Tell Me More: If you know me, you know I'd be hard-pressed to resist any tale that uses period elements, even if the main genre that the story resides...moreTell Me More: If you know me, you know I'd be hard-pressed to resist any tale that uses period elements, even if the main genre that the story resides in is dystopian. So yes, my hopes were high for Landry Park, but unfortunately I found it predictable at its best and offensive at its worst.
The life of Landry Park, literally, is dependent on the class issues that permeate the story. The reader is introduced to this peculiar new world through Madeline Landry, who enjoys the lifestyle powered by abuse of the lower classes, even as she expresses a vague desire to change it. In various exposition paragraphs, the reader learns that Jacob Landry, Madeline's ancestor, invented Cherenkov lanterns as a power source after a devastating war with the Eastern Empire. What's left of America is miserable, save for the 1%, now known as the gentry, who are not the government but more powerful.
Madeline is not a very memorable heroine, and neither are many of the other characters. She fits into the trope of a dissatisfied rich girl well enough, and I understand her desire to educate herself. But what is it all for? She tells her father that it will make her a better owner of Landry Park in the future, but even her attachment to the estate feels half-hearted. I never really felt like she was a fully-formed character, capable of standing on her own. I have read of heroines like her before, and she does not do much to distinguish herself from the rest. I never felt like she was in true danger, and I was not emotionally invested enough in her to worry either way. Even the relationship between her and David was dulled by how obvious it was that they would end up together.
On a more serious note, I am particularly bothered by the seeming demonization of Asians as the Eastern Empire, even as a character espouses that "race is no longer a factor" in this futuristic world. I believe this is the first book in a series (correct me if I'm wrong), so there may still be more information to be gleaned about this war in future installments, but what I have so far is just that China, Japan and the rest of Asia decided they'd had enough of America's environmental overreaching and invaded. If this is the war that has changed the landscape of the globe, describing its impact requires more than a few passing sentences. Race can never not be a factor. Including token black and Indian characters among the gentry is not enough to claim that, especially since America's "enemy" in this story is made up of Asians. The difference alone establishes that race is a factor. Frankly, I find it is easiest for those for whom race has never been a factor to imagine a world where it isn't. So why the Asians? Why this cause? I would love to know more about the background of this war, so that I can ground myself further in the story.
The class issues that Hagen attempts to address also fall flat because there just isn't enough solid worldbuilding to hold them up. So much of the book is set in a very small area, because Madeline herself is isolated from knowing much about her life. As a reader, this can quickly become frustrating, because there isn't enough ground covered to stabilize the world the author asks us to believe in. At the very least, why did fashion in this future world return to that of the 1800s? Was it meant as a sign of how out-of-touch the gentry are with the rest of the world? I can't be sure because we get no hints as to how the social norms developed hand-in-hand with the rise and fall of certain classes. Reading this book felt a lot like being surrounded by gorgeous, filmy curtains that aren't actually hiding anything substantial or valuable or even new.
The Final Say:Landry Park may dazzle readers new to the genre, but there is not much to see past the first few fireworks, and less to remember.
Maybe I'm missing something, but this book was one of the most haphazard and confusing reads I've had in a long time. Also not quite sure what the poi...moreMaybe I'm missing something, but this book was one of the most haphazard and confusing reads I've had in a long time. Also not quite sure what the point religion was supposed to serve in the story: if it was supposed to be a commentary on Christianity, belief or lack of, free will, or divine retribution. Characters drawn in broad strokes make it hard to understand the motivation behind their choices.
Having been an Elise Dembowski (and occasionally still feeling like her), I can state with certainty that Leila Sales captures the experience with bre...moreHaving been an Elise Dembowski (and occasionally still feeling like her), I can state with certainty that Leila Sales captures the experience with brevity and understanding.
