Green – Review

“It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston.”

Green is a unique coming of age story, told from 12 year old David Greenfield, growing up in Boston in the early 90’s. The year Green focuses on for the entirety of the novel, is the year 92-93. We start when Dave is entering 6th grade, and the novel ends right before his 7th grade year begins.

The year is significant, because this school year is a milestone year for Dave. He has the only chance to take an entrance exam to get into Latin, a school that grooms students for college. The school is also notoriously a feeder school for Harvard. And Dave feels that Harvard is the answer to all of his problems. Or at least out of the ghetto he believes he and his family lives in.

Even more significantly, Dave feels very self-conscious attending King Middle School. He is one of a very small population of white kids, and he feels after the riots and Rodney King trial, that suddenly, his being white is more noticeable to his peers than before.

His first few weeks of school are exactly as he expects: being ignored, or hassled, feeling left out and left behind. His parents won’t buy him new shoes or stylish clothes. Even his quasi best friend ditches him for cooler friends. But life begins to look up when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him to a bully and their friendship begins to grow.

“It’s starting to hit me: Mar isn’t just my best friend, he’s my first. Up until now I had no idea just how lonely I’d been.”

I am on the fence with this book, and my review may contain some mild spoilers, though I will try and avoid them as much as possible.

This novel is based on the author’s own childhood and experiences. And, in that sense, I can’t argue. I can say, however, that I didn’t really connect with Dave and the style that it’s written is very distracting. Mostly, I’m referring to the language. So. Much. Slang.

Here’s the thing with slang. I get that kids use slang words. It’s that this is a book written from Dave’s perspective, solely in the first person. And I just don’t buy that a kid would talk this much slang, all the time, as the voice in his head. It didn’t feel natural or real to me. I’ve never met anyone who talks like this kid. Maybe they exist, maybe this really is how a kid would hear himself speak. I don’t know. But for me, it didn’t feel real.

It’s hard to say if the author chose to write that way to highlight the way Dave felt out of place and was trying so hard to fit in. Because the kid does try to fit in. He is ashamed of his own personality, or so it seems, and only wants to fit in with the cool kids. So perhaps the slang is simply really driving home how hard he tries and how awkward he really is. It certainly felt awkward reading, so I can see that angle.

I also have an issue with how his brother Benno is handled. We know that Benno has chosen not to speak for over a year. That he had an accident, where he cut himself, and since then has been under therapeutic care and attends a special school. Dave often resents the treatment Benno gets. One example is how Benno gets tater tots with meals, while Dave is forced to eat homegrown vegetables and rarely gets processed food. Benno often gets to stay home from school and has little rules dictating his behavior at home.

I find it odd that parents who are so invested in one child, would be so oblivious to the anxiety of their other child. I suppose it happens, parents often can make a healthy child feel overlooked in the face of a sick one, but they rarely even try to explain what’s going on with Benno when Dave tries to talk to them about his own struggles. Even worse, we never even get to understand or learn why or what Benno is going through.

But what really bothers me about the book the most, is that Dave doesn’t seem to learn any lessons at all. He complains, often and loudly, about no one having his back. Yet, he repeatedly lets his friends get beat up and picked on. Even when Mar spells this out to him, he can’t muster the courage to even speak up, let alone jump in to help. He acknowledges his fear, but never seems to comprehend that no one will defend him unless he starts defending either himself or others.

Dave is obviously a kid so desperate for attention and approval, that he is willing to sacrifice his friends feelings and needs if someone ‘better’ is around and offering either of those things. And he doesn’t seem to understand why his relationship with Mar changes after betrayal after betrayal occurs. He is oblivious. Which I would expect of a kid, but Mar is patient and explains his reactions multiple times. Dave just doesn’t want to settle for anything he perceives as less. Unfortunately, Mar falls into that less category too frequently to maintain a semblance of a friendship. And while Mar seems to realize this, Dave never sees his role in the distance.

“His head is tilted to the universe, but he looks more lonely than awed. Everyone else is smiling and pointing, and he’s just standing there, squinting, biting his upper lip.”

A good come of age novel should have an “aha” moment. A moment where the main characters realizes where he went wrong and attempts to fix it. Dave sort of has this moment at the end, a moment where he confronts his old best friend and tries to talk to Mar one last time. But it felt like very little, and far too late. And even then, I never got the sense that Dave really understood why Mar distanced himself from Dave.

This book is supposed to be about class and privilege. And while it’s clear to the reader that Dave is sort of spoiled and immature and very privileged, Dave himself never really seems to have his “aha” moment. He realizes he has made wrong choices in regards to his friendship with Mar, but it’s completely unclear by the end of the book whether he really understands how much easier his life is simply because of the color of his skin.

He feels a lot of resentment towards the other kids in his neighborhood because of the color of his skin, but he never seems to piece together that this resentment is because of his privilege not him. Maybe that realization is difficult for a sixth grader to comprehend, but since so much of this novel hinges on that dynamic, it’s hard to sympathize with a kid who feels picked on, and can identify racist behavior without understanding at least on some level that he lives a far different life than his peers. Especially when he visually sees the drastic differences in their living conditions and lives.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed without liking the main character. But, this is a tough one, because he is the story. And I just didn’t like him. Maybe I was meant to sympathize with him feeling ostracized and confused about who he is. But he just didn’t come across as likable. He needed more redeeming moments and to become aware of his privilege far earlier in the novel.

Thank you to the First To Read program for sending an early copy to read and review.

 

 

 

Wonder Woman: Warbringer – Review

“We can’t help the way we’re born. We can’t help what we are, only what life we choose to make for ourselves.”

