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.”

disrep history

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!

 

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Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña

Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 3.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

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

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Danny, a quiet, half-Mexican-half-white baseball prodigy, goes to stay with his absent father’s family for the summer, where he meets new friends, masters his pitching skills, and comes to term with his father’s absence and his own racial identity.

My Favorite Quotes

“He’s Mexican, because his family’s Mexican, but he’s not really Mexican. His skin is dark like his grandma’s sweet coffee, but his insides are as pale as the cream she mixes in.”

“I came here because sometimes I feel like a fake Mexican. And I don’t want to be a fake. I wanna be real.”

mex white boy.jpg

What I Loved About It

I haven’t read very many sports-related books and have always had to look up books to recommend to my students who only want to read books about sports. I guess I always thought those athletic-teen-boy-protagonist, sports-focused books would be hard for me to relate to (as the least athletic person ever), but after reading this book, I can at least say I was very wrong about Matt de la Peña’s books. The dude is a genius. Mexican Whiteboy is phenomenal. It transcends the sports genre and even the coming of age genre to provide social commentary on race and poverty and identity and how these things are entwined, teaching teen readers so many important lessons and asking them so many important questions.

de la Peña has created an unusually relatable protagonist in Danny Lopez. Danny’s anxiety, loneliness, and confused sense of self are so typical to all teenagers and is, therefore, extremely relatable. But then it’s compounded by his biracial identity, which he struggles with because he feels like he doesn’t truly belong to either race. And de la Peña does such a good job in writing about that internal conflict and creating such a realistic teen character (and in such poignant prose too!).

What My Students Could Learn From It

I already mentioned that all of my students (regardless of their ethnic or racial makeup) could certainly relate to Danny’s struggle to understand his own identity. Many of my students could also relate to the poverty depicted in the book and the trouble each character has with understanding and being understood by their parents. Kids have got to read books they relate to or they won’t want to read, and I think Mexican Whiteboy, with its real characters and exciting baseball scenes and relatable conflicts would definitely capture their attention.

My students also desperately need to read books that give perspectives that are different from their own, racially, religiously, sexually, etc. Mexican Whiteboy is not only told from the perspective of a half-white, half-Mexican teen in Danny, but also in Uno, a half-black, half-Mexican teen. Mexican Whiteboy would certainly serve as a much needed window into these other experiences for my students and for yours too.

 

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 5/5

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

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 1 day

A 1 Sentence Summary

Out of Darkness follows four people (African-American teen Wash Fuller, Mexican-American teen Naomi Vargas, her little half-brother Beto “Robbie” Vargas Smith, and his father Henry Smith) in the months leading up to and the days following the 1937 New London School Explosion in New London, Texas, a place and time where racism, segregation, and gender inequality defined and dictated everyone’s lives (and deaths).

My Favorite Quotes

“The dead are not always right. The dead are not saints. But the dead are ours. We carry them with us, like it’s our job. And maybe it is.”

“He needs you, reader. All he asks is that you take the story up and carry it for awhile. This strange song, gathered out of darkness.”

out of darkness

What I Loved About It

Out of Darkness doesn’t feel like a YA novel. It’s gritty and real and deals with very adult subject matter (sexual abuse and rape, racism, murder, etc.) in a very mature way. And though my initial thoughts are that these qualities make it an “adult” book, the fact remains that teenagers and children dealt with these things in 1937 (2 of the central characters are teenagers and one is an 8 year old) and teenagers and children deal with these things today. The YA books that we recommend to them need to prepare them for it. I’m sure you can tell how much I love a good YA coming of age story or a fantasy or dystopian action novel just from the amount of posts on this blog about those kinds of books. And I think kids should read books like that. But I think too often we fall in love with exciting dystopian novels and forget about novels like this, novels that focus on the very dark and dim parts of history and of life.

