Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

We can all agree that it is rare for a reboot to rival the original. But in this world, where #MeToo and #WeNeedDiverseBooks live, I have found you a single novel that can be a gateway drug to fine literature, world literature, and women’s literature.

Unmarriageable is indeed “Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan.” But more importantly, it is the version of Pride and Prejudice modern students NEED to read. While a modern Westerner can intellectually understand the dilemma of Elizabeth Bennet in 19th century Regency Britain, the predicament of her and her sisters is somewhat removed emotionally for us. Women’s lives got better. Women became able to inherit and work and even marry for love. Having this tale play out in modern day Pakistan adds a level of reality and urgency to the story that is hard to experience from the original with our perfect historical hindsight.

Simply put, Unmarriageable has legs because so many of the original norms Austen wrote about are still at work in the world today. We read stories about honor killings, forced and arranged marriages, preference of boys to girls, shooting of girls going to school from all over the globe (not just South Asia). And in this novel, we see the seeds of how small micro-aggressions lay the ground work for macro-aggressions against the disenfranchised.

Because Unmarriageable is able to step just a bit beyond Austen’s exposure of the misogyny of the day, I hope and encourage educators to read it and consider adding it into your ELA curriculum. Unmarriageable not only presents the plight of women, especially “older” unmarried women, but also touches upon the struggles of gay men, interracial couples, unwed pregnant women, plus sized women, and class biases. And while the setting is Pakistan, many of these biases hit disturbingly close to the mark in Western society too. This book will also give educators an opportunity to teach about Partition, colonial occupation, India-Pakistan relations, Islam, the importance of education to women. And it may help some students realize how little they know about this important, populous and critical area of the world.


Dear ELA Teachers Everywhere,

Please put down your copy of Pride and Prejudice. Just stick in that drawer next to you. Now open your computer and place an order for a class set of Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal (due out January 2019). Your Jane Austen discussions are about to get wild.

#Unmarriageable #NetGalley @Soniah Kamal

Information Literacy – Part Deux

Screenshot 2018-10-31 18.11.08This afternoon I watched a really interesting Webinar on Digital Forensics (via Common Sense Media and EdWeb).  The speaker, from the News Literacy Project, was @PeterD_Adams . He had some great insights and I recommend watching his presentation (free from the above websites).  But in case you want the crib notes, here is my Very Important takeaway.

Peters highly discourages having students create Fake news or Fake Tweets (all easy to do on many many websites or via apps these days).  I wasn’t sure I liked this idea (having created a few myself for teaching purposes.)  Yet, the more he talked, the more I agreed.  In most classes or courses, we don’t ask students to do something incorrectly in order to learn the right way.  (“Please incorrectly solve this equation” or “Please use poor grammar in this essay”).  Rather we accept accidental errors as opportunities to learn but we don’t assign improper tasks.

Peter recommends that we treat the multitude of websites and apps that can create Fakes like pollution – something you notice in order to plan to avoid it in the future.  It makes sense.  EVERYTHING on the Web is there FOREVER. So no matter how you try, you can’t really purge your Fake creation – even if it was created just for sake of a class or as an example.  In some instances, purging a Fake might give you no forum to explain that it was a Fake (think Twitter).  This is especially egregious if your Fake went viral.

No, there are (alas) MANY good opportunities to decry Fakes without us making our own.  Peter recommends not just NewsLit.org but also Checkology, Snopes.com, factcheck,org, Politifact.  All have great examples that can be used while at the same time promoting beneficial, digital citizenship positive sites. This has the added benefit of denying the Fake Creation websites clicks, which in turn denies them revenue.  Because, as Peter pointed out, that is ALL Fakes are – a way to drive revenue (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-38168281 or read Peters analysis at https://newslit.org/get-smart/rumor-review-denzel-washington-supports-trump-false/).



My Plain Jane

So there is this Thing in books. I think it must also be in film and TV as well but I am not an expert in the writing of either. It is one of those Things you don’t realize or appreciate until it has been broken. Indeed, violating this Thing can sometimes be a great story vehicle and sometimes it can be a cop-out. The Thing is the fourth wall…. that window that readers or viewers get to peak through when consuming a story. Think of The Office (US) and how periodically Jim stares into the camera, talks directly to the audience. That is the breaking of the fourth wall.

I bring this up because I think it can be quite difficult to do. And it is done in My Plain Jane and done well such that it was unobtrusive. The direct conversation with the Reader provides context for the era, a useful tool considering the target audience is probably not familiar with the Victorian Age and its historical nuances. It also supplies a fair bit of the humor… including some that will appeal to young activists, particularly in the US.

This is the second in the “Jane” series – focusing on Jane Eyre and her writer, Charlotte Bronte (oh, and her brother). It is a fun, paranormal retelling of the Eyre story and is enhanced with a knowledge of Jane Eyre (such as Charlotte Bronte’s male pseudonym) though that isn’t strictly necessary. The novel is not scary despite the ghost plot line and it is has the morality of the time (so no sex, drugs, or rock n roll). The reading level would make it suitable for Middle Grades and above. But most importantly, this would be a truly entertaining hook for students into the original Jane Eyre novel and all the controversies it brought up in its own time.

