Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Twenty Things I Learned from Reading 2000 Books

As I approached the milestone of my 2000th book review, I wanted to be able to share some sort of profound observations about young adult and children’s literature, but inspiration never quite struck.  Instead, I thought I might share some tongue-in-cheek pearls of wisdom I have learned from my time spent over the last sixteen years.  In no particular order, here is the World According to Middle Grade and YA literature:

1) If your parents throw a birthday party for you and invite the whole class, no one will come.

2) If the story is intended for Middle Graders and contains an animal, it will be the focus of the story.  If the book is YA, the animal will be quickly forgotten.

3) If you are American, you will always have two best friends.  If you are English, you will have only one.

4) Every teen party will be unchaperoned and have a keg.

5) Every time you consume alcohol, you will drink too much and vomit in the bushes.

6) Your phone will always either be turned off/muted or have a dead battery.

7) Assuming your parents have not bought you an expensive car, your vehicle will be a junker and have a cute name.

8) Kids only listen to music that was popular when the author of the book was a teenager.

9) Showing up for work is optional.  Your boss at the coffee shop will rarely mind if you miss work, especially for a good reason like having a fight with your boyfriend.

10) With the exception of the protagonist, pretty people are always popular and always mean.

11) Protagonists are always beautiful, even if they think they are not.

12) All girls have at least two eligible, handsome boys to choose between.  One of them will be nice and the other one mean, but the heroine will be the only person in the book who can’t figure out which one is which until the end of the book.

13) Teens only read nineteenth century English literature for pleasure.

14) When you are eleven or twelve and are the subject of the story, you will get your first period.

15) Schools don’t exist for learning.  Their job is to supply cafeterias, gyms, and libraries.  They also serve as useful settings for public humiliation.

16) Malls don’t exist for shopping.  Their job is to provide a place where you can run into people you are trying to avoid.

17) Never turn to an adult to solve your problem when you can spend 200 pages of pointless drama trying to solve it by yourself first.

18) Keeping secrets from your BFF/teachers/parents is never a conscious decision, but just something that happens.  It is always a good idea…until it isn’t.

19) Every family owns a beach house.

20) Mothers are usually dead.

Have I forgotten your favorite trope?  Let me know what it is!

Refraction, by Naomi Hughes

A year ago, an alien spaceship came to Earth.  No one knew what it wanted, but when it broke up in orbit into hundreds of shards and pieces, the world changed.  The stars realigned and the sky darkened.  The world came to an end and only three places still supported life:  London, Singapore, and Cisco Island.  On the latter, a stalwart group struggles to survive, fortifying themselves from the terrors of the mainland.

Reflective surfaces have become portals that spread thick fog everywhere and through which horrible monsters emerge.  Staring into a mirror is suicide and owning one has been quickly outlawed.  But people still needed mirrors, lenses, and other shiny objects and that is where Marty makes a living as an underground dealer in reflective contraband.  It's a dangerous occupation, both because of the materials handled and the classification of dealing as a capital offense, but Marty has no choice.  He needs to find his brother who he believes is in London and getting there is going to take money.

Before he can manage to make the money he needs, Marty gets caught and is summarily exiled from the island.  Along with him is the son of the mayor, exiled for the "crime" of having captured and turned Marty in to the law.  Now, ironically dependent on each other for survival, the two boys try to stay alive in a world of fog and danger.  With the enemy hiding in the fog and reflective surfaces, the paranoia and fear will keep you on the edge of your seat. But as scary as that world is, we quickly learn that the situation is much more complex and terrifying.

This highly entertaining science fiction adventure combines a terrifying premise with complex and interesting characters.  Marty suffers from OCD, which causes minor tics like his need to tap doorframes and triple check locks, but which also plays a significant role in the story.  Without giving away major spoilers, the OCD becomes an integral part of the solution to the story.  His complicated relationship with the mayor's son adds additional tension to the already tense and paranoid setting.  The result is a taut and scary thriller that gave me nightmares.  It stumbles at the end, but mostly because of the impossible standards it sets us up for.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tweet Cute, by Emma Lord

I'm pretty convinced that the challenge I would face in writing decent YA would not come from the difficulty of remembering the trials of adolescence as much as my pedestrian understanding of social media and the prevalence of technology in contemporary adolescent life.  Lots of other authors seem to suffer from that same deficit, so it's nice to read a novel written by someone who handles it all with elan!

