The Power, by Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Five stars for creative premise and provocative themes, two stars for character development and plot, plus trigger warnings for rape and graphic violence. I really wanted to love this. Everyone loved it — my copy even has a sticker that says it was one of Barack Obama’s favorite reads of 2017! I was excited to read a book that was praised so universally, and I was naturally drawn to a world in which the power dynamic between genders is reversed by the development of electrical power in teenaged girls (i.e. ability to cast jolts of lightening from their hands). The girls then have the ability to awaken the power in older women such that before long all women can take down male opponents with a flash of electric current strategically thrown to stun, maim or kill as the situation warrants, or, as dictated by whim. My problem with this book is its devotion to pointing out every possible example of sexism in service to the theme, to the exclusion of genuine character and plot development (e.g., everything from men telling women they should smile more, claiming credit for their work, or dismissing them as too “emotional,” to using them as sex slaves and victims for gang rape — this all gets played out in the reverse). What makes it hard to read is that instead of a fairer, kinder, gentler world, the new matriarchy in this dystopia is every bit as sexist, brutal and violent as the current patriarchy. Provocative for sure, but not enjoyable to read. With most dystopian novels there is a character with whom to empathize, someone to root for. The mostly female characters in this novel all tilt towards deception and corruption. The only somewhat sympathetic character is a male journalist who doesn’t get a lot of play in the story and whose fate remains unresolved. The alternating POVs distract from a unified story. I genuinely admire the author’s creativity in constructing this utterly upended gender universe, I just wish there was something besides that to like or feel good about. I guess that’s more my problem than the author’s, but be forewarned that this is dystopian through and through. ~ Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Science Fiction

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, I’m biased. I’m a librarian, sucker for all things library. And this book defines all things library! It is a magnificently researched and sensitively wrought tale of the epic 1986 fire in the Los Angeles public library. It is hard to describe more deeply than that because Orlean goes off on such a wide array of fascinating tangents. Suffice it to say that it is a beautiful love letter to libraries, librarians and library patrons everywhere. Thank you, Susan Orlean, for your important message! ~ Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Narrative, Nonfiction

10% Happier, by Dan Harris

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened this this one and found it surprisingly entertaining! I say surprising because I’m not a big fan of the self-help genre and I don’t watch broadcast news, so I wasn’t optimistic about this combination. I am intrigued by meditation and there was no waitlist for this audiobook on my library’s Overdrive audiobook collection, so I dove in, albeit with trepidation. The other surprise came when I realized that Dan Harris is actually one of the many illustrious alums of the high school where I’m a librarian. Who knew? I found the book to strike a nice balance between interesting famous person’s backstory and well-researched journalistic content delivered with wry wit and self-effacing charm. I might even read his next book! ~ Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography/memoir, Nonfiction

Student Review: Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto (reviewed by Phoebe B.)

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory SchoolingDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One would think that someone who has been teaching in the public school system for 30 years would have minimal complaints about their job. John Taylor Gatto, however, has a nearly endless list of criticisms about America’s public school system in Dumbing Us Down. In this book, which is a collection of his own essays and speeches, he brings up many radical, uncommon ways to fix problems that he believes are catastrophic to students, teachers, and entire communities. Gatto is successful in opening the reader’s eyes and bringing up thought-provoking ideas, all with the aim of showing that the public education system is teaching students to function like machines. On the other hand, some of his ideas aren’t strongly backed up with quality evidence, as there are few legitimate statistics.

One example of an idea that Gatto strongly persuades readers to consider is that school is hindering the amount of family time students have. In his own words, he claims that “[Schools] separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives” (65). He blames the long days of school as the main reason for this, as it limits the time students spend with their families. This concept is relatable to all readers of Dumbing us Down, as it is in everyone’s interest to spend more quality time with their family, making this a successful point.

However, some of Gatto’s ideas leave the reader scratching their head. When talking about the benefits of being homeschooled, and that “…you don’t need officially certified teachers in officially certified schools to get a good education” (48), he doesn’t bring up a single statistic, whether it be about a difference in scores, social abilities, or overall satisfaction. Rather, he demolishes the idea of networks and how they “do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs” (51). Also, he fails to mention the massive number of job losses that would occur if legitimate school systems didn’t exist, whether it be teachers, janitors, or parents who now have to educate their children full-time. A major lack of direct evidence to support some of his ideas makes this collection a less reliable source, as there are often not facts, but weakly supported opinions.

Waiting for Superman is an excellent example of the benefits of facts. The film appears to be reliable, as strong facts are thrown left and right, leaving the viewer with more confidence in agreeing with the points made. Yes, the film is like Dumbing Us Down, created based on an opinion, but the abundance of facts in Waiting for Superman provides exactly what Gatto is missing: evidence-based arguments.

Overall, Dumbing Us Down brings up many ideas on the issues of public schools, including many that are unconventional and interesting. Gatto pulls the reader in successfully with a book that immediately starts with bashing the public school system, showing what he is expected to do as a teacher and how it is harming students. Nevertheless, the arguments in his book have an aggressive tone, and his immense use of strident, unconventional opinions hang in the air, unsupported by facts or statistics, making his argument weaker. ~ Student: Phoebe B.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under *Student Review

Student Review: Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto (reviewed by Henry W.)

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory SchoolingDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writer, teacher, and strong advocate of taking education and learning back from the government, John Taylor Gatto provides us with a well articulated treatise that leaves readers questioning our current school system. Gatto gives us a great review of how compulsory government schooling is just teaching the kids of America to follow orders like robots, rather than actually learn what is being taught in the school system.

