“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black

I’m a huge Holly Black fan ever since I read “White Cat.” She writes urban fantasy with a thriller undercurrent that you just can’t put down. And boy is her work dark! Yikes! (But in a good way.)

“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” is a vampire story, but not the sexy, sparkly kind. It’s a blood and guts and fear vampire story with a strong science fiction background. A virus infects humans and turns them into vampires after they feed on human blood.

Tana, the heroine, has to make a lot of difficult choices and it is those choices that made me keep reading to the end. Tana is not a character that I really liked, but, paradoxically, I liked her that way. She seemed gritty and abrasive and real. Tana’s decisions belonged to her alone, and I wasn’t living vicariously through her since we didn’t have a lot in common. This was good, because in a dark tale like “Coldtown” you really need some distance.

However, Tana had a lot of redeeming qualities too, like protecting people she loved, keeping her promises, and risking her safety to help others. So, she’s not super unlikable.

I also appreciated how this novel seemed placed in an alternate present. Too often I read post-apocalyptic future books where the message is like “the future sucks peeps and we’re all going to die.”

This book had some of that going on, but the cyberworld and reality TV seemed identical to today’s, so I took it to mean “the present sucks in this alternate world peeps and we’re all going to die.”

I guess I found that comforting, because it didn’t seem as much as a commentary on where we’re headed as a parallel universe where vampires exist. Unless vampires actually exist in this world, in which case don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. 🙂

“The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” by E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart is known for her feminist writing, and Frankie does not disappoint as a heroine who challenges conventions on how women are expected to behave. How? Frankie takes on the old boys club in her boarding school, directing a male secret society thorough a series of pranks with a political agenda. Only problem: the boys don’t know that she is the mastermind.

The dialogue between Frankie and her boyfriend Matthew is excellent. In fact, all dialogue in this book really shines. It’s like you really hear the characters speaking in the room with you.

I grew up reading PG Wodehouse – slightly stained, yellowed copies that smelled of vanilla and glue – purchased from secondhand bookstores. My favourite was “Leave it to Psmith” where a particular fire alarm prank at a boarding school had me in stitches every time I read it.

I’m not sure how popular PG Wodehouse is with the younger crowd. It certainly wasn’t popular when I was reading it. But even if you don’t get the PG Wodehouse illusions and english boys boarding school traditions, it is not necessary to enjoy “The Disreputable History…” In fact, I was not in stitches with the “The Disreputable History…” as it is more of a social commentary.

The novel asks elite education systems if they include all religions, all cultural practices and women as well as men. It asks why we’re still holding onto a male dominated view of education? Why women can’t be devious, intelligent prankers, as well as men?

And honestly, I’m not sure exactly how important this fight is since the setting, again, was in an elite boarding school. Frankie knows that her future opportunities are pretty much guaranteed whether she runs the secret society or not. And yet… even though Frankie is incredibly privileged, “The Disreputable History…” suggests that there are still inequalities even among society’s upper crust. Will Frankie make it to the top of the world? Or will some men’s club keep her out?

Does this matter? Or is this extreme privilege in society a problem onto itself?

 

“Absolutely Almost” by Lisa Graff

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This book hit me in the gut. The main character Augie, is completely average. In fact, most of the time he is below average.

The book explains his struggles relating to his parents’ high expectations. There are positive influences such as a babysitter, and a math teacher, who accept him for who he is without trying to push him to be someone else.

Lisa Graff really gets into Augie’s head, and helps the reader feel for his situation. You understand his perspective, and how aware he is that he isn’t living up to his parents’ hopes and dreams.

As a reader, I hoped that Augie would find out that he had some awesome talent, like guitar playing, or art, or robot-building. But this never happens. Instead, Graff lets Augie stay as he is… average.

As such, the reader is presented with a challenge. Can they accept Augie as he is?

Often, part of the charm of reading a book is relating to a super cool main character, who can totally take on the impossible and be the chosen one. You know. Luke use the force.

This book challenges that concept. Augie as a character demonstrated to me that everyone deserves kindness and that everyone is born with the same amount of worth as everyone else.

Beautiful message.

 

“The Boy’s Manual to being a Proper Jew” by Eli Glasman

This book deals with religion and sexuality in a painfully honest, nothing held back kind of way. Even though the narrative follows Yossi, gay Jewish boy living in Melbourne, and how he reconciles the restrictiveness of his religion with accepting his sexuality, this book is far from regional Australian fiction. “The Boy’s Manual…” leads to universal questions:

Why does religion often spread hate instead of love?

Why is God so concerned with who you love instead of what kind of person you are and how you treat other people? Homosexuality seems a rather pale sin in comparison with discrimination and exclusion.

Why are religious institutions so set on shaming people for genetic traits they cannot control?

How does practicing the religion in question deviate from the relevant religious texts?

If you deviate from your culture, will you still be supported by your friends and family? What is the cost of being yourself? Do the benefits outweigh these costs?

Needless to say, this book really made me think. In a good way.

As someone who attended a big gay United Church as a teenager, I have seen many facets to religion. I have seen a gay minister ordained and a lesbian couple have their son baptized. However, I also have seen a university Christian group refuse to answer publicly their stance on homosexuality. They insisted that the student contact them privately – no doubt because they weren’t accepting.

