Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

*This review contains some spoilers*

Turn-of-the-century Romania, dark family history, dashing gentleman, oh my! Society darlings Dacia Vreeholt and Louisa Neulander suddenly find themselves whisked away from New York City to Romania, promptly upon turning 17. The pair of cousins have been given no information about their lengthy trip besides the tight-lipped silence from Aunt Kate, their cold chaperone. Shrouded in mystery, the girls can't help but conjure up ideas of dashing, dark-lashed gentleman, European balls, and romantic carriage rides through the gorgeous streets of Bucharest. However, when their arrival is less than welcoming, Dacia and Louisa fear that their happy futures have all but disappeared. Their grandmother, Lady Ioana, informs them of a nefarious plot that involves treason against the crown, murder, and forced marriages. Without being given a choice in the matter, the cousins are swept into their families plan, all while discovering the dark, terrifying legacy that their ancestors have dropped into their laps. It's clear that monsters don't just live in fairy tales.

Dacia, usually strong and rebellious, grows terrified and sullen after learning her new destiny. While LouLou, normally reserved and soft-spoken, seems to find a new strength in her hidden gift. LouLou decides to use her family's plan against them to save the Romanian crown. Alongside two dashing gentlemen, both girls are led down a journey of self-discovery in order to gain control of their own destinies.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Some books require a reader that will truly listen to the words on the page, instead of a reader that breezes through because they want to good story. Some require a closer reader, willing to look between the lines and pages for clues and revelations. This is one of those books.

Bone Gap is a multifaceted tale of love, survival, and identity. Told from several different perspectives, the story follows Finn O'Sullivan and his quest to discover what happened to the beautiful, mysterious Roza, who was kidnapped right before his eyes. The problem is that he cannot recall the kidnapper's face. However, he distinctly remembers how the attacker moved, the tone of his voice, and how he seemed to emanate a controlling power that paralyzed everything around them.

Finn looks to the people of Bone Gap for clues. Someone has to know the identity of the man who took Roza. Maybe they had information about Roza that he didn't understand. But as Finn looks to Bone Gap for evidence, he realizes that he is not the only one who can't see people clearly. Everyone has a theory; everyone takes things for face value, even though they are way off. The closer that Finn gets to discovering they mystery surrounding him, the town begins to change and show its gaps- people who don't quite make sense, hazy memories left unexplained, and corn that supposedly speaks to you. He realizes that these gaps hold the key to finding Roza and restoring the joy that she brought to their lives.

One of the reasons why Bone Gap was so striking to me was the way that the mythical and the contemporary are pieced together so seamlessly. The novel reads like realistic fiction until a few chapters in, when you begin to see allusions to mythology and the Underworld. Magical-realism can be a distraction, but I found that it enhanced the mystery and suspense of the overall plot. Additionally, Bone Gap is told from multiple perspectives and reveals how each character has a completely different view of the world around them.

Even though Finn is determined to find Roza, he has his own personal issues to confront; his brother has barely said a word to him since Roza's disappearance, and worse yet, the boys' mother left them when they were younger to pursue a life outside of family duty. Sean and Finn have plenty of experience with abandonment. Finn grows closer to Priscilla "Petey" Willis, the daughter of a beekeeper who prefers to keep company with bees instead of her peers. Petey and Finn develop an unlikely relationship due to their common "weirdness" and soon start meeting at night around a campfire while they eat s'mores and talk about their mutual oddities. I found their relationship to be the most compelling in the novel. Both Finn and Petey have their own demons to confront, but oddly enough, they help the other find their way through and resolve their conflicts.

The most compelling aspect of Laura Ruby's novel was how she portrayed her female characters. Unfortunately, so many YA authors get this wrong (unfortunate because so many YA authors are also female). I am failing to recall an instance where female characters were portrayed so genuinely before I read Bone Gap. These women struggle, face insecurities, and encounter trials, yet they understand their value are not going to be controlled. They discover themselves throughout the novel and remain determined to reinforce their worth to those around them. Ruby's theme centers around identity and how the "face" that we show the world is not the sum of who we are. Roza seemed to be utterly defined by her beauty by the man who kidnapped her and even by the people of Bone Gap; Roza's freedom is ripped from her hands because of a man wanting to possess her and her beauty. She refused to be seen as nothing more than an alluring "creature" and was determined to fight to rectify their views (literally!). She is desperate for someone to really see who she is, and not what her outward features imply. As we glimpse her past, we see her encounter abusive men who restrict her freedom and silence her voice. Her babcia (Grandma) admonishes her to search for those who will listen to her and truly see her. This, to me, reinforced the importance of women encouraging other women to tap into their strength and power as human beings. Roza understands her worth because her grandma consistently reinforced her equality. Despite the fact that she sometimes finds herself in situations where she is being controlled by a man, Roza never settles and finds an ally in Finn. He helps pull her out of this controlling landscape.

Bone Gap is a character-driven story that centers around the mystery of life and love; by turning things inside-out, we can sometimes see them more clearly. Through Finn's perspective, we see that identity is not derived from how people perceive us, but rather from something much deeper- our influence on the world around us and our capacity for self-understanding.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. Review copy provided by the publisher. Release date: March 3rd, 2015. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Book Week 2014

Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of your right to read, is upon us! This week, from September 21st to the 27th, libraries all over the United States have been celebrating and promoting your right to read! A banned book is a book whose content has been actively removed from the book stores, a school's curriculum, or has been challenged in libraries. Different types of people and groups of all persuasions and beliefs have attempted to ban or challenge books. As the American Library Association states, "challenges are often motivated by a desire to protect children from 'inappropriate' sexual content or 'offensive' language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:
  1. the material was considered to be 'sexually explicit' 
  2. the material contained 'offensive language'
  3. the materials was 'unsuited to any age group'."
While these motives are well-intentioned, it still does not give someone the right to tell another group of people that they can or can not have access to that book. It is a basic violation of a person's First Amendment rights.

Intellectual freedom and censorship is a subject I feel very strongly about, and I always enjoy a good conversation with students and parents (which happens often when you work in libraries) about content and open access to books. Parents often assume that, as librarians, we will automatically deem books appropriate or inappropriate for their child and exclude their child from reading them. However, we are often forced to point out that each parent or guardian has a different definition of appropriate content.

Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents, and only parents, have the right to restrict the access of their children, and only their children, to library resources. Yet, I encourage parents to let their children explore the world through the safety of books. Parents reading a book alongside their child can have an open discussion about the issues displayed within that book. This dialogue can teach critical thinking and evaluation skills that are necessary, not only in school but in the real world. This is what Banned Books Week celebrates.

The display I created for Banned Books Week

Here are a few of my favorite banned books (and why they were banned!):
1. The Hunger Games... banned for being anti-family (huh? the whole reason she went into the games was to protect her SISTER), violence, and language.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird...banned for dealing with racial inequality and rape.
3. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl... banned for being "a real downer." Well, the Holocaust was a pretty horrific event.
4. Eleanor & Park...banned for being vulgar and containing adult subject matter. Eleanor's step father is verbally abusive and her unstable home life is a major part of this book.
5. The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh...banned for promoting Nazism (??) and Pooh's lack of pants has been seen as immoral.

Other banned books include Little House on the Prairie, Bridge to Terabithia, and the Captain Underpants series. Remember that censorship is more than a parent deciding what is right for their child; censorship is someone trying to dictate what is right for all children (and adults, too). Intellectual freedom is important for all of us!

How are you celebrating Banned Books Week?