Release Date: May 24, 2011 Publisher: Candlewick Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 449 FoYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: May 24, 2011 Publisher: Candlewick Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 449 Format: Paperback Source: Finished copy received from Random House Canada
Tell Me More: I'm reluctant to read stories about angels because I don't particularly enjoy the way a lot of authors interpret the mythology. Some trusted blogger friends insisted I'd enjoy this series, and I decided to give it a go.
One reason why I approach angel stories with a modicum of caution is because I'm a practicing Catholic. The way I see angels is different from the way non-practicing people do, and while I don't mind alternative perspectives, it can get awkward. That's why I found L.A. Weatherly's take to be a chilling presentation of human nature and the presence of religion in our daily lives. The cover copy, while successful at hooking readers who want forbidden romances, doesn't capture the full scope of what Alex and Willow are facing.
The core of the story is belief, and the things we are willing to do in order to stay true to those beliefs. Willow believes she isn't special. Alex believes that he has to kill all angels. And everyone around them is in danger of literally believing themselves to death. Weatherly doesn't just focus on the budding relationship between Alex and Willow. She alternates their scenes with chapters looking in on the angels themselves, and the corruption lying beneath their peaceful gazes. The angels are strikingly similar to humans--they are selfish and ambitious. And like humans, they are also caught up in their own beliefs. They are willing to sacrifice the people they were meant to care for in order to survive, and worse off, they are willing to use those peoples' beliefs to kill them.
Make no mistake, I don't believe that Weatherly was trying to say all religions are evil. I do appreciate the dialogue that she opens up. The first mention of the Church of Angels gave me chills. Blind faith doesn't do anyone good, and that's not only a big issue in the story, but an important one in real life. Angel Burn has the capability to shock readers who are devout believers in their religions, especially if they actually don't know much about said religion.
While the themes of Angel Burn are startlingly complex, I did have some issues with some of the characters' early actions. I don't think enough attention was paid to Willow's home life, and so it becomes easy to forget about her mother and aunt. I also had some logical world-building questions that, thankfully, were answered in the second book. Lastly, the writing structure left me a bit confused: in one chapter, Weatherly gives us Alex's POV and then Willow's a few paragraphs later, without any noticeable pattern. However, I was interested enough in the story to at least put these things to the side while reading.
That's Not All:
> Love and the role it plays in keeping one true to a belief. I'll definitely be discussing this in depth in my review of Angel Fire.
The Final Say: Angel Burn surprised me with an explosive story and haunting questions about loyalty and faith. If you're looking to try something out of your comfort zone, L.A. Weatherly's story might just be what you're looking for....more
Release Date: April 10, 2012 Publisher: Poppy Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 356 Format: HarYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: April 10, 2012 Publisher: Poppy Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 356 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: As I write this review, I am glad to find that the cover copy has changed from a spoilerific summary to one that just hints at the drama bubbling under the surface. It was rather disappointing to discover the big plot twist detailed on the back of the book, and my dismay may have coloured my thoughts on the rest of the story.
First things first: if Jen Calonita aimed to pen a fairly predictable story with minimal angst and a somewhat happy ending, she succeeded. Belles doesn't attempt to be more than what it is, and I could have written down an outline of what was going to happen within the first 30 pages. There are no surprises in this plot, and the characters are familiar enough that one can guess what they'll say next. While I certainly was looking for an easy-going book to read, I don't know that Belles was as satisfying as I'd hoped.
Despite those minor setbacks, there is an undeniable charm to Isabelle and Mira's story. Calonita sets up the tiny parallels in these two girls' lives beautifully, and they remain a compelling duo through the entire book. Both girls begin to realize the hurdles they face in their respective positions, and it is truly interesting to watch them learn how to shake off the pressures of adolescence. Their families' cliche characterizations fade in the background of Izzie and Mira's glow. I was especially taken with Izzie's spirited attitude and sense of self-value. Young girls would do well to adopt that same confidence and faith in themselves.
The final few pages of the story set up a full series, but I believe Calonita wraps this first one up nicely and it won't be necessary to read the succeeding books for a well-rounded story.
