Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mini Reviews: Witch Child, Fat Angie, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

For Mini Reviews, I copy my reviews from Goodreads.  Unlike my blog reviews, when I write a review on Goodreads, I'm not interested in summarizing the book, but just jotting down notes for myself about my personal reaction.

Witch Child by Celia Rees.  YA historical fiction with fantasy elements, first in series.  240 pages.  2 stars.

1. One of the blurbs on the back cover says it's left up to the reader whether or not Mary is really a witch. Um, no, it's made pretty clear. She has visions. She's not the kind of witch her neighbors think she is, but she definitely has "powers."

2. I was fascinated by the girl on the cover, so I was pretty entertained that in the sequel excerpt, the character who had just "read" the book was pondering who she was also. 

3. There is no mystery at all as to where this is going, at least not if you are familiar with any of these: a) American history, b) The Crucible, c) Witch of Blackbird Pond. Which is okay--it certainly heightens the forboding. The story is well told. But since I've both read Miller's masterful play and frequently read WOBP (despite the embarrassingly romance novel-esque cover my Scholastic book edition had) as a kid, it didn't really bring anything new to my world. I can see that for modern tweens, it might be what WOBP was for me, and I have no real quibble with those who rate it higher.

Fat Angie by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo.  YA Realistic Fiction, 272 pages.  2 stars.
Unlike many reviewers, I didn't really object to the "ALL the issues!" aspect of this novel. Sometimes life gets like that. In the past two weeks my little family has dealt with pinworms, depression, anxiety, a mysterious rash and a heart attack. Life just piles it all up on people. I always struggle with the Carrie-level meanness, because while I was bullied in middle school and early high school, it was never like that, and I never saw anyone else being treated with that level of organized hatred. I've taught middle school for nearly 20 years, and while kids are SO MEAN to each other, they're not really organized enough--or, frankly, interested enough in others--to plan entire campaigns against kids. My other issue is entirely personal--KC reminded me of a student I had who was beautiful, tough, out, and messed up. She targeted girls with low IQs and extreme shyness and tried to seduce them. It was really disturbing, and I kept picturing her for KC, which made it less romantic and more creepy. But that was just me--KC as written was doing her best, and really did like Angie.

I hated Angie's mom. Well, you're supposed to, but seriously? She was just whacked out. She was cartoonishly evil, like Snow White's stepmother or something. And what was with Angie's therapist? And what is with portraying a therapist as stupid and mean? That seems counterproductive when you're writing a book that kids who struggle will relate to. I started out with a 3 star rating, because I cared about Angie and her development, but the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. Why the sports cliche game-winning shot? Why is Angie's mom's hatred of her weight seen as bad, but Angie's weight loss and subsequent pig-out session used to signal her recovery and backsliding?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  YA Realistic Fiction, 368 pages.  4.5 stars.
Today I read two books about a teen friendship that develops into romantic love.

In both books, one of the protagonists already knows they're gay, but the other one hasn't ever considered it.

In both books, a beloved family member has been damaged by war.

In both books, the parents of the "internally closeted" character are fighting their own battles, which sometimes makes them less than helpful to that character. (Although honestly, it isn't very kind of me to compare Ari's family to Angie's. I love Ari's family, but Angie's mom is completely insane.) 

I like this one so much more than Fat Angie. SO MUCH MORE. The writing is beautiful, for one thing. I am not surprised to learn that the author is a poet. Ari's palpable alienation manages to not be annoying or off-putting, and Dante's sweetness manages to be believable. Tears rolled down my cheeks off and on, and I also got the giggles a few times--like when Ari's mom makes him take a different towel to the pool, and he comments that she has weird towel rules that he doesn't understand. As a parent, I find books in which the adults love the heck out of their kids, but still screw up regularly to be much more relatable than books where parents are evil or absent. I liked how Ari's family's secrets were revealed--it all made sense. 

It's always a bit interesting to read about a family configured like mine. The twins are 11 years older than me, and our big sister is 13 years older. And Ari and Dante are two years younger than me, not that there was much in the book that dated it to its 1980s setting. I wish I could say that boys getting beat up for kissing each other was historical, but I know that shit still goes on. I guess lack of screens is the one area that changes things. Would our boys have been less isolated if they were able to reach out to other struggling kids online? Or would they have been even more isolated, sitting at home playing video games instead of learning to swim and taking drives into the desert?

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