All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This YA novel is about a young couple falling in love…and suicide. The male lead and half-time narrator Finch is a manic pixie dream boy–and the key word there is manic–but he’s very endearing and romantic. He partners with Violet for a gimmick of a class project that forces them to explore unusual places in their state, Indiana. There’s some real talk about grief, and some real family dysfunction that isn’t quite overcome. It has an ending that is both surprising and expected, that’s sad without being entirely bleak and depressing. The love story is sweet and hard and perplexing, one that doesn’t have to last forever for the survivor to emerge wiser and stronger. As romantic as the story is, it thoroughly avoids romanticizing suicide.
I read a couple short books that are parodies of parenting advice books. Often these books are given to parents as gag gifts.
Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo, and Mary Ann Zoellner
I felt ambivalent about this one. It’s mostly a lot of rants about people who make parenting harder, especially “perfect” moms who make the rest of us look bad and feel guilty and inadequate. There are step-by-step instructions are about how to slack or get away with slacking. And their definition of slacking is my definition of normal. There were a few essays that rubbed me the wrong way, but most were witty and truthful.
How to Traumatize Your Children: 7 Proven Methods to Help You Screw Up Your Kids Deliberately and With Skill
I preferred this book to Sh*tty Mom because it was actually reassuring in a weird way. It provides illustrated step-by-step instructions for ruining a kid’s childhood in several different ways. Chapter titles include “It’s All About You: Parent as Narcissist” and “Validation Is For Parking: Parent as Self-Esteen Killer.” Reading it made me feel better about the small mistakes I’m making as a parent–at least I’m not calling my boys names or literally neglecting them. There are moments in parenting when that perspective is helpful. The tone makes the joke clear: you, reader, are a good parent laughing at truly terrible people who damage their children.The illustrations provide extra humor.
The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
This memoir by a TV goddess is empowering and just as funny as I expected it to be. I really enjoy Shonda Rhimes’s TV writing: Scandal, Gray’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away with Murder are addictive and brilliantly plotted. I recognized some of the sentence-level pacing and style from her shows; it works just as well in this format. The gimmick of the book is that in the year 2014 Rhimes made a resolution to say yes to things that scared her. The end result was that she moved from hiding in the writers’ room to taking the spotlight herself, and feeling more comfortable there. She made several intimidating TV appearances and a few public speeches, including her Dartmouth commencement speech. Her stories about working motherhood and the mommy wars. losing weight without self-hate, learning to accept compliments, and taking time to play were perfectly expressed, and just what I needed to hear.
And I Darken by Kiersten White
I liked White’s paranormal romance series, so I was interested to pick up this historical/fantasy series as well. This story is about a brother and sister, children of an Eastern European prince in the Middle Ages. They are sent to live in the court of the Ottoman Empire as assurance of their father’s cooperation. There they befriend the sultan’s son and take part in many intrigues and adventures, from an aborted coup to a failed siege. The story is dark and violent, with Lada, the sister, as a particularly prickly and tough warrior-princess. Her insistence on receiving military training, and on assuming command of a regiment, pushes gender boundaries. The climax is exciting, and the ending bittersweet. It’s YA, but probably on the ‘mature’ end of the genre.
The sequel, Now I Rise, comes out this year.