Tag: tournament of books


Feckless Friday: Adam (A Tournament of Books selection)

Posted 16 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feckless Friday: Adam (A Tournament of Books selection)Adam by Ariel Schrag
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 10th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Lesbian
Pages: 304
Goodreads
zero-stars

When Adam Freedman — a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California — goes to stay with his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does. It is the summer of 2006. Gay marriage and transgender rights are in the air, and Casey has thrust herself into a wild lesbian subculture. Soon Adam is tagging along to underground clubs, where there are hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans—a boy who was born a girl. Why else would this baby-faced guy always be around? Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams — but she couldn’t possibly be interested in him. Unless passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor . . .

Guys, I’m not trans, but I am an ally and it’s going to be hard to hit all the reasons that this book is offensive. You know I don’t mean offensive in the sense that there’s a ton of swearing, (there is), graphic descriptions of sex (there are) – but offensive in the sense that this feels like a book written by a cis-female lesbian to shock and awe her audience into thinking that this is some sort of breakthrough in trans fiction. 

I don’t think I can write this review without spoilers. So, you’ve been warned. There are so many directions to go, I hardly know where to start. I guess we’ll just start with Adam being a bit of a creepy douchebag. Scratch that, the entire cast of characters all kind of turn out to be creepy douchebags. But we’ll start with Adam. Within the first few chapters, to impress his life-long friend he spies on his sister having sex with another woman. On purpose. Seriously? I’m really not sure what this was to add to the characterization of Adam except maybe he’s insecure and just wants to be popular. 

I actually laughed out loud at the idiotic assumption that Adam makes while looking at lesbian porn that he should know what real lesbians do, because his sister is one. What?! 

So sad and rejected from the ‘cool kids’ at school Adam decides he wants to spend the entire summer in NYC with his sister who had just finished her freshman year at Columbia. The siblings move into a flat with June, who is continually thought of as ‘butch’ and intensely ugly by Adam, and Ethan – who June and Casey have found on Craigslist.

Casey (the sister), comes across as a know-it-all on everything counter-culture sexuality. Actually, she comes across as a bitch. She also fails to do anything to offer readers any sense of empowerment with her own sexuality and really is representative of that sad girl who will do anything for attention and fails to recognize her own poor choices that put her in compromising and hurtful situations. 

If I cared enough I would go back through the book and find the number of times women are referenced as butch, ugly, or some clever insult thereof. Worst of all there is no redemption from Adam on thinking these awful things or for judging a book by its cover. Again and again women are objectified and lesbian women in this book even more so. I have to think that the shocking scene in the NYC sex club where Adam watches his sister having very public and rough sex (again), is a furtherance of that objectification. Why does this kid spend so much time watching his sister have sex?

Oh, but let’s get to where the real offense is. Adam meets the girl of his dreams (no literally, he has a vision on the plane to NYC about this girl) and *gasp* she’s a very pretty lesbian. Somehow, somehow, she mistakes Adam for a female to male transperson. …and what does Adam do? He rolls with it. So he’s totally in love with Gillian – learns everything he can about trans-culture (all the better to fool you with, my dear) and keeps up the subterfuge until blessedly the author pulls the trigger and Adam has to come clean. What happens then? Does she feel violated that she’s been having sex with someone who had committed an incredible transgression of her trust? Does she get angry and run away? 

NOT AT ALL. After Adam reveals he’s a cis-male that has been posing as trans for months, Gillian just says. “I know.” …and they stay together. WHAT?! So basically skeevy teenage boy poses as trans to get into the panties of a lovely lesbian and gets away with all the goodies. No lesson learned, nothing. I also find this offensive in reinforcing the idea that gay people can choose their orientation. All the sudden Gillian is straight and we see no struggle in her identity about that.

Are you going to say anything nice? Sure. There were tidbits of educational information about kind of maybe what it might be like to be trans. (Nothing of the terrible discrimination or the fact that the suicide rate is higher than any other population in America), but there is some education on types of surgeries a trans person may choose to go through, or why they may not choose to go through them. 

Overall though. This book is a hot mess. I read it because it’s a part of The Tournament of Books and I would love to see it destroyed. I didn’t go into it as a hate read, but somewhere along the way it ended up being one.

Edit: I thought I’d add some quotes for context.

Racism: “She had transferred … mid semester and was the only black kid in Adam’s American history class, and whenever they were talking about civil rights or racism, Kandis would get all huffy and groan really loudly any time a white kid had an opinion.” p.38

Homosexuality: “June was clearly gay. Like, no doubt about it, this was a lesbian. Casey, who had long hair and often wore skirts, wasn’t obviously gay…” p. 41 Excuse me, what does ‘clearly gay’ look like?

“It might be fun to talk with a girly lesbian, just for the night, even if it went nowhere, but none of these girls were remotely hot. Why would you want to make yourself look so unattractive?” p.56 So much for body-positivity.

