Saturday, June 20, 2015

YA Party: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley, Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalu, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

My school radically changed our summer reading list which means that I am reading radically this summer. One of my grades has a list that is all Printz Award Winners, so I 
thought I would just do a quick group review for these quick reads. (They are in order from my least to most favorite.) 

Coffee. Coffee morning, noon, and night. 

My Words stand by as Witness
Collected and in line - 
America is dying
One Girl at a Time. 

It does not have to define who Emily is, was, or will be. 

The opening of this novel has Emily Beam, a junior in high school, arriving at the Amherst School for Girls boarding school in the middle of the year. We find out very quickly that she had to leave her old one-school town because her boyfriend killed himself in front of her in the school library. It is a short book about a young woman trying to process the things that have happened to her, and very few things happen besides making vague friendships, getting into small amounts of trouble, and writing poetry to try to help process. 

It has some interesting aspects (it is non-linear - we get parts of her current life interspersed with parts of her former life in a way that feels stream-of-consciousness; Emily is inspired by Emily Dickinson to write poetry and those poems end each chapter; facts about Emily Dickinson are conveyed); however, it falls short of good. 

The third person narrator works in present tense which is doubly problematic: the stream-of-consciousness just doesn't work in the third person, and the flashbacks don't really work in the present tense. The present feels too Dick sees Jane (There are rumors the day Emily Beam arrives at the Amherst School for Girls...Emily announces to the tall, curly-haired blonde standing by the window that she's come from Boston...Emily takes off her rubber-soled Mary Janes...) with the flashbacks jumping in a little abruptly (before ASG, Emily had wanted nothing more than to be loved by a boy...But here at ASG, she is surrounded by girls more self-assured than she). In spite of the above quote, Emily the character is completely defined by the two major life events that happen to her (boyfriend committing suicide and spoiler I won't reveal), and so there is very little HER to connect with and very little plot to be interested in. 

"Bootlegs totally defeat the purpose of going to a show. They take away from the preciousness of the lived experience. It happened. You were there for it. And now it's your responsibility to remember it, not to try and re-create it all the time by listening to some shittily recorded attempt at preservation...Everything that ever happens to you only happens once, so you better never stop paying attention." 

In the years ahead, Maggie promised herself, wherever I go and whatever happens, I only want, once and forever, to be really known to someone. 

The Carnival at Bray may be more for younger teachers than it is for their students. It takes place in 1993 and mentions the following bands: Smashing Pumpkins, The Clash, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Nine Inch Nails, Sex Pistols, Soundgarden, Urge Overkill, Dinosaur Jr, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Liz Phair, Oasis. I spent a lot of time listening to Exile in Guyville and I still LOATHE people who try to record songs at I am basically the perfect audience for this book.
it also features my favorite candy which is easy to find in Europe and hard to find in America
Maggie and her sister Ronnie are uprooted from their American life (with her favorite uncle and grama) when her mom (who goes through boyfriends the way I go through Crunchies) decides to marry a man and move her family to his hometown in Ireland. I was immediately sympathetic for Maggie who is often forced to be the grownup and caretaker in her family because of her mom's immaturity and bad decision making (at their going away party, her mom gets so drunk she vomits on the bar floor: Maggie let go of her mother's shoulder then, her rage replaced not exactly with pity, but with such a tired disgust with her whole pathetic family that she gave up.) She is lonely in Ireland and has trouble adjusting to all-girl-private-school life. After failing to make girl friends at school, she befriends the oldest citizen of Bray and continues a long-distance friendship with her uncle who took her to a life changing Smashing Pumpkins concert. It's a totally typical YA novel: romance, friendship, family drama, etc, but the setting and cast make it utterly charming.

It also included Uncle Kevin's Reading Recommendations to Keep Young Nieces Off the Streets with categories that include Just Because Your Teacher Assigned It Doesn't Mean It Sucks (Slaughterhouse Five, The Great Gatsby, The Odyssey, Shakespeare, A Streetcar Named Desire) with a footnote that cautions: Try to pay as little attention as possible in class when studying these works. Otherwise, there is a good chance that your teacher will ruin them for you by systemically strangling them of all life and beauty with one-hundred-question multiple choice tests and worksheets on identifying symbolism. The greatest enemy of literature is the high school English teacher. While I hope that I am not personally the greatest enemy of literature, I certainly have known teachers who are.

The only reason you think you've got morals is because you don't need money the way regular people do. 

Shipbreaker was a definite top pick (and it was universally loved by my students who picked it as well). The novel takes place in the future where there are Category 6 hurricanes and the environmental catastrophes of the world has lead to an even greater wealth-divide in America where the poor are illiterate and starving and living in shacks while the rich are mega rich sailing on ultra fast clipper ships that have sails tall enough to use jetstreams for travel. Nailer is a shipbreaker working on crew that is closer than family for a megacorporation to dismantle old abandoned oil tankers for recyclable parts. Nailer works Light Crew which means he crawls through ducts to try to bring back copper and other light materials. Nailer's dad is a meth addicted drunk abuser who makes money by fighting people to death for entertainment. Nailer's real family is his crewmate Pima. The Call To Action of the novel is after a Category 6 hurricane, Nailer and Pima find a crashed clipper ship with enough walkable wealth to change their lives. As they ransack the ship bagging silver, they find a barely living rich girl while they are trying to cut her swollen fingers to get the gold rings off of them.

It's sci-fi with genetically modified halfmen and people selling their organs for money, it's post-apocalyptic with poverty and destruction all over Nailer's life, it's romance (the rich girl is pretty, of course), it's survival, it's adventure, and it's really really good. The class-consciousness is probably the most interesting part for me as a reader. Nailer compares Pima and the Rich Girl in this scene:
Two girls, two different lives. Pima dark, strong, and scarred, tattooed with light crew information and lucky symbols; crop-haired, hard muscled, and sharply alive. This other one, a far lighter brown, untouched by sun, with long black flowing hair, and movements all smooth and soft, polished and precise, her face and bare arms unmarred by abuse or stray wiring or chemical burns. Two girls, two different lives, two different bits of luck.
It's also incredibly illuminating to see that America's post-apocalyptic future problems are many people's real life problems today (in both America and abroad):

          "You need antibiotics," she said. 
          "This smells awful." Pima shook her head. "We don't have those here."
          "What do you do when you're sick?
          "Nailer grinned weakly. "Let the Fates decide."

Paolo Bacigalupi has an adult novel that just came out called the Water Knife which I'm very interested in (much of it takes place in Las Vegas - it is about the future when water runs out and the United States has water refugees to deal with) and there is also a companion novel to Shipbreaker from the perspective of one of the halfmen featured that I am also planning on reading. I would heartily recommend this to anyone who is interested in sci-fi or adventure YA.

This novel is so so good, but it's also so so hard to talk about without giving anything away. If a person were looking for one YA novel to read, I would absolutely pick this one. It is a WWII historical fiction about two girls who are best friends - one is a pilot, one is a spy. As the pilot is delivering the spy on the mission, the plane crashes and they're separated. The novel opens with the capture of the spy by Nazis and the novel is her confession. It's a heavy novel with indirect references to violence/torture, but it's also incredibly funny and charming. The plot, characterization, and writing are fantastic. The fact that it features two spitfire girl best friends who are doing amazing things makes it even more awesome.
          It's like being in love, discovering your best friend. 

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