Book Review, Fiction, Young Adult

Book Review: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

What do you do with a person who has terribly hurt another human being? You kill them of course, at least that’s what Alex Craft feels.

Alex Craft has always been different, but when her sister is taken, raped, and brutally murdered, Alex truly becomes the town’s social pariah. She is now the sister of the girl who was raped and murdered. She is Anna Craft’s sister. She is the odd one, but when senior year rolls around, Alex makes a couple of new friends and the town almost begins to see her in a new light.Almost. A best friend, a friend, a new future ahead – nothing could possibly go wrong.

Or could it?

The Female of the Species is told through revolving perspectives, and McGinnis integrates these viewpoints seamlessly as the different personalities reflect on the events in their own voice. As the novel progresses, it is evident through their respective chapters that each character is allowing events to change them and help them grow and learn from one another. As such, once the climax is reached, action and inaction go a long way in explaining each character’s reasoning and resolve at the story’s end. Though the character-types are not universal, it is still possible to find one’s own thoughts and beliefs exemplified within the characters of this novel.

Having grown up with a truly ignorant perspective of human and female rights, recent events have brought out the feminist in me, which is why I chose to read this book. It is refreshing to have right-minded young men and women represented in this novel, and one could only hope that real-life young adults share the same perspectives as McGinnis’ characters – though maybe not every exact action of the main character. In Female of the Species, seemingly typical teenage situations and moments are given a fresh, new twist in this novel. Just when you can sniff the 90s teen Rom-Com coming up, McGinnis snatches it away and serves you a plate of raw, brutal honesty that makes you face the reality behind current gender issues. Additionally, McGinnis gives a great reflection on the complexity of female relationships/friendships and their ability to band together or make amends despite their differences.

While some (minuscule/insignificant) aspects of The Female of the Species were not to my personal liking, I think McGinnis’ work is exemplary in bringing about a fresh, non-run-of-the-mill story for young adult readers to consume. For this reason, The Female of the Species is a book that I recommend to any reader, regardless of age or gender.

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Book Review, Fiction, Young Adult

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Words exist only in theory. And then one ordinary day you run into a word that exists only in theory. And you meet it face to face. And then that word becomes someone you know. That word becomes someone you hate. And you take that word with you wherever you go. And you can’t pretend it isn’t there.

Life doesn’t make very much sense when you’re a teenager. In fact, even adults find it difficult to understand why or how certain things happen. What is important is that you learn to live with it, and that you figure out how to move forward. This lesson is what Salvador is attempting to learn in Benjamin Alire Saenz‘s The Inexplicable Logic of My Life.

A “white boy” born into a Mexican family, Salvador has lived a happy, non-problematic life with family and friends. Despite being adopted, his identity lies with the family that raised him, and Salvador has never had a reason to think otherwise. He lives life day by day alongside his best friend Sam and new friend Fito – two kids whose lives are far from normal, at least when compared to Salvador’s. It isn’t until his senior year of high school that Salvador realizes how peculiar his happy life actually is and how much more different it will be by the time he graduates.

At 17, Salvador begins going through changes that make him question is life, his personality, and his belonging. The people and situations that have stabilized him throughout his life begin to change as well, and the safe, happy world he has always known is crumbling. Salvador realizes he will have to learn to cope, adapt, and grow from the unfamiliarity no matter how difficult, unfair, or sad it is. With his family and friends by his side, Salvador learns that life doesn’t always follow logic, but it makes sense in ways we cannot currently understand, and so long as we continue to move forward despite the obstacles, we come out stronger and wiser.

I first discovered Saenz when one of my graduate courses assigned Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe as required reading. Being from a region in South Texas (more south than San Antonio and Corpus), Saenz’s stories of El Paso resonated with me in ways I wouldn’t have expected. As someone from the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso seems like a world away but, in culture, not too much. I felt drawn to the ambiance, the dialogue, and the insight that Saenz gave his story and his characters. Saenz’s stories don’t need a linear/organized/clear plot because they are about life – and our lives aren’t always clear, are they? Events happen and sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, sometimes they are boring, sometimes they are exciting, but they are all significant in shaping who we are and Saenz brings that reality to his books.

From the first page of Aristotle, to the last of Inexplicable, Saenz’s words have made me feel like home culturally, emotionally, and mentally. As I have heard mentioned before, reading Saenz’s work is like relaxing at home on a rainy day – it is comfortable, calm, it makes you feel understood, and it is ordinarily extraordinary.

Biography & Memoir, Book Review

Book Review: Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

How do you go through an ordinary life when you were beloved in movies as a child but struggled to find roles as you aged? There is only a certain population of individuals who understand what that situation is like, and Mara Wilson is one of them. In her memoir, Wilson details her life working on movie sets as a child and suffering through life as she grew. From curiosity and loss to anxiety and sex, Mara lets the reader into her most intimate thoughts, memories, regrets, and lessons learned. Though maybe not the Hollywood story we expect to hear, Mara’s life is real and successful on its own.

While specific events that Wilson went through do not resonate with me personally, her thought processes, her worries, and her way of coping or understanding her anxiety-driven world struck a cord and I found myself understood as well. Just like Matilda understood me as a child, Mara understood me as an adult.

The movie Matilda came out when I was five years old, and from then on, Matilda was my idol. It is impossible to count the amount of times I saw that movie, or how much I adored Mara Wilson in any other role she played. At 26 years old, I have been a librarian for one month now, and I have Matilda, in part, to thank for that development. As a child, I would watch Matilda in awe as she dealt with cruelties and read her way to success. I wanted to be her; I wanted to make Matilda proud of me. So, I read and I learned and I created my own successes as I went through school. Naturally, though, as I aged, I lost track of that “phase” until a couple of years ago when I began studying to become a librarian which was an obstacle all its own. Upon (finally) getting a job offer, which was an emotional time, I recalled what made me want to become a librarian in the first place, and of all the reasons that came to mind, Matilda stood out from the pack. That is when I found out about this book and decided to read it.

I had never separated the two, and perhaps they are still one in my mind (as for many of us), but I respect Mara as her own person and I believe her incredibly well-written memoir does a great job of showing her humanity apart from Matilda and her career as a child actor. It’s not Matilda-all-grown-up, it is the individual, Mara Wilson, whose life we have been provided with and whose experiences give us a new perspective of a lifestyle (actors/actresses) Hollywood and the media caricature ever-so-lovingly (/sarcasm). As such, Wilson’s memoir does what the genre sets out to do, however, for me it also served as a great form of therapy as some books, but not all, are wont to do. Excellent storytelling, and blunt admittance make Where Am I Now? a great accomplishment, and I look forward to following Mara as she dazzles us with her wit and truth in the time to come.