I've been absolutely woeful about not only chronicling my recent reads but actually READING. I'm giving myself a bit of slack, because between moving (OOF), the election (I cannot word about this), Twitter trolls (on lockdown for a wee bit, but IT'S BEEN SO FUN WOO BOY), and very high anxiety, my brain just hasn't really had room for reading. But I'm trying to get back into the swing of things as we approach the holidays. And I did manage to read a few things this fall! Here are two of them:
Beast by Brie Spangler
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Release date: October 11th, 2016
Length: 305 pages
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn’t look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg—and a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.
Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy—until he meets Jamie. She’s funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She’s also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie’s humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn’t know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn’t listening. Something that shouldn’t change a thing. She is who she’s always been—an amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?
This brand of contemporary is hit or miss for me (it's sadly lacking in dragons), but I found Beast to be quite successful. I found Dylan's voice immediately compelling, and even funny. I loved the writing (even if it's occassionally a bit present), and the fact that it's a very unique POV. Dylan's experience as a brutish-looking, rather scary-looking boy is, obviously, nothing at all like my experience as a short and entirely non-threatening looking female person, and so sinking into that entirely different lens and learning about all the THINGS that go with it that I'd never considered was really moving/eye-opening/all of the words.
I'm not sure I shipped Jamie and Dylan so much, necessarily--I think they both have way to much to contend with individually to be in a relationship together--but I really loved reading about them. I both liked and disliked how nothing and no on ein this book was black and white--Jamie and Dylan (espeically Dylan) do and say some terrible things, Dylan's mother has far more depth than just being a helicopter parent, and even Dylan's AWFUL douche bag best friend has a very sympathetic backstory and is one of the people who is coolest with Jamie's transition. They're all very flawed, and very real, and it's occasionally hard to take, but it's purposeful.
It's really well done, and while it definitely made me almost uncomfortable, and I think that's the point. I also think the execution was remarkably sensitive, and Spangler got very deep into her character's and really scooped out their emotions. (That sounds a bit serial killer-y, but go with it). Overall, while it's not an all time fave, I definitely got the feels from this book, even if I kind of wanted to punch the whole world while I was reading it.
I have to say, I'm still disappointed this wasn't a fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a transgender Beauty, but it's obviously not the book's fault that I thought that pre-cover reveal. This also isn't really a retelling, even though it efinitely plays with what we consider beastly and what we consider beautiful and the dehumanizing boxes we assign people to. It would make a tremendous book club read.
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
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Release date: October 25th, 2016
Publisher: Roaring Book (Macmillan)
Source: ARC from the publisher
A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul.
No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.
Oh, my god, I loved this book. It is vicious, and searing, and so RAGEFUL that I felt so wonderfully stark and moody and resentful while residing in Reiko's head. Putting this book down was like breaking the surface of dark water or something.
The best part by far was the way Reiko's emotions permeated the page. It is DAMN HARD to write a heroine who is this numb and depressed, because it can be very distancing, but damn if Lindsay Smith didn't make me feel Reiko's every razor-sharp thought in the pit of my gut. I hated where and who she hated. I wanted her to give into the darkness, even while I wanted her to find a way to save herself from it. That's some compelling shiz, yo. (Also, she's bisexual, so if you like really angry bisexual Japanese girls with dark hearts and a taste for self-destructive vengeance THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU)
So yeah, obviously, fun times abound! Not. This book is about Reiko, an American teen who's gone to stay with family in Japan, though it's not really by choice, but also to get away from BAD STUFFS that happened to her at home. Reiko is a dark girl in a horrible place, emotionally, and like I said before, it's just so wonderfully done. Like, seriously, I was in such a mood reading this. Reiko's damaged, twisting, self-loathing psychology is so brilliantly rendered and managed to be both cathartic and heartbreaking.
I don't know very much about the Edo period of Japan (read: anything at all, besides a smidge of art history and the vagueness of Matthew Perry (not that one) and isolationism blah di blah), but I was so intrigued by the time travel aspect of this book. Because Reiko manages to "slip" into the viewpoint of a 19th century Japanese girl named Miyu while visiting a historically preserved village. Miyu is just as dark and angry and vengeful as Reiko is, if nor moreso, but Miyu has a chance to do something about it. So Reiko gladly disappears into Miyu's life, and...well, darkness ensues.
While I think this book could still have been executed without the time travel aspect--I have a few quibbles with the tidiness of the ending--I still loved the way it was done. Full nerdiness points for the occasional historical setting, and while my ignorance of modern Japanese culture is near total--so I can't speak to that aspect--I thought that setting and cast of characters was equally well done.
If you like dark, angry, broken girls--this is the book for you.