SAL Book Bingo 2021

If the temperatures over the last week (and the ones to come this weekend) hadn’t announced the arrival of summer, the 2021 Seattle Arts and Lectures Book Bingo cards showing up in our bookstore mail certainly did!

The tradition of SAL Book Bingo always brings me back, as I suspect it does for many, to the joys of participating in whatever summer reading program our local library cooked up. My elementary school years were spent in Santa Barbara, and many, many summer hours were invested browsing in the kids section of the downtown public library. I remember how cool it felt in the building, walking in from the summer heat, and the daily newspapers on these wooden rods, and riding the escalator up to the floor where the kids section lived. There was always the distinctive aroma of books that have been touched by numerous hands and carpet meant for hard wear. Each summer there was some program or other to encourage kids to read, not that I ever needed any encouragement. But I was happy enough to go on and on to the children’s librarian, Bea, about the plot of whatever book I’d written down to earn my sticker. The prize, which I’m pretty sure was a bookmark, was beside the point. I wanted the bookmark, sure, but I also wanted the feeling of a task completed. All the lines filled in, all the stickers in their little spots.

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Short Take: One Great Lie

Local author Deb Caletti’s latest book, One Great Lie, just came out last week and is the perfect moody page-turner to read this summer. When Charlotte wins a spot in a creative writing program in Venice, she can’t believe her luck. Not only will she get to spend the summer before college learning from her idol, author Luca Bruni, but she’ll also have the chance to investigate Isabella di Angelo, an Venetian ancestor and unknown writer from the Renaissance. Once Charlotte gets to Venice and meets Luca Bruni in person, she finds herself conflicted between her admiration for him as a writer and her discomfort with how he relates to her and other women in the program. At the same time, Charlotte’s research into Isabella reveals a disturbing mystery. Caletti’s prose is lushly descriptive, bringing to life the streets and canals, bookshops and churches of Venice. I was drawn into Charlotte’s initial excitement, as she goes on this adventure and her growing unease with Bruni, as she becomes aware of his true character, while still wanting his attention and approval. One of the things I love best about Caletti is the nuance she brings to her female characters. As the central character, all of Charlotte’s thoughts and feelings, confusion and questions are there for us to see. She’s not perfect. She’s fully human, with doubts and shame, desires and anxieties. She wants to please people and confrontation makes her anxious. In the end this is a book about feminism and misogyny, the love of books and words, who gets to write them and who gets to be heard. It’s about creative women and the reality of the world they live in, then and now. As an added touch, each chapter is headed with a short biography of a Italian female writer from the Renaissance, many of them teenagers themselves.

If you’re doing SAL Book Bingo, this would do nicely for the “Coming of Age” square, or “Recommended by a Local Bookseller”!

— Lori

For the Love of the Rom-com

While I read across genres in the Young Adult section, I have a soft spot in my heart for the rom-com. Though this genre might come across as light and fluffy, in actuality the form is able to take on topics as varied as mental health, identity, immigration, racism, and grief, to name only a few. Sure there’s romance, escapism, and happy endings, but what kept me picking up one YA rom-com after another in the last month was the window into the lives of each protagonist. More than ever I’m seeing #ownvoices authors tell stories that reflect their particular experience with the characters that they hadn’t seen in novels as young people. In turn I get a glimpse into a life different than my own and subsequently widen my world view. Here’s a collection of some of my recent reads!

Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

The debut novel from this Bangladeshi American author (and the first novel I’ve read by a Bangladeshi American) takes the fake dating trope and turns it into a thoughtful exploration of expectations across cultures. Karina Ahmed is a high school junior buckling under the weight of Bangladeshi parental expectations and coping with anxiety largely on her own. They want her to be a doctor. She secretly longs to be an English teacher. When her parents take a month-long trip back to Bangladesh, leaving Karina and her younger brother in the care of their grandmother, Karina is looking forward to a much needed break. But her quiet month is almost immediately disrupted when, through a series of circumstances, she is roped into pretending to be Ace Clyde’s girlfriend, Midland High School’s bad boy. As the two slowly get to know, appreciate, and, of course, fall for each other, they also encourage and call out each other’s strengths. Bhuiyan movingly portrays the complex experience of a Bangladeshi American female teen, trying to meet the expectations of her more traditional parents, navigate managing her anxiety, dealing with the double standard of her gender within her culture, and learning to stand in her own power.

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