What I Read: January 2012

It’s 2012, you guys, and I am going to blog this year, dammit. It makes me happy to write about what I read. And here’s what I read last month:

Blood Red Road cover

Blood Red Road
Moira Young
Margaret K. McElderry, 2011

A unique take on the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre (I know those aren’t the same, but this is both, as are many other YA novels) featuring one of the grouchiest female protagonists in recent memory. Pros: evocative setting, breath-taking paced plot, fierce band of female warriors, sexy bad-boy romantic lead. Cons: romance somewhat compromised by annoying, “destined for each other” element. Some people might be annoyed by the dialogue; I liked it.

Recommended for fans of Ship Breaker and The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Under the Mesquite cover

Under the Mesquite
Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books, 2011

A novel-in-verse about a teenage girl coming of age on the Mexico-Texas border. I read this Morris Finalist for an interview with the author that I did for The Hub. It was a great contrast to Blood Red Road – hardly any “action” at all, just brief reflections on growing up with each foot in a different culture. I’m not always a big fan of novels in verse, but I think the limited vocabulary and potential for word play work particularly well for young immigrant voices, and this is a case in point (see also National Book Award winner Inside Out and Back Again).

The Fault in Our Stars
John Green
Dutton, 2012

Well. So much has already been said about this book (it’s been called, I think, “luminous,” “damn near genius,” and I’m pretty sure all of its journal reviews have a shiny star accompanying them). It’s by far John Green’s best book, and I sort of feel bad for all the other great YA coming out this year, because I just don’t see how this could NOT win the Printz. It’s brutally, painful, and sometimes hilariously honest about being sick, especially as a young person, and it’s absolutely heart-breaking. Although Hazel and Augustus are smart and clever (like most of Green characters), they transcend the quirkiness of his previous protagonists and the story is all the more moving for it. Everyone should read this book, no matter how old they are and what else they like.

Living Dead Girl
Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse, 2008

If The Fault in Our Stars is a DNRIP (that’s do not read in public) because you’ll be sobbing, this one is a DNRIP because you’ll be making horrified faces the entire time. It’s about a girl, now called Alice, who was abducted on her 9th birthday and has been abused and molested by her abductor ever since. She’s now about to turn 15 and she’s getting too tall and well-developed to continue being Alice for Ray, her captor. Now he needs to her help him find a new Alice, and then he’ll get rid of her, just like he got rid of the first Alice. It’s a truly grim and terrifying read, and I could not put it down.

Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
Dutton, 2011

Surreal and beautiful. The relationship between wild, magnetic Ruby and Chloe, the narrator and her younger sister, is great – you envy their closeness until it becomes clear that it’s not that enviable after all. The writing is poetic and the whole book has a murky, half-lit feeling that makes the reader feel like they, too, are living in the drowned village in the reservoir.

The Bread Bible
Rosy Levy Beranbaum
W.W. Norton & Co., 2003

It’s hard to really read a cookbook, but I’ve paged through most of this one and made 3 of the 150 recipes last month, so I’m counting it away. The title isn’t a joke – this is an (almost) exhaustive resource on bread-making. I say almost because I wanted to make hamburger buns and was dismayed to find that this doesn’t have a recipe for them! Missing buns aside, though, it’s an extremely technical look at the science of bread-making. The instructions are incredibly detailed (example: use bleached all-purpose flour, Gold Medal or Pillsbury brands only), and I have no doubt that cooking though it, which I’m trying to do, will be a great learning experience. The prose is hilariously stilted on occasion, but I’m not reading this for the prose, so there you go.

Don’t Expect Magic
Kate McCullough
Delacorte, 2011

Don’t Expect Magic is a pretty predictable read populated by mostly two-dimensional characters (the distant but loving dad with problems of his own, the cute nerd, the beautiful popular girl with hidden depths, etc.), but the narrator, Delaney’s, angst, prickly voice will appeal to young teens, and her growth, although frustratingly slow at times, is believable and enjoyable. There’s light romance, a little family drama, and lots of lessons to be learned about the value of each person as an individual (bonus points for a somewhat surprising LGBT element!) It didn’t appeal to me personally, but it would be a good collection addition where gentle YA or books for middle school readers are needed.

Americus
Written by M.K. Reed,  art by Jonathan Hill
First Second, 2011

I liked this one more than I should have, maybe. It’s a story of small town teens finding solace and company in an extremely popular fantasy series. When a conservative mom finds out that her son is reading the series, she ships him off to military school and begins a campaign to get the book removed from the library – so yes, the anti-censorship message and the young, hip librarian who fights to keep the book in the library kind of biased me.  Other pros: the dialogue is great and the black-and-white cartoon-style art is a lot of fun. Cons: well, with maybe the exception of Neil himself, the characters fall so clearly into good vs. evil camps that book comes of as extremely one-sided. The book-banning moms, in particular, are over-the-top. Not a balanced or subtle read, but one that will make the librarian in you cheer anyway.

Batman: Year One
Written by Frank Miller, art by  David Mazzucchelli
DC Comics, 2007 (first published 1986)

It’s pretty hard to read this in 2012 and appreciate how revolutionary it must’ve been in 1986. It obviously influenced Christopher Nolan, and I appreciate how dark it is, although I think many, many contemporary comics play with genre conventions at least this as effectively as Batman: Year One does. The writing is good, if a little over the top with the noir undertones and although the guy who recommended this to me ensured me that Miller is actually about women’s empowerment, I didn’t see it. The Chief Gordon parts are more interesting than the Batman parts (Batman is SO. SERIOUS). He’s only saved from complete pompousness by a brief scene in which he pretends to be a drunken playboy and clearly enjoys it. The art is mostly serviceable, with some nice panels and some kind of hideous ones.

I’m in the middle of not one but TWO books that I started in January but will finish in this month. Goodreads tells me that I am on track to read 100 books this year (second time’s a charm?)

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One thought on “What I Read: January 2012

  1. Glad you’re back in the blogosphere because I pass all this along to the 5th and 6th grade teachers at Franklin & they’ve been missing your input.

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