Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #3 The Truth About Stacey

Thank god it’s a BSC week.  I need to get the taste of that horrible Sweet Valley book out of my mouth.  Say what you will about the BSC (and we can and will say plenty) at least there was never this horrible level of fat shaming and manipulation that we saw in SVH.

the truth about staceyThe Truth About Stacey

Ann M. Martin

Originally Published December 1986

After being super pregnant for two books, Mrs. Newton is about to pop.  Kristy, being the forward thinker that she is, assumes that Mrs. Newton has no plans for Jamie when she goes into labor.  Obviously, the baby will be born during sanctioned sitting hours so they can ride to the rescue.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the phone call where Kristy tells Mrs. Newton all of this because Janine bursts in, and is all a-tizzy.  This is out of character, but I think this is supposed to be an extension of her and Claudia’s bonding moment in book 2.  Janine found a flyer for the “The Baby-sitters Agency.” OH NOES! Their sitters are age 13 and up and can babysit MUCH later than the BSC girls can!

Kristy converts the BSC meeting to an EMERGENCY meeting (they have a lot of emergency meetings in these early books—If I recall that slows down pretty quickly-maybe because soon we have Dawn’s California zen attitude calming them down…or the reefer fumes coming off her hippie clothes do).

Who ARE these Baby-sitters Agency girls?

“Those two aren’t babysitters any more than I’m the Queen of France. … They have smart mouths, they sass the teachers, they hate school, they hang around at the mall. You know, that kind of kid.”

I’m impressed that Claudia managed to effectively slutshame them without ever actually mentioning boys. These are BAD GIRLS. You just know how this is going to go down.

Kristy calls the BSA, pretending to be a seventh grader named Candy Kane, who needs a sitter for her little brother Harry because she has a date with her boyfriend Winston Churchill. She’s offered three sitters, one of whom is a HIGH SCHOOL GIRL.  I’m dying of laughter over here.

 

bsc logo meme

Kristy is like the Don Corleone of Stoneybook. This second babysitting organization can’t be allowed to survive. After all there’s only like 10 families with kids (apparently) and the nearest town next to Stoneybrook is 20 miles away. Clearly, there isn’t enough business to go around.

Stacey goes home and feels depressed. To pass the time, she gives a lengthy exposition about the last year of her life. How her diabetes was discovered, what diabetes is, and how it wrecked her life.

Before diabetes, Stacey lived on the Upper West Side of NYC with a view of Central Park from her bedroom. I hate to bring realism into this, but her parents have to be millionaires for that to be true (especially as she also attended a private school—which is good for 30+K USD a year on its own). I think Martin just wanted to paint all of us the ideal NYC life—because she knows that just like Mary Anne, we’re all dreaming of living in NYC. I’d love to know what a real New Yorker thought of the huge disconnect between Stacey’s NYC life and real NYC life—or if they just shrugged it off because it’s fiction?

After the diagnosis (which came after several embarrassing things, including wetting the bed at a sleepover—which would absolutely be mortifying for a tweenager), her parents morph into psychotic helicopter parents. At first Stacey doesn’t necessarily manage the diabetes well, fainting at school and getting hospitalized a few times. They also don’t want anyone to know that Stacey has diabetes. The way they handle this makes me think they’d be best buddies with Elsa and Anna’s parents.

(watch all the way, including past the credits)

Stacey and her bff go from friends to enemies overnight. In part, obviously because Stacey has cut her out and is lying. Stacey was thrilled to move to CT and get a fresh start. Now she has friends because of the BSC and she’ll be damned if she loses them because of a competing babysitting agency. Which is incredibly flawed logic from the 35 year old perspective, but makes sense from a 12 year old.

The next day there is yet another emergency BSC meeting.  This is the first appearance of Kristy in the chair with the visor and clipboard that becomes iconic within the series.  However, Kristy is uncharacteristically hysterical and says they should do free housework, drop their rates and bring kid-kits to every appointment.  AND they will hire some older kids, too.  The only idea any of them like is the kid-kits (which also become iconic), but they reluctantly agree to bring in older kids.

Stacey babysits Charlotte Johanssen.  On the way to the playground, they stop at a candy store.  In what I think is a really wonderful and genuine moment, Stacey is tempted to buy some.  Her diabetes is new, after all, and she remembers candy vividly.  As they’re walking, they run into Liz Lewis who hands them a balloon advertising The Baby-sitters Agency.

balloonsevil incarnate

Kristy was worried.  She took the balloons as a personal insult.  It turned out that she’d run into Liz that afternoon herself.  Only Kristy had had the nerve to tell Liz who she was–president of the Baby-sitters Club, and therefore Liz’s number one rival.

