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.
Reading has been something that I’ve put off for a while. I’ve been excusing it with not having time (which I didn’t really have much but I could’ve fit it in somewhere), but it’s mostly been lack of motivation. Being surrounded by friends who love reading and tend to read a lot more diverse books, it’s actually brought back my desire to read more. As a result, I’ve ended up ordering a bunch of books through Better World Books. So here’s are a few of the books I’ve read in the past few months.
Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America by Erika Lee and Judy Yung
This has been the only non-fiction book that I’ve read recently. It discusses the much overlooked Angel Island, which was originally touted as the ‘Ellis Island of the West’. It has a very different history because many of the people who entered through Angel Island were from predominantly non-white countries, while Ellis Island primarily dealt with white European immigration.
Lee and Yung focus on the histories left at Angel Island by people who were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Mexican, Russian and Jewish, and Filipinx. It details a lot of immigration history that we have conveniently overlooked in many of our US History courses and should be taught in schools without people having to go out of their way to learn about this, as I did. Much of what was discussed, especially with regard to immigrants coming from all over Asia, was stuff that I had barely even heard of.
I had never heard about the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan to halt the immigration of lower and working class people. I’d never realised that the pathway to independence for the Philippines was because the US wanted to reclassify its citizens as aliens so they could deny them access to the US. I had never heard about the ways that South Asian people were treated, especially as a result of our connection to their coloniser: the British. And I’d never realised how women of all races, but especially non-white women, were assumed to be prostitutes and immoral until a man had proven otherwise.
It’s so hard to condense this book to a few paragraphs because there is so much information in it, and I recommend anyone who is curious about today’s standard of immigration in the US and wants to know where its current structure comes from.
Her Wild American Self by M. Evelina Galang
I was shocked at how much I found myself engaging with this book because I generally am not a fan of short stories; they often feel as if they’re lacking an incomplete. But all of these were all fantastic; I found that I really wanted more after I had completed the whole collection.
They all engage with an American identity that is not often heard: a Filipina-American who is struggling with her own identity. They explore the experiences from childhood to adulthood, fleshing out the characters and scenes in ways that make everything so vivid. They explore what it means to be a woman who often feels she’s of two worlds, and there are so many aspects of them that are easy to connect to.
This is probably because, while there is the exploration of culture and how it forms and functions within a society that is different from where it originated, it also discusses experiences that many people can find familiar. It shows that, though there is difference, there is often glaring similarities that we tend to overlook.
I can’t do this book justice; I never will be able to. But it is a collection of short stories that I will forever recommend people read. It is such an important collection that speaks of experiences of race, gender, how different social norms affect us, generational difference, and so much more. It’s glorious.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
My very good friend and former co-worker decided to teach this book across three of her four classes. If I remember correctly, she had only intended to use it with one section, but she decided to teach it to all of her level-appropriate classes after students came to both of us, speaking up about their own experiences with rape and a problem at the school with inappropriate or unwanted touching (that the administration felt wasn’t a problem to deal with).
I had never before heard of the book, which is written about a young girl who is the victim of rape by the ‘most popular’ boy in high school. It follows her through her attempts to speak out about it but never feel comfortable doing so; there are few moments where she feels as if she can openly talk about things, but that changes when she realises she can do one very small act of justice: write about it on the bathroom wall.
Gaining much anonymous support, she finds the voice she wasn’t able to have in the beginning. It’s a great story that shows one of the many ways that girls and women deal with sexual abuse, and I’m glad that almost every girl in my friend’s class ran up to me demanding that I, too, read the book along with them; they were happy to hear my friend’s perspective on it during her class, but they wanted to know mine. In fact, some of the boys were demanding that I read it, too. There was a hugely positive response to this novel.
I love this book. I think I love it more because it helped us show the girls at my former school that it’s not their fault; it gave some of them the courage to finally speak out about it, even if it was just to my friend or myself. We need more literature of this nature, especially in the young adult category; we need to be discussing these topics.
