Kristin Hannah: True Colors

True Colors is New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah’s most provocative, compelling, and heart-wrenching story yet. With the luminous writing and unforgettable characters that are her trademarks, she tells the story of three sisters whose once-solid world is broken apart by jealousy, betrayal, and the kind of passion that rarely comes along.

The Grey sisters have always been close. After their mother’s death, the girls banded together, becoming best friends. Their stern, disapproving father cares less about his children than about his reputation. To Henry Grey, appearances are everything, and years later, he still demands that his daughters reflect his standing in the community. 

Winona, the oldest, needs her father’s approval most of all. An overweight bookworm who never felt at home on the sprawling horse ranch that has been in her family for three generations, she knows that she doesn’t have the qualities her father values. But as the best lawyer in town, she’s determined to someday find a way to prove her worth to him.

Aurora, the middle sister, is the family peacemaker. She brokers every dispute and tries to keep them all happy, even as she hides her own secret pain.

Vivi Ann is the undisputed star of the family. A stunningly beautiful dreamer with a heart as big as the ocean in front of her house, she is adored by all who know her. Everything comes easily for Vivi Ann, until a stranger comes to town. . . .

In a matter of moments, everything will change. The Grey sisters will be pitted against one another in ways that none could have imagined. Loyalties will be tested and secrets revealed, and a terrible, shocking crime will shatter both their family and their beloved town.

With breathtaking pace and penetrating emotional insight, True Colors is an unforgettable novel about sisters, rivalry, forgiveness, redemption–and ultimately, what it means to be a family.

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Kristin Hannah’s books have become quite popular in recent years. I’ve only read a couple of them, but they are generally interesting women’s fiction novels that I have found to be enjoyable. I won True Colors in a Goodreads giveaway and was pumped when I saw how pretty the new paperback cover was for this 2012 novel.

Unfortunately, pretty much from the start, it was just all wrong. Sibling rivalry isn’t abnormal in fiction, but Hannah pits woman against woman in her story of three sisters, and the fights get pretty nasty. There’s also quite a bit of self-deprecation and fat shaming in one of the sisters–Winona is very much the “poor fat girl who can never love herself and is passed over by every man” trope.

But then enter Dallas Raintree, the half Native American ranch hand. The racism begins the moment he steps into our field of vision–or rather, Winona’s. She projects her father’s assumed racism onto him, trying to mask her own, and hires him “out of civic duty” and to piss off her dad. From then on, it only just gets worse. The book is a mess of stereotypes–temper, drinking, drugs, riding bareback.

It’s true that this is a book about the injustice of the Justice System for Native Americans. But yet again, we have a book about racial prejudice told from the wrong side of the bias. The title True Colors blazes across the sunset cover and only serves to highlight how truly harmful this book is. Even though I finished it, it only gets 1 book dragon, and this book will go on my Shame List.

I won a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press in a Goodreads Giveaway.

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Amanda Eyre Ward: The Nearness of You

In this profound and lyrical novel, acclaimed author Amanda Eyre Ward explores the deeper meanings of motherhood—from the first blissful hello to the heart-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye.

Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.

Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selections, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.

Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.

So here’s the deal. I almost didn’t make it past the first chapter. I even tweeted that I was fully prepared for this book to piss me off all the way through.

The premise of this book is that Suzette doesn’t want children. Her mother has a mental illness so bad that she is hospitalized (we never meet her), and Suzette also suffers from “issues.” Those issues are vague, but referred to throughout the book, and she’s deathly afraid of anyone close to her getting sick too. She was very clear on the first date with Hyland that she was not going to have children. They made a decision, she was firm on it, he seemed happy.

But after 15 years of marriage, he suddenly decided that he wanted a baby, and pretty much gaslights her into thinking she wants one too. So they get a surrogate. And then he spends the rest of the book making her feel HORRIBLE for being a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule–even though she has ALWAYS BEEN a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule.

This is my absolute worst nightmare–and my husband knows this–that he will suddenly decide 15 years into our marriage that he wants children. It is the cruelest thing a person could do, in my opinion–worse than cheating–to go against something so fundamental in your marriage foundation.

