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review 2018-04-19 20:51
Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu
Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve - Lenora Chu

This is a really interesting book that offers a firsthand view of the Chinese school system from a mostly-American perspective. Lenora Chu is a daughter of Chinese immigrants who was raised in the U.S., her husband a white American who volunteered in China with the Peace Corps. After moving to Shanghai for work, they enroll their son in a prestigious Chinese preschool. Concerning incidents at the school spark the author’s journey to learn more about the Chinese school system: she observes classrooms in China and the U.S., talks to experts, and gets to know Chinese high schoolers and parents.

So the book is part memoir, part nonfiction. From an American perspective it’s a fascinating comparison; so much of what I tend to view as going wrong in current American ideas of education and child-rearing seems to be heightened in China, from overscheduled kids (in China it’s usually tutoring or extracurricular classes rather than swimming, gymnastics etc.), to an unwillingness to let kids play freely and explore because they might hurt themselves (other parents judge Chu for letting her son run around the living room jumping off chairs, etc., and the school states that kids aren’t allowed to talk during lunch because they might choke), to a heavy emphasis on testing. Regarding that last one, pressure for the high school and college entrance exams in China is so intense that in one town a crackdown on cheating resulted in parents and students rioting.

Which actually leads to one of the positive features of the Chinese system: Chinese families tend to treat academics the way American families treat sports, to the point of huge crowds of people gathering outside exam sites to see their kids off and shout well-wishes. While Americans face a social penalty for being “nerds” and tend to view academic success as a matter of inborn talent (so if you don’t have it, why bother to try), the Chinese have valued brains – and judged people by their test scores – for centuries, and believe that success is largely a matter of effort. They aren’t afraid to demand work from kids or to ask them to memorize. This is especially noticeable in math: while American schools tend to wrap up simple math in verbally complicated “word problems” in an attempt to make the work “relevant” to kids who won’t have a professional job for a decade or more anyway, Chinese schools forge ahead and have young kids doing more advanced problems. This is helped by the fact that Chinese teachers specialize in their subject matter from the first grade, while American elementary school teachers are generalists (who by and large don’t like math and weren’t good at it themselves). Of course it’s also helped by Chinese schools’ making no attempt to integrate kids with special needs into regular classrooms, which American schools must do.

It’s evident from Chu’s writing that all of these issues are complicated: each school system has its advantages and disadvantages, but many of the advantages come with their own negatives or are bound up with the culture and therefore hard to replicate, while the disadvantages can also have silver linings. And of course no huge country has a uniform school system: just as the U.S. has both great and failing schools, China too has huge disparities, with many rural schools being shafted.

There's a lot in the book that I haven't even discussed here: politics in the classroom, the social position of teachers, the encouragement of creativity or lack thereof, and how all this affects students in the long run. But the book isn’t a treatise. Chu keeps it lively and interesting with accounts of her own family’s experiences, and with a clear, journalistic writing style. I imagine some readers might criticize her parenting decisions – at times it felt as if she were trying to claim a high-minded rationale for a choice of school that ultimately came down to cost, while she and her husband seemed willing to accept (if unhappily) a certain amount of what many Americans would consider abusive treatment of preschool kids (such as forcefeeding, or threatening to call the police on them when they misbehave) in the interests of having a disciplined and well-behaved child. But for the American reader it’s a fascinating window into a very different school system, and into Chinese culture as a whole. It is balanced and thoughtful, and the author comes across as open-minded, curious and willing to adapt rather than pushing an agenda. I do wish it had endnotes rather than a chapter-by-chapter bibliography, for readers to follow up and learn more. But I learned a lot from this book, enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it.

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review 2018-04-19 18:11
I Am Here! (manga, vol. 2) by Ema Toyama, translated by Joshua Weeks
I Am Here! Omnibus Vol. 02 - 遠山 えま,Ema Tōyama

The first omnibus volume introduced Hikage, Hinata, and Teru. Hikage starts off practically invisible to everyone around her except Hinata and Teru. In the first volume, we learned that Hinata has a crush on Hikage. Hinata's jealous fans - one girl in particular - start bullying Hikage for spending too much time with him. In the end she's able to stand up to them.

Whereas the first omnibus volume was focused more on Hikage and her efforts to make friends, this omnibus volume was focused more on Hinata and Teru and the mystery of Black Rabbit's identity. Hikage is convinced that Hinata is Black Rabbit, a possibility that's initially appealing but then fills her with horror and embarrassment. Black Rabbit is her kindest and most supportive online friend. If Hinata is Black Rabbit, that could mean that her "friend" was really laughing about her behind her back as he was encouraging her to talk to him more. Hinata keeps denying that he's Black Rabbit, but he's clearly hiding something.

