Gosh I love Adele Griffin's books. Not only is she a fantastic writer, but she always manages to make me break all my hard rules on what I like and don't like in a book (and I'm stubborn to a fault, so that's saying something!)
I mean, look, I really do NOT like issues books. At all. I have no sympathy for the characters and I'm usually bored by the super predictible plots. I also don't like characters who do certain immoral things, I have no patience for non-action-packed plots, and insta-love is not my cup of tea.
And, yes, all of those things are present here. But I'm gleefully ripping up all my rules (at least when it comes to Adele Griffin—hey, I'm not that flexible) because I LOVED this book!
What are you getting yourself into?
The chapters alternate between the two main characters, with Alex's sections written in third person and Thea's in first. I loved when Adele Griffin used this technique in her other sisters book Where I Want to Be and she uses it just as effectively here.
Not only does the tense switch help differentiate the speakers (though this isn't necessary considering Adele Griffin's books always score highly on the Who's Talking Test), but they almost functioned as another brilliant layer of character description. Alex's emotional distance and secrets were emphasized by the third person narration style, whereas Thea's internal corruption was put on stark display through the use of first person narration.
All You Never Wanted is a short book, but it is a book to be savored. Adele Griffin writes the kind of sentences I feel compelled to go back and reread because they just sound so good. The kind of sentences I'll read out loud because I like how they feel. The words come together in a way that's almost musical—words precisely chosen, sounds flowing and clashing up against one another, creating a beauty (and sometimes it's a horrific beauty) that stand all on their own.
Though, much as I SAY the book should be savored, it's not like I was able to. Reading All You Never Wanted was like putting a slice of chocoalte cake in front of me and saying, "Now make it last." Sure I might start out trying to ration it (only a bite here and there) but, yeah, I can't keep that up for long. Pretty soon I'd scarff that sucker down and there wouldn't be any cake left.
That's pretty much what I did with All You Never Wanted. I had grand plans to "Make it last" but it wasn't long before I was putting life on hold, eyes glued to the page and nothing short of death capable of tearing me away from finding out what would happen next to these troubled sisters. (Luckily, unlike chocolate cake, you can do a do-again with books by rereading them).
So I'm going to issue the Don't Make Plans warning. Seriously, don't even glance at the pages unless you're ready to commit. When I first got the book in the mail I thought I'd just take a peek. I was already in the middle of another book that I was enjoying and would be released soon, and All You Never Wanted wasn't coming out for almost three months. So I'd just take a peek.
Famous last words. My household is lucky I wasn't the one cooking dinner that night.
Also? Forget the blurb. It's not that it's inaccurate, but the book is so much more than that little blurb makes it seem.
Ok then, what IS it about?
Though it's short and it's contemporary (sorry, I always associate "contemporary" with "not much happening"), All You Never Wanted has a lot of stuff packed into a short amount of space.
On the surface, it's a book about two sisters thrown into a rich lifestyle after their mother's remarriage. One is struggling with an eating disorder, cause mysteriously unknown for a significant part of the book, and the other desperately trying to remake herself from a wallflower bookworm into an even more popular version of her sister.
It's about wealth and materialism. It's about jealousy, fear, anxiety, and control. It's about dating and parties, climbing the social ladder and the lies it takes to get there. It's about all these things, and more, but at it's core, All You Never Wanted is, I think, a book about family.
So often in YA, parents take on an absent role and the teen characters seem largely (and unrealistically) unaffected. All You Never Wanted has the same absent parents, but every single thing the girls grapple with stems from this absence. The lack of parental support, guidance, love, and involvement is the elephant in the room, and though it is never directly addressed, it drives the story nonetheless.
Not your typical issues book
All You Never Wanted is tense, provocative, unsettling, and deeply emotional. I felt for these girls and desperately needed to find out what was going to happen to them, even though I didn't actually like either of them.
And take note, I did say unsettling. There are a few scenes, though one stands out for me in particular (the confrontation with Thea right before she buys the dress), that are horrific to watch unfold but so brilliantly visceral. Adele Griffin does not shy away from or romanticize the problems these girls deal with. Their issues are on stark display, and is is as fascinating as it is disturbing.
