April 17, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Scrapbook of My Revolution, by Amy Lynn Spitzley

All hail the cooperative! I know I'm always on my soapbox for the Little Guy, but seriously, many readers never see books that aren't put out by the Big Five publishing houses (it used to be Big Six, before the Random Penguin House thing). Curiosity Quills has an intriguing business model - it's author owned and author produced. The "employees" are other authors, so really and truly, this is a cooperative effort.

This probably has both its positives and its negatives, depending on who you are - I know that in school, I always HATED working with a group, because cooperative learning to me was just another phrase for "letting other people screw you up," but grown-ups are supposed to do better, and be better than that, and this is a business, so I expect they've got guidelines in place to make it better. And, either way you slice it, you can't keep a good author - or a good story down.

Reader Gut Reaction:...you'll find both a good story and a good author in Amy Lynn Spitzley, and SCRAPBOOK. A well-pitched voice, nice pacing, believable characters, and yet another whacked out normalized sci-fi birth mutation in Malians - which comes from the doctor who first called them "the maligned." (Nice, huh?) The situations are believable, the stakes rise well, and the ugly little twists, the character is believably obsessed and flawed, and while some of the nasty twists didn't exactly surprise me, the emotional reverb that affects the rest of the cast of characters rings utterly true. This novel is well-balanced, and I'm thinking yep: another Cybils contender.

Concerning Character: Like Lady Gaga sang way back when, baby, she was born this way. In this case, the births started worldwide only seventeen years ago, as all the planet, humanity suddenly... changed.. Suddenly, there were Malians.
Amber Alexander was born beautiful - blonde hair, golden eyes, golden skin. No: not just deeply tanned, or lightly bronzed. Think shiny. Gold. Yes. Like your Mom's favorite necklace. She's willowy, and with her long hair and great physique, you can bet she's been attracting the guys since puberty. She's a Malian - born of a Regular human couple, but like all Malians, characterized by variously colored skin, and hair, and colored eyes. There are four types of Malians - Sensitives, Camos, Manipulatives, and Athletics. Sensitives have varying mental gifts. Camos can virtually blend in with their surroundings - or disappear. Manipulatives have a relationship with their surroundings, and control things in some way, and Athletics have superhuman athletic ability. The government has instituted a strict policy of Benign Indifference, but laws for the tolerance and protection of the Malian genetic subset are laws, and in spite of them, the rainbow colored Malian children and babies are filling orphanages and shelters, proving it's not working the way the government had hoped. Groups speak out against Malians - and in Amber's neighborhood, it's the Michigan chapter of Regulars Against The Malian Menace (RAMM). They pass out literature that is filled with fear-mongering and hate speech, and suggest using Malians to colonize the Siberia or the moon. This is beyond wildly depressing and scary... but these voices of these edge-of-center nutjobs are becoming par for the course.

Amber has been a partyer. She's over that - people only invited her to see a Malian get trashed. She's been passive, and now she's tired of just ...being. Her teen world is harder than most, because whatever people are feeling, behind their facades and faces, she knows their real feelings - their emotions. Never thoughts - never the "whys" behind it, but emotions come through to her loud and clear. And from feeling the sticky Desire of most boys and some girls directed at her for years, to the Hostility, Anger, Disgust, Hesitation, and Fear that gets thrown at her all day, she's tired. Fear, really, is almost the worst, almost as bad as the constant Desire. Because, she's just herself, just Amber. How can anyone be afraid of her?

It's not the first time fear has interfered in the lives of Malian teens. At a high school a few towns away, kids swapped roles at a high school costume party. Some Malians gave up their colored skin for "skin tint" body paint, and some Regulars used colored body paint. When the riot on campus started, no one could tell who was who - or who started what. One Malian teen, red-skinned Jonny Marino, is expelled - but surely all the blame can't be his, especially when Regular students were rioting, too. Jonny's decision to sue his school and try to reclaim his senior year captures Amber's attention, and her admiration of his guts isn't harmed by his charisma and good looks.

When a stupid new rule at Amber's school prohibiting the use of face or body paint during a Halloween Party stomps on Amber's creative toes, she decides her next role instead of partying or passive is activist. Who cares if she's going to get a week's detention? She isn't going to let people like her principal - who is clearly listening to the RAMM people - stop her. Channeling Jonny's spirit, she dresses as the super sexy Alien Hottie everyone treats her as... and refuses to wash off her paint. But, confronted by her parents, she's left wounded by their Uneasiness and Anger. They have no idea what it's like, to live being suspected of something before you've even done it.

They have no idea what it's like, to have to be so careful to please, all the time. What about the teen years being the best time of your life?

Amber realizes her Malian schoolmates must be feeling the same. Together with her cousin Bree, and a few of their closest friends, they put together LAMM - the Lake Michigan Malian Supporters. Running car washes, recycling days, and passing out information, they make it their goal to portray Malians teens as average, attractive, articulate, and not at all dangerous. The only trouble is, that might not be true...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Mutants Uniting! (Okay, get the X-Men out of your head): Julianna Baggott's PURE; THE EAR, THE EYE, AND THE ARM, by Nancy Farmer; SUMMER PRINCE, by Alaya Dawn Johnson; ELSEWHERE, by Neal Shetterly; FIRE, by Kristin Cashore.

Themes & Things: Here's the thing: if you sit down with my family after a weekend dinner, you'll be part of capital D "discussions." Our family is mixed up - Asian, African American, Caucasian, and blends of said. We talk about religion, politics, and ethnicity, and sometimes those convos get scream-y. The subtext of this novel is subtle, but I could see using this in a classroom, because the discussions are nuanced, and pretty loaded. DO minorities have the responsibility to modify their behavior, so as to assuage the fears of the majority? Believe it or not, THAT topic was up for post-dinner discussion just this last weekend. Especially male minority teens have to ask themselves these types of questions. What should you be prepared to do? How much do you change yourself to fit your environment? How much does fitting in and not worrying people matter? For GLBTQ, ethnic minorities, gender discussions - all of these find a great jumping off point from this novel, and its large body format, scrapbook-type notes, receipts, and doodles make it such an attractive and unique book, too.

Cover Chatter:Book artists will enjoy the rough-edged, ripped and torn pieces put together for the raised paperback cover. I like that the designers concentrated on making an original cover, instead of making it familiar or typical -- no using the Hot Bodied Blonde thing, or taking a page from Bond's Goldfinger -- nope. Just an eye is all you get - a golden eye, glaring out at you? Staring at you? What can you tell from just an eye?

What can you tell just from someone's surface appearance?? That's right. Nothing. Well played, book designers.

You can find SCRAPBOOK OF MY REVOLUTION by Amy Lynn Spitzley at an online bookstore, or in paperback at an independent bookstore near you!

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