This swift-footed, kind-hearted historical is intensely satisfying in just about all the ways a novel can be satisfying. Without further ado, here areThis swift-footed, kind-hearted historical is intensely satisfying in just about all the ways a novel can be satisfying. Without further ado, here are five things you should know about it before picking it up:
1. A lot of times, historical fiction shows its work. As a history major, I don't mind a research-filled brick of a book, but I'd think carefully about who I recommended it to. Historical can be dense. Salt to the Sea is not that book: Sepetys chooses her word battles carefully for an incredibly fast read. Short chapters elbow you and say "read just one more, right?" until the book is all gone.
2. I wanted to call this a thriller when I first started typing up this recommendation, but the term's not quite right. It's quite fast-paced, but THRILLER feels wrong: it's not quite got that frantic electricity. ADVENTURE is closer, but still wrong. Shouldn't there be jeeps and a comic relief side kick in an adventure? There's mostly just soldiers and frostbite and abandoned soup in this one, which is not the same. Nevertheless, you should know: it's not a depressing book, although sad things happen in it.
3. The characters are lovely. There are many of them, all deftly and lightly-drawn, and because they come from all ages and backgrounds, the dynamics between them are ever-changing. It's told from four points of view to allow the reader to spin around the story from all angles, and because each of the POV characters brings something very different to the table, this swapping of eyes is satisfying rather than frustrating.
4. Sepetys has two other historicals out that I enjoyed a lot, but this one has headed briskly to the top of the list. it's confident and stylish in a way that is really satisfying to see.
5. This novel is the natural successor to Code Name Verity: a character-driven, accessible, YA historical with all the feels you could desire and enough research to bring down an elephant. If elephants were brought down by research.
1. It's told entirely in e-mails. As a writer, I understand that yes, this is a gimmick. I have a high-gimmick tolFIVE THINGS ABOUT THE 52-HERTZ WHALE
1. It's told entirely in e-mails. As a writer, I understand that yes, this is a gimmick. I have a high-gimmick tolerance, though, as long it doesn't get in the way of my emotional or intellectual enjoyment of a book. With 52, it worked for me. It might not for you, though, so I'm putting it right here as #1. Full disclosure. Emails.
2. With that out of the way, I can tell you that I found the two main characters of this book — a disenchanted, heartbroken film student and a socially challenged, maybe-Aspergers whale lover — revoltingly charming. Both of them have terrible things happening in their lives — fractured relationships and public humiliation — but the conceit of e-mail-chapters means it is funneled through their wryly self-deprecating and dutifully factual voices, respectively. The novel is ultimately uplifting without being saccharine. I know I use the word big-hearted a lot to describe the books I love, but it fits this little novel well.
3. There is some deft portrait-making in this book. 52 doesn't have a lot of words to do it in, since there's no description and a fair number of characters sending e-mails, but I nonetheless felt I knew all the parties involved. It is nothing like SOME DAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU, apart from also possessing a narrator named James, but it touched me in the same way. I felt I'd met real people.
4. My teen years were populated by many non-teens, and I appreciated that this teen novel was populated by non-teens as well. It made what could be a rather claustrophobic contemporary into a roomy narrative.
5. There are really not any whales in this book. I mean, there's one, but he spends a lot of the book dead, so don't get excited. Spoiler? I just want you to be prepared if you're coming for the whales. Come for the whale, stay for the human dysfunction....more
Technically this little volume is part of Tales of Outer Suburbia, if memory serves, but if you can find it in this little hardback version, it is verTechnically this little volume is part of Tales of Outer Suburbia, if memory serves, but if you can find it in this little hardback version, it is very agreeable. It works on so many levels — I read it to my kids, who are 8 & 9, and we giggle and talk about metaphor. ...more
Possibly I am biased, because the author (Jackson Pearce writing as J. Nelle Patrick) was sitting across from me in my squashy office chair while shePossibly I am biased, because the author (Jackson Pearce writing as J. Nelle Patrick) was sitting across from me in my squashy office chair while she wrote this. I'm fond of both Jackson and that chair.
Possibly I am biased because we brainstormed about this book and The Dream Thieves as we loitered in my kitchen with the 4,000 cups of coffee who died to make both of these books possible.
Possibly I am biased because you always like books you saw being born on your living room floor*.
But it's more possible that I really wanted something historical with a hint of magic; something that didn't feel like an assignment; something with a moose in it.
This is that book.**
*This is unpalatable **Also, if you don't believe me, believe Kirkus, anyway, because they gave it a starred review.