Tonight was probably one of the best nights I’ve had since I moved to Australia almost a year ago. It’s also been one of the most relaxing nights I’ve had since starting university again, and it’s been one of the few times where I’ve been able to laugh and feel like myself in the past couple months. I cannot tell you what that means to me; there is no price that can be put on that. I can only say that I’m immensely happy with everything that happened today.
First, I’m not going to call it the “best night ever.” I reserve that for the night for a story I’m not quite ready to tell right now.
This is about a combination of wonderful friends and the chance I had to meet one of the people I admire.
There is something comforting about spending an entire evening with two people who you love and enjoy spending time with. It is difficult to find anything better than being able to go out to dinner, chatting about random nonsense and just having a brilliant time with people you care about. Babbling at each other over coffee (or an iced green tea latte, in my case), discussing places you love and things you want to learn. Or perhaps just having fun walking to the City Recital Hall at Angel Place, knowing that you’re about to watch the one person who initially brought you all together.
Tonight was so important for me. On the most basic level, I can squeal and fangirl and be excessively happy that I was able to watch Neil Gaiman perform two of his currently unreleased books (The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Fortunately the Milk). I was given the chance to hear four exceptionally talented strings players (FourPlay) create music and sound effects that made one of his stories come to life in the most beautiful of ways. I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of the first three chapters of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Even more wonderfully, my friend and I were able to ask him for pictures. And being as awesome as he is, Neil indulged us in our request.
But it was this event that brought the two of us closer and sealed our friendship even more. Two girls from two different American continents who both grew up speaking two very different languages – but somehow managed to find their separate ways to Sydney – were able to share an experience together, and it was something quite special. We saw someone who we both grew up with, whose work was both important to us because of the themes involved but also because it was another learning experience entirely. It’s also stayed with us as we’ve entered adulthood, some of it reminding us that we can still enjoy something “written for kids” because we’re really all just big children on the inside. Or even the constant reminder that, if we try hard enough, we can do something we love and enjoy and be happy doing it.
And much like the child in the first three chapters of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the works he created were very much those “safe havens.” They were some of the books that we felt were safer than people, but they were also the same books that inadvertently showed us which people may actually be the “safe people.” Like many things people grow up loving, they were like a signal to us for who might be a good choice to put our trust and faith in. Especially those of us who were scared to do so and have spent a lot of time growing out of that habit, trying to let people in.
I know that when I asked Neil for a picture, I had very little to say. Not only was it late and everyone involved appeared to be somewhat tired, but I was still sort of in mild awe. I had no words, I had nothing to say. I was still processing what I saw, and I also wanted to tell FourPlay that they played so incredibly beautifully. It took me until the moment my friend and I got on the bus to realise that I don’t think I even said thank you or appropriately showed my gratitude for the time he’d taken to even give us a few pictures, which immediately made me feel like a bit of a rude twit. Maybe even a bit stereotypically American.
So I hope that maybe this finds its way to Neil and he can appropriately be thanked for the time he took out for us. His show was magnificent in so many ways that I cannot even recount them all, and my heart melted a little when he answered “Why did you marry Amanda Palmer?” during his Q&A. And I adored that he looked straight up at my section and waved hello to us, even though I was fidgeting like a small child and may’ve seemed to be awkwardly crawling through the third-floor railing to get a better look at everything happening on the stage below.
I also sincerely hope that he tumbles pictures/scans of three of the other questions when he has time. Partially because I’m curious to see the Cyberman that was drawn on one, but partially because two of the other questions were hilariously wonderful (American Gods anagram and duck-sized horses). Even if he doesn’t, I’ll still remember those. Things like that make me love people and the world more; in some odd way, they give me hope.
[Cross-posted on tumblr.]
Note: I have my friend’s picture, too. However, I’m impatient and still wish for her to tell me whether or not she’d want it posted outside of her Facebook.