2010 archive

Lazy Labor Day Miscellanea

Lazy Labor Day Miscellanea

Normally this would be a Lazy Sunday post, but as I actually did a book review yesterday, and today is a holiday, we’ll fudge it just a little. Here’s some miscellanea:

#32: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Guardian Of The Dead by Karen HealeyThis is a really good book. It’s YA fantasy that takes place in New Zealand and centers around New Zealand’s native mythology. Healely went out of her way to make the cast diverse and inclusive — including characters of color and characters with non-hetero sexualities — and she also went out of her way to be respectful of the mythology she used. (Well, okay, that shouldn’t be going out of her way, that should just be How Things Are Done, but sadly, that often isn’t true. Either way, she wrote a really interesting blog post about working with cultural consultants.)

Since this is YA fantasy, of course, you may be expecting a link to a full review over at Active Voice… and there is one, but I didn’t write it. It just seemed silly for me to write a whole review of a book when I could basically sum it up as, what Jess said.

Link Dump

I’ve had some of these links saved for ages, so… uh, apologies for the out of date conversations? All still interesting, though!

Yoko Ono: A Feminist Analysis

And realizing that Yoko wasn’t to blame for the Beatles breakup makes you ask a question. Why does the myth persist?

I had come to believe that most Beatles historians and true, educated fans had wised up enough to see the Yoko charade for what it is. So imagine my disappointment when proven wrong. Earlier this year, I finished Bob Spitz’s biography The Beatles, which is arguably the most comprehensive Beatles biography in existence. The book starts out amazingly, but about halfway through inexplicably begins to decline rapidly in the number of details provided once the Beatles become famous. That was annoying. But far more so was the unabashed, unapologetic and shameful smearing of Yoko Ono — made even worse by its presentation as fact when so clearly Spitz’s personal opinion. And this opinion is indicative, I think, of the opinion of most Yoko haters ….

So who is the main purveyor of the Yoko myths? Can we pin it on historians like Bob Spitz? Certainly, they hold part of the blame and need to be called out on it. But no, I blame someone else entirely for the bulk of the treatment and misogynistic cultural perceptions of Yoko Ono, as did John. In the first/next part of this series, they are the people who I’m going to discuss. And their names are Paul, George and Ringo.

Indeed. It was heartbreaking for me to realize, as I went through my Beatles Phase, that they were actually kind of dicks, and definitely abusers. Trying to reconcile that with my emotional investment in them, and their historical significance… well, I still struggle with that. It sucks to realize that people you idolize aren’t perfect, and can be outright nasty.

Anyway, all the Yoko hate out there started to bother me a few years ago, and it took awhile for me to twig to why. This pretty much sums it up — plus the cultural narrative that women ruin and destroy (see also: Eve, Pandora). Definitely worth a read.

The War on Critical Thinking and Evolving Social Mores

Talk about out of date. Apparently last October, some jackass wrote an essay about how scifi is being feminized and that’s ruining the genre and also the world! Because science! You see, if girl cooties get into genre fiction, no boys will want to be scientists, and then there will be no scientists. If only the BSG remake hasn’t made Starbuck a woman!

Need I say that the Smart Bitches takedown is great?

Why I’m Team Katniss

The thing is, I can’t get past the feeling that focusing on the love triangle somehow dismisses the central point of the series. Sure, it’s a very commercial, mainstream series that is clearly meant to be a page-turning, engrossing experience. But it’s also about war, violence, mortality, and inequality. I’m a fan of The Hunger Games because of the way the books deal with these issues in such a readable yet thought-provoking (and gut-wrenching) way.

I’ve been trying for ages to put my finger on why “team” terminology bothers me when it comes to YA fiction. I don’t care, like, at all about Twilight, but that actually is a romance, but for series like Hunger Games and or Scott Westerfeld’s Pretties, both series in which I’ve seen this (and I’m sure there are more), it’s really bothered me. I know romances are compelling and even necessary for some readers (I enjoy them but don’t find them necessary to enjoy a story, personally) but to me that feels reductive. These stories aren’t about which guy the heroine ends up with. In life-or-death adventures, it really bothers me that the narrative around girls is romance, no matter how much ass they kick.

Basically, Malinda Lo says that. But way more eloquently. Totally worth a read.

Contest! That I’m entering!

