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Just a Normal Tuesday, an SCBWI Book Review

Just a Normal Tuesday

Click image to go to Amazon page

I did not mean to do two books on incredibly sensitive topics in a row.  It just worked out that way.  Next time I’m definitely going to have to do Caraval, because The Impossible Knife of Memory is about PTSD.  Gotta break up the heavy topics a little.  So…

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE

Book: Just a Normal Tuesday by Kim Turrisi

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation: I think you can tell that this is not something you pick up for a bit of light reading.  That being said, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic of psychology, has experienced suicidal thoughts, or knows someone who has taken his or her own life.  This book might be the companion you need if you’re feeling all alone or trapped inside your own head.

Run-on Sentence Synopsis: Kai comes home and checks the mail to find a letter from her older sister, Jen, informing Kai and their parents that she is going to kill herself, and Kai rushes to her sister’s apartment only to find out that she is too late and what follows is Kai’s descent into depression followed by a trip to grief camp where she learns that she can find a way to live through the tragedy that struck her.

(Necessarily) Long Review: This book is a little different.  I feel that something that touches on such an important and sensitive topic merits a very careful analysis and critique.  Therefore I won’t be separating out positive and negative comments this time.

At this point I’d like to note that it is extremely difficult for me to critique Turrisi here, as this story is semi-autobiographical; when she was fifteen, her sister killed herself.  But, to be fair, I am offering critique, not criticism (slight difference in connotation there).

Firstly, if you read this book, you are going to cry.  If you have a heart at all, you will end up bawling your eyes out at some point.  This could end up being a very necessary catharsis for you.  If you have experience with suicide or suicidal thoughts, you might not even make it all the way through the book.  That being said, I feel that Turrisi laid it on a little thick at times.  Suicide is already such an emotionally impactful event that I feel you don’t really need to push to convey that impact to readers.  The times when Turrisi shined brightest were when she let genuine emotions do the talking, rather than trying to emphasize the emotional weight with repetition and figurative language.

The biggest faults are the repetition and the occasional clunky piece of dialogue.  It sometimes borders on cheesy, and there’s a bit of a pacing issue.  The cursing sometimes feels gratuitous, the title is referenced multiple times with different wording (one crazy Tuesday, just another Monday, etc.), and the words “tingle,” “tingly,” and “tingling,” were used just a few times too many for my liking.

Another thing I have to say is that the book starts out with Kai finding her sister’s suicide letter, so we don’t get to see any characterization of the sister, Jen, except through brief little snapshots that barely warrant the term “flashback.”  Similarly, we don’t really know who Kai is as a person.  Towards the end of the book she starts to realize that she’s defining herself through her relationship with her sister, and I would have liked to see the character take steps to learn more about who she is as an individual.  I appreciate beginning in medias res, but a jump backward in time after the suicide note could have helped to establish Kai and Jen as characters.  Jen’s death would have meant more to me if that had happened.  As it was, and again I hate to say this, the first half of the novel started to drag after a while.  Because the book begins with Kai at an all-time low, we don’t get to see a downward spiral.  Instead, she starts out at rock bottom, and she slowly creeps a little farther downward over numerous pages.

The grief camp part of the book, on the other hand, picks up considerably.  Possibly because Turrisi relied a little more on fabrication – since she herself never attended such a camp  – we see a slew of interesting characters, a burgeoning romance, and some truly heartfelt and gut wrenching stories of loss and suffering.

Over all, it’s not the perfect novel, but I genuinely believe it might be helpful to those out there who are suffering from a similar loss, or who are plagued by suicidal thoughts themselves.  I think what Turrisi created is commendable to say the least, and I would recommend picking it up as long as you are prepared to be hit where it hurts.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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Written in the Stars, an SCBWI Book Review

Writteninthestars1

Click the picture to go to the Amazon page for the book!

As I said earlier, I didn’t make it to the autograph session, but I did run into Aisha Saeed by chance.  She is the nicest person ever.  She offered to sign my book for me when she heard I couldn’t make it later for autographs.

writteninthestars2

Boy does this book not pull its punches.  Okay, here we go with the review.

Book: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic (Unfortunately) Fiction

Recommendation: While I definitely want everyone to buy it, I need to issue a trigger warning for abuse of any kind (emotional, physical, sexual)

Run-On Sentence Synopsis: Naila is a Pakistani-American girl on the cusp of graduating high school and going away to college where she will finally be free to date her boyfriend, Saif, whom she’s been seeing in secret because her parents have always planned to arrange her marriage, and when they (inevitably) find out about Saif they bundle up Naila and her brother, Imran, to go to Pakistan for what they say is a month but what turns out to be much longer, and Naila finds herself caught up in a forced marriage and a fight for her freedom.

Positive Feedback: As I did for George, I will describe this book in one word.  That word is “Impactful.”  I felt my gut twisting, my fingernails biting into my palms, tears in my eyes, my heart racing.  I couldn’t believe that this book was based on the reality that so many women face.  I wanted to believe it was completely fictional, with no basis in reality at all.  I wanted that so badly.  But, unfortunately, this is realistic fiction all the way.  It’s important to note that this book is not a denunciation of anyone’s culture, nor is it against arranged marriages.  Thanks to this novel, I now understand the difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages.  The latter is the one that breaks my heart, and it is the subject of the novel.  This was an expertly crafted book that had emotion and heart, but (as I said) it did not once pull its punches.  Naila’s struggle feels all too real, to the point where it was difficult for me to continue, but I felt compelled to.  I was clawing my way through, desperate to find the happy ending I was hoping would appear after all the turmoil.  And then it was there, and I felt relief wash over me.  This novel is gripping.  It doesn’t let you go, and it doesn’t go easy on you.  Truth be told, I will never reread this book; it would be too difficult.  But I am very glad that I read it, and I will cherish my signed copy always.

