Knife is lovely on a number of accounts, but none more than todd's voice and his relation with his little dog manchee, which goes from indifferent/hos...moreKnife is lovely on a number of accounts, but none more than todd's voice and his relation with his little dog manchee, which goes from indifferent/hostile (todd --> manchee, not viceversa of course, dogs being dogs all worlds over) to deep and devoted. and patrick ness is a heck of a writer, so everything happens smoothly and sweetly and the story is wonderfully developed and it's both charming and terrifying.
my entirely subjective complaint is that this was a bit too YAish for me, i.e. too much adventure and maybe a wee bit of oversimplification of what are really complex issues. still, i couldn't wait to go back to it and today i'm picking up book two. so, you see, no consistency from me.
all of humanity, including extremely smart and discerning readers, loves this book and worships the man who wrote it, and i SERIOUSLY do not want to p...moreall of humanity, including extremely smart and discerning readers, loves this book and worships the man who wrote it, and i SERIOUSLY do not want to piss acid piss on their cheery, heartfelt, we-all-love-each-other parade, so i'm going to put this review between spoiler tags, which also means that i'm going to take advantage of my hiddenness to spoil the book entirely. be warned: i'm spoiling and i'm pissed.
(view spoiler)[you may vibrate with emotion, love and faux understanding at the story of two teenagers who are about to die, and then die, of cancer, but me, i don't. not at all. and when these two teenagers fall in love -- a love that is defined as very much not puppy love -- and one of them loses the other before she, too, goes to the rainbow bridge, then i really want to barf. because can you get any more manipulative? any more exploitative? any more gooey?
there is no depth in this book. there is puppy love, which is kind of depthless by definition (i'm talking about puppy love, not adolescent love) and there is sappy death. people lose people to cancer and countless other tragedies all the time, and it seems to me this should be talked about without cuteness because if there is one thing is it isn't that thing is cute. using it for cuteness makes me want to cry and barf with despair for humanity. i do realize that john green makes some (textually marked) attempts to take the cute out of it, but com'on, how is this book not cute? it's the definition of cute. it's cute in the characters' repartee, in the general wit of the narration, in the love that blossoms between these two doomed but beautiful creatures, in their passion for literature and poetry, in their futile yet dogged pursuit of meaning, in their sadness, in their trying to be cheerful for each other and their friends, etc. etc. etc.
all of these things can be and have been dealt with well by writers, but john green slathers them with cute, and there he loses me. big time.
i want to come back to puppy love. there is the love that a child or a teenager feels for another child, another teenager, or another person of whatever age, and then there is puppy love. puppy love is the oversimplification of this love, which is indeed very complex and fraught and rich. puppy love is sitting on the couch watching tv and touching hands. puppy love is trying to figure out sex and then doing it. puppy love is cute notes. puppy love is the trivialization of love. if you take the love two people (or three or four) have for each other and make it cute, you have puppy love. and that is wrong. ask any kid in love whether he or she feels cute. ask them.
and then death. you can make death cute, too! there are a couple of scenes in which john green throws in the most undignified aspects of death -- the sickness, the despair, the apparent loss of one's humanity -- but for the most part, he makes death cute. it's nice that these kids are able to joke so wryly about the fact that they are soon going to (as they put it) lose their personhood, but it doesn't quite work. death is serious business, and this seriousness doesn't come through for me. the cuteness gets in the way, i guess. maybe death is, in a sense, trivial too, and making it cute emphasizes rather than erases this triviality. it is really not that you die: we all die. it's how you die, and how you lived. in this book, how you lived is how much you loved your boyfriend/girlfriend, and that is intolerably reductive, manipulative, simplifying, exploitative, and cute.
