i love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéi love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéd and, you know, the author, just like the protagonist, is a poet, so basically every page is a poem.
the most astounding feature of this slender book is the treatment of sex. adolescent queer desire; straight puppy sex that is not exactly puppy-esque; the secret sex of not-very-sexual middle-aged same-sex lovers; the sex that inevitably passes between a mother and a child, a father and a(n older) child; rape (yah); and then some more mature same-sex attraction. it's all done so intelligently and so daringly, and even when it feels transgressive and icky it's still intelligent, delicate and smart.
love is sex is desire is love is tenderness is dedication is freedom is sex is desire is love. love can be entrapping or it can be safe. you have to pick your love carefully. if you can. (heartbreak.)
this is a book written by a feminist author who has no desire to traumatize her reader, but means to enrich her at every turn with the power of beauty, feeling, strength, and language.
if you are feeling like the world is a heavy place, this may be the book for you. ...more
this book is beautiful. the kids are gorgeous. cleo is deeply compelling and her friends are deeply real even though the whole thing also has a surreathis book is beautiful. the kids are gorgeous. cleo is deeply compelling and her friends are deeply real even though the whole thing also has a surreal, fantastic, haunting quality.
i love the way in which RC draws and details the girls' bodies. they are all in some state of disarray, with gothicky torn clothes and gothicky street-kids haircuts; most of them are on the chunky side; their bodiness is palpable and luscious and lovely. there's a lot of attention paid to butts straining into tight jeans, hips overflowing shirts, breasts compressed into bodices. gestures are also given great attention: cigarettes held in left hands, feet trying to find solid place on the ground, toilets, vomiting, hands clutching stomachs, manifestations of exhilaration, manifestations of distance, crying.
i like that some characters are fully drawn while others are more sketchy. boys are almost all sketchy, while girls are full and deep and intense.
there is no real story except for the anguish of being newly alone at college in run-down and filthy facilities (the janitors are apparently on strike), and the daily dealings of kids trying out adulthood while being still unbearably young.
cleo is so alone. youth is so full of pain. do we ever outgrow it? we just learn to hide it better. ...more
from the john green approach to YA lit: all emotional pull and no depth. also, a certain amount of offensiveness, but that may be a by-product of thefrom the john green approach to YA lit: all emotional pull and no depth. also, a certain amount of offensiveness, but that may be a by-product of the all-emotional-pull-and-no-depth approach. anyway. 2 stars for keeping me engaged. i may dock one though if i feel less charitable. ...more
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/hosKnife 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 pall 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 the book defines (inaccurately, i believe) 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 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)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
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 attentii 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. ...more
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 reygeneral 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. ...more
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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) ...more
ETA 2: this is what i want to say about this book and my review after all. it reminded me of john green's The Fault in Our Stars: cute and simple, meaETA 2: this is what i want to say about this book and my review after all. it reminded me of john green's The Fault in Our Stars: cute and simple, meant to exploit feelings and tragedy (cancer there, AIDS here) rather than to explore them, which is what books should do. there is so much wealth of material just in the relation between mom and dad and the two girls, and of june and greta with each other. but there is no serious exploration going on. nor is there much exploration of the love of finn and toby, or even finn and june, even though that is the heart and soul of the book. why do all these people love each other? why is greta so angry? (glimpses of that). what's the matter with june's and greta's parents' just not noticing that their kids are going to the wolves? i also want to delete all that i said originally and that appears below, but i'll be respectful of history and leave it, highlights and all.
ETA: i finished this after all. well, almost. i stopped some 30 pages to the end. i have more to say. i hope i get to say it. ***
i read about 100 pages of this book, which everyone justly loves, and i regret to say that we need to part ways. the book has done nothing but good to me, but i have discovered a fact in myself that is so new, so startling, it's just about knocking my socks off: if i read books about kids, those kids have to be boys. i can't think of a single book with a girl protagonist that worked magic for me the way so many boy-protagonist books did and do.
last night, as i was reading, i pretended that the protagonist was a boy and my response to the book changed. yikes.
i should have known this. i don't seek out books with girl protagonists unless they are queer books, and then i don't really like them anyway and leave them half-way unread.
but i learned this only after i realized that i wasn't liking this book as much as i would have if the protagonist had been a boy. (how many entirely obvious things do we do that we don't know we do?)
this is startling to me because i mostly read book by and about women, and don't much like books about men. but childhood -- well, i've written before here on GR how my childhood was that of a boy-girl, and i suppose that identification has stuck, and is operating deeply, and probably will forever.
this also sheds some light for me on what's at work when we like or dislike books. people on GR remark on the beautiful writing of this book and i'm puzzled, because i can't see it.
i'm fascinated by the libidinal response each of us has to books and works of art in general, and by what shapes and overdetermines taste. even educated people, voracious, discerning readers -- we are led by our noses, by our guts, by our history. which brings me to the crucial point of "the canon." how different would the canon be if the cultural group that determines it were different? it would be unrecognizable. because, of course, beyond subjective libidinal responses there are the libidinal responses of groups, influenced by what members of that group have been told since they joined the group (willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly) they should like. and it's fascinating indeed to see how the switching of group identity can dramatically alter libidinal responses. i am thinking of someone who comes to identify as gay, of class changes, etc.
so, take care june. you are a great kid. i wish you well. ...more