Review: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book, several teens share what it’s like for them in their place on the gender spectrum. Some of the interviews have photographs. Some don’t. In each, Kuklin fills in some background and addresses each teen in the manner that he/she/they have asked to be addressed.

Some readers have criticized this volume for reinforcing gender stereotypes and for not being as sophisticated or politically savvy as a current book about gender norms maybe should be. I see their point.

However — Wow! These kids have faced something every day that most of us do not give a second thought. Also, at the time of writing, every one of them is still, officially, a kid. There’s plenty of time for their thinking and writing to become theoretical, political, grown up. Right now, they’re deciding who they want to be, personally, and how to make it happen and how to get people around them to recognize them for their true selves.

This book is worth having and reading, even if it is not perfect. Kids need to find this on the library shelves and recognize they are not alone, or recognize that someone in their school may be going through this. I thought it was great.

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Review: The Weirdness: A Novel

The Weirdness: A Novel
The Weirdness: A Novel by Jeremy Bushnell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars – but not really two stars. It isn’t a bad book, just not my kind of book. It seemed like my kind of book: a wild and outlandish adventure with magic and a strangely not-quite-evil devil and a quest and it’s all pretty much set in the Chelsea neighborhood of NY, as so many novels I’ve read this year seem to be. I even learned the Japanese word, neko, in a phone conversation with a friend the night before I read it in this book.


Billy is another in a long string of too-old-to-be-creatively-floundering man-boys who have dead-end jobs, squalid apartments, and commitment issues, despite having a fine education, good parents, and a reasonable talent. It’s not cute. I don’t love hanging out with these perpetual mooching babies in real life, and I’m not feeling like reading about them, either. If this sort of thing doesn’t bother you, perhaps, you will love this silly book. The very ending is quite well done.

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Review: Pointe

Pointe by Brandy Colbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t remember what led me to this book but, I’m glad I read it. I remember thinking it was about a girl who has professional ballet aspirations that might get derailed as a result of something that happened to her best friend. And, kind, of, that is what it’s about.

First off, ballet plays a very small role. And, as other readers have mentioned, Theo does not act like your stereotypical ballerina. She goes to parties, casually (and frequently) smokes pot. This felt jarring to me, as ballet dancers are elite athletes. Her behavior didn’t make sense to me.

Secondly, Theo has an eating disorder. She’s had treatment, she ‘fesses up to it, but her emotions still overpower her and cause her to restrict her eating. That part made sense. But all that alcohol? Any anorexic knows how fattening drinks are. That felt weird and false.

All through the book, this reader kept noticing: Theo and Donovan come from lovely families. Their parents support them emotionally, support their dreams. They do reasonably well in school. Why would they be making these bad choices? Why would they be so vulnerable to a predator?

And that’s the question. It’s easy to think that only poor kids with stressed families who live in scary neighborhoods can have these things happen to them. But any kid can be charmed by the wrong person, can crave attention from someone who doesn’t deserve it. And that’s what Colbert does so well here.

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Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Martian is about an astronaut left for dead after an aborted Mars mission. Turns out, he’s not dead but, he is all alone on a planet with an unforgiving climate. Being a botanist and an engineer, he finds ways to repair equipment, make his food last, and keep himself from going insane. He needs to stay alive and lucid until the next Mars mission astronauts arrive — four years out!

Weir does an amazing thing with this book: despite being a more-or-less daily log of astronaut Mark Watney’s struggle for survival, with a lot of I did this and then I tried that, Weir keeps it exciting! I read and read and wanted to read and was really invested in finding out if and how Watney was going to survive. Also, he included a lot of explanations for how Watney put devices together — I have no idea if they are scientifically sound, but they came across as believable and I love that. Most compelling, I think, is Watney’s character: he was sarcastic and goofy and did his best not to give up. He was good company.

When I was a kid (and into my early teens) I wanted to be an astronaut. I gave it up when I recognized that astronauts need to live for long periods in very cramped quarters and obey orders. (I’m bad at both.) After reading this, I also think it’s beyond crazy to send any civilians into space. Anyone who goes into space should be fully trained in all kinds of problem solving, physics, mechanics, life support systems, and communications. It’s no place to be a passenger, a sight-seer.

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Review: Pure

Pure by Terra Elan McVoy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a story about 5 high school girls in the south who have made a pledge not to have sex until marriage. They’ve made this pledge publicly, and they wear “purity rings” so, everywhere they go, anyone they meet can know this about them. The fact of their shared conviction is part of what holds them together as friends. The book follows one of the girls, Tabitha, as events and choices and changing ways of thinking stretch – and maybe break – their friendships.

This book is a great example of the ‘give it a few more pages’ philosophy. I often tell my students and my patrons, ‘hey, if it doesn’t grab you, read something else’ but I also say ‘maybe give it a few more pages and see what you think then.’

I had heard of purity rings, but only in the news and in creepy facebook posts showing fathers on one knee giving too-young daughters these too-expensive pieces of jewelry at very grown up looking restaurant ‘dates.’ (Sorry, my bias is showing, and I find the way this is presented in the media very creepy. Maybe the reality is lovely and charming — I wouldn’t know.)

Anyway, in the first few chapters, I just couldn’t relate to Tabitha or Morgan or their parents. But I wanted to like this book, and I knew the kid was going to read it, so I stuck with it. And, you know what? I started to like these girls. Over the course of the story they all became more fleshed out, more interesting, and more thoughtful. They wanted to be understood. They wanted their friendships to survive. They wanted to live by their convictions but the black and white decision-making of 12 is not the same as the nuanced decision-making of the later teen years.

McVoy does a great job of depicting the running monolog that is a teenager’s life. Some reviewers have written negatively about this but hey — have you looked at your sophomore year diary lately? This he said she said I wonder what she’s thinking is likely what it looks like. There were a few places where the vocabulary seemed too sophisticated for a girl who didn’t care a whole lot about school, but I won’t quibble.

A good thing about this book, of course, is the conversation it’s already opened up in our household. Who gets to decide when a girl is ready for what? What factors go in to making that decision? How do we maintain close friendships with people whose core beliefs are different from our own? Who has the right to know what decisions you have made about your own life and body?

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Review: For Today I Am a Boy

For Today I Am a Boy
For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Four siblings grow up in small town Ontario with strict immigrant Chinese-Canadian parents. They are expected to fulfill their father’s goals for them. Even their mother is expected to fulfill their father’s vision of what it means to become Canadian. The years go by. Adele, Bonnie, Peter, and Helen move in and out of one another’s lives, trying to become themselves. Pretty much all of them self-destruct. Sad, moving, very, very ugly at times in its depictions of unhealthy love affairs. Very worth reading but not at all uplifting.

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Review: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested this via ILL based on the title alone. It’s not an encyclopedia, and it’s not about our Earth but, rather, an earlier, smaller version of our planet, which was once watched over by Kiddo (Earth’s creator), and her brother and father (the wrathful god Bird Man). In it, a boy whose soul was separated into many pieces boats around the entire world looking to reunite himself. He encounters new cultures, power-mad kings, wily old ladies, giants, grand cities, war-loving neighbors, and is accompanied by a faithful canine. Along the way, he picks up stories. And he tells stories. And Greenberg makes fantastic little illustrations to go along with the stories. And there is true love. And it all weaves together until you can’t remember what time it was when you picked this up, but you’re not putting it down yet. True, some of the stories are bible re-tellings, or from Greek mythology, or Scheherazade. But they flow and move from one to the next and the reader is transported.

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