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Book Review: Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzer

Rapture practice : a true story

I forget where I first read about this newish memoir, but I remember how totally freaking excited I was to put it on hold so that I could be one of the first to get it from the library. And so a few months later, the book finally came in, I read it, and I want more.

Aaron Hartzler grew up in a very, very,  born again Christian family (like, they weren’t allowed to listed to Amy Grant, the Christian pop singer, because she allegedly drank alcohol sometimes, and they believed that The Rapture was imminent). Hartzler was a totally angelic child and helped his mom lead the bible club, played piano, was in Christian plays with the church, etc. On the outside, he was the perfect Born Again son. But there would be no memoir if the story was that simple.

Rapture Practice is the story of Hartzler’s growing consciousness as he got older that something didn’t quite fit for him with the religion. He wanted to listed to mainstream music. He realized that he didn’t want the Rapture to happen because  he liked his life. He started partying in secret. He had very strong interests in and close friendships with other guys. He found that he had stopped believing a lot of what he learned at church.

critiques: I felt like the book ended abruptly: I want to read about what happened next. Something felt jarringly incomplete at the very end. The story didn’t end up going exactly the way that I wanted it to. I wish that his story included him doing things differently that the way he did them in real life. waaah, cry, whine.

Praise: A ton of information is packed into the mere 390 pages. As a writer, Hartzler knows what you want to read and what you care about– no space is wasted on the uninteresting. For a heathen like myself, it was really exciting to read about his family’s religion- it’s new ground for me. The path the book takes you on is interesting, the narrator is likable, the 1990’s references are fun to look back on, and I want to tell people all about it. Find a copy at your library here.


Book Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow

Silhouette of a sparrow

It’s the 1920’s and teenage Garnet is being groomed for proper comfortable wifehood. She has a steady boyfriend, a slew of lovely dresses, and a hope chest that is almost full of handmade things she has made for her future married home. She is uneasy about it all, possesses inklings that she would like her life to be more of her own.

She gets sent to stay with wealthy family members at a lakeside resort town during a summer (while her parents try to work through their own marital issues), and her world gets a bit bigger. . .

Saying more would probably give away too many little nuances of the plot. What I can say, however, is that it’s clear that a lot of research (both period and ornithological) went into this well-structured book. It is well-written, and the relatively slim volume reads rather quickly. The coming-of-age narrative and the queer narrative and the race and class narrative all flow together smoothly– this is not a single-issue story.

Find a Copy HERE

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

A wrinkle in time : the graphic novel

This is going to be a strange review because it is a review of the graphic novel adaptation of a wildly popular book that I have never read.

I’ve never been able to get too into the fantasy, adventure, and science fiction genres. I’m not entirely sure why. But there’s something about reading written descriptions of fight scenes and travels and invented worlds that bores me… as much as video representations of the same thing. Ok, so I’m just picky.

But anyway, growing up, I was a voracious and desperate little reader. I’d plow through almost any book or newspaper that lay in my way. I was bored! My family owned the Madeline L’engle trilogy (Wrinkle in Time/Swiftly Tilting Planet/ Wind in the Door), and I saw them every day on the living room book shelf, but I was never able to get into them! All the business of tesseracts and people’s weird names just really turned me off for some reason. I felt a slight nagging pull every time I walked by them, like there was something wrong with me for not wanting to read them!

Forging forward a couple of decades, A Wrinkle in Time became my City’s One City One Book. As a librarian, I felt a responsibility to at least know what the story is about. A minute or two of investigation lead me to the graphic novel. Score!

The graphic novel is adapted and illustrated by Hope Larsen, who has also written other graphic novels that I’ve liked, such as Gray Horses and Chiggers. The illustrations are in black, blue, and white, and are understandable and likable. Larsen’s adaptation keeps the story going at a solid pace, and there was not a single moment where I felt like there was some kind of hole in the narrative. The ending to the story felt a little anti-climactic, but perhaps that is how the original is?Phew, at least I finally know the story. The pressure is gone!

