24 hours have passed since I finished this book. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to approach writing a review, and I've come to th24 hours have passed since I finished this book. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to approach writing a review, and I've come to the conclusion that this book deserves an autopsy instead. The structure and narrative flow of WTCB could have made this a pretty clever YA novel, and I'm fairly sure that so many people have raved about this book because of those qualities. However, the juvenile, horny, wish fulfillment that is Cullen Witter, and the author's deplorable, degrading, and irresponsible depiction of women and girls absolutely negate any interesting plot devices. Since I'm presenting a dissection of this corpse against hundreds of positive reviews, a William C. Morris Debut Award, and a Printz Award, I'm going to clinically lay out the blunt force traumas.
I'll start with some of the women.
Woman 1: Dead body (p. 1) Woman 2: Cullen's mom, who cries (p. 2), and cries (p. 4) Woman 3: Aunt Julia, Oslo's mom, who Oslo guilts into making "her forget that she failed to raise him right" (p. 3). She cries (p. 4) and in her guilt about how Oslo turned out "rambled on and on about wanting to die" (p. 4). And cries, "could barely utter a sentence without bursting into tears (p. 28), and cries "Julia is wailing from her metal folding chair" (p. 18) AND cries "'Is she ever going to stop?' I asked Gabriel" (p. 19). And, what's that? Oh yeah, she cries "Aunt Julia down the street with her screaming and crying" (p. 31). Woman 4: Ada Taylor, Cullen's object of lust, who is given "black widow" status after two of her boyfriends die (p. 6). However, all the males in town are still in lust with her due to the belief that "If I have to die to get that, then death it is" (p. 7) Woman 5: Libby Truet, Gabriel's best friend. As Gabriel is the most angelic character in the novel, she, by default, is the least offensive female depiction. However, her character is only mentioned twice. Woman 6: Mena Prescott, Lucas' girlfriend, who Cullen barely tolerates and would like more if she behaved differently, see below (p. 11). Woman 7: Benton's date, "little" Susie: "I have this on good authority, little Susie was seen kissing and hanging all over that pathetic and sinful kid of Stanley Baker's." Benton later realizes: "He couldn't be with some skanky girl like that. He was better than that" (p. 67). Woman 8: Vilonia Kane, proclaimed psychic (p. 104) who is portrayed to be a nut.
The nobleness of male characters by how they treat women:
Lucas: "He smiled at the pretty girls but always managed to say something nice or sweet to the not-so-pretty ones" (p. 5). This results in girls being able "to feel good about herself for maybe the only time that day she had a huge zit on her cheek" (p. 5) "Lucas pretended to love her [Mena Prescott] as much as she thought he did. But it was all bull, really" (p. 12). Cullen shows tenderness and comfort to his brother Gabriel: "pats his back several times, like he's hugging and old woman at church" (p. 32).
Their lives could have been better, but it's all their fault:
"If Sara Burch would have ignored the boys in fifth grade when they called her a bookworm, then she might not have become the glorified slut she is today" (p. 8) "I call this the Pretty Paradox. Pretty girls always want guys who treat them, and almost everyone else, like complete shit. It is perhaps one of the most baffling phenomena in history" (p. 9) "She [Mena Prescott] also made me uncomfortable by always hugging on me or kissing my cheek, always doing something that I assume she thought I would find flattering or sexy, but instead just found annoying and offensive" (p. 11). "I also hated her [Mena's] accent...hearing her voice made me ashamed to be human" (p.11). Lucas' sibling is dead, but it is presented as "Since his mother couldn't stop one child from getting drunk and driving into oncoming traffic on the interstate, he had to suffer the consequences" (p. 30) Lucas' mother, "let her husband hit her two small children, so I never really took the time to know her" (p. 119). Ada telling Cullen she needs to go back to a previous boyfriend who is paralyzed, "I owe it to him," "It's my fault, any way you slice it" (p. 178). The boyfriend had been in a completely different state when the accident happened.
All the teen girls are shown as sexual deviants:
"Mena Prescott had a past that did not involve innocent, good-natured boys like Lucas" (p.13). The description continues on the next page, illustrating that in her past she has made drunkenly made out with drug users before realizing they were losers (p. 14). And they can be procured, like buying produce: "That's right. The one, the only [Alma Ember]. Oh yes, my friend, she's all yours" (p. 48). "I had decided that even if Ada Taylor was showing me attention and affection purely because she felt sorry for me, I was still madly in love with her" (p. 100).
