It’s funny how I almost always prefer “old” YA realistic fiction to the newer releases. (“Old” in this case being anything between 2009 and 2012.) ConIt’s funny how I almost always prefer “old” YA realistic fiction to the newer releases. (“Old” in this case being anything between 2009 and 2012.) Considering the fact that it was published right in the realistic fiction sweet spot, I should have read The Sky Is Everywhere a long time ago, back when I first heard about it three years ago. But I didn’t read it until a week before 2015, which is really just ridiculous when you think about it, because this book is fantastic in so many ways, and though I’ve read a lot of books dealing with grief, I’ve never read one that approaches it quite like Jandy Nelson has here.
One thing I know was a major aspect keeping me from picking up this book were reviewers’ descriptions of Nelson’s prose. I got the impression that the author’s writing was flowery, highbrow, riddled with metaphors and pretentious allusions. Actually, it’s not. Nelson has in her possession not one but two(!) MFAs, and it’s very obvious that she’s spent time in a professional setting, honing her craft and workshopping the bejeezus out of her work. At the same time, The Sky Is Everywhere doesn’t read like some inaccessible work of modern literature. The main character, Lennie, might be a book snob, but this book itself is not snobby or difficult to reach.
In fact, The Sky Is Everywhere is at once completely down-to-earth and also quite wacky—everyone in this book is weird and wholly themselves. From Gram the Garden Guru to Uncle Big, resident pothead and necromancer, to Sarah the goth cowgirl—everyone in this book is just a little bit more different that anyone you’d meet on your average journey around town. Yet in spite of the memorably characters, Nelson still tells a story of grief and love and family that seems, if not universal, to be entirely authentic and true to life as Lennie knows it.
In terms of story, I’ve see this basic set-up before. YA novels about grief aren’t too terribly uncommon. But Jandy Nelson’s take on it seems to be so much more honest and raw and emotional than any others I’ve read. (Perhaps this goes back to the fact that this book is almost 5 years past its publication date, and is therefore probably one of the first books that dealt with a grieving teen.) Lennie’s reactions to her sister’s unexpected death are both heartbreaking and hilarious—hypersexualization being one of the ways her stress reveals itself. At one point, Lennie is eating breakfast with her grandma and uncle and remarks that she’s finding it difficult not to make out with her spoon. The reader watches as Lennie is strangely drawn to her dead boyfriend, even though she’s fallen in love with a boy from the school band. The Sky Is Everywhere provides a case where the love triangle is hugely important to the plot and character development of the book, and this book is probably the biggest argument I can think of as to why love triangle are good in fiction (if done well, of course).
Lennie herself was, if not a character I emotionally connected with, a very well-written and fully realized young woman. Though her grief for her sister is at the center of her portrayal, Nelson allows this grief to bring Lennie into a fuller understanding of herself, how she relates with others, and how she interacts with the world. This is very much a coming of age tale, and in spite of the book’s brevity, I thought it was a well-done, complete story in terms of Lennie’s growth as a person.
Though I didn’t unreservedly love this book, I still liked it immensely. Jandy Nelson’s talent is evident, and I think this story needed very little, if any, improvement. The Sky Is Everywhere is one of the best YA books dealing with grief and loss I’ve ever read; I think it would be hard to top this in terms of realism, personality, or heart....more
While there were a few aspects I didn’t like, I must say that, overall, Strange and Ever After is a satisfying finale to Susan Dennard’s trilogy. It wWhile there were a few aspects I didn’t like, I must say that, overall, Strange and Ever After is a satisfying finale to Susan Dennard’s trilogy. It was neither the worst nor the best of the series, but rather a solid conclusion that wrapped everything up satisfactorily—and surprised me a bit, which doesn’t happen too often. (I appreciate authors who kill their main characters and keep them dead.)
Strange and Ever After builds off of the themes that were introduced in the previous book. Eleanor is a necromancer whose magic seems to be alienating her from everyone she cares about. Also, Marcus the demon is here and it’s time for the final showdown, which Eleanor is pretty convinced she’s not ready for. She discovers that revenge isn’t really healthy and so maybe she’ll have to let go of it, and there’s sort of a love triangle, which I was convinced wasn’t going to be a thing since Oliver loved her dead brother, but I guess Oliver loves Eleanor too, and of course, Eleanor and Daniel are a thing, and…a lot went on in this book. Not in a rushed way, but Dennard definitely had a lot of balls up in the air.