i liked this book till about the half-way point. i thought, john green is jonathan safran foer's little brother. but jonathan safran foer, though not immune to cute himself, is a deep dude, a guy who does grief pretty damn well. so no, i no longer think that john green is jonathan safran foer's little brother. i think he is the kid who goes to the same school as jonathan and, having read jonathan's books, figures out what to take out of them that will make his books a smashing success. if you want to read about teenagers in love, you'll do a lot better reading Joey Comeau's One Bloody Thing After Another, which avoids cute like the plague. (hide spoiler)](less)
i read this book because Elizabeth Wein told me to. she says in her blog that this book is much like Code Name Verity and if you have paid any attenti...morei read this book because Elizabeth Wein told me to. she says in her blog that this book is much like Code Name Verity and if you have paid any attention at all to my reviews and updates in the last few months (no reason why you should have, but just in case), you know that Code Name Verity is my current and sole obsession.
this book was unengaging to me until about half way through. it's brilliantly written and fabulous in all sorts of ways (including its sense of place, so, if you are english and come from the part of the country in which the book is set, you might get a bit misty-eyed), but i am not a fan of long-span narratives and this is definitely a long-span narrative. half-way through it starts getting going and it includes an unlikely but fabulously placed rendition of the cuban missile crisis, which, among other things, made me feel infinitely more forgiving toward the current US administration. clem's first person narrative of the cuban missile crisis made me realize that US presidents, even good, sane, moral, awesome presidents, must deal with a powerful entourage which severely cuts into and undercuts the Great Absolute Power we believe they have. my friend wilhelmina jenkins, who, i hope, is reading this, has tried to school me on this for years, but of course i didn't believe her.
at just about the time when peet gives us clem's rendition of the cuban missile crisis the novel grabbed me by the throat and didn't let me go till the end.
the end is fantastic and also disappointing because you desperately want things to turn out well. i'm not saying they don't, but it's ambiguous. you might very well find that they turn out fabulous. i appreciate the rigor of writers like peet, who present life as the mixed bag of goods it is, and leave us wanting for more. like, you know, a sequel.
i won't give this book a star rating because my view of its shortcomings is entirely related to my desires, not to its qualities. it's a great book that deserves better readers than me. (less)
general piece of advice to anyone who approaches the blank box with the intention of writing a pleasing-to-the-eye review: do not read one of mike rey...moregeneral piece of advice to anyone who approaches the blank box with the intention of writing a pleasing-to-the-eye review: do not read one of mike reynolds' reviews first. it will make you walk away from the computer in utter discouragement.
arn chorn-pond was a young child when the khmer rouge decided to unleash on cambodia a mayhem that resulted in the extermination of one quarter of the population. notice that the khmer rouge were themselves cambodian. since the book is told from arn's point of view, in the first person, and arn is a young child, you don't get an explanation for why this madness happened, so for that i remand you to wikipedia, where i will go myself after i finish writing this review.
as a grown up and a survivor, arn has been and continues to be an activist on behalf of his country and his people, which, i understand, are quite some way from healing (the internecine genocide happened in the mid-70s). patricia mccormick found him, interviewed him for two years, did a ton of supplemental research, then wrote this book in arn's own voice. arn never mastered english so the book is in broken english.
i tend to have little patience for westerners who tell other peoples' stories. i figure those other peoples can tell their own stories and the orientalizing and ogling comes across as invariably pornographic to me. not this time. although she put her own name as the sole author, mccormick acknowledges implicit co-authorship with arn chorn-pond in the back flap. mostly, though, the book is so sparse, so short, so perfectly distilled, you feel there is no pleasure in mccormick's writing except insofar as she can reproduce arn's voice. and this voice, gosh, this voice is amazing. truly genuinely amazing.
i have always been lousy at learning history, but i figure that one can learn history from stories people tell you and from stories you read in novels. i know something, now, about the cambodian genocide. i know something about the unspeakable trauma of child soldiers. i know something about what it means for a kid who has killed killed killed to be brought to america and asked to be an american kid. i know something about the terrible violence that comes not only from forcing children to kill but also from forcing them to go back to being children and behaving as such. these children have wielded unconscionable power. these children have led platoons. these children have made terrible, open-eyed, clear-minded choices. these children have survived unimaginable conditions through smarts, cunning, and a great capacity for reading people and circumstances. there children are geniuses and experts. you can't take a child like that and stick him in an american high school.
