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Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though a...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though about half the length of the first installment, Boxers, I would say Saints is the more compelling of the two. Boxers and Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising against white imperialists that took place in China in the late 19th Century and part of the early 20th Century. Part of what some Chinese considered to be part of this imperialism was the introduction of Christianity into the country. In the first volume, main character Little Bao believes the missionaries are an invasive and oppressive imperialist presence harming China. However, in Saints, main character Vibiana sees Christianity as a refuge from her crushing family life.
Vibiana is the fourth and only surviving daughter of a widow whose father-in-law resents girls and merely calls Vibiana by the number of her birth order "Four-Girl," the word four in Chinese also being a homonym for "death." She is ill-treated and disrespected by her family and so believes she is evil and worthless. Vibiana has heard the Christian missionaries are devils and misguidedly believes that because she is a devil herself she should fall in with this group. In the beginning she is uninterested in the religion and merely desires to fulfill the nature of the identity she has been given by her family. Her self-loathing is the most poignant aspect of the story.
Vibiana later begins to be visited by the image of Joan of Arc and hopes to emulate this warrior maiden who fought for God and the liberation of her country from invaders. Four Girl takes the name Vibiana, because of its Christian origin and eventually begins to believe that she is also a warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. Vibiana feels the Boxer rebels are butchers and opposes their cause.
While Boxers tells the story of this rebellion from the point of view of the rebels, Saints shows how a beaten-down person might find refuge in the values of the opposing side because the world she in which she has been brought up has betrayed her. One doesn't need to read both volumes to enjoy and understand the story, but the reading experience is richer if both books are read together. I was really impressed by these stories, and I look forward to reading more by this author.(less)
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One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly r...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly referential and often quite funny, this book forces readers to think about perception by making use of pop culture and fairytales in an unusual way. Bennett Madison creates a heightened reality in this story about 17-year-old Sam's summer vacation with his father and brother; their trip is more like a summer escape, as it transpires suddenly at the whim of their father, who has abruptly quit his job following the departure of Sam's mother for the "Land of Women."
At first what seems misogynistic gives way to a smart and layered examination of how men and other women often perceive what Simone De Beauvoir referred to quite adroitly as the second sex. Those familiar with that philosophy will love this book, which dissects the male gaze and other patriarchal constructs in a way that readers may not even realize at first.
The story is told from the point of view of Sam and also a collective narrative from the Girls, who inhabit the vacation town where Sam is staying. Sam is bewildered, bitchy and depressed following his mother's departure. And, his father and brother aren't dealing well with it either. When they arrive on an island off the cost of North Carolina, Sam immediately picks up on the fact that these Girls, who all seem to look eerily alike, are also all eerily interested in him.
Perception is the point form which this story pivots. That in itself is the force behind the male gaze, so readers should not be surprised that Sam (and his brother and father) still grapples with what he doesn't understand until the last pages, even if his feelings and views originate from a place of benevolence. I like that the author did this. It's worthwhile to leave things open ended in most cases.
Last thing: I loved the setting in this book. By "love" I mean I loved how it was described but didn't actually want to visit this fake beach town. Bennett Madison likely hung around the same shore towns I did growing up, because the way he constructed this place reminded me far too much of the way I felt while visiting the beach as a kid: listless, bored, repelled, disgusted, depressed, filthy, but also sort of at peace in quiet moments. The sense of dread and impermanence and also deflation was all there on these pages. A really interesting read that should justifiably generate a lot of discussion.(less)
The best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the con...moreThe best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the continuing evolution of the relationship between Mary and James. (less)
Another interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introd...moreAnother interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introductory story in the set. This time Mary Quinn is posing as a boy on a construction site, in an effort to find out the truth behind the mysterious death of one of the workers. Mary is also reunited with her sometime love interest James Easton. Their bickering still packs humor, but their interactions in this story are just a little more angst-ridden than in the last book. In all, this story had an altogether heavier aspect to it than A Spy in the House. The prose also dragged a little from time to time. All the same, lots of intrigue and back alley skulking to keep readers entertain. These books are super short and super engaging, even when they lag a little at times.(less)
An excellent examination of what it means for a woman to live freely and independently in modern society. While the style was at times a little dramat...moreAn excellent examination of what it means for a woman to live freely and independently in modern society. While the style was at times a little dramatic and even awkward, Colette lyrically expressed the tension between the need for companionship and the desire for a life unencumbered by obligation, possession and compromise.
The vagabond of this book is essentially a projection of Colette at a time in her own life, in which she was embittered by a bad divorce but enjoying her freedom as a musical hall dancer, living narrowly yet comfortably on her own terms. Renee's life at the music hall is depicted with humor and vivid detail. You can easily hear the music, smell the sawdust on the floor and picture the men who gape at her. For several years she has rebuffed the advances of numerous admirers without regret. However, the persistance of a rich fan named Max wears her down to the point that she gives in to having an affair with him; though she firmly resolves not to let her relationship with this man go beyond that. Renee does not want a second husband, children, a comfortable home or a life in which she relinquishes her career.
