Forward: Stories of Tomorrow

Forward: Stories of TomorrowForward: Stories of Tomorrow Edited by Blake Crouch (website, Twitter), written by Veronica Roth, Blake Crouch, NK Jemisin (Twitter), Amor Towles (Twitter), Paul Tremblay (Twitter), and Andy Weir (Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrators: Evan Rachel Wood, Rosa Salazar, Jason Isaacs, David Harbour, Steven Strait, and Janina Gavankar

Source: my own collection

Length: 08:24:00

Published by: Brilliance Audio (8 Oct 2019)

This short story collection features six stories on the future state of society. Most are dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings, and others are scary in how recognizable they are. 

I like short story collections written by a variety of authors. There is something for everyone in those kinds of anthologies and, though it’s not typical to like every story included, generally there are a couple gems that make the entire collection worthwhile. I found that to be true for Forward as well. There was really only one story I truly didn’t care for, but the rest, even the ones I didn’t love, all put in a solid showing.

“Ark” by Veronica Roth was maybe my favorite story in the collection. It is a surprising look at a handful of people and their lives in the last days before a world-destroying asteroid is due to hit Earth. I enjoyed the exploration of what makes a place “home” as well as the remarkably hopeful ending.

“Summer Frost” by Blake Crouch was one of my least favorite in the collection, mostly because I don’t care much about AI or gaming. Even so, it was an interesting topic and very well written, which made up almost entirely for any lack on my part. It dealt with themes of identity and awareness as well as what makes us human.

“Emergency Skin” by NK Jemisin was also maybe my favorite story in the collection. It is told from the point of view of an AI embedded in the brain of a man who is sent to Earth to collect vital samples. Earth isn’t what the man was led to believe, and it raises excellent questions about what makes an advanced civilization advanced. 

“You Have Arrived at Your Destination” by Amor Towles is a really intriguing think-piece about what ramifications there might be when we choose the kinds of children we have. It also makes the main character, as well as me, think about his own choices in the past. 

“The Last Conversation” by Paul Tremblay. This was easily my least favorite of the lot. I thought it dragged on and on. It was a story about consciousness and ethics. 

“Randomize” by Andy Weir was a look at the function of the future of computers and they ways in which they can be misused. Set in a relatively benign setting – Las Vegas – it took apart ways people can use technology to do criminal things. It was interesting, but I wasn’t sure it really felt very “future” to me. Other than the quantum computers, there wasn’t much that struck me as being sci-fi or dystopian or post-apocalyptic at all, but it was a recognizable setting that brought an immediacy to the story. 

Favorite stories (in this order):

  • Ark by Veronica Roth. Who knew the apocalypse could be so hopeful? (Tied with Emergency Skin)
  • Emergency Skin by NK Jemisin. What a cool twist! (Tied with Ark)
  • You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles. Who hasn’t thought about designing one’s own children?

Favorite narrators (in this order):

  • Jason Isaacs (Emergency Skin). Though I expect nothing less from him, Jason Isaacs delivered a thoroughly riveting performance. He does tons of accents flawlessly and made the point of view character who narrates the story sound utterly disgusted with its observations. Disgusted, but still funny in that dry manner the Brits pull off so well. I hope Audible uses him as a narrator a LOT more.
  • David Harbour (You Have Arrived at Your Destination). He’s just reading the story, but he puts feeling into it. Nothing overacted or melodramatic, but just a super entertaining narration. 
  • Janina Gavankar (Randomize). Gavankar elevated what I thought was one of the weaker stories in the collection and made it a lot more interesting with her skillful narration. As with Jason Isaacs, she had a broad range of accents and inflections that really brought the characters to life.

Drastic Measures (Star Trek Discovery)

Star Trek Discovery Drastic MeasuresDrastic Measures (Star Trek: Discovery) by Dayton Ward (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 400 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (6 Feb 2018)

***I’m not even going to pretend this post doesn’t have spoilers. It has all the spoilers.***

Drastic Measures takes place about 10 years prior to the Battle of the Binary Stars in Discovery, and focuses mainly on Gabriel Lorca with Philippa Georgiou playing a large key role. Set on Tarsus IV, Lieutenant Commander Lorca is in command of a small outpost on the colony planet. When a large group of colonists from another world are relocated to Tarsus after a natural disaster on their own planet, Tarsus finds itself suddenly infected with a spore which destroys nearly all the colony’s food supplies. Help is weeks away, by which time the colonists will mostly have starved to death. Lorca and his small team at the outpost give all their uncontaminated food to the colonists, hoping to buy some time. But a lack of strong leadership in the colony’s government results in the ouster of the governor Gisela Ribiero, who is replaced by Adrian Kodos, known to the Trekverse as Kodos the Executioner. 

