When I read the book description for Out of Nowhere, I was really looking forward to reading it. I thought the novel would be a good learning experien...moreWhen I read the book description for Out of Nowhere, I was really looking forward to reading it. I thought the novel would be a good learning experience...to find out more about Somalian refugees, the fears and hardships they faced in their own country, and their hopes for the future in finding a safe place and being able to start anew. Much to my surprise, while the author does depict this to some extent, it is not really the central focus of the novel.
For such a small book, Out of Nowhere crams many different themes from dating to choosing colleges, to family pressures and the all important need to win, to the lost boy spiraling to his ruin, to issues concerning religion and cyber-bullying. There are so many different ideas and stories competing in this novel that I don’t feel that they get the chance to be fully explored. Often times some of these themes are used solely to drive the plot along and are subsequently dropped to the background out of sight, without getting a true resolution—e.g. the relationship between Alex Rhodes and his father and the author’s choice of using Donnie as the means to draw out the major conflicts that occur throughout the novel.
Much of the story takes place outside of the main action and progression of Tom’s story, which in turn negatively affects the novel’s characterization. The characters somehow feel incomplete, mere shadows of what they could have been, especially in regards to the Somalian kids—Saeed and his sister, Samera. This is in part due to the author’s decision to tell the story through the eyes of one of her characters. The reader sees only what Tom sees. This would have been a good choice on the author’s part had she chosen to focus her story on one theme. A limited point of view simply doesn’t do justice to the various stories Padian tries to tell. As written, both the characters and their various stories fall flat.
Overall, for a novel that promised to bring a topic not commonly found in young adult literature to the forefront, Out of Nowhere could have been a much stronger work. (less)
The first word that comes to mind when reflecting upon this final installment of de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series is “busy.” This small book is crammed...moreThe first word that comes to mind when reflecting upon this final installment of de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series is “busy.” This small book is crammed with so many different characters and stories set in both the past and present, that at times I felt overwhelmed by everything taking place. This wasn’t so much due to the various stories themselves—in point of fact, for the most part nothing much really happens—but due to the frenetic pacing of the novel. All of the significant plot points happen extremely fast; and the all important final battle between good and evil—that monumental moment the reader has been waiting for throughout the series—seems to be over within a second. Told and viewed from so many different points of view make the entire scene feel heavily edited and ultimately anticlimactic.
That said, de la Cruz does provide a satisfying conclusion to the battle...an ultimate sacrifice is paid, and rewards are fulfilled. This part of the novel was actually quite good. However, de la Cruz’s decision to end her novel with that final chapter—ending this saga with that final image—struck me as being a strange choice on her part, since it seems to undermine what had just come before. The sentiments expressed by that final act almost ring false, leading the reader to question whether these feelings are real or are perhaps manufactured by the “forced connection”? Especially considering that this is a theme currently shared on the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, this final scene creates a conflicting image that cannot be ignored.
All told, when looking back over the whole of this series, I do believe Melissa de la Cruz had an interesting idea when she began this series of novels—the idea of vampires as fallen angels trying to make their own personal “heavens” here on earth. Yet, I think due to the pacing of this series, I feel that some of the stories, and especially the mythology surrounding this series, were lost in translation. Ultimately, the overall execution of this series wasn’t entirely satisfying. (less)
Spinelli’s “Ondine” has been spirited away to a new place. But after everything that has transpired over the past year, the Stargirl the reader meets...moreSpinelli’s “Ondine” has been spirited away to a new place. But after everything that has transpired over the past year, the Stargirl the reader meets in this companion book appears somewhat chastened. This is a highly personal work, a kind of written exercise where Stargirl can safely address her crisis of identity and begin to learn how to fix it. Through this epistolary format, Stargirl no longer has the opportunity to disguise her various insecurities. She is vulnerable; and her fractured sense of self is only emphasized by the presence of those other characters she meets, who happen to be just as lost as she is, in one way or another.
Like Betty Lou, Charlie, Arnold and Alvina, Stargirl herself needs someone to push her into the right direction. This someone ironically takes the form of Perry, the local lothario. Perry constantly challenges her. His probing questions take her out of her comfort zone and force her to bring things to a head, emotions she’s reluctant to fully admit and address.
‘I guess I don’t know what I want [...] I was very uncomfortable [...] This was such a new script to me. I had no idea what my lines were.
Stargirl always was playing a part; and when things didn’t happen turn out the way they should, she would figuratively or literally run away. However, a change of clothes, silly jokes and music no longer have the same calming strength; her emptiness constantly threatens to take over. Yet with Perry’s aid, Stargirl learns how to adopt a “new beginning” through a Winter Solstice celebration.
As in Stargirl, this companion novel is heavily symbolic through its connections with the Undine/Ondine fairytale and the theme of new beginnings as related to the coming of the Winter Solstice. The connections are interesting. However, the story is not as complete as I had thought it would be. Stargirl’s letter is very much a journey—her journey of self-discovery. However, though the reader can say that her journey has reached an end, there is a sense that her real journey has only just begun. In that sense, Love, Stargirl reads as one giant prologue, with a few technical inconsistencies interspersed along the way. While both works do have their merits, I can’t entirely say that I fully enjoyed my experience reading them.(less)
If one reads the author’s notes at the end of the book, Jerry Spinelli states that his story was greatly influenced by Giraudoux’s version of the fair...moreIf one reads the author’s notes at the end of the book, Jerry Spinelli states that his story was greatly influenced by Giraudoux’s version of the fairytale Ondine. I haven’t formally read this version of the tale, but I have read the version by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, which Giraudoux used as the basis for his own play. In Giraudoux’s version of the tale, the main theme focuses on the male lead’s failure to reconcile the difference between the mystical aspects that can exist within nature with the strict maintenance of society’s accepted laws, i.e. society’s failure to accept any individual difference that threatens to break up the “whole.” In Fouqué’s version, Undine is an impish changeling, who can only gain a soul through love and marriage with a man who truly loves her in return, and can thus obtain true human form. While Giraudoux’s version does encompass the narrator’s emotional struggles in Spinelli’s book, I think Fouqué’s version more aptly illustrates Spinelli’s “Undine”—Stargirl.
