Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith

I am reviewing this book today because it is Blog Action Day 2010, the issue this year is water, and water is a theme in the story. Please check out the Blog Action Day website and/or my post on this second's obsession for more information.

Girl Meets Boy is part of The Myths series, a retelling of the myth of Iphis, from Ovid's Metamophoses. Iphis is a girl brought up, secretly, as a boy. She falls in love with another girl, Ianthe, and when she and her mother pray to Isis for help, she is transformed into a man. Iphis marries Ianthe, and they live happily ever after. I am completely obsessed with retellings of myths, legends and fairytales, so for me this book was an absolute must read.

There are two first-person narrators in Girl Meets Boy, sisters Anthea and Imogen (or Midge), who take the helm for alternate chapters. The first to be introduced is Anthea, remembering her grandparents, particularly her grandfather, who liked to tell them stories about when he was a girl. In the present day, Anthea is struggling to find her place in the world. Imogen has gotten her a job at the company she works for, Pure, but Anthea hates it. Anthea is an essentially unconventional person, drawn to the weird and wonderful, whereas Imogen is concerned with appearances and fitting in, excited by Pure's bottled-water ambitions. Anthea is just about managing to pretend to be normal - in front of her colleagues, anyway - until she makes a faux-pas at a meeting, and on her way out of the Pure premises, meets beautiful graffiti-protester Robin.

Girl Meets Boy is primarily a love story. It's about people falling in romantic love with other people, people falling in love with life and all it's possibilities, and familial love. It's a very short book, so there isn't time for it to get overly slushy - in fact, I had mixed feelings about the length. On the one hand, I wanted more from some of the novel's elements. I wanted to know more about the grandparents - it seemed like their stories could fill a book or two alone. The initial meetings of the lovers are brushed past quite quickly, and it was a bit annoying, I actually wanted to read what happened immediately after Anthea set eyes upon Robin by the Pure sign. On the other hand, the poetic style of this writing probably works best when applied to a snapshot of lives, it could seem stilted after too long, and the very obvious messages presented in the book didn't need any more hammering home! To be honest, I always find it difficult to criticise very short books - they're quick to finish, and easy to read and re-read. Girl Meets Boy is a lovely read for an afternoon, and I will probably read it again.

I loved the characterisation in Girl Meets Boy, from the grandparents, to similar-but-different Anthea and Imogen, Robin, Paul, and the supporting cast of morally awful Pure employees and happy-to-comment passers-by. It all seemed true to life. I find it really interesting when retellings manage to do away with divine intervention, replace it with realism, but still keep the magic in the story, and Girl Meets Boy definitely achieves this.

The BookDepository

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Competition Alert: Win an ARC of Real Life Boyfriends, by E Lockhart

When E. Lockhart announced this competition on her blog, I had to try very hard not to scare every living creature around with my excitement. She hasn't confirmed that it's open for international entries, but I don't mind. Even if I'm not able to win an ARC of Real Life Boyfriends, a book that I am so excited about that I have written the release date in my diary1, I don't mind promoting this amazing series that I love nearly almost as much as I love the Diary of a Crush trilogy2.

I will review The Boyfriend List soon, when I get over my 'Can I do this justice?' syndrome, but for now, a brief summary.

The Ruby Oliver series, which begins with The Boyfriend List, is about a girl who starts getting panic attacks after her boyfriend breaks up with her and starts dating her best friend. Her parents insist she starts seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Z, who tells her to write The Boyfriend List of the title - a list of every boy she's liked, dated, or been rumoured to be involved with. It is very funny. It makes my heart pound. It makes me gasp 'Ruuuuuuby, no!'. There are lots of fictional-crush worthy boys, and a couple to hate. It is also really educational, and I mean that in the best way. Plus, Ruby lives in a houseboat. A HOUSEBOAT. I don't understand how anyone could fail to love this.

Here is my entry for the competition: two translations of boyspeak.

What he says: Is it your time of the month?
What is understood: He thinks I'm being moody, because I'm arguing with him.
What he means: Why won't she just agree with me already?

What he says: You shouldn't listen to your best friend so much.
What is understood: He thinks I'm smarter than her, and that she's bad for my self-esteem.
What he means: I don't like your best friend.

1 I think I wrote it in in April, after reading The Boy Book. Other dates I have written in my diary include the International Day of the Nacho, Europe Day, Anti-Bullying Week, the day the next Sleek eyeshadow palettes are supposed to be in stores, and the birthdays of some of my favourite sadly-deceased writers.

2 An impressive feat, seeing as I first read Diary of a Crush when I was 14, and I only read The Boyfriend List last December.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Book Review: Nobody's Family Is Going To Change, by Louise Fitzhugh

Today is the birthday of one of my favourite childhood authors, Louise Fitzhugh (October 5, 1928 - November 19, 1974). She is most famous for writing the children's classic Harriet the Spy, however, I haven't re-read that recently, so I decided to review it next year. Today I am going to review Nobody's Family Is Going to Change, which I read for the first time last year and mentioned in my guest post on Once Upon a Bookcase for Body Image and Self-Perception Month.

