Saturday, 22 August 2015

No One Needs To Know: Everyone Should Know About This Book

A Review By: Amelia
Young adult novels can be a treasure trove of clichés and exhausted tropes but they can also be a place where authors have free rein to explore more adult or taboo topics in contexts that show imagination and diversity. It can create some very interesting books. No One Needs To Know is one of those books and it tackles, perhaps, one of the biggest taboos a teenager can face: figuring out your sexuality.

The author of No One Needs To Know is Amanda Grace (the pen name for Mandy Hubbard). She’s the author of three other young adult novels, and a literary agent at D4EO Literary who specializes in middle grade/young adult fiction.

I’d like to start this overview by saying that the blurb on the book of the book and what the book is actually are very different. The back of the book implies there’s higher stakes than there really are with a cheating love triangle and the possibility of the twins growing to hate each other over Zoey but that’s far from what this book is! Let me tell you actually what it is.

Olivia’s twin brother, Liam, has been her best friend her whole life, but when their parents begin to spend months away from home and Liam begins to date, Olivia is left feeling alone. Not to mention adequate as she struggles to maintain a passable GPA in her girl’s private school and her coveted spot on the gymnastics team. Things seem to get worse for her as she’s partnered in class with Zoey, her best friend’s hated rival, and then meets Liam’s latest fling: also Zoey.

Zoey, a call-it-like-she-sees-it kind of girl, sees right through Olivia. What starts as verbal sparring between the two changes into something different, however, as they share their deepest insecurities and learn they have a lot in common. Olivia falls for Zoey, believing her brother could never get serious with her. But when Liam confesses that he’s in love with Zoey and doesn’t want her to be only a passing fling, Olivia is left feeling torn.

Like I mentioned above, young adult literature can end up being full of tired tropes and, although No One Needs To Know is able to do a lot of things really well, Grace’s three main characters Liam, Olivia, and Zoey, are underdeveloped. You do get some nice snippets of their personalities throughout the piece but they all fall under some very tired clichés: Olivia is an uptight, spoiled rich girl, Liam her chill twin brother that never has to work hard at being perfect, and Zoey, the rough girl from a troubled family in the bad part of town but goes to the private school on a scholarship because she’s really smart. Overall, I’d say Zoey is the most clichéd with her wrong side of tracks upbringing, and the many rumors surrounding her (she’s a slut for reasons that later turn out to be a big misunderstanding) and Liam–poor Liam! You hardly get a damn thing about him other that he’s the favourite twin and a chill dude with girls and beer on his mind! Surprisingly, Olivia turned out to be my favourite character. Even though I’m sick to death of the rich girl trope I always get a kick out of seeing them turn away from what they’ve been taught to just be themselves. Olivia more or less turns her whole life on its head from dropping out of activities her parents pressure in, to coming to terms with her sexuality. She had the most development throughout the story and it really shows compared to the other two main characters.

The most impressive thing about this novel is the grace in which the attraction between the girls is handled. It’s a taboo topic that many people struggle with, and Zoey and Olivia are no different in that regard. However, where some writers might have trouble convaying the complexities of non-hetro, teenage sexuality, Grace approaches it in a subtle and very organic way without a ridiculous amount of crazy or hurtful drama.

My final thoughts on No One Needs To Know are that it’s a great read. It’s compelling enough to read all in one seating with beautifully complex characters and a really touching, realistic love story that develops between the main characters. It’s young adult fiction at its best and should not be overlooked just because it was written for a younger audience!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Bedwitter: Don’t Let the Title Put You Off, Only About Half the Book Is About Pee

A Review By: Amelia
I’m not a huge fan of comedians that put on a fake persona to deliver their act. Take Stephen Colbert as the biggest example (in my own experience) that instantly comes to mind: charming nerd-man who really likes Lord of the Rings in real life vs. so bloody annoying when he does his patriotic, hard-ass act on the now no longer running Colbert Report! That act has made it impossible for me to like who he actually is because all I see is the act! For a long time, that’s how I felt about Sarah Silverman. I couldn’t get past her racist/sexist/crude jokes so I just avoided her. I don’t know what made me want to read her book all that considered, but I did, and came out of the experience pleasantly surprised!

