**spoiler alert** I don't like to write reviews with spoilers, but I can't avoid it fir this book.
First the good: I very much enjoyed the narrative s**spoiler alert** I don't like to write reviews with spoilers, but I can't avoid it fir this book.
First the good: I very much enjoyed the narrative structure, in which several narrators' views merge seamlessly to tell the story. High degree of difficulty, interesting characters, done well. It was easy to read, and pulled me along nicely.
Not so good:Although Jacob's literalism was referred to many times, his narration contains many examples of figurative language. This may in fact be consistent with the way high-functioning people with his condition speak, but it jarred me out of the character several times. Why not have his narration avoid metaphors and similes? It seems a reasonably straightforward editing job; it's not like the writing is so elegant that the book would suffer. That's not what this novel is about.
Finally, the spoiler: the latter half of the book disappointed me. Three bothersome elements in fiction are coincidence, contrivance, and Deus ex machina, and this suffers from the first (Theo's choice of house to break into) and especially the second (we are expected to believe that Jacob never says that the victim was dead when he arrived, or that Emma never asks, ALTHOUGH she does ask if he's innocent and he says no). I'll accept that the lawyer doesn't want to hear Jacob admit the the crime, but the conclusion was so blitheringly obvious that all the characters dissolved for me the further I got into the trial -- and I am NOT a person who tends to anticipate endings. Picoult came up with a cute way to show a "house rule" and thought it was cleverly disguised, I guess, when it wasn't.
Too bad, really: the novel could have survived smarter characters. For me, it doesn't survive the way it is written....more
The excellent John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars and vlog/tumblr/Nerdfighter fame) recommended this book so enthusiastically in his NYT book reviewThe excellent John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars and vlog/tumblr/Nerdfighter fame) recommended this book so enthusiastically in his NYT book review that I had to check it out. Now that I have read it, I can say that (a) I disagree with a few relatively minor things in his review and (b) I agree completely with all the major things in his review: this is a scintillatingly enthralling book.
(One interesting sidelight: the review is headed "CHILDREN'S BOOKS", of which this is not one. I have unspooled this Is-YA-Literary a.k.a. What-Exactly-Is-YA? thread before. This novel does not hold back with the kind of unfiltered cursing that characterizes young adulthood and which is generally not accepted when referring to childhood. The themes are much too serious for children, but entirely appropriate for young adults, who, I repeat, are not children. If you are squeamish about very foul language [plenty of f-words and even a cameo by the c-word] and adult themes for pre-teens, this may not be a book for you to recommend. But it is excruciatingly authentic in so many ways that you may want to reconsider that filter.)
Two quotations from the novel ricocheted around in my head for a while after I read them -- that in itself marks Rowell's writing as unusually good. One is one that Green clearly loves, because he goes out of his way to quote it in his review: "Eleanor was right: she never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something" (165). That definition of art fits not only with the characters but with the overall idea of fiction and especially literature, which is certainly supposed to make us feel something complex in the same sort of organically developed way that the relationships in this book come to fruition.
The other sentence (a bit of semi-cheesy wisdom, spoken by Park's Korean mother) refers to the poverty that looms large in the novel: "When you always hungry, you get hungry in your head" (189). Various types of need -- all of them desperate in one way or another, and many (but not all of them) particularly Eleanor's -- pierce the story as essentially as they do other heart-wrenchingly and devastating mature novels about the young and desperate, like Kaye Gibbons's Ellen Foster and Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Those were the first two that come to mind.
Park's mother follows up that wisdom by acknowledging that her middle-class son hasn't known that kind of hunger -- and she hopes he never will. The fact that Eleanor does is central to what keeps this from being a more lightweight story, like Matched from the future or The Secret Life of Bees from the past. (Note: Bees addresses many serious themes, I agree, but it never seems like anything but fiction. The heft of human nature doesn't seem to sit on that book as well as it does on this one.) Both of those novels are enjoyable, but neither coheres as well as E&P, and both seem more self-important.
I wish I could say that E&P hangs together as well over its last fifty pages as it does through the majority of its arc; even though it doesn't quite do that, it is still an extremely compelling picture of American teenagerhood. Music, that unavoidable element of American teen existence, plays a large role in the authenticity of the portrait.
