Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pride by Ibi Zoboi


Zuri and her younger sisters have placed bets on who will be moving into the newly renovated house across the street in their Brooklyn neighborhood.  With all the lavish updates they've seen, a couple of the sisters were betting that a white family was moving in so they are all surprised to see a black family - with two gorgeous boys - arrive.  The older of the two boys immediately hits it off with Janae, Zuri's older sister who has just come home from college.  The younger neighbor, Darius, annoys Zuri right off the bat with his arrogant attitude.  She much prefers cute and flirtatious Warren who gets her and the pride she has in her neighborhood. And when Darius makes it clear he has an issue with Warren, well that just gives her even more reason to like him.  Despite their mutual dislike, Zuri and Darius seem to keep being thrown together and they slowly learn that first impressions aren't always reliable.

This book takes its general storyline from Pride & Prejudice but of course brings a contemporary mindset and some other plot points of its own.  I'm a huge P & P fan so I'm not sure if that helped or hindered my enjoyment of the book.  On one hand, it was disconcerting when I felt like some of my favorite parts of the original weren't included in this version.  And I couldn't always relax entirely into this book because I was comparing and contrasting while reading.  But on the other hand, it was delightful to see the way in which Zoboi took beloved characters and updated them for this setting.  In particular, Mr. Collins jumps to mind.  And of course I felt so clever when I could see that Warren was Wickham and was on the lookout for how he was going to end up being a jerk.  (Not that I am any more clever than any other Pride & Prejudice reader, but my brain was congratulating me for being so smart.)  In the end, I feel like this might be best enjoyed by someone who is coming to the story for the first time.  The story line is timeless and wonderful and Zoboi does a great job of making it ring for teens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner

Brynn's teacher has assigned his students to write a letter to a hero.  Brynn chooses Rachel Maddow mainly because her ex-girlfriend was a fan.  After she writes her initial letter, writing to Rachel becomes a habit and all of her future writings for class are addressed to Maddow even though they remain in her drafts folder.  Brynn used to be an all-star student but after her brother's death from an overdose, her parents' divorce, and a break-up with her girlfriend, her grades have slipped and she is now in the basement of the school with other underachieving students.  Along with those issues she is also dealing with and overbearing stepfather and her mother who does nothing to help Brynn.  Despite these problems, Brynn is working on her grades so she can rejoin her beloved school newspaper and possibly break a big story that would take her over-privileged, arrogant nemesis down several pegs. 

Okay, that's a pretty crappy description of a book I liked a lot but I'm finding it a little hard to think of a really great hook for this story that is somewhat of a slice of life.  Brynn's voice is passionate and smart and I was easily swept up in her problems and triumphs.  As a librarian, I wish that she didn't use all the profanities in the entire world only because that will make it harder for me to sell the book to as many people, but the swearing was totally in place for Brynn's character.  Her gradual drift into the corrupt world of high school politics is wonderful and an all too accurate microcosm of real world politics, right down to voter suppression.  AND the resulting sense of hopelessness in trying to fight the power.  At least for this voter...

Brynn's orientation is not even addressed as an issue for her which is just lovely.  She is just a person with an ex and a new love interest and some sticky issues regarding all of the above.  Sure, her life is a mess but unlike so many other books, it's not because she's a lesbian or because she has to come out or any other specifically gay-related issues.  And the absolute best scene of political maneuvering is when someone papers the hallways with flyers, some that say "Brynn is gay" and some that say "Brynn sucks dick" and she asks which it is because it can't be both.  And then loudly reminds everyone that she is a lesbian without it being a thing at all.  I still like books where the character is dealing with coming out because that's still a real problem for people, but I'm also so happy that we are now getting to a place where gay characters can just be people.

One final love/hate from the book:  Brynn's mom is just so not good, mainly because she is more concerned with keeping her husband than her daughter. In a big (but quietly underplayed) showdown toward the end of the book I fully expected that Mom would finally come out from under her husband's thumb and choose Brynn because that's the formula.  As I was reading that section the back of my brain was hoping that Mom wouldn't come around because that would be more realistic.  But then when Mom was still a jerk, I was very sad and worried about Brynn.  To quote the author: "The sadness of that fills me from toes to heart."