Posts Tagged With: realistic

Yotsuba&! vol. 10

by Kiyohiko Azuma

In this volume, Yotsuba plays with her dad, learns how to make pancakes, and gets a visit from an old friend. I managed to ration the stories in this volume over three whole sittings! Although the genre is “slice of life,” the first story feels more aimless than usual and made me worry that the series was losing its charm. However, the second story–“Yotsuba & Pancakes!”–is the funniest instalment of Yotsuba&! yet, surpassing even “Yotsuba & No Bother!” (and you may remember how dearly I love that chapter). The rest of the chapters in this volume are decent, some eliciting more laughs than others, as per usual. As much as I loved the pancakes story, some of the other chapters are only just okay, and the funnier ones depend on the reader having already been acquainted with the characters.

Recommended for those who have already read some of the series, although the pancakes episode may win over some new fans.

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Almost Perfect

by Brian Katcher

Logan is still smarting from his break-up with Brenda, his chaste girlfriend of three years who cheated on him in the backseat of a car with some random dude. His friends try to convince him to ask out someone new, but he isn’t interested–until Sage Hendricks transfers to his school. She’s cute, she’s weird, and she seems really interested, but some secret from her past is keeping her from being anything more than friends with Logan. Everyone thinks they’re together, and Logan wishes they were… until he kisses Sage and she tells him her secret: she was assigned male at birth. Logan freaks out about what this means for him, but as Sage remains part of his life, he starts to think about what it means for her and what it doesn’t have to mean for them.

I’m really happy a book like this exists (even though I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, which I’ll get into later). It’s not a great book for a trans person to read, because it is so much about the ungenerous things ignorant people think when they first encounter a trans woman, but it’s a great premise for a reader who still has a lot to ponder about trans issues. Logan is a hick, and his response to Sage’s revelation is horrible, but pretty realistic. He worries that it means he’s gay, he worries that others will think it means he’s gay, he thinks Sage tricked him, he grapples with the image he has of Sage’s body. He treats her like dirt, and I wanted something better for Sage, but I appreciated the realism. Logan evolves realistically over the course of the novel, but he’s still not perfect by the end, which I liked even though I still didn’t like him. I loved Sage and I thought she was a really well-rounded character, especially for a trans character in an issues book, since they usually treat “problem characters” like Sage as props for the “normal” main character’s emotional journey.

What I absolutely hated about the book was all the racism. Some of it was unnecessary characterization of Logan’s friends: Sam is a fat Japanese-American who is compared to Buddha more than once; Jack is a white kid whose favourite joke is an “Engrish” pun. But the worst instance of racism in the book was Logan’s description of going to a frat party:

Approaching Greek Town was like riding up to an encampment of angry Indians. I could hear their war cries long before I saw them.

None of these descriptions or characterizations are valuable in any way, and it frustrates me that they were not edited out of this otherwise valuable book. Yes, a lot of LGBT-themed YA books are about middle- or lower-class white teenagers, and as problematic as I find that I will still recommend those books to teens. I’m so desperate for good trans YA fiction that I probably would have still recommended this to teens with the racist characterizations of Sam and Jack. But the “encampment of angry Indians” bit is inexcusable.

With great regret, I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

edit: Definitely did not think this review would ever find its way to Brian Katcher. He seems like a decent fellow and he took my criticism seriously, so I’d definitely give his next book a chance. I’ve removed a line I wrote about the award this book received, because while I still have problems with race issues being overlooked in LGBT book awards, it was a pretty mean thing to write.

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by Hazel Edwards & Ryan Kennedy

Skye doesn’t feel like Skye. Born and raised female, Skye feels like a boy. Nobody knows this about him, and everyone treats him like a butch lesbian. His best friend always tries hooking him up with hot girls, but he can’t focus on who he’d like to be with when he still hasn’t sorted out who he is. When he writes “Finn” on a nametag among a group of friends, they go along with it as a silly role-playing scenario, but he worries about how they will react when the time comes for him to fully transition from Skye to Finn. f2m follows Finn as he navigates the complicated world of transitioning from female to male.

