If I wasn't packing for a conference, I'd write a more thorough review - this will have to hold its place for now:
I read a lot, and I read a lot of YA...moreIf I wasn't packing for a conference, I'd write a more thorough review - this will have to hold its place for now:
I read a lot, and I read a lot of YA. Not only is this probably the best book I've read all year, it's one of the best I've ever read. To label it only as "YA," though, is to miss the point of the book. This is a coming-of-age story that is going to be on award lists next year, and I hope will be widely read for years to come. Andrew Smith has always written strong books that impact readers, but he hits it out of the park with this novel, and he absolutely nails the adolescent male mindset (think lots of sexual thoughts, like, a ton). I want to go back and read it all again, and I read this one slowly, because I wanted to savor it.
Read it. Read it. Read it. You will not be disappointed.(less)
"Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time i...more"Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death."
At this point (2014), I'm not even providing a recap. You know the plot. If not, ask a teenager sitting nearby, or watch the film trailers.
To begin, I loved this book. After reading and teaching Looking for Alaska many times, I didn’t think I would find another John Green book that I liked more than that one. I do still prefer LfA, but this one comes in a close second. I admire Green’s writing tremendously; I think this book is one of the best-written books I’ve read recently. Hazel's voice is immediately strong and resonates and the first person POV lends towards high emotional impact. There is literary language throughout and high vocabulary. Green is also one of those authors, like Chris Crutcher, who seamlessly and skillfully weaves tragedy and humor together, no more so than in this book.
There is no question that this one probably has enjoyed the widest appeal of any other YA book in 2012, or in very recent memory. In fact, I think except in the cases of books taking place in Hogwarts or Forks, no other was anticipated with more hype and excitement. I know the wait lists for the book may still be long in some libraries, and I’ve loved seeing students passing it around and talking about the book in every school I’ve been in.
However . . . while I enjoyed the book a lot, there wasn’t anything in it that surprised me, or made me really sit up and take notice. I went back and read passages again because they were so well-phrased, but not because of anything to do with the plot. There’s a general formula to JG novels, and those who have read him can spot them easily: smart (and wise beyond their years) main characters, comic relief/somewhat pathetic sidekicks, mysterious girls, and some sort of journey/road trip. And it’s not like other tremendous YA authors don’t have their own trademark characters/situations. All authors do, to some degree. Green uses his elements to great effect – he’s a master at them; but to me they still felt too familiar, too much like what I had read before.
I’ve discussed this book endlessly with students in my YA classes, who were ready to rip my lungs out over my initial 4-star Goodreads rating. I’ve come around, and I realize that when I first read it, I was reacting to and pushing against, in some part, the (over)hype of the novel. This is an exceptionally strong book. Cancer is obviously a tricky subject to write about, and as much as Green wanted to move away from, or subvert, clichéd emotions and overly sentimental scenes, he still did those things at times. The premise of the novel is a ready-made tearjerker, and everything builds towards eliciting those emotions. I’ve cried at many books, but not this one.
Still, there is no denying that this is a zeitgeist-type of YA book, one that pretty much every teen has read, or wants to read. And I’m sure, like with my initial reading, there are still many who conflate the quality of this novel with the hoopla surrounding it – particularly with a film version only months away from release. But it is highly readable, highly teachable (the sex scene may be tricky in some contexts), and definitely worthy of the high praise it’s received. (less)
**spoiler alert** "There was never a magic moment when I knew why dying had called to me, just like there was never a magic moment when I decided I wa...more**spoiler alert** "There was never a magic moment when I knew why dying had called to me, just like there was never a magic moment when I decided I wanted to live instead. My mother had been looking for the same magic reason, I knew. She wanted an explanation. Hell, she deserved one, too.
Nicki also wanted the magic reason - more for her dad than for me - but what I'd told her was all I had to give, this spewing of the worst that was inside me.
'I'm sorry,' I whispered. My knee ached and burned under her hand.
Where would I begin?"
