Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Susan's Book Review: With Courage and Cloth by Ann Bausum

Several years ago I saw a great movie called Iron Jawed Angels that opened my eyes to the women’s suffrage movement. Prior to that, I knew some of the important names like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but I didn’t realize that women who began the fight didn’t live to see it won. Other women, namely Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, took up the cause and were ultimately victorious. The battle for women’s right to vote lasted 72 years (from 1848-1920), but the book focuses on the final years, from 1913-1920.


There were two camps focused on gaining women the right to vote and they had different methods. One was the National Woman’s Party (headed by Paul) and the other was the National American Woman Suffrage Association (headed by Catt). Paul’s tactics were more in-your-face and mostly involved picketing in front of the White House. It kept suffrage in the papers and on people’s minds. The title of the book refers to the banners the picketers held as they peacefully protested. They were tolerated at first (President Wilson ordered the White House staff to offer them coffee), but after World War I began, tensions were high and many felt the women were out of line. Eventually people started to heckle the picketers, and police would not protect the women from the mobs that formed, but rather arrest them on phony charges. More than 200 women were arrested and about 100 served time in jail. Some famously went on hunger strikes, only to be force fed by prison staff, and it became a public relations mess for President Wilson.


Catt’s NAWSA took a different approach. They felt Paul and the NWP were accomplishing nothing by offending politicians they needed to support the suffrage amendment. They divided their time working for the war effort and fighting for the amendment by keeping on the good side of President Wilson. Although the two groups didn’t work together, they did end up complementing each other. One was seen as militant and the other as amiable, and I think both were needed.


Adding a constitutional amendment is no easy task. They had to convince the House and the Senate at the federal level, then they had to get 36 state governments (3/4 of the union) to ratify it to become law. Many states were ahead of the game (mostly in the west) and had already granted women the right to vote, but others (mostly in the south) were anti-suffrage and fought against it. By the election in 1920, women had full suffrage rights, but it would take over 36 years for as many women to vote as men.


I think this book is lovely and shines a spotlight on deserving women that history has somewhat ignored. It has numerous pictures of key players and events, interesting quotes, and it’s printed in the colors of the suffrage movement: purple, gold and white. Not many books make me wish I had a report due, but this one does!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Emily's Book Review: Be the Change by Zach Hunter

When Zach Hunter was studying slavery at the age of twelve, he came home from school and told his mom, “Man, if I had lived back then, I would have fought for equality, and against slavery.”  That’s when Hunter’s mom told him that slavery still exists in many forms around the world, and that’s when his  life changed forever.  As a twelve year-old, he began a campaign called Loose Change for Loose Chains to motivate students to get involved in ending slavery around the world and became a modern-day abolitionist, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people each year.  According to Real Simple magazine, there is over 10.5 million dollars in loose change lying around American households.  Loose Chains for Loose Chains inspires students in schools and youth groups to collect that change and donate it to organizations such as International Justice Mission, a group that rescues people from human trafficking and other forms of oppression.  Hunter has since written several books inspiring other young people to make a change for the 27 million people around the world trapped in slavery.  At age 14, he began writing Be the Change, and this year, he released an updated copy of the book. 

I first became aware of how much of problem slavery still is when I attended Passion 2012 this past January.  Passion is a yearly Christian conference for people ages 18 to 25, and while I was excited to hear artists such as Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, and the David Crowder Band and see speakers such as Beth Moore and Francis Chan, I had no idea how much of an impact the “charitable” aspect of Passion would have on me. Each day, the organizers of the event showed a video telling the story of four real-life, modern-day slaves.  One woman had gone to another country on the promise of a job in a restaurant and had been forced into prostitution.  One man had been born into slavery because his father owed a debt he could not pay off and was forced to work in rice fields each day for a wage so low that he would spend his life trying to pay it off.  Each day, we were encouraged to donate to various charities dedicated to fighting slavery, and when we did, we were encouraged to write on slave made items such as jeans, rice bags, soccer balls, shoes, and Christmas ornaments. These were used to create a giant statue of a hand raised high for justice.  Over three million dollars was raised in the course of the four-day conference.           

