This won the National Book Award? Really? Well, it was better than Far, Far Away (slightly) and did not have the valleys of Picture Me Gone (but certaThis won the National Book Award? Really? Well, it was better than Far, Far Away (slightly) and did not have the valleys of Picture Me Gone (but certainly didn't have the peaks either). Rank this one with Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird as two of worst YA novels to win the National Book Award--both with cloying narrators and condescending tones. This is at least more believable than Erskine's Lifetime movie-esque setup (I know that that's harsh, but the way that novel mimicked and used the great To Kill a Mockingbird is unforgivable); Kadohata's novel is much lighter--no school violence, just a family trying to make ends meet by any means necessary.The family situation is realistic and touching without being overly emotional. The narrator's relationship with her grandmother is especially well drawn...although discerning readers will identify more with the grandmother than the protagonist. Intellectually, I appreciate her choices to go for realism over a ridiculously overblown scenario like Erskine's novel, but it results in either a simplistic, too quickly-resolved conflict (with Robbie, for example) or characters who are not fully fleshed out (the protagonist's grandfather). In the end, the biggest problem is that the stakes are so low that the novel becomes a slog. And the precise details about farming, while realistic, are sleep-inducing and worth skimming. It feels like the author did a really really good job researching her subject, but to what end? This novel is certainly not the worst YA novel I've read, and the writing isn't exactly bad--she nails the style she's going for, even if the main character's petulance is off-putting--it's just a shame that something more challenging and current wasn't named the winner. ...more
I was expecting so much more! I really enjoyed Dark Water (by Laura McNeal, the author's wife) and the premise sounded interesting...but what a bore.I was expecting so much more! I really enjoyed Dark Water (by Laura McNeal, the author's wife) and the premise sounded interesting...but what a bore. First the good: the ghostly narration by Jacob Grimm was interesting and added a layer of complexity. The characters were generally likable, and I was rooting for them (mostly). And the fairy-tale connection was subtly handled. But, from there problems abound--was this supposed to resemble real life or a fairy tale world? It didn't really fit in either, unfortunately. When the townsfolk shun the main character, for example, it seems underdone for a fairy-tale world, but overdone (and not believable) for realistic fiction. The subplot of the bookstore being sold is fine; the subplot of the game show is strange. The supporting characters (esp Conk, McRaven) are not fleshed out, and we really don't know what to make of them. It's too easy to figure out who the villain is, and never explained what his title means: The Finder of Occasions? But, the biggest problem, the thing that made me want to hurl the book across the room, is the skeletal plot: there is one major prank (which again is either too slight for a fairy tale or completely unrealistic), and...that's about it. The villain doesn't enter until about 250 pages in...and (without spoiling anything) then the main characters don't really do anything. There is little drive to keep reading, making this a big disappointment for me....more
Another book where 2.5 stars would be perfect! I went up to 3 because the writing was solid overall (if a little close to purple prose by the end), anAnother book where 2.5 stars would be perfect! I went up to 3 because the writing was solid overall (if a little close to purple prose by the end), and, finally, here's a first person novel that doesn't skimp on the description. The author also did a nice job of drawing in the reader and making her fantasy world accessible to an audience beyond readers of that genre. On the down side, the novel feels like a mash-up: 1/2 Hunger Games, 1/4 Game of Thrones, 1/4 Princess Mononoke. Borrowing the female heroine, the fancy clothing, the political machinations, and the mystical stag (perhaps the most blatant), would be one thing if combined with new, fresh ideas. Sadly, what I've left out is that the main character is an orphan who is the chosen one and there's a fight between light and dark. Sigh. Overall, it's a quick read, though, and generally well-written, if not new, exciting, and different. ...more
I really enjoy this series and #3 is probably the strongest and most diverse collection so far. It is more mature than "Funny Business," and holds togI really enjoy this series and #3 is probably the strongest and most diverse collection so far. It is more mature than "Funny Business," and holds together as a unified collection better than "Thriller." Like both collections, it also has some surprising highs; but unlike editions 1 and 2, there are no real lows.