Upon reading this, I hope against hope that Kristy is about to break out the Jets jackets and Liz the Sharks and that they’ll break into some kind of snazzy dance based gang fight.  JAZZ HANDS!

One day after school Kristy and Stacey go to Kristy’s house to find Jamie Newton eating cookies with Mrs. Thomas.  Mrs. Newton had a game plan!  Score one for responsible adults!  This of course leads to discussions about how long babies take to be born and what time each of the BSC girls were born.  We get the reminder that Mary Anne’s mom is dead dead dead.  Thus she can’t find out what time she was born because obviously her dad wouldn’t know?  (Luckily Mimi knows and tells her, circumventing her having a conversation with her father.)

Jamie feels a sense of camaraderie with Honest Toddler, and is pissed off that his parents have afflicted him with Infant Sibling Disease.  Kristy decides to throw him a big brother party and invite neighborhood kids.  We get our first appearance of Mallory Pike, who can’t seem to decide if she belongs with the little kids or the baby-sitters because she is destined to spend the series not fitting in with either.  Mrs. Newton calls during the festivities to tell them it’s a girl.  Jamie is not whelmed.

But it isn’t just the appearance of a baby sister that has Jamie Newton upset.

“Something else will be different.  There will be lots of changes.”

“What else will be different?” I asked.

“Kristy can’t baby-sit me anymore.”

“What do you mean?”  That cold feeling crept into my stomach again.

“Mommy called a girl and said ‘We need an older sitter for the new baby.'”

Look, I’m all for 13 year old sitters for my 2 and 5 year olds, but a newborn?  Nope, you’re going to have to be 17/18 at the very youngest and 22+ by preference.  How much you want to bet this entirely rational, responsible, good choice is going to blow up in Mrs. Newton’s face?  Any takers?

Stacey tells Kristy what Jamie had said.  Kristy narrows her eyes and says “this means war.”

this means war

At school they see the BSA girls handing out flyers and they snag one from a boy (because boys don’t babysit, duh).  Kristy calls a triple-emergency meeting at her house after school because it’s her day with David Michael.  For now–what if her mom turns traitor like Mrs. Newton?  It’s TOO RISKY to talk about things at school.  Kristy would make a great drug kingpin.  Queenpin.  Whatever.

Stacey’s parents are going to take her to go see some new holistic new-agey doctor who will cure her diabetes through nonsense.  She tries to tell her parents she thinks the idea is full of shit and gets a stonewall of “we’re your parents and we want what’s best for you.”  Stacey is rightfully skeptical of this, and asks Charlotte’s mom about this Dr. Barnes character and has her worst fears confirmed–Her idiot parents are taking her to a quack.

If the BSA is going to use flyers to advertise for new members, then the BSC members are going to wear sandwich boards to advertise for new members.  As they do, they learn that they are the only baby-sitters worth a damn in the town.  Everyone else watches tv and is horrified at interacting with children.  UGH, children.  Everyone but Kristy fails…but she has two new members.

That these two new members are pals of Liz?  No problem!  They had a falling out!  THIS IS NOT SUSPICIOUS AT ALL.

But before the next BSC meeting, the girls go over to visit the Newtons.  They all have presents for the baby and Jamie.  However, Kristy uses this as an excuse to call out Mrs. Newton for being a traitor.  Mrs. Newton gives a reasonable explanation for why this is her choice for now.  She’ll get hers.

At the BSC meeting, the two new girls get assigned jobs for that weekend.

what could possibly go wrong

Shocking news.  The new girls don’t show up to the meeting on Monday.  Kristy gets irate phone calls to ask why the hell the girls didn’t show up at their jobs.  Kristy decides to confront the girls at school the next day–and gets upset when they laugh in her face.  I never saw that coming.

A few days later Stacey sees Jamie Newton and he’s mopey.  His sitters neglect him and worse.

Jamie nodded.  “With a–a cigarette.”  He said “cigarette” as if it were a dirty word.  Neither of his parents is a smoker.

“Gosh,” I said.  “Anything else?”

“Sometimes they talk on the phone.  They talk longer than Mommy and Daddy do…Stacey?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s a boyfriend?”