Before I say anything else, let me get this out of the way: Jennifer Donnelly, don’t read this.
I know that she might be, because even though authors oBefore I say anything else, let me get this out of the way: Jennifer Donnelly, don’t read this.
I know that she might be, because even though authors often say they do not read their reviews, I am an author and have secret knowledge of author-behavior and know that this means that they often do.
This is not a bad review, but I don’t want Jennifer Donnelly to read it because I want one day for us to sit together at a conference and be best friends and talk about dead people, prose, and minor chords. I don’t want anything to get in the way of that, much less something as untidy as her looking at me and thinking of this Goodreads review and hissing “I’ll show you ambitious, Stiefvater.”
So Ms. Donnelly (Jennifer, really, because in the future, we’re friends, or at least fond peers), please stop here.
All right, so I never understood by what reviewers meant by “ambitious.” I assumed it meant the reviewer was a condescending jerk. I hope that is not me. Because I’m going to say it. This is a big, sprawling, ambitious novel that has its eye on a lot of different things. Before I read it, people told me it was a fantasy, and an edgy contemporary about grief, and a historical romance. It is none of those things, but it is some of all of those things. It tells the story of Andi, a present day grieving Brooklyn teen, and it tells the story of Alex, a pyrotechnic teen living during the French revolution, and it also tells the story of a dead prince’s mummified heart, and it also tells the story of a French composer who seems to like both Beethoven and Radiohead, and the story of a rapping taxi driver with a heart of gold.
It’s this book’s ambition that keeps it from being absolutely perfect. It tries for all of those things, and some of those things it nails, and some of them made me make my mouth small. But it’s also its ambition that makes me okay with its imperfection. Because the reason why I have so many things to talk about and pick apart is because it gives me so many things to talk about and pick apart. It’s a glorious thing to pull back the layers. In many ways, I think it’s a great readalong with CODE NAME VERITY — another ambitious book with lots of layers to pick at.
What else do I want to say about this book? Because I want you to pick it up — I want everyone to. I want writers to, because I think it will make them better writers, and I want readers to, because I think it will make them better readers. I want everyone to, so I can have someone to talk about the cleverness of it, right down to the title. I want to talk about how wise it is when it comes to war.
I suppose I will say this, then: stick with it, in the beginning. Andi is in a terrible place, and she is not the easiest person to like. That’s the point. And I’ll say: ignore all the covers. They are all ridiculous and none of them is remotely interesting until after you’re read the book. What else? Probably ignore the cover copy too. It is not that it is a lie — it’s just that it’s untrue. It doesn’t reflect the reading experience at all.
Here, in fact. That’s a good way to end this thing, whatever it is, because it surely isn’t a review. I will finish with the cover copy I would write for this book instead:
Andi Alpers is a sad and terrible person after her younger brother dies. She goes to a snotty school that makes her sadder and more terrible. Her father, who is a geneticist, brings her to France to be sad and terrible there while he analyzes a crusty old French heart to see if it belongs to a sad and terrible French princeling. She finds a happy and glorious old guitar from the revolution, and a sad and terrible journal from selfsame time period, and also meets a happy and glorious rapping taxi driver with a heart of gold. There are kisses, decapitations, house parties where house = catacombs, and a lot of classical guitarists playing a lot of minor chords.
My work here is done. Jennifer Donnelly, are we friends yet? ...more
Aw, Brenna. Fair confession: she's my critique partner, so I saw this manuscript when it was just an infant. But it's lovely and creepy and you'll likAw, Brenna. Fair confession: she's my critique partner, so I saw this manuscript when it was just an infant. But it's lovely and creepy and you'll like it, too.
Serial killers (a little), ghosts (a little), and love (a little). ...more
I'm an unashamed lover of movies as well as books, and I have a special place reserved in my black heart for movies that feel like books and vice versa. Nick Hornby and John Green generally live in this zone for me, with characters and plots both walking a fine line between quirky and unbelievable. Jackson Pearce elbows her way into this realm with Purity. In it, Shelby promises her dying mother that she'll listen to her father, love as much as possible, and live without restraint. Innocent-enough promises in theory, but in practice, they lead to all sorts of capers and crises involving best friends, sex and church ladies. The combination of Pearce's humorous voice and the novel's bite-sized length make it easy to hand to most everyone. Like Hornby's and Green's books, I would pick it up for the light and breezy concept, and remember it for the surprisingly poignant character relationships....more