By page 4 of The Girl in The Park I knew with absolute certainty that, even if I hated the story and the mystery just sucked, I would be shown why andBy page 4 of The Girl in The Park I knew with absolute certainty that, even if I hated the story and the mystery just sucked, I would be shown why and not told. I read the conversations between Rain and her mother, then Rain and Ms. Geller over again a few times to be certain that it really had been only four pages, yet I already knew so much about Wendy, Rain, and their relationships with each other and their mothers. Fredericks has honed down her words until each and every one pack a potent visual punch. The novel rushes forward but never let me behind. It was thoughtful and thought-provoking, moody and suspenseful, disturbing yet ultimately uplifting. Rain succeeds in her attempt to discover Wendy's murderer; but the most important discovery she makes is herself.
I am so impressed by so much of what Fredericks has done in The Girl in The Park. There are moments that feel so very dark and bleak, but the tone of the book as a whole is much more complex because - at its core - the book is honest. I love the way Fredericks deals with Rain's disability and the long lasting influence it has on how she views herself. How Wendy and Rain's friendship develops, grows, changes...then fades away. I like that Rain never really has a love interest because she hasn't yet learned to love herself. I am awed by how well Fredericks' shows all the varying aspects of Wendy's character without invalidating the others. Her characters are almost entirely shades of grey.
The mystery, too, was very well executed (except, perhaps, for the bad-guy-explains-it-all monologue toward the end.) There is successful foreshadowing - hints and clues that keep us one step (but only one step) ahead of Rain in pursuit of the murderer. As for that honesty mentioned earlier? It is shown in the suspects to full effect. Fredericks doesn't rely on last minute character assassination, previously unknown redemptive traits suddenly revealed, or a good guy just grossly misunderstood - everyone remains as they ever were. I love that Fredericks shows that just because someone is a thoroughly nasty jerk does not necessarily mean they are capable of murder, and (view spoiler)[ nor does being interesting and charming preclude one from that capability. (hide spoiler)] It may seem a bit grandiose to say this, but as I thought about what I would write in this review of The Girl in The Park, I kept coming back to some things I've heard Sister Helen Prejean and Vincent Harding say about justice, revenge and vengeance; about how the quest for each can become something just as dark as the original act and should never be what gives your life meaning. Fredericks does a wonderful job of showing Rain find meaning for her life within herself - and that is a powerful thing for a who-done-it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Despite some recent trilogy burnout, I must admit that I often like a series as much as or more than a stand-alone novel. I especially like book series where each book has its own story arc and can be read as a stand-alone, but still fit in to the overall series story arc. If you can find such a series, it is like literacy promoting gold. Get a kid hooked with one, and they will keep coming back for the others. (My little brother was a non-reader prior to Animorphs, now try finding him without a book.) All that to say, when I first read the blurb for Gina Damico's Croak, I got really excited. It is billed up front as the first in a series, and it looked like an interesting premise that could be carried over into multiple plot lines. I was interested to see where Damico would take it.
Croak starts out with a thoroughly unlikeable character. Lex is a mess, she is cruel, and she is unsympathetic, but the story itself is interesting enough that it kept me reading. Then, somewhere along the way, I found that my opinion of her had changed. Damico does an excellent job of drawing the reader into Lex's experience, engendering sympathy if not understanding. Perhaps this is why, though not very much happens for the first third of the book, I didn't really mind. Lex, Uncle Mort, and Driggs are all witty and snarky and laugh-out-loud funny, and I enjoyed getting to know them.
I found the world Damico created to be alternately intriguing and absurd. The death puns got old after a few chapters, her version of the afterlife needs some beefing up to be believable, and what is with the jellyfish? Yet the social structure of reapers, the personal nature of the scythes, and many other spoilery-type elements of this world really were fascinating. I want to know more about the other Grim towns. What is going on in Uncle Mort's basement? There's something more to that ghost gum tree, isn't there? I am curious enough to know that I am invested in her world.