The last time I entered a contest by linking from here, I won! So what the heck, I’ll try it again for the giveaway of an ARC I really want to get my hands on:

Blue Fire by Janice HardyPart fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer — if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Buy it online at: Barnes & Noble   Amazon     Or These Fine Retailers.

(In case you are wondering, I loved the first book and highly recommend it.)

Okay, y’all. That’s all I’ve got. Happy Labor Day.

#31: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Perfect Chemistry by Simone ElkelesAuuugh, I am so far behind on my book reviews! That was bound to happen eventually, though, as I’m basically the worst blogger ever. So here goes. Perfect Chemistry is another book I won in Cindy’s awesome giveaway, which is great, because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, as I don’t read much contemporary YA.

Basically: Perfect Chemistry is a YA romance in which Brittany, all-around perfect rich girl and captain of the pom squad, and Alex, a Latino gang member from the wrong part of town, are paired together to do a chemistry project. (Get the title now? Huh, do you?) They can’t stop fighting, but it’s all secretly foreplay and the sexual tension runs wild. Things don’t go well, though, when Brittany’s family life turns out to not be so perfect at all, and Alex’s gang wants him to take the leap into drug deals and murder. Can two such different people with such different problems ever find happiness together?


Spoiler Inside Show

I really, really enjoyed this book. It hit on a bunch of my favorite tropes: Alex is secretly very smart and is only in the gang to protect his family, and he’ll do anything to keep his brothers out of it! He’s tough on the outside but has a soft and sweet center, like some kind of gourmet candybar! And, uh, let’s not analyze exactly why rich girl/poor boy (and good girl/bad boy, or in this case head cheerleader/gang member) romance set ups appeal to me too much, okay? And I love, love, love “we bicker because of our sexual tension.” It’s kind of my favorite romance trope of all.1 This book basically gave me everything I want in a romance and was incredibly fun to read.

General spoilers after this cut. (more…)

  1. No lie, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite romance of all time.

Sunday Reviews: Big Time Rush in Concert; Magic Under Glass

Today I bring you two reviews. The only unifying thematic element? Neither one is for things aimed at my actual age demographic. I’m sure, if you’ve ever read a single blog entry here before, you are really, really surprised to hear that.

Big Time Rush in ConcertI realized immediately the first time I saw Big Time Rush on TV that I was going to love them. Because I looooove boybands. Today they played a free concert in downtown Manhattan, and of course I went. It was free! And besides, I’ve never actually seen a boyband in concert before; when the last wave was popular, I was still a jaded, cynical high school student.1

So how were they? … Well, for a band, they’re an awfully good TV show. Actually, they were much better than I expected, but in fairness I didn’t have very high hopes. If nothing else, I’ll be walking around humming “Hey, hey, listen to your heart now,” for the next four or five days.

Magic Under GlassAnd then there’s more reading. (This would be #30 on the year.) Remember how a couple of posts ago I linked to Cindy Pon’s awesome book give away, featuring seven novels with protagonists who are characters of color? Guess what? I won!2

Magic Under Glass was the first of the novels I tackled. I first learned about it last year during its own cover controversy, and was really glad to have a copy with the lovely new cover. Overall, it was enjoyable, but I wish there had been more to it. You can check out the full review over at Active Voice.

  1. I wasn’t, actually, but I was a smart brunet with glasses and the only role model I had on TV was Daria. I didn’t know what else to be, and didn’t realize my love of pop music until college, when said boyband craze had already died down. My youth: so tragic.
  2. And she’s doing another amazing give away now! Hooray!

Recent Reading: Baseball, Romance, YA, and More Fantasy (#s 26, 27, 28, 29)

So the thing about traveling was that I was reading as we were on the plane, but I was too busy working to write about it. And then I waffled and decided I wanted to read more than write up book reviews, so I kept reading and now I’ve got quite a backlog. Here are the first four. Yay books!

he Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime#26: The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca
A nonfiction baseball book that does exactly what it says. I find baseball’s place in culture really interesting (it’s the American studies major in me, really), and the whole culture within baseball is, too. This book does pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the title; it’s a look inside the baseball culture to explain the unofficial rules players follow. Things like when it’s unacceptable to bunt or steal a base, why pitchers decide to throw at players, etc.

