This is a list of the books I read in 2011, with a few of my thoughts on each.
|My favorite of the Inheritance series. Which is to say it was still terrible. If you really want to know why I say that, my review is here.
|Obviously, I thought it was one of the worst things I've ever read, but most people who know me know that Paolini's work and I don't get along. (My fanbase begged for a review, though, so I finally read it and gave them one.)
I Am J
|I have mixed feelings about this book. What I liked: the world desperately needs more books for and about trans teenagers, especially trans men since their struggles are not as well-known and are often hidden behind incorrect beliefs about feminism, lesbianism, and tomboyism. I liked that some of what the title character, J, went through was very authentic--especially with regards to romantic relationships. (Many trans people have a very hard time imagining themselves in romantic or sexual relationships because their bodies are the wrong sex, forcing them to be "the girlfriend" or "the boyfriend" when they don't think of themselves that way.) I liked that J had unrealistic expectations about how easy it would be to transition, and that he was kind of stupid and ill-informed in some ways but was driven by so much passion for the life he knew he needed to have. I liked that the parents didn't understand--that they saw it more as "she wants to be a boy" rather than "he has always been a boy and wants a body to match." I thought it was interesting that J's best friend Melissa tried to portray his transsexuality as "emerging from a cocoon" in a dance and he had to explain (with some frustration) that she wasn't accurately capturing his experience if she thought of it as changing from one thing to another. And I appreciated that J wasn't always consistent, sometimes had doubts, and couldn't see his own specialness sometimes. What I didn't like: J's voice felt a little hollow sometimes in my opinion--there was a sort of disconnect, like Beam was saying all the right things but I wasn't convinced that there was a real person in there feeling them. It sometimes read more like an essay, just a tumble of "stuff trans guy is feeling," than organically felt experiences. Sometimes the concept of someone feeling this way was enough to bring out the emotion, but sometimes it wasn't because I didn't see it really coming from him. I also thought the writing in the first half was incredibly awkward at times, especially when a description of J's physical features was wedged in--a lengthy one, too--and a bunch of patchy flashbacks attempted to make J's past coalesce for us. Readers shouldn't notice that they're being fed exposition, and I kept noticing.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
|Hats off to Mr. Deutsch for the originality here. You just don't see too many stories about Orthodox Jewish kids, not to even mention ones who fight trolls. I didn't relate very much to Mirka because her drive to fight monsters seemed, I don't know, without real motive? She wants to kill bad things because, well, they're bad things! But since kids are silly like that sometimes and just want to go off and be heroes without thinking it through (like Mirka does), I could overlook the fact that I didn't connect to her desire to fight things that never did anything to her. The seamless integration of Mirka's Jewish life was refreshing, and I liked how her traditions were an integral part of her take on the world.
A Wizard of Mars
|I enjoyed this book, but the first half was dull compared to the second half. I felt like Duane spent too much time making inside jokes, displaying "cute" aspects of wizardry (I don't think I can forgive her for "WizPod," still), and name-dropping about a bajillion previous characters so we wouldn't forget about them before they became completely unimportant to the plot. I did like where it led, though--to the terrifying transformation of Nita's partner Kit into a tool of his previous Martian incarnation, and I liked how Nita didn't lose her cool when she was scared and had to rescue Kit. Despite being about aliens, I saw a disappointing side of "human" nature reflected in the two transplanted Martian cultures refusing to give up their desire to fight each other--it was what they lived for and what they died for. Nita and Kit finally acknowledging some of their attraction was nice, though I would have been just as happy to see a special partnership that was close and nearly sacred WITHOUT being romance. And I thought it was odd that Duane spent so much time focusing on stuff Dairine was doing without actually mixing it into the plot's finale. She usually finds a way to do that, and instead all we've gotten was a side trip to build up what will probably pay off in the next book. I was also a bit uncomfortable as I read about Kit's older sister Helena . . . I don't remember her from previous books, and felt like she was grafted into the family along with a history that I don't remember being mentioned before.
|Wendelin Van Draanen
The Running Dream
|Very good book about a high school student who was a promising track athlete until she lost her leg in an accident. Jessica thinks her life is over, but help from family and friends (new and old) plus actually learning to run again with a racing prosthesis helps her turn her finish line into a new start. The beginning was emotional and well rendered, managing to show how much running meant to Jessica by describing what it felt like to have it taken away. The chapters were short and staccato especially toward the beginning, which helped emphasize the abrupt ups and downs of her experiences. And the narration almost always did a good job of introducing people and situations without feeling like they were deliberately expository. Interestingly, the story is written in present tense and it took me a while to notice; it was just that natural. And I liked that the book was divided into sections that drew their titles from running metaphors, taking Jessica's life in micro and generalizing it to the big picture. The only bits that felt a little fake for me were Jessica's relationship with a guy she'd had a crush on for a long time (who of course ends up actually liking her) and some of the saccharine lessons Jessica learned through befriending a girl with cerebral palsy and learning to see beyond her condition. I thought the best thing about the book was how realistically it depicted a teenage girl dealing with guilt, shame, depression, and inspiration, and how sometimes she had to re-learn things she'd already learned. I also like that not every kinda crappy, petty character in the book was magically rehabilitated at the end (because that often happens in these kinds of books, yet a couple catty girls didn't seem to learn anything), and I liked that Jessica's friends sometimes said and did the wrong things or didn't know how to feel or were selfish and imperfect, just like Jessica herself.
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