Constructive Criticism: My one critique has to do with Naila’s desire to stay with her boyfriend, Saif, despite her parents’ belief in arranged marriages.  The problem is that the novel begins with them already together as a couple, so there was no way for me to see a build up of their chemistry.  Naila, as the narrator, told more than showed the relationship.  I wish Saeed had taken a little more time with them at the beginning, or at least shown a couple more flashbacks than she did.  The extreme version of this issue is Stephenie Meyer saying, “I’m the author and I say these two people love each other!  You’ll believe it because I said so!” (And then I imagine she mashes the two characters’ faces together like a seven-year-old would with Barbie and Ken dolls.  Mwah Mwah Mwah!)  Saeed’s writing is way better than Meyer’s, of course, so I did believe the relationship between Naila and Saif.  What little I saw worked for sure, but if I’d gotten more chances to get used to them as a couple, their inevitable forced separation would have carried that much more weight.

I don’t know what book I’m doing next time!  I think there will be three more reviews total.  It depends on what mood I’m in and when I find time to read.  See you then!

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George, an SCBWI Book Review

Welcome to my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) book review!

George Cover

Click the picture to go to the Amazon page for George!

This is one of the few books I managed to get signed.  I had to skip the autograph session on Sunday, due to reasons, but Alex Gino had a signing on a different day.  I loved meeting them.  I especially loved their sense of humor, so similar to my own.

George Signed

Diapers cost money, okay?  Liz, Martyn, and Micah understood that I couldn’t afford to buy them all hardcovers.

On to the review!

Book: George by Alex Gino

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation: Buy it!

Run-On Sentence Synopsis: George, who calls herself Melissa in her own head, is a transgender girl in the fourth grade who is struggling to come to terms with her gender identity and make herself known as the girl she is, and she desperately wants to play Charlotte in her class’ play of Charlotte’s Web, but she encounters obstacles in the form of school bullies and her teacher who believes a boy simply can’t play Charlotte, and as Melissa gains confidence she faces the kind of adversity you’d (unfortunately) expect her to face because the world suffers from an overpopulation of narrow-minded dickweasels.

Positive Feedback: If I had to describe this novel in one word, it would be “accessible.”  Though it is middle grade, I believe that anyone could pick it up and enjoy it.  Better yet, I believe people can learn from it.  From the sounds of things, they already have.  Another word I’d use is “emotional.”  As I read, I could truly feel myself embroiled in Melissa’s inner turmoil, her sadness, her frustration, and her desperation to be the real her.  She is a well-developed character, her struggle is believable, and the story has the right blend of sad and heartwarming moments.  It is definitely difficult to put this book down.

Constructive Criticism (I refuse to call it negative feedback): While I’m aware I am not the target audience for this book, I still felt that the stakes could have been raised just a little higher.  There was so much riding on the play, and the antagonism from Melissa’s teacher and the boy who bullies her, but the pay-off was that everything worked out easy peasy (though that’s probably not how Melissa felt).  Alex Gino already pointed out that this was because LGBTQ youth deserve happy stories with “happily ever after” endings just as much as non-LGBTQ youth.  I get it.  But still, a little push to heighten the tension would have made the book a little more captivating.  I also wish I could have seen more depth from some of the characters, but as there were many characters, and it’s a short book, I understand why Gino couldn’t go in depth with every single one of Melissa’s acquaintances.  Also, there were times when I wasn’t sold on the dialogue, but I feel the target audience would have been.  Over all, these are small nitpicks, and the book is a great read.

A Note on Identity: When people (namely narrow-minded dickweasels) hear the phrase, “I identify as…” I don’t think they stop to consider what the words “identify” and “identity” mean.  Identity comes from within.  Outward characteristics and physical appearance don’t actually define someone as much as some might think.  Identity comes from likes and dislikes, what makes you passionate, angry, scared, sad, excited.  It’s nuanced and beautiful, and unique to every individual.  I identify as straight and (cis) female.  I identify as a pre-published author, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a nerd, and a Jewish Atheist.  Even if someone walked up to me and said, “You don’t look Jewish.  You look Christian,”  I’d still be able to say, “That may be, but I assure you I am Jewish.  You cannot dictate my identity to me.  I say to you, good day!”

In the same way, if someone has outward characteristics that make them appear male or female (to you), that ultimately plays second fiddle to how that person feels on the inside.  We cannot force a gender identity on someone any more than we can force a religion on them, or a different name, or a different favorite food, favorite animal, phobia, sexual orientation, race, culture, political party, et-freaking-cetera.

You don’t have to love every other human being on this planet, but you do have to accept their right to live and be who they are, just as they should accept the same about you.

*Steps off soapbox*

Buy George.  It’s great.  Next review will be Written in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed.  Until then!

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