Monday, April 6, 2015

Springtime Meditation on Books

Monday, April 6, 2015
Guys, it's WARM out! I have SUNBURN! (Not usually excited about that but I spent hours working on the quad and then had class OUTSIDE and I have to use ALL THE CAPS TO INDICATE HOW HAPPY I AM.)

Anyway, I've been neglectful of this blog (shocking, I know) and felt like procrastinating from work I need to do for a science class, so here I am!

What's been going on with me? (So sweet of you to ask). Well, I...

  • Presented a paper I wrote about Sexist Critiques of YA Lit at a Women's Studies Conference
  • Won an award for said paper 
  • Started a book club on campus that reads diverse narratives (we had our first meeting today to discuss Ask the Passengers by A.S. King)
  • Became "visual coordinator" of my college's new social justice blog, StandUp
  • And got a job in the Office of Gender and Sexuality
Busy, busy, but very happy. Did I mention it was warm outside today?

Anyway, I'm going to actually be doing a series of posts based on that paper I mentioned above. Comment below and let me know what you've been up to! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Open Letter to YA Authors About Sex

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
*Fair warning for my faint-of-heart readers. We're talking about sex here more than Salt-N-Pepa.*

Dear YA Authors,

Please stop making sex hurt.

That's a weird request, I know, so let me clarify what I mean a little. You know the (heterosexual) sex scenes in YA books (the ones that don't fade to black) where it's the girl's first time and it goes something like this:

I felt a sharp pain and he paused. "Are you okay?" he asked. I gritted my teeth and nodded. Eventually the pain turned into something better... later, after we were finished, I saw a red stain on his sheets and cringed.

I'm not exactly going to win the Printz here, but you get the idea.

This stereotypical sex scene bothers me for a number of reasons and in order to explain why, I'm going to break it down with some statistics (courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures).


1.  22 states require sex ed in public schools AND

2. Only 19 of those states actually require it to be "medically, factually or technically accurate"

That's a little scary, isn't it?

Basically, this means that a lot of teens are probably NOT getting comprehensive sex education (or any sex education at all). And while the Internet has a lot of great resources, like Scarleteen, it also has unrealistic porn and propagates a lot of myths surrounding sex. 

I'm lucky to live in a state that does require sex ed but I still got hit with some of the old standards. Especially the whole first-time-for-girls-sucks-popping-the-cherry crap. As a preteen and teen, a lot of the extraneous info I got about sex came from some of the YA books I was reading, and they confirmed what I had been taught: for heterosexual girls, sex will hurt and there will be blood and it is scary.

In reality, is this true? Kind of. My educators conveniently forgot to mention that a woman's first time only hurts if she isn't aroused and - oh yeah- there really shouldn't be any tearing going on (ow!). 

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)It doesn't take a Women's Studies expert to see where this myth comes from: virginity ("purity") is taken very seriously for girls in Western culture to the point where it is tied to a woman's worth. Make sex something painful and it discourages girls from participating.

Unfortunately, even my favorite feminist writers, like Kristin Cashore, have included this myth in their books (Graceling, in this case). And until I discovered Laci Green's Sex Plus channel - God bless her - I believed this myth. 

So please, YA authors, stop making sex hurt. You may have readers who learn more about sex in your novel than they do in every semester of school, so while it's not your job to be their health teacher, you can stop buying into a myth that was created to keep women "pure" and passive. 

I'm not asking you to dedicate a chapter in your books to talk about how great sex can be. I'm literally just asking that you stop making it scary.

Sincerely,
Sara

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Feminist Review: Pivot Point by Kasie West

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
  
 " Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier . . . Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not. In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without "
Summary from Goodreads. 

The Quick of It:  Pivot Point is the first book in the Pivot Point series. Now onto the fun stuff. :)


Holy wow I could not put Pivot Point down. I started it on the train when I went into New York and finished it the next morning. The dual plotting is just brilliant and the suspense! Seriously, this book will make your pulse beat faster.

 

“'My bookcase is all yours.'
I walked to the door. 'I've just decided that those are my favorite five words in the world.'" 


Demerits:  

My main issue with Pivot Point was the character of Stephanie. She's a cheerleader, an a jealous ex, and this evil, beautiful cheerleader trope is tired. Her contributions to the plot could have been achieved in ways that weren't so trite and didn't rely on  unnecessary girl-on-girl hate.


Making the Grade: 


I loved Addie's friendship with Chris. Even though there's a kind of dual-love-story thing going on, it's fair to say that both stories are more about Addie's relationship with Chris. The loyalty here, and the way they're brutally honest with each other in ways that only best friends can be. 

"We were an odd pair, constantly tugging each other back and forth over the line that represented normal teenage behavior.

Fellow Book Nerd: 


Addie's love of books endeared her to me right away. The fact that she liked everything from classics to graphic novels made me love her even more. 



Final Grade: B 

See my explanation of grades.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Feminist Review: OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
  
 " When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again. But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic... and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed. Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down...and she might end up breaking her own heart "
Summary from Goodreads. 