So, what’s this book about? Well, considering how I didn’t like Sarah Silverman before picking this book up, I’ll give you exactly what I read that made me want to read it!
Warning from publisher to reader:
At HarperCollins, we are committed to customer satisfaction. Before proceeding with your purchase, please take the following questionnaire to determine your likelihood of enjoying this book:
1. Which of the following do you appreciate?
     (a) Women with somewhat horse-ish facial features.
     (b) Women who, while not super Jew-y, are more identifiably Jewish than, say, Natalie
     (c) Frequent discussion of unwanted body hair.
2. Are you offended by the following behavior?
     (a) Instructing one's grandmother to place baked goods in her rectal cavity.
     (b) Stripping naked in public—eleven times in a row.
     (c) Stabbing one's boss in the head with a writing implement.
3. The best way to treat an emotionally fragile young girl is:
     (a) Murder the main course of her Thanksgiving dinner before her very eyes.
     (b) Tell her that her older sister is prettier than she, and then immediately die.
     (c) Prevent her suicide by recommending she stay away from open windows.
If you read the above questions without getting nauseous or forming a hate Web site, you are ready to buy this book! Please proceed to the cashier.
Can we talk about how clever this is? So self-deprecating and who doesn’t love a little self-hate every now and again?

So what’s Sarah Silverman all about? Well, she’s an American, Jewish stand-up comedian/actress. She has a satirical style rolled in sarcasm and dipped in irony that bluntly and crudely goes about social taboos like racism, sexism, and religion. Left to describe herself, she says she loves dogs, New York, television, children, friendship, sex, laughing, heartbreaking songs, marijuana, farts, and cuddling!

The Bedwetter, as mentioned above in the multiple choice questions, is a memoir that follows Silverman through her entire life. And I do mean her entire life. She goes into so many details many would consider so embarrassing they’d take them to their graves! She talks about her childhood and her relationship with her parents and how they fostered the love of comedy in her by laughing when she yelled the word ‘fuck’ as a toddler, her years of struggling with a bedwetting problem. Her teenage years were full of continued bedwetting and almost dropping out of high school because of depression and her co-dependent relationship with Xanax because of the depression. Then we get into her adult life and how she moved to New York and handed out flyers for a comedy club she would then perform at. She talks about her sex life and her crazy relationships with other comedians (Louis C.K. being one of her best friends).

What’s so interesting about Silverman’s life story is that she offers an in-depth look at her life without the rose-coloured glasses that so many others have while recalling their lives. It’s a very honest memoir and that is, by far, it’s greatest strength. With so many other comedian memoirs out there, The Bedwetter stands out as one of the most direct and open.

My final thoughts on The Bedwetter are that you should give it a chance and read it! I didn’t give it a chance until some five years after its release because I hated the title and thought I hated the author! I regret that decision dearly because this really is a great memoir full of such honesty that you’ll either cringe and want to keep reading, or laugh out loud and want to keep reading! Either way, you’ll want to read it!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Bumperhead: Ghost World 2.0 (Meaning, Yet Another ‘Deep’ Comic I Hated)

A Review By: Amelia
I’m a fan of comics. I prefer mainstream DC comics the most but I sometimes veer into independent comics like Bumperhead. Now, when I had first heard about Bumperhead I was told it was a story about a punk kid living a lonely life. I was intrigued. When I read it I unfortunately didn’t get anything that I thought the story was about and, while this can sometimes be a surprising twist, it wasn’t here. Needless to say, this isn’t going to be a flattering review by me because I did not enjoy this gloomy tale in the least... Well, let’s get going so I can explain why.

Bumperhead is a story about a kid  named Bobby, a young slacker who narrates his life as it happens but offers very little reflection on the events that transpire.  He comes of age in the 1970s, making a rapid progression through that era’s different subcultures as he drifts in and out of relationships with friends. Life zooms past him. And... that’s it. The whole story is just about Bobby’s rather depressing and completely dull life.

Gilbert Hernández’s is a prominent comic author. In Hernández’s own words, he was “born into a world with comic books in the house” and his childhood enthusiasm for the medium was equaled only by his appetite for punk rock. Initiated by older brother Mario and bankrolled by younger brother Ismael, Gilbert created Love and Rockets #1 with his brother Jaime in 1981. Over 30 years later, the series is regarded as a modern classic and the Hernandez brothers continue to create comics.

Now then, back to the issue at hand: Bumperhead and, more specifically, its characters. The main one being Bobby. Bobby is an everyman character and the book follows the stages of his dreary life from middle school to middle age. He weaves from one trend to another, be it glam rock or punk or drugs or relationships, and he messes it all up at every turn. He lacks any direction in his life and it just gets worse and worse. Although it’s not that tragedies befall him, it’s just that he’s completely wasting his life! He’s a sad character, but because he’s got just so little going on, he’s not intriguingly sad. He’s flat even though he’s supposed to be this character full of adolescent rage and rawness–God, he’s just so goddamn boring! Is that the point of the story? Quite possibly. But who cares when you can’t get behind the character in any way, shape, or form?

