I just finished reading this book, which took me nearly two weeks to get through. I know this is partly because it’s a relatively 1. long and 2. dark...moreI just finished reading this book, which took me nearly two weeks to get through. I know this is partly because it’s a relatively 1. long and 2. dark book, but even more than that, I spent most of it feeling very obligated to feel feelings about it in a way that I just…didn’t. There was none of the effortlessness and surprise and sad delight of Code Name Verity—not because CNV is in any way a lighter read, but because RUF is so relentlessly on message.
Unsurprisingly (depending on how well you know me and my taste in books and characters), my favorite character was Anna Engel, and to be perfectly honest, I think a book about her character, who is so much more morally ambiguous and challenging than American Girl Scout pilot Rose Justice, would have been much more compelling.
Anyway. 3.5? 3.75? I guess I'll just round up to 4...(less)
After reading multiple glowing reviews of Melissa Keil's debutLIFE IN OUTER SPACE, and falling in love with the book's cover art (please, pause for a...moreAfter reading multiple glowing reviews of Melissa Keil's debut LIFE IN OUTER SPACE, and falling in love with the book's cover art (please, pause for a moment and look at it—really look—because it's fantastic), I gave up on a recently imposed "No new books!" rule and downloaded a copy to my Kindle. I wouldn't say I was blown away, but I did inhale LIFE IN OUTER SPACE in a matter of days and came away from it feeling all the happiness that a solid rom com can bestow.
Aspiring screenwriter Sam Kinnison, who could give Abed Nadir a run for his money when it comes to rate and frequency of pop culture references, is by far the best thing about LIFE IN OUTER SPACE. His narration is warm, lively, occasionally frazzled, frequently confused, and most of all, consistently genuine. Sam reads as the sweet, nerdy teenage boy that he is, and I can't think of any point when I pulled away from the narrative thinking, That's ridiculous, Sam would never say that! Of course Sam uses torrents to, ahem, procure movies. And of course he describes new girl Camilla Carter's accent as similar to that of Kate Beckinsale in Underworld. Of course.
Sam is also funny, in that wry, intelligent way that isn't always appreciated in high school. I believe "guffaw" is the appropriate term for my laugh after reading the following:
I know I should be able to find a story in anything. Good screenwriters can pull interesting films out of the asinine and mundane. But everything I've read about writing always begins with ‘write what you know.’ What I know is: quiet streets, topiary, moronic high school arsehats, and homework. Has anyone ever made a movie about homework? Probably. I bet it was in French.
I bet you're right, Sam.
And while first person narration can sometimes leave supporting characters feeling less than fully developed, Sam's best friends—Mike, Allison, and Adrian—are almost as vivid as Sam himself. The group is believably tight knit, bonded by shared interests and shared misery, and each member is clearly devoted to the others. When Mike comes out to the group, they embark on the Google-fueled "Extremely Gay Weekend," checking out Olivia Newton-John fan pages and watching Dirty Dancing. Even the rifts that inevitably crop up are dealt with in a way that is both realistic and low on squirm-inducing cheese.
Which brings me to Camilla Carter, she of the dancing World of Warcraft dwarf, occasional Princess Leia hair, and persistent interest in being part of Sam's life. I like Camilla. I think she's fun, smart, interesting, and has excellent taste in 80s movies and SyFy shows. I also never got comfortable with her as the geek girl of Sam's dreams. I'd say my discomfort kicked in around the time Sam "feels like [he's] experiencing a processing malfunction" after finding out that Camilla likes Star Wars (sorry, but who doesn't like Star Wars?), and it never really went away.
Despite my off-the-cuff Goodreads updates that tagged Camilla as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I'm hesitant to slap that label on her here. On the one hand, it seems unfair given that she's rendered through Sam's awestruck eyes, which focus on everything that's great about her, especially because Keil still manages to give Camilla some real depth. What's more, I think the label can be lazy and reductive, and it's too frequently used to pass on exploring female characterization.
On the other hand, I can't shake the feeling that Camilla's main function is to check off box after box on Sam's dream girl wish list while pushing him to realize that he's not such a loser after all. There's a somewhat half-hearted attempt to give Camilla an interest in songwriting, but for my part, that's undermined by her panicked dependence on Sam's acknowledgement and support.
Mostly, I think that for a book so steeped in movie references, there should be some self-awareness of Camilla's possible Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ness. But then, you don't usually find the MPDG in horror movies.
Ultimately, LIFE IN OUTER SPACE isn't the best of the best among contemporary YA—I much prefer Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon (2012)—and with minor exceptions, nothing about the plot is unpredictable; however, it's a quick read, and fun, and in the end, I had a good case of the warm and fuzzies. This is the kind of book that will break you out of a reading slump (and make you want to re-watch Dirty Dancing.)