Excuse me while I fangirl over here!

Okay, in all seriousness. I was very nervous to read Warbringer. Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond excited that Leigh Bardugo was writing this adaptation. I love her writing. And I have a lifelong love for Wonder Woman. But, I will admit to mild trepidation on how exactly Bardugo was going to rework the Wonder Woman universe into a YA novel.

It isn’t just the reimagining of the comic I was concerned with. Being a fan of any comic world demands that you have some flexibility in your tolerance for adaptations. I mean, we are on our third rendition of Spider-man, and the love for Spidey is still real. And let’s not even talk about how many Batman’s we’ve been through. No, really, I was worried some essence of the darkness I love in her books would somehow be lost. I shouldn’t have worried because she does not hold back on the heartache, struggle, and treachery.

“I imagine all wars look the same to those who die in them.”

All Diana wants is to be recognized by her Amazonian sisters as worthy and their equal. As Daughter of Earth, molded from clay and brought to life by the Goddesses, Diana did not become an Amazon through death. She has never known war. Never known strife. And to some of her sisters, she will never be one of them truly, because of this. So when she makes the reckless decision to save a human girl, she quickly learns that there is more at stake than facing possible exile.

Alia only wants to be a normal girl. She doesn’t understand that the tension and hostility that follow her aren’t a normal part of human behavior. She finds out she is a Warbringer, descendent of Helen of Troy, and destined to bring a time of bloodshed and war to the world.

Fate brought Alia and Diana together. Fate crossed their paths. Together they have one chance to right the world. One chance save not just the world, but Alia. And they only have a week to do it.

The forces working both to keep Alia alive and to make sure she dies, are relentless. And here is where we find the skill in Bardugo’s storytelling shine bright. Magic gone astray brings the duo back to New York. Not where they needed to be. But what would a quest be without some missteps? And what would a quest be without a merry band of misfits to join the fray?

Nim, Theo and Jason are not a merry band. But they are a band of misfits that find themselves on this journey to save Alia, and in turn the world. Jason is Alia’s super controlling and over-protective brother. Nim, her best friend, and Theo, Jason’s nerdy best friend. It will take all of their skills, and the ability to work together to actually make their plan work.

And while I did enjoy the banter and the quirks, it is Diana that really makes this novel shine. Her blunt take on New Yorkers and modern life are quite hilarious, not to mention, alarmingly accurate. I laughed so many times at her questions, and responses, and observations. They are perfect.

“She felt like she was wandering in the dark through this world, catching only flashes of understanding, grasping one thing then stumbling onto the next.”

For someone who has only read about the modern world, never seen men or boys, and only heard about the perils of humanity, I imagine our world would be shocking to Diana. Bardugo captures this amazement and awe and blends it with the mistrust and horror of what the world is actually like. For all the changes this retelling made, the heart of Diana stays very much in tact in this novel.

Diana begins the journey thinking it is only to prove herself worthy to her sisters. But the truth is, she needs to find herself worthy in her own eyes as well.

“Battles are often lost because people don’t know which war they’re fighting.”

This is a theme that runs true no matter which version of Wonder Woman you find. In fact, the themes of truth, self-worth, identity and the strength of women are highlighted extremely well in this novel. These are things any fan would expect to find, and Bardugo did such a good job holding up to those standards and showing them in interesting ways.

It is both in Alia and Diana that identity shine through. They both begin thinking they are one person, and end discovering that they are something more. They have to face harsh truths about themselves and their motivations. This journey of identity goes hand in hand with their feelings of self-worth. How much is a life worth? What is the weight of one life versus the weight of all life? And wrapped within all of that is the idea that truth is necessary and vital to all of this.

“Truth means something different when it’s freely given.”

These heavy themes are written intricately within each character along within the overall plot, and that is really the heart of Wonder Woman. Yet, there is a playfulness to the book. The characters are still teenagers and are guaranteed to break up the brevity of any situation with some smart mouthed sarcasm exactly when it’s needed.

Finally, highlighting the strength of women is captured so well in Warbringer. It isn’t just that Diana is nearly indestructible, because the physical strength isn’t what makes her exceptional. The way her and Alia bond in their quest was a subtle nod to that sisterhood that the Amazonians show. Without being on the island for long, this storyline needed to be shown in another way, and it was highlighted perfectly here.

Even more subtlety though, is the strength we find in ourselves. Often in society, even still today, women are still praised for being subdued. Jason constantly tries to subdue Alia, and while they call him out on it, the control he exerts and the dominance he expects are all too common. While no one is attempting to control Diana, I found it empowering when even Diana realizes she doesn’t have to hold herself back.

“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”

Every women alive has felt a moment somewhat similar in her life. A moment when we are tired of being told how to behave, how to sound, how to dress, how to be. I loved that we get to see Diana shed these self-imposed shackles to embrace the warrior her heart knows she can be.

It is in maintaining the heart of this story, and these characters, that these themes work towards the shocking ending. I’ll fully admit, I didn’t even see the twist coming. Yet even the ending holds true to the themes of the comic, and the themes of the book. It is this unrelenting, unapologetic willingness to face the darkness of humanity that makes Bardugo books so good. And she does it again with this one.

Superheros and icons are meant to be examined. They are meant to be placed in new and challenging situations so that we can explore the depths of heroics against villainy. They are meant to adapt to stay relevant and be reborn to reflect changes in society. I loved Warbringer for all that Wonder Woman has been, and all that she can be. And I am so excited to read more of these hero reboots in future DC Icon books!