Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth

Saving Hamlet

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA lit

Synopsis: Emma Allen’s a little nervous about her sophomore year.  She’s recently proclaimed herself to be a theatre nerd after a bad run-in with the soccer team, and she’s suddenly thrust into responsibilities she’s never had before as stage manager.  And to top it all off, she recently cut her hair, so she can no longer hide.  Luckily though, she has Lulu and Stanley to help her through it all, and they’re a part of the play.  Unluckily though, Stanley thinks it’d be cool to create a trap door for this year’s production of Hamlet, and Emma falls into it…straight into Shakespeare’s Globe in 1600s England.

Review: The moment I saw this title, I knew I had to have it.  And I have to say, it looks pretty nice sitting next to my three different editions of Hamlet.  But really, this is the kind of book I’ve been looking for.  Weird stuff that can’t be explained happens, and doesn’t need to be explained, all with gay representation, cute boys from the 1600s, Shakespeare, and hair cutting.

There were so many different points in this book where I actually had to conceal my squeals (thanks to being on the metro), and so many different points where I just sat there thinking, “Damn.  Too real.”  But most of the time, I was fully enraptured, wanting to know just what was going to happen next and how Emma was going to get home and solve her problems and do her homework!!

This text just so embodies what it feels like to be a teenager (and hopefully I’m remembering it correctly…I mean, it was only five years ago, right?).  The clothes, the way we talked, the rash decisions, having to depend on friends for rides, having crushes…it’s just so good.  Honestly, I really hope that there’s a sequel, and I wouldn’t entirely mind an entire series…but maybe that’s just my Shakespeare sensibilities talking.

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Matilda by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Matilda

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, children’s lit

Synopsis: Matilda is smarter than most people her age.  She devours books like they’re candy, and multiplication is no problem for her.  She’s absolutely brilliant.  Unfortunately, her parents think she’s more of an annoyance.  But when she goes to school, she meets Miss Honey, who immediately tries to think of ways to nurture this young mind…that is, until Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress, comes into play.

Review: I read this once before as a child, so being able to read it once again was an absolute delight!  In fact, it was so delightful that I read it in about two hours, no interruptions.  And what a great two hours they were.  Filled with parents, teachers, powers, and a love for books, this book is just as memorable as it always has been, in the way that Dahl and Blake’s books are always memorable.

Matilda is touching, funny, and all around warm-hearted.  I don’t know if there’s anybody out there that hasn’t read Matilda, but I can’t wait to introduce them to this book.  It’s so reminiscent of childhood, and of how the world should be instead of actually is.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

The Robber Bride

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Zenia is a bad person.  So it’s a good thing she’s been dead for 20 years.  But she can’t be all bad, considering Tony, Charis, and Roz all found each other and created a friendship over their hatred for Zenia.  After all, who else could possibly understand the ways in which they’ve been wronged?  But on their monthly lunch outing to catch up, they spot Zenia from only a couple feet away.

Review: I had no idea what to truly expect when I first read this book.  Bluebeard and its variations are among my favorite fairy tales, and Margaret Atwood is, well, Margaret Atwood, so I knew I needed this book.  But how could it possibly be over 500 pages?  The answer is this: easily.  With three protagonists and one antagonist, all of whom have extensive backgrounds that have formed them into the women they are today, there’s a lot of story to cover.  And Atwood does it magnificently.

Each word drips with meaning and foreboding, and shows that nothing is truly as it seems, not Zenia, and not any of the friends, and not any of their lovers.  It took me until nearly the end of the book for me to realize what I think was hidden within the rest of the text–though I won’t say it here for the sake of spoilers.  But my perceptions of Zenia definitely distorted, grew, and changed over the course of the book, and that simply means that Atwood did a fantastic job at writing this book (because when else are women continuously dynamic rather than static?)

The absolute thought and detail that went into this novel are astounding.  I don’t feel like I’ve ever seen myself as a woman so roundly and wonderfully represented in a piece of literature.  Maybe it’s because Atwood understands that quirks are less than just what your weird interests are, and more what you do when nobody’s looking.  Maybe it’s because women can fully love and hate and everything in between and with good reasons, too.

This book is everything I wanted it to be, and more.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Call Me Zebra

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Zebra has dealt with many horrors in her life, but literature helps keep her grounded.  In fact, literature is her birthright.  It’s the only thing she’s interested in–that is, until she meets Ludo.  And what a whirlwind Ludo is.

Review: This is the sort of book I wish I could have read in my English classes.  It’s written with the sort of language you would expect from one of those “classics.”  But it’s by an author of color about an Iranian woman.  Like, imagine having had this sort of representation in bookstores back in the late 1800s.  This is the kind of book that I think would have existed had women and people of color were valued back in the day.  That alone makes me want to hold this book close to my chest.

I also think that Van der Vliet Oloomi does a great job of subverting typical tropes from today’s day and age, such as the manic pixie dream girl trope.  I mean, that’s such a Ludo thing.  He’s temperamental, he’s flighty, he has very strong opinions.  He’s a manic pixie dream…man?  And granted, Zebra herself is very temperamental, flighty, and opinionated.  But she’s passionate and genuine in a way that Ludo can never be.

Overall, this book is a beautiful, introspective, and linguistically impressive book.  Every word appears to be deliberately chosen to elicit a very specific emotion from its readers.  And I love it for that.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, mystery

Synopsis: Sixteen people are invited to live in Westingtown, a high class apartment building with reasonable prices.  But there’s one catch: to find Samuel Westing’s murderer using only the clues that each person is provided–but not all clues are the same.

