Jessica

This book, like all Sunfire books, is more or less bizarre, but one of the most bizarre things is that on the back cover, the Indian guy is wearing blue jeans. And on the front cover, he’s the whitest-looking Indian guy I’ve ever seen, he looks like Scott Baio, complete with a 1980s shag cut and a ponytail. Not sure if that’s better or worse than Jessica’s poufy ponytail.

Jessica, Mary Francis Shura, 1984.

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Like all the books, Jessica has two men fighting over her love, but since one of them is an Indian guy you know automatically he’s not going to win. This book was published in 1984, you just know he isn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, she hooks up with an asshole, but that seems to be the way of all these books, so hey, whatever.

Jessica lives in Kansas just after the Civil War, with her father, stepmother, and two younger brothers. She’s being courted sort of half-heartedly by a guy named Roy Blanding, who is really bland. (Never say these books lack subtlety.) She’s complaining about how her parents don’t treat her like an adult while she heads over to the new neighbours, Will Reynolds and his pregnant wife, to bring them a basket as they’ve just moved in. They’re from Chicago, and are extremely rude to Jessica, and Will tells her to fuck off because they don’t need her running around telling them what to do, and get the fuck out because he knows everything, blah blah blah. He has known her for ONE MINUTE. And claims that they don’t need charity. How rude.

Later that week Jessica is wandering through town reflecting on how Indians don’t kill more than they can eat, as you do when looking in shop windows, and I would like to introduce her to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and yes they did because they were just people, not saints. But this is the 80s, and the Magical Indian trope is in full effect, and this is foreshadowing because: never let it be said that these books are not SUPER SUPER SUBTLE. CAN YOU HEAR HOW SUBTLE THEY ARE?????

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Elisabeth: The Princess Bride

Fine. I’ll review this, but I won’t like it, and I’ll complain about it the entire time, because apparently What A Waste Of Potential is my biggest problem. Too bad I am not a teacher and can’t torture children by going on at length about their wasted potential, like I can with this book!

Elisabeth: The Princess Bride, Austria-Hungary, 1853, Barry Denenberg, 2003.

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First of all, the illustration on this cover is awful. Elisabeth, or Sisi, really was a famously beautiful woman, and the existing photographs of her show this! Why is the painting of her on the cover making her look like a disgruntled schoolteacher who resembles her own horse? Especially since practically this entire book and almost all of Sisi’s social capital rested on how beautiful she was! Seriously!

Second of all: This book is impossibly short! It clocks in at just ninety pages of story! You can’t tell me that Laurence Yep got approval to write an incredibly long story about Lady Xian, but Barry Denenberg got only ninety pages to blow through a story about a misunderstood monarch who is a bang-on perfect subject for a YA novel about royals? She literally has everything: incredibly difficult expectations placed on her without the framework to deal with them, a whirlwind mistake romance, anorexia and stress disorders, and the unreasonable expectations of beauty and femininity! This is tailor-made for a really good YA novel and THIS is not it. I should write it, I’d do a better job.

We open the book in July at Possenhofen, Sisi’s childhood home, where her older sister Helene is being summoned to Vienna by their aunt Sophie–the Archduchess of Austria and mother of Franz Joseph, the Austrian emperor. Now, Helene has long been picked out at Franz Joseph’s eventual bride, and their mother is dead-set on this, and her father doesn’t give a crap. I get a very strong Mr. Bennet vibe off of Sisi’s father–he doesn’t seem to care too much about his children’s futures, and is more concerned with dicking around at home. But as usual, we are expected to think that Sisi’s mother is awful and controlling for wanting to arrange her daughters well, and Sisi’s father is wonderful because he’s so indulgent. I already hate this book.

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To Stand On My Own

I’ve been skipping out on the Canadian content lately! I must remedy that. I’ve been wanting to do this book for quite awhile because it’s just so interesting and extremely readable, and it’s nearly impossible to find books targeted at kids that deal with epidemics of disease where the focus isn’t the acute fear of the disease, but the aftermath.

To Stand on My Own: The Polio Epidemic Diary of Noreen Robertson, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1937, Barbara Haworth-Attard, 2010.

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A couple of things of note about this: I love that it’s set in Saskatoon but the focus isn’t on how terrible life in the prairies is–it just happens to be the setting. This is Haworth-Attard’s second Dear Canada book, and while I hated the first one, I really loved this one. Mostly because I thought her first one, A Trail of Broken Dreams, was unfulfilling and depressing and lacked focus, but also because it was one of those novels where you don’t get a terrible clear picture of the narrator? This one is much more direct. And secondly–it’s set in 1937, but it has a very “modern” feel, which I know is strange for a historical novel, but it’s much more directly relatable than, say, Not A Nickel To Spare, which is set just five years earlier and which I really hated. That one feels ancient–this novel is so much more relatable!

So this diary’s protagonist, Noreen, is twelve years old and lives in Saskatoon with her parents and her two brothers. Her grandfather lives nearby, as does her aunt and uncle and cousin–who are not so badly affected by the Depression, like Noreen’s family has been. They’re limping along OK, not great, but not in the poorhouse either, and it’s summer and very hot and things are kind of dull at home. So Noreen hangs out with her friend Bessie and go goof off around town, or stays home to read and help her mother clean–“Mother is forever complaining about the house being dusty and it is. I know because I’m the one who has to dust it.”

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Diana

I feel like I say this about every Sunfire book, but: this book is a trainwreck. The only difference is that each book is a trainwreck in a new and different and exciting way. On the plus side: there is no plus side to this book. I didn’t even learn anything. (Although to be honest, the bar for “learning” from Sunfire novels is really, really low. It’s like saying you learned something from reading a billboard. We should all know this stuff already.)

Diana, Mary Francis Shura, 1988.

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This book is the same age as I am and used to belong to the library of Gardiner Middle School in Oregon City, and I don’t know what’s more horrifying: the fact that this book only cost $2.75 American new (books used to be so cheap!) or the fact that this was considered good reading material for 13-year-olds. Also hilarious: the front cover. Diana is wearing a rhinestone tiara and carrying a fan that looks like it came out of a Vegas drag revue, and giving the viewer a look that’s equal parts confused and smug. You can tell of the two dudes on the cover who she’s going to end up with, though, because she’s embracing the Daniel Boone cosplayer and the hat-wearing dandy on the right looks mildly perturbed.

The premise of this book is that Diana is the daughter of a wealthy fur trading family in New Orleans just as the Louisiana Purchase has been transacted. The city is in turmoil, but because Diana is a teenager, she really has nothing useful to offer to anyone and so she goes to a party with her parents and meets up with her friend, Violette. At this party (literally we’re only on page 6 and introducing one of the love interests, so this book clearly does not mess around) she meets David LaPointe, a handsome blond French aristocrat. He’s very shy, so they dance together a few times and Diana gets all bent out of shape because he’s being weird, and then he confesses that he’s seen her driving around town in her father’s carriage and fell in love with her at first sight. (I am not feeling great about David.) She’s super taken with this, though, and the next day Violette comes over and they gossip about him, and then he invites Diana to go driving again and for tea.

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