Something Real is a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes4.5
Something Real is a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes are on you. I had a feeling I would like this one, as reality TV and the obsession with celebrity is something that freaks me out, frankly, and I think is ripe for the exploring through books like this. Fortunately, I wasn't wrong - Demetrios' story and characters easily won me over, and her humor and engaging style, and sharp understanding of human nature, made this one enjoyable and surprisingly affecting.
Now, I'm going to try to not go totally off on a tangent when I say this, and I mean it as a good thing, so bear with me, but: this book kinda had me a little depressed. It's not that it's a saccharine, traumatizing, emo-fest; the book retains its sense of humor and sort of 'Ugh, my life' tone, keeping it relatable and believable, and just generally readable. But because it was so believable, it brought to life one of my least favorite things about the modern age, and that is the stifling, piranha-crazed mess that is our obsession with celebrity culture and its (apparent) lack of privacy.
The anonymity of the internet and the constant feed of images from other people's lives has given us license to take the playground bully phase into our adult lives with impunity; one look at the comments section on youtube, gawker, reddit, etc. will tell you that people don't blink an eye when it comes to laying bare their most vile, callous, unasked-for and uncalled-for opinions for the world to see. They do so gleefully. People will post anything, from one extreme to another, about every last aspect of a person's life - a complete strangers life - including the most vile things you could ever say about a person; they will put this all into writing and make it a concrete, shareable released unto the world, with a total lack of any feeling of guilt or empathy. When people speak out against these things, there is always, always, an avalanche of comments to the effect of They signed up for this, she knew what she was getting herself into, he's more than compensated for this, etc etc, as if any of that is an excuse to treat human beings the way we do. We shrug and say, Comes with the territory, as if this is an unavoidable evil. As if we don't decide what "the territory" is, as if we don't decide what type of people, what type of culture we want to be. As if going about your LIFE on the day to day gives people the right to harass you, your children, your friends, family and barest acquaintances just because your WORK happens to be in the public sphere. And it's so pervasive - it's thoroughly inescapable and it warps us all. I don't watch celebrity news shows, read the gossip mags or blogs, and yet I can still tell you who's dating who and I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY. THIS is the dystopia of our time. We live in 1984, and it is of our own choosing.
My god, I sound maudlin. But to have a soul-stealing spotlight like this thrust on you from an early age - from any age, frankly - and to know you can never escape it - never, truly never - has got to make you feel defeated. To be your own brand, to have to make every move of your life calculated to suit that brand...it's disheartening and dehumanizing, and it pervades everything. It's CREEPY. And then heaped on that, the guilting and shaming if you dare to disrupt the flow... It just makes me sad. And tired. I felt real empathy for Bonnie™. She's not even real, yet I was kinda stressed for her. I was sad for her. I was sad for the real people like her that bite off more than they can chew when it comes to life in the spotlight, or find themselves unwittingly (or unwillingly) thrust into it. I suppose there are worse things, bigger problems to worry about in this world, but we can't choose what freaks us out, and paparazzi feeding frenzies freak me out. It makes me feel claustrophobic. And then, expanding beyond the paparazzi into everyone having to have - and express. Vocally - an opinion, and it just makes me feel disheartened.
And yet, this is something we seem to welcome, to strive for. Hell, I'm just a blogger and I'm told to think about "my brand." I'm just a random girl on the internet talking about books and people don't hesitate to comment on my looks/weight/voice/clothes, ask to see my tits (and an inordinate amount of requests to see my feet, WTF?), and any other thing they feel comfortable with saying behind the anonymity of a computer screen. And that, I think, is what's at the heart of why this bothers me so much - if all it takes is a little anonymity for people to behave the way they do, then that's what we really are at our most base, and it doesn't even take much digging to get there. This behavior exposes us. And Heather Demetrios holds up a mirror to that and, through Bonnie™, shows us what we value versus what we should; how we should treat people versus how we do.
And so, yeah, I wasn't supposed to go off on a tangent, but all of that. That's what made me feel a little depressed, just really, really sad reading this book. It put a face to all of those things that have always sort of eaten at me, and the inescapability and manipulation in the story (and its sheer plausibility) all worked together to make this more powerful and affecting than I thought it'd be.
