After I finished The Raging Quiet, a part of my heart wept for this sad truth: many wonderful young adult books are going out of print and being overs...moreAfter I finished The Raging Quiet, a part of my heart wept for this sad truth: many wonderful young adult books are going out of print and being overshadowed by books with shiny, flashy covers and dime-a-dozen plots and characters. Imagine fifty or a hundred years from now: will the "classic" books for young adults be some paranormal insta!love angst fests that (sadly) have the large audiences (and large print runs) in the here and now? What will happen to these hidden gems that sadly go out of print before their time? Will they be left to collect dust in libraries, sold off at used book stores, and forgotten as we continue to plough our way into an all-digital age? When people look back (if they look back at all), will this era of booming young adult literature merely be categorized by the easy sells and the cheap plots? If so, what a sad, sad thing that is to me.
In a way, The Raging Quiet left me with many of the same feelings I had upon finishing Keturah and Lord Death (another hidden gem which is sadly out of print) and many of Melina Marchetta's books (particularly her fantasy offerings). All the stories mentioned show realistic shades of suffering, pain, longing, redemption, and love -- but The Raging Quiet felt even more resonant, given that I could almost imagine such a tale occurring long, long ago.
Marnie Isherwood has not been dealt the kindest blows in life: she finds herself married to a much older man after her father's health declines and her family's well-being is threatened by jealousy and lies. Though at first she thinks her husband a kind and honorable man, she quickly learns that he is far from the man she had thought him to be. Now nestled in a cottage by a cove, just outside the small town of Torcurra, Marnie feels more alone and hopeless than ever. But there are glimmers of hope in two people she meets: a kindly priest and a mad boy believed to be possessed by demons.
The Raging Quiet is a thoughtful book, the kind that comes along rarely and catches you off-guard with its sincerity in showing both the joys and pains of life. The novel is one-part morality play, one-part coming-of-age journey, and one-part love story. Though all those elements on their own are not noteworthy or unique by any means, together they wield surprising weight in making this tale -- of prejudices and punishments, bonds and brokenness, realizations and rejoicing -- an unforgettable read.
Undeniably, however, what really makes this novel pull at the heartstrings is the cast of characters, namely Marnie and the "mad boy" (who comes to be known as Raven). It's amazing and heartwarming to read how the two characters grow into both themselves and their friendship over the course of the story -- and how their companionship is often what saves them when they are in threat of losing themselves to darker thoughts and actions. That kind of character growth and depth isn't found often, so I relished every page I had with these two characters.
Needless to say, The Raging Quiet is a book I wholeheartedly recommend for its great heart and meaning. Even if historical fiction isn't your fancy, I can guarantee that there is at least something you can glean from reading this book. Just think: odds are that you'll likely enjoy it as much as, if not more than, the commercial young adult books out there on shelves now. Do yourself the favor and consider it, for you may find yourself surprised in the end.
(My thanks go out to Lora, without whom I would never have even known about this book. I owe you a great book recommendation, darling, for steering me towards this wonderful gem of a novel!)(less)
It seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
I...moreIt seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
I don't think a book in recent memory has made me dread or hope as much as this one did.
Prized made my heart a knotted mess, and then slowly -- painfully -- the knots began to untangle and leave me even more stricken.
This book and its predecessor Birthmarked are so much more than run-of-the-mill YA dystopian novels. They are rife with important topics (and even some criticisms): the merit of choice for women, their bodies, and their love lives; the shades of sexism that can lead to one sex dominating over the other; and the truth that difficult circumstances ultimately try who you are, what you believe, and who you will become.
I love Gaia, the heroine, for being a confused sixteen-year-old who is still more sensible, honest, and free-willed than most heroines in YA today.
I love Leon, the hero, for not being the "perfect guy," the be-all-and-end-all for Gaia. He has deep layers and dark shades, but he is not the "bad boy" stereotype many of us have come to loathe.
I love that their romance is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, yet always passionate.
I love the story for speaking out about so many important things in quiet and subtle ways.
And I love Caragh O'Brien for giving me these books that I'll want to devour again and again. Please keep challenging me, making me ponder, making me fall in love with your characters in both their good moments and their bad. You even have permission to break my heart with your words and your characters (as you did with this installment), so long as you offer enough hope for me to piece my heart back together again.
I wait with an anxious (and dread- and hope-filled) heart for the third book, Promised, and can only hope that the characters I have come to love will reach the places they need to be.(less)
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Be...more(Actual Rating: 4.5 stars)
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Behind me. Even this whole year, when I didn't see them, I always knew they were there.
The lack of surprise doesn't make it any less awesome. Because I get a different revelation now, better than Beethoven's. I'm in love. . .with my stupid, fallen-apart family.
Chase "Everboy" McGill lives for the summers he spends with his family in their summer home by the beach. Rather than feel fulfilled by the other dozens of weeks in the year, Chase defines himself and his family by summer because, to him, summer holds the most meaning, the most answers, the most everything. Summer is the constant even while his life changes and spins out of his control. Spread over four consequent summers in Chase's life, Invincible Summer embodies everything there is to love about summer -- and everything there is to mourn about it too.
Just as summer is a constant, Chase's family are his constants, his crutches, his rocks, his burdens. His parents try to hide their marital tension for the sake of upholding the summer goal of vacation and relaxation. His older brother Noah disappears as he pleases as a way to tear himself away from the weakness of caring too much about his family. Younger sister Claudia is forever trying to act older than her age, wearing bikinis and make-up and trying to flirt and seduce in equal measures, while younger brother Gideon lives his life without the aid of hearing.
Then there are the Hathaways, their summer neighbors, who are also constants in and of themselves: beautiful Melinda who quotes Albert Camus and eyes both Chase and Noah at different times; wily boy Shannon who hopes that the Hathaway and McGill clans will join through marriage someday; and sweet Bella who has a crush on Chase.
There are just so many things to love about this book. The characters. The prose. The story. The intensity and uncertainty of youth. The unpredictable quality of life itself. Even the Camus quotes, which could have been high-handed or (at worst) completely unnecessary, somehow just fit so well.
Chase's story isn't a fun one -- or, at least, it's not this ideal 'picture perfect summer' story. Pain, regret, resentment, and bitterness all play a part in this tale, but that's life. Life can be so many things just as this book is so many things.
While I can't say this book was perfect, it meant something to me. It resonated. It spoke. It voiced so many things so eloquently and powerfully.
Take it from me: Invincible Summer is worth the time to read. You will feel nostalgic for your own summers of fun and regret. You will close your eyes and recall a time when life was simpler but not necessarily better -- but your perspective was different. You were young, you were invincible, you were everything. Summer was everything and more.
Read this book. Remember those days. You may learn something from the reading and remembering.(less)
**spoiler alert** First: DON'T HURT THE PONIES, LITTLE GIRLS!!! Or I will sick a chimera or a dementor or something much worse on you.
