Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Overall Rating: 3/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 1/5

Quality of Characters: 3/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 2/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: All summer

A 1 Sentence Summary

While awaiting her marriage to the imperial prince, Mariko attempts to free her love Okami from prison, figure out why her brother betrayed her, and discover who was behind her assassination attempt.

My Favorite Quotes

“I see mystery and sadness. Anger. Not necessarily because you were born a woman…but more because you have always been treated as less than you are…We should create a world for women like us. It would be a thing to see.”

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What I Loved About It

As a sequel to Flame in the Mist, a novel I absolutely loved, there are, of course some automatic redeeming qualities to Smoke in the Sun. First, it’s written by the genius Renee Ahdieh, who is usually so amazingly good at creating complex characters, writing incredibly sensuous and descriptive prose, and developing super compelling action, suspense, and romance. Ahdieh did all of those things in Flame in the Mist (and she definitely did them in The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger), but I found that while the characters she created in the prequel were still strong and complex in this novel, I cared far less what happened to them. This is even more true with her new characters that didn’t appear in the prequel. Her prose is less interesting in this novel, and the trademark action and suspense that usually lead Ahdieh’s plots is lacking as well. The reason it took me so long to finish Smoke in the Sun is because literally nothing happens in the first 75% of the novel. Okami is tortured, Mariko argues with her brother and meets the princes’ mothers. That’s it.

It’s true that Ahdieh’s sequels are never as good or as interesting as the first books in her series. But The Rose and the Dagger, while certainly not as good as The Wrath and the Dawn, was still a very compelling read, with new characters, new plotlines, less romance but a whole lot of–super interesting–action. And this was simply not the case in Smoke in the Sun. As a HUGE Renee Ahdieh fanatic, in a word, I would call this book disappointing. (And it truly pains me to say that, as The Wrath and the Dawn series is my all-time favorite YA romance/fantasy series and as I really, truly loved Flame in the Mist.)

I’m not saying Ahdieh has lost her touch (I refuse to ever believe that), just that this particular novel is not quite up to her usual unmatched quality–which, come to think of it, was also the case with de la Cruz’s Love and War or Jae-Jones’ Shadowsong.

Sequels are hard.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Despite my own crushing disappointment, I think my students who enjoy a good fantasy romance would still enjoy this novel and the series as a whole. And, like all of Ahdieh’s books, it still features a very strong female lead, a great feminist message, and a window into ancient Japanese culture. Which are definitely some redeeming factors.

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The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 2 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Frankie Landau-Banks, infiltrates a boy’s-only-secret-society at her uppity New England boarding school and attempts to dismantle the “Old Boys’ Club” atmosphere of her school and the patriarchy itself.

My Favorite Quotes

“Matthew had called her harmless. Harmless. And being with him made Frankie feel squashed into a box–a box where she was expected to be sweet and sensitive (but not oversensitive); a box for young and pretty girls who were not as bright or powerful as their boyfriends. A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with. Frankie wanted to be a force.”

“It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people. She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her to be.”

“In some ways, we can see Frankie Landau-Banks as a neglected positive. A buried word. A word inside another word that’s getting all the attention. A mind inside a body that’s getting all the attention. Frankie’s mind is a word overlooked, but when uncovered–through invention, imagination, or recollection–it wields a power that is comical, surprising, and memorable.”

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What I Loved About It

This book is the ultimate teen-girl (and all women everywhere, really) feminist manifesto. E. Lockhart is seriously one of THE most talented YA authors out there. Her books are always witty and sharp (in a funny way, like in The Boyfriend List or The Disreputable History, or in a disturbing way, like in We Were Liars or Genuine Fraud). They always feature amazingly complex, strong, and still “girly” and feminine main characters who the audience often can’t help but to respect but also fear (though the question Lockhart repeatedly asks through these characters is: do we fear these girls because they don’t follow the social rules we often expect girls to follow? And: if a male character did or said the same things would we be as disturbed by them?).

It’s amazing that Lockhart can address these deeper ideas and create these complex and amazing characters (and write a freaking feminist manifesto) while still building a world and a story that is funny and interesting, filled with boarding school hi jinx and high school pranks and teenage romance, a world and story that teenaged readers would be so unbelievably engaged in.