Similarly, the relationships between characters were both Damico's strongest point and her weakest. It was in Lex's interactions with others that I found the most enjoyment, but also the worst writing. Damico does an excellent job of showing the reader her story, up to the point where she must show teen romance. It was quite jarring the first time I was transported out of the story to be told rather quickly and impersonally 'and then this happened' only to be dropped back in the story. And Damico did this. Every. Single. Time. Every single hand brush to almost-kiss, we are given a sentence to paragraph summary in third person narrative of what each character was thinking/feeling. It made my feelings as the reader about the entire romance lukewarm at best.
Croak was also, at times, a bit predictable: it was fairly easy to guess who the 'bad guy' was, just perhaps not the how or why, and the final victim felt like a very cheap shot (and turned an interesting character into a mere plot device to force Lex's hand). However, most of the flaws in Croak, I think, are easily overlooked while reading it (most of them only came to mind in reflecting on the book afterward for the review). Croak is fresh, funny, interesting and engaging. There is a lot of potential here, and the book was very readable. Ultimately, that is the point, right? I really enjoyed myself, and would recommend Croak easily. Also? I really can't wait to learn more about what is going on with Uncle Mort - he knows more than he is letting on. I'll be on the lookout for Scorch.
I thankfully had a completely spoiled-free experience of this book, so I will respect Green's wishes and include no spoilers - even of the tagged variI thankfully had a completely spoiled-free experience of this book, so I will respect Green's wishes and include no spoilers - even of the tagged variety. (I think they are like Denis the Menace's button or Pandora's box, it is human nature to want to click it - even if we really don't want to!)
The Fault in Our Stars is absolutely Green's best work, and I want to thank him for it. It is witty and funny and sad and angry and true. In Isaac and Hazel and Augustus, an entire group of people are given a voice that many people don't want to hear. So often, when talking about individuals (but especially kids) who are terminally ill, people talk about them being strong and brave and inspiring. It's like what Wliloughby says of Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, they are the sort of people "who has every body's good word and nobody's notice," but for different reasons. People get uncomfortable when they are around people who are dying. They want them to be an inspiration, then go away. They don't like being confronted on a day to day basis with the REALITY of kids who are dying. Dying kids get angry, they get pitiful, they have dark humor, they get frustrated, they act out. They get tired of being the ones to perpetually comfort everyone else about their own death (and funerals absolutely are for the living), and so, sometimes, they really hurt the people who love them. And. They. Are. Not. Their. Disease/Disability. I particularly loved this scene between Augustus and Hazel:
"So what's your story?" he asked, sitting down net to me at a safe distance. "I already told you my story. I was diagnosed when --" "No, not your cancer story. Your story. Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, etcetera."
I also love just about every interaction between Isaac and Augustus. I would read a whole additional book just about their friendship. These three face things head-on that others want to ignore. They joke about the dying elephant in the room. I have bookmarked no less than 28 pages from which I would LOVE to quote, but I really don't want to spoil the book. Suffice it to say that this book is a window into a world that people do not live in, but die in, and we are allowed to visit. The residents are, in fact, strong and inspiring, but not for the reasons we often attribute these qualities to them. (You can't decide not to have cancer any more than you can decide to not have a baby when the baby is crowning, some things just aren't optional.) They are strong and inspiring because they remain themselves, despite all the expectations we place upon them, how much we try to change them. I leave you with one (highly censored) quote that just spoke straight to my soul, and, I think, sums up the reason I love this book:
"I hate myself I hate myself I hate this I hate this I disgust myself I hate it I hate it just let me fucking die." According to the conventions of the genre, ______ kept h- sense of humor till the end, did not for a moment waiver in h- courage, and h- spirit soared like an indomitable eagle until the world itself could not contain h- joyous soul. But this was the truth, a pitiful [person] who desperately wanted not to be pitiful, screaming and crying, poisoned by an infected G-tube that kept h- alive, but not alive enough.
