This is one of the two novels I taught this year with my 7th graders. It's the story of Holling Hoodhood (the poor kid never had a chance!), who spendThis is one of the two novels I taught this year with my 7th graders. It's the story of Holling Hoodhood (the poor kid never had a chance!), who spends his Wednesday afternoons studying Shakespeare while his fellow classmates are in religion classes. He is convinced his teacher despises him, hence the novel's title. Through the course of the year, Holling learns to appreciate Shakespeare, and his teacher (her name escapes me!). I enjoyed this novel both as a reader and a teacher. It's easy to discuss, and there are a lot of great talking points. Plus, it gets kids excited about Shakespeare! Nearly all of mine wanted to read The Tempest after hearing about Holling's adventures playing Ariel. And being set in the 1960s, there are a ton of historical elements that make for great discussion. Can't wait to teach it again in 2 years when I return to 7th grade! ------------------------------
2nd reading: 2013.
I think I might actually have enjoyed this book even more the second time around. I forgot what an awesome character Holling is. He's such a great narrator, and the voice is so natural. It's a shame I can't get into the companion novel.
This time around, we spent more time talking about the setting, and actually had kids do some research on the 1960s, which helped a LOT with the context! I think they also enjoy this more than Walk Two Moons, so it made a nice change to finish the year with something they enjoy, instead of something they slog through. I did find that they seemed less interested in Shakespeare than last year's group (probably the maturity level of this bunch), but the 60's context activities were enormously helpful.
Absolutely LOVED this book! Even more than Oryx and Crake. It takes place in the same world, and the stories eventually overlap, which finally gives sAbsolutely LOVED this book! Even more than Oryx and Crake. It takes place in the same world, and the stories eventually overlap, which finally gives some closure on that enigmatic ending. My only issue is that it took longer than I wanted for the stories to finally come together -- I could see where it was going kind of early on, and I wanted the characters all in the same place sooner than they were. Also, I think I could have done without the God's Gardeners hymns. Adam One's speeches were insightful, as they got progressively bleaker, but the hymns themselves left me cold. -----------
Notes from the re-read: 1) I am SO glad I decided to re-read this! First because it was nice to read something quality after feeling like I read a lot of disappointing crap this summer. And second because I did not remember huge chunks of the story.
2) I forgot how long it actually takes for the plots to converge. In my head, I could have sworn they were all in the same place around the halfway point, but it's nearly the end by the time Ren and Toby and Jimmy are all together.
3) I found myself enjoying Ren's chapters more than Toby's this time.
4)I also totally forgot that Ren spent so much time outside the Gardener compound. Her adjustments to the world outside the cult dovetailed quite nicely with my thesis, as it turns out! The whole thing with the Gardeners forbidding anyone to write anything down permanently, because words can be stolen or twisted, but ideas are different...that's so straight out of my argument! And then Ren's difficulty adjusting to having to take notes and keep records and how she feels the terrifying permanence of those words...so much more chilling this time around.
5) Um... I forgot about Zedd. Like entirely erased his existence from my brain. And apparently he's one of the main characters in MaddAddam (he was the original Mad Adam in the Gardeners, after all).
6) If possible, I'm even more excited about reading MaddAddam now, and I'm SO glad I decided to reread Year of the Flood beforehand. I probably would have had to stop and reread it anyway, since I apparently forgot the majority of the plot!
No one does dystopia like Atwood. I've never been one to buy (or even look at) Kindle singles, since I'm not a huge fan of short stories/novellas, butNo one does dystopia like Atwood. I've never been one to buy (or even look at) Kindle singles, since I'm not a huge fan of short stories/novellas, but once I saw this one it took me approximately 3 seconds to decide I must purchase it. I plowed through it in one sitting with no regrets.
Having read a great deal of terrible "hopping on the The Hunger Games bandwagon" YA recently, I was incredibly relieved to see that I don't actually have dystopia fatigue. I have bad dystopia fatigue. When done properly, the genre can still feel new and fresh and not at all derivative. While I still wish Atwood would hurry up and write the final book of the Oryx and Crake trilogy, this was a nice way to spend an afternoon. Atwood proves that you don't need clunky exposition or pages and pages of backstory in order to make a dystopia work. In (probably) less than 100 pages, she creates a completely believable world, in which people live in "shifts." They spend one month living in a normal house with their spouse, and one month working in what is essentially a prison while their alternates take over the house. This is all an experiment and so far it appears to be working. Until one day Stan finds a folded up note under the refrigerator reading "I'm starved for you," which sets his mind spinning. He creates an entire fantasy about the Alternates who live in the house while he and his wife are inside the prison, and we spend much of the story in his head as he lives out various fantasies.
The world-building here is quick (established through Stan's memories of joining the experiment, called Consilience) but no less powerful. It could very well take place in the same world as Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, just in a different location. The characters in both novels mention societies living in protected areas...Consilience could very well be one of them. Or maybe I just want it to be because I'm still hoping for one last volume in that series! Anyway, this isn't so much a true dystopia as a piece of speculative fiction. This is something could conceivably happen, but hasn't yet. But we have all of the technology for it to come to pass in the not-so-distant future. Stan and co, however, are still living in the utopian part of the experiment. It hasn't yet progressed to the level of dystopia, since nothing has gone wrong. Yet.
I'm obviously a total Atwood fangirl, and I will read pretty much anything she writes, but this to me was the ultimate showcase of her narrative prowess. She is able to create a whole world in far less space than a traditional novel (this is true of her poetry as well, which is equally beautiful). She has a gift.
I heard about Wither at this year’s IRC conference, and it didn’t pique my interest initially, but when the presenter described it as similar to The HI heard about Wither at this year’s IRC conference, and it didn’t pique my interest initially, but when the presenter described it as similar to The Handmaid's Tale, I knew I had to at least give it a shot, even if I didn’t read the whole trilogy. Handmaid is one of my absolute favorite books – it’s the book that made me a fan of both dystopia (when done well) and Margaret Atwood (who does no wrong!). While Wither does share some similarities with Handmaid, I think directly comparing the two might be an insult to Atwood.
The novel takes place in some indeterminate future (more on that in a bit) where most diseases have been cured…at a price. While the “First Generation” is all healthy and thriving, all subsequent generations have drastically shortened life spans. Males live to be 25, and females only make it to 20 before succumbing to a deadly virus. Rhine, our protagonist, is one of several girls who is kidnapped to be a wife to a wealthy man, whose father is seemingly obsessed with finding a cure to the virus. At 16, Rhine only has four years left, and she seems resigned to the fact that there will not be a cure, but once inside the Ashbys’ Floridian mansion, she obsesses over the idea of escaping, returning to Manhattan, and reuniting with her brother, Rowan. The problem is that all she really does is obsess. Very little planning or effort to enact said planning happens until the last few chapters. This is a common theme in books I’ve read lately, and I think it’s the “trilogy effect.” In order for the story to continue into 2 more books, the protagonist can’t accomplish everything in volume 1. But unless it’s done well, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch someone mope and bitch and moan without actually doing anything. I had the same issue with both Matched and Crossed.
My biggest issue was one of world-building (or lack thereof). I’ve realized that this is the problem with many of the dystopian novels glutting the YA market right now. In order for a dystopia to truly work, as a concept, there needs to be an explanation for how the society got to this place. It’s something Atwood does incredibly well. “I’m Starved for You” is an excellent example. Even though it’s a short story, Atwood gives readers all the information they need to figure out how the society works and how it got that way. Since a dystopia is, by definition, a utopia gone awry, the author’s first job is to figure out A) what was the utopian experiment? And b) how/why did said experiment fail? If those questions aren’t answered somehow, then the story fails. I think the issue a lot of wannabe dystopian authors are struggling with right now is how, exactly, to impart that information without just info-dumping. Again I point to Atwood as a prime example. The world of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood is so rich and fully realized, but at no point did I feel like I was just reading pages of exposition.
Getting back to Wither, while I was intrigued by DeStephano’s concept, she suffers from the common issue a not-fully-realized dystopia. The logic behind a lot of the explanations was just…not there. I can understand the life-span being drastically shortened, but why do people die at exactly 20/25? No one gets the virus sooner? Biologically speaking, that makes very little sense, and it’s never really explained beyond “that’s what happens.” I’m willing to give her a pass on the “all the continents sank! Except North America! And Florida is somehow not underwater!” part because I think that information could be deliberate propaganda, especially since there’s no real explanation given for how that happened. If it’s revealed to be true in the sequel…I’m not sure my brain can handle that lack of logic. Another issue – I understand why females would be kidnapped and sold as child brides. In this society there’s no hope of a cure without babies, and I can see how that would drive people to turn women into baby factories (it’s the premise of Handmaid, after all). However, why are the “rejects” shot? There are almost certainly fewer women than men, since their lifespan is 5 years shorter, so I fail to see the point of kidnapping and then killing the child brides who fail to make the cut.
