Sunday 27 June 2010

Nerds Heart YA: Shine, Coconut Moon VS Skunk Girl

And here we are again for a second year of Nerds Heart YA. I'm judging the first round again. The books I have read are

  • Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
  • Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

The Summary
Samar is a seventeen-year-old girl living in Linton, New Jersey. Her family is of Indian origins but her mother, who brought her up as a single parent, has always tried to keep her away from her heritage and her grandparents. She's taught Samar to feel like an American, rather than Indian, with the same rights and freedoms of any other citizen, regardless of her ethnicity, but her mother's intentions to save Samar from the restrictions that she had to endure as a child are turning her into a coconut: brown on the outside and white on the inside.
An unexpected reunion with uncle Sandeep, whom Samar had never met, soon after the 9/11 attacks, ignites Samar's need to reconnect with her heritage and find out more about herself.

What I liked:
I thought the idea of linking the typical teenager's need of self-discovery to the exploration of one's cultural identity was a great idea. When Samar says: I couldn't feel more different. I feel like the epitome of different - from everyone. I feel like there's no one else like me on this whole planet she's channeling, unknowingly, the spirit of being a teenager. In her case it's symbolised by her new-found origins. But I challenge anyone to raise their hand and say they haven't felt this way at 17.
The 9/11 setting added some edginess, some uncomfortable moments, which at first they felt a bit deliberate but they all came together in the end.
Of course, I loved learning about Sikh culture, of which I know little about. Especially what it is like for a Sikh to live away from the homeland and still carry on the faith. Just as much as I was interested in reading about being a Muslim in Does my head look big in this? I enjoyed the parts which dealt with the rituals and the traditions of the Sikh.
Regarding the characters,I must say I loved uncle Sandeep. He's the sweetest, most likeable character, always ready to help, to talk, to hug. Although he's a bit too willing to please Samar and do whatever she asks him to do. Also, for all her faults, I thought Samar's mother was an example of an independent spirit, a women who rebelled and tried to instill the same spirit into her daughter, with unexpected results. I couldn't not like her.

What I didn't like:
Unfortunately I found Samar's character to be flat and occasionally annoying. Aside from her journey of self-discovery, there wasn't anything that made her stand out as a person. Was that the point? That she needed to find her true identity before developing a personality? I don't know, but aside from being a rebelling teenager, which is normal, I couldn't find any special likable qualities about her. At some point I even thought she was taking her anger against her mother a bit too far and I ended up siding with her mother. Am I getting too old?
Actually all the teenager characters were sort of bland, bordering toward boring, which was a little disappointing.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

The Summary:
At 16-year-old, Nina Khan had two main things that plagued her life: the constant comparison to the super genius older sister and body hair.
She's also from a Pakistan family and one of the only brown kids in her school, which, as she puts, sucks.
It's not that I hate high school. It's just that I wish it would hurry up and end already.
A part from that, she's a normal teenager, who has friends, and would like to party and date like any other kid. But her family, unlike Samar's, is of the strict kind and won't allow Nina to mingle with boys. Things, of course, get harder for her, when a new kid, Asher Richelli, arrives in school and Nina falls for his Italian charm, like half of the female population in the school.

What I liked:
First of all, the writing was excellent. I loved Nina. She's smart, pessimistic and sarcastic, and completely lovable. You just want to squeeze her in a bear hug and tell her she's gorgeous. I also loved her friends, Bridget and Helena. Bridget seems to be the perfect Sagittarian: athletic but clumsy, and always blurting out whatever comes up in her head. Helena is the romantic, pretty type, always looking for the endless love, and always looking at the positive side of things. They are great counterparts for Nina's shy personality.
I also thought Nina's family was very likable. They are strict Muslims, but they visible love their daughter to bits. You can see it in her dad, especially, in his awkward attempts at bonding with Nina. So adorable. Also irresistible is his love for food, for Sufi mystical music, and for bear hugs.
All these great characters come to life thanks to Nina's hilarious sarcastic comments and humour. I frequently laughed out loud, while I kept my grin on almost all the time. And what can I do, books that make me laugh will always win my heart.
Like Shine, Cononut Moon, Skunk Girl is a journey of discovery. But unlike the other, this story is more about acceptance. As a teenager Nina feels restricted and repressed, but she also slowly comes to realise what a great gift it is to have a family who loves you and will care for you always.
Her parents are very similar to Samar's grandparents, and it'd be interesting to see how the two characters would fare if they could swap families. Nina would experience a greater freedom, but wouldn't be part of a bigger community of people sharing the same cultural background. Samar would understand what it meant for her mother to live under repressive rules, but would experience that comforting choral feeling of big family reunions. I think it would enrich both of them

What I didn't like:
Not much. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but not completely. I knew it had to be that way, I just can't help wishing Nina would stand up to her parents just a bit more. Her religion seems to be imposed on her, as something she can't change, just accept, while I'd love for her to be free to experience teenage love without fearing her parent's fury. But I guess that's just how things are sometimes.
All in all, it was a great realistic insight into a Pakistani girl's life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, decision time. I'd say you will have guessed by now, but let's make it official.
The book that will go to the next round is:

Skunk Girl!

