In Chime, author Franny Billingsley builds a fantastical world in early 20th century England. Reeling from the death of her beloved Stepmother, Briony...moreIn Chime, author Franny Billingsley builds a fantastical world in early 20th century England. Reeling from the death of her beloved Stepmother, Briony Larkin admits to her murder and witchery and demands to be hanged. Following this death, Briony lives with her reverend father and a twin sister, Rose, who suffers from mentally-related issues in Swampsea, a town consumed by the nearby swamp and creatures contained within. She begins to question her closed front upon the arrival of Eldric, a University student who has been brought to Swampsea at the bequest of his father to receive the proper education from which he has weaseled out while away. Over the course of the novel, Briony faces the demons of her past and how everything might not be quite as she remembers.
Sometimes, quirky novels can be too twee, but Billingsley is a pro, and builds her world with a unique twist. Briony is a terrifically unreliable narrator, assuredly clever and seemingly self-aware, though also quite self-hating (which, as she admits, provides its own degree of comfort). The prose provides lush imagery, yet still maintains a believable 17 year-old girl's voice.
The mythology here is terrific and original. Instead of merely all being "witches," the "Old Ones" consist of all sorts of supernatural beings, from the water spirit "Mucky Face" to the "Dark Muses" whose alluring presences place a determined mark under their spell.
I have to admit, I was really beginning to write myself off on all "teen paranormal" literature after the likes of even the well-acclaimed Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The Scorpio Races missed the mark for me. However, as I shouldn't let myself forget, it often comes down to the quality of the writing, which can make any ordinary story shine.
My only real criticism would be of the setting. Nothing really feels unique to turn-of-the-century England. If this had been instead set in Salem Witch Trial-era Massachusetts, I wouldn't have batted an eye even if most of the detail was left intact. Still, though, that's not enough to blemish an otherwise highly successful novel, one that will be deserving of its acclaim should it find itself in the Printz round-up next January.
This was a solid 4.5 star read for me and I'm quite shocked to see the overall low score for this novel as well as the glut of bad reviews on the firs...moreThis was a solid 4.5 star read for me and I'm quite shocked to see the overall low score for this novel as well as the glut of bad reviews on the first page.
Celia Durst has returned to her childhood home after 20-odd years when "the sight of a vintage VW bug dredged Djuna Pearson from memory." She and Djuna were intense best frenemies whose relationship served as the centerpiece of a 5-girl clique. One day while walking in the woods, Djuna disappears. At the time, Celia claims she stepped into an unknown car. In the present, Celia, now working as a city employee miles away in Chicago, questions her memory and is convinced she saw Djuna fall into a hole and did nothing to help her. Upon her return to Jensenville, Celia attempts to confess her new "truth" to her family and tries to track down her old friends.
Other reviews cite dull or thin characters, meandering plot, and a confusing conclusion. In my reading, I found a great study of how perceptions influence our memories, coming to terms with our past selves, and the role parents play in upbringing wrapped in a mystery to perk up the package even more (a mystery to which the "actual happenings" are alluded to quite clearly twice in the final 2 pages). Many of the characters are well fleshed out, most wonderfully and heartbreakingly Leanne, the odd girl out who literally almost drove herself to death to please Djuna and Celia.
Celia may not be "likeable," but many parts of her are easy to relate. I know I thought back to my own childhood when reading and wondered if there were times I acted horribly without knowing better (or, conversely, worked to please those I wouldn't care about if I did know better). A worthwhile read. (less)
I keep on waffling between deciding whether this should be 4 or 5 stars. It's one hell of a novel, incredibly written and dripping with subtext and de...moreI keep on waffling between deciding whether this should be 4 or 5 stars. It's one hell of a novel, incredibly written and dripping with subtext and deep symbolism.
The one issue, and what I think means I'll have to go with 4 stars instead of 5, is that I'm finding it hard to buy that this is supposed to be the voice of a 16 year-old boy. If it were from the perspective of someone looking back upon his time at boarding school, I'd have no issues with it. As it stands, while Hubbard nails the mindset and general attitude of her narrator, the maturity makes it a bit unbelievable (and not in the Gossip Girl/OC/teens speaking in tons of witticisms way- there's a lot of deep insight going on).
It's easy to see why this has pulled in a truckload of starred reviews and may be up for some awards attention later on; it's the sort of novel adults wish teens would read even though it is often dense (it certainly won't be showing up on any Reluctant Reader/Quick Reads lists).
However, for adults and teens who are up for an indepth experience, this is quite a captivating read. Hubbard's exploration of masculinity and teen sexuality is thought-provoking and spot on.(less)
It's always nice when one cursorily reads something nice about a book on a blog, then months later randomly sees it at the library and picks it up whi...moreIt's always nice when one cursorily reads something nice about a book on a blog, then months later randomly sees it at the library and picks it up whilst somewhat remembering hearing about it and not only does it turn out to be quite good, but Really Quite Good Indeed.
In And Then Things Fall Apart, high school student Keek has a revelatory summer after developing a later-in-life case of the chicken pox. She's feuding with her best friend and boyfriend, her parents are separated after her father cheated with a waitress at the restaurant her family owns (a waitress who has become an inspirational friend of Keek's), and she's trapped at her Luddite grandmother's house in the meantime.