The Final Say: While I won't be picking up the next installment of the Belles series, it is a sweet and appealing read for younger teens looking for familiar dramatic ground with a touch of glamour....more
Release Date: January 24, 2012 Publisher: Doubleday Canada (Random House) Pages: 256 FormaYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 24, 2012 Publisher: Doubleday Canada (Random House) Pages: 256 Format: Paperback Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: In recent years, The Taming of the Shrew has become one of Shakespeare's highly contested plays. Readers are split over whether Petruchio was horribly sexist or if Katherine was bullied into submission. Of course, it's easy for those of us who grew up with 10 Things I Hate About You to believe that love has the power to change one's attitude, but what happens when we can't tell the difference between love and abuse?
Plot-wise, I was extremely impressed with The Taming. It introduces the idea of infatuation so subtly that you can get through half of the book without realizing that Evan has suddenly become a creepy presence. In fact, he's quite easy to fall in love with as a character. He is charming and smart and realistically, he'd be at the top of the social ladder. His charisma is so strong that even the reader's head is turned, and who could blame them? Was Katie wrong to fall for him? Just as the reader starts to realize that something is terribly wrong about Evan, he turns into someone we don't recognize, someone who might actually be a victim himself.
It's that kind of topsy-turvy perspective that many victims of abuse develop toward their partners, and it is portrayed so starkly in this novel. Love needs trust to grow, and Evan doesn't even trust himself. I have heard negative feedback about that aspect of his personality, and I don't blame readers for being angry with Evan. But I do think that to simply dismiss him as a messed-up boy is wrong too. He is, whether we like it or not, mentally ill, and deserves our compassion, if not our respect. The ending was spot-on in that regard.
However, I do think that Toten & Walters could have done a little more with Katie. Her transformation from shy wallflower to instant center of attention was too fast for my taste, and I would have liked to see her grow into that confidence. As Katharine is one of my favourite Shakespeare heroines, I wanted to see more of that unconquerable spirit in Katie. Because, yes, I am firmly in Camp True-Love-Can-Overcome-Obstacles when it comes to this story. To me, Katharine and Petruchio are a great example of realistic love: they fight, they argue, they even hate each other sometimes, but in the end, they would sacrifice their former reputations for the joy of being able to love one another. That's something that Katie and Evan will (I think) have learned to value after meeting each other.
That's Not All:
> SERIOUS geekery over reciting Taming of the Shrew lines as I read the book. > Hilarious supporting characters!
The Final Say: Teresa Toten & Eric Walters take on the tough subject of relationship abuse through the eyes of Shakespeare, and it truly is a poignant and powerful combination....more
Release Date: January 3, 2012 Publisher: Simon Pulse Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 FormYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 3, 2012 Publisher: Simon Pulse Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Source: Personal copy
Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the internet only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.
But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.
Discovery: The amazing cover and Yellow-Wallpaper-esque story drew me in like a firefly to a lamp.
+ Writing style. How have I never read Eileen Cook's novels before? Isobel is exactly the kind of YA contemporary heroine that I love: she's whip-smart, slightly sarcastic and confident. Granted, she doesn't always make the right decisions or say the right things, but she dances to her own beat and to hell with what other people think. Her narration of the story kept me going, even though I could see the ending from a mile away. In this case, I wouldn't count the predictability of the story against it, because I had such fun reading it! Isobel's imagination comes to life on the pages, and I could hear her voice as easily as though she were next to me. That kind of writing is rare and should be appreciated.
+ Themes. As I mentioned earlier, Unraveling Isobel's plot reminded me of "The Yellow Wallpaper," a story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. For those who aren't familiar with that short story, it is about a young wife who is confined to an upstairs bedroom by her physician husband. They are on holiday, and he believes that the solitude will do her good--she has been suffering from "hysterics."
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
Unfortunately, the constant silence begins to drive the woman into a psychosis and she becomes obsessed with the room's yellow wallpaper. She begins to believe that there are other women in the wallpaper.
Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
I won't spoil the ending in case anyone decides to read it, but it is a spine-tingling conclusion. Isobel and the unnamed woman would certainly have a lot to talk about. Both women are believed to be crazy, and because of that assumption, they fall more and more deeply into their fantasies. Or do they? I'm no hard-core feminist, but the gender roles at play in both stories are fascinating to consider. What is it about men that makes people defer to their "better judgment?" What is it about women that makes them "fall prey" to things like hysterics or psychosis? Has our own society not learned from the past?
