Now that the summer semester I was teaching is over, and given recent events in the United States — What the hell is happening? I mean, I know what’s happening, but WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? — I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some reviews that I never got around to. And what better books to start with than John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s award-winning graphic memoir series, March?
Told in stark black and white panels, the series centers around John Lewis’s remarkable life. Lewis, who organized alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights figureheads in his young and has gone on to fight for civil rights as a Congressman, grew up on a sharecropper’s farm in Alabama. He originally wanted to be a preacher and get away from working in the fields. He fought to attend school, and upon graduation, felt called to higher education away from the South. Still, the Jim Crow South was his life, and as he gained a better understanding of the world, he felt compelled to join the fight for civil rights. March: Book One charts his commitment to education as well as his entry into the civil rights movement, including his first encounter with Dr. King. It recounts behind-the-scenes, nonviolent strategizing among the student movement and culminates with the fight to desegregate lunch counters.
In The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sam Maggs offers burgeoning fangirls lots of practical advice on locating “their people,” navigating cons, participating in geek fandoms, and finding their feminist voice. In between chapters are interviews with successful women whose fangirl backgrounds have now turned into geek-oriented careers. It’s a book that skews towards the younger crowd: though Maggs and her interviewees are clear that a fangirl can be any age, a lot of the book is intro-level basic and is probably best suited for tweens and the younger end of the young adult spectrum.
The good thing about this book is that one can skip around to suit their needs. The beginning of the book talks about different fandoms and the labels for their geeky devotees; there are the big ones that people are already probably familiar with — Star Trek, Dr. Who, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter — but the list of fandoms goes on and on (yet is by no means exhaustive). Most people could probably read through it and find something that relates to them. (Apparently, I’ve been a devout member of The Unsullied — Game of Thrones — all this time without even realizing it. Don’t even get me started on social media during/after the Red Wedding.)
There’s been a lot of excitement leading up to the release of Nova Ren Suma’s latest young adult book, The Walls Around Us. It’s been out for almost a full week now, and I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs claiming that the book is this year’s “Orange is the New Black Swan.”
Well…yes and no.
The book is about three teenage girls and is told from two of those girls’ perspectives (one of whom is now speaking from beyond the grave): Amber, who is imprisoned at Amber Hills juvenile detention center for murdering her stepfather; Violet, a well-off eighteen-year-old ballerina about to start her bright future at Julliard; and Orianna — Ori — Violet’s former best friend and and fellow ballerina, a girl from the wrong side of town whose mother left her when she was seven and who only really has ballet going for her. Ori was sent to Aurora Hills three years ago for the murder of two of their ballet classmates.
Warning: This post is spoilery.
Readers of Malinda Lo’s revamped Cinderella story, Ash, will initially find themselves in familiar territory: Ash’s father unexpectedly dies and leaves her in the hands of her cruel new stepmother. Since Ash is expected to pay off her father’s numerous debts, she becomes a servant in her stepmother’s household and is expected to tend to her two stepsisters’ every need. Gone are all the comforts of home; all she has left of the past is a book of fairy tales that her mother used to read to her. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted the fairies to bring her mother back to life; after her father’s death, she wants nothing more than for the fairies to take her away into their world. When a brooding fairy, Sidhean, appears, it looks like she just might get that wish.
Here is where the story breaks away from tradition and introduces a new twist. There’s still a big ball in which the prince’s heart is stolen by the gloriously dressed stranger no one’s ever heard of. But the prince falling in love with Ash at first sight is all a moot point, because sparks are flying between Ash and Kaisa, the King’s lead huntress. Meanwhile, Sidhean is in agony because he’s been waiting for Ash for years.
“Mama, are you a virgin?”
When readers first meet Jean “Stevie” Stevenson, she’s an innocent Black girl growing up in 1960s Southside Chicago. In the early 1960s, when Stevie is still young enough to do as she’s told without question, she soaks in a lot of different messages about her culture and the way she looks: her hair should be straightened and she mustn’t speak in her peers’ casual vernacular. She gets a little older, and now there are skin lightening creams to consider (there’s also that saying, “coffee will make you black,” to keep kids away from the beverage: the last thing anyone wants to be is dark-skinned). Her mother is strict and religious, intent on keeping her daughter as sheltered as possible so that she can have a shot at moving up in the world; there’s little room for Stevie to explore ideas on her own terms.
Stevie doesn’t have any friends, but when miscommunication occurs and she naively admits to something, she suddenly has the attention of two popular girls that her mother doesn’t approve of. This is the first step in Stevie’s coming-of-age story. The rest is set against a backdrop of rapid social change and political awareness; Stevie and her peers get to experience the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in middle and high school. It’s a nightmare Stevie’s straightlaced mother, who cannot wrap her head around all these radical ideas floating around in her daughter’s head, but it’s an important part of Stevie’s life. Suddenly, Black is beautiful.