Book Review – George by Alex Gino

24612624

Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Own Voices, LGBTQIA+

Whew. Everything seems to be a tear-jerker to me right now. President Obama’s farewell address. Joe Biden being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. Lin Manuel-Miranda and Christopher Jackson performing “One Last Time” from Hamilton, at the White House.

This is Us. To be honest, every episode of This is Us makes me sweat water out of my eyes.

And George.

This sweet, beautiful, heartwarming story about a transgender girl’s struggle to come out to her family and friends. It strikes the perfect tone for a middle-grade story tackling a serious subject. Many transgender kids know who they are years in advance of puberty and adolescence, which is one of the many reasons why this is so important to have as a middle-grade book.

George is a delightful character, who exudes a quiet strength. From the start of the story, we see George thinking of herself through the use of feminine pronouns, which frankly, if it wasn’t done that way, would have been disappointing. She has always been sure of her identity, but lacked the self-confidence to be her true self in front of others.

Yes, this is a middle-grade novel, but I definitely think it has appeal to everyone, no matter your age. And the first time that we see George genuinely smile – unforced – it is a beautiful thing. I found Kelly to also be a delightful character. A true friend, who supports and accepts George as she is…the two have a very sweet friendship that shines throughout the story.

My daughter is currently a 3rd grader, and it was very interesting to compare how many things were gendered in George’s school compared to my daughter’s school. There are no restrictions at M’s school when kids try out for parts in a play or musical, unlike George’s experience with Charlotte’s Web. Last summer, our large school district passed a policy that will go a long way towards phasing out gender-based activities that “have no educational purpose”, such as having a girls’ and boys’ line to go to recess, a situation that George was confronted with every day. While M’s school does not use gender-based lining up, other schools in the district still did. Our school board has also asked teachers to stop using gender pronouns, to replace “boys” and “girls” with “scholars” or “students”. This last action was HUGE, and sadly, provoked a huge outcry from the religious right in our community. I am grateful that we live in a school district that is taking progressive steps towards supporting transgender students, and making the school environment a safe space for everyone.

However, there is still progress to be made at M’s school. For example, in her PE class yesterday, the class was divided by gender to play a game. George really helped M and I start to think about all of the situations in which gender distinctions arise, and how the majority of them can very easily be done in a gender-neutral way.

Living in North Carolina, our state has gotten its fair share of negative attention, deservedly, over the past year for the state legislature’s horrendous actions with passing HB2 (coined by the media as “the bathroom bill”), a topic I won’t go into too much detail here, but was a direct attack against the LGBT community, and most especially transgender individuals. When that legislation was first passed, I sent each of my legislature’s that voted for HB2 (and in one case, co-sponsored it), a copy of George.

I hope they read it.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Book Review – Dawn by Elie Wiesel

11166

Book: Dawn
Author: Elie Wiesel
Genre: Historical fiction, Nobel Prize Winner

I hate to give this novella anything but a five-star rating. Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, is an amazing read; he is an incredible person. I admire him tremendously for having the courage to write a raw account of his experiences during the Holocaust; for spearheading the building of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and for his advocacy in speaking out against intolerance, racism, and hatred. His writing has become a voice for the millions who have been silenced, and those who are still suffering.

I have long admired Elie Wiesel for reaching out beyond his religious and cultural community to work towards equality for all. No, he is not without some controversy: I don’t agree with his admiration and support for Netanyahu, and some of his remarks in regards to Palestinians are definitely questionable. He’s not perfect. No one is (nope, not even President Obama). But I wholeheartedly admire the man and what he has accomplished as a whole.

I did not, however, love Dawn. Dawn is the fictional story of a young Holocaust survivor, Elisha, who is recruited by the Movement – what I believe to be based upon the real-life Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated between 1931 and 1948 – to become a freedom fighter in British-controlled Palestine. The entire novella takes place over the span of one night. Elisha is tasked with assassinating a British officer who has been kidnapped, as retribution for the capture and hanging of a fellow freedom fighter. Over the course of the night, Elisha wrestles with his conscience, God, and the ghosts of his family, over what he is tasked to do.

“You are the sum total of all that we have been,” said the youngster who looked like my former self. “In a way we are the ones to execute John Dawson. Because you can’t do it without us. Now, do you see?”

I was beginning to understand. An act so absolute as that of killing involves not only the killer, but, as well, those who have formed him. In murdering a man I was making them murderers.

The writing in Dawn is just as beautiful as in Night. And the story brings up some important ethical and philosophical questions that Wiesel brings up in the preface: “How are we ever to disarm evil and abolish death as a means to an end? How are we ever to break the cycle of violence and rage? Can terror coexist with justice? Does murder call for murder, despair for revenge? Can hate engender anything but hate?”

My problem is that these questions are not appropriately addressed in such a small book. What is left is the feeling of justifying a person’s acts of terror by blaming the enemy. An idea in which I vehemently disagree. Wiesel may very well be making this very point in this novel: that treating an innocent person (John Dawson) the same way you (Elisha) were treated when you were powerless, is just as hideous an act as the acts of terror committed against you. But the impression the story gives leans towards the opposite.

