Book Reviews and Analysis: Part 2

Review of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World for a teen audience.

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Jensen, K. (2017). Here we are: Feminism for the real world. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Young Readers.

If you have ever wondered what’s with all the fuss about feminism or if you are already an avowed feminist, this is the book for you. This scrapbook-style book is full of comics, fun lists, FAQs, poetry, and essays, all by people you know from movies, books, pop culture, and politics. The collection is divided into helpful sections about everything from “Gender, Sex, and Sexuality,” to “Culture and Pop Culture,” and “Confidence and Ambition.” This book will answer all the questions you didn’t know you had about feminism, explaining and expanding upon intersectionality, whether men can be feminists, reclaiming the word fat, feminism and mental health, being Muslim and feminist and so much more. So, if you’ve ever wanted the “Top 10 List of Black Female Friends,” life advice from Mindy Kaling, or to simply better understand what it means to be a feminist today, check out this book!  

Review of The Hate U Give in the style of School Library Journal.

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Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. 444p. Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. 

Gr 8 Up—Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter has spent a lot of time trying not to think about the fact that she straddles two very different worlds. After spending her days in the mostly-white, upper middle class prep school where she has a white boyfriend, Starr goes home to her supportive family and the poor, mostly-black, neighborhood of Garden Heights she loves. Yet when she meets her childhood best friend Khalil by chance at a party and is then the only witness when he is killed by a white policeman, her carefully separated worlds start to collide. Starr must choose between maintaining her status quo or asserting her identity by standing up for her friends and community–even if it means standing up to the people responsible for Khalil’s death. Starr’s struggles as she grapples with her friend’s death, whether to own her voice as the sole witness in the protests that follow, and the growing rifts in her school relationships are nuanced and never contrived. The Carter family is lively and warm, and Starr’s parents exemplify the complex dynamics that keep them—at least initially—raising their family in a poor urban neighborhood while others are desperate to get out. Starr’s first-person voice is rendered with fresh immediacy, and the code-switching in her language and actions as she shifts from Garden Heights to school throw her inner conflicts into even sharper relief. VERDICT—This layered must-have for every YA collection will complement any discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Review Analysis

Professional Reviews

  • The SLJ review is surprisingly comprehensive given its brevity.  Along with a relatively thorough summary, this review emphasizes not only Starr’s multiple conflicts but also her father’s as well. This review was the only one to provide any real criticism of the book, saying that the “characterization is slightly uneven” and that “Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out.” Other than that, though, the review is quite glowing. This review had nothing to say about potential audience (other than recommended grade range) or appeal, but seemed to see it simply as another recommended “issue” book. The end of the review explicitly mentions that the book should be paired with “Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.”
  • The Kirkus review can be characterized by its brevity. Although it provided a summary, many facets of Starr’s personal conflict and the conflicts surrounding her were either breezed over or not mentioned, including her family’s nuanced relationship with Garden Heights, or Starr’s relationships from school—including that with her boyfriend. There was little critical analysis of the book other than praise for “Starr’s natural, emphatic voice,” a praise that was indeed a repeated refrain across all the reviews I read. Audience was specified only with regards to recommended age levels.  Overall, this review, though starred, felt a bit lukewarm and lacking to me. One strength, however, was the fact that though the review itself did not compare The Hate U Give to any other books, there was a sidebar that recommended All American Boys, How It Went Down, and American Street (among others), which are all spot-on.
  • The Publisher’s Weekly review did a particularly strong job of bringing out the code switching that defines Starr’s home vs. school personas, going so far as to refer to Du Bois’ “double consciousness,” an important part of the story that defines many of Starr’s relationships and that other professional reviews glossed over. In this way, the review gets points for comprehensiveness, despite how short it is.  The review offers little in the way of criticism, but makes the interesting note that “though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted.” This is an interesting emphasis since so many other reviews almost depersonalize the story in the way they place it into the bigger picture of politics and the Black Lives Matter movement. This review, nor any of the other reviews mentioned the striking cover art.

Alternative Review Media

  • I wanted to find another review targeted towards librarians but without the stilted speech and constained word limit of the professional review media, so I consulted Amanda MacGregor’s review for Teen Librarian Toolbox. This review bypassed summary altogether by simply providing the publisher’s description, and jumping right into gushy—but still comprehensive—review mode. Although the tone of the review was much more discursive and conversational, the actual usefulness and critical stance was, in my opinion, considerably more pronounced when compared to the professional reviews. MacGregor goes deep into all the reasons she believes this book is for “EVERYONE” (all-caps hers), bringing out the dualities, the questions raised, the complexities, etc. She also nimbly inserts appeal factors as a part of her critical defense of why it is good, mentioning what makes the book funny, timely and timeless, and profound by turns.
  • Finally, I decided to read a few pages worth of reviews from Goodreads, mostly because I’ve rarely seen a book with so many reviews on the site (59,607 at this writing) stay above a 4.5 average (currently 4.6). What I found was that all the 5 star reviews weren’t just emotional gushing as I had somewhat expected. Instead, the reviews, while they varied in tone from almost professional to extremely casual and fun, were all quite thorough. Many provided a thorough plot summary, and then a long analysis of everything they thought appealing and critically and personally worthy about the book. The reviews with fewer stars were also for the most part quite thoughtful, recognizing the merits of the book while mentioning parts of the writing or characterization that did not work for the reviewer. Overall, I found the Goodreads reviews very personal, but also critically useful as a reader and librarian.  

*Note: I wanted to analyze the VOYA review, but very weirdly couldn’t find it online. I’m sure this is due to some search error on my part, but this is why I chose to use PW instead, even though it’s not necessarily geared towards a library audience.

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