Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Oh, If My Twelve-Year-Old Self Could See This...

Holy crap! 2013 - HOW I LOVE YOU!! Not only is a new Sailor Moon anime reboot slated to be released this summer, there is also news of a brand new Powerpuff Girls special coming to Cartoon Network!

This is like middle school all over again! Minus the snotty bitches gossiping about me and the awkward puberty issues and the idiotic teachers... you know, this is nothing like middle school. That was a horrible comparison.

But HOORAY! New Powerpuff Girls! *happy dance*

Monday, January 28, 2013

In Which My Librarian Cred Is Seriously Jeopardized

The Newbery and Caldecott and all those other nebulous book awards were announced today.  Here's the list if you're interested.  Me, I took one hard, long and intense look at the list... and I didn't recognize a-one of those titles.  Recognized a few authors, but I had never seen any of those titles in my life.  And bear in mind - I work for the library. I read books for fun.  Not only have I never heard of these books before today, I've never even seen the covers!  And I work at the library!

I have a love/hate relationship with these national book awards (there are so many different medals and so many categories it's hard to keep track of all of them).  My first real exposure to a Newbery winner was in fourth grade when my teacher read "The Giver" by Lois Lowry to the class.  To this day, that book is on my personal list of Greatest Books In All Of Our Lifetimes and Beyond (along with "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Pride and Prejudice" - it's a short list so far).  But after "The Giver"... there were never any other books with shiny medals on them that I wanted to read of my own free will and choice.  Even when "Holes" came out, I only read that one because they made a movie of it.  And I only read "The Graveyard Book" because Neil Gaiman wrote it.  Didn't give a crap that it had a big medal on the cover.  Same with Caldecott.  I read "The Polar Express" because my aunt gave me the book for Christmas, but I was never that impressed by what the American Library Association thought I ought to be impressed by.

You want my honest-to-goodness assessment of national book awards?  This has been in place since I was ten and I haven't seen any real reason to change my opinion since (with very, very, very few exceptions) - these awards are given by this nameless, faceless committee based out of New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or New Orleans or some other exotic city I've only seen on TV.  None of these people give a steaming pile of cow manure what some little farm girl from the Utah sticks likes to read.

I'm not the only one who sees this, either.  The "Death By Newbery Medal" trope wouldn't exist if regular people flocked to these books (I find the quotes section of that page particularly damning).

I'm not here to whine that nobody ever pays attention to me and why am I ignored and there should be a special medal for books about kids like me (thus creating a shortage of gold-leafing to print medal stickers on).  I am certainly capable of finding books that appeal to me and my situation.  I just wonder if these awards are more for the people giving them out and less for the people that the books are intended for.  If I - with all my bookish tendencies and voracious appetite for reading - rarely give a fig for the winners of these awards, what about the kid who hates reading, period?  The same thing happens with the Oscars and all those other "fictitious" award shows - they aren't for the larger audiences, they're more for the select few that get to pick them and then pat themselves on the back for selecting things that the so-called "great unwashed" will never understand (to which I ask, if these are things that normal people won't understand, why must we promote this stuff?)

(Larry Correia has a nice takedown of these literati elites that I quite loved.  Yes, he's talking about the Hugos, but these awards are all the same when you get right down to it).

Another thing: Teachers often give assignments to read Newbery winners and write book reports on them.  And I've had moms haul their ten-year-old boys who love video games and running around outside into the library and ask me for a Newbery book that has action and adventure and none of that touchy-feely-girly crap (this was an actual reader's advisory request I had posed to me by an actual mother and her son - except the mom asked a bit nicer than that). Thank goodness "The Graveyard Book" won that one year or there wouldn't be a darn thing to give to kids like that (and even then, there's a chance that the kid won't like the fantasy aspect of it).  Personally, I'd rather a kid choose to read "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and love it than have to read "Dead End in Norvelt" and completely hate it.

Speaking of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," the first time I read that book I remember thinking "If Mo Willems can win a Caldecott Honor for 'Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,' why can't a book about a snarky middle-schooler drawing comics of his family and friends in his diary JOURNAL get a nod?" Of course, Greg snarking on the Newbery Medal itself probably doesn't endear him to the nominating committee (probably for the best, now that I think of it.  Would probably ruin a perfectly good book series).

