Another plot on steroids from one of my favorite young adult authors. Chris Crutcher knows these situations. He’s a teacher and counselor who has devo
Another plot on steroids from one of my favorite young adult authors. Chris Crutcher knows these situations. He’s a teacher and counselor who has devoted much of his life to understanding and helping teens through their worst troubles. And this novel may be his craziest and most melodramatic yet.
Several of the characters will be familiar to Crutcher fans. There’s the endurance athlete main character, Paulie, always ready to own up to his mistakes and fight for what he knows is right. There’s the hot girl, Hannah, as tough and athletic as Paulie, who shares his aversion to BS. There’s Arney, the obnoxious jock who seems to have everything going for him. And most familiar, there’s the Crutcher stand-in, Mr. Logsdon. He’s a 64-year-old teacher who runs Period 8, an opportunity for students to express their deepest emotions and concerns in absolute confidentiality. Logs, as the students call him, is a surrogate father and a sensitive sage, as well as Paulie’s open sea swim partner. It may be cynical of me, but I had to check Crutcher’s age: 66 as of 2013, when the book was published.
Logs is way over the top as best friend mentor of all adolescence. His superhero status does match well, however, with the supersonic pace of the action. This book is first and foremost a successful suspend-your-disbelief thriller. Crutcher builds up the tension with hints of how messed up these students are – and then tops it off with a crazy life-or-death faceoff against the bad guys.
A few notes about the dialogue. There’s more swearing here than I can remember in any previous Crutcher novel. It fits the gritty nature of the story, but it’s disconcerting, especially the way the students talk with Logs, and the way he responds to them. Again, Crutcher must know what he’s writing about. Very likely he has lived through what he’s writing about. And he’s earned the right to tell his stories any way he wants. ...more
This book is emotionally gripping, thought-provoking, frightening and beautiful. It’s a great mystery, and a statement of how overpowering and destrucThis book is emotionally gripping, thought-provoking, frightening and beautiful. It’s a great mystery, and a statement of how overpowering and destructive spiritual fanaticism can be.
Meldrum doesn’t demand that readers accept any specific religious or mythical belief. Even so, the characters make some devastating demands upon each other. Sanne and her Christian fundamentalist mom are by far the most aggressive with their faith, and scariest. The teenage narrator, Aslaug, has plenty of whacked out insecurities that make her a magnet for scary. And even though Aslaug's mom dies within the first 70 pages, she’s plenty scary in both flashback and lingering influences.
Who killed whom – did anyone kill anybody? Those are the most immediate concerns of the plot. I found myself anxiously anticipating the alternating chapters of trial transcript. I wanted to know Aslaug’s criminal fate, at least as much as I wanted to know the spiritual fate of all the impossibly twisted characters.
The flashback chapters are crammed with lore – both natural and mystical. There’s a lot of botany to keep up with. I can remember what jimsonweed does, and what milkwort doesn’t do. But the 50 gazillion varieties of tea are a bit more than I can recall offhand. Even so, the information is well-integrated into the plot.
As for the mystic, this book provides an open-minded contrast to the Dan Brown school of “What Jesus Really Did” spiritual mega-thriller. People are torn apart by all sorts of hopes and prayers, but there’s no perfect revelation to explain the universe away.
In comparison to everything else, the ending is abrupt and tightly packaged. Most of the surprises have already been hinted at or resolved. The resolution could almost be considered pedestrian: but I’m not so quick to set aside all the psychosexual spiritual ick that Aslaug and her relations have slogged through. This story is going to take a while to clear my system. ...more
This story is going to make a lot of teen readers very uncomfortable. The descriptions of basketball game-play are great, and the team chemistry issueThis story is going to make a lot of teen readers very uncomfortable. The descriptions of basketball game-play are great, and the team chemistry issues are great, but it’s clear from the start that something terrible is going to happen. And when it does, some boys are going to want to set this book aside for good.
For those who get that far, keep reading. The conclusion is both exciting and honest. And Deuker is sending some very forceful and valuable messages here.
I like the straightforward info from the D2 college coach who recruits Jonas, and I like the no-nonsense depiction of the recruiting process itself. I wasn’t happy with how quickly Jonas agreed to get himself into academic trouble, but his choice is depressingly understandable. He doesn’t show much of any remorse, but even so, I see him as a generally good guy who makes a terrible mistake. He also gains some sympathy from the crush he has on a girl who isn’t really all that into him.