Things become even more difficult for Hikage when Teru realizes that he has a crush on Hikage too and the two best friends, Hinata and Teru, ask her to choose between them. While Hikage tries to figure out what to do, the wedge between Hinata and Teru starts to tear their entire class in two.

I felt so-so about the first omnibus volume, but since this series is so short I felt like I should finish it anyway. This final omnibus had some parts I liked and some I loathed.

I liked the closer look at Hinata and Teru's friendship. Now that I know Black Rabbit's secret (which I didn't clue into while reading the first volume but figured out a few pages into this one), I have a different perspective on what was going on between Hinata and Teru in the first half of the series. The first half of this volume, when Hinata and Teru were still actively trying to make sure that whatever each of them might be feeling for Hikage didn't hurt their friendship, was fine. Unfortunately, it fell apart when the love triangle reared its ugly head.

I hated the love triangle. Once Teru realized that he was in love with Hikage, his and Hinata's relationship devolved into a competition over Hikage. Teru was a liar, too - he'd say that he didn't want to make things difficult for Hikage, but then he'd explicitly ask her to choose between him and Hinata. Since Hinata and Teru's friendship turned out to be the glue that held the entire class together, asking Hinata to choose meant she'd also be responsible for the class group breaking in half, a fact that her fellow classmates picked up on right away (and almost piled on her for). Hikage found herself at risk of not only losing her budding romantic relationship and all her friendships and budding friendships, all because of this stupid love triangle.

The love triangle resolved itself less painfully for the characters than I expected, but that was mostly because Toyama allowed the tension between Hinata and Teru to just sort of magically evaporate. Some aspects of the love triangle never quite went away, despite Hikage making her choice, which left me wondering whether the issue had really been resolved. I suppose it could morph into an inside joke shared by all three of the characters...

In addition to the love triangle, I also hated that the bullying storyline came back, with the exact same bully. Even though her previous plans resulted in her own public humiliation, Aya decided to jump back into the fray with new plans...that could easily be traced back to her and used to humiliate her a second time. Because this is supposed to be fluffy shojo starring a super-sweet heroine, instead of humiliation Aya got an apology, a smile, and an encouraging speech.

Meanwhile, I'm the horrible person who thinks that there was nothing for Hikage to apologize for. Aya was in the wrong for thinking that Hinata was supposed to be some kind of untouchable idol and trying to keep others away from him. She was also in the wrong for bullying Hikage for getting close to him. She made it worse by impersonating several people in the love triangle to further screw up everyone's relationships, all so she could win over a guy who'd already made it clear he wasn't interested in her.

On the plus side, I was glad that Hikage's online relationships didn't quite work out the way I originally thought they were going to. It wasn't as neat and tidy as "Black Rabbit is this person from Hikage's offline life and Mega Pig is that person," and I liked the recognition that the way people interact with others online might not always match how they interact with them in person. So there's that. (And yes, characters could use their flip phones to post comments on Hikage's blog. They do it on-page in this volume, answering the question I had back while I was reading the first volume.)

I didn't hate this series, but this half of it was definitely weaker than the first half, and the first half was mediocre. Parts of the series were stronger than I expected, but the bullying storyline and the love triangle were both annoying. If ever there was a series that I wish had completely ditched its romance aspect and just focused on friendship, it's this one. I was more than a bit horrified when Hikage examined her feelings for Hinata and Teru and began to lean towards the "romantic relationships are more important than friendships" answer. The series didn't quite work out that way, but I still wasn't a fan of how Toyama handled things.

Extras:

The volume includes several author sidebars featuring a not-particularly-interesting comic series starring Mega Pig (the actual cartoon animal) and Mahi (the sunflower character), character profiles for Hikage, Hinata, and Teru, a short comic starring fourth-grade Hinata and Teru, a few pages of humorous short comics, and a few pages of translator's notes. There's also a bonus comic starring Mega Pig (his offline self), which was kind of cute and tied up a few loose ends from the main series.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-04-18 19:26
The School for Psychics
The School for Psychics - K. C. Archer

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

An enjoyable fast-read when it came to the ‘psychic powers’ theme. I really liked the premise: a young woman who’s been making questionable decisions, and gets a second chance in a school for people with psychic abilities, where they’re trained to protect and server… but a few people on the inside have different agendas, and it’s a constant game of trying to figure out what’s at stake, and if it’s going to be a bunch of revelations, or something much more lethal. The powers the students have are varied, ranging from precognition to telepathy and even pyrokinesis, and I liked how the novel tried to bring a scientific approach to it: after all, they’re training people who’re going to end up working for the FBI or NSA.