Kodos’ plan is really a final solution. Gathering up those colonists he has deemed to have less value, he and his supporters slaughter 4,000 unarmed citizens in an attempt to save the rest of the colony from starvation. The colony, reeling in shock and grief, is relieved only days later by the arrival of the starship USS Narbonne, bearing Commander Philippa Georgiou and a team of doctors and scientists ready to help the colonists. With medical and food aid now available, Lorca is free to head up the hunt for Kodos, which he takes up with a vengeance because he also suffered a personal loss during Kodos’s “Sacrifice.” 

This entire novel was a nice homage to TOS with the inclusion of a teenage Jim Kirk. The TOS episode “The Conscience of the King” referred to a tragic event in the past life of Kirk. This is that story, but it is solidly anchored in the Discovery cast with Kirk only making a very small cameo in this nice. I thought that was very deftly written. It also fills in a couple continuity gaps from a hazy past event in Federation history deserving of more notice.

Some of the writing seems a little out of character. For example, the massacre on Tarsus IV didn’t really appear to affect Lorca all that much. This is not Mirror Lorca, he’s Prime Lorca. He should have been horrified, maybe even in tears, over the thousands of deaths, especially since his girlfriend was among them. He could probably still do his duty as an officer but it didn’t seem believable that he could just shake it off like that, or compartmentalize things so thoroughly. He is still human, and not from the Mirror universe, which would make more sense with his reactions. There was a lot of telling rather than showing that Lorca was upset, and because of that, it didn’t seem genuine. It was only near the end that we saw him act in a manner that might be consistent with the behavior of a grieving man. Throughout the novel, a lot of the things Lorca said or did were inconsistent with a Prime universe Starfleet officer, which is disappointing because it may not be at all the way Prime Lorca would act if he were to appear in the show. Ahem. I think this is an excellent argument in favor of bringing back Lorca in the series; we only ever saw Mirror Lorca in the show, so we really don’t know who the “real” Lorca is. I would very much like to. I mean, I’d be cool with it in real life, too. Hello, Jason Isaacs…*drool*

B&W Jason Isaacs
Oh, hai there! Image credit: Brian Higbee, Interview Magazine, https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/jason-isaacs

I thought Ward did pretty well with his portrayal of a younger Georgiou. She was not a captain yet, was clearly not as seasoned or wise as she is in the show, which makes sense. She only made a couple witty jokes, which is sort of a trademark for her in the show. But we could see in this story that she had the potential for that woman we get to know later, and it is always fun to see characters grow into their roles over time. 

I don’t mind that this is a Discovery book only in that there are two characters in this book who are also in the series. It’s called a backstory for a reason. All the characters in any series have a history, if it is a well written and complex world; none of them spring fully formed into the people they are in whatever TV show. So I think some of the lower ratings this book received are unfair and unrealistic. Was it a perfect book? By no means. It had plenty of flaws, perhaps even more than the average Trek novel. Yes, it dragged a bit in parts. Yes, the characters seem off. But I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt because it was likely in the process of being written as season 1 of the show was unfolding. Ward’s portrayal of Lorca as kind of a dick in places seems justified, since that is what we knew for most of season 1. We still didn’t know the characters well yet, and I think Ward did a good job incorporating what we did know with what he wrote. 

But! PRIME LORCA!! PRIME LORCA IN THE MIRROR UNIVERSE!! Who else could it be at the very end there if not Prime Lorca?? OMG please let there be a forthcoming book (or, preferably, books) about Prime Lorca and his stories in the Mirror Universe! Where can I preorder it? Shut up and take my money!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • “It won’t be easy,” said Georgiou. 

“Nothing worth doing ever is.”

  • Lorca said, “Utopia’s easy when everything works and all your basic needs are met. We tend to think we’ve traveled this long path toward peace and prosperity, but take away the necessities of living and it’s a short walk back to our baser instincts.”
  • “Upholding a set of ideals can be difficult, and sometimes it’s damned cruel. Being able to do that, especially during times of adversity and crisis and even great personal tragedy, is the true test of anyone privileged to wear this.” Reaching up, she tapped her chest to indicate her Starfleet uniform. “We’re bound to uphold and defend those ideals, but the harder job is living up to them.” 
  • “…Shannon, don’t you have something for Commander Georgiou?”

