LGBTQIA+, YA

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

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If you haven’t read Openly Straight there could be some spoilers ahead. Fair warning. I need to refer to the end right now to explain why I didn’t want a sequel to Openly Straight. I thought the ending was perfect because it was realistic. Rafe has his reasons for doing everything he does but that does not make it right at all. Rafe puts Ben through too much. I didn’t want Ben to run back to him.Ben’s reaction at the end of Openly Straight is so warranted in my opinion and I loved that we didn’t get that happily ever after. I had a strong feeling that would turn around in this book because it happens in things like this.

Ben’s narration is better than Rafe’s. That feels blasphemous to say but I don’t even remember why I liked Rafe’s so much. I think with Openly Straight I enjoyed the story and the discussion it brought up but had some issues with Rafe. He’s really privileged in being able to just switch schools so easily when he wants to change how people sees him. He has to money to just go to this pretty expensive private school and pretend to be someone different than he is.

Ben deals with so much pressure. You could see that a bit in openly Straight but don’t really understand it until you read more on Ben. He has a family that is overbearing. A father that puts really toxic ideas in his head and a mother who lets it happen for years. They are in the running for the worse YA parents on the year award in my superlatives later this year. Don’t think they will win but top three right now.

Be Happy just not too happy. Don’t get a big head or you aren’t allowed to show that you are happy about things you’ve accomplished.Carver’s can’t afford this. Carver’s aren’t vulnerable.Carver’s don’t talk about their feelings. Carver’s don’t need extra help.  Everything in Ben’s life is framed by what his father has told him. Ben is so reserved and pretty bad at sticking up for himself at times and I quickly saw it’s because he believes and follows the things his father has told him completely. Ben has several bad habits he picks up because of his father that are a result of all of this.

Everything in Ben’s life is framed by what his father has told him. Ben is so reserved and pretty bad at sticking up for himself at times and I quickly saw it’s because he believes and follows the things his father has told him completely. Ben has several bad habits he picks up because of his father that are a result of all of this.

Through all this Ben is able to deliver a narrative with some great humor and some other beautiful moments. He’s a really great character. Seeing his emotional journey was compelling. Seeing his personal arc was compelling.

One thing that I’m glad was really highlighted in this book was privilege. I feel like it is talked about a bit in the first book. Ben’s roommate leaves the school for reasons that were somewhat related to being the only black kid at this private all boys school and I remember liking the conversations that happen around it. Ben finally calling Rafe out for some of the things that he says made me very happy.

I didn’t think the book was biphobic but can see how it could be harmful to people because it does contain biphobic comments from several characters.  Ben doesn’t deny the existence of bi people. I’m fairly certain his uncle was bisexual and that is pointed out a few times. Ben just doesn’t see himself as bi or gay. The conversations on labels are being continued from the first book in an interesting way. At the end of the day, Ben should be allowed to label or not label himself whatever he wants and people should respect that.

Rafe and his family do say things that are biphobic. Plus other people in the book as well.Biphobia happens. People experience it. I think every time Ben’s reaction is showing that it is wrong even if the people around him keep doing it. I felt like this worked back into the conversation with Rafe’s privilege really well. It was frustrating in a similar way.  If this book did hurt you I’m really sorry that it did and I’m not trying to diminish that at all.

It was revealed that Toby is genderfluid. I was so excited by this. They really were on of my favorite characters in the first book. I raved about Toby and how I’d want Toby to be my friend in a book tag I filmed recently. Not many side characters stand out to me like Toby has. This made so much sense to me from the Toby I saw in the first book.

Konigsberg also reveals that Toby’s friend Alby is Asexual. Toby states that he is. I’d like more confirmation. There are not enough Ace characters at all. As someone on the Ace spectrum, it was still nice to see. I would love a Toby or Alby centered book honestly. I think I would have been more excited for a Toby centered sequel. Toby had other interesting things going on in the first book that were not touched on here. We just don’t get a chance to see Toby enough because he doesn’t have the biggest connection to Ben.

Speaking of connections to Ben. I do see Ben and Rafe’s connection but am still skeptical about how well the two could work long term. I liked the ending of the first book because it wasn’t that magical fix like I said. I know people shipped it and wrote fanfics of the two getting back together but I never thought it should happen and even as I liked seeing them become friends and close again I still struggle to feel that they are a pairing that could work for long.

 

Book Reviews, diverse books, Retellings, YA

As I Descended by Robin Talley

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I want to start off this review by saying that Macbeth is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I don’t know how many times I’ve reread it or watched productions of it now. It’s too many to count. I think that me being so familiar with Macbeth was good and bad with reading this retelling. I was prepared for the ends of certain characters and that ended up being a good thing for me at times. I went into it hoping to love the characters and the story as much as I do with the play.

I also knew that it would be a play that would be difficult to make modern with the supernatural elements. In the early part of Macbeth, he gets a prophecy from three witches. You quickly see that spirits are going to be involved with this retelling. Spirits that have talked to Maria (Macbeth) since she was a child. I will say never mess with ouija boards. I’ve said it in past post and I’ll say it again. Don’t do it. I’d rather we had dealt with witches over spirits tbh. This school being haunted for whatever reason didn’t work for me. The spirits needed to keep pushing things in this text which is a change that didn’t help. The witches are really only at the beginning of Macbeth even if their prophecy impacts the entirety of it.

