Review- The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab TM
Publication date: February 1, 2018
Page count: 344 pages
Star rating: 3/5 stars

Macy is labeled as ‘emotionally disturbed’ in her educational files. Other high school students are scared of her, teachers are constantly sending her to detention, and her mom does not even seem to care. Macy has one person who she can always rely on for love and support—her best friend, Alma. Alma is good at everything and no one hates her. Even though the two have almost nothing in common, Alma and Macy love each other. Despite this, when not at school, Macy has to deal with life on her own. ‘Life’ consists of her brother getting taken away by CPS, her dad being in prison, and her mom bringing no-so-great men into her life. Macy, being 15, can only handle so much. She can only clean the entire house alone the day before CPS comes so many times; she can only argue against a judge about why she should not be taken away from her mother so many times. Macy may hit her breaking point soon, even with Alma by her side.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Although this title represents many marginalized populations that deserve a voice in literature, some aspects were not executed smoothly.

Macy is the girl who never gets a book written about her. She is a person of color, of low income, and has many emotional problems. She is on an Individualized Education Program at school, does not get along with teachers well, and basically scares all the other students away. Macy does not care though; she has her own opinions and thoughts. It is nice that children like Macy can FINALLY see themselves in a novel, because chances are, they have never heard of a protagonist who they can relate to. The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is needed in today’s political climate. Macy’s character is necessary and it is nice to know she exists, at last.

That being said, the plot in this book is hard to understand. The layout of a self-written dictionary is a great idea, but it did not completely translate to a fluid storyline. Up until about three quarters into the book, there is no clear rising action or climax. Many books lack these components and are still excellent, but this does not work for The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. There is finally a climax about 85% of the way through the novel. This is confusing to the reader, because there are only 35 pages left in the book, but a major event is now happening. Consequently, the rest of the novel is a bit disorienting.

Ultimately, it is awesome a book like The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary could be published. Macy is quite the character and it is interesting to see the world from her perspective. Unfortunately, this title lacked in some areas of plot development and may leave the reader feeling unsatisfied. Despite that, this book is an important one for what is happening in the US right now and many young adults will enjoy getting their hands on it.

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Review- The Red Word

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat
Page count: 352
Star rating: 4/5

Karen, newly out of the dorms, just moved into a house with new roommates. The three women refer to their home as ‘Raghurst’ and identify as feminists with particularly strong views. Karen attends the marches and vigils held by the women’s center on campus, but she is a bit different from the girls she lives with. Karen begins dating Mike, a boy who is part of a fraternity on campus, GBC. Her loyalty then gets split between her roommates, who hate fraternities with all their being, and Mike, who loves his house and brothers. Following this, sexual assault cases against frat members, specifically GBC, begin arising. Raghurst becomes loud with conversations about rape culture on campus with even more vigor than before. Suddenly, the women’s center and school paper are working on pieces about sexual harassment and mentioning GBC. Karen knows rape is not the victim’s fault and that Mike’s fraternity brothers see women as pieces of meat, but she also recognizes her boyfriend clearly respects her body. Rape culture is a huge problem in colleges and Karen wants to be on the right side of history.

Thank you to Grove Press for sending me an advance copy of this title! I’m grateful I was able to get my hands on it before it was released to the public.

The biggest takeaway from The Red Word is it truly makes the reader think. Consider this: consent is not always black and white. For example, if someone manipulates a person into saying yes, it is not consenting. If someone blackmails a person into saying yes, it is not consenting. If someone is too drunk to know what they are saying yes to, it is not consenting. A reader may already know all of this, but The Red Word highlights the many ways in which rape in not black and white. This is something admirable, because such a topic is not easy to portray. Sarah Henstra did it well.