Instead of replying, Shannon held up the doll in her right hand. The stuffed Andorian companion now sported two antennae thanks to Georgiou’s repair efforts, and she noted that it had been cleaned since she last saw it. 

“I want you to take him. Maybe he can bring you luck now.”

The simple gesture was enough to elicit tears, and Georgiou reached up to wipe her eyes. “Thank you, sweetheart. I promise to take good care of him.”

  • The paper resting in the palm of his hand, Lorca studied the words it contained. 

Hate is never conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. 

 

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2)

17201685The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2) by John Scalzi (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: William Dufris

Source: my own collection

Length: 10:25:00

Published by: Macmillan Audio (11 March 2008)

The second in the Old Man’s War series, The Ghost Brigades focuses on the section of troops within the Colonial Defense Forces that are bred purely for fighting. Jared Dirac is something of an exception. He is a hybrid of the superhuman CDF soldiers and Charles Boutin, a notorious turncoat. The idea had been to transplant Boutin’s memories into a CDF clone of himself, but that failed and so Jared was given to the Ghost Brigades. Eventually, Jared’s ability to access Boutin’s memories works and he and his fellow soldiers go to hunt down the real Boutin before an alien alliance can devastate all of humanity. 

I think this is my least favorite Scalzi novel so far. It isn’t badly written or boring, but I felt it was a little long on discussion and a little short on action until near the end. To be fair, it would be hard, I think, to improve upon the titular novel in the series, Old Man’s War, which was one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read in years. Ghost Brigades wasn’t a sequel so much as a standalone novel set in the same world as OMW. I like standalone books and get weary of series that go on forever. 

Overall, this was fun and well worth the time to listen to it, but my favorite Scalzi is still Redshirts. 🙂 

Fear Itself (Star Trek: Discovery)

37542594Fear Itself (Star Trek: Discovery) by James Swallow (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 290 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (5 June 2018)

Lieutenant Saru is a Kelpien, a species that is the prey of an apex predator species on his homeworld of Kaminar, and the only one of his kind in Starfleet. It is his nature to be fearful of everything, because he knows that the universe is a harsh place and fear can keep you alive. But on a rescue mission to assist an unaligned vessel in distress, Saru decides to try to overcome his fearful nature and steps out of protocol. As a result, he finds himself in command of an away team on a hostile ship that is then overtaken by a separate species. Saru’s next steps could either resolve an escalating situation between two belligerent races or be the first salvo in a war. 

On the show, Saru is basically everything Starfleet stands for. He is smart and honorable and can, when necessary, step past his fears and rise to the occasion. That said, he is still not one of my favorite characters. However, this book went a long way to remedying my thoughts on him. We get a back story that helps to explain the officer he is today and why he might act in certain ways. I would have liked to get more of Saru’s history in general – why did he get asylum in the Federation, what was his life like immediately after coming to Federation space, etc., and maybe we will get that in a future novel – but overall, the author captured the Saru from the show really well, aged him down a few years, and gave an entirely credible portrayal of a less-experienced officer. 

I really love the way Georgiou is such a mentor to all her officers. She could have busted Saru down to ensign. She could have tossed him in the brig and shipped him off for court martial. She could have yelled and screamed and dressed him down like anything. But she didn’t. She let him squirm a while, then she asked him what he learned from the experience. She asked him if he would make the same mistakes again in the future. She let him know that, while his actions were not acceptable, they aren’t insurmountable and taught him that even when everything goes sideways, there is learning to be had from it. 

I also like the way we see Saru and Burnham’s relationship and learn it was always a bit antagonistic. She had a fairly minor role in this novel, which makes sense since it’s Saru’s story, but I really like that, actually. Star Trek is often such a collaboration that there really isn’t just one main character. It is nice to get novels focusing on just one person or another, at least on occasion. I really hope future novels will be able Stamets and Georgiou or even the less central characters like Detmer or Owosekun. I am delighted that the next book is about Lorca, my new massive crush, though I inadvertently read these out of order and that should have been the second Discovery novel. 

Overall, a fun new addition to an awesome new Trek fandom. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

 

  • You always expect the worst, Saru. Yes, he had replied, but I always hope for the best.