Sounds like the stuff of a fine enough guilty pleasure contemporary YA work, no? But through her writing, debut author Tibensky makes the story really shine. Obsessed with Sylvia Plath, Esther Greenwood, and The Bell Jar, Keek logs the ups and downs of her summer on her grandmother's typewriter, sprinkling in various works of poetry and other diversions.
Unreliable narrators are often my favorites, and though Keek is generally cogent, the histrionics of teenagerdom (and suffering from chicken pox, which apparently can cause extreme sickness if one doesn't catch it until many years past the infant & toddler years) take hold as we discover that though she believes her relationship with her best friend and boyfriend could be beyond repair, the actual situation may not be quite as serious. For readers who shy away from "unlikeable" protagonists, the novel may be off-putting, but for those who appreciate well-rounded, real characters, the narrative is a delight.
Tibensky is a fabulous writer in the vein of E Lockhart, writing a convincing and compulsively readable teenage voice while still mixing in plenty of brains and literary motifs on which to gnaw. It's too bad this wasn't picked up by the Morris committee, but I hope it receives some attention on award etc lists in the new year.
And though this is generally a very successful work, there are a couple points that keep it from being a 5-star read for me. The "sofa king" phrase felt a bit too cutesy for me, though I appreciate it a bit more when viewing it as a link from Amanda, the waitress with whom her father cheated though Keek viewed her as impossibly cool before finding out. Though Keek is furious with her, her continued usage shows that she's still somewhat connected to the idea of becoming 'cooler' than she sees herself.
Also, the epilogue is a bit out of tone with the rest, feeling more like the epilogue to a novel it is than the last entry of a girl's summer typewritten diary as written, to tie up loose ends.
Nevertheless, this is highly recommended for fans of well-written contemporary YA.(less)
Wow, this one sure zips along at a breakneck pace. Read it in one sitting. The movie has probably become more iconic than the novel, but the latter's...moreWow, this one sure zips along at a breakneck pace. Read it in one sitting. The movie has probably become more iconic than the novel, but the latter's style and subject matter is right up my alley. It doesn't feature the deepest exploration of character or the most literary writing, but when you're chuckling this much throughout and so into it all, how much does that matter?
Having recently read and quite liked Leila Sales' second novel, Past Perfect, I expected a solid effort from her debut as well, though thanks to some...moreHaving recently read and quite liked Leila Sales' second novel, Past Perfect, I expected a solid effort from her debut as well, though thanks to some of the reviews (speaking of, I'm quite embarrassed for what is the top-listed review for the book on this site at the moment) thought it might be a little breezier and in the vein of the sort of novel that is well-written and funny with some brain behind it, but while being a good read doesn't leave much to think about a few minutes after closing the pages, a pretty standard "3 star" kind of read.
And to be honest, it does start out that way. Told initially in vignettes then closing into a somewhat more traditional structure in the home stretch, Girls clings to familiar tropes and some mixed attempts at humor early on, slowly working its way into a bit of a deeper story midway through and really bringing it home in the last 50-70 pages or so.
Near the beginning, 16-year old Violet Tunis, our narrator, lists 7 goals for her upcoming year, ranging from attainable to somewhat more outlandish. A junior at the prestigious Boston-area Westfield private school for girls, Violet has been inseparable from her best friend Katie Putnam since a school project several years before that began with three days of fighting, the longest time they've gone without speaking since meeting.
At its core, this is a novel about expectations and how we react when faced with change. No particularly unfamiliar ground is broken, but Sales still manages to resolve the story in a way that is realistic without feeling tired. By the end, we find that Violet has made mixed headway in her goals, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
Being 24 now, these themes aren't quite what I currently deal with, though at that age this would have been a spot on read for me. Sales does explicitly tell at the end what some of her writing shows just a few pages before, though I guess since this is YA it's not as big of a deal (and it is handled relatively well. Sometimes "the point" is blathered on about in a cloying or heavy-handed way in YA).
So. Though the first third or so may give the impression it's a totally light read, there is definitely more depth that's worth sticking around for. I look forward to whatever Sales writes next (and given her second novel moved off into the world of teen historical re-enactors, looks like there is a well of creativity to mine as well. I just hope she gets better book cover designs next time...).(less)
At the beginning, I thought Abbott's novel was going to turn into another competent-but-humdrum The Fates Will Find Their Way sort of affair, but as I...moreAt the beginning, I thought Abbott's novel was going to turn into another competent-but-humdrum The Fates Will Find Their Way sort of affair, but as I read on I was pleased to find that there was some substance to back up the prose. Once I was hooked into the story, it was extremely difficult to put down, wondering what really happened to Evie as well as basking in the beautiful writing. It comes off a bit cutesy-literary just to be at first, but once the plot begins to really take off it all comes together.
The subject matter is fairly heavy, and even somewhat graphic, at times, with some incredibly complex characters in the mix - if you're the sort of person who finds it hard to get into a novel where many characters aren't endearing or likable, this may not be your best bet. That said, there's so much complexity (and subversion of what some early foreshadowing seems to indicate), "unlikable" isn't necessarily the most apt description, either. (less)