In terms of Eleanor, I’m not sure how I felt about her here. I didn’t care for her too much in book 1, liked her a lot in book 2, and was just confused by her in book 3. Susan Dennard did a great job turning Eleanor into a strong, complex character up to this point, but Strange and Ever After went a bit too far—or not far enough. The was a lot of emotional see-sawing that happened inside the narration, which wasn’t a problem—it made sense that Eleanor would be conflicted, but the variations in her mood and motivations didn’t make sense to me. I was constantly unclear as to her train of thought, or why she felt the way she did. I felt like there was a lot of subtext that went unexplained, and as a result I had trouble following Eleanor’s actions because I wasn’t entirely clear on her motivations, whatever they might be. Another area I had trouble with was how Dennard allowed her protagonist to become a snobby special snowflake at times, which never happened before Strange and Ever After Eleanor was always “different”, but now that “differentness” because a cause for Eleanor to ridicule other girls who were more traditional. I really do not understand why, in 2014, girl-on-girl hate is still so prevalent in YA. Why are terms like “like a girl” and “girly” insults? Eleanor’s “I’m not like other girls” attitude really began to grate in this book, and when she started hating on other women because they liked dresses and flirting, I began to lose a lot of respect for her. Women are faceted, varied human beings; one set of interests is not inherently better than another.
I think, looking back, that the majority of my problems with Strange and Ever After can be traced back to Eleanor and the seeming inconsistency of her characterization. I thought that the plot and writing in this book were actually just as strong as they ever were, and the novel was still entertaining and fast-paced enough to keep me interested.
My favorite part of the book was, without a doubt, the ending. Strange and Ever After took risks and went places most YA novels don’t go, and I think it paid off for Dennard here. I know that I’m going to remember this series more because of how it ended, in a way I wouldn’t have if the author had gone the safer, more traditional route.
I’ve had some issues with this series over the course of its three books, but I think it was still a worthwhile reading experience. Susan Dennard crafts imaginative, engrossing stories that I have no trouble following along with. Strange and Ever After was a strong finale to a well-written trilogy, and in spite of a few issues, I did like this book....more
I love it when a sequel surpasses expectations. It doesn’t happen very often, for one thing, and also, it just makes my reading experience so much betI love it when a sequel surpasses expectations. It doesn’t happen very often, for one thing, and also, it just makes my reading experience so much better. A Darkness Strange and Lovely certainly outshone Susan Dennard’s debut, and I’m enthusiastically glad to count myself a fan of this book. It was far better than I’d ever anticipated.
The events of Something Strange and Deadly left Miss Eleanor Fitt in rather dire circumstances. Her brother is dead and his body is possessed by a demon, her mother is in an insane asylum, she’s hopelessly poor, and the man of her dreams rejected her. Things are definitely not looking good in Eleanor’s corner of the world. Then she finds herself on the run to Paris, with her brother’s dead best friend in tow—said best friend also happens to be a demon.
I admit, the beginning of this book had me a little bit suspicious. Dennard has established that Eleanor is in love with Daniel, but when she meets Oliver on board the ship to France, it seemed like a love triangle was imminent—after the first book already featured one love triangle, I was not okay with a second. Luckily, A Darkness Strange and Lovely thwarted my expectations, and it becomes clear to the reader (if not to Eleanor herself) that Oliver swings for the other team. And once Eleanor and Oliver arrive in France and the novel really gets into the swing of things, I was wholeheartedly along for the ride with no other objections.
Like the first book in the series, A Darkness Strange and Lovely is a light historical/paranormal with a hint of mystery, and it’s consistently fast-paced and ever engaging. Yet while I spent a lot of the first book detached or rolling my eyes, this book saw a vast improvement. No, Dennard still doesn’t take things too seriously, but the plot was far better, the characters more interesting, and the prose more riveting. The end result was an enjoyable adventure through the streets of Paris to uncover a necromancer with an agenda, with some time devoted to romance and the series’ overarching plot as well. The main mystery is wrapped up satisfactorily, but some things are left open, as at the end of the book, Eleanor and her friends head off to confront the Big Bad Demon once and for all—a showdown I’m looking forward to.