But Ashley Hope Pérez doesn’t shy away from these dark parts of history and life. No, she shines a spotlight on them. Though many of the events and all of the characters that appear in this novel are fictional, all of them (the racist mob, the African-American scapegoat, the threat of lynching, the lack of autonomy women suffered, the unreachable and unfair gender expectations, the ongoing sexual abuse with no way out, no one to turn to for help) are things people experienced in America in the 1930s, are things people are still experiencing today. Though the characters Pérez has created live in a different time and suffer a tragedy the likes of which few of us will ever experience, they are unfailingly relatable and very human and real. Her ability to weave together a story featuring four central characters with very different motivations, struggles, and experiences in such an expert and well-fleshed out way is unparalleled and makes the story Pérez is telling that much more complex and important.

What My Students Could Learn From It

So. Freakin’. Much.

Out of Darkness opens a window for its readers into another time, another culture, another experience. This window would allow my students to understand a time that was different than ours admittedly and yet has so many similarities to our lives today. This window would allow my students to understand that despite a difference in appearance, all people have the same hurts and fears and experiences, and all people deserve to be treated like people at all times. These lessons might seem simple and yet are so misunderstood and unknown among the youth (and way too many adults) today.

This novel could also teach students about history and give them a glimpse of a historical time period that a textbook could never provide. It could teach my students to never allow this shameful piece of history to be repeated in our time today.

It’s also a complex story containing complex characters in a complex structure and can teach students a lot about text structure and point-of-view and how these elements can shape a text.

I could go on and on for ages about all the ways this novel is good for teens to read, but I have way too much work to do for my Master’s classes to go on any more. I’ll just leave it at this: read this book and tell your students to read it too!

Speaking of my Master’s classes! I’m so busy this summer with school that I’ve asked a (brilliant) friend and co-worker, Savannah Mansour, to do some of my blogging for me. Her blog post(s) should be coming soon! I’m sorry to be off the blog for awhile and will definitely miss it (and you, dear readers!), but you’re gonna love her posts (and her)!

 

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!

wonderwoman

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.”

mulan gif

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.”

alias grace gif

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.

i am malala

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.

girl like that

Favorite Feminist Quote:

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

10. The Harry Potter Series

hp

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!

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David Levithan

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

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

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

For A’s entire life, A has inexplicably started each day in a new body, taking over another person’s life against their will and against A’s as well, but when A inhabits Justin’s body and meets and falls in love with his girlfriend Rhiannon, A starts taking foolish risks to be close to her and wishes for a body of A’s own and a normal life.

My Favorite Quotes

“What is it about the moment you fall in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity?…The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations–all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.”

“This is the trap of having something to live for: Everything else seems lifeless.”

every day

What I Loved About It

Levithan’s prose is great, beautiful and striking and poignant. Though you’d think A’s incorporeal nature would make A (I’m avoiding gender pronouns because A has no gender because A is bodiless so my wording is necessarily awkward, sorry.) a character that is difficult for readers to understand or relate to, A is an incredibly sympathetic and even venerable character (I’m not sure I’ve ever described a young adult protagonist as venerable, but A’s just a really different, refreshing brand of protagonist–in all the best ways). Though A and Rhiannon’s relationship is incredibly unusual and the trials they face because of A’s amorphous nature are–admittedly–abnormal, Levithan is able to expertly depict the pain and joy of first love through their relationship.

But in Every Day, Levithan’s not just telling the story of first love. He’s telling the story of all of us, of humanity itself. A has lived as every type of person with every type of idiosyncrasy and every type of problem. Through A’s unique life, Levithan is able to address illness, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual orientation, the dangers of being too beautiful or too overweight, the fluidity of gender, grief, reputation, family, love, and most of all (and perhaps best of all), what makes a human human. Is it a mind, a consciousness? Is it our bodies? Is it our genders? All of the above? None of the above? I found myself thinking about gender, consciousness, and humanity in completely different ways while reading it. And yet it never once comes across as didactic or preach-y, or even predictable. Every Day is just such a meaty, thought-provoking, and unique novel.

What My Students Could Learn From It

The biggest thing I (and all of my coworkers) want my students to learn is empathy, and Every Day is uniquely qualified to do that. A book wherein the main character literally walks in the shoes of so many different kinds of people and learns so much about the trials each of them face–and the trials all of us face–is unmatched in its ability to teach students how to have compassion and empathy for those different than themselves. And, like I’ve already said, Every Day can get kids to think about innumerable teen issues in different ways. I just can not praise this book’s quality enough.