One last thing: if I were a teen when I were reading this and The Fault in Our Stars, those books probably would have engendered a powerful inclination toward romanticism, not because they make life seem easy but because they make it full of marvel and notTwilight-melodrama. (Well, not as much, at least.) I'm sure, though, that millions of American youths can't figure out why Rowell's and Green's flawed youths speak so cleverly so often, even as they think of themselves as oafs and ogres. Maybe that's what a new era of literary fiction is doing: placing an honest eloquence juuuuuuust far enough above us that we aspire to it without being able to reach it easily. I have no problem with that....more
Perhaps what happened is this: Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Ally Condie met for lunch one day, and one of them complained that she thought thatPerhaps what happened is this: Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Ally Condie met for lunch one day, and one of them complained that she thought that American teenagers are ungrateful malcontents. "We'll show them," said another. And they hatched the following idea. Collins said she'd write engaging novels that will make her teen audience grateful to have their safety and comfort. Roth said she'd write engaging novels that will make her teen audience grateful not to be constrained into one corner of their personalities at all times. Condie said she'd write engaging novels that will make her teen audience grateful that they can do what they want with their emotional lives. Thus did three young-adult authors illuminate the importance of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for American teenagers.
Like Collins's Hunger Games and Catching Fire and Roth's Divergent, Condie's Matched starts a trilogy with a female protagonist in a dystopian future America, and it (the book) is very good. Condie's writing is solid, just as the others', and the characters and plot are complex enough to be richly engaging. Her dystopian America resonates a lot more immediately as a possible version of our current one, given the extremity of the other two series' visions. But all three are well worth the read -- as my teen/tween daughters heartily agree.
This was the only dystopia among the three to consider the intellectual life along with liberty and individuality. Condie's use of poetry and knowledge is not only clever but internally consistent. Her characters' concerns fall closer to the "first-world problems" topics (I want to think for myself, I want to be able to make my own decisions, my job is boring, movies today suck, I want to decide whom I love...), and the physical intimacy between the teenagers is more demure, which combine to make this a bit more accessible to modern American suburban teens and tweens in one sense...and more intellectual and slower in another sense. The emotional drama is satisfying, though.
Only fatigue keeps me from wanting to delve again into my ongoing examination of literary value vs. reading value. This book matches HG, CF, and Divergent for the intellectual depth it poses. I was saddened to hear (from trusted fellow reader Alexis Swinehart) that Condie's second book, Crossed, did not live up to Matched in terms of quality. I'll probably read it anyway. A YA novel as good as Matched deserves both attention and forebearance....more
Fraught. That's the word that sticks with me when I think back on this novel, the first sequel to the utterly entrancing Divergent. The character TrisFraught. That's the word that sticks with me when I think back on this novel, the first sequel to the utterly entrancing Divergent. The character Tris is, and all of her actions are, fraught.
Too much fraughtness is never a good thing, I think. It barges into the realm of melodrama. Of course -- and this continues my occasional consideration of what is (and isn't) in the Young Adult genre, and how YA melds (or doesn't) with "literature" -- fraught is exactly what the teenage years are, in many ways.
Somewhere after book 1 and before the middle of book 2, Tris's dilemma converts her into a person who is simply over-filled. Emotion spills over, everything is a disaster, or something to be surpressed, or both...any why not? She's dealing with the imminent destruction of herself and everything she loves/loved/knows/knew. It may be an allegory for being a teenager, but I don't think so, because Roth is hunting bigger game than self-referential genre critique.
Like its predecessor, this book is relentlessly entertaining. Roth's concept of a futuristic dystopian society in which people are divided/divide themselves into factions is brilliant. My 12-year-old and 14-year-old daughters both loved the book, and I didn't want to put it down.
As great as the reading experience was, I am feeling a bit of loss, because I thought -- during Divergent -- that this was better than an enjoyable and thought-provoking action story. It really was entrancing, in the way that only literature really is. The trilogy is still fun, but in this volume, it tips from entrancing into machine-like. The nuance and elegance are gone, and everything (well, almost) devolves into being in service of the plot. McGuffins loom a little bigger, as does the hand of deus-ex-machina.
Fortunately, there is a glimmer at the end: the setup for the third book is intelligent and intriguing. Although Girl With the Dragon Tattoo wasn't exactly a trilogy, it is an example of a three-book arc that recovered from an uninspiring middle to a strong end; on the other hand, there's Hunger Games, which may have peaked in the middle before losing most of its steam in its third piece.
