Summary: 16-year-old Cameron doesn’t care much about anything. But being diagnosed with mad cow disease solves that problem.
Review: Utterly, positively funny. The wit and sarcasm drips off every single page of this book, so much so that I became immune to it after a while. I tend to prefer the brand of funny that hides around the next corner and startles a laugh out of me.
Maybe I would have felt differently if I had started out liking the main character. But he is so incredibly apathetic at the beginning that I didn’t feel compelled to care in return. Then about halfway through, I did start rooting for him.
Because guess what? When Cameron started to care about what was going on around him, I started to care too. And it didn’t hurt that the Don Quixote parallels meant I could relive my English major days.
I enjoyed this book, although it was just alright for me. Could be I wasn’t in the right mood when I read it. Here’s a taste so you can decide whether it’s right for you:
The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.
I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.
Like Career Day? Really? Do we need to devote an entire six hours out of the high school year to having “life counselors” tell you all the jobs you could potentially blow at? Is there a reason for dodgeball? Pep rallies? Rad soda commercials featuring Parker Day’s smug, fake-tanned face? I ask you.
But back to the best day of my life, Disney, and my near-death experience.
I know what you’re thinking: WTF? Who dies at Disney World? It’s full of spinning teacups and magical princesses and big-assed chipmunks walking around waving like it’s absolutely normal for jumbo-sized stuffed animals to come to life and post for photo ops. Like, seriously.(less)
Summary: Most people think Terra is beautiful, until they see the port-wine birthmark on her cheek. Surgery won’t remove it, makeup can’t cover it up all the way, and her father certainly won’t let her forget it’s there.
Review: From the first sentence, this story firmly planted me in Terra’s shoes. Terra’s experience will make you realize how focused we are on a single definition of beauty—who has it and who doesn’t. When I was a good ways into the book, I was out at a coffee shop and standing in line. I caught a kid staring at me, and immediately my hand flew to my cheek. There’s no birthmark on my cheek, but the book made me feel for Terra’s situation so completely that for a split second I thought otherwise.
As if dealing with stares and nasty comments from strangers weren’t enough, Terra’s home situation will break your heart. Her dad is verbally abusive and controlling, almost beyond belief. Terra copes well enough by writing him off, but her mom copes by overeating. This subplot, while powerful, felt a little over-the-top at times. In some scenes, Terra’s mom was just a little too pitiful, and I didn’t believe she was really that weak.
The other reason I didn’t connect 100% with this book is the amount of internal dialogue where Terra explains what she’s feeling. When it comes to internal dialogue, I’m in the camp of less is more. Terra would explain the same emotional struggles over and over again, and I found myself skipping over those parts to get to the action.
But the harsh reality of Terra’s struggles kept me grounded in the story, and the romance felt genuine. This was a good read, just not a favorite for me.(less)
Summary: High school senior Nora and her best friend are lab partners in biology, but for some reason their teacher makes a new seating chart with only weeks left in the year. Nora gets stuck with the new guy who she feels simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by.
Review: This book was lucky to get even a 1-star rating from me. The star it did earn is based purely on the writing—which I thought was good for the most part save for some repetitive internal dialogue—and nothing to do with the actual story.
Because I hated the actual story.
Nora’s love interest, Patch, is downright abusive to her, but she keeps coming back for more. It’d be one thing if through the relationship, she learned to assert herself or learned that she doesn’t deserve to be treated that way or learned anything about herself, actually. Nope.
Nora can tell he wants to hurt her, at least emotionally if not also physically. And it seems to make her want Patch all the more.
Maybe I just need to get over it. After all, it’s just a story. A bit of candy in book form. At least it gets kids to turn off the TV and read.
But…is it “just a story”? Here’s a quick snippet from a book called Influencer, which looks at behavioral science research to determine what motivates people to change their behavior.
Entertainment education helps people change how they view the world through the telling of vibrant and credible stories. Told well, these vicariously created events approximate the gold standard of change—real experiences… We can use words to persuade others to come around to our way of thinking by telling a story rather than firing of a lecture… A well-told narrative…changes people’s view of how the world works because it presents a plausible, touching, and memorable flow of cause and effect that can alter people’s view of the consequences of various actions or beliefs.
Meaning? Stories matter. Lectures from parents and teachers, not so much. Stories—and the messages they carry—break through where nagging doesn’t and make a real impact.
The impact books like this and Twilight will make—are making—scares me. Not because I imagine girls will finish the book, set it down, and think to themselves “Golly gee, I’d sure like to find me an emotionally abusive boy.” The problem is they won’t think about it. They’ll get caught up in the story, which will leave an imprint on their sensibilities.
I wish this were just an irrational fear of mine. Unfortunately, research has proven this is exactly what happens. Again, from Influencer:
Concrete and vivid stories exert extraordinary influence because they transport people out of the role of critic and into the role of participant. The more poignant, vibrant, and relevant the story, the more the listener moves from thinking about the inherent arguments to experiencing every element of the tale itself. Stories don’t merely trump verbal persuasion by disproving counterarguments; stories keep the listener from offering counterarguments in the first place.
So why did this book get my dander up? Because this is the message it mainlines to girls: A boy who abuses you is hot. The reason he abuses you is he truly loves you. If you put up with the abuse long enough, he’ll prove his love to you and it will all be worth it.(less)
Summary: 16-year-old Gretchen doesn’t fit in at The Manhattan School for Art and Music, something weird is going on between her parents, and her best friend seems to be avoiding her.
Review: This one was just okay for me.