Ann M. Martin left no bad babysitter stereotype untouched, did she?  There are NO sitters worth a damn in Stoneybrook except the BSC.  (And maybe Kathy, if she’s still watching David Michael two days a week…unless she turned traitor and joined the BSA?  This is never addressed.  I don’t know if we ever see Kathy again.)

Then Stacey babysits Charlotte and finds out that she’s been getting babysat by bad girls too.  Who only babysit her for the money!  Stacey is indignant at the idea, forgetting that she babysits in part to buy clothes.  With cuddles and kisses, apparently because stores don’t take money.  While Dr. Johanssen is a traitor who hires BSA girls, she does come through for Stacey with a letter for her parents.

What (Stacey) told us got the club ready for the final battle in the war against the Baby-sitters Agency (entry in BSC notebook by Mary Anne)

The BSC girls are walking home and find Jamie Newton on the sidewalk outside his house with no coat and no supervision.  The girls tell him to go back inside and only play in the fenced in backyard, and to wear his coat and mittens. See, I told you Mrs. Newton would get what was coming to her.

When Mrs. Newton comes home, they go over and tell her what happened.  They’re scared of being seen as tattletales, but are relieved when Mrs. Newton believes them.

“Mrs. Newton,” Kristy said suddenly, “I know you’ll want to call Cathy about this afternoon yourself, but could you let us talk to Liz and Michelle?  We have a score to settle with them.”

sharks and jetsLike this, PLEASE!!!!!

I’m so disappointed to tell you that there is no dance fighting.  The girls defeat the BSA with trivia.  What’s Jamie Newton’s favorite sandwich?  What’s Charlotte Johanssen’s favorite game?  What does it mean when Nina Marshall rubs her ears?  What is Nina allergic to?  SEE?  They’re better babysitters and now Liz knows it, too.

Stacey and her parents leave for New York.  Oh noes!  They’re going to stay with Laine’s family.  Stacey will have to face off against her frenemy.

Stace has to go to the witch doctor and get endless, expensive tests.  After a day of this, she sits her parents down and introduces them to reality.  She likes real doctors and has made her own appointment with the help of Dr. Johanssen.  Her parents agree to meet with him, who explains to them that Stacey already has good doctors and is doing a great job of managing her diabetes.  Her biggest problem is her parents (revisit the “How Frozen Should Have Ended” video above again).  At least they agree to back off.

Stacey, flush with triumph at taking control of her health issues confronts Laine.  Laine didn’t know what was going on, was upset at being blocked out, and when another kid suggested Stacey was contagious she believed him.  Stacey explains that she almost had to stay back and that the attention she was getting wasn’t exactly positive.  They make up and all is right with the world.

However, in obsessing over her relationship with Laine, Stacey never once talks to Claudia as a BFF.  This is particularly interesting as it is a HUGE plot point throughout the books that Stacey and Claudia are best friends.  This strikes me as weird.

Once back in Stoneybrook, Stacey learns that the parents have taken down the BSA.  Apparently they had this crazy idea of asking their kids about what the new sitters were like, and once they found out, they started calling one another.  Everyone, mark it on your calendar–this may be one of the only moments adults in Stoneybrook act like adults.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.18.50 PMKristy decides to let them live since they’re no longer competing with HER.

I’m torn on this book.  The BSA/BSC war is hilarious.  The way that Stacey’s parents treat diabetes like HIV is just stupid.  However, the way that Stacey advocates for herself is really admirable, and I think that’s what a lot of people respond to.  On one hand, this article discusses this book as an important part of the author’s journey of acceptance with his own diabetes.  On the other, I asked my friend S, who is also a type 1 diabetic about the book and she said “However my vague recollection is of scary view of diabetes that would freak me out if I read it again now and based on those memories the girls won’t be reading them.”  You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Next week: Prom Dress by Lael Littke.

Snarking Nostalgic: Sweet Valley High #4 Power Play

Hi Guys–Sorry the only pic is the book cover.  I’m on vacation and the internet is unreliable and slow.

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 3.27.16 PMSweet Valley High #4: Power Play

All SVH were written by ghostwriters.

Alternate Title–Why bullying fat women is totally a good thing to do

Hate does not begin to describe the level of contempt I have for Sweet Valley High #4: Power Play.  I don’t suppose a series where ghostwriters seem to have been contractually obligated to mention the twins “perfect size six” bodies in every book was ever going to be sympathetic to a fat girl, but this book is deplorable. (Side note—they’ve since redone SVH to be all hip and modern, which fails about as hard as the BSC updates—and the twins are now described as slender or slim, because a size six is now a heifer in Francine Pascal’s world.)

