Dogears: Under a Painted Sky, The Vegetarian, The Widow

The Widow, Fiona Barton, Penguin Canada, 2016

Under a Painted SkyUnder a Painted Sky, Stacey Lee, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2015

Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
March 17, 2105

I never thought that I liked Westerns all that much until I read Under a Painted Sky. Or maybe I still don’t like Westerns that much, but rather I just really like feminist Westerns starring two kick ass women of color! I was initially drawn to the story because I had heard that it was a great book about female friendship. Since I love YA books about female friendship—Hello Code Name Verity!—I knew that I had to check it out. The book delivered a great story about Sammy and Andy, who are really Samantha and Annamae, a Chinese American daughter of a shopkeeper and a resourceful runaway slave, respectively. After her father’s questionably accidental death, Samantha fends off a rape and escapes with the help of Annamae. Disguising themselves as boys, they sneak into a wagon train and head west.

Soon they meet up with a trio of young cowboys. They take the “boys” under their wings and eventually earn their trust. Andy and Sammy get cowboy lessons all while stopping a stampede, traveling further west, and keeping their secrets. There are love interests in the cowboys West and Peety, but the story is really about the bond between Andy and Sammy. They look out for each other, care for the other when they get hurt or sick, and are willing to sacrifice their own personal dreams for the other girl. It’s a lovely story with pacing that will keep you reading and just enough curmudgeonly cowboy feelings to make you swoon. If all Westerns were like this I’d seriously have to read more!

—Anna Tschetter

Alex as WellAlex as Well, Alyssa Brugman, Henry Holt, 2015

Alyssa Brugman
Square Fish
January 19, 2016 (Originally published January 1, 2013 by Text Publishing)

Alex is making some changes in her life. She stopped taking her medication a few days ago, and now she’s trying on new clothes and enrolling in a new school. She loves her new school uniform. She has another Alex always in the back of her mind, though. The boy Alex. The gruff one who makes her say improper things to other girls and snap at people when she’d rather not. Alex was born with ambiguous parts, and after some observation they decided that she was a boy. Well, at fourteen, she feels otherwise, and dives headfirst into her new school, making beautiful new friends and trying her hand at a platonic relationship with a person of the opposite gender. Her tall frame and androgynous appearance lead to some unexpected opportunities, including the chance to model for a school fashion show.

But her parents are not dealing with it the way she wishes they would. The only person who really understands her is a lawyer, whose offices she wanders into when she learns she can’t officially enroll in her new school without a birth certificate. So if she wants to truly be the girl that she is, at least at school, she’ll need a birth certificate saying she is a girl. Which might actually be much easier than expected.

I’m not sure if I know anyone who is intersex, but Alex—as a person, as a character, as a narrator—just felt so incredibly authentic that I couldn’t look away. I started reading two hours before I had to be at a bar gathering and was happy to be the first to arrive so I could spend that half hour hanging outside the bar, leaning against the wall, reading. Alex as Well is a true self-realization story, with barely even a hint at more than just crush-y feelings, which was kind of delightful when everywhere you look the romance is the only part of the story. And it’s just. So well told. Even the parents, who could have been turned into run-of-the-mill intolerant villains, are revealed to have legitimate—if severely misguided—desires to do what’s best for their kid. Thank you, Alyssa Brugman, for telling this story.

—Jessica Pryde

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian, Han Kang, Hogarth, 2016

Han Kang
Hogarth
February 2 2016
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

After a series of terrible nightmares Yeong-hye decides to become a vegetarian. Now, for many of us, this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. It’s not even that different from my own decision to stop eating meat so many years ago. But that’s where the similarities end. While my own family may not understand my choice, or tease me about it, in Yeong-hye’s home country of South Korea her decision is an act of subversion. Her family and her husband aren’t simply confused by her decision, they’re angry and at times violent. And things only continue to spiral out from there.

The novel is divided into three parts, and with each part the situation escalates. The first is told from the perspective of her husband in the early stages of her vegetarianism. He is unhappy with her choice and feels as though she is abandoning him. Part two changes the perspective from her own husband to her sister’s husband. As Yeong-hye’s husband pulls away, her sister’s husband become more and more obsessed, eventually making her the subject of his video artwork. The third and final section is told from her sister’s point of view, after everyone else is gone from Yeong-hye’s life.

At first I was confused that none of the sections were told from Yeong-hye’s point of view. She mentions her nightmares, but I wanted to hear about her choices in her own voice, to really understand her motivation. But the more I read the more I appreciated Kang’s approach. Each narrator imposes their own values and ideas onto Yeong-hye–both positive and negative. It was an interesting look at how different people view women’s bodies and the choices they make regarding them. To them it didn’t matter what Yeong-hye’s actual motivation was, her entire life can be broken down by how it affects them.

The Vegetarian does not waste any time. It is a short book and it gets right to the point. But that doesn’t make it any less complex. Yeong-hye’s story is an extreme in many ways, and to some it may sound just too weird. But if you give it a chance you’ll find it’s a riveting read that demands that you take a step back and truly examine what it’s trying to say.  

—Christa

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys ,Philomel, 2016

Ruta Sepetys
Philomel/Penguin Random House Canada
February 2, 2015
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Oh man. Sometimes you’ll come across a book that just makes your soul sing. This is the first time I’ve read a novel by Ruta Sepetys, and the praise I heard going in was well earned. It’s about four teens in the winter of 1945, dealing with the tail end of World War II as they navigate guilt, shame, fear and notions of fate. It’s specifically about “the deadliest disaster in maritime history,” the Wilhelm Gustloff, and the lead up to that. Sepetys gives us four intertwining stories in two-to-three page long chapters that keeps the pace up while also giving us time to get to know these characters intimately in reflective moments. The skill in which she does this is fantastic and it left me feeling contemplative with a sad smile on my face. A fantastic read.

—Ardo

The WidowThe Widow, Fiona Barton, Penguin Canada, 2016

Fiona Barton
New American Library/Penguin Random House Canada
February 16, 2016
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Widow is about a crime that takes place and the perspectives involved: The Detective, The Reporter and The Widow. Jean Taylor is the suspect’s wife and we get to see her evolve as this crime brings more tension to her doorstep. I thought the book overall was an okay read, but my interest dwindled a bit as it got further in. Barton plays with time a bit, which is great at first, but then slows the book down. This book is often described as a “psychological thriller” and that descriptor rang false since it lacked the instability and pacing that normally comes with the genre. It read more like a straight crime novel, with a dash of literary fiction, but maybe this explanation will make the reading experience a lot more enjoyable for those who want to give it a try. It was a nice afternoon read but definitely not what I expected.

—Ardo

Christa Seeley

Christa Seeley

Books Editor. Maple Flavoured Darth Vader Fangirl.
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