One of my most favorite qualities of this book is the matter-of-fact storytelling nature of the prose. In the novel, Frankie finds the book written by members of her school’s secret boys-only society titled, The Disreputable History of the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds detailing all of the society’s various pranks, hi jinx, and activities. The novel itself is written in such a way as to suggest that it is Frankie’s own Disreputable History book, with prose that speaks directly to the reader and uses pronouns like “I,” with entire chapters that include hilarious grammar lessons (about neglected positives, which I now find to be incredibly funny) and excerpts from Frankie’s school essays and pieces of evidence that link her to her many crimes. It’s such a unique storytelling style that isn’t used in YA lit enough and that would certainly interest teen readers.

I seriously can not stress enough how amazing this book is. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the perfect blend of the fun of her Ruby Oliver novels and the depth and provocative nature of her more “serious” novels, We Were Liars and Genuine Fraud. This is pretty evident in that the novel has, deservingly, won a bajillion awards.  It’s the kind of book that makes me desperately wish I had the depth of mind and writing abilities to write, a book that, while interesting and fun and witty, makes a reader think and question and affect social change.

What My Students Could Learn From It

There are, sadly, not enough YA books that appeal to students’ more shallow interests (romance and humor and rebellion) and that also make them think deeply about social issues. But all of E. Lockhart’s books do. She is such a literary genius. Frankie Landau-Banks is a protagonist my students need to read about–a teen who cares about social issues and wants to affect social change, who is a free thinker and a leader, who is intelligent and funny and sharp, but also who, unlike the characters in a lot of John Green books, is an authentic and realistic teenager.

Reading about Frankie’s efforts to escape the panopticon, to force her way into a social group she has been barred entry from, and her frustration at the lack of care her classmates have for these things would provoke my students to really think about their own social lives and the social rules they are following simply because they think they have to, because they think they are being watched.

Most teenagers are followers. It’s simply the phase of everyone’s life where they are so desperate to belong, to fit in, and to continue the social status quo. But reading this book could maybe give students the courage to lead instead of follow and to not cower in the face of the high school social strata.

The novel would get students thinking about society and socialization in general but would also be a great first foray into feminism without being preachy or overt or whine-y.

I seriously cannot stop raving about this book. So go buy it and read it and share it with your students! You won’t be disappointed!

 

10 Fabulous Feminist Books to Read During Women’s History Month

10 Fabulous Feminist Books to Read During Women’s History Month

Hey guys!

I’m so sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted a review. To be honest, my two most recent reads (Someone to Love by Melissa de la Cruz and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer) were so disappointing and hard to finish, I just felt no motivation to write a review for either of them. Both lacked compelling characters or plots and it took me a full week to read each (and this is solely because of lack of interest not length).

But fear not faithful readers: my good-book-drought is almost over! I’m currently reading a book I’m enjoying a lot. A review should be out within the next couple days.

In other news, you may not know this–because unfortunately it gets very little attention–but this month is Women’s History Month! Happy Girl Power Month™ to you all!

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In lieu of a review, I thought I’d take advantage of this month being Women’s History Month by posting a list of my favorite feminist novels or–for those who still fear the dreaded f word–novels that focus on strong female characters who overcome obstacles and gender expectations, fight against oppression, and just generally kick–metaphorical or literal–butt.

This list is comprised of both classics and young adult books, fiction and nonfiction. The books on this list focus on women of numerous different races, backgrounds, religions, and experiences–real and fictional. But every single one of the women in these books taught me something–or many things–and can teach our female–and male!–students a thing or two as well.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite Girl Power™ books:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

thousand splendid

This book centers on two very different women in Afghanistan who happen to be married to the same cruel, abusive man and who find strength and love in each other. Hosseini draws attention to the oppression of women in a Taliban-led Afghanistan and explores the mother/daughter relationship and the importance of education for women. It is my favorite book OF ALL TIME.

