What does it mean to be loyal to your friends? To respect your parents? In Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard, Pen’s life is governed by the loyalty and respect others demand from her — loyalty to her best friend Colby, even if it means aiding his womanizing; respect to her old-fashioned parents, even if their expectations of who Pen should be don’t match who Pen knows she is.
What does it mean to be a girl? A boy? Despite others assuming at first glance she’s a boy, Pen knows she’s a girl who likes playing video games, doing yard work and (if she ever finds someone who’s interested) dating other girls. However, her mother wants Pen to wear dresses and makeup, learn how to cook and find a nice boy to date, like Colby. Colby wants Pen to be his wingman and help him create the illusion he’s a nice guy to date because he’s friends with a girl, even if she dresses and acts like one of the guys.
It doesn’t matter to Pen that Colby doesn’t stay in a relationship for long, that is until two things happen: One, she meets Olivia, one of Colby’s former flings who’s keeping a secret; two, she gets a girlfriend in Blake, a fellow classmate who Colby was initially interested in dating. These two new relationships force Pen to reevaluate her role as friend and daughter and her understanding of loyalty and respect. She’ll make some hard decisions about the type of person she wants to be as well as the types of people she wants in her life.
Girard captures not only how complicated friendships can become as children grow into teenagers but also how hard it is to struggle with the world’s perception of who you should be and how you should act versus who you know yourself to be. Girl Mans Up is brutally honest from start to finish in its depictions of gender identity, sexuality and bullying as well as the complications that accompany strained family relationships. It’s not an easy book in terms of topic, although it is a quick read, and Pen is a strong, complex character. Readers looking for more books featuring LGBTQ characters and themes should also check out The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey and Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.
If you are interested in reading a work of teen fiction, especially one that involves a Victorian tale, horror and feel good story wrapped into one, then try A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby. Within the bustling crowded streets of late 19th century London, a killer, sometimes referred to as Leather Apron but more commonly known as Jack the Ripper, terrorized the town of Whitechapel. Caught in the middle of this chaotic situation are two unlikely characters who must find a way to solve this murder mystery or face its deadly and haunting consequences.
Joseph Merrick, a.k.a. The Elephant Man, is a major character, and this story provides insight into how his life may have been during this time period. The physical deformities that he developed as a child caused him to experience much hardship in life that ranged from extreme discomfort to hiding underneath a mask to avoid the often unwanted attention given to him around the streets of London. Despite this, Merrick was able to befriend a doctor named Jonathan Treves, who helped him to have a comfortable stay at the London Hospital until the end of his days. Along with these historical figures, an unexpected friendship develops between The Elephant Man and a young lady named Evelyn, who is hired to be his maid. Having worked as a matchstick girl, Evelyn contracts a disease which eats away at the jaw due to phosphorous exposure. As you can already guess, physical deformities are a prevalent theme throughout the book and the author encourages the reader to reflect on who really is the “monster” in the story.
A teen historical fiction, this is one that not only recreates the terror of Jack the Ripper but is also about being different and finding friendship despite the bleak circumstances. Those with an interest in this time period and subject matter may also want to try The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson or Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco.
Fifty years ago this month, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was published. This classic in teen literature tells the story of young men in two competing gangs, the Greasers and the Socs. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it is a gritty, raw look at a teenage rivalry which turns deadly.
The novel inspired a 1983 film adaptation directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It starred unknown young actors who would go on to great fame, including Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio and Matt Dillon.
The Outsiders remains a cultural touchstone. Since 1967, over 15 million copies have been sold. It is a regular required read for middle and high school students and has been translated into 30 languages. According to fanfiction.net, there are 8,100 stories based on the book. And Instagram has more than 300,000 posts which use the hashtag #staygold, an inspiration from a Robert Frost poem that appears in the book.
Hinton was 16 when the book was published and had no idea the impact her novel would have on generations of teens. Hinton told Entertainment Weekly last year, “I was 15 when I started writing the book, but I was even younger when I first started thinking about the story, so The Outsiders has been a significant part of the majority of my life.”
Several years ago, Jeffrey Roberts authored the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese. His atlas highlighted carefully crafted, locally made cheeses and their makers, who hoped to lure American consumers away from those weirdly orange “pasteurized processed cheese foods” at the big grocery stores. The movement he championed in that first book has succeeded in a big way — now even the grocery store chains offer extensive cheese departments that often stock locally made gourmet cheeses.
