Aug. 27th, 2008

keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite
by Christopher Avery, Andrew Fairbanks, and Richard Zeckhauser
377 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

Statistics galore--a little overwhelming, but good to have hard numbers. I really like the gold star/independent clearinghouse idea for indicating preference. In fact, I don't know why it hasn't already been implemented. Hmm, not much else to say--outdated but still relevant? Certainly a "seminal text" in the college admissions genre.


College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy
by Lloyd Thacker (ed.)
205 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

A compilation of philosophical essays lamenting the commercialization and consumerization of college; however, they mostly repeat the same point. Quite disappointing because the only new knowledge I gained was other books to follow up on. I think it would be more insightful and revealing to a college newbie, though.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
My Name Is Sei Shōnagon
by Jan Blensdorf
152 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

This book makes me so happy. Deliriously happy.

Look, ma--people of color! Mixed colors, even! "Sei," the unnamed protagonist, was born to a Japanese mother and American father. She lives in the United States at first, but when her father dies, she and her mother move back to Japan to live in the household of her dominating uncle. Her inability to assimilate into either culture is something with which I identify very, very much. I don't think the narrator/protagonist is ever named except for her pseudonym--Sei Shōnagon, tenth-century author of The Pillow Book--she is lying in a coma in the hospital, and the novel consists of her reminisces; it is slowly evocative of real life, like the best of literary fiction. Mainly set in Japan, the story stays true to that culture (at least as I understand it). Japan is still a patriarchal society, though constantly and gradually progressing. Blensdorf doesn't shied away from racism and abuse both physical and emotional.

Regarding technique, it's written in gorgeous prose, comparable to GGK but in a totally different style. Also nominally second-person narration that works, oh so well, with a wonderful twist of perspective at the end. The length fits the tale, for I don't think the structure could be maintained over a longer novel.

Everyone should read this. Really. It's not something that I would necessarily reread, but rather something that I can't imagine not having the pleasure to experience.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Wyvernhail
by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
174 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Atwater-Rhodes's career has pretty much fizzled out, which is regrettable. The Keisha'ra series is strong despite its immature prose and poorly retained character development across books. The first two, Hawksong and Snakecharm, tell Danica and Zane's compelling romance. Falcondance focuses on Nicias, son of two previous minor characters; from then on, Wolfcry and now Wyvernhail centered around the Wyvern's Court. Atwater-Rhodes does a good job of developing minor characters into interesting protagonists, but in the process she loses depth from previous protagonists. Zane and Danica are aged, it's true, but I was sad to see them so useless in this final volume.

Also (spoilers ensuing), I didn't agree with Hai's final choice at the end. Ahnmik is portrayed almost too well; I urged Hai to take Nicias and live out the rest of their lives with the falcons, because I wasn't convinced of her bond to the serpiente.

A good series and breezy YA; I want to read some falcon fanfiction, but this was a good place to end the canon.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Mango Season
by Amulya Malladi
229 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Romance

Like My Name Is Sei Shōnagon, Malladi's novel tells a story that I identify with personally. Priya Rao left India at age 20 to study in the U.S., and now she's returning after seven years--to announce her engagement to Nick Collins, an American man. India, her homeland, is overwhelmingly foreign, even the mangoes that she loved so much as a child. And as Priya's parents plot an arranged marriage to a "nice Indian boy" (preferably rich and Telugu Brahmin), Priya's fear of her family's reaction leads inevitably to disaster.

Malladi isn't afraid to deal with conflict--with interracial romance, racism, culture clash, duty, and tradition. Priya is shocked by her family's blatant racism and expectation that despite her rebellious attitude, she will ultimately conform. And she loves them, all of them--her inability to truly stand up to her mother drove me nuts, in fact--but she also loves Nick. The plot revolves fundamentally around Priya's reconciliation of her roles as lover and family, West and East.

In reading, I was constantly struck by the parallels that I drew between traditional Indian and Chinese cultures. Although China has much less emphasis on religion and is, in the modern day, more free regarding arranged marriages, there is definitely pressure to marry a nice Chinese boy and stay home to raise children. The extended family is very important in both cultures--at one point, Priya asks her mother to treat her with respect and receives this answer: "You are too young to gain my respect and you have done nothing so far to gain it....Children respect their parents [and] that is all there is to it" (89). And the scary part is that my parents have told me essentially the same thing. Another moment that echoed strongly:

"Most first-generation Indians in the United States only had friends who were Indians. I had never thought I would be any different. I had started out with only Indian friends but my circle grew as I grew. Now I was in a place where I didn't think in terms of Indian friends and American friends, just friends. I had somewhere down the line stopped looking at skin color. (213)


Ironically, for me it was almost the opposite experience. I grew up in a sheltered and overwhelmingly white environment, so I had no choice but to befriend white kids. And when I moved to a place that did have a critical mass of Asians, I still distinguish mentally between "Chinese friends" and "school friends" (some of the latter are fully assimilated Asian-American, which makes a difference). While Priya and I are different, she is of any novel I have ever read the character most similar to me. I empathize easily with protagonists no matter their heritage, but I was engrossed in Priya's internal conflict with almost painful understanding.

And the end of The Mango Season, which I accidentally spoiled myself for, also lobs a last surprise revelation at the reader that forces a reconsideration of everything preceding. I do so love twist endings. Mulladi has a knack for realism, too--this novel sounds and feels like a memoir, the characters' voices are so real.

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Keix

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