TOMBOY by Liz Prince

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Liz is a tomboy. Not the kind of tomboy that you see on TV with braided pigtails and overalls, but the kind of girl  who gets mistaken for a boy due to the way she dresses and acts and the activities that she enjoys. In fact, Liz wishes she were a boy because then she wouldn’t have to deal with all of the double standards applied to her because she is a girl.  She is secretly pleased when people mistake her for a boy. Unfortunately, being a tomboy  seems to have doomed her romantic life.   By recounting the story of her childhood, Liz Prince explorers the idea of what it means to be a girl in a world of conflicting gender expectations.

 Although brief sections of this graphic memoir read a little bit like a sociology text, the sense of humor of the author and her relatable story about growing up, trying to fit in, facing bullying, and discovering her identity is an engaging read.   I recommend it to teens who enjoy graphic novels, memoirs, or realistic fiction.

THE BIRTH HOUSE by Ami McKay

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Many people in town believed Ms. B was a witch, perhaps because of her Cajun past, her Catholicism, or her many herbal remedies for women’s illnesses.  But Dora always looked up to the midwife.  She began helping Ms. B deliver babies when she was still a child herself.  She delivered healthy babies to their mothers’ arms, rocked dying babies in their few moments of life, and observed Ms. B’s methods for helping desperate women prevent or end pregnancies.  When a doctor arrives in town and opens a women’s hospital on the other side of the mountain, Dora’s philosophy of birth is suddenly threatened. The technological advances of the hospital come at the price of women’s freedom and individualized care.  As Dora finds herself at the forefront of the fight against Dr. Thomas, she risks becoming the new town outcast. 

Set against the historical backdrop of the Suffrage and Temperance movements, the story of a town midwife’s struggle against the medical profession shows how seemingly beneficial progress can be twisted into a form of oppression.  This book will likely resonate most with readers who enjoy slow-moving historical fiction, especially those readers who have given birth or have an interest in birth practices.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel’s life fell apart before the divorce, really.  It was the drinking.  If she hadn’t been such a drunk would Tom have taken up with Anna?  Maybe he wouldn’t have kicked Rachel out and taken his new wife and child into the house that used to be hers, the house she still passes every day on the train to London.  To distract herself from looking at the home that used to be hers, Rachel focuses on a couple a few houses down who seem to be perfectly in love.  She makes up stories about their perfect life together.  But one day, she sees something that makes her wonder if their lives are so perfect after all.  And the next morning, Rachel wakes bruised and bloody with no memory of the previous night except a vague certainty that she went to her old neighborhood.  Even worse, she discovers that the woman she has been watching disappeared that same night.  Despite warnings from the police, Rachel cannot help but begin her own investigation, trying to recover the memories of what she saw–or did.

This excellent thriller will soon be a film.  Through the perspectives of the three main female characters, the mystery slowly unfolds with enough foreshadowing to allow readers to gradually solve it themselves and enough complications to make them second guess every one of their inferences.  Even once my suspicions of what had happened to Megan were proven correct in the final chapters, I still wasn’t sure how it would end.  Well-crafted, full of deeply flawed and suspicious characters, and impossible to put down, this is a must-read for thriller lovers.

ICE CHEST by J.D. Rhoades

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Lingerie shows aren’t generally of interest to career thieves like Rafe and L.B.  But then lingerie shows rarely feature jewel encrusted bras worth $5 million.  Better yet, Rafe’s nephew Branson works at the hotel where the show will take place and the kid needs money badly enough that he’ll be glad to join the team.  Unfortunately, the plan isn’t quite as foolproof as they thought and Branson finds himself being chased down by a team of security guards and the mobster ex-boyfriend of a lingerie model while Rafe and L.B. try to turn their mishaps into millions.  

Don’t expect anything too deep from this plot – driven thriller.  A cast of fairly flat characters tumble together in a fast-paced, humorous adventure story that is an entertaining, light read.

NETTIE AND NELLIE CROOK: ORPHAN TRAIN SISTERS by E.F. Abbott

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Twins Nettie and Nellie spent a lot of time together, just the two of them.  Their father was often away for long periods of time to find work, their older brother worked all day, and sometimes their mother would disappear for weeks–especially after their baby sister died.  But one day a man arrives to take the children away, saying that they are not being cared for properly.  At six years old, Nettie and Nellie find themselves in an orphanage, even though their parents are still alive.  Not long afterward they are put on a train and sent West with a group of other children in search of “forever homes.”  But some homes are not as wonderful as they are cracked up to be.

Based on the true story of the Crook sisters, Abbott’s book gives readers a glimpse into what it might be like to be placed in foster care or adopted in the early twentieth century.  Neither the characterization nor the settings are particularly vivid; the book is plot driven.  But the subject matter is interesting, and may especially appeal to readers now that Simone Biles’ Olympic wins are raising awareness of what foster care and adoption are like today.  I would recommend this book to third and fourth grade readers who are interested in history.

WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen

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Stewart is so glad that his dad is happy with Caroline.  He had been sad for so long after Stewart’s mom died.  And Caroline has a daughter–only a year older than Stewart.  It’s worth moving to a new house and a new school if he gets the sister he’s always dreamed of.  Unfortunately, Ashley is less than excited.  She hasn’t told her friends that her dad is gay–just that her parents split up.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, her mom had to invite Leonard and his nerdy freak son to live with them. Who knows what that will do to her social status.  But when Stewart’s attempts to survive in the locker room bring him in contact with Ashley’s crush, their sibling relationship becomes mutually beneficial–for better or for worse.

Told from alternating points of view, Ashley and Stewart’s story is both funny and poignant as it tackles accessible issues such as divorce, peer pressure, and bullying.  I highly recommend it to teens who love realistic fiction.  

MORE FOOL ME: A MEMOIR by Stephen Fry

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In the third installment of his memoirs, Stephen Fry briefly reviews the most formative events of his childhood and university years before meandering through the cocaine-laced journey of his career.  The memoir is littered with anecdotes about his own personal life and his star-studded friendships–although he makes a point not to tell any scathing or overly embarrassing stories about famous people other than himself.  The story of his initial introduction to cocaine and early, high-functioning usage is much more detailed and direct than the story of its negative impact on his life (told through the publication of a litany of his actual diary entries which focus primarily on people and events).  But he makes a point of telling the reader that cocaine dependency negatively impacted his professional and personal life, and he would recommend it to no one.

Fry’s non-chronological reminiscences follow thin thematic threads, which makes the book difficult to follow at times.  There is no real arc to the overall points he makes (they are somewhat scattered throughout), so the memoir reads more as a collection of anecdotes than a cohesive narrative of its own.  That said, many of the anecdotes are quite entertaining.  One of the highlights of the book is an anecdote about Prince Charles and Princess Diana paying a visit to Stephen Fry’s home over the Christmas holiday while he had house guests (including Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson).  The majority of his anecdotes, however, will be of most (perhaps exclusive) interest to fans of Stephen Fry and his closest colleagues (Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, etc.).  I would recommend this memoir specifically to such fans.