When Dimple Met Rishi: A Review

What happens if you meet the exact right person for you at the exactly wrong time?

Dimple Shah wants to go to Stanford, focus on coding, and start her career. She would like to go to Insomnia Con this summer before she starts college to participate in the coding competition and possibly meet her idol Jenny Lindt.

Dimple isn’t interested in clothes, contacts, or makeup. She definitely doesn’t want a relationship or an “Ideal Indian Husband”–not right now and possibly not ever. When her parents agree to pay for Dimple to attend Insomnia Con, it feels like maybe they’re both finally understanding who Dimple is and embracing her dreams and ambitions.

Then again, maybe not.

Rishi Patel knows that it’s up to him to follow tradition and respect his parents’ wishes. It’s possible that Rishi isn’t passionate about engineering or MIT but he knows he should stick to the responsible and safe choice.

Rishi is a romantic but he also wants a solid partnership in the future. He trusts his parents when they try to set up an arranged marriage with the daughter of family friends. It should be simple. Rishi can even meet her at Insomnia Con and woo her. It will be perfect.

Or will it?

Dimple and Rishi figure each other out pretty quickly. They have nothing in common. They want different things. But they also make each other laugh and might be able to help each other be their best selves–if they can just give each other a chance–in When Dimple Met Rishi (2017) by Sandhya Menon.

When Dimple Met Rishi is Menon’s debut novel.

Menon’s writing is filled with evocative descriptions of San Francisco over the course of the three weeks Dimple and Rishi spend there for Insomnia Con. Dimple and Rishi’s relationship plays out against this backdrop of coding and competition along with a few side plots involving Dimple’s roommate Cecelia and Rishi’s younger brother Ashish.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet romantic comedy with a lighthearted premise but it doesn’t stop there. Dimple and Rishi are both first generation Indian-Americans (their parents immigrated from India) and they are dealing with it in different ways. Dimple rails against traditions and values that seem determined to relegate women to successful marriages and not much else; she wants to make her own way in the world and she isn’t sure it matters if that goes against her parents’ expectations. Rishi revels in being part of such an old and amazing culture; he places so much value on traditions that he’s willing to sacrifice his own dreams because of them.

Although Dimple and Rishi are both eighteen they read young and feel like authentic teens facing big changes as summer ends and college approaches. Slow pacing toward the middle and some contrivances near the end of the book do little to diminish this enjoyable story. When Dimple Met Rishi is a thoughtful, clever read. A satisfying story about two teens who manage to find a lot to appreciate (including themselves) once they find each other. Highly recommended and guaranteed to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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I Am Princess X: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I am Princess X by Cherie PriestMay and Libby created Princess X on the day they met in fifth grade. Libby drew Princess X while May created the stories. Together they made sure that Princess X became an indelible part of their childhood.

That was before Libby and her mother died in a car crash.

Now May is sixteen and looking at another long, lonely summer in Seattle with only her dad for company. That changes when she spots a Princess X sticker on the corner of a store window. Suddenly she starts seeing Princess X everywhere.

When the stickers lead to IAmPrincessX.com, May finds a webcomic with a wholly new but not unfamiliar Princess X. In the comic, the princess’ story is eerily similar to Libby’s. And filled with clues only May recognizes.

Which means that the only person who could have created the comic is May’s best friend–Libby–who is still alive and needs May’s help in I Am Princess X (2015) by Cherie Priest with illustrations by Kali Ciesemier.

I Am Princess X is Priest’s first novel written for a young adult audience. Accompanying illustrations by Kali Ciesemier bring the story found in the Princess X webcomic to life and integrate beautifully with May’s search for Libby in this utterly satisfying read.

May is a spunky, capable heroine who finds help from likable and well-realized characters along the way including Patrick, a likable hacker with a possibly biased sense of his own computer skills.

Priest offers a tantalizing, page-turner of a mystery that seamlessly spans real locations in Seattle and dark pockets of the internet. Even when the action moves online, Priest keeps the story exciting and approachable without ever resorting to technical jargon. I Am Princess X is filled with references to technology and pop culture but manages to still feel timeless in a way that guarantees this one will appeal to readers for years to come.

This book strikes the perfect balance between believable and sensational as May follows the comic’s clues to find out the truth about her best friend. It’s also worth noting that I Am Princess X is a story firmly grounded in friendship as readers learn more about May and Libby. There is no extraneous romance subplot to be found here. Furthermore Priest’s characters are naturally (and realistically) diverse throughout the novel.

I Am Princess X is an excellent book with loads of cross-genre and cross-format appeal. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Dial Em for Murder by Marni Bates, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Shadowshaper by  Daniel José Older, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the April 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online as a Starred Review*

Brain Jack: A (rapid fire) review

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner (2009)

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

I can see how Brain Jack would have some appeal and could be great for teens who are into computers or are reluctant readers. That said, I personally wasn’t very impressed with the book.

