Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Reviews 2015, Part One

Wow, Ariel, 11:42 PM. That's when you're starting your Saturday blog post? What is this, an online homework assignment?
Yeah, I've been cramming in all my spring break reading for all of today, so I only just remembered that I had to do a blog post a few minutes ago.This blog post is going to mark a change in the way I do Saturday posts. I noticed that most of my new experiences are not exciting enough to fill up a whole post, so I usually stuff in filler and unnecessary details to make the post sufficiently long enough. So, to change that, I've decided that Saturday posts will not just be a recounting of the new experience, but a blog post INSPIRED by the experience. So, for example, if I saw a play, I might talk about what my favorite plays I've ever seen are, or a philosophical discussion sparked by the themes of the play. Or if I went to a new restaurant, I would write a post about being a vegetarian, or make a collection of recipes similar to the foods I ate that day.

So, that announcement being over. What's today's post going to be about? Well, my new experience this week wasn't too exciting, seeing as I spent most of the week coming up with ways to avoid doing my homework. One of those ways was reading a new book, Unwind by Neal Shusterman. It was recommended to me by Writing Goddess Kira Budge, and since I made a goal of reading 36 books outside of school this year (I know, lame, but I need to start somewhere with dragging myself away from the lures of the Internet), I decided to try it out this week.

Today's post, therefore, is going to be the first in a series that I'll update throughout the year: book reviews for all the books I've read so far this year. I'm not counting books I read for school, just books I read for this resolution. Seeing as my goal is 36 books, I should have read 9 by now, but I've only read 7. Still, that's less behind schedule than I am on basically every other goal I ever set!

So, this post will be reviews for the first three months of books. At the end of June sometime, I'll hopefully update this again.


1. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
This was an incredibly impressive book. I devoured it in one day (although I think I picked up the Young Reader's Edition, so that may have helped). The book was probably more interesting because of the fantastic life of the author than because of any writing skills, but nonetheless, the writing was captivating. It drew you into the world of Swat in Pakistan, into the life of a young girl who was scared of the conflict raging around her but brave and determined to keep her right to education. Most of all, I loved how relatable Malala was. I could have seen her sitting in class next to me in school, the way she went on about fighting with her brothers and competing for the top spot in the class. The book at once makes readers aware of a real problem that occurs all over the world- girls being barred from education- and gives you hope that things can change, that there are relentless fighters like Malala who won't back down no matter what. And educational reform and feminism are two of the most important causes in my life, so the book particularly struck a chord in me.

2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
This book is the second in a series that I started in tenth grade. The first book is called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland (the titles are actually much longer but I cut them down for the sake of being less annoying). I loved the first book the second I read it: a whimsical, dark, fantastic adventure of imagination spiked with realistic stories. It's hard to explain how much I love this series. The second installment only improved on the first. In the first book, the hero, September, journeys through Fairyland. The second accompanies her through the shadowy realm of Fairyland-Below, the Underworld of Fairyland. She grows older in this book, gaining "the new, young heart of teenagers" and along with it the exploration of all the issues that teenagers face. Fairyland gets darker. Despite the fact that these books are as full of ridiculous details as Wonderland or Oz, they are so serious and they are some of the few books I know that depict teenage girls realistically (you know, as three-dimensional beings). I highly recommend them.

3. The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
And I also read the third book in this series. While slightly less good than the previous two, I still found it fantastic. In this one, September heads up to Fairyland's moon and has some pretty interesting epiphanies about herself and finds out the terrifying secret behind the mysteries of Fairyland. I hope that's not too much of a spoiler. Well, if it is, I hope it inspired you to read it to find out the rest. Gah. These books are so good. The fourth one just came out and I'm waiting for it to come back to the library so I can get it.


4. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
This, unlike most of the books I read for fun, is not a YA or MG book, is not from this century, and is not aimed for girls. ("Aimed for girls" is such a stupid distinction, but the publishing industry is what it is, so yeah, I read a lot of "girl books.") It's a classic sci-fi book from the 1950s. It's one of my dad's favorite books and he gave it to me in a box of Asimov books at the beginning of the school year. "1950s sci fi" tends to bring to mind really cheesy, terrible stuff, but of course, Asimov was far from cheesy or terrible. Foundation combines an intricate, imaginative plotline, interesting political commentary, and a warm, easy-to-read voice. The story is essentially about this guy who used math to try and predict the future, and realized that the Galactic Empire was going to fall, Roman-Empire-style, and create a long period of Dark Ages. So he established a foundation that would work to counter the effects of those Dark Ages. The way the politics of the foundation plays out is the rest of the story. It was pretty fun to read, and there were some exciting twists. Eventually I'll read the rest of the series, but right now I've still got an obnoxiously long to-read list of YA books.

5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
About five hundred people recommended this to me via the usual channels of the Internet literary community, talking about how this book made them cry, how it changed their life, how it was revolutionary, stuff like that. So I picked it up, expecting my world to be shattered. It was not shattered. However, this book was still really, really good. I think I just kind of already knew all the Grand Conclusions that were made in it. The book is about two teenagers, Ari and Dante, but it's from Ari's perspective. They're both Hispanic teenage boys, bored in the summer, and they hang out and do stupid stuff and fantastic philosophical stuff. The book chronicles the development of their relationship over more than a year, including their "discovery of the secrets of the universe" (which disappointingly turned out to be the secrets of smoking pot and kissing girls), their family issues, their realization of their sexualities, and reading poetry. I'd say this book is basically an upgrade on The Catcher in the Rye. It was good, but I didn't love it, like a lot of other people did.


6. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Yeah, I know, a celebrity memoir. I've always wanted to read one of those books that famous comedy people write, telling their life stories and their opinions on stuff, because I figured, hey, they're funny, it'll probably be funny. Well, this book was OK. It was definitely funny at points, especially because Kaling actually admits to being overweight and lazy and things like that, not just in a "omg I ate a slice of pizza once" way. She also tells some good stories from her childhood and makes some funny jabs at Hollywood in general. But I guess I shouldn't have expected too much from a book written by someone who's used to writing for another medium. It would have worked as a series of 20-minute episodes, probably. I got bored a few times throughout it, for sure.

7. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
This is the one I finished a couple of days ago. Now this was a really good book. I'd basically heard it described as a book about abortion, which it certainly is, but it's definitely more than that. To start with the negatives of this book, it did have a couple of cliches about teenagers, and some cringeworthy bits of writing. Other than that, I didn't have any complaints. The writing was compelling, the plot made it difficult to put the book down, and it actually made me think. The idea is that America has a war on abortion and the compromise made is that abortion is made illegal, but parents can make the choice to "unwind" their kids between the ages of 13 and 18- meaning that the kid's body is taken apart and their body parts are all donated to people in need of new organs. Throughout the book, I expected Shusterman to make some sort of obvious declaration showing his opinion on abortion, but even now that I'm done I can't tell whether he's pro-life or pro-choice. The message of the book seemed to be less about abortion and more about how when people furiously debate something, it stops being about the subject of debate and starts being about hating the other group, and the consequences can be pretty horrific. As someone who's still not sure where I stand myself on abortion, the book didn't give me any conclusions, but it gave me new ideas. How much do we value human life if we're willing to get rid of something that has the potential to live a human life? How do we make the choice which potential lives get terminated? But at the same time, if all fetuses were carried to term, there would be thousands of babies and children neglected and mistreated. So yeah, this was a great book, not just because the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, but because it made me think a lot.

Whew, this was an obnoxiously long post. Sorry about that. I hope it gave you some ideas of what to read next yourself. And now, at 12:30 AM, back to doing my homework.




  2. Osnat - oh, my rofl.
    Ariel - I'm glad you liked Foundation.
    Have you read Cinder? I highly recommend it. My newest favorite. Combines fairy tale with sci fi. And it's YA. And I really liked it. Although, I must admit, Tzipora did not get into it. Let me know what you think.