Gatto describes that children are learning subjects “like they learn the catechism or memorize the Thirty-nine Articles of Anglicanism”(pg.3), sharing his view that children are learning everything the wrong way. Gatto’s solution to navigating the “tricks and traps” (pg. 104) of the school system is to get the parents of the children in these schools to teach them the things schools can’t such as being a leader, thinking critically and being able to act independently. However, bad school systems often times lead kids to fail and it’s not the kids fault but rather the schools fault. In the movie Waiting for Superman, a film about the state of public education in America, these schools are called “dropout factories”. These schools are given this nickname for the obvious reason that most of the kids who attend it end up dropping out. Like in the film, Gatto describes these compulsory school systems to be failing the kids by teaching them through the “hidden curriculum”. This destructive hidden curriculum is given by Gatto as the seven different lessons that he teaches. These lessons are confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem and one can’t hide. One of these lessons that really stands out is indifference. As shown in Waiting for Superman, classes can oftentimes be a huge waste of time where teachers can babble on for an hour and the students wouldn’t learn a thing, or classes can be run where the teacher feels no need to really teach anything because it simply doesn’t matter. This indifference of the importance of each individual lesson leads to students going from class not caring too much about anything. This basically means that when you switch between classes during the day, you stop caring/learning about what was in that class, and now you just learn about xyz in the next class.

Gatto also gives readers two excellent “official” ways to look at the state of education in the United States as well as how many people think we need to solve the education systems problems. Like in Waiting for Superman, Gatto correctly explains how many are blaming the failing schooling system on “bad teachers, poor textbooks, incompetent administrators, evil politicians”(pg. 85) etc, and all we need to do to fix this problem is just fire the bad teachers! Get rid of the evil politicians! However, reality is not so kind as to make it that simple. The evidence of this is clear if we all look at the large number of “industries that claim power to cure mass education of its frictions or of its demons in exchange for treasure” (pg. 85). This idea of being able to just fire a bad teacher to fix the problems of a school is shown in Waiting for Superman. One superintendent tried to do this in order to try and give his students a better education, but he was unsuccessful due to tenure. As Gatto explains, there is no “quick fix” to all of the major problems in our school system, and any change will take time and careful thought. ~ Student: Henry W.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under *Student Review, Nonfiction

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

LaRoseLaRose by Louise Erdrich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big Louise Erdrich fan and this novel did not disappoint. Set on the outskirts of a Native American reservation the story begins with tragedy: a neighbor accidentally shoots and kill’s his neighbor’s 6 year-old son while hunting in their adjacent woods. In an effort to provide solace and justice to the suffering family, he and his wife, who is a half-sister to the child’s mother, “give” their youngest son LaRose to the family. The rest of the story is dedicated to the collective grief the two families suffer and the family histories that led them to this point. The story is gripping at times with lots of foreboding and beautiful metaphors. The characters are complex and well-wrought and the history of mistreatment and exploitation of Native Americans is palpable throughout. A highly recommended read. ~ Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed revisiting John Green’s smart, snappy, snarky, funny prose after a long break. I also appreciated his insight into the mind of an obsessive, compulsive teen, something he portrayed with empathy and realism. The plot, a “mystery,” definitely felt like a device for him to explore the characters and their relationships, which didn’t bother me much because that part was done well, but a mystery reader would be seriously disappointed by the predictability and anticlimactic nature of the ending. Read it if you’re a John Green fan or if you suffer from or want to learn more about obsessive compulsive disorder. ~ Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary Realistic Fiction

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Mothers was an enjoyable read with a disappointing ending. The lack of a complete narrative arc left me wondering what the point of the story was, and in fact I wondered whether it was written as a cautionary tale for those considering abortion. Though the message was not actively anti-abortion, the teenaged abortion in this story seems to have left an indelible mark on the prospective mother, father, grandparents, friends and an entire church for years to come. Then again, the protagonist’s mother, who was apparently depressed over her fate which was decided at a young age due to an unplanned pregnancy, committed suicide. Maybe the message is just not to risk an unplanned pregnancy because you’re damned either way. The story was well-written, but felt unfinished. ~ Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary Realistic Fiction

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the WorldA Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, a wonderful work of well-researched historical fiction. I’m a sucker for anything set in Maine, and when you add in a fictionalized but realistic account of the backstory of one of my favorite works of American art, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, I’m a goner. The characters are fully developed and the alternately bleak and beautiful setting in mid-coast Maine is so vivid I can feel the fog on my face and the dried field grass prickling my feet. As is the case with all good historical fiction, I found myself learning about what life was like during a bygone era while being fully transported by the story. Be warned, however, this is not an uplifting book. Life was hard and disappointing, and you will suffer with Christina as you read it, but it will be worth it. ~Ms Dimmick

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Fiction

Royals by Rachel Hawkins

RoyalsRoyals by Rachel Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a review of an advance reader copy, the book is scheduled to be published May 2018.

Daisy Winters is not exactly your typical Florida teenager – sure she’s got a job at the local convenience store, boy troubles and all the standard teen drama, but she’s also got an mermaid princess hair, an ex-British rock star for a father, and oh yeah, a sister who just got engaged to the future King of Scotland.

Hawkins was clearly *thrilled* with the announcement of Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry – the timing could not have been better for her YA romance. The story follows Daisy as she heads to Scotland for the summer to meet her royal soon to be in-laws, dodging paparazzi and drunken minor royals. There were a few too many barely sketched out characters – if even Daisy can’t keep the group of friends around the prince’s younger brother straight, how is the reader supposed to? – and the main “villain,” the current Queen of Scotland, is a bit one-note. The romance ends up exactly where you think it will, but that’s perfectly fine for this sort of book. Something nice and fun to read while waiting for the real royal wedding.

View all my reviews

~ Ms Schoen

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Romance