The Compulsive Reader: Reading Rants: Of Historical Fiction, Sarah Dessen, and Strong Asian Heroines

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reading Rants: Of Historical Fiction, Sarah Dessen, and Strong Asian Heroines

I love Sarah Dessen. How is it that I've only really ever gotten into her books in the past year or so? Very shameful on my part, I know. Spare me the lectures, because I am fully a Dessen fangirl now. I just finished up Just Listen, which I loved, loved, loved. I've got my eye out for Someone Like You and This Lullaby, but unfortunately the down side of Dessen being so popular is that I practically have to start a cat fight in the YA section of my library if I even want to put my hands on one of her books. (I got away this week with Dreamland, which looks dark and fascinating, and I even managed to avoid violence in getting it!)

Despite all of the books that I encounter that I fall in love with, I am confronted with disappointment now and then. I've been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting to get my hands on The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood (ahem, based on a concept by the Duchess of Northumberland), but once I finally did...meh. I have loved Wood's style in the past--she's downright hilarious in Why I Let My Hair Grow Out and How I Found the Perfect Dress, and her new MG series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, is delightful and mysterious and made of perfection.

But...I just couldn't get into The Poison Diaries. I usually love a historical setting, and the idea of a poison garden is very, very intriguing, but the characters weren't cutting it. I had to set it down. I still have the ARC lurking around, so maybe I'll pick it up and attempt to finish it, because I did really love the historical fiction feel.

Historical fiction. I know this isn't news to most of you, but historical fiction, oh historical fiction! I love it. I read Faithful, which turned out to be set in 1904 (score!) and that was fabulous, because let's be honest, how many books about historical Yellowstone Park are there? Yeah, not many. Any time I can find a historical book that takes me to a completely new time and place, I'm ecstatic, and Faithful did just that. I am so glad I bought it! Now, the rest of you must go and do the same!

And then I read Clockwork Angel, which is set in Victorian London, and that was a lot of fun! As with all of Cassandra Clare's books, it took me a couple of chapters to get into, but once I did...wow! Very inventive, and very meticulously researched! I'm impressed!

I'm going to now veer from gushing to ranting and discuss my intense displeasure for the new covers for Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix and its sequel. Race aside, the covers are okay, but bland and drab. But, since race will inevitably be dragged into this issue, the models on the covers look a bit white to me. What's wrong with Asians on the covers? Absolutely nothing, but yet Borders won't carry Silver Phoenix's beautiful original cover, and that's a shame. Borders is usually my top pick for bookstores, but that makes me lose a bit of respect for them.

If you want to know more about the issue, you should really check out this blog post here. Reading in Color is an awesome blog, and really speaks the truth. Which leads me to...

Books with people of color in them! I'm a white reader, and I am not put off by people who are different than me on books covers. I picked up Girl Overboard earlier this year not because of its cover (which features a race-less figure), but because of the description--an Asian snowboarder who is injured and has to now figure out what she wants to do with her life, and her own place in her intimidating family. That's different, it's intriguing, and I wanted to learn more. (You can read my review here.)

There are some days when I feel as if I know almost all there is to know about my country and its history and its culture. It gets old. I want to pour over something different, learn something new, discover something I haven't heard about before. I got a little bit of that in Girl Overboard, and that was a book I enjoyed immensely. Consequently, I bought Justina Chen Headley's first book, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) as soon as I found a copy. (And that is a cover that features an Asian--and I love it!)

And now I'm getting off my little soapbox and am going to continue reading Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, written by Natalie Standiford (whose first book, How to Say Goodbye in Robot, was most excellent!) because it's pretty good!


Steph Su said...

lol, then I'll avoid saying something about your Sarah Dessen bandwagon belatedness. Glad you're loving her though! :)

The Poison Diaries was iffy for me too, although past the first 60-something pages, the story was actually smooth sailing for me, and I ended up relatively enjoying it. Historical fiction is often hit-or-miss for me, and I can't seem to put my finger on why... maybe it has to do with the fact that most HFs I've read don't feel authentic enough for me?

Jane said...