Finally, I just had a hard time relating to Rhine. I found her whiny. Frankly I was more interested in hearing about Jenna’s story than anything. But as another reviewer mentioned, I’m failing to truly see the downside of her situation. If she has no hope of a cure anyway, and Linden certainly treats her well, then what’s the problem with staying? Might as well be comfortable for your last few years, instead of living in fear and squalor. Though I will say, my most hated trope of “I love you forever even though I just met you and can’t stand the idea of living without you even though I hardly know you!” actually made sense in this context. Since no one lives longer than 25, it’s understandable that you would immediately grab onto anyone who you had the slightest attraction to. On the other hand, I found Gabriel kind of meh. Being fairly bland herself, I suppose Rhine was attracted to him as a kindred spirit, but I failed to see why he is the one she gets so attached to, especially since he doesn’t seem all that attached. He really only seems to go along with her escape plan because he doesn’t want to live in the basement. But I do appreciate that DeStephano makes it clear that, while Rhine does grow fond of Linden, she never considers herself “in love,” thus avoiding the dreaded love triangle.
Interestingly, although parts did remind me of Handmaid (particularly the parties Linden drags Rhine to; those definitely echo that “party” the Commander makes Offred attend), the strongest vibe I got here was that of a VC Andrews novel. Any of them really. Young, unwilling girl secreted away in big, forbidding mansion. Vaughn Ashby was the very image of a VC Andrews villain father-figure. And of course even though life in the mansion is perfect and wonderful, the ingénue doesn’t want to stay there because she has lost family elsewhere and her entire being is devoted to whining about finding them (but doing precious little to help herself). Add in all of the melodramatic on-the-nose dialogue and description and it’s like any of those “family sagas” from the early 80’s.
In spite of all this, I am motivated to read Fever, the sequel, although the ocean escape reminded me of the ridiculous end of The Dark and Hollow Places. Why do all of these people think the ocean is the answer to everything? Overall, yet another interesting concept derailed by sub-par execution. I keep reading all of these series because of their potential, but I’m left wishing most of the authors would take a minute and give some thought to world-building. There is an amazing amount of potential here, and in Divergent (which I really liked in spite of the nonsensical plot), and in the first Maze Runner book, to name a few. They all just read like stories I would have written as an 8th grader, when all I wanted to do was add “exciting” twists and was too lazy to do any research. Dystopia done right requires research, and an immense amount of world-building that may not even make it into the finished product. It’s clear that DeStephano took an interesting concept and ran with it, but taking the time to build a more realistic world would have done wonders at improving the story.
**spoiler alert** I'm unsure how to rate this. Like I said in an update, these people are all pretty terrible. On the plus side, they are at least not**spoiler alert** I'm unsure how to rate this. Like I said in an update, these people are all pretty terrible. On the plus side, they are at least not rage-inducingly terrible, a la Nora in The Woman Upstairs or Kate in The Engagements. But they're also not fascinatingly, trainwreckishly terrible a la anyone in a Gillian Flynn novel. Which means they just aren't that interesting. And also not much happens -- I had first pegged it as a cross between Maine and We Were Liars (what with all of the secrets), but it's not quite like that. I do appreciate that it isn't trying to be some sweeping epic saga or some nonsense, like Maine, but without the intrigue of a true mystery (We Were Liars), there's simply not much there there.
This is a book about a semi-dysfunctional family who go on vacation together. The Posts really aren't as dysfunctional as they perhaps want you to think: dad Jim had an affair with a young intern, which got him fired when she went to the board. Mom Franny is still seething from his betrayal, and in spite of the fact that the affair seems long over and done with, she spends an excruciating amount of time "deciding" if she wants to forgive him. It's all terribly dull, because the actual conflict has already happened before the novel began. Either forgive or don't. Decide you want to make things work or don't. It's not a terribly difficult decision, especially since it's hinted that the two haven't had a picture-perfect marriage to begin with. Franny's not quite enough of a bitch for me to find her interesting. To be fair, she's not a doormat either, she's just a fundamentally boring person, and this is probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened to her, so she's damn well going to milk the drama for all it's worth. For the record, Jim has about as much personality as a box of hair.
Daughter Sylvia, who I kept aging 10 years in my head because her name sounds like a 75 year old, has just graduated from high school and can't wait to go off to Brown, where she won't have to deal with people from high school. Also she wants to have sex in Mallorca. Just cause. Spoiler alert: she has sex with her Spanish tutor and then he won't speak to her and it's awkward. Yawn.
Son Bobby, an ostensible grown up, is a realtor in Miami with a decade-older girlfriend that no one seems to like. He's in debt because he got talked into some kind of protein-powder pyramid scheme and is hoping to use the vacation as an opportunity to ask for a loan. And Carmen feels awkward and does lots of burpees. Spoiler alert: Bobby is a manchild and they break up (but he says it's because he wants kids but she doesn't? Which, whatever). Again: meh. Jim and Franny discuss lending him the money, and he goes back to New York with the family, but nothing is ever resolved. It's also not that interesting because again, the major conflict--quitting real estate, getting involved in a pyramid scheme -- happened off page.
The most interesting characters here are Charles and Lawrence, Franny's best friend and his husband. The dynamics between the 3 of them are probably the most interesting part. Charles and Franny have been friends since college, and Lawrence, even as Charles's husband, feels like he can't compete with that level of history. They're also trying to adopt a child, and Lawrence works in the movie industry...the little hints we get about their lives make me wish the book were solely about them instead. Maybe with a cameo appearance from their bitchy friend Gemma, who owns the house in Mallorca where this band of idiots is staying for the duration. She makes an 11th hour appearance and I would have gladly followed her around instead of listening to Franny and Sylvia and everyone else whine for 290 pages. But again, I had a hard time caring about them too, since they're minor supporting characters at best, and yes it's wonderful that they get a baby, but by that point I was jealous that they got to leave early!
On the plus side, it's a short book, and it does make me want to visit Mallorca, or really anywhere tropical. There's some decent foodporn and scene setting, at least. And there are hints at better stories, but what's here is just not that impressive. It's a book about people on vacation...I'm not sure what the takeaway is supposed to be. It's a decent way to kill and afternoon, since it's not a story that requires much brainpower. But it strikes me as one of those books that, as I said last summer about These Girls, you forget you've read, because there's really nothing memorable about it....more
Love her! I will read pretty much anything this woman writes. It's all about the snark, and any book that makes me laugh out loud because of the footnLove her! I will read pretty much anything this woman writes. It's all about the snark, and any book that makes me laugh out loud because of the footnotes? Gold....more
Evidently this is, like, THE Gothic Novel. The One. The Gothic Novel against which all other Gothic Novels are compared. AndRead in: The Gothic Novel
Evidently this is, like, THE Gothic Novel. The One. The Gothic Novel against which all other Gothic Novels are compared. And it's... well, it's short. That's about the best I can say for it. And it's somewhat creepy, and while I understand the role it plays in literature, and I appreciate having read it because every single piece of research I found for my paper later in the semester kept referring to it... it's only okay....more
I really enjoyed this. Looking for Alaska is probably still my favorite of John Green's books, but this one was hilarious and enjoyable.
The plot is fa
I really enjoyed this. Looking for Alaska is probably still my favorite of John Green's books, but this one was hilarious and enjoyable.
The plot is fairly simple, and not nearly as serious as that of Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars. Colin Singleton believes that the world can be broken into two distinct groups of people: Dumpers and Dumpees. Colin himself falls [almost] exclusively into the latter camp, having been dumped by 19 Katherines to date. The most recent, Katherine XIX, was also the most serious, and has left him the most heartbroken. So, with his friend Hassan in tow, Colin sets off on a road trip to clear his head and attempt to work out a theorem that can successfully predict the future of any romantic relationship (to safeguard against future heartbreak, of course!). The duo make it as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet Lindsey Lee Wells, a local whose mother owns the one and only factory and source of revenue in Gutshot... a plant that manufactures tampon strings. Hijinks, as expected, ensue almost immediately.