I thought it was too technical. I know nothing about computers but a lot of the stuff sounded downright made up in places and in other places sounded  like gibberish. It felt strange having people typing on a computer be high action and also Falkner at times made it seem like the characters were inside the computer which is jarring.

I personally was irritated when New York’s Avenue of the Americas was mentioned in the story, by a native New Yorker, when everyone who has been living here would only call it Sixth Avenue. Other elements also just felt out of place to me, like story threads that didn’t feel vital to the plot. (Examples: Vegas, Fargas, Vienna, Dodge’s dodgy tattoo ON HIS FOREHEAD.) Many of the characters also fell flat.

The prologue was poorly done and off putting. I got my copy from a friend who I’m sure also didn’t buy it. It was so strange having the prologue talk in depth about getting information from people who bought the book when I didn’t (and I’m sure a lot of people didn’t). Aside from completely disregarding libraries and borrowing books it brought me right out of the narrative since it was so not true for my experience. In tandem with the prologue I felt like the epilogue was too preachy and weirdly so. Neuro headsets don’t actually exist and the book is fiction, but then he is telling us he’ll be watching (much like Santa Claus)?

It just didn’t work for me.

Say hello to Computer Engineer Barbie

Regular readers will recognize that I spend a fair amount of time on this blog talking about things from a feminist slant. I also talk about dolls every now and then. (And warblers but that is totally unrelated to this post.) I also have no problem with Barbie. I think when viewed in the right way she can be a great doll/role model for girls (once you get past the body image thing).

So, I was really excited today when I found out that Mattel had announced Barbie’s next career last week.

Earlier this winter, Barbie held a popular vote for Barbie’s next career. I found out about it through their clever street-side advertisements which showed Barbie’s past careers (astronaut, GI, cop, presidential candidate, teacher . . .) and invited people to vote for her next one. They also apparently conducted a “global career survey” of girls in October of last year. The results have me pleased as punch.

Get ready to say hello to News Anchor and Computer Engineer Barbie!

News Anchor was the top choice among the girls who voted in the “global career survey” and Computer Engineer was the popular online vote choice. (I voted for computer engineer and/or architect. Environmentalist was another option.)

I would have loved to see Barbie in a lab coat or with a draftsman desk, but I’m really excited about both choices. News Anchor Barbie looks cute in a pink suit and high heels sure, but she also has her microphone ready. My favorite accessory is her file folder which she has handy for all of her research notes and interview questions. She reminds me of Elle Woods but with a mic.

Then we have Computer Engineer Barbie who I might actually have to buy because I’m so happy to see her out in the world. I love that Barbie finally has glasses and is shown with flat feet and practical shoes. I like that she is, basically, a computer geek but she gets to have a cute outfit and still look girly while working with computers.

There are a lot of posts out there criticizing the doll and saying it’s not enough to break the stereotype of the male computer engineer. They wonder why Barbie has to have glasses, and how realistic her clothing choices really are. Her pink laptop and the design choices for her news anchor counterpart are also up for discussion.

On the other hand, real computer engineers did have input.

Either way, I think this is a really big step in the right direction. I don’t know how many little girls dream of being a computer engineer, but I bet a lot more might think about it when they see Barbie doing it. Accuracy aside, I think having a hugely popular doll as a computer engineer is also a great way to demystify that profession and, as I said before, make it more approachable to girls.

Finally, as I say whenever Barbie gets some criticism (or kudos), it’s important to remember that first and foremost she is a doll. Barbie might not be the most realistic computer engineer but she does get the field some visibility. And sure most computer engineers won’t wear sparkly leggings and a jacket with a circuit board on it, but Barbie’s a doll. Her clothes are a lot of fun when you think of them not as a typical outfit but as novelty items. As a library professional who happily owns and wears t-shirts from a library comic strip as well as a banned books bracelet, all I can say is maybe Barbie is a computer engineer who’s willing to have a little fun with her wardrobe choices–a quality I value in all of my dolls.

Little Brother: A Review

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowI don’t know what I was expecting when I opened Little Brother (2008) by Cory Doctorow. What I do know is that those expectations were largely colored by Doctorow’s appearances in various web-comic-strips on XKCD as a red cape wearing blogger who flies around in a hot air balloon.

Anyway, Marcus Yallow is a senior in San Francisco in the near future. He goes to Cesar Chavez High School which makes him one of the most surveilled people in the world. There’s a terrorist attack, he’s held captive in a Guantanamo Bay-esque prison, he’s released and then he decides to use his hacker skillz to get even and reclaim his city from the sinister clutches of Homeland Security.

And as action-packed as that sounds, the book never became more than a mildly interesting bit of tedious reading for me.

I’m fairly tech savvy, and I do worry about privacy and the like, but after finishing Little Brother the only piece of tech-related advice I retained from the story was that crypto is really awesome. Doctorow tries to embed useful information into the story, but it is either too basic to be interesting or too specialized and esoteric to make sense.