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“A society has no chance at success if its women are uneducated.”

thousand suns quote

2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the dystopian future, few women are fertile and the few that are left are forced to be handmaids–like Hagar was for Abraham and Sarah–and bear children on the knees of the wives of important government officials. Atwood explores the sexualization of women that led the world to that point in a truly striking way. If you’ve seen the meh Hulu show based on the novel, I beg you to read it too. It’s got plenty of insights the show leaves out and is just generally way better.

handmaids tale

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.”

“I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”

handmaid's tale

3. Kindred by Octavia Butler

An African-American woman living in the 1970s who inexplicably travels back in time to the Antebellum south to visit her ancestors–a white landowner and his black slave. This is technically sci-fi but it’s so much more than that. It raises so many important questions about race, gender, equality, freedom, and the nature of time. It’s a must read for any feminist.

kindred

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”

“I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children.”

4. The Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

In feudal Japan, a girl survives an assassination attempt on her way to marry the prince. In true Mulan fashion, she disguises herself as a boy to discover who tried to kill her–and also to escape the marriage she never wanted. This one’s a really fun, action-packed, romantic, and well-written YA novel I’ve mentioned before. And it’s got a really great strong female main character.

flame in the mist

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”

“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.”

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5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

A woman in the 1800s, Tess, is raped (there’s debate amongst readers on whether it was rape but 100% yes it was) by her rich, important relative and the rest of her life and her reputation–the most important thing for a lady to have in that period–is ruined forever. I’m not sure this book was meant to be feminist when it was written, but Hardy sure does give us great insight into the treatment of women in time in which he lived. It’s a must read classic.

tess

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says, some women may feel?”

“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way; and you did not help me!”

6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

This book tells the true story of sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké, some of the first female abolitionists and suffragette pioneers. I had never even heard of them prior to reading this book, but reading their story truly moved me.

invention of wings

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Who am I to do this, a woman?”

“’God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world—but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that’s God’s doing.’ She cut her eyes at me and smiled. ‘I think we know that’s men’s doing.’”

7. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Grace Marks was the most famous murderess in Canada in the 1800s, and Margaret Atwood tells her story in the most fascinating way. She explores the unfairness of gender expectations at the time and feminine sexuality like no one else can. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, this has also been made into a series (on Netflix). The series is good, but reading the book is NECESSARY.

alias grace

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“In his student days, he used to argue that if a woman has no other course open to her but starvation, prostitution, or throwing herself from a bridge, then surely the prostitute, who has shown the most tenacious instinct for self-preservation, should be considered stronger and saner than her frailer and no longer living sisters. One couldn’t have it both ways, he’d pointed out: if women are seduced and abandoned they’re supposed to go mad, but if they survive, and seduce in their turn, then they were mad to begin with.”

“He doesn’t understand yet that guilt comes to you not from the things you’ve done, but from the things that others have done to you.”

“They wouldn’t know mad when they saw it in any case, because a good portion of the women in the Asylum were no madder than the Queen of England. Many were sane enough when sober, as their madness came out of a bottle, which is a kind I knew very well. One of them was in there to get away from her husband, who beat her black and blue, he was the mad one but nobody would lock him up.”

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8. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My only nonfiction offering on the list, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate ever, tells her story in this memoir. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 years or so and don’t know who she is, Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban for being an activist for the education of women. And she’s just generally a boss.

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Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

9. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

I’ve reviewed this book before here. It, like A Thousand Splendid Suns, focuses on gender expectations in the Middle East and features a strong female lead.

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Favorite Feminist Quote:

“You are girls..you can’t get away with acting like boys.”

10. The Harry Potter Series

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Last but not least, I think this series requires no synopsis or explanation. Feminist QUEEN, J.K. Rowling provides so many strong female leads in this series, it’s kind of insane that the titular character is a (let’s all be real) clueless teenage boy.

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

Literally every time Hermione Granger or Professor McGonagall or Ginny or Molly Weasley or Lily Evans Potter or Luna Lovegood speak or are mentioned.

There you go guys! 10 great books to read (and to suggest to your students) during March AKA Women’s History Month AKA Girl Power Month AKA The Best Month of the Year!

Happy reading!