Like all of Green's books, this one is written in a very particular style. It's hard to describe precisely what sets Green's books apart from others that try to ape his style. There's just an effortless quality to his writing, particularly the dialogue. I think I mentioned in my review of Alaska that I thought there were times when the dialogue was a little *too* clever (for your average teenager), but it's so witty and great that I almost don't care. It feels like the way teenagers actually speak (or wish they could speak, perhaps), and although the characters are always kind of "quirky" (I'm starting to despise that word!), it doesn't feel forced. Compare that to So Shelly, which I read earlier this summer. It's basically Looking for Alaska on a boat, with all of the characters trying WAY too hard to be unique and interesting. I felt the same way about The Year of the Gadfly. Both of those books just needed to calm the hell down. Green has a style that's certainly enviable, but also incredibly hard to emulate.
I found myself really enjoying the use of footnotes here as well. Sometimes they can feel self-indulgent, because it read like Green was speaking to us instead of Colin, and that can take you out of the story. However, since they were used fairly sparingly, I enjoyed them, and they didn't pull the focus off of the story. I do wish the novel had been written in first person, however. There was a distance between the reader and the character here that I haven't felt with Green's other books. It was like we were kind of inside Colin's head, but not totally. And though I enjoyed the footnotes, they did kind of contribute to that distance.
Overall, a great read. Not my favorite John Green book thus far, but probably the best YA I've read all summer. I filed it under "classroom shelf," but since I have 7th graders in the fall, I'll probably wait until next year to sneak this onto my shelf. Thanks to the liberal use of "fug," the language isn't too offensive, and aside from Hassan's frequent mentions of "The Thunderstick," there's really nothing too inappropriate. Plus it was an Abraham Lincoln HS Book Award winner a few years ago. Just a tad too mature for your average 7th grader.
This might be my new favorite book -- it's what I imagine Twilight *could* have been if Stephenie Meyer could actually write. Amazing... and just a liThis might be my new favorite book -- it's what I imagine Twilight *could* have been if Stephenie Meyer could actually write. Amazing... and just a little bit creepy, not so much in the vampire way as in the "really? you went there?" sort of way. Let's just say the protagonist is a 53-year-old vampire who looks ten and, being a vampire novel, there's lots of inappropriate touching, and leave it at that!...more
I'm pretty sure I read this for the first time in about 6th grade...and hundreds of times since then. I haven't read it in years (sold my original atI'm pretty sure I read this for the first time in about 6th grade...and hundreds of times since then. I haven't read it in years (sold my original at a garage sale I'm guessing), but I realized as I re-read it that I still have huge chunks of it memorized. Yikes.
Happily, I feel like the story still pretty much holds up. I remember loving it as an 11-year-old, and I love it still as a nostalgic not-so-11-year-old. This was my favorite of the series. I liked the second one (The Return?) okay, but the 3rd was just bizarre. I think Shari (or whoever's body she's inhabiting...doesn't she possess the girl in the 2nd book or something? details are fuzzy) starts trying to write some novel and I remember HUGE chunks of said novel appearing in the book. Also pretty sure Pike went on to publish it separately (The Starlight Chrystal, I want to say?), and even at 11/12, the whole thing felt less like the conclusion of a trilogy and more like a test drive for a new novel. But this one still makes me happy...like comfort food in book form.
Mmmm, Gothic Fiction at its finest. I wrote my research paper on this book and I just love it. The creepiness, the ambiguity,Read in: The Gothic Novel
Mmmm, Gothic Fiction at its finest. I wrote my research paper on this book and I just love it. The creepiness, the ambiguity, the frustration of knowing that more ink has been spilled over this little novella than anything ever? All part of the fun....more
For some reason, I hear "Invisible Man," my mind goes instantly to HG Wells, not this particular novel. I think I might have preferred Wells's story iFor some reason, I hear "Invisible Man," my mind goes instantly to HG Wells, not this particular novel. I think I might have preferred Wells's story instead!...more
We decided to add this to our Holocaust novels unit this year (along with Night and The Cage), so I sat down yesterday afternoon and ended up readingWe decided to add this to our Holocaust novels unit this year (along with Night and The Cage), so I sat down yesterday afternoon and ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. I reminds me a LOT of The Cage, actually. Both girls were poets and wanted to become writers; both lived in a ghetto before transferring to a concentration camp. I think they both moved around quite a bit, although Bitton-Jackson did much more back and forth traveling between camps. I always feel weird saying I "enjoyed" a book like this, and as I've mentioned before, unfortunately stories of this sort start to blend together for me after a while (I have a student this year who is just obsessed with Holocaust stories -- she loves them all and finds them all equally fascinating. I am hoping her enthusiasm rubs off on me!). The language is simple and stark. I'm not sure how old Bitton-Jackson was when she actually wrote this memoir (she was 13-14 when the events actually took place), but I think she captures her young voice quite well. There's not a lot of prose or poetic waxing here, it's all very simply laid out (the dialogue especially). And again, I think it captures the voice of a typical young teenager in a horrific situation. The Cage gets a little more flowery in its prose, and while Night is certainly a stark and affecting story, the language is more complex and the struggling readers have trouble with it. This is a good middle ground between the two, I think.
