Congratulations! You made it through 2020 and have arrived (safely, we hope) in a brand new year. Here’s hoping that it’s a whole lot better than the one we just left behind. The holiday season is always busy (even when COVID-19 prevents many of our usual traditions and get-togethers), so this month’s Bookends is a little thinner than usual, but Sophie and Rebecca still have three books to share with you spanning a range of genres. We wish you all a very happy new year.
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Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back by Alicia Cook
Sophie spent the latter half of 2020 trying to read more poetry, and Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back by Alicia Cook was a part of that. The book contains 184 poems split across two “sides,” Side A and Side B, the latter of which is formed of remixes. The poems contained here deal with difficult topics including depression, anxiety, grief, heartbreak, and loss, and trigger warnings for all these subjects apply strongly. This is not a book to read if you are feeling especially low or emotionally fragile.
Side A contains all the original 92 poems, here called “tracks.” Sophie especially liked tracks seventeen, forty-two, and fifty-one, although there were dozens with specific lines that leaped off the page for her. At the end of each poem/track is a footnote naming the song the author was listening to at the time of writing, and Sophie hopes to one day work her way through all these tracks. (Conveniently, a Spotify playlist already exists containing all the available songs.)
Side B is filled with “remixes.” These are the same 92 poems from Side A scribbled on and blacked out to convey new messages and stories using the same words. There are some clever choices on display here, and Sophie was inspired to have a go at creating her own blackout poetry this year using her own favorite poems or pages from books.
While this was a tough collection to read, Sophie felt very understood throughout its pages and wanted to share lines, verses, and even entire poems with family and friends to help them understand how she sees the world. These are powerful poems and this will certainly be one of Sophie’s favorite poetry collections for many years to come.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Sophie’s last review book of 2020 was Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a novel set in 1920s Mexico.
17-year-old Casiopea Tun lives a miserable life as a poor relation in her wealthy grandfather’s house. Every day she is expected to scrub floors, mend clothes, and read the newspaper to her ailing grandfather, all while dodging insults from her cousins who strut about never lifting a finger. Casiopea dreams of one day exploring the world, but with barely a penny to her name, she knows this will most likely never happen.
After being left behind while her family is on an outing, Casiopea opens a strange chest, discovering it is filled with bones. When a bone shard lodges beneath her skin, Casiopea inadvertently awakens the Mayan God of Death—Hun-Kamé—imprisoned there for many decades by his brother Vucub-Kamé, who is responsible for the family’s great wealth and status.
Hun-Kamé is determined to reclaim the throne of Xibalba and must take Casiopea along with him on a journey across Mexico to reclaim the missing body parts his brother distributed to his allies to prevent Hun-Kamé from regaining his full strength. Along the way, the connection between Hun-Kamé and Casiopea grows as he gradually becomes more mortal and she closer to death. Eventually, both must make choices to determine their own futures and that of the entire world.
While this book has a fantastic premise, Sophie found it severely lacking and struggled to finish it because she kept falling asleep when trying to either read or listen to it on audiobook. Sadly, she found the writing intensely dull, the story itself lackluster, and the conclusion deeply unsatisfying. While there was some great character development along the way, most of this seemed to be undone by the ending, which was frustrating at best.
While Sophie is unlikely to pick this one up again, she still intends to read Moreno-Garcia’s popular novel Mexican Gothic, which recently won the 2020 Goodreads Choice Award for horror.
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Many years ago, Rebecca’s cousin read Freak the Mighty. He liked it. Rebecca figured it was a “boy” book and didn’t read it. Time passed and Rebecca had a son. Her aunt gave that son Freak the Mighty. He liked it and said, “Mom, you really should read it. It’s a good book.” She didn’t. Her aunt said, “You haven’t read Freak the Mighty? It’s so good!” She still didn’t read it.
Until this year. Freak the Mighty is a VERY GOOD BOOK. This should have been no surprise since it’s on many “best of”children’s books lists, but Rebecca does not always have the same tastes as the compilers, and after doing her Female Speaking Character project, has become quite jaded of many critically acclaimed books that turn out to have barely any women allowed to talk within its pages. Freak the Mighty did not disappoint!
With 43% female speaking characters in a book about the friendship of two boys, that’s amazing. Most books with female main characters can barely get above 30%, but that’s just a small reason why this book is recommended. It’s a beautiful story and is so honest.
Rebecca also has a pet peeve of unrealistic adult characters. This book has very realistically flawed adults who are obviously just as clueless and struggling as the children. The story is told from a very specific and limited point of view, but it works. The main character is a junior high school boy who is being raised by grandparents that are wary of him and do not show too much love. The boy, Maxwell, is large for his age—already taller than most adults—rarely speaks, and was violent when he was younger. As he grows older, he looks more and more like his father, who is in jail. Maxwell tries to stay out of everyone’s way and just be alone, but then he meets Kevin, and that all changes.
The friendship between large misunderstood Maxwell and Kevin, a small boy with a serious medical condition, unfolds wonderfully over the course of a year. Neither of the boys pities each other, and instead become a single entity of strength and joy, calling themselves Freak the Mighty.
There are dozens of detailed reviews of this book since it came out in the 1990s, so Rebecca will leave this to say: You were right, cousin, you were right, Auntie, and you were a right, son. It is a good book!
GeekMom received copies of some titles included here for review purposes.
2 thoughts on “Between the Bookends: 3 Books We Read in December 2020”
Wish you all a very happy new year!
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