April 15, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: SAVING MONTGOMERY SOLE, by Mariko Tamaki

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Montgomery Sole would be the sole sign of intelligent life in Aunty, California if it weren't for her best friends Thomas and Naoki. Everyone else in Aunty is pretty scary-stupid, including her eleven-year-old sister, Tesla, at least in Monty's eyes. If it isn't biology killing Monty's soul, it's Matt Truitt, her five-minute crush tormenting Thomas for being gay, and calling Monty a dyke, or it's the SorBetties, the carb-obsessed frozen yogurt queens who seem to only ever worry about being skinny and the right shade of lipstick. The California cliché is alive at Jefferson High where Monty attends - lots of bleached hair, fit bodies and jocks. All of which is both boring and baffling to the overall-clad Montgomery, who wears Momma Jo's oversized, cast-off clothing, and is just satisfied to be dressed. Seen at best as a curiosity, and at worst, as an affront to those of slender and well dressed sensibilities, slapdash, shaggy Monty is kind of a pariah. Luckily, Montgomery and her friends have the Mystery Club, a place to explore the impossible, the curious, the unexplained.

Naoki might be open to everything, but Thomas is the Mystery Club cynic. Regardless, the Mystery Club helps Monty make sense of her life - and so far has given her The Eye of Knowing, a maybe onxy, maybe glass, maybe powerful stone tablet thingy which is supposed to let her see into the future. It hasn't really, so far. But, she's determined to keep trying to look.

When a Christian crusader rolls into town, not much makes sense anymore, even with the Eye helping her see. Touting his power to "save the American Family," Reverend White - with his white hair, white suit, and bright white poster-ready smile - embeds a sliver of fear into Monty's heart that she can't ignore. All she loves and wants to keep safe is already at odds with a town that is ridiculous, repressive, oppressive and homophobic. Monty can't deal with anything as bad as Christians on top of everything else. As a girl with two moms, she already feels like she's half a step from being an alien. It's not fair that everyone always gets to hassle the underdogs. All the indignity she feels at such a lopsided world eats at Monty. She just wants to find a way to stop people from hurting her and those she loves -- and to regain a little of her power. And, if she's found a way, she's going to use it.

Observations: This big-hearted - yet angry! - novel wins on myriad levels for me. Biracial Native Canadian-Japanese girl, Naoki Bigtree is very much her own, enchanting self - enchanting in a good way, of course. Thomas is wise and witty, but the wisdom is hard-won through pain and resignation. Montgomery is droll, observant, and dry-humored. She is also, in her heart-of-hearts, crouched over, gasping, grasping, and very much afraid. She is like us, so much like us that readers will tune in to her frequency with the little twinges in their heart that say, "Oh, yeah. That happened to me." She is afraid and brave and bold and pushing everyone away and holding on with all she has. The contradictory Montgomery Sole may be my favorite character yet for 2016.

I'm always curious at the depiction of family in YA novels. As a genre which routinely offed parents for so many years, or made them stupid or unimportant, it's refreshing to see adults who matter, and I would have loved to see more about the people who inhabit Montgomery's universe. Mama Kate and Momma Jo are funny and human. Naoki's family inhabits its own unique space, with an artistic father who travels frequently, and a enigmatic mother. Thomas seems removed from his family and so Monty and Naoki make up that difference for him. The relationships in the novel resonate.

Conclusion: This novel begins in an understated fashion, quietly. Montgomery can come off initially as smug and comfortable in her we're-too-smart-for-everyone tiny, tight circle of friends. But the fear and the anger - and later, the terrified guilt - covered by this smugness is what resonated with me, and I encourage readers to hang in there through that. Montgomery hates the way the world treats her, and clearly sees its unfairness. She wants to take action -- but really, there's no action to take, but to ...live well. Live loudly. Live. And that's the whole "lesson" or moral, if there is such a thing. I think you'll enjoy this book.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of our friends at First Second. After April 19th, 2016,can find SAVING MONTGOMERY SOLE by Mariko Tamaki at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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