this book has made me think about our desperate compulsion to infantilize children, so that children have to find ways to be the much more mature beings they are in ways that are hidden from us. children, it seems, are asked from very early on to be multiple creatures: creatures that please their parents' understanding of childhood, their teachers' understanding of childhood, the commercial world's understanding of childhood, and, finally, and hopefully, their own understanding of themselves. i got all this from reading Kathryn Bond Stockton's The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century and then reflecting back on my own bedraggled childhood. in the light of stockton's book and of my own thinking back, this book was immensely poignant to me. also, it's gorgeous. i am now a patricia mccormick fan. (less)
miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. miriam toews is on...moremiriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. miriam toews is one of the best writing writing in english today. miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. miriam toews is one of th ebest writerswritnnng in english today. miriam toews is one oft he best bwitnerwr writing in english today. miriam woetys is one of the bst writers wirting in english today. miriam toews is onweof the best bwringwer writing in english today. miriam toews is one of the bst writers witing in english today. miriam toewws is on the best wrignnerrs wintng in english todya.
miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today.
Miriam Toews is one of the best writers writing in English today.
miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in English today.
Miriam Toews is one of the best writers writing in English today.
i'm not going to read the three-star two-star one-star reviews. it's okay for people not to like this book. maybe they got bogged down at the beginning, when all that happens is a nothingness of happening in which a movie is being shot in a godforsaken mennonite community of canadian expats in mexico and there's a lot of hanging out waiting for the right light and the rain and sometimes the equipment breaks down and people watch tv or cook or eat or fuck and the woman who plays the main character is a german mennonite who feels so freaked out by loneliness and the desert she is always on the verge of losing her mind. this section is very paratactic and very small-sentencey and there's a terrible drama underneath but irma voth is a 19 year old kid who is all alone in the world and she's not the best person to give you a sense of the terrible drama she's the driving force of maybe because drama has been her life from day one and maybe because she thinks that’s how life is and she has nothing to compare it with.
she has to milk the cows. she has to be home at a decent time. she has to get things right. she has to save her family. she has a husband she greatly loves but may or may not love her.
some moments are hilarious. miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. some passages are side-splitting hilarious. irma, who narrates in the first person, has this way with language that all of toews' characters have: it's as if she saw the world in a slightly different way from the way you and i see it. she juxtaposes things you and i wouldn't juxtapose. she messes with things but just a little. she tries not to ruffle things too much. she tries to keep still but thoughts pour out of her with irrepressible life-force and that’s just the way she is.
the second part is about trying to make a new life but i won't tell you anything about it because i'd spoil the book for you. this part is hilarious too. it's also tender, generous, uplifting (oh people are good), encouraging (yes, you can make it), heartbreaking (didn't i just say you can make it?), strong, and original in that miriam toews-is-one-of-the-best-writers-writing-in-english-today way that makes you want to underline a sentence in every page.
it's all very simple and very miraculous and not nearly as painful as A Complicated Kindness, an emotional whopper of a book that left me reeling for days. and then things happen and other things happen and for some reason, somehow, everyone ends up okay.
(a small note for miriam toews, in case you read this review. dear miriam toews, i think you are one of the best writers writing in english today and i'm so very thankful for you. this is not what this note is about. A Complicated Kindness, the most difficult and unyielding of your last three books, is also the book that made the bigger splash. my explanation is that it has a really good title. i loved The Flying Troutmans but wasn’t going to pick it up just for the title. same with Irma Voth. at this point i’m sold. You can call a book anything at all and i’ll read it. but do you have to go for all these un-catchy titles? with great love and admiration, jo) (less)
this is a crazy, rollicking, fantastic, wild ride of a book into the life of young ursie koderer, a totally sane, if a little zany " * Unbeknownst To...morethis is a crazy, rollicking, fantastic, wild ride of a book into the life of young ursie koderer, a totally sane, if a little zany " * Unbeknownst To Everyone" (where * stands for, in Ursie's own words, "lesbo") who, upon discovering that she is indeed attracted to girls rather than boys, goes a little crazy and is therefore carted off from summer camp directly into the loony-bin.