Spinelli plays with extremes in this novel. Stargirl marches to the beat of her own drum, but this “beat” transcends normal behavior to an exaggerated degree. As Stargirl, she’s an impish figure—alternatively singing, dancing around, trying out various gauche attempts at being humorous, turning serious situations into farces. And when confronted with the awkwardness of her behavior, for example when she crashes the wake of a man she never personally knew, she is empty; she can’t answer for herself. Her inability to explain herself is not from lack of courage. For her, an explanation simply doesn’t exist; there is no reason for her actions. She acts solely on impulse, not necessarily for any personal gain on her part; or for that matter is she considering the feelings of those involved in her various schemes. As a person, Stargirl doesn’t seem real. Even when she adopts the mainstream look as “Susan,” it doesn’t come off as being natural. Both as Stargirl and as Susan, her manic behavior and actions seem forced, as if she’s acting various parts to mask a hidden inner void, a fractured sense of self.
Leo, the book’s narrator, thus assumes the role of Stargirl’s potential “savior,” her significant other—someone to help ground her and give her that internal sense of well-being. The novel chronicles his struggles with this role. Can a boy adequately meet these demands when faced with society—i.e. his schoolmates—, as well as the obstacles Stargirl constantly throws at him? Additionally, will their interaction have a lasting effect upon each other? For Leo, the answer is readily apparent; but for Stargirl, the response is more ethereal.
When approaching Spinelli’s novel, I wasn’t expecting to read a psychological fairytale. It is certainly a different take from the more conventional “individual against society” story one finds in contemporary literature. However by novel’s end, Stargirl’s story feels somewhat incomplete. But from my reading of the companion novel, the question of identity is more fully explored there. (less)
Rowell’s novel is not the typical young adult contemporary romance. The back cover describes the novel as the story of “two misfits...one extraordinar...moreRowell’s novel is not the typical young adult contemporary romance. The back cover describes the novel as the story of “two misfits...one extraordinary love.” On some levels, this statement is true, especially when considering some of the themes the novel addresses—bullying in its various forms, conformity and nonconformity, and fears regarding self-image. However, the love felt between the novel’s two main characters is not what one would readily classify as one of those nice, fluffy romances. It’s more “extraordinary” in the sense that the novel depicts love in the extreme, i.e. having the characters cross emotional boundaries to the point where love becomes a manic obsession. For a first young adult novel, Eleanor & Park is quite a rich tale.
This is not a comfortable story to read, especially when the narrator focuses on Eleanor. Eleanor is rather reminiscent of Natalie Wood’s character in the film Splendor in the Grass. She has that same overwhelming awkward sense of unsureness. Eleanor is obsessively needy and clingy, ready to cry at a moment’s notice, manically ecstatic and warm one moment, while completely cold and closed off the next...all exacerbated by parental neglect and abuse. So when Eleanor does find an anchor in Park Sheridan, he becomes her one and all, her only reason for living. For Eleanor, the novel essentially questions whether she will ever be able to find a sense of balance and security in her life. As a side note, Rowell handles the abuse theme very well in this novel.
In regards to the novel’s other protagonist Park Sheridan, he as well faces his own journey of self-discovery through his relationship with Eleanor. For Park, the question arises as to whether conformity has positively or negatively affected his self-identity, which in turn will lead him to determine whether he has the courage to stand up for what he believes in. Though the questions are traditional for a coming of age novel, the choices Park will make are not necessarily the kind where he will be placed in a situation that is in opposition to an opposing group, i.e. not the traditional battle of jocks vs. misfits/geeks. They are more personal in nature...a quest for truth.
That said, though Rowell’s novel is psychologically and thematically rich, in regards to structure and detail the novel is not as strong. Rowell not only uses chapters to tell her story, but also divides the chapters further by shifting the points of view of her two main characters. This would have been fine if the story wasn’t told using the same third person narrative voice. Even though there are shifts in perspective, it is difficult for the reader to distinguish Park’s voice from Eleanor’s. As a result, both characters sound like the narrator/author, which diminishes authenticity. Also at times, Rowell becomes so focused on the physical/emotional aspects of Eleanor and Park’s relationship—teen angst et.al.—that she doesn’t follow through with other details, especially regarding the progression of time through the novel. For instance throughout the novel, Eleanor and Park share music with each other. While the reader does get to see Eleanor’s reaction to some of the artists Park introduces her to, the reader is not given Park’s take on the music she introduces to him. It is also difficult to distinguish time during their relationship. At the end of the novel, the reader knows that the events take place over the course of a year; yet when reading, as the events are taking place, time seems nonexistent. What seems to take place over a matter of days, actually takes place across weeks and months. This in turn makes the relationship feel rushed, and the strength of Eleanor’s feelings all the more extreme because of its suddenness.
All said, though Rowell penned a thematically strong work, her novel’s construction lacks dimensionality. (less)