Review: Girls Like Us

girlslikeuscover

Title: Girls Like Us

Author: Gail Giles

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: May 27, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website

I had no idea what to expect from this book – and I was so, so, so pleasantly surprised.

A brief excerpt from the author’s website:

We understand stuff.  We just learn it slow.  And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way.  And that makes me mad.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door.  When they’re thrown together as roommates in the first “real world” apartments it initially seems like an uneasy fit.  But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces something that on one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought–and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward, together.

Hard-hitting and compassionate, Girls Like Us is a story about growing up in a world that can be cruel and finding the strength–and the support–to carry on.

Girls Like Us shifts in perspective, with Quincy and Biddy telling their story in turns. Both of them are such different characters but yet eventually they find ways that they are able to help each other. I found ways to empathize with both of them throughout the story, as they were likable and relatable in varied ways.

It’s not often that you get a book from the perspective of a person who is mentally challenged in some way – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is one of the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. And for this book to provide insight into two great characters is a privilege. One complaint I noticed in other Goodreads reviews was that certain readers were concerned that the author was trying to push a certain view of these individuals, and that readers might think that all special education students are like Biddy and/or Quincy. I disagree – I think that Gail Giles does a fabulous job of presenting two aspects of what it might be like to live as a person with mental challenges. They certainly aren’t the standard or the mold for everyone, and I think most readers would realize that.

I loved this book because it was so focused on these two female characters, and the older woman who they work for and who grows to care for them, even if she doesn’t always show it in the right way. That the book centered on the friendship between three women of different ages and different abilities completely won me over. Plus, the prose is gorgeous and the story heartfelt. It was hard to read at times because it was so emotionally charged – but it was definitely worth it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Advertisements

On Acting Shakespeare

midsummerfairies

This afternoon was our last performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” so I wanted to take a second to reflect on this whole experience. 

This was my first real opportunity to act in any capacity in two years – the last time I was on stage, it was during my three weeks at Shakespeare’s Globe in London back in 2012. And even that was a non-audition show – we put on “The Taming of the Shrew,” but everyone was cast as a character. In “Midsummer,” I earned my spot as the First Fairy, which made me so, so, so, so proud.

So this was really my first chance to be in a fully costumed, fully staged Shakespearean production. I’ve been in musicals before, but I’ve never had a speaking role larger than two or three lines. In “Midsummer,” I had a whole scene! And a song! It was exhilarating. My practice speaking in front of a classroom full of students has definitely helped me get over much of my stage fright. I always remember my legs shaking and my voice quivering before – but I had no such problems in this show. I guess practice really does work. But more than just realizing that I’m over my stage fright, a few things struck me during this summer experience: 

1. I finally got to put my Globe knowledge and practice to good use. I spent three weeks studying how to properly speak, walk, breathe, act, etc., and at the time I thought, “WOW, this is amazing, but I’ll never need to use this practical stuff because I’m not a theatre major.” I was mostly interested in the historical and literary aspects of Shakespearean study, and the acting was more  of a fun adventure. But because I was cast in this show, I got to showcase my skills. I spoke from the diaphragm and projected my voice; I determined which of the “directions” my character would act in; I focused on the meanings inherent in the sounds of each of the words I spoke. To be quite honest, I pulled off a great performance, and it was thanks to my experience in London ages ago. 

2. I really got to flesh out my character. In shows before, I was always just a secretary (“How to Succeed”), or a townsperson (“Sweeney Todd”), or essentially, a people-prop. Even in “Taming,” I knew I was Petruchio – but I didn’t get to fully develop him as my own character, because so much of my time was spent just practicing my lines and my blocking. But in “Midsummer,” I got to figure out exactly what kind of fairy I was. I was the First Fairy, Titania’s right-hand. I was clearly proud of holding such a high position, even though the hard work exhausted me. I felt like a loving older sister who needed to guide and protect the other, lesser fairies. But if any of them crossed me – oh no. They would not steal my thunder and live to tell the tale. (Actually, the second fairy and I did a lot with our physical acting to play up a rivalry between us – which we could do even without any lines written in. It was great.) I fully developed how the First Fairy would react to everything – and I’ve never felt more in tune with my character. 