Sixteen year-old Ryan has recently been released from Patterson, the mental hospital where he was sent after a suicide attempt. His friends from the hospital, Val and Jake, have also been released to their respective homes, and Ryan is trying to manage his days on his own, while also under the watchful eyes of his parents. As a way to get away, he regularly goes to a waterfall near his house. There, he meets Nicki, a girl who initially seems to ask too many questions, but who eventually discloses to Ryan that her own father had committed suicide. Nicki is trying to find answers to why, and Ryan may be her best hope to figure out what would push a person to that brink. For Ryan, Nicki is the first person who hasn't treated him with kid gloves, who isn't afraid to ask him tough questions. As the two become closer, he begins to open up to her about the events that drove him to his attempt, and trusts her more than anyone else in his life. But when he discovers that Nicki has been lying to him about important things,
This is probably more of a 3.5 star book for me - I appreciate the fact that Hubbard has written a book about recovering from suicidal depression, but the plot moved slowly for me, and while that helped give space and time to develop Ryan and Nicki's characters, the secondary characters all felt somewhat flat - even Val, who had a key role in Ryan's development. The dialogue rings true, and I did like how the resolution was positive, without being overly so. And I liked the way Hubbard emphasizes that Ryan's depression was not brought on by any one traumatic event, but rather by a series of seemingly-minor episodes, and how depression can happen to anyone, even those people who come from "good," stable families. The effects of Ryan's suicide attempt, and its aftermath, on both him and his family, are powerful. Overall, a very good read about an extremely important subject. (less)
Vivid, beautifully drawn images, and a provocative and daring plot. Be warned - this is *not* a graphic novel for everyone. There are some graphic sex...moreVivid, beautifully drawn images, and a provocative and daring plot. Be warned - this is *not* a graphic novel for everyone. There are some graphic sexual scenes, so mature readers, only. Not for everyone, perhaps, but I found it a very moving story. (less)
“'Correct me if I’m wrong, Mister Lafayette, but won’t Descartes’s people sneer at such reason-resistant magic?'
'You’re asking the wrong Frenchman. I’...more“'Correct me if I’m wrong, Mister Lafayette, but won’t Descartes’s people sneer at such reason-resistant magic?'
'You’re asking the wrong Frenchman. I’ve been here too long. After a time, America casts a spell on even the most enlightened European. Stay on the Hudson a few years and it turns you into a mystic. Unless you’re already dead, of course.'"
Set aboard a steamboat traveling the Hudson River line between New York City and Albany in 1887, this graphic novel resonates with mystery, tragedy, sexual intrigue, and vibrant characters. Captain Elijah Twain runs a tight ship aboard The Lorelei, and is also a good husband, as well as a secretive writer and artist. When he discovers a mermaid on the river, suffering from a harpoon wound, he brings her aboard, shutters her in his quarters, and nurses her back to health. Other plot lines intersect, including the story of Lafayette, the Frenchman with the prodigious sexual appetites, who has taken over the business end of the steamboat line, after his brother’s mysterious disappearance. The character of C.G. Beaverton, a reclusive bestselling author whose identity is finally revealed, also figures prominently in the novel. And there are mysterious twins who appear as stowaways on board, always evading the captain’s grasp.
As Twain begins to know the Mermaid (named South), he becomes drawn more to her world, and learns the startling connections between her, Lafayette, and his lost brother. The backstory of the Mermaid and her sisters is tragic, as is the fate of those lured underwater by their songs. It’s up to Twain to avoid a similar fate.
This graphic novel is absolutely lush – the writing is outstanding, and the artwork, done in charcoal, is gorgeous. The novel began life as a serialized web comic (http://sailortwain.com/), with publication of the entire work coming this fall. I’d strongly recommend looking at the site, if only for the extra material Siegel provides, particularly about the history and geography of the region in the late 19th century. This novel has obviously been a labor of love for Siegel, and that comes through clearly on every page. It’s a graphic novel that demands a slow read, and rewards readers who want strong storytelling along with beautiful imagery. (less)
Harper: It's terrible. Mormons are not supposed to be addicted to anything. I'm a Mormon. Prior: I'm a homosexual. Harper: Oh! In my church we don't bel...moreHarper: It's terrible. Mormons are not supposed to be addicted to anything. I'm a Mormon. Prior: I'm a homosexual. Harper: Oh! In my church we don't believe in homosexuals. Prior: In my church we don't believe in Mormons.