And that brings me to the Honor awards.  Honestly, I think the Honor books are better than the books are actually win the medals.  "Princess Academy" comes to mind, as does "Charlotte's Web."  I've heard tell (from second- and third-hand sources, so who knows how reliable this is, but it sounds legit) that the Honor books are the ones that individual committee members really, really, really LOVE, but they can't get the rest of the committee to agree, so the actual winner is really a compromise (the committee has to be unanimous on the winner or it doesn't become the winner).  So, really, the Honor books are the best and the Winner is a cheap compromise.

Look, I don't want to dog on these award winners.  Earning any kind of recognition like this takes talent and hard work and I don't want to take that away from anyone.  But I do have issues with the book becoming the focus rather than the reader.  I became a librarian because I love to read and I want to help kids and adults love reading as well.  I do have a make judgments about the books I read - everyone does, not just librarians even though that's a large part of our jobs.  But those judgments are in the interest of helping people find something they'll love to read (and if I enjoy something along the way, that's just icing on the cake).  If I ever become overly-focused on the book rather than the reader who may or may not love the book, feel free to drum me out of the service.

(I am so going to Library Hell for this).

Friday, January 25, 2013

...But It Was An Ending - Review of "A Memory of Light"

Title: A Memory of Light
Authors: Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 8, 2013

Synopsis (via Goodreads) -

Since 1990, when Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time® burst on the world with its first book, The Eye of the World, readers have been anticipating the final scenes of this extraordinary saga, which has sold over forty million copies in over thirty languages.

When Robert Jordan died in 2007, all feared that these concluding scenes would never be written. But working from notes and partials left by Jordan, established fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson stepped in to complete the masterwork. With The Gathering Storm (Book 12) and Towers of Midnight (Book 13) behind him, both of which were # 1 New York Times hardcover bestsellers, Sanderson now re-creates the vision that Robert Jordan left behind.

Edited by Jordan’s widow, who edited all of Jordan’s books, A Memory of Light will delight, enthrall, and deeply satisfy all of Jordan’s legions of readers.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

My Review:
Oh hey - I've got that cover image on two blog posts in a row. There aren't rules against that, are there?

Funny story - Two weeks ago when I was fangirl-gushing and keysmashing over "A Memory of Light" on Facebook and Twitter, a friend asked me if I was going to write up a review.  I said "Absolutely!" And then two seconds later, my brain caught up with my mouth and I thought "How in the Seven Hells am I going to do that?"

(oh crap, now I'm getting "A Song of Ice and Fire" into my "Wheel of Time" discussion. Wrong doorstopper fantasy series, dear!)

It's really hard to discuss "A Memory of Light" without getting in all the particulars of the entire "Wheel of Time" series.  And while I am a fan, I realize that my readers (all five of you) probably don't want to sit through a blow-by-blow description of what happens and why (and if you do want something like that, may I point you in the direction of the lovely and talented Leigh Butler and the Wheel of Time Re-Read).

My non-spoiler review is: I was satisfied.  I now want to read the entire series from beginning to end, just for the feeling of having done it.  Not everyone will love this (or has loved it), but I do.  And poo on them that don't *raspberry*

(I may be a legal adult, but deep down I'm still seven).

Okay, now I'm giving the big fat SPOILER warning.  You know me - I gush and I rant and I weep and I keysmash.  Beyond this point I have no filters, so proceed with caution.

One more thing, though - while I was re-reading the Wheel of Time last year, I also discovered The Piano Guys.  And somehow, the two have become connected in my head. In fact, if HBO or whoever decided to do a TV miniseries of The Wheel of Time, my vote would be for The Piano Guys to do the music (probably wouldn't happen, but I can dream).  I even think of their rendition of "Rolling in the Deep" as the theme for the Dragon Reborn (the character, not the book).  So, it would give me much joy and squee if you listened to it as you read my review - just because I'm strange like that.