3. I experienced the theatrical community within the cast. I don’t have a lot of friends in town, since most of my close friends went to my university but don’t live where I currently do. But I’ve grown to know my fellow cast members so well over these past few months that I feel like I have a community to depend on. Creating something so special together really tied us in a bond that won’t end tonight with the closing of the show. I have a different relationship with every single person in the cast – and especially with my fairies and the Pucks. Hopefully, we’ll get to be together again for the show next summer, and also throughout the year just as friends. But our inside jokes and our shared laughter (and shared misery, on occasion) will be memories I’ll always treasure. In fact, after the show this afternoon, we were joking that we should start a Shakespeare flash mob club where we text each other to show up at a certain spot in town at a certain time just so we can do the show again for fun. That won’t happen – but the fact that we all wished it would is telling of our relationships with one another. 

It’s been a blast. I’ve loved making the audience laugh with my own lines and seeing them laugh at everyone else’s. One of my favorite moments was when Titania is fighting with Oberon and she calls for a fairy – me – and I run on, just before she immediately sends me off and I slowly back off the stage again. I never thought what I did was particularly funny – but the audience cracked up. Every time. So by tonight’s show, I played it up and got the best laughs I’ve gotten all weekend for that part. Seeing everyone’s smiles made me happier. Entertaining people – or really, making them feel anything at all – is a special experience, especially because it’s entertaining people with Shakespeare, which is so dear to my heart. I’m so glad I was able to participate this summer, and I am already looking forward to next year’s show. 

Tara

Presenting: A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

midsummer1

As I mentioned in last month’s catch-up post, I’ve been working all summer with the fine fellows from Shakespeare from the Heart in order to produce “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Tonight is our opening night, so if you live in northwest Indiana, you should come out and see us!

The goal of our troupe is to have fun together making Shakespeare accessible to the general public while also raising money for charity. Our shows are presented at no charge, but should the audience members wish to make a donation, all of the money we receive goes to our charity for the year. This year, we’re focusing on helping the Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic, a clinic in downtown Fort Wayne which provides services for low or no cost to people who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

Showtimes are at 6 pm tonight (July 25), 6 pm tomorrow (July 26), and 2 pm Sunday (July 27).

I’m extraordinarily proud of our cast and what we’ve managed to accomplish in the two months we’ve been working on the show. I still laugh every time we practice the show – it just keeps getting funnier and funnier. As the first fairy, I just have a few lines (plus a song!), but I have had so much fun with these fine actors, whether it be messing with the Pucks backstage or practicing my bubble-blowing with the fairies. Our sense of camaraderie is really like nothing I’ve experienced in a show before, and I think that’s because we all share the same love for Shakespeare and performing.

Yes, this is me as the first fairy - with bonus Pucks making fun of me in the background.

Yes, this is me as the first fairy – with bonus Pucks making fun of me in the background.

If you’re interested in learning more about our group, you can check out the Phoenix Productions website, and while you’re at it, like our Shakespeare from the Heart facebook page! And remember to come see our show if you can.

Tara

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Want With Me on a Deserted Island

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogging meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish.

THIS is a good one. Without any further ado, the top ten characters I would want with me on a deserted island are:

1. Harry Potter (Harry Potter). Reason: MAGIC.

2. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter). Reason: BETTER at magic.

3. Ronald Weasley (Harry Potter). Reason: Might as well have the whole trio.

4. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles). Reason: She could team up with Hermione and between the two of them, they definitely have enough smarts to get us saved.

5. Cress (The Lunar Chronicles). Reason: Also ridiculously clever. And spending time with her on a deserted island would give me the chance to become best friends with her.

6. Nick Carroway (The Great Gatsby). Reason: I just think it would be funny to see him stranded on an island with Harry Potter.

7. Aziraphale (Good Omens). Reason: If magic can’t get us off the island, surely divine intervention can.

8. Crowley (Good Omens). Reason: Because you can’t have half of the pair without the other.

9. Thursday Next (The Eyre Affair). Reason: If magic, futuristic smarts, and divine intervention can’t get us out of our situation, Thursday can come up with some way to save us. I don’t know how. But she’d do it.

