Read Recently

One of the results of my recent injury, which has meant that I spend no more than four hours at my computer each day, is that I’ve been reading a tonne more. Here are some jetlagged thoughts, without any spoilers, on stuff (of all genres, not just YA) what I have read and loved recently:1

    Battle Royale Koushun Takami: Do not read this book if high school students murdering each other in graphic detail appalls you. And let’s be frank, it should appall you. I’m appalled that I was not appalled. But then I kind of like boxing too so clearly I have no moral compass at all. Um, yes, I loved this book. I could not put it down and kind of loved all the characters. It’s the kind of wonderfully well done crackalong pulptastic experience that I think Taratino frequently goes for (but in my opinion largely fails at). Actually, I thought I’d already read this book but it turned out I’d just seen the movie, which is not anywhere near as good. A few people are accusing Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series of being a rip off Battle Royale, which is silly. It’s an old, old plot and her version is very different. I hope that clears things up and people will stop with the dumbarse plagiarism charges. Aside from anything else even if she had deliberately set out to do a YA version of Battle Royale it would still not be plagiarism. Borrowing a plot is not plagiarism. I’m not just saying that cause I had planned to write a YA Battle Royale.2

    Bride of the Water God Yun Mi-kyung: I wrote about this manhwa series after I’d finished vol. 2. I said at the time that it has some of the most gorgeous art I’ve ever seen. After five volumes I stand by that. If anything it’s been getting even more beautiful. I also said I didn’t have much of a clue about what was going on. I stand by that too. I love this series. I enjoy it in a clueless haze.

    Bury Me Deep Megan Abbott: This crime novel is set in the 1930s thus it was research. W00t! Awesome novel by a writer who’s new to me. I’ll be reading more of her stuff. Lyrical, intense, with gripping plot. Just my cup of tea. If only it had been set in NYC and not LA, it would have been perfect. (For research purposes, I mean.)

    Dreaming of Amelia Jaclyn Moriarty: I’m a huge Moriarty fan and this latest addition to her series which began with Feeling Sorry for Celia about a bunch of high school students at two high schools in Sydney, one posh, one not. The beauty of this series is that you can read them out of order without any ill effect but if you read them in order there even better. My faves are this one and Bindy McKenzie. All the books in the series are told from multiple points of view via letters, notes on the fridge, legal depositions, etc etc. They’re technically stunning. It is very hard to tell a gripping, moving story that way. Yet Moriarty not only does it but does it so seamlessly you stop noticing that these are not conventional novels. I love these books.

    Enchanted Glass Diana Wynne Jones: I love pretty much everything Wynne Jones has ever written. She is a genius and this is one of my fave books of hers in ages. She’s funny and moving and, well, I just worship her. My only quibble was that the ending was a tad abrupt. But who cares. It was Diana Wynne Jones. More, please!

    Pluto Naoki Urasawa: I cannot decide which of the three Urasawa manga series that I’ve read I like best. I love Monster. It’s a bad seed story, what’s not to love? But on the other hand 20th Century Boys is pretty amazing too. And now Pluto is blowing me away. Maybe I’ll have to wait until I’ve finished all of these series to decide.

    Piper’s Son Melina Marchetta: Melina’s first adult novel. A kind of sequel to Saving Francesca. This is my favourite book of hers to date. I love love love love loved it. Read it in one sitting and balled my eyes out.3 Walk, don’t run!

    The Right Mistake Walter Mosley: I’m yet to dislike a single Walter Mosley book. This was no exception. Though I’ll admit I was nervous. I’m not a big short story person and am quite suspicious of long narratives told in a series of short stories. They’re incredibly hard to pull off. Mosley does it.

    Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II Douglas A. Blackmon. Another research book. This one non-fiction. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Jim Crow and the colour line for my 1930s book. Right now I would like to make everyone with even the slightest interest in the history of the USA read this book. It absolutely debunks any notion that slavery ended in 1865, try 1945. It makes me even angrier at the waves of Southern propoganda about the Civil War and Reconstruction embodied by books and movies like Gone with the Wind. This book made me want to go back in time and do something to persuade the North not to abandon the South, for Reconstruction to have lasted, say, fifty, or even a hundred years, rather than a mere twelve. Or maybe all that was needed was to put different people on the Supreme Court, who wouldn’t have gutted the Civil Rights amendments in 1883 or ruled wrong on Plessy v Ferguson. For me this was an eye-opening book and has forever changed how I think about US history.