Second: I really...more**spoiler alert** First: DON'T HURT THE PONIES, LITTLE GIRLS!!! Or I will sick a chimera or a dementor or something much worse on you.
Second: I really hate it that this short story is so true to life that I can imagine little girls hurting each other's ponies or hurting their own for the sake of popularity. I really hate it. And, while I don't think the ways of girls and popularity will be changing anytime soon, I have to hope that the good will outweigh the bad. The sad thing is that I think they would be doing worse than maiming or killing each other's ponies in real life, though. . .
Third: HOW COULD YOU HURT A PONY AGAIN? YOU MEAN, HEARTLESS LITTLE GIRLS!!
Fourth: Sadly, ponies here are a good allegory for what girls -- no, scratch that -- what anyone would do for the sake of popularity, especially in the tumultuous time of adolescence. It's a bit like the 'if everyone else is doing it, then so should I' syndrome. In this short story, little girls 'fit in' by doing a initiation involving their beloved Ponies -- and the results are bloody. It will give you the heebie-jeebies to read it, but can you really deny that people can be this bloodthirsty about popularity in the real world? How do you think the term cut-throat came about? Don't be naive. But make sure to be better.
Fifth: If you love ponies or animals in general, then maybe you should think twice about reading this. . .
Sixth: If I lived in this crazy short story, I would want a Pony with weaponry (to defend itself) or an outrageous appearance where it would not be bothered by the other Ponies. Here's the perfect one for me:
What? I like Edward Scissorhands!
Seventh: All craziness and pony massacres aside, Ponies (which should have been subtitled Popularity Kills) needs to be read to be believed. The question: do you dare?(less)
You Against Me by Jenny Downham (author of Before I Die) is one of those books where the book blurb reminds you a lot of a Lifetime movie. You have a...moreYou Against Me by Jenny Downham (author of Before I Die) is one of those books where the book blurb reminds you a lot of a Lifetime movie. You have a boy and a girl, joined by the sordid details of a crime and accusation involving their siblings. The boy is planning revenge in some form while the girl, unaware of the boy's intentions or identity, slowly begins to fall for him. It almost sounds like Romeo and Juliet meets a Dateline crime special. How can this end well on either side?
Mikey is struggling to balance work and family as he copes with the aftermath of his sister Karyn's alleged rape. Though his dreams lie in living in London and learning to become a chef, he instead toils away to help his family because his single mother is an alcoholic who spends more time hung-over than with her three children. What were the fraying threads of his family life now threaten to rip apart entirely after what happens to Karyn; police officers and social workers become parts of the family's life, much to Mikey"s dismay. But even though the future is unclear, Mikey knows one thing: Thomas Parker caused all of this.
Thomas "Tom" Parker is Ellie Parker's older brother -- the one who was accused of raping Karyn. Though her family hides behind the gates leading to their home, Ellie too is dealing with a family on the brink of self-destructing. Because the allegations against Tom are of the "he said, she said" variety, Ellie feels a great pressure since she was home the night the alleged rape occurred, and she will likely be detrimental to her brother's defense in the upcoming trial. However much her parents assure her that helping her brother prove his innocence is the right thing, Ellie feels even more doubtful and uncertain the longer she processes the memories of that night and the truth of what really happened. . .
Mikey and Ellie meet under the guise of lies and a pursuit for revenge. Their initial relationship is based more of Mikey's attempt to glean his own personal justice upon Tom, but nothing works quite as planned once Mikey and Ellie begin to realize that they like each other. Whatever their differences or flaws, they are connected by the crime and its ripple effects through both of their families. How will they survive it? And will they be able to look at each other the same way after the fact?
You Against Me is definitely a very fascinating book, especially with how it delves into the psychology of how families cope with crimes (from aspects of both accuser and accused). . .but it is also very frustrating. No, this book is not a romance -- or, at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, it's a portrait of realism, falsehood, truth, fear, doubt, family, and healing. The characters don't take easy paths -- and, even when decisions are made, the answers are not so clear-cut and simple. This is an ambiguous book showcasing that there are always two sides to every story and that, instead of black and white, our world is a very gray place of villains masquerading as heroes and heroes being portrayed as villains.
However much I loved this book for challenging my mind and my own judgments, I honestly don't think it's a book for everyone. It's the type of story that you mull over, that you ponder and contemplate, that makes you think, "Okay, what would I do?" Not every reader is comfortable with that kind of introspection, so that's why I hesitate to say,"YOU MUST READ IT." Still, You Against Me is very fascinating and thought-provoking, so I hope it will find the readers who will appreciate it the most -- and who come away better and stronger because of it.(less)
I came to the conclusion a while ago that there is nothing romantic or supernatural about loving someone: Love is the privilege of being responsible f...moreI came to the conclusion a while ago that there is nothing romantic or supernatural about loving someone: Love is the privilege of being responsible for another. [my favorite quote from Zombicorns]
What a way to get me depressed AND force me to think. For being a novella of only about 70 pages, Zombicorns was very thought-provoking indeed. You might not think much of such a satirically titled work, but it's definitely worth at least a peek. (I can guarantee that you will be hooked enough to at least finish it.)
Now, my only gripe is this: I may be a nerd, but I'm not a John Green-type nerd. Some of the things in his works totally whiz over my head and straight into the sky. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't like feeling stupid when I read books or stories. I like learning while reading, but I definitely do not like something being thrown at me that I obviously wouldn't know. John Green has a tendency to do that in his writing, thus giving it a superior tone that I don't know if he intends or not. (His main characters tend to believe themselves superior in some ways, though, so. . .it may be intentional in one respect.)
Some questions I couldn't help but ponder while reading this novella:
(1) Why wasn't this included in the anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns? I get that it was written primarily for charity at first, but STILL. I think this short story would have fit nicely since its tone was much like the stories Scott Westerfeld and Libba Bray had offered in said anthology.
(2) Why was the title Zombicorns? Was that meant to appeal to people who had read the above anthology I mentioned? Or was the title meant to be deeper than one might think, telling that the story merged violence (zombies) and innocence (unicorns) together? (Actually, the story was more about inception of violence and loss of innocence -- but you'd realize that if you read it.)
(3) Why did John Green call this a 'bad zombie apocalypse novella'? Excuse me, way to insult my intelligence. If this is stupid to you, then I'd hate for you to read some of the things I write that I call 'stupid little nothings.' (Said writings will never see the light of day even after hundreds of revisions, by the way.) I get that about trying to be humble -- but too much is too much.
(You're getting the impression that I dislike John Green, aren't you? Well -- I don't, but I can't say I'm a fan yet either even though I own all of his novels. I'm on the fence about what I think about him as a writer even though I think he's bloody brilliant with short stories.)
