Tag Archives: Fiction

Book Review: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

Today, I was browsing Bookshare’s children’s book category. It used to be hard for me to browse books by category on the Bookshare website, because somehow my Internet browser would crash each time I tried. Today though, I succeeded. At first, books were automatically sorted by title and I didn’t know how to change the sort order. Eventually, I figured this out and sorted books by copyright date, because I like to read books that are relatively new. I found A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold on the first page, because the book was published in 2017 and the book title starts with a B according to Bookshare. Looking back, I must’ve come across this book a few times before when searching for the keyword “autism”. However, for whatever reason, I never decided to download, let alone read it. Now I did.

Synopsis

From acclaimed author Elana K. Arnold and with illustrations by Charles Santoso, A Boy Called Bat is the first book in a funny, heartfelt, and irresistible young middle grade series starring an unforgettable young boy on the autism spectrum.

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Review

I adored Bat from almost the very beginning. He sounds a bit spoiled at first, but in a very relatable kind of way for me as an autistic person. For example, in the first chapter, Bat berates his sister Janie for having eaten the last vanilla yogurt, because it’s all he likes. I can tell though that Bat is really kind-hearted. Janie on the other hand sounds like a bossy big sister. I could see some things in her that reminded me of my own sister when we were growing up. Though she is my younger sister, she also had some “big sister complex” due to interacting with me. In the end though, I got to like Janie too. In fact, there are no mean characters in this book. The only negative about the characters I found is that all except for Bat are pretty flat. You get to see Bat’s perspecitve only.

I liked the way the story progresses. I must say here that I hadn’t read the summary before downloading the book so only knew the book is about a little boy with autism. Normally, I badly want to know what a book is about, but this time, I liked not knowing. The book follows a pretty predictable story line, but still there are some cool surprises in it too. It truly is a heartfelt little read. I liked the fact that the chapters are short, so even though there are 26 chapters, I, a slow reader, could finish the book within an afternoon.

As for the portrayal of Bat as an autistic character, some things are no doubt stereotypical. In this light, it’s a positive that we get to follow Bat’s perspective only. There is absolutely no judgment of Bat’s oddness except sometimes from Janie. Then again, Bat thinks Janie is weird too. Don’t all siblings? I definitely related to many of Bat’s idiosyncrasies.

This is not an inspirational read or even much of an informaitonal book about autism. In fact, I did not see the word “autism” in the book. This is mostly just a book about a boy who cares a lot about animals and wants to keep the baby skunk his mother found, because they bond so well. Of course, it’s a stereotype that autistic people are tuned into animals. However, I didn’t get the idea from this book that it was the author’s intention to perpetuate this stereotype. Don”t most kids love animals, after all?

Rating: five stars.

Book Details

Title: A Boy Called Bat
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Publication Date: March 2017

Read With Me

Book Review: Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

Last June, I got a Bookshare membership after delaying it for years. The proof of disability form had literally been sitting in my drawer since like 2010. Granted, back then people who weren’t U.S. residents or citizens had only very limited access to books, so it was hardly worth it. Since the Marrakesh Treaty though, international distribution of books for the purposes of access for visually impaired people is much easier. Don’t ask me about the technicalities. I’m just happy that most books are now available to me.

I read My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult in like 2005, when I briefly used the UK’s National Library for the Blind. I was no longer able to use their services after some books were lost on the way back. Yes, they at least used to distribute Braille books to international members only. Anyway, since reading My Sister’s Keeper, I badly wanted to read more by Picoult. Partiuclarly, I wanted to read Handle With Care from the moment it came out. Now, with my Bookshare membership, I got a chance to read it. Because I started reading many other books too, I didn’t finish Handle With Care till yesterday. Here is my review of it. It contains spoilers!

Synopsis

When Willow is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, her parents are devastated–she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain. Every expectant parent will tell you that they don’t want a perfect baby, just a healthy one. Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe would have asked for a healthy baby, too, if they’d been given the choice. Instead, their lives are made up of sleepless nights, mounting bills, the pitying stares of “luckier” parents, and maybe worst of all, the what-ifs. What if their child had been born healthy? But it’s all worth it because Willow is, funny as it seems, perfect. She’s smart as a whip, on her way to being as pretty as her mother, kind, brave, and for a five-year-old an unexpectedly deep source of wisdom. Willow is Willow, in sickness and in health.

Everything changes, though, after a series of events forces Charlotte and her husband to confront the most serious what-ifs of all. What if Charlotte had known earlier of Willow’s illness? What if things could have been different? What if their beloved Willow had never been born? To do Willow justice, Charlotte must ask herself these questions and one more. What constitutes a valuable life?

