This is this month’s book club pick. Book club is next week. Will I have it read before then? It is anyone’s guess, folks.
Non-spoiler review: Brutal speculative fiction that unravels a mystery in a medically advanced future while following the lives and recollections of three boarding school students.
The rest of this review is full of spoilers.
So, the story is told by Kathy and is full of her recollections of being a Hailsham student along with Ruth and Tommy (whose lives we also follow). Kathy is a caretaker for donors. Caretakers themselves always become donors after they are caretakers for awhile. You spend the first however many pages hearing about Kathy driving from one recovery center to another, looking after her donors, and remembering what it was like being a Hailsham student, thinking to yourself, “What are they donating? They’re not donating what I think they’re donating, are they? And, they all went to the same school so… is this a book about raising people specifically so that they can be organ donors? What did I get myself into?” And, that is eventually what is revealed. It was a lot horrifying how relaxed and accepting and blasé everyone in the book was about this. It was mind-blowing, in fact. I realized, at some point, that this might be because the caretakers and donors seem to have almost no interaction with other people and they are raised knowing exactly what is going to happen. This is their trajectory, their lives. They have no reason to expect otherwise. This isn’t a love story about people from two different groups coming together to disrupt an unfair society. This is the story of two people from one group destined to die for the benefit of others who just want a little more time with each other.
Aside from the teachers at the school, one of whom are very adamant that the students aren’t be told enough about what will happen to them, there are no (from my recollection) named characters who aren’t themselves donors. Maybe the caretaker of the house that they lived in between school and becoming caretakers had a name. If he did, I don’t remember, though. The teachers at Hailsham spend a lot of time teaching the students humanities subjects and getting them to engage in art and creation because they have a broader outside goal of proving the humanity of the children to the outside world. (A world that has already decided that raising this children to be organ donors is worth the cost of their lives for the benefit of society.)
A large part of the book is Kathy and Tommy trying to get in touch with someone from their old school because they’ve heard that if you are in love, and can really prove you are in love, that you can get a deferral on donations to live a little of your lives together. It is so touching how pure and naive that is. The school has been closed, though, so there is some difficulty in finding their old headmaster.
There are some heartbreaking detours. Kathy, Tommy, and a couple of others, help Ruth find a woman who looks like her (and who may have been the source for her). This woman works in an office and that is Ruth’s dream job. There are other donors who were at other schools who hear that kids from Hailsham are special and I want to hear what it was like. So, horrifyingly, we’re only being told the best parts of this world. Some of the children raised to be donors get to live some of their lives as people. While we never are told stories from other schools, the implication is that many other places they’re treated like animals.
This was well-written. The prose was great. And, that made it even more horrifying to think about the subject matter. So, I would recommend it, but go into it knowing that is DARK and the ending will not make you feel better about humanity.
As soon as I returned the last library look, I got to the top of the hold list on this book!
I have this audiobook courtesy of one of my local libraries. Huzzah! This is the pick for this month’s teen book group at the local Barnes and Noble (that is attended entirely by adults, many of whom are either employees or former employees, so the discussions are excellent). The meeting is next week, so I have to get a wiggle on with this one. (Which is both exciting and annoying because I’m really into Pachinko right now.)
Enjoyed the first one so much, Carpool buddy and I requested the second one from the library. I have to say, this one, so far, the murder victim is a lot less sympathetic.
This book was a victim of its own hype. I wanted to LOVE this book. I was SO EXCITED about it. But, in the end I only liked it, which feels like a huge disappointment.
Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have to participate in the Metagalatic Grand Prix. If they come in anyplace but dead last, they can prove humanity’s sentience and we as a species can continue existing. We will be welcomed into a wide galaxy full of interesting and wonderful happenings.
If they lose, it is game over for humanity. Maybe the next species that comes to dominate the planet will do better.
The main storyline wasn’t terrible. The side stories of all the species that have recently won or hosted the Metagalatic Grand Prix were interesting. Overall, it was somehow too much? The side stories were distracting. They were interesting and the kind of world building I’m usually into but…I just wanted to get back to the main story. I could imagine this wouldn’t be bad serialized. But, it wasn’t my favorite novel. I will say though, that I listened to this book and maybe if I had read it, I would have had a different experience focusing on it. That being said, I thought Heath Miller did a lovely job reading it. The characters were all distinct and I was never bored with his performance. So, while reading over listening may have helped, I’m not sure it would have helped all that much.
Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang, an immigrant to the US from Hong Kong. It follows her from when she arrives in the States until after her high school graduation. In the novel, we follow her story as she works to balance school and her life helping her Mother with factory work after school. We see her struggle to fit in with the American students while also maintaining her home culture. We see her survive, push through, and thrive.
It is really great novel. I enjoyed listening to it. The audio book is read by Grayce Wey and I really liked how Wey used accent to change from inner to outer monologue. (And, I may have been imagining this, but I also liked that her accent got mellower as the novel went on.)
I read this as part of the #AsianLitBingo Challenge. Lit Celebrasian did a character interview with Kimberly Chang over on their blog and it is a lot of fun! You can check it out here!
So, Beth already reviewed this book and I wasn’t paying attention at all when I started reading it that we already had a review of it. To be honest, I was just thinking to myself, “crap, I’m going to fail my own challenge! I have to step up my game!” (And, then I did go and fail my own challenge.) This book was totally worth the read. It is a number of stories that are intertwined. The first is the main narrative about Sefia, a young girl who has lived as a nomad with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered and after her Aunt’s kidnapping has to go it alone in order to find her Aunt and take her revenge against the rescuers. Along the way she meets Archer and is hunted by the kidnappers. The second narrative is the story of Lon, a fast learner and apprentice to the Master Librarian of a Secret Society. And, then there is the story of Captain Reed and his ship and crew that are bound for the edge of the world.
I listened to this book on audio and it absolutely sucked me in. The book was read by Kim Mai Guest and she did an amazing job of bringing all of the characters to life. Like Beth, I cannot wait to for the next one to come out!
I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.
I have become one of those people who decides to read a book, checks the library for it, and then if A. the library doesn’t have it or B. the waitlist is longer than my patience, then I buy it. This isn’t something I do to be virtuous. This is something I do to curb the rate at which I acquire books. Because I own an obscene number of books. And, I pick them up at library sales and bookshops like they’re going out of style. I can’t seem to help it. As an audible subscriber, this means I often have more than one credit in my bank. If the library has it, I check it out. I listen to a lot of audio books, so this is a good system for me. But, having a surplus of credits is often a problem (is it, though?) I have. Audible has a solution for that. They have 3-for-2 sales pretty frequently and I end up picking three things that seem interesting but I don’t always pay really close attention to what they are about. This is how I ended up with Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. I had read other Sarah Vowell books before and enjoyed them and I needed a third book.
I had no idea what it was about (or, at least, I didn’t remember what it was about) when I started listening. It is the story of how Hawaii came to be a state. It is an interesting look starting with traditional Hawaiian culture, looking at the influence of colonial powers, business interests, and religion, and ending with the coup staged by the “Committee of Safety” in 1893 and the subsequent dancing around that eventually ended up with the US taking over Hawaii.
It was a really interesting story and one I probably wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. When I think about the American history that I was taught growing up, they really didn’t cover the colonial expansion that netted us Guam, American Samoa, and the Philippines for awhile. Thinking about this expansion and who has rights to what territory seems particularly important now as we currently live in a world where the Standing Rock Sioux are peacefully agitating for their water rights and getting nothing but hell for it. Vowell’s book is thoughtul, well laid out and tells a believable tale about how a people can change based on the influence of those they come in contact with and how other people can use those changes as an excuse to be more involved (and then eventually take over). I’m pretty happy I listened to it. Additionally, the audio format allowed for a really fun presentation. Vowell reads the main body of the text and has other readers in to play historical figures. Why read a quote from Teddy Roosevelt when you can John Hodgman do it? In addition to hearing Vowell, you also get to hear Maya Rudolf, Catherine Keene, John Hodgman, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, and John Slattery. At one point while I was listening, I actually said out loud, “Oh, no! Paul Rudd, you sound like a racist d-bag!”
This book is for you if you are interested in American history and you are ready to hear about America’s colonial expansion through Sarah Vowell’s dry humor. If you’re not American history, dry humor, or feeling a little uncomfortable (if you’re an American) then this book is maybe not for you.
When I posted my “What I’m Listening to” for this book I said that, just in the first chapters, I kept getting a lot of Tupac lyrics stuck in my head. In particular the line, “Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” This book made me in turns fucking furious, and heartbroken and uncomfortable, and increasingly aware that the U.S. is doing a big thing badly and that big thing is incarcerating citizens.
In this book, Michelle Alexander examines America’s prison systems and makes the argument that mass incarceration is a system of racial control that has taken the place of Jim Crow. And, her argument is pretty convincing. She looks at how, not all at once, but little by little changes have been made that have largely affected poor people and people of color. She looks at changes in the welfare system, changes in policing, the militarization of policing, and changes in drug policy.
Last year, I heard Piper Kerman speak at a local library function and this revisited some of the things that she touched on in her talk (and that at friend of mine touched on in a chat after the talk). We send a lot of people to prison. We send people to prison for murder. We send people to prison for rape (although, not often and not for very long but that’s a topic of discussion for another day). And, we send lots and lots of people to prison for non-violent drug offenses. How are we serving these people by putting them away for non-violent crime? How are we serving their communities by taking them out of the community? How are we serving them and their communities by disenfranchising them after they have served their time? How are we serving them and their communities by making access to welfare and public housing impossible after being convicted of a felony? I get it, if people do “bad” things, you don’t want to feel like you’re rewarding them. But, if you have nothing because you’ve just spent many years in prison and you want to do right and get back into the world, how can you do that with so many avenues closed off to you?
I don’t know.
This book raised way more questions than it answered for me but I am glad that I read it even if it means I now have to spend time thinking about these issues and how I can help set them right.