~ Act 1, Scene 7
I re-read this play, as well as Part II, about once a year or so, just . . . because. It remains one of the most powerful pieces of dramatic literature I've ever read, and I feel lucky that I've been able to see it live on stage. The play is multi-layered, exploring the lives of two very different AIDS patients during the 1980s. Beyond that simple description, though, the play explores themes of sexual identity, heritage, homophobia, political liberalism and conservatism, and religion, all woven together with a strong mystical component. It's a play that everyone should read (or ideally, see) at least once. (less)
Probably more like 3.5 stars, for some big ol' holes in the plot; but, credit is deserved for tackling a subject I've never seen examined in YA before...moreProbably more like 3.5 stars, for some big ol' holes in the plot; but, credit is deserved for tackling a subject I've never seen examined in YA before. (less)
(Craig): "I try not to think about it, but I really don't know what I'm doing with Lio. I guess we're friends, sort of, except we don't really talk. W...more(Craig): "I try not to think about it, but I really don't know what I'm doing with Lio. I guess we're friends, sort of, except we don't really talk. We're the closest either one of us has to a friend, because I can't stand most people anymore and Lio left all the people who were used to him in New York, and it's pretty damn depressing until you consider that I really like being with Lio, and I hope he likes being with me. And we do spend a lot of time together. I don't know if Lio's into boys. It seems like a stupid question, because I don't know what difference the answer will make. The question isn't whether he's into boys. The question is if he's into me."
(Lio): "It's depressing that those A's are, so far, the entirety of my success story. When I was nine, I thought I would drop out of school and join a band and travel all over the world. And now here I am, and whether I do my homework or not, graduation has started to look inevitable. I got out of dying from cancer, but I can't get out of graduating from high school.
Maybe I'm destined for a middle American life. That's probably why my twin got killed off. Your average desk bitch doesn't have an identical twin.
This doesn't explain why I'm gay. This doesn't explain anything. God, I need to shut up. Or maybe say some of this stupid shit out loud so it will go away."
In the fall of 2002, one year after the 9/11 attacks, fear is still tangible for many. When a sniper begins shooting people around the DC metro area, that fear becomes more palpable, and terror grips the beltway. Craig lives outside the city with his parents, and is consumed with locating all of his pets, which escaped the house during a recent break-in. Craig still holds strong feelings for his ex-boyfriend, Cody, who moved to another school, but has also started to spend more time with Lio. And Lio has his own baggage - a twin brother who died at age 8 from cancer is only part of it. Both boys are damaged, fragile and fearful - their vulnerability closely mirrors the fear that surrounds the sniper incidents - and the novel explores their evolving relationship, through both of their perspectives.
The alternating POVs worked well in this novel, although for the first half of the book or so, I found it hard to differentiate that much between the boys' voices; they became clearer in the second half, but that early murkiness probably contributed to my overall opinion of the book. This is a strong book about relationships, and the exploration of LGBTQ issues is sensitively handled. The historical element of the beltway shootings adds some strong context and broader perspective to the book, rather than focusing solely on the Craig-Lio relationship. Family members, for each of the boys, are also very well-drawn, and essential to the story. This is probably closer to 5 stars than 4 - Moskowitz is an extremely talented writer, who has crafted a thoughtful, modern love story. (less)
“She looked back at me, dead on, our faces close again. ‘I bet you wouldn’t try to kiss me,’ she said, not moving her stare for a second.
‘Is that a re...more“She looked back at me, dead on, our faces close again. ‘I bet you wouldn’t try to kiss me,’ she said, not moving her stare for a second.
‘Is that a real dare?’ I asked.
She put on her ‘duh’ face and nodded.
So I did it right then, before we had to talk about it anymore or Irene’s mom called out to us to get ourselves washed up for dinner. There’s nothing to know about a kiss like that before you do it. It was all action and reaction, the way her lips were salty and she tasted like root beer. The way I felt sort of dizzy the whole time. If it had been that one kiss, then it would have been jus the dare, and that would have been no different than anything we’d done before. But after that kiss, as we leaned against the crates, a yellow jacket swooping and arcing over some spilled pop, Irene kissed me again. And I hadn’t dared her to do it, but I was glad that she did.”
With the episode above, a dare between friends whose relationship has been built on such dares, 12 year-old Cameron Post commits her second dangerous act in a single day. The first was stealing some candy from a convenience store (again, on a dare) with her friend Irene. That evening, the girls spend the night at Irene’s house. Late that night, the phone at Irene’s house rings, and Cam is driven home to meet her grandmother, who informs her that Cam’s parents have died in a car accident, while on the way to their annual summer camping trip. Rather than feel despair, loneliness, or any of a hundred other justifiable emotions at that moment, Cam feels relief; relief that her parents would never find out about her theft, or her illicit kiss with Irene.