Though I think that's why I liked this book more than the typical issue book. Usually issues books follow the same mold: cool main character with Very Bad issues that are usually glamorized or sugarcoated to make the main character look appealing to the reader and a neat, easy peasy fix at the end (usually complete with "I know it's a long road to recovery, but I'll make it" *fist pump*). I don't know whether I'm more annoyed by the eye-rolling lack of realism, the glorification of issues, or the predictability of the entire plot.
Thankfully, All You Never Wanted doesn't fall into any of the usual issues-book traps. Not only aren't the girls held up on the cool pedestal, but their issues aren't played out to the point of becoming a predictable stereotype.
The impetus of Alex's eating disorder is not revealed for a large part of the book, though it is hinted at in a way that led me down a total garden path. I thought I had it all figured out, and while I would have accepted that, it would have been disappointing in its Been There Done That predictability.
But holy cow, I should have never even let the tiniest bit of doubt enter my head. Adele Griffin's plots are predictable only in consistently defying predictability. I was straight up shocked when the secret was finally revealed, and that's a very good thing.
Also, note I said impetus, not cause,
because I don't think that was the cause. I'd say her absent mother was far more the cause and The Event was just the avenue all of her feelings latched on to.
Also, the ending? Oh my gosh, it is perfect! Movement has definitely been made in the sense that both girls end the book at very different points than they began the book, but neither has a firm resolution or happy ending. Usually I don't like that sort of open-ended conclusion, but in the case of All You Never Wanted, I can't think of a better way to end the book.
Adele Griffin is the type of author where I've learned I need to ignore the blurbs on her books no matter how unappealing they may sound (contemporary?! Really??) and just go ahead and read them because I will LOVE them. They are brilliant, transcendant, powerful, and never fail to astound me. She's the type of author who is just so unbelievably good at creating characters that come alive off the page and sucking me into even the most unappealing plots that I need to just forget what I think I know about what I like and dislike and just READ her books.
New Girl is a tough book to like, but it's worth pushing past the the gratuitous sex and noxious characters to experience the brilliant retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca hidden in this contemporary gem. I have read and love Rebecca, so keep in mind my experience with New Girl is colored by that.
Never say never
The pacing is moderate to slow and not all that much happens. Mostly it's contemporary inter-personal stuff without any BIG events (there are a few Medium events).
You know I have no patience for that, but surprisingly, I was actually ok with this. The original book doesn't have a whole lot going on either and I managed to love that one. Just like the original, I was totally transfixed by New Girl and I can't even pin point why. I felt that need to keep reading throughout the whole book.
Part of my fascination was because I was so wrapped up in watching these crazy people spiral out of control. Reading about them was almost like a guilty pleasure. I wanted to see what messed up thing they'd do next.
Their characterizations are spot on. The original characters were real pieces of work, but Paige Harbison managed to add humanity to her versions while still maintaining their Gothic lunacy. Don't expect swoony heroes and heroines you can whole-heartedly root for. Neither Rebecca nor New Girl are that kind of book.
The epically creepy Mrs. Danvers was reimagined as the tragic, but no less skin-crawlingly weird, Dana Veers. Dana's reenactment of Mrs. Danvers' creeptastic walk down memory lane through Rebecca's clothing was pitch perfect. Yikes! I'm getting shivers down my spine just thinking about it.
Even more notable was Paige Harbison's treatment of the Rebecca/Becca character. Rebecca is morphed from a goddess she-devil into a somewhat sympathetic Becca struggling with mental illness (sympathy only gets her so far though. She's still a she-devil I'd want to stay as away from as possible).
Unlike Rebecca, who haunts the periphery of the novel while never actually making an appearance in the flesh, Becca is given almost equal pagetime as the narrator. Third-person POV chapters alternate with the narrator's first person chapters and tell the tale of Becca's bombastic, twisted time at Manderly.
YAY, you have a spine!
The narrator of Rebecca was a total weenie. Her narrative was completely absorbing, but gosh did she go on and on about how she didn't think she could ever measure up to the mesmerizing Rebecca. She was so utterly eclipsed by Rebecca that her name isn't even mentioned in the book (she is known only as the "second Mrs. de Winter").