The tome rings in at almost 400 pages, and is about the size of the original novel. It was clearly a labor of love, and I recommend it regardless of your stance on fantasy, adventure, and science fiction.

Find A Copy Here

Book Review: Adiós, Barbie : young women write about body image and identity

Adiós, Barbie : young women write about body image and identity

I picked up this anthology (published in 1998) a couple of years ago from a Friends of the Library book sale.

I finally got around to reading it (for me, 2013 is the year of FINALLY reading all those casually acquired books on my shelf!), and am not unhappy that I did. This is a solid feminist anthology of women’s writing about their own experiences with body image. It has an admirable number of pieces that actually deal with race (they don’t feel like “token” additions, as race-related pieces in feminist anthologies so often have a tendency to). Adios Barbie covers a lot of topics, including hair, fat, noses, dis/ability, gender roles, sexuality, and height, etc.

Adios Barbie is 15 years old, and it retains lots of its relevance. All the shit people have to deal with re: body image in our culture has not changed (sigh). Since its publication, many more similar anthologies have come out– but this one has the added benefit of getting to read articles that people wrote before they got more famous! It includes pieces by Carolyn Mackler before she became a very popular YA author, Amy Richards pre-Manifesta, Nomy Lamm pre-Transfused, and more.

Find A Copy HERE

Book Review: Zero by Tom Leveen


I got this one as an e-book from the library. It was one of those quick and desperate selections– I was out of books at home, needed something to read, and Zero was available.

It’s actually a pretty great multidimensional YA novel. Our protagonist Zero, a punk rock painter, has just graduated from high school and been accepted to the art college of her dreams. Great! Until her lack of technical painting skill prevents her from getting the scholarship that she would need to pay the tuition. And then everything kind of crumbles. She realizes that since she can’t pay the tuition she’ll be stuck in Arizona with her parents, attending community college in a place she can’t stand. Her mom is desperate and overbearing and her dad’s alcoholism is getting worse and something has gone really wrong with her relationship with her best friend Jenn.

What propels from this premise is a really nice sort of coming-of-age novel. Our hero Zero typically has something clever to say, which means that as a reader, you’re stuck on her. She possesses a realistic combination of inconsistent self-esteem and artistic brilliance that I felt was really well crafted. There are lots of Salvador Dali quotes, good descriptions of punk shows, and a great over-all essence of what that weird post-high school not quite a kid, not quite an adult time can be like.

Find a copy HERE

Book Review: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey, wait!

This was the last book that I read in 2012 (I finished it on New Years Eve) and it was totally fun! It was a smooth, addictive, and fast read. Often a book loses things like depth or character development when it’s classified as “smooth,” ‘fast,” or “addictive”– but I don’t feel like this one did! The only shame is that it was over in 313 pages; I would like to read more about Audrey.

Plot: Teenage Audrey finally breaks up with her boring, self-absorbed boyfriend who’s in a small-time high school band. That night he writes a damning song about her called “Audrey, Wait!” which propels his band into Justin Bieber-like fame around the world. The media in turn becomes obsessed with Audrey (as she inspired the song), and her life really, really, really changes.

In addition to telling a good story, the book offers a sly critique on paparazzi, America’s obsession with fame, the evilness and fakeness of the music industry, and more. An added plus is that each chapter begins with an apt quote from a real rock song (many of which I know and like in real life). There are 41 chapters– this must have taken a lot of effort!

Perhaps this is a guilty pleasure without the guilt? Read it!


Book Review: Unterzakhn by Leela Corman


Unterzakhn (which basically means “underwear” in Yiddish) transports us to New York’s Lower East Side in the early 2th century. We follow twin sisters Esther and Fanya through their child years, their teen years, and then their adult years.The sisters are close during childhood– but their passions lead them in very different (and for the era, contradictory) directions.

I don’t want to give away too many details, but you should totally check out this graphic novel. The art has depth, but is also approachable. The characters are decently fleshed out.  The rich plot goes all over the place (in a good way), and touches on family history, death, abortion, brothels, hollywood, gender, love, and more. The story ends with a bit of a punch to the stomach, but nobody promised you a happy ending.