To be honest, I have no illusions that passive readers will pick this book up on its own. When I tell people the series is 14 books long, they look at me like I'm batcrap insane (I mean, moreso than they usually do) and there is no way in frozen hell that they are going to read this series. And that's perfectly fine. It's not for you. This ending is purely for the fans (at least, the people who cared enough to stick around this long).

But this is what I will say - I was satisfied.  This series has spent 14 books and 20 years building up to the Last Battle and the (presumptive) end of the world and that's exactly what we got (except the world didn't quite end the way it was advertised - spoilers!)  If you don't know, the last three books - The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light - were initially meant to be one ginormous novel.  After Robert Jordan passed away and Brandon Sanderson was asked to complete the series, Sanderson decided that in order to do the ending justice, it needed to be split into three books.  So, you really have to think of these last three books as part of a bigger picture - which is why Mat's and Perrin's storylines in "Towers of Midnight" are so far behind Rand's and Egwene's in "The Gathering Storm."  But everyone's caught up to each other by the time they start gathering for the Great-Big-Hairy Showdown at the Fields of Merrilor and the Last Battle.

Just to illustrate just how Great-Big-Hairy this whole showdown is - the chapter entitled "The Last Battle" was nearly 200 pages. That's one chapter, kidlets.  One. Chapter. Two. Hundred. Pages.  That's the climax (more or less - it gets wrapped up in the concluding chapters).  But you know what? I think it's fitting.  I know people whine and complain about how long the books in this series are and maybe I'm showing my complete and abject weirdness by saying this, but I like books that are long and involved and take me forever to read (except I read "A Memory of Light" in a little over twelve hours, so much for that theory), especially if I like being in that fictional world.  And the Wheel of Time world is so intricate and detailed that I feel like I'm actually there - or that this is a place where I could go.  That's one of the ways I know I've read a wonderful book - I don't want to leave, even though I know I have to go do dishes

The narrative during the Last Battle jumps from character to character so we get to peek in on what the other characters are doing in their various locations.  I feel like they all got fairly equal representation, with two glaring exceptions.  Nynaeve and Moiraine are the two female channelers Rand asks to come with him to the Dark One's prison because those are the two he feels like he can trust the most to help him use Callandor.  I, for one, was looking forward to these two having to work together because they both had been at each other's throats since book 1 (except for the time Moiraine spent being not-dead - long story) and Nynaeve is easily my favorite Aes Sedai (hell, she's my favorite, period, end of story).  And... there wasn't much narrative given to their involvement in sealing away the Dark One (erm... again).  Moiraine did lend her voice to getting all the monarchs to quit squabbling because HELLO, IDIOTS! LAST BATTLE, END OF THE WORLD HERE! COULD YOU QUIT THROWING YOUR STUPID TWO-YEAR-OLD FITS AND GIVE THE DRAGON REBORN A LITTLE HELP HERE?? so, I'm more forgiving of any slight (perceived or otherwise) on her part.  Nynaeve... well... not so much.  I realize there was a ton to deal with elsewhere and it can't be easy to keep track of it all, but... she kind of felt M.I.A. for a while there.

Let me talk about what I did like!

Mat. Mat getting to be Big Time General In Charge of the battles.  Which is funny, because it took me a loooooong time to hold any kind of love in my heart for Mat Cauthon (I always had a thing for Perrin - more on that later).  But for a guy who spent a good deal of the series trying to get out of fighting in the war, he didn't do so bad.  And he even threw some smarmy verbal swipes at the Seanchan bastards, which is never a bad thing.

Speaking of the bug-helmeted Bizarro World - how about Egwene dropping the hammer on Tuon over that whole enslaving women who can channel thing?  That Egwene once escaped Seanchan captivity was a big enough shakedown of the Empress's world (may she be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels), but that Egwene ALSO (and ABOUT DAMN TIME, I might add) let slip that women who could control damane had the ability to channel as well, thus (hopefully) shaking the Seanchan's faith in the one thing that keeps their civilization together.  Do I think that would totally take down Seanchan overnight? Hell no.  Do I think Seanchan will break down eventually. Yes, indeed.  And this was the beginning of it.

