Monday, May 30, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (33)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

There are probably over a thousand books in my house. That is a lot. Many of them are old, bought for very cheap when I was younger, and I need to be more critical about what I keep and what I get rid of. I especially want to be critical of things that could be harmful, or things that I could replace with much better books. Bad representation, after all, can be worse than no representation sometimes.

Does that make sense?

Hopefully it does, and with that in mind, let's get to the books.

Indian Summer by Barbara Girion

Published: First published in 1990, this edition was released August 1st, 1993 by Apple Paperbacks.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 183 plus an about the author and what not.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: A yard sale, I think, because it has someone's name in it.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): To Joni McCord, summer means swimming in at the local pool or hanging out at the mall. To Sarah Birdsong, it means swimming in the pure waters of the lake, and having a Coke at the little reservation store. But this summer, the girls will be roommates, since Joni's father will be the doctor on Sarah's Iroquois reservation. And even before they've met, they know it won't be easy.

At first the girls try to be friends. But Joni is homesick, and Sarah is moody. Whenever they begin to have fun, Joni always manages to say or do something that sends Sarah into a rage. Joni is taunted by Sarah's friends, who tell her to return to her own world. Can Sarah and Joni find the courage to overcome their differences and make peace?

Thoughts: This one is trying very hard. Very, very hard. Considering this book and I are about the same age, I can see that at the time, it probably was okay. The author talks about her research in the acknowledgments and you can see how hard she's trying to get it right... but she's a white author trying to write from the perspective of a young Native girl.

It's kind of a dated idea, too, sort of City Mouse/Country Mouse. Probably in the early 90s, this was a good book, and probably a lot of little white kids learned a lot, and it works hard to debunk many stereotypes and hurtful things. It would just be better coming from an author who was actually Native American. The writing is okay, and I've read another book by the author that I enjoyed, but it's not so amazing that I want to hold onto it. Sometimes the POV changes could be confusing, without enough distinctness to each voice. Sometimes, also, the author would be so eager to make a point, they'd lose the POV altogether and just insert random information without it seeming to actually come from either character, and I'd just be like, "Who's saying that???"

Ultimately, I don't think it's harmful, but I think it's dated (Walkmans and tapes!), and I think I would prefer to give the shelf space to something else because while the author did a great deal of research into the culture, the experience she's writing about is still something she'll never know in the way they do, and because of that, it comes off as a little ham-fisted. Not the worst, but there is better these days.

Two mostly unrelated things: This cover. Joni is supposed to have dark brown hair that is only a little lighter than Sarah's. Thanks for reading the book, cover artist! And another is - this is a thing that bugs me in kids' voices. Why do parents seem to think they can dictate not just what their kids do, but how they feel about it? Like, Joni is allowed to feel upset that her summer plans got cancelled! Her father says at the beginning, "You sound as if you're being forced to go up there" and... well, yeah, she is. The adults in her life are telling her to a thing she doesn't want to do, how is that not being forced?

I'm not saying they're in the wrong for doing it, just that it's a pet peeve when adults act like kids having emotions they don't approve of is some great misbehaviour. And pet peeves make me ranty.

Moonkid and Prometheus by Paul Kropp

Published: June 1st 1997 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 294 plus one completely blank page numbered 295.
Part of a series? Apparently there's a... sequel? No, this is a sequel, and there's a first book called Moonkid and Liberty.
Got via: Library sale.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Ian (Moonkid) has always taken some pride in the fact that he doesn't fit in. But his attitude has finally landed him into trouble. Facing a transfer to a tough school where, as his sister Liberty put it, he'll be eaten alive, Moonkid has no choice but to accept the alternative. He must tutor a young student and straighten up--or else.

Little does he know that the young student is Prometheus, a hulking, tough-looking character with a heart of gold. Reading isn't Pro's strength, but he knows more about life then most people. His teacher, Ms. Noble, considers him "at risk" and is not very pleased with Ian's unorthodox methods, even though Pro's skills are improving. When she forbids Ian to tutor Pro any longer, the pair must find a way to survive the system--and the larger problems that could cloud their lives.

Thoughts: This is very 90s after-school special. It's really trope-y, and stereotypical. If you've read one story like this, you pretty much know what happens. I'm not gonna act like I'm the authority here, but it does not come off so well these days. Like, of course the black kid talks in heavy slang, lives in a bad area, and has things "fixed" by a white kid while also helping the white kid learn something. Those aspects of Prometheus obviously aren't bad unto themselves (because real people can be like that, and that's fine) but it's very, very white savior-esque when those things combine with the rest.

Apparently this is a sequel, which is not written anywhere on the book or inside, and man would have have been nice to know, because I'd be reading and they'd randomly mention "porno scandal", and if you're going to go there (which, you can, and no need to try and ban it, jeesh), I need a little more context than that! You gotta explain things like that, book.