 

  • That’s the thing that separates a good officer from a great one, knowing when to bend and when to be firm. … If you want to command a starship one day, you need to learn when to make those calls. When to show boldness and when to use restraint.
  • Saru’s certainty that danger and death awaited him did not shade his life in morose tones. It made him all the more determined to live it, down to the very last second.
  • Violence will not change the facts. You cannot coerce reality into re-forming itself to your needs with a destructive act. 
  • “We are the sum of our natures. We’re all on the path that our birthright set out for us.” “I’m not sure if I agree,” [Saru] replied, taking another sip of tisane. “I took a different path from the one I was born into.” “Did you? Ejah smiled again. “Or did you just follow the way to the path that had been right for you all along?”
  • Compassion is not weakness. Enduring is not living. And belligerence is not strength. 
  • Now, as he had then, he pushed back with all the strength he could muster, struggling to free himself from the inexorable gravity of the terror. If he could just stop himself from giving in to the burning fear for a second more, for ten seconds more, a minute, then he could hold it back. I am afraid, he told himself. But it shall not rule me

 

Desperate Hours (Star Trek Discovery)

32841842._sy475_Desperate Hours (Star Trek Discovery) by David Mack (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 384 pp

Published by: Gallery Book (26 Sept 2017)

I’m super, super, remarkably behind on reading the newest Star Trek novels. Like, I think I have 15 or so I haven’t got around to yet, so I’m a good 2 ½ to 3 years behind. This is a project I am looking forward to correcting.

Anyway. Desperate Hours is the first Star Trek Discovery novel, and it was terrific. This is set about a year before the Shenzhou’s mission to the binary stars and the star of the actual show. Michael Burnham is promoted to acting first officer when Captain Philippa Gregory’s previous exec officer left for his own command. But if Michael wants to keep the job, she has to prove that she deserves it. The opportunity for her to do just that presents itself in the form of a colony under attack. Burnham learns to think outside the box while still adhering to Starfleet protocols, and in the process, attempts to avert a disaster created by Starfleet’s own rules. 

This read just like an action-packed episode. I like the self-contained story line; I get very tired of multi-book story arcs or series that go on forever and you have to read each book in order or you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I actually really miss that about the old numbered Trek books. One book = one story. 

The characters were really well done in this. Mack has a terrific handle on them and they seemed like themselves as they are in the series. I did notice a couple minor things that made it obvious that this was written before certain episodes, like calling Saru’s homeworld Kelpia. Just a couple things that were explained later or in different detail in the show, but nothing that detracted from the overall quality of the novel. 

Michael’s character was the best; she is very much like she’s portrayed in the show, but it is obvious that she’s younger, less experienced, and not just because the book says she’s younger. It’s a testament to Mack’s writing skills that he could craft a thoroughly credible version of a character many of us already know and love well. 

Very much looking forward to reading the rest of them, and all future Discovery novels as well. I hope we get a lot more with Lorca. Ye gods, that man is fine. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • This was everything she had feared Starfleet would be when she had first been courted to its service by Sarek and Captain Georgiou: reactionary, shortsighted, blinded by a knee-jerk impulse to seek security at the expense of knowledge. Then the advice of Sarek echoed in her memory: If that is what you find, it is up to you to change it for the better
  • “Nondisclosure contracts?” Pike wondered for a cynical moment what century he was living in.
  • …the essential nature of life and the universe is impermanence: everything changes, and everything ends. Trying to resist that truth is the root of all suffering. 
  • “Most of them will never know how close they came to nearly losing everything.” “That’s probably true for all of us, at one time or another,” Georgiou said. 
  • “Don’t give up hope,” he said. “Selfishness will go away once the universe runs out of sentient beings.”

 

Priestess of Ishana – free for a limited time!

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Judith Starkston’s PRIESTESS OF ISHANA is available free on Amazon Oct 2-6 in anticipation of the Oct 14 launch of the next book in the series, Sorcery in Alpara. An award-winning historical fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic. 

“What George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic…” -Amalia Carosella, author of Helen of Sparta

Wishful Drinking

9857108Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Her Grace’s rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: memoir

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Carrie Fisher

Source: public library

Length: 03:06:00

Published by: S&S (1 Jan 2009)

Carrie Fisher reads one of her memoirs, focusing on her various addictions and bipolar disorder. For as sad as much of the book was, she managed to make it hilarious. I actually didn’t care for her narration as much as I thought I would, given how much I enjoy Fisher’s various performances. But still, this is a great insight into one of Hollywood’s own. 

