Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed (2017)
So Margaret Atwood's retelling of The Tempest is about an ousted, grieving artistic director who uses his prison literary program to stage a vengeful production of The Tempest. It's imaginative and spell-binding, and I enjoyed being enriched by Atwood's various interpretations of the play. I especially found the characters' engagements with the text so enchanting to read. It made me think about how art iterates, how we respond, how we echo. I did think it felt too educational at times, like I was a student trying to cram in all possible understandings of the material. The revenge plot aspect was sometimes tedious, especially when as it was nearing the end and was most glued to the plot of The Tempest. But there was real magic in the emotional impact that Atwood achieved in the latter parts of the book, where one of her characters in particular slid from one play analogue to another.

PP Wong, The Life of a Banana (2015)
When twelve-year-old Xing Li's mother dies in a freak accident, she and her brother move in with the strict, wealthy grandmother who scorned them before and still scorns them now. The childish narration of twelve-year-old Xing Li gives this book its charm, and the way she works around and through her grief is compelling. Her friendship with Jay, and their mutual attempts to safely be their offbeat selves, is another is another highlight. The plot, however, really didn't work for me; it was a jumble of contrivances, stereotypes, and paper-thin ideas that would've been better served the book had they been fleshed out. So many serious elements were barely grappled with and seemed to simply serve as dramatic plot bombs. The scenes not narrated by Xing Li weakened the book as well--because, really, her voice is the best thing the book has going for it.

May 2017

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