There was lots of interesting stuff in this book, but it took me a long time to get through. As I’ve said before, I have problems with nonfiction because what gets me to pick up books is story and narrative, and by its nature this lacked… that. My favorite parts were the anecdotes about the rules in action, but it was also chock full of interesting bits and pieces.

It's In His Kiss#27: It’s In His Kiss by Julia Quinn
My sister loaned this one to me as a little light travel reading. It was so light that I finished it by halfway through the flight, and then promptly forgot about it entirely.

Basically, Gareth St. Clair is a bit of a mysterious rogue, estranged from his father and gossiped about in polite society. Hyacinth Bridgerton always speaks her mind and it’s made her less than popular. A diary in need of translation and a possible hidden treasure bring them together — will they fall in love?

Hint: yes, they will. There’s not much to this book, but it was a lot of fun. A+ vacation reading.

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover#28: Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter
I reviewed the first two in this series awhile ago; in short, they’re delightful YA but I was frustrated because the second one was basically just a retread of the first. It had made me hesitant to read #3, but I did and I’m pretty glad.

It wasn’t the same story and an identical climax, thankfully. Instead of just girls in a boarding school spying on a boy they like, you’ve got girls trying to find off a mysterious secret society while worrying about a boy they like. The stakes were a lot higher, which was great, and the set up (one of the spy girls’ father is running for VP and they have to protect her on the campaign trail) is great.

Not so great: equal narrative weight is given to trying to protect her as is given to the “Does this cute boy like me?? I can’t tell!!” part of the plot. Which… no. Once again, Cammie (the protag) basically loses the ability to spy she’s been training to learn for years when faced with a boy she likes. It makes me make this face: :-/

Overall, though, fun book with an exciting (if reasonably predictable) dun-dun-DUUUUN moment at the end. I want the next book, but I can wait for it to be out in paperback.

Men at Arms#29: Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
Discworld! I’m not a devotee, but I’ve been reading these occasionally since middle school. I know I’ve read some of the Watch-centric novels before, but this is the first one I can remember grabbing me.

You guys, I have a crush on Carrot. He’s so nice and handsome! He always remembers everyone’s names! I love, love, love the long-lost king who doesn’t want to be king (but is able to put swords both into and out of stones) gag. I love his sense of responsibility. I love his ability to be a great leader and that he’s decided to only every use that power for good.

And of course I enjoyed all the Discworldiness of it; Ankh Morpork and Death and CMOT Dibbler always make for good times. The plot is nothing to get excited about but it’s not like I read Discworld for the plot. So overall, quite enjoyable!

Oh, and “Bjorn Again” is the second-worst Discworld pun I’ve run across.1

  1. The worst, of course, being Felonious Monk.

Fantasy Novels (and Fantasy Novel Covers)

Silver Phoenix by Cindy PonThis entry has a theme! And that theme is, “Sometimes, I still read a lot of fantasy.” You may have noticed from the title. But before getting into the recent reading list — remember when this blog used to have entries about other things?1 — I want to give something a bit of a signal boost.

Last year, I reviewed Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix at Active Voice. The cover is the image to the right over there. And among other things, I said:

I picked this book up because I’m making an effort to delve into sf/f novels not set in Ye Olde Fake Europe, since so much of fantasy centers around Western-style (and very white-washed) worlds and myths. But I probably would have picked it up anyway, since it’s a story about a teenage girl discovering a super power and saving the day. That certainly falls into the category of “things I love.” …

The world of Silver Phoenix is great; it’s a high-fantasy take on ancient China. I’m not familiar enough with actual Chinese culture to know how accurate it is, but it’s certainly rich enough that I’m not concerned. Everything from the bizarre creatures Ai Ling runs into to the noodle shops she eats at make it distinct and genuine. It is very refreshing to read a book where the well-worn fantasy tropes are reimagined — and while they presumably aren’t new to readers who grew up with Chinese mythology, I (like, I would guess, most American readers) was raised pretty strictly on high fantasy and Western traditions, so this is all new and fresh to me.

Why do I point this out? Because (sigh) this is the book’s new cover for its paperback run, and this is the newly-revealed cover of the sequel. Now, look. I’m not a very visual person; I don’t really do a lot of book cover critique because that’s just not my area of expertise.2 But Silver Phoenix had one of my favorite covers ever: I loved that it was brightly colored (in a sea of dark, Twilight-esque covers, no less); I loved that there was a girl front and center, obviously being active and powerful (and omg, her hair is so pretty); and I loved she was clearly Asian. It spells out just what you’ll get if you read the book, and looks lovely doing so.