Pepper is an academic achiever and a driven perfectionist in everything she attempts, whether it is being captain of the swim team or baking amazing desserts. So when her mother's burger chain business Big League Burgers is struggling to make a bigger impact on Twitter, she naturally agrees to help their hapless social media director.  

Jack, who always feel like the lesser of his identical twin brother, does everything he can to help his family running the neighborhood deli.  At school, he's considered something of a clown and not the star achiever that his brother is.  But he has a secret: he's a coding genius and he's created the social media app Weazel which allows students to communicate anonymously.  It is both wildly popular and completely banned by the school.

When Big League Burgers unveils its new sandwich, Jack and his brother notice an uncanny resemblance to their own deli's fave.  Convinced that the corporate giant is trying to steal from their family, they launch an attack on Twitter that takes off.  Soon, although neither one knows initially that the other is behind it, Pepper and Jack find themselves wrestling in an internet battle using their family's corporate accounts.  At the same time, they are similarly haplessly entwined with each other on Weazel.

This update of You've Got Mail has all the usual rom-com charms.  It's a bit crowded between the Twitter battle, Pepper's baking finesse, and the Weazel app, but it manages to tie everything up neatly in the end (with some help from some convenient coincidences).  With all that stuff going all, it's a bit of a slog to get through the first eighty pages.  To really get the storying moving in fact, some of the key elements at the beginning simply drop away (Pepper's grade point average takes a dive, the swimming fades away, etc.).  So, this isn't anything spectacular, but it is fun if you don't overthink it.  And after I've had my head in the world of Panem for three days, I definitely didn't mind some food porn and smoochy bits!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins

Taking place decades before the events in The Hunger Games trilogy, this prequel gives us a taste of the early years after the war, opening with the tenth Hunger Games.  It is also an opportunity to give us background on Snow and how he came to see a young woman like Katniss Everdeen as his nemesis.

The story begins on familiar ground as we walk through the events of the Hunger Games themselves (as we did in books I and II) but where those were smooth running affairs, it is apparent that at this early date, they were still working out the kinks.  In striking contrast, the body count has racked up long before the Games even start.  

Snow is a student at the Academy and in a novel new twist this year the students have been enlisted to "mentor" the tributes.  Snow gets assigned to the female tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray.  She's a musician and and a member of a wandering troupe of romani-like entertainers called the Covey.  Like a gypsy, she flits around in colorful skirts and charms the people around her (including Grey himself) which proves decisive in her ability to stay alive and defeat much more able opponents.  But there is more than charm at play.  They have a mutual shared interest in her staying alive.  Her success in the Games will help Snow get a college scholarship he desperately needs.

That works fine during the Games, but when things go awry and the story shifts to District 12, their roles change.  The mutual interest persist, but there is suspicion and distrust and Snow doesn't know if he can trust her anymore. But in all honesty, could he ever trust her?

There are several things that make this a very different sort of story.  One obvious difference is the point of view.  In the trilogy, we are seeing the world through the eyes of Katniss and her rebellion against the Capital District.  Here, the story is told through Snow and life in the Capital is nowhere near as easy as we have grown used to it.  Some of that is because the Capital is still rebuilding from after the war, but Collins is also showing us that even those who benefit from the power structure suffer.

This is the origin story of a tyrant. While Katniss was heroic and fighting a good fight through most of the story, Snow is a troubling protagonist.  Some of his ideas (in particular his obsession with order and his selfishness) are odious.  One starts feeling uneasy when the book pushes us to root for the oppressors and we hope that the rebels get caught and killed.

