Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti (9781534426979)
Sydney is the daughter of the famous Lila Shore, an actress who did an iconic sex scene. Sydney lives most of the year in Seattle attending a private school, living in a dorm, and visiting her grandmother. But over the summer, Sydney heads to San Francisco to spend months with her mother, who never seems to actually have time to spend with Sydney. Lila lives in Jake’s house, dating him and staying for free. It’s a house near the beach with cliff views, a house that is often fogged in, a house full of secrets and violence. Jake pays a lot of attention to Sydney, as does a construction worker at a neighboring house. Sydney is creeped out by the sudden attention to what she is wearing, how she looks and innuendos about what she does. However, she doesn’t mind the attention from Nicco, a sweet boy she meets on the beach, who captures lines and moments from each day in his journal. As the summer goes on though, the tension grows towards a foreshadowed tragedy that is almost inevitable.
In this slow burn of of thriller mystery, Caletti focuses on how unwanted male attention impacts teen girls, both in the way they act but even more importantly on the way they view themselves. With an even brighter light than our general society, Caletti uses the intensity of fame to capture society’s objectification of women and finding value in the physical rather than the internal.
The book works on several levels with the thriller being steadily foreshadowed by the court documents listed at the beginning of each chapter. The mystery of what happened, the steadily build of tension, and the intensity of the revealing scene. It also works as a deep work of feminist literature, insisting that the reader notice what is going on, notice the impact that male attention has, and notice that something must be done to change this.
An intense feminist novel for teens that insists on being noticed. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon Pulse.
Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742377)
Bisou knows the cruelty of men, having found her mother dead at the hands of her father when she was a small child. She was taken in by her grandmother, a strong woman who lives a solitary and simple life in Seattle. Bisou lives much the same way, having few friends until she starts to date. Everything changes when on the night of homecoming, she runs from her boyfriend and finds herself alone in the woods and being stalked by a wolf. When she defends herself and the wolf lies dead, she heads home. The next day she hears of a boy found dead in the woods from the same injuries as the wolf she killed. Bisou soon discovers her family history, the tale of her grandmother, and the power of being a hunter.
Arnold has taken the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and turned it forcefully on its head. Her writing is heart-pounding and fast paced yet also takes its time to create settings and characters that are vivid on the page. She takes elements of traditional societal shame and makes them part of Bisou’s power, including menstruation. The book also captures sex scenes where there is no consequences other than pleasure for Bisou, something that is so rare in teen fiction that it is noteworthy.
Arnold’s deep look at family violence and sexual predators doesn’t pull any punches or many any excuses. Bisou instead of being the prey becomes the hunter, called out of her bed by the moon. With ties to both fantasy and elements of allegory, this novel is dark and bloody, just right to be relished by young feminists.
Strongly written, violent and triumphant, this novel is tremendous. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.
Chirp by Kate Messner (9781547602810)
Mia is moving to Vermont where her grandmother has a cricket farm. Her arm is still recovering from being broken after a fall from a balance beam, but her mother insists that she go to summer camps. Mia chooses to attend a maker camp and also a warrior camp that will have her climbing rock walls and swinging from rings. As Mia makes new friends and finds new fans for her grandmother’s cricket treats, she is also helping by making a business plan for her grandmother’s farm. There are strange things happening at the farm though as disaster after disaster befalls the delicate crickets. Her grandmother insists that she is being sabotaged, but could her grandmother actually be losing her memory? Mia and her friends tackle the mystery, build up the business, and learn to speak out along the way too.
Messner writes a middle grade novel that neatly embeds sexual harassment and abuse information into the story. In fact, that is at the heart of Mia’s injury and also at the heart of many women and girls that are in the book too. This book is deeply about survival as a girl, a woman and as a cricket. It’s about finding your voice, using your power and finding ways to get justice. It is also about the incredible bravery it takes to be a survivor, whether you have spoken out yet or not.
Messner has written a compelling mystery to solve alongside the social justice. There are great suspects, more than one potential reason for the problems, and finally a dramatic resolution as well. Add in a science competition and you have one amazing Vermont summer filled with the crunch of crickets.
A great look at friendship, speaking out and taking back power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
The Amelia Bloomer Project will now be known as Rise: A Feminist Book Project for ages 0-18. The project continues to be part of the Feminist Task Force and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. Here are the Top Ten books chosen for 2020:
At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, Illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre
A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy, Illustrated by Kayla Harren
Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, Illustrated by Hatem Aly
Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, Illustrated by Tonya Engel
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Surviving the City, Vol. 1 by Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mjia
What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (9780698195264)
On the 20th anniversary year of her ground-breaking teen novel Speak, Anderson has written a searing book of poetry that chronicles her own journey to having a voice and speaking out. Thanks to the subject matter of Speak, Anderson is trusted by many of the teens she speaks before to hear their own stories of abuse and rape. Surely over the decades, something has changed. Has it? In this nonfiction work of verse, Anderson opens up about her own childhood and parents, her own experience with sexual assault and rape, the sexual harassment of college campuses from students and professors alike, and so much more. Her book is a call to action, to rage alongside her, and to not be silent.