Find A Copy Here

Book Review: Wonder Show by Hannah Rodgers Barnaby

Wonder show

It’s somewhere around the late-19th/early 20th century. A feisty girl’s father places her with a strict aunt when he leaves town to look for work. Girl waits for her father to return for years. He doesn’t.  Aunt eventually tires and leaves girl at a home for wayward girls run by an evil proprietor. Terrible things happen there. Girl escapes and joins the circus. The girl is Portia Remini. It’s a good story: a familiar trope, but unique enough to keep my attention.

To me, Wonder Show felt like two books: pre-circus, and circus-and-beyond. Each “half” felt as if it was full of big ideas that that didn’t have time to get completely fleshed out. I say this because the supporting characters and circumstances, while all appointed with great depth and meaning– didn’t have a ton of description to them (e.g. on pages 18 and 19 we read a list of spunky/naughty things that Portia did while in the care of her aunt, but there are never any scenes or dialogue that further expose us to this aspect of Portia’s personality. The classic writing rule of “show, don’t tell” seems to have been ignored in this sort of way throughout the book). Maybe 274 pages just wasn’t long enough to make the story feel satisfying?I would love to see it fattened up into a 500-page odyssey.

Despite the fact that I would have liked more details, the author does do a really interesting job of constructing the story to keep it moving: There are multiple point-of-view shifts, there are (as mentioned above) handwritten lists, there are lovely vignettes that only last a page. Furthermore, many of the circus characters are based on real circus people from history, highlighting the admirable amount of research that must have gone into writing this book (this is detailed in the Authors note at the end).

It’s well-written and worth reading. If you’re into the circus, two other books I recommend are Geek Love and The Night Circus.

Find a copy of Wonder Show here

Book Review:: Drama High: Second Chance

Second chance

The Drama High series kept on getting mentioned as one of the few contemporary book series’ out there about African American teenage girls. So I picked up Second Chance to see if it was something that that the teenagers at my library would be into (and, um, because I like YA fiction).

So yes, Second Chance is a recommendable book. In all honesty, I think that being a teenager would have enamored me to it more (the author does a great job of capturing that certain breed of awful anxiety that comes with relationships when you’re a teen– and it’s so nice to be free of that as a grown up– also, there’s a good deal of interpersonal friend drama that was more teen-style than I was into (but I’m not a teen)).

So the story is that Jayd is African American and lives in Compton and wakes up every morning to take the bus to a mostly-rich-and-white school in LA. She’s in AP classes and has a handful of African American classmates who are also from her part of the city. Amongst them are her 2 best friends, her sworn enemy, and the manipulative boy who she used to date. Jayd starts dating a rich white boy, and drama of course ensues. Unlike a lot of paperback teen novels in general, Jayd and her surrounding life gets a fair deal of dimension. Her grandma who she lives with works making potions and magic satchels (and it’s treated totally normally in the book). The school has some notoriously racist teachers, and Jayd tries to bring charges against one of them. Jayd also works on the weekends and has difficulty with her dad and his side of the family. She’s likable, typically says the right thing, and has a strong sense of self.

This is not the first book of the series, and I would recommend starting with book one, as I felt a little bit in the dark about some of the characters. On a similar note, it is definitely part of a series– so there is not a tidy conclusion.


Find a copy here

Book Review: Spit and Passion by Christy C Road

Spit and passion

This graphic memoir is actually pretty great. If you’ve read Christy C Road’s other stuff or are familiar with her art, then you kind of already know what you’re getting into. Sorta. Except for that Spit and Passion tackles adolescence this time around. And it’s a good thing.

Framed by her discovery of the band Green Day, Spit chronicles Road’s journey toward identity. She really quite flawlessly nails down how fucking powerful music can be when you’re that certain age, and how music really IS, in a lot of ways, identity. She details stuff that I hadn’t really thought about in a long time, like how band members can become superheroes/narrative players in the adolescent mind, how obsessing over a band can be a great mask for queerness, how band members can be  unknowingly wrangled in as templates for adolescent futures. It’s personal– but, you know– universal.

Find a copy here