Review: So, this is actually the second time I’ve read this book.  The first time, my mom suggested I take notes for each character because it was a mystery, and it was confusing.  I was maybe ten at the time?  And it was very confusing.  I’m now twenty-three and in grad school.  I contemplated taking notes again.  I was still very confused.

But not to worry!  It all makes sense in the end.  Raskin does a great job of showing how different parts that seemingly don’t make sense converge into a whole.  There’s a murderer, a bomber, and lots of people who are just trying to make their way in life (which, by the way, I’d LOVE to talk to someone about Angela Wexler and do a feminist reading on this book…but alas, this was for our structuralist unit).

Honestly, this book is set up in a way that is hugely creative and requires a lot of brain power to understand as you traipse through its words.  This book is perfect for a rainy afternoon, and perfect for the budding detective.

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno

Anno's Counting Book

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Picturebook, counting book

Synopsis: From 0 to 12, this book shows young children what quantities look like.

Review: This book was assigned as an “illumination book” for our structuralist unit in a critical theories class.  When I opened it up, I thought it looked vaguely familiar and didn’t fully recognize it until I got to the 6 spread.  Then, I realized that this is the same book that my mother uses in her kindergarten classroom to show her students what numbers look like both in arabic numerals as well as in quantities.  Clearly, this book is a family favorite.

Overall, I love the art, the structure, and the way that it shows the passage of time as the town is constructed through the year.

But after doing our structuralist unit…oh man, this book is a wild ride.  Most counting books start at 1 and then go up to 10…yet here this book is going from 0 to 12!!!  And the way that time is described in this book is pretty interesting–clearly it goes from month to month, but the time on the church also depicts the designated number (but the time goes from afternoon to morning at around page 7, I believe–so then what do we make of that visualization of time passing?)  Obviously, this kind of analysis is a bit overworked, but it’s still interesting nonetheless that such a “simple” picturebook/counting book can create such a dialogue around it.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Monster

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, middle grade fiction

Synopsis: Steve Harmon is on trial.  He’s somehow gotten mixed up in the murder of a bodega manager, even though he insists he wasn’t anywhere near the store at the time, and that the last time he was there, all he was doing was buying candy.  But in the face lawyers, a judge, his parents, and his peers, he must let the jury decide his fate.

Review: While reading this, I could hardly believe that it was published in 1999–it seemed so directly related to the Trayvon Martin case, or any other case in this time period, in fact.  That’s partially what made it so engaging and enrapturing.  The other reason why it was so intriguing was the fact that it was written all in script-form, on account of Steve really loving making films for his high school class.  It’s like a diary or journal of what happens to him, but because he writes his life as though it’s a script, he can imagine that he’s watching this all play out from a different perspective, and not one that might land him 25 years to life.

In fact, I’m sure I could write a whole essay as to why he chooses to write as though he’s writing a film, on account of dissociation, coping mechanisms, and grasping what’s happening to him on a daily basis.  It also allows us as readers to see each of the characters as they testify, and how quite literally life changing this trial will be for the young Steve.

Overall, this book was too true and too Real, probably for back then, nearly 20 years ago, and definitely for right now.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I Am the Cheese

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, middle grade fiction

Synopsis: Adam Farmer is on a bicycle journey up north to visit his father.  He also didn’t take his medication that morning.  While dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with biking through an entire state, he must also understand the choices he’s made in order to get this far, and why there are gaps in his memory…

Review: This book was not anything like I expected it to be, and I think my classmates could say the same.  Two stories are told at once here, and they converge in a striking and shocking manner.  Cormier definitely appears to be a master of structuring a story, and in a way that leaves me wanting more and more.  Luckily, my library has a few more of his books!

This book really was unlike anything I’d read before, from the government files, to the long ride up north, to that heck of a plot twist ending.

Y’know that saying “It’s an oldie but a goodie?”  Well, I’m pretty sure that has to do with this book.  It’s certainly not one you’ll want to miss.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

From the Mixed Up Files

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, middle grade fiction

Synopsis: Claudia is a planner, and her younger brother Jamie is a penny-pincher.  That’s why she chose him to run away with her to the grand Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts in New York.  While they’re there, they sleep in artful beds, hide away from the guards, and try to learn something new everyday.  Although, there’s a new statue, Angel, that looks like it might have been done by Michelangelo, but nobody knows whether that’s true…can Claudia find out?

Review: I read this once as a child, and had the great pleasure of reading it again for a class assignment.  I forgot how much I absolutely loved this book, from its wonderful plot, to its history and art lessons, to its quick wit and humor.  I love the characters, I love the logistics, and I love the fact that these two kids can hide in a museum without being caught.

And it’s always wonderful rereading books from your childhood, because you find new meaning in them.  I mean, I never realized how much I identified with Claudia, wanting to return home different in some way, always wanting to be a little bit more, not settling for anything less.  This book made me feel nostalgic and wistful all in one, and I’d give just about anything to reread it as a kid once more.

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Feel Free

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, anthology

Synopsis: Famous author Zadie Smith discusses a variety of topics on the subject of art, social media, film, and comedy in her new anthology.

Review: I’m going to begin with Real Talk for this review.  Because of her Facebook essay, I have stopped going on it so much.  I mean, I still have it–with the same excuse that she cites, that is the “but I need it to stay in touch with people!” excuse–but I use it at such a lower rate and it’s just…made my life so much better.  I’ve stopped checking on it, which gives me a little more time for other things, I worry less about how I should present myself on social media and more about how I should present myself in real life, and has just ultimately made me emotionally feel better and less angry.

But really, this anthology covered such a wide expanse of topics ranging from art and film to comedy to just about everything.  All of it was timely, well-written, and ultimately intriguing and captivating.  Zadie Smith has something to say, and she says it well.