Also, all of the moving around gave me a spectacular idea for the final project: a Lit Trip map! I'm pretty sure one already exists for Night (but that doesn't mean the kids can't create their own), and I think it could work for The Cage as well. I'm also experimenting with book blogs during this unit...excited to see how this all pans out!
**spoiler alert** I’m not sure how to review this! It’s one of those books that you’ve seen a million times, on a million bookstore end-caps or featur**spoiler alert** I’m not sure how to review this! It’s one of those books that you’ve seen a million times, on a million bookstore end-caps or featured title tables. I’m sure I’ve walked past it dozens of times...possibly even picked it up to read the blurb. It’s something of a modern classic, really. But because the cover’s not especially splashy, and the blurb isn’t especially intriguing, it’s not one I ever thought about reading. I’m pretty sure I “discovered” it through Book Riot...possibly on one of their marathon recommendation podcasts. And honestly, it appealed to me because the premise reminded me of How to Get Away with Murder, which is my current addictive nighttime soap. And while it does share bits of story DNA, the book is thankfully pretty dissimilar.
The cover blurb makes it sound like Julian (the Classics professor in question) plays a larger role than he ultimately does in the group’s transformation. I didn’t particularly latch on to Julian; he’s a side character here at best. Our narrator, Richard, tells us from page one that Bunny (one member of the group) is dead, because he and the others killed him. The mystery lies in piecing together the events that led up to the murder, as well as its motivation. Richard is an outsider to the group - he arrives at Hampden College his junior year, and because he apparently has an ear for dead languages, decides to study Greek. But the Classics program is headed up by the eccentric Julian, who only accepts a tiny number of students (five, currently), and basically controls their entire schedules. It seems odd, and again, I didn’t learn enough about Julian to totally buy into his myth. I guess he’s just supposed to be so charismatic and mysterious that everyone wants to be part of his inner circle? I just didn’t see it. There’s a lot told, but not much shown, where Julian is concerned, because the core five in the group have already had their formative experiences with him. I feel like Richard is drawn more toward the group, and the idea that group represents, than Julian.
Richard is basically your typical Everyman outsider guy. He wants desperately to belong, and this exclusive little club seems like the perfect place for him. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t terribly drawn to Julian, I did find the other characters fascinating in a trainwreck sort of way. There really isn’t a likable character to be found here -- Richard’s a spineless weenie, and everyone else is a hot mess (although I confess I had a terribly hard time remembering that Francis and Charles were two different people. They read as interchangeable). Bunny is probably the most normal of them all, in the end.
It transpires that the reason for Bunny’s murder is rooted in another murder. Apparently the core Classics kids (Francis, Charles, Camilla, and Henry) decide to have a bacchanal? Having read a bunch of Greco-Roman shit, they apparently thought it sounded like a good idea. But Bunny would never take the damn thing seriously, so one night the other 4 went off to the country without him and...did the thing. But when they came back to themselves, they realized they had killed a farmer. Like, ripped him apart, steaming entrails, that sort of loveliness. They left the body, and when Bunny found them bloody, tried to tell him they’d hit a deer. And although authorities find the farmer’s body, no one traces it to the four students, since he was found so far away from the country house. Somehow (I forget the impetus), Bunny figures out they had the bacchanal without him and that it was the true cause of the farmer’s death. So he sets about being a real ass and basically blackmailing everyone into doing his bidding. Henry actually takes him on a trip to Italy over Christmas break to shut him up, and Bunny spends most of the trip burning through Henry’s money as fast as he can. Henry leaves him there and comes back early, which is convenient because he can rescue Richard from the world’s worst living situation. It’s an attic with a hole in the roof. In the winter. In Vermont. Where the campus closes for January and February on account of it’s so damn cold.