A summer tour separates Renee from her lover for just enough time to give her pause about the inevitable progression of their arrangement. While she loves this man who blatantly adores her, Renee can't help but think of what she would be giving up if she married him. A frank work about the intricacies of feminism and gender relations. This book goes to show you that the questions remain the same throughout history. It's just the aesthetics that change.(less)
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This book wasn't what I was expecting. That's about the best way to sum up this allegory about l...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This book wasn't what I was expecting. That's about the best way to sum up this allegory about lost innocence and growing up. Jack has spent his whole life in Hokey Pokey, a vaguely Western universe populated solely by children; bicycles are of the utmost importance, superficial gender wars are all the rage, and there is a social hierarchy based mostly on age. Jack is the leader of Hokey Pokey and has always enjoyed living in this clearly fictional world meant to symbolize the way children view their lives. Things change for Jack on the day Jubilee steals his bike. He suddenly doesn't feel like he belongs in Hokey Pokey, and he starts viewing Jubilee, his nemesis, differently.
This was basically a steam of consciousness book for kids, complete with a post-modern existential crisis that was extrapolated with a very heavy hand. I'm not sure why a child would read this book. It's told in a strange manner, and the story has little behind it to frame a rising action of any significance. Allegories are often over the top, and this story is no exception. I've never read any other Jerry Spinelli books, but I'm not about to start after this one. The language was awkward, and the story didn't succeed in showcasing the rupture that can often occur for children when what they perceive as a dramatic event rattles their worlds. This story had a bit of a Wizard of Oz thing going for it, but minus the significance and magic.
I would recommend Junonia by Kevin Henkes if you want to give a child a book about growing up and dealing with change and disappointment. I would even say the Ramona books, which are much simpler in scope, still examine these issues far more effectively and with less "experimental" writing. I'm not one to knock unusual writing. I love it in adult literature, but in this case, I think the style would alienate children rather than engage them. This book assumes children need a story like this, and frankly I think kids are smarter than this book.(less)
Lots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her...moreLots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her fate by a mysterious woman who offers her a chance at a different but albeit unusual life for a girl living in Victorian London. A Spy in the House utilizes all of the best aspects of a Dickens mystery while eschewing the tedium and convolution. Just enough characters to add intrigue but not too many that you can't keep track of them.
A good book for girls who like historical fiction but feel alienated from the narrow lives the female characters often had to endure. This story shows all of the gritty underside of Victorian life while still remaining fun.(less)
This book wasn't too sure what it wanted to be. What I think it turned out to be is an attempt at reconstructing Beverly Cleary's Ramona series but wi...moreThis book wasn't too sure what it wanted to be. What I think it turned out to be is an attempt at reconstructing Beverly Cleary's Ramona series but with a side of alcoholism and random and unnecessary historical references. This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be upon picking it up. A lot of times that's a good thing - in this case I was frustrated. There wasn't that much about marbles, which could have really been used to nice and eccentric effect. I was also hoping this story would be set in the current day (there's something unusual about playing marbles now), and when I found out that it was set in the '50s (with a lot of historical cliches), I was pretty disappointed. The character is fairly likable, though the rest of the cast was no thrill. There's the elderly next-door neighbor who seems grouchy at first but turns out to be a nice woman; a neer-do-well father; a stressed mother and boys who pick on the protagonist.
I didn't really think all of the '50s references meant anything to the story. I saw no purpose to it, and I found much of the references overdone. I wouldn't recommend this. There are plenty of other stories about plucky kids dealing with issues at home. The alcoholism plot line was also rather heavy for the intended audience, but in the end it didn't amount to as much as it could have. Marbles made little impact in this story, and the conflicting tones throughout made for a jarring read. (less)
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This was a highly entertaining selection of Grimm fairy tales, retold by popular author Philip P...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a highly entertaining selection of Grimm fairy tales, retold by popular author Philip Pullman, who adds his own touches to these traditional stories. Each tale includes short but informative end notes, which touch upon how they were disseminated to the Grimms, similar stories from various folk traditions and commentary from Pullman as to what he changed, kept the same, etc. The stories were short and concise, but they got the job done. I flew through this book without much effort.
Teens who love folklore and fairy tales would definitely enjoy this book, and with so much contemporary YA borrowing from these traditions these days, high school kids in particular would enjoy seeing where some of the popular plots they're currently devouring originated. This selection does not include the entirety of the Grimms' fairy tales, but those are easy enough to find. Instead, Pullman pulls the ones he believes are the most interesting and entertaining. He readily admits that a few of these stories have little to recommend them in their raw form, so he attempted to flesh them out a bit more. Some are better than others, but on the whole I enjoyed revisiting tales we were all told as children in some for or another.
One of my first experiences with Grimm fairy tales involved watching an animated series from the '80s that adapted many of these stories as short cartoons suitable for young children. The series appeared during a Nickelodeon segment that aired only on Sundays called 'Special Delivery.' Reading this book took me happily back to occasions when I holed up in my room on quiet afternoons and watched this program and many others.
