Tag Archives: prejudice

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s novella entertains while addressing racial prejudices. Okorafor, one of today’s science fiction rising stars, integrates what she ‘knows’ by drawing from her Nigerian family experience and trips to Africa. As with many great sci-fi writers she tackles social issues in other world sceneries with aplomb. Racism is forefront in Binti. Our empathy becomes so closely tied to  the protagonist, that we can’t help but question what we would do in Binti’s place.

by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor leads us to believe that we will learn about Binti’s trials as the only one like her at the most elite university of her species. Laced with racial innuendos, issues of perspective and misconceptions about those one judges predominates the first half of the story.

Okorafor then turns that theme upside down. When the transport ship falls to an alien species and everyone except Binti dies, she finds herself the linchpin between species. Her challenge becomes staying alive. At this point, her race is both her blessing and curse. She must confront her fear of loosing her complete identity, not just as a minority within her species, but as a species. The twists that transpire intrigue on both the storytelling level and the emotional level.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Okorafor’s Binti

For those interested in writing: I embarked on a study of opening chapters a few months ago in the hopes of learning from other writers. Every writer has strength which they have honed in their opening chapter. Their commitment to their strengths means a great deal in the success of their writing style, especially in Chapter One. Writing styles vary. Each narrative voice comes through with unique distinction. Undoubtedly, an author’s style will charm some readers while turning others off.  Regardless, a writer’s commitment to their strengths appear paramount.

I found writers who break all the rules that teachers impart to me and have come to believe that when an author’s writing style rings true, than that style should be used, regardless of a pundit’s advise.

As a novella, I wondered whether Binti‘s beginning would be different than longer novels. Okorafor does not use standard chapters, so I studies the first 2,739 words, an approximate chapter.

Written in first person we quickly become immersed into Binti’s world and feel a familiarity with her. No lengthy descriptions orient or bore the reader. Instead setting descriptions sprinkled throughout scenes and internal thoughts continually remind us where the story takes place.

Backstory accounts for over a third of opening scenes. Although many teachers baulk at pulling the reader out of a scene with backstory, in sci-fi world building the technique works well. Okorafor’s success including backstory largely works because of her choice of content. Well chosen details provide insight and intrigue. In many case the backstories also create the feeling that one is eavesdropping on Binti.

Okorafor uses simple language to create pictures. Although she uses some wonderful action verbs, power words don’t ever dominate  the scenes. Instead, repeating words such as “whisper” creates both a link throughout the text, as well as, creating mood. She keeps a nice flow with sentence cadences that read easily. Plenty of double alliterations accelerate the feel of read. (Such as “…promise to pay…”

Okorafor sprinkles similes liberally throughout. This enhances images and provides another window into the other worldliness of Binti’s environs.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi OkoraforBinti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Binti #1
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 96

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin Book Review

From Annals of the Western Shore,

Gifts by Ursula Le GuinGifts is all about power. Le Guin explores both mental and physical aspects of it. People born with power, the illusion of power and creating the illusion of power where none existed before. She probes how people use power, abuse it and are distracted by it. How people enslave others with it, fool themselves by it and accept or reject power whether in themselves or others.

Le Guin accentuates the effects of powers on society by creating a world where magical powers inherited through one’s blood lines range from killing people to turning rocks to dust.

The powers depicted in Gifts include: ‘wasting people’ so they die within the year; twisting limbs; blinding or making people deaf; taking people’s will; making people follow you or become subservient to you; rendering people brainless idiots and being able to talk to animals. Her main character, Orrec’s, power is ‘undoing’ things or dissolving them. It’s considered one of the most odious powers. Odious enough for Orrec’s father to persuade him to blind himself.

The powers Le Guin portrays in Gifts can apply to power in all societies. Power of influence over others, revenge, holding people in line, submission to power or fear of one’s own power.

Both Sides of the Coin

Relief comes from an outsider who questions everything Orrec believes about the powers that bind his world. The outsider explains incidents that occur as natural, but Orrec can’t see the truth. He remains blind, because he believes the lore he was raised within.

Orrec’s girlfriend, Gry, realizes that power works for good and evil. She refuses to use her gift for the family business of calling wild bore, bear and deer to the hunt. Instead she uses her power to talk to animals,to heal them and to train dogs and horses. She questions whether all powers have good and evil possibilities. She asks Orrec to consider the positive use of his power to ‘undo’ things and suggests the power’s original purpose may have been to heal rather than kill.

Le Guin foreshadows the end early in the story, but it comes with a certain satisfaction as the protagonist finally comes to terms with issues of power in his society, family and in himself.

Le Guin: Master Story Teller

I find myself returning to Ursula Le Guin’s books for a thought-provoking-science-fiction story that doesn’t rely on mega battles. She incorporates humane themes within unusual circumstances and environments. The combination equates to a good read.

For those interested in writing: Ursula Le Guin writes Gifts in 1st person POV. Notice how carefully she uses the pronoun ‘I’, so it isn’t overused.  A master storyteller with many awards, Le Guin balances backstory, action scenes and dialogue with the narrators thoughts, emotions  and telling of the story.

You may find more information about Ursula Le Guin at the Nebula Awards website.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin Book ReviewGifts (Annals of the Western Shore, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Series: Annals of the Western Shore #1
Published by Harcourt on April 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 286

Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.
In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.
Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

Redd Becker Book Review

Anatomy of a Misfit byAnatomy of a Misfit centers around the life of the third most popular girl in high school. The story is a written in first person, as she struggles with the social environment around her position of entitlement. Her main adversary is the most popular girl who inflicts terror on her minion. As expected, conflicts with multiple boyfriends, one being the most popular guy and the other the artsy dysfunctional type, predominate. 