I also have to say that in the latter half of the book there is a major disconnect with the main characters of Lily and Maria. The spirit element almost gets too far to really feel what is happening to the characters. I still feel connected to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth through all the insanity that happens with them in Macbeth. So it was disappointing to not be able to get that same feel in this retelling. That disconnect is truly unfortunate because it definitely took away from the story for me.

Our Macbeth is a gay girl named Maria who ask for the spirits help to get a scholarship that is going to be rewarded to Delilah. That aspect actually worked for me. Somehow becoming the most popular person in school and gaining a major scholarship works as a motive to off your competition Macbeth style. I don’t know why but it did.

Robin Talley made me care for Brandon as a character enough for what happens to him to really bother me. I applaud that because I don’t care about Banquo much when reading Macbeth normally. Unless highlighting or thinking about Banquo’s significance for Macbeth going forward in the play. Brandon was a very compelling character. I cared about him a lot in this. He’s a good hearted person like his Shakespearean counterpart. This modern version is also queer, however. He’s in a relationship with Matteo and shows that he has some body image issues in the text. I felt like he was made so relatable. It’s interesting to think about Macbeth from Banquo’s perspective. As Banquo sees changes in Macbeth and reacts to them. Thinking about the other elements od Banquo’s life. I’m really happy we got his perspective but I also think it changed the way I viewed other characters in this retelling.

I’m a fan of the Macbeths. You know they have to lose in Macbeth because it’s a tragedy but they are brilliant villains to follow throughout the text and what compels you to continue the story. Maria and Lily were not that in this text for me. I was much more interested in Mateo’s story. I never thought much about the character of Macduff but I loved Talley’s modern version of the character. He just worked so well. You wanted to see him succeed more than anything else. Brandon being developed the way he was enforced that as well.

Lady Macbeth is really one of my favorite characters in Shakespeare and love to read studies on the character. I was a little disappointed with Lily’s descent into madness. I felt like I really wanted more from it. I wanted it to work well like it does in Macbeth. Lily has a disability and I thought it was presented well. I liked the way it affected how she felt with the other students. Lily wanted higher status and it did raise the stakes for her. Talley made it play into Lady Macbeth well. I did appreciate that difference but just wanted more from the character. To feel like that agency lady Macbeth originally has even more here.

4 of the 5 perspectives you get in this story are queer characters. The 4 main are people in m/m or f/f relationships. Several die of course because this is a mostly accurate Shakespeare retelling. I applaud Talley on how she was able to get a lot of the story transferred over while bringing new diverse elements to the story. Matteo deserves all the happiness in the world. I really loved following him as a relatable queer male character. Plus he is Hispanic like a few other characters in the cast. The diverse elements did draw me to the story and I did appreciate it a lot.

Overall I did enjoy the story. I really like all the things that Talley brought to the retelling and that you can see how much she tried to stay true to Macbeth. The inclusion of these very diverse characters was done really naturally and they worked for the retelling being in a school setting. There is a lot that I wanted more from this story but overall it’s definitely worth trying out.

 

Small Spoilery After Thoughts

SPOILER WARNING

Spoiler Warning

SPOILER WARNING

Queer people outing other queer people is really getting on my nerves in text or anyone being outed for that matter. It didn’t seem like it was necessary in the case of Matteo and that was definitely another drop for this story with me.

 

Book Reviews, diverse books, Nonfiction

Hidden Figures Book Review

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Hidden Figures was a really fantastic read. It was crazy to me when I started the book because I knew I would be reading about some amazing black women that I never had the opportunity to learn about before. I went to several schools where the majority of my classes were black students and this wasn’t something we learned about in the curriculum of our history classes. I feel like that is truly unfortunate. I saw so many people saying the same thing when the movie first started making a buzz.

This book is really just the facts of what happened to these women. We get the background on these amazing women. We learn about the beginnings of NASA and America’s journey to being able to put a man on the moon while following some amazing black women who helped make it happen. We learn about their passion for math and get an idea of where that passion grew for some of them. We also see how these bright women still struggled to get as far as they did because of the color of their skin.

If you are expecting more of a plot driven thing you might be disappointed as I’ve seen some people were. I’d say go see the movie for more of that even though I haven’t seen it yet myself. I definitely get the impression from what friends who have read the book and seen the movie. This book could act as great background information for the characters you see in the film.

It feels academic in nature. Almost like a textbook which I kind of liked honestly. It didn’t take away from it for me at all. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go into it expecting something else. I wanted to learn about these women that I had not before. I didn’t see the movie so I’m not aware of how it’s different in the film version. I went in with just different expectations and those expectations were met. I learned so much from this book.

I feel that it holds it’s own as a text personally. Margot Lee Shetterly really was able to capture the lives of these women and show what they were passionate about in a way that really captivated me just with the facts. Just by telling us what they went through. Explaining how it felt to be put in the situations they were. The arcs of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson in this book really make me want to see the film as soon as I can.