(I am fully aware that some Seanchan learned of the ability to channel in sul'dam before Egwene went toe-to-toe with Tuon.  I was just happy that it was Egwene who got to lay it out for the Empress, may the bird of paradise fly up her nose).

While we've got Mat and Egwene (and others, but mostly those two) running battle tactics and stuff in the real world, my favoritest dear friend Perrin gets to kick ass and take names in the dream world of Tel'aran'rhiod.  You know, I've had a soft spot for Perrin since book 1 that's never really gone away.  And if there is one thing that kind of miffs me about the internet fandom it's that Perrin never seems a get a fair shake from them and that annoys me.  But I'm not going to lay the smackdown on anyone for not liking my favorite characters - just making an observation.  If there is one littel complaint I have about the Wheel of Time series, it's that Perrin didn't get a whole lot of moments to shine in the middle books.  But his big moments in "Towers of Midnight" and "A Memory of Light" make up for it and that makes me happy.  Taking out Slayer (who turns out to be one of the Forsaken - which we more or less already knew) in the dream world with just himself and Gaul (and then Gaul gets left behind, which might make him a bit more badass) - yeah, that was just cool.

And I can't gush about Perrin without giving mad props to his wife, who deserves glowing praise in her own right.  At first, I thought Faile would just be relegated to tactical support while the main characters saved the day (and I couldn't really find fault with that, seeing as she wasn't exactly part of the first wave of Emond Fielders who started this whole thing and deserved most of the action - but still!)  But then her supply train accidentally ends up Traveling out to the Blight and we all go Oh. Shit.  And given how bad Perrin broke down was Faile was simply captured, I didn't see things turning out good for my top Superboy if Faile actually died (I was prepared to chuck the book out the window if that happened, by the way).  But no! Faile - who brought in the cavalry in the Two Rivers and who weaseled her way into the circle of that one-chick-who-tried-to-steal-Cairhien-from-Rand-and-I-can't-be-bothered-to-remember-her-name and who kept it together during her Shaido captivity - Faile gets out of the Blight, oh and she had the Horn of Valere which was needed to call the Heroes of the Age of Legends to the Last Battle - almost forgot that little detail! (Actually, I thought it was a nice callback to have Faile deliver the Horn of Valere to the Last Battle, seeing as she was first introduced as a Hunter for the Horn clear back in "The Dragon Reborn").

There's a lot more I could go on and on about (Bela's death - HOW COULD YOU? - Olver sounding the Horn, Egwene becoming the Flame of Tar Valon) - but really, this boils down to a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful story.  I wish more people would give it a chance, even pushing through the so-called "slow parts" in the middle books.  The build-up is worth the time and emotion and energy you invest in the story and there is no reason to be disappointed (though I guess I've spoiled everything if you've read this far. Oops).  I think I'll re-read the whole series this year, just to see what it feels like to read everything from teh beginning through to the end - and even imagine what happens after Our Heroes ride off into the sunset.

After all, there are no endings to the Wheel of Time.  This is just an ending.

Monday, January 7, 2013

"There Are Neither Endings Nor Beginnings" - A Retrospective of "The Wheel of Time"

Tomorrow, January 8, is the day that A Memory of Light will be released. This is the last book of The Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan (and was finished by Brandon Sanderson, who is an amazing author in his own right).  And, United States Postal Service willing, I will have my copy in hand tomorrow and will probably have a tough time concentrating on anything else (apologies in advance, anyone who tries to engage me in regular conversation tomorrow - I may be standing in front of you, but I won't be mentally present).

This is kind of a big deal for me.  And, it turns out, for a lot of people, but it was only recently that I discovered how big of a following The Wheel of Time series had.  A few weeks ago, Leigh Butler (she of the Wheel of Time re-read) posted her spoiler-free review of A Memory of Light. In the comments, many of the long-time, hardcore fans went on at length how they’ve been with the Wheel of Time series for over 20 years. My relationship hasn’t been quite that long (hell, I’m only 27 - I was reading “Little House on the Prairie” 20 year ago!), neither did I get into the WoT internet fandom until recently, but Wheel of Time has been substantive in my life. I guess I always kept this one thing to myself - it was something I loved and I didn't want other people messing around with it.  The Wheel of Time is quite special to me, mostly because of the circumstances in which I discovered it.  And when I re-read the series last year in anticipation of the fourteenth and final (holy crap!) installment - a lot of those tender memories came bubbling to the surface.