Tell Me More: When I was eight years old, I received my first Discman. Raised on Columbia Records catalogues, Dr. Hook, and Queen, I quickly became obsessed with music and I never looked back. So much of who I am as a person has been formed by the music I listen to, and Leila Sales not only captured that truth, but she also brought me back to some of the worst years of my life, when music was the only thing that could carry me through. But this time, I had a hand to hold, and a character who understood all too well how crazy scary being yourself could be. This Song Will Save Your Life was beautiful and hard and honest in all the best ways, and I am forever grateful that Leila Sales wrote this story.
I chose to read this book on a Sunday morning, stretched out on the balcony and basking in the July sunshine. I'm glad I did, because the synopsis only hinted at the depths of this novel and the emotions it would call up in me, and only the brightness of that summer day kept me from sinking back into a really bad headspace. Elise was me in 7th grade, desperate to fit in, and yet so other, so not part of the "normal" tween crowd that any attempt to change the status quo was laughable. And it never makes sense--sometimes it still doesn't, even years later--how some kids just get picked to be the punching bag, the entertainment, the never-quite-good-enough that assures the rest of the class that they're better. Elise's confusion and plain inability to understand what had happened to make her that person were two things I could identify with, and one of the last moments I remember before I fell into this book completely was spent wondering how Sales had captured my middle school experience so accurately. Elise's rock bottom felt all too real--Sales' writing style pinpointed the rawness of her emotions so well that I had to pause more than once to remove myself from the situation.
The transition from Elise, bottom step of the social ladder, to Elise, rock star DJ, is fascinating, and it is so easy to cheer for her as she begins to try again with Pippa and Vicky. A lesson most teens never realize they learn during adolescence is how important it is to keep trying, even when things look like they're never going to get any better. Society paints millennials as parasites, but it ignores how so many 20-somethings are still working to stabilize their lives with the added burden of student loans, horrifying social issues, and an unwelcoming job market. So much of the inner strength that's required to do that is built up when you're a teen, when it's hard to know who and what to trust. Elise's determination to be happy and to find a place to belong carried her through some tough moments, and it affirmed that she was capable of more.
In a world where teenage girls are ridiculed for their taste in music, the way they dress, and even the way they talk, Elise is a symbol of how easily we can misunderstand and ignore signs of loneliness and frustration. It's easy to forget that teenage girls dance a terrifying line between loving and hating themselves every day of their lives because of what society tells them, and if this book does anything, it reminds those girls that there is always something to love about yourself. The end of your life comes when you give up, when you stop trying. Elise might trip and stumble, but she keeps going. You don't have to agree with the some of the choices she makes, but I'll be damned if you won't understand the reasons she makes them.
The Final Say: Leila Sales proves that she is a contemporary author to reckon with in this emotional and commanding story of a girl on the brink of greatness. There is no doubt that readers the world over will find themselves in Elise and her journey.
Release Date: August 27, 2013 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) Age Group:...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: August 27, 2013 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 330 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC from publisher
Tell Me More: There are some books for which you know exactly what's going to happen, the secrets which will be revealed, the main overarching journey that the protagonist takes, and you love that book anyway. The Beginning of Everything was not that book. It dances on the edge of being something breathtaking without actually jumping off and losing its breath, and does so in favour of a rushed and unsatisfying ending.
Ezra is not a difficult character to decipher: he slides in perfectly with the typical hero of this subgenre, and you could recognize him in a heartbeat. He's used to life falling into place just so, without complications or complexities. The novel's first chapter hints at the supposed development of his personality with careful, poignant writing, and it was precisely those first few paragraphs that sold me on the book when the premise had not. That said, I didn't feel that his character development was explored as deeply as it could have been, and I didn't get the sense that he had truly matured. In fact, the experience was quite similar to how I'd felt at the end of (500) Days of Summer. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the film, but Tom Hansen and Ezra share quite a few traits. They're not horrible people, but they are very self-centered in the most basic sense of the term. Unlike Tom, Ezra takes on more responsibility for his choices and his perspective of the world by the end of the novel. And that's great, but the development is crammed into the last 20 pages of the book, as though the reader is just expected to take his word for it without seeing proof.
