Cath is beginning her freshman year of college. She’s worried about her father, living in a different dorm to her twin sister Wren – the furthest theyCath is beginning her freshman year of college. She’s worried about her father, living in a different dorm to her twin sister Wren – the furthest they’ve ever been apart, and thoroughly involved in trying to finish a massive piece of popular fanfiction. She needs to move through her own anxieties, relationships with other students and determining her priorities to determine how her virtual and ‘real’ lives can happily coincide.
This is an immensely readable and engaging book – I read it quickly, feeling compelled to stay up late to read it. Rowell writes very likable characters, you can feel her affection for the main characters – Cath, Wren, their father, Cath’s roommate Reagan and her roommate’s friend Levi. You feel as if they are people you are supposed to like, even when they do less than likeable things. Even her ‘bad guys’ tend to feel more misguided than truly bad or repulsive.
However, as someone who was involved with fanfiction and fandom when I was only slightly older than Cath, there were some parts of her online life which struck me as a little one dimensional. We don’t see Cath truly involved in the fandom – she’s not participating in fandom wars, anon memes or heated discussions on the source material – she’s simply writing and posting the story updates. She doesn’t seem to keep a blog or any other social media attached to her writing persona – we are expected to believe that her popularity grew organically through outside sources. It might happen, but even in the ‘old days’ of fandom, popularity was often connected to how involved in the fandom side of thing you were (not just the writing side).
It’s also hard to believe that she’s so very anonymous – only known by her user name (which contains her real name). Internet anonymity isn’t the same as it was in the late 90s to mid 2000’s – once sites like Facebook came around it became more accepted to use your real name online and it became easier to track people back. In my experience as a teacher, young people are especially unlikely to shield their identity online – unless Cath and Wren’s father was particularly strong on internet safety (and he doesn’t really come across that way) it seems unlikely that their real names wouldn’t be connected to their writing personas – as well as photos, old websites, social networks . . .
Finally, it is hinted that Cath writes (and reads) stories which might fall into higher rating categories. But since she’s been writing for years, some of those stories would be written as a minor. I’m not sure if this is as big a deal as it was when I was more involved in fandom, but there were definitely a lot of discussions about the involvement of minors in fandom. There were definitely younger readers and writers around, but there were also a lot of discussions which don’t come up here.
On a different aspect of the story, I was interested to see the discussions of mental illness in the story. However, when it came to Cath, I felt like her illness, and her awareness and acknowledgement of it, only appeared when it was useful to the story. It was hard to believe that she wouldn’t be offered counselling (or be strongly recommended to seek some) at some point of the story. Similarly, it was surprising that there wasn’t more assistance provided in the beginning – my knowledge of American colleges comes primarily from popular culture, but I would have thought students would have more guidance in day to day matters than Cath receives.
I must admit that I didn’t read the Simon Snow stuff or the fanfiction throughout the story. I understand there was a connection to the Harry Potter source material and fandom (which I was involved in) but to be honest, they felt quite unnecessary to the story – the story was in how Cath interacted with the material, not the material itself.
Despite my quibbles, I really enjoyed this story. It just didn’t feel like I was reading a realistic story – more like a heightened version of reality. It showed how fandom can feel so life-consuming and how the source material can feel so real, but definitely skimmed over the surface of reality rather than digging in to some of the more complicated layers.
As a piece of writing, this was wonderfully done. It was engaging and funny with interesting characters and just enough pokes to make you think LatimeAs a piece of writing, this was wonderfully done. It was engaging and funny with interesting characters and just enough pokes to make you think Latimer won't be getting a job with certain people in the future. Was it all true? I doubt it. Latimer comes across as the ultimate unreliable narrator - extremely comfortable with his own brilliance and similarly sure that no one else was really as good as him.
In the end though, he tells a fantastic story. Apply a pinch of salt to it and enjoy the read....more
This is the fourth book in the second CHERUB series, but the first one not connected to the Aramov clan. Instead this one, which concentrated on drugThis is the fourth book in the second CHERUB series, but the first one not connected to the Aramov clan. Instead this one, which concentrated on drug dealers, served as a bit of a cleanser after the intensity of the first three. It also served as an introduction to James Adams: Mission Controller.
James as a mission controller works for me - he's younger (I believe) than other ones we've seen, but there's an element of his behaviour which makes me think of Zara or Ewart from the early books. Some of the reminders about his past as a CHERUB agent were a little over-laboured in the writing - even those who haven't read the first series would be able to pick that up before the last couple of chapters when we're reminded of it, yet again.
I still don't feel like Ryan has been completely fleshed out the way characters were in the first series. Maybe because I haven't reread them as much, but he often just feels like James v.2 - which is kind of boring since a) we've read those books and b) James is right there. Ning is a much more fascinating character, but this was a plot heavy book rather than a character development one, so we didn't see a huge amount of that.
The plot was downright fun. It's hard not to compare it to Class A, but this felt like it was amped up to a higher level. It feels like Muchamore is happier to hurt his characters now, and they seem to engage in riskier behaviour.
All in all, a good engaging read - I can see it being popular amongst YA readers....more
Looking for Alibrandi is a ‘coming of age’ novel, like both The Min Min and Playing Beatie Bow. However, instead of looking at the emotional coming ofLooking for Alibrandi is a ‘coming of age’ novel, like both The Min Min and Playing Beatie Bow. However, instead of looking at the emotional coming of age of a 14 year old, we’re spending some time in the life of 17 year old Josephine Alibrandi: “The seventeen that Janis Ian sang about where one learns the truth”. It turns out to be a tumultuous year for Josie, when she falls in love, learns some serious truths about herself and her family, loses a friend and gains a father she never knew she wanted in her life. It’s also her last year of school, her HSC year, just to add to everything else.
This is a really hard book to review objectively. I loved it when I was younger and I still think fondly of it. However, it’s not the best written book in the world – Marchetta’s later books are much better in terms of writing craft. From what I can tell, though, Looking for Alibrandi was a bit of a game changer in Australian YA books – bringing a very different voice into the arena, and paving the way for a lot of the books which came after. It deals with serious issues – racism, identity, family shame, suicide – but there’s still a lightness over it – Josie is a good person, her family will probably be ok in the end, she’ll probably go on and have a good life. We’ve just had a peak into a difficult time for her.
One of the themes which really resonated strongly for me on this reread was that things aren’t necessarily what they look like on the surface. John Barton (who I was thankfully able to disconnect from Matthew Newton on this reread) isn’t the self-assured debater with a guaranteed future – he’s a deeply troubled kid drowning under a sea of expectations. Josie and her friends aren’t the unpopular outcasts she assumes they are, they are all leaders in their different ways. Her family story doesn’t follow the narrative she thinks it does – there’s a lot more twists and turns and human failings and successes underneath.
There’s parts of this story which don’t work as well today. I’m not sure if Josie’s illegitimacy would be such a big feature, such a big scandal amongst other students at her school (students from different backgrounds to Josie) and some of the references are really dated. But the story of Josie and Jacob Coote continues to ring true in a lot of ways, and I’m still happy with the choice Josie made to do what felt right to her in that situation. (However, the scene where Anna and Josie are threatened at MacDonalds gets scarier as I get older)
I could probably ramble about this book for ages, and go even longer if I introduced the movie. Looking for Alibrandi may not be the best book in the world, but I do think it’s an important one in the history of Australian YA writing. I think it’s essential in telling the very real story of a young woman, while telling the equally real stories of the other women in her life – her mother and grandmother, her friends, even her teachers.