Screaming on the inside

On Saturday at work the feminist in me became very frustrated.

Twice, within an hour almost, two patrons with questions completely ignored me in favor of letting one of the male librarians answer their questions. The first one started talking to me, saw Ralph behind me (he was there to talk to me, it’s not like I was the one hanging out) and proceeded to ignore me. Because obviously I can’t know anything.

The other patron saw GC, who was literally speeding out of the children’s room (he was just passing by), and still chose to address him instead of me.

The reasons: I’m a woman, I’m younger than both of them, I look less authoritative, etc. No matter what the reason though, it was ridiculous and wrong.

Kitty Kitty: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Kitty Kitty by Michele JaffeJasmine Callihan is back and better than ever in Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe! And, boy am I excited about that. “Kitty Kitty” will be released in July 2008 by HarperTeen (part of HarperCollins coincidentally enough), so you’re seeing the review here first.

Kitty Kitty picks up a month or two after the ending of Bad Kitty (Jaffe’s madcap YA debut featuring Jasmine). This time around, Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel. The only problem is that Jasmine is there with her ogre-iffic father and her step-mother Sherri! In other words, Jasmine is really far away from her friends, her rock star boyfriend, AND the prestigious high school that would look great on her college applications.

Why you may ask? So Jasmine can be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Jasmine is understandably put out by all of these abrupt life changes. But what really upsets her is the apparent suicide of her friend from Italian class–the mysterious and eccentric Arabella. Except Jasmine isn’t so sure that Arabella’s death really was a suicide.

Mayhem ensues as Jasmine begins to investigate Arabella’s life in order to understand what could have provoked her death. Atrocities include bangs on the head as well as an unfortunate encounter with a pair of white leather pants. Oh, and Jasmine turning to Mr. T as a new role model (although that last one might not be so bad depending on who you ask!).

Stylistically, Jaffe continues to use a variety of writing techniques to create a truly modern reading experience. Techniques that reappear in this volume include footnotes, email and instant messaging excerpts as well as pictures created with words. These devices help keep the novel interesting–there’s a lot of information presented in a lot of different ways. At the same time, it makes readers extra aware that they are reading. But that’s okay here because it encourages a close reading of the text in some cases–an important skill found in what can be called a light read.

Some parts of the novel seem contrived, such as Jasmine’s friends coming to her rescue, but with blow dart pens and tricked out cowboy boots this novel, like Bad Kitty before it, is more cartoon than true-to-life-drama anyway. (A style that Jaffe once again pulls off very well.) And who wouldn’t want to read more about Jasmine’s motley group of friends? Best friend/fashion genius Polly; lock picking, wise-cracking twins Tom and Roxy; and even Jas’ evil cousin Alyson and her evil sidekick Veronique reappear with just as many made up words and fashion faux pas as before. My only qualm about the novel is that the cat angle that was so crucial to Bad Kitty is also not as strong here since no cats feature as more than passing characters in the narrative.

Another odd addition is the presence of a mysterious sender of e-mails and an as yet undeveloped sub-plot involving Jasmine’s dead mother (this person and the fact that Jasmine’s mother died when she was six turn up more in this novel than the first, which didn’t mention mysterious e-mails at all). Aside from being a fine example of a writer spinning backstories into a series as she writes the series, this new plot thread suggests that Jasmine will return again soon.

Possible Pairings: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, Bloomability by Sharon Creech, My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day, Drawing a Blank by Daniel Ehrenhaft, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Fracture by Megan Miranda, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, CSI (television series)

Flight: a review

Flight coverPublished in 2007, Flight is one of Sherman Alexie’s more recent novels. Find it on Bookshop. His critically acclaimed YA debut The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian came out a few months after Flight‘s publication. Together these novels illustrate how teen narrators can comfortably inhabit both adult and young adult novels. More about that later.

The book starts with a simple request from the narrator: “Call me Zits. Everybody calls me Zits.” In other words, the narrator has no name. Given the structure of the novel, this choice actually works. Throughout the story, Zits is rarely called by any kind of name that would be termed as his own. The opening line also tells readers everything they need to know about Zits. Specifically that this fifteen-year-old half-Irish, half-Indian kid doesn’t think enough of himself to bother using his own name. Worse, Zits is pretty sure no one else thinks much better of him.

Orphaned at six and in foster care since he was ten, Zits has slipped through the cracks and is truly a lost soul. After an unceremonious exit from his twentieth foster home and his latest stint in the kid jail in Seattle’s Central District, Zits starts to think that maybe he doesn’t really need a family. Maybe what he needs is some kind of revenge.