It is decided that Cam will continue to live in her house in Miles City, Montana, along with her grandmother, and Ruth, her conservative aunt who quits her flight attendant job to move up to Montana to care for Cam. Cam has to return to her small school, where she is now known as the orphan, and everyone makes it a point to ask how she’s doing, when all Cam wants to do is disappear into her room, armed with her parents’ VCR and a new handful of videotapes. Watching movies, and randomly assembling new pieces to her childhood dollhouse now occupy her days. But Cam does find other opportunities to explore the feelings that she felt with Irene, and that first kiss; first with Lindsey, a fellow swimmer, who only spends her summers in Montana. But Coley Taylor is different – a beautiful, fun girl at school, to whom Cam is instantly drawn. But Coley is straight, or at least professes to be so. But the friendship between Cam and Coley grows stronger, and Cam is confused about whether her feelings for Coley will be reciprocated. Until Coley confronts Cam about those feelings, and to Cam’s surprise, they kiss. What follows are a few months of secretive meetings, and stolen moments; secrets are hard to keep in a small town, but Cam and Coley do their best. After one night together, after which they are almost caught by Coley’s older brother, events move quickly out of control.
After learning of Cam’s behavior, Ruth and the local pastor arrange for Cam to attend God’s Promise, a small religious school in the western part of the state, which promises to bring young people closer to God, and to help them combat and resist their sinful homosexual urges. The students at the school are kept under strict watch, and are only allowed to practice “appropriate gender roles,” so that they can “break free from the bonds of sexual sin and confusion.” At God’s Promise, Cam meets some new friends, and clashes occasionally with those in charge, but also tries to do her best to fit in, resigned with the fact that Ruth will keep Cam at the school as long as necessary. But after a tragic incident involving another student, Cam and two of her friends make plans to leave God’s Promise on their own, as long as Cam can make one important stop along their way.
I’m looking for a sixth star, to offer this novel. It’s that good.
I took my time with this book, because after only the first chapter, it was obvious that this is not your normal YA coming-of-age/LGBTQ-friendly book. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and take your time, to savor everything that Cam says. In a recent Huffington Post essay, Danforth wrote that Cameron “is a person who has spent too much time on the periphery, half-experiencing those crucial small moments of development that she should have felt safe to experience fully and openly but did not. All of this makes her a keen observer and, I hope, a useful chronicler of time and place.” Cam’s, and Danforth’s, observations are more than keen; they’re vivid, with an HD-clarity that places a reader directly in the time and place of the novel. Not only sights and sounds, but smells, tastes and tactile experiences are beautifully rendered.
Danforth treats the big moments (the death of Cam’s parents, the realization that her family is sending her away) with the appropriate depth and space, but her greatest strength (to me, at least) is in her treatment of the smaller moments, ones that would normally be quickly lost to the passage of time. Like the brief seconds before Irene’s father interrupts the girls’ sleepover, to take Cam back to her house:
“We both knew the knock was coming. We heard the footsteps stop outside Irene’s door, but there was empty time between the end of those steps and the heavy rap of his knuckles; ghost time. Mr. Klauson standing there, waiting, maybe holding his breath, just like me. I think about him on the other side of that door all the time, even now. How I still had parents before that knock, and how I didn’t after. Mr. Klauson knew that to; how he had to lift his calloused hand and take them away from me at eleven p.m. one hot night at the end of June – summer vacation, root beer and stolen bubble gum, stolen kisses – the very good life for a twelve-year-old, when I still had mostly everything figured out, and the stuff I didn’t know seemed like it would come easy enough if I could just wait for it, and anyway there’d always be Irene with me, waiting too.”
It would have been so easy for Danforth, given that much of this book is essentially based on her own upbringing, to take a much harsher, condemning, and message-heavy tone. But the novel doesn’t go down that road, not in the least. Cam is narrating this novel from several years after the events depicted in the book (maybe only 2-3 years, I think), but it’s clear that she is struggling mightily with simply trying to understand her own feelings, without placing herself in an activist role (unlike Lindsay, who offers a glimpse into the progressive Seattle LGBTQ scene in the early 1990s, when the novel is primarily set). Her confusion over how to handle her attractions in genuine, but at the same time she’s fairly confident that she’s not going to be swayed in her preferences. She has moments of wonderful, sometimes unexpected kindness, as well as moments of cruelty to those close to her. She’s an adolescent, and when she lashes out, it can be devastating. As such, she’s not an entirely likeable character, but I think that’s what made her all the more appealing to me. She’s certainly not perfect, nor is she really trying to be, but she is trying to make it through her life in the best way she knows.
