Recent Reads / 03

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Recent Reads is a series to me to feature five books I’ve read (or experienced) recently along with my verdicts.

This particular group was a win: Four of these five books were selections for my 2018 Reading Challenge, and all five were solid choices. However, I would not necessarily recommend reading these five books in succession since the themes are so heavy. I didn’t plan it that way, and I need a break. I’ve planned for my next few book choices to be more lighthearted and uplifting.

by Tiffany D. Jackson

Reading Challenge Category:
Allegedly is the only book I didn’t initially choose for my 2018 Reading Challenge, although it does fit in the category for “a book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own.” One of my students lent me her copy insisting I read it. I’m so glad I did!

Allegedly is a YA novel about an African American teenager who is serving time for the death of a white baby under her care. Now that Mary is pregnant herself and knows the state won’t let her keep her baby, she wants to come clean about what really happened that night. It has plot twists galore and it kept me guessing until the literal last page.

by Fredrik Backman

Reading Challenge Category:
A book in translation

I enjoyed A Man Called Ove, Backman’s best-known work, so I was happy to give his latest novel a try. Beartown takes a drastically different course than Ove, focusing on a small hockey town, socio-economic prejudices, grief, a violent act involving the community team’s top player,  and the fallout of it all.

It was a tough listen. Backman is an engaging storyteller, but my main criticism is that his style is heavy-handed. He wraps his themes with a bow on top and hands it right to you. I did like Beartown, but it’s more violent and Backman is more overt than I typically enjoy.

HSPs beware: triggers abound, including extremely offensive language and upsetting situations.

The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

Reading Challenge Categories:
A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own
A banned book

I was a little apprehensive to read The Hate U Give since I’d only heard resounding praise. I didn’t want to be disappointed. But, now having read it, I am pleased to say it lives up to the hype. Starr lives in a rough neighborhood and goes to the fancy private school across town — caught literally between Black and white.

At the beginning of the novel, Starr is in the passenger’s seat of her friend Khalil’s car, witnessing a white police officer pull over Khalil and shoot him dead. Starr knows that every life — including Khalil’s — has worth, and she must speak up for what is right.

THUG checks all the boxes of controversy: violence, drugs, offensive language, sex, and racism. But here’s what THUG teaches best: no one is a perfect citizen. Khalil isn’t a martyr, but he deserves better. Most of all, Khalil deserves to have lived. It’s a relevant story, which I think is a valuable read for teens.

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Reading Challenge Categories:
A book recommended by a librarian
A banned book
A book you can read in a day

I enjoyed this novel about a girl finding her voice after a life-altering event the summer before she begins high school. It was published in 1999, the same year I started my freshman year of high school, and I was immediately transported to the halls and classrooms of my own high school experience. It also has a great first line: “It’s the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”

The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt

Reading Challenge Categories:
A book that’s more than 500 pages
A book recommended by someone with great taste

The Goldfinch is a monster of a book. It’s almost 800 pages; it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014; it’s simultaneously loved and hated. I had to read it for myself. I loved The Secret History and consider myself a Tartt fangirl, and I’m pleased to say that The Goldfinch lives up to its expectations. Is it a happy story? No; it’s devastating. Does it have an incredible plot? No; the interest lies more in its characters. Theo (our protagonist) is totally damaged; Boris is totally damaged; Pippa is totally damaged. But I think the primary lesson Tartt wants to convey is that beauty exists, even in this harsh world — whether it’s in a painting or in a relationship — and when life is difficult (because it will be), one can cling to beauty even in the pit of despair.

Looking for more recommendations? Here’s volume 1 and volume 2.

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