But things don’t go as planned. Instead of punishing the white people who are abstractly responsible for his present situation, Zits finds himself on a time-traveling, body-shifting quest for redemption and understanding.

Zits’ first “stop” is inside the body of a white FBI agent during the civil rights era in Red River, Idaho. From there he moves to the Indian camp at the center of Custer’s Last Stand, then a nineteenth century soldier, a modern pilot with his own variety of demons and, finally, Zits finds himself in a body more familiar than he’d like to admit.

As many other reviewers are quick to point out, Flight is Alexie’s first novel in ten years. Unlike previous works, where characters and plots intersected (even in his short stories), this novel remains disjointed. It’s the kind of book that could easily be seen as a grouping of short stories. Except that each segment follows Zits’ spiritual evolution. For this reason, the novel is obviously much more character driven than plot driven. But Alexie makes it work.

I consider Flight to be adult fiction. Zits is a teen, so it could be YA, but that fact is largely irrelevant to the main machinations of the novel–which is why it’s an adult book but “True Diary” whose narrator is close to Zits’ age is a YA book.

Finally, a word on the ending of the novel: It’s optimistic. There is some talk that the ending is too up, that things come together a bit too easily. In terms of the plot that could be true although I’m more of a mind that the ending was already in the works from the beginning (the fact that “The wounded always recognize the wounded” and other events support me in this claim).

Some have claimed that the happy ending might be reason to suggest that Flight is a YA book because only a book written for teens would have such an abrupt ending. That’s bogus. This is an adult book that teens can enjoy and the ending doesn’t change that. After reading this novel it becomes clear that Zits has been through a lot. Way more than any fifteen-year-old should have to take. For Alexie to end the novel in any other way would have been a slap in the face both for Zits and the readers invested in his fate.

Flight is a really quick read (I finished it in a day) and entertaining throughout. The novel doesn’t have the depth of character found in Reservation Blues or “True Diary” but the story remains different enough from Alexie’s usual work to make Flight a refreshing departure nonetheless.

Possible Pairings: Leverage by Joshua Cohen, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

“I’m telling everyone, even people who don’t usually ask how I am.”

As I mentioned before, I won a kind of big deal writing award from my school. And I’m really excited about it. So I’ve been telling everyone. Literally every person I see who talks to me long enough that I can mention it. Some people I’ve even started conversations just to mention it.

This created some confusion when I stopped by “James’s” desk a couple of days ago:

Miss Print: “Hi James. I forgot to mention this before but I won a writing award.”

James: “Congratulations . . .”

Miss Print: “Thanks! I’m really excited so I’ve been telling everyone about it.”

James: “. . .”

Miss Print: “Well, see you.”

I had to take a different approach with GC because GC never has conversations with me that involve me talking (usually I ask questions and he replies):

Miss Print: “Hey GC. How’s it going?”

GC: “I’m all right.”

Miss Print: “I can’t say I’m surprised. Now ask me how I am.”

GC: “What?”

Miss Print: “Ask me how I am.”

GC: “How are you?”

Miss Print: “I’m really good. I just won a writing award from my school for some of my poems. I’m really excited about it, so I’ve been telling everyone, even people who don’t usually ask how I am.”

GC: “Is it a monetary award.”

Miss Print: “Yes. Plus bragging rights.”

GC: “What are you going to do with it?”

Miss Print: “Probably put it towards library school tuition.”

GC: “That won’t even pay for a course. It might have when I was there. I paid 500 a credit.”

Miss Print: “It’s 825 now.”

GC: “So you can pay for a credit and a half.”

Miss Print: “That’s better than none.”

“I think this explains my bad credit.”

Guy came into the library wearing a really spiffy/fantastic cowboy hat (despite his having a New York license, love that!). I looked up his record and found that he had two dollars in fines, which I told him.

The man looked stricken before responding, “Oh no. Can I still borrow books? Are you going to run me out of town?”

“If you pay the fines we’ll let it go this time.” Let me tell you, it took an insane amount of control to keep a straight face.

I left to get the man’s reserves. When I came back he paid the fines and, again in all seriousness, said, “You know, I tried to buy a house and I couldn’t. I bet this is why my credit was bad.”

By this point any of my efforts to maintain a straight face were done. I was laughing when the man left (with his fines paid).