Because Cam is such a complicated character - one who I really wanted to succeed – this is not a light novel. Danforth presents a very full portrait of each character, and there are situations and relationships which can never be truly resolved. The depictions of sex are open and honest, and the incident at God’s Promise, while not “shown” on the page, is given enough description for readers to understand the horror of what happens. This is definitely one that is for older, more mature teen readers and above. But it’s that frankness and honesty that makes this one of the finest LGBTQ-themed novels I’ve ever read. Cam’s voice is one that desperately needs to be heard.
It’s also not light in terms of the craft. This is an exquisitely well-written book, with jewels of sentences scattered throughout. I think part of the reason why it took me so much longer to read this one was because I was constantly going back to re-read passages, or even whole chapters, that struck me as particularly beautiful. After going back and re-reading most of the first third of the novel, I was able to come to the conclusion that this is just a beautiful book. Danforth employs figurative language and imagery that is striking in clarity and simplicity. Chunks of this novel should be required reading for creative writing courses.
There are some flaws that could easily be pointed out. Because of the way Danforth is setting the scene of Montana, the pacing is slower at times, or at least much slower than YA-readers might be accustomed to. And the novel does seem to almost separate into two parts, the events pre-God’s Promise, and those post-God’s Promise. But these are minor issues, really, that didn’t get in the way of enjoying the book at all for me. Strong, “literary” writing such as this is supposed to be remembered when it comes time to award the Printz each January. I sincerely hope this novel is on that list next year; I intend to promote it as much as I can, to whomever will listen. It's not only the best novel I've read this year, but it's the best I've read in a long, long time. Read it; I can’t imagine you’ll regret it.
"We feed the Frog Chex cereal and Flintstones chewable vitamins with extra C. She's got a couch and a toilet and a sink and a mini refrigerator and tw...more"We feed the Frog Chex cereal and Flintstones chewable vitamins with extra C. She's got a couch and a toilet and a sink and a mini refrigerator and two pillows and a coloring book and crayons and when her underwears get dirty I wash them in the washer-dryer unit. We got a thing of Tide and a thing of Snuggle fabric softener. The washer-dryer unit vibrates a lot and if you press up against it you can get your nut off. I only do that when the Frog is asleep. You can't get your nut off in front of a little kid. That's how your soul gets a hole in it. That's what I think even though Bounce says we don't got souls.
She'll say, There ain't shit inside us but blood and water. Bones and blood and water. She says a soul is something made up by priests and greeting card companies.
She reads a lot and I trust her about most things, but not about souls. I imagine a soul is a little perfect crystal egg floating in your chest. Somewhere deeper than where they put your heart. Somewhere so deep inside that the doctors can't find it with all their machines and microcameras."
Wiggins, Orange and Bounce are three adolescents who, each in their own way, have been discarded by family and society. Together, they form a rough alliance, and kidnap a young girl from her ballet practice. They keep her in the basement of Orange's house, where she spends her days playing the same Playstation game, a game that eerily echoes her relationship to her captors. Stakes eventually get higher, and the crew begins to take larger risks. Eventually, the guilt gets to Wiggins, and he starts to look for a way out of the crew, and a way to get the Frog out of the basement. But for both of them, it might be too late.
After reading Jack Gantos's DEAD END IN NORVELT, this was about as far away from Newbery-sweet as I could get. I'm always impressed by Adam Rapp's writing - he presents teens in desperate situations, in unflinching prose. His characters live on the fringes of society, the places most of us hope to avoid, and Rapp makes no excuses for their behavior. The multiple perspectives used in the novel help present a fuller view of what's happening with Bounce's crew and the Frog, but while Wiggins certainly deserved the most "space," I wanted to hear more from Bounce. Not because I thought she could be redeemed at all, but more to see what made her tick. But this novel delivered exactly what I want when I read Rapp's work - a hard punch to the gut. His writing is definitely not for everyone, but his audience appreciates the brutal beauty in his writing.(less)
Every time I re-read this book, I find more to like in it. Still haven't read _The Fault in Our Stars_, but I think that will have to go a long way to...moreEvery time I re-read this book, I find more to like in it. Still haven't read _The Fault in Our Stars_, but I think that will have to go a long way to take this novel's place at the top of my John Green list. I still remember how powerfully this novel hit me when I read it years ago, and it's lost none of that power over the years. (less)