I’m not a teenager and I come from a liberal household and I was living in Greenwich Village during 9/11. I found it irritating that Doctorow’s character’s seemed to operate in a very binary way. Young people (for the most part) opposed the Department of Homeland Security while older people (for the most part) blithely accepted martial law. Really?

Finally, the real reason I disliked this book is that it just was not well put together. With all due respect to the importance of this novel’s subject matter, the writing was far from impressing. The descriptions of technology were almost always too long (and often too technical) to be seamlessly integrated into a novel.

The novel’s continuity verged on non-existent. For instance, Marcus makes a point of mentioning in the early pages that he is wearing boots for easy removal at metal detectors. Yet when he is released he receives his sneakers back with clean clothes. The core of the story–about Marcus’ missing friend–is left hanging for vast spans of the plot. Doctorow is at pains to create a core group for Marcus only to have them all removed from the story by the halfway point and then haphazardly mentioned in a rushed ending.

Marcus was also a bit annoying as a narrator–particularly when in the company of his girlfriend. Realistic depictions of teens aside, I was hoping for a bit more from characters (teen or otherwise) in a novel which is grounded in such extraordinary circumstances.

Also, and this isn’t really the book’s fault, but I truly disliked the cover.

Convergence Culture: A non-fiction book Review

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry JenkinsDue in part to his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2006), Henry Jenkins is being touted as the Marshall McLuhan of the 21st Century. However, whether or that is a fair comparison is a matter better left to those who better understood The Medium is the Massage.

Media analyst Jenkins uses this book as a platform to examine what, exactly, is really happening to culture at large when new media and technologies appear. Jenkins grounds his analysis in a variety of specific (and likely well-know) cultural phenomenon from recent years. In a chapter entitled “Spoiling Survivor: The Anatomy of a Knowledge Community” Jenkins examines the online activity of predicting who will be on (and ultimately win) the TV reality game show of “Survivor.” In addition to explaining what spoiling “Survivor” really means, and how one user ultimately spoiled the spoiling, as well as explaining how online communities in forums and message boards create a knowledge community of sorts around a common interest.

Knowledge communities are a recurring theme for Jenkins and, in fact, many books on Web 2.0 and media in the modern world. The idea being that no one in a community can know everything but everyone knows something and together the community knows a lot. Other subjects include negotiating online marketing and promotion as exhibited through Coca-Cola’s relationship with “American Idol.” Another big theme in Convergence Culture is how the digital divide (the gap between those who have computers and those who only have access to public computers or no access at all) and the participation gap (the separation between those who create online content and those who do not) impact online culture and society.

Convergence Culture provides detailed analysis of a phenomenon that everyone has witnessed and experienced but few people actually know about in a way they can articulate. Jenkins and his book provide people with the tools to examine and discuss how media and new technologies are impacting and indeed changing our lives in a variety of ways. At times the language gets a little technical, but if you have the time and the interest, this book won’t disappoint.
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide

What Video Games Have to Teach Us: A Non-Fiction Book Review

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning by James Paul GeeWhat Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2007) by James Paul Gee might be one of the most valuable and timely titles I have read in recent years. Coming to video games late in life, initially to “help” his son with gaming, Gee began to see connections to his professional life as an educator in the virtual worlds created by video games.

Specifically, Gee identified 36 learning principles often found in the best (most challenging, most fun, best designed, most popular) video games that are often lacking in contemporary schools that favor the skill-and-drill approach to deeper, more immersive learning. In discrete chapters, Gee identifies individual games (Tomb Raider, Half-Life, World of Warcraft, Sonic the Hedgehog to name a few) and the principles found in those games that could be applied to school learning.

The ideas Gee outlines in What Video Games Have to Teach Us will not be shocking or revolutionary to anyone who already plays video games. Gamers know that it takes more to play a video game than hand-eye coordination. As Gee underscores throughout this book, gaming is a multifaceted process that requires planning, reflection, strategizing, and even community interaction. In other words, it’s impossible to play a video game without learning how to do so.

The key difference in learning a video game is that the learning is more strategic and immersive. Gamers learn by doing and through experimentation. They also learn in strategically effective ways. Instead of having adjust to the difficulty level of a game, the game–through its very design–often adjusts to the competency of the gamer. Schools have not found an effective way to do that yet. The main argument of this book is that video games create active, critical learners while schools often create passive learners.

There is a lot to like about this book. Gee keeps the book grounded in actual anecdotes and experiences and carefully avoids the hypothetical by using his own life as a gamer to explain the principles found within the book. The game play is described as carefully as the learning principles to create a book that gamers and non-gamers will be able to embrace–and understand.

Finally, this book isn’t just about playing video games in isolation or even about schools. Rather Gee also looks at the community aspect of video games through their use of shared knowledge and, especially, through the creation of game related affinity groups (communities of sorts formed organically around shared interests). This multi-faceted approach to the subject creates a well-informed and thorough examination of video games, players, and how the ideas found in good video game play and design can be adapted to traditional learning environments to create a more engaging and enriching learning environment for every student.
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy