February 25th, 2015

Book Review: Alex as Well

Book Review: Alex as Well

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: January 20th 2015
Pages: 224
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.

February 12th, 2015

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: Oct. 14th 2014
Pages: 208
Source: Library

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, the cute boys, her father's meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Oh man, I don’t think I can express enough how much I loved this book. I have to admit that I sadly judged this book by its cover. I’ve know about it for  months, but it wasn’t until several of my friends began expressing their love for it that I finally picked it up. And now I can see why. I’ve already been singing the praises to several of my teens.

Let’s talk about all the things this book got right. First thing I loved was Gabi’s voice. It felt so authentic, as if I really was reading the diary of the 17 year old girl. Gabi is brutally honest about everything. From her meth-addicted father, love and sex, the pressure of being a “good” daughter/sister, and being a fat girl. I love how nothing was held back, not even when she made mistakes. Life is rarely about being perfect and Gabi’s journey shows that in full force.

I also love how Quintero isn’t afraid of tackling the tough issues. Gabi is a fat girl, but it doesn’t define her. It is not her whole existence. Yes, she struggles with junk food cravings, losing weight, and liking how she looks. Her happiness is not tied to her weight. There is no crash dieting to make her a better person or get the boy. She gets the boy by being just who she is. And I love how Gabi grows to love her body as the book progress. My favorite quote ever comes from her convincing herself to go the beach with her classmates in a two piece. It’s a quote I think every girl (or person who struggles with being body positive) should have taped to their mirror.

You look spectacular. You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better.

Oh, and spoiler alert, no one cared that she was in a two piece. That is what being body positive is all about. You go out there and rock it no matter what size you are.

The other issues that Quintero handles that made me shout from the roof tops was boys will be boys. Gabi is constantly commenting on how her mother treats her brother differently. How she’s to  keep  her “eyes open, legs closed” but her brother is to remember the condom. She hates how it’s okay for him to have sex, but if she does she would be a “bad” girl. Starting on page 229, she lays out all the boys will be boys arguments and it’s glorious to say the least. All the little stereotypes surround rape and how the girl better watch it because boys will be boys. Seriously, if you do nothing else you should get this book and read that section. Being put so bluntly in a book just made me want to weep. I also love that Martin’s father basically tells him the boys will be boys is bullshit and that he had better treat Gabi (and all girls) with respect. I have never wanted to hug a minor character so much.

The last thing I’ll talk is Gabi’s growth and transformation. I loved watching her come into her own. All the struggles and hardships that are thrown out her just make her grow. The way she thought about and questioned things she had been told all her life. Like with sex and her body and what made a “good” girl. She came to accept that the ideologies her mom held didn’t have to be the ones she held. That sex or wearing pants or going away for college did not made her “bad;” it just made her her. That’s a lesson all teens should  learn.

Final Verdict: Just go and read it now. I promise you won’t regret it. The cover is a shame, but will make sense once you read it. The story, however, will have you hugging the book in no time flat. Hands down this has become one of my favorite books.

 

February 4th, 2015

Book Review: Seeker

Book Review: Seeker

Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Series: Seeker #1
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2015
Pages: 448
Source: Edelweiss

The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor. As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world. And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.

But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes. Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.

And now it's too late to walk away.

This has got to be one of the hardest reviews I’ve written in a long time. I’ve deleted and retyped almost everything I’ve written several times over. But, let me start off by saying I liked this book. I know there’s been a lot of mixed reviews about this book, but I don’t have the same complaints as other reviewers. In fact, I’ll easily pick up the second book when it comes out.

First off, the descriptions only give half the story. While Quin is one of the main characters, there are three others that are followed as well. The chapters rotate between them giving the reader a good view into their world and thoughts.  Quin, and maybe even Maud, are the heart of the book, but the story is really driven by John. He made a promise to his dying mother when he was seven and it literally is the focus of everything he does. He is determined to keep that promise, even if it means hurting those who cares about. The others are mainly dealing with the consequences of his decisions.

I’ll be honest, I had lukewarm feelings about most of the characters. I really liked Maud, but the others I was a bit meh about mainly because of the decisions they made. I love Shinobu, but he totally took a downward spiral once in Hong Kong. I understand it to a point. Drugs would have helped him escape the past. I can only imagine that the things he saw and did were soul crushing. However, he had a great opportunity to restart his life with family. He had the chance to have a much better life where he was truly loved, but he wasn’t willing to let go or forgive himself. Quin suffered the same problem that Shinobu did, although, she did it differently. Neither was willing to face what had happened and wanted to simply run away. While she doesn’t turn to drugs, her decision is just as bad. By the end, I feel like they were both in a better place and I look forward to, hopefully, seeing them grow even more in the next book.

A lot have complained about the setting, which can be a bit jarring. The Scotland estate feels quite medieval, but there is a lot of modern, and even futurist, technology. Honestly, it felt very steampunk to me, which may be why I didn’t give it a second thought. Also, it felt like the manor was of it’s own world. It was very secluded and a place where they followed their own set of rules, which fit in with the ancient protectors vibe perfectly. I would say just to roll with the setting and not try to pin it to a time period as doing so will only make you upset.

Also, if you want a book that has every little thing spelled out for you, this is not the book for you. There is a lot of reading between the lines and putting the pieces together on your own. Dayton does eventually reveal most of it, but you have to figure it out yourself for a while. One particular scene will be flashbacked several times, revealing a little more each time until you fully understand the horror of the situation. Of course, even though some questions are answered, you are still left with many more in their place. There are several things I’m dying to know about, which I hope will be covered in book two.

The only thing that made me eye raise an eyebrow was Shinobu being in love with Quin. They’re supposed to be third cousins, well half-third cousins, and it feels a bit weird. We’re reminded over and over that they’re really distant cousins that hardly share any blood, but it still felt a bit icky. Dayton could have easily had the relationship be the same without making them related. Often times we don’t see what is in front of us, especially if it’s been there all our lives. Of course, Cassandra Clare had 2 books were we thought Clary & jace were brother/sister, so maybe the teens won’t mind it. And maybe Dayton will spin it in future books that they’re not really related after all. That seems unlikely, but I suppose it could be a possibility.

Final Verdict: An intriguing fantasy book that can be confusing at times. However, stick with it and I think you’ll be rewarded in the end.

December 3rd, 2014

Book Review: They All Fall Down

Book Review: They All Fall Down

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014
Pages: 341
Source: Library

Kenzie Sumerall just found out she’s on the the list. The list of the top ten Veinna High Juniors who are “hotties”. Unsure how she made the list at all, let alone be fifth, Kenzie tries to brush away the extra attention brought on by the list. She could care less about all the parties or the power the list brings. All she wants is to continue on as normal and hopefully get into Columbia. However, any hope of that is shattered when the girls from the list starting dying one by one. Fluke accidents that seem just a little too suspicious. Could the theory that the list is cursed be true or something more sinister going on? And more importantly, can Kenzie figure it out before she’s next…

They All Fall Down is a fast paced thriller that will suck you in until the end. Okay, there is some need to suspend believability, but this isn’t the first or last book I’ve had to do that for. There are several twists and turns that leaves you guessing what the truth behind the murders really are. I don’t know that I saw the final twist coming, but I wasn’t surprised by it either. It was obvious that something larger was going on and it was easy to determine where I needed to focus my attention. I liked that there was a bit of obviousness to it, but wasn’t completely predictable at the same time.

Kenzie overall was a likable player. She’s your typical “good girl” who studies hard and will end up in a fantastic school. She’s not a partier and her weekends are either spent studying or with her best friend, Molly. However, her life is not without tragedy. Her brother died in a freak accident only two years ago and something her family is still healing from. We don’t see her parents too much other than to note that they’re on the verge of divorce and dealing with their own problems. A convenient reason for Kenzie not to let them in on all the things happening. I’ve always enjoyed the girl detective roles, which may be why I’m able to overlook some of the flaws and cliches that surround Kenzie as a whole. We won’t even talk about how she falls into insta-love with the bad boy (Levi) and drops her 7 year long crush on Mr. Popular (Josh) with barely a second thought. Honestly, Levi is totally the better choice out of the two, but I’m still not sure that makes him a good choice either. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a series and how the boys progress in the future. (The door is completely wide-open for a sequel, but at this moment I cannot find any details on if that will actually happen.)

