Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Stone Butch Blues

Written by: Leslie Feinberg

First line: Dear Theresa, I'm lying on my bed tonight missing you, my eyes all swollen, hot tears running down my face.

Why you should read this book: Jess Goldberg has always known herself to be different, assigned female at birth but never fulfilling the expectations the world around her held for girls. As a teenager, Jess discovers there are other people like her, and she begins frequenting gay bars and coming to understand her identity: she is a stone butch, a woman who loves women but doesn't present in a feminine way. In the years before the Stonewall Riot, and the decades before the AIDS crisis mobilized the community, Jess suffers every violation society has to offer women like her, but learns, through the pain, how to love others and, finally, how to love herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Violence, rape, homophobia, transphobia. It's a brutal narrative.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The First Rule of Punk

Written by: Celia C. Pérez

First line: Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.

Why you should read this book: Malú's mother always wants her to take pride in her Mexican heritage and be lovely little senorita, but Malú's dad has taught her that punk rock is everything (she can barely imagine how they were ever married and she's certainly not surprised that they're divorced), so when she learns that she and her mother are moving to Chicago for two years and leaving her dad behind, she's devastated. She's not Mexican enough for the kids in her new school, or even for the principal, and just expressing her punk rock heritage is enough to get her in trouble. When she starts her own punk band, Malú finds her voice, inspires her friends, and creates a new path where there wasn't one before.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get why anyone would color their hair and you think all popular music is noise.

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

Written by: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, and VC's Joe Caramagna

First line: I just want to smell it.

Why you should read this book: Kamala is a Muslim girl who writes Avengers fan fiction and likes to smell non-halal food even though she'd never taste it, until one fateful night when she's fed up with being good and sneaks out to go to a party, where she is inexplicably accosted by three Urdu-speaking beings who are dressed like her superhero idols but who are very clearly not Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Ironman. Inexplicably, she is granted shape-shifting powers and immediately starts kicking butt as a fairly powerful but completely inexperienced superhero, which naturally has the ripple effect of eroding her relationship with family and friends, and, of course, earning her a supervillain enemy. I don't read a lot of capes and tights, and this book was possibly not as much as a revelation to me as it was to some of its audience, but it's a nice, fast-paced piece with interesting characters and plenty of potential.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never cared what your parents thought.

Jean and Johnny

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "I have the funniest feeling," remarked Jean Jarrett, who was drying the supper dishes while her older sister Sue washed them.

Why you should read this book: Even though her big sister begs her not to chase boys, Jean doesn't think she's doing any pursuing. After all, Johnny is the one who asked her to dance even though she wasn't even dressed up, and they would have gone on that date if his parents let him, and they did go get Cokes that one time. Jean will have to learn the hard way how to figure out if a boy really likes you or if he just likes the attention you give him for being handsome and suave.

Why you shouldn't read this book: So dated: the dancing and the sewing and the rules of engagement between boys and girls.


Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told herself, as she walked up Blossom Street toward her baby-sitting job.

Why you should read this book: When you're a fifteen year old girl who's ready for heteronormative love but can't seem to summon any amount of glamor in your life, nothing could feel more spectacular than meeting a new boy in town who figures out how to call you up and ask you out after a single, awkward encounter even though you never told him your name or phone number. But merely interesting a new boy is only the beginning: now Jane has to navigate the strange world of dating, finding confidence around sharper, more experienced girls, acting like a grownup when her mother makes her dress like a child, and confronting unfamiliar foods and experiences with grace. Does Stan really like her, and do they have a beautiful future together, or is Jane destined to remain an unloved little girl for all time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It was written in 1956, so a lot of the dating norms and teenage customs will probably seem alien to modern readers.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ellen Tebbits

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ellen Tebbits was in a hurry.

Why you should read this book: It's a quiet and sort of old-fashioned story about a girl with a terribly old-fashioned secret: in the winter, Ellen's neat and tidy mother forces her to wear long, high-necked, woolen underwear. Ellen assumes she's the only girl in the world trying to do ballet with a union suit under her dance costumes, but, in trying to hide her own secret, she learns that the new girl, Austine, shares the same terrible problem! Austine's friendship changes Ellen's life, until a bad reaction to a misunderstanding drives a terrible wedge between the two girls, leaving Ellen lonelier than ever, until she can figure out a way to make it up to her former best friend.