10. Hamlet (Hamlet). Reason: Because why not?

Well, that was fun. Who are your ten characters you’d want with you? Let me know in the comments, or link me to your own Top Ten Tuesday post!

Tara

Review: One Man Guy

onemanguycover

Title: One Man Guy

Author: Michael Barakiva

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication Date: May 27, 2014.

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I have extraordinarily strong feelings about this book, so let’s dive right in!

A brief summary from Goodreads:

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

Anyone who has been following my reviews knows how much queer relationships mean to me in YA. Representation is incredibly important, and in One Man Guy, representation takes a huge step forward. Alek and Ethan are, to be quite honest, really freaking adorable. Neither of them play into the typical gay stereotypes, both of them handle their sexuality in different yet realistic ways, and they’re just great characters. Not great gay characters, but characters who are great and also who happen to be in love with someone of the same sex. There’s a difference. (Gay characters, in my opinion, are too often included just because… they’re gay. Their whole personality is centered around their sexuality. I hate it when that happens. Are heterosexual characters treated that way? No. Anyway. Alek and Ethan are great. Moving on.)

Besides the book’s representation of queer relationships, it also contains a great sense of cultural awareness. Michael Barakiva really delves into Armenian culture and background through Alek and his family, and his family history. I’m ashamed to admit it, but before I read this book I had no idea that the Armenian genocide existed. I feel like non-white main characters are few and far between, and I’ve certainly never found a book with an Armenian main character in particular. POC representation is so important too! And One Man Guy does it well.

Other than my love for the characters, which I think I’ve covered fairly well, I adored the comedy in the book, I adored the book’s lightness, I adored how it didn’t end up like I was afraid it was going to. The non-main characters are still complex, Alek and Ethan’s adventures into NYC are a thrill… it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a book, really. Yes, there were some points where the dialogue felt somewhat stilted as if the characters were puppets for Barakiva to address the readers, but on the whole, One Man Guy thoroughly impressed me. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: A Girl Called Fearless

fearlesscover

Title: A Girl Called Fearless

Author: Catherine Linka

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Publication Date: May 6, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

Speculative fiction, plus intensely feminist themes? Yes. Yes, please.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

Avie knows her life is over when her dad “Contracts” her in marriage to millionaire Jessop Hawkins. Hawkins has bought Avie to be his first lady as he runs for governor of California on the Paternalist ticket. But Avie’s lifelong friend, Yates, believes she has the strength to flee to freedom in Canada. As Yates draws her into the secret world of Exodus, their friendship turns to passion, and freedom means leaving Yates and hoping they can reunite over the border.

This romantic spec fiction/political thriller is set in a contemporary America upended by the deaths of millions of women from a hormone in meat. Teenage girls are a valuable and restricted commodity “protected”by guards, gates and Paternal Controls on phones, internet and media. After Avie leaves the mansions of LA and Malibu, she learns dangerous truths about who controls the US government. Pursued by federal agents as she heads for the border, Avie must find the courage Yates always believed she possessed.

In the world that Catharine Linka creates, young women are kept under strict control and sold to the highest bidder. At school, they learn only the art of homemaking – except in Avie’s class, where the girls learn a secret code in which to embroider, their only way of silently protesting and showing solidarity. Avie refuses to surrender her freedom willingly, and takes her life’s path into her own hands when she tries to flee the country to escape the hold that her father, her future husband, and society has on her.

I have nothing else to say but read this book. It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And the political undertones make it that much more meaningful. Interestingly, a note I found on Linka’s website states: “The book was inspired by historical and current events. The story was inspired by asking what if American girls were suddenly forced to live with the same restrictions on their choices that face women in many developing nations in the Middle East and Asia. Plus, I was fascinated by how having an unequal number of females and males (ie China) affects societies, as well as how dowries and bride prices affect human behavior. A Girl Called Fearless embodies exactly what speculative fiction is all about – and besides that, it’s not just a book, but an experience. 

