Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin

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At first glance, Young Jane Young is about scandal, which I happen to like. Quirky, offbeat and often hilarious, the many narrators of “Jane’s” tale are both original and highly entertaining. When you begin to peel back the layers of this complicated and (at times) emotionally eviscerating tale of Aviva Grossman and the people who orbit around her life, it becomes clear that at its heart, Young Jane Young is an exploration of the politics of relationships.

Marriage, She Wrote

Throughout this book, there were several moments where women of all ages were put in submissive positions, or were in some way forced to escape from uncomfortable situations. Aviva’s mother takes us through the trials and tribulations of dating as an older woman, Franny is constantly subdued by her husband and Aviva herself is thrown into the middle of a controversy when she has an affair with a married congressman.

What I found most interesting about this narrative thread was the constant return to the idea of marital fidelity and the role of the women involved. In several of the interconnected storylines, there are married men who are  unfaithful, but each time, it is always the woman who is judged. This is made particularly evident with Aviva’s Grossman, who we learn from the beginning that she has changed her name just to escape the scandal. I think that Gabrielle Zevin creates a lot of strong moments within her narrative that will make readers think more deeply about relationship inequalities and in particular, slut shaming.

A Complicated Kindess

Along with the hardships such as slut shaming that many of the female characters face, Young Jane Young has a lot of funny, sweet moments that kept me reading late into the night. I loved Aviva’s relationship with her daughter, Ruby and their closeness. Although I felt that Ruby’s section of narrative felt disconnected from the other non-epistolary parts, her story was necessary (and completely devastating). What I loved the most about these female narratives was that the characters felt honest and their relationships, though flawed, were enjoyable to follow. I felt like nothing was simple and that made it all the more fascinating to read.

An Intelligent, Multi-layered Narrative

Read this book if you love quick-paced books with lots of narrative layers. Each time I picked up this book, I felt like I was discovering new elements to the story that only deepened my fascination with the characters and their ongoing plights. Zevin even makes references to The Scarlet Letter and Robert McNamera’s “mutually assured destruction,” which were clever details that added to the overarching ideas.

I’m glad that I was given an Advanced Reader Copy of Young Jane Young, because it is an intelligent and funny read that I feel is particularly relevant right now with all of the scandals that are going on in Hollywood right now. Barring that, it’s an exceptionally written story that was a lot of fun to read.

 

 

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Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan: A Book Review

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Jennifer Egan, known for her unique form, has a new book out and while it is a departure from the stories that we have loved, I’ll bet you that Manhattan Beach is going to be a new favourite. (At least, it is for me). I received the ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Part mystery, part historical epic, Manhattan Beach has something for just about everyone.

Three Stories

While some reviewers may claim that the book feels disjointed, I liked the variety between the storylines and felt that they intersected in interesting and unexpected ways. Perhaps those readers who first fell in love with A Visit From the Goon Squad weren’t expecting a narrative that follows a different and more linear path.

Egan takes us from the Great Depression into World War Two, splitting the narrative voices between Anna, who struggles to find a place among the men at the naval stockyard, Anna’s father and Dexter Styles (a night club owner). Was it a shock to be suddenly dropped into he 1940’s with an adult Anna? Sure. But I felt that the resulting mystery of Eddie’s disappearance made up for this jolt in the narrative time-frame. It was fascinating to see such a well-researched historical novel unfold from three different points of view, because it added a well-rounded perspective to the story.

A Feisty Heroine

Who doesn’t love an awesome, strong heroine to cheer on? Perhaps my favourite part of Manhattan Beach was following Anna as she becomes the first woman diver in New York Harbour. At a recent interview at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon, Jennifer Egan mentioned that she interviewed the real-life inspiration for Anna’s character and that a lot of her research was about going beneath the surface of the time that she was writing in, to bring more emotional depth to her characters. With Anna’s character in particular, I felt that this was true.

If you love books that celebrate feisty women and take you on a wild ride through the seedy gang world of New York in the 1930’s-1940’s, pick up a copy of Manhattan Beach.

 

Yak & Dove, by Kyo Maclear

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Even before I became a mother, I have always had a special love for picture books. For my Master’s degree, I chose to write about some of my favourite picture books. Later, when Little Dude showed up on the scene, I revelled in finally having a “reason” to buy as many gorgeous picture books as my arms could carry. For me, the very best picture books are the ones that tell a multi-layered story through sharply honed prose and pictures. I was already a fan of Kyo Maclear’s other books, but Yak & Dove is a new favourite. Luckily, I was given an advanced review copy of Yak & Dove from Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books.

Adorable Characters

Yak and Dove are instantly lovable because they are so forthright in their discussions about what it would be like to be twins, or in the minor annoyances that they face on a daily basis such as being too loud or too quiet. The pictures by Esme Shapiro compliment the quirky dialogue with the whimsical, brightly coloured creatures too. Yak & Dove‘s hilarious antics will have kids (and their adult counterparts) flipping pages pretty quickly!