The art style of the piece is a simple, black and white line art style. There’s little detail in backgrounds and even less detail in the characters. It works for this particular comic although I’m not a fan of it personally. I’m always drawn more to full colour and insane amounts of tiny details. It’s just yet another aspect of this comic that I couldn’t get behind or care about in any way!

This comic is unabashedly one that’s trying to be deep. And hell, maybe it was deep and intriguing and original for 99% of the readers that picked it up, but it wasn’t for me. The themes or regret and loss and even a little PTSD and trust issues are prominent but with a main character doing so little to deal with it all, it all becomes muddled. These heavy themes are suddenly meaningless and empty. It’s depressing: and not in the way I think the author was going for.

When it comes down to it, I think that Bumperhead, much like Ghost World, is a comic I just didn’t get and that’s why I didn’t enjoy it. I think there’s supposed to be something deeper that I just didn’t pick up on because it just didn’t personally speak or appeal to me!

My final thoughts on Bumperhead are that it definitely isn’t anything I’ll ever re-read. I doubt I’d ever read any other of Hernández’s work either if they’re all approached like Bumperhead was. Give it a shot if you enjoyed Ghost World but avoid otherwise.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

I Am Apache: Historical Fiction With A Young Adult Spark

A Review By: Amelia
While writing a story in which I had an Apache character I discovered I knew next to nothing about the Apache people and since I never want to be a writer that includes a culture in a story without knowing anything about them, I decided to do a whole bunch of research. That’s how I came upon the book I Am Apache. It’s a fictional account of a female Apache warrior but the insight and entertainment it gave me was immense!

Put very simply, I Am Apache is a tale about a teenage girl named Siki. When Siki’s brother is viciously killed she shuns the usual life of an Apache woman and trains to become a warrior to avenge him.

The author of I Am Apache is Tanya Landman. She studied English literature and then worked in a bookshop, an arts centre, and a zoo. For over twenty years she’s been a writer, an administrator, and a performer for Storybox Theatre.

So, what’s the story about? After watching helplessly as Mexican raiders brutally murder her little brother, fourteen-year-old Siki is filled with a desire for vengeance and chooses to turn away from a woman’s path to become a warrior of her Apache tribe. Siki describes her nineteenth-century Apache life through the events of her teen years, from her young brother’s death, through her work to become a full-fledged warrior, and to the death of her mentor, Golahka. Interactions among Siki’s own people, including her rogue peer who leaves the tribe rather than submit to its code of honor, and Siki’s own acceptance as a female warrior, and those between the Apache, the Mexicans, and the “White Eyes,” who destroy the old ways of the native peoples, are woven skillfully into the action of traditional Apache sports, spontaneous relationships, and retribution through warfare.

The main protagonist of the piece, as mentioned above, is a teenage girl named Siki, who Landman used the tale of the woman that fought alongside Geronimo as the kernel of inspiration for. She’s an outcast to start with, not really being able to do traditional woman things like weaving and clothes making and it really makes you feel for her as you watch her struggle to find where she belongs within her tribe. When her little brother is heartlessly slaughtered she turns away from a woman’s path completely and trains to become a warrior of her mountain dwelling Apache tribe, which, although uncommon, was acceptable for women to do. Siki struggles all through the novel and ends up coming off a little self-centred and hasty but it makes her a character with depth and you don’t end up holding her bad qualities against her. Aside from Siki, there’s no other big protagonists, the antagonists however are numerous. The Mexican’s that slaughtered her brother are the first but are quickly dealt with and they become replaced with Keste, a jealous male warrior that doesn’t want Siki training with him, and then the white colonialism of the west (more or an abstract concept than a flesh and blood bad guy, but you get the point), and then Siki’s own father and her identity become a major harassing force. It was interesting to get so many threats throughout the story instead of just one, it made it all varied and real feeling, since in the nineteenth century this is what Apache tribes were living and dealing with.

When looking at the story overall, the fact that Landman based Siki on a real woman who lived and fought alongside the mighty warrior Geronimo makes everything feel very authentic. Some of the other characters in the piece are a little lacking or one-dimensional but I didn’t find that it took away from the overall story, especially since Landman has such an eloquent and dignified voice through Siki’s first person and how she manages to raise a lot of psychological and sociopolitical questions that create empathy and will definitely improve your understanding of Apache culture.

My final thoughts on I Am Apache are that it is an engaging book. This well-written novel will appeal to, not only, historical fiction or western readers but all genre readers. The main protagonist is interesting and her story is compelling and will keep you reading until the end!