I haven’t really been that busy reading novels, but I have had quite a backlog of those I wanted to write about. I’ve had so many wonderful recommendations given to me, especially as I’ve been seeking books that are a bit more diverse. My friends have been overloading me with so many books, which is just going to add to my list; I’m fine with that, though. As long as they don’t mind me leaving random books in their flats, which is my normal way of passing them on. But here are a few more of the books that I’ve read recently.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Because I enjoyed Speak, I decided that I wanted to continue reading other works by the same author. I quite enjoyed this tale, though not nearly as much as I did Speak. I wasn’t expecting the same sort of story, so that definitely wasn’t the problem. Perhaps it was more a mixture that I thought there would be a lot more discussion of certain aspects than there was.
This novel is set during the plague of 1793 in Philadelphia. There is obviously a lot of research that went into it, which I quite liked; it was part of why it had me yelling at the novel that blood-letting is a ridiculous idea and shouldn’t be done. Historical fiction does that to me, honestly; I have never met a book set in a historical time where I haven’t yelled at it over terrible ideas.
I expected a lot more discussion about how people acted during the sickness. I expected a lot more comparisons between people who were amazingly kind and people who were terribly cruel; I hoped she’d write more about the differences in medical knowledge between doctors of the time, some of whom supported blood-letting while others thought it was a ridiculous exercise that killed more patients (as it did).
I also expected a discussion about how African-Americans were believed to be immune to the illness due to their race but were decimated all the same (or sometimes even worse). I feel like there were a lot of aspects of African-American history of this time that were just overlooked or neglected and could’ve had more impact on the story. Some of this was mentioned in passing, but I felt that aspect could have been explored a bit more, especially as Mattie, the white protagonist, relies heavily upon Eliza, who is a free black person who had been working in her mother’s coffee house and was someone she trusted completely. It felt like something that was neglected in all but a few sentences.
But it’s still a well-written story that I did, for the most part, enjoy. It makes some history tangible and does present a lot of areas that I’m sure would entice someone to want to further research the history a bit more.
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
I was really excited to read this novel because it had two different protagonists: Andi, a young biracial Filipina living in the UK with her mother, and her brother Bernardo who starts off in the Philippines. The premise was that he wanted so badly to move to the UK to be with his mother, who had emigrated to the UK when he was a young child; he had been waiting to receive notification that he had legal permission to live within the country with his mother and half-sister.
I was hoping there would be more discussion about the relationship between the siblings; I wanted to see the tension of them trying to get to know each other after having been separated for so long and growing up in two very different places and cultures, and I wanted to see how each of them had a very different relationship with their mother and how it would impact the family. I wanted to see how these impacted them in ways that were more than surface-level, but that seemed to be something that was overlooked in many ways.
I liked that they tried to find one common interest between them, which was basketball, but I found it rather awkward because the book was published in 2010 and didn’t reference any recent basketball players. It mentioned Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (both of whom I adore). But I find it strange that somehow none of the kids in the book who love basketball know anyone more recent, like Derrick Rose (2008-present), Yao Ming (1997-2011), Kevin Durant (2007-present), or LeBron James (2003-present). There was no time period given, so it felt odd that kids in what I assumed would be 2010 would see Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – people who I was a child watching and grew up with – in a similar way that I did when I was growing up.
I don’t think it helps that I live in Taiwan, which is currently enjoying the success of Jeremy Lin (2010-present). All the students I ever worked with here knew the older players, but they were more interested in the guys who were currently playing. That’s what they’re interested in, so I find it difficult that people who are inundated with American media would be more interested in stars of the ’80s and ’90s than those who are playing now.
I enjoyed that she tried to relate it to the myth of Bernardo Carpio, but I feel like there was too much going on at once with everything else. I feel like there could have been more focus on this myth and its influence other than people only seeing the male protagonist as his reincarnation and rarely mentioning it otherwise. I would’ve loved to see how this and other myths worked their way into the culture and influenced this child, but I didn’t really get that other than his guilt for leaving his village because of an earthquake.
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
I kind of enjoyed this story but something really frustrated me about it: It was constantly touted as a LGBTQ+ book, but I never felt as if I got that out of it. That was largely why I was interested in this, as I’ve been seeking out novels that have some element of diversity, particularly novels that involve some aspect of my own identity that I’ve rarely seen addressed. It frustrates me that this is seen as an adequate representation of LGBTQ+, when there isn’t even an explicit mention regarding this. It’s nothing more than vague hints, if that’s even what you can call it.
Otherwise, I found the rest of the story interesting. I enjoyed Rudy as a protagonist, but I felt as if Diana was nothing more than a slightly more fleshed out (but still not quite enjoyable) Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Teeth’s personality was grating, even though you’re supposed to feel sympathy for him and what he’s suffered through; I found that I adored his desire to save the fish who he considered his family, but I felt like his interactions with Rudy were infuriating.
The book also brings up rape, though it’s more structured as fantasy; Teeth’s mother is raped by a fish, which is what led her to become pregnant with him. I genuinely expect books that utilise rape as a plot device to actually address it, but the character who is raped is initially seen as a villain with slight redemption but nothing more than Rudy lecturing Teeth about what he should feel toward her, even though he’s not responsible for the rape.
I can’t say that I hated this book; I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone, but I wouldn’t suggest they not read it if they intended to. But though I was interested in the story, I felt really let down by a lot of it; the more I think about it, the more I feel uncomfortable with the novel.