LGBT, Mason Deaver, non-binary, Young Adult

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Ben De Backer is your typical modern American teenager. They have a pretty good relationship with their parents, at least as good as a parent-teenager relationships tend to be. They have an estranged sister who they miss and close friends who they met online and dream of meeting in person someday. And they have a big, life-altering secret. Ben De Backer is non-binary.

The fallout from this confession, which seems like it will go well at first, is swift and severe. Ben is forced out of his house and must scramble on a late winter’s night to find somewhere to go. They reach out to the first and only person that comes to mind, a sister who left years ago, without explanation.

What transpires in the pages that follow is the story of Ben’s slow and painful coming out and coming to terms with what it means to be Ben-the-person. This is the kind of story that reminds me just how important the “own voices” movement is right now, especially in Young Adult literature, where so much powerful and significant work is being done to help readers (young and old) make sense of the ever-more complex world around us.

Mason Deaver’s novel is groundbreaking for its portrayal of a non-binary protagonist, but it is also simply a darn good story. The author crafts a complicated narrator with a difficult background and invites the reader to figure things out right along with them. We cannot always root for Ben, or at least this reader couldn’t, because they sometimes overreact and make mistakes, sometimes become too self-pitying or indulgent, and sometimes seem to judge others a bit too harshly even though they, too, are in pain for being judged by others. But that’s the beauty of it. Ben, the character, is a real person. We can all, cis or not, gay or straight, young or old, recognize a bit of ourselves in Ben’s coming-of-age, because none of us did it quite as well as we could have.

I first heard about I Wish You All the Best some few months ago and added it to my “to read” list right away. I knew that reading a non-binary character’s story as written by a non-binary author was going to be a powerful and enlightening experience, and that certainly proved true. While I sometimes felt like I was missing too much of the backstory, particularly regarding Ben and his sister’s relationship with their parents, I found the story enjoyable overall. It is also helping to fill in a critical missing piece in contemporary fiction.

Ben’s struggle to balance privacy and authenticity, to find and accept love when they haven’t yet accepted themselves, and to pursue a path of their own rather than the one laid out for them, is an inspiring journey, and the added reality that this is a non-binary person dealing with all these very human experiences made the reading experience even richer.

This is the kind of book to be enjoyed for its universal appeal and for its specific concerns, ones that very few people can fully understand, but from which we all can learn.

Standard
Anne Goodwin

Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin

I was fortunate to receive a copy of Anne Goodwin’s Becoming Someone from the publisher, Inspired Quill, for review. Anne Goodwin is a prolific writer and has been short-listed for the Polari Prize, among other accolades. Upon reading six-part collection, it becomes quite clear how and why she has been so recognized.

One of the great successes for Goodwin’s collection is that the author manages to balance a wide array of topics and narrators without losing cohesion. Her narrators are male and female, young and old, and yet Goodwin’s voice centers and grounds them all in a common worldview and purpose. It is a kind of hopeful cynicism, the type one might recognize from the likes of Vonnegut who, despite seeing the world for what it is (when it is often not much to speak of), still wades through each day and experience from a place of love. So, while many of the stories in Goodwin’s collection are critical, even superficially hopeless, there is an underlying belief in something more and bigger than what we feel is possible on our own bad days.

This balance is on display immediately in the first story, “Madonna and Child.” While the plot describes one of the most terrible situations a person might ever have to face, it is supported by a character whose presence makes the situation survivable, both for the main character and for the reader. Similarly, in “How’s Your Sister?”, Goodwin describes the worst kind of family tension and a mental illness that seems unimaginable to most, but couches this in the very realistic, everyday way that many of us would indeed bring to the situation. Goodwin’s grasp of our social awareness (or lack thereof) and how we deal with trauma, pain, and embarrassment is on full display in these stories, and it reminds us to remind ourselves that, perhaps, there is a better way to treat ourselves and each other.

Some of the stories I enjoyed most from this collection are the ones that dip into the bizarre realm of sci-fi/fantasy realism. Goodwin has particular interest in marrying the real world with fantastical situations in a way that makes the bizarre seem common, and this turns out to be a simply fun and effective way of driving home important points about social issues, like gender equality, sexuality, aging and abuse, among other things. Two stories, in particular, “Telling the Parents” and “Heir to the Throne,” stand out in my mind as particularly accomplished in this way.

