Thursday, December 20, 2018

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Another one of my favorite genres of books is the young adult book. I started reading the YA genre when my daughter was about twelve years old, just to read what she was reading, and I enjoyed it so much that I began reading it for my own pleasure. Today's book is a book that I picked up from the teen section of the library the other day, drawn to it for some reason. The book flaps hooked me and I just loved the concept of the book. It's written for early high school level, probably.

Tell Me Three Things  by Julie Buxbaum is a book about two teens at the same school getting to know one another across social media, one of the teens initiating the friendship online and the other not knowing who their online friend actually is, but needing a friend and confidant. 

Jessie, our protag, has just lost her mother when her father, within a year and a half, marries someone he met online and he moves himself and Jessie to LA, to the VALLEY, of all places, and puts Jessie in the position of being a kid from Chicago now going to a prep school the Valley. What a freakin' nightmare. She's in desperate need for connection, so when she receives an anonymous message from someone calling themselves Someone/No one, or SN for short, she is just desperate enough to get past her fears that she is being punked and, slowly, she begins to trust SN.

As Jessie moves into her life at her high school, she experiences conflict both at home, at work, and at school and her friendship with SN becomes essential to her day with their wisdom and knowledge of the high school drama. Through work and school and life, Jessie now has three different guys in her life, any of whom, or none of them, who could be SN. She wonders and frets and lives with the unknown for most of the book. Sometimes angry that SN won't reveal themselves, sometimes going with the flow.

While one might be uncomfortable with books that rely heavily on texts, emails, and social media (I've seen it handled ham-handedly in other books), Buxbaum weaves these exchanges beautifully into the story. We begin to appreciate the supportive, humorous, affectionate SN and we begin to see the "real SN" in the daily messages. The witty banter is quite engaging and the supportive messages are meaningful and touching.

I enjoyed this quick and easy read.
I'm sure I could be critical of some aspects of the book, the standard trope characters for one, Jessie's almost complete inability to have compassion or insight about other people in her life for another, but instead I choose to enjoy it and to read it as the feel good  book it is intended to be.

One of my favorite passages from the book comes near the very end when Jessie and her father are having a reconnect moment after a fairly long period of disconnect. 
Beats making smoothies, I hope?" My dad's wearing his plastic name tag, his name printed under the words How may I help you? The way it dangles on a steel clip makes me feel tender toward him, as if he came in here with a milk mustache.

Here are three things I liked about this book: 1) the adorable and meaningful email exchanges between Jessie and SN, 2) guessing who SN would be, and 3) thinking about who I would cast as each you do. Overall, I give this book seven stars for the feel-good quality of it as well as for the authentic voice of Jessie and SN.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Octavia Butler's Kindred

One of my reading kinks is to learn as much as I can about the setting, author, historical events mentioned, etc, as I can while I am reading. I always look up new words and I highlight my favorite passages. I am a full-on book nerd.

So when I began reading Kindred  by award-winning sci-fi author Octavia Butler, I had to find out more about her. I mean, how many black, female sci-fi authors do you know? A multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Octavia Butler became, in 1995, the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, unofficially known as a Genius Grant, a prize awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation typically to between 20 and 30 individuals, working in any field, who have shown "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" and who are citizens or residents of the United States.
Cool. A genius.

So, yeah, let's learn a teeny bit about Octavia Butler first.

By age ten she was already writing and reading sci-fi, and begging her momma for a typewriter so she could write like a grown-up. She had a bunch of notebooks already full of her writing and ideas as a very young girl. While in college in 1965 she was involved in the Black Power Movement where she got the kernel of an idea that, eventually, became this book, Kindred. Her main message of the book, as summarized from several interviews, that the book is written to show how a person can learn subservience as well as dominance.

She went on to write Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Kindred (1979), Blood Child (1984) for which she won the Hugo Award, Imago (1989), Parable of the Sower (1993), Fledgling (2005), several sci-fi series books, and many, many other short stories and novels. Though most of her writing was straight up sci-fi including aliens, future wars, super humans, and vampires, an underlying theme of slavery, classism, racism, and diversity weaves through all of her writing. Octavia was, above all, a storyteller who used all she had in her to write stories that were born in her amazing mind.

I have not read any other book by Octavia Butler before this book Kindred.  Though I now know that Kindred  is a book often read by students in race relations classes in colleges across the country; wish I was in one of those classes now so I could participate in a discussion of the book. Alas, I am not so I will be relying on my own dang self to write this review.

The protag of Kindred  is a twenty-something newlywed author named Dana. She and her husband are in the middle of moving into a new home in California 1976 when she begins to feel funny, dizzy, squiggly. With very little warning she disappears to her husband and appears in a wooded area where she can see a river in front of her. In the river is a young boy drowning. Dana rushes into the river and rescues the boy, including bringing him onto shore and administering CPR and mouth-to-mouth to bring him back from the edge.

