I know I've said this time and again, but only because it's true: for the writer in me, the hardest books to review are the ones I love most--the onesI know I've said this time and again, but only because it's true: for the writer in me, the hardest books to review are the ones I love most--the ones that are most complicated, but also so well done that you aren't even stopping to figure out what's good about it. You're just too engrossed, so lost in the story that you can do nothing but read maniacally. This has been the case for DIVERGENT. From word one I was captivated, and it has taken serious consideration and discussion with friends for me to determine why exactly I loved it so much. A lot of people will tell you, "I don't know. It's just...wow. You just have to read it." Well yeah. There's that. But I'll see if I can be more specific.
The opening scene, for one thing, drops you directly into this world with minimal exposition and background detail. At first, you get a picture of this fairly idyllic world, a simple place with simple people and simple rules and ideology. Even the language of the book is simple--but only deceptively so. While it's not tripping you up with flowery language, it's drawing you into this world and its main character and all her many layers--the girl longing for more under the cloak of Abnegation--with amazing skill. Roth's characterization comes through not just in Beatrice's actions and dialogue, but through a voice that is so genuine, so thorough, it illustrates who Beatrice is down to the punctuation. All of this sucks us into Beatrice's head and firmly plants us there.
The characterization in this story is by far one of it's strongest points (and there are many). Beatrice is, I don't know how else to put it--a kickass character. And not just because she literally kicks ass, but because she's also so distinct and real and flawed and beautiful in her flaws. She's a dynamic character searching for her identity and changes through the course of the book, potentially changing the reader in the process. But more on that later. First, lets talk about Four--he's not in the summary, so I won't say much about him, but believe me when I tell you, he will put so many other YA male leads to shame. He's not just some fluffy hot boy who has you drooling (although there's a good chance he'll do that, too). But he's strong in his own right, a complicated character just as complex as Beatrice. He's not hot because of the way he looks--he's extraordinary because of who he is, just as beautiful in his flaws as Beatrice. These characters (and even all the secondary characters) are given flesh, made three dimensional in their complexity and shades of gray.
Which is perfect.
Because DIVERGENT is nothing if not an exploration of the gray space. Here we're presented with a society that sees all things in black and white--five distinct factions formed on one singular esteemed quality each...as if it were possible to base an entire life's worth of choices on one quality alone. As if a human life can be summed up in one word. DIVERGENT illustrates the consequences of seeking an ideal for the ideal's sake as well as the difficulty (and potential inhumanity) of trying to live as humans who can only ever be good. Roth has captured in ink the essence of human nature and its volatility and the struggle of mankind to tame it (whether it be for survival or for acquiring wealth and power). Every scenario, every character felt genuine and relevant to my own experiences despite the futuristic dystopian genre. I don't live in a society of factions, but I have encountered many Peters (when you read DIVERGENT, you will see that you have too). There was so much that I could identify with, so many moments of truth and understanding--epiphanies even--that I found myself slowing down and rereading passages despite the fast-paced intensity. This is where the real beauty of the story lies--in the layers of revelation and human understanding. So much wisdom, so much heart-pounding impact.
One choice can transform you, yeah? It's true. Read DIVERGENT--make that choice. It has the power to transform you....more
There's one place on Earth I want to go to more than any place else. New Zealand. But I didn't grow up wanting to go there. I merely read about it a fThere's one place on Earth I want to go to more than any place else. New Zealand. But I didn't grow up wanting to go there. I merely read about it a few years ago--in a work of fiction. The setting was so vivid, so inspiring and beautiful, even with all its fictional flaws, that I made a vow to go there someday. Maybe live there.
Guess what new place I'm determined to go to? The latest addition to my bucket list? Crystal Cove. MOONGLASS has done this. No, Jessi Kirby has done this. Reading MOONGLASS was a bit like sitting at the beach, digging my toes in the sand, the scent of salt in the air, the sound of waves crashing and children laughing and seagulls screeching in the distance. I swear I could smell the coconut sunscreen. When I closed my eyes, I could see the white teeth against tan skin, the finely cut abs coming up out of the red swim trunks...the sparkling sea glass half buried in the sand. Kirby knows how to paint a picture and then suck you into it. I don't know that I've ever been more absorbed in a story's setting.
