Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sword and Verse

Volume Eleven in the Books That Matter Series

"This was all writing was, in the end: markings in the dust. It didn't do anything, couldn't change anything. They kept it a secret, made it seem powerful--and that had made me want it more. But it was nothing." -Raisa (from Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan)

Nothing could be further from the truth in Kathy MacMillan's Sword and Verse and that is why it is a book that matters. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, I couldn't believe the depths of which the author drew me into the story.

Raisa is an Arnath slave, turned Tutor, tasked with the job of one day teaching the future king's heir how to write. Unlike most slaves in Qilara, who are forbidden to learn how to read and write, Raisa is in an unique position. She is the child of the Learned Ones, a secret she must keep from everyone if she hopes to survive as a slave and Tutor.

In a time when so many Young Adult novels are about dystopian societies and revolutions, this book stands apart from the pack. It has the feeling of being set in ancient times, but there was also a strong sense of the Civil War era too. The aspects of the Resistance and the dystopian society make it current to what is already in the market but it also addresses the power of the written word and how taking that from people is a means of keeping them down. Because of this creative aspect, it spoke to me as a writer, an educator, and an avid reader. At times, I question if writing actually can make a difference, and then I look to my books that matter series, and I remind myself that it can and it does.

If you are looking for a good book that fits solidly in the Young Adult market while still being unique, then I highly recommend Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan. The power of words can make a difference. Not to mention, the ending is pure genius but you will have to read it to find out for yourself.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Year We Fell Apart

Volume Ten in the Books That Matter Series

"Tracing the infinity pendant on my necklace, I wonder where the invisible line is. The line that determines which parts of our past are still close enough to go back and fix, and which parts we have to live with forever."
- Harper Sloan (The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin)

Harper's summer has just begun and it is not looking any better than junior year. Rumors have been floating around about Harper and her indiscretions regarding "the pool incident" that happened in the spring. Her childhood best friend and ex-boyfriend, Declan, who she hasn't talked to since October, has just returned home from a year at boarding school, which he was sent to after his mother's death. And Harper's mom has just been diagnosed with cancer.

In The Year We Fell Apart, Harper has a lot to deal with. The death of Declan's mother was hard on her and now she is faced with her own mother's illness. In the beginning of the story, Harper reflects on the drunk driving accident that killed her best friend's mother by thinking: "But this is a world in which beautiful people die ugly deaths all the time." It is such a bleak thought but one that cannot be disputed because it does happen. Afraid to lose more people who are close to her, Harper copes by pushing people away and finding distractions to take her mind from the things that could hurt her most. Sadie, her supposed friend (and bad influence), gets Harper mixed into the party scene. Sadie is the type of person who, as she puts it, does not believe in giving "someone the power to break your heart" because "you won't see it happen when they do."  And Harper falls into that line of thinking as well. Between the booze and the guys, it is not helping Harper's reputation any. Because as Harper thinks: "We carry our past with us everywhere we go." And yet, it becomes clear to the reader early on that Harper feels like all of the rumors are well deserved, even if the reader cannot understand why at first.

Author, Emily Martin, does a superb job of getting the reader to believe all of the rumors, so much so, that even the reader might not believe Harper when she finally starts denying some things. Despite Harper's many flaws and her constant mistake of putting herself into bad situations, readers will root for her. She blames herself so much for everything that is going on that all she can do is hit the self-destruct button and fall into the trap of letting the rumors define who she is. The story is masterfully told and Emily Martin has some beautiful quotes that will stick with readers long after the book is closed.

Harper is a girl struggling to accept the things she cannot change while trying to decide if it is better to close herself off to those closest to her so she never has to feel the pain of loss again. She looks for distractions to keep her out of the house so she doesn't have to deal with her mother's illness, and the perfect image her parents are trying project. But the more she avoids her family and home, the more she is brought back into Declan's life, forcing her either to face the mistakes she has made with him or to run to Sadie for the distractions that caused them in the first place.

Having several friends and acquaintances who are battling cancer or coping with a family member who is going through the fight, I needed to read this book. With so many people going through this, it can feel like things are out of control for them, for their family, and for all those who care about them. But yet, they remain positive and continue to face each day with courage, hope, and strength. And Harper's thoughts stuck with me at one point when she is reflecting on her mother and thinks: "I mean, if she can manage to enjoy life despite having freaking cancer, then there's really no reason for me to wallow in my mistakes and let them dictate my whole future." After all, life is about the way you live, despite the obstacles you may face.