Unknown to her, here's a hint, she has now time-traveled to 1815 Maryland. The boy she just saved is her ancestor, the son of a plantation owner. The boy's mother accuses Dana of wrong deeds that are untoward coming from a black woman and Dana is immediately on the defensive. She immediately begins to see that she is not in Kansas anymore. A few hours of recovery by the little boy, Rufus, and Dana is pulled back to her own living room with her husband watching her reappear. To him the episode lasted two minutes; to Dana it was several hours.

Over the course of the book both Dana and her husband Kevin move back and forth between their home and the plantation in Maryland. The interesting thing about this time travel is that, though Dana and her husband are tossed through time abruptly and for extended periods of time, these characters seem to accept this travel with waaay less freaking out than I think I would do. But, to be fair, in the past, Dana is constantly having to figure out how to move through whatever crisis she is thrown into, through antebellum slavery, and through the plantation politics of the time.

Each time Dana is pulled back into the past, into Rufus's life, it is because Rufus is in some life-threatening danger and Dana is there to rescue him. As we get to know Rufus better, the son of a typical plantation owner, slave owner, slave abuser, we begin to see that Rufus is, in some ways, as much a victim of his father's philosophy as are the slaves he "owns", many of whom we get to know fairly intimately in this book.

Rufus and Dana's relationship is an odd one, one I can only compare to the relationship of some characters in a book by Mary Doria Russell's book The Sparrow, slave and master, yet not. Equals, yet not. Educated human being verses differently-educated person holding power over them. Even while Rufus relies on Dana for emotional connection and guidance he is still the son of a slave owner and he behaves as such. We begin to hope that the actions and the teachings and the modeling of Dana to Rufus will have a large and a profoundly changing influence on him as he, one day, will inherit the plantation, and therefore, the people.

We also hope, as we learn about the other relationships in this slave narrative, that good things will happen to the people that we have come to know and love. Yet their circumstances do not bode well and our hearts, as we expect, will break.

One of my favorite quotes in the books comes from Dana musing about Rufus's father, Tom Weylin, and his general behavior as a slave owner: 

 His father wasn't the monster he could have been with with the power he held over his slaves. He wasn't a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society told him were legal and proper. But I had seen no particular fairness in him. He did as he pleased. If you told him he wasn't being fair, he would whip you for it.

It's clear that Octavia Butler put a great deal of emotional research into the writing of this book. However, without having read any of her other books, and being a lover of good writing, I must own that I don't care for her writing. I did love the story. I loved the concept. I was hooked on the storyline. I read the book like greased lightening. But... her writing simply did not live up to what I would have liked. Maybe her style reads better in sci-fi and aliens..?

Still I enjoyed the book and I was moved by the humanity...and by the lack of it in characters. In fact, I would love to have seen more of some of the secondary characters in the book. In fact, I felt that there were many pregnant untold stories in this book that I would have loved to see some bones to. There is some beautiful symbolism in some of the actions in the book and a good deal of thoughtful prose. I continue to be appalled at the behavior of human beings who cannot or who do not acknowledge the equality of all human beings on the planet, with zero exceptions. And one must also see the threads of slavery that continue to run through our 2018 America. I wonder what Octavia Butler would make of our current administration.

I give this book five stars.
I wanted to give it higher, but the writing was a real and continuous draw back for me.

Want to Explore my Blog?
I Couldn't be a Millionaire or a Billionaire
A Likely Dance Partner
Being 75 and Not Knowing

Monday, December 3, 2018

Kindred by Octavia Butler

I've been reading quite alot lately, mostly post-apocalyptic thrillers and the like (for some WEIRD reason! lol) but I've finally the need to switch gears. Having no idea where to go next, I picked up these books at the library this weekend and, because they all sounded fascinating, I deliberated on which book to read first for a day or two! I read reviews and Amazon pages and looked through each book; it was a tough call! I finally chose the winner: Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979).

The reviews on Amazon are extremely high, the time travel/historical fiction idea is interesting and unique, and the subject matter is compelling.

Dana, a 1976 feminist woman, is, several times, transported through time and space to Maryland in 1815, at the height of slavery times. As a black woman, she is treated with disrespect, disdain, and, eventually, fear as she can both read and write, she is obviously educated beyond what most white people were from that time, she is wearing pants, and she knows events from history that are not known to the common man of the time. Dana fears for her own safety, as well as the safety of people the she discovers to be her ancestors.

At this point, I am about half way through, I am hoping that her ancestor Rufus becomes a much better version of himself after meeting Dana and being influenced by her. I'm hoping to see a reunion of two characters who have not seen one another in many years, and I'm hoping that the writing improves. The story itself is keeping me very interested while the writing is a bit disappointing and lackluster.

I should be back in a day or two with my review.  😊