This is The Breakfast Club for a new generation (but instead of detention, it's the impending apocalypse that brings everyone together). When the worlThis is The Breakfast Club for a new generation (but instead of detention, it's the impending apocalypse that brings everyone together). When the world finds out that an asteroid is on course to collide with Earth and annihilate all life in just a few weeks (surprise!), the lives of four very different teenagers (the Athlete, the Slut, the Slacker and the Overachiever) collide as well. The science is ridiculous (no one knew about the asteroid earlier because it was "hiding" behind Jupiter for a gazillion years), but it's also not the point. This isn't sci-fi, and it isn't about the end of the world. It's about love and friendship, dreams and expectations, struggle and triumph, hope and despair. The POV rotates between the four teens, and I thought each character was wonderfully developed. Yes, they are stereotypes to some degree, but what's remarkable is how the author unravels those stereotypes and reveals how alike the characters are, despite their obvious differences. There's a bit of mysticism/fatalism at play (lots of references to Vonnegut's "karass"), but it doesn't matter whether or not these kids were "meant" to come together. What matters is that they did, and in the face of death, they taught each other to live. Highly recommended for teens, especially anyone struggling with identity, expectations, or their place in the world....more
I will read anything David Mitchell writes. He is an immensely gifted storyteller. There are passages in this book where he relays some minor characteI will read anything David Mitchell writes. He is an immensely gifted storyteller. There are passages in this book where he relays some minor character's third cousin's ancestor's backstory going back a thousand years, and every one of these passages is enthralling enough to become its own novel. It makes me want to dig through his trash for all the bits and paragraphs and pages that didn't make the cut. So if you're wondering if this is worth the read, it unequivocally is.
Like Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks is comprised of six interconnected stories - but whereas Cloud Atlas is about that interconnectedness, the beauty and magic of it, here the characters and stories are connected by forces of good and evil. Their interconnectedness is literally "scripted." In that sense this was a lot less enchanting than Cloud Atlas for me. Everything that happens is part of some cosmic battle between two groups of immortal bodysnatchers, and the human characters are just pawns in this war. They have no agency. Their triumphs are orchestrated, their tragedies collateral damage. It felt sadly fatalistic - not the beautiful and mysterious kismet of Cloud Atlas, but something more hopeless and resigned. I don't know if this is the way Mitchell meant to write it, but it's the way I experienced it.
I also found the book as a whole to be somewhat rambling and disorderly. A couple of the individual novellas felt sloppy and unfinished, and one of them was way too long - the one about the novelist having a midlife crisis, which Mitchell says he wrote a lot of himself into. Perhaps this was just a necessary exercise for him, or some sort of literary exorcism, but it was my least favorite section and the one I found most confusing - I never really understood what the novelist's fate had to do with the larger plot, even though it was supposed to be some huge catalyst.
Grumblings aside, David Mitchell at his worst is better than 90% of everything else I read, so I do highly recommend this!...more
Fantastic coming of age novel written in a fresh, authentic voice. The main character, Finn, struggles with all the typical teenage anxieties - schoolFantastic coming of age novel written in a fresh, authentic voice. The main character, Finn, struggles with all the typical teenage anxieties - school, friendship, parents, young love - but it's the quirky details that really drew me in (e.g. a horse fell from the sky and left him epileptic and now he measures time in miles). The story may be whimsical and far-fetched (which I loved about it), but the characters are very real and the author writes incredibly convincing teenage dialogue. Granted, I'm a couple decades removed from my teenage years - but I read a lot of YA and I'm hard-pressed to find a 17-year-old who doesn't sound more like 37. I especially love Finn's best friend, Cade; he's funny and foul-mouthed and vulgar and clever - a delinquent delight. Highly recommend....more
This is a beautiful, haunting novel about the end of the world as we know it (thanks to something called the Georgia flu, which wipes out 99% of the wThis is a beautiful, haunting novel about the end of the world as we know it (thanks to something called the Georgia flu, which wipes out 99% of the world's population in mere days). The story jumps back and forth between the time before and after "the collapse," and the narration rotates through various characters' points of view. Though the premise (plague apocalypse) sounds sci-fi, Station Eleven is light on the science and heavy on the philosophy. It's definitely much more about how the apocalypse affects humanity and civilization than it is about the details of the apocalypse. If you're familiar with survivalist stories like S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series, this is basically the inverse of that. The author isn't concerned with where people are getting their food and fresh water twenty years post-apocalypse. She's more into the tragic beauty of a fleet of jumbo jets that haven't flown in decades lined up neatly on a runway in the falling snow.
