Book Pages 3: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Rowell, Rainbow. Fangirl. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Print.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are about to start college, but Wren doesn’t want to share a room with Cath, meaning she will be left to her own devices to survive. The problem is that she’s a shy introvert who has a borderline unhealthy obsession with Simon Snow, a young adult fantasy book series. She lives and breathes Simon Snow. She has reread the book numerous times, peruses the fan forums at every opportunity, and writes her own incredibly popular fanfiction to post online. She knows Simon Snow better than anything. College will be different story. She’ll be on her own, forced to make her own friends and navigate her way through her freshman year.

Fangirl is one of the most relatable books I’ve ever read. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and this was magnified when I started college. On top of my loner tendencies, I am extremely shy and mildly socially anxious, which made it very difficult to do anything myself, even something as simple as ordering food. One running joke in the book is that Cath has no idea where the dining hall is and she’s too shy to ask anyone for directions, so she essentially lives off of granola bars for a few weeks until she makes a friend. I had a similar experience: my roommate was always busy with her other friends and I was way too shy to eat alone, so I ate ramen and mac and cheese in my room nearly every night for weeks until I found some friends of my own.

Cath’s obsession with Simon Snow was also quite relatable. I have been a Harry Potter fan since I read the first book in elementary school, and while my entire life doesn’t revolve around it, I consider it a pretty big part of identity.

In so many books with shy protagonists, he or she seems to immediately do a 180 in the middle of the book. Suddenly they’re sociable and friends with everyone, which is completely unrealistic. Cath’s journey was very slow. Honestly, she hadn’t changed all that much by the end. She was still shy, she still didn’t have many friends, she was still obsessed with Simon Snow, but she was finally able to find the dining hall on her own. That’s realistic. I’m still a loner, but I’m able to go and eat alone sometimes. I think most people wouldn’t think I’ve changed that much since freshman year, but I know I have. I believe Cath is the same way.

I’m not sure that this would be a great book for students to analyze and discuss in class (the characters aren’t diverse and it doesn’t have a deeper meaning), but I do think it could be comforting for seniors to read, especially those who are about to begin college. It’s a scary new experience, and I felt that Fangirl was very accurate.  On top of all of that, it teaches us to embrace our own unique characteristics, even if that means writing a lot of fanfiction.

Book Pages 2: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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Yoon, Nicola. Everything, Everything. New York: Penguin Random House, 2015. Print.

Seventeen year old Maddy has never been outside her house. She has been confined for her entire life due to an illness where she is essentially allergic to everything. The only people she talks to are her mother and her nurse, Carla. She would give nearly anything to be able to go outside and meet someone new. Then one day a new family moves in to the house next door, and Maddy becomes interested in Olly, the son. Maddy has never even spoken to a boy before, and her mother certainly won’t let her meet Olly. But as Maddy becomes more infatuated with him, she becomes more and more desperate to see what she’s missing outside.

First off, to stick with my diversity theme, Everything, Everything’s main character, Maddy, is African American. I can’t remember the last time I read a book with an African American main character. Many of the books I see with people of color usually have some sort of urban theme or they are depicted as troublemakers. Maddy was a completely normal teenager, or as normal as she could be while dealing with her illness. She was extremely intelligent and I believe she reacted realistically to whatever she was faced with.

Olly was a perfectly fine love interest. He wasn’t rude or snarky like so many other love interests in young adult books. He was a fully developed character, not two-dimensional, and I enjoyed reading about him. However, he had some issues with his home life, and I felt like that combined with Maddy’s illness was a bit much to cram into a 300 page book.

Something that made Everything, Everything even more interesting was the fact that it had some multimedia elements scattered throughout, such as graphs, handwritten journal entries, and drawings. Yoon’s writing style was beautiful, and these graphics added even more.

This would be a great book to teach in schools for many reasons. First, as I mentioned before, Maddy is African American. There is not nearly enough diversity in young adult literature, or literature in general. I can count on one hand the number of books I was required to read in school that featured a person of color as a protagonist. Yoon herself is from Jamaica. Diversity is important not only when thinking about protagonists, but authors, too.

I think students would really enjoy reading about Maddy’s life with a serious medical condition, albeit an uncommon one. There are also a few mentions of mental illness and whether someone’s actions are justified if the individual has some sort of a mental illness. I think these would be good discussion points, but for the sake of not spoiling the book, I won’t go into specifics. As far as age group, I think this would be best suited for juniors in high school. There aren’t many inappropriate aspects, but I think juniors and up would be able to have the most thoughtful discussions regarding some of the subject matter.

Overall, this is a very unique and interesting novel that teenagers would love.

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As a quick aside, a movie adaptation is currently in pre-production. It will star Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as Maddy and Nick Robinson (Jurassic World, The Kings of Summer) as Olly.

Book Pages 1: 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis

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Flores-Galbis, Enrique. 90 Miles to Havana. New York: Holtzbrinck Publishing, 2010. Kindle Edition.

A boy named Julian has lived in Cuba with his parents and two brothers throughout his entire life. The political climate is deteriorating quickly due to the rise of Fidel Castro. In order to keep them safe, Julian’s parents send him and his two brothers to Miami, Florida via Operation Pedro Pan, where they will live in a refugee camp until their parents can also move to America. While they are living at the camp, the three face bullies, the dictator-like camp director, and the threat of being separated from each other.

90 Miles to Havana is based heavily upon author Enrique Flores-Galbis’ own escape from Cuba during Operation Pedro Pan, which I believe added an extra layer to the story. Knowing that many of these things probably happened made the book seem a lot more real. All I knew about Cuba was that we had some kind of embargo with them, so it was very interesting to learn about its history and that the rise of the Communist government affected so many people. In particular it made me think about how Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are loved by a lot of people today while we seem to have forgotten how many lives they ruined. Julian came from a middle-class family and they had to make many sacrifices. Of course, there is always another perspective, and like I said before, I know next to nothing about Cuban history.

Even though I enjoyed learning about Cuban history, the majority of the book itself was lacking. It was written for more of a middle grade audience, so the sentence structure was very simple and some of the problems were more juvenile, making it difficult for me to relate. I did feel for the characters and the situation that they were put in and I wanted everything to turn out okay, but I didn’t care about the overarching plot. In short, it was rather boring. The only thing that kept me going was the desire to see the family reunite. Nonetheless, I think a younger audience would enjoy it very much, and I think that they should read it. It would be a great book to teach in schools in order to give younger students a look at Cuban history and culture.

One of my goals for my book pages adventure was to read diversely, and this book definitely fits the bill. I don’t really see, hear, or read much about Cuba during any time period, so it was a very nice change of pace.