Book review: Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear, by Amber J. Keyser

Keyser, Amber J. Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear. Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner. 2018. $37.32. 94p. ISBN 9781512425314. Ages 12-15. P7Q8

As Keyser writes, “The history of clothing is a history of difference,” and nothing may demonstrate this difference more than undergarments for men and women. Far more than a description of how women’s clothing changed throughout the centuries, it reveals societal expectations of females from the time when they wore no underwear so that men would have control over them through the time that women had highly restrictive undergarments for the same purpose. In the patriarchal societies, they were forced into discomfort and “limited mobility” in the mandates to please males and keep their second-class role. Because of these demands and the desire for oil, over two million whales were killed in two centuries, a culture that shifted when petroleum removed the need for whale oil. Corsets shifted to stays of steel, and women were liberated only when the steel was required for building ships in World War I; eliminating corsets built an entire battleship. Keyser finishes the book with the current expressive fashions of women’s underwear. Plentiful colored illustrations, photographs, and black and white drawings add to the highly accessible text.

Verdict: The feminist perspective of women’s fashion throughout the ages gives a new history for young people about women’s repression and their occasional escape in a fascinating, well-illustrated book. Recommended for all libraries for youth.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Viking. 2018. $19.99. 152p. ISBN 9780-425-28778-1. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

Those who live in comfortable settings rarely reflect on the creative minds that give us warmth, technology, and safety plus clean food and water. The chapters in this book following the history of science—Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, and Light—trace these subjects back to prehistoric times to connect the dots of discoveries leading to electricity, health, and other advantages that give security.

Verdict: About the adult version of this book, satirist and writer, Jon Stewart stated, “An unbelievable book … It’s an innovative way to talk about history.” Johnson’s fascinating connections are similar to the twists of mystery plots, and this adaptation for young readers may lead some of them to the original for adults, published in 2016.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up against Tyranny and Injustice, by Veronica Chambers

Chambers, Veronica. Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up against Tyranny and Injustice. Harper. 2018. $16.99. 209p. ISBN 978-0-06-279625-7. Ages 11-15. P6Q9

From Joan of Arc to the 2017 Women’s March, Chambers repeats the message: “never let your inability to do undermine your determination to do something,” as articulated in the Foreword by senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker. Each three- to five-page vignette begins with a full-page black-and-white illustrated bust of the subject and ends with a declarative “Resist Lesson,” for example, Nelson Mandela’s statement, “We do not need to see ourselves as heroes to change the world.”

Verdict: Each piece is brief and accessible enough to invite readers, and some of the diverse individuals from around the world are little-enough known, such as Chiune Sugilhara who saved thousands of Jews through his Japanese foreign service in Germany during World War II, that the book expands the knowledge of all readers. Because the pieces are so short, most of the information is about the person’s resistance instead of life—even birth and death dates are often omitted—and the #resist date is limited to just one year. Yet Resist is a great beginning to an understanding of the human sacrifices to bring human rights to the world.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Witchborn, by Nicholas Bowling

Bowling, Nicholas. Witchborn. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2018. $18.99. 209 pages. Ages 10 up.  ISBN 9781338277531. P8/Q8

Set in England in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, this story takes a different angle on the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots.  Witches were being blamed for all kinds of things at the time, and who’s to say, posits the author, if there weren’t real witches that were being overlooked while innocents were being burned at the stake?   Taking the part of the witches, this story follows a girl being raised by an “aunt” in an isolated place, removed from all knowledge of the outside world, until they are attacked by two strange men.  The story has lots of detail of the age, along with some of the politics, yet remains a youthful story of identity-seeking, friendship, and rising to a challenge.  There is a minimum of gruesome detail, but still the story maintains an ominous  sense of how things will go.  The ending leaves room for a continuing saga.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Field Notes on Love, by Jennifer E. Smith

Smith, Jennifer E. Field Notes on Love.  Delacorte Press/Random House,  2019. $21.99. 274 pages.   ISBN 9780399559419. Ages 12 up.  P8/Q8

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve reviewed a YA book, so perhaps I’m less jaded, but I enjoyed reading this lighthearted romance.  Two recent high school graduates are taking their first steps on to college.  One, a New Yorker, aspires to be a filmmaker and is headed to L.A. to USC.  The other just wants to get away from a loving but all-encompassing family and doesn’t know yet what he wants to do.  They live in literally different hemispheres.  The plot artifice is that they both break up with their high school sweethearts, and the boy’s now-ex-girlfriend insists he uses the train tickets she’d purchased for them, but she wouldn’t go. Since they were non-transferable, he has to find another woman with her same name to go with him.  Two strangers on a cross-America train, and it’s no surprise when they fall in love.  The unique aspect of each others’ stories are their families: She has two gay dads and a grandmother, and he is one of sextuplets.  Exploring the hopes and fears of post-high school is a fair enough goal of a YA novel, but this is also a sweet romance that I could barely put down.  They don’t get sexually involved (just kiss), so the novel works for younger middle school.  The story is told alternatively from the girl’s point of view and the boy’s, so it also should appeal to both. And it rather normalizes nontraditional families, whether same sex or multiple births, without judgement or belaboring the point.  This would make a good addition to a library’s young romance section.  It’s light, upbeat reading.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarty

Moriarty, Jaclyn.  The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. (Kingdoms and Empires, book 1).  Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2018.  $17.99. 377 pages.  ISBN 978-1-338-25584-3. Ages 8-14.  P8/Q8

This is a fantasy adventure featuring a 10-year-old girl who has just found out her parents have died.  She has to follow the directions of their will, which involve bringing some small gifts to each of her many aunts.  Bronte evolves during the story from a child to someone who is aware of her lineage, her duty to people, and her family.  The language is straightforward, doesn’t mince on ‘big words’, and has a cadence which has a hint of something foreign and timeless to it, suited to a story that takes place in a fantasy land.  The style is a bit like author Daniel Pinkwater’s.  Fans of Harry Potter will find some parallels in how Bronte discovers she has some hithereto unknown powers and has to discover who her parents were and what powers they had.  The ‘bad guys’ are suitably vanquished by the end of the story, and it has a happier than expected conclusion.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Imposters, by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld, Scott. Imposters. (Imposters, book 1). Scholastic Press, 2018. $18.99. ISBN 9781338151510. 405 pgs. Ages 12-18. P8Q7

This is a shoot-off of the Uglies series, but can be enjoyed without having read the others first. Frey has been raised as a killer, knowing that her only value is in protecting her identical twin sister Rafi (the heir to the political leadership of the city), and she must sacrifice her own life if necessary to save her sister’s life. Nobody outside the immediate family knows that Frey exists, so she can impersonate Rafi when needed. The girls’ cruel and ruthless father has many political enemies, but he doesn’t know just how much his own daughters hate him. When he sends Frey, impersonating Rafi, to a rival city as a hostage, the girls’ world changes. Frey’s father bombs the rival city, and she ends up on the run with a group of teen rebels.

VERDICT: The book is fast paced, action-packed and full of high tech gadgetry that will appeal to many teen readers. Frey’s character develops over the course of the story- she had never been away from her sister before, and now must rely on her intelligence and character to survive. It ends with a cliffhanger…

March 2019 review by Carol Schramm.