Monday, December 10, 2018

Fed Up - Gemma Hartley

Title: Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward
Author: Gemma Hartley
Publisher: HarperOne, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 252 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction, Parenting
Started: December 3, 2018
Finished: December 10, 2018

From Gemma Hartley, the journalist who ignited a national conversation on emotional labour, comes Fed Up, a bold dive into the unpaid, invisible work women have shouldered for too long - and an impassioned vision for creating a better future for us all.

Day in, day out, women anticipate and manage the needs of others. In relationships, we initiate the hard conversations. At home, we shoulder the mental load required to keep our households running. At work, we moderate our tone, explaining patiently and speaking softly. In the world, we step gingerly to keep ourselves safe. We do this largely invisible, draining work whether we want to or not - and we never clock out. No wonder women everywhere are overtaxed, exhausted, and simply fed up.

In her ultra-viral article "Women Aren't Nags - We're Just Fed Up," shared by millions of readers, Gemma Hartley gave much-needed voice to the frustration and anger experienced by countless women. Now, in Fed Up, Hartley expands outward from the everyday frustrations of performing thankless emotional labour to illuminate how the expectation to do this work in all arenas - private and public - fuels gender inequality, limits our opportunities, steals out time, and adversely affects the quality of our lives.

More than just name the problem, though, Hartley teases apart the cultural messaging that had led us here and asks how we can shift the load. Rejecting easy solutions that don't ultimately move the needle, Hartley offers a nuanced insightful guide to striking true balance, for true partnership in every aspect of our lives. Reframing emotional labour not as a problem to be overcome, but as a genderless virtue men and women can all learn to channel in our quest to make a better, more egalitarian world, Fed Up is surprising, intelligent, and empathetic essential reading for every woman who has had enough with feeling fed up.

I remember when this author's aforementioned viral article released. I eagerly shared it, amazed that there was actually a name for this nagging frustration I experienced as a woman, something that every woman I know has experienced but we often pass it off as "just the way things are."

I remember asking my mom as a teenager why we (the women in the family) always had the job of zipping around the kitchen fetching items for guests at our home on holidays (normally thought of as being good hosts) while my father wasn't expected to do the same. I can't even remember the exact answer she gave me, but I know it didn't satisfy my teenaged self. Now, my father has improved over the years, but there are still so many aspects of emotional labour that my mother is expected to perform on behalf of both of them (especially in our Italian family), and that I am expected to perform as mother to my child that isn't expected of her father.

Emotional labour as a term is confusing to those that haven't heard it before, but all I have to do is describe the ever-present, "Why am I the only person in this house who notices the toilet paper roll/garbage/random bag needs to be changed/taken out/brought upstairs?!" scenario for women to nod their heads in instant understanding. I did this, in fact, in my workroom with my colleagues the other day when they asked about the book I was reading. This led to an entire conversation about emotional labour, which we as a room of female educators (as well as wives and mothers) are intimately familiar.

The author does a great job of describing emotional labour to her readers, with anecdotes that will have many women nodding their heads in sympathy. She also has chapters entailing how we got to this current state (not-so sarcastic hint: patriarchy and misogyny) and how to better achieve balance between the sexes and emotional labour at home and in the workforce. It's true that some men, like many single fathers, do the bulk of or all of the emotional labour in their families because they've been forced to through circumstance; but in order for change to occur for the majority of men, it's the expectation of men not just "helping" but actually "sharing" the work of emotional labour that will help fuel the change in people's relationships.

This is a must-read (as well as the article linked above), if for nothing else than having a wonderfully cathartic experience. In my case, though, it was a bit rage-inducing when I empathized with nearly all the examples put forth in this book to the point where I wanted to chuck the book against the wall....but it's fine, really, it's fine, I'm fine, totally fine.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's very utilitarian, but it gets the job done.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Hey, Kiddo - Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Title: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Publisher: Graphix (Scholastic), 2018 (Paperback)
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel; Nonfiction
Started: November 20, 2018
Finished: November 21, 2018

From the back cover:

In preschool, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asked him to draw his family with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family was much, much more complicated than that. His mom was an addict, in and out of rehab and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father was a mystery - Jarrett didn't know where to find him, or even what his name was. Jarrett was living with his grandparents - two very brash, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children...until Jarrett came along.