I know, I’m ranting, but this is all just to say that it soured my opinion of the book from the first chapter–and it only went downhill from there. I did finish it, and had that big nope in the beginning not happened…I don’t know, there were a few other things that made me go ehhhhhhhhh…

The story certainly has hooks, and I could see people liking this. But it has way more problems than good things.

NetGalley and Ballantine Books provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post does have affiliate links.

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Veronica Roth, Chronic Pain is Not a Gift

I do a lot of reviews here. I give you my straight opinion on books I have read. Ya’ll know I am always honest when it comes to what I think about that.

But I’ve never told you not to read a book that I HAVEN’T read. In general, I don’t think that is my place. Not on this website. I will often share things on twitter other people have said, and take place in discussions there. But this is a place for book reviews.

I know it is. But this can’t stand.

We’ve known for awhile that Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth was going to be problematic. The blurbs sounded bad. Then those who had ARCs started pulling things out and we all realized just how racist this book was.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Carve the Mark is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story, where one family is light and peaceful and the other is violent and dark-skinned. Yes, it is THAT kind of trope. The Shotet have kinky hair, while the Thuve have straight hair. The Shotet carve actual marks in their arms when they kill people, and are seen as barbaric. (For more information, see Justina Ireland’s excellent analysis of The Continent and Carve the Mark. She writes so much more eloquently on this subject than I can.)

All of that was reason enough to not read this book, or so you’d think. Still, we continued to see tons of promotion for it, and bloggers excited to read it. Instagram is filled with pictures of the cover–which, I agree, at first is stunning, but now just cuts every time I see it.

We didn’t think it could get worse, but last night an interview surfaced from VR on NPR. Here is a screenshot.

So not only is this book extremely racist, but it is ableist too! Horribly so. And STILL this book is being promoted. Money over People every damn day.

If you have never felt the pain of a chronic illness, I want you to listen closely to what I describe next. And then I want you to go to your Goodreads and take this horrid book off of your TBRs. Or put it on your DO NOT READ list. Stop putting this wretched book on your Instagram and your Twitter and Snapchat and Booktube. The POC and Spoonies don’t want to see it. We don’t want to read it. And the more marketing we give books like this, the more encouragement we give the publishing houses to continue to put out toxic work, instead of diverse, Own Voices stories that encourage and lift and properly represent.

So Veronica Roth, please, tell me how my chronic, debilitating migraines are a gift. Explain to me how I should be grateful for pain so bad it blinds me.

It’s pain so bad I cannot sleep or handle any light at all. All I want to do is scream but I can’t do that either because NOISE IS FORBIDDEN

It’s pure panic because OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO DIE MY HEAD IS LITERALLY GOING TO EXPLODE THIS TIME OH MY GOD PLEASE JUST MAKE IT STOP.

And then, OH AND THEN, when you try to explain it to some one they say “Oh, yeah, I get headaches a lot too. Just take an advil.”

So no. Being a Spoonie isn’t a GIFT. I don’t consider myself blessed to have chronic migraines.

I am, however, blessed to have good medical insurance, and a great support system. Many spoonies aren’t that lucky, and it’s about to get much much worse.

So you can go to hell with your book.

Fellow Spoonies, our pain is not a gift. But, WE ARE A GIFT. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU IS A GIFT. I love every single one of you.

 

I want to update this, since VR did an interview after last night’s criticisms came out. She spoke a bit, clarifying that her MC isn’t always strong, that she does rely on certain medical care and support systems in the book. However, she also blamed the interviewer and did not take full responsibility for what she said. If she truly has a chronic illness, then I am sorry that it came out when she didn’t want it to–but it feels a little defensive.

Either way, the interview does not resolve the problematic nature of the book. It is still harmful to those who suffer chronic pain and illness. And she did not address the racism at all, and that is a very real issue that many people are overlooking today. No matter how you slice it, Carve the Mark is an incredibly harmful book that should never have made it through publishing, no matter who the author is. Authors can write both good books and bad books. This one is a BAD BOOK, and people need to understand why. We cannot just follow authors blindly–they are not gods, they are mortal. Unless we have discussions like this, unless we take them off their pedestal, issues like racism and ableism will never be resolved.