I filed this book under various headings, including 'gender issues,' because while reading these stories I noticed a rather unpleasant undercurrent of female powerlessness throughout. This was not the fault of Pullman, who simply retold the tales. However, this book would make for a great segue into a discussion on how gender roles are defined and disseminated, among other issues related to women's studies. With the exemption of only a handful of stories, the rest of them separated women into the following categories: women who were pretty, virtuous and obedient, but naive and mostly waiting to be chosen as wives; or ugly, nasty witches with little to redeem them. For the most part, women were either cruel, fickle and prone to betrayal or merely set pieces in stories about heroic men.
All the same, I really liked these stories for their simplicity and pure entertainment value. Something about folklore really showcases the meat of a good story, likely because it's short and to the point. It's easy to see how and why so many of these stories have been adapted over the years in so many different ways. This is a good vacation read.(less)
This book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept o...moreThis book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept of the tesseract in this book is the best way to show that thinking and perceiving and even emotion are more than just linear, concrete things. The use of math, science, history and writing all mingle to send the reader on a real head trip. This book succeeds in its attempt to ask readers to think not just differently but as if you could bend your mind like a pretzel. This story almost comes off like it was written by somebody on acid because it's so odd and heady. At the same time, its depiction of conformity (which is very much reminiscent of a critique of communism) is a bit one-dimensional. This book also gets a little over the top in the life lesson vein. All the same, really unique and definitely a benchmark for children's literature.(less)
Reading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most p...moreReading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most part. The pacing was great, though occasionally marred by ultimately pointless meditations on the current events of the day. All this talk of miners' strikes and IRA bombings didn't really impact the personal war going on between MI5 agent Serena Frome and writer Tom Haley. This book was so meta in its framework that the constant onion-like nature of the narrative unnecessarily made your head spin over nothing. Occasionally funny and also fascinating, but Sweet Tooth ultimately had too many flaws to succeed.
I can't say much about this without blowing the plot, but the outlook of this story was so self-indulgent and yet also so self-loathing and malicious that I kind of wanted to vomit a little. Didn't care for the Scooby-Doo turn of events - readers will see. As it turns out, the world Serena operates in as an MI5 employee is rather boring. It's dingy at the Leconfeld House headquarters, and it really sucks being a spy. You might think Serena is simultaneously worthless and yet also too good to be true. There's a reason why, though the exact intent behind this leaves me skeptical.
What I found to be the most interesting part of the book was the fact that the spying that actually went on amounted to the characters' desire to be watched in a sense. Rather than being voyeurs, in a strange way, they wanted others to turn their gazes on them. They wanted validation and purpose for their actions and lives, never mind the fact that they mostly let life happen to them except in certain cases. Boredom, a desire for distraction, general malaise, loneliness - England was failing pretty hard in the early '70s, and this book tries very hard to illustrate a national individual moral bankruptcy. There's some sense of good intentions, but not really in the end. In fact, the true nature of the story is so winking that it's hard to fully believe that what you thought was happening is in fact the opposite. I'm not convinced.
Did any of this make any sense? I hesitate to elaborate on the off-chance that someone doesn't see the end coming. Ian McEwan was far too impressed with himself with this one.(less)
This was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency pe...moreThis was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency period in English history and a tongue-in-cheek farce. This book has a funny cast of characters who all resemble various characters you have met before in Jane Austen novels. The pastiche is done very well, with the dialogue and narrative perfectly capturing everything Regency fans love about Austen novels. However, Keeping the Castle is more obvious and blatant in style and tone and therefore lacking in the sharp subtlety that makes Jane Austen really stand out through history as a unique author.
Althea, much like your typical Austen heroine, must marry for money in order to secure her own livelihood and the livelihoods of her relatives. While witty, keenly observing and generally more rational than those around her, Althea, much like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett, can be blind to her own faults at times. The references to Jane Austen come off a bit like a greatest hits, and if you think each character reminds you a lot of Emma, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy or even some lesser lights in the Austen cannon, then you've got it right on. It's unclear how much Patrice Kindl wants readers to knowingly laugh at all of the obvious references to the source material or if she just really wants to recreate an Austen novel.
Either way, it generally comes off well, and this book like brain candy - easily digestible though not necessarily harboring any lasting nutritional value. While Austen novels astutely skewer society and human relationships with the intent to point out hypocrisy and human failings, this book seems to enjoy being funny for its own sake. The strange thing about this book is that it would seem to be intended as a gateway for students, so they can later find their way into a Regency novel. However, the tone and style of the book make it seem as if much of the reader's enjoyment rests on having already read Austen and the like. The number of winking in-jokes riddled throughout the book would seem that this book is in reality meant for adults or older teens, though the level of complexity is more appropriate for a younger audience.