It could also be really pretentious sometimes. Ian would go off on these tirades, and I'd be like "...okay, chill dude". The writing is very 90s at times, and I could see why teachers would be into it, but... yeah, it's not aged so well. The pop culture references are incredibly dated, and I'm not sure kids would get them today. I liked that it was Canadian, and there was one plot element that could have been very predictable and didn't go that way.

But there are better things that I would rather have in my collection. The idea at the time it was published was fine, and has very sweet moments, but we have better books today. There are better forms of representation, and this has become dated to the point of being almost casually racist, I think. This is one I will be removing from my collection.

Comeback by Marjorie Darke

Published: January 3rd, 1984 by Puffin Books. (The edition pictured has a slightly different cover than mine - mine lacks the "plus fiction" border.)
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 184
Part of a series? I don't think so, but I thought the last one was a standalone, too, so it shows how much I know.
Got via: Library withdrawal.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): "Gymnastics came first. If it meant training until she dropped and then getting up and training some more, she must do it. She must succeed.'

Abandoned as a baby, Gail Knight has lived in Council Homes all her life. Carving an identity for herself through her skill at gymnastics, she develops two burning ambitions: to win an Olympic gold medal and to discover who her parents were.

Thoughts: Hooboy. Here I was thinking I'd be writing a blog post where I was completely unqualified to talk about anything, and the book goes and throws a buttload of fatphobia at me! Thanks, book. I really appreciate that.

The basis of this is okay. Like, a girl in a group home discovering her past, discussing her identity, dealing with some racism from peers, none of those things are bad ideas. Some of them are even handled quite well, if somewhat dated in some attitudes. There is one line that I think today would be seen as much more problematic as it is, and I think part of that might just be regional differences. Honestly, though, most of them aren't terrible (although, considering this book is set in the UK, there's some random racism against Native Americans that is really weird and gross).

But there is so much fatphobia in this one. There's constant comments about how some seven weeks of not training for gymnastics have made Gail "fat as a pig", "fat as a boiled dumpling", a previously fat character's diet being described as having "thinned him so beautifully", non-thin characters constantly being described very rudely like a line about a character having a butt like a badly stuffed pillow. There's dieting described that is borderline disordered, very unhealthy for sure, and starving is literally glorified.

It's just terrible. It's fatphobic, it's loaded with triggering content, and honestly it's pretty disgusting reading about a healthy teen girl starving herself with the approval of the adults in her life. This one is not staying in my house, that is for sure, and I do not recommend it.

Cousins by Virginia Hamilton

Published: Originally published in 1990, my edition was released October 1991 by Apple Paperbacks. There have been many editions released since.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 125 in this version.
Part of a series? There is indeed a sequel.
Got via: I think I bought it at a yard sale.
AmazonIndiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Being cousins doesn't mean you'll be friends....

Cammy loves her family -- except for her cousin Patty Ann. Though she knows she shouldn't feel this way, she can't help it. Patty Ann is too perfect to like, too perfect to be a friend.

Then one day something terrible happens, something that can't be changed. That's when Cammy learns the truth about Patty Ann, and about family love -- and forgiveness.

Thoughts: This was not only the best of the bunch, but genuinely a very good book. It feels a touch older than 1990, perhaps being set earlier than that (I wasn't quite sure - there are dryers and trucks, but not, like, computers or anything), which I think actually works better than the other 90s books where it's like Walkmans and mid-90s celebrities nobody knows anymore and look how trendy we are! It feels much more like historical fiction that way than simply dated.

This is a surprisingly deep book, with everything from a mentioned eating disorder, characters who struggle with alcohol, and a death of a child. And I think this would be a great thing for kids to read. Is it an easy read? No, subject matter wise, it is not. The writing I think is very kid-friendly, but the subject matter is heavy. I think, though, a great many children could connect very deeply to this.

I'm not equipped to comment on authenticity, but I will say that the dialogue in this compared to the dialogue in Moonkid and Prometheus felt more truthful. This is one of those times where I can kind of see in the other books where things are obviously not good, where they're using tropes and stereotypes that others have said are harmful, but my opinion of whether they're done well kind of doesn't matter.  From my limited perspective, I do think they were done beautifully, but it's not my experience, so I can't say "yes, it was" for sure. Does that make sense?

All together, though, I really enjoyed this one, and I feel comfortable keeping it around. I also think this would be a great classroom book.

So, we've got one book I absolutely disliked in this post, one I thought was cute and well researched but outdated, one after school special, and one that was genuinely very good. Three will be passed on, one kept. Interesting rate there!

I hope you guys liked this post, and I hope I didn't step on any toes. If you like these books for any reason, don't feel like I'm saying you shouldn't, just that I'm trying to make my collection better wherever possible, both in quality of books and representation within those books. I hope that makes sense!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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