I'm particularly interested in Isobel's mother. Isobel describes her as a weak woman, someone who just wants to have a secure and happy life. The reader sees her dismiss her daughter's words and pleas to keep the peace. Where does that subservience come from? Was it always ingrained in her, as in the protagonist of the "Yellow Wallpaper?" And why do these beliefs continue to exist in today's world? These questions are why I'm not completely sold on the ending, though I do admire Isobel's courage.
The final say: Unraveling Isobel is a wonderfully entertaining novel, with characters that shine and hidden themes that will keep you thinking.
Release Date: April 3, 2012 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Age Group: Young Adult PaYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: April 3, 2012 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 549 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: When a tagline induces goosebumps, it's a safe bet that the book itself offers a mind-blowing experience unlike any other. Grave Mercy is a mammoth of a novel, but the intrigue and danger lurking on every page will keep even the most hardened reader frantically pursuing the ending.
Beyond the obvious historical threads that wind through the story, Grave Mercy also delves into a discussion of power and the right to wield it. At the beginning of the story, Ismae is aware of the "power" she holds as a child of Death, but she is unable to use it against her hateful father. While it may be easy to dismiss him as just another obstacle in Ismae's path, I find their dynamic interesting. Excusing his behaviour toward Ismae may not be possible, but for all intents and purposes, he was cuckolded by his wife and left with a child not his own. In medieval times, it was difficult enough to be a daughter. What more if you weren't even your father's real child? I understand the animosity, and I think it plays a role in how Ismae sees herself: not quite real and not quite whole, with a power that she doesn't know how to control. It isn't until she is taken to the convent of St. Mortain that she begins to use her powers. Note that I said "use," not "understand." That distinction becomes even more important when she leaves for her first mission.
Power is an interesting concept in itself. Human beings want to wield it and use it to defend themselves, but often, power rules the person. Ismae discovers that almost too late when she is caught in the deadly tangle of Brittany politics. She refuses to see herself as weak, but she uses that perspective to get what she wants. I was reminded of another tenacious heroine from YA--Cammie Morgan of the Gallagher Girls. Cammie tells the reader that the Gallagher Girls use every tool at their disposal to complete the mission, and that includes letting their assets/enemies think they're nothing more than simple girls. Which brings me to the most interesting question that Grave Mercy raises: Is love itself just a power play?
I've read many dismissive posts about the love story that LaFevers writes into the novel. I myself was hesitant to see it play out, because I didn't think it was necessary to advance Ismae's character development. Luckily, I don't have any qualms over admitting I was wrong. As easy as it would be to say that Ismae just goes from one controlling man to the other, the point is that when that time comes, she alone can make that choice. At the end of the novel, Ismae is a very different woman, one who understands the weight of the decisions she makes and the dangerous pressures of ruling not only a kingdom, but someone's heart as well. We grow numb now to the gravity in vows such as "'Til Death do us part." To Ismae, Death is a tangible and commanding force in her life, more so than love. That kind of commitment isn't thrown off lightly. The struggles she goes through are more compelling because of the natural way they arise, and more captivating for how they are defeated.
With that kind of plot, however, questions of maturity can and should be raised. Grave Mercy is being marketed as a YA novel, though there are mature situations in the story. I personally don't think that it is too heavy or intense for teenagers who come across sexually-charged advertisements every day. There is no gratuitous sex, nor are those scenes thrown in simply to shock and enrage. Every scene in the novel serves a greater purpose, and to regard them as anything else would be doing yourself a disservice. LaFevers has an tight grip on the story she wants to tell, and it is wonderfully poignant and fascinating to observe.
The Final Say: A cover that perfectly matches the contents of the book, characters whose heartbeats you can hear while reading and themes that will stun even fickle readers--Grave Mercy impresses on all counts....more
Release Date: April 10, 2012 Publisher: Random House Children's Books Age Group: Young AdYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: April 10, 2012 Publisher: Random House Children's Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 448 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: It might only be April, but I feel confident in saying that The Book of Blood and Shadow might just be my favourite book of the year. Nora's story reminded me of why I love young adult fiction and all its foibles and strangeness--sometimes a truly brilliant piece of literature can emerge and, to use the vernacular, knock everyone's socks off.