Susan Dennard shows marked improvement in her sophomore novel. Eleanor Fitt’s adventures in this book are far more readable and interesting than they were before, and the result is a very good novel. A Darkness Strange and Lovely really worked for me on a number of levels, and I’m happy to have been so pleasantly surprised....more
In 1876, Eleanor Fitt goes to meet her brother at the train station, but he doesn’t arrive. However, there is someone to greet her their: the Dead. HoIn 1876, Eleanor Fitt goes to meet her brother at the train station, but he doesn’t arrive. However, there is someone to greet her their: the Dead. How terribly inconvenient! Nothing like a zombie infestation to ruin one’s high society matrimonial prospects. So Eleanor takes matters into her own hands and embarks on a journey to stop the Dead, find her brother, and save her family from disgraceful poverty—all while wielding a corset and parasol.
Some books are just fun, even if they’re not of the greatest quality. Something Strange and Deadly is one of those books. Dennard’s debut is not exceptionally written and has about zero percent historical accuracy and it tends to be fairly silly, but the adventures of Miss Eleanor Fitt of the Philadelphia Fitts were mostly enjoyable, and I did find enough to like about this book to continue on with the series.
As a protagonist, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Eleanor for much of the book, but by the end I decided I did like her. She showed definite growth over the course of the text, going from a sort of nondescript, silly young woman to an admirable main character. The book’s emphasis on how “different” she was got old, though—Miss Fitt, the misfit. Miss Fitt—get it? Not that I outright love Eleanor—she can be slightly annoying, but not in any problematic way. I think she’s well-developed and entertaining, though slightly anachronistic.
Though, for that matter, I can’t say that Something Strange and Deadly really shines in its portrayal of history. Susan Dennard might be able to craft an entertaining story, but it doesn’t seem like she dedicated much effort by way of research. The book has a few ethnic minority characters (a Chinese woman and a black Cajun) and, well…yeah. That wasn’t super believable at all, nor was Eleanor’s prim and proper mother allowing—no, encouraging—her daughter to go off to the opera unchaperoned with a young gentleman who was not an immediate relative. Though, at the same time, Eleanor was shocked when a young man broke etiquette and shook her hands. This book has a very inconsistent approach to the time period; basically, when it suited the author to be authentic, she did so, but only in a cursory way.
Another problem was the completely underwhelming approach to a zombie horde descending upon Philadelphia. One would expect the good citizens to panic or be up in arms or something, but no. Nobody seemed upset in any way; at best, the zombies were an inconvenience. While there were some fairly good action sequences in the last 100 pages, the zombies were really not very threatening. I was not very impressed with Something Strange and Deadly in that regard.
I did, however, like Dennard’s very pointed subversion of the instalove trope. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a love triangle present, one that only marginally advanced the plot. Also, romantic scenes tended to happen at inopportune moments, such as when they were running away from the bad guys. And I wasn’t completely sold on the Eleanor’s romance with her eventual love interesting. However, when at the end of the book there was a very adamant, explicit assertion that Eleanor and her man friend did not love each other, I was relieved and, additionally, far more interested to see how that relationship will develop in the future.
Anyone looking for a well-done historical/paranormal novel would do well to skip this—Something Strange and Deadly doesn’t exactly excel where it should, and it doesn’t read like Susan Dennard tried very hard to be serious with her debut. The book is, however, mostly a fun ride. It’s not great, and I definitely won’t be re-reading it, but it made for an entertaining afternoon. I suppose this review is essentially damning with faint praise, but it’s the best I can offer....more
Having read and been mightily impressed by The Round House, and knowing Erdrich’s reputation as a consistently skilled writer, I picked up this book wHaving read and been mightily impressed by The Round House, and knowing Erdrich’s reputation as a consistently skilled writer, I picked up this book with hopeful expectations. This “novel”, however, is far less a novel than a series of intertwined vignettes and character studies. The book’s afterword reveals that all of the book’s text was previously published piecemeal in various literary magazines over a period of some years, and though the book does have some degree of unifying purpose, I couldn’t help but feel that this was sloppily assembled and too weakly connected. There were occasional glimpses of good material here and there, but overall I remain unimpressed....more
There are some books with ideas so unique and interesting that they make up for deficiencies in other areas. Anna Sheehan’s futuristic fairytale retelThere are some books with ideas so unique and interesting that they make up for deficiencies in other areas. Anna Sheehan’s futuristic fairytale retelling is one such book. It took me over a month to read A Long, Long Sleep—not because it was bad, not really because of anything having to do with the book, honestly. But the only reason I finished, rather than setting this story aside to be forgotten in my ever-growing DNF pile, was because I was interested to see how things happened. If you’re still interested in a book after 4 weeks away from it, that probably says something.