Thursday 24 June 2010

Knitting away

So today I attended the end-of-year certificate night for my knitting class. It is organised by a community centre for adult learners which also offers a whole range of other courses for ridiculously low prices. Next time I'll try to do the dress-making course, if the class is not all booked out. Anyway, tonight they organised the ceremony to hand out all the certificates (not just for knitting, but for all the classes) including a gorgeous dinner. I was surprised to see the Lord Mayor of Dublin Eamer Costello (who's actually a woman, isn't it weird to be called Lord?) there who gave an introductory speech and handed out the certificates. She seemed like a lovely woman.
This whole thing reminded me that I never posted anything of what I made this year. I'm very proud of some of the things I made, I will probably set up a chain factory for Christmas to make hand-knitted gifts for everyone...
Here we go.

These are the first pair of hand-warmers I ever knitted. I was so excited when I made them, because they're so simple to make and they look really cool. I'm almost sad now that's too hot to wear them.

This pair was harder to make, but only at first. I didn't know how to do the lace. Thank the internet gods for youtube and the knitting-for-dummies videos.

This is probably the easiest thing you can make after a scarf. Should make a whole range of colours to go with different outfits.

and here's the scarf. You can't see it but there's a hole where you can slip the scarf in on windy days. I added the buttons on the edges, they weren't in the pattern.

If anyone fancy making any of these things, most of the patterns can be found on the web:
First pair of hand-warmers
second pair of hand-warmers
bow head-band
The scarf is in the Stitch 'n bitch book.

I'll keep you updated with future creations!

I'm back...

...and I have the winner of my little contest:


Congratulations :D
I don't even have to post it out (I'm so cheap)

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Oh by the way, it was my blogiversary

Three days ago, this blog turned three! I didn't forget, I was just lazy. But I like traditions, and blogiversary means giveaway. I can't skip that. Now, since I'm even poorer than last year, I'm going to give away only one book. But the good part (for me) is that I get to browse around all the fabulous charity shops and pick a book for the lucky winner. You know the feeling you have when you look at second-hand books you really love and are really cheap? You're really tempted to buy them again and bring them home, but usually there is no point. You already have that book and you also already read it. I keep seeing books I love all over the place, because I'm more than even browsing charity shops few times a week. And it's OK when there's someone with me whom I can recommend the book to. But when I'm alone I feel very guilty to just buy it for future gifts. So now you have a chance to make me feel less guilty! See, I'm not generous at all, it's all for my selfish pleasure :D
All you have to do to get the book is comment below. If you don't have a wish list, start making one! Also, if you don't have an online catalog, get one! Otherwise, you'll just have to go with whatever you get and risk to get a book you already read/have.
Deadline is June 22. I know, it's ages from now, but I'm going on holiday next Monday, and it's not even a week from now, so I thought I'd give more time to spread the word, until I come back. Good Luck!

photo credit:

Saturday 5 June 2010

Enna Burning - Shannon Hale

I won't even attempt to write a proper review as I've read this a while ago, but I did want to write down some impressions, because Shannon Hale is quickly becoming one of my newest favourite writers. I can't just mention this one briefly.
Returning to Bayern was like revisiting some old friends. True, I've only read The Goose Girl recently, so it hasn't been that long ago, but it was still comforting. The story though, wasn't. Also, it was a little hard to get into it at first. It didn't have the familiar beginning of a fairy tale like The Goose Girl had. It left Ani aside, to focus on Enna, who was one of the best secondary characters in the first book, but somehow it took a while to warm up to the story.
The writing was always enchanting, though, and I knew I was gonna fall in love with the story soon enough. Enna is easy to love, just like Ani (or Isi as she calls her) but they are different. Ani had to grow from being too shy and awkward to be confident and brave. Enna's journey is different. She's already confident enough, being from the Forest and all, but she's very impulsive, strong-minded and proud. All great traits which make her a beautiful character, but which also lead her to make some big mistakes.
My favourite part was the second half, and if you haven't read it, skip this paragraph as it's hard to talk about it without some spoilers...
We come to realise, as hinted by Ani/Isi, that Enna's gift is a dangerous one, even more than expected, and that it won't be easy to get rid of it. Just like a drug, it starts to take over Enna's life from the inside and there seems to be no solution. The ending was absolutely beautiful. It showed the strong friendship bond that exists between the two young women, and it reminds us that the only way nature work is by maintaining its balance. You can learn its language but it can literally eats you up if you don't understand it as a whole. Loved it.
(end of spoilers)
My favourite fantasy books never take magic lightly. They show there's always consequences, laws and balances to learn before you can master it. That's one of the reasons why I will always refer to Ursula K. Le Guin and her Eearthsea series as some of the best fantasy ever written.
I love the Harry Potter's books because they're entertaining and cleverly plotted, but their careless use of magic will always slightly annoy me.
I'm happy to say Shannon Hale's works falls into the "best" category. At least her fantasy books, which are the only ones I've read so far.
I'm really glad there's another one to read in this series, River Secret, which I know nothing about. Another chance to get that cosy warm feeling of revisiting a beloved world and characters.

other reviews:
Things mean a lot
Nothing of Importance
Melody's Reading Corner
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Words by Annie
The Written World
Always dreaming
Please let me know if you've written about it too.