 

For further reading:  Check out the #NotAGift hashtag on twitter. There are amazing people sharing amazing stories there. Please listen to them. Share them. We are going back to a healthcare system where Spoonies are going to lose their medical coverage. This is #NotAGift.

Robin Talley: Lies We Tell Ourselves

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

I have SO many feelings about this book. And that makes sense–it’s a book written to evoke extremely strong feelings. It’s a book I may need to sit on for a few days before I fully comprehend everything I just read. Which means by the time you read this, I will have edited this review 100 times at least.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is written in dual POV:  Sarah, a senior POC moving to a previously whites-only school that is being desegregated; and Linda, a white Southern Belle who is diabolically opposed to desegregation. These two spiral around each other tighter and tighter as the year goes on.

My feelings on this book are so much like reading Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. Dual POV (except SGT had three). One white, one POC; written by a white author. Why is this necessary? Tolley very obviously did her research here. But that is not enough. There is no way a white author could ever put herself in the true voice of a POC in the middle of desegregation. There’s so much pain and abuse and complicated human experience that a white person–ie myself trying to write this review–could absolutely never appropriately put into words. This is why Own Voices is crucial.

In fact I actually had this on my Own Voices list. It is. Sort of. But for a completely different reason. And so I would very much hesitate to call this OV in the future–the author is white, and this is a story about the Civil Rights Movement.

There is an obscene amount of racist slurs in Lies We Tell Ourselves. Part of my brain (that old part that hadn’t been exposed to diversity and humanity still pops up way too often) says “Well, Haley, this is a book about desegregation in Virginia. Of COURSE there are going to be racial slurs. Of COURSE people are going to do hateful, horrible things.” I’m also disgusted, ashamed, and I want to protect all of my friends from what is said here.

This is also the epitome of the Oppressor/Oppressed romance trope. It’s gross. Linda is a racist. Even when she “changes her mind” she still only changes her mind about Sarah, not desegregation. Sarah is different, she’s special. And Sarah is constantly having to convince herself that Linda has changed, or that she can be changed, right up until the end of the story. It’s just so disgustingly problematic.

There are some good things about this book:  Queer characters, a diverse cast of POC, girls standing up to abusive parents–really just ladies figuring out what they want in general and going for it. Unfortunately all that is overshadowed by the major problems that this book has. I am really just striking out lately, it seems.

Marie Lu: Legend

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Can I tell you how weird it is to read a dystopia right now? WEIRD. We are basically living what used to be dystopian fiction, so to read it is very creepy.

Thankfully, Legend is still a ways off, and the world June and Day live in seems to have been created originally by natural disasters first, and horrible human government second. Our natural disasters are getting worse…but at least we haven’t had a super volcano yet. Right?

I’m trying to find a silver lining here guys. I’m trying.

(Hopefully by the time I post this review there hasn’t been a super volcano. You never know. Italy has had some pretty serious earthquakes lately, and there was one in New Zealand this week too.)

I’m scaring myself. What was I talking about? Oh, right. June and Day.

Real life nightmares aside, I can understand why this is so popular. It’s young adult fiction for young adults. Sometimes, as an adult reader, I forget who the audience is supposed to be while I’m reading books like this–the writing seems juvenile–but this was written by a very young author for a young audience. And for that, it fits wonderfully. Are the characters the deepest I’ve ever read? No. Is the plot totally unique? No. But I was instantly wrapped up in June and Day’s dual POV plot lines. I loved the idea that these kids were brilliant, and that they had such different life experiences.

This series goes back in my TBR jar so I can read the rest of the series. We can only hope our government looks a little less dystopian by the time I get around to finishing it. Fingers crossed (plus a whole lot of letter writing, calls, twitter rants, etc).

Update 2/10/2017–This has now been added to my shame list, and the rating has been changed to reflect that. A friend pointed out today that June is described as “She was either Native. Or Caucasian.” That is unacceptable language. It is incredibly harmful. I have removed the other books from my TBR, and moved this to my DO NOT READ list.

 

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Week of Booklr: Top 5 Worst Books of 2016

2016 was a year of growing up for me when it comes to reading. I learned a LOT about reading for diversity and learning what makes a book problematic. Books were no longer just good because the stories were nice, but because they were written from all points of view, well researched, well developed, and had good rep.