I was liking the story until about halfway through when the action slowed way down. I’m not spoiling anything you can’t get from the Amazon description—and maybe I’m outing myself as a jaded old married lady—but in particular, I could have done without the pages of reflection on the male anatomy.
The pace picks up again in the last 30 pages or so. But after no real action for so long, it seemed like everything wrapped a little too neatly.
Here’s a taste so you can decide for yourself. Gretchen is talking to her best friend, Katya, about a guy named Titus:
Later that afternoon, Sanchez the gym teacher makes us play dodgeball, which leaves bruises all over my legs. I’m not that fast, and I get hit a lot. Titus hits me twice.
“Do you think it means something?” I ask Katya after gym, sitting on the locker room bench in a towel.
Katya is naked in the shower like that’s a normal way to have a conversation. She’s washing her hair like she’s just everyday naked in front of people.
Well, we are everyday naked in front of people. Gym is five days a week, shower required. But anyway, Katya is having a naked conversation like it doesn’t even bother her, which it obviously doesn’t—even though she’s not built like a model, just regular.
The locker room is so cramped and tiny that I can feel the warm spray of her shower water on my knee as I’m sitting on the bench.
“It would have meant something if we were sixth graders,” says Katya, scrunching her eyes as she rinses out the shampoo.
Summary: Three stories, each about a different girl and a kiss. And no ordinary kiss, either. These kisses carry a dangerous promise to forever change the girls’ lives.
Review: I must read more by this author. Soon after I started this book, I was jotting down page numbers of quotes left and right. When I hit page 100 and had filled up an entire post-it with page numbers, I decided I’ll just have to reread this someday.
These stories are weird, but deliciously so. They reminded me of Pretty Monsters, which I also loved.
The only reason this book didn’t get 5 stars from me is that the ending of the first story let me down a bit. I wanted more conclusion, but I don’t read many short stories so I’m probably just not calibrated for them.
Here’s a taste for you from the first story about a girl named Kizzy whose grandmother has just passed away:
Sometimes Kizzy imagined her grandmother knife-fighting her way down the long tunnel of death, but mostly her daydreams were of a very different nature. She daydreamed of slow-dancing with Mike Crespain and of sitting on his lap at lunch while he hugged her around the waist instead of Sarah Ferris, his knuckles resting lightly against the underside of her breasts instead of Sarah’s. She daydreamed about having slim ankles like Jenny Glass instead of peasant ankles like the fetlocks of a draft horse. About smooth hair instead of coarse hair, sleek hips instead of belly dancer’s hips. About a tinkling laugh, and a butterfly tattoo, and a boy who would tuck his hand into her back pocket while they walked, and press her up against a fence to suck her lower lip like a globe of fruit.
That’s hot. The next paragraph is even better, but I would’ve had to give you more background to the story.
Summary: Fire is part-human, part-monster. The monster part of her makes men wild and full-fledged monsters crave her blood. The human part has to cope with having the power to enter people’s minds and bend them to her will.
Review: I was a tad bit bummed to find out we wouldn’t be seeing the next round of steaminess from Katsa and Po in this book. But I need not have worried because parts of this story rivaled a sauna.
This book was a little slow getting off the ground, but it picked up in the second half. Part of that is that I had trouble clearly seeing Fire’s motivation in the first half.
What saved it for me and why I kept reading—aside from the yummy bits, of course—was that the world Cashore created is completely engrossing. I mean, monsters?! But I totally bought it from page one.
Also, did I mention the romance comes in the ever-so-delicious flavor of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet?(less)
Summary: After 17-year-old Ben’s dad announces that he’s gay, Ben rebels by skipping school and doing drugs. Then his dad decides they’re moving from the city to a small town in Montana. Trying to fit in while sporting a mohawk turns out to be the least of Ben’s problems.
Review: I wanted to love this book. I did love several aspects of it, and I am glad I read it. But it wasn’t one of my favorites.
What I loved:
* The grit—The tough conversations between Ben and his dad were so real they were almost painful to read at times. In a good way. * The issues—Homophobia, child abuse, abandonment. The book takes on big-ticket issues with a capital I, but it didn’t feel like a thinly veiled morality play. * The funny—Here, Ben is about to go on a date with a country girl, and he’s asking his dad’s boyfriend Edward for advice. Edward starts off with what he knows about the girl’s dad:
“If I remember correctly, he’s a very harsh man, and one not to cross.” He thought for a moment. “Yes sir, no sir, thank you, please, nice to meet you, Mr. Johan, firm handshake, look him in the eye, and for God’s sake don’t eye her boobs, even accidentally, unless you’re at least a mile from the house. Men have shotguns for a reason around here.”
I nodded, soaking it all in. Fear gripped me, but love would climb any mountain. “One more thing.”
“What is baling hay, anyway?”
He laughed. “And you thought you worked hard yesterday. Poor child.”
But here are the things that got in the way of me loving this book through-and-through:
* Backstory frontloading—The first chapter was s-l-o-w. I almost put the book down. I once read a tip in a writing book that you should cut your first chapter, start with the second, and sprinkle the first chapter backstory in later only if necessary. This book might have benefited from that trick. * Internal monologue—Not everywhere, but in certain spots I felt like I was getting Ben’s entire thought process. * Melodramatic tendencies—As the story started to wrap up, a few scenes came off as a bit cheesy for my taste. * Kiss offscreen—Maybe this is just because I’m a girl that this bugged me, but the first kiss between Ben and the girl he’s interested in happened…offscreen! It’s this offhand comment in the narration. Bummer!
None of these issues were huge, but they all pulled me out of the story and got in the way of me connecting on a deeper level to the book.(less)