I read a few SVH book blogs because you couldn’t pay me to go back and read #1-3 to find where Robin is first mentioned, and they say she gets a brief nod in book 3 to set up for book 4. This is Robin. She’s smart, funny, and fat. So fat. Horribly fat. And she wants to be BFF’s with Jessica.

Robin is apparently the new girl in school. She believes Jessica is her BFF, but isn’t happy. Which we learn through the most bizarre conversation between her mother and Elizabeth. Mrs. Wilson says that having the Wakefield twins as her BFF’s is the best thing to happen to Robin since the move to SV, but then immediately flips it around and says that Robin is thinking of quitting school! Why?  Because she’s fat, and because she’s fat no one likes her (even though she’s smart and funny and kind).

Drinking Game I should’ve played to make the book more palatable–drink every time my blood pressure goes up a point.

Robin arrives with Jessica’s dry cleaning. Friendship is Robin running errands for Jessica! Apparently while she’s one of the smartest girls at Sweet Valley, she doesn’t know the difference between friendship and being someone’s servant.

Robin plopped down on the sofa, rummaged around in her purse for something, and finally came up with a large chocolate bar. She unwrapped it and hungrily started munching. (DRINK)

‘You’re really lucky, Liz, having a terrific sister like Jessica.’ The chocolate bar was disappearing fast.  (DRINK)

‘That’s me, all right, lucky Liz,’ she replied dryly, hypnotized by Robin’s rhythmic chewing.  (DRINK)

‘Robin, doesn’t eating that make you’—don’t say ‘fat,’ she warned herself—‘break out?’  (DRINK)

‘Oh, no,’ said Robin, licking her sticky fingers. ‘I never get zits, just pounds. But I just wasn’t meant to be slim like you and Jessica. It’s got something to do with my bones—or is it my metabolism? Anyway, it’s just my sad fate.’

Elizabeth looked at Robin dubiously. She was convinced Robin’s heaviness was due to the way she ate—especially if this was typical.  (DRINK)

Though Elizabeth and Jessica certainly didn’t have Robin’s figure problems, they still watched their diets carefully.

Elizabeth is a concern troll. She doesn’t really give a damn about Robin, but she enjoys patronizing her and the feeling of superiority she gets from being so “nice.” I hate her.

Robin begs Liz to remind Jessica to let her pledge the sorority. Liz decides to help her even though she’s “a lot overweight.” (DRINK) Robin is thrilled and practically dances out the door as Jessica arrives (although god knows the ghostwriter would probably call it shaking the house with each footstep).

Why was that fat wimp pawing at me and gushing all over the place?” Jessica demanded.

Jessica is a sociopath. First she plans to just “forget” to nominate Robin for membership. When Liz nominates her instead, Jessica is furious. She reminds Liz that the pledges must complete certain tasks before they can become members, and immediately sets out to come up with the most humiliating ones possible so that Robin will drop out and she can still look pure as virgin snow. (DRINK.  Forget it–just chug the damn bottle and go buy another one.  This is multi bottle book.)

After Jessica goes over to tell Robin that she’s going to be a pledge, she immediate goes home and, in the best sentence in the entire book, “Jessica was wearing leotards and exercising with Jane Fonda via video cassette.”  She’s scared that she might catch fat from Robin?

Task #1–Run (although it’s described as “lumbering”) around the track five times a day for one week.

Task #2–Robin has to go to the beach in a bikini and play volleyball. Robin doesn’t have a bikini but “it’s a two-piece suit that’s too small, so it looks like a bikini, kind of.” Liz says Robin can play on her team. On Saturday “Elizabeth knew it was going to be a difficult day for Robin—and her” (emphasis mine) because she thinks, just as Jessica does, that it’s embarrassing to be seen with the fat girl.  But she’s a concern troll and a martyr, so she’ll suck it up and be seen with the chubby girl.

Task #3—Robin has to get Bruce Patman to take her to the Discomarathon on Saturday night. Liz bribes Bruce to accept when Robin asks him by promising him an article in the newspaper. “All right. I’ll take her. But I want my picture in, see! A big one. And tell how I whipped that guy at Palisades.” (Is Bruce a small time gangster in a 40’s noir film?) Bruce brings her to the dance (she’s wearing a tent dress, if you were curious), but ditches her loudly in the middle of the floor, saying “Ok, that’s it. I brought you to the dance, Tubby. I’ve got better things to do now. Hey! Anybody want to steer the Queen Mary around the floor tonight? She’s all yours!

