Saturday, April 2, 2016

Shorter Musings

Shorter reviews on some recent reads.

Dumplin by Julie Murphy
I expected to like this way more than I did based on how much everyone who read it last year loved it and lauded it as a fabulous book about body acceptance and friendship. Maybe I went in with my expectations too high. Or maybe we have a pretty low bar for this topic in YA. I did like that the relationships in the book were complicated. That's realistic. And I liked that Willow Dean did not have to lose weight and gain a new life to feel good about herself. But there was a lot that rubbed me the wrong way too: the portrayal of Lucy, the stereotypical skinny mean girls presented without nuance, and the love interest (Bo). I get that sometimes romantic relationships are all about the hormones, but that doesn't mean I can't side eye said relationship as a bystander and think about how the girl could do so much better.

The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier
Rachel Neumeier is one of my favorite authors. I usually unequivocally love her books, but this is one I wasn't able to get into wholeheartedly. It contains the beautiful prose and complex relationships I've come to expect from Rachel. The last third of the book is gripping and difficult to put down. My main problem with the book is more about my expectations as reader which didn't match with what Rachel was doing. There is a point near the beginning when the protagonist Keri is meeting with her half brother Lucas and wonders if his mother, being a foreigner herself, had not taught him to "fear the countries of the Outside, despite their ambitious rulers and warlike people". Their country Nimmira is protected by a magical mist maintained by the Lord or Lady (a position now belonging to Keri) that keeps their neighboring countries from even knowing it exists. That mist has failed because of Keri's father's greed. She needs to restore it. I kept waiting for the whole "outsiders are bad and we need to wrap ourselves in a  bubble" thing to be subverted, but it never was. Even though Keri comes to appreciate the support of a neighboring prince she can't wait to get him out (there are vague talks about a possible future alliance but only if his country manages to wall itself off too). That whole set up really bothered me. I don't understand how Nimmira functions this way. Centuries of closing itself off from the world would have to produce a fairly homogeneous society ruled by fear of the new and different. For the life  of me I can't figure out why that's a good thing. The whole thing is incredibly isolationist. If you are a fan of Rachel's writing, this book definitely lives up to her others in terms of the beauty of the language and has her trademark political intrigue so I would still recommend it. You may have a different reaction to the other stuff than I did.

Romancing the Nerd by Leah Rae Miller
I enjoyed the book this is a companion to, The Summer I Became a Nerd, back when it came out. This was as a fun of a read as that one. I do think that some of the divide between the cliques at this high school is a lot more extreme than I've witnessed myself and based heavily on stereotypes, but Miller did a little bit to subvert that. Both main characters have flaws and make some typical teen relationship mistakes. I really liked both of them and loved their banter with each other. The plot of this involves a secret online identity that confuses their relationship in real l life and I thoroughly enjoy that trope. I've had a lot of success with the first book with teens who are into all different areas of nerd culture and I think they're going to enjoy this one just as much. The romance is light on sexual content (there is some kissing only) so works for younger YA readers and readers who  like romance with less physical intensity.
I read an ARC provided by publisher, Entangled, via NetGalley.

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Mijkamp
I only read this book because it's been getting so much buzz. I honestly didn't want to read it because I don't typically like reading books that detail horrific tragedies. This story is a close-up look at a school shooting. It is intense, gripping, and gruesome in places. And incredibly sad. The cast of characters is diverse, but in trying to tell so many stories the characterization falls flat in a lot of places.

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