All that being said, this book does have issues. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the slut shaming and general problematic treatment of girls since I’ve finished reading it. The whole basic plot is hinged on a “hottie” list. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t make me cringe. Girls have enough problems in life without being ranked on “hotness”. The very premise is sexist in nature, but thankfully Kenzie agreed and says as much. While the real reason the girls are picked (which I won’t mention since it’s a spoiler) is even worse and makes me sigh, it is truly the least problematic thing in the book.

It is the unnecessary slut shaming that is thrown in that makes me really upset. On at least two occasions it is mentioned that one girl only got on the list because she gave blow jobs to lacrosse team. Even after she dies, the boys joke that a thing with her could just mean a hand job in the locker room. Then we get this fabulous line about “slut-liner”, which is what Molly calls inside the eye liner. That line was the nail in the coffin for me. None, and I do mean none, of these lines or mentions are needed in the book. Yes, the girls on the list are the ones being targeted, but there is no reason to make one a “slut”. It added absolutely nothing to the book and, in fact, it the main reason I won’t be book talking this book to my teens in an upcoming event or when I go to schools in May. A fact that saddens me a bit because this would have been a solid contender. And while it may only be four lines, I cannot condone this type of behavior nor risk upsetting parents/teacher and putting my job on the line.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced and fun thriller/mystery, however, the slut shaming made it impossible for me to fully fall in love with it.

November 24th, 2014

Teen Program: Paint and Sip

The 4-1-1:

When: Nov 20th, 7:00 – 8:30pm
Resources: How to Paint Birch Trees
How many teens: 22  teens
Cost/Supplies: $72.67

  • 11 x 14 Canvas (24): $20
  • Paint 8 fl oz bottles (6) : $17.82
    • One bottle of each of the following colors: Black, White, Gold, Yellow, Red, & Green.
  • Sea Sponges (5 pks; 25 total): $14.85
  • Brushes (flat, round, & sponge): $20
  • Cardboard Palettes: $0

The run-down:

I’m extremely lucky that I have an artist on staff who did all the planning and taught the class for me. Truly, this is her event, but I was there to help with paint and act as back up.

The set-up was pretty simple. We did 7 tables with three chairs at each table. My co-worker was stationed up front where everyone could see her. Since the canvas was on the smaller size, we did hook up a camera to our TV so it was more visible. This seemed to work well and no one complained that they couldn’t see.

As for the process, my co-worker went through step-by-step on how to recreate the painting. She broke it down as much as possible and gave hints/tips as they went along. She also made sure to tell them repeatedly that each of their paintings would look different and that was okay! Of course, the skill sets were all vastly different, but all the teens had fun which is what matters the most to me. Almost all of them begged us to do another one in the future!

Take-away/lessons learned:

  • I am so impressed by how smooth this one went. We were both worried that with such a large group we’d have trouble getting them to quiet down & listen, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. All of them really paid attention and listened to what they had to do. The next time we do this, we plan to make it only 60 minutes. The 90 minutes was just a bit too much for them.
  • Also, we’ll pick a painting with a bit less detail. All the teens did fine until we got to the birch trees. Most of them did fine, but it was the only area they struggled.
  • Have breaks! We had two 5 min breaks just to let the paint dry and let them chit-chat. I truly think this is what helped keep them so on focus.
  • Use disposable tablecloths. I cannot stress this one enough! It made cleanup a breeze.
  • Don’t have an artist on staff? Use youtube as your “instructor”. Had I done this one on my own, I would have simply shown the youtube video and paused it along the way. There are several other instructional videos like this that you could use!

 

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