What is The Wheel of Time, you ask?  Well... heh... um... here - this is an official promotional video that the Tor Books put out that includes a bare-bones summary of the story. Much better than I could, anyway -

The Wheel of Time came to me at an interesting point of my life.  Telling this story involves me admitting something that people who've known me my whole life know, but newer friends and associates don't typically find out about me because I never talk about it.  When I was seventeen, I moved with my family to a new town and a new school. Honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, even though I was unsure about it at the time.  My parents gave me the option to stay where I was, but it was my decision to go.  And I'm very glad that I did.  This high school was drastically smaller, but the students were much more accepting and friendly than I had ever believed possible.  I think I made much better friends in that short year than I did in twelve years at my old school.  Also, considering how small West Desert was, they had a school library For The Ages.  As a fantasy nut, I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.  I was very familiar with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but West Desert High School’s library had Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Brian Jacques’ Redwall and Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” and, of course, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.

So, out in West Desert, there's not a whole lot to do.  There are no movie theaters or shopping malls - hell, we don't even have a gas station.  There's school and church and sports and farm chores and whatever other fun you make for yourself - which is what I did before I moved (we lived on a farm two miles out of town, which may have been my saving grace in my growing-up years).  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a bunch of farm kids from the sticks were reading books because that's what I always did.  But the concept that these were kids from school doing this was new and quite exciting to me.

At first, I was a little unsure of how much of my geeky side I should show to my new schoolmates.  After all, my geekiness got me into some uncomfortable and downright embarrassing situations before (most of which, I now realize, happened because the people around me were jackasses and looking for any reason to beat me down - there's more to the story than that, but not for this venue).  But imagine my surprise when my fellow seniors were passing around The Eye of the World (which is the first WoT book) and saying "This is awesome, everyone should read this!"

By this time, basketball season was in full swing.  Something you need to know is that West Desert High is really far away from most of the schools in the state (people from Salt Lake think it’s the edge of creation and give me the funniest looks when I tell them where I’m from). As a way of saving the school district gas money, the girls and boys teams would take road trips together and play the same schools the same night.  We’d all be on the bus together and some of our parents would follow the bus to the games.  And those trips were LOOOOOONG.  One school we played was on the other side of the freaking state (West Desert was near the Utah-Nevada line; our farthest opponent was East Carbon, which was closer to Colorado).  Some of the kids got up the usual “making out in the back of the bus” hijinks (typical teenager stuff)  Me? I read. And so did some of my friends.  And the ones who were further along in the story discussed the Wheel of Time (with me pointedly ignoring them because I didn’t want to be spoiled).

The one that really hooked me was The Dragon Reborn, mostly because I’m kind of oblivious to a lot of things and I had no idea that Rand was the Chosen One that everybody went on and on about (I don’t know what I thought, really.  Maybe I figured the Superboys were just supposed to help find the Dragon Reborn and go on Spirited Adventures while doing so.  To be fair, my Powers of Literary Deduction were in their infancy at this stage in life).  THEN - came the Epic and Torturous Waiting for Mike to Finish Reading The Shadow Rising All-Freaking-Ready!!!1!!!ELEVENTY!!  I think I bugged the poor guy so much about it that he stopped reading partway through and let me read it first (sign of a true friend, there).

By this time, track and field season was upon us all.  During one of our track meets (and I can’t even remember where this was), I snuck off to a nearby Barnes and Noble and bought “The Fires of Heaven” because I didn’t want to have to wait for that one.  Lord of Chaos and A Crown of Swords soon joined my collection.