Truthfully, A Long, Long Sleep has a lot of problems. The main character, Rose, has spent 60 years in cryo-sleep. She wakes up and struggles to adjust to her new surroundings, but doesn’t ask many questions about why she was forgotten in stasis for so long, what happened to her parents, etc. That didn’t ring true at all. Because of the way she grew up, the only constant Rose had in her life was her parents—to be so accepting of their mysterious absence fails as a plot point, though it does serve to draw out the suspense during the second act of the book.
And there are other problems, such as classic Disappearing (foster-)Parent Syndrome, which I found aggravating to no end. On the other hand, this slow-building story really does a great job presenting a unique situation, and really tackling relationships in a new way. Domestic abuse has never been written like this, though the story of Rose’s coming to learn that the way she grew up was abusive was nonetheless realistic and true. A Long, Long Sleep is very much a story about how Rose comes to love and value herself, and I think that’s really a great thing to write, especially in a retelling of a somewhat problematic, sexualized fairytale. Rose’s journey was what brought me back to this story, even after so long.
And no, I don’t particularly like Rose, and I thought her inactions (regarding the lack of curiosity) were frustrating at the very least. But her story was still important and interesting, set amid the backdrop of a future full of implanted alien DNA and space colonies and cryo-sleep. It’s really great that, if Sheehan took Rose out of her environment, she would still be relatable on many levels.
On the other hand, if you took Rose out of her environment, A Long, Long Sleep would cease to work as well as it does, because so much of the nuance of Rose’s journey is dependent on the world she lives in. I think that’s important, because it shows the author has written a story that’s nearly universal, but didn’t just plop it down into some space-age future setting because she could. This book needs to be written the way it was in order to work.
A Long, Long Sleep is not a perfect book—not even close. I probably have just as many issues with it as I do positive aspects. But I think Anna Sheehan has told a memorable story here, one that’s worth telling, one that’s worth reading. It deals with issues in ways I’ve never seen before, and approaches human suffering in a unique, yet respectful, manner, that really highlights the emotions and state of the protagonist. Overall, I’m pretty impressed with this book....more
The vast majority of these stories were well-written and engaging. All were more or less fluffy, with happy endings appropriate for Christmasy settingThe vast majority of these stories were well-written and engaging. All were more or less fluffy, with happy endings appropriate for Christmasy settings. The most memorably story of the bunch, for me, was the one written by (I believe) Kiersten White, about a lower-class Hispanic girl whose goal of escaping her tiny California desert town is upended when a cook arrives in her family’s diner who has supernatural cooking abilities (a very typical plotline for a majority of magical realist stories)—that was the story I most identified with personally, and it’s the one I responded to the most.
Other than that, the only stories that really seemed to suffer where the fantasy ones, where holiday magic or folklore was the main focus. In a short story setting, it’s hard to establish the world-building required for these plotlines, and I think every single one of those contributions to the anthology fell flat—even the fabulous Laini Taylor’s, though I was extremely impressed by its feminist motives regardless of its incomplete world-building.
Altogether, this was a very nice short story anthology. Some of the stories were not as good as others, but none were truly awful....more
Short stories and novellas really don’t work as well for me as they could. Often, a good story doesn’t seem to make the impact it could have in a seveShort stories and novellas really don’t work as well for me as they could. Often, a good story doesn’t seem to make the impact it could have in a severely limited format. This novella, for instance, really does have an interesting story, but Patridge doesn’t have the page-space to amp up the level of horror or suspense that would, in my opinion, really make this short book stand out. Instead, the reader is left with a good idea about a pumpkin-headed zombie in a small town on Halloween, but nothing really resonates at any point. It’s all very disappointing....more
In a strange ode to Sylvia Plath, Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar documents one fall semester for Jam Gallahue, who is dealing with grief and isolation in theIn a strange ode to Sylvia Plath, Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar documents one fall semester for Jam Gallahue, who is dealing with grief and isolation in the wake of her boyfriend’s death. A special class at a special school introduces Jam and four other students to Plath’s writing, and then weird magic happens that somehow initiates a rather cheesy happy conclusion. This book is just so strange, honestly. I don’t know what to make of it.
Not gonna lie, I didn’t really like this book. I think Wolitzer is a strong, experienced author who knows how to tell a story, but I don’t think the story she told here was necessarily good. It’s different, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with quality fiction.
See, this book was just too easy. Writing in this magical journal that induces an out-of-body hallucination experience solves these kids’ problems. They then have sappy conversations about how “changed” they are, and everyone waltzes off for their happy ending. Belzhar is just too simple. I’d like to believe in the power of this magical journal, but I can’t. It was too strange, too out-there, in comparison with the rest of the book which is very grounded in the traditions of YA realistic fiction.
