turtles All The Way Down

turtlesTurtles All The Way Down
John Green
Young Adult Fiction
298 pages
Published October 2017

So what the cover description of this book doesn’t explicitly mention is that Aza, the main character, has a pretty severe anxiety disorder. That’s really the core topic of the book – her thought spirals and dealing with life while caught in them. I trust John Green to write about these because he also suffers from severe anxiety. He’s talked about it in interviews and his vlogbrothers Youtube channel. (I’m a big Green brothers fan – what’s known as a nerdfighter.) So when John Green writes a character with anxiety, I believe that it’s a realistic portrayal. I loved the integration of technology in the story – two characters don’t just text each other, the text conversation is on the page, formatted differently, so it’s obvious these are text messages. I always love books that do that.

There’s not a whole lot I can say about the book without giving things away; a lot of John Green’s characters tend to wax eloquently about philosophy and things outside themselves, and Aza doesn’t do that because she’s so trapped within her own thoughts. She can’t think of the future or existential dread because she’s too worried about the microbes in her stomach getting out of control and giving her diseases. Definitely a departure from his usual story, though it does fit his standard MO of Main character meets other character who profoundly changes main character’s life in some way. (There’s a third part that is also consistent with most of John Green’s novels but it’s a spoiler.)

I think the book is a really good book for anyone who loves someone with anxiety. Or even for those who have anxiety themselves, to see that they’re not alone.

From the cover of Turtles All The Way Down:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
   
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 
 
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Book Review: Kindred

kindredKindred
Octavia Butler
Historical Fiction
306 pages
Published 2004

I’m not really sure where to start with this book. It’s in that category of “classics that everyone should read” and having finally read it, I agree. It’s really, really, really good. It’s a hard read at times – it takes you right into the antebellum south and the heart of slavery. It’s actually set in Maryland, which is a little jarring for me – in today’s political climate, Maryland isn’t really considered part of “the south” – it’s far more liberal than most of the south. A blue state, where those are all red. But it WAS a slave state. It is below the Mason-Dixon line, and reading the wiki, slavery was actually legal here longer than it was in the south. (Mostly because the Emancipation Proclamation only covered the Confederate States, not the slave-holding Union states of Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland. That’s screwed up. You can’t have slaves, but it’s totally cool that the people that fought for us still keep them?)

So Kindred is set mostly in pre-Civil War Maryland, with a few scenes in modern-day California. The mystery of how Dana time-travels is never explained – but it doesn’t really need to be. That’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is a modern-day black woman transplanted to the antebellum south and learning to understand slavery in a very intimate manner. Dana mentions a couple of times how easy it is to forget that she has another life – that’s she’s a free black woman from the future – because the way they keep slaves in line doesn’t give you time to think past the present. You work too hard to think of the future, and if you don’t, all you can think about is the pain from your punishment for not working hard enough.

The book is a very visceral portrayal of a somewhat pampered slave’s life – she’s not a field hand, her masters are what passes for “kind.” Dana’s fellow slaves live in fear of being sold down south to Mississippi – they know Maryland is better. As hard as some of the scenes are to read, the book explicitly says it could be harder.

The conflict Dana feels between rescuing her white, slave-owning ancestor again and again, and standing back and letting nature take its course (but dooming herself) is one of the central points of the book. It’s a moral quandary that she never really answers.

Ultimately, there’s no way to do this book justice in a review. I think it should be required high school reading. More than that, I think it should be required reading for white people. And if you haven’t read it yet, you should. I knew on an intellectual level what slaves went through – but this book doesn’t look at it from a distance. It doesn’t divorce the reader from the violence. It puts the reader right there in the dirt of the yard with the whip exploding across Dana’s back.

I think it took me so long to get around to this book because it IS a classic. And so many classics I was forced to read in school were boring and dry and hard to read. I’m starting to find that some are classics because they’re just that good. Good and necessary and written about critically important topics. Kindred is one of them.

From the cover of Kindred:

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.