Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

"Remember, the center of a woman is her uterus. Her crazy, crazy uterus..."

The fabulous Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, recommended Unmentionable. It sounded really interesting and funny, and I do occasionally read books that aren't kept in the YA section, so I asked my library to add it to their collection. They did, because I have some pull there. Not to brag or anything, but I'm a card-carrying member. (Banter is fun, and I may have been watching too much Gilmore Girls this weekend, because it makes me all babbley.)

Unmentionable promises to tell the dirty secrets behind the scenes of Victorian life. Movies and novels make it seem like a carefree jaunt full of gentlemen callers, dances, feasts, and flattering empire-waisted dresses. The reality was somewhat of a shock, full of crotchless undergarments, chamber pots, and poop in the streets.

Oneill uses excerpts from medical journals and instructional books to show how a well-off Victorian woman lived. These men, women, and men pretending to be women mused upon all aspects of daily life. There was advice on grooming, romance, even that special lady time of the month. It's funny, interesting, and a little bit scary at times. The author's summaries, captions, and comments were always hilarious.

It really does show how far life has progressed. The majority of medical advice back then was that having a uterus was evil, and the only thing to be done for it was to fill it with babies made in wedlock. It was fun to read about grooming and dressing, and the fun of flirtation. The chapter on menstruation was just as awkward as the actual subject, and mostly focused on those evil uteri again. Because if you have difficult periods, you must be an evil sinner. Obviously. The least fun of the chapters was on hysteria, that crazy women disease that comes with having that old uterus (again). Women were locked away in asylums. They had to undergo barbaric treatments and shock therapy, and the symptoms of "hysteria" were actually quite broad and could cover any number of actual maladies.

It can be fun to imagine living in another time, maybe trading in the complications of modern life for a simpler time. Whenever I think of that, though, I remember the freedom that comes from living in modern time that wouldn't have been available to me then. I like being able to vote and go places without a chaperone. I want to wear pants and not be thrown in an asylum! There are a million things to feel lucky for that wouldn't have been possible then. However, I know that there is still a long, long way left to go. It's going to be difficult with our future president, a decidedly anti-feminist political party in control, and a culture that still doesn't seem to understand concepts such as no means no. Maybe there is a little light at the end of the tunnel in the very fact that women went through so much and still persevered? That we have come so far in the time since then? I hope so, and I definitely hope that years from now, we will also be able to look back and marvel at how far we have come. Hopefully, it won't be very many years.

Sorry for so much digression! I highly recommend Unmentionable. It's great as a historical book, and even better as a humor book.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

"I know what you're thinking- if you hate it so much and it's such a burden, just lose the weight, and then that job will go away. But I'm comfortable where I am. I may lose more weight. I may not. But why should what I weigh affect other people? I mean, unless I'm sitting on them, who cares?"

Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places was the first book I read last year, and it was totally fantastic. It also made me sob and cry so much. So. Much. Crying. I can still think of the book even now and start to tear up. Granted, I cry very easily and am experiencing an attack of hormones at the moment, but still. The book resonates.

This brings us to Niven's newest book, Holding Up the Universe. It's alternately narrated by two teenagers, Libby and Jack. Libby used to be the world's fattest teenager. The tipping point came when she had a panic attack and the paramedics had to destroy her house to get her out. Now, she has lost half of her body weight and is about to attend regular school for the first time in years.

Jack seems normal, but he recently realized that he has prosopagnosia. This is a condition where a person cannot recognize faces, even faces of family and friends. This condition caused him to hook up with his girlfriend's cousin (They are physically very similar). If that wasn't enough, Jack also recently discovered that his dad is cheating on his mom with one of the teachers at his school.

Libby's return to school doesn't go very well. She reunited with her old friend Bailey, and befriends fellow large girl Iris. Most of the other kids stare, point, and laugh. Even though Libby isn't as fat as she was, she's still the fattest girl in school. She dreams of being accepted, of joining the school's dance team. A cruel prank puts her in Jack's path, and leads to the two of them being forced to attend detention/counseling. Libby and Jack start to bond. They even sort of like-like each other! He even tells her about his prosopagnosia, and she encourages him to seek help. Their relationship is really sweet and adorable, though there are some challenges and rocky times before the end.

Holding Up the Universe was very good, pretty much just as good as All the Bright Things. Thankfully, it was less emotionally devastating. That isn't to say that I didn't cry, because I almost always cry. I also laughed and swooned a fair bit. As a fellow big girl, it was nice to read about an overweight character. Libby was bold and extroverted, basically the opposite of me. I love her positive attitude and her fearlessness. Jack sometimes acted like a dumb guy, but was really sweet. He was great with his younger brother. There was a little subplot where the brother used to carry a purse to school, and some kids broke the strap. Jack was just so sweet and supportive. It's a nice story about accepting other people and their differences, about bullying and how we should not do that, and also a sweet and funny romance. So, you should read it.

I received my copy of Holding Up the Universe from Edelweiss, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers. It's available for purchase now.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

"I wanted to see behind the masks and see their true expressions, their true beliefs, their true selves. Not just endless lies..."

These Vicious Masks takes place about the same time as one of my previous reads, The Dark Days Club. This one veers more towards Pride and Prejudice meets the X-Men. After reading so much of rules and propriety in the other book, Evelyn's behavior in this book was shocking indeed!

Evelyn and her sister Rose are skilled at nursing the sick and wounded. It's not a proper occupation for a young lady, though their mother tells everyone it is for charity. Rose desperately wants to go to medical school and become a proper doctor. Evelyn just wants to explore the continent.

After a scuffle at a party, the family awakens to find Rose's bed empty. Evelyn is sure that she was kidnapped, pointing out errors in the note she left behind. Her parents don't believe her, admitting that the family is poor. All they have left is their reputation, and Rose most likely doesn't have that anymore. Evelyn sets off to London on her own to confront the man she is convinced has taken Rose.

Thankfully, Evelyn meets up with Mr. Kent, an acquaintance. He snarks with her at dinners on occasion, and seems smitten with her. Kent lets her stay with his stepmother (Who hates her) and sister Lauren (Who loves her). After Evelyn admits the situation, Kent offers his services as a detective to help find Rose. He was kind of weird, but I really loved Mr. Kent. I also loved the boy-crazy, pyromaniac Lauren.

Evelyn also gets assistance from the gothic, glowery Mr. Braddock. He claims that Rose was taken because she has special powers, powers to literally heal. He also thinks that Evelyn has these powers. She doesn't believe him until she sees the evidence before her own eyes.

These Vicious Masks was fairly intriguing. I liked the idea of people in the proper Regency era hiding secret powers from their friends and relatives. I wasn't joking when I mentioned that Evelyn's rule-breaking was a shock. One can have an adventure and simultaneously adhere to the rules of society...though I guess that didn't end up working in Dark Days Club either. This is the first in a series, so it will be interesting to see where the story goes after the way the first book ended. I didn't really care for the ending myself, but I will probably read the next book to see how the story progresses.