2020 Quarterly Report Jan-Mar

So ends the first quarter of 2020. Not gonna lie: it hasn’t been great so far. Still, entertainment-wise, I enjoyed myself.

Despite quarantine, I haven’t read any more than usual. I usually read around 100 books a year, but decided to read less this year so I can focus  more on fiction writing (this is also why not all these books have linked reviews; I’m allowing myself the occasional freedom of reading without reviewing). So far, it’s paying off. I managed to finish the first draft of a novel I started in November 2018. It’s also true that my reading trends are changing because of social distancing. I didn’t manage to stock up at the library before everything shut down, so I’m rereading books I own or borrowing books from family members. That’s going to skew my reading away from contemporary YA and fantasy and towards historical fiction (courtesy of my mom) and memoirs/graphic novels (from my sister).

As a blog reader, I really like monthly wrap-ups; in the future, I think I’m going to start doing those instead of quarterly ones. That will make them shorter, more frequent, and less formal sounding (“quarterly” yikes), all of which–I think–will be improvements.

Books:

What I Loved:

infinity sonInfinity Son by Adam Silvera

Genre: YA Fantasy

Why I loved it: It’s got great writing, a full cast of complicated but lovable characters, a strong and central brotherhood, a unique magic system, and a fast-paced story

Read it if you’re a fan of Adam Silvera or the X-men, looking for diverse fantasy, or want to try Silvera without being emotionally devastated.


Image result for full tilt book cover" Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman

(reread)

Genre: YA sci-fi

Why I loved it: it has a terrifying but fascinating concept and great interpersonal relationships, is fiercely creative, and makes the insides of a troubled mind real in a way unlike anything else I’ve ever read

Read it if you like sci-fi, want something drastically different, or like psychological thrillers that aren’t too terrifying


Image result for bird by bird book cover"Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

(reread)

GenreNonfiction writing advice

Why I loved it: Lamott is a great writer, and she keeps it real

Who should read it? Wannabe writers, especially those who dream of fame and fortune and see writing as the way to get there rather than the goal itself


yes no maybe soYes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

Genre: YA contemporary romance

Why I loved it: It mixes a cute, shippable romance with timely social commentary that is both inspiring and necessary; it’s not afraid to make a stand, but it tells an enjoyable story first

Read it if you like your romances to be filled out with substantive familial relationships, enjoy Becky Albertalli’s writing, are interested in politics, or lean towards books with a solid moral stance


i was born for thisI Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

Genre: YA contemporary romance

Why I loved it: This book has everything I love: flawed but immensely lovable and compelling characters, fandom, internal focus, smooth writing, and that intangible thing that makes a book impossible to put down

Read it if you want something that digs into the beautiful and the ugly of fame and fandom and doesn’t shy away from tackling mental illness while still maintaining a loving, hopeful tone


dear evan hansenDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul

(reread)

Genre: YA contemporary

Why I loved it: I adore Dear Evan Hansen the musical, and this novel–while being immensely enjoyable on its own merits–does an admirable job of expanding on the existing story and adds dimensions to Connor’s character in particular

Read it if listening to the soundtrack isn’t enough Dear Evan Hansen for you, or if you’re simply looking for an excellent YA novel that balances moral ambiguity with effective depictions of mental illness.


radio silence

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

(reread)

Genre: YA romance

Why I loved it: This novel is centered on the platonic love story between two best friends. The two protagonists are painfully real, and their experiences offer a complex and unusual perspective on the world that really resonates with me

Read it if you love YA that isn’t afraid to tackle the messiness of the world and that will leave you longing for a friendship like the ones depicted within its pages


kindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler

Genreclassics, historical fiction, science fiction

Why I loved it: It is very, very emotionally affecting. Rarely have I felt so indignant or helpless while reading a novel. The mix of the slave narrative with science fiction, especially with the modern (well, 1970s) mindset/narration, is something I’ve never seen before.

Who should read it? People who loved blended genres or classics


What I Liked

our own private universeOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Genre: YA LGBTQ+ romance, bildungsroman

Why I liked it: It has many well-balanced relationships, is unapologetically progressive, and features diverse characters and complicated but loving family dynamics

What kept me from loving it? I didn’t love any of the characters, and there’s some pointless drama

Read it if you like queer romance or are interested in diverse contemporary novels


slaySLAY by Brittney Morris

GenreYA contemporary,

Why I liked it: the complicated race relations, celebration of Black culture, and deep dive into gaming are all done well

What kept me from loving it? I’m not a gamer, so I was out of my depth, and the twist–while good–was obvious

Read it if you’re a gamer, a YA fan, or looking for novels dedicated to Black excellence


dear edwardDear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Genreadult contemporary

Why I liked it: it’s got great writing, a well-balanced cast, and light but sure handling of complicated ideas

What kept me from loving it? it’s very sad and the central premise–a plane going down and a single person surviving–gave me nightmares for a week

Read it if you’re looking for a well-written novel and don’t mind a downer


princess and the fangirlThe Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

GenreYA romance

Why I liked it: it’s a cute, quick celebration of fandom

What kept me from loving it? one of the two central romances is painfully contrived, and the book is similar enough to superior novels of the same genre that it couldn’t avoid unfavorable comparison

Read it if you like sweet but slightly cheesy romance, are a fangirl (or fanboy), or if you’re looking for a modern-day fairytale


Image result for louisiana's way home coverLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

GenreJF contemporary

Why I liked it: Kate DiCamillo always has quirky and immediately likable characters, and this is no exception

What kept me from loving it? I didn’t realize this is a sequel to a book I haven’t read (Raymie Nightingale), so I didn’t have the emotional connection I needed. Also, while I did enjoy it, it doesn’t stand up to some of DiCamillo’s other books, like Flora & Ulysses or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulene

Read it if you love Kate DiCamillo

Image result for the field guide to the north american teenager paperback cover


The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Genre: YA contemporary

Why I liked it: the narrative voice is fresh and funny, and the protagonist is consistantly held responsible for his behavior

What kept me from loving it? it rests heavily on existing stereotypes without doing much to challenge or deconstruct them

Read it if you are looking for something quick, fun, and comfortable


Image result for lady susan book coverLady Susan by Jane Austen

(reread)

Genre: classics, epistolary novels

Why I liked it: Jane Austen is always fantastic, and Lady Susan is a character unlike any of those found in her other novels. Selfish, unscrupulous, and devious, her pursuits of her own ends cause no end of vexation for her relations (and no end of amusement for her readers)

What kept me from loving it? the conclusion is rushed; it almost feels like Austen got tired of this story and wanted to be done with it

Read it if you love Jane Austen and are interested in her lesser known works, or if you loved the movie adaptation with Kate Beckinsale and are interested in a comparison


upsideThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

(reread)

GenreYA romance

Why I liked it: Becky Albertalli is a fun author, and she portrays those underrepresented in romance; the protagonist here is a fat girl who longs for–but fears–her own love story

What kept me from loving it? Unfortunately, I didn’t like this one as well on the reread. It’s a bit too crass for me , and a few of the characters the reader was supposed to care about rub me the wrong way

Read it if you’re in the mood for a nerdy romance with an atypical heroine and an adorable love interest.


What I Neither Liked Nor Disliked

let's talk about loveLet’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Genre: YA romance

Why I’m neutral: It has lots of diversity, but somehow felt very safe and standard anyway. This book has gotten lots of hype for featuring an asexual protagonist, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because there are so few of them, and not because Let’s Talk About Love does an especially good job with it

Read it if you really, really need asexual rep and have already read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy and Radio Silence


kat and meg conquer the worldKat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Genre: YA contemporary

Why I’m neutral: There are some storylines that might have been compelling with better writing, but there are too many emotional gaps to get fully invested

Read it if you’re looking for books about gamers or female friendships


What I Disliked

loveboat, taipeiLove Boat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

Genre: YA romance

Why I disliked it: it hits every single basic romcom trope but does nothing new with them

Was there anything I liked? the first half has promise, and some of the cultural elements are interesting

Read it if you’re a hardcore romance fan or looking for Asian (specifically Chinese) representation

Instead, tryDarius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han


Image result for american dirt coverAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Genre: Adult contemporary

Why I disliked it: the depiction of Mexico as 90% murderous crime struck me as melodramatic at best and racist at worst, the characters are thinly drawn, the plot is driven by dumb luck, and overall the book isn’t enjoyable enough to make up for how culturally-appropriative it feels to read it

Read it if you want to be a part of the conversation

Instead, try: Something by a Hispanic writer. (Sorry for the lack of specific recommendations. This is a blind spot of mine that I’m trying to correct)


What I Hated

family upstairsThe Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Genre: thriller

Why I hated it: the first half treads water, the reveals come too easily, there’s a weird pro-pedophilia tilt, it uses homophobic tropes, and is a bit boring

Was there anything I liked? The writing keeps you reading

Read it if you like thrillers but don’t mind what’s listed above

Instead, tryGone Girl by Gillian Flynn or My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace


mortal enginesThe Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Genre: YA dystopia

Why I hated it: I didn’t care about the characters, the world doesn’t make sense and is only halfway explained, there’s lots of meaningless action, and the writing is mediocre

Was there anything I liked? Honestly, no. I nearly DNF’d this a dozen times

Read it if action is the most important element of a story for you

Instead, tryThe Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collinsor Legend by Marie Lu


on the road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Genre: Classics

Why I hated it: it’s about a bunch of sexist idiots driving around, doing drugs, and having sex without any plot to hang it all together

Was there anything I liked? I was interested to read it because apparently it inspired Supernatural, but I expected a whole lot more nuance than I got, so… eh

Read it if it is on your 100 Books to Read Before You Die poster

Instead, tryThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde or The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Shows

Grey’s Anatomy/Station 19

I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for a while. I just picked up Station 19, starting from season 3, because of all the crossovers. I’m on the opposite wavelength of most fans. I’m still mostly enjoying Grey’s, but I am way more interested in the firefighters now. For me, Grey’s has a stark divide between the characters whose stories work for me and those who I couldn’t care less about. I generally care when it focuses on Meredith, Catherine, Bailey, Richard, Koracick, Levi, Link, Amelia, or even DeLuca (except when they’re reduced to stupid baby/pregnancy plotlines). Owen and Jo, though. They’re the actual worst. If we had to lose Karev, couldn’t we have sent Jo packing with him? Because that way they would’ve avoided the character assassination AND dropped the second worst character in one swoop. And just don’t get me started on Owen, who is the worst. Teddy is awful, too, mostly because her two personality traits are ‘Owen’ and ‘military.’

I want to watch the first two seasons of Station 19, because I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Like its mother show, it’s got a few weak characters (lookin’ at you, Andy), but I got invested in everyone else very quickly. Travis and Vic are lots of fun, and I even care about Ben now. How did that happen? I found him incredibly annoying on Grey’s and kept complaining that he was nowhere near good enough for Bailey, and now I actually… like him? What? Plus, the musical nerd in me goes “That’s right… HERCULES MULLIGAN” anytime Dean walks into the scene.

Image result for station 19 season 3

Sex Education

Season 2 of Sex Education came out in January, and it was just as good as the first one. It’s an incredibly awkward show to talk about because almost every plotline has at least some element of cringe to it, but it’s just really good. My sister recommended it to me and at first I was very skeptical because nothing about Sex Education makes it sound like a show I’d like (or that she’d like, for that matter), but it’s actually a very smart, funny show that is both very entertaining and actually somewhat educational. Also, Eric is the best.

Sex Education Season Two: New Characters, Release Date, and Everything We  Know from Our Set Visit | Teen Vogue

Musicals

I really should make a post about some of my favorite musicals, because I love them SO MUCH but never actually end up talking about them on this blog. But musicals may actually be my for-real top favorite thing. I listen to cast recordings obsessively. I make musical themed jeopardy boards and force my family to play them. I write long reviews of every musical I get to see live. I seek out movie musicals and professionally filmed stage productions. My phone case says “My brain is 95% Broadway show tunes and 5% useless stuff.” I love musicals.

And since I’ve been stuck inside, I’ve been watching and listening to them more than usual (which, again, is saying a lot). I watched Jersey Boys. I rewatched the 1991 version of Into the Woods and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, both of which were staples of my childhood. I watched The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall again. I’m psyching myself up to watch the Cats movie, since I absolutely adore that musical but am a little afraid because of the bad reviews. I have a long list of shows from BroadwayHD that I want to watch while stuck indoors. Also, I watched The Spongebob Musical, which sounds stupid but is actually a new favorite of mine because it is precious and very timely.

Seriously. It’s a great musical at any time, but it is especially good to watch while in quarantine.

spongebob

What have you been watching and reading?

Supernatural 15×13 Review (Destiny’s Child)

It feels a bit like we’ve come into the home stretch of Supernatural, and maybe we would be there if it weren’t for COVID-19 shutting down production and giving us another hiatus of indeterminate length. “Destiny’s Child” works hard to pull a bunch of dangling plot and character threads together into the main story. This week, the show revisits several familiar faces—Ruby, Sister Jo/Anael, Meg, and the Empty—as well as restoring Jack’s soul and reminding the viewers of Cas’ deadly deal. Things are ramping up just in time to get shut down.

Overall, I liked this episode. Buckner and Ross-Leming are polarizing writers, both for the fandom as a whole and for me individually. I like some things they do. For instance, Cas and Dean’s interactions this episode are great: funny, snarky, and just heartfelt enough to be sweet… not to mention the scene where Cas tells Jack that Dean feels things more deeply than anyone he’s ever met, which is cute. The alternate versions of Sam and Dean are also pretty funny most of the time, and I loved the scene where they repeatedly toasted their dad and humblebragged about how rich their hunting corporation made them. On the other hand, can the Busty Asian Beauties gag go ahead and die, please? Everything else on Supernatural does. And can it go the way of Crowley and not get resurrected? Because Dean liking racist porn was never funny and was something that I thought he’d developed past. And yeah, I know it was AU Dean watching it this time, but still. No, thank you.

dean gross supernatural

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Book Club: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Image result for from the mixed up files of mrs basilIt’s been a little while since I posted anything, since–due to circumstance–I’ve been rereading books that I’ve already reviewed. Since I seem to get the most traffic on book club discussions anyway, I figured I’d post some questions that I’ve had lying around.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is an incredibly fun story about two children who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and live there for some time by, among other things, collecting coins from wishing fountains and hiding from security in bathroom stalls.

Konigsburg was one of my favorite writers when I was a kid. I read Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth more times than I can count. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one of her best-known books, and it’s a great one to start with if you’ve never read her work before. And if you’re stuck indoors, as most of you probably are, now is as good a time as any to grab a fun, quick read!

Spoilers from here on out.

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The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (Book Review)

Image result for the field guide to the north american teenager paperback coverThe Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe is not a book I’d heard anything about before reading it. I hadn’t read any reviews for it or anything, but something about it called to me from the shelf. When I saw that the blurb on the back recommended it to fans of John Green and Jason Reynolds, I figured it was probably worth a shot; the former is one of my favorite writers, and I like the little I’ve read from the latter.

Also–though I didn’t know this at the time–Field Guide won the 2020 William C. Morris Debut Award, an award that has been given to some truly fantastic fantastic novels including Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2019), The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2018), and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2016).

What’s it about?

After his parents’ messy divorce, Norris moves from Montreal, Canada to Austin, Texas. What Norris knows about America comes mostly from pop culture, and based on that he’s pretty sure that Texas isn’t the place for a mouthy Black French Canadian. He knows that they’ll have preconceived opinions about him, and he’s perfectly prepared to stick to his guns with his own preconceived opinions about them.

What’d I think?

I expected this novel to blast stereotypes. I love meta works of fiction that use tropes to bring nuance to them. Because lets face it: we’ve all read books with bitchy cheerleaders, lunkhead jocks, manic pixie dreamgirls, and weird loners. It’s gotten to the point that if a character looks like this…

Image result for quinn fabray

…everyone’s knows immediately what to expect: a beautiful popular girl who is actually nasty. She’ll have the guy at first, but eventually he’ll see that the quirky protagonist girl is the one for him. If she turns out to be something else, it’s always a bit of a surprise.