There are a few different dimensions that come into play during the story: a historical mystery, a challenging romance and a commentary on religion and power. If you've read my reviews before, you can probably guess that the latter interested me more, but that isn't to say that the other two aspects were found lacking. If anything, Robin Wasserman's writing skills are highlighted even more by the way they play off and intertwine with one another.
The mysterious text that sends Nora on this dangerous adventure is called the Voynich Manuscript, long believed to be a ciphertext that has remained undecipherable since the 15th century. Wasserman's attention to detail and accuracy are to be lauded, considering how little is actually known about the manuscript and its author. I appreciated that she didn't adopt a condescending tone in the story and that the text assumed a natural maturity in its readers. The care she takes in setting up the events in the novel is unmatched by many authors these days, I find. There were some concerns on my end that Nora's age would make the plot unbelievable and far-fetched, but I was pleased to see that Robin Wasserman had answers for every question I could possibly ask, including the difficult ones about faith, science and the human experience.
YA is a brave genre, but one thing it never seems to touch positively on is religion. I say this having read many novels and short stories about the loss of faith or evangelical extremism, but barely any about kids who happily identify themselves as Christians/Jews/Muslims/etc. As a blogger, I sense a reluctance to discuss those issues among my fellow readers, and I'm not sure why that has to be the case. I appreciated Robin Wasserman's unwavering commitment to the story and its characters, which is highlighted best in its themes. The Book of Blood and Shadow is not a book about religion, but it is a book about faith. It touches on the loss of an imaginative vision as our ancestors knew it, and the things we miss even with highly developed technology. It asks readers to consider the relationship between science and religion through the perspective of a long-deceased girl who wanted to protect the people she loved.
Elizabeth Weston and Nora share one key trait: they believed in people, not a distant religion. But what is religion if not something heavily based on a human understanding of the world or lack of it? The Greeks created myths about nature in an attempt to comprehend the sheer wonder of their world. Nora pursues the truth about the manuscript in order to understand why Chris and Adriane became victims. And it all culminates in a shocking finale that shines a light on the darkest parts of the human soul.
I don't need a book that shouts about how awesome religion is or how everyone should go to church or even that religion sucks. But I always look for stories that offer a different perspective on controversial issues, while never belittling the people who believe otherwise. I yearn for novels that will tell its readers things they might not necessarily want to hear, and books that will inspire readers to ask more of themselves than they think they can achieve. The Book of Blood and Shadow is all three.
The Final Say: Take the shadowy path to Prague and mystery with Nora. Your mind and heart will never be the same....more
Discovery: I came across this book in the Hachette fall catalogue and the premise struck a chord in me.
+ Themes. Before you add this book to your TBRDiscovery: I came across this book in the Hachette fall catalogue and the premise struck a chord in me.
+ Themes. Before you add this book to your TBR pile, be warned that it is much more serious than the premise makes it sound. I know that doesn’t sound likely, but I found myself close to tears more than once while reading it. There is no way that this book can be mistaken for a light read.
Desperation, helplessness, dishonesty: all of these mix into Ames’ story to create a storm of bad decisions and hatred. There were many instances where I was tempted to put the book down because the emotions were simply too much for me to take. While that might sound like a bad thing, I would be the first to recommend this book for the sheer power of Ames’ experiences. Giles doesn’t shy away from the truth of Ames’ family troubles and many teens will relate to the changes that Ames is dealt. I especially loved the ending because honestly? There’s no way a happy ending can be contrived for this story and Giles didn’t try to write one. She was true to the story and that courage alone is worth reading this book for.
+ Voice. Ames is a teenager who has lived her entire life without a single care. When her father is fired, the floor buckles and crumbles beneath her and her family comes close to doing the same. She is stubborn and strong and the saddest part is that she can’t see that strength through her disappointment. Make no mistake, Ames is a character that will stay with every reader after they finish the book because she is who we are afraid to be. She feels too much, she knows too much, she is afraid to let it all in. Every word that comes out of her mouth is two-sided and pained. I may not like her, but she represents that darker side in every person who we have to learn to respect and work with. She’s human, and I admire her for it.