But while the setting might lure you in, it's the characters that will have you reading to the end at a breakneck speed. What starts out as a more typical new-girl-in-a-new-town story quickly turns into something much more complex, more beautiful, and far more heartbreaking. It is exactly what a story of a girl who has lost her mother should be. No melodrama or trivialization. And most importantly, no stereotypes (and yet perfectly relatable characters). Just a girl who is lost, finding her way as best as she can to answers--and to herself. Anna also happens to be the kind of character I would love to have as a friend, so spending a book with her was cake. She's laid back, more of an observer than a reactor, just on the edge of snarky, but kind--and she's confident in her differences and who she is. Her only real insecurities revolve around her mom, and those drive the plot in a very natural, genuine way. Then of course, there's the secondary characters which feel as appealing and three dimensional as Anna. The romance is built up beautifully, and in an unexpected way. The love interest contradicted nearly all of my expectations--and I'm a sucker for any book that can take me by surprise like this.
As if that weren't enough, the prose is gorgeous with turns of phrase that will have your breath catching. And the images Kirby creates--it's like opening a picture book. So sharp, so memorable. And so perfectly in tune with Anna, delivered to us through her eyes, adding to our understanding of who she is. All of it--the setting, the characters, the writing--it's like a trifecta of bookish awesomeness. It's not an action-packed, suspense-filled sort of book, but it's packed with tension and curiosity and love and humor and heart-wrenching soul-searching. MOONGLASS is more than just a coming of age novel. It's a quest for forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance of a reality that cannot be altered. ...more
First off, the cover: the sorrow behind the beauty, the haunting behind the majesty--it's sublime. The amazing thing is it actually captures the essenFirst off, the cover: the sorrow behind the beauty, the haunting behind the majesty--it's sublime. The amazing thing is it actually captures the essence of the book so beautifully. That girl on the cover IS Rhine. But enough about that. Because it's what's under the cover that had me reading this thing at stoplights.
From the very first words, I was enthralled. The story opens in the midst of action, dark and gritty, an edge of your seat thrill. And yet, DeStefano writes it all in such a way that you somehow feel for these characters that you've not seen before. You have no idea who these girls are, but you immediately identify with them, care for them, and whip through the pages to find out what's going to happen to them. And the prose, my word it's exquisite. It's an elevated sort of writing, flowing and lyrical, but it's not so literary that you have to read slowly to fully digest it or to understand the story. Just the opposite; I speed-demoned my way through WITHER. Because what makes the prose so beautiful isn't fancy figurative language or even necessarily clever wording (though it is clever), but the depth of thought. It's like poetry you can understand with moments so poignant and breathtaking as to make you shiver.
Think of every movie you've ever seen that features a character who's given a death sentence. Now imagine a book filled with these characters, an entire society full of people that know exactly when they will die, and that it's going to happed soon. That is the emotion that drives the entire story. What's worse, these characters can't just live their short lives in peace. Most children are orphaned at a very young age, vulnerable to those who would use and abuse them. And girls are especially vulnerable because of their breeding capability in a society that is fast approaching extinction.
I think to get the most out of WITHER, you have to look beyond any preconceptions of normal. Normal goes out the window when everybody is dead by the time they hit 25. So something like polygamy, while it's not the norm in our society, and not particularly endorsed in that of WITHER's (especially by the brutally kidnapped girls), it's the way it is in WITHER. But the story is not in the captive polygamy; it's in the way that Rhine and the others react to their newfound situation. And for Rhine especially, the story is in that spark inside of her that just refuses to extinguish.