So Henry takes Richard in, tells him about the first murder and Bunny’s blackmail. What Richard doesn’t realize at the time is that Henry’s setting him up to be the patsy. Henry’s been planning Bunny’s death for far longer than he lets on (he does a bunch of experiments with poisoned mushrooms before deciding to go with death-by-ravine), and just in case anyone traces it back to the group, the group needs a fall guy. Henry claims that Richard is basically the canary in the coal mine; once Bunny confides in Richard about the farmer, they’ll know he’s decided it’s more advantageous to tell people than continue with blackmail, and the murder plot can commence. It seems like the safest course of action would be to keep Richard completely in the dark, so the fact that Henry just decides to tell him is suspect. Anyway, Bunny blabs to Richard, who in turn blabs to Henry, Bunny goes over the ravine and that’s that.
The rest of the novel (a little less than half, maybe) comprises the “punishment” part of the story. I remember reading C&P in high school and lamenting that so much time is spent on the punishment, relative to the crime. Adult me stands by that statement, however in Tartt’s case, the “punishment” section is far more interesting than whatever happens to Raskolnikov (I think I made it to page 200 before I gave up). See, it snows the night of Bunny’s murder, which covers up his body and turns a murder case into a missing person case. Then there’s Bunny’s old prep school friend Cloke getting paranoid that it has something to do with the drugs he’s been dealing to Bunny and co (weed, coke, meth, you know the usual). The group have to watch the manhunt for Bunny, participating in it even though they know everyone is looking the wrong place, deal with Bunny’s family, attend his eventual funeral...it eats away at them all in different ways. And although Richard is our narrator, it’s fascinating to watch him watch everyone else fall apart. Eventually, he (and the reader) come to the conclusion that Bunny’s murder was less about getting rid of their blackmailer and more about just seeing if they could get away with it. For Henry anyway. I actually thought he was going to turn out to have murdered Julian too, once he disappeared.
Ultimately, I really loved this book. It took me an entire week to read, which is slow for me, even when I’m not reading YA. The writing was so great and the characters so fascinating that I would immediately put the book down if I realized I was starting to skim (although I confess I did skim some of the Greek stuff at the beginning, back when they actually went to class). This is an almost perfect example of a book that is enjoyable despite not featuring one single likable character.
I have to admit, I’m kind of glad I didn’t pay for this book. I was intrigued by Wheatley’s blog (she posts recaps of Smash from an insider’s perspectI have to admit, I’m kind of glad I didn’t pay for this book. I was intrigued by Wheatley’s blog (she posts recaps of Smash from an insider’s perspective) and I had hoped that her memoir would be more of the same. I’ve always been fascinated by Broadway, and I wanted to see what it was like on the other side of the curtain. Unfortunately, Wheatley’s focus is more on her lifelong struggle with her weight, and although she writes frequently about her Broadway dreams, the memoir takes an excruciatingly long time to get to Broadway, and even then, a great deal of what I would consider the “interesting stuff” is glossed over. Why only half a chapter devoted to Cats?! I mean, I loathe that show with the fire of a thousand suns, but it would be cool to hear about what the cast goes through day-to-day. And barely a footnote about Avenue Q? In Vegas?? I feel like there were some missed opportunities here.
With a mother who was a serial dieter and a father who loved to cook with butter, Wheatley understandably grew up with some confusing ideas about food. She spent most of her childhood sneaking treats from the family’s various hiding places, and by the time she was a teenager, Wheatley weighed in at 230 pounds. She spent many years battling the conflicting impulses -- she wanted to lose weight and not be made fun of, but she used food as a comfort, and became pretty skilled at hiding her habits. The family dynamic is interesting -- in an environment where one parent presents food not as something to be enjoyed and celebrated, but as the enemy, while the other rejoiced in fatty snacks, it’s no wonder Wheatley struggled for so many years. The hiding the snacks just killed me -- nothing makes forbidden items more desirable than actively hiding them. If anything, hopefully her childhood experiences can serve as something of a cautionary tale.