I read this in part because I wanted to, I still miss my General, and because it ticks a box for Read Harder. I definitely recommend it for anyone who is a fan of Carrie Fisher.

The Lost Queen

41971059._sx318_The Lost Queen by Signe Pike (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Genre: historical fantasy

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Toni Frutin

Source: my own collection

Length: 17:44:00

Published by: Touchstone (4 Sept 2018)

In 6th century Scotland, twins are born to Morkan, a petty king of Cadzow. Languoreth and her brother Lailoken lived in a time when the old ways are being destroyed by Christianity, and the result is political instability and conflict. Although Languoreth wants nothing more than to become a Wisdom Keeper (Pike’s term for Druid), it is Lailoken who is chosen for that path. Languoreth is married to Rhydderch, a son of the High King Tutgual who is sympathetic to Christian interests. Rhydderch adheres to the old ways but his fairly tyrannical father has converted. Languoreth’s duty to her people is to act as their emissary, protecting and preserving the old ways as best she can. Through politics, strategic marriage, and ties of loyalty, Languoreth fights for her beliefs. Alongside Languoreth are Maelgwn, a Dragon Soldier for Emrys Pendragon and her lover; her foster brother Gwenddolau, later called the Other Pendragon, or Uther; and her brother Lailoken, who the common people began calling Mad Man – Myrddin, known to history as Merlin. 

Languoreth of Strathclyde was a historical woman, mostly forgotten by history. Thus, the ‘lost’ queen. Fantasy that is based in reality is the best kind, in my opinion, because it takes a beloved story and turns it into something that might actually have happened. No matter how much we suspend our disbelief for the sake of entertainment, it is hard to imagine that a boy really did pull a sword out of a stone and that magic forged the historical foundation of Britain. It is thrilling, though, to find real evidence of men and women on whom the legends are based. Signe Pike did an absolutely stellar job in creating a believable and complex novel on the basis of bits of information. 

The politics in this novel are detailed and readers feel the stress, uncertainty, and fear produced by it. The tensions between the old ways and the new religion are vividly depicted and reflect an awareness of modern social issues as well as ancient. 

The creation of this world and the characters who will eventually become the well-known figures of Arthurian is intricately drawn out. It is not always a fast-paced novel, so for people who want all action, all the time, this may not be the book for you. For me, though, I’ve finally found a book that can replace The Mists of Avalon as a book I can recommend. 

I had initially skimmed an ARC of this from Netgalley and left a brief review. However, I enjoyed it so much that I bought both the hard copy and audio version. I have to say, the narrator, Toni Frutin, is amazing. I don’t know why she hasn’t narrated more audiobooks, because she absolutely ought to. I also liked hearing the way some of the words are pronounced, which definitely didn’t happen when I eyeball read it. 

There were some things I wanted more of, like Ariane needed more time in the story, I had thought. However, this is just part one of a trilogy, so I am hopeful she will make another appearance in the later books. Maybe she will wind up being the Lady of the Lake or something. 

Overall, highly recommended. I am looking forward to reading the next installment. 

Favorite part/ lines:

  • We may not always have the choice we would like. But we always have a 

choice.

 

 

Sorcery in Alpara

47870793._sy475_Sorcery in Alpara by Judith Starkston (website, Twitter, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Genre: historical fantasy

I read it as an: ARC

Source: digital ARC from the author

Length: 439 pp

Published by: Bronze Age Books (14 Oct 2019)

This second novel in Starkston’s Tesha series picks up right where the first story, Priestess of Ishana, left off. Tesha and Hattu are newly married and traveling to Alpara, his capitol city. Tesha is to be crowned as Hattu’s queen and rule beside him. Instead, as they travel through hostile lands, a dark force attacks Hattu and his army. Tesha frees the army through the use of her skills as a priestess of Ishana, but at a steep price. Tesha is drained of her strength and power, unable to move or speak. As she gradually recovers, under the care of her sister Daniti, it becomes clear to Tesha that Hattu has been overcome by the same dark force. Tesha must struggle against betrayals that take everything she holds dear from her, save Hattu and her new kingdom, without sacrificing herself in the process. 

Second novels in a trilogy often struggle with a sluggish plot in some odd sort of literary ‘middle child syndrome.’ Sorcery in Alpara definitely does not suffer from this problem. From the start, it is full of action and magic, love and despair. Readers get several gut-punches as Tesha fights to save those she loves, even while being unjustly accused of a crime she didn’t commit. 