And so on for the other stereotypes. The summary of Field Guide indicates that the book is going to deconstruct these tropes, and the comparison to John Green had me particularly excited, because deconstructing manic pixie dreamgirls is what John Green does best.

looking for alaskaDon’t @me about this. Neither Alaska nor Margo fits this trope. They only seem to because the male POV characters desperately want them to. The plot of both Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns is explicitly about the people in Alaska and Margo’s lives realizing that they’re more than attractive forces of change in the lives of the boys who have crushes on them. I could write an essay on this. I probably won’t, but maybe someday I’ll break and do it because it annoys me SO MUCH when people critique John Green for this. He’s not a perfect writer—no one is—but this is one thing he consistantly excels at.

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Supernatural 15×12 Review (Galaxy Brain)

It’s been so long since Supernatural that I’d almost forgotten it exists. That’s an exaggeration, obviously, but I’m not back in the swing of it yet (hence this short and kinda janky review). It also didn’t help that with the actual world feeling like it’s ending, it’s a little harder than usual to watch Chuck casually destroy a bunch of worlds. I’m a worrier, so lighter fare has been more to my taste lately.

I watched The Spongebob Musical, which is available to stream, and would highly recommend it. It’s an adorable and surprisingly well-written musical in general, but it was shocking how relevant it is right now. I don’t know how much overlap there is between Supernatural fans and Broadway/musical fans, but, you know. Give it a shot.

spongebob

Near the beginning of “Galaxy Brain,” Chuck monologues to a random Radio Shed employee in one of his many alternate universes to explain why he’s decided to destroy all his creations except for the main one. The most important takeaway for the show as a whole is that Chuck is doesn’t care about his other worlds. He’s gotten the endings he wants with innumerable Sam and Dean pairs, but those ones don’t “spark joy.” He wants to beat the OG Winchesters, because they challenge him and excite him. More relevant to this episode specifically, Chuck explains:

“I don’t need more. More things, more distractions. I need less. It’s time to clear the board, all the other worlds, alternate realities, the subplots, the failed spinoffs. It’s time to start cancelling shows.”

When Chuck says “failed spinoffs” he means Wayward Sisters, the highly anticipated but ultimately rejected spinoff. There was a backdoor pilot back in season thirteen that set up quite a bit. Lots of people—including me—were excited and interested in seeing that story unfold since there was a lot of interesting stuff in it (with the strong female cast as the cherry on top). There were a lot of loose ends, too, so I’m glad that “Galaxy Brain” wrapped them all up. It was good to see Kaia back, but the episode as a whole felt lacking.

With Wayward Daughters cancelled before it got started, the stories started in that backdoor pilot needed addressed, but one episode was not enough time. It felt like pushing that stupid Staples button from back in the day. Actually, that was easy!

Image result for that was easy button

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The Princess and the Fangirl (Book Review)

princess and the fangirl
Can whoever does Ashley Poston’s covers be in charge of all covers? Thanks.

I have definite reading trends, so it’s not exactly world-shattering when I read a handful of books in a row that have similar plots or themes. If anything, I should be surprised when the books I read are noticeably dissimilar. I’m not to that point yet. I don’t mind some repetition. I like what I like, so I intentionally stick to what I know I’ll enjoy most of the time. Repetition only becomes a problem when I read something spectacular and then follow it up with something similar enough that it forces comparisons while being notably lackluster. Unfortunately for The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston, I had just finished I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman when I read it.

The Princess and the Fangirl is a cute, quick read. It’s fandom fairytale escapism. If I’d read it at a different time, I might’ve concluded this review by saying “I loved it!” Unfortunately, I didn’t read it at a different time, so it disappointed me a bit. I certainly still enjoyed it, but it was too close on the heels of a book that did all the same things, but better.

How are The Princess and the Fangirl and I Was Born for This similar?