So yeah. I’m disappointed that the girl on re-imagined covers is, at best, ethnically ambiguous (and honestly, if I didn’t know the books are about a Chinese girl, I would have assumed she was Caucasian and not seen her as ambiguous at all).3 And I’m disappointed that she’s not active — we don’t even see her whole face. I mean, yes, I think the Fury cover is pretty enough, and would be a great cover… for a book about the girl pictured on it. That girl is not Ai Ling.

Two links for this. First, author Cindy Pon talks about it (in the cover’s official unveiling) with a mostly-positive frame:

fury of the phoenix cover revealed!
Silver Phoenix may be a little different than what’s offered in young adult right now, but at the heart of ai ling’s story is friendship, family, discovering oneself, growing and falling in love. (oh, and food. =) i don’t think my debut is for every reader. of course not. but do i think that it has fully reached its potential reading audience? unfortunately, no.

i’m very well aware of recent discussions about whitewashing young adult covers as well as #racefail debates, especially within the speculative fiction genres. most of you know by now that the author gets very little say in cover design. i was fortunate enough to be consulted on many aspects for the original cover. my debut cover couldn’t have been more fierce or asian! and i’m so grateful to greenwillow books for spending the time, money and effort to repackage my books. with the hopes that it will be carried more widely and perhaps draw a new audience that my original cover didn’t.

Second, Inkstone explains exactly why these covers are so problematic, regardless:

I guess I still have a post in me
I guess we should glad they didn’t slap a blue-eyed, blond-haired white girl on the covers, huh?

But make no mistake; this is insulting. At least with a symbolic motif cover (a la the Twilight covers), you can pretend race is not a factor. Instead, here, we’re given a girl whose face is obscured by shadow. That way, the publisher can say, But she could be Asian. It’s ambiguous!

Except it’s not ambiguous. We know what they’re doing. It’s a flimsy attempt to put a person on the cover while also masking any identifying features that could “scare” away potential buyers. Do you know what message that sends? Not only are we taught that our stories aren’t worth telling, not only are we taught never to expect to see our faces represented, we’re now being told that if we are represented, we should be ashamed of our features. That our eyes, our cheekbones, most of our faces scare away potential readers. That to reach a different and wider audience, we must be sacrificed because no one would want to read one of our stories if they knew ahead of time what they were getting.

Oh, wait, hang on. One more thing. Cindy Pon is being awesome and giving away a set of books featuring protagonists of color. And I’m not just linking it because I want to win. Really.

OKAY! So that’s the fantasy novel cover aspect. Now for the fantasy novels I’ve been reading!

Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr#23: Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr. I first read this in middle school. At that point, I assumed I didn’t get or was misreading a major plot point — turns out, I wasn’t. There’s a section of the book about incest, and as a kid I wasn’t quite able to put together that as something a narrative could use (for the record, it’s sort of The Point Where Everything Went Wrong, not, like, romantic). That said, I hadn’t thought of this series in years when I saw it in a bookstore and picked it up on a whim, and yet I remembered most of it almost perfect: just about all of the characters, most of the plot twists, etc.

It’s also interesting because this is pretty standard Epic High Fanatsy, what with the elfin archers and the dwarves and the epic battles, and at one point there’s a bard, etc. As an adult, I enjoyed it, but as a kid, I remember being blown away. I didn’t know those things were tropes yet. (At one point, there’s a villain who, thanks to a prophecy, can only be killed in battle, but no man will ever kill him. At 12, I was so worried! I didn’t know what was going to happen!4

So overall, this was an enjoyable stroll down memory lane and certainly a reminder of why I love some of those tropes. It wasn’t as spellbinding as when I read it in middle school, and I don’t have a desperate need to read the rest of the series right now, but I do want to pick it up at some point. A solid fantasy novel.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray#24: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. My BFF Jess reviewed this series at AV last year and loved them, so it was no surprise that I really enjoyed this. It’s plot-light but worldbuilding-heavy. And thematically, the story really really worked for me. It’s about the relationships between girls, and female power — the ways that power is rare, is important, and is often considered terrifying. (Basically, what Jess said, especially about the relationships between the girls.) I’ll definitely come back and finish this series. Probably by the end of the year, so you know, you all have that to look forward to…