I’m glad that this exists and is in my public library because it’s a subject that is little covered by young adult literature. Another original point is that Finn is punk, and he worries that his non-traditional appearance will make it harder for him to convince a psychiatrist that he wants to be a guy. Aside from the punk trait, Finn and his story are pretty generic. He’s a white 18-year-old from an affluent 4-person family living in a metropolis. Although he seems to know no more than his own preference to be male at the beginning of the book, he rapidly moves through all the huge life events involved in transitioning within the next few months, including hormone therapy and chest surgery. What I worry about with this book is that it really only appeals to people who seek out stories about transitioning, and they will get an unrealistic picture of how easy the transitioning process is. A lot of the reactions Finn received were realistic, though: his all-girl band members found it anti-feminist, other friends didn’t care, and his mom felt like she was losing a daughter. The least realistic and most problematic for me was his brother’s reaction, which was that he would feel more comfortable with Finn once he had chest surgery because then they could be bros instead of Finn being some girl he couldn’t talk to because boobs and stuff. While I don’t think a book about a little-covered subject has to be all things to all people, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Finn go through all of the questions about his gender that led him to be sure he wanted to transition. He seemed so single-minded about it, but also completely unprepared for the trials of transitioning, which I thought was odd for a person who grew up in a metropolis and was involved in a queer/punk/feminist underground scene. It made it harder to be invested in his quest because I wasn’t confident that he was completely sure of what he was doing.

I’d recommend it to anyone 13 and up looking for a story about transitioning, although I would warn them that this book is very idealistic about the process and doesn’t go into any of the politics or personal reasons for transitioning.

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A Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, ill. Jim Kay

Late at night, Conor wakes from a nightmare to hear someone calling his name. No, not someone: something. The yew tree from the neighbouring graveyard has transported itself into his yard, twisting its branches into a monstrous shape with arms, legs, and a face. Having been woken by a nightmare more horrifying than a monstrous yew tree, Conor isn’t afraid. He thinks it’s just another dream. But when he wakes up in the morning, the floor of his room is covered in yew leaves. Conor has more going on than midnight visits from a monster–in the waking world, his mother is struggling with cancer and everyone at school is treating him like some innocent victim. The yew tree continues to visit Conor and tell him stories about other times he has been called to enact justice, and Conor starts to hope that the yew tree can help him fix his life. But the monster’s ideas about justice are quite different from Conor’s.

I found this book hard to get into at first, even though the illustrations are really dark and beautiful. I was expecting a straight-up monster story, and the first few pages describe a visit from a monster but it’s not scary. Conor isn’t even afraid, so how was I supposed to be? Then I got to the part about Conor cleaning the house and fixing his own breakfast because his mom is still in bed. I thought it was the typical neglectful parent you find in most horror stories. Once I picked up on the clues that Conor’s mom had cancer, the story shifted for me. Usually kids’ stories about cancer or other illnesses are too after-school special for me to enjoy, with more predictable trajectories than monster stories, but this one is different. This one overlaps the horror element of monster stories with the real life struggles of a child whose parent has cancer. The story is beautifully told, and portrays Conor as he would like to be seen–a flawed hero in a horror story of epic proportions, not the victimized subject of an uncomfortable “issues” book taught in school. Both genres are enriched by this story’s inclusion of the other: the horror aspects of the story embody the dark issues of Conor’s situation, making it easier to empathize with him than if he was merely telling readers about how scared he is about his mom; conversely, the mundane and realistic possibility of Conor losing his mother to cancer makes the horror story more threatening than it would be if simply the fate of the world hung in the balance. While it took me eight or so goes to get to page 20, I found Conor’s complicated dilemma absolutely compelling and read the rest of the book straight through. It is an original, beautiful read with excellent illustrations that bring out both the horror and the sadness of the story.

Recommended for older kids and younger teens who can handle dark books about horror and death. Older teens looking for fanged monsters and blood will be disappointed, but those looking for a sad story will still enjoy it even if they do not care for supernatural horror.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever

by Jeff Kinney

This installment of Wimpy Kid features a great many things, including but not limited to Christmas stress, school property vandalism, e-pets, a creepy lost doll, and, as always, a few cockamamie schemes of Greg’s to make money with minimal effort.

