Thanks to this audiobook, I now know that September 8th is the anniversary of the day that Stargirl (aka Susan Caraway) first laid eyes on Leo Borlock. As she strolled through the Mica High cafeteria with her ukelele and sang Happy Birthday to some other unsuspecting stranger, she saw the fear in Leo’s eyes as he worried that she might come and sing to him. Of all the stuff that happened in this story, Stargirl’s remembrance of that day was a pretty small thing, but it really stuck with me. Why? Because *MY* birthday is September 8th! Though I seriously doubt Jerry Spinelli wrote that into his book for me, I wonder if he’s friends with Jon Scieszka and used that reference as a shout out to him. (Yeah. I share a birthday with Jon Scieszka — and Jo Knowles – how awesome is that?!?)
Anyhow… I like the fact that this book was written as a letter from Stargirl to Leo in diary form. It was cool to see things from her perspective this time. I mean, it was easy enough to see from Leo’s narration (in Stargirl) that she was a free spirit, but it was kinda cool to see exactly how her thought process worked. I am most definitely a “Type A” personality, so it took a lot for me to get into her head and to understand where she was coming from, but it made a little more sense as she explained herself. Living without clocks, for example, seems kinda cool — but I think I would go batty after only a day or two.
Anthony “Antsy” Bonano was one of the few people in the world who ever noticed Calvin Schwa (aka The Schwa). As Antsy said, The Schwa was “functionally invisible,” and it seemed that he was right. Kids would walk right past him without seeing him, even if he wore ridiculous clothing. Teachers would look past his raised hand or even mark him absent despite his presence/attempted participation in class. And his own father would often not realize he was home. Antsy first tested his hypothesis — with the aforementioned ridiculous clothing — and then he did his best to capitalize on The Schwa Effect. He figured people would pay good money for someone who was able to spy without getting caught or who was capable of slipping a late assignment into a teacher’s bag unnoticed, and he was right. The only thing he didn’t really consider was the fact that The Schwa was a person with emotions like everyone else. Sure, it was cool that he could sometimes get away with things other kids couldn’t… but being invisible can get pretty lonely, too.
Fans of the Unwind Dystology might have a hard time believing that this book was written by the same author, but they won’t likely be disappointed — as long as they can appreciate a wry/sarcastic sense of humor, that is. Here’s a little taste of Antsy for people who are on the fence:
“Life is like a bad haircut. At first it looks awful, then you kind of get used to it, and before you know it, it it grows out and you gotta get another haircut that maybe won’t be so bad, unless of course you keep going to SuperClips, where the hairstylists are so terrible they oughta be using safety scissors, and when they’re done you look like your head got caught in a ceiling fan. So life goes on, good haircut, bad haircut, until finally you go bald, and it don’t matter no more.
I told this wisdom to my mother, and she said I oughta put it in a book, then burn it. Some people just can’t appreciate the profound.”
Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50. When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went in to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded. I *had* to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck. I don’t often find non-fiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial. It was like I was listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files. (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)
I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country. One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends. When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something. A man is a man.” So simple a statement, yet so profound.
From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel. I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix. And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off. Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life. While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!
Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace. Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide. Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit. After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy. Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.
When this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it. It just sounded too depressing. Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp. (We share a parking lot with the Y!) This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit. So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.
Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny. The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light. My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball. You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?” Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course! ;-) He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals. The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan. I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.
Today’s installment of I Read YA Week is RelationSHIP Day — and I am supposed to “play matchmaker to the YA universe.” While I am guessing most people will be matching up couples, I think I am going to be different and match up some BFFs. I recently listened to the audiobook of Grave Mercy, and I kept thinking of Katsa, from Graceling. After all, she was also an assassin with mystical powers who was being used as a pawn in someone else’s plans. I think these young women would find great comfort in each other’s company, and I can almost imagine them meeting up for tea or a glass of wine and to kvetch about the people they had to kill that week! (To learn more about Katsa’s story, check out my Graceling review.)
The really cool thing about Ismae is that she was fathered by Death — aka Saint Mortain. This was first discovered when she resisted the herbs her mother bought in an attempt to expel her from the womb. The turnip farmer who raised her as his child despised her and treated her terribly, then he sold her off as a bride to a brutish man when she was seventeen. On her wedding night, when her husband discovered the marks that had been left behind by the poison, he flew into a rage. Ismae managed to escape and was taken away to live in a convent with the Sisters of Mortain, who trained her to be handmaiden of Death. Ismae was trained to mix and administer a variety of poisons, to conceal and use all manner of weapons, and to use “womanly arts” to search potential targets for the mark of Mortain [which both confirmed that a person should be assassinated and also indicated how they would die]. Add in some double-agents, hidden plots, and a dash of romance, and you get an audiobook that made me sad to run into only light traffic on the way home!