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: The End or Something Like That

theendcover

Title: The End or Something Like That

Author: Ann Dee Ellis

Publisher: Dial Books

Publication Date: May 1, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s twitter / Author’s website

This particular cover caught my interest when I noticed it on the “New Arrivals” shelf at my local Barnes and Noble awhile back. I had high hopes, but unfortunately they went unmet.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

Emmy’s best friend Kim had promised to visit from the afterlife after she died. But so far Kim hasn’t shown up even once. Emmy blames herself for not believing hard enough. Finally, as the one-year anniversary of Kim’s death approaches, Emmy is visited by a ghost—but it’s not Kim. It’s Emmy’s awful dead science teacher. Emmy can’t help but think that she’s failed at being a true friend. But as more ghosts appear, she starts to realize that she’s not alone in her pain. Kim would have wanted her to move forward—and to do that, Emmy needs to start letting go.

This book threw me for a loop, mostly because, like the summary mentions, Emmy – the main character – begins seeing ghosts. For no discernible reason. And unlike the summary suggests, the ghosts really, to my mind, serve no purpose. Its the human characters who seem to make the most difference in Emmy’s life. I wasn’t actual entirely sure she was seeing ghosts (I thought she might be having hallucinations) but no, it seems like the book is sorted as “paranormal” on Goodreads.

Other than that, if you’ll notice – the summary is rather short. That’s because very little actually happens. Emmy mourns Kim… she mourns Kim some more… she tries to find Kim’s ghost… she tries again… et cetera, ad infinitum. I got bored after a while, as you might have guessed.

Still, I ended up rating the book 3 out of 5 stars because Emmy’s voice is raw and honest. She struggles with coming to terms with the loss of her best friend, and also with the moments before her best friend’s passing. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that coping with loss, and dealing with regret, are incredibly relatable – and I felt for Emmy. The story as a whole, while repetitive and confusing in parts, was also emotionally real. I wish Ellis had focused more on that emotional aspect rather than pushing the paranormal.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Top Ten Tuesday: Blogging Confessions

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogging meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish.

It’s a bit late in the evening, but I still wanted to participate in this week’s theme: top ten blogging confessions! I’m going to keep them short and sweet.

1. I change around the order of my queued reviews all the time, usually because I’ve written on my “Reviews” page that a certain book review will be posted first but I haven’t written it yet.

2. I have been trying not to post too many reviews in a row because seeing “Review: [Title]” in my right sidebar too many times annoys me.

3. When I go to the library, I immediately go to the “New Releases” shelf and typically check out everything that’s been released within the past two months, just so I have something to review, no matter what the book is about or if it looks interesting to me (and then usually I won’t read half of them, but at least I have the option).

4. I’ve been considering starting a new segment that highlights area bookstores but I’m afraid I’d run out after maybe three posts.

5. I follow a lot of book blogs and I try to read their reviews as often as possible, but if the first few words don’t catch my attention on my dashboard, I don’t bother.

6. Sometimes I’ll have a draft of a post open in a tab for weeks before I actually get around to finishing it.

7. Poor font choice kills me so I’m overly anxious about all of the fonts on my blog – all the time. Even covers with bad fonts make me want to pass up reviewing them because I don’t want the photo of the cover on my blog.

8. In reality, I have very few followers (just 59 right now) and I wish I had more, but I don’t know what I can do to increase traffic. Still, every time I remember that there’s the potential for 59 people to read one of my book reviews, it blows me away.

9. I want to write a post about my senior honors thesis but I’m worried it won’t be interesting to anyone but me.

10. I never thought I’d enjoy book blogging so much!

Feel free to share your own blogging confessions with me below! Or post your own Top Ten Tuesday (just remember to link back to The Broke and the Bookish).

Tara

Review: Subway Love

subwaycover

Title: Subway Love

Author: Nora Raleigh Baskin

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

Who doesn’t love a good time-crossing romance? I picked this up solely because it was new and I needed something to review. But after reading just a few pages, I realized that this would be one of those books that can’t help but leave a lasting impact – in a good way.