...all of this makes it sound like I sit around all day, stressing out over the fishbowl lives of celebrities. Guys, I'm really not. I'm not that neurotic, I promise. So, MOVING ON, basically what I'm trying to say is it was good and it felt real, and it made me feel, which always makes me rate a book higher in my estimation, and makes it more memorable to boot. I fully believed Bonnie™ as a character, as well as pretty much all of the people she was surrounded by. Some made my skin crawl, some made me have hope - she really nailed the characters. Bonnie™ has a strong voice and sense of humor, and Demetrios deals with difficult subject matter in a non-cloying way. She explores relationships, decisions and choices really well, keeping it all relatable, and very realistic. Bonnie™'s doubts of whether she's doing the right thing, whether she should just go with the flow, whether she's causing more harm than good by trying to stand up for herself, etc., ring very true, and the myriad ways people react to what she's doing, how people (complete strangers, those closest to her, everyone) treat her and have opinions on her was sadly realistic and perfectly captured.
The pressure and the fishbowl and the emotional blackmail - all of it felt true and heartbreaking, and made the book memorable. But lest you think its a depressing sobfest, it's not; it manages to always be engaging and often surprisingly light-hearted, with the emotional peaks and valleys that signal a well-plotted book and a good understanding of human nature. And though it made me sad, it's also an empowering book. It's about finding your voice, finding yourself, and not being afraid to embrace that. It made me sad because clearly I'm more neurotic than I'm willing to admit, but it's also funny and smart and sexy and triumphant. There was never a time where I felt it fell flat or had a weak spot. The revelations, manipulations, and peeks into the family dynamics are well-placed to keep the tension, and looooong story short, I think Heather Demetrios is one to watch.
Jesus, why did it take me so long to get to that? I might have some deep-seated privacy issues...
I generally don't read a lot of contemporary, for whatever reason. I think I'm always afraid that it's going to be very soapy and melodramatic and whI generally don't read a lot of contemporary, for whatever reason. I think I'm always afraid that it's going to be very soapy and melodramatic and whiny -- something, I don't know, just a little too much and not really my thing. But like every genre, there's the good and the bad, and I need to realize that I can't be afraid of sampling it from time to time in order to find the good. Because when it's good, it's good. This is good. In A Little Wanting Song, Cath Crowley was able to really capture not just being a teen, but being a human. Charlie was one of the most real characters I have had the pleasure of reading in some time. She's shy and sort of timid, a bit of a wallflower type, but because this is told in alternating first-person accounts, the reader gets to enjoy the really rich internal voice that Charlie has. She's smart and funny and artistic, and she's also nervous and lonely and a million other things that work together to make her a fully-realized character. She almost ceases to be a "character" at all, and becomes someone you can really connect to. And Rose isn't far behind on the Full Character Scale.
Just as much as the characters, I enjoyed Crowley's writing. Her prose was simply beautiful: it was smooth and flowed well in that way that makes it hard to put a book down -- you know you should because it's 2:00am and you have to work in the morning, and as soon as you find a good stopping point, you will put it down, but first, how about one more chapter to see how Charlie reacts to what Rose just did; oh, that's how? Well, we better see how Rose reacts now...Hmm...maybe one more... It's that kind of writing. It just seems effortless, which means there was probably a good deal of effort behind it. There's a lot of relatable humor in both Charlie's and Rose's narration. And even if the voices overlap sometimes, they still remain their own distinct characters; it's almost in the way that good friends sound a little alike, but you can tell them apart -- it's probably part of the reason they are good friends.
This is a coming of age story, and a friendship story at its finest. Even when it's completely predictable -- and it can be -- it still works. It's thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing, and it's got me rethinking my stance on contemporary fiction. Or at least considering widening my stance on CF. The only real downsides for me -- and really, I was able to set them aside -- were: the bit of predictableness I mentioned ^^. There is a formula to coming of age stories, and this one does use it a bit; also, there is a spot in the middle of the book that, though I don't dislike it, I wonder if all of what happened needed to happen. It seemed not quite forced, but almost. Like action and craziness was needed as a catalyst. As I said, I liked it, but it was a tiny bit jarring to have a ton of stuff suddenly happening in a rush. But these were minor and the rest of the book more than made up for it.