Transgender: “Everyone kept talking, and all the sudden it hit Adam. He got it. The lesbians here weren’t hemaphrodites – they were girls who wanted to be guys. And somehow this was possible.” p.60

I lack questions, Reader. I guess, does this sound offensive to you from the synopsis? I had reservations going in – but it was really worse than I possibly could have imagined. 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 13 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

2014 National Book Award Finalist. Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.   One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.   Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.   Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I picked up this book after reading Catherine’s review (The Gilmore Guide to Books). I have been a long time enthusiast of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels… dare I say it, before they were cool. So while I find myself a little bored with the massive number of YA books in this genre that carry all too familiar tropes, I always jump on adult novels in the genre (maybe with the noted exception of zombie apocalypse novels). 

This book is beautifully written. It’s character driven, which may sound like an odd combination with the apocalyptic setting but St. John Mandel pulls it off beautifully. It’s elegant and literary. There are points with action, but it never overtakes the characters or dumbs the book down. I especially enjoyed the shifting perspectives in time, people, and places. It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.

The characters are well fleshed out and believable (I kept seeing Arthur as Richard Gere, no idea why). There were a few times where a character had been gone for so long from the narrative I had to check myself with a ‘wait, who?’. Other than that, this is a fantastic book. 

I highly recommend it to literary fiction lovers, even if they feel ‘done’ with this particular genre. This book is everything I wanted Lighthouse Island to be, and more. This is not just a genre novel, it’s incredibly literary with deeper themes, symbolism and plot devices that could be great for a book club discussion.

For a more spoiler-y professional review that I agree with, pointing out some of the weaknesses of the novel, I direct you to none other than the New York Times.

So, Reader, have you been ‘done’ with this genre for awhile? Do you have any suggestions for literary novels within this genre for me? I will eat them up.

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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WWII Wednesday: All the Light We Cannot See (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 2 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

WWII Wednesday: All the Light We Cannot See (A Tournament of Books Selection)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 371
three-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Let’s start with the obvious. That cover. Is it gorgeous or what? I could see this cover on my wall and weirdly, when the reading got slow – I just looked at that cover and thought, this has to pick up, I mean, look at that cover


That’s a nice segue into talking about the story. This book took me months to read, which is very unusual for me. I think that part of me was a little intimidated by it (for reasons I cannot fathom, maybe that cover). So this book was an extremely slow start. It was evident from the outset that Doerr is incredibly talented, his writing is beautiful. That’s apparent from the title and the premise, Marie-Laure is blind and Werner has an affinity for radio – how brilliant is that?

However, I felt like the whole element of the myth behind the ‘Sea of Flames’ diamond was extraneous and kind of took away from the main narrative. That being said, I did find Werner’s time with the Hitler youth and then consequentially his time on the front lines of the war to be absolutely fascinating. 

The chapters are short and told mainly from alternating perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, in addition to Hitler youth training we get some perspective of the French resistance in Saint-Malo, I would have also liked to hear more from Jutta’s perspective – she’s a huge part of Werner’s thoughts and I often found myself wondering what she was up to, all alone at the orphanage. 

By the end of the book I became more involved with the characters and fascinated by what was going on in the world. I generally prefer my history to be in non-fiction format, so perhaps that’s why this was a bit of a slow start for me. 

Overall, highly recommended to historical fiction lovers – especially those with an interest in WWII. People who have a strong interest in literary fiction will enjoy this book as well as it is extremely well written. 

Have you read this one yet, Reader? I know there was tons of love for it. What was the last book that you almost DNFed, but powered through and ended up glad you did?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Marriage Musings: Dept. of Speculation (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 28 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Marriage Musings: Dept. of Speculation (A Tournament of Books Selection)Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on January 28th 2014
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

I found this book to be extremely enjoyable. It’s compact, but that doesn’t stop Offill from filling the pages with sentiments and themes that could (and have) fill untold volumes. The brevity of this book is perhaps the most remarkable part of it. Offill’s prose is effective and interesting – I’d like to re-read this book in a few months because I know that there must have been deep and important things that I have missed. This little novella almost feels like poetry in the sense that every word Offill used was packed with meaning and every word was necessary. 

What stops this book from being truly extraordinary for me might be chalked up to my own deficiencies as a reader. I should have read this book in a single sitting, but I didn’t. It actually took me three sittings. Perhaps because of this, despite the short chapters, I found myself a little lost. There are a lot of pronouns used and very few proper names. If it’s not a pronoun then it’s a descriptive name, like ‘the almost astronaut’. Because of this, I there were times that I had difficulty trying to figure out who she was talking about and what exactly was going on. (Side note: this is how I sometimes speak of people in real life. When talking to my husband about blogging I’ll often start with, “The book bloggers say…”) I think that a closer reading on my part may solve that issue. 

What about you, Reader? Have you read a novella or short story lately that has moved you? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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