In today’s edition of Reading the Rainbow, UP Staff have picked books that take on issues of greed like An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green and Disappearing, Inc. by Brandon Amico.
Red: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Hank Green, known for YouTube channels like vlogbrother, CrashCourse and SciShow, released his debut novel in 2017 and explores how social media affects people, relationships, and politics. April May is a typical young professional, working late nights as a graphic designer for a tech start up in New York. On her way home one night, she runs into a giant sculpture that just appeared out of nowhere. She calls up her friend Andy Skampt who is a fairly active YouTuber. The two make a silly video attempting to interview the statue that they have named Carl. The video goes viral and April May is now on the frontline of the mysterious “Carls” that miraculously appeared in 64 major cities across the world. April, with this overnight celebrity, enters into politics and leads the way in solving the mystery of the Carls. At the same time, April is trying to maintain normalcy while embracing a whole new world of fame, fortune, and aliens. And if you enjoy this book, the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, arrives this summer.
Orange: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
In one of her classic Poirot Whodunnits, Agatha Christie has you wondering what happened as she spins together one of the most intricate and complicated murders mysteries ever conceived. Hercule Poirot, the main character and detective of many Christie novels, jumps on a train from Istanbul to London after receiving a telegram to return home. While on board, an American businessman named Ratchett approaches him and asks for his protection. He received a murder threat, he tells Poirot. But Poirot is disgusted by Ratchett and refuses to help protect him. However the drama starts while Poirot is sleeping in the room next door to Ratchett. He hears someone cry out from inside Rachett’s compartment. Poirot then hears whoever it is assure the conductor, in French, that it was nothing. Unable to sleep, Poirot listens as many other dramatic events occur during the night, including the train getting stuck in a snowbank. In the morning, Ratchett is found dead with 12 stab wounds. Poirot looks over all 13 passengers trying to determine who, if any of them, would want Rachett dead or if someone snuck on board to kill him.
Yellow: Cruddy by Lynda Barry
Cruddy—a dark, illustrated novel—goes in the category of “diary fiction”. Our narrator is teenager-in-turmoil Roberta. The timeline jumps back and forth to reveal the cruddy world she has grown up in, “Once upon a cruddy time on a cruddy street on the side of a cruddy hill in the cruddiest part of a crudded-out town in a cruddy state, country, world, solar system, universe. The cruddy girl named Roberta was writing the cruddy book of her cruddy life and the name of the book was called Cruddy. Now the truth can finally be revealed about the mysterious day long ago when the authorities found a child, calmly walking in the boiling desert, covered with blood. She could not give the authorities any information about why she was the only survivor and everyone else was lying around in hacked-up pieces.”
This book is not for the faint of heart; it’s the farthest thing from “feel good” there is. Because of the greed of her father, Roberta is shown a harsh reality at a young age. Some may even say that she isn’t a “likeable” protagonist, but since when do they have to be likable? With experiences like road trips on the run with a father who pretends she’s a boy and feeds her whiskey and beef jerky to witnessing murders to “biting” people with her knives in self-defense, she deserves empathy from readers. Roberta is strong. She clearly struggles with mental health because of the trauma she’s gone through, but she handles many of these trials with grit.
Green: The Broken Earth series by NK Jemison
Every few centuries, the supercontinent called the Stillness experiences drastic and catastrophic climate called The Fifth Season (also the title of the first book in the trilogy). Essun lives in a small town and is trying to protect her two kids from having their powers discovered. She and her kids are secretly “orogene”, people with the power to control energy of the ground and heat. Orogenes are able to cause earthquakes and steal heat from bodies around them. Because of this, orogenes are widely feared and hated. Anyone with this power has to either hide it or hide away in a training location. Essun returns home one day to discover her son has been beaten to death by her husband after her son accidentally revealed his powers. Now her daughter and husband are on the run. In her grief and anger, she accidentally sets off a series of earthquakes and kills townspeople who approach her, triggering a new Fifth Season. NK Jemison, born in Iowa City, Iowa, guides readers through whether or not the planet is alive, what happens when humans anger the planet, and is there a point at which we damage it enough that it can’t support life?
Blue: Disappearing, Inc. by Brandon Amico
Feeling blue? So are poets, like all the time. While you’re stuck in quarantine, try reading poetry as an outlet for all those feelings. Poetry collections like Disappearing, Inc. by Brandon Amico take on issues like greed, dying bees, and political turmoil in America through daring verse.
In Brandon Amico’s most recent collection, Disappearing, Inc., he uses specificity of language in his titles and lines to lead the reader to question the capitalistic empire we’ve been taught to accept. With intriguing poem titles like, “A New Gun Folds Up to Look Just Like a Smartphone”, “I Hate the Weather Channel”, and “#Moongate”, he wants the reader to move further in each piece towards understanding. One of the poems that really stands out in the collection is, “Self-Portrait With Oncoming Storm”. The external conflict in this poem is that the speaker is cold, but the internal conflict is letting go. Amico connects the body and the effects of cold and being an average citizen in a money-hungry world with lines like, “toasting / the New Year’s lean new budget, and this / is why I don’t live farther north, the roads thinner / colder the capillaries quicker to collapse in my fingertips,”. While reading, we can see the ideas bouncing back and forth in Amico’s head through seductive line breaks and unexpected metaphors.
Purple: The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
This dystopian fantasy trilogy is a perfect step into high fantasy as Brandon Sanderson takes readers on expected twists and turns. The first book of the series, The Final Empire, begins with Kelsier escaping from the prison camps in the Pits of Hathsin where he was forced to mine for precious metals. Being one of the few prisoners who escaped, Kelsier is revered as a myth, becoming known as the Survivor of Hathsin. After his escape, Kelsier puts together a crew in an attempt to overthrow the seemingly immortal Emperor and take down The Final Empire. His crew isn’t complete until he meets a young vagrant girl named Vin.
In this world, magic is called “Allomancy” and is based on consuming different types of metals like Tin for improved senses or Pewter for greater strength. Many people have access to only one of the metallic skills. But Kelsier and Vin are both “Mistborns” and have access to all of the powers. Kelsier trains Vin of the ways of Allomancy as Sazed, a religious scholar and steward, teaches Vin about the noble world. Vin’s role is to infiltrate and spy upon the upper class when she learns that Kelsier’s plans include not only overthrowing the emperor, but also destabilizing the empire through slave revolts, noble house wars, and a collapsing economy.
Sanderson builds a world based on imperfect people trying to do what they think is right. He explores questions that seem oddly familiar to our pandemic ridden world such as balancing preservation and ruin in order to make progress and whether freedoms are as important as safety.