Then - came the part I hate.  Because I was heading off to college and it was either study and do well in school or read Wheel of Time.  Like any dutiful academic, I chose the former (much to my deep regret).  All during my college years there would be periods where I’d try to pick up the series where I left off, but something else would take me away - school or work, another fandom, social life (blech, social life, I spit in your eye.  Why do I need to date, anyway?  Boys are stupid).  Even so, I remember where I was when I heard the news that Robert Jordan had passed away.  And even though it had been some years since I’d picked up a Wheel of Time book, I still felt a keen attachment to the story and its creator and I was heartbroken by the news.  Even some years later when I finished Knife of Dreams, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief when I realized that was the last volume to be solely written by Mr. Jordan.

A year or so ago, I was finishing up my Master’s Degree and working at the library.  An audiobook copy of The Eye of the World checked in.  I looked at it, realized that I was veeery close to the end of my academic career and I would soon have some extra free time to do what I'd resolved to do since my freshman year of college.  I checked it out and re-read (well, listened to) what I had read all those years ago in high school and finished up what was available.  The series was just as wonderful and brilliant as I remembered (yes, there were some low points, but what series doesn't have those?).  It reminded me of my last year of high school, which was a pure and unadulterated joy.  It seemed fitting that I was getting back into this world - which had been like a warm and comforting friend as my teenage years were coming to a close - just as my adult life was close to taking off.  I later discovered Leigh Butler’s aforementioned Re-read and found all kinds of new ideas and opinions about the series - some I agreed with, some I’d never thought of before, some I didn't care to hear again.  But also, I found that I wasn't the only one who loved this story.

Fandoms come and go.  Book series start and finish.  But I remember all of them with joy and fondness (probably more fondness than the people I’ve lost touch with).  The Wheel of Time is special because I found it just as I was experiencing a new phase of my life, so it will always be associated with that.  I’m excited to find out how things turn out for Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve and the rest (there are so many wonderful characters, but I will always have a love for the original core cast).  I may not have been with the series since the beginning, but it still has made an impression on me. Whether good or bad, joy or tears, it’s been a fantastic ride from start to finish and top to bottom.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Connecting to Real Life and Real Love - Review of "Girl Parts" by John M. Cusick

Title: Girl Parts
Author: John M. Cusick
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 2010
Summary: (from Goodreads) - 
David and Charlie are opposites. David has a million friends, online and off. Charlie is a soulful outsider, off the grid completely. But neither feels close to anybody. When David’s parents present him with a hot Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat his “dissociative disorder,” he can’t get enough of luscious redheaded Rose — and he can’t get it soon. Companions come with strict intimacy protocols, and whenever he tries anything, David gets an electric shock. Parted from the boy she was built to love, Rose turns to Charlie, who finds he can open up, knowing Rose isn’t real. With Charlie’s help, the ideal “companion” is about to become her own best friend. In a stunning and hilarious debut, John Cusick takes rollicking aim at internet culture and our craving for meaningful connection in an uberconnected world.

My Review:
This book came to my attention via a review written by Shaun of Traveling the Vortex (his review is here). He talked it up and I decided to give it a shot.  After all, I'm a (aspiring) teen librarian - I ought to know what the kids these days are reading.  While I agree with Shaun on the point that a major theme of this book is about being too connected through gadgets and not so much through meaningful personal connections, something else floated through my mind as I was reading this book.  So, I'll let Shaun's review stand as the conversation about the over-saturation of technology in our lives and I'm going to go a slightly different route.

Recently, I read the book "Why Gender Matters" by Leonard Sax, M.D. Ph.D. I didn't write a review of this book because, frankly it's hard to write a good review of non-fiction (at least, it is for me).  But that book brought up some interesting discoveries made in recent scientific studies.  Dr. Sax's work is aimed at helping parents and teachers understand why young boys and young girls learn differently and the differences in their emotional development.  Turns out, yes, male brains and female brains are hard-wired differently and that accounts for such vast gender differences (I'm speaking generally here, as does Dr. Sax - there are always exceptions to - and that prove - the rule.  I clued in to a few differences in myself that explained a lot about things in my own life).  It's a fascinating read, one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject.

I mention Dr. Sax's book because there are some things that happen in "Girl Parts" that Dr. Sax talks extensively about - namely, how teenage boys and teenage girls form relationships and how some of the things that are perfectly normal and natural for teenage boys can seriously harm teenage girls (well, it probably harms them both, but girls' reactions are much more harmful to themselves).