When I saw Be the Change on the shelves a few weeks ago, I hoped it would address the issues I had learned about at Passion and tell me what I could do about them.  Since leaving the conference, I’ve often wondered how I should be living my life differently, knowing that there are 27 million slaves in the world, more than at any point in history.  What should I do, knowing that even in Atlanta, human trafficking exists?  Should I stop buying clothes from the mall, since I really had no way of knowing whether or not they were slave made?  Should I donate more to the organizations I’d heard of at Passion?  I was excited that we had a book on our shelves that would answer my questions and raise awareness about slavery in a way that was specifically addressed to teens.          

Be the Change is far more than a book about ending slavery, though.  It’s a book about dreaming big, using one’s passion for good, living in community, and sacrificing for others.  Hunter has the book divided up into chapters such as “Influence,” “Courage,” “Leadership,” “Compassion,” and “Sacrifice.”  Each of these chapters then features a profile of either a slave or someone who worked to end slavery and then gives ideas for how teens can live out the character trait from that chapter’s title.  His examples are similar to the stories I heard at Passion.  Hunter also uses Biblical examples of those who stood firm against injustice, such as Esther, who risked death to save her cousin, or the “three vegans” King Nebuchadnezzar tried to burn alive when they wouldn’t renounce their beliefs.  Each chapter ends with discussion questions for readers to answer or think about and suggestions about how to “be the change.”           

I do wish Hunter had given more specific examples of what teens could do to end slavery.  Most of his ideas for action are tacked on to the end of the discussion questions and are written in short blurbs. Since I was reading the book on my own and not with a group, it was tempting for me to skip over the questions to begin with, and I also wish Hunter had just been more specific.  He mentions that teens should buy fair trade items, but he doesn’t explain what this means.  He says teens shouldn’t buy goods that they suspect may be slave made, but he doesn’t tell them how to find out which items are slave made and which items aren’t.  I do think Hunter does a great job raising awareness about the issue of modern-day slavery because there are many teens who may not know that it still exists at all, and I think the book is helpful in encouraging teens to use their influence and passion for good in other ways as well.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone.  Slavery is a problem that people of any age need to know about.  I don’t think it would likely be as enjoyable to non-Christians, since Hunter does use plenty of scripture and Biblical references throughout, but I think anyone could appreciate that Hunter is a teen who actually lives out his faith and whose relationship with God actually causes him to do something for others.  I can see teens in a youth group or discipleship group getting the most out of Be the Change, as it would be great to answer the discussion questions and figure out ways to fight slavery with a group of friends.  I think having an older leader present to research and organize teen efforts could be helpful, though there are plenty of resources available for resourceful teens to do this on their own.  The book is also inspiring simply because Hunter is teen himself and has done much to end slavery already. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Heather's Book Review: A Devil and Her Love Song, Volume 1 by Miyoshi

Maria Kawai is a devil. At least, everyone around her thinks she is. She’s beautiful, she’s smart. She’s just been expelled from a high-class school. “You taint everyone around you” were the parting words given by the person she thought was her best friend. Now she’s starting at a new school, and rumors are swirling around her. Just who is this girl who seems to bring out the worst in everyone? Fellow students Yusuke Kanda and Shin Meguro are determined to find out. What they discover is most unexpected.


Miyoshi Tomori’s A Devil and Her Love Song (Volume 1) being a manga, I half-expected the title to refer to an actual devil getting up to dramatic high school shojo romance hijinks, and I thoroughly expected to have no interest in skimming beyond the first few pages. I certainly didn’t expect the first few pages to hook me, much less to lead me to reach the end of the book before I knew it, but that’s precisely what happened.


In this manga, Maria Kawai is not a devil, but rather an exceptionally intuitive girl who can see people for what they actually are. She doesn’t have the patience for fakes, and so she exposes their flaws and falsities with absolute frankness. She’s not evil per se, but her blunt revelations—and the lack of remorse with which she airs them—lead the people affected by them to react strongly, and not always in a positive manner. That said, it’s easy to see why she’s perceived as a devil like character. Naturally, when revelations like that happen, drama ensues. The other girls in the class decide that something has to be done about Maria. And Maria accepts the challenge.


