Review: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

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.

 

Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

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.

Review: Speak the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll (9780374300289)

The original novel Speak came out almost twenty years ago and is such a masterpiece of teen writing that I hesitated to read it in graphic novel form. Somehow though, the graphic novel captures the novel with a darkness that is beautiful and troubling at the same time. It has the same tone, the same damage on the page. Sadly it is just as relevant today during the #metoo movement as it was two decades ago.

Removing the bulk of Anderson’s skilled text had to be a gargantuan task in itself. The result is a pared down book that loses nothing of the powerful story. The imagery of trees plays throughout the book as does the use of dark and light on the page. It is a haunting and haunted book of a girl unable to speak about what happened to her. This new version will make the story more accessible for those teens who enjoy a great graphic novel rather than a great text novel. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

It’s a groundbreaking novel made into one of the most powerful graphic novels I have read. Get your hands on this one, get it into the hands of teens. Appropriate for ages 13+.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux. 

 

Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee (9781481476560)

Will has discovered that walking the streets of Los Angeles helps him stop thinking about the tragedies in his life. After his father’s suicide, he is trying to find a new rhythm to his life and it seems to be filled with long walks, ones that keep him from being at home too much or visiting the places he went with his father. When Will is home, he works to perfect his father’s cornbread recipe, but nothing seems to improve it at all. Then there is the other thing that he is avoiding, his best friend Playa was raped at a party. Will has no idea how to help her or make it better. So he takes his job at the Dollar Store and turns it into a way to reach out into the world and make connections with Playa and others. Small acts of kindness that allow him to break through the walls he has placed around himself, if he dares.

This book is steeped in sadness to profound that you almost expect your skin to come away tinted with blue. McGhee captures those traumas that are so deep that one cannot deal in a normal way, but only manage to escape in whatever way is possible. In the middle of this sadness is the amazing character of Will, a boy searching for connections while refusing to see those right in front of him. A boy who sees moments of awe and humanity in people that almost bring him to his knees. McGhee shows us all of these with a tenderness that honors his pain and also brings hope.

The writing here is beautiful. Written in small bite-sized pieces accompanied by calligraphy on the opposite page done in gentle grays, these small moments are magnified and made into important life events, as they are. And yet, the importance is an everyday one, a day-by-day one. That is the hope here.

Tender, profound and tragic, this book for teens is cathartic and hopeful. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (9780735232112)

This strong and intense verse novel tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter born in sixteenth-century Rome. This fictional account is based on her true story of working in her father’s art studio and becoming more skilled than him in her late teens. As her father brought in a teacher for her, Artemisia first enjoyed his company and then it became something else entirely. Raped by her teacher, Artemisia has to decide whether to stay silent or try to fight back in the limited ways that she could. With her dead mother’s stories of two strong women from history to inspire her, Artemisia did accuse her rapist and found justice hard to come by but worth fighting for.

Told in Artemisia’s own voice, this verse novel is entirely captivating. Firmly feminist in tone and content, the reader learns not only of Artemisia but also of Judith and Susanna, two historical figures who found their own way to justice. Perfectly timed with the #MeToo movement, this novel calls for women to understand their own strength and find their own voices.

Throughout the book, even with the anger and aggravating unfairness of the time, the book has beautifully soft moments filled with art and creativity. Yet it is firmly footed in reality and doesn’t sugarcoat or turn away from impossible choices, horrible violence, and the importance of strength even when you feel weakest.

A necessary and vital call to action, this book shows that women have stood up all the way through history and their voices will not be ignored. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Exit Pursued by a Bear by EK Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (InfoSoup)

Hermione is headed into her senior year as the co-captain of her school’s cheerleading team. At her school, cheering is more important and more prestigious than the sports themselves. She’s dating one of the boys on the squad and they are all at summer cheerleading camp getting ready for the competitions coming up, knowing that they are probably heading for nationals again. The safety of Hermione’s world is shattered when she is drugged at the camp’s dance party and then raped near the lake. She is found unconscious on the lake shore, half in the water. Hermione must now face being the victim rather than the queen bee, a label that does not sit well for her. She must also wait for a pregnancy test and the decisions that that will bring with it. Hermione fights not to be defined by what has happened to her and to find her footing again so that she can still fly.

Johnston, author of The Story of Owen, once again sets a teen novel firmly in Canada, though this time not in a fictional Canada at all. Instead this book is richly real, a book for teens about a rape where it does not consume the victim or define her life. It’s a book where Hermione’s family and friends come forward to support her, never to question her own role in the attack, never to push her feelings and emotions aside, but to support her completely. A mention must be made of Polly, Hermione’s best friend who is a zingy mix of support and healthy attitude, exactly the friend you want at your side. This novel is a guidebook to how we should be treating assault survivors, not as victims but as survivors who should have our support not our pity.

Johnston takes it one step further and also has Hermione get an abortion. It was at this point in the novel that I found myself entirely overcome. Johnston writes about a Canadian abortion system, one that Americans will have problems relating to due to its ease. Still, there are emotions here, ones that are not questioning Hermione’s decision or situation at all. The emotions are large because here is another sisterhood that Hermione is a part of. It’s not dramatic for any effect or statement, it’s dramatic simply because it is. Because it’s necessary. Because it’s a choice being made. And that is so beautiful and moving.

Immensely powerful and empowering, this novel has so much to say to teens in our world. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library book.

Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage by Courtney Summers (InfoSoup)

When Romy is raped at a party after having too much to drink, no one believes her that it happened. After all, she accused the sheriff’s oldest son and she’s the daughter of the town drunk. A year later, Romy has tried to put her life back together. She and her mother have moved in with her mother’s new boyfriend and her alcoholic father has left town. Romy works at a diner where no one knows about the scandal that she was involved in. But all is not good, she is bullied mercilessly at school for the “lie” that she told and she can’t trust anyone at her high school to have her back. Romance starts to bloom with the cook at the diner, a boy whom Romy is not sure she can trust and knows that she can’t let anyone at her hometown know about. As the annual senior party approaches, Romy knows she can’t attend but news that another girl may have been raped in a neighboring town sends her into a downward spiral, one that she may not survive.

This is one incredible read. The prose is beautiful, roaming and wild with a lusciousness that lingers in the mind. Summers makes the act of putting on finger polish and lipstick into one of battle paint and bravery. She also has a distinct feminist point of view that is a delight to read, one that shows the violence towards women and girls and rejects the notion that women are to be used and thrown away. She does that all by having a story where women are abused, raped, objectified and thrown away and where girls are called names, bullied and beaten. It is a story that is brutal in its fierce honesty and burning with anger at what we are allowing to happen to ourselves.

Romy is a spectacular heroine. She is a ball of ferocious pain, painted with makeup that allows her to control things, searching for a way to be a new person and finding it impossible to leave her anger and herself behind. Add to the appeal an African-American love interest where that is not the issue at the heart of the book. And a mother who is involved and cares deeply but is unable to save her daughter from the world they live in together. And a stepfather who is kind and lovely, disabled and disrespected. These people make up Romy’s family and heart. They hold her together when she cannot, though she fights to stand alone always.

A piercingly compelling read, this is a compelling feminist book that teenagers need to read to understand our society and what has to change. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.