A major subplot of the novel involves Tesha’s older sister, Daniti, who was taken captive by a faction of Hattu’s enemies. Daniti uses all her considerable skills to delay her captors from carrying out their plans. Helping her is Marak, Hattu’s second-in-command, who had allowed himself to be taken hostage to protect Daniti. Their whole story, while not quite as fraught as Tesha and Hattu’s, is intriguing and highlights some of the facets of being disabled in the ancient world. Daniti’s blindness doesn’t hinder her ability to be a formidable ally to Tesha and fierce enemy to Paskans and others who would overthrow her brother-in-law. 

Hattu’s people, the Hitolians, are based on the ancient Hittites. Starkston does a masterful job weaving in elements of their culture and religious practices throughout her writing. The religious rituals the Hittites practiced lend themselves extraordinarily well to creating the magic spells Tesha and other priestesses use in this series. Using historically accurate details to turn them to one’s own purpose in a story really helps create a richer reading experience. Starkston has this practice well in hand and she uses her impeccable research on the Hittite culture to modify and implement magic rites within the world she has built around Tesha, who is herself based on a real life Hittite queen, Puduhepa. 

In short, this is an excellent addition to the Tesha series. I can’t wait to buy a hard copy for my own library. Strongly recommended to anyone who loves historical fantasy, or who has an appreciation for well researched books with a seriously fun plot. 

PLEASE NOTE: If you go to the author’s website, you can preorder a copy of this book for $2.99 on kindle. When you preorder Sorcery in Alpara, you get a free short story which continues the narrative of Anna, a prequel story to the Tesha series. The first short story installment comes when you sign up for Judith’s newsletter. I’ve received both and the short story and the newsletter are entirely worth your time. 

Wonder

11387515Wonder  by RJ Palacio (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Contemporary lit, middle school

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my daughter’s collection

Length: 314 pp

Published by: Knopf (14 Feb 2012)

Wonder is the story of August ‘Aggie’ Pullman, a boy who was born with a rare condition that leaves him with severe facial abnormalities. Because he spent so many years having various surgeries and health issues, Auggie never went to traditional school and was instead homeschooled by his mother. Then, 5th grade comes around and Auggie’s parents decide he needs to start attending a regular school. He tests into a well respected private school and starts middle school. A group of kids who were asked by the principal to keep an eye on Auggie and help him out are integral to his experiences in his first year at real school and Auggie learns that some people hide surprising depths. 

My daughter read this in her class this year and she really liked it. She wanted me to read it as well and since I enjoy talking about books with her, I was happy to do so. I found the multiple perspectives to be effective in giving various angles to Auggie’s story. Sometimes, multiple POVs are just disorganized or distracting but it works well in this narrative. The book starts out with Auggie’s POV then shifts between his older sister Via, her friend Miranda, Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Auggie’s friend Summer. I do wish there had been a perspective for each of his parents and for Mr Tushman, the principal. It would have been insightful to get the views from adults who were a big part of Auggie’s story as well, so I feel that a lot of added depth was missed by leaving them out. 

I enjoyed seeing the ways in which Auggie grew over the course of his first year in a real school. I have long said kids can be real assholes, and it held true in this book, but it was also a good example of how kids learn from example as well. Some are born assholes and some are born kind, but often they can be influenced one way or the other by the way they are raised. One kid was apparently born an asshole and that was reinforced by his horrid mother; another was basically good but his childhood reinforced ways for him to be an asshole; and one kid is just a good kid, although we don’t see the parents to know how they are raising their kids. 

The overarching message was, of course, to be kinder than is necessary. I think this is a really relevant theme for kids to learn, all the time, but especially now. With the cruel, racist, hateful Trump administration eroding compassion and empathy everywhere, it is nice to read something that sends a good message, even though it was written well before that thing became President. Yes, I will find a way to make even a kid’s book political, because fuck Trump. NO, I am not empathetic to him or his toadies. 

ANYWAY. It is a good message to teach kids not to judge anyone by the way they look, whether it is the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, or if they have medical conditions making them look different from most people. Auggie is a cool, funny, smart boy, but many people would never know it because they are shallow and freak out about the way he looks rather than trying to know the person inside. 

Definitely recommended reading for all parents and kids. Reading it together is even better. Talk to each other.