For someone who's made the life choice to not have children, I sure do read a lot of books that are either written about or written for young 'uns. I haven't really explored why this is. Maybe it's cause YA or stories revolving around kids' problems are easy lifts, and if I'm feeling lazy, it doesn't take a lot of brain power to process stories like Harry Potter. That's not to say these books are inherently inferior; just not as densely layered. It's like how watching Scrubs requires a lot less attention than watching Mad Men, though they're both good shows.

Anyhoo, all this is to say that I've just finished up another batch of kid-centric books. Their premises are nowhere near similar. One doesn't get much more ribald than admiring a girl's eyebrows, while another describes getting banged by a big dick in exhaustive detail. One of them takes the view that children's points of view are often neglected to the detriment of society, while another assumes that most kids, if left unchecked, are basically assholes. The one thing that all three of these books do have in common is that they're pretty damned good. Oh, and another similarity - I actually managed to read them in the year they were published! That's a rare accomplishment for me, being a wait-in-line-at-the-library type of fellow.

First up was Spoiled Brats, the new short story collection from Simon Rich. Rich's previous book made the #2 spot on my favorite books of last year, so this one had some big shoes to fill. Where The Last Girlfriend on Earth focused on love stories, Spoiled Brats steps onto the minefield of modern parenting, which is ripe for satire: Parents be crazy. The style is similar in this book, veering wildly in perspective. One story is told from the point of view of a elementary school class hamster, trying to protect his children from the carelessness and neglect of the students. One is told by a chimp who feels superior to his poo-flinging parents after being noticed by a researcher. Helicopter parents explain the attention their gifted child needs and don't understand why him being a demonic force from hell should prevent him from getting the best education. All of the stories are clever and funny, and I'd recommend them to anyone who interacts with children or parents, not just those with kids themselves. It doesn't really attempt to do anything beyond what The Last Girlfriend on Earth did, and as such, it didn't have as much of an impact on me, but it was still a good read, and the two books would make a great companion set.

Speaking of sets, I also got my hands on Shouldn't You Be In School?, which is Book #3 in the All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket. I enjoyed both Book #1 and Book #2, though I'm noticing the usual trend of series becoming less engaging over time. My review could basically be repeated word-for-word from last time: "If the book suffers from anything, it's a lack of novelty. It's a great story, but not all that different from Book #1. I'm still as interested as ever in this storyline, though, and am eagerly anticipating Book #3". Just replace that #1 with a #2, and that #3 with a #4. I will say that Shouldn't You Be In School? does ramp up the action somewhat, which injected some much-needed urgency. Lemony and his friends in Stain'd-by-the-Sea are solidifying their group into the VFD we know and love in the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and must contend with missing schoolchildren, a rash of arson, and the ever-mysterious Ellington Feint. At this point, the series has become pleasant and comforting in its wittiness and character exploration, which is plenty of reason to continue with it.

Speaking of pleasant and comforting... Wait, that's a terrible transition. Because while I plenty enjoyed Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl, "pleasant" and "comforting" are two adjectives that belong nowhere near it.

I'm always trying to read books from different authorial perspectives, and this one was singled out in reviews for being a strong one for a young female character with actual sexual agency. It certainly follows through on that promise. It's about Johanna Morrigan, a teenaged girl in 1990s England, whose family subsists entirely on her father's disability check. She's smart as a whip, but doesn't have a lot of outlets to develop her promise. She also suffers from all the self-esteem issues that plagued us all as teens, but which are especially damaging to girls. Desperate to prevent her family's tenuous income from crumbling (and equally desperate to get laid), she puts on the front of a seen-it-all, world weary music journalist, and scores a position writing poison pen reviews of shitty bands. The effort of maintaining her front (and throwing herself at any available man) consumes her, which leads to all sorts of bad decisions, both professional and personal. Though I didn't particularly care for the coming-of-age-through-shifting-music-tastes trope, I realize that's a matter of taste, rather than any problems in the writing. Moran makes Johanna relatable and likeable, even as she's shoplifting eyeliner or masturbating while her brother sleeps next to her, and that's a difficult trick to pull off.

Spoiled Brats: B+
Shouldn't You Be In School?: B
How to Build a Girl: B+


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