except, truly, she doesn't go crazy at all. the reasons why ursie ends up in the bughouse are, as is often the case, completely serendipitous and due to a mixture whose main ingredients are: a) she draws maps and other hieroglyphics on her arms with razor blades; b) she likes girls, which c) leads her to commit various acts of minor meshugas; d) her mother is dead and her father is a famous someone who doesn't have time to devote to her daughter while having instead e) lots of dough to spend on a fancy psych hospital so that said daughter can be kept out of the way and out of trouble for two years.
in spite of its fabulistic and surreal texture this novel reads for all the world like autobiography -- also, truly, who writes a story about teenagers in the loony-bin except someone who has been there? -- and, in fact, in this startlingly honest interview jaimy gordon discloses that this is the story of her own sister (hmm, sister?), swaddled in inventive language and over-the-top picaresque-ness for disguising purposes and also because that's how jaimy gordon writes.
now this style of narrative isn't my favorite -- in fact, it's rather distant from my taste, as i really truly like my fiction to be as narrowly realistic as possible. also, i confess to having had my fill of stories about kids capering in the asylum. hence the entirely subjective docked star. this book deserves five stars for its language alone, which is truly unique and, if you like this kind of stuff, really funny.
the beauty of the story is that ursie comes into her own thanks to the unorthodox ministrations of a visiting psychiatrist from a central-asian soviet republic. this is easily the best part and i won't spoil it for you. let me just say that, under the guise of fun and story, this book contains a cutting critique of traditional freudianism and traditional psychiatry. while sending up their strictures and prohibitions, it celebrates freedom, lust, life, passion, love, sex and the miraculously healing relationships patients and therapists create with each other in spite of structures often designed to keep them apart. (less)
this is just about as good a novel about being a sad kid in australia as i have read, and if you think i'm being facetious i'll tell you that i've rea...morethis is just about as good a novel about being a sad kid in australia as i have read, and if you think i'm being facetious i'll tell you that i've read another australian novel about a sad kid and it didn't even compare to this one, quality-wise (i didn't finish that one either). problem is, i don't like YA novels. i just don't. i want my writers to talk to me as an adult. i want difficult words that express difficult ideas in difficult turns of phrases. i want hard and edgy. i want complex in that adult way of being complex that involves jobs, getting older, and losses different from the (terrible) losses of kids.
also, the whole love thing, i don't know, maybe it didn't work that way for me, but i just can't feel it. boys looking at you sideways; boys walking you to class; boys giving you rides home... i didn't do any of that. i didn't even do it with girls, if you see what i mean. that whole game happened while i was thinking about other things. what other things was i thinking about? i studied like a dog, i fought with my sisters, i fought with my parents, i fought with my relatives, i fought with my teachers, i fought with just about everyone. i rode my bicycle fast through one of the most beautiful cities in the world. i worried about grades. sometimes i met with my classmates and studied. sometimes i went to parties with my classmates but i found them boring and felt like i didn't belong so i left. i hung out with the kids in the parish. i fought with the priests and the counselors and every adult in sight. i wish there were a book about me, but not a YA book. when you think about these things from the future of adulthood, they feel different, you know? the sense of loss is both magnified and diminished. kids are capable of tremendous despair, but adults, well, we're a bit more jaded, and we're afraid of death, and we are really afraid of injuries we didn't even know existed when we were kids, and all of this tinges our memories in a special and unique way. there's all this history that took place, and even though in some ways our adolescence feels to us as intact as it was then, it isn't. it's different, and i wish i could think of a writer who captures its misery through the eyes of adulthood. maybe sylvia plath in The Bell Jar?
but then the true crazy thing is that YA writers are adults, and this messes me up entirely. in fact, most YA readers are adults. what gives? what gives? if you have made it this far, please explain it to me.
