April May was working for a startup in New York City when she discovered something “absolutely remarkable”… It didn’t really have anything to do with her job, though, except for the fact that she was on her way home from work when she found it. She was trying to get home via the subway when her Metro card wouldn’t work. Since it was 3am, there was no one to help her and April decided to just try another station. It was on her way to a new subway station that she discovered Carl — a gigantic statue that resembled a Transformer wearing Samurai armor. April had no idea where the statue had come from, since there was nothing to identify the statue or its creator. But, surely someone had created it. Right?!?
I loved so many things about this story. First of all, I appreciated the fact that April came very close to brushing off and walking right by this amazing thing because she had already become so jaded and generally unimpressed by all the impressive things all around her. How often do people ignore the beauty of nature or the hard work of an artist simply because they are in a hurry to get somewhere? Far too often, in my humble opinion. Second, I loved the fact that Green explored the ways that fame and our world’s obsession with social media can fundamentally change a person. April went from a person who didn’t even really have a social media presence to a world-wide celebrity who was addicted to the fame this viral video spawned. Most of all, though, I loved the fact that April continued to assume the best about humanity (and The Carls) as she strove to both solve this mystery and fight the hatred that resulted from the fear of the unknown.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like reality TV “jumped the shark” a while ago. It seems like a lot of what the producers are trying to pawn off as “reality” is about as unrealistic as you can get. So, it didn’t even seem like too much of a stretch to think that this story could actually come true. Convicted killers being sent to an island prison [Alcatraz 2.0] where they would be hunted down by government-sanctioned killers and live streamed on an app called The Postman? Why not, right?!? I mean, especially when the beginning of the story mentioned that the President was a former reality star and used his clout to make this show happen. I actually though to myself, “I really hope no reads this story and decides to treat it like a proposal.”
While I was horrified by the comments made by people who watched the murders via The Postman app, I wasn’t terribly shocked. Society has already gotten to the point where many people are desensitized to violence, and plenty of people already make callous remarks on social media because the anonymity and distance that the internet provides. So, if people in this near-future honestly believed that the inhabitants of Alcatraz 2.0 were convicted killers who “deserved” to die… Yeah. But what if they didn’t deserve it? Dee swears that she didn’t kill her step-sister, and some of the other young inmates have similar tales of being framed. Is there any chance that they can prove themselves innocent? Who can they turn to? Will anyone even attempt to listen to what they have to say? And how can they possibly trust each other enough to try and team up when their very survival means that they shouldn’t trust anything or anybody? Talk about an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
P.S. It’s hilarious, too!
Michael and his dad hadn’t been on good terms for a while, but then his dad made things much worse. Not only did his dad up and move the whole family — AGAIN! — when he had promised that Michael could finish high school in the same place… but he actually enrolled Michael in a Catholic prep school. Aside from the frustration of having to wear a stuffy uniform [including a tie!] every day, there was also that not-so-insignificant fact that Michael was an atheist. He entered the school prepared to be friendless, since he assumed the other students would all be believers and he wouldn’t have much in common with them. Then, a girl named Lucy caught his attention when she challenged their teacher about whether “well-behaved women” make history. She argued that the female saints were NOT well-behaved and that they, in fact, often rebelled against the rules. Definitely a good sign that she might be willing to befriend a misfit! Despite putting his foot in his mouth during their initial encounter, Michael managed to gain her trust enough that she invited him to a special “study group” session with a couple of her friends. Except, it wasn’t really a study group. It was a group that called themselves Heretic Anonymous. And though they didn’t strive for anarchy or to destroy their school, they definitely felt that it was important to challenge some of the things about their school — like the dress code and the blatant lies that passed as a sex ed assembly.
I think that the thing I appreciated most about this book was that it didn’t make fun of anyone, believer or not. There were characters from a variety of religions and belief systems, and the author was careful to show respect to all perspectives. Though pointing out that some people might twist religious teachings to suit their own purposes, the actual beliefs (or lack thereof) were held sacred. And pairing that respect of differing beliefs with a display of how people who believe differently might work together toward common goals? Priceless! Oh… And if you enjoyed reading this story from the perspective of an outsider who is curious yet respectful about people’s religious beliefs, you might want to check out a non-fiction book I read nearly a decade ago — The Unlikely Disciple.
Jazz Jennings has been in the public spotlight since she was interviewed by Barbara Walters — when she was only 6 years old. At the time, her parents had asked that their real name not be used so that they could better protect their daughter from people who would be upset by the interview. Why? Because Jazz was transgender. Though she was born with the anatomy of a boy, Jazz always knew she was *really* a girl. When she was 5 years old, her parents helped her to transition to life as a girl. And a year later, the famous interview with Barbara Walters took place. In the 11 years since that interview, Jazz has continued her brave work as an activist for the LGBTQ community by accepting high-profile interviews and speaking engagements, maintaining a social media presence, and writing memoirs to help transgender youth feel less alone while educating people who don’t truly understand the struggles of transgender youth.
I thought this would be a particularly relevant book to review during #BannedBooksWeek because her children’s picture book, I Am Jazz, is listed as the 10th most challenged book of 2017. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Jazz herself, and I really enjoyed hearing Jazz tell her own story. She spoke with such courage and fortitude about her battles with bullying and depression. Though the picture book goes into much less detail than this YA memoir, many people are uncomfortable discussing gender identity with children. Hopefully, the tenacity and bravery of transgender people like Jazz Jennings will help to open the dialogue necessary to create better understanding so that transgender youth will no longer feel so much sadness and confusion as they evaluate how they want to express their gender identity.
Esta is a talented thief and a powerful Mageus who, though she can travel through time, is stuck in New York City. Why? Because the Order, a group that despises Mageus, has manipulated magic to created something called the Brink. Any Mageus who end up inside the Brink become stuck inside because crossing the Brink essentially drains their powers and kills them. And because of this Brink, magic is dwindling and dying out. But Esta is working on a way to take down the Brink. All she needs to do is travel back in time to steal a particular magical book. The problem, of course, is that she needs to get that book from 1902, when not only the Order but also powerful gangs and corrupt politicians hold quite a bit of power over the Mageus in New York City. This book felt almost as if it were the marriage of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Gangs of New York… Fantastic fun! (I can’t wait until the second book in the series, The Devil’s Thief, is released in October.)