Recommendations: While this isn’t a book for younger readers, I do think it’s something that older readers will understand and learn from, especially in the troubled times we live in today. Gail Giles is to be commended for her honesty and bravery in writing this book.
Tell Me More: Much of the conversation regarding terYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Much of the conversation regarding terminal illness has focused on the patients themselves, understandably so. They are the ones that struggle through every breath, even as they try to live normal lives. Sarah Wylie's poignant debut novel highlights the parallel journey of a girl watching her sister be consumed by cancer, and the risks she takes to try to stop it.
The challenges posed by this novel are two-fold: 1) can the reader hang on through what can seem like lackluster prose? and 2) can the reader refrain from judging Dani before the story is over? I initially found both difficult to do, because All These Lives is not a book that vies for one's attention. The prose is quiet, unassuming, and surprisingly, not as emotional as I was expecting. Wylie is not a writer who tries to shock her readers, but neither does she fall into the tried-and-true cliches of stories about cancer. It's a tough, deadly business, and I appreciated her determination to keep it from falling into blatant sentimentality. The reader is never far off from the touch of death, and Wylie leaves nothing to hide behind. You either face the truth of Dani's family's life, or you give up.
Dani is one of the most flawed individuals I've ever met in literature, and her true nature is so carefully hidden in the story that I feel it will take me at least three more rereads to really understand her. There is a hesitation in everything she says and does that can go unnoticed, because readers may latch onto her reckless decisions. The way Wylie balances Dani's doubts and courage is a stunning act, and it reflects on how many of us live our lives. I would never recommend that teenagers follow Dani's path, but certainly they can find something to relate to in her determination to save her sister's life.
The Final Say: All These Lives is a novel that won't grab readers' attention straightaway, but those who stick with it will find much to consider and reflect upon, especially when it comes to the bond of a family.
Tell Me More: Much of my childhood was spent in theYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Much of my childhood was spent in the quiet suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I lived a rather ordinary life during the day. But at night, my mother would tell me bedtime stories of a decidedly extraordinary nature--stories of terrifying creatures hiding in the deep forests of the Philippine islands, of witches and healers and dwarves that would crouch beside you and untie your shoelaces. She told me of a day when she found herself sitting near an aswang, the Philippine equivalent of a demonic vampire, and the way her uncle chased it off with a shotgun. These stories were weaved into my imagination and appreciation of Filipino culture, so to come across a novel like Shadow and Bone is absolutely marvelous.
The richness and terror so often lacking in YA fantasy is very much present in this novel, and they combine to create an unforgettable experience for any reader. From beginning to end, Leigh Bardugo's writing is solid, powerful and detailed enough to quence any reader's thirst for information. The descriptions are stunning and Ravka practically builds itself in the reader's mind. I had to pause at least two dozen times while reading just to savour Bardugo's prose.
Just as beautifully constructed were the characters that populated Ravka and the neighboring areas. From the nameless soldiers to the dynamic Grisha, each character was carefully written to have a purpose in the story. The various monsters were haunting and terrifying, giving me bone-chilling moments where I remembered my mom's bedtime stories. I was especially impressed (and okay, scared) by the volcra. Bardugo doesn't just play around with danger in this story; she makes the danger real for her readers, and she raises the stakes for her characters.
Alina Starkov's brilliance might not have been as strong and obvious without the foil of these supporting characters and creatures. And oh, does Alina shine--her character arc in this first installment is so satisfying to witness. I loved the reality of her insecurities and the strength of her spirit. She falls into the same category as Katniss Everdeen, in that I think she's a full and complete person without a love interest. That said, I am looking forward to where Bardugo takes Alina next.
The Final Say: It sparked my imagination and made me love characters I never expected to ever encounter. Shadow and Bone is a book you can't afford to miss.
Release Date: March 13, 2012 Publisher: Random House Children's Books Age Group: Young AdYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: March 13, 2012 Publisher: Random House Children's Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 262 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Before I say anything else, I have to express my disappointment over the change in covers. The previous cover--which you can see here--was beautiful and atmospheric. It had the feel of a Renaissance painting, which tied in wonderfully with the story. The new cover, however, feels derivative and might actually make casual bookstore browsers believe that it is a paranormal novel. Sometimes I agree with the need for a new cover, but this book didn't need it.