Nobody's Family Is Going to Change has two main characters, Emma and Willie, an eleven year old girl and seven year old boy from a middle-class African American family. Louise Fitzhugh was writing ahead of her time with this novel, which was published in 1974 - their father is a lawyer and the family cook is white. Emancipation 'Emma' Sheridan (what a fabulous name) is passionately in love with the idea of being a lawyer, like her father, but he doesn't approve of women lawyers. Emma's mother tells her that she needs to lose weight and grow up to be beautiful so that she can marry a lawyer. Emma watches court programmes on television, reads law textbooks, and fantasises about being older, taller, and winning cases against her father. Whilst wearing a large, dramatic hat.

Willie wants to be a dancer, like his uncle, Dipsey, his mother's brother. One day he goes to an audition, and gets a part on stage. He is delighted, but again, his father disapproves. Mr Sheridan wants Willie to be a lawyer - he believes that dancing is demeaning. At his age, all Willie can do is beg his mother to intervene on his behalf, but Emma looks elsewhere. One day she finds out about the Children's Army, an activist group for children, and goes to a meeting, reluctantly hoping to find a solution there.

The title of this book is its own spoiler, in a way. This isn't a story in which the parents are proved wrong, and everybody ends up all happy and close at the end. Nobody's Family Is Going to Change is about self-acceptance, and finding other sources of encouragement and support, if those you look to first aren't willing to give any. The Children's Army helps Emma, but not in the way she hoped and expected.

I think it's a great read because the characters are so fantastic yet also flawed. Emma is intelligent and funny but like Harriet M. Welsch, she isn't sweet, nice, or stereotypically girly. Emma is very angry about her situation, and she takes that out on her brother. She is very critical of herself but also other people, which I think is very true to life. If you are constantly judged by other people and found wanting, it's likely that you will take that on board and become very judgemental yourself. Willie is more innocent and good-hearted, but his energy and enthusiasm are tiring and annoying for the other people around him.
I think every child should read Nobody's Family Is Going to Change, because even if their family is perfectly lovely and supportive of who they are and what they want to do, most people will at some point in their lives have to put up with friends, classmates, co-workers or other people, with fixed opinions about what they should be.

If you need more encouragement to read Nobody's Family Is Going to Change, a one-star Amazon review called it 'a dangerously subversive book'.

You can find out more about Louise Fitzhugh and her books on Wikipedia and at the fansite Purple Socks.

The podcast This American Life has an episode inspired by this book. You may want to read the book first though, because the podcast includes a quote which I think will have more impact if you read all that's leading up to it.

The BookDepository

Monday, October 04, 2010

Monday Amusements: The Book Edition

Over on this second's obsession, I, somewhere between regularly and occasionally, post a Monday round-up of relevant links, and it struck me a couple of months ago that I could do the same thing here. I've finally got around to it, hurray!

Isn't this bookplate awesome? It was made by Michel Fingesten (1884 - 1943) for Gianni Mantero, and you can see more from the same artist at A Journey Round My Skull.

How do you feel about bookplates? Although I did like being able to write my name on the This book belongs to... pages of books I had as a kid, I don't think I could bring myself to stick a bookplate into a book now. However, I could happily put them on or inside the front cover of notebooks. If you like them, draw! pilgrim has provided some bright, modern bookplates to download for this post at Frecklewonder (via How About Orange). Alternatively, Design*Sponge has a tutorial and printable bookplates of a more intricate and old-fashioned, slightly macabre style.

I usually find it partly horrifying and partly hilarious when a general news website or paper publishes anything about teen/YA literature. You know the articles. The writer has read no more than three, maybe five, YA books published in the last decade, and has decided to write an opinion piece about how bad they thought they all were, lamenting the 'fact' that nothing decent is being written for that age group. Twilight's feminist backlash has a terrible title, implying that all the books recommended were written as a response to The Saga (as I've taken to calling it) when I'm sure none of them actually were. But it does have interesting suggestions. Don't read the comments though, they'll make you want to hit things.

If you like reading about great historical women, enter the f word's competition to win a free online subscription to HerStoria magazine. All you have to do is leave a comment about your favourite under-recognised woman in history, but hurry, the contest closes tomorrow!

Bored of plain MDF bookshelves? WebUrbanist suggests 15 (More!) Unusually Brilliant Book Shelving Systems. I like the multi-functional shelf.

If apostrophe misuse really frustrates you, open the video for The Apostrophe Song in a tab, then look at something else whilst you listen.

Having gone to see Andrea Levy speak whilst at university, I really enjoyed this interview at Words Unlimited.

Finally, the national children's charity Bullying UK faces closure due to a funding crisis. Their website describes many easy, low-cost ways to help them.


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