With the publication of Salted and Cured: Savoring the Culture, Heritage and Flavor of America's Preserved Meats, Roberts hopes to provide the same service for locally cured meats. This new book delves into the historical hows and whys of curing meats, then introduces readers to the contemporary farmers, chefs and even bloggers who are champions of naturally made, carefully crafted, cured meats.
Roberts’ book shows readers how unexpected things like weather conditions affected the history of meats: desert versus swamp makes a big difference in how you cure your meats. From tales of ancient China and Egypt to how Native Americans taught explorers to make jerky, and from Italian prosciutto to Jewish corned beef at your favorite deli, Roberts tracks down the origins of cured meats. In the process, he tells the story of the waves of immigrants that brought their food traditions with them when they came to America.
Like this year’s BC Reads selection, Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman, Salted and Cured tells the story of America’s melting pot by looking at the ingredients various ethnic groups have brought to our kitchens. Fans of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt and the works of Michael Pollan should also enjoy this fascinating glimpse into food history and customs.
Patricia McKissack, award-winning author of more than 100 books for children, died at the age of 72 in her hometown of Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis. Born on August 9, 1944 in Smyrna, Tennessee, Patricia was inspired by her mother’s poetry reading and her grandparents’ storytelling to become a writer. Her family moved to Nashville where she graduated high school at age 16. She studied English at Tennessee A&I State University and also met her future husband and writing partner, Fredrick.
The pair shared a “missionary zeal” to write about African American characters “where there hadn’t been any before,” their eldest son Fredrick McKissack Jr. said yesterday. The McKissacks were at the forefront of creating diversity in children’s literature in race, geographical setting and social consciousness. Young readers of all ages are able to travel the world with Patricia’s books, which take children from the Deep South in America to Africa and span centuries. McKissack wrote in a wide range of genres, from historical fiction to science fiction, poetry to biography, all in an attempt to provide every young reader with a book which would spark interest and appeal.
Patricia’s work was popular with readers and also critically lauded. Her awards included a Newbery Honor and nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards. In 2014, Patricia and Fredrick’s work was recognized for its lasting contribution to literature with the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. A lifelong library lover, Patricia’s picture book Goin’ Someplace Special is a semi-autobiographical story of her weekly visits to her public library as a girl. In an interview about this beautiful book, she reflected, “The library was the doorway to freedom, to free thought when you're being told, ‘You can't, you can't, you can't, you can't.’ The library said, ‘You can, you can, you can, you can,’ and I did!” Be sure to check out some of her memorable books from this dedicated and important author in children’s literature.
Sarah Lohman is a historical gastronomist who immerses herself in her work. In Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, Lohman selects eight flavors found most frequently in American recipes. (She found 10, but excluded coffee and chocolate because she felt so much had been written about each.) Beginning in archives and searching through economic and scientific records, Lohman studies cookbooks and manuscripts dating back to the 18th century to discover when each of the flavor profiles first appeared in American kitchens and why.
The eight flavors uniting our vast melting pot of a country are black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG and Sriracha. Lohman introduces the explorers, merchants, farmers and chefs who influenced our culinary story. Unknown figures dot this fascinating history. John Crowninshield was a New England merchant who traveled to Sumatra in the 1790s in search of black pepper. Edmond Albius was a 12-year-old slave who lived on an island off the coast of Madagascar and discovered the technique still used to pollinate vanilla orchids today. Sriracha was the creation of David Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who combined elements of French and Thai cuisine and, using peppers grown on a farm north of Los Angeles, produced a hot sauce whose sales now exceed $60 million.
Recipes, research and illustrations all serve to illuminate the reader on the history of the flavors, each of which comprise a chapter in the book. Lohman also shares her personal adventures with the ingredients, and readers will be compelled to try some of the recipes (updated to modern tastes) such as Thomas Jefferson’s French Vanilla Ice Cream or the Rosemary House Garlic Carrot Cake. In an interview, Lohman noted that researching the book "really upended my idea of these flavors that always stood on the shelf in my kitchen. I would always pick up a pepper grinder or a bottle of vanilla extract and would never think about what it was and where it came from."
Meet Sarah Lohman at the Arbutus Branch on April 13 at 7 p.m. Copies of her book will be available for sale at a book signing following the program. Don’t come hungry! This program is just one of the many events scheduled for BC Reads: Eat Up!, BCPL’s month-long community discussion promoting reading and the arts.