The List

Title: The List

Author: Patricia Forde

Read harder Challenge: Yes; can be a book about books or a debut novel

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: I hadn’t intended to finish this book today; The Stone Sky (final installment of NK Jemisin’s newest trilogy) came out Tuesday and I was itching to finish.  Alas, I left it at school.  That’s what I get for trying to read a physical book at lunch.  Anyway.  This book is great for fans of Ella Minnow Pea and The Queen of the Tearling series.  Set in a dystopian future, Letta (perhaps a reference to “Letter”) is the apprentice wordsmith for the town of Ark, seemingly the only town to survive the catastrophic disasters that befall humans and wipe out most of their population – referred to as The Melting.  As wordsmith, Letta and her master are responsible for The List, the group of necessary words that make up each citizen’s lexicon.  All other words are banned, as they are unnecessary, and words (of pundits, politicians, newspapers…) had gotten them into this sorry mess in the first place.  Letta is proud of their town and the community that has been built here under the guidance of John Noa (Noa built the Ark…), until a boy stumbles into the shop one day while the master is searching for lost words in the wild, and decides to help him.  She finds out more than she could have imagined about her little town, and the book follows her journey and the decisions she makes along the way.

This book is great for middle schoolers – there’s action, empathetic characters, and a good message.  What I liked most about this book was that the characters were complicated, with messy relationships and pasts, and their actions couldn’t be easily predicted.  What is the value of good intentions?  Are all people as they seem?  Who is responsible for the actions of a collective? Is “by any means necessary” morally reprehensible or…well…necessary?  Young people can tackle all of those questions within the confines of this text.  The world-building and power of description were both good, and I texted my librarian asking her to buy several copies for our middle school library!

The List

All the Dirty Parts

Title: All the Dirty Parts

Author: Daniel Handler

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: Many people will know Daniel Handler by a different name – lemony snicket.  Please, please do not go into this book thinking that this is in any way a continuation of lemony snicket’s writing.  This book is marketed as an adult book, but I would park it somewhere at the extreme end of young adult – very late teen, if you will.  Here’s why late teens and adults should take this book for a spin.

The narrator of this book, Cole, loves sex.  He also loves masturbating.  And he is not shy about talking to the reader about it.  This book is presented in small, choppy chunks of thought.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell just who is talking, and sometimes changes of subject are hard to follow.  I loved that about this book, because it adds to the frenetic atmosphere that is adolescent sexual discovery.

Cole warns us early on: “There are love stories galore, and we all know them.  This isn’t that.  The story I’m typing is all the dirty parts.” And Cole describes all the dirty parts all right, of a string of sexual relationships that feel casual and fun to Cole.  Like many kids, he experiments sexually, and the reader watches Cole struggle with his identity as a young sexual man. We meet a young lady who seems so different from Cole, and watch their relationship develop as well.  It’s all written in those short bursts, and it’s decidedly consumable.  And explicit.  Cole really wants us to understand his life and how much he enjoys having sex.

During the course of storytelling, I watched Cole hit an apogee, and I watched his orbit decay.  He’s a complicated character, who reminds me slightly of a dirty, but not mentally ill Holden Caulfield.  He wants to tell it to you straight.  He doesn’t realize how emotionally immature he is, until he does…

I consumed this short novel (144 pages) in the course of an afternoon, when I had meant to space it out over a few days.  If that’s not a recommendation to pick up, I don’t know what it!  I will be suggesting this book to some of the men I know, seeing if they can find themselves within the pages, and to some women, who might recognize Cole as well.

All the Dirty Parts

Here Comes the Sun

herecomesthesun_approvedTitle: Here Comes the Sun

Author: Nicole Dennis-Benn

Published: 2016

Read Harder Challenge: Yes – A book where all point-of-view characters are people of color, a debut novel

Star Review: ♥ ♥♥ ♥ /5

Why: Nicole Dennis-Benn’s book is much talked about, and extremely well-received, especially for a debut!  I knew I had to read it this year or I would lose the opportunity to read this book within the lovely cloud of excitement it’s generated.  I’m glad I did!

The main characters of this literary fiction novel are struggling – with the choices they make, the reasons they make them, and the impact that they have on themselves and others.  Meanwhile, Jamaica is its own character (figuratively speaking – this is not magical realism!), and is dealing with the same crises as well.  It’s an extremely poignant read as it follows Delores, her two daughters Thandi and Margot, and the connections they have made to an interconnected, messy, and very real conclusion.

I started this book finding it hard to wrap myself around it.  I recently read a quote (don’t ask me where) about how literary fiction is supposed to increase readers’ empathy because it drops you into someone else’s life, whose experience can differ from your own.  I felt this book doing that, but I also found myself combating my poor habit of impatience and speed-reading.  The beginning of this one, like many literary fiction novels, sacrifices plot for character development and I was definitely wavering somewhere in the beginning third on this one. As this book explored its themes of identity, race, self-determination, and love, I felt myself more drawn in.

One thing this book did that I generally enjoy is having all the disparate plots come together for the conclusion of the novel.  All characters are sympathetic in their own way, but none are loveable. To see the way they impact one another is the reason we get to know them, rather than to encourage or hope for their growth as people.  As expected from someone who teaches writing and has participated in several writing workshops, sentences are beautiful but a bit self-aware.

Overall for me, this book was impactful, but not quite as deft as Ngozie or Zadie Smith in its exploration of similar themes.  That knocked off a star for me, though it’s nothing to be ashamed of since I consider them masters in that regard.  I will certainly be recommending this one to friends.

Here Comes the Sun