I would recommend this book to older teens, but probably not to younger ones. The characters smoke and drink a lot throughout the book, so I would avoI would recommend this book to older teens, but probably not to younger ones. The characters smoke and drink a lot throughout the book, so I would avoid recommending it to young adults who have not already decided where they stand on these topics. To me, art (especially art aimed at impressionable audiences) needs to consider potential negative consequences of cultural representations. This book leaned a little too far toward normalizing smoking. I don't mean to imply that there is anything whatsoever wrong with writing about characters who smoke, but if a young-adult author is going to make smoking one of the main things his characters do, he has a moral imperative to show the negative consequences as well. (view spoiler)[Pudge takes up smoking out of boredom and never appears to experience any negative consequences aside from being a bit short of breath while running, but still fast enough to outrun the Eagle. Alaska mentions that she smokes to die, but smoking doesn't kill her. The Old Man has only one lung, but I don't recall reading that he lost the other due to smoking. There's no character with birth defects from smoking during pregnancy, no character with cancer, not even a character who's asthma is inflamed by his neighbors' smoking. (hide spoiler)] Green does a much better job of showing both sides of alcohol.
This book also carries some positive lessons. It should help to teach teens: *the importance of living and acting in the world rather than just in your head. (view spoiler)[(1) Pudge, the Colonel, and Takumi fail to stop Alaska from driving drunk. (2) Pudge fails to connect with the world after her death because he doesn't get out of his own head and realize that Takumi is going through a similar experience. (3) Pudge builds Alaska into a more attractive person than she was. (hide spoiler)] *respect for grief and those who are grieving. (view spoiler)[(1) People, even erstwhile enemies, give cigarettes to Pudge and the Colonel when they are mourning. (2) The whole junior class financially supports the memorial prank. (hide spoiler)] *the value of forgiveness. (view spoiler)[Pudge reaches acceptance, the final step of grieving, at the end of the book. Because it's the last thing in the book, this forgiveness comes across as being a large part of the book's message. *the dangers of driving drunk (hide spoiler)] ...more
Several aspects of this book make me want to give it only one star, several push me to rate it closer to the opposite end of the spectrum. I give it jSeveral aspects of this book make me want to give it only one star, several push me to rate it closer to the opposite end of the spectrum. I give it just over three stars.
On the one-star end:
The writing style grates. Opening to a random page, I find "green as the summer grass" and "caught between the hammer and the anvil." Opening to any other page would provide similar cliches. The book could be shortened without removing substance: long lists of knights names and heraldry may mean something to the author, but to the casual reader with no interest in memorizing the hierarchy of a fictional chivalric system, such lists only delay reading as I skim past them. I suppose I should at least be pleased that Martin appears finally to have learned the word "crenel" so that I no longer need to suffer through his repeated mentions of "the gap between the merlons"....
Yet the writing style is nothing compared to the utter lack of subtlety and tact. What bothers me most about this book is Martin's repeated description of random murders and rapes, included for what I can only assume must be their presumed shock-and-awe value. Although I can appreciate Martin's ability to evoke such emotional responses as righteous anger, pity, and revulsion, I cannot help but think that the overall view of humanity he projects is far too negative. Epic works need sorrow, but they need joy as well, and A Song of Ice and Fire is far too long not to have some lasting joys. Any book of any worth carries with it a message; Martin's seems just to be "valar morghulis," Ancient Valyrian for "all men must die" and hardly a message worth sending.
On the four- or possibly five-star end:
Martin does a wonderful job of characterization by switching to a third-person limited focus upon a new character with each chapter. Just when a character seems most demonized, Martin zooms in upon that character to explain his history and motivation. The inherent flaw to this technique is that to humanize one character's actions yet another character must be demonized. In the end, some characters such as Gregor Clegane and the Mad King Aerys must be left demonized without the reader ever getting a glance at a human side to them.
Martin also creates several intriguing religions and passingly hints and a few philosophical quandaries. For example, he passingly touches upon the idea that fire is warmth and light, yet it destroys to create these, thus provoking questions about the goodness or evilness of its nature.
Despite its flaws, the book makes me want to keep reading the series. I hope to see the characters, religions, and budding quandaries developed in greater depth in the next book. I hope, perhaps, that one of the characters may even come to the realization that although "all men must die," it is equally true that all men must live. The fire may burn out, but first it burns....more