Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Fiction Pairs: Lauren Weisberger

Lauren WeisbergerWhen Life Gives You Lululemons & Revenge Wears Prada

When a friend loaned me When Life Gives You Lululemons, I'd never read a book by Lauren Weisberger and the title gave me pause.  I assumed it would be mindless fluff.  And, while this would be a good poolside read, it was much better written, and had a much more interesting plot than I'd originally anticipated - which just goes to show that I shouldn't always judge a book by its cover (or title).  I never read The Devil Wears Prada or watched the movie, but I did a little background reading and learned that the main character in this one, Emily, was one of the assistants to Miranda Priestly (the Glenn Close character in the movie, and most feared in the fashion industry).  Emily is now an image consultant, but she's not getting any younger, and as she starts to find herself losing clients to the younger more social media-savvy crowd, she knows she has to make some changes.  And of course, that's when a major supermodel, and wife of prominent politician, is in desperate need of some spin.  The only problem is, she's not in Emily's New York or Los Angeles, but in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Can she handle the pressure AND the suburbs??? 

I decided to keep going with another Weisberger novel - I didn't feel like going back to read the original, so just went for the next in the series, Revenge Wears Prada.  In this one, Emily joins forces with another former Priestly assistant, Andy, to start a high-end bridal magazine.  Andy finally finds herself doing what she has always wanted to do, and on her own terms, but it seems everyone around her is intent on turning this business into another Miranda nightmare.  As her wealthy husband joins forces with an ambitious Emily, Andy is forced to figure out what she really wants and what kind of businesswoman she wants to be.  I found the character of Andy a little annoying in terms of her wishy-washiness.  Even though she seemed to know all along what she wanted, and to communicate it subtly to those around her, she never seemed to actually take a stand - and she continued to let others walk all over her, even though they didn't really seem to be in a position to do so.  While I found myself becoming more invested in the characters as they appeared in multiple books, I still rushed through the end of this one - wanting to know what happened plot-wise, but finding it took a little too long to get there.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

January: Children's Literature

As always, I have trouble sometimes distinguishing between YA and Children's Literature, but I these books fit more into the Middle Reader category than in they get their own post!

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor:  This book was listed on one of those "Top 100 Children's Books of All Time" lists.  I'd never heard of it, so I thought I'd give it a try - interesting since right now my 7-year-old daughter Clara is on a kick reading books about kids and their dogs.  The young boy in this book, Marty, happens to find a lost beagle while playing one day.  The dog appears to have been mistreated, and Marty suspects it has run away from a mean man who lives nearby.  Marty decides to hide the dog, who he names Shiloh, and to nurse him back to health.  When Marty is found out, he has to make some tough decisions about telling the truth, or protecting an innocent animal.  This book was pretty rough - I know there are a lot of children's books out there about mistreated animals, but the mean man character was so stark -  I felt like although this book could be read by 7-9 year olds in terms of difficulty, that really in terms of the sadness of the subject matter, it is better intended for 12-14 year olds.  But I may just be oversensitive with respect to animal cruelty. Marty's character was very relatable, and I'm sure many young readers would find themselves rooting for Marty, and easily putting themselves in his shoes.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: When I was young, I read a lot of Lois Lowry books.  I was a particular fan of the Anastasia Krupnik series - which I thought of as a pretty standard everyday book about a kid growing up - nothing too series or intense.  So, I wasn't quite prepared for Number the Stars, which is about a Jewish family in Copenhagen during World War II.  When ten-year-old Ellen's family is "relocated," she goes to live with her best friend Annemarie - in an attempt to hide from the Nazis.  This was an interesting book about the realization of young children of the severity of the consequences of being Jewish - of noting difference, of what families gave up in this hope of survival, and what others did to risk their own lives.  While a difficult read, I think this is an important book for young children as an introduction to the Holocaust, and for opening up discussions about how we stand up for what we believe in.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

January - YA Reads

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson: Given the cover of this book, I thought this was going to be a graphic novel - but alas, don't just a book by it's cover. This is the memoir of a young man, coping with his identity and trying to belong. The author is up front from the beginning that parts of the book could be triggering for many people - and that he intends to be as honest as he can be about his depression, self-harm, and process of coming out - to himself and to his friends and family. I found this to be an interesting approach - this recognition that in reading a book to learn about the life of another person, the reader themselves could be harmed by seeing too much of themselves in the character, or perhaps in learning that so much pain an struggle exists in this world. This book is written for YA, and accordingly I found it to be an easy relatively quick read - I myself just taking breaks when it did become too intense or sad for me. As a parent of young children, what I find so hard is knowing that children all struggle with different things, but also that they hide so much - and that part of that is the nature of growing up and learning to understand and cope with life. But, also wondering what more I can be doing as a parent, not to prevent my children from experiencing failure and pain, but from feeling like they are failures or that they will not be accepted or supported by me. I felt the saddest in this book when reading about how the author's step-father (who he kept saying he considered a father, but I wasn't sure if the step-father actually viewed him as a son) made comments or otherwise contributed to shaming the author's sexuality. When places that are supposed to be safe for children are not, I think that's the hardest to bear. What is also tough about this book is that while I think it would be comforting for many other young people to read and perhaps say "It's nice to know I'm not alone," there is no magic solution for how to survive it all in a better way.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina:  I just loved this book.  Merci Suarez is a pretty typical sixth grader, navigating issues with friendships and family and the changes that come with growing up.  But she's also learning that sometimes things are a bit complicated when you're living in that middle space - old enough to take responsibility, but not always old enough to understand or even to be privy to all the information.  At home, her grandfather seems to be going to the doctor more often and forgetting things a little more easily, but no one seems to want to acknowledge it.  At her private school, she is one of the few students on scholarship, and she finds herself wanting to fit in, but also feeling pride in the things that set her apart.  I loved Merci's strong independent spirit - her love of her grandfather and friends - and her desire to do the right thing, even if she doesn't always know what that might be.   

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater: This YA non-fiction book is an account of an incident that happened on the 57 bus line in Oakland in 2013.  Sasha, a white agender teenager from a middle-class neighborhood was riding the bus home from their private school.  Alongside her was Richard, an African American teen from a less affluent area of Oakland coming home from his public school.  During the ride, Richard set fire to Sasha's skirt leaving them severely burned.  As a result, Richard was charged with a hate crime and faced life imprisonment.  The 57 Bus explores the backgrounds of both of these teenagers.  This book takes the time to paint a fuller picture of Richard, his background, and how he came to commit this crime in a way that calls for empathy and an understanding no crime, and no person, is a complete reflection of the worst thing they've ever done.  I applaud the book on this level - and yet, I question whether Richard would have been afforded this had the victim not been someone undervalued by society.  Is it because Sasha appeared to dress different than their gender should have allowed them to dress - is it because we want to find a way to blame Sasha for themselves for the crime, that we are interested in learning more about Sasha?  Had Richard set fire to a beautiful young white cisgender female cheerleader, might the outcome of this incident been just a little different?  I wonder these things, and because of that, I found this book in a way distasteful.  But, at the same time, I admit that because I have so much to learn about gender issues - about language and differences and everything that comes with recognizing what it means to be agender or transgender, I appreciated the education that this book provided.  While I don't necessarily want to re-read this book, I do think that it would be a good one to choose for a book club.