Let there be no doubt that I'm going to read Roth's third, probably very quickly, and that I'll have to fight my girls for it. I wonder, though, if it will be memorable or just an adrenaline rush....more
It just so happened that I picked up this novel during the week when I was working on David Copperfield. Connections revealed themselves to me throughIt just so happened that I picked up this novel during the week when I was working on David Copperfield. Connections revealed themselves to me through the fortuitous juxtaposition, from the trivial (only two books I know with a character named "Uriah") to the socio-politically resonant ("faction before blood" raising hackles in this novel, while the phrase "We must have Blood, you know" -- spoken ominously by some classist fiends at the Waterbrookses' party, with similar satirizable sentiments dripped forth from Steerforth and others -– sets a different but also dark feel in the Victorian novel).
That's all well and good. The fact is that I couldn't put this novel down...and neither could my 14-year-old daughter before me...and neither could my 12-year-old daughter before her. All three of us read the book in 72 hours of clock time. 480 pages. Meanwhile, I am also enjoying the Dickens, even though I am two weeks into that behemoth. The question occurred to me: why is the one relegated to YA and the other considered canonical?
The question is not rhetorical for some, although after plenty of contemplation -- not to be repeated in this space -- it is to me. Three-quarters of the way through the Roth novel, it was Brave New World, with a much faster pace. It is hardly a dismissal of Roth's outstanding effort to say that the end didn't quite hold up to that surprising peak; I am very excitedly looking forward to book 2 in the series.
Still, maybe Roth was weighted down a bit by the gravitational force of the YA genre and audience. She respects both tremendously, and is an impressive talent, apparently on par with Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games and short of only a few exalted YA titles (I would rank JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the [Noun] of [Noun] and John Green's quite different The Fault in Our Stars as the only ones clearly superior). The intelligence and intellectual value of Roth's design made this read a joyful experience. Yes, the end dragged down, as the demands of plot and generic limitations on complexity held the novel from continuing on its superlative trajectory...limiting it to merely great.
It really was an enormously enjoyable book. The whole canon-versus-YA thing continues to tweak my curiosity. I hope Roth can keep the insightful design rolling through the rest of this series....more
VH1 first came out with I Love the 80s in 2002 -- yes, I know the idea originated on the BBC, but stay with me here -- then moved into I Love the 70sVH1 first came out with I Love the 80s in 2002 -- yes, I know the idea originated on the BBC, but stay with me here -- then moved into I Love the 70s by 2003 and I Love the 90s in 2004, I wondered, how long are they going to wait before I Love the 00s? Surely it will be 2010, at least. No, no. In 2008 they were delving into dangerously self-referential waters with loving the new millennium. They couldn't help themselves, and dragged the whole series into oblivion.
In my recent comments about the wonderful The Fault in Our Stars I mused about the Young Adult genre. Genres and categories in our modern and Postmodern age cannot hold off the self-referential, self-parodic instinct. Any definition that grew up around The Outsiders and hit any number of innovative peaks between then and the post-Harry Potter era was doomed. Reading AR,CEC, I think I see the signs of the apocalyptic collapse of the genre under its own weight. Or, as is also possible, the breakdown of the genre's boundaries in an outward way that merges it with adult fiction. So: pulsar or nova.
But this is not a bad thing. This book is a load of fun. It is self-aware in a thoroughly "Yes, I know what the expectations of my genre are" way, and delivers a fiendishly clever, active, well-organized chunk of excitement. It messes with that genre in a way that humpty-dumptily wants to forbid reassembly, and thus may have a wonderful effect of training its young adherents in Intro to Postmodernism, which makes me happy.
Exactly one thing about this book pisses me off: neither the author nor the editor (who should be ashamed of him or herself) knows the difference between "repel" and "rappel". There was one other stupid little thing that disturbed my suspension of disbelief, but I have willed myself to forget that, because the book was so much fun. Unapologetic and -- if you ask me -- willfully non-YA violence, to a degree that tromps blithely in Hunger Games' more serious footsteps, keeps this from being exactly what some readers might think YA is. Again: get past it!