Portes claims, in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the story reflects her life in high school. This is sad, because the characters appear stereotypical and contrite. The focus of a high schooler in this protagonist’s situation, reaching for meaning in life, wreaks of politically correct content.

Am I being harsh? Perhaps, but it’s time as a society we provide more culturally rich environments for our children. All children. This story sadly reflects the norm of an elite few individuals in every high school. The inhumanity of these entitled few impacts everyone around them more than this book justifies. Let’s pay attention to what we want our high schools to become, rather than dwell on the simpering of the entitle’s search for peace in a school environment she willingly built.

A Movie for Anatomy of a Misfit

The book moved along quickly through scenes with lots of dialogue. Somehow not surprising, it has been optioned for a movie in 2014. J. Mills Goodloe is writing the screen page for Paramount. As of this review it is still ‘in progress’.

For some contrasting views check out The Guardian‘s review and LoseTimeReading.

Anatomy of a Misfit  by Andrea PortesAnatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes
Published by Harper Children’s on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 336

This emotional, hilarious, devastating, and ultimately triumphant YA debut, based on actual events, recounts one girl’s rejection of her high school’s hierarchy—and her discovery of her true self in the face of tragedy.
Fall’s buzzed-about, in-house favorite.
Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?
Anatomy of a Misfit is Mean Girls meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Anika’s hilariously deadpan delivery will appeal to readers for its honesty and depth. The so-sad-it’s-funny high school setting will pull readers in, but when the story’s dark foreboding gradually takes over, the devastating penultimate tragedy hits like a punch to the gut. Readers will ride the highs and lows alongside funny, flawed Anika — from laughter to tears, and everything in between.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicide

Redd Becker Book Review

A teenage suicide story by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng writes the story of a teenage suicide and a family left to figure out what happened, as well as how they influenced the event and how they will live with it.

Ng moves through each member of the family as they confront their personal prejudices and motivations. They each make assumptions and live accordingly. Whether the assumptions are accurate makes no difference. Each character lives truthfully by their own beliefs. The consequences of their actions; however, based on what they assume, determines their life and those around them. As the reader, we see how pieces of a young girl’s life fit together to create a family tragedy.

Emotions of teenage suicide are universal

Ng created a story brimming with the intricacies of family dynamics, while bullying, racism and misunderstandings drive tensions for an Asian American family. Although issues of racism drive many of the characters, the underlying motivations and desires of each character are common to most of us. Ng writes about universal truths that reside in each of us and our families. Insecurity and misunderstandings are not unique to any specific race.

For those interested in writing: Ng writes in a style you may be warned not to use. The book is full of memories and not much dialogue or action scenes, but the fullness of the plot, characters and environments are clear.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicideEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 292
Buy on Amazon

“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now. . . . Deep, heartfelt.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, drama, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Soundless by Richelle Mead

Redd Becker Book Report

Soundless bySoundless is an easy read with likable characters and a compelling love interest. Mead takes her time introducing characters, but the lack of any real flaws in them restricts their personalities and relationships. Issues of deafness, blindness, prejudice and conflicting loyalties add interest. The surprise at the end distracted from the story as a bit too easy of solution.

Soundless Captures Communication with No Dialogue

Mead replaced dialogue with sign language. There were interesting observations on issues of life in a deaf world. Her depiction of what it would be like to regain one’s hearing and the struggle to decipher sounds into words was fascinating.

Mead creates a distinctly Asian village of deaf people trapped in the high mountains with no escape. Outsiders force them to mine ore as in trade for food. Life becomes segregated in a hierarchy and regimented society, depriving many villagers of any quality of life. When villagers begin losing their sight, and food from the valley is withheld from the zip line, two young people venture down the mountain to negotiate. Their findings send them back to the mountain to warn their peoples. All appears lost until an elder remembers a fairy tale.

My Rating three-stars

Soundless by Richelle MeadSoundless by Richelle Mead
Published by Razorbill on November 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 266
Buy on Amazon

In a village without sound…
For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.
When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.
One girl hears a call to action…
Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.
She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…
And unlocks a power that will save her people.

The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Redd Becker Book Review

The House of the Scorpion In The House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer explores the idea of cloning in order to harvest organs to guarantee another’s survival. Farmer has a literary style of writing and uses sophisticated language to tell her stories, but this story flows easily.

This is a futuristic world where a country ruled by a powerful drug lord separates the USA from Mexico. Farmer provides plenty of detailed descriptions that make her alternate world appear plausible.

In this story Farmer unfolds for us the route Matteo, the young protagonist, takes on his journey to self discovery. He begins his life locked in near isolation as a monster without rights. Later we discover he lives as a pawn created to ensure his master’s future health.  Farmer integrates social issues in all her stories. She incorporates ideas on individual rights, slavery, loving those we fear and the effects of extreme power, in a humane in this gripping story.

Awards for The House of the Scorpion

Farmer’s book has won much recognition as a National Book Award Winner, Newberry Honor Book and American Library Association’s Honor Book for Young Adult Literature. All with well reason. I’ve enjoyed reading The House of the Scorpion twice. It was a compelling read both times.

The House of the Scorpion Discussion Questions

Schmoop has some pretty good questions to prompt discussions in class or in your book group. Or try Simon and Schuster’s Pulse Guide for Reading Groups for The House of the Scorpion.

My Rating five-stars

The House of Scorpion by Nancy FarmerThe House of the Scorpion (Matteo Alacran, #1) by Nancy Farmer
Series: Matteo Alacran #1
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers on January 1st 1970
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Pages: 380
Buy on Amazon

Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?