But there's more going on in this novel than simply cashing in on the popularity of the trilogy.  While the trilogy used the Games as a metaphor for the cutthroat competition for college placement and job seeking, the goals here are simultaneously grander and more obscure.  Hints of that are seen in the five quotes that precede the story.  The first three come from the trifecta of liberal democracy -- Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau -- all speaking about the Social Contract.  Wordsworth follows with his ties to Rousseau.  The last quote comes from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which might seemingly be intended for the shock value of a monster let loose, but that would ignore Shelley's ties to her parents (Godwin and Wollstonecraft) and their critique of Rousseau.   Although heavy handed, this presages Collins's grander ambition in this story of critiquing the Contract itself.  The idea that we sacrifice our freedom in exchange for the order of authority is a key principle in our culture, and the tension that exists in that surrender was never fully worked out by liberal philosophers.  That it has these nuances is obviously lost on Snow and is the point that Collins in making.  While the Games were presented as a perversion of liberal democracy in the Trilogy, here it is dissected as a central component of it (seen much more clearly in the raw early years of Panem).  In an understanding with more than small nod to Foucault, Collins is demonstrating that the sacrifice of freedom does not give us order, but rather serves us control.

An interesting message to explore in a YA book, but what about the story itself?  It's long and meanders a lot.  Once the Games are over, the story truly drifts away from its focus, but it does eventually come back together in the end, in a rushed finale that solves problems by largely killing off characters (an approach also found in Mockingjay).  This is a less accessible story.  It is hard to imagine someone picking up this book without already having been drawn in by the trilogy.  In sum, not just a prequel but an ambitious political critique that is fated to be read by fans looking for some Katniss magic and disappointed to find only gloomy portents of the things to come.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Audacity, by Melanie Crowder

Clara Lemlich, an early labor organizer in New York and leader in the Triangle Shirtwaist Uprising, is the subject of this biography in verse.  Tracing the story of her life from a shtetl in Russia and her family's immigration to the United States to her involvement in organization women in New York's sweatshops, Clara makes an compelling subject.

Struggling against sexism, tradition, racism, and economic injustice to realize her dreams, it's a battle that one cannot truly say that she ever won, which makes the decision to tell her story in verse particularly poignant.  So much of what she faced and fought with goes unsaid in this novel.  For those parts of her life left in ellipses, a brief biographical essay and the transcript of the author's interview with her descendants fill in some details.

The verse is occasionally ambitious but overall sufficient to convey the action of the story and pull our focus to Clara's personality, accent her drive and ambition, and call out her doubts.  Faced with so many obstacles, she is particularly ravaged by regrets as the failures of her actions and the costs of those failures start to pile up.  Verse gives us the silent spaces and moments of reflection that a more standard text would have felt compelled to push through.  And so my usual skepticism about the format is set aside.  This is a good book, providing an inspirational approach to labor history and the role of women activists in the labor movement.  Recommended.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, by Samira Ahmed

Stung by a humiliating academic failure when her application to art school is rejected, Khayyam accompanies her parents to Paris in disgrace. She was so certain that she had uncovered an earthshattering connection between author Alexandre Dumas and the artist Eugene Delacroix, but her thesis was demolished by the judge.

Her father is French and her mother a Muslim Indian, which makes her an exotic American transplant.  Right now, Khayyam wouldn't mind some quiet to take stock.  In addition to her bungled scholarship application, there's her frustration with her sort-of boyfriend back in Chicago.

But Paris simply takes her closer to the causes of her woes.  Surrounded by the places where Dumas and Delacroix lived, Khayyam picks back up her search.  In the process, she stumbles across a young man with a similar quest (and strangely enough a direct descendent of Dumas!).  Together they learn of a Muslim woman named Leila who crossed paths with not only Dumas and Delacroix, but also with Lord Byron.  A historical mystery (interspersed with Leila's story from her voice) unfolds.  Along with it, a contemporary romance in the streets of Paris develops.

While listed as Young Adult, this literary mystery is really more of an adult novel with a young protagonist.  Khayyam has some angsty teen moments, mostly involving the triangle with her American boyfriend and the young Dumas, but otherwise there is nothing here that particularly speaks to adolescence.  That doesn't mean that young readers will not enjoy the unraveling of the mystery or characters, but simply that the novel will appeal to a broader audience.  As a mystery it works pretty well.  

The book is less effective at promoting Ahmed's ideological goals. Using Edward Said's critique of orientalism as a launching point, she uses the example of Leila (and Khayyam's obsession with telling the woman's story) to illustrate the process of giving voice to women in history. Byron, Dumas, and Delacroix and their odious relationships with women make easy cannon fodder and this is entry-level criticism aimed at younger readers. Here, it hangs uneasily, much as her bombastic novel Internment did for anti-Trumpism. The polemic, which only becomes fully developed in the latter part of the novel, does not add much and largely occurs at the cost of Khayyam's story of personal growth and confidence building.

