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.

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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: 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: Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram

Khorram, Adib. Darius the Great is Not Okay. Dial Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780525552963. 314 pgs. Ages 12+. P8Q9

Darius Kellner, a “Fractional Persian,” is a clinically depressed sophomore in Portland, Oregon. Like many mixed culture kids, Darius doesn’t feel like fits into either culture. In fact, he feels more at home with Klingon and Hobbit culture and language than Iranian. When his grandfather (who lives in Iran) becomes very ill, the family makes a trip to see him. The trip to Iran is a life-changing experience for Darius. He makes a real friend, a neighbor boy named Sohrab, and for the first time, feels like someone understands him. This book deals with many issues- cultural identity, cultural adjustment, bullying, mental illness, body issues, friendship, father-son relationships, etc. Khorram does a wonderful job of making the readers feel like we know and identify with Darius, especially with his struggle with depression and his feelings that he just isn’t good enough. I also loved the portrayal of Darius’ relationship with his father (always difficult, though he begins to have some understanding for him by the end), his sweet relationship with his little sister, and new-found love for his grandparents, and his positive experience in Iran.

VERDICT: I think most people will find something to like in this book. I highly recommend it for high school and public libraries.

Winner of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award (2019) and the  Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Literature for Young Adult Literature (2019)

March 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

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.

Book review: Zero Sum Game, by Stefani Deoul

Deoul, Stefani. Zero Sum Game. (Sid Rubin Silicon Alley adventure, book 2) Bywater Books, 2018. 165 pages. $12.95. ISBN 9781612941417. Ages 15-up. P6 Q7

Sid Rubin and friends are grounded following their adventures in stopping a steampunk serial killer.  She and her friends go between school and home with no stops for coffee, school lunches and no cell phones.  Their break comes when Vikram pushes the friends to join his team for the annual robotics competition.  The unexpected cybertheft of artifacts from Vik’s years of playing Contagion throws a wrench in the plan, and Sid not only agrees to work on the robotics competition but also starts playing Contagion—definitely not her favorite video game—to ferret out who hacked Vik’s account.

Verdict: This sequel suffers only in comparison with the first book in this series. On a LARP opened with a geeky stream-of-consciousness narration as Sid plummeted from a second floor balcony to escape a serial killer at a live action steampunk costume game.

That’s the problem in a series with a wild beginning.  The second book, while realistic in setting, character, and tone feels flat in comparison.  As a stand-alone, Zero Sum Game is an engaging young adult cyber mystery.  As a series with a lesbian protagonist who has a good relationship with both her parents, this series is a rarity.  Recommended for high school and public library collections.

March 2019 review by Jane Cothron.