Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: The Heroine's Bookshelf

I'm a big fan of both the enticing geekiness of well-written nonfiction, as well as the comfortable and comforting realm of literary heroines. What better way to spend an afternoon, than by spending a little time with both? 

From Inkheart, to Book Lust, for a rightly-raised book nerd, there's almost nothing more inviting or comfortable than books about books.

And, especially for those of us granted with the simultaneous miracle and curse of a pair of ovaries, when it comes to the grand art of feminist literature, we are gifted with an abundance of some of the greatest novels in the pantheon of work by women authors. 

(Really, you can make your arguments about specific works from dudes that add nuance to my sweeping generalization all you want - and I'm welcome to hearing them! - but no one really represents a female point of view in literature like someone who's actually walked the walk.)

Detailing the lives of the likes of Alice Walker to Margaret Mitchell to Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Heroine's Bookshelf, by Erin Blakemore, highlights landmark works featuring women in literature who brought their stories to life, both in characterization and in the reality of writing them. She does so while simultaneously pairing them with virtues they encompass that we can all stand to adopt more fully into our own lives, including "Faith," "Dignity," and sense of "Self."

Truth time: I geeked out hardcore at this book. It was the primary source of inspiration that brought about the epiphany that just because I gave up buying books, didn't mean I couldn't get any books for free that were still new to me. Aka, hello, Pierce County Local Libraries! That's right: I wanted a book so much, I waited a whole week for it, and then even went to pick it up myself. In person. Through conversation with a fellow human being.

(Chalk this one up to the list of "Things I'll Do for A Good Read that I Won't Do for Pizza.")

For the sake of expressing my pure unadulterated joy experienced at the hands of a book, I want to say that each character detailed throughout the work made me really happy. Even characters from books I hadn't read before, like The Color Purple, are now on my TBR list, thanks to the simple fact that the book did such a great job with expressing their importance in the context of women's lit, that I felt interested - and, dare I say it, obligated - to pick up a copy at the library circulation's earliest convenience.

Other already favorite characters, like Lizzie Bennett - who demonstrated the aforementioned gift of "Self" - were illuminated with additional insight through Blakemore's exposition, including through the extra tidbits of information that came at the end of each chapter, which made me giggle. Apparently, the sense of independence and self-possession that dear old Liz has displayed for hundreds of years has been deemed on par with her sister in literature Hermione Granger, which I honestly don't think is wrong, at all.

Truth be told, one afternoon's quick read wasn't nearly enough for me: I want a sequel! I could have read more and more about each of these lovely ladies, and the names I knew were honestly just as interesting as the ones I didn't. And why stop at just heroines? Why not do a companion novel, about great villains from novels as well, while matching them up with their accompanying sins? Or a roundup of children's characters, and how they best apply to reading development? There's just so many more opportunities! I'm giving you ideas for free here, Mrs. Blakemore!

Final Verdict: A short and sweet ode to famous females in print, and what we can learn from their legacies. I'm not afraid to heap praise, because, honestly, I just want more!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Love Letters to the Dead

Can a recommendation from a non-blogger or YA amateur really yield effective and enthralling bookish results? Or will it be just another dud doorstop in the teen contemporary stack? 

It's always interesting to see recommendations from people who don't specialize in reading YA books. Doing so can yield fairly varying results: they'll say, "it's pretty good for its type," which means nothing, or they'll say, "It's a great guilty read!" in which case I'll most likely love it, but it is in no way a really great book. There are very few that truly mean they love a book when they say they don't usually love YA... and those few are usually indoctrinated John Green followers (God love you people, but damn).

But here's the part where I haven't learned my lesson yet: I thought I could trust Emma Watson's judgement when she tweeted about how much she enjoyed the novel Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira, because she does actually have some experience in the field, having starred in notable teen hipster fave, Perks of Being a Wallflower. Additionally, since that same sense of approval was corroborated by some of my favorite book blogs, I even managed to put aside my natural tendency to stay as far away from contemporary as possible.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed, again. Darn it.

Love Letters to the Dead details the life Laurel, a teen girl on a new path after her sister's untimely death makes things too complicated at her old school. Told in an epistolary format, through the letters she writes to dead celebrities like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Amelia Earhart, the novel explores themes of self-discovery, young love, and coming to terms with grief, all leading to the grand revelation that Laurel might be keeping secrets even from the letters she can never send.

I'll shoot it to you straight: LLttD was the same kind of overly-saccharine, dramatized teen novel that I've come to associate with everything annoying about the teen contemporary genre. The narrator's seemingly relatable tone, is completely displaced with terrifyingly possible teenage experiences, that instead of granting the dignities those realities deserved, lost all nuance through their Lifetime Original Movie treatment.

Exploration of sexuality, sexual abuse, divorce, first loves and first times, romanticized alcoholism, death and grieving, drug use... pick one. Or two. At least not all of them. Every single one of these topics - some tropes, some too real, some which need to be explored in the contemporary genre further - were fit in to the novel at the severe expense of its reality.

Because of the somewhat direct approach to all this heavy subject matter, I wasn't surprised to see that one of the first names listed on the acknowledgement page, also highlighted in a blurb on the cover, was Stephen Chbosky himself. The things is, Perks of Being a Wallflower contains much of a similar tone to LLttD, but excels far better in the execution, because he chooses to focus more strongly on the voice of the narrator than the story the character is supposed to be telling, which makes it a lot more believable, and a lot less like an emotional circus.

The novel romanticizes the most extreme dramatics of youth with little-to-no real world ramifications. It has a happy ending, when for most people caught in those situations, there wouldn't be. It encourages the inflection of dangerous behaviors and mindsets into a confusing time, when there's really no need for that much self-destruction.

I can't tell whether this book was made FOR Tumblr, or from it. The entire thing screams for daisy chains and high waisted acid wash denim with a gauzy crop top and a pink-toned Insta filter. There's no way in hell my sister is getting her hands on this book. It would be of no benefit to her... I'd rather buy her another Rainbow Rowell instead.

Final Verdict: A rose-tinted, over-dramatized account of teenage experiences that are all too real and all too dangerous, but are inflicted without restraint and without comprehensive ramifications in a slapdash narrative. Would not recommend to any teenager.