The Call of the Wild by Jack London

CalloftheWildI can certainly understand why this book is on the Banned Books that Shaped America list—it is quite violent, but at least it’s not completely gratuitous. Though London writes detailed scenes of human and animal brutality, Buck’s is a story of strength, dignity, loyalty, and, above all, survival. Honestly, given the tragedies that were committed and occurring in the early 1900s, I’m surprised it’s not worse.

No. 8 on my challenge.

Fun fact: this is the first audiobook that I have listened to and it took me a very long time to finish it because the narrator’s voice was so soothing that he kept lulling me to sleep.

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Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

TristesseThis short novel was the first work published by French author Françoise Sagan. She was eighteen, and this detestable story featuring a detestable teenage child was (apparently) based on her own experiences.

Seventeen-year-old Cécile is spoiled, demanding, ungrateful, careless, lazy, and self-absorbed—a true enfant terrible. I genuinely dislike her. And yet, I can whole-heartedly relate to her. Not to the way she puts her own happiness and comforts above all else and others, or how she sabotages her doting father’s relationships to suit her own motives, or the carefree summer days she spends on the beach and in the water at a gorgeous French villa, torturing a law student with her sexual awakening, mind you. To those points I certainly cannot relate. But to her teenage woe, the direness of her self-perceived situation, and the strength of her emotions (however misguided they may be)? As a woman who was once just a fledgling—I unfortunately can. I wish I couldn’t. But, having been a child herself when she wrote Cécile, François managed to perfectly capture the best and worst things about being a teenaged girl: everything is raw and urgent and absolutely critical.

So yes, I can recognize pieces of myself in the horrible Cécile. I can also recognize that this novella of only 130 pages is brilliantly and beautifully written. And, despite Cécile—and perhaps even François—I really loved it. Thank you for the recommendation, Lara.

No. 18 on my challenge.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I keep a book journal. In it, I keep track of everything I read, the dates on which I cracked it open and slammed it shut, give it a rating out of five stars, and write a few lines. It was my blog before I started my blog. I read The Hate U Give in one day last September, and though I didn’t immediately share my thoughts with you lovely people, I did write three pages worth of notes in my little red “What I Read Journal.” Here’s what I thought then, and still do now:

THUG_ThomasMaybe it’s because I’ve just read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or because I’ve recently come to enjoy and appreciate the music of NWA, or because of everything happening in the US right now, but I feel like all of these things and more have converged so that when I did read this incredible book, I would have better context and the message might ring louder and truer. This novel deserves to be read by everyone. Forever. Thomas did a remarkable job depicting all sides of the conflict—victims, cops, white friends, black culture . . . this is not a one-sided manifesto—it is an important commentary on violence, racism, the cultural divide, community, friendship, and family and so much more. It’s shocking and engrossing and is really about how, if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself and for what you believe in; you have to fight against those who oppress you and fight even harder against your own fears. This book is frustrating, and heartbreaking, and frighteningly like real life, but it is funny, and hopeful, and a damn. good. book. 

Oh, and I gave it seven stars. For real.

No. 1 on my challenge.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told to Alex Haley

MalcolmX.HaleyI have to admit, this book is the reason I stopped writing reviews last year. It’s an important book, people. It’s been lauded since 1965. Proof:

“Extraordinary . . . [a] brilliant, painful, important book.”
—Eliot Fremont-Smith, New York Times, 1965

“Will surely become one of the classics in American autobiography.” —John William Ward, historian, 1967

“A mesmerizing page-turner.” —Variety, 1992

“Required reading.” —TIME, 1998

It’s so celebrated that I didn’t know how to write anything that a) would do it any justice, and b) would not make me look like an ass. I still don’t. But what I do know is that getting to read this book was absolutely worth my process of stealing it from my hometown library, carting it half way across the country, getting snitched on by my mother, and subsequently scolded by my librarian (and one-time babysitter). It’s important for a reason. Malcolm X was a truly remarkable man and, though I don’t agree with much of what he preached for most of his career—the Nation of Islam is a whole other kettle of fish that I can’t even pretend to understand—there are some extremely powerful messages to be found in his life story and lessons to be learned from the life (or lives) that he lived. I am glad I read it. You should, too.

No. 7 on my challenge.

Baby Driver

Baby-Driver-Poster.jpg

Phenomenal.

There is literally nothing about this movie that I didn’t love. I saw it three times in the space of four days and cannot wait to own it so I can watch it again whenever I want. If you have not seen it, you should do that right now. Run, don’t walk. And when you do watch it, pay close attention to the music—it is so much more than a soundtrack. In fact, my wonderful friend Cailey, who is incredibly intelligent and well versed in all things Hollywood, told me that she would classify this as a modern musical . . . one where musical numbers are abandoned in favour of a score that is integral to the pacing, the choreography (not the dancing), the gunfire, and even the love story.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

IAveyard_RedQueenf I had never read the Hunger Games trilogy or the Lunar Chronicles or the Mortal Instruments, or watched the Divergent movies or The 100 television series, I would most certainly have been blown out of the water by this dystopian YA novel.

However, this tale—about a teenaged girl living in a downtrodden society ruled by an elite race of [super-]beings with special skills and a fondness for killing for/as sport, who accidentally discovers that she is also special and is then thrown into an adventure that includes self-discovery, empowerment, battle training, a few unnecessary deaths, a violent stand off (or three), a love triangle, and an unexpected (yet totally expected) twist at the end—hits a lot of the same notes that all of the above series hit, which makes Red Queen just another iteration of a novel that I have read many many times.

That said, it is a very good iteration. I appreciate the world, the premise, the characters, and the pacing, AND there were approximately three “twists” that I honest-to-goodness did not see coming.

So, if you’re over this trend of YA dystopian novels in the vein of the Hunger Games and the Lunar Chronicles, you could probably skip this one. But if you can’t get enough of strong female characters in the vein of Tris and Clarke (and even Clary) who face ridiculous challenges and surmount incredible odds to fight for justice and freedom and to protect their family and their fellow downtrodden comrades, then, by all means, jump on the bandwagon and discover the spitfire that is Mare Barrow.

No. 16 on my challenge. The talented Victoria Aveyard was but 25 when this, her debut, was published in 2015. She has since published six subsequent novels in this series / universe and has two more on the way.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

McKay_WitchesI have been enchanted by Ami McKay since her first novel, The Birth House, and it seems she still has me under her spell. (See what I did there? This book is about witches. You get it.)

With both The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, McKay set a precedent as an author of great skill and imagination, and The Witches of New York certainly rises to the occasion. No matter the story, McKay writes evocatively, and effortlessly transports the reader back to early 20th century Nova Scotia or late 19th century Manhattan. She has a knack for convincingly integrating fact (historical tidbits about the setting, medical practices, high society, etcetera) and fiction, and a talent for creating incredible women who are vivid, strong, intelligent, and able to persevere and thrive in the face of adversity and misfortune.

Witches is technically a sequel to The Virgin Cure—it returns to the story of young Moth, now Adelaide Thom—but this new installment is entirely able to stand on its own. It’s the first of McKay’s novels to venture into the mystical, and even the touches of magic are so well integrated that they seem almost normal—as if psychics and spell keepers and young girls who can commune with the spiritual world have always been a part of the natural fabric of Manhattan, and McKay has simply pulled them straight from history, finally telling the stories of the witches of New York.

No. 12 on my challenge. Ami McKay lives in Nova Scotia and my edition of the book was published by Knopf Canada.