Stand Your Ground, by Victoria Christopher Murray

Stand Your GroundAs soon as I saw this book in the catalog, I knew I was going to read it, because a) I need diverse books and b) I live in Florida, where standing your ground is basically the state sport.

This fictional ground-standing takes place in Pennsylvania, but it is reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin shooting that happened here in Florida a couple years ago. A black high-school boy, Marquis, is sitting in a car with his white girlfriend outside of a white dude’s house. White dude comes out to the car all, this guy troubling you, little lady?, stuff happens, and then Marquis is shot dead by white dude, who claims he was threatened and just standing his ground.

But we don’t get all of that right away. What we get first is the story of Marquis’s mother, Janice, who is getting back into the swing of family life after a huge bump in her marriage. Things look like they’re going well until the police show up, wondering if her son might possibly be in a gang and perhaps carry a baseball bat around, oh, also, btw, he’s dead. Janice wants to curl up in a ball and die, basically, but her husband and her “Brown Guardians”-member brother-in-law are ready to get some old-school revenge. Janice’s half of the story is all about finding closure after something awful has happened, and how to find closure when it seems like every person in the world has an opinion about not just that something awful but about you and your son and your family.

Then in the second half of the novel, we flip to the story of white dude’s wife, Meredith, who is having a slightly different experience. Meredith lives in comfortable wealth as the wife of a local fast-food millionaire, a millionaire who has done great philanthropic work in the black community but is still almost giddy about how easily his lawyer is going to get him acquitted of the murder of this particular black kid. Worse, Meredith has a secret that she wants to share, but doing so would ruin her marriage, which isn’t great, exactly, but is better than the alternative, and she’s not sure she can muster up the courage to destroy her own family after her husband has destroyed another.

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, as the first chapter has a sort of chick-lit feel that I tend to dislike, but as soon as the story started moving I really couldn’t put it down. It was fascinating to see how the two very similar narrators — wife, mother, background player, worrier — handled both sides of an awful situation and to have them only guessing at the reasons behind it. Even with the narrative focused on these two ladies, you still get to see the opinions and emotions of the other characters, which differ wildly just as they should. The murderer himself seemed a bit of a caricature when he first appeared, but even he turned out to have complex emotions by the end of the book.

I’m so glad I gave this book the chance it deserved, and I think it’s a great read for anyone who wants to understand a new viewpoint or two (or more!) in our current cultural climate.

Recommendation: For you.

Rating: 8/10

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King

Ask the PassengersA long time ago, I read King’s book Please Ignore Vera Dietz largely because I once shared a name with the protagonist but then it turned out to be super awesome and included a flow chart so even more awesome. Then King’s next book came out and I was like, I should totally read that, and then this one came out and I was like, I should totally read that, and then her next book came out… point is, I’ve put off reading her books long enough, so I am embarking on a quest to catch up. But not too quickly, or what will I have left to read?

I’m glad I waited this long to read Ask the Passengers, because as it turns out it is the book that I had thought or hoped that Speak would be, and it would have sucked to read Speak second. Both books deal with a girl with a secret (not the same secret), but where Anderson’s narrative is removed from the main character and we don’t really know what’s going on in her head, King’s gets right up in Astrid’s brain and gives us all the good thinky thoughts.

So Astrid is a New York City girl living in Podunkville, PA after her parents moved the family for reasons. Her small town is nice and all, but everyone is all up in everyone else’s business because that’s the traditional small town sport. Astrid’s more or less made her peace with this, but it does put a kink in her burgeoning relationship with another girl. Astrid’s girlfriend wants Astrid to come out as a flag-flying lesbian so they can date in the open, but Astrid isn’t even sure if she likes girls, plural, or just this one particular girl, or even this one particular girl, so could everybody maybe just give her a minute to decide?

I really loved this book, which pretty well encapsulated my teen angst over… every single thing that ever happened to me. I like that Astrid is smart enough to recognize all of the gossip and curiosity as the shenanigans that it is, but that, realistically, that knowledge is not as super helpful as it really should be. On the plus side, Astrid has old dead philosophers like Zeno and Socrates to turn to (the latter in an oddly literal way), as well as the titular passengers who fly over her town and who get their own brief narrative interludes as Astrid sends her love to them and they hear or otherwise receive it. It’s no talking pagoda but I’m still intrigued.

I absolutely love the way King writes her teenagers and even their parents, absent as they may so far be, and her way with words still keeps me somehow both glued to the pages and flipping through them as fast as I can to find out how things are going to play out. I am really excited to keep poring over her backlist, though come come October you’ll probably find me gushing about her upcoming book, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, which, with a name like that, I could not possibly turn down.

Recommendation: For anyone who has ever been an over-thoughtful teen and fans of John Green who want a little more magic in their lives.

Rating: 9/10

Plain Truth, by Jodi Picoult (15 January — 16 January)

Oh, Jodi Picoult. Just when I’m so angry at you, the library suddenly has all of your books. I remembered this as one of Picoult’s books that Laura loved a bunch, so I grabbed it. Thank goodness I did!

Plain Truth starts with a girl secretly giving birth in a barn and hoping for God to solve her problem. She falls asleep holding her baby, but when she wakes up it’s gone, and that makes her pretty happy. Unfortunately, it is found in the morning, dead and hidden in a pile of clothing. Katie, eighteen years old and found bleeding from her vagina, is the prime suspect in the baby’s murder, but she is saying she never even had a baby.

Ellie, a high-powered defense attorney, has just completed the case of her life in acquitting a child molester and is feeling pretty dirty about the whole thing. She leaves Philadelphia and her lame-tastic boyfriend for some relaxing time near Amish country with her cousin Leda. Unfortunately for Ellie, Katie is Leda’s niece and Ellie finds herself not only representing an alleged baby-killer but also living and working on her farm as well.

I thought this novel was just great. I enjoyed learning about the Amish culture, and seeing how Ellie and Katie both had to make concessions to the other to make their partnership work. There was, as always, a bit of melodrama, and a nice neat little ending (I would love to cut out that page and just leave some ambiguity for the next reader, but the library probably frowns on that), but overall a good time and a much more engaging read than most of the books I’ve grabbed recently.

Rating: 8/10
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