This brings me to an observation long-discussed about YA novels - that many of them are in reality (though perhaps unconsciously) written for adults. I don't see why a teen would pick this up. It's far too much like the source material, which would likely come off as boring to many teens. Don't get me wrong - I liked reading this through my adult lens and enjoyed all of the references to Austen as a devotee of her work. I just think it fails a little as a young adult novel.(less)
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First off, I wanted to like this book. I really did. However... this story could have been a lot...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
First off, I wanted to like this book. I really did. However... this story could have been a lot more than it was. Never mind the fact that it pretty much stole and then diluted the concept of Orlando by Virginia Woolf. This wasn't so much a study in gender as it was a maudlin romance with out of this world obstacles. A is neither male nor female (in authorial intent though not perhaps in reality), and each day he inhabits the body of another person without regard to sex. At the start of the story he wakes up as Justin, an insensitive, one-dimensional dick who is treats his girlfriend Rhiannon poorly. We don't exactly see evidence of this; we're merely told by A and by Rhiannon's approach to dealing with Justin. On impulse, A sees something in Rhiannon that deserves better and so he gives it to her despite the consequences of messing with the life of a person who won't remember the day in which A spent inside of them.
Rhiannon's default personality trait is pretty much victim, and while nice and likable, she was fairly flat as a character. The same goes for A, who instantly and irrevocably falls in love with her; to the point that he becomes unhealthily fixated on her for no apparent reason. A convinces Rhiannon upon subsequent meetings that he is the same "person" who lives in a different body every day. While she has trouble processing this, she seems drawn to his kindness and continues seeing him and corresponding with him despite her very natural reservations.
Levithan is somewhat preachy throughout, reminding readers every so often that A loves "people" and not genders or races or physical types... until he starts to loathe the bodies he inhabits based on what Rhiannon responds to favorably. While Levithan wants readers to see that love is more than gender, he doesn't succeed or even fully address the issue in the end. Rhiannon rather suddenly warms up to A one day, but she never becomes physically intimate with him when he is female or unattractive to her.
And then the story just kind of ends. Nothing was really resolved to me. It was highly readable, which kept me going. I wanted to see what this story would become. But it didn't go anywhere. You didn't even get any really good commentary on what gender really means. To me, A always felt like a boy from start to finish. I never got a sense that his personality inhabited both genders, and little was ultimately analyzed about what it means to be male or female or simply human.
I also found the construct behind A's body changes to be contrived. Rather than put forth as something more philosophical and surreal, his body switching felt far too concrete and simple. Also, A somehow always managed to change bodies that were within driving distance of Rhiannon. And he always conveniently happened to be a boy on the days she was interested in a physical relationship.
The tone was quite maudlin, and I felt that this story wanted to be much more groundbreaking and unusual than it was. The writing was crisp and engaging. I just felt like I was being promised something more on every page, and it never delivered.(less)
This was a strange book, which you might expect from the author of Tender Morsels. Much like that book, The Brides of Rollrock Island is captivating a...moreThis was a strange book, which you might expect from the author of Tender Morsels. Much like that book, The Brides of Rollrock Island is captivating and yet disturbing, hard to read and yet a valuable book to experience. This story is based on an Irish legend about women being born from the hearts of seals. An ill-treated and vengeful witch named Misskaella can draw women from the seals of Rollrock and does so for the island's men for a price, but the price the men pay is of course much larger and far-reaching than they bargained for. This book is hard to take but not so hard to take that you question whether to finish it. Much like Tender Morsels there is light at the end of the tunnel. The seal women of Rollrock are beautiful, nurturing and strange. They are also not meant for the land; they are detached and sad and always longing for the sea.
This is a book about thoughtlessness, cruelty, selfishness and selflessness at the same time. It's very cynical at first glance - would all men just forsake their wives, sisters and mothers for the chance to have an enthralling, fantastical seal wife who will wrap them up in a limitless cocoon of devotion? This longing for a seal wife is more than a desire for fantasy fulfillment though. I couldn't help but sympathize somewhat with one of the characters when he asked for a seal wife even though he knew he shouldn't. There's a sense of safety and communion involved with this. Don't get me wrong though - there's abject cruelty involved in taking a seal wife. Readers will see how many layers there are to human longing and suffering in this story.
Just the same, it was hard to read. Margo Lanagan writes in a way that makes you think she's out to paint portraits of senseless misery. It's a hard trek to the light at the end of the tunnel. One flaw with this book is that I didn't really enjoy the vignetted nature of the narrative. While each of the stories was connected, I think I would have preferred if Lanagan worked with a narrower set of viewpoints. I also wanted a stronger viewpoint from the seal wives. They came off too much like a conglomerate of sad, hollow-eyed women without singular identities.
This is worth checking out, but read carefully and set out to work hard. Lanagan is a strange author but a rewarding one. A final observation, Lanagan is marketed as a YA author, but I think her books are too complex, too harsh and too layered to be considered teen novels. She asks her audience to make adult observations. That's not to say teens can't do that, but she's not a YA novelist.(less)
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Was I ever late to the party on this one! However, in this case, it's better to be late than mis...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Was I ever late to the party on this one! However, in this case, it's better to be late than miss this book altogether. It's brilliant. It's a smart book for the smart set, and will fulfill the right reader entirely. Frankie Landau-Banks has begun her sophomore year a physically different person, but little does she know that she will end this school year a different person altogether. When faced with the view of the glass ceiling, rather than find more pleasant scenery elsewhere, she attempts to put her fist through it. The reader will have to decide whether or not she succeeds.