It’s funny, because religion creates a sort of paradox. By being part of a religion you are necessarily separating yourself from others, even if the goal of the religion is to treat others well. Can an religious institution ever be fully inclusive and still be classified as practicing that religion?

I’m not sure. But I know you don’t have to be Jewish to ask these questions.

 

Thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Let me tell you about my Harry Potter activities of the past year:

1) I attended a Harry Potter party that coincided with the beginning of the school year at my local library. There was a wide range of ages from students of Hogwarts to Alumni. We drank butter beer (caramel soda with syrup and ice-cream), made crafts (wands, spell books and tote bags), and watched a local improv comedy group preform themed skits.

2) I read “Beedles the Bard,” the collection of Wizard Fairytales written by JK Rowling.

3) I listened to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” on audio book. Let’s just say that Voldermort still scares the crap out of me. I barely slept the night after listening to the final chapter. Funny how my bathrobe on the back of my chair looks exactly like Voldermort with the lights out. Oh my god.

4) Sometimes I wear a Ravenclaw pin on my button-down shirt. I know it’s more trendy to be Hufflepuff or Slytherin, or some weird combo like Griffinpuff, but. I just can’t. I’m a Ravenclaw thorough and thorough.

5) I’m rewatching Harry Potter movies 4 (Daniel Radcliffe has the best hair in this one), and 7 parts 1 and 2 just for the feels.

I tell you guys. The magic’s still going strong even with the muggles.

But I wanted to talk about another item on the list entirely.

5) I read the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Yep. I did it. Out of peer pressure from my YA book club.

Harry Potter has always been a franchise, but this latest creation really demonstrated how low it could go. People tell me “Scorpius! Such an original character!”

I say, “Puh-lease. The whole thing’s a rehash of book 4.” (And I just listened to book four, so I know.)

It didn’t knock me off my broomstick to say the least. And I was disappointed. Very disappointed.

There were so many directions the play could’ve gone in. A whole new year at Hogwarts, a whole new threat to conquer, a whole new cast of characters that didn’t involve the golden trio. And some of this happened, but it wasn’t exploited to the fullest extent. Instead, the writers relied on one thing above all others: fan service.

Fans want more official Potter in any shape or form. It doesn’t matter about the quality, it just matters that it exists. It doesn’t matter how many times people joke about Voldermort’s lack of a nose. It’s still funny… or is it?

Let me just say it: Watching Harry, Ron and Hermione in office jobs with greying hair, parenting problems, and developing guts is not magical. It’s *bloody* depressing.

“But they’re just like us!” You cry. “There’s nothing wrong with offices, aging, parenting, and obesity!”

No, there’s nothing wrong with it, but I like Harry Potter to stand for hope. For light in the midst of darkness, for extraordinary among the mundane. And to see the hero of my youth reduced to someone more muggle than wizard, that was very depressing indeed.

As for the plot involving the kids, it was a tired rendition of the plot from the fourth book. Bringing the threat of Voldermort back in the running killed the satisfaction of the seventh book’s resolution. Can’t there be other dark wizards? Must we always rely on Voldermort? Why can’t Voldermort stay dead where he belongs?

Harry Potter is the Iliad and Odyssey of our time. We know the myths inside and out. We don’t need a rehash, because the original work is timeless onto itself.

 

 

“The Thickety: A Path Begins” by JA White

This is one of these books that changed my entire approach to writing. (Hi, I’m a writer by the way.) “The Thickety” is just brimming with amazing technique. So, here’s what JA White can do:

1) How he introduces his characters. The sentences containing their description are instantly memorable and contain at least one trait that the reader can pick up on and is carried throughout the book (Grace’s ribbon). However, this isn’t what makes it brilliant. The scene introducing the character demonstrates their qualities immediately. You don’t have to guess that Grace is a massive villain because she shows it to you. She prevents the main character from getting medication for her brother in the first scene. What a jerk.

2) The mood and atmosphere is seriously creepy and is maintained throughout the book. The living forest, the paranoid town, the loneliness of the main character, the nethergrim, the addictiveness of spells. I couldn’t sleep after reading this thing. Which may make some people go: this is middle grade? Yes. This pushes the boundaries of horror in middle grade, but seriously, I think kids can handle it. Do you see what’s on TV these days? And lots of children’s classics are scary. Joan Aiken. I loved Joan Aiken when I was smaller and somehow I don’t think it affected me as much then as it does now.

3) The beginning and the ending have serious symmetry. This is honestly what takes this book to masterpiece level. Too often the ending of a book isn’t well-thought out and kills the entire work. Not here. The ending shocked me, yet made so much sense. The entire book had been pushing for this ending so hard that no other ending would’ve worked. Once you read it, you’re like “Oh my god, what? Oh. Of course.”

4) The writing style is very clear. Enough variation in sentence length keeps things interesting. JA White taught me that a two word sentence is okay after some longer sentences and adds colour to a manuscript.

Anyway, even if you’re not a writer this book is a seriously good read. Read it!

But do yourself a favour and keep the lights on.