Despite having close to no visible redeeming qualities, all the girls Cullen finds attractive perform for him sexually, almost immediately after he realize he wants them:
"R-rated moment with Laura Fish" (p. 33) Alma, after saying no more than hello to Cullen, begins to kiss him and bite his ear (p. 52). Cullen uses the word "cannibalize" (p. 52). Cullen fantasizes that this will lead to "mediocre sex with a used-up college dropout [Alma] who does nails on the weekend for extra cash" (p. 52). Other characters also comment on the immediate performance: "She was ready to take you home," "She was over you all night," "She must really be desperate" (p. 53). Alma pity performs for Cullen after his brother disappears. He takes her to the same place he had sex with Laura Fish and she jumps him so vigorously his back digs into a rock and he requires stitches (p. 61). After returning from the hospital he ends up in Alma's bed where "she showed me what being a good wife had taught her" (p. 61). When Alma's mother finds him in Alma's bed, "She leans down, kisses him on the forehead, and continues on with her vacuuming" (p. 61).
Women can't handle things things men can:
After Gabriel disappears, Cullen's mom "decided it was appropriate to pretend to be okay...in the hopes that Gabriel would reappear just as easily as he had vanished" while "My father, on the other hand...talked to sheriff's departments all over the state" (p. 70). "It was the nine-week mark when my mother stopped doing things. Things like buying bread and milk. things like showering or brushing her teeth." Cullen's father steps in and handles his mother's business. "My dad remained patient. He calmed her down" (p. 171).
Lastly, women should be honored by the presence of their men:
"'You're a jerk,' she [Ada] said. 'I'm [Cullen] the nicest guy you've ever met, and you know it'" (p. 130). She then sleeps with him.
As an added bonus, the novel is set in the town of Lily, which is set upon and invaded by numerous woodpecker fanciers, but she, the town, should be GRATEFUL for the invasion because of all the things it will bring to her. And during the Woodpecker Festival we are treated to a rhapsodic interlude between a boy and his corn dog: "There is a certain uniqueness to a festival corn dog...of hunger built up from maneuvering around the crowd. I like my corn dogs bare and thrown nonchalantly into a paper sleeve. I like to see how fast it takes me to talk myself into a second or a third one."
I'll leave out too much of a lecture on how reading and books are inescapably linked to education and intelligence, and what it means when our tools for learning depict and portray girls and women in this manner. While some of the instances in this book could be chalked up to the ways the characters think and not how the author thinks, the sheer volume of instances prove that this is a pervasive, systematic, and all-encompassing world view in this novel, a view seen fit by multiple acclaimed book awards to be worth celebrating....more
Rarely do you find a book whose story can legitimately justify every word. I don't think Wein's story has a single syllable that isn't necessary to thRarely do you find a book whose story can legitimately justify every word. I don't think Wein's story has a single syllable that isn't necessary to the story. The text reads brilliantly, not only as an exercise in narration, but as a work of art as well. I could not trip over myself fast enough to gobble up the story, while at the same time luxuriating in the details, the characters, and the history of the novel. Yet while so much of the reading built me up with suspense, I'd love to read this novel again and again.
The nature of this work crosses a lot of boundaries in readers' advisory, and I will absolutely put this in my mental tool belt to recommend to all types of readers. On top of that, I feel like Wein has dropped an enormous gift to readers by creating such marvelous, brave, fantastic, and human female characters. Without going on and on about how beautiful they are, that they're princesses, or that their lives were difficult but then they met A MAN. On behalf of librarians the world over who are looking for good female characters in fiction, a million thanks....more
I really wanted to love this book. This is the second time I've tried to read it. The concept of a small (tiny) country fighting to afford enough candI really wanted to love this book. This is the second time I've tried to read it. The concept of a small (tiny) country fighting to afford enough candles and teen royalty trying to keep it real is, in theory, engaging. However, the journal format, while friendly, was also unexciting and slow moving....more
I was completely turned off by the overly grave and "important" Greek chorus effect that framed the narrative. I have loved other works by Levithan, bI was completely turned off by the overly grave and "important" Greek chorus effect that framed the narrative. I have loved other works by Levithan, but the structure of this story stopped me cold. Too calculated....more
In short: fantastic idea reaching toward mediocrity. Ten points automatically for the fantastic cover. In fact, the photos that illustrate this novelIn short: fantastic idea reaching toward mediocrity. Ten points automatically for the fantastic cover. In fact, the photos that illustrate this novel elevate the text beyond fantasy and into that in between space that is fantastical horror. Think the Nicole Kidman movie The Others or old black and white photos of turn-of-the-century carnival folk.