In all three collections there is one standout story. In "Thriller," it was Walter Dean Myers' tonally different, and very affecting, realistic portrait of a Somali boy pirate. "The Sports Pages" follows suit in Chris Crutcher's serious, mature, and realistic portrait of a teenage boy struggling with sports and familial abuse in "The Meat Grinder." The friendship that develops in the story between the main character and the football star is touching and honest, and feels realistic in a way that the other stories approach, but don't quite attain. The closest competition is Tim Green's "Find Your Fire" in which two star athletes and best friends are competing for a football scholarship. The story has too much going on, and too much dead space, but the title theme and ambiguous ending make up for the areas that are lacking. Also oddly-paced is Jacqueline Woodson's "The Distance," that unfortunately never answers the question of why the narrator didn't try harder in his relay leg (because it was too difficult, really?). Again, however, the ending theme and the interesting familial and friend relationships give the story weight. Better than Green's and Woodson's story is Joseph Bruchac's "Choke" about a boy who takes up mixed-martial arts to take on a bully. It has a similar generic set-up but the narrator's sarcastic sense of humor mixes well with the realism, and makes the story more engaging overall.
On the other hand, "Max Swings for the Fences" by Anne Ursu, "The Trophy" by Gordon Korman, "How I Won the World Series" by Dan Gutman, and "I Will Destroy You, Derek Jeter" by Chris Rylander, all go for laughs...and are completely unrealistic. They are all genuinely funny, though, with Ursu's being the real surprise. Her story about a lie that quickly spirals out of control has the best twist ending of the bunch. All four are frothy and light-hearted, and could give the stories in "Funny Business" a run for their money.
Perhaps the best surprise, however, are the two nonfiction pieces--hockey player Dustin Brown's "Against All Odds," and James Brown's "The Choice." Like Crutcher's fictional story, they feel honest, and they each carry important, powerful, and different messages to young readers. The nonfiction stories also help to both broaden the diversity of the collection, while, interestingly, thematically tying the all the stories together. Both stories made me wonder what "Thriller" and "Funny Business" might have been like with some interesting nonfiction mixed in.
Sports stories can so often go horribly wrong, descending into treacly, platitude-spewing, sentimental disasters (think of almost every popular sports movie out there). That this collection sidesteps that trap in so many interesting ways is phenomenal, and shows that these collections are only getting better as the series continues.
Such a difficult review to write...the middle 2/3, when the book hits its stride, and before the unbelievable (but romantically hopeful!) ending, is rSuch a difficult review to write...the middle 2/3, when the book hits its stride, and before the unbelievable (but romantically hopeful!) ending, is really good. The characters live and thrive, and the book takes off. I turned page after page, happy for their lives taking shape and starting to fully form for the reader.
As good as that part was, and as much as I wanted that happy ending, there were also many problems with the novel: first and foremost, there was not much of a plot and very little description. Things happen to the characters for much of the novel, but there doesn't feel like much of a logic to what's happening when. And, the actions that do happen are not the most original or engaging. In addition, although the book is generally hopeful, why oh why is there another narrative that revolves around serious bodily harm to its gay characters? While the 'it gets better' message seeps through, one can't also avoid thinking that being gay somehow entails violent harm.
The lack of description was even more problematic--there's so much emotion in the book, that it works when things are going okay for the characters, but teeters toward melodrama when problems abound. Having no description to cut these parts makes scenes go on or lead nowhere. There's also a LOT of crying and conversation punctuated by many direct emotional statements. Perhaps it's being from New England, but much of the family interactions ring false.
And yet...I still liked the book. I wanted to keep reading, if only to find the moments of pure poetry in which the novel soars. With a few adjustments, however, it could have been even better....more
I really wanted to like this book for the premise alone: updating Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Sadly, there wasn't anything new, exciting, aI really wanted to like this book for the premise alone: updating Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Sadly, there wasn't anything new, exciting, and different in 'Ten.' There were plenty of cliches and horror tropes, however--from the reveal of the killer to every action, nothing was much of a surprise. There was also plenty of bad writing: every time there was a bit lip, creased forehead, or arched brow I wanted to hurl the book across the room, not to mention all the ridiculous decisions made by the characters. But, worst of all is that the characters are boring. McNeil does an okay job with the brattier teens (Vivian, Minnie)--sadly, most of the women characters are shrill, gossipy, and backstabbing, but at least they're interesting. Still, the reader doesn't care about them, or the milquetoast heroes, making the early chapters a slog, and the later ones uninteresting. At least the plot kept the novel moving at a fast pace, and for that, and the premise, 2 stars seems about right....more