If you are a fan of the short story, enjoy reading about the human condition from a paradoxically cynical but hopeful perspective, or like a little dose of the uncanny with your realism, this collection is a fun ride. Many thanks to Inspired Quill, an ethical indie publisher with a big heart, for the chance to read and review it.

Standard
Books

May Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Welcome to the 5th checkpoint for our annual TBR Pile Challenge! I hope you are all making good progress and enjoying yourselves (and your reading selections! We have 169 reviews/check-in posts linked up already, with 7 months to go, and I think that’s beyond awesome! Way to go, you all! 

I’m pleased to report that, in this 5th month of the challenge, I have read 5 of my 12 books! That puts me right on pace, with summer freedom (ha!) coming up. I hope to get a little bit ahead during the summer months, so this actually puts me in a good place. The only problem is that I’m behind on reviewing — I have to get some thoughts down for the last two books I’ve read for this challenge. I’ve been in a bit of a blog-writing slump, to be honest, so we’ll see if I can kick that soon.

Progress: 5 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

As you can see, I need to write reviews for Letters to a Young Poet and for We, and then link them up. I think the next book up from my list might be Gemini (1998) by Michel Tournier, which I’ve wanted to read for a long time; I’ve held off on it so far this year, though, because it is very long and I wanted to make sure I had enough free time to devote to it. In other words, I needed this semester to end! 

Books read:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 WINNER: Linday from Three Good Rats! 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

Standard
Historical Fiction, Samantha Silva

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

“A good biography tells us the truth about a person; a good story, the truth about ourselves.” 

Where to begin with this charming little historical fiction novel, based on the life and work of one Mr. Charles Dickens? I’m told that, “to begin at the beginning,” is usually the best place, so let’s give that a try. 

First, Samantha Silva is upfront about the fact that this is historical fiction, mostly imagined but based on real people and events. I originally mistook the novel for something more on the “historical” side than the “fictional” side, which left me at first feeling a little disappointed by the reaches, the suggestions, and the supernatural elements. (Yes, I said supernatural!)

But when I took a moment to reflect on the fact that this is historical fiction and to concentrate on the work as fiction, Mr. Dickens and His Carol revealed itself to me to be a charming, honest, and loving work by an author who clearly knows, respects, and admires Dickens the writer and historical figure. Much of his real life struggles and successes are represented, here, including his problematic family members, his issues with marriage, his debts, and his interesting relationship with the mysterious.

One element in particular that almost turned me off is that supernatural component, but then I considered how fascinated Dickens himself was with these sorts of phenomena and how his later works incorporated many similar devices; this made the presence of a “real life” Dickensian brush with the inhuman bizarrely realistic and a little bit fun. 

I do think Dickens’s wife gets a rather harsh treatment in this work, but I admit to not knowing much about her (if it’s based in reality, well, okay; if this is one of the more fictional elements, then ouch.) His rivals, too, such as Thackeray and Collins, are made out to be rather petty and pompous. He himself is also rather delicately handle; he is not written without flaws, but in most situations he comes out the better figure, and I’m not sure how realistic that is, either. Still, if you like Dickens and if you like the idea of a Dickensian version of A Christmas Carol, which is a kind of meta-fiction simultaneously about A Christmas Carol and about its creator, then this one is worth the read. I find it especially appropriate as a holiday read, but perhaps that much should be obvious. 

Notable Quotes

“Children were an act of optimism—sheer belief that the future will outshine the present.”

“Words were inadequate, but all he had. He didn’t know where they came from or why, but it was how we told one another what the world was and might be. Who we were, and might become. It was the only magic he had.”

Standard
Willa Cather

Paris

Paris

Willa Cather

Behind the arch of glory sets the day;
The river lies in curves of silver light,
The Fields Elysian glitter in a spray
Of golden dust; the gilded dome is bright,
The towers of Notre Dame cut clean and gray
The evening sky, and pale from left to right
A hundred bridges leap from either quay.
Pillared with pride, the city of delight
Sits like an empress by her silver Seine,
Heavy with jewels, all her splendid dower
Flashing upon her, won from shore and main
By shock of combat, sacked from town and tower.
Wherever men have builded hall or fane
Red war hath gleaned for her and men have slain
To deck her loveliness. I feel again
That joy which brings her art to faultless flower,
That passion of her kings, who, reign on reign,
Arrayed her star by star with pride and power.