Given that, I was surprised when the narrator in New Girl actually stood up for herself! The title (naming "New Girl" and NOT Becca) should have been my first clue that this girl is not about to indulge in the pity part the second Mrs. de Winter was so known for.
Instead of internal torment, the narrator gets hit with an onslaught of "You're not as good as Becca" from her classmates. There was an oppressive feeling of the faceless mob always whispering behind her back. I was reminded of those books where the whole town accuses a woman of witchcraft and then makes her life miserable.
Where did the stars go?
I was fine with the less exciting plot because it was totally enthralling. What I wasn't fine with was the detour home the main character took during winter break.
There is sort of a point to it (it shows her personal growth and how she's moving on), but, meh, it did nothing for me. I'm not really into that kind of thing, but more importantly it felt like a DETOUR. I was antsy to get back to the story already. It doesn't take up much time though.
There were also some inconsistencies in voice, particularly with the narrator. For the first few chapters her voice seemed like a put-on trying to seem more intellectual and highfalutin but it evened out and sounded a lot more "normal high school girl" after that.
(view spoiler)[I was also kind of bummed that the ending didn't have an explosive conclusion like the original with fire and murder and secret revelations and mental breakdowns. New Girl's ending was far too tame. (hide spoiler)]
But the biggest reason for stars off is the level and treatment of sex. It DOES serve a point, but I wish that point had been made in more of a PG/PG-13 manner. It's not graphic, but only just barely. It's described in such a crass manner, which is perfect for the characters, but not so perfect for me as a reader. Many of these scenes contributed to my total lack of respect for most of the characters. Even more frustrating is the fact that these scenes are so prolific and detailed that I can't comfortably give this book to my library kids (and I so would have if it weren't for these scenes).
This is one of the better retellings I've read. Paige Harbison honored the sentiment of the original, but deftly twisted events and characterizations in ways English teacher's assigning literary comparison essays can only hope for. I am impressed.
I would definitely read another retelling by Paige Harbison, but I'm not fully sold on reading an original story of hers yet. The non-retelling parts were a little rough and I'm still hung up on her handling of the sex scenes.
New Girl is a standalone.
Originally posted on Small Review["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
There seems to be an endless supply of animal stories where the creature conquers great adversity to be reun...moreOriginally posted on Small Review
There seems to be an endless supply of animal stories where the creature conquers great adversity to be reunited with the love of its human companion. A Dog's Way Home did not stand out in the genre for me, but it did warm my heart, which is exactly what a book like this should do.
A Dog's Way Home alternates chapters between Abby's first person narration and Tam's journey (narrated in the third person). At first I wondered why Abby's sections were there and if they could possibly be interesting. Maybe it's because I'm a dog lover, but I wanted to focus on Tam's journey and I was bored and frustrated for the first quarter whenever the focus shifted back to Abby's life.
The Abby parts were especially annoying to me in the beginning (I get it, you want your dog back. You miss him. You HAVE TO DROP EVERYTHING AND FIND HIM NOW!), which I'm sure makes me sound cold hearted. But I'm not, I swear!
Really, I can totally empathize with Abby and if I was in her position I would move mountains to get my dog back. But when reading a book? It got kind of annoying hearing the same thing over and over in each chapter. BUT...
More than expected
After a little while Abby's chapters started to get more interesting as her own journey began to take shape. Tucked between the dog story is a contemporary book about family and friendship that contained unexpected depth, heart, and insight.
While this may sound like a cluttered plot, Bobbie Pyron skillfully wove the threads together to make a balanced and well-paced story with the contemporary sections beautifully complementing the animal journey.
I don't love contemporary issues like this so I wasn't in love with it, but it was nicely done. These Abby chapters were filled with enough plot and depth that they could easily stand on their own without the Tam parts (but I'm glad the Tam parts are there too).
Little puppet made of pine
Though I did warm to Abby's chapters, I never warmed to Abby herself. I like her because I can connect with her over our shared love of dogs, but other than that she actually irritated me. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly why I didn't click with her, but I think part of it is that she didn't ring entirely true to me.