The first scene also engaged me from the beginning, what’s with Teddy being banned from Las Vegas casinos, but still sneaking into one, disguised as a different woman, to hopefully win the money she owes a Russian crime boss, because otherwise her own parents will be targeted. Well, OK, nevermind that she should never have let things go that far, all the more if she’s so good at reading people at the poker table, but ‘questionable decisions’ being a key here, alright, I can go with that.

On the other hand, I never really got a good feeling for Teddy, or for the other characters. Some of them had a sort of ‘larger than life’ vibe, with their quirks (the animal medium who likes doing yoga naked, the ex-cop who’s a charmer and can literally set things on fire, the hacker who’s also an empath…); but they remained fairly one-dimensional. Teddy barely thought of her family except in the beginning, we know nothing of the others except for a couple of things like ‘his family’s rich and he has a boat’, and so when the story took a more action/heist-oriented turn, it was hard to root for them.

The other thing I didn’t like—and which contributed to my not enjoying the sotry as much as I hoped—was the globally juvenile aspects. These people are 20-something (Teddy’s 24, and Pyro must be at least 25 considering he served in the police for some time, and I doubt you just start there at 15 or so), but the whole Whitfield academy had a strong high school feeling, and I constantly thought I was reading a YA novel when in fact it was marketed as geared towards adult, with adult characters. I don’t mind YA in general, even though I have my gripes about a lot of books; I don’t think that ‘because it’s YA, it’s necessarily stupid and uninteresting.’ This said, the aforementioned gripes involve a certain number of tropes that I find cringe-worthy, such as the mandatory romance and love triangle, the professor who immediately favours certain students and begrudges the heroine and her friends, or the whole ‘school stars vs. misfits’ aspect. And those tropes were clearly present here, to the point of making me forget that those characters were, uh, two years from going to work for the FBI? Suspension of disbelief was then shattered every time forensics or the shooting range was mentioned; it’s like the story couldn’t make up his mind about whether it was meant to be about teenagers or about adult people.

Not sure if I’ll be interested in the sequel.

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review 2018-04-13 18:25
Judy Moody Saves The World, Megan McDonald
Judy Moody Saves The World! - Megan McDonald,Peter H. Reynolds

This middle school age book was fun. I received it for free and voluntarily chose to review it. While it was fun with a lot of action, the characters lacked any real depth. I would have liked to see a little more. While it was centered on recycling and saving the world, I would have liked to have answers as to why. I would hope that this would make some of our teenagers think about it more. Because it was a little fun and a good subject matter, I've given this a 4* rating and I'll be sharing this with my grandchildren.

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text 2018-04-09 16:24
[Misc.Post] Introductions, I guess? (For School; Post 1)

Hey, I'm new here and I guess I'm supposed to introduce who I am. I read a lot of genres, but my favorites are horror/thriller and historical fiction, or anything creepy, like sci-fi and the Grimm's tales. My favorite authors are John Green and Stephen King, as Green is a YA and realistic fiction author, and King is a horror/thriller author, as well as sci-fi, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and more! 

 

Recently I've reread Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, again, and also Carry On, which I didn't really finish, but I did try! Gena/Finn is one of my favorite books of all time, and Carry On is a book which was recommended to me by a friend. I got through about a fifth or so of it (as it's, like, 500+ pages) before I had to start reading something else for school. My other favorite books, besides the one by Moskowitz and Helgeson, are Pushing Perfect by Michelle Falkoff, and Looking for Alaska, by, of course, John Green. All of which are realistic fiction and YA, and mostly by female authors. 

 

Currently, I'm reading Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (which, mine is a signed copy! (: ~) . It's one of the only ones I haven't read. So far, I've read about 80 or so pages in, and I'm intrigued. I started reading it because it was a book I purchased but hadn't yet gotten down to reading, even though I'd picked it up a couple times. Also, it's by one of my favorite authors, of course! In this novel, Green is more serious (because, if you didn't know, it's inspired by his own struggles and life), and his tone is more reserved. He makes the book first person, so the reader can see the characters thoughts. The reader realizes that Aza/'Holmesy' is struggling alot, and keeps alot of her own personal feelings bottled up inside. I'm predicting that, just maybe, Aza will get closer to her old friend, Davis. So far, Aza's own thoughts are what have stuck out to me over everything else. 

 

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