Monday, December 21, 2020

What Unbreakable Looks Like, by Kate McLaughlin

Bound as sex slaves in a seedy Connecticut motel, "Poppy" and the other girls live a hellish existence.  But the trauma doesn't end when she is rescued in a police raid and claimed by an estranged aunt and uncle.  For as much as they want to help her rebuild her life, Lex (her real name) has a lot to process and work through.  A process that experiences a serious set back when she tries to return to school to get her diploma and falls victim to an attack by her fellow students. 

Seeing herself as damaged, she can't believe that anyone would want her (and readers will also be similarly impressed at the amazing generosity of the aunt), but with time we Lex learns to trust again.  Eventually, she even gains enough strength to fight back.

The book's subject matter is difficult to read and one of the strengths of the novel is the careful attention to detail that McLaughlin gives to it.  It's well-researched and no holds are barred in its explicit (but not exploitative) details.  Lex is similarly memorable.  A curious combination of insightful and ignorant, her voice is a bit hard to pin down.  In the beginning, I underestimated her as an inarticulate drop-out but as she regains confidence she becomes reflective and wise beyond her years.  Ironically, the great strength of her characterization can be credited to the weak writing of the book (more on that below).  In failing to develop a consistent voice for her protagonist, McLaughlin actually makes her a compelling study on contrasts.

But in the end, the book suffers from its writing. Frequent repetition and jarring plot jumps suggest that more revision and editing was needed.  McLaughlin has lots of great detail to share and is reluctant to pare it down so by the end she resorts literally to a lecture to fit it all in.  That may achieve political aims, but it sidelines Lex and her story and relegates her to a case study.  And the obvious dramatic payoff of watching Lex's attackers come to justice is diminished by not depicting any of it.  With all this good raw material and a compelling concept, it seems a disappointment. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Loop, by Ben Oliver

Luke has been imprisoned in the Loop for over two years.  Every day is the same:  stuck in isolation for most of time and subjected every day to body-draining "harvests" where his life force is drained from him as an energy source to power the Loop.  The only thing that lightens his day are the books that a kindly warden brings him to read.  There is no end to this.  Eventually, he will either die or get sent to the Block (a similar jail for adults) and then he will most certainly die.

One day, the routine suddenly stops and the Loop goes quiet.  Something is happening and the only way Luke will find out is to escape the Loop.  With help from other inmates, he manages to do so but what they find outside is even more horrifying: an existential threat to humanity itself.

The great strength of this book is the author's love for nasty sadistic details.  There's sheer delight and glee in the way he documents the inhumane tortures of living in the Loop and then finding equally horrific things to match it on the outside.

It's a very very complex dystopia, but the complexity is the major weakness of the story.  Hemmed in by so many elements, so many characters, and so many rules, the story really struggles to emerge.  Oliver is clever and full of idea, but he's lousy for story and plot.  The story, such as it is, is incoherent and largely pointless.  The heroes show their mettle largely through stupidity, hesitation, and cowardice in the face of raw evil (it's a very uneven match).  There's a mystery unfolding that might explain the contradictions and weird plot twists, but you'll have to read the sequel to have a chance of figuring it out.  There's no conclusion, no real accomplishments, and largely no logic to what happens in this book.  But there are fantastic, gruesome, and nasty details!

I would give this book (and the forthcoming sequel) a hard pass.  It's creative and innovative, but lacks a story or characters worth caring about to support it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Blue Skies, by Anne Bustard

After WWII, in thanks for the sacrifices that the United States made both to defend and rebuild their country, the people of France sent forty-nine train box cars full of gifts.  The so-called "merci train" transported those boxcars to each of the 48 states (the 49th car was for DC and the Territory of Hawaii) making stops along to way.  In this lovely middle grade historical novel, one of those stops for Texas's boxcar of gifts was in Gladiola TX, where Glory Bea awaits it anxiously.