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville#25: The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville. YOU GUYS, I have been waiting for this book for SIXTEEN YEARS. Coville is, you know, one of my all-time favorite writers, so even though this wasn’t my favorite series of his, I bought it the day I realized it was out (I missed its debut day by about a week somehow) and I read it in 24 hours flat. I had many thoughts about it! And it is a MG/YA-ish fantasy novel! And I have a whole other blog for those! So you can read my full review here, if you are so inclined. But in summary: I liked it! I know that is an enormous surprise.

  1. By which I mean, remember when this blog never got updated, ever?
  2. So I leave it to hilarious other people. My dad owned a lot of those books when I was a kid…
  3. Which of course shows my bias and privilege as a reader — but then again, isn’t that exactly what the images are supposed to do? They’re assuming people who might pass by an obviously Asian-inspired book wouldn’t think to question the Caucasian-ness of the protagonist, because hey, just about every other book has white people on the cover, so why give it a deeper look?
  4. Hint: one of the main characters is a teenage girl with a sword.

Short Reviews: #s 20, 21, 22

The Maze Runner by James DashnerI have been reading a lot lately! This is good! But none of the most recent books I’ve tackled have left me with much to say.

#20: The Maze Runner by James Dashner: it’s YA scifi, so my review is over at AV. But even that’s pretty short, because I just didn’t have much to say about this one. Which I know is odd, because I’m generally supremely long-winded.

The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven SandersThe Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders. A rather steampunky graphic novel in which Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and others team up to use science! to fight Thomas Edison and some demons. I really love the concept of this, and wish I had any clue what happened in the last third. Someday I could write a very long post about how the comic/graphic novel format doesn’t really work for me as a reader, through no fault or weakness of its own. But that was in full force here: when 95% of the cast is middle-aged white guys in tweed suits, I can’t tell who’s who. The climax was done in very dark, low-contrast colors and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But with that said, I was entertained. I’ve always been a Tesla fan, and loved seeing his quirks, and basically all of Twain’s dialogue made me laugh.

Jurassic Park by Michael CrichtonJurassic Park by Michael Chrichton. Maybe I’m skewed because I knew this is a movie long before picking up the book (though not a movie I know well, I’ve only seen it once, many years ago), but this read to me like a book written specifically to be adapted into a movie. Which is fine! It was incredibly readable and I mostly enjoyed it, with the note that, while it seems kind of silly to complain about gender roles in a book that’s more than 20 years old now, there were only two female characters who appeared in more than one scene. One was the botanist, who seemed to know her stuff, but who didn’t do anything for the plot except look sexy and act as the make-shift nurse because… I guess none of the guys could do that? The other was Lex, the little girl, who was horrible. The boy was smart and inquisitive, loved dinosaurs, and was able to get them all out of trouble, or at least hold things steady, when necessary; Lex was obnoxious, threw tantrums, got them further into trouble, and even after seeing people get mauled and killed and having been almost killed herself she never seemed to realize that maybe being quiet was important. Aside from hating her as a character, I was pretty annoyed by the gender roles, and put off by the overwrought, “Look what your science has wrought!” moral. But on the plus side: dinosaurs, yay!

#19: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey by Jasper FfordeEddie Russet was planning to take his exam, marry Constance Oxblood, never ask any questions, and live a useful life. But then he and his father get shipped to the Outer Fringes, where everything is a little weird, and among other unpleasant people he meets Jane, who (between attempts to kill him) lets him in on the fact that there’s a lot to question in the world… and not just why they’re forbidden to manufacture spoons.

If that summary seemed a bit confused, that’s more or less how I felt reading the book. I really wanted to like Shades of Grey; I very much enjoyed Fforde’s Thursday Next series, and a friend had recommended it to me, so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite work for me. But I think that’s in equal parts because of me as a reader as it is about the book itself.

