Saturday, March 18, 2017

What I Read in June 2016 Part IV . . .

What I Read in June 2016 Part IV. . . 

An Ocean Apart, a World AwayAn Ocean Apart, a World Away by Lensey Namioka--Young Adult Historical Fiction

Xueyan aka Yanyan is eager to finish at the American missionary school near her home in Nanjing, China and go to college to become a doctor. She is envious of her best friend Ailin who is leaving for America. When Yanyan goes with Eldest Brother and his friend Liang Baoshu to Shanghai to wave goodbye to Ailin, Yanyan gets more adventure than she bargained for and finds herself strangely attracted to Baoshu and him to her. She must make a difficult decision about her future. Can she have the life she dreamed while following Baoshu and having adventures or should she honor her father's wishes and become a doctor as she has always dreamed? Her decision isn't easy either way.

I really liked the characters in this book. Because Yanyan's father lived and worked in England, he is more Westernized than most Chinese men. He's very progressive- even for a Westerner- he allows his daughter to attend an American school, speak out at the table and learn as much about science and medicine as she can. This makes Yanyan an appealing character for modern teens. She has hopes and dreams but finds her head turned by a young man. She doesn't give up even when the going is tough and always does the unexpected. I need a sequel so we know what happens to her! Ailin is also an admirable character. I didn't read her book but this one fills in enough background information. Ailin refused to conform to societal norms and sought out her own path to happiness. I liked that the book follows her so readers can find out how she's doing in her new life.

Baosho seems exciting and the type of bad boy teen girls love to crush on but not the type that appeals to more mature women. Without spoiling the story, I came to the same conclusion about him that Yanyan did and would have felt the same way about it.

I knew a little bit about the history of China during this time but I learned a lot more. I also really liked the incorporation of the history of American Chinese restaurants and American Chinese food. The story teaches gentle lessons about prejudice and judging people without knowing them. It was a tiny bit juvenile for a young adult novel so I would say this book is for young teens on up.

These Shallow GravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly--Young Adult Historical Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Jo Montfort wants to be a reporter like her hero Nellie Bly, but it is extremely difficult to do when one is a student at a girl's school in 1890. The headmistresses would rather Jo write about kittens and tea parties than the plight of mill girls. Her friend Trudy cautions Jo to wait until after marriage to a suitable gentleman before breaking the rules, but Jo just can't dream of a marriage without love. Then the unthinkable happens- her father is accidentally killed while cleaning his gun. Was it an accident? Jo knows her father was smarter than that and when she hears a newsboy declare her father had committed suicide, she becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. She won't stop until she has answers. Her quest will take her into parts of New York she never dreamed existed and uncover some long held secrets that reveal her proper world is not all it seems.

I really wanted to like this book. It started off good- like Edith Wharton writing for a YA audience. There were some good parts that Charles Dickens would have written. This book is the secret love child of Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens locked in a vault for a modern writer to insert a modern type of heroine and pretty much ruin a good thing.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT (stop here if you don't want the least hint of a spoiler).

This story followed a formula that I've read one too many times before. Even though I couldn't put the book down and doubted the identity of the murderer, I wasn't really surprised by any of the reveals. I figured things out faster than Jo and Eddie. Eddie at least should have been able to piece together the clues even if Jo couldn't. The plot relied on too many coincidences for my taste and the constant emphasis on freedom pretty much gave away the shock value of the reveal. Again, Eddie really should have known.


As a mature adult, I could have done without the teen angst romance. I didn't buy it at all. I can see why Jo would be drawn to Eddie, the same way Lady Sybil was drawn to Branson but I feel like Jo saw Eddie as an escape, a means to an end and her heart wasn't fully engaged even though she said it was. She behaved childishly and recklessly whenever he was around. I can't really see why Eddie loved Jo. The romance begins too quickly and there's too much drama. The ending was OK- more realistic than I was expecting anyway.

I'm torn between admiring Jo for not putting up with the stifling world she comes from and admiring her bravery and also thinking she is a little heedless. I don't think I could be so brave and I think I would rather NOT know. I wondered how she could hurt her family by making their secrets public. I was sort of hoping the author would make the bold choice of making Jo behave like a person from the 19th century and not as a modern young woman. Jo thinks and behaves like a modern young woman and that makes her easier to relate to than her friend Trudy who breaks the rules but wants that life of ease and comfort. I'm conflicted in my feelings for Jo but I think teens will like her a lot and relate to her. I think I would have enjoyed the story more when I was younger.

The secondary characters are the real stand-outs. They seem like they were the creations of Charles Dickens without the humor. I had no idea that such an underworld existed in New York though I'm not totally surprised. I would have been less surprised if the book was set in London. I really liked Fay and how she made the most of a bad situation. Her story is certainly horrifying and more interesting and real than Jo's story. I had to skip a lot of Oscar's detailed medical information. I don't have the stomach for that sort of thing. Forensic detecting is introduced quite nicely into the Mrs. Jeffries series without being gory. Grandmama is a cringeworthy hoot. She reminded me of Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with all her talk of breeding. Yuck.

What saves the book from being a true dud is the historical details. The author did a lot of research and she has the skills to introduce the different parts of New York and the current issues of the day without interrupting the flow of the story. The reader is really transported to 1890s New York City.

I would recommend this book to older teens/young adults. Mature people stick to Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens..

Content warnings:
discussions about sex
pre-marital pregnancy mentions
passionate kissing
gory medical information
a seedy underworld

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