Her father went MIA on Omaha Beach and for three years she's been waiting for him to return.  She's convinced that he'll be on that train (especially since they have been promised that there will be a VIP on the train and who could possibly be more important than her Daddy?).  And so, she prepares for his return making sure that the day that the train arrives will be perfect in every way.  With growing consternation, she realizes that his return will be none too soon.  One of her father's comrades from the War has come to visit and everyone can see that he has eyes for her mother!

With loving attention to period details and a penchant for providing local flavor, Bustard successfully transports the reader to life in a small Texas town in the late-1940s.  From Glory Bea's charming family to the tight neighborly attitude, this is a warm and safe space for Glory Bea to come to terms with her loss.  The story is heartbreaking because everyone except Glory Bea knows how things are going to turn out, but she comes through well enough in the end thanks to her strong character.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Break the Fall, by Jennifer Iacopelli

Audrey Lee has been planning her whole life for Olympic gold. But in the aftermath of her victorious bid to qualify for Team USA, there are a series of scandals.  First, a teammate is accused of doping and is disqualified.  Then, a day later, their coach is accused of sexual harassment and rape, blowing open a huge sex scandal in the sport.  With increased media pressure, an active FBI investigation, and growing distrust between members of the team, the gymnasts must somehow put these events aside and continue their focus if they are to reach victory.  For Audrey, all of this comes on top of years of physical injury that mean, regardless of how she does, the Olympics will be her very last competition.

Seemingly torn from the headlines, one of the shocking things about this book is that the real-life sex scandal in women's gymnastics that most resembles the events in the novel (i.e., Terry Gray's arrest) actually happened after this book was published.  That probably says a lot about the sad state of women's gymnastics as a sport beset by so much scandal and so thoroughly in need of some self-examination.

The book aims for a lot of things, but it is unclear where it actually succeeds.  There's a lot of broken storylines: a fairly useless romance, a potential peer conflict between Audrey and some girls who get cut from the team, hints of judging bias, and some tension between Audrey and the replacement coach.  All of these threads could have gone somewhere but never do. Even the main topic (about solidarity in the face of an abuser) is largely anti-climactic and never really developed.  I can understand not wanting to flesh out all of these ideas, but what was the book supposed to be about?   Iacopelli definitely does enjoy describing the blow-by-blow details of a gymnastics match and the fine details of a routine in loving detail.  If you're a serious fan (and someone ho picks up this book is likely to be), that will be a lot of fun.  But without that character development, the action reads like the sports pages and failed to engage me emotionally.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Jane Anonymous, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Jane was abducted by a stranger and held captive in a basement cell for seven months until she managed to escape.  Unable to piece together what really happened during those months, she finds her recovery nearly as traumatic as her ordeal.  Central to it all, her attempt to rescue a fellow internee named Mason meets blank incomprehension as no trace can be found of him.  But if he never existed, then who was her sole ally through the months she spent locked up?

A taut and tense thriller that alternates between the time she spent locked up ("then") and the time she spends afterwards trying to recover ("now").  Of the two, "then" is really the most interesting and dramatic. Thankfully it is not nearly as icky as it could have been.  Jane's emotional health takes a beating during her lock up, but thankfully there is no overt violence.  For the subject matter, this is relatively trigger-free.

But the "now" time is more problematic.  I spent much of it in deep frustration watching Jane get some really poor counseling and familial support.  While being kidnapped and locked up is certainly an ordeal, no one should have to suffer through the nearly abusive treatment she receives afterwards.  It seemed unnecessarily cruel and more than a little implausible.  There's also less coherence to the story in "now" as certain threads (e.g., her parent's marital problems) remain frustratingly unresolved and disconnected from the story.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Quilt Walk, by Sandra Dallas

In the spring of 1864, Emmy and her family pull up stakes and leave their home in Quincy, Illinois.  Pa has been out West and has come back with a plan.  He wants them to resettle in Golden, Colorado where he will make a fortune off of folks trying to strike it rich in gold.  Ma isn't convinced, but she has little say in the matter and has to reluctantly say goodbye to her friends and family who remain.  Her only memories are in heirloom quilts that she insists on bringing with them.

With all of their possessions in a wagon, they join other families and travel hundreds of miles across modern-day Missouri and Nebraska.  Disease, hostile animals, Indians, and homesickness plague the wagon train.  Some give up and go back home.