(And, yes, I realize that I'm giving way too many back-handed compliments. I do that with writers I'm on the fence about. You should read what I say about Stephenie Meyer and L.J. Smith.)
Anyway. . .all I can say is that this is definitely worth a read (especially since it is now FREE), so do so at your reading pleasure and leisure. Enjoy.(less)
In Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott, Hoshima Suzume's life changes within moments when her father is accused of treason a...more(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
In Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott, Hoshima Suzume's life changes within moments when her father is accused of treason against the Moon Prince, and she sees her once-happy life stolen and destroyed. In the panic that follows, something strange awakens within Suzume, an ability to disappear and blend into her surroundings as she flees her devastated home. Once the situation settles, Suzume's mother returns from her trip and retrieves Suzume...although Suzume herself is uneasy by the way her father's friend, Terayama Ryoichi, swoops in and takes Suzume and her mother into his household without hesitation. Grief overtakes Suzume even as she slowly begins to realize the more sinister possibilities behind why her father was accused of treason...
Many readers have been fascinated by this Japanese-flavored take on Cinderella, so I was enthusiastic to start reading it because (thanks to my years of anime watching/manga reading) I've been in love with Japanese culture for quite a while. However, once I did begin the novel, I found myself a bit conflicted: there were elements I absolutely loved while some other things annoyed me. (In some ways, my reading experience reminded me of how I felt with Marissa Meyer's Cinder -- another YA Cinderella retelling, oddly enough.) Given my mixture of opinions, I decided to tackle my review in an untraditional way, so here are the pros and cons I encountered as I read Shadows on the Moon:
-Yay for more diversity in YA! Asian heroine, Asian-inspired land, a love interest who is of pseudo-African descent...awesome! I would love to see many more explorations of diversity like this in fiction, especially in the fantasy genre that's far too often "white European"-influenced.
-The idea of shadow-weaving (illusionary magic) was innovative and mysterious. Even though illusion as a magical ability is in no way uncommon in the fantasy genre, I was still intrigued by the ability and its varying uses. I wouldn't even mind following other shadow-weavers in other books (*hint, hint*).
-Suzume's journey from nobility to tragedy was very intriguing and, at times, haunting. As I followed Suzume through her varying circumstances, there were few times I didn't feel my heartstrings tugged. Even with my opinions all tangled about this book, I always felt sympathy for Suzume as a character.
-I admired and appreciated how some very serious real-life issues, such as self-harm and contemplation of suicide, were handled over the course of the story. It's rare to see such thoughtful consideration for these issues in contemporary fiction and even more so in fantasy. Given how little these issues are seen in fantasy novels, you would think fantasy characters never experienced the kind of self-destructive depression so often found in real life! But that wasn't the case at all in Shadows on the Moon. The depression here manifests in very real and sometimes very harmful ways.
-The ending satisfied me yet left more than enough room open for a potential companion novel or sequel. I would love to see more of this world, whether it be the Moonlit Lands or Athazie, because there is so much possibility in this mysterious world of magic manifesting in such intriguing ways.
-Compared to most YA novels, the build-up of the story was slow, so much so that it was sometimes a detriment to the story. This is entirely a matter of taste. Some readers gobble up novels that take a hundred pages or more to "get going"; as for me, I'm rarely one of them. Shadows on the Moon nearly lost me a number of times throughout its first 200 pages, but I kept on because I love (and want to see more) Japanese-influenced stories. The pay-off, of course, was eventually there within the pages (thank goodness).
-As much as I enjoyed the Japanese spotlight in this story, I couldn't help but feel that the handling was either too "faithful" or not "ambitious enough" depending on the point within the story. Do I believe this story could have been told without the Japanese words sprinkled throughout the narrative and would have lost very little through it? Yes. Do I believe that the story seemed a bit too reliant on Japanese culture and background despite being a "new world/land"? Yes. As a fantasy land, it really didn't seem divorced enough from real-life inspirations. It's one of those stories where, if it had been tweaked a little and sold as "historical fiction with hints of magical realism," I would have been much happier.
-The romance, as sweet as it became, was built on a shaky foundation. I eventually liked Suzume and Otieno, her love interest, quite a bit together -- though it took me a while to warm up to them. Electricity-ridden glances, traces of insta!love, and clandestine meetings...not the newest territory for the foundation of a relationship in YA. (It didn't help that Suzume and Otieno shared their first conversation on page 170, have a few scattered conversations to which the reader is not privy, and then on page 178 they kiss for the first time. Much telling and not showing went on in the early stages of building their relationship, and I was disappointed by that. In some ways, I understand -- every writer fears that their novels will be shunned for "focusing too much on romance" -- but romance, no matter how heavy or light, should always resonate with the reader. I didn't always feel that here.) However, near the two-thirds mark, I found myself charmed by the interactions of Suzume and Otieno. No, I was never fully convinced by them, but I was happy for them when they were together.
-I felt the very nature of how the shadow weavers recognized and sensed each other to be less of an interesting nuance and more of a plot contrivance. Far too many times did Suzume get out a sticky situation just because there was another shadow weaver nearby, and I felt that to be a bit...too easy. I'd rather the heroine help herself, find a way by herself, than to fall back on "others of her kind" who happen to be nearby to help.
-Suzume, despite her strength as a character, was far more passive than I would have liked (as far as her revenge storyline goes). For much of the latter two-thirds of the novel, Suzume hungers for revenge...but her "pursuit" in itself is not very active. Though a promise not to harm her enemy bars her from direct vengeance for a small part of the story, I couldn't help but be a bit frustrated by Suzume's lack of activity; she is a far cry from Edmond Dantes (of the infamous The Count of Monte Cristo, which Marriott herself cited in an interview was part of the first inspiration for Suzume's tale), who actively sought ways to see his vengeance enacted, always the puppet master pulling strings. Suzume's eventual plan of action (which wasn't even her own idea, but another's) seemed the "safe" way to ensure that the reader would not fault Suzume in any way. Even the eventual "revenge" doesn't come from a maneuver on Suzume's part but a chance circumstance. If she indirectly commits acts of vengeance, even despite all the intent within her heart, how can we condemn her? As I said, all of it seemed a "safe" way to approach a female character who wants revenge.
Despite my qualms, I would never claim Shadows on the Moon is a bad novel or even a mediocre one; in many ways, the story is very fascinating and refreshing. Some of my issues with the plot and characterization simply impeded my overall enjoyment of the novel. As for other readers, I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves Japanese culture and/or fairy-tale retellings. If one or both apply to you, then chances are that Shadows on the Moon will be a new book for you to devour and love.(less)
You're thinking, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go, this shouldn't be happening. And now things are only going to get worse.
You're just a kid....moreYou're thinking, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go, this shouldn't be happening. And now things are only going to get worse.
You're just a kid.
It can't be your fault.
But then there's all that blood.