Karen’s roommates are a very interesting crew of women. Their views are pretty radical and they firmly stand by what they believe. One of them, Dyann, sometimes does not care if an individual suffers (by her own doing) if it means a system of people benefit. The other women do not quite agree with this logic and it creates a tension in their household and activism. Mike, too, is a unique character. He believes his frat brothers are good people, no matter what the university newspaper has to say. That being said, he does not like when Karen roams around the house alone at night. He seems to be nervous his brothers might harass or assault her while intoxicated. The Red Word is full of tension—tension within oneself, with one’s friends, with one’s community, etc. Despite that, this book was never uncomfortable.

The references to Greek history and ancient Greek and Roman texts are really cool. Karen is registered in a class that discusses women in Greek mythology and texts, so the novel incorporates some writing techniques like calling to a muse. For any nerd who loves The Odyssey, the opening lines, “Sing. O Goddess…”, will make you very excited. Sarah Henstra truly knows a lot about feminism in ancient writing.

Any feminist or person looking to learn more about rape culture will enjoy this book. Anyone who is both of these things AND likes Greek history will extra enjoy it. Karen has a few shocking college experiences that, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Rape culture is a horrible issue on college campuses right now, especially in Greek life. Fraternities are very much protected by their universities. The Red Word explores the ways in which consent is not completely black and white and how fighting against the system is both complicated and slippery.

Review- In Sight of Stars

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

IMG_8094Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Page count: 288
Star rating: 4.5/5

 Klee just hit his breaking point. After a serious mental breakdown, he wakes up and finds himself in the child psychiatric unit at the local hospital. Klee is set up with a psychiatrist, Dr. Alvarez, and begins recounting the events that led up to getting admitted to the hospital. The story starts off happy—Klee grew up in a loving family and sincerely looked up to his father, who painted as a side job. Klee aspired, and still aspires, to become a professional artist and follow in his footsteps. About a year before his breakdown, Klee’s father committed suicide. Understandably, this is one of the biggest triggers for Klee and the main reason he is having psychological issues. As Klee explains what his life has looked like for the past 17 years, his doctor makes decisions about medications and treatment. Klee has a lot to learn about himself before he is discharged from the hospital and he must slowly piece together what pushed him over the edge.

I want to give a big “thank you” to Wednesday Books for generously sending me an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of In Sight of Stars, because I believe books about mental health are crucial for reducing the stigma around mental illnesses.

Klee is very self-aware and seems to know where most of his relationships started going downhill. He has the keen ability to see himself from an outside perspective, which makes him a fantastic storyteller. Listening to Klee narrate his life is exciting and enjoyable, despite the unfortunate circumstances in his life. The engaging way he describes his triumphs and falls highlights Gae Polisner’s talent. Books that showcase a protagonist dealing with grief and mental health issues are often depressing and saddening to read. This is not the case in In Sight of Stars. Klee certainly has a damaged story to tell, but his unique sense of humor and insight into his own life makes it entertaining.

Klee’s diagnosis is vague. He’s not boxed into any specific illness or type of anxiety. It is obvious there is an underlying issue that is getting treated, as he is given medication upon his hospital intake, but no specifics are mentioned. This puts Klee’s story into an interesting perspective for readers who may struggle with mental health issues, themselves. The fact that Klee does not have a named illness makes him relatable to anyone who could be reading In Sight of Stars. Readers with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and personality disorders can all identify to Klee’s story. His life struggles are universal, which makes this title stand out from other young adult novels about psychological struggles.

Lately, there has been a rise in young adult fiction featuring protagonists with mental illnesses. Despite this, In Sight of Stars is unique in the way it presents emotional struggles to its audience. The way Klee narrates his somewhat depressing life is humorous and gratifying. In addition, while he is at the hospital, he is treated for an unnamed illness. Different types of medications are given to him, but they offer no hints about his diagnosis. This book is important for people, especially teens, to get their hands on. Stories about young adults who have depression and anxiety sometimes trivialize or romanticize symptoms that accompany these illnesses. For obvious reasons, this is harmful for people who have the same struggles in real life. Gae Polisner writes Klee’s story in a way that is understanding and respectful of mental illnesses. This title truly stands out from others in its genre. It is superbly engaging and strangely fun.