Normally I’m not a fan of dramatic shojo manga because it ends up being too dramatic and centers too much on a passionate romance or some similar subject that I don’t really care about. A Devil and Her Love Song, in contrast to these other manga, excels because it’s not about a girl suffering traditional shojo problems and then whining about them only to be saved by the series’ hot leading man. It’s about a girl who is already a strong character, who just happens to be surrounded by whirlwinds of drama of her unintentional making, and then gets through them on her own strong personality, with minimal help from others.


Maria strikes me as the strong-willed, unaffected classroom tiger that all teen girls wish to be at some point. Regardless of which clique or class they belong to, all teen girls wish they could go up to the cruel, beautiful, duplicitous queen bee of the class, tell her what she really is, and then have everyone step back in dramatic silence, in absolute wonder that she’s just spoken the truth about this fake. And though most teens like to say that they don’t care about what others think of them, these same teens can’t deny that they’ve been affected by the snide remarks thrown by a rival or bully. Maria doesn’t have time to be affected by the gossip of others. In fact, when she first arrives at her new school, she addresses the fact that she’s being gossiped about point-blank, airs all the dirty facts that people are gossiping about, and then tells the gossips to do with them what they will. She is the ultimate picture of teen personal strength, and despite what the title would lead readers to assume, she’s actually a positive, even admirable character. Maria does have some personal weaknesses—for all her seeming indifference, she does genuinely wish for acceptance—but these weaknesses are reasonable and realistic, and do not necessarily make her a weaker character.


Not that I’m encouraging teen girls to totally adopt her way of interacting with the world. Maria gets away with her frankness because, in the rules of her story’s universe, she is the intuitive one, and she does speak the truth about people’s flaws. This is not always the case when people blurt about flaws in a real school setting, and of course the resultant drama rarely ends as smoothly IRL as it does for Maria. I love Maria’s absolute distance from the cattiness going on around her, though. She knows how silly it is, and she lifts herself above it. I love that she’s a teen character who looks at the drama around her and says, “This drama is stupid. You should get over it.”


There’s more to the manga than Maria being socially detached and omnipotent, though. Much of the manga’s quality comes from its well-balanced cast of characters. Once it’s clear that they’re going to form the main cast, Maria, Yusuke, and Shin’s personalities complement each other solidly—Maria is mysterious and blunt, liked by few; Yusuke likes everyone, indiscriminately; and Shin is Yusuke’s aloof, sometimes brusque, but also attractive pal who complements them both. Yusuke and Shin are individually well-presented, too. Every shojo manga seems to have a super cute male character that bursts into kittyface every other panel and a distant, dark male who makes girls swoon with his aloofness. Yusuke and Shin are these types, respectively, but they are not exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness that these character types tend to be. Yusuke has a genuine concern for Maria that goes beyond “I’m going to be the cute one who trails you for reader entertainment!” and Shin’s concern for Maria, though it naturally takes longer for it to occur, is believable when it happens. And while it’s clear by the end of this volume that Maria is likely to end up in a closer relationship with one of them, the manga doesn’t focus as much on this budding romance as it does the characters themselves. Ultimately, this is not a manga about Maria Making Friends and Getting the Guy, but a manga about Maria Being Awesome Because She is Awesome, and earning some genuine pals in the process.


It’s this finely balanced combination of personalities that also lets the manga get away with elements that would just be silly in other manga. In one of the manga’s more memorable elements, Yusuke takes it upon himself to teach her Maria the art of the “lovely spin”—basically, how to say what she means in a way that doesn’t turn people away, and how to appropriately tilt her head to make herself look more charming when she says it—in order to make her seem more likable, and thus better able to make friends. Rather than using this for cutesie purposes, the manga layers this perfectly over Maria’s stoic manner; she never gets the lovely spin exactly right, an awkward bit of frankness always slipping into her words, and hilarity results. And Maria doesn’t care, ‘cause she’s cool like that. There are moments of cuteness, but they meld well with the tone that the author is aiming for—a tone that is self-consciously aloof and amusing at the same time.