One last thing I want to mention: Charlie writes songs, and some of them are included in the book as a sort of poetry, and at first I was very dubious. I don't always trust great prose writers to write great poetry -- because often, they don't. So I have to give Cath Crowley a bit of a pat on the back, because some of her poetic interludes were really very nice. They stayed in Charlie's tone, they were expressive and lyrical without being too much, and some of them were really affecting.
I would recommend you pick this up, it would make a great beach read. Or a great winter, cuddled up with cocoa read. :)
[disclosure: This book was sent to me by Knopf books for review at my request, yo!]
Here's my Teaser Tuesday from A Little Wanting Song; it's from the beginning of the book, and it sets the tone and draws the reader in beautifully. Very funny.
"Who's this?" Dad asks when a catchy tune comes on my CD. We pass the skeleton tree that never has leaves, no matter what time of year. Bare gray branches wave us on. "No one you know, Dad," I say. It's me.
~ ~ ~
The [Christmas:] tree flicks me the finger on my way throught the living room. I flick one back. Solidarity. Christmas isn't always what you'd hoped for.
~ ~ ~
I thank [Dave:] for my hat and close the door. Sure, I want to open it straight back up and yell his name but I don't. I draw a line between me and uncool and I don't cross it. Instead I put on a Fiona Apple CD and turn her up loud. [...:] I dance loud to my music. Oh yeah, I'm sassy. I'm hard to get, that's what I am. Hard. To. Get. Cool. I slide to the fridge and grab a Coke. I slide back. "What are you up to?" Grandpa asks, walking into the kitchen. "I'm being sassy. Playing hard to get. Cool. Not desperate." "Dave Robbie's riding his bike around our front yard. Any idea why?" In case of fire, it's good to know we can all get out of the house in less than five seconds. I take a breath and open the door. "Hi. Did you forget something?" He shakes his head. "I just didn't want to go home." Fuck cool. Cool is overrated.
"Do whatever you like, Luke." "I will," he said. "Dickhead, I shot back." Things are bad with your boyfriend when every conversation ends with "Do whatever you like. I will. Dickhead."
~ ~ ~
Sure, friendship is all about believing in someone so hard they believe it, too. Sure, it's about trust. But if anyone hurts her tonight, it's about ripping them apart with my bare hands and really enjoying it.
Note: A Little Wanting Song, originally published in Australia, where it was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year, was originally titled Chasing Charlie Duskin. I don't know if anything of import was changed along with the title. ...more
Fifteen year old Daisy is a troubled New Yorker sent to England to stay with relatives she doesn't really know -- her aunt Penn and her children, EdmoFifteen year old Daisy is a troubled New Yorker sent to England to stay with relatives she doesn't really know -- her aunt Penn and her children, Edmond, Isaac, Osbert and Piper. Though Daisy recognizes it for the exile it is, she's grateful to escape her stepmother and immerse herself in the lives of her eccentric and intriguing cousins, drawn especially to the uncanny Edmond. When war breaks out and Aunt Penn is stuck in Oslo, Daisy and her cousins live an idyllic life in the coutryside, aware there's a war on, but peacefully removed from it. But of course this cannot last, and when it finds them, it comes with a vengeance. Daisy and her cousins must struggle to survive against all odds, but will they ever be able to find their way back to each other and the blissful life they've lost?
[God, sometimes the summaries I write are so effing corny I make myself a little sick.:]
Anywho, this Printz Award winning novel from Rosoff is a stunner. It's rare in that I think it would appeal to teens and adults just about equally, and here's why:
The style. It's stream-of-consciousness style, which is going to be challenging for some (though make others, especially perhaps those who don't read as much, feel right at home), is a brilliant choice. Though I like S-O-C, I am always a bit hesitant to read it. It's tricky to pull off, as it can seem confusing or indulgent, and the voice has to be just so, but for this, it works perfectly. Daisy's voice is fantastic, and there are all of these little gems, things that she says that you have to read over again and write down so that you can refer back to them. Her thoughts are funny and unusual and thought-provoking, and I enjoyed being in her head. The S-O-C style also worked well in another way: Daisy has issues -- big ones -- which are hinted at and slowly revealed through out the book, and she is in a pretty bad place when she arrives in England. Being immersed in her head and just plunged into the swirly craziness is captivating, but what makes it more so is that, as the world falls apart into chaos around her, Daisy's narration becomes more and more simple and sane. There's this great subtle contrast that you don't realize is happening until it hits you; it builds slowly and with a great deal of restraint, and it works.