    Wench Dolen Perkins-Valdez: This has been getting a lot of buzz online. All of it is deserved. Set in the 1840s and 1850s in the USA about four slave women who are taken to an Ohio resort by their masters. This was another one-sitting read. It’s gorgeously written, incredibly moving, and had me in tears more than once. This book was made even more poignant for me because I read it immediately after Slavery by Another Name and couldn’t help but worry about what was going to happen to these women after Reconstruction.

I loved all of these books and highly recommend them. Be very interested to hear from others who’ve read ’em. What did you think?

  1. My apologies for how bad that sentence is. And for the bad ones which follow. []
  2. Damn you, Suzanne Collins! []
  3. Though I should point out that I am a sook. It is easy to make me cry. []


  1. john cash on #

    It’s not enough to decry the romanticization of the old South and the racism in the culture behind it. Blackmon’s book does more than show how indentured servitude persisted: it places it in the context of a system of penal indenture (and indenture itself) inherited from the British and spread throughout British colonized areas, in particular the Carribean (tying in with critiques of the South as a Carribean culture). An article with a similar title — “Slavery by Another Name: Apprenticed Women in Jamaican Workhouses in the Period 1834-8” (Social history, vol. 26 no. 1) shows how shades of freedom colored British colonial societies. Nor were just blacks indentured. But there’s stuff to be said on the larger discourse of power, status, and criminalization in Southern culture, using race as its language and African-Americans as its chattel, that I think is missing from Blackmon’s book.

  2. Adele on #

    Melina sure knows how to write for the tear ducts. Between Jellicoe Road’s boy in the tree and The Piper’s Son grieving Georgie…I’ve sobbed buckets of tears.

  3. Ah Yuan // wingstodust on #

    I agree with EVERYTHING you say about Bride of the Water God. I never hesitate to blow my latest paycheck money on the shiniest new English volume releases. It’s too beautiful to not own and have displayed on my bookshelf. Also, I suspect with comics/graphic novels/manga/manhwa, I could read anything as long as the art is pretty, never mind of the storyline confuses the heck out of me… Like this one, lol. (I think I’m slowly understanding what’s going on though, by about vol. 4?? I think??)

    I’ve heard good things about Slavery By Another Name. Will definitely try to check that out of my library once exams are over. 8D

  4. Hannah on #

    I love, love, love battle Royale. I mean, it’s awful. But it’s also awesome. And it has heart, despite its goriness. I agree with your description too. It’s definitely not high literature but that’s its charm. But I loved the movie too. One of my favourite horror movies. I mean, it’s a little incomprehensible, especially since they played around with the plot too much from the book. But still visually stunning, in a horrific kind of way.

    I liked Piper’s Son but for some reason not as much as I loved Saving Francesca. I don’t know, maybe I just missed Jimmy.

  5. Travis on #

    I have the Battle Royale movie, and have always wanted to read the book. Now I need to see if my library has it…

  6. Jessica on #

    History is… difficult. We love these myths of Columbus and the First Thanksgiving and the Emancipation Proclamation in America. (I can’t speak for other countries, though I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it’s true outside of the US, as well.) It’s easier to believe that hardship never happened, that the past was shiny and bright. Even when there’s indisputable evidence that horrible things happened, it’s easier to believe that there was one great event that *solved* all of those problems! We love the image of Jewish people being freed from death camps, but we don’t like to think about how those individuals suffered for the rest of their lives or how people died in the weeks following their freedom because ate too much too quickly for their starving bodies to handle. We don’t like to think about how the extremely vibrant Jewish culture of Eastern Europe was all but destroyed and is only now, 60 years later, even beginning to make a comeback. We like to think of history as a series of events, but one thing that studying art history (and science!) taught me is that every action is a reaction to something else, and that movements ebb and grow.

    The struggle of the hundred years after the Civil War is one we’d rather not think about. It’s too complicated and too painful. But we need to understand what happened then, because it was a complete disaster and because we’re still dealing with the aftershocks. History at its best is a guide for the present and future.

    I haven’t read the Blackmon, but it’s on my Amazon wishlist now. I’m not sure what the book covers, because slavery lived on under many different names. I recently read W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk. One essay about sharecropping goes into great economic detail, and you can really see the impossibility of getting out of that system. Erg, sorry, this is a bit rough. There’s a lot to say and I’m not the most articulate or concise writer.