Nobody has to the perfect hero: not the teens, and certainly not any of the adults. With this novel and Gym Candy, Deuker is challenging Chris Crutcher as my favorite young adult sports-theme author. ...more
Great book, except for the ending. There wasn’t much else I didn’t like – there’s lots of swearing, but that seemed appropriate for the context. MoreGreat book, except for the ending. There wasn’t much else I didn’t like – there’s lots of swearing, but that seemed appropriate for the context. More my problem than the book’s problem.
Eleanor is a remarkably unique girl, trapped in a hideous home. Park is her savior, but he doesn’t see it that way. He just loves her, and has to be with her. The PG tremblings of teen love and lust are very strong: Rowell’s descriptions of hand-holding, first kisses and other longings are evocative enough to be unsettling. Again, though, the emotions fit the prevailing mood.
Then there’s the sinister side to the story. Eleanor’s hideous home, complete with very hideous step-dad and battered enabling mom, makes togetherness next to impossible. And still Eleanor and Park keep trying.
Rowell expertly balances the anxieties and joys of first love and the very real fear of family abuse, wrapped within a funny snarky context of classic comics and 80s alt music and every-teen insecurities. Readers could hope for a fairy-tale ending, but it’s clear that something more explosive is in the works. Rowell may have written herself into a corner, I don’t know. I just wish she could have found some other way to fill in the final gaps. ...more
What just happened there? I can put together most of the pieces, but that still leaves something less than whole, with very little sense of who ends uWhat just happened there? I can put together most of the pieces, but that still leaves something less than whole, with very little sense of who ends up where or why.
Angel is 16 years old, and a prostitute. Her pimp is ruthless, and protective. He pumps Angel with drugs to keep her powerless, and lobbies civic leaders to legalize and clean up the prostitution business in Vancouver.
Leavitt’s poems are a good fit for Angel’s stark, brutal life. And she maintains an interesting connection to the epic poetry of Milton’s Paradise Lost. But when the action takes off, the lyricism stalls. Leavitt effectively builds up the tension and fear, but she binds the action to an increasingly annoying poetic structure, with too many clunky rhymes, pretentious "thy"s and "thee"s, and marching band meters. And then the story itself implodes, and Angel… well, her fate is best left to future readers, who are free to fill in their own theories. ...more
The emerging teen romance is obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less rewarding for fans of the genre. Strong characters, lots of emotional turmoil,The emerging teen romance is obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less rewarding for fans of the genre. Strong characters, lots of emotional turmoil, and plenty of feel-good moments combine in a recognizable and successful formula.
I’m not a big fan of Ruby, the high school senior at the center of the story. She’s far too attached to her former collection of loser friends. And she spends a lot of time denying the obvious – in her new life at private school, her new posh home with her older sister, and especially in her attraction to wonderboy Nate. Another annoyance: Dessen ends too many chapters with Ruby’s five-and-dime psychological epiphanies.
It takes a very good story to overcome all that: the details of dialogue and character mannerisms always seem natural, and the emotional buildup is near-perfect. There’s a good mix of setback and success. One way or another, romantics are bound to find something they like here. ...more
Creepy creepy creepy. An 18-year-old sexual predator who has just completed his jail-term for murder, and a promiscuous 15-year-old who is naïve excepCreepy creepy creepy. An 18-year-old sexual predator who has just completed his jail-term for murder, and a promiscuous 15-year-old who is naïve except when it comes to her male-baiting fixations. They share a similar disturbing obsession with the concept of “tenderness.” Of course their paths cross, and twist, and choke and strangle in the best Cormier fashion.
Some of the details and coincidences seem extreme; the ending takes the tenderness way over the top. And the girl’s descriptions of herself, and her actions, veer too close to smutty. But none of these complaints disrupt the fever-pitch of tension. ...more
The story here is hopeful and tragic. The people are much more than characters on a page, they have to be real voices from somewhere in An Na’s life.The story here is hopeful and tragic. The people are much more than characters on a page, they have to be real voices from somewhere in An Na’s life. And her writing is magical. Always spare. Clear and warm in the brightest moments; set against searing images of jagged pain.
Young Ju Park and her family have left Korea to follow their dream to America. But her parents’ pride is repeatedly slapped down by the hardships they face. Young Ju and her brother have their own pride, and their own desire to fit into their new home, with new non-Korean friends. The resulting tensions can be explosive and heartbreaking. One of the best novels I’ve read this year. ...more
Buster Fang arranges to get shot in the face with a potato gun. His sister Annie is sabotaged by their parents, who turn her ambushed topless photo inBuster Fang arranges to get shot in the face with a potato gun. His sister Annie is sabotaged by their parents, who turn her ambushed topless photo into a performance art piece. At this point, readers may begin to wonder whether these people deserve to be considered a family. And then the story gets really weird.