So, maybe it is your fault, but that doesn't make things any better.
And it doesn't matter one way or the other.
You is an interesting little novel: it's short and written in "taboo" second-person perspective (thus explaining the short-but-sweet title). Centering on a disillusioned boy named Kyle Chase, the novel allows you to follow in his footsteps, and it all starts with a bang: blood, broken glass, two boys alone. Something happened...but what?
Though suspense drives the story and will likely keep most people reading, I honestly didn't find much else to draw me into caring about said story or the players within it. Kyle is the type of character you will relate to, pity, or just disregard. My feelings mixed between pity and disregard because, even having been a disillusioned teenager myself, I honestly can never understand characters -- or even real-life people, for that matter -- who don't try to make things better for themselves, especially since there are people out there who can't control their circumstances or the curveballs life throws at them. If you're screwing things up for yourself, no one will try to step in and fix things for you. It's a sad thing, but the truth is that most people don't mind watching others crash and burn. And characters like Kyle know that...but still they continue paving their roads to hell.
The second-person perspective surprisingly didn't bother me -- but, without the uncommon use of such a perspective, I don't think this novel would be much worth noting. It tackles issues and concepts that other contemporary novels do in better, deeper ways. I couldn't help but think, "Been there, done that, what else is new?"
But then the last twenty pages happened...and I thought, "Hmm. That was a bit brilliant." From both a reader and writer perspective, I admired the ending and the structure of the novel. Did it make up for the detachment I felt in the pages leading up to the climax? No, but I couldn't dislike the novel as a whole because it was interesting and thought-provoking, especially as it reached its big moment.
Given my mixed feelings even as I write this review, I don't know if I would recommend You...but it definitely has its good moments and intriguing aspects. If you're at all curious, then by all means check it out: you may just find yourself caught up in the web of this story.(less)
The founders of The Republic sought to deny the individual, and in doing so they ignored a simple truth.
The only thing binding individuals is ideas. I...moreThe founders of The Republic sought to deny the individual, and in doing so they ignored a simple truth.
The only thing binding individuals is ideas. Ideas mutate, and spread; they change their hosts as much as their hosts change them.
Ideas. Thought. Choice. Meaning. Humanity claims to have a monopoly on all these things, but is that really true? What, at the core, makes any individual human? And, even if that element can be narrowed down and captured, can it be replicated? Should it be?
Such are the thoughts and ideas roaming around in Bernard Beckett's Genesis, a futuristic novel following young Anaximander as she undergoes her Examination to get into The Academy -- but soon she must realize that everything she thought she knew may just be only the outermost surface of a many-layered sphere of knowledge and history. Putting it in trite terms like that, I must admit that it sounds along the lines of young adult fiction's watered-down dystopias (think Delirium, Wither, likely any other YA dystopia coming out in the next few years), but it isn't. Get that out of your head right now if you're thinking it. Rather, Genesis is of the ilk that could put any YA dystopian's world-building, themes, messages, and overall knowledge to shame in half the pages. Astonishing, isn't it? One must hope that this novella will be the one to outlast every single one of them. . .
Quite honestly, Genesis is a brain-bending little bugger of a story.
Bernard Beckett frightened me with this novel. Heck, humanity frightens me. We're filled with so much potential, so much utter possibility, yet we squander it by warring with each other, making each other miserable, and just being downright closed-minded and apathetic to one another's plights. (I know. I am treading the lines of generalization, but would you really try to say that humanity is more good than bad? Sometimes I wonder.) It makes me angry that all the events leading up to The Republic's creation seemed so plausible, so utterly possible, that I just had to gape at the book. Are we really so transparent? So predictable? I like to think better of humanity as a whole -- but, again, sometimes I really wonder. Good dystopians have a way of highlighting just what makes us most uncomfortable but what also ends up making us face ourselves more bravely. Realizing the truth is the first step towards trying to correct it.
The characters here are few, but each leaves their own indelible marks because their words are what carry the story and its messages through until the very end. Did I find everything in this novel plausible? Well, no. . .but that doesn't mean I didn't find it chilling and haunting all the same. It's a futuristic fable that still hands out quite a bit of caution to its reader, and hopefully each reader will come away with greater thoughts and understanding because of reading it.
In the end, do I think Genesis is worth your time? Oh, definitely. It's a quick-paced tale that offers much insight and food for thought with a fair bit of apocalyptic storytelling. Definirely worth the time it takes to read 150 pages and definitely a worthy dystopian for any reader.(less)
For the longest time, I thought that Looking for Alaska, John Green's Printz award-winning first novel, was about teenage bo...more(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
For the longest time, I thought that Looking for Alaska, John Green's Printz award-winning first novel, was about teenage boys taking a road trip to Alaska. (Way for me to assume too much from a title, huh?) But this novel isn't about the state known as Alaska but a girl named Alaska. Well, that changed things. Will someone write the Alaskan road trip story for me, though? I'd really love to read one if there is one, preferably YA. If not, I'll add it to my list of 'Should Write Before I Die.'
Now, I'll be honest and say I didn't jump to read this novel. I've owned it for three months, and I can't say I would have picked it up anytime soon if I hadn't been in such an epic creative slump of terribly pessimistic proportions. Many YA authors I respect harp on John Green, and I guess I wanted some of the Green factor to rub off on me when it came to tackling my own projects. The result? I got wrapped up in the story, true, but I found it was bogged down a bit by the overly quirky characterization and the excessively liberal teenage behavior.
I don't know it if's just me and my insecurity, but I feel rather. . .well, to put it bluntly, stupid when I read John Green novels. I really thought of myself as a quirky overachiever in high school, but I would definitely not be on the Green scale of teenage life where his characters can spout odd trivia (or basically be geniuses in disguise) and be troublemakers too. His characters are difficult to relate to because of their quirkiness even though Green tries to make them relatable through awkward situations, moments of helplessness, desperate longings, and stirring emotions. While this tactic works sometimes, other times I feel sometimes that it backfires and leaves the reader (or maybe just me in this instance) at a distance from the characters and story.
The representation of teenage life in a boarding school was. . .a point of conflict for me, to say the least. Oftentimes, I thought of the characters as college students rather than high schoolers (it made more sense to me that way), and some points were. . .awkward. Very awkward. In the territory of 'Wow, you crossed that line for no good reason' awkward. It actually treaded into that gray area of 'How much is too much for me to know as a reader?' (view spoiler)[I get what John Green was trying to achieve with the oral sex scene, though: how teenagers can rush into situations about which they know only the bare minimum and then how, afterward, they end up getting information from each other. I just don't know if it was really necessary. (hide spoiler)]
Of course, the 'After' of the novel is the best part, and Green triumphs with it because it contains everything his novel was building towards. If Alaska had been just another teenage-love-and-hijinks-at-an-academy novel, I really would have been irritated, but it wasn't (thank goodness). It was much more than I expected it would be. (And it even choked me up a few times because I was moved at times.) While it could have descended into a pit of melodrama and angst, it instead stayed true and real.
