osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Randa Abdel-Fattah’s The Friendship Matchmaker. Lara Zany is the benevolent dictator of Potts County Middle School. She finds friends for new kids, settles disputes between old friends, and writes down her rules in her Friendship Matchmaker Manual (which she’ll be selling to Harry Potter’s publishers any day now). But her undisputed reign over the school is interrupted by a new girl, Emily Wong, who is all about things like “being yourself.”

You can probably guess the plot of the entire story from this description, but it’s nonetheless a charming and breezy read, largely because of Lara’s voice. In fact I picked it up in the first place mostly to scoff at the obviousness of the plot - a conflict between “crushing your individuality in order to follow strict social guidelines” and “freeing yourself from cruel social restraints in order to be yourself” in a modern middle grade novel, hmmm! WHICH ONE COULD POSSIBLY WIN? - but then I read the first few pages and Lara won me over with her strange cynical brand of compassion. School is a bloodthirsty jungle but she really, really wants to help everyone succeed and be happy there!

Seriously, though, I’m so tired of be yourself novels. I was so much happier when I stopped being myself all the damn time and made an effort to be pleasant instead. Maybe some people are blessed with warm and generous natures from birth and really can just stand around radiating the glorious light of their own natural selves, but the rest of us are going to have to put a bit more work into it.

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve begun The Summer Before the War, which is shaping up to be more of a romance than I was really hoping for - but I’ve only just begun, so I might be quite wrong about where it’s heading.

I was definitely wrong about which war it’s referring to. It’s set before World War I, not II.

I have also continued on in The Enchanted Wood, and now that I have ratched my expectations way, way down, I can see the charm. Definitely the idea of climbing a tree and finding a different world at the top every single time is going to appeal to a lot of kids: it’s absolutely the perfect premise for a game, isn’t it?

What I Plan to Read Next

2017 is almost over and I still haven’t read one of the Newbery Honor books! Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow. (I believe there are no literal wolves, which is too bad. Most novels would be improved by literal wolves.) So that’s next on my list.

Date: 2017-12-20 03:30 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (definitely definitely)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
Laughing and agreeing w/your comments on being yourself. It's like the libertarianism of social interaction. "MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY AND TO HELL WITH THE REST OF YOU"

ETA: Also, yes: I love the idea of a different world at the top of every tree you climb--as a game. Probably not as a book I'd read, because I am so picky on how I'd like to see it done.
Edited Date: 2017-12-20 03:31 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-12-20 07:34 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (miroku)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
Yeah; and this leads me to believe that people have problems distinguishing between what's core and what's superficial--and pop media doesn't help matters by using superficial things as indicators of the deeper things. Clothes get a whole lot of emphasis--sure: in movies, they're what we see. But (with exceptions, because there are always exceptions--I mean, religiously dictated clothes would be an exception, or wearing a memento of a loved one, etc.) clothes just aren't that important. So you have to take off the skinny jeans when you visit your grandmother--that shouldn't really represent a core-shattering compromise. If it does, well... what's your self based on, exactly?

Date: 2017-12-27 07:14 am (UTC)
ivy: Two strands of ivy against a red wall (Default)
From: [personal profile] ivy
I think we can sometimes change even the core parts, given enough effort. I can think of a few times in my life where I've invested substantial work in changing something that was deeply felt, because I believed that the change was the right thing to do. Those are the times in my life where I really feel like I grew as a person. I was not immediately showered with praise and cookies for it -- it was usually messy and fraught and long -- but long term I am satisfied with the results and pleased that I tried to take an active hand in the shaping of my future self.

Date: 2017-12-27 01:30 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (miroku)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
That's wonderful--and I agree: I think you can too (which is a kind of silly thing to say, since clearly you've had experience doing exactly that, but what I mean is yeah! I believe what you say!)

Date: 2017-12-20 06:32 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b: (Default)
From: [personal profile] evelyn_b
Seriously, though, I’m so tired of be yourself novels. I was so much happier when I stopped being myself all the damn time and made an effort to be pleasant instead.

Hah, this is also the story of my life. Though I think a part of the problem is just that how to "be yourself" is a much more fraught question for the 9-14s than a lot of adults seem to remember. Maybe some people are born with a perfectly coherent, legible self, ready for activation on the first day of day care, but it wasn't like that for most of us. I spent a lot of time not really knowing what "be yourself" meant (and some of it thinking, "but how can I be more sarcastic??)

Date: 2017-12-20 06:53 pm (UTC)
missroserose: (Default)
From: [personal profile] missroserose
I sometimes wonder if the preponderance of "be yourself" books from the 70s through the 90s was a reaction to the much-more-strictly-conformist culture of the 1950s (and, to an extent, the 60s, although things were changing). I, too, had the experience of social difficulty that was exacerbated by a strong sense of "all these messages tell me I should be myself, so I'm not going to bother filing down the sharp edges of my personality - that's who I aaaaaaammm! And anyone who tries to help me fit in clearly doesn't appreciate meeeee!" It wasn't until reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, which talks a lot about reactive vs. proactive mindset, that I really got to thinking about the limitations of this outlook. (Which, I note with some irony, I now know was written by a Mormon, who are big on social conformity.) I continue to find that balancing your own personality with the needs/expectations of one's friends/community is one of the toughest parts of life.

Date: 2017-12-21 02:45 pm (UTC)
missroserose: (Default)
From: [personal profile] missroserose
Oh god, do I feel that last bit. Every time I think I've found that balance, it feels like something shifts and I have to reassess. It's like the joke I'll sometimes make after we do core work in yoga class - if the students have worked particularly hard, I'll say something like "Congratulations, you made it through core series! ...and your reward is, you get to do more yoga!"

Date: 2017-12-22 12:16 pm (UTC)
ladyherenya: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ladyherenya
I've read some of Randa Abdel-Fattah’s books but none of the ones for younger readers. Sounds like I should.

I don't know how much (or how little) romance you were expecting from The Summer Before the War, but I thought that aspect was on the understated side. I'm curious as to what you think of the book.

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