Review

The book, like My Sister’s Keeper is written from every main character’s viewpoint alternatingly except for Willow’s. Throughout the book, the main characters tell the story as if addressed to Willow. In other words, she is referred to as “you” all the time. I like this. Even though Willow doesn’t get a voice till the near end of the book, the other main charactes do give the reader a great insight into her character.

All main characters are very well-formed. Because of this, a lot of other stories are interwoven with the main story of the wrongful birth lawsuit that Charlotte files against her obstetrician. For example, Piper, Charlotte’s obstetrician, is also her best friend. Marin, Charlotte’s lawyer, is dealing with the search for her birth mother. And Amelia, Willow’s sister, struggles with bulimia and self-injury.

Because each charater gives their own viewpoint, both sides of the wrongful birth lawsuit are equally described. Though I hoped most of the time that Charlotte would win, I also symapthized with the other party. I wasn’t sure of the outcome until it was spelled out in the book.

The fact that the book has a lot of twists and turns, so that you’re never sure of how it ends, is mostly a good thing. It ends up being a very bad thing though as I read the last few pages. The book ends with Willow dying, which in my opinion only spoiled the entire book. I mean, there was some point to Anna dying in My Sister’s Keeper. I didn’t see that this time. As such, the book definitely deserved a five-star rating before I’d completely finished it. Once I’d read those last few pages, not so.

Book Details

Title: Handle With Care
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: March 2009

Book Review: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

Last January, when I’d just finished a few other books, I decided to look around for another young adult novel to read that’s about a subject I’m interested in. I stumbled upon Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern. The book sounded interesting enough, so I bought it and started reading. Due to some other interests demanding their time from me, I didn’t finish it till yesterday. This review may contain spoilers.

Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she’s going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington’s disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother. With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family’s genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she’ll live to be a healthy adult-including her dream career in ballet and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool and gets an audition for a dance scholarship across the country, Rose begins to question her carefully laid rules.

Review

Pretty early in the book, I found out who the boy from the similarly flawed genetic pool mentioned in the synopsis is. His mother and sisters have sickle cell disease, but he doesn’t carry “the gene”. There’s where McGovern puts a glaringly obvious medical inaccuracy in the book, that is, that sickle cell is a dominantly inherited disease. There is no mention of the boy’s father being a carrier of the disease and sickle cell is compared to recessive diseases at least once. For those who don’t know, sickle cell is a recessive disease, meaning you need two copies of the gene to get the disease. I happen to know because I once read that people who carry one copy of the gene don’t get sickle cell disease and have the added luck of not getting sick when infected with malaria. That’s why sickle cell is more common among Black people than among Whites or other races. Yes, I did look it up to be sure. This huge medical inaccuracy spoils the entire book for me. That’s probably me though, being autistic and having a special interest in medicne.

Now that we got this out of the way, I have to say the book is otherwise quite good. It is a little predictable at times, but there are still enough twists and turns for the book to remain interesting. The author goes into detail sometimes, which I like – but which is also why said medical inaccuracy annoys me. I love getting to know the main character really well. Rose is not just a girl whose mother has Huntington’s. She’s a true round character. I also got a glimpse into the world of Huntington’s (obviously), sickle cell, ballet, and as a added bonus, the California zephyr train ride. Love trains.

Book Details

Title: Rules for 50/50 Chances
Author: Kate McGovern
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: November 2015

Book Review: Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Yay! I reached at least one of my goals for this month. I finished not just one, but two books I’d started reading earlier in the year. Already in January, before the book was published (or at least before the eBook was), I found out about Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton and decided I wanted to read it. Like with Girl in Glass, other things that seemed more interesting came in the way, so I didn’t finish the book till a few days ago.

Synopsis

Megan doesn’t speak. She hasn’t spoken in months. Pushing away the people she cares about is just a small price to pay. Because there are things locked inside Megan’s head – things that are screaming to
be heard – that she cannot, must not, let out. Then Jasmine starts at school: bubbly, beautiful, talkative Jasmine. And for reasons Megan can’t quite understand, life starts to look a bit brighter. Megan would love to speak again, and it seems like Jasmine might be the answer. But if she finds her voice, will she lose everything else?

My Review

This is a fascinating book and it doesn’t go as I’d expected it to go. When I first started reading this book, I thought it’d shed light on selective mutism, in which a peson (usually a child) is unable to speak because of severe social anxiety. Though technically Megan might meet the definition of selective mutism, much more is behind her silence than social anxiety. When reading the first few chapters, I was bored easily, because I had no way of making sense of the story. When I read on, however, this boredom turned into curiosity, then suspense and eventually I was completely captivated. The book has some fascinating twists and turns and some thrilling cliff-hanges, some almost literal. Once I got through the first few chapters, the story kept me thrilled until the very last page. That’s a rare occurrence with the type of fiction I usually read. With this book, Abbie Rushton tells a great story on friendship, love and crime. For those who, like me, are pretty faint-hearted, I’d like to disclose that the story ends on a good note. I can’t wait to read Rushton’s next book, which will be out in the spring of 2016.

Book Details

Title: Unspeakable
Author: Abbie Rushton
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publication Date: February 2015

Book Review: A Different Me by Deborah Blumenthal

A few weeks ago, I was given a promo code on Kobo for having been a customer for a year. I searched for interesting juvenile fiction, and came across A Different Me by Deborah Blumenthal (Albert Whitman & Company, 2014). The synopsis sounded interesting, so I decided to buy the book, and finished it within a week.

Synopsis

Allie Johnston’s secret wish since the day she was twelve is to have her nose done. But she hasn’t told anyone – not her parents, or even her best friend, Jen. But when she starts visiting a plastic surgery discussion board on the Web, she finds people who get her, for the first time in her life. Her new friends, including two girls her age with vastly different backgrounds who share her obsession with changing their faces—but for very different reasons. A sharply written, insightful book about learning to be happy with who we are.

My Review

For the most part, I liked this book. Most characters are really formed, though on the surface they may come across a bit superficial. That’s the whole point of the book I believe: even if a person may seem shallow, often you don’t see what’sinside of their minds unless you really attempt to get to know them. For example, Amber, the most goodlooking girl in the school, has a hidden life of pain that Allie doesn’t get to find out until she looks beyond Amber’s outward appearance.

The character of Allie herself seems to have deliberately been developed to seem a bit boring. Unlike Amber and some other characters, she doesn’t have much drama in her life. All she has is a screwed body image. This again serves the point of the book well: Allie may have a bump on her nose, but overall she has a pretty good life.

The book’s ending in terms of Allie’s nose surgery (which she ends up canceling at the last moment) is quite predictable. However, it’s not whether she has surgery that makes this book interesting, but the mental processes leading up to her decision. In this sense, I was more interested in learning about the other characters than I was in learning about Allie. After all, it’s the other characters who teach Allie that it’s not her looks that make her who she is.

MamaMummyMum

Books #theprompt #WotW

This week, the prompt over at Mumturnedmom is “books”. I’ve also been doing a relatively great amount of reading this week, so thought I’d choose it as my word for the week too.

Books were a significant part of my life growing up. Both my parents used to read to me and my sister from an early age on. My father would read us comic and picture books such as Winnie the Pooh. He’d use these weird voices for the characters, which I always hated. As I got older, he read me a children’s book of Greek mythology. My mother read us the likes of Annie M.G. Schmidt, a very famous Dutch poet and children’s book writer.

I learned to read at around age four or five. My mother made little books for me with one or two words on each page. She used rub-on letters so that the print was clear and large enough for me, being partially sighted, to read it. There were books themed “house”, “school” and many others but these are the ones I remember. Later, I’d borrow large print books from the library children’s section, but many had too small print and yet were too easy for me in terms of vocabulary.

As my vision got worse and I had to learn to read braille, my interest in reading books decreased. I’d still read the odd children’s book, but most of the time, I’d stick to the library for the blind’s audio magazine for children age five to nine. I don’t think I read many audio books at the time, and as I said, I didn’t like reading braille.

As I got older, the gap between my potential and my reading ability widened. From fourth or fifth grade on, my parents began insisting I read books even if the school hadn’t assigned it. They probably felt the school underestimated my abilities and cut me too much slack. I remember at one point in fifth or sixth grade being up till what in my memory seems like the middle of the night because I still craved my goodnight kiss and my parents refused to give me one until I’d read a certain number of pages. My parents also tried to positively stimulate me to read. For example, I at one point had the Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland in braille and, to show me he was taking on a challenge too, my father decided to read the book in English at the same time that I read it in Dutch.

I never became an advanced or avid fiction reader. In high school, I hated having to read adult literature. In reality, I didn’t start enjoying middle grade fiction until I was at least fourteen. By then, while all my classmates were reading young adult or even adult literature, I enjoyed every book written by an author named Caja Cazemier I could get my hands on. I still enjoy reading her books.

In high school, I read exactly the amount of Dutch and foreign-language literature I was required. I got many literary novels from my parents, but still have only started on a small percentage and finished only the humorous ones. One of the main reasons I didn’t end up majoring in English at university was the vast amount of fiction reading required. I was in fact scared when, having singed up for linguistics, I was sent an at the time quite popular literary novel to read in prep for freshman introduction. It was also said that humanities department students would frequently hear this book mentioned during lectures. Fortunately, the linguistics majors didn’t have to read this book after all. Either that, or I dropped out soon enough for the book never to be mentioned in lectures when I was in attendance.

