What I Saw and Why I Lied – Judy Blundell – 3/5
This novel takes place in the years following World War II back in the US. Our narrator’s mother has a new husband who was off to the war and our main character, a teenager in high school, goes with her mom and her husband to a resort in Florida, right at the beginning of school. While she’s there she meets a local boy, a bellhop at the hotel, who is kind of ugly but invites her to a party where she meets an older man. This man, twenty three, dances with her and shows her a good time, and then the next day, shows up again and it turns out he was in the war with her step-father. Her step-father is not happy to see him and avoids him and warns him off her, but as these things go, she falls madly for him and it’s not clear for most of the novel whether he likes her or not or if his mysterious connection with her stepfather is what motivates his connection with her. As the novel goes on, she is required to decide what she feels, where her loyalties lie, and like in all YA novels, she has to grow up quickly.
This is a strange novel that uses the same kind of cachet as the mysterious origins of Don Draper in Madmen, but neither one of them invented this kind of trope. The novel also has an unclear set of things to say about antisemitism and the way we treat women, as well as the way we treat soldiers returning from war. I am not sure if it’s just ok or bad, but I liked it just fine, so I went with ok.
All American Boys – Jason Reynolds Brendan Kiely 4/5
This novel is very good and Jason Reynolds continues to be a star. In addition, the Brendan Kiely parts are also very strong and provide a humanistic insight in a set of questions that I honestly feel like are not being particularly discussed in our recent social climate. The set up of the novel is that we have two authors writing two different characters/narrators and the novel is going back and forth between the two perspectives. Rashad, a JROTC student, gets mistaken for a shoplifter and when confronted by a cop in the store he is beaten severely and put in the hospital and charged with theft and resisting arrest. It is 100% clear from his part of the novel that not only is he innocent of the theft, he was so confused by the situation that he doesn’t fully understand what happened. The other half of the novel follows Quinn, a white classmate and rising basketball star who doesn’t really know Rashad but witnesses the assault by the police officer, who turns out to be an older brother of his teammate and a man who being a kind of older brother figure for Quinn. As the novel goes on we see the effects of the trauma on Rashad and his family, while we also see the collective effects of this viral video and assault on the school and community, and then we also see the complicated nature of Quinn’s feelings on the set of events. In the end, the two finally meet up at the end and the resulting novel is a compassionate and emotionally complex take on a familiar scene. I think the Quinn sections are handles very well as he very imperfectly tries to understand his feelings and his role.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas – 4/5
The obvious companion to the book above and the book that is obviously going to be talked about a million times before we’re done. I appreciate that Angie Thomas will likely win the National Book Award this year for Young People’s lit and it will be deserved. This book really is good. The only possible thing I could say as a criticism is that in a way it hits about every tick on the list of YA books about race and race relations and YA books in general. But that’s a not a bad thing. Somebody needed to do it in a kind of near perfect way, and she has. The book is particularly strong in how it ties together every moment of the narrative. The story is that Starr, a Black teenager from the city whose parents have worked to put her in a somewhat bougie private school leaves a party with her friend Khalil, who is killed by the police during a routine traffic stop. Khalil, as the novel is clear on, didn’t do anything to bring upon his death. What this novel does really well, and it works opposite from All American boys, where Rashad is a very good kid and a very good student and is still not protected from racist police violence. The goal here of course is to show that respectability politics is bullshit. This novel doesn’t do that. Khalil does have a checkered past and he’s had run-ins with various bad elements. This novel says so what. Starr says that like every other kid, he’s just a kid and not perfect, and all of that has nothing to do with whether or not he should have been killed. He shouldn’t have been.
This novel does a good job of saying that we have to be able to deal with the difficulties of the topic and realize there’s no such thing as a perfect victim.
Confessions by Kanae Minato – 2/5 –
I dunno, man, this novel is kind of bad. I wanted it to be good because the cover and the premise sound pretty neat, but then it just becomes silly. The idea here is that someone has killed a middle school teacher’s daughter and in the opening section of the novel she’s addressing her whole class, telling them she knows who the murderers are, and then that she has “poisoned” their milk (that the novel goes on to over emphasize why they’re all drinking) with HIV infected blood. Jeez.
As this section concludes we move onto multiple narrators from the class…the class president, the two murderers, and then the older sister of of them and one of their mothers. Throughout the rest of the novel is a weird backward telling version of the death of the little girl, the motivations behind the murderers, and all the other parts that lead to a final (and dumb) culminating scene.
God, this book was such a silly drag throughout. It was super convoluted and also really overly serious. So it’s this weird kind of effect where everything is taken super seriously but are so silly and absurd that it doesn’t make any sense. The characters are all kind of fucked up and there’s not really a moral center and oh yeah, no one ever gets police involved at any point. There’s a pretty good read on another teacher character as being full of it, but otherwise this novel is a weird gross book.