“On the day when the English understand that their occupation will cost them blood they won’t want to stay,” Gad told us. It’s cruel – inhuman if you like. But we have no other choice. For generations we’ve wanted to be better, more pure in heart than those who persecuted us. You’ve all seen the result: Hitler and the extermination camps in Germany. We’ve had enough of trying to be more just than those who claim to speak in the name of justice. When the Nazis killed a third of our people just men found nothing to say. If ever it’s a question of killing off Jews, everyone is silent; there are twenty centuries of history to prove it. We can rely only on ourselves. If we must become more unjust and inhuman than those who have been unjust and inhuman to us, then we shall do so. We don’t like to be bearers of death; heretofore we’ve chosen to be victims rather than executioners. The commandment Thou shalt not kill was given from the summit of one of the mountains here in Palestine, and we were the only ones to obey it. But that’s all over; we must be like everybody else. Murder will not be our profession but our duty. In the days and weeks and months to come you will have only one purpose; to kill those who have made us killers. We shall kill in order that once more we may be men…”

The philosophical underpinnings of Dawn deserve a longer book, but somehow, plotwise, Dawn has too much padding. Yes, I know that sounds like I am completely contradicting myself! I feel that this is a small little book that doesn’t know quite what it wants to be, and is one of the weaker works out of all that Elie Wiesel has written.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

6932081

Book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices

Book Blurb: 

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, is a hard book to review. This semi-autobiographical YA novel is wildly hilarious at times, but also bleak and grim, and based off of many of the real-life experiences of the author.

“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

My first thought was that Alexie’s writing, blunt and filled with dark humor, also contains what can easily be construed as negative stereotypes. The lack of positive role models on the reservation, and the almost angelic portraiture of the white-townsfolk towards the end of the book, paints a very unfair depiction of American Indian life. Is his story perpetuating the sentiment of American Indians as sad, hopeless souls? Why is it one of the few white people living on the reservation that is the one that tells Junior of his immediate need to get off the reservation and “SAVE HIMSELF”? White people to the rescue motif, really?

Having not grown up on or anywhere near a reservation, these are not questions that I feel comfortable answering myself. I have a very, very small thread connecting me to the American Indian community: my maternal biological grandfather is Native American. But I am adopted, and that is literally all the information I have. Not a whole lot to go by.

So, I went to Google, and researched some of Sherman Alexie’s past interviews, and reviews by people who grew up and/or lived on reservations, to gain a different perspective. I would like to share some of their thoughts here:

“The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed, though I don’t expect every reader to view the same way, is that the Indian Reservation depicted has a lot of truth to it from my own experiences of having grown up on and around my own as a girl. Twenty, and even ten years ago, our reservation life was not so far off from the one described here, with the exception of perhaps the climate being slightly different, and perhaps I was too young to understand and remember anything about crime rates. But there was poverty, and then there was crushing poverty where I am from. There was alcoholism, though I would venture that perhaps it wasn’t the hot-button stereotype that I feel is portrayed at times in Alexie’s book. I don’t know. Every Native community is different, for sure, with their own unique set of problems. While I feel that there is a lot of truth to what Sherman Alexie has created, I also feel that there is a sweeping generalization. So, it hits and it misses, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself and decide what you think.” ~ Ouyang Dan, FWD/Forward

“Literature is the study of human weakness. I just happened to write the Native American version of it.” ~ Sherman Alexie, Sadie Magazine interview

“When I think of the poverty-stricken, sexually and physically abused, self-loathing Native American teenager that I was, I can only wish, immodestly, that I’d been given the opportunity to read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Or Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak.” Or Chris Lynch’s “Inexusable.” Or any of the books that Ms. Gurdon believes to be irredeemable. I can’t speak for other writers, but I think I wrote my YA novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self.” ~Sherman Alexie, Why The Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood

I know this isn’t my typical review. In short, I found The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to be a funny, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking book. I definitely recommend it. With a caveat, as I also place the responsibility on the reader – esp. white readers – to understand fully and completely that Alexie’s book, and life experiences, are not to be taken as absolute truth for all American Indians, everywhere.

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Diversity Bingo 2017 Reading Challenge

czmlbaeusaa6hub-2

#DiversityBingo2017 starts on January 1, 2017, and this is definitely the challenge I am looking forward to the most in the new year!

The goal of the challenge is to cover all of the squares during 2017. Although I don’t have books chosen for all of the categories yet – and some of my book selections might change categories – I do have a few in mind already.

My Progress

MC of Color in SFF – Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Review here.

Black MC (Own Voices) – The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Review here.

Indigenous MC (Own Voices) – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Review here.

PoC on the Cover – Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5 by G. Willow Wilson. Review here.

Practicing Jewish MC – Dawn by Elie Wiesel. Review here.

Bisexual MC (Own Voices) – Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst. Review here.

Book by Author of Color – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Review here.

D/dEAF/Hard of Hearing MC – El Deafo by Cece Bell. Review here.

Own Voices (Transgender) – George by Alex Gino. Review here.

MC W/an Under-represented Body  – Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Review here.

Free Choice: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

Diverse Reading Suggestions

MC of Color in SFFAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

West Asian Setting – The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Non-Binary MC (Own Voices) – Every Day by David Levithan

Neuro-Diverse MC – Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Own Voices Latinx MC – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Diverse Non-fictionBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah

LGBTQIA+ MC of ColorCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo or Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Non-western real world setting – The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

Book by Author of Color – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Immigrants and Refugee MC The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

MC W/Chronic PainSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Contemporary World Arranged MarriageWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Hijabi MC (Own Voices) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi