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[personal profile] helloladies
Today we're excited to welcome [tumblr.com profile] justira to Lady Business to talk about Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. Ira is an awesome illustrator, writer, and web developer. You can find more of Ira's work at their tumblr.

lime green cover of Grasshopper Jungle with two lines forming a V to denote the antenna of a grasshopper

I want to say that Grasshopper Jungle did one thing well but—honestly, I can't. I want to like that it has a bisexual protagonist and a love triangle that never collapses but I can't call the love triangle well done when one of its legs is underdeveloped and treated so poorly by the narrative. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Grasshopper Jungle blends pulpy—almost kitschy—Cold War era sci fi, a historical immigration account, and a small-town coming of age story. It's also written by someone who self-admittedly knows nothing about female folks, which is a bit unfortunate seeing as one of the alleged main characters is female. The novel fell flat or me in almost every aspect, with only a few bright notes: sometimes the writing and substance came together to say something interesting about the human impulse towards history-making, and the relationship between the protagonist, Austin, and his best friend, Robby, is well-developed and well-sustained. However, this is all embedded in a narrative that not only features rape apologia and massive fat shaming, but also constantly fails its female characters. And to top off that parade, the apocalyptic premise never manages to quite gel with the beating teenaged heart of the story.

I should be happy that a book with a bisexual protagonist is getting so much attention. But I can't support a book that fails on so many social and technical levels.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
book cover showing a partial body shot of a chromatic girl with a lit up leaf design trailing all down her right arm

'I think for a long time, I thought that art could save us, could save all of us. That our capacity to create beauty was enough to buoy us above the tide of bullshit.

I thought being visible for others who had to experience the god-help-us-all or worse that we had to experience – I thought this could give comfort, company, solace in desperate hours.

I saw it all in relation to the book-of-all-books, the book of everything that’s ever been written, that has the weight of history in it, which is always written by those in power, which is likely not the side anyone reading this is usually, overtly on. It felt really important to testify, to enter into the record that we were here, that we resisted, that there was dissent. I believed that art could save lives...

Part of me still knows that art can save lives, change minds, bear witness. But it’s not enough to talk about ending homelessness, ending rape, ending war. We need to be out there – however we can do it. Making things happen on more than just a linguistic level. Because words just aren’t enough. No one has died for lack of a poem. But people die every day for lack of food and shelter...

But what I wish it could do — any poetry could do — is save the world, whether by recuperating American letters and horror movies into a feminist construct, for example (Final Girl), or by re-membering female historical figures (Kissing Dead Girls), or documenting the prostitutes killed by a serial killer (Why Things Burn), or striking out at injustice in Gotham. But it won’t work. I only have a very small cape. And there is so much to write.'- (Daphne Gottlieb interviewed at The Rumpus)

"The Summer Prince" takes questions of art and political engagement, and examines them by winding its characters up in age old artistic struggles. Can art change the world? Are artists activists? How can artists use fame to change the political establishment? And perhaps most importantly of all, what good is art if it can’t save a life?

'There’s a song.'

At the same time, because of certain problematic elements in the world-building of "The Summer Prince" (pointed out to me by various smart commentators with knowledge of and ties to current Brazil) "The Summer Prince" ends up posing critical meta-questions about how art functions in the world. How do we react to a book that adds to the diversity of science fiction, but makes clumsy futuristic changes to real world settings which end up reinforcing stereotypical outsider views? How do we react when a narrative that contains bisexual characters only goes so far in re-imagining a narrative and ends up re-creating what is a painfully familiar ending in LGBTQ literature? How do we write about this kind of book in a way that encompasses the love we may have initially felt and the knowledge you gained later? The answer – complexly, extremely differently depending on who we are and with if you’re me, with a lot help for my more well-informed friends.

Spoilers )

The Summer Prince doesn’t propose a workable way for us to save the world with art. Nor, though it tries, does it totally, successfully work at expanding the SF worlds represented in Western media. It’s not going to be a book that many can feel comfortable while reading and that is a great shame for those readers who I’m sure would like great SF set in a country they love/ see a story where men who love each other aren’t torn apart by death. It presents a world where a two boys and a girl can love each other, where they can try to save the world, and there something great in that. I just wish this were a book that could be recommended all around, instead of another work to come with caveats.

I wrote this post for Aarti's A More Diverse Universe event

Other Reviews

The Book Smugglers
Foz Meadows
The Intergalactic Academy
Black Girl Nerds
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay
This co-review was completed in 2010 and is being archived here for great justice!

Internet! You know what is better than a nutella cheesecake? Not much! EXCEPT CO-REVIEWING WITH ANA. Ana blogs at things mean a lot and if you don't know her you are missing out. TODAY we are sharing the conversation we've had over a book, by some dudes you may have heard of. We sat and took apart Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and it was so freaking awesome, Ana blew my mind into 2012. TRUE STORY: it is not the Mayan calendar ending that kick starts the apocalypse, but my brain arriving in 2012 and EXPLODING FROM GLEE that Ana gave up her precious free time to tl;dr with me. I know, everyone wants to touch me now, but instead all I can offer you is our co-review. While this is in no way as awesome as you getting to co-review with her oh yes you're jealous aren't you, it is still pretty awesome. But I have to warn you, you may not want to enter this co-review without a breadcrumb trail and a spoiler net, because it is long and full of plot details and twists.

Also, I'm sorry about the apocalypse.

Renay: Will Grayson, Will Grayson! Two of them, two authors, two of us. This is clearly a recipe for success! I am totally STOKED to be discussing this book with you because it means I get to pick your brain. I promise I will not make this Renay Asks Ana Nosy Questions About A Book And Doesn't Share Any Opinions At All, because that would be unfair to make you do all the heavy lifting (it will be hard, but I will endure). I feel it is safe to start at the beginning, which for both of us I think was "JOHN GREEN HAS ANOTHER BOOK COMING OUT!!!111 CUE FANGIRLING." Time for the necessary evaluation of all that excitement, those nights, waiting for the book to arrive, the thrill when we held it in our hands, when we read the first page! The question is, did it deliver?

Ana: You had to start with a difficult question, didn't you? ;) I didn't quite know how I felt about the book for days after I finished it. I mean, I know it was awesome in many ways, but I didn't know how I felt about it as a new John Green book. And I did wonder if all those months of fangirling and taking screenshots of John Green holding the book during his live show to e-mail you didn't contribute to my developing slightly unreasonable expectations (for which I solely blame myself, of course). Expectations are killers! I wish I knew how to get rid of them. To actually answer your question, this book didn't hit me like a punch in the gut like John Green's other books did, but I do think it's a book capable of having that same powerful effect on other people. And one of the reasons why I've been looking forward to discussing it with you is because I know that as we move from how much we enjoyed it to how it works, what it does, and how it does the things it does, I'll develop an appreciation of it that simply reading it and putting it back on the shelf wouldn't allow me to have. Can you tell I miss lit classes?

Renay: Of course! I ask the tough questions. You can come to the lit class IN MY HEART. :D

I did manage to keep my expectations in a low gear, because I knew David Levithan was the co-author. I am very hit-or-miss with Levithan's work. Sometimes it's wonderful (for instance, I loved his work in Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List) and sometimes I go, "....what...? (Wide Awake). Expectations fully tempered, despite efforts to the contrary. ;) I was actually prepared to go into this book loving John Green's half and being emotionally disconnected from Levithan's. Neither of these things happened. I liked the book, of course! I gobbled it up in one day and wanted more more more, but no, it wasn't a John Green Book for me (that phrase comes with sparkles, but no unicorns). There's not the same helpless love I felt for Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Not every work an author puts out is going to be fireworks and cotton candy and a ride on the Scrambler. I liked their characters and the complicated nature of friendship and love being analyzed, but I did wonder at the end: who this story is truly about? Did you run into that issue, as well?

Ana: I did a bit, yes. I hesitate to call the book unfocused, and I have absolutely nothing against stories in which several different characters deal with their own separate issues, but by the end I kind of wanted it to have gone....further? I've seen reviews that said that the ending felt rushed, and while I don't think it left the characters in a bad place necessarily, I kind of felt that way about the whole book. Things happened fast, and I had several moments of, "Wait, can we go over that again, only more slowly?" Then again, I read this book insanely fast — all because, as I said above, I was ridiculously excited to be reading it — so it could have been that too.