The premise of "Girl Parts" is this - in the not-too-distant-future, a counselor at a boys' school figures out that many of the students are disconnected from the world around them.  Pretty much everything they do is online - school, socializing, play.  The solution? Prescribe each boy a female companion robot that is just like an actual human female - with several key components removed (after all, these are horny teenage boys we're dealing with here).  Each robot has a built-in Intimacy Clock that tells the robot when it's time to increase intimacy with her boy.  If the boy tries to go too far too soon, the boy gets a shock.  Otherwise, the robot is a perfect companion - she is programmed to learn what her boy wants in a girlfriend and how to connect with him and create a meaningful friendship).

(Personally, I sense a disconnect in this company's logic - to teach a boy how to socialize with other people, you give him a computerized robot to hang around with? Nope... still don't get it).

Anyway, two boys at this school are prescribed robots.  David's parents give him the robot because, hell, they can't be bothered to worry about the emotional well-being of their son. Make some artificial intelligence do it.  Besides, they can afford it.  Charlie, on the other hand, may be a loner but his dad thinks the robot is unnecessary.  So, Charlie doesn't get one and he gets to bumble through life and relationships just like the rest of us (after seeing what happens to David after he got his robot companion, there is no sarcasm in me when I say Charlie is the lucky one).

Something I love about this book is something that Cusick could have easily left out without losing a bit of the story, but I give him mad props for going this route - after Rose, David's robot companion, is powered up and starts learning about her surroundings, the narrative starts to follow her around the same way it does with Charlie and David.  She's not treated like a fix-it-quick machine that's supposed to cure David of his social ills - she learns, she has her own thoughts and feelings, she falls in love, she has an emotional connection with David.  Yes, she's programmed to do so, but that makes the rest of the story intriguing when she actually starts to think like a real human female and we as readers get to see her character development.

The scene that I had the hardest time with - emotionally - was the scene where David discovers that his robot companion, Rose, is not equipped to have sex.  For a month, the two of them have formed a close emotional bond because Rose's Intimacy Clock program won't let David get what he wants.  So, while Rose thinks she's really got something special with David, David's really just counting down until he can get himself a piece of that.  So, when David finds out that he can't even do what he's boasted to his friends what he's going to do with Rose, he storms out and leaves his robot behind (yeah, just a stinking robot, huh?)  But Rose is devastated because she loves David and he suddenly doesn't want her because she can't give him what he wants.  She runs off, having been rejected utterly by the boy she was literally built to love.  Lucky for her, Charlie finds her out in the woods and they become friends and develop a relationship that's built on trust and sincere caring for each other and not just posturing for the guys in the locker room.

Rose is very much damaged by David's reaction to her deficiencies.  She finds a friend in Charlie, even though he has his own insecurities to deal with (although, he doesn't go full-on George McFly "I'm Your Density" levels of awkward at any point, he's still more or less a loser.  But a very endearing loser).  Both Charlie and David create an interesting contrast in how they treat other people - not just girls, but also how they interact with other teenage boys, their parents and other authority figures.  By the end of the book, I knew which boy I'd be more willing to trust with my teenage daughter (that is, if I ever have a teenage daughter).

What I like about this book is also what makes it hard to recommend - I like that it talks about sex and relationships between teenage boys and girls and puts real faces and emotional consequences to it.  This book will promote a lot of discussion about teenage sexuality and relationships, but only if you're mature enough to handle it.  And I'm not just talking about if teenagers can handle such frank discussion, but also if the adults in their lives can handle it as well.  As a general rule, I wouldn't give this to anyone younger than 16, and even then I would have to account for individual maturity and tastes.  Sadly, the people who would benefit the most from this kind of story are the ones who wouldn't take it seriously and the ones who would take it seriously don't need to hear it.

Bottom Line: "Girl Parts" is a fascinating commentary on many aspects of modern teenage culture, whether that's how much technology runs your life or how you treat other people.  If taken in the right way, it can be an effective way to illustrate why some behaviors are better.  Sad thing is, I'm not sure everyone is grown-up enough to handle that.