Wilson poses some great questions. “What limits, if any, exist in the pursuit of art?" “Does artistic creation justify the destruction it may leave in its wake?” Best of all, the Fangs are even more fascinating than their bizarre creations. The way they think, the conversations they have, the relationships they careen through. It’s all an absurdist hurricane, and somehow remarkably easy to recognize and laugh with and cringe away from. Until of course it gets even weirder. After all, “conventional lives are the perfect refuge if you are a terrible artist.”...more
A near-perfect blueprint for a painfully bad after-school TV special.
Gray, a whimpering whiny 15-year-old, is bullied into crazed revenge. The storyA near-perfect blueprint for a painfully bad after-school TV special.
Gray, a whimpering whiny 15-year-old, is bullied into crazed revenge. The story unfolds as a post-blowup conversation between Gray and his lawyer. The lawyer’s false notes of sympathy, and “tell me more” cues, remind me of commercial breaks and lame video teasers.
Just about every character, including the dog, might as well be a cardboard cutout. There are a few worst-of lowlights: Dad is unbelievably crass in expressing how fed up he is with his messed up kid. The girl Gray has a crush on is named Daisy. Her name suits her almost perfectly, until she discovers the lead bully’s younger brother.
The story closes with the trial, as some kind of rebound climax. But by that time, I was only looking for the nearest exit. ...more
These privileged posers are among the cruelest teens ever. They shrug off acts of rape, drive classmates to suicide, and bash in noses during gym clasThese privileged posers are among the cruelest teens ever. They shrug off acts of rape, drive classmates to suicide, and bash in noses during gym class. Then they swear and drink and skip class to brood or raise more havoc.
There are positives: the shattering pace, the emotional charge, the sheer volume of venom. It’s magnetic entertainment, as long as you sweep aside any expectation of decency. Logic takes a beating as well. How do these people tally up their social wins and losses? Why play the game if the rules are so twisted?
The heroine is a brutally victimized former Cruella. She’s a classic tortured young adult soul. “I should have done that sensible/self-respecting thing. I was inches/heartbeats away. But no, I just couldn’t. Instead I did that stupid opposite thing. Oh woe is me.” And woe is the reader who anticipates even an ounce of common sense from this guilty-pleasure drama. ...more
An immensely powerful story. At first it reads like “King Lear” staged in the modern Midwest. Three sisters, the youngest of whom rejects her father’sAn immensely powerful story. At first it reads like “King Lear” staged in the modern Midwest. Three sisters, the youngest of whom rejects her father’s misguided plan to bequeath his wealth and land. The old man regrets his choice, and burns with a crazed anger. He’s even battered by the fates in a raging storm.
But Smiley has her own vision of epic tragedy: revealing all that’s pure, proud, ambitious and purely sinister in American farm family traditions. Each character is firmly rooted in the soil, and still unique and complex and capable of heartbreaking actions. I assume Smiley has done exhaustive research as well. All the machines, the finances, the crops, even the massive meals: every detail fits perfectly.
I’m not sure I like how the ruins of shattered lives linger far past the climax: the final chapters are relentlessly depressing. But each character’s devastation is well-earned: that’s part of what makes this novel great. ...more
This story rates high on the shock and rage meters. 16-year-old Jace Witherspoon always seems one spark away from exploding. And he fears that he hasThis story rates high on the shock and rage meters. 16-year-old Jace Witherspoon always seems one spark away from exploding. And he fears that he has inherited his father’s abusive nature. Dad is a respected Chicago judge with a history of horrific beatings against his wife and children.
Jace and his older brother have escaped the house, but they can’t escape their memories, or their fear for what could still happen. The prevalence of abuse makes it tough to get a sense of where the plot is leading – and that’s part of the point. The next round of domestic violence may seem inevitable, but you can’t predict where, or when. Or who, for that matter. Jace’s residual rage makes him much less likeable, and sometimes I want to shake the girls who latch onto him. But that’s OK. Jace wants to change, and Avasthi deserves credit for avoiding any sugar-coated solutions. ...more
This story is about as tragic as young adult lit gets. 13-year-old Lakshmi is sold from her home in Nepal, to become a prostitute in Calcutta. She hasThis story is about as tragic as young adult lit gets. 13-year-old Lakshmi is sold from her home in Nepal, to become a prostitute in Calcutta. She has almost no idea of what is happening, until victimized by a first attempted rape. There’s no quick miracle. Lakshmi is drugged to guarantee her submission, and the suffering gathers momentum.
The individual scenes are well-researched and often frightening. There are several impressive characters: especially Mumtaz, the evil brothel matron, and certainly Lakshmi herself.
