Revisiting my childhood, in a way

The Wizard of Oz is a cultural touchstone – the movie, not the book. There’s a young girl, a quest, a triumph of good over evil. Who on earth, you might think, would ever read a version of that story turned into a dystopia where Dorothy and Glinda have both become evil and are ruling the land for their own particular gain?

The answer to that is me, the person who owns all 14 of the original Oz books by L Frank Baum (yes, there was a series, and The Wizard of Oz is the weakest of them all if you ask me) from her childhood, spines cracked and often re-read. I am here for your alternative universe Oz.

In these books, there’s a new girl from Kansas, Amy Gumm (a direct reference on the fact that Judy Garland’s original surname was Gumm) who gets brought to Oz by another tornado. Dorothy, as previously mentioned, is both evil and in charge. Amy is rescued, introduced to the current evils in Oz, and then is taken under the wing of The Wicked, a magical resistance movement. Adventures ensue, teenagers fall in love, friends and enemies are both made.

I enjoyed the series and would recommend it to other people like me, who enjoyed the original Oz books way more than the movie.

#actuallyOCD

Someone I love was recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, aka OCD. This is a specific kind of anxiety disorder, less about being neat and tidy, and more about not-so-fun things like sometimes disturbing thoughts randomly popping into your head and being convinced something bad is going to happen if you don’t do x. Whatever x happens to be, and it’s specific to the person.

John Green has OCD. (This is a lovely podcast where he talks about it.) Turtles All the Way Down is about a teenaged girl with OCD. So I read this book not from an enjoyment standpoint, but from a help-me-learn-what-it-feels-like-to-have-this standpoint.

For me it did a good job, especially showing Aza’s deterioration because of her refusal to regularly take her medication. (Seriously: TAKE YOUR MEDS, KID. Love, a mom) It’s all handled with a deft and loving touch and explains so, so much.

Turtles All the Way Down helped me, the story was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about what living with OCD is actually like.

You should care about things

The Way You Make Me Feel is a fairly typical young adult book. Clara is a screw-up of a teenager who wins prom queen as a joke (that she is in on). When she wins, she engineers a Carrie-esque prank; disaster ensues, she has to work on her father’s food truck for the summer with her self-declared mortal enemy, Rose. Rose turns out to not be so bad, she meets a boy, happy endings ensue.

But here’s what I like about it: it makes a fairly coherent case for why earnest caring about things is better than cool-kid detachment. Yes trying can lead to failure, but failing breeds grit and resilience. And when you succeed, that can be pretty awesome. Caring about things makes you happier than not caring about things.

So, yes, your typical young adult book with a good message. It was a good, light summer read.

Fake fairy tales

The Language of Thorns is a lovely little piece of world building. Leigh Bardugo writes young adult books that take place in Ravka, her made-up pseudo-Russia and Kerch, a proto-Amsterdam; they are full of magicians called Grisha. The Language of Thorns are fairy tales from this world.

The most important world-building tale is The Too-Clever Fox, because it was inspired by one of the side characters (who I am a big fan of) who is getting his own two-book series next year. Yes, I was looking for clues for how the next series is going to go.

My favorite of the stories is a tie between the first one, Ayama and the Thorn Wood, which had the great line “They prey that their children… will tell the true stories instead of the easy ones,” and the last story When Water Sang Fire, which was inspired by Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

This fills the gap whilst waiting for the next series to come along.

Wonder Woman in novel form

Smart, competent girls yay!

Honestly? Plot? A young woman, Alia, gets in a shipwreck. Diana saves her. It turns out there’s a conspiracy around her, blah blah blah, Diana saves the day. You know the plot – no wheels are being reinvented here.

So what’s the point? The point is: smart competent girls get it done despite incompetent and sometimes outright evil dudes. Warbringer is a fun read and will make you proud to have two X chromosomes. Recommended.

Getting butt-in-seat time

Fangirl is a fun YA book about a young woman (she’s 18) who’s dealing with some things. She’s retreated into writing fanfiction, which is not a thing everyone is happy about.

But Fangirl is nothing if not a love letter to fanfiction and the people who write it. They’re finding their voices, they’re learning how to write, they’re getting butt-in-seat time of getting it done. You don’t become a better writer without, you know, WRITING. If fanfiction is your vehicle for that, great!

And, to my mind, if you’re willing to put what you write out there? That takes guts. The internet is not always a nice place – if you’re confident enough to put yourself out there like that, more power to you. (But maybe that’s how you get feedback too – how do you know if you’re any good without some way of finding out?)

Anyway, Fangirl is fun and I have a lot more respect for fanfiction authors and sites now.

Let’s go to the circus

Adventures, full of mystery and romance… Isn’t that the ur-story, the platonic ideal of a tale well-told? Maybe it’s just me.

That’s what Caraval wants to be, but it falls short. It’s a fine YA book full of adventure and mystery and romance, along with victims of abuse who learn that they don’t have to be victims. Why did it fall short? There were bits that weren’t clear, plot-wise. There were bits that wanted to be grand that just came off as showy. There were bits that just weren’t explained (but this is apparently the first of a trilogy, so perhaps that was intentional).

It definitely was entertaining on a hot summer day, and for that, it fit the bill perfectly. So it is recommended, but don’t expect great amazing things from it.

I need to go think about something happy

Museum of Intangible Things

The Museum of Intangible Things is the third of four YA books that I’ve recently read. Three of them are all about dealing with depression and depressed people. (The fourth is a Rick Riordan adventure book.) It’s getting hard to write about them using different language.

So what sets this one apart? One of the two main characters is so manic, she’s actually starting to have visions – most other books don’t go that far. The other main difference is that the characters in this one are sort-of throwbacks to the stories from the 1970s and 1980s: they’re not wealthy and their parents are messed up so that they’re both functionally running their families. You don’t often see that in modern YA, though Judy Blume is all about that (Tiger Eyes, I’m looking at you).

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I urge you to seek it out? No.

Let’s go on a quest

Mosquitoland

Mosquitoland is a quest – a high schooler is running away from her father and stepmother in Mississippi to see her mother in Ohio. She gets on a bus, and adventures abound. She meets all kinds of eccentric folks, avoids perilous situations, runs out of the money she stole from her step-mother, and, of course, learns things about herself in the end. It wouldn’t be a quest without that lesson.

It’s less precious and funnier than I thought it would be. Recommended for a vacation/beach read.

Taking care of people is important

All the Bright Places

Oh, All the Bright Places was a lovely story. Which seems like an odd thing to say about a book about depression. But both characters, Violet and Finch, are treated with such care and attention and, well, love.

Finch is manic-depressive, has been his whole life. Violet was in a car accident last year, and her sister died. She’s depressed, but in a different way. They meet one morning when they’re both thinking about committing suicide. It’s less sad than it sounds. He talks her off the ledge (literally) and then follows her down.

Long story short, Finch goes into a manic phase, Finch and Violet end up in a relationship, and things go from there. Violet starts to come out of her depression, and Finch’s manic phase ends. It’s not always easy to read, but it is always compelling.

Chronic and situational depression are different. I’ve had situational depression; I’m friends with chronically depressed people. It’s not the same, and putting words around those differences is important.

Recommended.