Tag: Cece Bell

10 Years of Required Reading

When I launched this blog in the fall of 2012, shortly after my husband and I moved to the Seattle area for his job, I had no idea I would still be maintaining it a decade later! At the time, I was at loose ends waiting for a work visa, and looking for something to fill the time. Since then, I’ve returned to library work, starting in public libraries and then making an unexpected jump into the world of corporate librarianship. We’ve adopted two cats, bought a condo, and settled in to stay. These days I don’t have quite as much spare time to read or review, but I still love having a place to collect my thoughts and reading history, especially when someone asks me for a reading recommendation!

In honour of the tenth anniversary of Required Reading, I thought it might be fun to dig into the stats and find my most popular posts. Since October 2012, I’ve published 722 posts (this makes 723!) for a total of more than half a million words, which have been read by people from literally all over the world:

Heat map of all-time visitors to Required Reading by country.
Heatmap of all-time visitors to Required Reading by country

Over the course of the coming week, I’m planning to share some of my favourite reads from the the past ten years, but to kick things off, here are the top five most popular posts on the site:

The Rose and the Dagger

by Renée Ahdieh

ISBN 9780399171628

Cover image for The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I’m not sure why this 2016 review of the YA fantasy sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn is so popular, but year after year this review continues to receive hits. It’s one of the few spoiler reviews on my site, because I couldn’t find a way to write about it without discussing the ending. It makes me think that, despite the taboo, people actually do like spoilers! Inspired by the 1001 Nights, the sequel focuses on Khalid and Shahrzad trying to break the curse that turned him into the murderous caliph who executed all of his previous brides, including Shahrzad’s best friend. She must find a way to regain the trust of her allies, and free the kingdom from this curse so that no more girls have to be sacrificed. 

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy

Always and Forever, Lara Jean and P.S. I Still Love You

by Jenny Han

ISBNs 9781481430487 and 9781442426733

Cover image for Always and Forever Lara Jean by Jenny Han

My 2015 and 2017 reviews of two of the books in Han’s popular To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series continue to see high traffic, with a bump driven by the recent Netflix adaptation. However, the much of the traffic here comes from some popular text graphics I shared on Pinterest, that continue to do the rounds. P.S. I Still Love You follows Lara Jean and Peter trying to figure out how to date for real after the fake dating plot of the first book, when another boy from her past shows up with a letter in hand. Then, Always and Forever, Lara Jean focuses Lara Jean’s senior year of high school and her decision about whether or not to follow her boyfriend to college. You can start the series here with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Categories: Young Adult, Romance

The Outside Circle

by Patti LaBoucane-Benson

ISBN 9781770899377

Cover image for The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

This 2016 review of a Canadian graphic novel continues to see a high hit count, and the search terms lead me to guess that maybe it is being taught in some Canadian classrooms. The Outside Circle follows Pete, a young aboriginal man who goes to jail after a fight with his mother’s boyfriend. Eventually, time served and good behaviour gets Pete admitted to a traditional aboriginal healing centre in Edmonton, where the program aims to help First Nations people process their history in order to help them understand the cycle of abuse in which they have been trapped. The standout here is the striking art by Kelly Mellings which brings Pete’s story to life using a minimalist colour palette.

Categories: Canadian, Graphic Novel

El Deafo

by Cece Bell

ISBN 9781419710209

Cover image for El Deafo by Cece Bell

This 2015 post is a review of Bell’s graphic memoir, based on her own experiences as a deaf child in school, although the characters are drawn as cute rabbits. When four-year-old Cece suddenly becomes violently ill, she wakes up in the hospital unable to hear, and has to be outfitted with a hearing aid. When first grade rolls around, it is time for Cece to go to her neighbourhood school, where she will be the only deaf student. Cece’s El Deafo character doesn’t just turn deafness into a super power. Rather, El Deafo is Cece’s more assertive self, the one that is brave enough to stand up and explain when something that her friends are doing is actually making things more difficult for her.

Categories: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel

Thanks to all my readers, whether you’ve been here from the beginning or are just tuning in now! Check back throughout the week as I highlight some of my favourite reads since the inception of this blog.

Diverse Books Tag

The-DiverseBooks-Tag Naz over at Read Diverse Books has been doing killer work with his #DiverseBookBloggers tag. Check it out for great conversations about diversity in the book blogging community, and find lots of great new people to follow! Now he has also started a meme to get bloggers to promote their diverse reads, or challenge themselves to add books that fit certain criteria to their TBR. I’ll let Naz explain:

The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.

If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for one. A quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.

Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.”

In most cases I had a ton of books to choose from. When in doubt, I tried to err on the side of #ownvoices authors and their books. But as you will see, I also found a gap in my reading the size of a continent. If I’ve already read the book, you can click the title for a link to the full review.