A brief summary from Goodreads:

If her parents had never divorced, Laura wouldn’t have to live in the shadow of Bruce, her mom’s unpredictable boyfriend. Her mom wouldn’t say things like “Be groovy,” and Laura wouldn’t panic every weekend on the way to Dad’s Manhattan apartment. But when Laura spots a boy on a facing platform, lifting a camera to his face, looking right at her, Laura feels anything but afraid, and she can’t forget him. Jonas, meanwhile, thinks nonstop about the pretty hippie girl he glimpsed on the platform — trying to comprehend how she vanished, but mostly wondering whether he will see her again in a city of millions — and whether if he searches, he would have any chance of finding her. In a lyrical meditation on love, Nora Raleigh Baskin explores the soul’s ability to connect, and heal, outside the bounds of time and reason.

In case it’s not clear from the summary – Jonas is from present-day. Laura is from 1973. But for some reason, their paths can cross – on a graffiti-covered NYC subway car. The author never comes out and says “TIME TRAVEL” or “SCIENCE” or “MAGIC” – the characters just slowly realize that they aren’t from the same time and place, and then accept it and work through it. It’s a bit like magic realism for that reason, and it really tickled my fancy.

Their relationship definitely starts out as love at first sight, but quickly grows into something more. Jonas and Laura have similar parental struggles and come to find that they can depend on each other for support. More than that, though, they have a connection – and Jonas even theorizes that they’re besherts, a mythical type of soulmate.

Max – a.k.a. Spike, a.k.a. Zippo, etc. – is a graffiti artist who tags the cars that Jonas can reach Laura through, and plays an important part in carrying the themes of the story as well. I loved Max’s inclusion in the plot and I think his addition filled out the love story. Art, freedom, and choices – these are all touched on both explicitly and implicitly throughout the text, which made it worthwhile to read. I do love a good romance but I love a meaningful romance even more.

I like to read through Goodreads reviews to get a feel for what other people thought, especially when the average star rating doesn’t match my own. Other readers seemed to complain that the ending of the book felt unfinished, with too many things left unexplained. In my own opinion, the poetic third-person narrative left just enough to the imagination. I feel like the readers can genuinely decide for themselves what they wanted to believe, especially in the last scene, which is a powerful opportunity.

The seamless crossing of timelines was brilliant. Jonas and Laura’s raw and constantly developing relationship was brilliant. The inclusion of thought-provoking themes and ideas was brilliant. I loved this book to pieces, and I’ll definitely be reading it again.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Life by Committee

lbccover

Title: Life by Committee

Author: Corey Ann Haydu

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

This book caught my eye at the library, especially after I’d heard such great things about Corey Ann Haydu’s other book, OCD Love Story, which I haven’t read yet. But Life By Committee sounded like just the sort of summer read I was looking for.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat.

Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.

Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe. Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own. But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?

Tabitha is cast out by her friends when she begins to exhibit more typically feminine behavior in high school, which made me sympathetic towards her. She doesn’t quite understand why her friends dropped her like a hot potato (my guess is that jealousy was playing a part), and to be bullied by girls who aren’t popular in the slightest is something I haven’t seen much of in YA fiction. Friendless and struggling, she stumbles across an online community where the close-knit (and anonymous) members post secrets, then receive challenges they have to complete in order to keep their secrets secret.

I liked the concept – and I think that it did well showing what varied secret lives people can have and at what lengths they’ll go to keep those secrets from coming to light, as well as showing the psychological power of a community setting. One problem I had with this, though, is that everyone was anonymous, so how did they thing their secrets were going to get spilled in the first place? It didn’t make much sense, but if you glossed over the logistics, it was fabulous. Another downside of the book is that it felt too overly dramatic at times. I appreciated that Tabitha was a flawed protagonist, but some of the things she did and the ways she reacted were just plain stupid. Also, the relationship drama was over the top, big time.

That being said, I did love the struggles the characters faced while coming to terms with themselves. There’s one scene near the end of the book that was particularly striking – but I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just leave it at that. The mood of the book was intense but also funny, mostly due to Tabitha’s first-person voice.

I still have slightly higher hopes for OCD Love Story, but overall, this one wasn’t half bad. I read it in one sitting because I enjoyed the story so much – and while it was definitely fluffier than substantive, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun yet touching read.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara