Monday, March 27, 2017

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This helped me understand some things I didn't really get in the books, "The Sellout," "Between the World and Me," and "The Underground Railroad." Living overseas for 12 years has put me out of touch with issues in the U.S. I've watched at a distance the debates on police brutality and racial profiling in the news, but haven't looked at it closely. Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," explains how the War on Drugs initiated a crackdown that devastated the urban poor black community through laws and policies too punitive resulting in mass incarcerations creating the largest prison populations worldwide in the U.S. Case studies reveal how racial profiling is happening through the police and justice system and targeting low-income African Americans. While scholars have studied race and the justice system for many years, there is a new group that is comparing it to the Jim Crow laws of old and slavery. Michelle Alexander offers an exhaustive and well-documented look at how the current justice system does not work for poor people and needs to be restructured. 

The author effectively argues how court cases and policies have stigmatized convicted African American offenders limiting their rights as citizens. She sheds light on unjust laws and policing that tears apart families in unfair and unjust ways. While the Jim Crow analogy gets the public's attention it is problematic as argued by Yale Professor James Forman Jr. While Forman agrees with Alexander's assertion that the harsh systematic approach to mass incarceration needs to be restructured, he would like to see all minorities included and violent crimes examined, in addition to drug offenders, and inclusion of local prisons, not just federal prison populations that Alexander examines. He also thinks that the black middle and upper class that didn't exist during Jim Crow and slavery days makes for a flawed analogy. He presents an excellent counterpoint to the debate. 

5 Smileys

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Arena (Arena, #1) by Holly Jennings

In the year 2054, virtual games have become like reality TV. Society escapes the horror of the days by watching RAGE tournaments where elite gamers compete to the death in a game. Kali is the only female captain of the game and her manager exploits her and the other four on her team to make money. A side effect of gaming is addiction that is kept from the public and not treated by the industry. When Kali's teammate overdoses she starts to question the industry and its goals. If you like action, want a quick read with a Chinese-American protagonist, then give this a go. The writing and craft are bad on many levels.

The world building doesn't show much as to why the population embraces this form of entertainment. Kali mentions briefly that the other virtual games are too realistically violent and that is why their form of gaming gets the most viewers. The author doesn't create authentic characters. Kali spews platitudes from Taoism and Rooke calls her wise but she doesn't show much wisdom. There are some cringeworthy dialogue and descriptions. The first person point of view is choppy with a drumbeat of too many "I's". The gaming world is only from the view of escapism and addiction is something well-known. Why the media wouldn't talk about it because they were afraid they'd lose viewers is a weak premise. Kali's problems and overcoming them lacks depth. The romance between her and Rooke is stereotypical with the beautiful man and woman, resembling gods and goddesses, falling for each other. This author tells and doesn't show which makes it too superficial for my liking.

2 Smileys

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman

My interest in World War II youth resistance groups started when I read, "The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club" by Phillip Hoose. I can add this to another terrific children's book on a little-known topic. Or at least, little-known to me. Hans and Sophie Scholl were members of the Hitler Youth organization before they became disillusioned with the anti-Semitism and rigid group's ways. They organized a resistance group at the University of Munich and decided to protest totalitarianism through nonviolent means. They handed out leaflets encouraging the masses to rise up and condemn Nazism. When they were caught the two received admiration from the Nazi guards with how they handled themselves. The guards broke protocol to let them speak with family and each other before their executions. This inspirational story will have you doing more historical research on your own.

The nonfiction elements are well-documented and the story is a quick read of over one hundred pages. It is inspirational and combats the stereotype of a Hitler Youth movement where all German youths willingly joined and brainlessly spouted Nazi slogans. The brave students could not remain silent as the war progressed and they consciously resisted National Socialism for cultural and differing ideological reasons. A good historical book makes the reader want to find out more information on the topic and Russell Freedman did just that for me. The language is simple and nothing graphic; however, the gruesome execution of the youths is disturbing and might require discussion with younger readers.

Daniel Horn wrote an interesting article that overviews German youth resistance during WWII (I reference it below if you are interested in the article on JSTOR). Horn lumps German youth resistance into three groups from various economic and social backgrounds but fighting for basically the same thing: freedom of choice, dissatisfaction with a regimented Nazi youth system, and self-fulfillment. The working class and bourgeoisie youth resistance members formed different groups from the asocial gangs such as the Edelweiss and Kittelsbach Pirates with violent aims to overthrow the Nazi government, to the politically opposed groups such as the Munich and Hamburg White Rose students that used print to express their displeasure with National Socialism, and the liberal-oriented individuals of Swing youths who wanted self-expression and individualism rather than the regimentation and repression of culture such as dancing and Jazz music.

Youth Resistance in the Third Reich: A Social Portrait Author(s): Daniel Horn Source: Journal of Social History, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Autumn, 1973), pp. 26-50 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Aratay controls spirits that want to kill humans who invade their forests, air, land, and water. When Daleina's village is destroyed by wild spirits as a child she discovers she has the ability to control them. As the only survivor, along with her sister and parents, she goes to an academy to get trained in her new powers. The academy trains girls to protect the citizens in different military capacities; however, only one girl will replace the Queen when her powers wane. Daleina makes good friends with her classmates and learns her powers are meagre at best. Her determination, hard work, empathy, and perfectionism are what allow her to pass but she has quite the inferiority complex as she is unable to work the more powerful spirits.

The point of view switches from Daleina to a warrior who serves the Queen keeping rogue spirits in check. When he notices a pattern of villages being attacked by spirits, he questions if the Queen is losing her powers. Usually this is a sign and the Queen dies. The Queen denies her loss of power and banishes him for suggesting it. When the warrior's heir that he trained is murdered he decides to go to the academy and choose a girl to mentor. Daleina stands out not because of her skill, but for her mindset. She knows that the goal should be to protect the people and put them above herself, not to rise to a throne for the power only.

The strength of this novel is the main character's development. The plot can be shaky at times and predictable. Daleina is plagued by doubts and confidence. She is not as skilled as the other students vying to be heir to the throne. Her strength lies in her compassion and cooperating with spirits rather than controlling them. She's flawed and more interesting than your usual archetype heroine who excels at everything. She understands what it means to be a team player and uses that strength. She's a reluctant hero and layered in complexities.

The fantasy setting is well-done and the world is easy to visualize using elemental spirits that act like Norwegian beserkers when not controlled by humans. The plot reminded me of Harry Potter, the Ranger's Apprentice, and Norse myths. The academy part is not overly long but shows her creating friendships and adds a humorous break in the dark plot line. The mentor part shows an adult pushing her to reach her potential and showing her how to use what she sees as failings, as strengths. She can sense and redirect spirits with more power than the other students. He helps her not focus on her weakness. People live in the trees and while there is no one great tree like Yggdrasil, there is a tree kraken that is more like the destructive serpent in Norse myths. The name, Midforest, in Aratay is similar to the Norse Midgard, the name for Earth. The spirits fight like the Viking beserkers.

When the warrior refuses to see what's happening with the Queen, it gets dragged out too long. The author tries to show him blinded by love, but it's a weak plot device for moving the story forward. The romantic parts are abrupt and felt tacked on rather than worked into the plot seamlessly, especially Andare. Some of the plot twists were interesting and the blind incident worked well into the theme of power and its effects on people.

The sinister owl spirit does not represent today's wise owl, but is more the shady Middle Ages owl associated with witches. The owl that was active at night but blind during the day. This owl is blinded by hate and wants genocide. While the Queen is shown in her complexity, the owl spirit is a one dimensional villain that cannot be reasoned with even though Daleina tries on several occasions.

This book is violent with more deaths than usual. The minor characters are not developed enough for me for their deaths to have much impact. I never get to know most of them in depth; therefore, the deaths stand out as a plot technique to try and draw emotion from the reader and doesn't work. The author does go into depth with the protagonish and shows how the deaths affect her and her relationships with others. This is well-done. She suffers and feels responsible at the end emphasizing that she has the potential to be a compassionate and wise leader. I'm not sure I'll remember this book. I think the character will stick with me because she is not your usual invincible superhero, but the plot could have been better.

3 Smileys

Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King #1) by Tricia Levenseller

This pirate adventure tries to use an unreliable narrator, but it doesn't work on several levels. I like unreliable narrators because it means a fun plot twist; however, if the reader guesses the twist the fun feels like a dampened conversation. Readers will recognize familiar pirate characters in this tale: cruel, brutish pirates, humorous pirates, or rogue ones that follow a code of honor. "Bloody Jack" by L.A. Meyer has a woman pirate who uses her wits against men because she knows she can't compete in the area of strength. This story has a woman pirate, Alosa, who seduces and uses her inhumane strength against men. Yep, this petite kickass woman can subdue three men twice her size. Alosa's super speed, flexibility, and physical power in several plot situations let me guess her true nature pretty quickly.

Seventeen-year-old Alosa is on a secret mission to find a blimey treasure map for her father, the universally feared King Pirate, who other pirates pay tributes to for safe sea passage. Alosa lets herself get captured aboard a ship whose cruel Captain, Draxen, represents the brute pirate archetype while his brother and second-in-command, Riden, has a sense of honor that keeps bro in check. Riden is the brains of the twosome and becomes attracted to Alosa when she is held captive aboard their ship. Alosa's regular cell guards represent stupid pirates that add comic relief. Alosa seems overly-confident that she can control the men in authority and have a successful mission. Failure is never an option when it comes to her father. When things fall apart, she must align herself with her enemy.

The character development can be contradictory. Alosa, is an assassin who can kill without hesitation. She also has a code of honor where she lets people live if she respects them or they've shown her kindness. Sometimes she's noble, other times base. The background story reveals that her father has tortured and trained her to be a ruthless pirate. She has more strength than several men combined and she fears her father. The complexity of this trait is not really captured in an authentic way making her lacking depth and superficial. She'd be tough, manipulative, seductive, and hard-core sometimes and soft, sentimental, naive, and educated other times. I would have liked more internal struggles and less romance.  The unreliable narrator works against the plot because her actions are implausible and her edginess came and went like the tide. Plus, if she was so superior to others, why wait to break out from under her tyrannical father? The motivation given is money related, but she has her own ship and crew. Seems like she's already come into her own; hence, the premise seems weak.

The romantic subplot dominates the pirate plot and works against it with quite a bit of sexual banter between Alosa and Riden with characters mainly being motivated by love. Romantic novels are often interpreted as either showing women challenging societal norms or upholding them in a patriarchal society (Linda J. Lee, "Guilty Pleasures: Reading Romance Novels as Reworked Fairy Tales"). Common tropes are sexual desires, danger, violence, gender dominance, to name a few. Romance stories in the 70s and 80s by authors such as Kathleen Woodiwiss used captivity and rape motifs in a historical setting. I thought perhaps the author was trying to mock these motifs because the protagonist, is never afraid in captivity of being raped even though the threat is there. She lets herself become a captive and she knows that a man can't rape her. She is so sure of her power over men and claims to always be in control of them (which gives away the unreliable narrator) that the danger is not imminent. Later, when she is dominated by men, it is her love interest that frees her. While the protagonist seems strong and independent she is ultimately saved by men supporting the romance that Lee describes; the plot that upholds societal norms rather than challenges them.

Lee points out that the 90s romance novel shifted where women enjoyed their sexuality and were more equal with men versus the traditionally timid women conquered by a domineering man. Alosa represents the modern heroine who knows how to manipulate mens' desires but can't manipulate her father and is afraid of him. Alosa has her own ship, she's more powerful than the men around her, but she is always seeking her father's approval. She plans to be the pirate queen and the current mission of finding the treasure will help her do this; however, she seems to lose that focus near the end. I thought she needed more internal dialogue on her goal of being free from her father which gets lost in the romantic subplot. The end made it seem like she'd forgotten that goal and instead, she is dominated by fear of what her father will do to her if she doesn't accomplish the task at hand and saving her love interest.

The romance subverts the message of Alosa looking for power over a social system that denies women to be female pirates. She has her own female ship and crew; yet, is under her father's rule. The romance seems to confine the ability to hash out this theme and the overarching message blurs. I would have liked more backstory. Sometimes first person point of view makes the readers view too narrow and mucks up the protagonist's motives.  The story shows a woman who appears to be fighting the status quo to be her own person, but succumbing to her father. She wants to challenge the existing social structure but doesn't succeed. Her plan of what to do with the treasure of money is not worked enough into the plot to show where the story her ambition. Instead, she has fallen in love and seems more interested in Riden than freedom.

Many romance novels hearken not only to Victorian authors, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, but to the more ancient fairy tale genre. I wondered if the author was going to go that route with her plot and she does not work in those motifs in any depth. The abrupt ending left me wanting more and there is definitely a sequel for readers. Maybe the next book will show more character and plot development. This story just came up short for me.

2 Smileys

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

This story echoes "To Kill a Mockingbird," but the plot takes unexpected turns and the author makes it her own tale. Beautifully written with a strong rural setting, it shows the complexities of human nature and the moral choices people make that are damaging or healthy. The choice of lying versus telling the truth. The choice of judging others based on public news or factual information. How mob mentality can be manipulated by lies and more. The layering of themes, excellent character development, and the well-crafted plot makes this an intense worthwhile read.

Twelve-year-old Annabelle, the main character, tells the reader that she has learned to lie in the summer of 1943. When Betty, a city girl with troubles, arrives at her grandparent's house in Wolf Hollow, Annabelle has to deal with her as a bully. She is physically and verbally abusive to Annabelle until she's defended by Toby, a war veteran that is an outcast in society; a lone wolf in the novel. Annabelle learns to deal with the bullying until it takes a dark turn with Betty upping the stakes and attacking others. Annabelle doesn't tell anyone right away because Betty threatens to hurt her younger brothers. When she starts to hurt them anyway, then she tells her parents. I skimmed this part. This is a common plot device to move the story forward and I thought it slowed the pacing a bit. But it's a brief bump on the tar and the rest is unpredictable and twisty.

When Betty can't bully Annabelle she devises a nasty way of directing blame for a serious injury she causes toward another student by accusing Toby of the deed. Betty tries to prove him right but circumstances work against them. Wolf Hollow got its name because wolves were shot and killed sometimes because of their appearance only and other times because they killed livestock. Characters in the story are like wolves: killed for appearances, preying on others, or protecting the wolf pack. All these patterns can be seen in Annabelle, Betty, and Toby. This is a hard book to write about without giving away the plot. Suspenseful and layered, it's easy to see why it won a Newbery Honor in 2017.

5 Smileys

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ghost (Track) by Jason Reynolds

Castle Cranshaw, nicknamed Ghost, sleeps by the door so he can quickly exit his house, need be. He has been running most of his life from a haunting past. His mom works in a hospital cafeteria while trying to get a nursing license at night. Other students at school tease him because he lives in a poor area and doesn't have brand name clothes. His simmering anger makes him want to "scream" and he gets detention so often that it is more like a class than punishment. One day he watches a track club team practicing and is angered by the fast, but cocky albino boy. He pops onto the track and races him in an indecisive close finish. The track coach recruits him and Ghost finds an outlet for his anger as well as some close teammates.

Jason Reynold's has a terrific start. Ghost is quoting from the Guinness Book of World Records spouting a bunch of weird facts. He'd like to be the best at something, instead of invisible. He eats only french fries at school so he can save a dollar and buy sunflower seeds, a habit that he picked up from his father. While Ghost's father has some serious issues, Ghost misses him and loves him. He is angry with him and this leads to problems at school for Ghost who uses his fists instead of words.

The character development is where the author shines the most. The complex relationships and trauma Ghost has had to deal with along with living in poverty, makes it more difficult for him. When he cuts off his high tops so he can run in comfort, gets teased, and then steals some shoes, it is understandable why he made a bad choice at the end of the day. When he has to correct the problem, he grows as a person and learns to deal with different challenges in a healthier way.

I like off-the-wall characters, but I thought the track team with all its unique issues was a bit far-fetched. Diabetics don't usually lose both legs and a person dying in childbirth is rare. The Olympic champion, now taxi-driver, who can take a half a day off work to deal with a delinquent didn't seem probable either. The plot seemed a bit forced in spots but this doesn't detract from touching scenes and compassionate characters the reader can empathize with in the end. The abrupt, cliff-hanger ending sets up for a sequel.

4 Smileys

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Watership Down (Watership Down #1) by Richard Adams

I tried to read this book as a kid. Then I tried as a young adult. Now I'm reading it in my middle-aged years and I still find it slow going, although I appreciate the good writing. I'm not a fan of anthropomorphic tales. I find it hard to identify with the characters when they are fuzzy, cute creatures that nibble grass. In all fairness, these rabbits change into warriors by the end, but not until much later in the plot. My other problem is the pacing. It's too slow for me. The in-depth details spent on describing the setting and animals is at such lengths that I can easily visualize a field dotted with rabbit holes and a brook where watercress, ragwort, and kingcups grow in abundance. I just figuratively kept falling asleep in the breeze under the oak tree. I've read other authors that use nature prominently in their stories. In "The Secret Garden," the author describes nature on the moors and in the garden in great detail. Why do I love that book and struggled with this one's pace? Perhaps it's my personal bias. I don't know. I finished "Watership Down," so I guess that says something even if I was skimming along the page surfaces like a whirligig beetle by the end.

The rabbit, Fiver, who can predict the future, has a vision that the warren he lives in will be met with a catastrophe. He tells his brother, Hazel, who goes to the Chief Rabbit, but the vision is unheeded. Hazel leads a group of rabbits, who believe in Fiver's seer-like abilities, to leave the warren in search of a new home. They have adventure-after-adventure before establishing their own home; however, they don't have any does to mate in their warren. They know of an overcrowded warren nearby and ask the Chief Rabbit if some does can come live with them, but they are refused. The Chief Rabbit is a tyrant and the rabbits decide to trick him out of their does. A war ensues before they can find happiness.

The tyrannical Chief Rabbit who runs his warren like a totalitarian government is allegorical. The author was a soldier in World War II and the similarities are evident. Bigwig is a hero who will sacrifice himself to save his comrades. He is courageous and brash. Hazel makes decisions while Blackberry is the brains of the operation. Each rabbit has unique skills it contributes to the group making them strong and loyal as a military unit. When faced with fighting for their lives, they know how to cover each other's back.

Humans are at odds with nature for they break rules like killing for just the sake of it, instead of necessity. They wipe out large populations of animals just because they want the land for a building or their own habitat. The rabbits do not kill for sport like the humans and they do not understand the destructive nature humans display. At the end, when a girl saves the life of a rabbit, it shows that humans have the capability to destroy or protect those around them. While this was written in the 70's, its universal themes apply in today's world as well.

4 Smileys

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman

This utopian novel is a study of contrasts where the future reveals artificial intelligence as benevolent instead of its usual trope, evil. Where diseases have been erased and people live in peace. Where immortally is the norm, unless people are gleaned by Scythes who must meet yearly quotas to combat overpopulation. What would the world be like if people lived for hundreds of years, could be brought back to life, had implants that numbed their pain and emotions, and could reverse the aging process to always look like or produce offspring in their 20s or 30s even though they are hundreds of years old? The moral and ethical questions that arise from this utopian society are what make this story multi-layered and rich for discussions.

The Thunderhead is an all-knowing artificial intelligence that has erased all need for money, food, disease, and death creating a world where the only major issue is overpopulation. A Grim Reaper organization called, Scythes, kill people with governmental and social acceptance by the populace. The honor of being a highly trained assassin comes at a price and not all scythes are honorable, instead murdering in unethical ways and abusing their powers. The Thunderhead controls all aspects of society except the Scythes which makes them untouchable and unchecked. Times are changing as new blood in the Scythdom want to break from traditions and rigid codes of conduct; however, their tactics show the greed for power and cruelty. Has humanity put too much trust in technology?

Death and meaning in life are two tightly connected relationships that people have contemplated in many different subjects for thousands of years. Death can make life meaningless or meaningful and technology is one subject where people try to conquer death through genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, and more. So what if death is conquered like the utopian world that Shusterman has created? The Thunderhead, a computer with a conscience, realizes that humans must administer death in order to keep their humanity which is why the organization of Scythes was formed; however, what happens if some Sythes begin to think they are gods and abuse the power of their positions? The Thunderhead cannot do anything about it. Or can it?

Citra and Rowan are seventeen-year-old teenagers chosen to be apprenticed to Scythe Faraday, a man of principles who is traditional in his following of Scythdom rules. Faraday (fair-a-day) tries to be merciful, compassionate, and yes, fair to those people that he gleans. The moral dilemma of his job is captured by the author well. Interspersed with the action are small excerpts from Scythes' journal entries giving insight into the traditions and conflicting thoughts of different characters. This adds to the world-building although some might find it slows the action too much. I've had some students complain about them. I thought they were short enough to not take away from the main flow or pace of the story. There's plenty of action, plot twists, and violence. While the violence could have been gratuitous, Shusterman does a great job injecting characters thoughts with internal struggles of their profession while dealing with a celebrity-type status.

The first few chapters reveal that Citra and Rowan are compassionate, intelligent, and reflective people that make them good candidates for the Scythdom. When they are chosen to be Scythes they never guessed all the politics that they'd be exposed to at the Scythe meetings, or the victimization they'd be a part of during their apprenticeship. When the Council of Scythes agrees to a very bad suggestion, the two realize that corruption is a problem and work to survive in a system with human flaws. An interesting look at how laws are distorted and interpreted in self-serving or selfless ways.

5 Smileys

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

In pop culture, witches represent good or evil, light or darkness, all-powerful or outcast, to name a few. They show up in fantasy, fairy tales, folk tales, the Bible, and legends, and have been around for thousands of years. In history, witches haven't fared so well, most of them women accused of witchcraft and oftentimes because they were outside the social norm. Many were victims of prejudice and injustice suffering at witch trials that brought false charges just because they were unconventional. Kelly Barnhill has two witches in her book. One appearing to be good, but with dark intentions. The other appearing to be evil, but with good intentions. One accepted, the other a pariah. The evil one (that seems good) is presenting false stories to the public as a way to control them and spread fear. "Fake news," is what we'd call it today. The propagandist stories have a power of their own; they can empower or enslave the listener or speaker. These stories can be muddied by superstitions, hate, and fear, revealing that people will lie to serve their own purposes and retain their position of power. On the flip side, these stories empower people to question the facts and find answers to their questions instead of blindly accepting the status quo.

Antain is apprenticed to his uncle, the Grand Elder of the Council of Elders. One of the Elders' jobs is to collect a baby every year to sacrifice to a witch on "The Day of Sacrifice." Their village, called the "Protectorate" or "City of Sorrows" is shrouded by clouds, sadness, and fog with a dangerous forest on one side and a bog on the other. The road is the only way in and out of town and the Elders control it and the people. When Antain goes with the Elders to collect the sacrificial baby from the selected family with his Uncle, he is disturbed by the ritual and has questions no one will answer. The baby is left in the forest and Antain doesn't know if animals or the witch got to it first. He wants to wait but is admonished for his questions. He regrets not taking action against the Elders.

A Witch comes to collect the baby as she does every year. She lives in the forest with a monster and miniature dragon. When the Witch collects the babies, she feeds them starlight and finds them adoptive homes in the Free Cities on the other side of the forest.  She accidentally feeds the woman's baby (that Antain witnessed being taken by the Elders) moonlight instead of starlight and fills the infant with magic. She can't send the baby to another family because a magical child will need a special upbringing. The witch decides to adopt the baby naming her, "Luna," and teaching her magic. This causes all sorts of problems when the toddler humorously starts changing people into bunnies and bedclothes into swans.

Between these two stories is a third point of view in italicized chapters where the narrator, who can be different people in the village, is telling a story to an unknown listener. These chapters represent oral storytelling and show how stories can grow and change as people embellish the truth. The stories are used to scare children, keep people from breaking societal norms and give the town's history and some of its rituals. Among the symbolism and themes, is a nod toward creation stories and how myths are used to explain science. The reason for volcanoes erupting and babies disappearing is related to some god or witch. This ties in with Antain and Luna's story as they both search for truth amid myths and try to find answers to norms that don't make sense - such as sacrificing babies to an unknown or vague witchy source like some pagan ritual.

Ethyne's mother is one of the people that tells stories in the italicized chapters and she is scarred from having to give up her son to the Witch many years earlier. Her stories have become embellished over the years and she doesn't know the changing nature of them. She eventually becomes lost in them and loses touch with reality. Ethyne's mother says, "I only tell true stories", but the reader knows that they might have an element of truth but are also full of lies or mythical in nature.

When a madwoman, Luna's mother, claims she knows the story of the Witch with a tiger heart and claims it to be Sister Ignacia, the Sister refutes it claiming she started all the stories and the Tiger-Heart-Witch story is fake. The story is critical of Sister Ignacia as a person causing her to not like what she hears. Today, "fake news" is flooding the media and press credibility is suffering. Fake news is false information or propaganda published and masked as truth. President Donald Trump has accused journalism institutions of creating "fake news" for criticizing him and his administration and he has restricted free access by the media to briefings, something never done in U.S. history that is troubling. Historically, despots remove critics and control the press so they can serve their own interests. However, fake news also reflects the loss of gatekeepers who check facts as people use the Internet and social media to post true or false information for different motives. It is easy to see why the media is under attack because of false information. It's not exactly Yellow Journalism, but it will be interesting to see how the media responds to the times. This 2017 Newbery winner reflects the current national debate giving it one distinguished element in a repertoire of many.

Symbolism abounds in the novel with references to lunar deities in mythology. The moon goddess worshiped by the Celts, for instance, was associated with the lunar cycles and is reflected in Luna's name. The crescent birthmark on Luna's head symbolizes not only the crescent moon but more importantly, in Latin the meaning, "to bring forth or grow and thrive." A theme or message is about reaching one's potential or falling short. The Grand Elder has hardened his heart to the point where he will sacrifice his nephew to retain his power. Even when he is stripped of his power and has the option to change his ways, he doesn't, living in misery. It reminds me of the Chronicles of Narnia where certain characters fall short of their potential to live a happy life. It is the choices people make that define who they are in life.

Luna's magic is creative as a child, so much so, that the Witch, Xan, binds her magic so it cannot be used until her 13th birthday. A consequence of this binding is that Luna cannot hear or talk about magic. Whenever anyone brings it up she zones out like she's having a seizure. Her memory loss is a theme that is prevalent in many of the characters. Xan has lived for five hundred years and has chosen to not remember her past suffering; yet, if she had remembered it, then she would have looked into why the villagers were leaving babies in the forest. Sister Ignacia blocked her suffering and chose to ignore it making her feast on other people's grief. Xan realizes that to block out memory means to not learn from the past, which can lead to people blindly following ways that might be harmful.

The bad Witch, Sister Ignatia, suppressed her memories resulting in her becoming not only a symbol of sorrow but one who preys on others sorrow, eating it in a figurative way. She's called, "The Sorrow Eater." At the end, Luna sees the loss that Sister Ignacia suffered and how she "...walled off her heart, again and again, making it smooth and bright and unfeeling." Luna gains an understanding of Sister Ignacia's choices and thinks of how awful it is to be cut off from memories. Luna uses magic to make Sister Ignacia remember what it is like to love. Because Sister Ignacia does not address her grief, it stunts her from living a full life at her potential. Xan, along with Glerk, realizes that it is important for her to remember the past even if it makes her sad. Xan chooses to not wall off her heart like Sister Ignacia. Truth is masked by many characters either suppressing memories or lying. There are many different lies from Fyrian, the miniature dragon, pretending he is large, to Xan and Luna not talking about Xan's deteriorating health, to Sister Ignacia pretending she is doing the right thing for the townspeople. All of them have different motives and some lies are delusional while others are malicious.

The women are empowered in this story making good and bad choices. The bad Witch has an all-female military. They make choices at the end that support one of their own, Ethyne, who left the order to move into civilian life again. Ethyne, becomes a force in the story choosing her own destiny and fighting against the societal norms to do what is right. Antain, her husband, decides to fight against it as well, but he goes through much suffering before reaching this decision. Luna's mother is a victim of the system but even she breaks free as symbolized in her paper birds that come alive and magically do things for her. The characters and townspeople must learn to hope in order to move forward in life and find happiness despite their oppressive governmental leadership. Ethyne and Antain also realize that blind allegiance is not a good thing. Sometimes a person must take a stand against existing norms.

Many characters grieve. Luna's mother goes insane when her daughter is taken from her as an infant. She seems to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Xan must deal with losing her magic to Luna and eventually her life. The dragon is grieving the loss of his mother. The plot explores what it is like to be an orphan and adopted; grieving the loss of biological parents. The babies sacrificed each year that Xan has found homes for are adopted and described as having more light than other people. They have been fed starlight, a symbol of love. Later Luna comes to terms with learning about her biological mother and knowing the love of her adopted mother, Xan. When Luna starts to draw, she starts to wonder about who her biological parents might be. The instances of light and darkness symbolizing love and hate in characters and the village abounds throughout the pages. Light bends toward Luna and other orphans. The city is ironically called, "the Protectorate," because the villagers think the government protects them, but it is shrouded in fog, sorrow, and darkness as they can't see the oppressive circumstances of their lives. The other cities are called, "the Free Cities," in contrast.

Birds also symbolize flight from entrapment, predators, and freedom. The paper birds struck me as a metaphor for writing and loneliness. Like the "Lady of Shalott," the madwoman is cursed to remain in a tower day after day trying to write and communicate with the world outside. The paper birds cut skin. They hurt. They are beautiful. They take flight. They prey. The paper birds cut Antain and scarred him just like the incident he witnessed so many years before. His wounds from the paper birds fester just like his psychological wound of not acting when the Elders' took away the madwoman's child (Luna's mom) on The Day of Sacrifice. He says his scars always hurt, " [the] dull ache of something lost." When he does get the chance to act again, he does not miss the chance. The madwoman becomes free when she flies away on her paper birds. Birds of prey are symbolized in the form of falcons and hawks. Interestingly, at the end, Xan transforms into a sparrow which is known to be eaten by birds of prey. She will be consumed by Luna's magic and Antain's revenge. When the madwoman sends a paper bird that is a falcon the words on it say, "Don't forget" and the other side says, "I mean it." Remembering the past is woven through the entire plot.

The madwoman in the tower symbolizes the solitude of writing. She can't remember names for they had "flown away, like a bird." She only thinks of paper. The madwoman's thoughts could equate to a writer bogged down with cranking out 100,000 plus words for a book: "She dreamed of a paper moon hovering over paper cities and paper forests and paper people. A world of paper. A universe of paper. She dreamed of oceans of ink and forests of quills and an endless bog of words. She dreamed of all of it in abundance." The madwoman tries to send Antain a paper bird in the form of a hawk that says her daughter is alive, but it falls at his feet with a broken wing. The lame paper bird is crushed under Antain's foot. He cannot see that those in charge are preying on the populace of the Protectorate, he's ashamed of his past inaction, and he is angry at being attacked by the paper birds.

The story deals with death of a grandparent and the author's writing is beautiful and lyrical. The creation story surrounds the bog which first came into existence with Glerk the monster emerging from it. Glerk loves poetry. He sings it. He repeats lines and stanzas adding to the cadence and rhythm of the sentences. Ancient Sumarian texts use poetry in the form of hymns and it was also a way to remember oral history. Again, this is just one of many elements that make this book distinguished. The author gives a nod toward history while creating her own unique style. I've read several books this year examining changing narratives. "The Underground Railroad," examines changing narratives in history and how to break out of oppression, while "The Sellout" looks at narratives and reveals that they haven't changed, but needs to through self-awareness. This one looks at the narrative and tells readers to not take it at face value and blindly follow the status quo, but question what is true or false.

5 Smileys