Robin leaves the dance humiliated and has a run in with a nerd named Allen Waters. He seems like a decent guy, who saw that she was upset and wanted to see if she was okay. Robin is hysterical, saying “I am a total outcast! I’m ruined!”  Allen convinces her to go back to the gym, and Jessica sweeps over and notes that PBA pledges shouldn’t be seen with their social inferiors. But they still dance (although, since he’s a certified nerd, he can’t really dance) and then he takes her home.

Furious that her scheme to get Robin to drop out of the pledging process failed, Jessica moves onto her plan B. There is a convenient loophole she can take advantage of—during the vote on pledges, if a single person puts in a black stone, she can’t join. All the PBA’s are too scared of Jessica to blackball someone she is “friends” with.  Yet a black stone appears—Jessica had to do it herself.  Jessica decides that this is all Liz’s fault because Liz was the one to nominate Robin in the first place

“It’s a secret vote—and nobody can challenge a blackball. It’s just one of those unfortunate things.” (SOCIOPATH)

Robin disappears for a week.  When she comes back she avoids the twins like the plague, although of course Liz tries to go and concern troll her some more. Liz watches her from afar, and notices that Robin is starting to run on the track every day, and that she’s starting to eat salads.

One day a week or two later Elizabeth almost bumped into her coming down the stairs—and was astonished to realize the transformation that was occurring. The excess pounds were going rapidly, and the Robin who was emerging seemed like an entirely different girl.

Well of course she’s a different girl. Thin girls can have personalities apart from pathetic, desperate to be loved fatty.

“I hope you’re doing it the right way, Robin.”

Robin fixed her penetrating eyes on Elizabeth. “Liz, I may have been stupid about almost everything—the Pi Betas, Jessica, and maybe even you. But if you’re asking me if I’m starving myself to death, I wouldn’t give any of the PBAs the satisfaction.”

Apparently something like 3 weeks after the blackball, there are mid-term cheerleader tryouts, and Robin is trying out. She not only makes the team, but is immediately made co-captain with Jessica.

What the Pi Betas had unintentionally done for Robin certainly was remarkable, Elizabeth had to admit. She had not simply avenged herself by losing weight. Robin had gone through a complete transformation. The old tent dresses had slowly disappeared, replaced with flattering and stylish outfits. The pale face had taken on a healthy glow, and all in all a totally new Robin Wilson was dazzling Sweet Valley Nigh. There were many kids, in fact, who swore she’d just moved to town. They’d never even noticed her before.  (BOOK I HATE YOU.  IF I HAD A PHYSICAL COPY I WOULD BURN YOU.  GHOSTWRITER AND FP YOU HAVE JUST TOTALLY EXCUSED AND LEGITIMIZED JESSICA BULLYING AND HUMILIATING A FAT GIRL.  FUCK YOU.)

There’s still book left to go, but this is the moral of the story. Bullying is good because it’s a motivational tool. Also, losing weight will give you a tan.

Elizabeth goes up to congratulate Robin a few days later and they have a talk. Robin calls it like it is—that Jessica is an awful person. Liz, of course, defends Jessica, even though she knows better than most what a conniving witch she really is.

“You just don’t want to face up to what kind of person Jessica is. She and I were never really friends. I used to pretend to myself that we were because I wanted to believe it was really true. It must have given Jessica a few good laughs.”

Welcome to reality, Robin. Nice of you to join us.

Bruce is panting after the new cheerleader. However, he has no clue that it’s the same girl he was an evil bastard to as the dance. It’s a good thing he’s rich because he’s a moron.  (Sidenote: he’s also a rapist)

The final showdown between Robin and Jessica is yet to come, though. Both go out for Miss Sweet Valley High, and it quickly becomes a two woman race that divides the high school. It even divides the football team!!!!

“The Gladiators’ offensive line and backfield paraded through the lunchroom carrying a big banner: Jessica is Just Right!”

Then the defensive line came through the auditorium with a huge placard: Robin Has Us Throbbin’”

Robin has us throbbin’ has me rolling with laughter. (You know, like us fat girls do—we roll, we laugh.)

At the homecoming game—Robin wins!

It seemed to everyone that Robin had achieved absolute top status at Sweet Valley. She was the football queen, and now she would take her triumphal tour in Bruce Patman’s black Porche.

At least she gives Bruce the metaphorical middle finger and is escorted by Allen Waters.  The Pi Betas invite her to join the sorority and she tells them to fuck off.

The end.

While I appreciate that Robin doesn’t become one of Jessica’s prettier lackeys, I found the book reprehensible. Robin could and should have learned those lessons without becoming the homecoming queen. But somehow, the external transformation of weight loss is what legitimizes her internal transformation. Which is a terrible message.

Yet this is the key message of the multi-billion dollar (annually) industry of weight loss. Losing weight will make you thin, pretty, and popular. You will be deserving of love then. You will be a more confident and BETTER person.  I’ve been to a Weight Watchers meeting–and this is the message they sell, too.

The truth is that fat to thin, thin to fat…you are still you. If you hated yourself fat, you will still have emotional drama and poor self image thin (truth—many women have body dysmorphia). If you had issues with your husband or parents before you lost weight, losing it won’t fix those.

Any girl who thinks about reading this should be handed a copy of Two Whole Cakes by Leslie Kinzel instead.

Next week we return to the warm embrace of Stoneybrook with “The Truth About Stacey”

Kid Book Review: The Monster at the End of this Book reviewed by Rhiannon

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.50.51 AM

They say that kids and pets are the two most frustrating creatures to work with.  I think we’re giving pets a bad rap.  This is the closest I could get to an interview with either of my kids this past week.

Rhi is “reviewing” one of her favorite books.  According to my mom, I was a huge fan of it as a little child as well.  As a parent, I find it a tough read–it only works if you can get yourself into hyper dramatic read aloud place.  There are days I’m just too tired.

The plot–Grover is scared of the monster, and begs you/tries to stop you from turning the page.  But of course you do.  And Grover discovers that the only monster there is him!  It’s….okay.  It’s a damn sight better than the retread they did in the last decade called the “OTHER” monster at the end of the book, starring Elmo (one of the least necessary books ever published).  At least neither of them rhymes.

If your kid likes Sesame Street and you’re good with voices, it can be a winner.  If they’re not, or you’re not–give it a pass.

Book Review: The Good Women of China by Xinrin

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.29 AMThe Good Women of China by Xinran

Rating 4/5 stars

I read a different book by Xinran earlier this year–Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother–that ripped my heart out and left me sobbing at various points.  I approached this book with caution because of that.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother tells one woman’s story per chapter.  Eventually, so does The Good Women of China.  However, the start is much slower, and less engaging.  I picked up and put this one down a few times, easily distracted by other books.  However, once I got to roughly 1/3 of the way through the book, I was sucked in and found myself crying time and time again.

Xinran was, for a time, a presenter of a highly popular radio show in China in the 80’s and early 90’s called “Whispers on the Night Breeze” which focused on the stories of everyday women (or rather, that is what it evolved into).  This is the source material for this book and others.  The stories she shares are most often those of her generation and that of her mothers–the generation that were children during the cultural revolution, and that of the mothers of those children.

My bachelor’s degree is in History.  I have a deep attachment to learning about race, class and gender history.  The thing about studying women’s history, though, is that for every fascinating and empowering story about women, there is often a much larger number of truly depressing stories.

One of the most common experiences that occurs in women’s history, and in this book, is that of rape.  To the point where I would firmly caution that this book needs a trigger warning for rape.  Girls are raped by their fathers.  Girls are raped in the cause of “re-educating” them during the Cultural Revolution.  Girls are raped in the chaos after an earthquake.  Girls who wish for death after rape, who are institutionalized, whose mothers commit suicide after they are raped. 

It is also the story of how a moment of deep change–the Cultural Revolution–impacted not just the wealthy or the well born, but the every day woman as well.  These are stories we almost never hear.  The Japanese expatriate who was in China to teach at a university, and is jailed as a counter-revolutionary.  The daughter of wealthy capitalists who gets to her family’s home too late–they have fled to Taiwan–and has to pose as the illegitimate daughter of her aunt, hoping that the truth will never be revealed.  The women who began an orphanage after their own children were killed by an earthquake–an earthquake the government didn’t find out about for weeks because there was no modern means of communication in the impoverished mountain villages.  A woman who was separated from her love by duty to the party, only to find him again 40 years later—and that he’d married after being told that she was dead.  Weaved throughout the other stories is Xinran’s.  Her parents were accused of being counter-revolutionary, and she and her brother were brought up by the party.  Peasant children were taught to insult them, and treat them as subhuman.  Her deeply complicated relationship with her parents, and with her own past is shown as the book progresses.