The Quick of It:  I won this book from the author (thanks!), though that does not affect my review. Now onto the fun stuff.  :)

While Haydu's writing style is really accessible, OCD Love Story is not an easy story to read. It's not meant to be- you feel everything Bea feels, every frustration and yearning and hope. So basically, this book doesn't just tug on your heart strings, it grabs onto them and won't let go.

Demerits:  

There's been a lot of cheerleader hate in the books I've been reading lately. So I got a little ruffled over this passage:

"Something no one knows: Football-playing popular dudes sometimes fall for quirky smart girls as long as they, you know, have a pretty face and decent body. I think they get sick of the anorexic cheerleaders, and if you catch them at the right moment, you convince them to want something more."

In simple terms, this is a classic case of...


This passage not only shames a body type by making light of anorexia but it unnecessarily encourages girl-on-girl hate and competition. I can understand why Bea, a girl who already feels different from other people, might lash out but this isn't consistent with the rest of her characterization. 

Also, some of the ways Bea talks about her best friend is alarming. Like the point when she says, "She's not a lost cause, exactly, but she loses track of her hands, her words, her facial expressions too easily and it's gotta be at least part of the reason she's still never kissed a guy." Because, naturally, every movement girls make is to attract a guy. 

Making the Grade: 


After this book, I will never ever say "I'm so OCD" just because I like my books organized nor will I allow any of my friends to say it. OCD Love Story is really eye-opening about what it's like to live with this disorder and you get to see how different teens cope with it. Bea desperately wants to control her compulsions, but because OCD is a form of anxiety (something I did not know before I read this), it's nearly impossible to.

“Torture: knowing something makes no sense, but doing it anyways.”  

A character who actually likes the way she looks and is unashamed of it! It was such a relief to have Bea say that she is gorgeous and own it (it's very Beyoncé of her, and by that, I mean it's awesome). Of course I can't find the page with that passage on it now, but here's a close second:

"Let's face it: I'm really pretty in winter."

A Note on the Grade: 


Even though I had my complaints, I want to make it clear that OCD Love Story is a really great read. It really provides such an honest perspective and with such a dynamic character as Bea, it's a fantastic story.



Final Grade: B-

See my explanation of grades.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Perfect Traveling Companion

Wednesday, January 14, 2015
I never go anywhere without a book. My friends tease me all the time about it because I've brought books to movies, parties- you name it, I've probably brought a book there.

When you're traveling, even just for a day, it's absolutely vital to have a book or two or three on you. Not everyone has (or wants) an e-reader, and if that's the case, you need to have a plan down, otherwise you can end up stuck lugging a 500-page hardcover on your New York trip (not fun).


Instead of torturing your arm muscles, follow this guide to reading while traveling:

1. If you're about to finish a book, don't bring it.

I know this is hard. You're dying to know what those last thirty pages contain and if you don't bring it with you, you won't be able to read it and then the world will end!!!!!!

Leaving your potentially favorite book behind is stressful
But seriously, we're trying to pack light here and books are heavy. You're going to finish those thirty pages in the first five minutes in the car/train/plane and then you're going to be stuck with that dead weight for the rest of the trip. Speed read it or leave it.

2. Set a limit.

If it's a day trip, bring only 1 book. You're not going to have that much time to read if you're - for example - going into the city for the day. 1 book should cover the train or car ride (if you're one of those lucky jerks who can read in the car) just fine, unless you're the world's fastest reader. If you are, kudos to you.

3. Stick to the limit!

I know, limits are lame. But you'll thank yourself later.
Yes you can probably fit three books into your purse but you want to be able to find your wallet and cell phone with relative ease. If you're going on an airplane this is all the more important: that suitcase full of books may have seemed like a good idea at the start, but when you have to pay exorbitant baggage fees, you're not going to feel so smart.

4. Go paperbacks.

You don't want to bring a book like this.
Hardcovers are pretty, but paperbacks are lighter! And can be squished into a bag better (just be careful- they can also get ripped/damaged more easily *shudders*).

5. Mix it up

If you are going on a trip that requires more than one book, bring a few in different genres or styles. That way, if you're in France or the Bahamas (lucky you, take me with you please) and you suddenly develop an aversion to all dystopian novels, you can pull out that fantasy book you brought. Problem solved!

Any bookish traveling tips?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Feminist Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Tuesday, January 6, 2015
  
 "To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister's ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all. "



Summary from Goodreads. 




The Quick of It


I've never heard a bad word about any of Jenny Han's books before and I'd stumbled on a number of positive reviews of To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Plus I was at the library this week and I was in the mood for realistic fiction and also my self control in a library may call for therapy. I started it that day and tore through it, staying up till 3 in the morning last night so I could finish it. I just loved her writing style, and it was especially cool because it's kind of a Glass Menagerie retelling (I say kind of because the parallels are there but the overwhelming depression isn't). 

 

"When I write, I hold nothing back...Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I've saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter."

Demerits:  

The only part of the book I have a demerit for is also kind of spoiler-y. Proceed with caution!! 