Anderson’s poetry slams into you like a freight train. She does have some poems that are subtle and more introspective, but the ones that rush and insist are the best here. Her anger fuels this entire book, her call to be better, to raise sons who do right, to speak and shout and yell. She is so honest on these pages, allowing the teens and others who have spoken to her to have space in the book too. In a book that could have felt like too much pain, it is instead action oriented and forceful.
Anderson’s verse is incredibly skilled. She tells poignant stories, both her own and other people’s. She shares insights, yells at those she evaded once, demands changes and shows how very vital one angry voice can be for change. This is a book that every woman should read, teens and adults. It’s one to return to for fuel to fight on when you are spent.
Brilliant, courageous and heart breaking, this book is one that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Penguin Young Readers.
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan (9781547600083)
Even though they attend a high school focused on social justice, best friends Chelsea and Jasmine are sick and tired of the way that women are treated there. The two decide to start a Women’s Rights Club that focuses on girls, race, and speaking out. They convince a teacher to be their advisor and are given a school club blog to post to. They post all sorts of things online. Chelsea is a poet who loves to perform in front of audiences. Jasmine writes essays and short pieces on intersectionality and being a black girl of size. Their club starts getting attention both in and outside of their school. But the principal has some issues with their approach and the response of other students to their message. When the club is shut down, the two friends continue to raise their voices together.
Watson and Hagan have created an incredible feminist book for teens. They have incorporated the names and stories of feminists whose writing is worth checking out too, so young people inspired by this book can look further and learn more. The writing is exceptional, particularly the poetry and essays attributed to the two main characters. They cry out for justice on so many fronts that it is entirely inspiring to read.
The authors created two inspiring young women. There is Jasmine, who is grappling with being a large black girl and the constant microaggressions she faces for both her race and size. Her father is dying of cancer while she may be falling for her best male friend. Chelsea is a white girl who stands up for others, calls out for justice, but also makes big mistakes along the way. She is struggling with being a feminist but also being attracted to a boy who is paying attention to her while dating another girl officially. The two grapple with the ideals they hold dear and not being able to attain them, allowing readers to see two human teens doing their best.
Powerful and engaging, this feminist read is written with strength and conviction. Appropriate for ages 12-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
The Amelia Bloomer Project Committee has selected their annual list of the top books that are “well-written, well-illustrated books for young readers with significant feminist content. Their full list will be coming soon. Right now their top ten picks are available:
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Crush by Svetlana Chmakova
Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather
Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Sugar and Snails by Sarah Tsiang, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (9788417123383)
This lush picture book explores the ways in which all women are princesses and all women are brave. Each woman’s details are shared, including their name, age, profession and what they love most. Then a brief explanation of their bravery is shared with the reader. Each woman is wonderfully different from the others in terms of race, culture, sexuality, being differently abled, and much more.
The entire picture book has a celebratory feeling. Each woman is given a crown in her portrait, one that matches her personality perfectly. Most charming are the small details that are shared, like the physician’s love of hot chocolate and architect’s connection to the sea. The artwork in the picture book is detailed and filled with color. Each woman gets a close-up portrait and then an image showing her with her family and loved ones actively enjoying life.
A diverse and inclusive look at the strength of all women. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Damsel by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742346)
For generations stretching back into time, when the king dies, the prince must head into the wilderness and slay a dragon. He will then rescue the damsel and return home to wed her. Emory succeeds in slaying his dragon and returns home with Ama, the damsel that he has named and saved. Ama remembers nothing about being the dragon’s captive, and slowly learns about the ways of the patriarchal society she finds herself in. She is expected to quickly become interested in dresses and weddings, to spend time indoors and to be quiet and compliant. But Ama has a few lingering memories that surface and retreat. She has a pet lynx that she refuses to give up. And she has no desire to be Emory’s bride or subject herself to his abuses. But what power could a damsel possibly have in this position, given that her rescuer is also the man determined to subjugate her at every turn?
This is one of those YA books that will get people angry. It is one that will turn off entire groups of readers because of triggers like rape and molestation. But it is also a brilliant feminist take on fairy tales and our modern society. It is about power and submission, about risks and compliance, about submission and refusal. The book takes all of the tropes of being a newly-discovered princess and turns them on their head. It looks at the gorgeous gowns, comfortable castle, wealth and prestige. And then it asks dark questions about what is being given up.
Arnold’s writing is lush and gorgeous. Ama is a character who is immensely frustrating. She submits so quickly and complains to little, having just a few things that are dear to her and giving up so much. Readers will find her impossible and yet there is something about her, a snared animal, that makes it difficult to look away. One simply must know the real truth of the book and whether Ama will eventually give in.
A powerful read that will be enjoyed by young feminists looking for a dark read. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.