The books that didn’t do those things hit the naughty list. These are the top 5. All are linked so you can go to my main review.

Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things

I’ve seen this book on countless recommended lists. I predicted when I read the arc that it would be popular, and I was not wrong. This book was bound to be a hit with people looking for “diversity” but it’s at the very top of my Shame List. Picoult tries to capitalize on the criminalization of black men and women and fails miserably.

 

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

This book technically doesn’t come out until next week, but since I read it in 2016 I’m including it on this list. I won’t list all the reasons this book is gross here, but go read my review before you consider buying this one. I won’t be surprised to see it make the popular book circles either, but it’s disgustingly problematic.

John Irving’s In One Person

This was one of the books I read for my first “diverse” challenge and it made me so sick. It was a quick lesson in why reading Own Voices books is so important. This may have LGBTQIA+ characters, but it is incredibly transphobic while fetishing at the same time.

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity

I can actually FEEL the “Well, Actually’s” coming out of this book. They are seeping out of it. UGH. Poor pathetic man who got dumped and never ever stops whining about it. Bye.

Francesc Miralles’ Love in Lowercase

This book was problematic on its own because it was about a obsessive stalker. But books about obsessive stalkers can exist in this world. That’s fine, there’s a place for them. However, DON’T MARKET THEM AS CUTESY LOVE STORY ROMANCES WITH CATS. This is not a chick-lit novel as Penguin would have us believe. What idiot in the marketing department decided this should be thrust into the Ladies Love Line? NO!

These are all on my SHAME LIST. What books made your Top Worst 5 for 2016?

Lindsey Lee Johnson: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

A captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school.

In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

I’ve had this book since September, sitting in my ARC queue. That’s a long time for me to have an ARC. So it’s been staring me in the face for awhile, but the publishing date was so far out, I had other priorities. I actually mistakenly scheduled 3 ARCs all for January 3rd…oops.

Hopefully, the other two only have the publishing date in common with The Most Dangerous Place on Earth.

I am assuming that the title refers to the nature of high school. Sometimes it can certainly seem like the most dangerous place on earth while you are there. However, the REAL most dangerous place on earth is simply the pages of this book.

Guys, this book is SO PROBLEMATIC that the only reason I finished it was so that I could warn you away from it. How problematic is it? Oh, just let me tell you (this is pretty gross, so skip if you’d prefer).

  1. The ONLY black person in the entire book is a sub-sub-sub character–Lance, the rehab counselor. He gets maybe two or three pages as in the background.
  2. Almost everyone is blonde. Not even kidding. I’m not even sure there are any redheads or brunettes in the whole book, because blondes are just THAT BEAUTIFUL. This is further solidified when the single (Dare I say token? It certainly seems that way.) POC MC, a Chinese boy is described as having “heavy lidded, almond eyes, sparse brows, and nose whose broadness made him a little less than beautiful.” Oh, and that scene gets worse because the description goes on to say “He was unremarkable. He had no diagnoses. No dyslexia or numerophobia or even ADHD, which at least would have earned him time-and-a-half on the SAT.” Yes, you read that correctly. HE WAS UPSET FOR NOT HAVING A LEARNING DISORDER TO GAIN CREDIT ON HIS SATs. 
  3. An English teacher apparently doesn’t like the students to use “they” pronouns because of vagueness, and so a student is trying to verify for his writing “How do you know whether to use ‘he’ or ‘she’?” The teacher’s response is: “Just look for the Adam’s apple.” Not only is this completely disgusting and harmful, it doesn’t even answer the question the student was asking. I almost put the book down here because I was so grossed out. But I made the decision to keep going so I could write up the full problematic review. I was afraid it would get worse. It did.
  4. At one point, we sing the latest OAR song while watching a father gaslight his son into fighting him–then faking injury and laughing when the boy is concerned.
  5. There’s an entire blog post devoted to slut shaming a passed out drunk girl–saying someone should rape her while she’s passed out, and that she deserves everything she gets.
  6. Lastly, there are too many weird adult/child sexual and/or romantic situations to count in this book. Some are explicit, some are just uncomfortable. 

I almost feel like the author tried to put as many problematic things in this book as possible to prove a point. Except the lack of diversity–I think that was just ignorance or obliviousness, or just something else entirely.