I am obviously a proponent of reading for fun. But I am coming around to the idea that all school “assigned” reading really should be for pleasure’s sake. Comprehension as a skill is a by-product of empathy for characters and their travails. Trying to teach it is possible but so much more difficult than letting it happen naturally.

So Readers, allow me to break the fourth wall as well and directly implore you. If you don’t want to read the book assigned, dare your English teacher to let you choose your own reading material. Bring them your favourite stories and ask them to compare them to the classics. And if they don’t, demand they enter your reading world by writing your essays about how Hunger Games relates to the Odyssey or compare Steampunk and Victorian novels. Your reading choices are vast and varied and deserve validation.

As for My Plain Jane, this is one strong sample of the way that modern authors are handing out gold-gilded invitations to ELA teachers to join their students in reading first for fun.

The Black Witch Chronicles : The Iron Flower

It was a good week for me as it comes to books.  One of my recent favourite series had a book birthday!  The Iron Flower (part of Laurie Forest’s Black Witch Chronicles) is continuing to sooth my soul during these crazy times.

One of the things I love about this series is the way in which it humanizes conflict on all sides.  You appreciate why one group of people are bitter.  You understand why another group can’t forgive.  But because you see folks on all sides at different times in the conflict, you know that these enemies are living and breathing the same emotions and worries and concerns.  They are outwardly distinct and inwardly homogenious.

And even if you didn’t want to be given any sense of perspective on this world (BTW, why are you reading Sci-fi Fantasy then?), it is a really good book.

Screenshot 2018-09-27 20.43.53.pngFast paced, amazing world building, empathetic characters, and a plot that can not be presumed.  For YA and Adult readers.




Screenshot 2018-09-15 18.23.24 A few weeks back, that is before the school year and all that comes with it began, I saw a blurb about this novel, Vox.  It was described as a modern Handmaid’s Tale and has definite 1984 vibes.  I picked up the Kindle/Audible version to share with my daughter.

The story is set in a near future America in which women have had the number of words they are allowed to say in a day limited to 100.  The enforcement is electronic and automatic.  Writing and sign language are similarly discouraged.  Thus too reading is restricted.

It doesn’t sound like a happy book.  And it isn’t. But it does make for a fascinating read.  Our heroine is married with sons and one young daughter.  She is also a researcher on aphasia, a type of language malfunction in the brain.  So when a man with connections high up in government comes down with aphasia, she is offered the chance to temporarily have her word limit removed while she seeks a remedy.

How do you plan a revolution when you have no words?  That is the crux of Vox.  After a subtle erosion of rights, one day women couldn’t get passports anymore.  And then they couldn’t read or write or talk.  If women can’t communicate effectively what does that do to their ability to protect themselves?  In a world where #MeToo wars with the erosion of women’s health care choices, what happens if we all just stay silent?

This book is less about the destruction by men of women’s ability to be self-determinative, though that is defintely there.  It is more about how women must come from behind with their bravery, to throw off the shackles of pleasantries and niceties to confront injustice head on.  This is not simple.  I can appreciate the dichotomy of finding it a necessitity to confronting an injustice head on while still excusing minor slights.  That happens because I am uncomfortable with confrontation.  But why am I uncomfortable with confrontation?  What tiny little ‘microagressions’ have kept me from calling out tiny little ‘microagressions’?  If I see them, will I be able to overcome what has been engrained in me and act?  Vox is very much about the results, personal and societal, of choosing silence and acquesience.  As a woman raised with manners, this struck a chord in my Southern heart.  It does not promise a road map but will show you the order of the funeral procession if we lose.

Read.  Absorb.  Reflect.  Act.

Click’d By Tamara Ireland Stone

You should know that I am a TIS fan in general. Her book Every Last Word almost single-handedly convinced me to start reading regular (non-SF) fiction. In this, her middle grade debut, Stone tackles a very, very timely concern for parents, students and teachers – social media. In Click’d, middle school student Allie Navarro creates a social media app during a girls coding camp. Her app, named logically Click’d, analyses data and lets people know more about the folks around them, to hopefully find new friends. Of course, we wouldn’t have a story without a conflict and the one in Click’d is surprisingly sophisticated and stems not from a bullying trope but from a developer’s ethics situation. There is some light romance (middle age kids/middle age relationship issues), strong smart characters, and in my not-at-all-biased-opinion a VERY realistic and incredibly helpful school full of teachers and staff. I only wish the awesome computer science teacher was a Librarian :). Go. Read. Enjoy!