Both novels follow two protagonists, one who is mega famous and the other who is a big fan. The Princess and the Fangirl has Jessica and Imogen, the star of a huge sci-fi reboot called Starfield and a huge Starfield fangirl, respectively. In I Was Born for This, Angel adores the boyband The Ark, and the frontman Jimmy in particular. Both novels alternate perspectives between their two protagonists.

Both Jessica and Jimmy are miserable. Even though they started out on the road to fame passionate about their art, the stress and the responsibilities of fame have them at their wit’s end, to the point that they desperately want out. As long as we’re pointing out similarities, I may as well mention that both Jessica and Jimmy are LGBTQ+.

Then we have Imogen and Angel. They both love their chosen fandom with all their heart, and use it to fill the hole caused by their dissatisfaction with their own lives. They are both attending a fan event, both for the event itself and to meet a long-time Internet friend they do not yet know face-to-face. Even though Angel and Imogen have been looking forward to meeting their friend for a long time, the IRL reunion goes poorly.

Of course, both novels throw their two protagonists together eventually and in both, the meeting is precipitated by a malicious act and minor disaster.

If there had been a couple of books between I Was Born for This and The Princess and the Fangirl, I probably would’ve noticed these similarities—glaring as they are—only in passing. These books both fit very, very solidly in a category of books I pick up with very little deliberation. If it’s a YA book about fandom, I’ve either read it or intend to. Same deal for books with queer protagonists. I love them, so I read a lot of them. A lot of the things I Was Born for This and The Princess and the Fangirl overlap on are things that show up in lots of fandom novels. Every subgenre has its tropes, and ‘books about fandom’ is no different. When you pick one up, you’ll probably get all or most of the following:

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Book Club: American Dirt

Image result for american dirt coverFor American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, I separated my book club discussion starters from my review because it’s such a controversial book. My review is my opinion, so I didn’t shy away from talking about which side of the controversy I come down on. I try to keep my discussion starters as impartial as possible (but I’m human, so it has probably bled through some), so I tried to bring up talking points from both sides when warranted.

As always, discussion questions are full of spoilers. Enjoy!

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I Was Born for This (Book Review)

i was born for thisI love Alice Oseman. That’s really all there is to say about I Was Born for This. I read both Solitaire and Radio Silence last year and absolutely adored them. They were relatively hard to find and from what I could tell, I Was Born for This isn’t actually published in the United States yet and I had to get it from Amazon’s Book Depository. I had a long backlist of to-reads ahead of IWBfT, which was unfortunate, because I’ve been raring to read it since I heard it existed, and because a lot of the books I slogged through to get to it were considerably less enjoyable. I have very strict no-jumping-the-line rules for reading, though (especially with book club coming up), so I waited. It was very worth the wait, and I shot through it in a single day. It is just as good as Oseman’s other two books, which is saying something since I ranked them both at number one out of all the books I read last year.

What’s it about?

Angel loves the boy band The Ark. It’s a huge part of her life, and in many ways gives her meaning. She’s fandom famous, and she met her best friend Juliet online through the fandom. Now she’s living a dream come true: she’s going to meet Juliet for the first time IRL and they’re going to attend  a meet and great with The Ark. But when she gets there, things aren’t what she expected.

Jimmy, frontman of The Ark, is not enjoying his life of fame and fortune. The main problem is that he has a severe anxiety disorder, and the panic attacks are no joke, especially now that there’s a new contract on the table that would drastically up the pressure on him and his two friends/bandmates Rowan and Lister, who—like Jimmy—are having their own meltdowns behind the façade of dreamy perfection.

What’d I think?

There’s nothing I didn’t love about this book.

I find it difficult to write reviews about books that I unabashedly, completely adored. It’s much easier to dive into what I disliked or what didn’t work for me, which is why this post is less a review and more a list of some of the many things I Was Born for This did right.

Every single character who appears in this novel is a richly drawn, fully developed person. Even the characters who appear at first to be vaguely unpleasant background noise–like Mac (Juliet’s love interest who Angel dislikes) and Lister (The Ark’s third wheel, who drinks, smokes, and otherwise makes things uncomfortable for his bandmates), are given their own hopes, inner demons, storylines, and motivations. By the end, Lister is actually my favorite character… and that’s a stiff competition because I loved everyone.