Now Jarrett's a teenager. He's gone through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through art despite the fact that he's grown up in a house where many things remain unsaid. It's only when he's old enough to to have his driver's license that Jarrett can begin to piece together the truth of his family - reckoning with his mother, tracking down his father, and finding his own identity.

Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family as it grapples with addiction, finding the people who help you get through, and the art that helps you survive.

When I read the write-up for this months ago, I knew I had to read it. This is one of those really touching stories about a kid overcoming some immensely adverse circumstances, and the fact that this is a memoir just makes it all the more remarkable.

Jarrett begins the book by outlining the history of his mother's family, starting with his grandparents' first meeting in high school. As he progresses through the decades, he outlines his mother's early troubled history, his own birth and early childhood, and the factors that lead to him living with his grandparents.

The author does a wonderful job of conveying exactly how his mother's addiction affected him growing up. Though he admits as an adult he came to understand her limitations and that she did in fact love him, it doesn't necessarily lessen the impact of that trauma during his formative years. I also appreciate how he mentions in the afterword that therapy helped him tremendously as an adult and how it would have been beneficial during his youth, but therapy just wasn't as accepted or commonplace during the 80s and early 90s like it is now.

I also like how he subtly works in how his grandmother's drinking affected the family, beyond the fact that addiction tends to run in families. Even though his grandmother loved him too, that addiction impacted his life in different ways than his mother's, his grandmother being more emotionally or verbally abusive rather than neglectful like his mother. It showcases that addiction can still persist in what appears to be stable, loving fixtures.

You can tell this piece was cathartic for the author to create, it has this sense of synthesizing this lived experience as an adult and trying to package it in a way that could help kids today that he wished he had as a child. The little details like the letters, photos, and drawings all help reinforce the reality of the experience (not to mention the fact that the author managed a ton of stuff from his childhood years).

This memoir is truly heartfelt and can be a story of hope for so many who are in similar circumstances. This is a volume that should be in every high school library.

Thoughts on the cover:
The cover's much brighter in terms of colour than the artwork inside (the author has a nice note at the end explaining the reasons behind that), but the orange tones work well against the bright blue pineapple wallpaper behind Jarrett (there's a note about the symbolism of that as well).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Dear Evan Hansen - Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Title: Dear Evan Hansen
Author: Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown and Company), 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 358 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: November 12, 2018
Finished: November 19, 2018

From the inside cover:

Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be an amazing day, and here's why...

When a letter that was never meant to be seen draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family's grief over the loss of their son, Evan is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to pretend that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn't invisible anymore - even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy's parents have taken him in like their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his "closest friend." As Evan gets pulled deeper into the family's swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he's doing can't be right, but if he's helping people. how wrong can it be?

No longer incapacitated by anxiety or hiding from the disappointment in his mother's eyes, this new Evan has a purpose. And confidence. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face-to-face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this bighearted story of grief, authenticity, and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I've heard great things about the musical that this novel stems from, and not having seen it yet, I figured I may as well give the novel version a go and see if I like it. The fact that the original creators and screenwriters were a part of the novel's creation reassured me a bit as well that this would be as close to the spirit of the musical as you can get when adapting to print. Sadly, though this story has the potential to be really amazing and heartfelt (and some parts truly are), the novel's titular character just doesn't really make me that invested in him.