Why you should read this book: I'm not sure any kids today would have any idea what Ellen is talking about when she describes her winter underwear.

Ramona's World

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby was nine years old.

Why you should read this book: Finally, Ramona has a new friend, a girl who's just moved to town and likes the same shows and games as she does. Other things are changing too: she's getting used to her new baby sister, and she's watching her big sister navigate middle school. She even knows just how to deal with fourth grade romance, such as it is, and one of these days she'll even figure out spelling in this fitting end to the beloved series.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want it to be over.

Ramona Forever

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Guess what?" Ramona Quimby asked one Friday evening when her Aunt Beatrice dropped by to show off her new ski clothes and to stay for supper.

Why you should read this book: This is the one in which Ramona is mature enough to recognize that Howie's grandmother is a terribly babysitter and a reasonably third grader should not have to spend five afternoons a week with a caretaker who seriously dislikes her. With Howie's rich uncle Hobart in town and her newfound independence blossoming into a different kind of responsibility, Ramona deepens her relationship with Beezus and finds that sometimes change is good. Even if her mother is pregnant again and her aunt is getting married and moving to Alaska, Ramona can learn to adapt.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Poor Howie has to wear short pants and knee socks to the wedding.

Ramona and her Mother

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "When will they be here?" asked Ramona Quimby, who was supposed to be dusting the living room but instead was twirling around trying to make herself dizzy.

Why you should read this book: Ramona is getting bigger, which means more responsibility, and, maybe, less comfort. With her mother still working full time and her father stuck in a job he hates, it's up to Ramona to get along with the terrible Willa Jean, navigate a new classroom at school, and be the steady sister in the face of Beezus's adolescent worries and her parent's quarrels. All she really wants is to be loved, and, she finds, she is.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The violence of the pancake-slashing incident may forever scar you.

Ramona and Her Father

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Ye-e-ep!" sang Ramona one warm September afternoon, as she knelt on a chair at the kitchen table to make out her Christmas list.

Why you should read this book: A little older and little more amenable to accepting her big sister's wisdom, Ramona finds her world rearranged when her father loses his job and the family's financial situation depends on her mother working full-time. Initially excited to have her father around more, Ramona's optimism is crushed by her father's despair and the daily drudgery of giving up little luxuries that the family can no longer afford. Through the book, Ramona learns how to be a better friend to her sister and how to forge a stronger and more mature bond with her father, and how to be happy with what she has.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The scene where Ramona gets a million burrs stuck in her hair is pretty traumatic for people who like their hair.

Ramona the Brave

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby, brave and fearless, was half running, half skipping to keep up with her big sister Beatrice on their way home from the park.

Why you should read this book: Ramona is sure she's always occupying the higher ground, but people don't always seem to understand her actions when she jumps in to right perceived wrongs. Whether she's defending her sister from schoolyard bullying or defending herself from artistic plagiarism, she never seems to get the response or the accolades she wants. Still, even if it's scary to have her own room at last, think about a picture of an angry gorilla, or confront a barking dog, it turns out that Ramona really is a brave little girl.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Ramona's kind of lucky that she doesn't actually get eaten by that dog.

Ramona the Pest

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "I am not a pest," Ramona told her big sister, Beezus.

Why you should read this book: This is the second book in the series, but the first told from the point of view of the creative, impulsive, emotional, and delightful little sister, Ramona. Five years old and ready for kindergarten, Ramona has a new degree of freedom that's sometimes just right for a little girl and sometimes might be a little too much. Timeless childhood adventure.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Five-year-olds are encouraged to walk to school by themselves!

Just Ella

Written by: Margaret Peterson Haddix

First line: The fire had gone out, and I didn't know what to do.

Why you should read this book: After escaping the abusive situation of her wicked stepmother's household and moving to the royal palace to prepare for her wedding to Prince Charming, Ella assumed that all her problems had come to an end, but it feels like she just traded one form of domestic bondage for another. As a princess in training, she's not allowed to do or say what she feels, and her life is an endless procession of instruction and restriction, punctuated only by brief, chaperones moments of the prince telling her how beautiful she is. When Ella finds herself intellectually stimulated by a kind tutor who cares more for displaced refugees than court conventions, she has to decide how much she's willing to risk—and lose—to pursue a life of authentic freedom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sometimes it's hard to suspend disbelief of a world with such ridiculous restriction and anachronism.