Perhaps paradoxically, as a teen, I had the ambition of writing books when I grew up. I wrote a few, very autobiographical attempts at children’s novels. My most successful attempt is a half-finished novel called The Black Queen about a high school student whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis. It was one of the less (though still somewhat) autobiographical novels I wrote, and for once it was never my intention of having people “get me” through it. I still someday want to finish this book. Unfortunately, as I started writing mainly in English, I lost my ability to write fiction due to my relatively poor vocabulary and sense of style.

I still don’t particularly enjoy fiction. I do have a few children’s and teen fiction books on my to-be-read list, but the majority of what I still want to read, are autobiographies or non-fiction. This week, I have been reading Angels at Our Table by Ann Breen, a book of stories from families with children with Williams Syndrome. I also started reading Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose. It’s a very humorous guide to living with bipolar disorder, in my opinion also relevant for people with other mental illnesses.

mumturnedmom
The Reading Residence

Expressing Myself

Today the Daily Post’s prompt is Express Yourself. I find this a fascinating prompt, and could write on and on about expressiveness and the way I express myself. I write, mostly. Writing has been a hobby of mine since elementary school. Back then, I wrote mostly fiction. I have a few kind of weird tales and a lot of autobiographical fiction. Unfortunatley, as I got older, my skill didn’t get better, so by age eighteen or so, I quit fiction writing.

I trid poetry for a while. Last Thursday during art therapy, the therapist asked whether I wrote poetry and whether she could read one of my poems. They’re not great. In fact, with the exception of a few recent ones, my poems lack metre or rhyme. My older poems are so bad that I’m actually sort of proud of the acrostic I wrote a few months ago.

In addition to writing, I craft. I have tried my hand at art journaling, but have not succeeded. My cards and jewelry are pretty down-to-earth in their design I’d say. In fact, I’m not sure I’m all that imaginative in any of my expressive modalities. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a rich imagination. I’m just finding it hard to express it.

One thing that holds me back is the fact that the more imaginative works aren’t necessaarily the more beautiful ones for me. As I said, my poems, which usually express my authentic feelings, lack metre or rhyme and are little more than emotional diarrhea jotted on paper. Not something I’d like to post on my blog. And something I’ve noticed lately, is that I have a very hard time not sharing something I create. I even have a hard time keeping a private journal and, not havng found a suitable desktop application for it, I ended up with a protected WordPress blog which I ended up giving a few people access to anyway. Maybe I need to relearn that some things belong to me and are not to be expressed to anyone outside of me.

Book Review: The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla

Since I discovered that Adobe Digital Editions 2.0 is accessible with screen readers, I’ve downloaded a number of ebooks. Most were scientific books, with a few being memoris, and to be honest I until now hadn’t ifnished any. I usually bought my ebooks at Bol.com, the largest online media store in the Netherlands. However, when they switched to an inaccessible bookshelf format for downloading ebooks, I decided to try out Kobo. I also wanted to spread my wings in the reading departmnet, so I decided to check out some juvenile fiction, because I always used to like that better than adult fiction. In fiction, my taste is similar to that in memoirs: the book has to cover medicl, social or psychological issues. The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla seemed to meet that requirement. Besides, it cost only E3,-, so I wouldn’t have wasted a lot of money if it turned out to be crap. In the end, I’m not disappointed at all.

Synopsis

Two teens are forced to make some very grown-up decisions when one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer, twisting them into an unpredictable nightmare. Best friends since toddlerhood, Samantha and Jesse grapple with the realization that they are actually in love. What now? Beautifully written while handling a very heavy topic, Castrovilla addresses the universal question: In a world where the worst can strike at any time, how can we ever feel safe?

Review

Reading the first page, I was not thrilled. Was middle grade fiction that simple, or was my English that advanced, it being my second language? Within pages, I had to change my mind on this, because it turned out I didn’t understand some of the more commonly used words – maybe my English isn’t that advanced after all. Even so, the book is quite readable.

The book isn’t too fast-paced, but it doesn’t ge tlong-winded either. I was able to guess pretty soon that Jesse wasn’t going to get a miracle cure fo rhis cancer, but other than that, the book was not predictable at all. I wondered at several points from halfway through the book on whether the end was coming up. I don’t mean this to say the book is boring, but there were several moments at which point Jesse could’ve died and the book would be over.

What I also liked about the book, was that I developed both sympathy for and disgust with almost all characters. For example, Gwen, Jesse’s mother, starts out as a bitch, and I genuinely thought that I’d hate her throughout the book. Gradually, however, I was led to understand her better and in the end, I liked her somewhat. The book is written from Samantha’s point of view, but I believe most characters in fact ar epretty formed.

The topic covered in this book is of course quite sad, but the book didn’t just make me feel sad. I alternated between feeling angry, sad, happy, surprised and a lot of other feelings. In the end, I was left with peace. That is exactly what this book aims to teach.

Book Details

Title: The Girl Next Door
Author: Selene Castrovilla
Publisher: ASD Publishing, Ltd.
Publication date: May 2013