Rummanah Aasi

Description: Suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed, and we look at the world in an entirely new light. What if the power to hurt were in women's hands?

Review: I read The Power two weeks ago and I am still conflicted about it. There are a few things you should know about the book before deciding to read this book: Do not read this book for its world building and/or how the women get powers because it is very vague and unclear. Do not read this book for its characters. While there is a small cast of characters we follow throughout the book, they are not admirable, likable, or even have much character development. Do read The Power if you are interested in philosophy and gender politics. Reading this book is very much like watching a chess match, watching the players meticulously move their pieces after much thought.
  Sometime in the near future, young women discover they have within them the ability to unleash skeins of electrical current that can maim and kill. It is to believed that the power only affects people with the Y chromosome (mostly women but intersex individuals also have a very low form of power too) due to a substance dropped into the water during World War II. The power is triggered in flight or flight situations, but women quickly learn how to release it at will. Soon women begin to use this power to infiltrate and subvert all important institutions such as government and religion. Several women's revolts occur across the world. The first upheavals are in Saudi Arabia and Moldova, places where women have few rights. The woman who rules Bessapara, the first nation of the new world order, is unscrupulous and afraid, and she creates further instability by stripping men in her country of all rights and implicitly threatening world war. Men are now threatened and virtually have no rights. An underground terrorist group composed of men try to "revert back to the old times".
   The central question running throughout the book is: what would happen if women ruled the world? Alderman tests her female characters, from various backgrounds and classes, by giving them power and they all abuse it. The book does not have a linear narrative. It is actually told via a male historian with snippets from museums and other artifacts. There is a lot to unpack from this book from it's unique narrative structure to how we define power with male characteristics such as aggression. Along with power, the concept of freedom should also have been explored. I would have loved to learn more about the world building as we are not told when this story takes place, however social media such as Facebook and Reddit are constantly referenced. I would have also loved to see a wider, diverse cast of characters too. The author attempts to take her narrative globally but it only occurs on the book's periphery. What personally bothered me is the author's stereotypical assumptions of "oppressed" Muslim women who spontaneously go from cloaked individuals to being in a "Girls Gone Wild" video.
  The Power is a difficult book that will stick with you long after you read it. It is an intense read that I could only read in small snippets. It very much reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale with its shocking premise, but as it did with the other book, I was left cold and disconnected with its characters.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the novel, scenes of violence such as sexual abuse and graphic depictions of sexual assault. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Pat O'Toole has always idolized his older brother, Coop, right up until the day Coop ran away from their home just outside Washington, D.C. Now, a year later, he has received a package containing a digital voice recorder and a cryptic message from his brother, which will lead Pat on a strange and dangerous journey to the mysterious Community living beneath the streets of New York.

Review: Beneath is a fast-paced, action packed, and a tightly plotted mystery that incorporates themes of nonconformity and social rebellion. Pat is not surprised when his older brother and best friend, Coop, disappears. Coop has always been quirky: he is an avid tap dancer, collects flashlights, can't drive, won't email, and once dug a tunnel more than a mile long in their Virginia neighborhood before a gas line explosion nearly killed the two of them. After having a one-sided discussion with his parents about his future, Coop decides to leave without saying goodbye to Pat.
   Pat's parents are preoccupied with their breakup, careers, and new romances, so when Pat begins receiving digital voice recordings from Coop, he sneaks away to New York City to find his brother. Clues lead Pat to an alternative society that exists underground, but he soon discovers Coop has been drawn into an exclusive and dangerous group called the Pod. 
  Beneath is a great pick for reluctant readers. Short chapters and the unique narrative style of incorporating digital audio recordings drive both the plot and character development. I also really loved the relationship between Pat and Coop. There are hints of a romance between the charismatic Kate and Coop that is alluded to in the book. The book ends with lots of open ended questions, but I am glad to find out that is the first book in a duology. I do plan on finding on what happens to Pat and Coop in the next book since their safety is not guaranteed.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of murder and terrorist activities in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Above by Roland Smith, Downsiders by Neal Shusterman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright's It Ended Badlyguides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. In the throes of heartbreak, Emperor Nero had just about everyone he ever loved-from his old tutor to most of his friends-put to death. Oscar Wilde's lover, whom he went to jail for, abandoned him when faced with being cut off financially from his wealthy family and wrote several self-serving books denying the entire affair. And poor volatile Caroline Lamb sent Lord Byron one hell of a torch letter and enclosed a bloody lock of her own pubic hair. Your obsessive social media stalking of your ex isn't looking so bad now, is it?