On being nice to people

It’s really not that hard. But it’s always appreciated and always appropriate. It can be something as little as saying “thank you” or asking someone else how they are (even after you’ve already said how you are doing). Sometimes being polite just takes holding a door open on your way out.

Unfortunately not everyone realizes that being nice is really that simple.

Case in point:

I was entering the library. A man was leaving. A woman with a large stroller was right behind him, trying to negotiate the two doors before the large number of steps to the sidewalk. The woman said “Excuse me” and asked the man to help. The man stopped. He was still close enough to open the door. Then he looked at me, told  the woman that I could help and kept walking. I said “Charming” really loudly in a sarcastic tone to his departing form. The mother offered similar sentiments.

But she had nothing but nice things to say to me, so really, it was worth it. Everything you put forth into the world will come back to you after all.

Just Another Day In My Insanely Real Life: A CLW review

Just Another Day In My Insanely Real Life by Barbara DeeJust Another Day In My Insanely Real Life (2006) is Barbara Dee’s first novel (previous careers for Dee include lawyer, high school English teacher, and book reviewer).

Find it on Bookshop.

The story revolves around Cassie and her family, specifically her mother and siblings.

Cassie’s family used to be a lot like the other family’s in her upscale neighborhood. They had a nice, sufficiently large house. They took vacations. twelve-year-old Cassie used to be on the swim team at their sports club. Her older sister, Miranda, didn’t have to worry about doing the shopping after school. Six-year-old Jackson never used to spend so much time alone in his room.

That was all before Cassie’s father “left the picture” and the remaining family had to move into a “unit” house in the poorer part of town. Shunned by her old friends, hated by her English teacher, and utterly unnoticed at home–Cassie tries to deal with all of her mounting problems on her own. This novel is the story of why and how those efforts fail. And how Cassie picks herself up again afterwards.

Cassie is definitely a strong character. Thanks to her neglectful sister and overworked mother, Cassie is largely the only one paying attention to family concerns. And she works really hard to try and handle all of that. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make her a particularly real or likable character.

My first issue is that Cassie is really shallow. After the first few pages of the novel it’s clear that her old friends (the ones who ignore her now) were jerks and that she is better off without them. But Cassie doesn’t see that right away, fine she’s only twelve. The thing is, even after she does realize as much Cassie continues to try to be friendly with them and ignore Bess, the girl who is obviously going to be a way better friend in the long run.

As the novel progresses, Dee tries to show Cassie growing as a character. I can see that happening. But it’s two steps forward and then two steps back so that even at the end of the novel Cassie is still making disparaging remarks that she was supposed to have moved past by now. The recurring point being cracks about Bess’ weight. Bess is overweight and Cassie continues to wonder how Bess can possibly weigh so much when she never eats at school posturing that she might, scarily, binge at home. Later, after the girls become friendlier, Cassie finds herself surprised to learn that Bess lives in a really swank neighborhood. I found this entire subplot really infuriating. Cassie might as well meet an African American kid at school and be surprised that they live in a mansion. It’s just completely ridiculous and, the truth is, Dee does not have Cassie evolve enough on this point to make such observations even relevant.

I was also less than impressed by Dee’s writing style. The premise was interesting, as were the inclusions of Cassie’s fantasy novel (mirroring what’s going on in her real life), and even excerpts from her English class quizzes. But Dee never really takes the grammar thing to a high enough level that it should be in the book. I would have liked to see some kind of appendix explaining some of the English rules mentioned (who/whom for instance) since Dee spent so much of the novel mentioning them.

Throughout the narrative Dee was at pains to make Cassie seem real, one might even venture “insanely” so. But she never quites get there. Cassie uses quotes a lot when she’s narrating to discuss Dad being “out of the picture” and the “unit” the family lives in. That gets old after the second chapter. And, in terms of narration, it becomes inadequate. Points where Cassie knows nothing about what’s going on (Why is Dad “out of the picture?” Where does Miranda go after school when she’s supposed to be at home?) are never fully developed, making the novel seem more half baked than insanely real.

Possible Pairings: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle, Blind by Rachel DeWoskin, A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter

Clockwork: A Review

Clockwork (1995) by Philip Pullman

Clockwork by Phillip PullmanI have a semi-intense love-hate relationship with Philip Pullman (and perhaps also with hyphens, but that’s another matter). I used to like Pullman unconditionally, reading anything he had written. Then I read The Shadow in the North (the second installment in the Sally Lockheart trilogy) and was burned by the ending. It literally hurt. Philip Pullman made me cry. But I was willing to let it slide because I was also in the midst of His Dark Materials and felt compelled to finish–my mistake. The Amber Spyglass also left me severely burned, and crying again.