Snappy Vignettes

What I loved most was the structure of this book. Each segment of the story was broken up by a beautifully illustrated heading, such as “Twins” and “The Audition.” It gave the story a larger, sprawling feel and even though the through-line carried along in all the vignettes, I felt like the story had layers. Because the words are all a dialogue between Yak & Dove, the pacing of this book is quite fast too. Even though the book isn’t longer than other picture books, I loved feeling like I had a longer time with the adorable Yak & Dove.

A Unique Message

I think what makes this story so honest and heartfelt are all of the moments where Yak & Dove discover how they are different, but find that they are still happiest together. The message carries through all of the vignettes in a fun, lighthearted way and it is a pleasure to watch Yak & Dove embark on their adventures together. (My favourite being “Yak & Quiet,” because I could not stop laughing at Yak’s “quiet garden.”)

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The idea of being different, but compatible is a unique message, and I like that. Whether Yak & Dove were squabbling about being too loud and quiet or making up after a big fight, the message is clear: people who are different can love each other. I love this. I love this book. If you haven’t already, go and pick up a copy when it hits the shelves on September 19th. (And then, because all of her books are equal parts beautiful and funny, pick up the rest of Kyo Maclear’s books too).

 

Unicorn Power (Lumberjanes #1), by Mariko Tamaki & Brooke Allen

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What the junk?! There’s a new Lumberjanes NOVEL for middle-grade readers hitting stores this October! Even if you’re not a hardcore lady type, this book will have readers in stitches as they follow Ripley, Molly, Jo, Mal and April on an all new adventure as they  attempt to scale a massive mountain. As usual, things don’t go quite as planned and lots of weird stuff happens. My inner X-Files nerd loves this series for that reason.

Written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Brooke Allen (one of the series’ original creators), there are plenty of zany adventures, wicked-awesome catch phrases and hilarious moments that keep the plot humming along. I read an advanced reader copy earlier this summer and couldn’t put it down.

What in the Joan, Jett? There’s Unicorns?!

Did I not mention that? Apart from the always charming girl-power heroines, adding unicorns into the mix of supernatural creatures that the girls encounter was lots of fun. The storyline felt whimsical, just like the graphic novels, which I appreciated since I am such a huge fan of the series. There were all sorts of hilarious details, like beautiful unicorns that smell terrible and bizarre camper badges too.

Friendship to the Max!

One detail that I loved about this book was the ability to learn more about each character through the detailed backstory. In the graphic novels, there are lots of fascinating reveals too, but I found that in this medium, there was an even greater opportunity to reveal more through changing point of view and narration. Through the varying narrative voices, this new instalment of Lumberjanes has a lot of cool moments that add a whole new level of enjoyment to the reading experience.

Fantastic Illustrations!

Have I mentioned yet how much I love the illustrations? Scattered throughout the prose, there are lots of illustrations that could have come right from the graphic novels themselves. It was fun to read a scene and then see an imagining of what it might look like, since I’d already read the graphic novels. Truthfully, I’m a sucker for sketches or other elements that give a text greater depth, because it makes the whole reading experience feel richer.

Should you read this book? Um, yeah. If you like girl-power narratives, high-stakes adventures or just stories about lots of weird things happening, this book is for you!

 

Persuading Austen, by Brigid Coady

A book Review

As a Jane Austen fan, I knew that for this week’s Waiting On Wednesday, I had to read Persuading Austen, which is a modern retelling of Persuasion. Luckily, I was given an Advanced Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review!

In this version, the Elliots are a family of actors, except for Anne who must take care of her frivolous father and sisters. Just like in the original, Anne was in love with Wentworth, but persuaded to leave him by her Aunt. When Austen Wentworth, now a sizzling hot movie star comes back to star in a new production of Pride and Prejudice, will Anne set aside her pride and win him back?

Literary Geeks Will Love This

Apart from the story keeping relatively close to the original Persuasion (for the first part of the book), there were so many fun references to other Jane Austen novels. I loved this nod towards the originals, because it added an extra layer of depth to the reading experience for fans of Jane Austen’s work. In particular, Anne works for The Northanger Agency, there’s a new production of Pride and Prejudice and Wentworth’s first name is even Austen.  That being said, if you aren’t a lover of the classics, there is plenty to keep you turning the pages (quickly).

A Plot that Sizzles

Perhaps my most favourite element of this story was watching Annie crawl out from under the dominating shadow of her family and become her own person. I felt that Brigid Coady did an excellent job of providing Annie opportunities to achieve her goal only to pull them just slightly out of reach each time.  Even better, the tension between Anne and Austen keeps the plot sizzling along. It made for an exciting and fun read that I could not put down.

If you like remakes of the classics, or even just a witty, fun romance then pick up a copy of Persuading Austen when it comes on sale July 18th!