January 10, 2007

Writing Along...

Wow, has anyone else been trying desperately to get Blogger to function for the past three days!!? Sorry for the lapses between posts... good grief! I think this is all a plot to get us all to update our systems... well, I'm GETTING to it! At some point. Anyway... today's thought: I'm not dying for anything to do with Harry - my Potter of choice this month is Beatrix! I hold out the idea of seeing the newly released movie as a little treat to force me through all of the necessary tasks of my week. That and the pile of books next to the bed are my carrot and stick this month.

Now that the Cybils voting has been over for a couple of weeks, I'm in novel recovery, reading wildly all over the place and selecting books that are only on my personal list, plus the inevitable "random handful" that I gather on my way out of the library toward the self-check machine. I've gone British with Diana Wynn Jones' Chrestomanci series, enjoyed being introduced to Joyce Lee Wong's Emily, and I also hope to sink my teeth into the rest of the Middle Grade Cybils list as well as some standouts I've heard of like That Girl Lucy Moon, or one of Ellen Kushner's fabulous swashbuckling historical fictions for girls in her Swordpoint series.

Thanks to the many blogs and bloggers out there, I'm picking up things I'd never considered reading before, and I've found some surprises that still resonate with me these many weeks later. Though not all of these ended up on our Cybil's shortlist, there are a couple of novels that I truly enjoyed that came with the theme of "You Can't Tell Me What to Do!" These rebel yells were found in:

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. Ever heard the saying "the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice?" It strikes me painfully that it's not only American persons of color but many other cultures who favor a European beauty ideal. In India where this story takes place, Jeeta is taught that she is too dark to be happy, too dark to be fortunate, too dark to marry well. And frankly, marriage is all that seems to be on the table for her future. This quiet novel could have been even more direct, but three cheers for the idea of not letting society have all the say about what is beautiful, who deserves to be happy, and how we should all behave.

Adora is a girl who struck out against what she perceived to be an unfair class system in her high school. Tired of being on the edges of the crowd, this Fringe Girl stepped up to change things by using a class assignment. Of course, she wasn't totally successful, because when she started, she wasn't totally sure of what she wanted, or what to do once she got where she was going. I was a teensy bit disappointed that the novel didn't go deeper into the implications of class and social structures, but I have great hopes for another novel-in-process called Latte Rebellion, which is also about a social movement gone wildly awry which involves race... and coffee.

Don knows that you can put up with anything if you have a goal. Even the thug beating him up during PE is something he can just sort of ignore, because he's got a goal -- something more real to him that school, friends, and the people around him, including his mother, the Half Alien to be, and his Stepfacist. (And wouldn't that be a great group: Half-Alien & the Stepfacists?) The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl was one of my favorite novels because it is a bright and shining reminder that there's life beyond high school -- and that nobody can box you into their narrow idea of who you are unless you let them.

I read this book and was thrown back into a time when being disabled meant that you were treated like you were completely a non-person. Accidents of Nature was an eye-opener. I was riveted by both of the main characters. Jean believes that she is just as mainstream as everyone else, and acts that way, while Sara sort of rebelliously revels in her other-ness, and forces others to not only see her as inseparable from her disease, but to accept her as she is. This novel was tough to read at times, as the young adults with full physical abilities at times seemed criminally stupid or unfeeling, and I wondered if this was just a bitterness of the character, or a reality in the 70's. The ending is fairly enigmatic, but this is a novel that sticks with you for a long time.

I was never much of a prairie novel fan, but Hattie Big Sky won me over because Hattie just has so much heart. Nobody thought she could do anything more than be somebody's wife or somebody's maid, and in the end, what she chose to do was, in fact, too hard for her (although in real life it wasn't... and I'm still not sure why the author chose to have her fail. I know it's more realistic, and most people DID fail, but Hattie didn't...? Anyway...), but she still gave it her everything, in her own quiet, rebellious way. Beautiful.

Sneaking out to audition for Oye Mi Canto isn't the most rebellious thing Ali does. She concentrates on being herself -- which is the gutsiest thing of all. Adios to My Old Life was full of twists and turns of show-biz, and really enjoyable. Though things didn't go the way Ali thought that they would, she still came away with success. One thing I liked was that success wasn't narrowly defined. Other contestants in the show lived life in different ways -- some loved adulation, some loved flirting and jewelry, etc., but there was no defining "this is the only way to do it" type of rhetoric. I loved that the Latino people were portrayed as intelligent and educated and as varied as peoples of all nations actually are. It's actually vanishingly rare to see Latin peoples portrayed that positively, and I hope this book attracts all of the readers it deserves.

To round out my Super Seven, I chose Nothing But the Truth and a Few White Lies, which I had the privilege of reading before it was nominated. Despite its deceptively pink cover, this is a riot grrrrl book, and Patty Ho is kind of queen of the rebels, as she first rebels against every stereotype placed on her by both her Asian and non-Asian acquaintances, and then she escapes from the narrow role she's defined for herself. She's not an Egg, a Banana, or any other schizophrenic snack-oriented racial category. She is just herself: and that has to be good enough. This novel's gift is that it transcends race, hapa-ness, and other categories to appeal to anybody and everybody who hasn't fit well into the categories other people have carved out for them. This novel gives readers the gift of knowing it's okay to fight to be oneself.

Others have shared the fun and frustrations of being on the Cybils panel with so many great books and so few to choose. Check out what Little Willow and Mindy have to say about their favorite Cybil picks which did or didn't get onto our shortlist.

Meanwhile, is anyone else still thinking about resolutions...? The longer I delay writing them down, the longer I don't have to do them, right? ... Oh, okay. I'll get to them. Soon.


Jen Robinson said...

You could resolve not to have any resolutions this year. I think some people have had success with that approach. Personally, I resovled to comment more on other people's blogs. So here I am! But seriously, excellent detailed thoughts about some of the non shortlist titles - now I'll have to look them up too. Enjoy reading a wider range of books yourself, now that the process is over.

Anonymous said...

I also resolved to comment on other blogs, so I'm done now.

Kidding. I wanted to say that I loved that selection of books. Some I've read, some I've just put on hold, and some I am probably doomed to forget because I have neither read them nor are they in my library. But either way, I liked your choices and reasons.

a. fortis said...

Oh, goodie! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of these. I just finished Nothing But The Truth and enjoyed it quite a bit. I had a few very minor quibbles but on the whole, I'm so pleased that there is FINALLY A BOOK ABOUT HAPAS. It was very interesting to read about Patty Ho's experience and compare it to other hapa friends of mine, since it seems like most of the hapas I know have one Asian-American parent (as in born in the U.S.) and one Caucasian parent. Actually, I guess there's me, since my dad wasn't born in the U.S.; but I'm not sure the category of hapa extends to South-Asian-Americans...

Anyway, thanks for the Latte plug...I'm working away on it again, and finding that I'm having trouble with the scene in which the main character gets into big trouble at school and with parents, since I was such a damned goody-goody.

Anonymous said...

Yay Nothing but the Truth!

Duly linked. :)