All in all, provided that A Devil and Her Love Song maintains its quality in future volumes, it has the potential to be one of the underappreciated shojo manga greats. Despite its main character’s exaggerated truth-telling ability, it features lots of realistic drama and even explores bullying and the nature of true friendship, making it a read that any teen girl who has ever had bully or friend drama could get into. It’s also quite clean, which makes it a good introductory manga for teens who are new to the format and not accustomed to the utter weirdness that is more typical of manga. It’s also a super-fast read, so even if it doesn’t end up being your cup of tea, at least it won’t take too much of your time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Introducing Beth!

SCPL Teens has gotten a lot of new faces! We’re featuring them here so you'll know who to look for when you need a recommendation for your next awesome teen read. 


Today, meet Beth of the Landrum Library!



HOMETOWN:  Landrum, SC

THEN WHAT:  I earned a B. A. in Corporate Communication from the College of Charleston and have worked as a System Floater with the Greenville County Library for the past 4.5 years.


FAMILY: Married for 3 years to Jason.  We have a feisty dachshund named Abby.  I am the youngest of 4.  I have 11 nieces and nephews, ranging from 30 to 6, 3 great nieces, and 1 great nephew.


HOBBIES: Cooking and Baking, crafts of all kinds, gardening, and spending time with family.


FAVORITE QUOTE: “Worry is man’s futile attempt to control the future.”  - Unknown


FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS:  The Woods by Harlan Coben.   I read mostly nonfiction when reading adult books, so anything in the medicine/health area and religion.


CURRENTLY READING:  Puttin’ on the Grits:  A Guide to Southern Entertaining and Elizabeth I:  Red Rose of the House of Tudor

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Jennifer's Book Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Crewel, the first book in a new dystopian series by Gennifer Albin, is one-of-a-kind. In a genre that’s quickly being saturated with Hunger Games rip-offs or love stories hiding behind a dystopian façade, Albin masterfully weaves dystopian with fantasy to create Crewel World.

In the world of Arras, men are in control, while women have very limited options. Girls must be married at age 18, and their careers are chosen for them by the government. The only women that appear to have a modicum of freedom are the Spinsters – women with the ability to control the threads of life (obviously inspired by the Fates in Greek mythology). Their special ability allows them to carefully monitor and control the weather, food and even life spans and memories. Even Spinsters, however, answer to the male-run Guild, the ruling force in Arras.

Crewel’s heroine, Adelice Lewys, passes the mandatory test to enter training as a Spinster, to the dismay of her parents. After a failed escape from her fate, she is viewed with contempt and suspicion in her new position. What’s more, Adelice has a secret she’s been warned to keep hidden – she has the rare ability to see the threads of life without a loom, making her invaluable to the Guild. As Adelice uncovers secrets the Guild would like to keep hidden, Adelice and those she loves find themselves in ever-increasing danger.

In Crewel, classic dystopian themes are evident, such as the constant observation and iron-fisted government control from 1984, or the disempowerment of women found in The Handmaid’s Tale. Although the methods used by the Guild, the manipulation of elemental threads, are different from those found in the aforementioned novels, they are stifling and oppressive, nonetheless.

But Albin’s blending of traditional themes with popular young adult trends separates her from those classic books, making Crewel easier to recommend to readers who are searching for “Hunger Games read-alikes.” Like the protagonists in Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilight and other trendy YA fiction series, Adelice’s rare ability increases her value to those in power. Whereas traditional dystopian literature often follows normal, mundane people with questionable worth to the authoritative body, Adelice stands out.

Crewel is a beautiful world, filled with color and intrigue. As with many fantasies, a bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept the nature of Spinsters and the threads they manipulate. However, Albin does a wonderful job of explaining the nature of Arras without getting bogged down in jargon and overdone description. Albin writes beautifully, and readers will breathlessly wait for the sequel.