Evan is a severely anxious seventeen-year-old boy who is also depressed to the point of suicidal ideation. At the start of his senior year, his therapist gives him the assignment of writing letters to himself in order to try to keep a more positive outlook. After a confrontation and misunderstanding one afternoon, classmate Connor Murphy ends up with one of Evan's letters to himself. When Connor dies by suicide that night, Evan is eventually contacted by the Murphy family, asking why their loner son was writing letters to Evan. With the best of intentions to ease the suffering of a grieving family, Evan tells the Murphys that Conner and he were good friends and had been communicating in secret. With the later creation of The Connor Project, a movement to remember Connor and create awareness for mental health and suicide, Evan is thrust into the spotlight and his life as he knows it changes very quickly. However, as Evan's mother begins to enquire about the sudden changes in her son's behaviour, Evan's own guilt and anxiety over his actions begin to grow.

There are a few things about this text that I do truly enjoy. There are some lovely moments and sentiments expressed by characters about feeling isolated and disconnected from others, they allow for readers to really empathize with the characters. I also like how the effects of grief on a family are shown, especially when the person who dies has complicated relationships with the family involved. It's liberating for Zoe to say that although she misses her brother, she doesn't miss the tension in the house or the times where he would become violent towards her.

On to the parts of the novel that just didn't do it for me. Evan is a sympathetic character to a certain extent, but when his lie kept snowballing after he had multiple opportunities to correct it I really lost interest in what happened to him. There's something about lying to a grieving family in the manner that Evan did that just doesn't sit right with me. Also, the events in the conclusion just didn't seem all that realistic either, it's as if Evan gets off too easily.

I'd say this is worth the read whether you've seen the musical version of this or not, but it may fall flat for some readers as it did for me.

Thoughts on the cover:
The image of the tree, particularly the shading, is really well done; and the symbolism fits nicely with its mention in the novel.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Crush - Svetlana Chmakova

Title: Crush
Author: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press, 2018 (Paperback)
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction
Started: November 11, 2018
Finished: November 11, 2018

From the back cover:

Jorge seems to have it all together. He's big enough that nobody really messes with him, but he's also a genuinely sweet guy with a solid, reliable group of friends. The only time he ever really feels off his game is when he crosses paths with a certain girl... But when the group dynamic among the boys starts to shift, will Jorge be able to balance what his friends expect of him with what he actually wants?

Following the overwhelming success of Awkward and Brave, Svetlana Chmakova's award-winning Berrybrook Middle School series continues with its next instalment - Crush!

This is the third instalment of a graphic novel series that I absolutely adore. Copies of these should be in every middle-grade classroom, they're very topical and address issues (sometimes difficult ones) that all preteens and young teenagers deal with at some point in their lives.

After falling in love with Awkward, and enjoying Brave just as much (if not a little more), I hoped Crush would be the same. Thankfully, the author is simply amazing and delivers yet another new story that is just as impressive as the previous two.

This third book focuses on thirteen-year-old Jorge Ruiz, first introduced in Brave. Jorge, at first glance, seems like your stereotypical jock: he's big, plays baseball, and a lot of kids are a little afraid of him. But as Jensen first realizes in Brave, Jorge is actually a nice, no-nonsense guy with a moral code who looks out for people at school.

In Crush, Jorge begins the story with a solid group of friends that are very similar to him. When his friend Garrett begins mingling with a group of kids that behave in ways Jorge detests, he has to decide whether he is going to stay true to his own moral code or emulate what the other group is doing. Amidst all of this, the athletics club that Jorge is a part of is organizing a fundraiser ball, and Jorge himself develops a crush on fellow classmate Jazmine. So Jorge not only has to balance school, homework, baseball practice, and all the activities he has to help out with for the ball; he also has to juggle relationship drama on top of all that.

I really enjoy how the author manages to showcase both male and female characters throughout this series to create stories that appeal equally to boys and girls. Though one character does tend to be the main focus in each story, readers are introduced to several other students as secondary characters throughout each book that they will be able to see themselves reflected in at least a couple. The fact that this book focuses on friendship and budding romantic relationships but is from a male point of view is amazing in my opinion, just because it's rare to see a middle-grade story about those themes that doesn't come from a female main character.