The relationships. The relationships in this book are very interesting. As we learn of Daisy's issues, we also learn of the abilities of her cousins, each of whom seem a bit something, prescient, telepathic, a little something that is never really named, but treated as a given. Since we are in Daisy's mind, and they are a part of her mind, we get these great interactions between them, especially with Edmond and Piper, both of which are fabulous relationships to read. I may make people angry for that opinion, though...Daisy and Edmond develop a relationship that is a bit more than familial, which is going to be controversial for some people, since they are cousins and underage. But I have to say, don't let it put you off reading this book. It just works for the story, and I don't know how else to convince you than to say, by the end, you won't give a damn that they're related. Really. I was dubious at first, but very quickly on, I was in love with them both. Though Isaac and Osbert are throwaway characters, both Edmond and Piper are great for what they do for Daisy and for their own sakes, and you grow to care about them.
The topics. There's a lot to digest in this slim little powerhouse of a book. The war, which we don't know all that much about, is like a character itself, making brutal appearances in our characters lives. There are a lot of war books that take a lot of time and page-space to make us feel the desolation of war and the horrible dehumanizing effects. In How I Live Now, this is sort of always on the periphery, and you kind of forget about it until suddenly you realize just how quickly things can get really, really bad. Rosoff doesn't need 500 pages of brutality to make you understand just how bad war can be. The dystopic, post-apocalyptic elements and some of the harsh realities are going to make for very thought-provoking and captivating reading for those who are interested, but it's not so overwhelmingly a part of the story that those who avoid serious books for being "downers" will be put off. Also, again the relationship between Daisy and Edmond is another topic that's really going to stick with people and make for great discussion, teen and adult alike.
My 1 drawback? Of course there is one, you should know me well enough by now...I was a little let down by the ending. Not completely, because I did actually like the way the story ended (though I think it will piss some people off); my gripe is more with the way the ending was written. There's so much power packed into the rest of the story that the end seemed a little underdone to me. It lacked that oomph. It wasn't quite a brush-off, but it was enough to keep me from being 100% satisfied with the book as a whole. I almost wish that there was no 3rd part at all, even though it would mean I'd always wonder... But it's such a slim book that it's not like Rosoff needed to limit her word-count; she could have done the characters a little more justice by just oomphing up the end. Just a bit.
Still though. It's more challenging than the general YA, which will appeal to adults, but it's got a great relatable voice for teens; there are things going on that are going to keep people thinking about it, that are going to worm their way into reader's brains in the best way. Pick it up, and when you're done, give it to your mother and/or your daughter, and then discuss it when you're all done. It could be a really rewarding experience. ...more
First off, I've got to give a big THANK YOU to the Polish Outlander, who sent this to me for Christmas, just because she's fabulous like that. This boFirst off, I've got to give a big THANK YOU to the Polish Outlander, who sent this to me for Christmas, just because she's fabulous like that. This book boasts a Newbery Honor medal, and having read it I can say it's really no surprise. It has a lot of things going for it. It's a great middle grade read, very fresh and fun (an accomplishment, I think, for a book set over 100 years ago), and I think Calpurnia's voice will appeal to a lot of kids, girls especially.
There's also a great wholesomeness to it, and I have to say, I'm always hesitant to use that word -- it always makes things sound a little too religious-channel-Little-House-on-the-Prairie, as saccharine as you can get. But I don't think that's the case here. It is wholesome, it is something you can share with just about anyone, and even though the topic is evolution, I think even the most conservative of folks would still enjoy this book. It uses the backdrop of scientific discovery and a changing world to impart a sense of youthful wonder.
Calpurnia is smart and precocious, and not a very girly girl, so she's kind of at odds with her era. But the relationship she has with her reclusive scientific grandfather is absolutely perfect, and gives her an outlet for her scientific side. I loved watching their relationship bloom, and watching each grow to be more complete and in touch and alive, through each other. It was lovely.
