Adaptation, assimilation, whatever it does, nature seeks to survive and will ride the wind, seek water and refuge in the most peculiar places because life strives to live. I remember once while on a run in the city with my husband pointing to green stems forcing their way through decorative rocks and him saying, “Life will always seek survival…” As moved as I was then, I am now, and in fond memory of this moment am theming this issue of Bookisshh accordingly. In honor of Spring, I selected two YA fiction works, due to the evolution and bloom of young adults in fiction is complex and beautiful. The remaining work is the memoir of a woman who has spent her entire life close to nature and its unique story. Grab some tea, sit near a window and maybe discover a book to share with your blooming adult, parent group, book club or yourself!
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Being a woman in the science world is no easy deal for three time awarded Fulbright scholar, Botanist, Geobiologist, and tenured professor Hope Jahren. Making it more difficult is Jahren’s Scandanavian, Minnesotan upbringing which quietly emphasizes silent togetherness and withholding of emotional expression. Pair this with a deep affinity for natural science and you have Jahren’s story of emotional isolation, degree seeking, lab building, self deception and discovery.
Jahren employs a careful structure, dividing Lab Girl into three parts: Roots and Leaves, Wood and Knots, and Flowers and Fruit. The chapter balance is digestible as Jahren intersperses brief lesson-like descriptions of plant and tree phenomena as metaphoric introductions to the longer chapters which detail her development as a scientist, human and woman. The lesson-like sections are entirely enjoyed by this reader and often I read them twice.
Lab Girl is clinically honest. Jahren parallels her personal and professional journeys while readers travel along with Jahren, her sidekick/assistant/best friend, Bill, across the country and globe discovering why plants thrive and survive in a declining environment and looming nuclear concerns. Like a seed newly implanted in a non-indigenous setting, Jahren adapts, assimilates and evolves within her changing circumstances. The difference is we see how human constructs like politics and economics change that trajectory. She is definitely compelling and her integrity serves as landmark for women as they confront a world of options seemingly unlimited.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. – Robert Frost
Love and First Sight by Jonathan Sundquist
YA fiction is simmering with issues these days! Our burgeoning adults can search for tags like: Diversity, Blindness, Teen Romance, Visual Governedness, Ethics, Beauty Notions and it will lead them to, “Love And First Sight.”
This is not just a story of teens falling in love but also about the discriminations that influence their identification of love worthy ones and factors that may take them off course. The premise in this book is fresh and compelling. Love is blind and when one is unsighted and can recover one’s eyes, what happens to love when they don’t like what they see? Is love blind when blindness isn’t? This story swept me off my feet and I am 50 1/2 years old and have a soon-to-be teenager who will eventually peel back the layers of love.
Thoughtfully researched using case studies of failed corneal surgeries, blindness at birth, lifestyles of the impaired, Sundquist is a sensorily deep writer and his explanations to YA readers of concepts such as neuroplasticity, Emojji translations, olfactory wallpaper, the “Tyranny of the Visual,” and what it might be like to touch a VanGogh painting with one’s eyes closed places the reader in thoughtful consideration. Readers are encouraged understand effectively how diversity within physical experience enriches rather than create deficiencies in the world of sighted and unsighted people. Sundquist is a master of description in this way
Raising young adults, I have noticed that outside the home that the Ethics class has been missing. In “Love and First Sight” Sundquist activates an emergent ethical center within teens by posing situations where sighted and unsighted people learn to understand and value their differences and how to create equity among them. Further, Sundquist represents young adults as fluid innovators who can use their technical adeptness to foster and not destroy one another as they participate and stakehold within their world. His cast includes academic bowl participants, artists, journalists and of course jocks in small flocks with limited social currency.
Speaking of currency, I recommend investing yours in “Love and First Sight” for your young adult, but if you do make sure to include a pack of Skittles because they are an ever present narrative tool demonstrating the point: Despite the fact that we are in a declining sensory environment, our candy constructs keep us sensorily in common and viable.
The Takedown by Corrie Wang
There is simply too much to say about YA novel! Author, Corrie Wang, 21 years of age is published by Disney Children’s Group and her perspective is informed and sophisticated when it comes to plot and suspense. The cover alone sums up the density of technological integration a tip toe away from us. While we become further connected we become powerless to the masters of the invisible system and sadly at risk for loosing everything in one tick of a button.
Narrated in first person, Wang situates her cast of characters in Brooklyn, New York, some time but not too far off into the future. Enter the private school, Prospect Park, where cliques loom large among the affluent, micro culture school environment. The story centers around Kyla Cheng and her exclusive group of girl friends, Audra, Fawn and Sharma all who are locked into their shared outfit themes and their docs (which are advanced smartphones). One day Kyla comes to school and that day becomes the worst day of her life. Someone has posted an extremely compromising video of Kyla and her teacher Mr. Ehrenreich.
In “The Takedown” the complex world of teen relationships are dramatized. Friendships, their basis and challenges are explored in Kyla’s group. Each girl in Kyla/Kyle’s group has a unique tie into the plot: Audra is an only child, supremely wealthy and angry toward her parent’s inattention, Sharma is a technological genius planning on working within the internet security world, Fawn is the boy crazy love kitten of the group, and Kyle (who prefers this name over Kyla which becomes distracting to the narrative) is the natural beauty who exudes confidence as she plows through academic and social excellence hoping to finish senior year as Class President. Of course being that great means that someone out there would like to take her down. Someone certainly tries to. The pressure for boyfriends and/or girlfriends is presented as a sanctuary and distraction is explored. Further themes include the difficulties teens experience when individuating from parents into the larger emotional world. This is well done but at times overplayed between Kyle and her boy toy Mackenzie Rodriguez. Parents are portrayed as self absorbed, uninformed and robots of economic support leaving a most significant moment–parental annoyance toward the persona branding teens are fixated upon. The point of view of parents is of value and the absence of this view leaks potential thinking that fosters ethics and maturity.
To that end Social Media is earning its status within this plot. Copycats of Facebook are integrated with various data driven GPS applications and facial recognition technology. It is terribly exciting and horrifying to watch Kyle’s every move be plotted, every online moment be hacked and every place where communal and individual screens are programmed have her most humiliating moment be broadcast. Folded further into Kyle’s chasing down her identity captor are ethical considerations regarding privacy, friendship and sexism. There are some interesting conversations between characters regarding privately shared photos becoming slut shaming campaigns and how protections and viewpoints differ among the genders. Women are bad for their choices and men are not. The B&P (Bra & Panty) girl who runs an anonymous campaign against slut shaming, picks up on Kyle’s dilemma and capitalizes on it within her own website which pimps out anonymous photos of girls who are selling lingerie. Monetization as a cure for victimization is brought to the forefront as well as the lack of consideration for people who become collateral damage in the process.
Hackers and mysterious texters build suspense as Kyle, her paramour Mac, Sharma and a top Facebook-esque programmer ride buses and trains, run streets and alleys to find out who is behind the false video or to reveal if false is what it is. “The Takedown” is an excellent read during and unplugged break, when teens hunger the most for what their peers are doing or want to promote themselves as being interesting and relevant. Maybe unplug and share it with them, it makes for amazing conversation!