That brings us to one of the main themes of this tale, "survival is insufficient." Taken from a Star Trek episode (!), the phrase is the motto of the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag band of musicians and actors who roam what's left of the Midwest, playing classical music and performing Shakespeare. The ability to create and appreciate art, they believe, is essential to our humanity. It's what takes us beyond mere survival and makes us something more than animals. I loved this part of the book, how the little settlements of people living in Walmarts and gas stations would rush out to hear Beethoven, tears streaming down their faces. This is one of my favorite angles of post-apocalyptic fiction - once we've figured out how to survive, how do we learn to LIVE again? What exactly is it that makes us human? How do we go about redefining humanity, rebuilding civilization?
The author also touches on the enduring power of art and storytelling, and the ways in which stories connect us all. Beyond the Beethoven and the Shakespeare, there's a comic book called Station Eleven that features prominently (and also gives the novel its name). It was written, somewhat randomly, by the first wife of a very famous Hollywood actor. She wrote the comic for herself and published only two copies, which end up in the hands of two of the main characters post-apocalypse. The comics have a profound impact on both characters (so the obscure art of the obscure ex-wife endures because art is forever, while the Hollywood actor is forgotten because who cares about Hollywood after the end of the world). The stories of the two characters in possession of the comics are mostly separate, though absolutely intertwined - as are ALL of the characters' stories. One of the most amazing aspects of this novel is how all of the characters are connected, both pre- and post-collapse. I kept waiting for many of them to cross paths and realize their connection, their shared stories. Some did, and some didn't - the latter bothered me at first, until I realized that's the way the world works. We're all woven into the same giant tapestry, whether we see the individual threads or not. That, along with King Lear and Beethoven's 9th and unheard-of graphic novels about being stranded in space, is the beauty of humankind. ...more
A wealthy man dies, and his ex-wife and two estranged children come looking for their inheritance. The narration rotates between the ex-wife, the chilA wealthy man dies, and his ex-wife and two estranged children come looking for their inheritance. The narration rotates between the ex-wife, the children, a grandchild, and two ghosts also "living" in the house. Though there are ghosts in the story, it's really not a "ghost story." I would call it a story about the human condition. All of the characters, with the exception of the grandchild because she's only six, are unhappy and bitter and lonely and mean and generally just the most miserable, awful, screwed-up people on the planet. If you're up for an intense character study of some incredibly unlikable people (a couple of them dead), dive on in. It's amazing. But if you're looking for a spooky supernatural tale, this isn't it. The ghosts are way more cranky than they are scary.
I am a huge Lauren Oliver fan but had no idea what to expect from her first "adult" novel. The narrators took some getting used to (both their abundance and their wretchedness), and I had a particularly hard time differentiating between the two ghosts and keeping their stories straight even though they're very different women from very different eras. At first I thought this was lack of character development, which I see some other reviewers complaining about here, but as the story unfolded I began to suspect that Oliver doesn't focus on what individuates her characters because she's more interested in what makes them (and us) the same. On the surface this is a story about a group of individuals and their individual dramas, but underneath it's about a bunch of people all playing out the SAME drama. Every character is mired in the past and needs to let go/move on. In all different ways and for all different reasons, but they have this in common. So while I get that some readers wanted a more involved or focused story with more fleshed-out characters, I don't think that's what the author set out to do. I think she had something universal to say about human nature, and I think she did it brilliantly (with ghosts and drunks and sex addicts, because why not)....more
I love this times infinity. I already love YA in general and Scott Westerfeld in particular (his Uglies series got me back into reading YA as an adultI love this times infinity. I already love YA in general and Scott Westerfeld in particular (his Uglies series got me back into reading YA as an adult), but this book I love the most. I love that he wrote something so chancy and cheeky (and META!), and I love that someone published it. Basically I think it's brilliant and couldn't love it more, but I don't think everyone is going to feel that way.