The reading experience itself is difficult to describe. Laura's story is full of mountains and valleys of revelations, but you are never quite sure which one it is. Conversations that seem innocuous turn out to be damaging, events meant to save reputations destroy them. And in the middle of this quiet chaos is a sixteen-year-old girl who has to learn to lie and cheat and keep deadly secrets, not only to save her life but her family's as well. "Intense" doesn't even begin to cover it. Gould's talent for atmosphere serves her well--you can almost hear the lapping of the water against the gondolas as you turn the pages. Laura's world is an easy portal to enter, and shadows lurk everywhere. I was extremely impressed with the details Gould included in the story, and my attention never wavered while I was reading.
I cite this book as an excellent example of well-written teen literature for many reasons. One of them is the impeccable combination of parts that turned into a magnificent story, otherwise known as organic unity. It is one of the standards I hold books up to when I read them. Should the author drop the ball, so to speak, by including unnecessary scenes or confusing plot twists, it becomes harder for the story to remain whole. Cross My Heart is a powerful book for many reasons: because Gould takes care to mold her characters well and make their actions believable; because her atmosphere reflects her setting and vice versa and; because the themes of secrecy and loyalty are played out in mysterious ways. I never once asked myself what the point of a particular scene was, nor did I think there were any unnecessary characters or descriptions. Gould said exactly enough of what she needed to say to provide a tightly woven and intriguing read.
The Final Say: Historical YA has found a bright new voice in Sasha Gould--Cross My Heart is not a book you should miss if you love chilling revelations and emotional intensity....more
Quirky characters are part and parcel of great YA fiction, but This One Time With Julia may have taPosted on Seashell Reviews at Mermaid Vision Books!
Quirky characters are part and parcel of great YA fiction, but This One Time With Julia may have taken things a bit too far. Despite my willingness to follow what promised to be a difficult character, I found it challenging to even understand what was happening in the novel. At times, it felt as though David Lampson was attempting to channel Daniel Keyes' groundbreaking Flowers for Algernon, but there was no heart or rationality to the story....more
Release Date: January 17, 2012 Publisher: HMH Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 204 FormaYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 17, 2012 Publisher: HMH Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 204 Format: Paperback Source: Finished copy received from Thomson Allen, Ltd.
Tell Me More: I used to be a sickly kid, so stories about the terminally ill have always appealed to me because I could relate to them.
Selflessness, courage, compassion: all of these are traits that most people associate with the sick and dying. We laud them for their strength and sympathize with their challenges, but it's clear that no one can really understand illness unless they are in its throes. Does that viewpoint change once we know someone is sick? Do we automatically afford them those traits once they're stuck in a hospital bed? How fair are we really being to them?
The story itself is misleading: it opens with Austen Parker telling his mom he's going out and meeting up with his best friend Kaylee. There is nothing to suggest that Austen is days away from dying. He banters with Kaylee as they drive around to see some of Austen's current and ex-friends/girlfriends, and he tries to talk some sense into them. Reading his impassioned speeches, I was more than a little confused and skeptical. How are readers supposed to be sold on this kid who, for all intents and purposes, just seems to want to preach to people who hurt him/were hurt by him? If I had been one of the characters in the book, I probably would have just said "See you later" and closed the door. Furthermore, it seems strange that Kaylee doesn't continue to ask Austen why she has to drive him around for a weekend. It doesn't even have to be out of concern, just simple curiousity.
Despite the questions that the novel brings up, I enjoyed reading it. Never Eighteen made me reconsider how terminally ill kids and teens are viewed by society, and the expectations that we press onto them. I may not have understood why Austen wanted to spend his time trying to reconnect with people when he felt he was going to die, but I can't begrudge him that opportunity. Call it cliche or maudlin or whatever you like--when was the last time you did something just because you wanted to? Or because you wanted to be a good person? I do wish that we had seen more of Austen's struggle, because he doesn't seem like the kind of kid to naturally decide to journey on like this, but I admire his tenacity. He made his story worth reading.
That's Not All:
- Unrequited love! I won't lie, I cried over Austen and the way he pined over Kaylee. Though I would definitely tell him to just confess--he's taken risks, this is just one more.
The Final Say: A sweet nugget of a book, Never Eighteen will leave readers reflecting on their own mortality and time with loved ones....more