  7. AliceB on #

    No relevant comment here about the books. But I did have to look up “sook” — a word I didn’t even know existed. (That’s cuz I’m a poorly-traveled North American type, I am. . .)

  8. John H on #

    Did slavery end in 1865 in America? Of course not. It didn’t really end in 1945 either — the Northern Marianas Islands had sweatshops operating legally due to an exemption in our labor laws, with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff stalling any efforts to remove that exemption for years.

  9. K on #

    Hi Justine

    I am a little surprised that you refer to Melina’s book as an ‘adult novel’…

    The characters aren’t teenagers, but it very definitely speaks to YA readers and is being marketed and placed in the YA genre.

    I am not saying that adults will not enjoy it, my 41 year old husband adored it and I too cried and cried and cried, but I worry that in labelling it an ‘adult novel’ some teenagers will get the impression that it is not for them.

    Ideally it would be great to see it being sold / marketed to both adults and teenagers.

  10. Nicola on #

    I just want to second the praise of Jaclyn Moriarty. I am also a big fan of hers. You’re right that you can read them out of order, as I started with ‘Finding Cassie Crazy’ (which I think was published as ‘The Year of Secret Assignments’ in the US) and loved it. I was so pleased when ‘Dreaming of Amelia’ came out to see how big it was. Yay! I just loved how it was written almost entirely through HSC exams. I thought that was a cool idea, although ridiculously hard to pull off, I would think. She totally made it work though.

  11. MissAttitude on #

    I’m envious of all the time you’ve had to read! I do want to read Battle Royale, I don’t understand how people can accuse an author of plagiarism if they use a similar plot but completely change it around through character, setting, etc. I MUST read wench. It’s on my mental summer reading list. It’s so orginal.

    Nothing like non fiction about how badly people can be treated to make you want to throw something (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch Roots, American History X or Schindler’s List. Even if two of them are classics. My actions might get out of hand after viewing them). Slavery By Any Other Name sounds excellent. Just like the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t actually free slaves, slavery didn’t really end in 1865. well I suppose it did in a way, because TECHNICALLY you couldn’t own another person. But all white Southern landowners did was change the name to share-cropping, get poor Southern blacks riddled in debt and keep them from voting and other basic human rights. Gah. If only our Supreme Cout wasn’t filled with such idiots (it is debatable if it is today, some of them anyway) and Reconstruction was prolonged. It was the right step.

    BTW the fact that you read By Another Name for research makes me even more excited for the 1930s novel 🙂

    Also, if you’re looking for some non-fiction, try Team of Rivals. I finished it a while ago and it was wonderufl! Astonishing parallels to events happening in the U.S. today. It made me fall in love with non fiction all over again. As soon as school ends, I’m reading more!

  12. Emma on #

    Justine, you seriously MUST read all of Megan Abbotts stuff. It’s awesome. She’s also written some academic stuff on noir as a genre which might appeal to your geekiness and be helpful for ‘research’ as well. I’ve just ordered her new book, and I’m awaiting it like Christmas day, or the release of Liar, or other similar things like that.

  13. Joey-la on #

    I read The Piper’s Son a couple of weeks ago. I love love loved it too!
    Although, it didn’t make me cry. Jellicoe and Alabrandi both made me cry but this one didn’t. I’m not sure why. I was moved by it but yeah.
    I was a little bit sad though hearing about Will from Tom’s point of view. I kind of loved him in Francesca and don’t as much anymore 🙁
    I haven’t read Finnikin, do you recomend that too?

  14. Justine on #

    K: When I call a book “adult” I’m almost always referring to how it’s marketed. In this case I’m also calling it an “adult” book because that’s what Melina calls it.

    I’m pretty sure it’s going to be marketed in the US as YA, but at home it’s being sold as adult.

  15. Nicola on #

    Actually I was in Borders in Canberra this afternoon and it was on the YA shelf.

  16. Justine on #

    Sure. No one can control where bookshops shelve books other than the bookshop. It could be they’re moving to the US model whereby if it’s written by an established YA author it will be labelled YA no matter what.

    My book Liar is absolutely YA and yet I keep getting reports from Australia and New Zealand of it being shelved in adult literature.

    I wouldn’t worry though about teens not reading it because of a label. From what I keep seeing they are usually much less rigid about sticking to one genre than many adults are.

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