Thursday, August 20, 2020

Overdue Book Report: Dear Martin

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Published 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers

210 pages, contemporary YA.

This three year old post from an abandoned blog was recently flagged as containing sensitive content. Why? No idea, but I wonder if it's a so-called Moms For Liberty campaign to object to all positive reviews of books dealing with racism?  

I finally read it. I've had it on my to-read list for at least three years. I started the audio version at least twice. I made pacts with others that I'd read it with them, then didn't follow through. I've read three other books by the same author. And this morning, I sat out in my backyard with some iced coffee and finished the whole damn thing.

Really good. 4.5 stars.

Here's the thing: those first tries kept giving me the wrong impression. The beautiful, messed up girlfriend and the everyday police brutality did NOT give me any warnings of the book's ACTUAL romance, let alone the ACTUAL police brutality. I was so caught off guard (rather like one would be if something like that happened to you) (and also like one would be if one didn't ever read the book jacket), and then Stone just kept slamming additional twists to the story. I even wondered at one point if (view spoiler) I liked the messiness of it, the asshole white friends some of whom grow and some of whom don't, the gang bangers from the old neighborhood, who may or may not be as scary as they've stereotyped to be, etc. People are complicated, nobody is easily put into a little box based on their group identifications, neither your worst nor your best actions define you.

I am starting to feel like there's a whole subgenre of "smart black kid dealing with soft racism at upper class white school they attend"--The Hate U Give, New Kid, and Piecing Me Together all deal with that. Is it that outsider stories are always compelling?

I'm definitely looking forward to Dear Justyce now! 

Dear Martin (Dear Martin, #1)

Friday, August 14, 2020

Reverse Read-a-thon Update

 The wonderful people that organize Dewey's 24 hour read-a-thon every October and April also run a "reverse" read-a-thon in July. No, that doesn't mean the books read you. It means that it starts and ends 12 hours before the usual time. So if you're reading in Turkey, for example, you would normally start at 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon and end at 3 pm on Sunday afternoon. For the reverse read-a-thon, however, you would start at 3 am and end at 3 am the next day. For me, this means instead of getting up early to start at 5 am PST, reading all day, trying to read all night and/or getting some sleep and trying to get up early again in order to finish with the other readers, I started at 5 pm on Friday night, read until 2 am, got a decent night's sleep, and read again until 5 the next day. 

That's the theory anyway. 

I realized the Reverse Read-a-Thon was coming up Thursday evening, so I went into it with neither Read-a-Thon stack nor Read-a-Thon snacks. Not only that, but I was on the family schedule to make dinner that night, and my husband had a live online bridge tournament, so I couldn't pass it off to him. I started pizza dough well before 5 pm so all I had to do was throw on toppings and stick them in the oven. I made the great sacrifice of not caramelizing onions, which is 80% of why we even make pizza from scratch, but I didn't want to spend the time. The good part was, I made a ton of pizza (three pies for three people), so I didn't really have to cook anything the rest of the Read-a-Thon.

I did have two books I was reading on my computer, which is not my preferred way to read, so I started off by finishing both of them. The first was The Stone Sky, the final book in N. K. Jemisen's Broken Earth series. I was probably 3/4 done with it, so it was an easy "finish" to launch me off. It is such an interesting series, which can be read and enjoyed for the world building, or analyzed for the analogies to our world, specifically, the treatment of Black people in the United States. This last book got a little science heavy for me--I like my sci fi longer on fi than sci--but the series overall is amazing. I don't know why the covers are so boring--to indicate that this is NOT YA?

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)

The next book I wanted to finished was Flora Segunda. I was only about 10% into that one, so it took me the rest of the evening to finish it up. My niece had recently posted a photo of her reading with her cat, and I could make out enough of the text on her open page to be curious, so I asked her what she was reading. When she told me, I looked it up, and when I saw Goodreads user Julian say fun and surprisingly harsh YA fantasy novel I knew I had to give it a try. Given that Flora is a Segunda because her parents named her after their daughter that died as a child, it does have a certain grimness at odds with its whimsical, Victorian flavored humor. That and the subtitle, which is Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, 2 Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. 

Flora Segunda (Flora Trilogy, #1)

After finishing my two books, I still had energy for a new book. The Read-a-Thon bingo card included choosing your first book at random, so I decided to number off a stack of my books and use a random number generator to pick what came next. Dear Sweet Pea, Julie Murphy's middle grade debut, was perfect for late night reading--not only was the font NOT tiny, but the story flowed smoothly into my tired brain. It was terrific, although you have to realize that Julie Murphy gentled up for middle grade is going to be adorable to the point of toothache. Is that cover not the cutest?

Dear Sweet Pea

I crashed at that point, decided not to worry about an alarm, and slept for a solid seven hours. I wasn't too motivated in the morning, spending some time with my coffee, then with Twitter, then with my husband. I finally settled in to reading again with another middle grade from my classroom library that I've been meaning to read, Indian No More. Two things I either didn't know or had forgotten about it are that it starts in Oregon, and that while it's technically historical fiction, it's very closely based on the author's own experiences. That explains why the first part felt rather dry, as if it was more focused on educating me than telling me a story, and I started to worry that this would not be a book I could get kids to read. But as I kept reading, I got more and more invested in the story. 

Indian No More

The book was short, so I still had plenty of time for a full length book. My daughter is heavily into true crime podcasts right now, and had talked me into buying her a copy of I'll be Gone in the Dark. She offered it to me to read for my Read-a-Thon, and since one of the categories on that bingo card is "outside your comfort zone," I decided to give it a try. The fact that I fell asleep about 1/4 of the way in and napped past the end of the Read-a-Thon is not the book's fault. In fact, once I woke up, I stayed up until I finished the book anyway. It's not gory, but if I didn't have a pretty strong ability these days to block out horrifying hypotheticals, it would freak me out. 

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

In a sad piece of synchronicity, both I'll be Gone in the Dark and Indian No More were published after the author's premature death, and required colleagues to use the author's notes in order to put it all together. Michelle McNamara's death at 46 was a result of an "undiagnosed heart condition" that didn't mix well with her anti anxiety meds. Charlene Willing McManis died of cancer at age 55. 

Overall, it was a weird Read-a-Thon for me. I didn't interact with others or participate in the online challenges. I just this minute realized I didn't even fill out the "books completed" form. But given that I missed April's entirely, for no reason other than quarantine ennui, I'm still taking it as a win. It was great to have the incentive to finish up the books I'd started and plow through a couple of books I can recommend to students, and now I'll be able to talk about the Golden State Killer with my daughter, which is an unexpected parenting goal.