The biggest problem is that Riggs gets bogged down. The beginning is paced well enough but the middle to late-middle are slow, overly ponderous, and dull. I feel like Riggs was trying to build suspense, but the novel became harder to read as I went along. In fact, had this not been the only book in my car for several days' worth of lunch breaks, I would have abandoned it.
That said, the idea was strong, the photos were hauntingly memorable, and I'm hoping that the next work by Riggs will overcome the pacing issues....more
Bad editor! Naughty! Ugh. With 200 fewer pages this could have been an action-packed adventure. Instead it was as exciting as a stale cracker. I wonderBad editor! Naughty! Ugh. With 200 fewer pages this could have been an action-packed adventure. Instead it was as exciting as a stale cracker. I wonder if Libba Bray hasn't descended into the dark pit of I've-won-several-awards-so-now-everything-I-write-is-considered-golden. I can't otherwise imagine how this book could have been published.
I listened to the serviceable audio narration, and around disc 12 or so, when the climax of the plot occurred, I actually found myself wondering if the disc was skipping. At the HEIGHT of the action, I heard at least 3 times how the main character's hands were shaking, followed by an unnecessary paragraph of adjective-heavy tripe. I've never read a plot climax that so completely made me want to roll over and say, "That's enough, I'm done. Put the money on the dresser, because I sure as heck deserve a refund."
Beyond the very evident proof that the editor was sleeping, comatose, or completely fictional, I found the magical powers to be absurd. Not the concept of magical powers (I totally dig Harry Potter) but how they were assigned. I felt like Bray must have played "Duck, duck, goose" with the characters and their powers. The character who gets readings off of objects is the least empathetic of the bunch, the healer doesn't seem to want to fix anything, and the girl who can summon heat and fire comes off as lackadaisical, or at best a teen on the run who hides by slithering more than fighting with flare.
Lastly, Bray's introduction of steampunk features at the end of the book plays like a massive cop-out: solve a character's mystery identity problem by making them steampunky. It's a move that discredits the ability of the already created world to solve the issue and shames the wholly original feel of the steampunk vibe.
With a signed, sealed, stamped, wax-sealed, and delivered by Pony Express apology from the publisher along with an iron-clad promise that their least forgiving, most militant, and obsessive editor will go over the text with a laser-powered microscope, I might consider reading another work by Bray. MIGHT....more
I'll admit that I only picked up this title after parents in Massachusetts wanted it pulled from a school library (after only reading one page). I likI'll admit that I only picked up this title after parents in Massachusetts wanted it pulled from a school library (after only reading one page). I like to think that the bright side of people attempting to curtail other people's freedom to read is that people like me will immediately grab and devour whatever they are trying to ban.
What I discovered was that N&NIP is a compulsive, impulsive, utterly honest force of nature written in a style I can only describe as stream-of-consciousness-gets-beaten-up-by-a-poetry-slam. Written in Nick chapters and Norah chapters, Cohn & Levithan pull the reader into a singular, frantic, exhausting, music-filled night in NYC.
While there is certainly a quantity of profanity and some very steamy close encounters, I don't think that either Cohn or Levithan employ these elements to a degree that they standout above the rest of the story. Perhaps the parents attempting to ban this item were repelled by the very traits that I found fantastic: to-the-bone honest voices talking about how we encounter each other on this revolving planet, and more than a few references to the power of music.
Keeping in mind that the music referenced was, in past decades, considered Devil music (jazz and rock and roll) maybe that was one of the offensive elements to the MA parents. In my humble opinion, Cohn & Levithan used a very real universal element in the lives of teens to frame and intertwine with the other parts of their story....more
This was a remarkably powerful book about what happens when a teacher has sex with a student.
Lyga told the story from the perspective of a student whoThis was a remarkably powerful book about what happens when a teacher has sex with a student.
