Monday, November 16, 2015

Ms. Rapscott's Girls by Elise Primavera

I don't read as much for early readers as I should, but I couldn't help being intrigued by the cover of Ms. Rapscott's Girls by Elise Primavera (Penguin - Dial). I found it under a pile of mess the other day--what good book doesn't live in a pile of mess, at least some of the time--and decided to flip through it. Illustrated more than many chapter books with pencil pictures, it sucked me in with its mysterious illustrations, and then with its charming text. Basically, imagine that Mary Poppins and Lemony Snicket had an optimistic child that decided to write stories when she grew up.

Ms. Rapscott has a school for Girls of Busy Parents, and sends out five pre-paid boxes; parents need merely insert their children and send them away. Four of the boxes arrive with disgruntled, neglected girls; one has arrived sans girl, because her parents were too busy to close it properly.

The rest of the girls find themselves at school having an adventure, and some of it is finding the missing girl, and some of it is finding themselves. There is a perfect age for this book, and that's just when you're a good enough reader to understand wordplay and have enough of an understanding of fiction vs. reality to not be frightened of the idea of your parents sending you away (possibly the same age as you'd need to be for Nancy and Plum).

Some older readers have marked this out as too twee for love. I can see that, but it just skirted the border there for me, and I couldn't help giggling now and again. Maybe, too, I know enough girls with neglectful parents, and maybe I liked the idea of bossy, impervious, fearless Ms. Rapscott, and maybe I liked a flock of irrepressible, unlovable, isolated girls finding their true independence, and maybe I liked the found family aspect. Maybe. Okay, a lot.

I had a couple of momentary dislikes; I thought that a couple mentions of fat people weren't nuanced, and I definitely wished for more diversity among the set of little girls (surely there are busy, distracted families with histories that can be traced to all corners of the world?). Still, because of the particular reader that I am, I was delighted on the whole, because it's so rare to find girls in a pack in books--in so many ways, we are only allowed to exist as different, only, chosen, friendless. And I think the world could use a little more sticking together.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Signal to Noise
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela are struggling with their social status in high school in Mexico City in 1988. Meche, fluent in the language of music (one of the few things she has in common with her father), makes a startling discovery: she can use music to harm a bully. The manifestation of magic is something she shares with her grandmother, but their communication is too strained for Meche to learn from her. Meche realizes that she can feel magic’s power in vinyl, and that with Sebastian and Daniela’s (sometimes reluctant) help, she can make their wishes come true—only, not all of their wishes are for good, and the magic could tear her friendships apart.

Interspersed with the scenes of 1988 are scenes of Meche’s return to the city in 2009 after a long absence. She has come to mourn her father, not to mend old wounds. Still, she can’t escape the evidence of her past, and all of the feelings and memories that come with having had a taste of magic.

While music is an important theme in Signal to Noise, I was fascinated by the oft-ignored theme of magic with consequences. Here, magic complicates what is already complicated. I particularly want to chew on the idea of failure, too—failure to reach across generations and friendship fault lines, and what happens when people fail to pass on important information, leaving the followers to draw conclusions that aren’t always kind, or true, or fully understood. Failure to see the outcome of actions. Failure to find self-realization. Still, all of the failures lead to bittersweet reckoning.

If none of this hooks you, consider Signal to Noise for Meche, its angry, flawed heroine. She’s a character you’ll want to both comfort and unravel. –Undusty New Books

One other thought that is far enough removed from the book and its contents that I wanted to mention it separately from the review: this book came from Solaris, a UK imprint. I kept getting snagged on a handful of words that felt very British, and “which” where I expected “that” (US and UK usage differs considerably; the UK uses which in restrictive situations, whereas the US does not, except when we get confused about grammar or, sometimes, want to try to sound smart and don’t know the difference). I do read books in other Englishes, and like them; why should I expect a book in English that is set in Mexico (and that in my head is taking place in Spanish, just in some way that I can understand completely) to use US English? Something for me to think about, as I often have stopped reading books in translation, finding them flat and dry (and wondering if they were vibrant originals), and have stopped reading books because of, say, punctuation dissonance (I’m thinking of Born Confused, which I’d actually really like to finish someday—maybe I need to audiobook it—but always end up putting down because the dashes feel like smacks to the brain, and I can’t muster the sustained energy to read it in one go and remember what’s going on). Always the struggle between want to read and enjoy reading, between push self and find comfort, between seeking familiarity and novelty, perhaps.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf and Station Eleven

Well, what do you know; while I've been busy elsewhere, Blogger has reinvented that who-you-follow part of its back end, which was one of the reasons I started posting about books here. Once the RSS feed-thingy went away, I didn't have so much of a sense that I was contributing to a community, or any easy way to read what other people were blogging about.

I spent nearly all of this week in bed, and while I was too busy sneezing and trying to clear my head enough to breathe most of the time, I did a little reading. And, because I need to keep myself awake for a few more hours in the middle of an ambitious sleep-shifting back to "normal" hours while not overtaxing my blurry brain, I'll tell you about some of it, though I confess I didn't absorb as much as I normally would have.

One of the books I read: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by

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