Of all the Wimpy Kid books, this one is the least cohesive. Yes, the other books go on a number of humourous tangents, but this one is pretty much all tangent, to the point where the plot as described on the back of the book doesn’t actually happen until the last twenty pages. There are some really funny parts and it is an enjoyable read, but it gets off to a rough start mostly because Greg seems so much younger than a middle school student. He believes in Santa, and it’s not even framed as a funny thing he hasn’t outgrown. Plus, his school–supposedly a middle school–has playground equipment. Both of these details distracted me and had me wondering if middle school starts in grade three in some states. It felt like these parts were targeted at the 7-year-olds reading the books, which can only detract from how cool these books are to their original audience of early middle schoolers. This audience shift, along with the general lack of plot makes me worry that the series is fading.

Still recommended to fans of the series, and it’s probably the most accessible of all of the books for a much younger audience. I wouldn’t recommend it as the one you give to another adult when you’re trying to convince them how funny the series is.

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The Unforgotten Coat

by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Julie remembers grade six well. She tells the story of her year as it relates to a series of Polaroid pictures. Grade six Julie just wants two things in life: for Shocky to notice her and for Mimi to invite her over to her house. She becomes interested in bigger issues when two mysterious Mongolian brothers show up at her school. Chingis, the older of the two, tells everyone to call his brother Nergui–Mongolian for “no name”–and tells Julie that a vanishing demon is hunting his brother. Chingis makes Julie their “Good Guide,” making her responsible for teaching them about their surroundings so they can blend in and the demon won’t find Nergui. Julie gets so involved in Chingis’s stories about Mongolia and the demon that she starts to notice some inconsistencies. Like, how did he take photos of Mongolia if he got his camera last summer at a refugee camp in England? Is he even from Mongolia? Doesn’t he know that demons don’t exist and people don’t just vanish?

Like some other reviewers who picked up this book, I thought it would be a pure fantasy story. I would still classify it as fantasy, but it binds fantastical conflicts with reality more closely than most. A lot of fantasy takes place in other worlds but reflects on our own; this story manifests fantasy elements from real situations. In fact, many story elements are based on a true story, which Cottrell Boyce tells in the afterword. I loved the genre blending, and I liked the way in which the mystery about the two brothers unfolded. For such a short book, the characters are well developed and I grew to like them. The Polaroid pictures sprinkled throughout the book made it visually enjoyable, and the writing was easy to follow. Although I wouldn’t categorize it as a book I couldn’t put down, I actually couldn’t put it down and stayed up later than I wanted to in order to finish it all in one go.

Recommended to adults who like kids books and kids who enjoy character-driven realistic fiction, curiosity-driven plots, and intersections of fantasy and reality. A good one for teachers of older elementary students to read aloud in units addressing social issues such as refugees.

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson is a silent, stoic Chicagoan teen with two rules: 1) Don’t care. 2) Shut up. His current state of near friendlessness is due in part to his having broken those rules. He never should have signed the letter he sent to the paper defending his gay friend Tiny’s right to play on the school football team. Now his only friends are Tiny and the people Tiny hangs out with at the GSA. Tiny, who is obsessed with love, keeps trying to hook him up with Jane, whom Will doesn’t even like… he thinks.

will grayson is a clinically depressed closeted gay teen living in the suburbs outside of chicago. he has one thing in this world that keeps him from killing himself and everyone around him: his internet boyfriend, isaac. too bad maura, the goth chick he hangs out with at school, doesn’t get that he would never choose to be her friend if they weren’t both outcasts stuck together like prisoners in the same school. will doesn’t tell her about isaac, or his plans to finally meet up with isaac in chicago, but she keeps trying to insert herself into his personal life.

When the two Wills cross paths in Chicago, their lives become intertwined and start to move in a new direction.

This book was so compelling that I read it in one day. The chapters with the first Will Grayson were properly capitalized, while the other will grayson’s chapters were all lower case. The lower case chapters were my favourite, and I found the netspeak used between will and isaac to be super genuine (except when things were italicized). A lot of books with queer characters only use gay guys as a foil for straight characters, and show homophobia in a didactic way that shows the presumably straight reader how they should act towards others. This book was refreshingly real and didn’t prioritize one Will’s development over the other, like so many books that focus on one straight character and one gay character do. It isn’t a typical straight book or gay book in that respect.

This could be an enjoyable read for teens who like realistic fiction, regardless of gender or sexuality; however, since it does focus on friendships and relationships between the characters, it will appeal to those who like character-driven books more than action- or comedy-fueled ones.