Lyga told the story from the perspective of a student who was victimized in middle school and now is dealing with impending graduation from high school. Lyga's voice is honest, believable, and hauntingly realistic. The novel does not get bogged down in its own importance, which in and of itself is quite an accomplishment. Instead, Lyga looks at all facets of the situation and doesn't take the easy way out. This is not a story about a teacher and a student falling in love. This is a story about a physical and psychological predator and the damage she leaves behind. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Lyga after reading this book....more
**spoiler alert** I was lent a personal copy of this book by a new acquaintance who said it was one of her favorite YA titles. I have been avoiding re**spoiler alert** I was lent a personal copy of this book by a new acquaintance who said it was one of her favorite YA titles. I have been avoiding reading this book out of a strong dislike for realistic fiction, especially rf pertaining to abuse or suicide. But, in a good faith effort to build upon a new friendship, I gave it a shot.
I ended up reading the first 150 pages in one sitting, getting up only when the call of nature became unbearable.
I was concerned when I started the novel that the structure would get too gimicky, but Hannah's emotional descent kept everything very real.
I was disturbed for a moment when Hannah says that she wants to die. From what I've read about suicidality in teens and adults, the victim usually wants things to "stop." Suicide is just the way to make that happen. However, a chapter or two later, Hannah mentions wanting to make things stop.
My main disappointment came in an almost Disney-esque rescue of our protagonist, Clay. Knowing that he is one of the subjects of Hannah's tapes, he spends the better part of the novel worrying about what he did to Hannah to warrant this calling-out.
Asher took the sacharine way out by having Hannah say the reason Clay is on the tapes is because she loved him. I thought this completely pulled the reader out of the experience. Clay was well drawn enough that he could have gone through the gamut of emotions and the process of grief really well if Hannah had listed him as someone who had done something wrong.
I felt cheated when I was told that Clay was a good guy. I felt like the suffering I had gone through in wondering what Clay had done was for naught.
Complaints aside, I thought this was a very well structured and well drawn novel, both in setup and execution. I would have liked to see Clay do something, even something unintentional, that would have warranted his space on the tapes, but the novel certainly remains in great standing nonetheless....more
This book keeps popping up on bibliographies of YA historical fiction. I thought I would give it a shot. Hoffman did a good job of creating setting amThis book keeps popping up on bibliographies of YA historical fiction. I thought I would give it a shot. Hoffman did a good job of creating setting amongst the religious houses of the Middle Ages. However, too much of the plot involved friars, nuns, and novices. I felt like Hoffman really wanted to write about religious figures and put in the teen characters as an afterthought. I read the first 2/3 of the novel and then quit. I just didn't care which friar was evil and which was righteous, and the teens were not center stage enough for me to continue....more
What a refreshing concept for a young adult novel. Lee, who holds a PhD in Victorian studies did a fabulous job of creating both concept and characterWhat a refreshing concept for a young adult novel. Lee, who holds a PhD in Victorian studies did a fabulous job of creating both concept and character for this series without being dragged down by too many historical descriptions and trivia. The description of the Thames River during that heatwave and how it got the name The Great Stink was fantastic for the setting. I spent the duration of this read wanting to put something over my nose or take a shower to wash the stink away.
I loved the strong female character in a historical setting. While Lee is careful to explain how impossible this concept would have been in actual Victorian England, the novel is empowering nonetheless. I would recommend this book to fans of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series. While the historical / geographical settings are vastly different, the description of a female protagonist using social stereotypes to strengthen her own goals is very similar.
My biggest regret with this novel is that Lee mentions on the back blurb that this is the first in the triology. I'm rooting for her not to stop after 3....more
I had the pleasure of needing to read this book in one evening. I found a lot of power in Riordan's ability to create a text that easy to follow in onI had the pleasure of needing to read this book in one evening. I found a lot of power in Riordan's ability to create a text that easy to follow in one sitting. There are not a lot of books out there with boy appeal that read as easily as this did.
When all is said and done, I am glad that this book has appeal and gets kids and teens (especially males) to read. But, it did not have the depth, insight, or detail that Harry Potter does. I understand this is not trying to be Harry Potter, but there were similarities in the structure of both series that lead one to comparison.
I felt Grover was the more interesting and complex character. I appreciated the creativity of the situations, fights, and incidents that rose up throughout the novel, but at times I felt like the novel was one staged situation after another.
There was much I liked about this novel. I will have an easy time recommending it to others. But my jury is still out on this series, and may stay out until I have read the rest of the books....more