Standard
2019 TBR Pile Challenge, Books

April Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We have made it to the First Quarter mark of the TBR Pile Challenge! We already have more than 140 reviews/checkpoints linked up on our Mr. Linky, which is pretty great! Well done to all of you! 

As for me, I’ve made the tiniest bit of progress since last month, which is that I actually managed to read and review one more book. I’ve read another 3 books that were not on my list, so my actual reading consumption has been pretty good so far this year. I think I’m ahead of my Goodreads goal pace. 

Progress: 3 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read and reviewed 3 of my required 12 books, which puts me just slightly behind schedule. I’m about to start reading book #4, LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET, so if I can get that review posted before end of April, that will allow me to hit 4 books in 4 months, which is right on pace! I’ve got summer break coming soon (6 weeks!), during which time I hope to read at a steadier clip and get myself ahead of the curve. My plan all along has been to read all 14 of the books on my list, and I’d like to do that by the December 15 final checkpoint so that I’ve got everything posted before the challenge ends. But, as always, this is T.B.D. 

Books read:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2:

As we celebrate this 25% milestone for 2019, I introduce you to our second Mini-Challenge. Here’s all you need to do: Comment on this post with a book review WRITTEN BY ANOTHER CHALLENGER that you would recommend we read. So, yes, spend a little time visiting our fellow readers, maybe even say hello while you’re on their blog, but then come on back here and comment with a review you really enjoyed or appreciated in some way. If you can tell us why (briefly), all the better!

You can find a list of everyone who has linked-up reviews so far by clicking on the “LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS” text below. Remember, you should also be posting your progress points there, too, so that you’re collecting entries toward the big $50 grand prize at the end of the year. Good luck to you all! Happy reading and happy blog hopping!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

Standard
Kurt Vonnegut

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

“You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”

It is amazing to me that I can still pick up any Kurt Vonnegut book and find something thrillingly new and yet wholly familiar. He is one of my favorite writers for many reasons, but the most significant of these is because he somehow manages to maintain his sense of humor while exploring the human condition (a depressing exercise in futility, for the most part). Vonnegut does not have much hope for humankind, and yet, the spark of something remains and shines through in each of his pieces; there is always that one last glimmer of possibility.

Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes writes in his lyrics to the song “Poison Oak,” that “the sound of loneliness makes [him] happier.” There’s something of a philosophy, there, and it is in Vonnegut’s worldview. Timequake is a paradox of memoir and fiction, starring Vonnegut and his long-time fictional stand-in, Kilgore Trout. It is a beautiful elegy, wholly unique, and filled with humor and wisdom. 

In the “story,” the universe suffers a kind of existential “crisis in self-confidence.” The narrator describes this as the universe asking itself, “should I go on expanding indefinitely? What’s the point?” This momentary self-doubt from the mind (soul?) of the galaxy causes a time-loop on Earth. Everyone on the planet is forced to go back in time 10 years and to relive every moment of those 10 years over again, without the ability to change a single thing, and always knowing what is coming.

Imagine knowing the moment you or someone you love is going to die, and not being able to change it. Imagine knowing that you do something to harm someone, regret it for 8 years, and then are forced back in time to do it again. Imagine knowing you are going to be injured, hurt, poisoned… living each minute of each day up to the point of injury, entirely helpless to protect yourself. 

In other words, history repeats itself. We know what we are doing. We know where we have been, how we have hurt others and ourselves in the past. And we know how to prevent these things in the future. But we refuse. As a people, a society, a race, we refuse to learn from our mistakes and we continue to make matters worse for ourselves and others, all the while asking, “why, why, why?” This is dark comedy at its best, and its worst. If you pay close attention, you realize that Vonnegut is painfully right about us, and that things have only gotten worse in the 20 years since he published his lament. 

Vonnegut is our modern-day Cassandra. Always right, but never heard.

So it goes. 

Notable Quotes:

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

“I am eternally grateful for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.”

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”

“That there are such devices as firearms, as easy to operate as cigarette lighters and as cheap as toasters, capable at anybody’s whim of killing Father or Fats or Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon or Martin Luther King, Jr., or a woman pushing a baby carriage, should be proof enough for anybody that being alive is a crock of shit.”

“But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.”

Timequake is Book 3 for my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge

Standard