3.7 Stars (again, I wish Goodreads allow half-stars or something)
Once upon a time, a teenage girl died in a car crash.
The End? Not quite. It’s just th...more3.7 Stars (again, I wish Goodreads allow half-stars or something)
Once upon a time, a teenage girl died in a car crash.
The End? Not quite. It’s just the beginning of a story that may actually have a happy-ever-after—an unconventional one, especially in the first place it is not a fairytale at all.
Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall, follows the story of popular high school girl Samantha Kingston. More specifically, it revolves around the very day that Sam died, which she is “doomed” to repeat in some kind of a time loop until she figures out how to escape it. For seven times the same day is told, but with Oliver’s soul-crushingly beautiful writing, the formulaic albeit well-orchestrated plot comes off as refreshing. As you read along, you will not feel as if the six days are just echoes of the first one.
YA books with first person points of view are not my cup of tea, but there are a few that I liked unreservedly. Before I Fall is now one of them. Sam’s voice is surprisingly good; I find myself drawn to her story just a few pages after the prologue. Given her quandary, I find her medley of reactions and ruminations about the same things on the same day utterly realistic. Needless to say, her characterization is superb. Her transformation throughout the book is akin to watching a butterfly as it wriggles out of its chrysalis—the readers journey with her as she attempts to rectify the mistakes that she regrets to have committed, as she peels the superficial layers of herself and of her friends, and as she opens her eyes to appreciate everything that she has taken for granted when she is still alive. She grows and learns that life never fails to teach her something new (even if she is technically dead). I commend the ace character development.
Over the sevenfold loop, Oliver didn’t forget to give the readers a kaleidoscopic glimpse on the lives of the other characters. She made it a point to not let any character be considered just black or white—everybody has shades of gray, just like in real life. There are a lot of teen books that deal with cliques, drugs, booze, and parties, but I think this book pretty much set the bar when it comes to honest portrayal of a typical high school life. The prose even has a journalistic quality to it, in a sense that Oliver didn’t bother on putting too much sugarcoating or melodrama to make it more appealing. A clear reflection is enough.
The pattern for day 1 is used loosely throughout the book, but the story never comes off as lackluster. The pacing makes for a thrilling read, and both the minor and major epiphanies will hold your attention and evoke several emotions. Anyone who likes romance will get a treat, too, but I think you should watch out for the ever-complicated relationships between friends. All kinds of friendships have their own versions of complexities, and Oliver managed to execute that very well.
Humans are hoarders by design. We nestle every memory in our heart’s deepest cove, we stock lessons in our mind’s safest banks, and we keep piles of s...moreHumans are hoarders by design. We nestle every memory in our heart’s deepest cove, we stock lessons in our mind’s safest banks, and we keep piles of skeletons in our most secured closets. When it comes to these dark little secrets, we only let brief episodes of embarrassment follow the accidental tumbling of bone bits. But when we’re talking about the ones that are decaying beyond recognition, we do our best to keep them at the very back—no bone, no tendon jutting out. For all we know, they belong in the dark.
A Monster Calls’ Connor O’Malley has one such skeleton. He tries to keep it concealed while dealing with a hurricane of unfortunate events: his divorced mother is dying of cancer, his relationship with his grandmother is getting out of hand, his classmates are bullying him, and his father is living with the new wife. Because of this, Connor becomes angry, desperate, and too world-weary for someone so young. He doesn’t have any form of shield when his qualms attack him.
And you know what they say: we create our own monsters when we let our worst fears clobber us. The “monster” comes for Connor in the form of the yew tree in their backyard. He stays unafraid however, as he has seen worse things, like the “falling” nightmares that haunt him often. But the Monster seems to know what Connor keeps inside himself. It brings three profound stories and says that by the end of the third tale, Connor must tell a fourth, which should be “the truth.” Would Connor be ready to verbalize it? Would he have the guts to kick the closet door open and let the raw reality out? Would he be able to finally let himself—and anyone shackled by this truth—free by uttering the taboo words he so wanted to let out?
Patrick Ness is a name omnipresent in every YA shelf that I check. From all the accolades I heard are festooning his works, I expected him to be a force to be reckoned with. And indeed he is. A Monster Calls, the first from his oeuvre that I picked up, is the kind of literature that speaks of the harshest realities without appearing to be a tome of cruel pessimism. It’s a children’s book that’s so grownup that adults are guaranteed to get a bulky amount of substantial inspiration from it; it’s an adult book that has a heart of a true kid, making it accessible to both the young once and the young ones. It’s honest and raw in a way that doesn’t damage the soul. It refuses to be put under one label or genre; it’s a work of art that just is. A Monster Calls is many things, really. It amazes me how so much truth about human nature can be condensed in such a thin novel.