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Find a book starring a lesbian character

Cover image for Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara FarizanTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Leila Azadi is a lesbian, but she has done a pretty good job of keeping this fact a secret from her friends and classmates at Armstead Academy. Everyone thinks her best friend Greg is her boyfriend, and this allows her to fly under the radar. If only Greg didn’t want to actually be her boyfriend, everything would be perfect. But with the arrival of Saskia, a beautiful and sophisticated student from Europe, Leila finds herself with a crush on a classmate for the first time. he harder she falls for wild and independent Saskia, the more difficult it is to keep her secret, not just from her classmates and teachers, but from her traditional Iranian parents, and her perfect older sister, Nahal. Confused by Saskia’s mixed signals, Leila begins to reach out to friends and family, but as the truth starts to spread, Leila finds herself losing control of her coming out process.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist

Cover image for Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Seventeen-year-old Naila is the model daughter of two very traditional Pakistani immigrants in Florida. She makes perfect grades in school, and has been accepted to a selective six-year medical program for university. She doesn’t complain about not being able to attend soccer games, or birthday parties, or even her senior prom. But Naila has a secret; for the last year she has been dating Saif, a fellow Pakistani-American from a family that has been shunned by the community because his parents allowed their daughter to marry an American. When Naila’s parents inevitably discover her relationship, they decide a month in Pakistan will help her reconnect with her roots and forget about Saif. But it eventually becomes clear that her parents have another purpose for the trip; they are looking for a husband for Naila, and they want her to be married immediately, regardless of her wishes.

Find a book set in Latin America

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra Well, I think we just found a big gap in my reading. While I could find books on my blog with Latin American characters, I couldn’t find one actually set in Latin America. So then I dug through my embarrassingly large pile of unread books. I found a couple titles by Latin American authors, but again, none set there. Ditto my Kindle. As far as my bookshelves are concerned, Latin America is a giant gaping hole. I wracked my brain to think of books I read before I blogged, and came up with State of Wonder by Anne Patchett and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even finish that last one because the audiobook expired before could get through the whole thing.  So I have requested a copy of Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra from the library. It is set in Chile, and includes an author-narrator, which is what grabbed my interest.

Find a book about a person with a disability

Cover image for El Deafo by Cece Bell El Deafo by CeCe Bell

When four-year-old Cece suddenly becomes violently ill, she wakes up in the hospital unable to hear, and has to be outfitted with a hearing aid. The next year she starts kindergarten at a special school for deaf kids where she learns lip reading. But when first grade rolls around, it is time for Cece to go to her neighbourhood school, where she will be the only deaf student. Trying to fit in at a new school is challenging enough, but Cece also has to wear the phonic ear, a large, two-part hearing aid that allows her to hear her teacher so that she doesn’t have to lip read all the time. Cece desperately wants to be taken for normal, but the phonic ear constantly draws attention to her deafness, and makes friendship complicated. Trying to make sense of her difference, Cece conjures up the character of El Deafo, who turns her disability into a superpower. Then Cece’s dream becomes a reality when her classmates realize that Cece can hear their teacher wherever she is in the school thanks to the microphone component of the phonic ear.

Find a Science-Fiction or Fantasy book with a POC protagonist

Cover image for Binti Nnedi Okorafor Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Sixteen-year-old Binti is Himba, from the indigenous peoples of northern Namibia. She is a brilliant mathematician and master harmonizer, destined to take over her father’s astrolabe shop thanks to her masterful manipulation of math current, and her ability to tree. But Binti has been accepted to Oomza University, the top school in the entire Milky Way galaxy. Only five percent of the population is human, and no Himba as ever gone. Binti is prepared to defy tradition, destroy her prospects of marriage, and venture out on her own for the first time in order to fulfill her dream of attending. But the trip to Oomza Uni is dangerous, taking the spaceship within the territory of the Meduse, ancient enemies of the Khoush people of Earth.

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa

Cover image for Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

After fifteen years in the United States training to become a psychiatrist, the nameless narrator returns home to Lagos, Nigeria to visit his relatives and reconnect with the city where he grew up. Resisting his family’s efforts to shelter and protect him as if he was truly a foreigner rather than a returnee, he ventures out on foot and by public transportation to commune with the place he once called home and debates about one day calling home again. Teju Cole’s narrator seeks the Lagos he remembers from his youth, and has longed for in moments of homesickness, amidst the corruption that has taken deep root in his absence. Though he has heard about it, there is nothing quite like seeing the change for himself.

Find a book written by an Aboriginal or American Indian author

Cover image for Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Sixteen-year-old Franklin Starlight has spent his life on a farm in British Columbia’s remote interior with the old man, who raised him and taught him to hunt and fish, and get by in the backwoods. He has never known his mother, and his father Eldon is an alcoholic who left him with the old man when he was a baby. His father has only ever hurt and disappointed him, but when he receives word that Eldon is dying and wants him to visit, duty still compels him to answer the call. In a tiny, mouldering mill town, he finds his father wracked by liver failure. His dying wish is to be buried on a ridge a three day ride from anywhere, and Frank is the only person who can get him there. Frank has never been able to rely on Eldon for anything, but now it is Eldon who must count on his estranged son in his final days.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)

the-heros-walk The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

Sripathi Rao and his family live in the once-grand Big House, on Brahmin Street in the seaside Indian town of Toturpuram. His mother Ammayya, his wife Nirmala, and his unmarried sister Putti all reside under his roof, along with his unemployed adult son, Arun. Absent, but never spoken of, is his daughter, Maya, who went away to school in North America, and then defied her family by breaking off her traditional engagement to marry a white man. It has been nine years since Maya’s exile, but still her father stubbornly refuses to take her calls or allow her to visit. But everything changes when a phone call from Canada brings the news that Maya and her husband are dead, leaving their daughter Nandana orphaned. With no other family in Canada to care for her, Sripathi must fly to Vancouver and bring her home to Toturpuram, unaware of how much one small girl, stricken mute by grief, will disrupt the status quo at Big House.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist

Cover image for Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Orphaned as teenagers, Beena and Sadhana lose their mother just when they need her most. Their mother has no living relatives, and they are largely estranged from their father’s Indian family, who disapproved of his marriage to a white woman. Nevertheless, their uncle, who they have previously known mostly as the proprietor of the bakery formerly run by their father, becomes their guardian. He proves to be an awkward surrogate parent, a first generation immigrant stymied by the strangeness of his mixed race, Canadian-born nieces. As the girls vent their grief and push back against their uncle’s traditional views about gender roles, they make choices that will have irrevocable consequences for the rest of their lives.

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues

Cover image for George by Alex Gino George by Alex Gino

George loves Charlotte’s Web, so when her school decides to put it on as a play, George immediately knows that she wants to play the part of the wise and beneficent Charlotte. And maybe if she can play Charlotte on stage, everyone—from her mother to her teachers to her friends—will finally be able to understand that George is a girl, not a boy. But her teacher refuses to let George try out for the part because she says she can’t give the role of Charlotte to a boy. So George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan to help everyone finally see George for who she really is.

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If you think this sounds like fun, or want to find the gaps in your own reading history, consider yourself tagged!

El Deafo

Cover image for El Deafo by Cece Bellby Cece Bell

ISBN 978-1-4197-1020-9

“Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different! And being different feels a lot like being alone.”

When four-year-old Cece suddenly becomes violently ill, she wakes up in the hospital unable to hear, and has to be outfitted with a hearing aid. The next year she starts kindergarten at a special school for deaf kids where she learns lip reading. But when first grade rolls around, it is time for Cece to go to her neighbourhood school, where she will be the only deaf student. Trying to fit in at a new school is challenging enough, but Cece also has to wear the phonic ear, a large, two-part hearing aid that allows her to hear her teacher so that she doesn’t have to lip read all the time. Cece desperately wants to be taken for normal, but the phonic ear constantly draws attention to her deafness, and makes friendship complicated. Trying to make sense of her difference, Cece conjures up the character of El Deafo, who turns her disability into a superpower. Then Cece’s dream becomes a reality when her classmates realize that Cece can hear their teacher wherever she is in the school thanks to the microphone component of the phonic ear.

El Deafo is autobiographical but stylized; it draws on Cece Bell’s own personal experience of deafness, but the characters are portrayed as cartoony rabbit-like creatures, giving it a certain distance from real life. The graphic novel format gives Bell ample opportunity to experiment with the visual representation of sound. When the batteries in Cece’s hearing aid start to fade, the big black letters in the speech bubbles fade to grey and then go blank. When people fail to look at Cece so that she can read their lips, the speech bubbles are empty. But best of all is the way Bell shows that while Cece can sometimes hear the sounds just fine, they aren’t clear enough to understand; these speech bubbles are full of nonsense words, leaving the reader just as lost and confused as Cece.

Image from El Deafo by Cece BellWhile El Deafo is definitely about hearing loss, friendship is also a major theme. Cece just wants to find a friend who will treat her normally, and not make a big deal about her deaf friend, or do inconsiderate things like turn the lights off at a sleepover, leaving Cece unable to lip read. Cece’s first friend doesn’t make a big deal about her hearing, but she is also bossy and doesn’t want Cece to have any other friends. Her second friend is much less bossy, but she calls Cece her “deaf friend” and speaks so loudly and slowly that Cece has trouble reading her lips. However, there are complications and misunderstandings even with those friends who do treat her well, often because Cece struggles to pluck up the courage to speak up for herself.

Stories about kids with disabilities tend to contain a certain amount of bullying, but while the other kids in El Deafo are sometimes rude and inconsiderate, they are rarely outright mean. However, their behaviour still often results in Cece feeling excluded and lonely. Mostly, however, El Deafo is about Cece’s own internal conception of what it means to be deaf and therefore different. As much as she needs to find a good friend who accepts her and treats her well, she also needs to accept herself. One of the most heart-breaking moments in the story is when Cece refuses to learn sign language because she is worried people will stare at her. Bell is careful to point out in the afterword that these are her own personal memories from childhood, which aren’t always fair to the other people in the story, who were mostly well-intentioned but didn’t necessarily understand what they were doing wrong. Cece’s El Deafo character doesn’t just turn deafness into a super power; El Deafo is Cece’s more assertive self, the one that is brave enough to stand up and explain when something that her friends are doing is actually making things more difficult for her. Cece’s struggles with communication are complicated by her deafness, but not solely due to it, and many of her experiences will be recognized hearing readers, as well as members of the deaf community.

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