I’m also not a huge fan of Sylvia Plath in the first place, and Belzhar is certainly a love letter of sorts to Plath and her ideas and her legacy. Which is fine, of course. It’s just that that sort of metafictional aspect never thrills me, and it’s probably especially hard to enjoy when the object of everyone’s adulation is an author I’m not particularly fond of on her own terms.
Also, I don’t like Jam at all. I found her to be overdramatic and annoying, and I did not at all buy the author’s portrayal of her mental condition. Spoiler spoiler spoiler, blah blah blah, but at the end of the book I was basically like…really? REALLY?
On the other hand, Wolitzer has great, unique ideas. I’ve been reading YA realistic fiction for years now, and with literally hundreds of titles on my belt, I often feel like I’ve seen it all. Jam’s “adventures” in Belzhar where something I had not seen before. Though if you get the journals out of the picture, this book does feel very tired and familiar in many ways.
So, yeah. I feel like I wasted my money in purchasing Belzhar. A good idea does not mean a book is good quality. I found Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar to be surprisingly trite and juvenile, in spite of the promise for something profound. Constant discussions of Sylvia Plath’s “genius” did nothing to further endear me to this book, and I walk away quite dissatisfied with everything. ...more
Elizabeth Caldwell is different. The invisible girl at school, she has no friends, never goes out to parties. The only people who pay attention to herElizabeth Caldwell is different. The invisible girl at school, she has no friends, never goes out to parties. The only people who pay attention to her are her abusive father and the mean girl bully at school. At night, Elizabeth is haunted by strange visions that plague her dreams, about another girl and a boy. Something evil and shadowy hunts Elizabeth, for reasons that probably have to do with those visions. In the waking world, two boys are pursuing her. Joshua, a nice, homey farm kid, and Fear, a mysterious “bad boy”. She has to chose between them, but which will it be? And will she ever find out what that dark presence stalking her is?
Does all this sound familiar? Of course it does. Some Quiet Place may advertise a unique concept, but beneath that, this book is just a tired recycling of every YA paranormal trope that’s been regurgitated and given a “new spin” over and over again for the past few years. Kelsey Sutton’s debut has hints of promise here and there, but those moments are buried too far beneath scenes and plot devices readers have seen countless times before.
Yes, this novel’s main idea is a good one. A young woman cannot feel emotion, but rather sees them personified. I really do enjoy that concept, and I think that had Sutton developed it and carried it out to its full potential, this book would have been a success. But unfortunately, the novelty of a non-emotional protagonist wears off too quickly, and the reader is then left with an emotionless husk of a character who feels nothing, has no depth, no motivation, and no goals.
Elizabeth’s emotionlessness turned out to be Some Quiet Place’s downfall, rather than its unique, memorable aspect. Though I think that if properly handled, the lack of emotion could have been capitalized on, instead it felt like a mask the author could place in front of her character, a reason not to give Elizabeth a fully-rounded personality. Because Elizabeth felt nothing, was nothing, she was hopelessly, irredeemable boring.
This dullness carried over into every aspect of the story. Elizabeth’s having foreboding visions? Ho hum. Two guys are “in love” with her? Whatever. She’s being stalked by some supernatural entity? Yawn. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s supposed apathy and disconnection from the world around her translates to readers who are apathetic and disconnected from the narration. Some Quiet Place doesn’t mean to be boring or unexciting, but Sutton’s clumsy treatment of her narrator affects the entire book negatively.
Beyond the premise itself falling flat, we also deal with the overused, cliché plot itself. Though I think a too-familiar story might have been excused had Elizabeth’s character and her otherness been portrayed to brilliance, that is not the case, so the reader is left with a very overused, trite storyline that’s been seen a hundred times before.
And yet, in spite of all this, there were brief moments in the book where I could see the reality of Some Quiet Place’s potential come out. This book honestly could have been great, and I think that with a great publishing team, something amazing could have been developed. But the sad fact is that this book is published by a smaller press that doubtless doesn’t have the extensive resources a bigger imprint would have, and I think this story suffers on account of that. A great idea is a great idea, and Some Quiet Place has a great idea. But the fact is, Sutton’s storytelling is bogged down by too many issues for that great idea to shine through. Because of that, this book is distinctly underwhelming, with its lack of feeling and pedestrian plot swallowing up any promise there might have been....more