There are numerous levels to this book. It's the kind of book avid fans of literature and literary discussion will eat up. On a personal note, I really enjoyed the myriad references to Foucault's Panopticon. Read that essay in college, and it applies to this story in many ways. It's all about how people behave when they believe they're being watched, and this book is all about watching. Boys watch girls, girls watch boys and boys and girls watch themselves. This book is also about the dynamics of social interaction. Frankie volleys with multiple characters, though her most notable games of social tennis involve Alpha, a character with as much to prove as Frankie.
I spent a lot of time considering and analyzing this book, and I have yet to really process all of its facets. With all due respect to the author, I'm not sure she knew what she had here. I feel like more is going on than she possibly intended. On a superficial level, this is a fun read about high school kids pulling off pranks, but that's not what this story is really about. It's a book about feminism. Should that word scare off gentle readers, I would consider grabbing something innocuous like a Sarah Dessen book or perhaps some other story about a basic meet-cute with predictable results. However, I believe in the reading population, and I think this book will delight many people.
This book was like wading through a river of shit. It's a great concept - basically nice high school kid with emotional issues tries to make his way t...moreThis book was like wading through a river of shit. It's a great concept - basically nice high school kid with emotional issues tries to make his way through therapy with a bunch of other similar kids a Toledo, Ohio suburb in the 70s. But.... epic fail. This story was basically the Catcher in the Rye in Ohio in the 70s. Except in this one Holden Caulfield has friends whose existence you don't somewhat doubt. I wanted to like this book. I loved Catcher in the Rye, which I guess is why I don't see the need for this story. It was at least twice as long, basically a rehash of many of the plot lines in that book and not nearly as tight. Too much summarizing about the past in the beginning for a book that takes place in real time over about a week. There were also too many friends to keep track of, and that always gets to me. If you can't fully flesh out every person, then just cut back on the number of people. I had trouble connecting with many of them because they felt too cursory. I kept confusing everyone, because they seemed to bleed together.
Karl Shoemaker is a nice kid with a lot of problems, and it makes him easy to connect with. It's just that every time I tried to give this story a chance, I kept thinking, didn't Holden Caulfield say that or do that? It's not like Karl is a carbon copy of Salinger's erstwhile, mixed-up brat with a good heart on the inside. Karl is nicer and probably more well-adjusted. I also think this story dealt with the violation of childhood innocence in a more realistic way. I just didn't see the need for this book. I must confess that I started skimming pretty hardcore after 100 or so pages because I couldn't take it anymore. With that in mind, I didn't feel like I missed anything because of it. Right there. Editing is important.(less)
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Finished my last book of the year just under the wire. I struggled over how many stars to give t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Finished my last book of the year just under the wire. I struggled over how many stars to give this one, because it seemed like a story like this one should eat at you a little (the catalyst for this story is a rape), and it doesn't really do that. However, I still really liked it. It's not a perfect story, but it's high quality. The language and narrative were good, I also liked the characters - everything felt realistic and authentic. The premise - a girl is raped and the victim's brother and the attacker's sister meet by chance and connect - is rather unusual and even induces doubts about whether the author can pull it off. She did. The story began calmly, quietly and awkwardly. Karyn McKenzie is 15 and won't leave the house after reporting to the police that she was raped at a party one night by 18-year-old Tom Parker. Her brother Mikey spontaneously offers to find the guy and bash his head in with a wrench. He crashes a homecoming party for the guy after he gets released on bail (of all ridiculous things on several levels), but instead runs into Ellie. Mikey initially thinks about trying to ingratiate himself with her to get information about Tom, but gets in over his head when he realizes he likes Ellie. She has her own story (which includes secrets) and is a key witness for her brother.
This isn't a book with a ton of weighty, dramatic moments. People don't break down. They go about their business and their mundane lives, and as someone who has been on the outside looking in on the aftermath of a sexual assault, that's perfectly accurate in this situation. The fact that real life keeps going after such a terrible thing happens lends a surreal nature to performing normal tasks. And normal tasks, even though they seem impossible to perform, of course must be performed.
I've read some reviews stating it would have been nice to have a deeper look at Karyn and even Tom. I think the author made the right choice though by leaving these characters a bit nebulous. If you're going to write a book with characters other than those involved as the chosen points of view, then you can't ever really know the inner workings of the other people. It was particularly effective to make Karyn more like a ghost, because rape often leaves the victim voiceless and a shadow of her former self. To focus more heavily on Karyn would have simply been a redux of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and from the outside, I'm sure Melinda seemed like a ghost to those around her. Tom, I'm not sure I care about knowing. He's fairly static as a character I think. Upper middle class, privileged male who thinks sexually aggressive girls are asking for it... Do we need to examine that further if it's not ultimately going to change anything for him? I don't know...