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Yotsuba&! vol. 2

by Kiyohiko Azuma

Usually I would start with the first volume of a series when reviewing it, but volume 2 is my favourite and the premise is always the same with Yotsuba&!, so if it sounds good you should start from the beginning and read all of them. This is slice-of-life manga at its best, focusing on a 5-year-old girl named Yotsuba as she encounters new people, places, and concepts in her small Japanese town. In volume 2, we follow Yotsuba as she encounters a terrifying bulls-eye, learns that she isn’t as good an artist as she thinks, and–my personal favourite–practices the many uses of the phrase “no bother”. (In the Yen Press translations, it is changed to “no sweat”, which I think makes it lose some of its charm, so try the ADV Manga edition if you can find a copy.)

If it all sounds too precious for you, get over it and just read it. No book or show has made me laugh out loud this much, ever. I wish they took longer to read, because the agony of waiting for the next volume is only relieved for the hour or two that it takes to gobble up the newest stories before starting up again.

Although these comics are usually put in the kids’ section of the library, they are intended for a middle-aged male audience in Japan. They are suitable for anyone to read. I’ve met 4-year-olds who love them as read-alongs, 8-year-olds who read them alone, 20-somethings who are devoted to them, and 50-somethings who read them with a twinkle in their eye. I was recommended this series by a 30-year-old man and I recommend it to anyone of any age and gender. It is particularly good as a happy distraction when life gets sad.

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Chasing the Bear

by Robert B. Parker

I read this book hoping to find a “clean” read with a boy protagonist for a work assignment. It’s a book about Parker’s character, Spenser, as a teen. The book is told by adult Spenser, in chapters that alternate between stories of his teen life and a scene where he is telling all of this to his love interest, Susan. He recalls his encounter with a bear drunk on fermented berries, as well as some of his more heroic deeds. He was brought up by his father and his mother’s brothers, who taught him all about being a man. When he was 14, he saw his friend Jeannie being abducted by her abusive father, so he set out after them, following even when the chase came to a river he had to navigate with no paddle! He’s a pretty smooth hero, and has to take on other challenges once more people come to him for help.

A pretty horrible read, but one of the only “clean” realistic fiction books I could find with a boy protagonist. He mentions that his father talked to him about sex, and lets him taste whiskey after a hunting trip, but that is it in the non-“clean” department. There is no swearing, and the only violence is for self-defense. The font size looks like it’s at least 12, if not 14, and the book is really thin.

A good one for teens who aren’t into long books or character development. Definitely a good standby for boys who don’t typically read for fun but have to choose a book to read for school.

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by Eric Walters

It’s January of 2010. Joshua is 15, and has just had a falling out with God. His relationship with his dad isn’t great either, mostly because his dad moved him and his younger sister across Toronto to a new neighbourhood, school, and church right after their mom died. Worse still, his dad is a preacher, and there seems to be no end to the prayers and the Christian truisms he spouts, even though God clearly isn’t listening—if he was, Josh’s mom would still be alive. Now, on top of all that, Josh has to go with his dad and his sister on a mission to Haiti to help build an orphanage. He doesn’t want to make friends on this trip, but he has no choice but to band together with Philippe, a Haitian orphan, and a fellow missionary named Naomi after the earthquake hits and they have to journey to Port au Prince to find insulin for Naomi, who is diabetic. His father and sister were supposed to return with the insulin earlier, but a quarter of a million people perished in the quake, and they may be among them.

Walters tends to write in a genre I like to call “disaster capitalism”, exploiting the world’s tragedies for a story teachers will assign to high school students. Most irritatingly, the heroes and everyone they love always survive, and they learn an important first world lesson, which I think misrepresents how horrible it actually is for people in the real world who are affected by these things.

However, this book is a decent read. It has a pretty wide appeal, since it deals with a lot of Josh’s personal baggage—his relationship with his dad and his God—while focusing on disaster and heroic feats. It’s topical, but it isn’t so topical that it won’t be a good read years from now. It’s also Canadian, with references to Timmy’s, mediocre French education, and other little details.

A recommended resource for teachers who want to address current events, although the religious aspect may make it inappropriate in public schools.

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