But there's a balance to this, too, that keeps the book from melting into a puddle of sugar. Calpurnia does live at the turn of the century, which was not the best time to be a free-thinking girl. She's at that time of her life where she's still able to get away with childish things, and scamper off and do as she pleases, but that time is almost over, and people are beginning to take note of her, which in turn makes her realize that her blissful free time is nearly over. People are beginning to want to mold her into a lady, to get her to take interest in the "women's work" of cooking and cleaning and darning and hostessing, and being always, always the proper perfect thing, but never anything true:
I had never classified myself with other girls. I was not of their species; I was different. I had never thought my future would be like theirs. But now I knew this was untrue, that I was exactly like other girls. I was expected to hand over my life to a house, a husband, children. It was intended that I give up my nature studies, my Notebook, my beloved river. There was a wicked point to all the sewing and cooking that they were trying to impress upon me, the tedious lessons I had been spurning and ducking. I went hot and cold all over....My life was forfeit. Why hadn't I seen it? I was trapped. A coyote with her paw in the trap.
She has to confront this in bits and pieces throughout the book, and try to find herself and determine if she can break the mold and be the full, thinking person she wants to be, rather than the role she's supposed to be.
Beyond this, though, the wholesomeness and the realistic struggle, the book is just plain fun. Calpurnia is feisty and precocious in the way that some of my favorite characters are. And though she may not be as completely memorable as an Anne, she's certainly in good company with Flavia and Merricat and Cassandra. Her narration is charming and funny, with some very relatable spunk to it. Take this scene, for example, just after Calpurnia has gone to a large library out of town to try to get a copy of Origin of Species:
I bolted for the river. I ripped off my bonnet and pinafore and dress and threw myself into the water, casting terror in the hearts of the local tadpoles and turtles. Good. That lady librarian had ruined my day, and I was determined to ruin someone -- or something -- else's day. I ducked my head under water and let out a long, loud scream, the sound burbling in my ears. I came up for air and did it again. And one more time, just to be thorough. The cooling water gradually soothed me. After all, what was one book to me? Really, it didn't matter. One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.
Long story short, pick it up. And when you're done with it, share it with a young girl in your life. They need more books like this....more
This is one of the most engaging stories/narrators I have read in awhile. I tried hard to think of something I didn;t like, just for some balance (notThis is one of the most engaging stories/narrators I have read in awhile. I tried hard to think of something I didn;t like, just for some balance (not because I am such a negative person), and I still have yet to come up with something. There's a great magical realism/tall-tale feel to it, which is refreshing in a ya book.
Savvy is the story of Mibs (Mississippi) Beaumont and her rather unusual family. At 13, every member of the Beaumont family discovers they have a "savvy," a special power of some sort. Mibs' brother, Fish, can manipulate the weather (he caused a hurricane on his 13th birthday), and her brother Rocket manipulates electrcity (his 13th birthday was pretty unusual, too). Mibs' father is the only member of the Beaumont family with no special powers, having married in. When he is involved in a terrible car accident the day before Mibs herself turns 13, Mibs stops wishing for a grand, mind-blowing savvy and wishes instead for something that will help her save her father. With two of her brothers and her pastors kids in two, Mibs leaves her tiny community in the middle of nowhere, between Kansas and Nebraska (or Kansaska-Nebransas, as they call it -- Kansaska Monday-Wednesday, Nebransas Thursday-Saturday) to get to her father and work her savvy. The resulting story is a discovery of self for each character, from their own talents and savvies, to their loves and feelings and inner stength.
I know I made that sound really cheesy, but it's not. Ingrid Law deals with some heavy stuff in a light and engaging manner. The language and Mibs' narration is absolutely perfect. It's charming and funny and unusual. It's addictive, begging to be read aloud. The alliteration and silliness of the language may irritate some people, but I adored it. I don't see how it's possible not to fall in love with Mibs and the Beaumonts, and all of the peripheral characters.
I am a big fan of dystopic & post-apocalyptic fiction, and The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the most compelling pieces of dystopia I have rI am a big fan of dystopic & post-apocalyptic fiction, and The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the most compelling pieces of dystopia I have read in awhile. I am all sorts of in love with this book. Find out why at The Book Rat....more