Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

The 5 Bennett girls are looking for love. Their mother will stop at nothing to see her daughters happily (or, ok, maybe even just slightly comfortably) married. It's set somewhere in England around the late 1800's, so they can't text, tweet, or Facebook. Therefore, they spend the bulk of their days writing letters, reading letters, planning balls, and hashing over every single detail of every single moment they were in the presence of their potential suitors. They plot and plan and hope and wish, and everything in life pretty much is all wrapped up in the boys. It is definitely a story about girls who are trying to land husbands. The differences among the Bennett sisters and their respective characters/personalities/moral standards and convictions are vast and starkly contrasted. One sister (Jane) is so good-hearted that she can't bear to think poorly of anyone, even when she is given factual evidence which proves certain individuals are conniving/manipulating/lying dogs. Yet, another sister (Lydia) is considered quite the raucous hoodlum, and at one point spontaneously runs off to shack up with a soldier. My favorite sister is Elizabeth. She's respectable and honorable, considerate of her friends and family, yet she is not a girl who will be pushed around. She knows how to stand on her own two feet, but she knows how to do so in a bold yet well-spoken manner. I would like to be friends with Elizabeth. 

The boys, as it turns out, are for the most part fairly good guys. They are good to the girls, and usually all have their best interests at heart. The intertwining of the girls' varied match-ups (and failed match-ups), doused with the culture and society of the Victorian era, made Pride and Prejudice quite a story, and one in which you can't help but root for the girls to get their guys. 

There's a Princess in Me! (Sheila Walsh)

Shouldn't every girl feel like a princess? 

Gigi is a character who tells, via rhyme, all the ways that there is a princess in her...despite all her failings and imperfections. As she describes her mistakes, she also shares that her free gift is the promise of being a child of God's, of being His princess. There are verses included to explain these promises from the Lord. (Colossians 3:12, 1 John 3:1)

He looks past the mess.
He says she is precious.
He declares that there is a princess in her!

I think the nicest touch is the mirror on the front of the book, so that every little girl can see herself with the title There's a Princess in Me proclaimed over her face! 

I Love My Hair! (Natasha Anastasia Tarpley)

 This book is for every little girls of African descent  who wishes their hair was more like other ethnicities on the planet, which is apparently more common that I thought.

Keyana takes us through the process of her mother fixing her hair, including the soothing application of coconut oil and the harsh tugging and pulling of the comb. She describes how her mother can weave her hair into a soft, fluffy bun, she can let it be free, she can part and braid it in straight lines "like the way we plant seeds in our garden,"and she can braid it into tiny little sections with click-clacky beads on the end. Keyana tells about how she felt when other kids teased her about her hair, but that her parents assure her that her hair is a blessing, and to be proud of her hair means to be proud of where she came from.

 I love that this book can be used to help all girls, regardless of their race, remember that their hair makes them beautiful!

In the Author's Note, Tarpley tells readers about how she struggled with and against her hair for years, trying chemicals to straighten it and cutting it super short. Eventually she came to peace with her hair just as it was meant to be, which is what she passes along to other girls who want their hair to be something it's not, and was never meant to be.

If I Stay (Gayle Forman)

Mia is a senior in high school whose entire family is in a tragic car accident. Mia's parents are killed immediately, and her brother dies soon after the wreck. Mia is in a comatose state, but has a sort of "out of body" experience as she struggles with the decision to wake up and face life, or die. I realize that's such a harsh description, but this is a pretty harsh book. Forman describes pain and suffering, and even love in a way I rarely have read.

There is more to Mia, and to If I Stay, than just the accident, or her family. She is a master cellist, and is anticipating entrance to Julliard in the fall. Music seems to be a common and strong theme in this book, because all of the major characters have their own respective identities tightly connected to the music they prefer. Mia's mom and dad are former punk rockers who are pretty free-spirited and rebellious in their parenting. Mia's boyfriend, Adam, is the lead guitarist in a rock band that has recently signed with a record label in Seattle. The emphasis on music is what pushes this book just a tad in standing out among other young adult literature. I love it. Music is a very, very important part of teenagers' lives. Well, even on a greater level, I believe that music helps shape the culture of a society. I like that Forman uses music to show how individuals are different, yet basically the same in so many ways.

Language is harsh, and I'm just not a fan of blatant profanity, because to me there is an infinite number of better word choices. Yet, in If I Stay, at least I understand how the author uses it to characterize those in her book. Mia's mom dropping some bombs in casual conversation with her teenage daughter show that she is a very different sort of mother. Better? Great? Example for others? Hmmm...not so sure I would go that far. But it does show how because her family is very different, Mia also is a very different and complex young woman. That is what keeps the very basic plot of "will she choose to live or choose to die" going for 200 pages.

Certain Girls (Jennifer Weiner) glorious and free it is to read solely for entertainment! To me, it is like taking deep, cleansing breaths. There are few things more relaxing than reading just for fun. I've been so desperate for a recreational read that I bought Certain Girls completely on impulse in a moment of weakness. Shame on me for not going to the library! ;)

I liked many things about this book. Cannie (Candace) Shapiro Kreshevelansky is a wife, mother, and writer, whose "one great novel" was written in her anger over being abandoned by her own father and by the father of her child. Hence, ten years later there are many things about that book that she regrets, and has determined to shield her daughter from both the contents and the media backlash of it all. Unfortunately, her daughter (Joy) has determined to both read the book and sort through what is real and what is fiction in the story, which causes just a smidge of mother-daughter tension. Additionally, Cannie and her husband Peter (an overwhelmingly happy and in-love couple) are also seeking to have another baby through surrogacy, which is an element that weaves in and out of the plot and eventually ties it all together in the end. All the characters are Orthodox Jews, and a central focus of most of the book is Joy's bat mitzvah.

I liked that there was huge growth in every single character in the book, and the theme that there are many ways to make a family. I enjoyed the mother-daughter relationship (good, bad, and ugly), and the tale of planning Joy's bat mitzvah. I learned quite a bit about modern Jewish culture, and about surrogacy. I found it rewarding to watch Joy grow from a bratty little preteen to a young woman to be proud of. I loved Cannie's personality, with her quick wit, quicker tongue, and her absolute devotion to her child.

I did have some difficulty with the somewhat frequent uses of unnecessary profanity, which I've noticed is a trait of Weiner's main characters. What was perplexing about Cannie was that it wasn't even fitting with her character. Perhaps it was a tool to demonstrate that Cannie is multifaceted...I don't know.
All in all, nice read! I'm happy to move on.