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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AAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AAAHHHH

Wow okay.  So I’m back.  It turns out when you get pregnant and then get a full-time job teaching eighth grade English, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging.  I’m still teaching, but now I’m doing it in North Dakota.  Yeah, I move a lot.  But I finally have time to blog because it’s summer vacation.  Woo.

Also, my son is adorable just so you know.   I don’t want to post his picture on the Internet, so here’s an artist’s rendition instead:

He has one dimple. It's adorable.

In 18 years, if he consents, I’ll put up a baby picture.  If our robot overlords allow it.

As a mother, I am thrilled.  He is awesome.

As a mother with anxiety, I am terrified constantly.  What if he like… you know… tries things?  Like when he grows up and stuff… he might want to do something.  That freaks me out.  So I’m considering writing a line of children’s books for anxious mothers to read to their young kids.  Titles will include:

The Little Engine That Stayed Within Its Means

Content George

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Who Nonetheless Understood the Value of Portion Control

Maybe I’ll write those one day.  In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of reading to do.  I just returned from the 2017 SCBWI conference in LA, and boy do I have a stack of books.  As such, I think I will herald my return with a series of SCBWI book reviews.  These will be short posts about the books I purchased while at the conference.  A brief preview of the titles to come:

George by Alex Gino

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

And more!

So keep an eye out because I’m back, and I’m ignoring the fact that I stopped mid-project when last I wrote.  I’ll leave the posts up because whatever, but I’m thinking this blog is going to need to be organized in some way.  There are sooooo many posts.  They maybe need to be culled.  Yet another project for another time.

Toodles for now!

P.S. Happy Birthday, Micah!!!

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