About the book itself, well, I’m not sure prose is the best form for this story. It’s a story about color — specifically, it’s sort of a dystopia, taking place 500 years after Something That Happened,1 and now people are entirely different (I was never quite sure how, but they can see only tiny bits of the color spectrum, one color each, and the society is organized around how much of what color people can see; and there were other things, mentions to how they look at paintings of the Previous and see exaggerated differences between the sexes and creepily large eyes; they have barcodes growing on them, are susceptible to mildew and spores, and often get limbs torn off and sewn back on, so… huh). It’s hard to represent those things, especially the importance of color and how much of it people can see, in a completely non-color, non-image medium. There are also a lot of weird and whimsical elements, which might have worked better visually, too.

But aside from that, I’ve come to realize in the last couple of years that I’m really into structure, and that extends from what I write into what I’m reading. Which means, among other things, I have no interest in stories where the protagonist isn’t actively engaged. If the main character isn’t trying to do something, even just figure out what’s going on, I get bored. I know some characters and some stories don’t require the protag to act in as huge a way as others; the fact that epic adventures loan themselves to, well, epic struggles is part of why sci fi and fantasy appeal to me so much. I get that not every story has that; not every story needs that. But, as a reader, I need something to latch on to — a sense that there’s a story going on, and not just a person drifting through events. Or if the character is drifting, at least a sense that the character cares about the events and would like to figure out why they’re happening.

Eddie Russet spent three quarters of the book not doing that. He wanted to marry Constance, but didn’t spend much time on it — he wasn’t in love with her or anything, she was just the best option, so he was only attempting to woo her because it seemed like he ought to. He did want to pursue Jane, but for most of the book was intimidated out of it. Weird things kept happening to him and around him, but for the most part he wasn’t too concerned about it. His society considers it unacceptable (not to mention impolite) to question things, so he didn’t, just sort of collected awareness of the things going on around him.

The last quarter of the book does pick things up. Eddie finds himself with yet another potential… well, not love interest, but marriage prospect. As he attempts to get away from her, he agrees to lead a dangerous expedition, and in the course of that he figures out a few things, has a few more shown to him, and is finally forced to make real decisions, pick a position, and stick with it. Not shockingly, that was my favorite part of the book!

My other, much more minor, issues: I had trouble keeping track of who a lot of the minor characters were, and I found much of the book just over the edge of Weird For the Sake of Being Weird. Then again, I know a lot of my friends enjoy that a lot more than I do. So basically, it boils down to this: if, like me, you are really into the pacing and structure as elements of what you read, this might not be the book for you. But if you enjoy voice and tone, this book very easily could work for you. It’s yet another case where I don’t think what I’ve read is a bad book, it just isn’t a book for me.

  1. Significant Caps abound.

#18: The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mike Cochrane

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mike CochraneSince Molly’s father died, everything has felt a little bit off. Especially her mother, who has become distant and unreachable. Molly has no idea what to do — until she rediscovers her love of baseball, the game her dad taught her to play, and decides to go out for her school’s team. Not the girl’s softball team, with it’s larger, softer ball, but the real baseball team — and she has a secret weapon, the knuckleball pitch her father taught her.

This book is lovely. One of my very good friends recommended it to me, because she knows I love books about baseball and family, and, well, that’s this book exactly. And there are so many wonderful things this book gets right: Molly’s exasperation with her mom, who she loves but doesn’t know how to talk to; the weird, pressure-filled feeling of talking to a boy she maybe sort of likes but maybe just wants to be friends with.

The book’s tone is distant, more like someone’s memory than an immediate story. And one narrative quirk I didn’t love that goes along with that was semi-frequent telling-rather-than-showing; scenes summed up as, “Later, he and Molly would discuss their families, and she’d get to know him better,” or, “Later, she and her mother would make up.” It does fit with the book’s tone, but at the same time, it was frustrating because some of those scenes were important character things — it would have made Lonnie’s apprehension over seeing his father and step-mom more powerful if we’d actually seen how hurt he was by his parents’ divorce, rather than a third-hand account as the narrative summed up what he’d told Molly about how he felt.

But I loved Molly, and I especially loved Celia, her best friend, who was somewhat of a weirdo. (Always with a craft project, a font of random knowledge, outspoken on social issues… basically, the character I most identified with.) I loved a few of the messages within the book: that one minor failure, even if it’s embarrassing, is really not the end of the world; and more importantly, that it’s okay to want things, and work hard for them, and be upset when they don’t work out. They’re small lessons in the grand scheme of things, but I think important ones, and beautifully presented as Molly tries to figure out how to forgive her dad for dying.

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