WITHER explores not just the corruption of humanity and the depth of depravity in a society faced with its own annihilation, but also, and more importantly, the resilience of the human spirit and humanity's unquenchable need for freedom, no matter how luxurious the cage. It also illustrates our basic need for contact--for touch and communion...to know we're not alone. That longing for safety. But what I love most about this book is that we see how love and forgiveness and kindness can flourish in the unlikeliest of places, right alongside bitterness, anger, and sorrow. WITHER shows us that there are certain constants among humans, no matter the time or circumstance--that even in a fight for our own survival, we are still capable of goodness and grace, and that we will always long to love and be loved....more
Just as a side note, this is actually the third cover I've seen for this book. The first was a girl facing a cheetah head on. The second was a shot ofJust as a side note, this is actually the third cover I've seen for this book. The first was a girl facing a cheetah head on. The second was a shot of a girl from the back with the braid morphing into a snake. And then this one. And I must say, I like this one best. It suits Maggie's personality well. Her eyes really say it all, revealing the depth of sorrow within her as well as her fierce determination.
Which brings me to my first point. One of the greatest qualities of SHIFTING is that it isn't afraid to go there. In SHIFTING, we see a foster child who has faced abuse and real hardship. And through it all, her reactions to her life feel real. She's not artificially wise, capable of adult-level introspection . When she buys a pretty outfit--from Wal-Mart--she feels glamorous because it's new. And she's not ashamed of wearing charity clothes. You know what they say--it's not until Eve was made to feel ashamed that she was aware of her nudity. And her foster mother, as kind as she is, isn't made of money either. SHIFTING bypasses the old cliché of the poor kid getting taken in by the rich family and given a new lease on life. At times I cringed, wanting so much to give this girl a hug. She's really suffered, and yet, she's really strong regardless.
And that's not even getting into the paranormal aspect of the story. If you read the summary, or...eh hmm...the title, you know Maggie's a shapeshifter. But not just any shapeshifter. SHIFTING has a clever new spin on the whole concept, incorporating the Navajo legend of the skinwalkers--also given a clever twist. What's more, Maggie's reactions to the shapeshifting ability feel truly genuine. It made for some pretty humorous scenes. There were some sad ones, too, as well as a bit of youthful drama that you would expect in YA, all of it adding richness to the story and making Maggie feel like more of a 3D character.
Did I mention the romance? Because there's that, too. But that doesn't come any more easily to Maggie than the shapeshifting. Bridger's got his own secrets, which adds to the tension, and as the summary says, the intrigue. There's a great mystery and a certain level of darkness that stems from her difficult past, her troubled present and unknown future in love and shapeshifting. You can't help but feel pulled in. SHIFTING is a fairly quick, enjoyable read with surprising twists and a clever new spin on old ideas. ...more
Here's what I said about AUDITION in a roundabout way before I even read it in this post called If It Doesn’t Almost Kill You It’s Just Coke Zero . AnHere's what I said about AUDITION in a roundabout way before I even read it in this post called If It Doesn’t Almost Kill You It’s Just Coke Zero . And in case you don't want to actually read the post, the gist of it was this: If you're not sacrificing for it, it's not a dream as much as it's just something you like a lot. Okay, seriously, just go read it because that's not all I said. Anyway, the point is that it was the premise of AUDITION that got me thinking about dreams and what it takes to achieve them.
And now that I've read AUDITION (a few months ago, actually), I can tell you that I still feel the same way. Stronger, actually. See, the thing is we have this tendency to blame other people when our dreams don't come true. And maybe, sometimes, it is the case that your dream falling to pieces is not your fault at all. Say your dream is to go to Mars wearing only tinfoil. You can't help it that this doesn't happen. But a lot of dreams (most, even?) are up to you to make it happen. Up to you to sacrifice, I mean. Take...publishing, for example. We all know publishing is cutthroat and it can bleed you of your sanity. For some people, the obstacles become a bit Job-like, and it seems the trials are greater than any mere mortal should be asked to withstand.
But, really, the dream's not over until you either die or give up. If you die first, well, dang. Sorry. If you give up...maybe the sacrifice is just too great. Maybe, just maybe you don't want it bad enough. Something to think about.
It's what AUDITION gets you thinking about.
So while we're on the topic, I should tell you that AUDITION gets you thinking about a lot, actually. Dance, for one thing. And I love dancing, of any kind (except for clogging--that just kind of wigs me out). But as much as this book deals with dance, it's not actually about dance. It's about, I don't know...sacrifice...pain...heartache--all of these things. But all of these things come about because of one thing: longing. A longing for acceptance, achievement, love, affection, attention, success, glory, hope. It pushes the cry of teenage existence to the forefront: See me! In other words, Do not overlook me, forget me, neglect me, or see me as something other than what I am.