I also like how the author focuses on the interactions of new clubs with each story, this time looking at the athletics club and the drama club. This subtly shows young readers that they can indeed be friends with all kinds of kids, and that they aren't limited to hanging out with those who share every single interest with them.

I really appreciate that the author included the issue of consent in this story. Characters of both sexes actually ask permission if they can kiss each other, and characters in turn give clear answers. This is really a wonderful example to set for the younger generation, it's presented as the default way to be respectful.

I also appreciate how, through Jorge, the author relates the idea that the people you choose to hang out with influence how you are perceived by others. Jorge dislikes James and his buddies because they're disrespectful jerks to everyone else, and loses a degree of respect for his friend Garrett when he starts hanging out with them.

This instalment, like the other two, showcases diversity across gender, race, cultural background, religion, body type, etc. I'm amazed at the different ways readers will see themselves reflected throughout this series.

I can't recommend this series enough. If you've got a preteen/teenager at home that you need to buy books for or teach that age level, just go out and buy these, you won't be disappointed.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the first and second covers. Jorge and Jazmine are in full colour while Jorge's friends are in lighter monochrome, and the subtle blush marks on Jorge's cheeks are just too stinking cute.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge - Lisa Jensen

Title: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge
Author: Lisa Jensen
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: October 20, 2018
Finished: October 21, 2018

From the inside cover:

They say Chateau Beaumont is cursed. Servant girl Lucie can't believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier's cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wisewoman grants her wish and transforms Jean-Loup into terrifying Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside.

But Beast proves to be nothing like the chevalier. Jean-Loup would never tend his roses so patiently or attempt poetry - nor express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup's ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced cruel Jean-Loup - until an innocent beauty arrives at the chateau with the power to break the spell.

Filled with gorgeous writing, magic, and fierce emotion, Beast will challenge all you think you know about good and evil, beauty and beastliness.

It seems I'm back on the fairy tale retelling kick again, this time with one of my favourites that I of course had to examine when I saw the news of its release.

This particular version has a unique aspect to it: the story is told from the perspective of a servant girl, and just as much of the plot takes place before and after the curse as during it. Lucie's narrative adds an interesting element to the story because we see a victim of the chevalier's cruelty early on, which makes it all the more surprising when she later becomes Beast's greatest supporter. There's a bit of a plot twist that explains why this occurs, but I won't reveal it for fear of spoilers. It makes sense given the context of the story (and the whole suspension-of-disbelief that one needs to possess while reading fairy tales), but I can see why it might rub some readers the wrong way, especially considering the nature of the chevalier's crime against Lucie.

The book does drag a bit during the middle when Lucie, who has been turned into a candlestick, simply sits in a cupboard waiting to be taken out. This happens later on as well when Rose arrives and Lucie is carried around by her constantly, but nothing much really happens. This is perhaps the downside of a first-person narration when your narrator becomes an enchanted object midway through the book.

Worth the read for the unique take on the story (and I completely sympathize with the author's thoughts in her note at the end of the book), but there are better retellings out there.

Thoughts on the cover:
Aside from the massive font of the cliché title that made me hide the cover while at work for fear that my coworkers would think I was reading a trashy romance novel, the cover's not bad. The rose that hides a wolf's face is a nice touch, as is the candlestick at the bottom.

Friday, October 19, 2018

That's Not What Happened - Kody Keplinger

Title: That's Not What Happened
Author: Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: October 17, 2018
Finished: October 19, 2018

From the inside cover:

It's been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah's story - that she died proclaiming her faith.

But it's not true.

I know be cause I was with her when she died. I didn't say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah's parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight...but I'm not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did - and didn't - happen that day.

Except Sarah's martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don't take kindly to what I'm trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what's right. I don't know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up.

From New York Times bestselling author Kody Keplinger comes an astonishing and thought-provoking exploration of the aftermath of tragedy, the power of narrative, and how we remember what we've lost.

I'm such a sucker for books like these, ones that talk about big issues that we don't often otherwise discuss in a way that invites something beyond the surface examination. School shootings are one of those issues.

