Buy, Borrow, Bypass: March 20, 2013

My recent reading choices have been a bit all over the place in terms of subject matter, but in a good way. I am noticing a trend toward young protagonists, though, and that’s okay with me. I’m coming out a long reading slump, and these are a few of the titles that helped bring me out of it.

among othersAmong Others by Jo Walton

I tend to shy away from big-buzz books, but when it’s a book that I haven’t really heard a lot about, except in terms of award nominations and wins, it catches my interest. Among Others was mentioned under just those circumstances, having won the 2012 Hugo Award for best novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the British Fantasy Award. I was looking for a good fantasy, so I picked it up. It has some of the best fantasy elements in it – twins, fairies, witches, a boarding school. It is told in the form of a journal kept by the main character, Mori. After losing her twin in a magical battle of sorts with their mother, she has been sent to live with her father and his sisters.  Her aunts, in turn, send her to the same boarding school that they attended when they were girls. Her mother, a witch, continues to seek her out, and she decides to do some of her own magic to protect herself.  She never quite feels at home in her new surroundings, but she does manage to forge a bond with her father through the books they read, and let me tell you, there are a lot of books. The plot is woven between lists of the mostly science-fiction and fantasy novels that she reads. Some chapters feel like they might actually be well suited to a book of criticism addressing the role of women (both authors and characters) in the genre. It is a book that one cannot help but get caught up in, and it is hard not to be swept away by Mori’s enthusiasm for books. At moments when I had my doubts, it was that enthusiasm that kept me reading. About those doubts….well, it feels a bit like we (the readers) are missing out on the full story. The big battle takes place before the book starts, resulting in her twin’s death and a serious injury to Mori, and the final confrontation is over almost before it begins. It left me feeling like there was more to come, and I really want there to be more. Then again, it is a diary, and the story is presented as Mori wants to tell it. She doesn’t want to relive the events that came before, and once she’s found some resolution, what more is there to say? This is definitely a book worth reading, and I am very tempted to use it as a guide to all the great fantasy novels that I didn’t read growing up.  If I do, I’ll be using this Pinterest board from Molly Templeton to help me keep track.

Verdict: BORROW (in honor of Mori’s great love for libraries)

True Diary Part-Time Indian Sherman Alexie CoverThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 

I have had this book sitting on my shelf for a while. I bought it a while back, when it made headlines (and not for the first time) because a school system decided to ban it. I had heard really good things about the book from the librarians, teachers, and students at the school where I was teaching not long after the novel’s 2007 release. I’d read several of Alexie’s short stories, and I was familiar with him on Twitter. The book looked fun, and since it was written specifically for a younger audience, I could not fathom why there was so much controversy over the book being taught in schools. Now that I’ve read it, I  see all of the things that people are pointing too as “objectionable,” and those people are all very, very wrong.

The story centers around 14-year-old Junior. He lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and he has exactly one friend.  He is bullied by the other kids at school and by other people on the reservation. He is smart and artistic, but he knows that if he stays at the reservation school that he will never get anywhere, so he gets his parents to agree to let him go to school in town. There, he becomes more than a weak little kid who gets pushed around all the time.  It is while he is there, though, that he meets some of his greatest challenges.

Those who want to ban or restrict the book do so because it talks about real subjects like masturbation, bullying, and death. It shows what life is really like on the reservation. These are subjects that kids need to be exposed to, and doing it at school, where there is someone to guide the discussion, is an ideal approach. The book is sad and serious, true. But it’s also funny and real. Young readers will identify with it, and their parents will be reminded of just what sort of challenges their kids are facing when they go to school each day.

Verdict:  BUY (2 copies – one for you and one for your local school library)

Homeland Cory Doctorow CoverHomeland by Cory Doctorow

I bought this book after attending an event at one of my local bookstores. It is my first book by Doctorow, and it will not be my last. Between the lecture he gave before the signing and the education I got from reading Homeland, there is a lot to look forward to in his other work. That being said, I think that Homeland itself is a book with a lot of potential that just does not deliver.  It picks up a few years after the events of his novel Little Brother, and its hero, M1k3y, now goes by his given name, Marcus.  He still gets attention for his battle against the corrupt Department of Homeland Security, and he remains famous in certain corners of the internet. He lives a simple life, however. His parents are victims of a harsh economy, fighting to hold on to their house and their dignity. He had to drop out of college, and he’s been out of work longer than he would care to admit. He’s out of touch with most of the friends who stood by him before. The only thing really working in his favor is that he gets to go to Burning Man, something that he has wanted to do for a long time. While he’s there, he gets passed the encryption key for a lot of very dangerous files, and he is standing too close to one of the art cars when it explodes. From that point on, nothing is simple any more. There is a great premise here, and the build-up is solid. The climax, however, falls flat. Things happen too slowly and too quickly all at the same time. By the end, I was disappointed. I’m also paranoid. I think that was probably the point, so in that way, the book is very successful.

Verdict:  DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK from Doctorow’s website. That way, you’re not risking anything. Not even gas money.

And yes, I realize that I took the easy way out on that last one.

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