The truth: Looking for Alaska isn't a novel for everyone. Teenagers may not glean all from it that the author intends; adults may balk at the teenage behavior within the pages. But Alaska is a novel worth reading, if only once, because there are truths within it that every human will have to face in his/her lifetime. If you can get past its flaws, then perhaps you may even like it and find solace and understanding within it. As for me -- I didn't love it, but I like to think that I am somehow more for reading it.
(On a final note, I was rather impressed with John Green's reasoning for writing: "I believe there is hope for us all, even amid the suffering--and maybe even inside the suffering. And that's why I write fiction, probably. It's my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness." As a writer who needs to keep affirming to herself why she needs to write fiction, I think my reasoning is very similar -- though I would describe it as 'trying to keep the sanity in an insane world' instead.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If someone could take all the pain away from your wounds and scars, would you let him do it even if it mean all the more pain and sorrow on his part?
B...moreIf someone could take all the pain away from your wounds and scars, would you let him do it even if it mean all the more pain and sorrow on his part?
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (author of the haunting Unwind) asks that question and more. What if an empath, practically a miracle man for how he could take people's ills onto himself, walked the earth? What type of person would he be? What would his struggles be? Would be be forever alone because of his ability, or would he be able to manage a normal life even despite all the potential downfalls to such a startling gift?
Neal Shusterman's answer to all these intriguing questions is a character by the name of Brewster, nicknamed Bruiser by his classmates because of his hulking big-boned form. He was never more than just a blip on lacrosse player Tennyson's mind until the day Tennyson's twin sister, Bronte, announced that she was going on a date with Brewster. Suspecting the worst of Brewster because of his classmates voting him "most likely to die by lethal injection," Tennyson follows Brewster home one day to see just what kind of wrecked family life the Bruiser has to make him such a strange loner. . .
Shusterman took an intriguing approach to writing this story, dividing the book into sections told from the perspectives of Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster, and even Brewster's little brother, Cody. The different sections really made the story seem fuller than it might have if only Tennyson and Bronte had perspectives or if Brewster himself was the only one to have a voice in the story. It was fascinating in an eerie way, kinda like an extended Twilight Zone episode.
Honestly, this book struck similar chords in me that Unwind did. Shusterman is amazing with the way he can take a seemingly implausible story idea and shape it into something that's startlingly real and human because of the way he folds in emotions like fear, helplessness, love, and hopelessness to make something that just batters down on your heart and mind. Ever since finishing Unwind, I had been hesitant to start reading any of Shusterman's other works, but now I think that was a grievous error on my part. It's difficult to write anything that's haunting, but Shusterman has achieved it at least with Unwind and Bruiser.
I hope that Bruiser will find nests in other people's hearts and minds as well.(less)
Dystopians either hook me or leave me hanging. Both The Hunger Games and Unwind terrified me and made my heart ache. The Uglies trilogy irked and anno...moreDystopians either hook me or leave me hanging. Both The Hunger Games and Unwind terrified me and made my heart ache. The Uglies trilogy irked and annoyed me. Matched bored me. Thus, coming into XVI, I had to wonder: would this be on the high scale of dystopian (a la The Hunger Games) or the low scale (a la Matched)? I'm glad I took the gamble: this book had me hooked and sunk into the depths of its pages and plot.
In the 22nd century, sixteen has become the age of no limits for girls; now popularly known as 'sex-teen,' the age signifies that a girl is free to have sex without repercussions or 'dangers.' However, not everything is as it seems, especially with the dark rumors that girls with XVI tattoos are just better targets for rape, sex trafficking, and other crimes. . . .
That is the standing of the world in which Nina Oberon, our heroine, lives. I couldn't help but empathize with her when it came to her doubts, fears, and resignations. Looking back at how I was at sixteen, I would have been horrified to live in a world like this one. Everything that makes our world so terrible and ambiguous -- the emphasis on body image and sex, the materialism, the live-now-think-later mentality, the state of the governments and their control in people's everyday lives -- are blown to such extreme proportions in this book that, yes, it is scary. I would not want to live in Nina's world. (I felt the same way about the worlds in The Hunger Games and Unwind, and I think that is a necessity to make a dystopian book work well: you must make the reader fear the world and empathize with the characters' plights.)
As a dystopian tale, this book worked for me. It had a steady pace, likable characters, and interesting plot twists; it held my attention in a good way. Were there parts I was annoyed with? Absolutely. There were flaws (the relationship between Nina and Sal didn't work so well for me; I liked them together, but I felt they needed to talk a bit more and get to know each other a bit before they started snogging), but they weren't deal breakers for me. The book was good, I really liked it, and that was that.
I can say with certainty that, if Julia Karr decides to write a sequel, I will be reading it, no doubt. There are enough loose threads and questions for me to say, "Yes, sequel, please!" -- and that, to me, is just yet another sign to show that I was glad to read this book and how relieved I was to enjoy it just as much as I did.
Take it from me: forget Matched. Pick up XVI instead. It's truer to life and real life issues -- and shouldn't dystopian fiction highlight our present world and its flaws above all? If so, then XVI did a fine job, and I applaud it for its truth. Now -- do I really need to do any more convincing that this may be a good dystopian for your reading pleasure?(less)
Well. It's been a long time coming, reading all of Melina Marchetta's available novels (the others being Saving Francesca, Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin...moreWell. It's been a long time coming, reading all of Melina Marchetta's available novels (the others being Saving Francesca, Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin of the Rock to all you [as of yet] non-Marchetta fans). . .but I did it. Now, I can't help but wonder: what am I going to do in the meantime until the release of her next novel? Marchetta is EXACTLY that kind of author to make you feel that way.
First confession: I would likely never have given this author a chance if I hadn't so adored her first fantasy novel, Finnikin, last year. Even after reading that wonderful oh-my-goodness-it's-so-good book, I was hesitant to try her contemporary novels even though so many Goodreaders harped about all of Marchetta's books. I guess I doubted an author could keep amazing me, keep challenging me, keep invoking so many deep thoughts and emotions inside of me. I should never have doubted: Marchetta is a master when it comes to giving readers what they least expect but what they will think about the most. (I hold to the truth that the blurbs for Marchetta's books never do the stories inside justice. For instance, you would have thought Saving Francesca was a delightful romp about girls and boys clashing at a once all boys' school. While that is part of the foundation of the novel, it's definitely not the heart of it.)
Second confession: Marchetta's books have an uncanny way of making me feel choked up and/or making me cry. That held true with this novel too.