Start of the Spoiling: At the end of the book, a rumor is started that Lara Jean had sex with a guy in the hot tub. In some regards, Han handles it well, in showing the discrepancies between how girls and guys are treated. (The guy is a stud while the girl is a slut because female sexuality is SCARY and EVIL *waggles fingers demonically*). But then Lara Jean seemed to reinforce that. When her dad finds out, it's natural that she is mortified and overwhelmed and defensive, but then she says things like she can't believe he'd think "the worst" of her. First of all, her dad doesn't want her growing up too fast (understandable, especially from a parent's POV), but he doesn't indicate that he doesn't think well of her now because of it. That's all Lara Jean. In addition, the only other girls who are sexually active in the book (Peter's ex, Genevieve, and Lara Jean's best friend, Chris) are either depicted as catty and manipulative (Gen) or out-of-control and self-destructive (Chris). We're told that Margot has had sex, too, but even here it's something she regrets. Spoiling Over!

Initially, I thought it was cool that Lara Jean wanted to wait to have sex till she was older or married because she was making a choice that worked for her. But when there's a narrative set up that shames girls for making a different choice, that results in a demerit.


Making the Grade: 


It's a coming-of-age story! And a sister story! I absolutely love a good sister story, maybe because I don't have any sisters. Their bond is tighter than anything- drama, chores duties, boys (literally the definition of "sisters before misters"). Her relationship, especially as Kitty's older sister, added so much heart to the book. It kind of reminded me of a Stephanie Perkin's novel in that sense- you could feel the genuine love between the characters (even when they were screaming at each other). 

"Sisters are supposed to fight and make up, because they are sisters

and sisters always find their way back to each other." 


The Song sisters are Korean on their mother's side and it was awesome to see a biracial protagonist in a YA book. (This is actually my first book for the 2015 Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge.) Celebrating her Korean culture (usually through her dad's cooking) is a way for her to remember her mom and adds to the bond she shares with her sisters. It's not all peachy, though; Lara Jean also has annoying little things she has to put with up (like how on Halloween everyone thinks she's a manga character no matter what she dresses as). 

"There are very limited options for Asian girls on Halloween. Like one year I went as Velma from Scooby-Doo, but people just asked me if I was a manga character."

Surprise: 

Maybe I'm the only one who didn't know, but To All the Boys I've Loved Before isn't a standalone! The sequel is coming out this June and while the summary is triggering some Love Triangle Alarms, I'm crossing my fingers it will be as good as the first. Based on the way Han beautifully handled all the relationships in this book, I'm sure it will be. 



Final Grade: B- 

See my explanation of grades.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dive Into Diversity Challenge

Monday, December 29, 2014
I've talked about this before, really don't like reading challenges. I know they're fun for some people but, for me, it's one of those things that just stress me out. Reading is an escape for me, and when I have to read something it stops being an escape.

That said, I'm participating in a reading challenge in 2015. The Dive Into Diversity Challenge is hosted by the awesome Magan and Estelle at Rather Be Reading and is inspired by the also awesome We Need Diverse Books campaign.



Unlike some of the other challenges out there, this one is relatively lax- all you have to do is read at least one diverse book a month. A lot of characters who don't fit the mythical norm (white, straight, middle-class, abled, etc.) don't get as much attention in media, including YA books but the We Need Diverse Books campaign (and, by extension, this challenge) seeks to change that.

What is all this diversity talk about? I'll let one of my favorite organizations, the Harry Potter Alliance, explain why representation is not just cool, but really necessary (I added the bold for emphasis):

"1. It gives people a stronger sense of self and affirmation of identity.
2. It gives children somebody to relate to and look up to.
3. It expands people’s assumptions of their capabilities (assumptions that are often relayed to them through constant negative media portrayal).
4. It provides a more realistic look at the world’s population.
5. It fights the idea that straight/white/male = normal and everything else is “other” (think about your local bookstore: there’s probably a section for African American Fiction, Gay and Lesbian Fiction, and Women’s Fiction, and while these can be positive spaces for marginalized groups to find books that include them and portray their issues with honesty and authenticity, it’s important to discuss the reasons why they have to have separate sections, and why they’re not already included in general literature and fiction)."

I was privileged enough to grow up with access to a great library at my synagogue, and reading about other Jewish kids really helped me find my own faith and appreciate my culture. Every kid of every race, religion, social class, etc. should have that chance.

After all, we can only benefit from diversity. The more stories are told, the more we as readers can better understand and empathize with people who may not share our background. Growing up and reading YA books about characters who grappled with their sexuality or gender (like Ask the Passengers or Luna)  is a large part of why I'm a feminist today. Books like Libba Bray's Beauty Queens (one of the most diverse books out there) was honestly a huge factor in my decision to double major in Women's & Gender Studies and Government.



Put very simply, diversity is important because everyone's story is important.

I'm going to start a tab with a bunch of my favorite diverse reads and I'd love your recommendations! Fantasy and realistic fiction are my favorite, but I also love a really great sci-fi, or a thriller...let's be real, I'll read anything.

Anyway, Happy New Year! Let's hope it's a great year, full of great (and diverse) books.

Will you participate in the Dive into Diversity Challenge this coming year?