Mikey and Ellie aren't perfect, and nor should they be. They're both somewhat reckless and selfish, and they're also fairly short-sighted. But they both do a lot of plausible growing from start to end, and this book finishes on the cusp. You don't ultimately know what's going to happen, but the characters make a choice. The author weaves in observations and descriptions of incidental goings-on that add depth to the story and characters' actions. One of my top picks this year. (less)
Finally finished *re-reading* this after a lot of casual fits and starts about nine months ago. I read this back when I was probably 15, and remembere...moreFinally finished *re-reading* this after a lot of casual fits and starts about nine months ago. I read this back when I was probably 15, and remembered enjoying it as much as one could at that age and with the set of life experiences that goes with that. Based on my opinion at the time, I rated this book three stars. While I have a much better appreciation for this story now as an adult, I would still give it three stars.
Tolstoy clearly pioneered what is now known as modernism. He likely invented the concept of alternating, third-person-limited point of view and the idea that human relations never allow us to fully understand each other. The levels of interaction he portrayed in this story were complex, nuanced and intricate. Though called Anna Karenina, this was a book about Russia as a whole during the late 19th Century. At times, this broad subject made for an incredibly illuminating book. At other times, long sections about the Russian economy, peasant life and political issues sent the very human story at the heart of this book pretty far off course. Tolstoy had quite an intent in mind when writing about virtually everything under the sun here, but the real meat of this book lay in the deeply flawed nature of human relationships, communication and interaction. Tolstoy, while at times was incredibly eloquent and sophisticated in his writing and technique, also made awkward structural choices and was didactic and long-winded.
I also wonder how this book would have gone had it been written by a woman. While extremely sympathetic toward Anna's plight as a frustrated woman ostracized from society for behaving in the same way a man might at the time, Tolstoy's decision to throw her under a train for spiteful and rash reasons on the part of the character seems antiquated by today's standards. The women in this story became somewhat vacuous in the end in spite of themselves. Tolstoy went to the trouble of drawing highly complex female characters for the duration of the story and then willfully summarized them in a shallow light as if on purpose. However, the author is by no means forgiving of the male characters either. Vronsky, Anna's lover, is egotistical, vain and stupid and clearly unworthy of Anna. Her brother Oblonsky is a a good-natured imbecile, and Levin, the counterpoint to Anna, has the most to give as a character obsessed with the question of the meaning of life. But, he's incredibly tiresome at times. And in the end, even though this character achieves some peace, Tolstoy knowingly adds that finding faith in God is not the fix-all to life's problems.
An extremely philosophical book that brilliantly examines the nature of existence, this book would have more fully succeeded had it been cut down and had the theoretical moralizing been excised from its pages. This was absolutely a book worth reading and re-reading. At times, its construction was staggering in its brilliance. All the same, the book had its problems. (less)
This is the first Woolf book that I find myself thinking was merely alright. The idea is very interesting, but the execution was a bit awkward. This n...moreThis is the first Woolf book that I find myself thinking was merely alright. The idea is very interesting, but the execution was a bit awkward. This novel is extremely satirical and sociopolitical. Both of these things somewhat impede your enjoyment of Woolf's prose (which is always lyrical, transcendent, concise and yet complex all at once) and the ultimate message of the story. Hung up on parody, the narrative becomes bogged down in attacking more traditional coming-of-age stories and Victorian society in general.
There's plenty of humor to be had, and when it's right it's very funny. Jacob isn't meant to be really known in this story. He's vacuous and awkward and seems generally blase about most things unless it involves debating literature through an academic lens. However, it's interesting to see how Woolf creates a story about a man seen through the eyes of different women and a homosexual.
We're looking at a symbol of patriarchy through the eyes of marginalized people: His mother - a widow unable to really enjoy the remainder of her life because of social mores; Clara, who is repressed for the same reasons; Florinda, a shallow slut whose character is intentionally diminished because sexual experimentation for women relegated such characters in literature at the time to a low and criticized state; Sandra Wentworth - the bored upperclass wife; and Fanny, the girlfriend of an artist whose sole function is to be gazed at. Woolf recognizes these people are stereotypes and also victims of society and makes great use of it, though in this book the ironic narrator intrudes and meanders. True stream of consciousness has yet to be achieved at this point, and I found myself nodding off a bit.
Jacob remains vacuous until the end of the story, and even his death is shown as an expression of emptiness. His life is summed up by an empty room and now-useless possessions. His mother and Bonamy, the man who was in love with Jacob, take an inventory of his life briefly and in a very hollow way. I tend to look at his death at the hands of a stupid and pointless war as an ending befitting an expression of hollow society (personified by him), and yet also tragic, because before he could attempt to rise above the snobbery and laziness of his class and academia, he is killed.(less)
Here's another one. This is Virginia Woolf still finding her voice as a writer. Certainly if she had written like this throughout her career she would...moreHere's another one. This is Virginia Woolf still finding her voice as a writer. Certainly if she had written like this throughout her career she would have been remembered, but probably not celebrated as a genius. This story still has some of the hallmarks of her famous writing - focus on characters' perceptions, use of setting as a symbol for the characters' journeys, lyrical writing and even irony. This story began calmly and slowly and then came to a pretty sincere climax. The personal voyages of the characters mirrored the real voyage they took on their travels.