Based on historical fact and full of period details, Emmy's engaging first-person account of life in a wagon train will appeal to middle school readers and to fans of the Little House books.  Dallas's attention to detail certainly feels very familiar (although I think Dallas hasn't tried to cram as much in here which it makes the book an easier read).  As the title suggests, there's a lot said about quilts in the book, but without illustrations or at least a list of titles for suggested further reading, it's a bit of a let down.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

My Calamity Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

In this hilarious piece of historical fiction (stressing the latter), Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok's Traveling Show are pulling off trick shots and impressing the locals.  But on the side, they are secretly hunting down "garou" (i.e., werewolves, to the like of you and me).  Wild Bill and the gang are on the hunt for the legendary Alpha who is organizing the garou.  And when a stranger comes to town and announces that she means to join them, they aren't too thrilled for the company or the attention.  But this new girl Annie is quite the shooter and, by the end of it all, we've heard just about every variant of "Annie, get your gun!" that we will ever need to.

Their initial attempt to crack a garou ring in Cincinnati goes bad and (for various different reasons) they find themselves in Deadwood, confronting the Alpha, where all is not quite as it seems.  Jane, at the center of the story, finds that the fight is far more of a family affair than she anticipated.  Annie learns that you can indeed get a man with a gun.

I might have been better prepared if I had read the first two books in the Jane series, but there's no greater test of a serial than picking it up mid-stride and seeing if it can work.  For the most part it does.  I tend to break into hives when I find out that the book in my hands runs past page 320, but I managed to stick with this one through all 516 pages even if my interest flagged a bit in the last hundred or so.  Hand, Ashton, and Meadows all have well-developed literary careers that tend towards contemporary romances and romantic fantasy.  In this project they've downplayed the romance and a sassy alt-history that combines random historical facts, tremendous license, and lots of nudging and winking pop cultural references and anachronisms.  Driving all of this (and definitely essential for keeping things moving briskly) is a constant Greek Chorus of side comments that help to remind you that this is all intended to be silly fun.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, by Kate Hattemer

Jemima loves her school but hates its sexist traditions.  Chawton Academy was once all-boys and it shows from its dress codes to its prom.  As a self-described feminist, Jemima has often enjoyed being a thorn in the side of the student body.  Now, in her senior year and sitting in student government, she has an opportunity to change things.  She decides that she wants to shake up the whole ritual of promposals.  Instead of having the boys ask the girls to the prom, she devises the idea of having people enter their choices into a computer program, which will then match up people who have independently chosen each other.  It's clever and surprisingly popular until somehow the choices get leaked, causing embarrassment and anger across the senior class.

Meanwhile, Jemima is struggling with the whole concept of what it means to be a "feminist." After all, when it comes to discriminating, Jemima herself is pretty hard on women.  She does her fair share of disparaging girls who dress fashionably.  And is she really helping when she discounts the chances that her geeky Asian friend Jiyoon could get elected to student government?  Are her attacks on Chawton's traditoins about fighting patriarchy or is she only trying to draw attention to herself?  Closer to home, how should she deal with boys?  That's always been theoretical in the past, but when football player Andy (the object of her current crush) starts showing interest in her, she struggles with how to define what a true feminist would and would not do in response.

A peculiar, but ultimately entertaining romantic comedy.  The prom story is pretty stock material, as are the general characters (jock, queen, nerd, gay sidekick, etc.) but its the treatment which really stands out.  For one thing, there's a lot of explicit sex in the book, described in pretty visceral and physical terms by Jemima.  There's a lot about how good it feels, but not really much about her emotions surrounding it.  I get the idea here (i.e., being sex positive), but it's pretty clinical and not very romantic.  A similar practical approach appears elsewhere as well:  Jemima's potential foil, social director and queen bee Geniffer, turns out to be pretty nice and points out that any antagonism between them is more due to Jemima's judgment (and not anything Gennifer has ever said).  The jocks also prove to be surprisingly reflective and academically-inclined as Hattemer seems to want to flip all of these archetypes on their head.  It makes the book memorable and stand out, although it does grate a bit having people fail to follow their usual assignments.  I'm less sure I agree with Jemima's read on "feminism" but Hattemer has certainly created a memorable read on the idea.