Because that's all a teenager (anyone) really wants, isn't it? To be seen and heard and felt. The problem, of course, seems to be that teens don't always know how to go about being seen. Sometimes, this results in a dream that is formed out of a spark of recognition/success. Remember when your art teacher said, "What a lovely drawing, Johnny!" and you suddenly had aspirations to become an artist? Or when you made money babysitting and wondered if you should be a nanny for the rest of forever? It's easy to form a dream out of something that let us be seen for just a moment. So what happens when you start to realize that the sacrifice to achieve that dream may cost you more than it's worth? This is what AUDITION explores in heart-wrenching detail.
AUDITION is beautiful. So, so poignant and sad and happy and alive. It is poetry, yes, but poetry that reads like narrative. Within a few stanzas, you forget you're reading verse, and then the story simply comes to life, like listening to the lyrics of a song. You will find yourself reading the words out loud just to listen to the sound of it, and sometimes you will whip through because you must know, you must, what will happen to Sara. And you will grip your book tight, and wonder, why, why, why, Sara?? But you might then discover that there are boundaries you too might cross, just like Sara, if you were in the same toe shoes.
This was my first experience with a novel in verse, and I can't think of a more breathtaking initiation. AUDITION is tense and edgy and yet it doesn't grip you by the throat--it captivates you with its grace.
Now go get it, so we can talk about it. The best parts of this book are the parts I can't discuss here without spoiling it for everyone....more
I rarely review picture books. It's not that I don't love them. It's just that I'm a YA writer and there are so many YA books and only so many time toI rarely review picture books. It's not that I don't love them. It's just that I'm a YA writer and there are so many YA books and only so many time to read and review them. So it has to be a particularly special picture book for me to review it. And let me tell you, this one is it. The illustrations, though simple, are quite lovely and colorful. It would draw any child's eye. But it's the story that sold me. Because although ONE is in many ways educational, teaching kids counting and colors, it also deals with the issue of bullying.
I know, right? How does an author pull those elements together? Not without serious thought, I'm sure. The basic premise is that the color red is bullying all the other colors, but blue especially. And no one will defend Blue or do anything about it. Until one day One arrives and stands up to Red. No matter what Red says, One will not back down. This is enough to encourage the colors, one by one, to stand up to Red and be counted. And in the end, Blue finally finds his voice, too, and lets himself also be counted--Blue finally sees his own worth and understands that he, too, has value. And all it took was One to stand up to the bully.
It's a pretty powerful message, I think. Mob mentality works both ways--to create bullies, but also to bring them down. In keeping silent, all the colors aided and abetted the bullying of poor Blue. But once One spoke up, and then all the rest and the rest, the mob of "worthy" colors knocked Red down to size.
Of course, it's cool that this book will also help kiddos learn to count and recognize colors, but the message behind it makes this book stand out. Bullies exist at any age; you never know what your child is facing on the playground or at preschool--your child may not even realize that he's being bullied. ONE can open up that conversation with the tiny tot. And given that bullying is a huge issue, it seems there's no age too young to discuss it. My hat's off to Ms. Otoshi. I'm impressed with this one (this ONE). ...more
Here's the thing about this book: I sort of didn't want to like it. It's about--and written in the voice of--a bully. And I can't abide a bully. So, IHere's the thing about this book: I sort of didn't want to like it. It's about--and written in the voice of--a bully. And I can't abide a bully. So, I didn't want to sympathize with one. I certainly didn't want to like one. But you know, through the course of reading SCRAWL, I did both of those things. Something else happened too: I began to understand Tod.
But Tod isn't your average ham-fisted, blockheaded bully either. He's intelligent, clever, and ridiculously funny. His drip-dry humor was just the sort I usually go for. His voice steals the show and had me turning pages just to see what he would say next. Knocked my slippers off to read him and the way he approached the universe (the writing is quite sharp as well). But it really saddened me, too, because in seeing his sarcasm and his self-deprecation, you also see his unflinching inward look at the ugly reality that is his life. SCRAWL is a vivid portrayal of the ways in which environment can affect more than just a person's ability to feed and clothe himself. You see how deprivation, poverty and neglect affect more than just the physicality of a person.