Ness developed the book from the original idea of Siobhan Dowd, an English author who died of breast cancer before she could write the whole story. Sometimes I wonder if it would have the same effect on me had Dowd wrote it, but in the end I knew that it was both Ness and Dowd that I read. Clutching that knowledge to my heart has somehow magnified the novel’s power on me, I guess. Dowd had everything from a detailed premise to plot points to characters. What she lacked was time, and Ness made himself an instrument to fill that in.
Teeming with well-developed characters and studded with life lessons we should imbibe to the last drop, A Monster Calls is one of those books that don’t need thorough analysis. It bares its treasures for everyone to see the moment you get past its flyleaf.
The VIP pass comes in the form a 384-page noir fairytale called The Night Circus, and it spilled from the pen-point of literary Ringmistr...more(4.5/5 stars)
The VIP pass comes in the form a 384-page noir fairytale called The Night Circus, and it spilled from the pen-point of literary Ringmistress Erin Morgenstern.
Flipping the pages was very much like stepping firsthand into the striped tents of the nocturnal Le Cirque des Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams. The vibrant carnival scenes most of us are familiar with—full of colorful clowns, confetti, and confections—are diluted into a non-chromatic world of wonders. Caramel and chocolate scents will waft to greet you at the gates. Once you surrender yourself in the swirl of black and white, you can float and leap dreamily in a vertical labyrinth of clouds, visit a menagerie of breathing paper animals, or marvel at a garden magically carved from unthawing ice. Every tent contains a treat like no other.
Fueling this feast for the senses is a pair of two young magicians—Celia and Marco—who are bound to a dangerous duel of skill and endurance where there can only be one victor. With the circus as the game board, everyone who performs with the two are unwittingly swept into the ever-perilous match…which is pushed a notch higher the danger ladder when the competitors tumble headfirst into a star-crossed love.
Almost dizzying in its beauty, I’d be lying if I say The Night Circus did not take my breath away. Morgenstern’s prose, which is festooned with rich imagery, makes every sentence a joy to read. You’ll think that something portrayed in monochrome will not come out alive, but the author’s obvious love for a sweet concoction of words inflated the atmosphere and the setting. I simultaneously commend and envy her imagination! The way she unfolds every magic is almost cinematic, the kind you think will be produced if Neil Gaiman will collaborate with Tim Burton in a carnival flick. I liked how Morgenstern shifted between third person and second person point of view. The transmission is not exactly seamless, but being given a personal portion of the book made me feel like a legit rêveur.
The book is far from perfect, though; in fact, I think this is one of the few books with copious flaws that I am willing to overlook just so I can squeeze it in my “favorites” shelf. Special effects aside (which occupies a sizable chunk of this book), the plot comes out a tad fragile and formulaic. The world of literature is no stranger to sorcerers’ matches after all, and the forbidden romance angle is quite predictable. I initially did not even care about the characters—Celia and Marco felt like cardboard cutouts to me most of the time, though they did kind of struck a chord with me on the latter part of the novel.
Neither driven by plot nor by character, The Night Circus deviates from my usual favorites, yet somehow, I know I loved it. The reason for this I found near the end: it’s the charm of ordinary love between two people who grew up not knowing what real love is, and the way it blooms amidst the extraordinary nest of their competition. If Morgenstern delved more deeply into the emotional aspect of the novel early on, I think I’d love it right away.
Over all I still think it’s a magnificent novel…in a “guilty pleasure” kind of way, if you know what I mean. Shrouded with enigma and magic, a bit lumpy with blemishes but generally intelligent, The Night Circus already classified itself as one of the most remarkable novels of 2012 for me. (less)
Succint, bittersweet, and affecting, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is easily one of the best heart-tugging books from childhood that I...moreSuccint, bittersweet, and affecting, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is easily one of the best heart-tugging books from childhood that I have in my shelf today. It's the kind of book that I will never get tired of rereading.
The story revolves around an aviator whose plane crash-lands in the Sahara desert, and there he crosses paths with an innocent but sad little prince who claims he comes from another planet. The tales of the prince’s travels in search of a friend who will truly understand him are perhaps the most poetic and poignant passages that I’ve read from a book for kids. Like many other novelettes in the same vein, this book can be construed either as a straightforward bedtime story or a brief glimpse at how innocence is a fragile gem that the world can corrupt readily or throw away lavishly.
Five stars for the prince from the stars. :) (less)
I want to read this book because I need to know the "YA lit" take on a concept very similar to one element in Death Note...or to that one Nickleback m...moreI want to read this book because I need to know the "YA lit" take on a concept very similar to one element in Death Note...or to that one Nickleback music video called "Saving Me." :p Just intrigued.(less)