VeganYANerds says: LIFE IN OUTER SPACE is a fun, sweet, endearing story about a boy, his friends, his family and his second-to-last year at school. It’s about living life, not sticking to your routine, having fun and branching out. I recommend this to all readers, whether you read YA or not.
Young Adult Anonymous says: I think these [simple, slice of life] types of stories are the hardest to write. However, when done well, they just make you happy that you read them. LIFE IN OUTER SPACE is done well. I can't guarantee that you'll be blown away, but I can say that you'll be glad you said yes instead of no to this.(less)
During the summer of 2008, just after starting my first "real" job out of college, I finally followed up a recommendation one of my favorite authors,...moreDuring the summer of 2008, just after starting my first "real" job out of college, I finally followed up a recommendation one of my favorite authors, Sarah Dessen, had made repeatedly in her prolific LiveJournal entries: watch Veronica Mars.
I did this not knowing what I'd be getting: not knowing that Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars is perhaps the best, most fully realized female character ever to exist on television; not knowing that the first season in particular would raise my expectations of plotting and structure to previously unimagined levels; and not knowing that NotMatchbox20!Rob Thomas and Veronica Mars would give me my first mature framework for thinking about myself as a woman.
Since that summer, I've walked around with a Veronica Mars-sized hole in my heart. Sure, by the alternating grace of TheWB.com and the power vested in Netflix, I can rewatch episodes whenever I want. Yes, I can recommend the entire series to everyone I know, then live vicariously through their first viewings. And OK, maybe I approach life's trials with What would Veronica Mars do? as my guiding mantra. But none of these are what that hole in my heart truly craves, what it almost desperately needs: more Veronica Mars.
Enter Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken. I'll let you down quickly: it's not more Veronica Mars, not really. But it is about as close as anyone has ever gotten, plus it stands on its own as a unique and wonderful young adult novel, and for these reasons, it's one of my favorite books of at least the past year.
The story opens with the introduction of Kami Glass, intrepid girl reporter, who is bent on uncovering the secrets of her small town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, no matter how much her beautiful but lazy best friend, Angela Montgomery, may want to nap instead. To this end, Kami has convinced her high school to let her start a school newspaper, and she's begun investigating Sorry-in-the-Vale's founding family, the mysterious and long-absent Lynburns—all while maintaining a silent, running conversation with Jared, the imaginary friend she's had for as long as she can remember.
But then her imaginary Jared turns out to be the very real Jared Lynburn, and their connection just the beginning of the secrets buried in Sorry-in-the-Vale.
There are so many reasons to love this book, and none more exciting than the fact that Kami is a wonderful female lead: assertive and capable, thoughtful and determined, she's unwilling to bow to those who would have her be otherwise.
"Here's the thing," said Kami. "Holly came to me with this story because nobody else would have listened to it. And nobody would have listened to me if I'd called the police and said, 'Oh, the kids are making too much noise in the woods.' They're listening to me now because I went out and found something. I found something. And it was horrible, and the only way I know to deal with something horrible is to do something about it. This is my story. And I'm not going to give it up. I'm going to see how it ends. You don't get a say."
She's also notable for being a woman of color and thus a departure from the pantheon of white characters who dominate popular young adult fiction. In fact, one of my favorite character introductions is that of Kami's half-Japanese father, Jon Glass, who is on the receiving end of "a startled look becaue of the perfect English and the Gloucester accent." I've read a lot of young adult fiction, and I can't think of a better example of the casual othering that's perpetuated by otherwise welcoming people and communities.
Another reason to love this book is that though there is romance, it's treated in a way that directly confronts the "instalove" trope that so infuriates many fans of young adult fiction: Kami and Jared have shared every aspect of their lives and their selves with each other for as long as they can remember, and the resulting lack of boundaries when they meet is clearly depicted as problematic.
[S]aying he was part of her or that they were more than friends sounded like love, but it sounded like loss as well. All the words she knew to describe what he was to her were from love stories and love songs, but those were not words anyone truly meant.
They were like Jared, in a way. If they were real, they would be terrifying.
Kami did not know what Jared wanted. Kami didn't know what she wanted either, except that she was scared all the limits she'd set would be burned away, all control lost, and she would be lost too.
Brennan could have easily fallen into the trap of downplaying the negative side effects of having one's existence so enmeshed with another's, but instead she recognizes that a connection like this can be as frightening and harmful as it can be exhilarating and good.
And ultimately, it's easy to love this book because like Veronica Mars, it's a compelling, well-paced mystery with good characters, snappy dialogue, and real emotion at its heart. Yes, there's a cliffhanger ending, because this is just book one of three, and yes, Brennan's a bit of a life ruiner, but in my opinion, she earns the right to every choice she makes by telling an undisputedly good story.(less)