Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli
Listening to this book was a bit like watching a John Hughes movie… actually, it was a lot like watching a John Hughes movie. It is kind of sweet, there might be some heart-breaking moments, some misunderstandings, some bullying, but definitely a lot of friendship, quite a bit of sweet-loving, and totally easy to get hooked on and want to know more and want everything to work out at the end — and boy did EVERYTHING get worked out! Mostly believably so but definitely veering toward the hyper-optimistic end of possibilities: which, we all need from time to time!
I was a little sad that once Simon & “Blue” met up in real life, the author pretty much stopped giving us their exchanges of ideas: no more interesting emails to read of their views on the world around them or the quirky questions and answers. In the last part of the book, the readers are left with just observing their physical (sweet) contacts and first explorations: as if all those emails were just a precursor to what REALLY matters: kissing and other physical relationships… It would have been more fulfilling an emotional journey for me as a reader if both physical and intellectual aspects of their relationship had been more equally represented during the last part of the story.
(And a potential quibble: I am still baffled why the characters refer to Tumblr as “the Tumblr” — was it that the author does not understand the teen-lingo these days or that it is THAT specific Tumblr page reserved for the kids in that particular town/high school — thus the article?)
I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
It was an intriguing and entertaining read — although using the word “entertaining” to describe my reading experience with a book dealing with mental illnesses, abuse, and traumatic events in teens feels a little crass. Nonetheless, I felt that King, as a writer, really revels in designing and playing “games” with her readers. Mind games, for sure!
Do we really know what actually happened to each of the four main characters? What’s with the man behind the bush? What’s with the invisible (or real?) helicopter? Nothing was really certain — not during and not after reading the book. And I’m quite alright with that much ambiguity — I only wish that I had liked and/or could have felt more empathetic toward any of the characters. Because of the stylistic choice and the hyper-reality setting, the main characters all seem to be more guinea pigs in a giant game of maze on stage, masterminded and controlled by the author for the amusement and perhaps even edification of the audience. Even the cover design with the standardized test answering sheet reminds me of some sort of “whack a mole” holes in an arcade…
Anyway — to sum up — I admired the workmanship and enjoyed the weirdness but never quite got caught up enough to care about any of the characters or how “the story” was going to end.
The Three Body Problem (三体）by Liu Cixin（刘慈忻)，translated by Ken Liu
This is a rare experience for me since my encounters with Science Fiction tend to be on the “soft sci-fi” end: where the details of the science employed by the authors are often quite flexible to suit the narrative needs of the tale. This is Hard Science Fiction and I was absolutely fascinated (even while I didn’t quite understand them) by the explanation of the Three-Body physics problem, the unfolding of protons into various dimensional modules, and how radio waves are delivered and received, etc. However, what compelled me to keep on reading was the realistic and unflinching depiction of the story’s backdrop (from Cultural Revolution era to contemporary China,) the underlying multiple and somewhat conflicting philosophies about human nature, the life story and struggles of one of the main female characters, and the kinship I feel with a specific type of online gaming.
The author honestly and boldly laid out the views of his characters (and one can choose to side with or against whichever view) and the translator faithfully captured and presented the analytical and yet deeply emotional landscape of the story.
Let’s celebrate this book’s 2015 Hugo Award win for being a solid hard science fiction and for being the very first Hugo novel winner penned by an Asian author.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith was a baffling read from the beginning to the very end. Baffling but fascinating, engaging, engrossing, moving, and thrilling. I didn’t know where the story was heading and in the end, I wasn’t quite sure where I have been: spanning time and space, from the icy pole in the 1800s to the summer heat of an American summer camp now (?) — encountering the Melting Man (literally,) the refugee boy, the eccentric scientists, the Dumpling Man, and many others. Or even where we eventually arrived — are we to be pleased with Ariel’s final situation, bonded with his adopted brother and their new found friend, no longer being closely monitored? Are we to continuously be paranoid of how our lives might be closely examined by unknown forces and crazy scientists? At least I know to unconditionally love Ariel for his intelligence and compassion.
Since earlier this year’s brouhaha about Andrew Smith’s “lacking” in inclusion of positive female characters in his work, I couldn’t help but noticing that in this book the readers only encounter two real life women: one is a completely ineffective mother figure and the other is a terrifying scientist whose goal is to eliminate all males from the human species. (I’m not counting the two imaginary women in the Melting Man’s schizophrenic head.)
Of course, introducing compassionate and caring characters (male or female) will result in a completely different story: one that simply wouldn’t have been as brutal to such extreme and thus wouldn’t have had the same level of impact. If the point is to portray a world for Ariel and his buddies to “survive” in without the physical or emotional support of kind souls, Smith succeeded brilliantly.
And I must mention his ability to effortlessly switch into drastically different narrative voices! A skilled writer, indeed!
Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Nichelodeon channel animated show from 2005, has been and continues to be really popular with my middle and high school students. (The show was created for even younger viewers.) I got curious and asked random internet users (via facebook, twitter, reddit, FCL, etc.) to fill out a form and tell me whether: “Avatar? OMG — AVATAR is MY LIFE!” or “This is the first time I have ever heard of this show,” and anything in between. Although the respondents can choose from 12 different answers, I decided to consolidate them into four categories: Extreme Love, Positive, Neutral/Negative, and Never heard of/watched the show. Those who filled out the form also shared their demographic information and self-identified as one of the following: Asian or Asian American, White (Hispanic), White (Non-Hispanic), Black (Hispanic), Black (Non-Hispanic), Racially Mixed – part Asian, Racially Mixed – no Asian, Native American, or Other* * I had to take out a few responses (for example, a self-identified “penguin” – Oh, internet, you never fails to amuse me!) As you can see, the responses are really positive, just like those from my students and myself. We are excited about the show, its spin-off Legend of Korra, and are happily reading the Graphic Novels series extending the storyline, and anxiously awaiting the new installments for both Aang, Katara, Zuko, Toph, Sokka storylines and the Korra storyline. My notes on The Search by Gene Luen Yang will be posted tomorrow. If your browser can’t load this embedded chart, click on THIS LINK. I also asked for age ranges but decided to not include that information in the chart.
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
The third, the final, and my favorite installment of the Magician’s trilogy. A total love song to traditional children’s fantasy stories for grown-ups who have still yet to grow out of being enchanted completely by those tales (me). Thankfully, Quentin finally stopped being the annoying whinny young man that he was in the first two volumes, so my irknedness level was way down, making the reading experience a complete delight from beginning to end. Lots of quotable little observations about fantasy story-making and world-building and about being a creative and self-reflective and forgiving (to self and others) human being.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction
Basic Content Information: Hayley has to deal with caring for her father (her mother died a while back and her father’s long term girlfriend left) when he gets deeper and deeper within the dark landscape of PTSD after tours in Iraq. At the same time, she falls in love with Finn whose sister is a drug addict that his parents pour all their energy on and leave no time for him, who is in the process of applying to college. Her best (and only) friend Gracie also has to deal with parental fallouts of her father cheating on her mother and shouting matches at home. With everyone around her having to take care of their own business, Hayley is quite left alone to handle the worsen conditions of her father. When a former comrade was killed in the war, Hayley’s father left the house and a desperate search and rescue mission (by the young people themselves) ensues.
Pub Date: January, 2014
(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)
Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.