It's easy to vilify a bully, I guess. Certainly, they're bullies and awful and their behavior shouldn't be tolerated. EVER. But SCRAWL doesn't ask us to tolerate the behavior. It merely says look twice and try to get an idea of why. In reading the story of this particular bully, a person who is clearly not evil or malicious--merely a survivor (and SCRAWL seems to make a distinction)--you can't help but feel hopeful. Because if you understand the why, you might stand a chance at not only protecting the victims of bullying, but maybe also save the bully (and in turn, all potential future victims). In reading the entries from Tod's journal, I felt this blooming sense of surprise. For one, it had me cracking up. Seriously funny stuff--I was so taken by the voice. But also, I was starting to really root for him. Though I cringed at those moments where he would relapse and be an arse, I felt a need to cheer when he would rebound and take a few more baby steps forward. Even though he's telling the story, Tod himself didn't seem to be able to see how his life was changing through the pages of his journal, but the teacher--and the reader--clearly do. And you can't help but hope hope hope that he'll progress and change and become a better person, even though you know his life's not going to miraculously change.
But SCRAWL isn't just a journal. Not only does it not really read like one, it's an actual narrative complete with dialogue that unfolds in a serial way, headlined by the date. But it's not just Tod's story either. Certainly, he's the star and anti-star of the show--you see his triumphs as well as his weaknesses, his flaws, and his seriously poor choices. But through his eyes and a few conspicuous notes jotted down in the "margins" of the book, you also get to see the teacher that has forced him to keep up this journal in detention. In this way, you begin to see the power of a little attention, care and affection. Through a few secondary characters within Tod's story, you also get to see the transformative powers of love (or something kind of like it) and friendship. So, while SCRAWL is a funny, poignant, sometimes really sad story of a bully; it's ultimately the understated story of a bully's redemption--and a story of hope....more
I picked up ACROSS THE UNIVERSE thinking that it would be a sci fi novel. And while it was--complete with all sorts of cool futuristic spacey technoloI picked up ACROSS THE UNIVERSE thinking that it would be a sci fi novel. And while it was--complete with all sorts of cool futuristic spacey technology, I discovered it was so much more than that. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is like STAR TREK meets THE GIVER bound together by a delicious romance (and lets face it, all the best books will have a delicious romance). Already, I know this will be one of the best books of 2011 for me. I read this book straight through in one day without stopping. Every chapter had me by the throat.
While AtU is set so far in the future, on a spaceship with cryogenically frozen bodies no less, the learning curve is actually not that huge. Beth does some really cool things with language, as well as with structure that really helps to pull you into this futuristic world without you even realizing it, weaving in details of this world and its history into the narrative in a masterful, unnoticeable way. For writers, there's a lot to be learned in the way of technique. For readers, it's like taking a trip aboard the Godspeed, albeit one full of secrets and lies.
The mystery is one of the most exciting aspects of the book, as Elder and Amy uncover clues bringing them closer to answers--and to the murderer. But AtU is more than just a mere mystery, or a mere dystopian--more, even, than a simple combination of genres. It's a powerful book that says so much about right and wrong and that muddy space in between. It questions what it means to be human, to love, and to fight tooth and nail to protect that which you love. It highlights issues of leadership, war, and "true" history. AtU offers the reader so much to think about without being preachy or obnoxious, asking readers to come up with their own conclusions about the choices and sacrifices they would make to preserve the things most important to them.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a book rich with complex emotions and conflict, but fast paced and gripping. You won't be able to put it down....more
I have to admit, I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. I stupidly thought it would just be a sweet middle grade book that I whipped throI have to admit, I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. I stupidly thought it would just be a sweet middle grade book that I whipped through and would say, “Aw, that was nice.” I can be a dork like that. But honest to freaking greatness, I bawled at the end of this. I was so absorbed, and when that climactic moment came, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I could—and yeah, I gasped and felt a tug in my chest. So, not your average middle grade book. And there weren’t any mythical creatures or flying things. Just a baby alligator named T-Baby that stole my heart. Did not see that coming. I’m not one for reptiles, but Livie’s T-baby was just so darling.