Third confession: Melina Marchetta is the type of writer and author I want to be someday. The emotions her characters have and show are so powerful yet subtle, the perfect examples of showing but not telling, and her stories somehow manage to be deep without being melodramatic, angsty, and/or cheesy. Her contemporary books could read like those cliche-ridden made-for-TV movies. . .but they're always so much more.
Looking for Alibrandi is no different. Being Marchetta's debut novel (first published all the way back in 1992!), it rings true with the staples of her eventual contemporary novels: a main character trying to find her niche, conflicts from outside influences (usually involving family and/or friends) that give the MC an opportunity to learn and understand, often uneasy romantic relationships where like wars with dislike, startling realizations that spin whatever truth the MC thought she knew, and eventual growth-inciting resolutions towards the end of the book. But it's never pretty or easy or perfect: it's life in all its shades and colors. Marchetta isn't one for the 'And they all lived happily ever after'-type endings. No, that isn't true to life and it isn't fair to readers to throw that kind of unrealistic ending in their faces. Instead, Marchetta gives us these things: doubt coupled with hope, uncertainty paired with determination, grimaces followed by bright smiles. Yes, there are good times, but there are bad times too. In Marchetta's books, there's always a story with brightness and darkness.
I also love how Marchetta's characters are never perfect. Sure, they have their ideal moments, but they have their terrible moments too. People are not what you make of them but what they allow you to see of themselves. You only get so much truth out of them as they are willing to give you. The rest you have to leave up to a leap of faith on your part. If you believe in them and listen to them, then maybe they will let you seep inside to gain a little of their truth. Looking for Alibrandi, beyond its base theme of family and racial/cultural issues, is a story where honesty and deception try to beat each other out. What is better: the difficult truth or the kind lie? Which would make you more fulfilled? Which could you survive?
All in all, I was very happy with Looking for Alibrandi (even though a part of me would love a sequel even almost twenty years later!), and I'm amazed by how stellar it is for a debut novel. Now, do I think more people should read this and Marchetta's other books? YES! PLEASE DO! They all start out slow and steady, but the stories eventually crescendo into beautiful yet heartbreaking sonatas that will never again leave you. Honestly, though, I would give this advice: come back to Looking for Alibrandi after you've tasted Marchetta's storytelling through another book. You'll appreciate this book far more, I can guarantee it. (less)
He hears her voice and swings around quickly, alarm on his face. Fear. Terror. Such despair. She knows that feeling too. Of believing that each...more"Tom?"
He hears her voice and swings around quickly, alarm on his face. Fear. Terror. Such despair. She knows that feeling too. Of believing that each time someone says her name, it's to tell her that something bad has happened.
I could have given you any number of quotes that struck home with me while I was reading Melina Marchetta's fifth novel, The Piper's Son (a pseudo-sequel to her second novel, Saving Francesca), but I chose the one above. Why? Well. . .I understand it. And have felt it far too often in my twenty years on this earth. Every year has chiseled me out so much that I tend to think, "Okay, the waters are still right now -- but when's the next tidal wave coming? I just know it's out there." And I can't relax because I get restless and angry with myself for thinking the way I do. But I can't seem to fight it since I just hide and lose myself in mundane life, not truly living because I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop, the dung to hit the fan and splatter all over me. It's not a healthy way to live (especially since we can never see the tidal waves until they're right upon us and it's useless to make ourselves sick with worry over things we can't control).
Thus, I can understand the Thomas Mackee who exists for much of this novel far too well. While other readers might become irritated with him, I empathized with him on his road of grief. He's wanting, longing, searching, but he won't admit all of those things even to himself most days. He's a lost soul who's pretending he's not lost, present in body even though his spirit's just not there. The only parts of him that he allows anybody to see are the poisonous, bitter bits that strike out and wound without any thought.
Then there are the rest of his family, still lost in their own forms of grief and pain and suffering. Georgie Finch, Tom's aunt, is pregnant from a lover who hurt her deeply in the past even as she still struggles with the loss of her younger brother. Dominic, Tom's alcoholic father, is MIA as his family is slowly breaking apart. Everybody in this book has issues, loads of them, but Melina Marchetta doesn't make it feel melodramatic: she makes it feel so real, so heartbreakingly real.
Then there are the rest of the Saving Francesca cast -- Francesca, Justine, Will, Tara, and Jimmy -- but the gang's split up, fragmented across continents, physical and emotional distances straining their relationships with each other. Marchetta gives each character his or her own spotlight (almost making me wonder if -- miracle of miracles -- we may someday have a plethora of Francesca-based sequels/companions on our shelves) to the point where you as a reader just know that Marchetta knows these characters as closely and intimately as if they were beloved family members. She treats them as such, lovingly but sometimes harshly (we're all harsh with the ones we love, yeah?), and you love the characters even despite their choices, their mistakes, their undeniable flaws. They become your family, your burden, but you don't care since you just want to see them be all right, living and thriving and enjoying every minute there is of life. That is the kind of novel this is, so don't come looking for a joy ride. It is a ride, for sure, but it is not so happy-go-lucky even though it does have its wonderful giggle-inducing moments.
If my words do not sway you to read this novel, then just read any five-star review of this book. There are others who have articulated their feelings about this book much better than I ever could. My advice? Just read all of Melina Marchetta's novels. Seriously. They are the creme de la creme of young adult literature with stories that pack a punch and characters that move and speak as if they were flesh and blood beings inhabiting our world. They are amazing pieces of storytelling to devour, and The Piper's Son is no exception.
Read it. Love it. Savor it. Enjoy it.
(Also, a quick note: I find it disgraceful that I could not track this book down in any of my local bookstores. Not even one copy. I scanned the shelves on March 8th and onward until I finally relented and ordered a copy through Amazon a week ago. I thought Marchetta was making a name for herself in the United States, but I suppose bookstores are all still so blinded by vampires, werewolves, fallen angels, and the like that many of them aren't even bothering to order and stock the non-paranormal or non-hype YA books. It's a shame, it really is.)(less)
I felt all those emotions while reading this book -- and, even though the story twisted and turned so ver...moreLove. Disgust. Conflict. Despair. Indecision.
I felt all those emotions while reading this book -- and, even though the story twisted and turned so very much that it was a bit frustrating, I have no doubt of one thing: Madapple was utterly haunting.
The main character of a novel can tell you a lot about its story and what you can hope to expect. Aslaug, the teenage heroine of Madapple, is a bit of a quandary just like the novel itself: she can best be described as Knowledge without Experience, having read numerous books and learned various languages under the strict guidance of her strange hermit-like, plant-obsessed mother Maren, without venturing much beyond the small world of her house. Aslaug is a dutiful daughter even though her mother's moods are as changing as the winds. When sudden events turn Aslaug's life on its head, however, she finds herself in mystifying circumstances that get stranger and stranger as the book progresses. . .