Cassidy Thorpe, on the other hand--I was never quite sure what Schneider had intended for her character. We get a portrait of a girl painted in very broad strokes, with the occasional quirk to make her relatable to the reader. She enchants a cynical and tired Ezra almost effortlessly, though I enjoyed the banter between her and Toby more. But she's selfish, in a way that the titular Summer Finn never was (Tom Hansen's bitter viewpoint nonwithstanding). She was unsettling to me, because I could sense there was something off about her from the beginning. At first, my fear had been that she would turn out to be another manic pixie dream girl, but as the book went on, it became clear that she was faking that too. And again, that's fine and I applaud Schneider for steering away from that trope. But there is very little time to digest that revelation before the book has ended and the reader is faced with questions they didn't think (they had) to ask. The big plot twist was obvious from the start, and it didn't have the impact it probably should have had because there wasn't enough time spent on building it up/making the reader care about it in the first place. Instead, the reader is caught up in the relationship between Ezra and Cassidy, which only adds to the dissatisfaction when things don't exactly work out the way you think they will.
The plot is heavily centered around the mental and emotional journey that Ezra embarks on, so it isn't heavy on the worldbuilding. I highly enjoyed the scenes during the debate tournament because they felt the most real, even when Ezra didn't know what was going on. And oh, I could sing praises about Toby for nights on end--he practically leapt off the page, his energy and enthusiasm so palpable that they were almost contagious. But though parts of the novel were very well-drawn and substantiated, the fact remains that this is Ezra's story, and it never achieved the closure it should have.
The Final Say: Though the original title--Severed Heads, Broken Hearts--would have been an eye-catcher, I do think that the current title of this story fits it perfectly. The Beginning of Everything is full of false and fresh starts, but you may want to avoid it if you want a novel that pushes itself to the limit and past.
Tell Me More: Bullying is just one of the things I have had to live with in the last 24 years. Without going into too much detail: yes, I was bullied--physically, verbally and emotionally--for much of my childhood. They were classmates, kids my family saw in church every week with their own families. They were smart. They were charismatic. They knew, just as Scott Marlin knew, how to pretend their actions were nothing more than accidents or mistakes. And I knew, just as Jesse Larsen knew, what everything really meant.
Reading this book was one of the hardest things I ever asked myself to do. I knew what was coming, and what Henry would have to face, and if the mental torment was horrifying for him, it was doubly horrifying for me. Susin Nielsen did a brave thing going into the mind of a thirteen-year-old who is confused and hurt and terrified. It could not have been easy--I know this from experience. And even while I was on the fence about the journal form of the novel, I found that I trusted Nielsen to be true to Henry's voice.
I have a little brother. Like Henry, he had no idea what I went through every day. We attended the same school, but while he spent many a happy recess with his friends in 1st grade, I did my best to avoid everyone for fear of what they might pick on next. Henry is what I imagine my little brother might have been during those years. And that knowledge made my heart hurt for both Henry and Jesse.
I didn't like Henry sometimes, or the way he thought about some of the people in his life, but that is to be expected. He is a teenager, barely on the cusp of adolescence, and he is still trying to figure things out. The fact that his brother committed such a terrible act is a burden he will carry his whole life, so I could forgive him for his quick judgments. He grows out of them through life experience. I especially liked that Nielsen didn't rely on the supporting characters to pull Henry out of his grief and anger. They were all fleshed out and real and served a purpose in the story, and I myself was surprised by the layers they hid.
Reading this book won't stop bullying. But if I had had this book when I was a kid, maybe I wouldn't have held onto the pain as long as I did. Make no mistake--The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is a story about ugliness and cruelty and desperation. But it is also a story about picking up each jagged, bruised piece of yourself and letting the people who love you help you glue them back together again. It is a story of acceptance and pain and moving past truly horrifying experiences.
The Final Say: It goes without saying that every single child should read a book like The Reluctant Journal at least once in their lifetimes. But parents and teachers should too, because even if the thought of bullying is completely out of your experience, I can guarantee you that there is at least one child who could use your help and guidance.