Sarah Dessen is amazing, and I totally know what you mean about getting her books from the library- I had to wait weeks before I could get my hands on any one of them!

I know your love of historical fiction, and to tell you the truth, I don't share it. I love to get my hands on a really good historical novel, but it seems like the vast majority of the historical books I read are only so-so.

I also think that it's a shame that race is something that will affect someone's perception of a book. I love reading books from different perspectives (I agree with you that Justina Chen Headley's books are examples of good books with different cultures) and I also love learning about different things. Race shouldn't be a deciding factor in whether or not you should read a book.


Anonymous said...

I love Sara Dessen's books, they have a special place in my heart because they were the first ones I ever bought off Amazon, making them the first books I ever read in English.

I don't think I read lots of historical fiction but I love historical romance and sometime I'm amazed of the things I've learned out of them, and you're right, it's awesome when you're transported to another place and time.

I agree about Cindy Pon's books, the original covers were lovely.

I too loved Girl Overboard, it was one of my favorite books I read in 2009. I loved how I could relate to Shyra even though I have seen snow up close all but once and I'm mexican not asian because beyond being chinese, she's just a girl trying to find her own place in the world.

Rebecca Herman said...

Loved the old Silver Phoenix cover, HATE the new ones. I am so so so sick of dark covers with the girl's face hidden, in fact the trend of headless covers in general even when they aren't dark... ugh not for me!

Anyway I love historical fiction and had some kind of mixed feelings on The Poison Diaries. Need to write my review seoon. Loved it early on but it was sooo dark in the 2nd half not sure where the sequel can go from there.... I'll read it and see but I won't have a firm opinion til I see how the story ends up.

Tara said...

I keep hearing a lot of good things about Sarah Dessen, so I started looking for some of her books. It takes FOREVER to get a book at the library here (Chicago) so I decided to check out B&N. I found Dreamland, Just Listen, and Someone Like You all for $8! For some reason they have a ton of Sarah Dessen on clearance online. So if you are impatient like me, there is a cheap alternative option :)

Unknown said...

I truly don't understand the whitewashing of covers. Why should it matter? A good story's a good story! Grr.

Anyway, totally just ordered Girl Overboard--sounds awesome!

MissA said...

I'm not yet on the Sarah Dessen bandwagon. i really liked Along For the Ride and The Truth About Forever. I was indifferent about That Summer. If I do decide to read some more by her, I'll try Just Listen :)

I love historical fiction so it makes me sad when I hear that it's not done well in a book =/ The cover of Faithful is so gorgeous.

Thank you for speaking out on the whitewashing of the covers. While I'm glad the publishers are at least sticking with Cindy Pon and the Silver Phoenix story (instead of giving up and not publishing the sequel, in which case I would die. haha). I'm more angry at the bookstores.

Justina Chen Headley is a good writer. I just read Girl Overboard this year and it's one of my favorite reads of 2010. Next up is Nothing But the Truth.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Sarah Dessen fanclub! Glad you enjoyed Just Listen. (One of my favourites from her) Dreamland I would say is the darkest novel she's ever written but it's so fantastic and the topic being discussed so important. Not quite sure if you've read The Truth About Forever or This Lullaby but if you haven't you must ASAP haha. Those two are my absolute favourites. :)

Alison said...

I just ordered Cindy Pon's book and I really like the cover ! But I agree with you, the sequel's cover is a dissapointment. I'm pretty sure the girl on the first book is Asian. The second girl on the sequel, is not.

I've never read Sarah Dessen, but I should, shouldn't I?!


D.M. McGowan said...

You say you are looking for something depicting a new area.
Western Canada, 1866 depicting the life style, the firearms (that many today claim were not part of the history), 'Manifest Destiny', the search for gold and the assasination of a police officer.
Actually the country of Canada didn't actually exist until a year later.
That would be found at www.strategicbookpublishing.come/Partners
Another possibility would be how the 'range wars' of Wyoming affected the opening of the 'North West Territories' ... present day Alberta ... in 1887. Or how Canada's Homestead Act, which claimed to accept all comers made it difficult for women to gain title to their land.
That would be www.strategicbookpublishing.com/Homesteader