To me she read more like an adult trying to sound like a kid than like an actual kid. The other children were less fleshed out, but they also felt a little off and I had a hard time connecting with or deeply caring for any of them. In contrast, Abby's parents, the other adult characters, and Tam all felt a lot more genuine and I cared for all of them.
STOP HURTING PUPPIES! Please?
Poor Tam goes through horrible experiences. Now, ok, I didn't expect a cakewalk here, but I was hoping for something more on the level of Homeward Bound (Disney's G-rated movie) than the more realistic bleeding and broken puppy I got.
It wasn't all a downer and Tam does encounter a lot of heartwarming help along the way, but prepare for something a little more PG than G.
The worst for me was an event that occurred on page 112. I almost DNF-ed the book right then and there (though I'm glad I didn't). If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to just skip right over chapter 20 entirely. Animal softies like me might wish to do the same.
A Dog's Way Home was a solid animal story and I'm happy to have read it (even if it did make me miss my dog like crazy). It is clear Bobbie Pyron is a dog lover and she writes about dogs--both from their POV and the POV of those who love them--with care and insight.
A Dog's Way Home is likely to be a hit with animal and contemporary lovers. A good fit for the classroom, though probably better suited for older elementary to MG readers. Adult readers might appreciate the development of the parents.
Originally posted at Small Review. This is a review for a sequel, but there are NO spoilers for the first book! Still worried? Check out my review of t...moreOriginally posted at Small Review. This is a review for a sequel, but there are NO spoilers for the first book! Still worried? Check out my review of the first book instead!
Mac had me at hello
Mac's "voice" is a combination of The Godfather, film noir, and contemporary middle school boy that blends perfectly. Mac is such a likable kid. He makes me laugh and even when he's doing less-than-moral things, I'm still rooting for him to win (plus, his heart is in the right place, so that has to count for something, right?).
If I were in middle school, I would be crushing on Mac so hard. I'm talking notebooks filled with "Mac <3's Small" and I-can't-form-words-in-his-presence-because-he's-so-cool kind of crush. And if I were a middle school guy? I would totally want to BE Mac.
I love male narrators, but it's hard to find a good male narrator who actually sounds like a guy (sorry women authors, lots of your guys sound like girls!). Chris Rylander scores major points by writing a book that feels authentically boyish.
Not only that, but he also sounds like a genuine middle school kid. He thinks and acts the way a normal kid would act, and sometimes that means he bungles in ways that are just so classically tweenish. This totally endeared him to me, and I imagine Mac's thoughts and actions will resonate strongly with the target audience (tweens, primarily tween boys).
These are the kinds of issues I like
I really don't like reading about Heavy Issues like people dying or struggling with abusive relationships or depression and stuff like that. But I love contemporary books that deal with the normal "lite issues" kids face like zits and crushes and school stress.
Chris Rylander integrated these subjects well in the first book, and he proved his skill again in the sequel. Mac's first crush on a girl is equal parts funny and sincere, with a few laugh out loud lines as he expresses his total bafflement with the opposite sex. The pressure of standardized testing provides a more serious topic, and offers an opening for candid discussion without coming across as preachy or dull.
I didn't see it coming!
I didn't see the culprit until their identity was finally revealed. The evidence was stacked up against each possible bad guy in such a way that I believed any of them were capable. But, the doubts were equally convincing, so I was totally twisted up.
Chris Rylander gets the Genius Award for Epic Characters
Mac is great, but so are all of the secondary characters. The prim and proper but totally crazy little bully named Kitten cracks me up every single time. He didn't even have a big role, but I mentally cheered whenever he was mentioned. Reading these books is worth it for the mental picture of that character alone (don't believe me? Check out Heather's review of the first book where she said almost the exact same thing!).
Really, almost all of Chris Rylander's characters are memorable and awesome for some reason or another. Extra points for Mac's trusty right hand man Vince; Tyrell, Mac's surveillance man (SO cool!); and Trixie, Mac's crush and possible femme fatale. Even the opportunity to meet super minor characters like the weird rodent droppings expert make the book worth reading.
Where did the star go?