Little did an amazing job sucking me into the world of THE HEALING SPELL. The bayou, the Spanish moss, the alligators and the crawfish and Cajun traditions. Just brilliant, I tell you. She painted such a vivid picture, it was like getting to visit. And Livie’s voice—my word it was strong. Honestly, I misread her age at the beginning, thinking she was 14, and for the longest time I thought, no way is this kid 14. 11…12 tops. Then come to find out, she actually was eleven going on twelve—talk about capturing a voice on the page. So well done. And what a great voice, too. I adored Livie, wanted so badly to take her under my wing and comfort her. The poor thing is so broken in this, struggling not just to grow up, but with the tragedy that has struck their family.
Such a heartbreaking, moving read, but also funny and sweet, just like Livie who is so resistant to change. The writing was unbelievable as well. While the voice was strong with Cajun eleven-year-old influence, it was also lyrical and poignant. So much said in so few words—about growing up, about dealing with tragedy and immense guilt, about the tempestuous link between family members, and especially about that complicated, angsty bond between a mother and daughter. We also get to see the stirrings of first love. It’s a vivid portrayal of one girl caught between childhood and adolescence dealing with a life-changing, earth-shattering event. But above all, it’s a story of redemption and the incredible power of hope and love....more
Do you remember when you first fell in love with reading? The book that did that for you? And then how every time you went to the library or to the boDo you remember when you first fell in love with reading? The book that did that for you? And then how every time you went to the library or to the book store, you tried to find more books just like that, to reproduce that feeling you had while reading THE book?
WANDERLOVE was like that for me. It gave me that same little thrill, the one that makes you forget it's just a book and that the characters and the places, while they may be real somewhere, are not, in fact, REAL real. It's the kind of book that you dive into and can't quite put down even though the number of pages are quickly dwindling, meaning your story is going to come to an end soon so it's making you crazy. There's just something about Kirsten Hubbard's books--I don't know what it is exactly--but it's a certain kind of magic, I think, that makes you forget the rest of the world while you're reading. Her LIKE MANDARIN was like this, too, although in a very different way. WANDERLOVE is..I don't know, lighter, I think.
Romantic? Funny? Sweet?
Yes. All of these things. And yet WANDERLOVE doesn't feel like a rom com. While I cracked up at Bria and Rowan's brilliant banter and curled my toes and grinned like an idiot at the developing romance, there was a depth of emotion beneath it all that makes the story feel rather profound. Bria and Rowan are two lost souls, though they don't really think they are. It's not until they come together in the process of escaping their demons that they realize the past is not something that can be so easily shed simply by ignoring it--that they have to stop running from it in order to truly leave it behind and find themselves in the process.
Bria and Rowan are the type of characters that just jump off the page. Such distinct and vivid personalities, so easy to envision. Rowan is the kind of person that others gravitate to, confident in his own skin, content without outside validation; while Bria is the kind of person so many of us are, just waiting for the right moment and a degree of strength to discover the Rowan within ourselves. And yet as different as Bria and Rowan are, they play off of one another so beautifully--they just click, bonding over a similar (hilarious) sense of humor. I wish I could post a few lines from the ARC just so you could see for yourself.
And the setting...dang. Such lush, vivid imagery, it's like watching a movie unfold within the printed text of WANDERLOVE. Hubbard somehow seems to know exactly which details to insert that will have you feeling by the end of a chapter as if you have just visited a place. As if you have just touched, tasted, smelled, and soaked in the sights and sounds of Central America--and through Bria's eyes, it makes you feel as if you, too, have been transformed. After reading WANDERLOVE, I was ready to book tickets to Guatemala and Belize. Oddly enough, I even felt like I could go with nothing but a backpack and sandals and no itinerary.
Like I said, it makes you feel transformed.
WANDERLOVE is filled with hope and redemption and longing and heartbreak. But also with spirit and passion and beauty and joy. It is more than just a novel of unforgettable adventures. It is an unforgettable adventure in itself. WANDERLOVE is a book I know I will return to....more