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (revisited)

Another recent sequel – and so another review reboot!
From 2017 :
“Maybe Norbert would enjoy a play date.”  Hagrid, Harry Potter
This is first book of the year I really felt compelled to finish and the first of those I have reviewed here to break the 4.0 barrier. The Bone Witch is a dark, high fantasy style novel with elements of Japanese/Geisha tradition woven in a magical, medieval setting.  The story is narrated by a Bard, who relays the story HE is hearing from our Bone Witch, who is telling the story as she prepares to enter a quest of unknown purpose.  The book is a look-back, prequel, origin story about our Bone Witch and only time (and sequels) will tell if we learn the reasoning and outcome of the unnamed quest.  Don’t worry, the story is satisfying in and of itself.
The world building here is delicious, not hackneyed in any way.  The magic has reasonable rules and its use takes a cost that is very reasonable and fair.  The local mythology is gently introduced but clearly plays an important role in the day to day affairs of the land.  The author’s voice is clear and seems effortless.  If I had to find fault it would be in the use of some banal vocab (biriyani) while the majority of the culture seems based on new vocabulary (hua). Consistency would be nice.
Overall, a book fantasy readers will enjoy.  Though it did not quite bust the 4.5. ceiling, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was optioned for the screen.  So read it soon!
4 for reading it all the way through in one sitting
5 for story arc as the three individual story arcs (the religious mythology, the Bard’s, the Bone Witch’s) are all cleverly intertwined ultimately
4 expanding my horizons as I enjoyed both the Asian influences and the high fantasy style though neither are my usual preference
5 for cleverness and richness, story was well laid out, well presented and yet had no excess fat that I could see
4 for voice as the author’s word choice and tone kept me in the story and engaged
Buy the Kindle or Hardcover from Amazon with these links.

Why did I wait so long to read…..

I am a stubborn cuss at times.  It took me FOREVER to read any Harry Potter (well into the publishing of Book 3, I think).  And although I have been watching the book media circus around Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series, it wasn’t until this summer when I was looking to read something just for me that I tried it.  Yeah, she IS good.

Screenshot 2018-07-18 14.03.16.png

Some books are excellent because of their story, some for their wording, some for their characters, some for their descriptions, some for their ingenuity, some for their world-building.  Possibly only Harry Potter has been equivalently excellent on all of these.  Raven Boys is really approaching the finish line close behind.  The characters are unique, the story is ingenious, the setting is rich, the word choice is perfect in that evokes good mental imagery without being too wordy (ahem, a Game of the Thrones fail!), and the style, the voice, is lyrical.  I was initially surprised that the audiobook version was read by a man (since I expect books by women to be read by women, especially when the first character introduced is a woman).  But I find myself looking forward to times when I can put on this narrator (Will Patton).  He really embodies one of the second book’s characters and so seems logical now that I am into Book 3.

Word choice is a funny thing.  I prefer to read a style of author who doesn’t use long or complicated words to get her point across.  I like it when an author can use normal, everyday words in a unique combination to really create an image.  This author has THAT!  Here, look!

“Her mother had asked Blue if she would go along as usual, but it wasn’t really a question. Blue had always gone; she would go this time. It was not as if she had made plans for St. Mark’s Eve. But she had to be asked. Maura had decided sometime before Blue’s birth that it was barbaric to order children about, and so Blue had grown up surrounded by imperative question marks.”

Maggie Stiefvater. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, Book 1) . Scholastic Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Or this…. I love the phrase “the ruin was cupped in the densely wooded hills”.  Why yes, I do understand that the ruin sits there.  But I also get the idea that it is gently held, welcome, if somewhat hidden, by the landscape, a part of the hills themselves.  Ahhhhh.  Like a cool drink of water, the author’s simple but sweet word choice let’s in a wide audience of readers.

So I am off to finish this series and to work on some of my other rebelliously ignored choices.  What have YOU purposely avoided trying because everyone loved it?

Classic problem – kids won’t read classics

If you are interested in trying to get your kids/students to read the Classics, consider scaffolding the book with something that visually attracts the attention of a kid.  You can get MANY of the Classics in Graphic Novel form.  There has also been the same upswing in remaking books that we see in remaking movies and TV shows and songs.  And biographies of author’s have spawned another entry method for young readers.  Sir Author Conan Doyle is almost as popular a literary detective as Sherlock!  Or consider the recently released, Mary’s Monster.

Screenshot 2018-07-18 13.34.52It is actually a graphic, mostly factual account of how Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein.  It is a short but really visually pleasing read.  It has a creepy feel suitable for upper middle school and above.  Screenshot 2018-07-18 13.34.31And it MADE me want to read the book – something I have never had the desire to do before.  I mentioned this on Twitter and someone tweeted back info about this site Frakenbook (https://www.frankenbook.org/) where the book is available with a huge twist and a definite improvement for the media savvy student who could use the analysis and support of well regarded critics and students alike.Screenshot 2018-07-18 13.33.24

Teachers, this one is for you….  what a great group read option.  And PS – and Frakenbook is FREE to use – no login required.

So, how are you doing with your summer reading and planning?