There are going to be a lot of people who like this book–in fact, there are already several positive reviews for it on Goodreads. The core story is interesting and the multi-POV structure would normally have been fun to read. Too bad it’s all just so gross.

Super problematic, guys. Put this on your shame list.

NetGalley and Random House provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Publish Date January 10.

Jodi Picoult: Small Great Things

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

I’ve been a fan of Jodi Picoult since I first read My Sister’s Keeper. Her stories are always deep and meaningful, with some kind of big twist at the end. She is one of the queens of Women’s Fiction, if we must classify her in that genre–really she belongs on a shelf alongside Michael Cunningham and Jonathan Tropper. But I digress…

I knew that her upcoming book would be one of the exemptions to my #OwnVoicesOctober TBR, since I committed to Small Great Things prior to the challenge. I did not realize, however, just how ironic that interruption would be.

I won’t deny that Small Great Things covers a lot of really important topics. But I feel a bit like a more talented me wrote this book–someone who recently opened her eyes to the race problems in America, and is trying to process them through her writing. I try as hard as I can to be an ally (and read and review accordingly), but as a white woman, I cannot speak for people of color–and I feel that is what this book is trying to do. Kennedy is the only character that really resonates without being, at the very least uncomfortable, and at the most, downright offensive. Turk is horrifying–we absolutely don’t need a white supremacist POV character to know there is racism in this story. And Ruth–she’s every African American stereotype in the 2016 media.

Picoult’s author’s note does give some insight to her thought process, her research, how she came to write this story. She didn’t take this lightly, and she knows she is going to get backlash from it. I understand why she wanted to write it. I sympathize with her frustration and desire to be an allied voice–I feel it too. But the contrast of reading Small Great Things and those written by #OwnVoices authors is a big one, and I think this would have come across differently if she had only written Kennedy’s POV, and left Ruth’s for those authors who live it every day. Turk’s POV…no one needs to read those racial slurs, even if they are appropriate for his character. It’s one thing to have this type of person as a side character, it’s another to get inside their head and say/think very triggering, offensive things.

Jodi Picoult, as always, is a masterful storyteller. I’m just not sure this is a story she should have told. If it made ME this uncomfortable to read it, I can’t even begin to imagine how it would make Ruth feel. Because this isn’t Kennedy’s story, and it isn’t Turk’s. They are part of it, sure. But the story is Ruth’s–and it is her voice that should be the loudest. That can’t happen, though, at least not effectively or appropriately, from the pen of a white author–no matter how masterful.

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NetGalley and Ballentine Books provided an ARC for an unbiased review. Book to be released on Oct 11, 2016. This post contains affiliate links.

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Small Great Things Reader’s Guide

BY JODI PICOULT

1. Which of the three main characters (Ruth, Turk, or Kennedy) do you most relate to and why? Think about what you have in common with the other two characters as well – how can you relate to them?

2. The title of the book comes from the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that Ruth’s mother mentions on p. 173: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” What does this quote mean to you? What are some examples of small great things done by the characters in the novel?

3. Discuss Ruth’s relationship with her sister, Adisa. How does the relationship change over the course of the novel?

4. Kennedy seeks out a neighborhood in which she is the only white person to help her gain some perspective. Can you think of an example of a time when something about your identity made you an outsider? How were you affected by that experience?

5. All of the characters change over the course of the novel, but Turk’s transformation is perhaps the most extreme. What do you think contributed to that change?

6. Discuss the theme of parenthood in the novel. What does being a parent mean to Ruth, to Kennedy, and to Turk? What does it mean to you?

7. Why do you think Ruth lies to Kennedy about touching Davis when he first starts seizing? What would you have done in her position?

8. Why do you think Kennedy decides to take Ruth’s case? What makes it so important to her?

9. Discuss the difference between “equity” and “equality” as Kennedy explains it on p. 427. Do you think Ruth gets equity from the trial?

