Rereading The President’s Daughter

I spent quite a lot of this weekend rereading Ellen Emerson White’s The President’s Daughter, the updated 2008 edition that has email and cell phones that are curiously underused. (The original, which I’ve never seen, was published in 1984. Hmm, liberal-fantasy presidency 15 years before West Wing?)

I took it with me to get the car’s oil changed. I read it on the porch with many glasses of ice water. (I read it in the bathroom.) I finished it tonight in the back yard, while Sang worked on a story and hummingbirds navigated the lilac boughs overhead. (I speculated that the small-even-for-a-hummingbird male might be this year’s nestling. “Is that why we keep having to duck?” Sang said. “Do they need a tiny DRIVER IN TRAINING plaque?”)

Oh, thorny teenage girls named Meg! Oh, large number of commas, and pets who get patted instead of petted. I love how friends and family play in this book: deadpan verbal jousting, with one taking up the other’s lead.

I first read this in 2009. (My note then: “Nice to read a book about a rich girl that’s not all glitz and shopping.”) But it’s this time around that so much of it reminds me of President Obama’s inauguration. Meg and her family spend a lot of time deciding what to wear–remember how it was a big deal that Malia and Sasha wore J Crew coats to the inauguration? And the first time Meg and her brothers tour the White House reminded me of the Obama girls talking about the Bush twins showing them around, and how nice they were.

But the Vaughns don’t get a new puppy.

It does make me wonder how this book would read to me if we’d had a Hillary Clinton presidency instead. More echoes? Maybe not, though, as Chelsea wasn’t a kid anymore in 2008.

I hadn’t really planned on reading the whole series again, necessarily, but now I know I’m going to.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

I’ve been doing a little cleaning tonight while Sang is at work teaching. The method I’m using is, “Step through the front door and see what first strikes you as messy.” Which turned out to be the stacks of books and papers and mail on the barstools. And one of the books was Ambelin Kwaymullina’s The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, which I want to tell you about before I put it back on the shelf. Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Indigenous author from Western Australia, and this book is the first in her four-book series of YA dystopian novels.

YA dystopia can go either way for me. Sometimes I open a book and see all those capitalized general nouns (the Illegals, the Citizens, the Balance) and just can’t get into it. But this one got me past that with a badass protagonist and her crew, kids with superpowers basically. Ashala’s tagline: “I walk among my enemies. But I carry my friends with me.” And the friends are varied and imperfect.

But what really set it apart for me is the structure of flashbacks and reveals. The flashbacks are in a different typeface, and flipping through, it looks like maybe a third of the book is flashback. I would come to a flashback section and kind of set my teeth to get through it. You know what I mean? I was willing to do it to fill in the information I needed, but I was anticipating an extra effort and less momentum because we were out of the main storyline. But every time, I would get completely sucked in and wasn’t on that secondary track in my head at all, plus I was reinterpreting what I’d already read.

I don’t follow the genre that closely, but it kinda seems like this one should be getting more attention. It’s the first of a four-book series, but didn’t end on a cliffhanger. The second book has been published in Australia. I hope Candlewick does the US edition of all four.

Not-Wednesday Reading Post

Reading now: Stagestruck, by Sarah Schulman.

I got the dreaded TOO MANY RENEWALS message on this one. I renew everything about once a week, so 100 renewals is a couple of years it’s been sitting on the library-book shelf. Like every other time I looked at it, I asked myself whether–although I love Sarah Schulman!–I wanted to read a whole book of her complaining how Rent ripped off her work.

The answer is yes, yes I do. She has so much heart. She is a truth-teller. And this book excerpts and recaps her theater reviews of the mid-90s and all the what it was like that has been her torch to carry.

In case Pagefever is wondering whether to read it… it does completely, completely dis Rent. But it’s some great Rent gossip, too. Make your call.

Just finished: Kill Switch, by Chris Lynch.

Wow, surprised how many terrible reviews this got on Goodreads! It’s YA, short and pretty violent. A boy about to go off to college is caring for his grandfather whose dementia is getting worse. Da is starting to say some pretty weird stuff about his job, which maybe wasn’t for the USDA after all? And some scary co-workers are coming around to check up on how much he’s talking.

If you like the family dynamics in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series and don’t mind the absence of the curses and magic part, you might like this. I did.

Waiting for: Dinny Gordon, Sophomore, by Anne Emery.

Because I just finished Dinny Gordon, Freshman, of course! These are malt-shop books from 1959 (Freshman) and 1961 (Sophomore) about a high-school girl getting excited about being an intellectual, and also navigating the social and dating scene. I loved the part where she spent her winter break in the library, all cozy and working on her Pompeii project!

After reading a couple of academic articles on the series, I’m thinking I’ll skip the Junior and Senior volumes, which sound like they have too much Bad Boyfriend material that I would just find frustrating.

If you like Betsy-Tacy or The Luckiest Girl, Dinny Gordon would probably suit you fine.

Current bus book: Dangerous, by Shannon Hale
Current bathroom book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Current bedside book: Sport, by Louise Fitzhugh
Current audiobook: Fire, by Kristin Cashore (will it ever end?!)

Hmm, I’m starting to develop a theory of why I don’t seem to get much done from day to day.

sipping

I got a filling replaced today, and while I was deciding whether to go home or back to work afterwards, I stopped at a coffee shop for a cup of chai. (It seemed like the most substantial option since I wasn’t supposed to have solid food for a couple of hours.) Sipping with a half-numb upper lip is surprisingly difficult. After awhile I went and got a straw for my hot chai.

And then I did go back to work. Work is pretty frantic right now and my dental phobia has ebbed to nearly nothing, so I didn’t have to go cave up at home. Last time I listened to my hypnosis tape (on a walkman I could barely remember how to work), it was still nice and relaxing, but the lady seemed curiously obsessed with dentists. :)

an’ you’ve got to be a Janeite in your ’eart

I am taking calculus this term. There is hours and hours of homework: at our last KFC meeting, I paged through my notebook and it was all algebra and trig and f(x)s. “This is what I’m doing instead of writing now,” I said pathetically, although there were plenty of KFC meetings before I started taking calculus at which I showed up with no writing.

But calculus is going well, partly thanks to Sanguinity, in whom I have an eager live-in tutor. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I catch the early-early bus and eat a Luna bar and get downtown in time for a 7:45 start in our basement classroom. I finish off my travel mug of blessed blessed coffee and watch our instructor, who is a peppy grad student named George, do stuff on the whiteboard. It’s like TV. It’s a pretty quiet class, but on Friday we had this conversation:

George:*mathy talk*

student across the room: *makes a joke I didn’t quite catch*

George: What?

student: Oh, it was just a Jane Austen reference.

George: I don’t know what that is.

everyone: *stares at George*

George: Is it a comic?

student: No, she’s an eighteenth-century romance author…Pride and Prejudice? Emma?

another student: It’s a girl thing.

me: What?!

male student in front of me: yeah, those are good books.

George: Okay, well. *back to mathy talk*

So today I was tickled to come across Jane Austen Goes to War, showing the editions of Austen novels sent along with soldiers to World Wars I and II, with a link to Kipling’s WWI story “The Janeites.”

Counting by 7s

On Friday I rode the bus to work and when I got downtown I was getting close to the end of Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I tried to get my usual mile of walking in, but it started raining, and I ended up at McDonald’s, eating breakfast and finishing the book and crying over my coffee and potato triangle. It was just so awesome. I was forty minutes late to work.

The experience was similar to reading The Fault In Our Stars, in that I’m blowing my nose and saying, “it’s, sooooo, gooo-ooo-oood!” and at the same time my brain is working over some things that are maybe not that good.

Like, the treatment of the guidance counselor is such an odd comic note. The realism of the book in general seems to fluctuate wildly. And although I love the majority-POC cast, in the end I found the Nguyen family underdeveloped. There’s a reveal about the mom at the end, and if I had been the daughter, I would have been like, WHAT? And why had the mom made the decisions she did all along? But the book is so focused on our heroine that it was let slide. The Nguyens didn’t feel stereotyped to me, emotionally, but in the absence of more context about them, some stereotypes are the best available explanation for some things about them.

Anyway, if you’ve read this book, I’d love to know if the tone and point of view worked for you, and if it made you bawl in a McDonalds or anything. By the way, I also loved it because there’s housecleaning!

last night’s dream

We decided to go to the beach, maybe the river beach. My boss Diane found my orange flip-flops from the dollar store and declared them perfect, she would wear these. The others went out to the car and I was in the kitchen putting my shoes on. The music from the end of Star Wars was playing, the award ceremony part, and I picked up a Star Wars novel on the kitchen table and started reading it.

Diane burst back into the room, going WHY ARE YOU CRYING? I’m not crying, I said, I was reading longer than I thought. Sorry, I know, everybody’s waiting, sorry.

Washing Dishes

As soon as she came in from the garden, Peter came and took the book out of her hands and presented her with a cloth to tie round her waist instead. Then he led her to the kitchen, where the mysterious and horrible process began. Peter thrust another cloth into her hands. “You wipe and I’ll wash,” he said, lifting the steaming saucepan off the fire and pouring half the hot water on the soapflakes sprinkled in the sink. He heaved up a bucket of cold water from the pump and poured half of that in the sink too.

“Why are you doing that?” Charmain asked.

“So as not to get scalded,” Peter replied, plunging knives and forks into his mixture and following those with a stack of plates. “Don’t you know anything?”

“No,” Charmain said. She thought irritably that not one of the many books she had read had so much as mentioned washing dishes, let alone explained how you did it.

DWJ, out to rectify this. <3 <3 <3

Bus

Yesterday my boss and I went out to a rural-ish suburb to conduct a focus group of elementary school teachers and see what they thought of the after-school program. The school draws from a low-income area, and about half the kids speak Spanish at home. Near the end of our session, my boss told the teachers to forget about the grant and its constraints–if the sky’s the limit, what would you ask for to help the kids at your school?

The first answer–and it got a lot of uh-huhs and nods of agreement–was a bus. A dedicated bus, so they wouldn’t have to request one through the district transportation office, which never has them available. They could put the kids on the bus and get them out into the world, go to OMSI, do field trips.

They also told us about how some of the third-graders are getting to partner with an indoor soccer club this year. It’s a huge hit, because the kids are part of the group out there with all the other kids. It brought home to me how hard it is for poor families to get out much or even feel like they’re part of what’s going on.