Review: It Ended Badly is the perfect Adult to YA crossover narrative nonfiction. It is incredibly funny, entertaining, and educational. Heartache in life is inevitable and it even happens to famous people in history. There are 13 couples in this book that place from ancient Rome up to 1964. The stories depict how much we have and have not changed in our social mores  in regards to love, relationships, double standards, and gender expectations. In each story the author provides background on the couple as well as historical context of the time period and the events leading up to the breakup. Primary and secondary sources are included and used effectively to remind us that these couple are real people because these stories are so outlandish and hard to believe happened in real life.
   I already knew a few of the stories that were included in the book: King Henry VIII and wives Anne Boylen and Catherine Howard, Catherine Lamb and Lord Byron, and Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. I still read these stories with relish as I learned new tidbits about these powerful people. There many other stories that I did not know of and caused me to jump into many research rabbit holes to learn  more. Wright muses that heartbreak does not distinguish among the rich, poor, and eccentric. Whether their culture tolerated cruelty and murder that was not acceptable in many other time periods (Nero and Poppaea Sabina), condemned homosexuals to a prison sentence or worse (Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas), or even tolerated their bizarre behavior (Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler), each breakup left its mark on the individuals involved. It is odd too see that the ways people break up (i.e. ghosting, making the same mistake twice, body image issues, etc) are not so new and unique to our time period.
 It Ended Badly is the perfect anti-Valentine's Day book. It is also a great read for those who ever thought history is boring and for those that need a page-turner for a weekend read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This is not the sanitized history we read in history textbooks. There are mentions of sexual assault, domestic abuse, language, and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Modern Love by Aziz Ansari, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Before Stinkville, Alice didn't think albinism--or the blindness that goes with it--was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville. For the first time in her life, Alice feels different--like she's at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around.
  In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering--she can't even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She's going to show them--and herself--that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town's stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.

Review: Alice was born with albinism and has only 20/200 vision with glasses. When she was at home in Seattle, Washington, her disability was well known and accepted. She had her best friend to help guide her, she knew everyone and knew her way around. Now that her dad got a new job and the family had to move to Sinkville aka Stinkvile, South Carolina, Alice is struggling in her new setting. She has no friends, doesn't know her way around her neighborhood, and her family is too busy coping with their own problems to help her. Alice must find her own way and be self reliant. When a writing contest offers her a chance to prove she can do anything, Alice and her dog, Tooter, set out to find their own place in their new home.
  I really liked Alice's narrative voice. She is a realistic tween who felt very down to earth and self aware. I also enjoyed her slowly falling in love with Stinkville, particularly with its residents who she easily warmed up to and help her realize the city's goodness. Although some of the characters such as the waitress who knows everyone, the wise yet stubborn senior citizen that Alice befriends, and a bully that is covering up her own shortcoming feel one dimensional, but they all help Alice along the way. I also appreciated the inclusion and mixture of humor with serious topics like depression, disability, and old age. Alice is not confined to her disability, but rather on a journey of independence, compromise, and accepting help when it is needed. Blind Guide to Stinkville would be a good choice for young readers who enjoy reading realistic fiction with a touch of humor.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a sick pet in the story. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life. Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart. At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela. But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

Review: Release is a heartbreaking story that features a dual narrative that follows Adam, a gay teenager with homophobic parents, and the ghost of a classmate murdered by her meth-addicted boyfriend, over the course of one, defining day. I was immediately grabbed by Adam's story line. Normally, I do not care for books that take place in a day, but there were so many important things happening to Adam or that involved Adam that I often forgot this was all occurring at one time.
  Adam does not lead an easy life. His evangelical father constantly berates him and calls him a disappoint for being gay and not following his shoes into clergy. His first love, Enzo who he may or may not be still in love with, is having a going-away party. His job is also threatened by his lecherous boss who has been sexually harassing him. All of these events are heaped upon Adam's shoulders but he takes them in stride because of his support network and best friend Angela has always been on his side. Except Angela completely sidelines him in announcing that she's moving from Washington State to the Netherlands for senior year. Angela's departure serves as a catalyst that fractures Adam's complacency. Suddenly, he has to navigate and release all of his feelings that he has internalized for so long. Adam's story dominates the narrative and provides a honest, vulnerable, and riveting portrayal of a gay teenager's sexual awakening and rite of passage. There are plenty of nods to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever throughout the book from the book's structure, writing style, and themes. I can definitely see why he chose those particular books to influence his book. Release feels cathartic just as it is aptly titled and uncalcuated.
 What dampened by enjoyment of the book is the paranormal story line, which is not as affecting as Adam's. This magical realism story line weaves in and out of Adam's narrative, which disrupted the book's flow and intensity. While it was nicely written and conveys the sense of mystery that we encounter in our daily lives and I can make parallels to Adam's story, it made me bored and I ended up skimming most of it. The book would have been just fine if this story line was edited out of the book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language in the book, mentions of drug abuse, frank discussion on sex, sex scenes, and scenes of sexual harassment. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
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