We also see Xinran’s growing dissatisfaction with trying to toe the party line as a media representative.  Stories must be edited, others not told (no need to embarrass the party with a story about highly educated women being given to party elite as new wives, or the village wives they left behind).

As an American, I learned very little modern era Asian History in any of my classes.  I was vaguely aware of how Mao had gained power, but I had no context for what that looked like for a woman living in China.  Xinran lends us those voices, which when paired with other resources can help paint a more complete pictures of the experience.

If you have an interest in Asian History, in women’s history, or in women’s studies, this book is definitely one you should make time to read.  But allow yourself to read as fast (can’t put it down) or as slow (too emotional, need a break) as you need.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read.

No Snarking Nostalgic this week….

Due to circumstances beyond my control–a leaking pipe and the drama surrounding getting it fixed when you don’t own the apartment you live in–there is no Snarking Nostalgic this week.  Sorry guys–I really really hate Sweet Valley High #4 Power Play and can’t wait to finish ripping it to shreds so I can move past it to BSC 3-which should be called The BSC is the mafia of Stoneybrook, Connecticut.

 

Book Review: Dark Witch (Cousins O’Dwyer #1) by Nora Roberts

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.16.42 PMDark Witch by Nora Roberts (Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy #1)

4/5 stars

Nora Roberts has written over 200 books.  I have read at least 100 of those.  I suspect that if I were to sit down with a list and start checking off titles, it’s closer to 150 or more.  One of my closest friends, Brandy, introduced me to Roberts in 1996 with the Dream Trilogy (still a favorite today, if a bit dated).  I immediately devoured as much of her back catalog as I could get my hands on, and read every new release and out of stock re-release for the next 10 or so years.

I’m still a huge fan of her “in death” series written as JD Robb, and read those the day/week they are released.  However, over the past five to eight years, I’ve hit a wall with Roberts.  Her work is still solid…it’s just that as a fan of her work for almost (gulp) two decades it’s also predictable.

While I’m not gasping in shock over a plot twist, Roberts does still pull off an enjoyable read.

While Roberts typically opens a paranormal with a glimpse into the mythology she’s weaving, Dark Witch breaks that with an extended view (2 chapters) into the origins of the Dark Witch and why we’re now dealing with a trio rather than a single descendant of Sorcha.  Part of this is because she’s setting up a fairly  complex backstory between Sorcha (and her descendents) and Cabhan (and his), but it also makes for a nice change of pace.

We then flip forward to modern day Ireland, where Iona-our token American-has arrived in Ireland.  One of the unique twists on this series is that while Iona is new to her powers, she’s known the family legends her entire life.  There is no shocking reveal.  More refreshing is that the entire town knows–there’s no need for subterfuge amongst the magick working characters and the non magickal characters (to use Robert’s preferred spelling).  Because there isn’t, it’s also not a major plot point either way and therefore is easily dispensed with.

Iona is welcomed into the family by her cousins Branna and Connor.  She secures a job at a local stable headed by her assigned love interest Boyle.  The stable is owned by Branna’s (obvious) former lover Fin.  Connor’s (obvious) eventual love interest Meara also works there.

While the who’s going to end up with who is obvious, I enjoyed the path of seeing how Iona and Boyle would end up together, what would push them apart and so forth. I get the feeling that Roberts might well have pushed the resolution of the couple back into the second book, but couldn’t because of genre conventions and that the next book won’t be telling the Iona/Boyle story.  Without going into spoilers, I will say that the wrap of the I/B relationship was rushed and bit dissatisfying.

There is no hint at the Connor/Meara relationship in this book, but without reading it, I can tell you that in book 2 there will be a reveal that at least one of them has pined for the other and the other will be shocked by it.  I will be less interested in this relationship than the other two.  This is a pattern of her trilogies and I know what I’m in for.

Most interesting by far, and why she’s also saving it for book 3 (note, I haven’t actually read the flap copy or anything relating to the other two books, I just know the Roberts pattern) is the Branna/Fin relationship.  They are the former lovers who have broken it off.  That reason is that just as I/C/B are Sorcha’s descendents, Fin is Cabhan’s descendent–something he didn’t find out until after they were a couple.  He has chosen to align himself with the O’Dwyer cousins, but he and Branna are not buddies, and they’re not over one another.  His choice to align with the good side rather than the bad feels like a new (or newer) plot point for her, and one I appreciated.

The pacing of the book is fairly solid.  I didn’t get distracted by other books in my reading queue.  However, I didn’t feel the need to stay up half the night to finish it, either.  Apart from the rushed ending with regards to the I/B romantic relationship, I was happy with the backstory we’ve gotten in this books, the growing friendship/familial relationships that grew in this books and where the plot will go over the next two books.  I’m not running out to read book #2 before I read anything else, and there’s no rush–book #3 isn’t out until Nov 2014–but I’ll buy it and keep it on my kindle as my next “palate cleanser” book.

If you’re an established Roberts fan, you’ll find it fairly standard Roberts paranormal fare.  Worth noting–as with anytime Roberts feels compelled to write “spells” you will sigh at the often bad rhymes.  It’s not her strong point.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.57.25 PM

The bigger question is what does this book/trilogy have to offer someone new to the genre/new to Roberts?

Do you like paranormals?  Do you enjoy witches and magick being thrown about not just in a fantasy/historical setting but in modern day Ireland?  If not, move along.

The reasons that I like Roberts as a Romance novelist are that she writes good characters.  She doesn’t write one dimensional stock characters (although read enough work and you do see patterns).  Her women are complex, and they are active participants in the story and in their love life.  Iona goes over Boyle, rather than wait for him to come a knocking and notice her.  Obviously this is a romance book, but the relationship between I/B is A plot rather than the entirety of the plot.  The paranormal side isn’t just filler–it’s a genuinely interesting story on its own.

Roberts takes the time to research to the point where she can write convincing jewel thieves (Honest Illusions among others), cattle ranchers (Montana Sky), homicide police officers (In Death series of 30+ books and others) or a horse riding instructor (as in this book).  I appreciate that Roberts doesn’t phone it in.

The sex scenes are okay.  I’m not the best barometer because as an erotica author, I tend to read (and write) far more explicit scenes.  That said, they’re not boring or trite either.

I don’t know that this is the first Roberts book I’d hand a new reader of hers, but that’s about personal bias rather than the quality of this book versus another. For the record, my favorites include the Dream Trilogy, The McKade Brothers, The Quinn Brothers, The MacGregor Family, and the In Death series.  Individual title recommendations are Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge (incidentally both feature jewel thieves).

This week in the world of reading

Every so often, I’m going to want to highlight various news articles I find about various literacy related interests from who’s banning what book to where I bought a cute book-themed t-shirt for the girls.

Things making me very happy this week

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.39.45 PM

(US) Harper Lee has given her approval to e-publish “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is one of my all time favorite books.  Expected publication is July 2014.  Read more here.

(International) The extended trailer for “The Fault in Our Stars” is out.  The movie is being released, and in the face of all the disappointing movie adaptations that have come before it, I am STILL very excited to see this.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.56.28 PM

(USA) Free comic book day is May 3d!  Don’t forget to take your kids to the comic book store and help them get hooked.  Dear parents who get their underwear in a twist over comic books–your kid is reading.  Full stop.  Read more here.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.05.54 PM

(FRANCE) Mo Willems is writing in Paris.  Or at least sketching the passersby of the cafe in which he’s writing.  He is one of the household’s favorite author.  If not for the article–watch the video (or BOTH).  He wants you to know that being a child sucks.  Here

 

Things infuriating me this week

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.40.03 PM

(USA) Parents successfully banned “The absolutely true diary of a part time Indian” (one of the most banned books in the US currently–and on my reading list) in a school district in Idaho for, among other things “unChristian content.”  Students at the school organized a petition fighting the ban.  People in Washington raised money and donated 350 copies of the book to a local bookstore to hand out to teens who wanted to read it.  A parent called the cops to arrest (?) the people handing out the free books.  Read more about it here.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.40.18 PM

(CANADA) Someone (a “patron” or “a father’s rights group” depending on your source) attempted to have Hop on Pop banned in Toronto libraries because it advocates violence against fathers.  It was unsuccessful.  Read more here

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.42.37 PM

(UK) There are both international and local efforts forming to ask the British government to reconsider its ban on sending prisoners books.  Read more here and here.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.47.53 PM(CHINA) China has started arresting male/male slash fanfic writers.  Most of them are young women. (slash–homosexual pairings in fan fiction like Kirk & Spock)  Read more here.