This book snagged me from the start since I adored how it at first seemed almost a modern-day fairy tale -- the Grimm Brothers kind, not the Disney kind -- and Aslaug seemed more like a victim of circumstances and others' actions than a deranged, homicidal girl. (The truth behind her, however, is one you slowly have to realize throughout the book.) The plant lore, while not wholly interesting or fascinating to me at first, fit into the story and actually became rather intriguing as the story progressed. Also added into the mix were many mentions of various mythologies and religious beliefs throughout the world (none of which are presented in a preachy respect -- but more like a commentary style), which gave the plot more depth than a simple mystery and suspense novel. What really made me love this book, though -- beyond the twisty-turny plot -- was the writing style that read more like an adult novel than a young adult novel. Very refreshing! Basically -- I was very impressed by this entire book (especially when I hated it only to come back and love it a few minutes later; that's a mark of masterful storytelling right there).
As much as I was taken by the book, I won't lie: the story isn't for everyone. It might take a while to get into the book itself, and even then the tale has its moments of being unlikable and quite despicable. The issues and conflicts here might make many readers uncomfortable or uneasy. Some people may become bored or frustrated by it, put it down, and then never pick it back up again. In my opinion, they would be missing out on a very engrossing tale about truth and deceit, illusion and reality, love and hate. What is real? What is not? Can a life become so convoluted that even truth seems fantasy or vice-versa?
I've come to realize there's a world of difference between knowing something happened, even knowing why it happened, and believing it. Because when sh...moreI've come to realize there's a world of difference between knowing something happened, even knowing why it happened, and believing it. Because when she cut off contact, yeah, I knew what had happened. But it took me a long, long time to believe it.
Some days, I still don't quite believe it.
Forgive me. Maybe I've just been having too many "tugging at my heartstrings as if the book is trying to tear my heart out"-type reads recently, but this book never failed to make me sigh, tear up, smile, laugh, or just break down with some gushing tears. (Rest assured, though, that none of these things ever happened in tandem while I was reading. I may have my crazy days, but I'm not that crazy at least not yet.)
I read Gayle Forman's If I Stay in May 2010 (my original review is here), and I was surprised to be so deeply moved by the story of Mia Hall as she decides whether 'to stay or to go' after a devastating accident leaves her family torn apart. When I heard that there was going to be a follow-up to Mia's story from her boyfriend Adam's viewpoint, well, I was ecstatic. I even worried and vaguely wondered for a time if Adam would be the one in peril in Where She Went. . .and, truthfully, he is -- just in a different way than I had thought. It turns out that Mia's journey left consequences and sorrows aplenty on Adam's doorstep.
Three years have passed since If I Stay. Adam and Mia are no longer a couple, but each of them has become successful in their own rights with Adam ready to go on his second tour with his band and Mia gearing up to begin her own journeys abroad with her cello. But is this their permanent ending?
To say that Adam is lost, numb, and grieving throughout most of this novel is an understatement. The boy who was such a star in If I Stay has lost some of his luster here, and it has given him even an even grittier emo edge for his 'rock star' persona to give fodder to the tabloids. Seemingly gone is the boy who seemed so good and so right. But he's still there; he's just buried by all the hurt and pain.
I won't go into spoiler territory for those who still have yet to read the novel, but I have to admit that this story wormed into my heart even more than the original did. Truth be told, I had always loved Adam as a character, and I knew he likely had a story worth telling that was separate from Mia's (yet somehow joined at the core). As much as Where She Went gives some more resolution and closure to Mia's journey, it also helps to give Adam his own resolution and closure. It is a fitting novel for one of the best male characters to grace YA in recent years.
I have to say that Gayle Forman succeeds not because what she writes is so hard-hitting (even though it often is) but because the way she writes invites almost all readers to relate in some way to the story at hand. Whether you have lost a loved one or have grieved over the lost potential of a great relationship that could have lasted for a lifetime, she somehow draws those emotions out of you with her writing and makes you feel right on the same chord with the characters. Not every author has that gift to make the story have a emotionally universal relatability, but Forman does. Oh, yes, she does. (view spoiler)[The scene that got to me most was this one where Mia is talking to Adam: "You know, I thought about that a lot these last couple of years," she says in a choked voice. "About who was there for you. Who held your hand while you grieved for all that you'd lost?" The waterworks just flooded once I read those words because I thought, "The world needs more of this kind of empathy. It really does." (hide spoiler)]
I will end by saying that yes, I think you should read this book (preferably reading both novels back to back for maximum impact). You may laugh, you may cry, or you may sigh -- but I highly doubt you will regret reading this wonderfully thoughtful novel about loss, love, and forgiveness.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Call me rather foolishly unknowledgeable if you like, but I never even gave much of a thought to the man...moreAlice I am, Alice I will be.
Alice I have been.
Call me rather foolishly unknowledgeable if you like, but I never even gave much of a thought to the man behind Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or the girl who inspired the story. I knew Charles Dodgson only as Lewis Carroll (though I knew it was a pen name). I didn't even know there was a girl named Alice Liddell, though I vaguely recall hearing that Carroll was asked to write the story of Alice down by someone. Alice I Have Been seeks to fill in the blanks of history and give answers where there were only suppositions and gossip -- and it succeeds, reading much like how an autobiography by Alice Liddell herself might have been. Needless to say, this book gave me all I had expected and much more.
I am always amazed by writers who tackle historical fiction and do it justice. I can only imagine how overwhelming the research is, how burdening the pressure can be to write it right and stay true to the real life people whose lives are being embellished, and how utterly daunting it must be to wait and see if people like what they're reading or if they want to put you to the gallows for taking too much creative license with history. Melanie Benjamin, however, manages to toe the line of historical accuracy and creative license surprisingly well. Dodgson and Liddell became such enigmas even while they were still alive, so what could be expected when someone tries to write their story when few facts and details remain other than hearsay and rumor? You can imagine then how I felt it was such a feat that I wanted to applaud Benjamin for this book!
The story follows Alice through her life, jumping from childhood to marriageable age to life as a wife and mother, as she grows from precocious Alice to the world-weary woman she becomes by the end of the novel. It is a rather melancholy journey as slowly young Alice disappears, tainted by the world and the dreadful act of growing up. The world of innocence becomes one where death and loss are only too real, where childish games and affections appear almost sinister in retrospect, where the years tumble on and stack up only to make the time seem as though it has passed in the blink of an eye upon looking back. Alice herself mourns the passing of time, but she doesn't let it burden her. She still strives on.