this book is perfect. i hadn't read a perfect book in quite some time and now i have. no, wait. Lord of Misrule is perfect too (though it's easier for...morethis book is perfect. i hadn't read a perfect book in quite some time and now i have. no, wait. Lord of Misrule is perfect too (though it's easier for shorter books to be perfect, isn't it?), so now i've read TWO PERFECT books back to back. this is life smiling at me with a big fat grin.
as with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, of which this book reminded me, and as with The History of Love, of which also i was reminded (i just read it), and maybe most of all like An Invisible Sign of My Own, this book depicts horrible pain -- the pain of kids and old people, no less -- with unbelievable charm. these kids are fighters of the first order and you can't but love the heck out of them. and the old man, well, maybe the fight has gone out of him a little, but it's okay, things turn out kinda well for him, and in fact, in a book in which people eat each other, go around with their heads under their arms, and are subjected to terrible losses, things turn out okay for just about everyone, not because they are really okay, but because this is fiction and the power of fiction to bring whimsy and joy and irrepressible awe to the reader is endless. so this morning, when i woke up, i grabbed this little book from near my bed and held it for some twenty minutes, because it's going back to the library and we had to say goodbye proper-like. (less)
at first i thought, shucks, i should have read Saving Francesca, i don't understand a thing. but the fact is that i had read Saving Francesca, well, a...moreat first i thought, shucks, i should have read Saving Francesca, i don't understand a thing. but the fact is that i had read Saving Francesca, well, a third of it at least, and i had had to stop because the puppy love was really boring me to pieces. and then someone in the RA group suggested that i might like this, and i said, no no no, i had to stop reading Saving Francesca because of the puppy love, and they said, yes, that was a problem for me too, but this book is different. and maybe now i should backtrack and say that when i asked for advice in the Readers Advisory group i had just read, or was in the middle of reading, the masterful Code Name Verity, and that the suffering contained in that book, along with the author's conveyance that this suffering had meaning and was in fact redeemed by great love, had much lifted my spirits and filled my heart. and when i said this, someone in RA recommended this book, and that's why i was reading it, even though i kept thinking that, not having finished Saving Francesca, i couldn't possibly understand anything.
but i forged on. and then i realized that what marchetta does is give you the story a little bit at a time, so that you have all of its pieces only at the end. it's really great writing, simple unassuming writing with a genius organization underneath, so that you get to know all these people slowly and confusingly, the way you'd know people in real life if they showed up all at once, ten or so of them, barely remembering who's brother or nephew or uncle of whom, but slowly getting it, because marchetta knows what she's doing and how to bring you to the core of things. and the core of things, which slowly unfolds in all this confusion of kinship and inner pain, is that there is a family that was struck by a tragedy so profound that, two years later, everyone is still reeling -- reeling so badly that they are abandoning each other and betraying each other when they were each other's lifelines. and the worst thing of all is that they are abandoning tom, an unmoored teenager and arguably the book's protagonist (hence the YA designation, which, once again, seems to me entirely perplexing), who, as a consequence of the tragedy and the abandonments, got himself into a heap of trouble and is now hanging doubled up on the ropes of his life, totally out of juice, nothing left to him, a disaster in human shape.
the sydney of marchetta is a nice little city, with communities, local hang outs, and people who know about each other and care about each other beyond text messages and facebook status updates. they have been in each other's lives for generations (well, as many generations as being white in australia allows), have spent countless christmases together, have seen each other's children grow up, and don't understand not spending time together.
the book is a slow rebuilding of the community in the aftermath of trauma, which is also a slow building of the novel, the narrative, the threads that keep the story together. and while at first you wonder what the hell is wrong with these people, with their touchiness and immense capacity for taking things the wrong way, at the end you realize that marchetta has brought you through a journey in which people have hesitantly but tenderly started to heal each other, and in the process have healed you a bit too. (less)
this book seems to cause strong reactions, so let me first say what i think it is not:
* it is not a book that predicts how a generic child will impro...morethis book seems to cause strong reactions, so let me first say what i think it is not:
* it is not a book that predicts how a generic child will improve when treated the way virginia axline treats dibs (how does she treat dibs? she mostly describes dibs’ behavior, not hers).
