I did not want to like Elizabeth, Liz, Valchar, the main character and narrator of Between by Jessica Warman. And frankly, as I read the first fifty oI did not want to like Elizabeth, Liz, Valchar, the main character and narrator of Between by Jessica Warman. And frankly, as I read the first fifty or so pages of Between it was quite easy to dislike the entitled high school senior Liz, even though it becomes clear by the end of the first chapter that Liz has, in fact, just died. But as her ghost/soul/consciousness narrates the story of events surrounding her death, it becomes clear that while Liz was vapid and self-involved, there was more to her than just her egotistical exterior.
Part mystery, part meditation on friendship, social position, family, love, loyalty, and truth, Between quickly became a compelling read for me. Because the ghost of Liz seems to be suffering a kind of amnesia about her death and the events leading up to it, her story is revealed in a peel-the-onion way as she tries to figure out how she died and why she hasn’t “moved on” thus allowing the reader to figure it all out just as Liz’s ghost does. Each chapter provides new insights as well into the relationships between Liz, her family, her circle of friends, and those she considered social nothings. By the time I read the final pages of Between I had moved from a feeling of annoyance with Liz, to an understanding of how she played the hand life had dealt her, and ultimately to a sense of compassion for her.
Author Jessica Warman has an excellent command of the written word; in her descriptive narrative she draws the reader in with a well-organized reveal of layer upon layer of both the major and supporting characters’ personalities as well as the layers of events that Liz gradually remembers. Additionally, her characterization and dialog for both teenagers and adults is genuine but at the same time it is never clichéd. While Warman’s Between bears some superficial similarities--the dead narrator, the solving of the mystery surrounding the narrator’s death, the examination of family life--to The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Warman has in no way written an imitation of Sebold’s work. It would be interesting, I think for a book club, readers’ circle, or a classroom teacher to select/assign both of these books for discussion, response, and comparison. ...more
SUCH a good book! With its slightly outlandish opening premise, a series of adventures and misadventures narrated in alternating chapters by Lily, a cSUCH a good book! With its slightly outlandish opening premise, a series of adventures and misadventures narrated in alternating chapters by Lily, a charming misfit, and Dash, who is bookish and erudite, I was thoroughly entertained. I know teenagers like Dash and Lily don't really exist, but they should!...more
The idea of a circus that magically appears and disappears intrigued me. But The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was too disjointed, moved too slowlyThe idea of a circus that magically appears and disappears intrigued me. But The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was too disjointed, moved too slowly, and had protagonists who seemed to be pawns not only of their villainous mentors but of the author as well. I finished the book only because my daughter had read it and said it had an interesting premise and some beautifully described settings as well as an imaginative climax. And while I agree with her in all three of those regards, the contrived relationship of the two young lovers, a distracting number and variety of subplots and secondary characters, and the author's equally contrived and distracting use of present tense to tell the story left me feeling underwhelmed.
For someone who enjoys innocent-victim protagonists, lavish descriptions of setting, and fantasy-based romance novels set in the late 1800's-early 1900's this might do the trick, but for readers (like myself) who appreciate tight writing and characters who are more worldly-wise, I would suggest giving The Night Circus a miss....more
Ten, twenty, even thirty pages in, I just about gave up on Golden by Jessi Kirby, but I'm glad I didn't because it really added up to more than the suTen, twenty, even thirty pages in, I just about gave up on Golden by Jessi Kirby, but I'm glad I didn't because it really added up to more than the sum of its parts. On the surface you could call this a teen romance novel, I suppose, but by the time I reached the last page, I found myself reflecting on a number of deep questions Kirby subtly raises. Among the most significant of these were the following: 1) What price is too much to pay to follow one's dreams? 2) Is there any way to reconcile a conflict in duty to one's parent(s) and duty to oneself? And 3) Which punishment is worse: One imposed by society or that which we inflict upon ourselves?
The three central characters--Parker, Kat, and Trevor-- sometimes seem more like literary devices Kirby uses to get at the story-within-a-story of the fate of Julianna than flesh-and-blood people in their own right. Yet there are scenes, mostly in the latter half of the book, that absolutely sparkle with beautifully written interactions between these three characters and several moment-of-truth scenes which were particularly compelling to me. These moments of truth brought the book to a conclusion that was both satisfying and somewhat open-ended, another plus in my opinion. In these scenes Kirby draws the characters in such a way that many young readers, I think, would like to have them as friends, not because of any sugary sweetness among them but in the realistic way they care for each other with a little bit of hard love.
As a middle school teacher I am always on the lookout for books I can recommend to my students, and I can see myself encouraging them to give Golden a try. My one caveat is that there are several instances of what main character Parker refers to as "trucker mouth." While f-bombs are certainly much more commonly seen in current teen literature and heard coming out of the mouths of today's teens, I know that at least some of my students' parents and some of my colleagues are a little squeamish about allowing 12- or 13-year-olds to read books that contain this type of language. I understand that, and I certainly don't condone an author's gratuitous use of the f-word; however, I do have to say that one of the most realistic exchanges between the main character, Parker, and her best friend, Kat, contains not one, but two, f-bombs, and I would challenge anyone to have a go at rewriting that scene minus the profanity and make it as compelling.
Although I stand by my rating of 3 stars, I wish it were possible to split those stars in half and give it 3.5 stars because Golden really improved as I continued to read. All in all, I think this book is a solid read for young teens, and it would provide a great launch point for discussion of some of life's most significant questions....more
Really, if I could give this book 4.5 stars, I would. This book is just as much about how Americans deal with presidential assassinations as it is aboReally, if I could give this book 4.5 stars, I would. This book is just as much about how Americans deal with presidential assassinations as it is about the assassinations themselves, and Sarah Vowell has managed to make her take on the assassinations of 3 U.S. presidents (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) both tender and funny. If you want a dry, chronological recitation of historical facts, look elsewhere; Vowell gives us plenty of information on the when, where, and how of each incident, but she also writes about the VIP victims in a way that makes them seem more human, more ordinary, and about the assassins in a way that makes them seem, if not sympathetic, at least understandable. She also shows very clearly the currents and eddies of U.S. political life through time and wittily shares her feelings on politics. The one minor quibble (and it is VERY minor) I have with this book is that it sometimes seems to be a who's who of friends who went with Vowell to this or that historical site. Other than that one distraction, Assassination Vacation is an informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining travelogue. ...more
Like Angels and Demons, this is a plot-driven page-turner that has slightly more character development and less in the way of gratuitous violence thanLike Angels and Demons, this is a plot-driven page-turner that has slightly more character development and less in the way of gratuitous violence than A & D does....more
Simultaneously droll and sincere, the collection of essays contained in The Partly Cloudy Patriot is Sarah Vowell at her best. She displays a deep undSimultaneously droll and sincere, the collection of essays contained in The Partly Cloudy Patriot is Sarah Vowell at her best. She displays a deep underlying affection for America and Americans in a warts-and-all way. One of my favorite reads of 2012....more