What makes the novel so intriguing at first glance, of course, is the curiosity over the relationship between Dodgson/Carroll and Alice. Was he merely a pedophile in the closet, and all evidence to it -- aside from his photographs, taken personally by him, of little girls looking far too old beyond their years -- was destroyed by time, false records, and sealed lips? Or was he simply a man lost in his own Wonderland, wishing so fervently that he had never had to grow up and then trying to recapture that feeling through Alice and other little girls? The answer is up to the reader to decide; Benjamin handles the relationship between Dodgson and Alice very carefully, almost reverently, as if she too sees it as a fragile thing that was torn apart by gossip, rumors, and ill intentions. Personally, I found the friendship, once so open and affectionate, rather tragic. Had no one intervened, would Alice and Dodgson have stayed correspondents with each other? Or would Alice have become a casualty, committing suicide because shame was the causing factor? It's an uncomfortable thing to consider, why an adult would cultivate a friendship with a child, but maybe it was a Lolita-esque situation? Or perhaps something much more innocent than we naysayers believe? No one knows, but Alice I Have Been will certainly lead to many a thought-provoking discussion, I'm sure.
I would certainly recommend this book, even despite its uncomfortable elements, because it is handled very well. Have you ever wondered how Alice in Wonderland came to be and who might have been the girl behind her creation? Then this book might very well be for you. Give it a try. I promise it will at least give you something to think about.(less)
But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. [The human] had no faintest conception till that very...moreBut that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. [The human] had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not 'Who are you?' but 'So it was you all the time.' -from one of the missives of the demon Screwtape
It's been a while since I've read C.S. Lewis. Years, probably, even though I count his The Chronicles of Narnia among the best book series I have ever read. I always liked the idea that Christian authors could manage to write fantasy and still keep true to their beliefs about good and evil in their tales. (J.R.R. Tolkien, a contemporary and friend of Lewis's, is another author who helped make fantasy an allegory in a number of ways.) Lewis and authors like him gave me hope as a writer since, growing up in a strict Christian environment (not at home but at school), I was always led to believe that my liking for magic, dragons, unicorns, and every other fantastical thing known to man was somehow wrong. Christians shouldn't like those things! But Lewis was the first author to teach me that morality and fantasy could walk hand in hand and provide an epic tale at the same time. Thus you can understand why I have a lot of admiration and respect for C.S. Lewis.
Enter The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood (a fledgling demon), detailing the struggles between the angelic and demonic as they vie for human souls. Interesting premise, no? I rather like it. In modern times, this idea would likely be twisted where the angel and the demon would fall in love with the human whose soul they were fighting over (oh, yes, that trick was used in the recent Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers) -- but Lewis isn't concerned with humanizing demons, glorifying them, or giving them some form of fictional redemption. His demons are apathetic to humans and revel in their misery and suffering. They do not understand the joys of humanity, and the biggest puzzle of all to them is why the Enemy (i.e. the Lord Himself) would even bother with such fragile, fickle beings. Why not just make them slaves, robbed of free will, or -- better yet -- destroy them altogether? That is what Their Father Below (i.e. Satan) would do.
However much Screwtape relies on grounding the world in an ever-waging state of supernatural warfare, the book amounts to a guide to Christian living. Be mindful. Don't be complacent. Just because you believe and pray now does not mean that doubt won't worm its way into your heart months or years from now. Humans are ever-changing creatures, swept up in the always forward motion of time. Demons do not understand it, but they exploit it. They exploit many attributes that uniquely make humans human.
Even as a Christian myself, I sometimes had trouble reading this book. It's not easy to swallow. Supernatural warfare is not something I often think about unless it's for a fictional story. Somehow, it's much easier to think about angels and demons in the abstract -- or in the realms of fiction. It's not easy to think of them always hovering, lingering, just waiting to see what a human will choose next in the game of souls and balances. I imagine most Christians forget, in their day to day lives, such a thing or disregard it completely because it seems too 'archaic' and 'fantastical' to think that each person's soul every day is up for grabs, slipping between the fingers of demons and angels, back and forth, until the person gets right with himself and chooses a side once and for all -- or dies so that his soul meets its final destination.
I was impressed by what Lewis accomplished with this book. He never became preachy -- how could he when he was using a demon's correspondence to get his message across? -- but he was mindful that he was likely writing to a bunch of Christians who needed some reminding that belief and prayer aren't the real hurdles. Faith itself is a struggle -- to keep and maintain it with everything the world throws at us. Our faith will never be perfect because we are not perfect, but that shouldn't be our excuse. We can be ever-changing all we like. . .but we should strive for the changes to be for the better and not the other way around.
The book also includes a follow-up essay, entitled "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," in which Lewis tackles the demonic view on humans and the setbacks that 'equality in everything' often affords them when it comes to their souls and their worth. In his preface to the essay, Lewis described the process of writing from the viewpoint of a demon, so I thought I would include it here:
But though it was easy to twist one's mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done.
Methinks recent YA authors, glorifying fallen angels and demons (which are the same thing!), really should take a cue from Lewis and realize that such creatures are not meant to be love interests but diabolical villains instead. It's rather a bit like blasphemy to make them appear any other way (yes, I'm looking at you, Kate and Fitzpatrick).
All in all, I rather liked The Screwtape Letters for all the food for thought it gave me. I definitely came away with a lot from it, and I hope other readers will find that they do too. (less)
It's been three months since Mockingjay ended the monumental The Hunger Games trilogy -- and I'm still digesting the ending, pondering...more*** SPOILERS ***
It's been three months since Mockingjay ended the monumental The Hunger Games trilogy -- and I'm still digesting the ending, pondering all its layers and complexities. What an ending it was.
Speculation had run rampant for months after Catching Fire's cliffhanger ending, but few of us ever imagined this. War becomes a reality, but we aren't treated to action and games of survival until the last third of the book. Instead, we suffer alongside Katniss as she processes all that has happened to her and all that may still come to pass so long as the Capitol still remains a threat. Beyond the love triangle, beyond the upcoming twists and turns, beyond even the fate of Panem itself -- we wonder all throughout the book what has happened to Katniss Everdeen. Where has the fire gone?
The Hunger Games held its first blow, the Quarter Quell its second, and the war with the Capitol threatens to destroy Katniss beyond repair.
We learn, through Katniss, that there is no coming back from war. There is only moving forward and surviving through the flashbacks and nightmares.
Katniss is not the only one left affected: Peeta and Haymitch, the ones who have experienced much the same of what Katniss had in the last two books, also show the same effects of war and trauma. All three become the survivors, the ones forever tied to war and its aftermath.
The only thing I was right about with my predictions was Peeta's "brainwashing" -- and how sad I was to see the after-effects of such a twist. I could not have beared to put Peeta in such a circumstance had I known all the irreparable consequences, but Suzanne Collins did. Brava, Collins. Brava.
But Collins does not leave the series without its dash of hope: with time, there is healing. There is never forgetting, no, but there is healing through love and family, companionship and conversation. Not all hope is lost even after a world falls to its knees and its people are left to put the pieces back together.
The Hunger Games trilogy was always a series about war and humanity -- and may we readers never forget the lessons learned within, lest we repeat the same mistakes in our own futures.(less)