The wandering plot. I didn't think the mystery was built as cohesively as it was in the first book. The first book had great momentum, but it was very easy for me to put the sequel down for days at a time. I did want to see who was behind the problems plaguing Mac and his classmates, but clues came too few and far between to really grab hold of my interest.
There was also a LOT of baseball filler, and after years of associating baseball with boring weekends when my dad wouldn't let me watch my cartoons because there was a game on, I automatically revert into "this is boring" mode whenever baseball is brought up. I imagine the target audience will appreciate Mac's baseball nods more than I did. I did like the futile camaraderie Mac felt with other Cubs fans though--that I can understand.
I adore this series and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you have a middle grade boy in your life, do him a favor and buy him this series ASAP. The first book is a hot seller in my library and I already have a waiting list for the sequel.
What's also great about this series is that each book can be read as a standalone. Even though knowing the events of the first book helps when reading the second, that familiarity isn't necessary. There are also zero spoilers in the sequel, so you don't have to worry about ruining the first book if you read the sequel first.
The second book ends by alluding to a possible third book, and I SO HOPE THERE IS A THIRD BOOK! I'll auto-buy it.
The story starts out with Justina waking up in a ditch with no memory of wha...moreOriginally posted at Small Review.
I almost DNF-ed after the first chapter
The story starts out with Justina waking up in a ditch with no memory of what happened the night before. But she very quickly begins alluding to events from the previous night, so she sort of does remember. And then she does remember. Confusing? Yeah, I was confused, too.
To make it even more confusing, Justina's first person narration started out relating the events in a broken, cryptic, half-explained manner (frequently noting "but I'm getting ahead of myself" and then dropping that train of thought!) and I had NO CLUE what was going on.
I wanted to shake her and tell her to just spit it out already--COHERENTLY! I don't like feeling lost as to what is going on in a story, so the whole first chapter really bugged me. I almost DNF-ed right there.
Like a teen movie
But I WAS intrigued so I kept reading and I'm glad I did. Once Justina gets to the 7-11 and starts telling her story to the cashier, the story picks up and the narrative smooths out a lot. I wasn't confused anymore.
At this point I totally felt like I had been sucked into a teen romantic comedy movie. Even the narrative style (tone and execution) made me think "MOVIE SCRIPT." This is a good thing. I love those kinds of movies, and I loved this book version just as much.
It goes something like this
The book alternates between the present in the 7-11 and the events of the night before.
The 7-11 chapters are short and serve as little interludes where the 7-11 cashier and, later, one of the customers who stays to listen, chime in with their opinions and sympathy. I liked these sections and they made me feel like I was another random person who stopped to listen to Justina tell her crazy story.
I also liked how these chapters provided a frame for the plot to work within. Justina's story can be mapped by the stains on her dress, and each interlude nudged Justina toward explaining how she got every stain, rip, and bruise (and tattoo).
Between each of these interludes is a larger chapter chronicling a part of Justina's prom night. These parts were the meat of the story.
Since I knew Justina ends her night alone, dumped out of a car, and hating the guy she was supposed to be in love with, my curiosity was super high. I read these chapters with rapt attention, trying to piece together the events of her evening and guess how she ended up where she did. It was almost like a mystery, complete with clues, red herrings, and suspects.
Feeling sorry for yourself? Read this book
I decided to pick up Ditched because I was in one of those two-ice-cream-tubs pity party moods. I put on my pajamas, curled up in bed, grabbed a chocolate bar and settled into Justina's tale. It was perfect. Perfect.
Ditched made me smile and laugh out loud. I commiserated with Justina and snacked on junk food right along with her. I groaned out loud as her night went from bad to unbelievably worse. I grinned with fluffy happiness when the most unexpected people came through for her. Ditched was exactly what I was looking for.
After the rocky start, Ditched held my interest completely. The story moved along at a good pace with pieces of the puzzle coming together in each chapter. Ditched is a standalone.
Ditched is Robin Mellom's first book and already I can't wait to see what she writes next. Definitely a good pick if you're looking for a fun romantic comedy. Only drawback is that the guy is absent from the story for a large chunk of the book, but, don't worry, Justina more than makes up for that.