Lee is one of six survivors of a mass shooting at her high school three years prior. Among the nine victims was her best friend, Sarah. Everybody believes that before she died, Sarah had a confrontation with the shooter about the cross necklace she was wearing, and is now thought of as a martyr. Lee tells us from the beginning that it isn't true, but she kept silent due to the harassment another survivor, Kellie Gaynor, received when she tried to tell the truth. As Lee is about to graduate, she learns that Sarah's parents have written a book about their daughter's story that is about to be released. Wanting to correct all the misconceptions that have emerged about the survivors as well as the victims, Lee asks the five to write letters telling their own stories about what really happened.

This novel is essentially about who controls the narrative in the aftermath of a tragedy. When people die, especially tragically, there's this aversion to talk about them as real people with flaws. No one likes to speak ill of the dead, after all. Lee is interested in the truth, even if it's not pretty, even if it means shattering the images people cling to in order to help them survive their grief. She doesn't shy away from admitting that even a victim people are mourning would've been classified as a jerk while living. But Lee grapples with her insistence on the truth, wondering who it really serves and if it does more harm than good.

I appreciated how the author made this book diverse in so many ways. Lee is asexual, and it plays a significant role in her character development. She's also the child of a single, teenaged mom who is very matter-of-fact about her deadbeat father and thankful to her mother for the sacrifices she's made. Denny is not only black (one of the only black kids in the school) but also blind. Eden is hispanic and a lesbian. The issue of religion is explored as well, from personal belief and lack of it, compared to organized religion.

I also like how the author included so many references to criticisms that we usually hear about in the aftermath of mass shootings: denying that the event ever occurred, calling the survivors "crisis actors," and pro-gun lobbyists confronting survivors. She was also very realistic about the effects of trauma: characters deal with anger, addiction, guilt, and depression that no one else really understands except for each other.

This is a gripping, engrossing story that is hard to put down. This is something everybody should read, especially considering the frequency of mass shootings in recent years.

Thoughts on the cover:
The pencil, sharpener, and eraser marks reinforce the letter theme from the book; it's simple yet effective.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fierce Fairytales - Nikita Gill

Title: Fierce Fairytales
Author: Nikita Gill
Publisher: Hachette Books, 2018 (Paperback)
Length: 156 pages
Genre: Adult; Poetry
Started: October 1, 2018
Finished: October 6, 2018

From the inside cover:

Traditional fairytales are rife with cliches and gender stereotypes: beautiful, silent princesses; ugly, jealous, and bitter villainesses; girls who need rescuing; and men who take all the glory.

But in this rousing new prose and poetry collection, Nikita Gill gives Once Upon a Time a much-needed modern makeover. Through her gorgeous reimagining of fairytale classics and spellbinding original tales, she dismantles the old-fashioned tropes that have been ingrained in our minds. In this book, gone are the docile women and male saviours. Instead, lines blur between heroes and villains. You will meet fearless princesses, a new kind of wolf lurking in the concrete jungle, and an independent Gretel who can bring down monsters on her own.

Complete with beautifully hand-drawn illustrations by Gill herself, Fierce Fairytales is an empowering collection of poems and stories for a new generation.

I'm back on a poetry kick, so I'm working through my list of poets and their collections I wanted to tackle after finally reading Rupi Kaur earlier this year.

Nikita Gill caught my attention purely for this collection focusing on fairytale retellings since I'm a sucker for those. If you're expecting some woke, feminist retellings, you'd be spot on. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just that when there's a whole book of poem after poem of the same thing, it does get a little predictable after a while.

Some of my favourites include a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (which includes the poem excerpt below) that I would actually read to my daughter, a poem about Hercules and toxic masculinity, and a little myth-inspired story about why the leaves change colour.

If you're a fan of Rupi Kaur and other similar poets it's well-worth the read, though the lack of variety with the subject matter may irritate some readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
The blue and silver line drawings really stand out here and look quite appealing.