Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Storytime 2013: Heroines and Headspace

"Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor

This book was on a table at the library promoting young adult literature, and the author had been at LeakyCon, so I put it on my list. It started off clunky, as young adult novels often do, in that "OK, so some stuff happened before... See it? Got it? OK..." kind of way. Taylor first has to explain Karou's ex-boyfriend, her best friend, and then her whole life up to the point at which she is an art student in Prague. Long story short, she's been raised by chimeras and goes running teeth-collecting errands through portals for the creature who raised her. When it really got time for the story to start, the first half of it was rather unnecessary. But then the story really starts and makes up for it.

Karou's inhuman family keeps parts of her own life a secret from her, and she always feels like there is something that she has forgotten about herself. One day, she meets Akiva, an angel. OK, not a problem, the girl deals with monsters on a regular basis. Except that this angel burns all the portals and probably her chimera family inside their home. Problem. Inexplicably, the tattoos that Karou has had apparently since birth are a powerful weapon against Akiva. Also inexplicably, Akiva, though he knows he should kill this girl who is on the side of the "demon" chimeras, can't bring himself to do so. There is some really great banter between them as they negotiate what they know and feel about each other. Akiva can't believe that chimeras could actually be kind enough to raise a human child. Along the way, we find out the backstory of the angels vs chimera war, which unfolds from Akiva's point of view in an excellent past/present jump sequence. Then there is a big reveal, and Karou finally remembers who she is and who she was.

I really can't write any more about this without spoiling it, but rest assured that I am fired up for the sequel, waiting on my shelf. A

"Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me" by Ellen Forney

The title appealed to me when I saw it in the library, so I grabbed it. This book is a "graphic memoir" about the author's life with bipolar disorder. I think that the illustrations add a lot as she chronicles her steps through therapy, medication, manic episodes, depression, yoga, work, and finally, balance. She spends a lot of time addressing the artist's dilemma: lots of great artists had mental illness; did the mental illness enhance their craft? She doesn't want to let go of her identity as a crazy artist, but also knows that a lot of those artists killed themselves or were institutionalized. I felt like this personal account was helpful to me as I sort through my own mental health issues because the author methodically lays out the ways that bipolar disorder negatively affected her life, and the benefits of sticking to getting better. B+

"Huntress" by Malinda Lo

This book is a prequel to a book called "Ash," and since I like reading things in chronological order, I wanted to read this one first. The story is supposed to be based on the I Ching, which I have not read or researched, so I can't draw any parallels. I will say, it's not everyday that you find young adult lesbian fantasy fiction. The author, I found out later, used to write for AfterEllen.com.

Kaede, a lord's daughter, and Taisin, a sage-in-training, go on a quest to find the Fairy Queen. Before they even meet, Taisin has a vision of Kaede going alone to an ice fortress, and the only other thing that Taisin feels in the vision is her profound love for "this person" whom she does not know. So does she fall in love because of the vision, or does she have the vision because she will eventually fall in love? Oh, questions. Lo manages the queer flavor of the book matter-of-factly; at the beginning of the book, when Kaede is faced with the prospect of marriage to some lord's son, she states that she can't marry any man. Her mentor sighs and says "It's not likely that you'll be able to make a political marriage with another woman. It's happened before, but rarely." So homosexuality is a fact of life in this society, therefore, the romantic characters don't have to tear themselves up about being queer, just that their romance interferes with Taisin's life goal of becoming a celibate sage. Well played. However, the book's plot is not really clear, and ends abruptly, so I will have to see how it is supposed to lead on to the next book. B-

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