* it is not a book about diagnostics (dibs is given exactly zero labels).
* it is not a book about technique; it is not a manual even in the broadest sense of the word.
* finally, it is not a book about etiology or the genesis of children's pain, not even this particular child's, even though the author does give some sense of what happened to dibs prior to their encounter.
what i think this book is, is the story of a very unique encounter between two unique individuals who found each other, clicked in a tremendously effective way, and led each other to change and growth. for all of axline's emphasis on the self (the finding of the self, the building up of the self, the solidifying of the self, etc.), DSS is about relationship and love -- the specific relationship axline built with this specific child and the love story they created.
what struck me most about the book, what i keep thinking about, is that healing love, in whatever context you find it, has one defining feature: it makes room for the other. axline's behavior toward dibs may seem at a superficial level pretty empty. she echoes his words and provides affirmation for pretty much all of his wishes, desires, and behaviors. since she doesn't describe herself, we don't know anything about her body language and her own behavior, but after a bit i got the impression that she was warm and smiling, that she didn't move much (except when dibs asked her to), and that she kept her attention riveted on dibs.
as dibs himself observes (he is such an fabulous patient; he notices everything and gives constant feedback and, i am pretty sure, gratification), there is nothing he cannot do in the playroom. this is fantastic for him and seems to be exactly what he needs. the only thing he cannot do is stay past his time, and this is something axline and dibs return to over and over. it's hard for dibs to leave, especially at first, when his situation at home is still extremely tense and hostile. but it's hard for him later, too. this specific therapeutic moment, the time when the session is over, is an extremely important one, crucial really, and i think that in a good therapeutic couple the loss is felt by both therapist and patient.
one thing dibs learns from axline is that losses are not permanent. he also learns that losses are harbingers of new gains and joys, often in pretty short order and in great abundance. it's a bit like waiting until dinner when you want a snack half an hour before the food is ready. by the end of the treatment, dibs adores the thought of thursday.
the way in which axline makes room for dibs is truly wonderful and the most shining lesson of this small book. i have thought about this and i believe the heart of this "making room" is total emptiness and total fullness, combined. the therapist empties herself of expectations, demands, or judgments (except for the very broad judgment that the patient is immensely interesting and lovable). in this process of self-emptying, though, the therapist becomes an extremely strong presence. it is (one of) the greatest miracles of humanness -- the more room we make for others, the more we empty ourselves of our own needs with respect to others, the more we grow in presence and impact. we become as insubstantial and irresistible as pure light.
now, this self-emptying can take place in all sorts of ways and contexts and with all sorts of gradations. the therapeutic setting is one in which this happens very intensely and to a very high degree (this is one of the reasons why therapeutic sessions typically last 50 minutes). there are other settings that are similar -- healing settings in which the "therapist" is not someone with a degree and a job. the idea is the same.
i think that what dibs feels, what blows him away, what makes him giddy with joy, is the loving space, the bright presence, the full emptiness he experiences with his miss A. he has never had that. experiencing it for the first time is dizzying to him. you can see the life being poured into him, and him drinking at it till he's sated. it's wonderful.
so, ultimately, this seems a book about how two people can meet and fall in love, and then, because one of these two people is a sad and hurt little boy, how one of them pours everything she ‘s got into healing him. there is, by the way, as far as i can see, no judgment from axline about the parents. the mother's visit with axline is wonderful. axline treats the mother the same way she treats dibs: she listens, takes her in, gives her space, passes no judgment at all, honors her pain and confusion, gives no advice.
in a really lovely passage little five-year-old dibs goes up to miss A and asks her: what are you? you are not a mom because i have my mom; you are not a teacher because i have my teachers. what are you?
axline echoes dibs' puzzlement rather than providing an answer (what would that answer be anyway?) and dibs happily moves on. i think this book is an answer to this question. what is a therapist? a therapist, a good therapist, is someone who delves into the dark with you, comes with you wherever you take her, sticks with you, and loves you madly. and she does this while being and staying herself, and human, and normal. (less)