Book Reviews: Back To School

I was hoping for some fall-like rain, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.  It’s overcast and still in the 90s out, oppressive and muggy.  We might get ¼ of an inch of rain at some point tonight, says the weather guy on NPR, or we may just get dry thunderstorms.

Every little bit counts?

I had thought to do a review of something I’m reading lately, but all I’m reading is a host of romance novels by Sarah Maclean.  Her romance stuff is positively feminist, and I’m in love with all of it.  I can’t put them down.  It’s only been a few weeks and I’m almost out of her backlist already.  Sigh.

And so I’ll turn to old things to recommend to you instead.  It’s still early enough in the year that I can do back to school books, right?  These are three of my favorites, no matter where you happen to be going:

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: Cath Avery, freshman, girl obsessed with all things Simon Snow and Watford the wizard school, is dismayed when her sister doesn’t want to room with her their first year in college.  They’ve always shared a room, and Cath isn’t at all equipped for new people, least of all her scary, taciturn roommate and her cute farm boy boyfriend who is always hanging around.  Couple that with a professor who thinks Cath’s fanfic is plagiarism, and a mentally ill father who goes a little nutty without his girls in the house, and Cath’s Anxieties abound.  But as her life as she knew it unravels, Cath realizes that she might have strength for something more.

This book is one of my favorite things ever.  Cath is so sweetly neurotic that you at once feel like she embodies everything you’ve ever worried about.  But she also never fails to make me feel normal, that my own anxieties are manageable. I don’t need to be forced to the dining hall and am able to kiss a boy while thinking about it, for example.  It makes it feel okay to be broken and to come from a crazy but loving home.  It makes it feel okay to take kissing seriously, to not follow the rhythms of the world around you like so many of us don’t.

I’ve read this book probably 3 times already since I found it a few years ago, and I’m not planning to stop any time soon.

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Princess Academy by Shannon Hale: Miri and the other girls in her small, poor mountain village are dismayed when an emissary from the king brings a missive to their far-away town: the priests have divined that the prince’s next bride will be from here.  Instead of working in the quarry to feed their families, all girls of a certain age must go away and attend a princess academy to ready themselves. The teacher is mean, the lessons useless for Miri’s old life, and even the other girls seem to be her enemy.  But eventually circumstances force them to get along, and Miri learns a secret that could ensure her village has enough to eat for all the future winters, if she can only execute the plan correctly.

This book is supposedly middle grade, I think, but it’s a really lovely tale about poverty and the importance of education, love, and diplomacy.  Miri is such a sweet girl that you find yourself rooting for her the whole way.  This book is the first of a series, and the themes grow up as Miri does.  Each chapter is headed by a sweet song.  Definitely worth checking out all of them.

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Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman: Told through letters, bulletins, waste paper trash, and other scraps of paper, this book is the chronicle of one English teacher’s first year at an urban high school.  It has bureaucracy, ill-behaved students, crazy administrators, and a cadre of other things that make it both sweet and exasperating.

There’s a reason it’s a classic, and even though it was written in the 1960s a lot of it still feels immediate.  Teachers are still fighting the good fight to put knowledge in kid’s heads, and kids are still irreverent jerks sometimes.  It’s a quick read, too.  Short and sweet.  I heartily recommend it.

 

As always, happy reading!

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