Renay: I actually discussed the end of the book with KJ because I was curious if I was the only one going "WTF?". We had an interesting discussion about resolution, which might tie in to how the work felt unfocused. I don't think the ending was rushed, I think the ending was kidnapped! Obviously, what happened at the end was pretty neat, but KJ said that the book ended about one chapter too soon — and I agree with her. That abruptness, the lack of direction plagued me the entire story, too, even though I enjoyed it. I can't decide if the speed at which I read it contributed to this feeling, or if I read it so fast because I was waiting for something and kept rushing through to find what it might be. Ensemble casts are awesome, but when the book starts and seems to be about these two boys but ends on another character who has come to define the text, I get a little confused. Was the story about how each Will navigated their own life, or navigated their own life around Tiny? I think it matters! I have seen other reviews claim this is a "love it or hate it" ending, but I think that oversimplifies the issue. I didn't love it, of course, or I wouldn't be whining! But I didn't hate it, either. I was...bemused!

Ana: Yeah, I'm not sure if it's about it being a "love it or hate it" kind of ending. And that question does matter! Tiny Cooper stole the show, and not in an entirely positive way. I mean, on the one hand, I liked him. He was interesting to read about! The things he went through were relevant! And while I can see other writers making a mess of not presenting him as a stereotype, I did think Green and Levithan did a fine job of making him fully human.

But — the book is called Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Obviously that doesn't mean there isn't room for other characters, especially characters that are so important for the two Wills. But the way the story played out, and especially the ending, did make them seem a bit like they were satellites revolving around a person who was just louder and more noteworthy than they were. I'm not sure if that was intended, but at any rate, it wasn't quite what I wanted from the story. I don't think Tiny's presence in the story is a bad thing — he helps Green's Will break through his façade of not really caring, and Levithan's Will feel more comfortable with his sexuality than he ever did before. But the emphasis on the person who brought these changes about rather than on the changes themselves kind of cheats both Wills out of their agency. I'm not saying the story presents Tiny as a Big Fairy Godfather of Feel Good, but because his presence is so inescapable, especially towards the end, it comes a bit close.

Renay: I agree that Tiny was extremely important to both protagonists, for the reasons you outlined but also for the way he brought them together with someone else who was what they needed at the time, even if they didn't quite know it. Will and Jane and Will and Gideon — Tiny helped both of them form these relationships both directly and indirectly, even if they were hesitant to reach out before. So even though at the end they feel resolved, in a way, I think you're right on about the agency. Tiny basically steals the show, which is always a problem when writing a character like this. So many reviews gush over Tiny but Will and Will are barely a blip — and I think many parts of their story, divorced from Tiny, like their connection, is lost because of this, which makes me a little sad.

Ana: It really is too bad. I find the processes they both go through so interesting, and I find stories in which people tentatively reach out even though they're terrified endlessly fascinating. (Um, not that I have unresolved issues in that area or anything.) The book would have satisfied me more if it had dealt with that in more detail, and if it hadn't been for Tiny's Magic Wand effect.

You mentioned earlier that you were worried you'd feel emotionally disconnected from Levinthan's Will Grayson, but in the end that didn't happen. Was your level of investment in both stories the same, then? How do you think that they compare?

Renay: If only they had given us ONE MORE CHAPTER. Just one, guys!

I expected to like John's Will Grayson more — for him to be more accessible to me. I have whined about my problems with Levithan's characters and plots before, so I don't have a super great track record. What happened surprised me, because after finishing the book, my feelings are all tangled up with Levithan's Will Grayson. I know I rushed through every other chapter to find out how he handled things, how he survived. spoilers ) That did it for me. It even surpassed the all-lowercase typing, which I could have lived without. Green's Will — his problems were definitely Straight Cisgender White Dude problems and I have to admit I am way less interested in that, which is not fault of John Green's at all. I knew how that story was going to end! If John Green's books have a weakness (besides how he uses female characters), it's that I expect certain things because the character type spits out the plot at my feet. Honestly, even if Levithan is hit-or-miss for me, there are surprises on the journey. This, in all likelihood, is just me? Maybe? Perhaps? Read more tl;dr and also lots of spoilers! )

Other Opinions: Book Gazing, BookLust, books i done read, The Book Smugglers, Good Books and Good Wine, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, The Written World, yours?


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Ira is an illustrator and gamer who decided that disagreeing with everyone would be a good way to spend their time on the internet. more? » twitter icon tumblr icon AO3 icon

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