Only gets four stars because the final turn of events could have been executed a bit better and more could have been said about how it affected the main character internally as well as externally. Though, in one sense, it seems like Woolf wrote the ending she did for Rachel Vinrace because she herself was going through an incredibly hard time personally. This was written during the worst breakdown of her life, and it seems as if she was trying to say that the logical conclusion to all of Rachel's inner turmoil is to succumb to a physical illness.
This book (interestingly) is similar to Woolf's last book in that it's more outwardly scathing toward society and political and social issues. It's a book about big questions and universal relationships rather than a story focusing on the more personal aspects of unique individuals. These characters felt very real to me, but they were more like archetypes. Very good.(less)
This book is a more sociopolitical and also existential version of a Jane Austen novel - a comedy of manners on the surface that in fact explores deep...moreThis book is a more sociopolitical and also existential version of a Jane Austen novel - a comedy of manners on the surface that in fact explores deeper issues about human relationships and existence. Things are changing during this period in English history, and the old and the new are seen in direct conflict not just between separate individuals but also within singular individuals themselves. Katharine Hilbery is among the latter. She's practical and cynical, but also dreamy and bored and hopeful of living a life that matches the one she wants to lead in her head. Throughout much of the book, she tries to come to grips with how she can obtain it and whether such a thing even exists.
Opposing Katharine's frame of mind and circumstances is Mary Datchet - a working suffragist who lives on her own. She spends about half of the book in love with close friend Ralph Denham, but rapidly becomes disillusioned with this state when she realizes Ralph is first, in love with Katharine, and second, only proposing marriage to her because he thinks she would like for him to do so. Representing a feminine ideal for Virginia Woolf, Mary acts sensibly about this situation and realizes a new consciousness in which she understands that she has lost something irrevocably but at least experiences a true life.
Chapter 16 is when the style that Woolfe became known for later in her career starts to show itself. Katharine stands alone outside of her relatives' home while visiting them during Christmas, contemplating the peace and quiet. Rather than socialize or go about the expected conventions of a holiday gathering, Katharine does what Woolfe herself seemed fascinated with for the rest of her life and career - she looks the void in the face, entering into a staring contest with existence that never produces a clear winner no matter who or what is involved.
This story veers between styles, which gives it a slightly shaky story arc, but nevertheless, this book is a great look at the author early in her career. Her best work is yet to come, but her language, tone, subtle characterization and use of setting are all here in this book, though in a less refined state in some cases. Once you find this author, I don't think there's anyone who can surpass her.(less)
An interesting final work for this author. A definite sense that she was trying to sum up her views about writing and art in this book. You sense the...moreAn interesting final work for this author. A definite sense that she was trying to sum up her views about writing and art in this book. You sense the author's discord a bit as well, because the writing is just slightly choppy. Though I wonder if a failure to communicate significance was intended. The play was heavy-handed and ambitious, but it seems intended to be. It's harder to get to know the inner lives of the characters in this one, but I do enjoy the moments of satire. Style is radical and yet much more straightforward. I'm just now reminded of how Jane Austen threw a play into Mansfield Park, and I find it interesting how much the style and tone in this book mirror that author. As always with Virginia Woolf, her work ends leaving you gasping.(less)
This 3-star rating is not meant to show I thought this book was only OK. It was very good, but I reserve four stars for things that really entertain m...moreThis 3-star rating is not meant to show I thought this book was only OK. It was very good, but I reserve four stars for things that really entertain me. This book, despite having a lot of elements I don't normally enjoy (complex world-building, overlong cast of characters, lots of setup), really came together as I read. The characters were well-drawn, and the story defied a lot of cliches inherent in most fantasy. This book, while I would argue that it did have a climax, was primarily a setup for the second book. However, the story arc builds enough that you're OK with that.
This book reminds me of The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Interestingly enough, Chima and Turner are both local authors for me. Anyway, The Demon King has lots of political intrigue, and things are not as they seem. Characters also chaff under what they feel are their proscribed lots in life. (less)
Holy crap. This book was intense. Like of all of the works by Woolf I've read so far, things end as you start racing toward a different (or new) level...moreHoly crap. This book was intense. Like of all of the works by Woolf I've read so far, things end as you start racing toward a different (or new) level of consciousness - right on the cusp, and you are left gasping as things don't come to a definitive resolution. How can anything really be resolved though when life is always in context and always on the verge of new beginnings?
I loved the shifting points of view and also toward the end the way characters uttered the same or similar phrases without actually speaking them aloud to each other. Major shifts in character relations or plot lines were uttered (as is typical with Woolf) without preamble and anticlimactically so as to in fact amplify their significance.
This book is about death, but it's also about reconciling yourself to how life changes - some things stay the same and others fall away unforgivingly. There is also the comfort of shared experiences. Not my favorite of Woolf's books but definitely the most far-reaching in terms of impact.(less)
Very different from and much lighter than Woolf's other more famous works. The writing is much more straightforward (and there is almost no dialogue)....moreVery different from and much lighter than Woolf's other more famous works. The writing is much more straightforward (and there is almost no dialogue). Woolf is kidding about this being a biography (at least in style anyway). The tone is very light and wry and you can see the author's love of Jane Austen in this book even though it's a commentary on the real nature of gender. Patience with this book is key. At first it comes off as an ironic take on the biography format and also just a satire on social customs in general. But things really get moving once Orlando becomes a woman. Things change. The nature of gender comes under the microscope in this book and becomes exposed, turned inside out and basically gets ripped apart in such an easy and almost anti-climactic way. As usual with Woolf, the revelations come after the most simple acts - lying in a field and gazing at the sky, crossing a street, etc. And her books always end (at least in my experience so far) on the edge of expectation. What the main characters are about to do is showcased so brilliantly and without any real fanfare that it becomes spectacular because of that.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A nice way to end a turbulent and philosophical series about cultural identity and belonging, mo...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A nice way to end a turbulent and philosophical series about cultural identity and belonging, morality and ethics, corruption and abuse and finding and coming to grips with who you are. While the previous two books in this series can stand alone for the most part, Quintana of Charyn clearly builds upon the previous volumes and should not be read independently. However, it still has as much heart, ambiguity and even to a certain extent shock value as the rest of the series. I really enjoyed Quintana of Charyn as a wrap-up. All the characters came full circle, and everyone came face to face with each other and themselves in a way that was satisfying. One minor thing made me wonder though if this isn't the last we'll see of this universe.
Quintana of Charyn takes place right where Froi of the Exiles left off, and the pacing was break-neck throughout much of the first half. Characters criss-crossed in a way I wasn't initially prepared for, though because so much groundwork had been laid in the previous stories, I wasn't caught unaware or left scratching my head about the choices the characters made when they did meet. This book was a combination of the first two volumes: Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles. The first relied more on plot, and the second dealt more with emotional twists and turns. Both shared an examination of philosophical ideals, the importance of cultural identity and strong character relationships.
Quintana of Charyn strikes a balance between the two books. The plot elements of Finnikin along with its emphasis on ethical dilemmas live alongside the emphasis on corruption and emotional damage in Froi. While not a light book, Quintana of Charyn is easier to take than Froi but more difficult than Finnikin. This series isn't for the faint of heart no matter what age you are, and I would say these books are more for adults than teens. You could make a case for the first book as a teen novel, but the next two are intense and complex. Quintana of Charyn in particular is the most graphic book in the series in several ways, though like I said, it has the most hope for the future in spite of its sadness.
I don't want to say a lot about this book because so much of it depends upon what was written in previous installments. However, in more general terms I can say it's about the differences and commonalities between people, forgiveness, hope, finding the strength within yourself and also coming to grips with who you are for good or ill.
Six points of view are shown in this book, with Quintana's being the only one that is set in the first person - the rest are in third person-limited point of view. Quintana's narration is also, for the majority of the story, told as a song. So it has a cadence to it that makes the title character seem even more unique, strange and mysterious than before. Quintana is the most dynamic character in the book and perhaps even the series. She has suffered greatly, and because of that she is extremely damaged. She's suspicious, unhinged and vicious. But despite that, she is filled with love and hope and compassion. She is the exiled queen of a country that loathes her and considers her existence a stain on the kingdom. She is pregnant with the future king, but the people still want her dead.
Quintana though is also greatly loved, and those who try to help her are as fascinating as she is. Phaedra is an outsider like Quintana, living in a country that also didn't want her at first. She faked her own death along with several other women to protect Quintana, and Phaedra is another character who I really grew to love by the end of this book. While she shares a story with her estranged husband Lucian that is compelling, Phaedra's own story and the one she shares with Quintana were probably my favorites.
As a direct counterpoint to Quintana, readers also see how she and rival queen Isaboe of Lumatere face off as enemies and then later as possible allies and maybe even friends. Isaboe is a monster of a character, and I mean that in a good way. She too was the victim of terrible experiences while exiled from her own homeland as a child and teenager, but rather than internalize her pain like Quintana Isaboe is heroic. She possesses many bad qualities though. Her experiences have made her vengeful, exacting and even Machiavellian. She is also blinded by rage and can only see Quintana as the worthless child of her now-fallen enemy for much of the book. But, her good qualities are outstanding, and the good and bad that live next to each other in her character make her nearly as interesting and realistic as Quintana.
While about half of the narrative is shown through Froi's point of view, his story was actually more of a backdrop for the other elements. As the father of Quintana's child he is separated from her for much of the story and while searching for her he is also trying to amass an army to ensure she can return to her kingdom safely and provide a home for the future king of their land. He was a great character, who I liked a lot because he grew so much through the series, but his story arc was the least compelling in this book. The negotiating and battle elements were also not my favorite, and though not boring, the meat of the book comprised the stories of the women. In a ranking, I would put this above Finnikin but below Froi. Froi of the Exiles in my opinion is the center of the series, and its character relationships, descriptions and twists and turns made for an excellent read. Still, Quintana doesn't disappoint, and I found this book to be a nice ending to this series. (less)