As a teen, Wheatley has an “aha” moment and begins sticking to her mother’s diet and exercising. She also apparently wrote and shopped a teen diet book at the time (it never got published). Although it’s inspiring that Wheatley was able to overcome years of childhood obesity, she never really explains how she was able to do it. We don’t know what she ate, beyond “healthy”, and while she mentioned exercising in her sister’s vacant room, she never specifies what she was doing.
I found myself frustrated with her several times throughout the narrative, although I appreciate that she was able to be so candid about her struggles with weight and life and finding a balance. That part, at least, was inspiring -- Wheatley comes close to rock bottom several times in high school and college because she struggled with balancing her diet and her academics and her love of (and participation in) music. I can certainly relate to that feeling of being out of control in more than one aspect of my life -- Wheatley compares it to spinning plates, which is remarkably accurate. It’s great that she was able to find a place for herself in high school, and college, and now professionally. However, watching some of her struggles drove me crazy! The constant credit card debt, in particular -- maybe that's just because I grew up as the child of a finance guy. And then suddenly her boyfriend threatens to leave her if she won’t get her spending under control and she’s cured, just like that. No more overspending. I mean...this is a true story, so if that’s what happened, then that’s what happened. I just find it odd that she struggled for so many years with various aspects of life, and just magically becomes able to stop overspending.
I also found it interesting that Wheatley had such a difficult time finding a job after her incredible weight loss. While she was overweight, it was difficult to get cast, but then losing weight made her even more of a non-entity, because she suddenly looked like every other skinny brunette with a pretty voice. Her weight, ironically, was her something extra.
Ultimately, while I felt this was certainly an honest exploration of a lifelong struggle with body image, it is not what I was expecting. Though Wheatley does spend a great deal of time talking about her dreams of Broadway (including a brief foray into the world of opera, because the body type there is larger), it’s mostly secondary to the larger (no pun intended) issue of her struggles with weight. I would have gladly read an entire memoir about her experiences in summer stock and on tour with Les Miz. That’s the sort of story I was expecting going into this. To be honest, if I’d realized that the main focus would be on weight/body issues, I probably would have skipped it. I didn’t hate it, and Wheatley is a fairly entertaining narrator; it just wasn’t the sort of story I was interested in reading at the moment. Such a Pretty Fat remains my favorite weight loss memoir (though at times Wheatley did remind me of a less snarky Jen Lancaster).
It’s also (through no fault of Wheatley’s) one of the most poorly edited Kindle editions I’ve read in a while (How to Read a Poem is still decidedly the worst). The whole book is full of random symbols in the middle of words, or words unnecessarily smashed together. I remember when Kindle books first became a “thing,” this was a pretty common issue with digitized versions of older books, but I haven’t encountered that problem in a LONG time. But hey, I borrowed it for free, so I can't really complain (although if I'd paid the digital list price of $9.99 for it, I'd have been annoyed. I can't understand why it's priced so high)....more
I read this a million years ago in jr high, but I thought it might make a good read aloud. I used Down a Dark Hall with my lit circle groups & theI read this a million years ago in jr high, but I thought it might make a good read aloud. I used Down a Dark Hall with my lit circle groups & they enjoyed it (one of them fist pumped when he realized this was the same author!)...more
Damn this book! I've read it 6 times now, and I still cry. Which makes it awkward, because I'm always choked up when I finish and the kids don't knowDamn this book! I've read it 6 times now, and I still cry. Which makes it awkward, because I'm always choked up when I finish and the kids don't know what to do. My 3rd hour gave me the world's most awkward round of applause....more
I read this back in the spring when I decided I wanted to become a runner. I figured something called the "non-runner's" guide would be a good startinI read this back in the spring when I decided I wanted to become a runner. I figured something called the "non-runner's" guide would be a good starting point. I loved the journal sections where Dais outlined her training progress (or lack thereof!). It definitely made me feel better about my own off days! Most of the advice was worthwhile as well, and coming from someone who'd never run before, it came with a healthy dose of snark.
The book also includes training guides for full and half marathons, which I used to train for the half I ran in October. While I liked that the half schedule was for 20 weeks (a lot longer than most!) and gradually built up mileage (starting with timed runs and moving up to a specific mileage), it ended up getting way more intense than necessary. After looking at some other schedules, I realized that I was actually running too much! I ended up with shin splints from what turned out to be over-training. So while the narrative aspect was a good read, I definitely don't recommend trying the running schedule!!...more