Book Review: Anne of Ingleside

I’ve recently been rereading the eight-book Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery, for the fourth (fifth? sixth?) time.  As always with Montgomery’s work, I love reading her fiction as informed by her journals (and her journals as informed by her fiction…it’s cyclical).  I recently finished book six, Anne of Ingleside, and had…a LOT of thoughts.  I reread Montgomery’s journals quite recently, and there was a lot that came to bear in this book.

The last time I read Anne of Ingleside, it was my favorite of the series, though I couldn’t have told you why.  On this read, I’m not sure it still is—but I know why it was.  This changed significantly in the several years since I last visited it.

Anne has grown up by now, and is the happy mistress of gracious Ingleside, with her successful doctor husband Gilbert, five children (number six on the way at the beginning), faithful maid (and surrogate co-parent) Susan Baker, and a respected place in society.  The stories mostly revolve around Anne’s children, their little adventures and childhood heartbreaks.

I realized for the first time in this reread that two completely different worldviews are at odds in this book.  The setting and framework is optimistic and idyllic; the episodic stories are grim and disillusioned. Even though this is book six of eight, this is the very last novel Montgomery ever wrote, and her later journals show her deeply struggling with depression and dissatisfaction with aspects of her life.  Anne of Ingleside is a war between Montgomery’s optimism and pessimism. Continue reading “Book Review: Anne of Ingleside”

Book Review: Holding Up the Universe

I don’t find very many books at random anymore—I’ve become a “request and pick up” reader rather than a library browser, mostly.  But…sometimes I’m short on books and that requesting does take time.  And sometimes I find a gem just by picking it up.  Such is how I found Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, a troubled teen story with teens with unusual troubles.

Jack has face-blindness—he can’t recognize anyone, even his mother or two brothers.  He navigates through life by remembering key details (his brother is skinny with big ears, his girlfriend has a very helpful fake beauty mark), hiding his challenge from everyone.  Libby went viral in an online video in the worst possible way—as a morbidly obese teen who had to be cut out of her house.  Since then she’s lost weight but remains large (and feels comfortable at her current size), and is now facing a return to high school.  When the two end up thrown together, they each see the other in unique ways.

This was a fascinating book.  I don’t like troubled teen books as a rule, but this was not your run-of-the-mill troubles.  I’m so intrigued by Jack’s face-blindness.  His particular situation is extreme, but it’s a real thing that a surprising number of people have (and surprising people: Jane Goodall!  Brad Pitt!)  The book is in alternating POV, and I loved seeing the world through Jack’s eyes as he navigates a world that is always full of strangers.

Libby may be a contender in nine months for my favorite character of the year.  She’s done a lot of hard work in the last few years, losing weight of course but also (and more to the point) work on self-image and self-confidence.  Her over-eating was brought on by her mother’s death and bullying, so that’s hard issues right there.  As she returns to high school, she is simultaneously totally confident in herself, and totally afraid of trying to be that self out in the world. Continue reading “Book Review: Holding Up the Universe”

Book Review: Kira-Kira

Continuing the pattern of last year, I’m making a good run through the Newbery winners.  I picked Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata in part because it also serves my diversity challenge, centering on a Japanese-American family living in Georgia in the 1950s.  There was some exploration of that dynamic…but it was also the most unrelentingly depressing Newbery I’ve read yet!

The narrator is Katie Takeshima, but the story really centers around her beloved older sister Lynn.  Lynn is brilliant, loving, a force in the family and full of dreams for her future.  You can already see where this is going, can’t you?  Lynn is one of those too good to live characters, and sure enough—as the book goes on Lynn is vaguely and sporadically ill…then less sporadically…then fatally.

I don’t like stories about children dying.  I’m just going to put that out there, and admit that this makes it harder for me to judge if this was a good story about a child (well, teenager) dying.  I especially hate stories about children dying in slow, lingering ways, which this definitely was.  I love The Bridge to Terabithia, but that’s not a book about death—it’s a book that contains a death.  Kira-Kira is largely focused on Lynn’s slow decline and death, and how Katie handles it. Continue reading “Book Review: Kira-Kira”

Book Review: Crossover

I finished out last year’s Newbery reading by reading the (almost) most recent book on the list.  The 2015 winner, Crossover by Kwame Alexander, sat at the top of the list all year, until I finally added 2016’s winner in December.  A basketball story, I had some doubts about this one—and if I’d realized the format, I would have had more!  But it was surprisingly enjoyable.

Josh and Jordan Bell are twin brothers and high school basketball stars, cheered on by their father Chuck, retired professional basketball player.  Josh is our narrator, telling the story through poetry.   He uses poems to express his doubts and fears as his father begins having health problems, and his confusion and jealousy when he and his brother both develop crushes on the same girl—who seems to prefer his twin.

So the whole book is poems.  Mostly blank verse and other experimental types, which is not even the kind of poetry I like, when I (rarely) read poetry.  And yet, it actually worked.  Alexander did a compelling job telling a narrative and exploring characters through this highly unusual format.  I’m sure there are those who really loved the format and I might not go that far—but it was interesting and didn’t present the barrier I expected at all. Continue reading “Book Review: Crossover”

Book Review: The Square-Root of Summer

I think I’ve managed a first for me in my challenge reading.  I put The Square-Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood on my random To-Read list on my phone (I think I stumbled on a blog post review while at work—more on that later, and why it really was work).  I requested it from the library without remembering it clearly—and found myself stumbling accidentally into a parallel universe novel!

Gottie’s world is coming apart.  Literally.  Seventeen, on the cusp of needing to figure out what to do with her life (or at least whether to go to college), Gottie’s attention is focused on the past.  On her grandfather’s death almost a year previously.  On the return of her childhood friend Thomas, out of touch across an ocean for five years.  On the memories of her secret summer fling last year with her brother’s friend.  And all around her, wormholes are opening up, sending her hurtling back into the past.

First, the mechanics of this.  I never quite got them, even though Gottie is a math genius who spends a lot of time discussing equations and theories.  But in practical and storytelling terms, the point is that she’s periodically encountering wormholes which send her mentally (but not physically) flashing back to earlier points in her life.  As the novel progresses, the effects become more dramatic, until she’s physically moving to parallel lives, not moving through time but moving to a universe where an earlier choice caused a change.  And ultimately cause and effect become confused, and things like writing an email response turns out to be the message that inspired the email that she was responding to.  If you see what I mean. Continue reading “Book Review: The Square-Root of Summer”