Here's some of what I love and some of what sets this book apart, if you want to know if it's for you:
1. I wasn't kidding about the meta. Not only is this a YA book about someone writing a YA book, but the YA book she's writing is also included (in alternating chapters). There's also a lot of discussion about the challenges of writing (and publishing, and marketing, and selling) YA, some of which has already surfaced in the reviews of this book (one of the main story's characters - another YA author - is worried that her protagonist, a girl who likes girls who like to set fires, is too risky and won't be well received; lo and behold, several of the Afterworlds reviews I've read contain warnings about its violence and "homosexual relationship"). So while Westerfeld is writing about a fictitious writer and her fictitious book, he's also exploring some very real issues that very real YA writers face.
2. One of the most interesting of those issues is the matter of cultural appropriation. Darcy, the main character of the main story (the one writing the book within the book), has some misgivings about one of her main characters, who is based on a Hindu death god. She worries that she is exploiting her religion (one she doesn't really observe) "for the purposes of YA hotness" (the scary death god has been turned into a handsome love interest). I love all the discussions about this, and I especially love that this teenage gay Indian girl fretting over cultural appropriation is written by a fifty-something straight white man. Some people might take issue with that, but this book is so gloriously self-reflective that it hardly matters. It's kind of the point. (Also mad props to Westerfeld for whipping out Millenialisms like "squee" and "this is giving me all the feelings.")
3. There's a lot of focus on the YA writing/publishing community, particularly in New York. I enjoyed this because I live in New York and I live to read YA. Like Darcy I moved to NYC alone, young and clueless and ended up in an exorbitantly overpriced 4th floor walk-up in Chinatown (though instead of a $150K publishing deal I received $150K in grad school debt). The notion of a teenager landing said deal might rub some aspiring writers the wrong way, but it's what allows Westerfeld to acquaint us with his world in such detail. We learn and experience everything right alongside Darcy. This probably won't interest everybody. I've heard grumblings that Darcy's part of the story is unnecessary and that Lizzie's story (the book within the book) should have been the whole shabang, but for me it's the intertwining of the two narratives that makes this so special. You don't need to be a writer to appreciate the writing process. What reader hasn't finished an amazing book and then wondered about the mind that produced it? Afterworlds is a chance to crawl inside that mind and see the whole thing unfold....more
This is a clever, somewhat bizarre supernatural mystery that immediately reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves in that it's a) a mysterThis is a clever, somewhat bizarre supernatural mystery that immediately reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves in that it's a) a mystery about a house, and b) comprised entirely of diary entries, letters, transcripts, receipts, newspaper clippings, advertisements, phone bills, and so forth.
The story starts out conventionally enough - the vaguely European narrator, A., inherits the estate of a distant American relative (who he didn't know existed) and moves there with his teenage companion, a spunky Irish girl named Niamh. All they know about Axton House is that the dead distant cousin, Ambrose Wells, jumped from the exact same window his father had thirty years before. As if that's not mystery enough to solve, there's also a missing butler, a locked basement vault, evidence of a secret society, and a ghost.
I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book - A. and Niamh discover a series of coded messages in the house, each one leading to the next, and the process of cracking the codes and deciphering the messages is quite fun. I'd give this portion of the book a solid 4 stars (plus bonus points for made-up words like "vicepresidentially" and "Japanesemonsterly"). Once they piece together the mystery, though, and everything comes to a head - things get really sloppy and random. The last bit of the story is graphically violent (suddenly, out of nowhere) and unfolds in a bit of a whirlwind, and I'm still not sure exactly what happened. The end feels very rushed, and the mystery that we had been unraveling step by delicious step sort if implodes and goes bonkers before coming to a screeching, say-whaaa? type halt. I actually really like the concept, but I think it needed a much more thorough treatment. So 3 stars for the end.
All in all, a clever concept with a so-so execution and surprisingly delightful prose ("his voice went three degrees Britisher")....more