Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

“‘I always thought it was us women who were the fools,’ I whispered. ‘But I was wrong, it’s been the men all along…'”

I am so excited to share yet another retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with all of you. Due to this classic recently entering the public domain, this is already the second retelling I have been privileged to read over the last few months (please see my previous post for the title The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo for another great retelling). While I enjoyed Vo’s version of events, I have to admit I liked Jillian Cantor’s Beautiful Little Fools even more, so let’s dive right in!

As a brief recap for the original narrative, The Great Gatsby is set over the course of one summer during the Roaring Twenties on Long Island (New York) and primarily revolves around Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth, and Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful socialite he falls in love with before going off to war. Taking place a few years after their initial meeting, this book picks up with Daisy having married a wealthy and unfaithful husband (Tom Buchanan) and Nick Carraway, Daisy’s distant cousin, unknowingly moving next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby. Before long, Nick plays a key role in reuniting Daisy and Gatsby once again.

While Fitzgerald’s story lends Nick the sole perspective as narrator, this retelling features three female voices: the aforementioned Daisy; Jordan, Daisy’s best friend from childhood; and Catherine, the sister of Myrtle Wilson (Myrtle is a rather major character in the original, while Catherine is not). While each of these characters is in the original story, the text never reveals their thoughts and backstories, forcing readers to assume their motives, so this shift in storytelling turns the original on its heels and lends the female leads a complexity that truly makes this book one of my top reads of the year thus far.

As an example, while Daisy is originally characterized as superficial and driven by materialistic motives, this story reveals a tragic past forcing her to to sacrifice her love in order to care for her family. In Jordan’s case, rather than a scandalous  golfer appearing to be unsympathetic to Nick’s innocent advances, she is forced to navigate making her father proud on the course while hiding her love for a fellow female golfer on the tour. Lastly, while Catherine is merely mentioned as another body at a party in the original, she is a strong and passionate suffragette who refuses to give up her ambitions and be suffocated by the societal expectations to marry and become a mother.

In addition to exposing the thoughts, motives, and backstories of the women, Cantor also flips the script by giving readers the female insight on the male characters. For instance, while I tend to think of Gatsby’s character as a desperate and naïve lover,  but in a sort of innocuous way (especially when compared to characters like Tom Buchanan), this retelling portrays Gatsby not as a blameless lover, but as manipulative, possessive, and, in some moments, predatory. The only male perspective presented in this retelling is that of a detective who suspects one of these women of being the true culprit behind Gatsby’s murder (did I mention this version has murder mystery flair?).

All in all, this retelling has bestowed power and agency to several new literary voices and given the women in this story the nuances and complexity they deserve. Cantor did a masterful job of taking a renowned classic and recasting it in her own compelling way!

This title is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook 

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Young adult fiction is my escape. I have always found comfort in reading about young people as they work to discover who they are and who they have the capacity to be. Lately, I have been reading a lot of young adult fiction that discusses social justice themes and has characters working on finding their voices. It’s a relief to read about characters speaking out and affecting change.

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan has been referred to as a feminist anthem for young adults working to raise their voices. Watson is a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author who has written a timely and thought-provoking novel about a group of teenagers who want their high school and surrounding neighborhoods to change.

Jasmine and Chelsea, along with their two other friends,  attend a progressive New York City high school. The curriculum may be different than other local high schools, but Jasmine and Chelsea quickly realize that the school is not as progressive as it claims to be. All students must join an after school club, something these young women greatly enjoy. When they each experience issues in their respective clubs, they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. The two post their work online for all to see. Soon their essays, poems, and videos go viral as other people in the community resonate with the stories of racial, gender, and weight-based microaggressions the two share. The club receives so much positive support, but that doesn’t stop trolls from targeting the group.

When the negatives start to boil over into real life, the school administration gets involved and the principal shuts the club down. Devastated and angry with this turn of events, Jasmine and Chelsea take the club off-campus to their favorite bookstore where they plan ways to fight back. Refusing to be silenced, Jasmine, Chelsea, and their friends risk everything to raise their voices and be heard at their school who touts the platform of all voices being heard, even though that just isn’t true. The art this group of friends creates adds a level of realness to this novel about two young women who demand to be heard.

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

The Iowa Center for the Book recently announced the 2015 All Iowa Reads title at the Iowa Library Association annual meeting and the book they choose is My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira.

my name is mary sutterAn enthralling historical novel about a young woman’s struggle to become a doctor during the Civil War

In this stunning novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine – and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak – Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens – two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary’s courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering – and resisting her mother’s pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister’s baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.

My Name Is Mary Sutter powerfully evokes the atmosphere of the Civil War period. Rich with historical detail (including marvelous depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClellan, and John Hay among others), and full of the tragedies and challenges of wartime, My Name Is Mary Sutter is an exceptional novel. And in Mary herself, Robin Oliveira has created a truly unforgettable heroine whose unwavering determination and vulnerability will resonate with readers everywhere. (description from publisher)

This title is also available as an e-book through the RiverShare Digital Library.

All Iowa Reads encourages all Iowans to read the same book during the year, providing materials and bringing authors and speakers to various venues and encouraging discussion.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is an exciting, heartfelt, unique story told in words and pictures; it deals with the Islamic revolution and how exile and oppression affect the individual. If you don’t know anything at all about the history of Iran (like me), you may have to supplement your reading with the occasional jaunt into Wikipedia, but it’s so worth it to put a little effort into this excellent book – it will give you much more in return. The action centers around a free-thinking Iranian family, author Marjane Satrapi and her mother and father, living in Iran during the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic republic. Marjane, the author, illustrator, narrator, and main character, fills in the details of the revolution and ensuing war through her child’s eye, rather than describing events comprehensively. The result is a weirdly, wonderfully satisfying narrative that hinges on the way a child (and later teenager) balances her passions and rebellious spirit against an oppressive government.

The drawings are all in black and white and add to the story in subtle ways. There are few panels that don’t include text, and it’s rare for an illustration to convey a plot point without words to reinforce it – instead, the visuals enhance and deepen your understanding. I think this format along with the uniquely adult, realistic subject matter makes it a perfect starting point for readers who’ve never tried a graphic novel. It’s a moving story as well as a cultural eye-opener that will show you no matter how hard life is at home, life in exile is even tougher.

 

Persepolis was made into a movie in 2008.

The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam

submitted by Georgann

road-of-lost-innocenceThis inspiring true story is the author’s experience as a sex slave in Cambodia, how she broke free and how she now helps other girls find freedom. Somaly Mam is a simple woman, not well educated, and she tells her story in simple, frank language. I was hesitant to read it at first because I was afraid it would be too explicit and give me nightmares. Although she tells a heartrending story and she still suffers nightmares, it was not so graphic as to give them to me.

In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam explains the series of tragic events that lead to her being sold into the sex slave trade when she was about 16. As she relates those years your heart just breaks. What all this woman lived through is just unbelievable.

Eventually Mam escaped and made a life for herself. Now she heads up an organization that helps other women and girls as young as six to also escape. She lives in constant threat to her life and to those of her children, but she perseveres. I was glad I took the risk to read this story. It is a story of hope well worth reading.