More than 10 years ago, I read and wrote an Amazon.com review for a novel called The Saskiad, which was billed as the coming-of-age story of a young girl (Saskia) along the lines of The Odyssey. I panned it. It had some good ideas in it, but there was an extremely unpleasant sexual interlude (no spoilers) that was wildly underplayed, and made the middle-aged-man author of the nonchalant-12-year-old-girl protagonist seem quite unpleasantly present to me. I said I couldn't recommend the book for the teen audience it was being marketed for. A teenager from somewhere read my review and lit into me (electronically) for my censorious disrespect of the maturity of the teenager. He missed my point, which was: this is only for a serious, mature, stable reader, at best...I never said that libraries shouldn't carry it, or that kids shouldn't read it, only that recommenders should be wary to consider appropriateness.
AR,CEC is much better -- partially because it is less pretentious -- than The Saskiad. But again: it should come with a warning. When YA deals with death (epitomized in HP, for sure, and to a lesser extent HG) and sex (a great example is TFiOS), it is generally respectful and serious at bottom; this cartoons it, in a glib way that of course comic books and video games have long done...to the understandable dismay of observers. Still, if you are okay with violence and mature enough to appreciate a wee bit of genre-satire, this could be a perfect book for you.
But don't expect to be reading it for long: you could have a hard time putting it down....more
Sigh, another dystopian future. I suppose it makes sense that young-adult literature is more and more resigned to the idea that the world is troubled.Sigh, another dystopian future. I suppose it makes sense that young-adult literature is more and more resigned to the idea that the world is troubled. Bacigalupi's novel takes as its mechanism not the Hunger Games idea of some sort of revolution but the easily imagined logical extension of a climate-change disaster that drives coastlines underwater and sends Katrina-like hurricanes at the cities with frightening regularity. It would be idiotic to imagine such a future in which America was not (a) overwhelmed with poverty, (b) rent by gaps between rich and poor even more dramatic than today's, and (c) violent as hell.
Bacigalupi, of course, is far from idiotic. We were fortunate to have him visit our school, and during his talk to the students he ruminated on his love of the imaginative element of science fiction, in which he gets to take things he sees today and science them into the future. He does it in a gripping way.
His quest to make this work is not without flaws -- so few ambitious imaginations are, of course. He seems to love the metaphoric verb "to blossom" when describing pain (several times it does). The tweaks to language that reflect a changed society are appropriately different from today's language ("swanks" is especially nice) but seem forced overall. And I guess it's because it's a YA book that he's beholden to the obvious brake on the realism of the dire social situation: there is no sexual violence, which I appreciated, despite the fact that a realistic appraisal of the situation would demand sexual violence. I'm comfortable with that self-censorship, even if it does bend the verisimilitude.
Fast-moving, thought-provoking, fairly entertaining. The best thing about the novel is the focus on the theme of how loyalty provides the kernel to civilized people. The book's statement about loyalty and honor make it worth the effort. I'm willing to give his next one a try....more
Ellie read this to me -- very enjoyable! I know it was one of my friend Kris's favorites (she is a longtime middle school teacher), and now I know whyEllie read this to me -- very enjoyable! I know it was one of my friend Kris's favorites (she is a longtime middle school teacher), and now I know why. Accessible historical fiction, with interesting characters and a good story....more
He sure knows how to tell a story! The multiple-narrators thing is mostly gimmick, but it does set this apart from his previous series. And Riordan doHe sure knows how to tell a story! The multiple-narrators thing is mostly gimmick, but it does set this apart from his previous series. And Riordan does have a teacher's sensibility about getting valuable content into the story at regular intervals...without making it seem like stuff-to-study! Both of my kids loved this book and can't wait for the next one....more
The tales themselves are fine, but the thing that makes this book worth reading is the "commentary by Dumbledore" -- an exegesis of each tale! I loveThe tales themselves are fine, but the thing that makes this book worth reading is the "commentary by Dumbledore" -- an exegesis of each tale! I love stuff like this: imaginative, expansive, meta, and able to deftly (if marginally) enhance the wonderful Potter world....more
Having last delved into this book in 1979 or '80, I had forgotten just how extraordinarily rich Tolkien's imaginative achievement is. At times I bristHaving last delved into this book in 1979 or '80, I had forgotten just how extraordinarily rich Tolkien's imaginative achievement is. At times I bristled as the story digressed (as it were) away from the ostensible story into what can only be described as Middle Earth culture...but then I realized that that was what separates it as a novel from it as a plot.
