Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Books of Gender and Girls’ Fiction

I’ve been wanting to do a round up of all of my books from classes this summer, but I haven’t managed much beyond work and writing. Which seems to be the way of things these days.

I’m actually going to only focus on one class: Gender and Girls’ Fiction. Mostly because I started reading for The History and Criticism of Children’s Literature way back in March, so they’re not in a handy-dandy list right at my fingertips at the moment.

Wide, Wide World– I read probably half of this, not managing the whole thing because I joined the class on a Wednesday and we were supposed to have it read by Friday. It’s approximately 1,000,000,000 pages long.

All-in-all I found it alright. I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads. Sentimental novels are not my thing and I found the MC incredibly whiney, but it was an easier read than I was expecting, so on the whole…not bad.

The Flower of the Family– This cover burns my eyes (and also, does not at all accurately reflect the MC or the novel). As for the actual book…I liked it. Again 3/5 stars. It’s heavily Christian, which turned off a couple of my classmates, but it’s by far not the most heavy-handed thing I’ve read…I sort of felt like that aspect was just a product of its time.

What Katy Did– Again I gave this 3/5 stars. I found it fine. A bit saccahrine, and I liked Katy a whole lot more in the first half of the novel before she learns what it means to be the lady of the house (through paralysis!). There is significantly more humor in this novel than the ones before it, which was a welcome relief.

Heidi– Heidi’s charming, and why not? It’s set in an idyllic Swiss Alp mountainside and features a somewhat clueless five-year-old. I think if I had read this as a child, I would have loved it (if only I had listened to my mother’s book recommendations all those years ago!). As it was, I wrote in my response paper how Heidi is basically like a pet–a kitten to be precise. And who doesn’t love kittens?

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm– Rebeccawas the first book in class to earn 4 stars from me. I really liked it, largely because the novel has some distinct feminism going on throughout it, and lovable, clever, selfish MC who doesn’t require total transformation into something meek and insipid. Unfortunately Wiggin’s fell a little short for me in that she focuses A LOT on appearances.

Still, a worthwhile read, especially if you read Adam Ladd (who is a strange sort of quasi love interest) as the spurned heroine of the novel.

Pollyanna- I HATED this book. Hated it. And I said so in my response paper, listing ways in which the MC was annoying and how, if the book hadn’t belonged to the library, I would’ve tossed it. Thankfully, I had a professor with a sense of humor.

Nancy Drew- We were to read two Nancy Drew novels. A yellow cover and a blue, because apparently in the 1950s there was a major rewrite of the first several books and Nancy morphs from a flawed, snotty, but clever girl into something a lot more boring. On rereading I found the books tolerable, and I liked that Nancy’s character (even with the rewrites) demanded respect from the adults around her. I can see why I loved the series as a child.

But if you ever have the chance to read one first four of the original printings (or the reprints of them in ’91), do so.

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush– Oh, this book. It was so beautiful, and so difficult. It was the first book from class that I loved. It’s also the first Virginia Hamilton novel I’ve read, and the moment my reading belongs to me again, I am returning to her. Such a beautiful, compelling book about family. I especially loved how food came up again and again through the novel as a way to mother, to bond, and to comfort.

The Blue Sword- The second book I loved in this class, and the first majorly spec fic novel of the bunch (though Sweet Whispers is a ghost story, it’s more like magical realism). This novel, for me, was just fun. It’s exactly the sort of thing I love to read, and I particularly enjoyed how McKinley used the fantasy genre to flip gendered expectations. For me, that is the ultimate use of SFF–to talk about something in our world, by hiding it within something new.

I loved this one so much, I sent it to my brother for his birthday. I hope he’s liking it too. 🙂

Because of Winn-Dixie– I really like Kate DiCamillo, and this book was a lovely portrayal of small-town life, loss, and friendship. The thing that most surprised me in the novel was the deft, complex handling of faith, through the MC’s father (a preacher). It was really lovely to read a book where a person of faith is also a person, not a stand in for something bigger–not a stereotype of good OR evil.

I was rereading parts of my response paper and I ended with a passage from the book that is especially poignant on labor day weekend. Hopefully even non-Christians can agree with the sentiments expressed in the preacher’s prayer:

“Dear God, thank you for warm summer nights and candlelight and good food. But thank you most of all for friends. We appreciate the complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other. And we appreciate the task you put down to us, of loving each other the best we can…” (153).

The Chaos– Nalo Hopkinson’s weird-ass surrealistic novel about a biracial, bigoted girl and what she does when the world falls apart. I wrote (and presented) my big paper of the semester on this book, so my thoughts on it are multitude, but hopefully I can distill them. While the surface-level details of the book aren’t my typical cup of tea, I love the messages Hopkinson’s sending, the big ideas she’s wrestling with–about identity, about how we see ourselves, about what a happy ending really means. I can’t say much more without totally giving it away, but sometimes Cinderella’s transformation is a bit different than you’re expecting.

Also, there’s a volcano in Toronto.

And that’s it! That was one half of my summer. Which, now that it’s all distilled nicely doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But there’s a reason my grad school updates tapered off after Week 2, and that reason was Gender and Girls’ Fiction. Still, I loved it.

This fall I’m taking a creative course on Writing Diverse Books. It’s hard topic, especially at the moment, but it’s important to me to try, so I’m glad to have a safe space to dig in, experiment, practice.

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