The story is told in a series of short passages. It doesn’t read exactly like poetry, but it’s not standard prose either. It’s a good way to keep the physical pain and emotional scars fresh. Then again, a little space to breathe might have made for a welcome change of pace. ...more
This is a tough book. I like Chris Lynch as an author, 'Shadow Boxer' and 'Iceman' especially. But it's almost impossible to like Kier Sarafian, the mThis is a tough book. I like Chris Lynch as an author, 'Shadow Boxer' and 'Iceman' especially. But it's almost impossible to like Kier Sarafian, the main character of 'Inexcusable'. Once again Lynch is dealing with a difficult issue, a question of possible rape, and creates a very powerful sense of emotion....more
It’s perfectly reasonable to dock a book for being impossible. And it’s just as reasonable to enjoy a book that builds some very believable emotions fIt’s perfectly reasonable to dock a book for being impossible. And it’s just as reasonable to enjoy a book that builds some very believable emotions from its core fantasy.
Brewster is a magical pain magnet. Two twins, Tennyson and Brontë, catch on quickly to Brewster’s basic power. But they still manage to miss the heavy-handed hints of more psychosparks to follow.
I like how the secondary characters – Brewster’s younger brother and uncle, Tenny and Brontë’s mom and dad – trigger subtle variations of everything that might go wrong. And Shusterman keeps pushing the emotional suspense. But I don’t like the word games, or Brewster’s poetry, or the ending, for that matter. ...more
A first-person thriller, written as a flashback journal. That obviously puts a limit on the suspense, but there’s still a very chilling quality here.A first-person thriller, written as a flashback journal. That obviously puts a limit on the suspense, but there’s still a very chilling quality here. Matthew McIlvane and his two sisters were trapped by their psychotic mother, and it takes the entire novel to establish just how much danger they may still be in. The heart of this story remains in the past, however, and Werlin does a frighteningly good job of keeping the children’s fear alive.
The conclusion and postscript seem forced and extreme, but no more extreme than Nikki, one of the most disturbing literary moms I’ve encountered. As one more twist, Werlin includes this warning in her dedication: “Always remember: The survivor gets to tell the story.”...more
There’s a powerful buildup of suspense here. The plot skids and shakes and rams into walls, and the bloodier gashes made me recoil.
Plum-Ucci aims toThere’s a powerful buildup of suspense here. The plot skids and shakes and rams into walls, and the bloodier gashes made me recoil.
Plum-Ucci aims to reveal the violent extremes of homophobia and mental breakdown. Claire, the teenage narrator, is primed for trauma, with a history of leukemia and razor-blade nightmares. Her friends accept her, as long as she doesn’t openly deviate from their small-town norms. Claire’s divorced mom has a similar sense of self-preservation: she’s scarily immature and alcoholic.
These tensions feed the core mystery: the shadowy presence of angels. Androgynous Lani is sufficiently tragic, but he’s also smug and coy. He reads Hegel and Jung, but there’s not much depth to his metaphysical asides. And he cynically laughs off his effeminate persona as a lightning rod for the locals.
Claire becomes his new friend: fated to be a Lani disciple and fellow pariah. And that was more than enough New Age mysticism for me. ...more
Conroy has constructed a majestic epic. His love of the South Carolina coastal swamplands is complete and inspiring… and as of the first few chapters,Conroy has constructed a majestic epic. His love of the South Carolina coastal swamplands is complete and inspiring… and as of the first few chapters, overwrought.
I remember in Amadeus, when the Emperor Joseph II complained that Mozart's “The Abduction from the Seraglio” contained too many notes. This novel contains too many words, and too many of those words strive to be music. Did Conroy really have to use "cologning" as a verb? My head hurts.
And this is without referencing the extreme trauma of the plot line. How can any one family be so entirely cursed? Mom is a wicked witch, Dad issues horrendous beatings, and the outside world can be even more demonic. It’s difficult at times to choose which of the three children has been the most traumatized.
Great book or no, it was a relief after three long weeks to turn the final page....more
There’s a publisher’s stamp at the beginning of Twisted, stating “This is Not a Book for Children.” And that’s true enough. There’s a very strong violThere’s a publisher’s stamp at the beginning of Twisted, stating “This is Not a Book for Children.” And that’s true enough. There’s a very strong violent tension throughout, as well as teenage sexual drama (although there is no explicit sex scene).
Tyler, a high school senior, is not especially likeable at first – and he’s on parole for vandalism. Very soon, however, Anderson introduces the much less likeable cool high school crowd.
Tyler’s dad is another source of evil. The conflict flares up, and got me rooting for Tyler to earn some kind of revenge, or justice, or something.
Twisted is not a book for children, but it’s a great teen psychological drama....more