The reading also reinvigorated my appreciation for Peter Jackson's achievement in the film he developed. He cut a lot -- necessarily so -- but left the core in a surprisingly vigorous, unified vitality.
Maybe not the greatest of novels, but a must-read for anyone who is curious about the history of how people have attempted to harness the imagination....more
An enjoyable book that my kids (9 and 11) loved -- it adds to the usual fare with some sly education on the Greek myths, which it updates into modernAn enjoyable book that my kids (9 and 11) loved -- it adds to the usual fare with some sly education on the Greek myths, which it updates into modern America with impressive cleverness.
I have to admit that the coopting of the Harry Potter model is so blatant -- a more generous comment would be that it fulfills the same archetypical expectations -- as to be almost laughable. More evidence of just how elegant J. K. Rowling's execution was, in comparison!...more
Simple enough that I could read it (all 1300 pages) with my kids when they were 6 and 8, rich enough that I can read it by myself and not want to putSimple enough that I could read it (all 1300 pages) with my kids when they were 6 and 8, rich enough that I can read it by myself and not want to put it down. It is so deceptively simple at the start...and then it gets scary and complex...just like life! It's a great mix of character and conflict and fantasy and some very strange strangers in a very strange land. Now my younger daughter (now 8) picks it up and reads 100 pages before bed, and laughs at the silly rat-creatures -- complete with the accents we invented for them -- all by herself....more
The girls and I started reading it twice, but both times they flamed out. This time Ellie picked it out and we read it together, a chapter a day...andThe girls and I started reading it twice, but both times they flamed out. This time Ellie picked it out and we read it together, a chapter a day...and then she couldn't wait for me and finished it without me so I had to read the end on my own. Love that! I love the math and the otherworldliness of it...and the fact that Mrs. Which's voice reminds me of Stephen Hawking....more
I read this aloud with my 8-year-old last summer and we both had a lot of fun, but it really does drag on. It's an extraordinary imaginative creation,I read this aloud with my 8-year-old last summer and we both had a lot of fun, but it really does drag on. It's an extraordinary imaginative creation, but only a mediocre piece of writing. I don't want to be too tough on it -- I like it a lot for what it is....more
I put all the Harry Potter books on the "for my kids" shelf but I really read them all for me just as much -- although I'm really thrilled that my kidI put all the Harry Potter books on the "for my kids" shelf but I really read them all for me just as much -- although I'm really thrilled that my kids liked and even loved them, and I can't wait for them to want to re-read the books for themselves.
As I said in my comments on the 7th book, this series is so richly imagined and compellingly composed, with more intricate plots and more nuance than I've ever seen in "children's" literature before (although I'll admit that a few have come close), that Rowling has earned my immense respect for both her design and her writing.
And, for a word-geek like me: her use of Latin and Greek roots in developing spells and proper nouns kept me smiling. Like the best cartoons and comics, this series works perfectly on multiple levels. ...more
----second read: 2011---- Rowling is truly one of the most engaging writers and plotters I have read. For the second time, I read the 750+ page behemot----second read: 2011---- Rowling is truly one of the most engaging writers and plotters I have read. For the second time, I read the 750+ page behemoth in less than 24 hours. I don't think I have ever read fiction from any writer that goes down so smoothly, despite the exhausting complexity. I don't disavow my 2007 review; I feel more strongly than ever about what I expressed in its last paragraph.
----first read: 2007---- Having read all the HP books aloud to and with my daughters, I can say with confidence that the series is unique in the depth and richness of the imaginative world and style. Rowling is an extremely talented writer -- I read each of these mammoth tomes in a single day before I started to read them with the girls, and never for a moment felt that I was being compelled by anything other than plot.
That said, this book 7 did drag in ways that the first five never did -- even the 6th, which was the least satisfying of the seven in most ways, had no segments as slow as the camping segment of this one.
And yet I still loved all of them. I still regret the development of the film series which, though mostly pretty good by fantasy film standards, make possible the one thing I disdain: the possibility that a many-hour words-only imaginative reading experience be condensed and simplified as someone else's visualization in a film. It's a shame that any person who saw the film(s) instead of or even before reading the books might think that he or she has had the full experience. That's how great the Harry Potter series is: I believe that it is truly a loss for any person to have missed experiencing it for himself or herself....more