Oseman’s writing is effortless to read. The chapters are short, the characters’ voices are compelling, and the story grabbed and kept my attention. I’ve read fifteen books so far this year, and I Was Born for This is only the second that has drawn me in so completely that I put it down only when I absolutely had to (I was reading on my work break). For the record, the other page-turner was Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son.

I am a huge fangirl, and I absolutely adore books about fan culture. I’ve read tons of them, and I never get tired of them. I Was Born for This, despite using some of the same general plot points, feels very different from the other fan-centric novels I’ve read. Lots of these books show fandom both from the perspective of the fans and from a content creator. This novel really paints a full picture of the culture, both the good and the bad, and I love how many contrasting opinions are balanced across the various characters without being blended into a single thesis for Oseman or for the novel itself. Plus, the novel deliberately and pointedly swerves the ideas that all boybands are frivolous pop stars who make bad music and all their fans a young, dumb, horny girls. I watched a vlog from Alice Oseman in which she said she’s actually detached from the fandom scene, which shocked me because it’s portrayed so well.

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American Dirt (Book Review)

Image result for american dirt coverIf you pay any attention whatsoever to the literary world, you know about American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and, specifically, the controversy surrounding it. I heard about the controversy long before I heard anything else about the book, and even when I do hear positive remarks they always have that caveat: despite the controversy… I suspect I’m not alone in  deciding that this book wasn’t for me just from the backlash. I wouldn’t have read it if it weren’t for for my book club (discussion questions here). In theory I like that, having read the book myself, I can make up my own mind about it and respond to the controversy from a place of knowledge. In practice, I don’t think that’s actually true.

Here’s the thing: I am very white. I’m an American citizen and I have literally never been outside my own country. I know some about immigration and what’s going down at the border because in this day and age it’s pretty much impossible not to know a little, but as far as I personally am involved… I’m not. Because of that, I can’t read a novel like American Dirt and claim that my response to it has as much relevance as those coming from people who have immigrated or crossed a border or lived in Mexico or feared deportation or any of the rest of it. When I read responses from Mexican and Mexican-American writers saying that American Dirt misrepresents their culture or leans on damaging stereotypes or shouts over the voices that should be telling this kind of story, I believe them.

I don’t think that writers should only be allowed to tell stories that directly express their own experiences. That said, authors should consider carefully the stories they’re telling and why they’re telling them. In the case of American Dirt, the problem isn’t that Cummins is white. That’s just a convenient way to phrase the controversy without digging into nuance, especially for people who want to call reverse-racism. If American Dirt were an authentic representation of immigration, people wouldn’t be as upset. If American Dirt weren’t touted as the depiction of the Mexican-American immigration experience, when actual Mexican-American immigrant writers struggle to get their own stories told, it might’ve been fine.

Basically, if you think people are mad about American Dirt only because Cummins is white, you’re missing most of the picture. The problem comes from cultural inaccuracy, stereotyping, and appropriation. It also comes from the somewhat insensitive way that Cummins has responded to critiques. It’s off-putting how Cummins, in her afterward, writes about her undocumented husband without mentioning that he’s from Ireland. I’m sure that being undocumented is a struggle wherever you’re from, but someone from Ireland is unlikely to face the same racist response as someone from Mexico, and the fact that Cummins doesn’t specify indicates to me that she’d like people to assume he’s Mexican. So, yeah. There are a lot of reasons people are upset, and “Cummins is white” is a small bullet point on a long list. For the same reasons that my take on American Dirt is considerably less valuable than many others, I’m also not the best person to explain the criticisms of the novel. If you’re interested to read more, you should read the article by Myriam Gurba; she’s one of the first to criticize American Dirt, and her review was initially rejected for being too negative. She has since received death threats (Jeanine Cummins, for the record, despite what has been reported/insinuated previously, has not). Articles like this one or this one summarize what’s going on and provide more links to dive deeper.

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