Before all of that happened, Pullman wrote some shorter, happier works. I can’t recapture my early excitement about Pullman, especially after reading about his “Frederick must die” rule, but I can almost appreciate his works without remembering the grief he caused me.

Clockwork (1995) is a novella length story. At 107 pages, the narrative is too short to include any deaths of beloved characters or annoyingly impossible loves. Pettiness aside, I have to say that’s a relief.

The story is set in a German town once upon a time when time still ran according to clockwork timepieces–none of that electronic nonsense. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is sulking in the local pub while his friend Fritz prepares to tell the town his newest story.

Things begin to go wrong when a mysterious visitor arrives at the pub after Fritz has wound up his story but before he has a chance to wind it down again. That’s well and good for readers but not so good for the characters, especially Karl and Gretl, the daughter of the pub’s owner.

Clockwork is grim only in the way a children’s book can be. There is death and gore and talk of devils taking souls, but none of that is conceptualized in a way that actually touches readers. It’s sort of like they way I was able to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas as a girl without being creeped out even though I don’t understand how that is possible when I watch it now.

The narrative reads very much like a story. Not like a book, but like an actual story told in the oral tradition. This technique is not often used outside of the realm of fairy tales, but Pullman works the style aptly. It works especially well with the edition I read which includes black and white illustrations by Leonid Gore. The illustrations kind of suggest what Edward Gorey would have drawn if he didn’t work in such outline oriented ways for anyone who was wondering.

This novella (I can’t bring myself to call it a novel) also received tons of accolades in the 1990s when it came out. It was winner of the 1997 Silver Medal Smarties Prize, A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year for 1998, and a NYPL Best Book of the Year also for 1998. I mostly agree with this praise. The story is a little thin on character development, but given its length that’s to be expected. Considering it in terms of being a tiny book, the story is really tight and well-put-together.

For more about the “Frederick Must Die” Rule see also: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226fa_fact?currentPage=all

Giving as good as I get: an expanded update

Okay, so as the last “chit chat” posts suggest, the past couple of weeks have really super awesome. Part of that is winning the aforementioned award (and prize money and bragging rights) but also things have just been going my way finally after what felt like the longest time where things were going well but not quite great. Everything has just been better.

Given the fact that I was sick this week, I think the past two weeks even out in terms of awesomeness (otherwise this one would have pulled ahead). Each week included one aced midterm. Last week included more time to gawk at “Hades” and wish I had more excuses to talk to him. This week included super awesome amazing news. So it all balanced out.

I’m finally feeling a little better, like close to normal practically. Huge relief. Working 9 to 5 wasn’t even painful, I felt that good about the week as a whole. Plus I read three books during my convalescence and one at work today. Insane!

On Friday I read part of my massively huge thesis story–part meaning 20 pages. It was kind of intense but the feedback was really good. It was less good when the guy who read after me got all of this “you are amazing, I want to read your novel and be your groupie” feedback, but that’s the way it goes sometimes I guess. And another girl did notice and told me it was unfair (the theory is that my story is more complex and just longer so less ready for instant feedback). At least it’s not just in my head. “Real Hades” had little to say about the story with “fake Hades.” Part of me worries this is because he knows he is Hades, but that seems unlikely. It’s actually impossible. I just have an overactive imagination.

I haven’t received any stars from the professor yet (stars=A grade) so I’m kind of very worried about that and need to ask her about it, but I’m sure it will be fine. I also need to write a term paper over spring break. I have a week off from school and no plans. I am so excited. I can sleep in, I can write papers. It’s fantastic.

Also, I don’t know how to pay my taxes properly so I got an unexpected refund which is always nice.

Finally, lots of people have been commenting on here using the nicknames which I have created for the sake of anonymity in this blog (“Julie” and “Lea”) and that amuses me so I just wanted to point out that it was appreciated.

Super awesome amazing news!!!!!!!

I decided to post this here as well to make it a full set of online notices.

Yesterday I had a bit of a surprise yesterday when I checked my email. Every year my university offers an award for a graduation senior with a 3.25 gpa or better. Students submit a piece of writing (or writings in the case of poems) that best demonstrates their creative achievement over the past four years and are nominated by faculty and then selected by the family who created the award.

I am the 2008 winner for this award! I am incredibly excited. I am even breaking my usual vow of humility to mention it to, well, everyone. Consider yourself in the loop.