10. Was your perspective on racism or privilege changed by reading this book? Is there anything you now see differently?

11. Did the ending of Small Great Things surprise you? If so, why? Did you envision a different ending?

12. Did the Author’s Note change your reading experience at all?

13. Have you changed anything in your daily life after reading Small Great Things?

14. Who would you recommend Small Great Things to? Why?

Nicola Yoon: Everything, Everything

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I’ve been hearing so much about Everything Everything, and I didn’t even know it was a diverse book! So when it showed up on the #DiverseAThon list, it was one of the first books I requested from the library.

It was a sweet book, but I’m not as in love with it as everyone else is. Things are just a little too perfect. I mean, that totally happens in YA romance like this, but of course the “perfect” guy for Maddy moves next door to her and stays in the exact room she can see into. Maybe I’m a little jaded. Just a little.

I seem to be the only person I know who guessed what was really going on between Maddy and her mom. I won’t give it away, just promise me you’ll do some research after you finish the book. Because it’s another one of those plot devices that really get on my nerves. I’ll put the thing you need to google at the very bottom of this post, after my credits, where you don’t have to look if you don’t want to. Come back after you’ve read it. Let me know what you think. It’s really an interesting thing on it’s own. As a plot device though? I’m tired of authors doing this.***

Everything Everything is certainly entertaining. It’s a cute YA that checks all the major boxes for popular lit. And it has POC leads! We certainly need more of those in publishing. For those reasons, I cannot/will not dissuade you from reading it. It’s just not my favorite of the year.

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***Ok, now for the rest of my review, because SPOILERS, and this very much ruins the ending. Maddy is not sick. She does not have SCID. Her mother has PTSD, and a form of which that lends itself very close, if not all the way to Munchausen Syndrome. 

Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental illness and a form of child abuse. The caretaker of a child, most often a mother, either makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick.
This is problematic for two reasons. 
1. The author is using mental illness as a twist ending, which I absolutely hate. Writers have to stop doing this. Mental illness is not a “twist.” It’s a real life thing. We do not suffer for your plot devices. 
2. This says you cannot be happy if you have a disability. Maddy can only be happy in the end because she is not truly sick. She gets to go out in the world and be with Olly, live her life the way she wants to, and all her problems disappear.
For a much better description of this, I am going to refer you to Jennifer’s review. She explains way better than I can.

Review: In One Person

A New York Times bestselling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp.

In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.

I picked this book up because of the LGTBQA+ characters, and shortly after I did, #DiverseAThon was announced. Perfect timing! I could use it for my first book of the week. Sounded like a great plan at the time…

…Unfortunately, doing so turned out to be the biggest cautionary tale of reading #OwnVoices books of all time. John Irving is not gay. He is not transgender. And it shows in the writing of this book. Be careful when you are picking “diverse” books. Try to pick books by actual POC authors, LGBTQA+ authors, mentally ill authors. Don’t only pick authors who are writing about those characters.

The following is unpleasant, so I’m going to put a trigger warning on it. But I want to illustrate WHY you should be careful about reading books by authors who actually come from the cultures you are reading about. I’m going to gray out the triggering stuff. Skip that, if you need to.

This is not a book that is kind to transgender people. The narrator is so conflicted about his own sexuality and desires that while he is not completely homophobic–he IS sort of transphobic. He is sexually attracted to those he calls “she-males” and “transexuals.” At one point he dismissively tells us that he won’t use the term transgender because they didn’t ever call them that and so why should he change now? 

…Are you cringing yet?…

He speaks about the transgender women in his life cruelly, as if they are something Other. He does not understand them, why they would want to change the bodies he finds perfect and is offended by that need. They are his playthings and not people he totally respects. 

Now, the narrator was extremely unreliable. Probably one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever read, even against Harry Potter. We are completely in this guy’s head. But I still don’t find that as an excuse for such awful narration.

The other stomach churning thing about this book is the multiple adult-youth sexual relationships. The only reason I call them that and not the abuse they actually are is that the narrator sees them as consensual relationships. He sees them as seduction. He has his own, after hearing about two of his friends having them…but again, unreliable narrator…he does not realize how uncomfortable his friends are, and how not seduced they were.

I stopped reading this book about 3/4 of the way through. As the narrator grew older, the story only grew worse, and less interesting. I left him in Europe bullying a vomiting, anxious friend.

I get the general idea of where Irving was headed with his novel, and why he wrote this the way he did. But it was too disgusting to finish.

 

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