Just a note: I am usually an emotive rather than an intellectual reader - I take things personally. Therefore, I think my reaction to this novel is better understood when I make clear that I have a sibling who has vacillated between "terminal" and "miraculous" for all 26 years of life. As a result, my mother became a child's rights advocate for children with disabilities - which brought me into contact with more children who were terminally ill during my childhood than most people encounter. Likewise, I have, within the last ten years, lost no less than eight family members to cancer, and have two more still living with it. ...more
I was so excited to receive The Name of the Star: It is by Maureen Johnson! It is set in London! There are ghosts and boarding schools and it has JackI was so excited to receive The Name of the Star: It is by Maureen Johnson! It is set in London! There are ghosts and boarding schools and it has Jack-the-Ripper! Even with my insanely high expectations, Johnson came through with a book that I really enjoyed. The thing I found most fascinating about The Name of the Star is the way Johnson manages to defy classification at every turn. The storyline is both character-driven and plot-driven. It starts out with a relaxed pace that allows the reader to get to know the characters, Wexford, and London, then slowly builds to the fast paced, mystery-solving action in the last third of the book. There are ghosts and magic-infused ghost zappers, so The Name of the Star is clearly paranormal fantasy. There are murders that must be solved before the murderer gets our heroine!, which makes it a thrilling mystery. Despite this, though, The Name of the Star always reads like a contemporary young adult novel--just, you know, with extras. It is funny and zany and suspenseful.
Johnson did a wonderful job of writing a London in which someone from the UK would actually recognize. (Way too many American authors think that they can make a book "British" by making everyone talk like Rupert Grint.) She has a diverse cast of characters that show how greatly accents, slang, style, food preferences, etc., can vary for different neighborhoods of London, not to mention regions of the UK! Wexford also felt authentic. (As a former student at a residential school, let me tell you, most people don't get it right!) I actually attended a two-year school myself; I could not imagine how awkward it would have been for someone to come in senior year. Likewise, (though my husband and I were both Community Leaders--our versions of prefects--and were very cool, ahem) we had our fair share of obnoxiously overachieving Charlottes. And my "call me Claudia" RM pushed band, not field hockey. I also like how, once they were introduced, the paranormal aspects of the story slipped right in to the setting with which we had grown so familiar.
I particularly like Rory's honesty as a character; not in the "always tell the truth" sort of honesty, but in the "always be who you really are" sort of honesty. Johnson does an excellent job of making her both a believable teenager and heroine. Sure, she likes a good make-out session, but not when the murderer is hot on the trail. Romance is just one part of her life, and not the most important one at present. Rory is smart and southern; girly and strong. As Kaethe put it in her review, "Rory is a direct descendant of Buffy."
I have two minor quibbles which detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel. They seem more like problems with me than the book itself, but they are what kept this from being 5-star perfect. 1) This is the first book I have read from Maureen Johnson since I started following her on twitter. While I still enjoyed her witty humor, the characters felt a little less like individuals to me: I could hear the echo of Johnson herself in them. 2) As a southern myself, I felt like Johnson's portrayal of Rory, her family, and her life in Louisiana was at times a bit too much. It sometimes slipped out of quirky into...not quite insulting, but definitely enough to make me feel prickly. They reinforce some stereotypes that are not always looked at quite as positively as the other characters in The Name of the Star come to think of Rory. Despite those quibbles, though, I still really, really enjoyed The Name of the Star, and can't wait for The Madness Underneath.
Beth, Lizbit, Eliza. A new school, a new name, a new identity. Ever since her mother's highly publicized affair ended in a divorce, Mclean and her fatBeth, Lizbit, Eliza. A new school, a new name, a new identity. Ever since her mother's highly publicized affair ended in a divorce, Mclean and her father have been travelling from town to town, following her father's restaurant consulting job. At each new place, she picks a name and decides who she wants to be - because being someone else is easier than trying to figure out who Mclean is now. However, something about Lakeview, and Dave, keeps her from creating Liz and forces her to find Mclean again.
I love Sarah Dessen. Love. To me, her books feel like windows into the lives of real people - people I know, or have known, or want to know. What Happened to Goodbye is no exception. Mclean is probably my favorite Dessen heroine yet; she is strong in a way I haven't really seen from Dessen's other heroines, despite being so damaged. Likewise, each o f Mclean's friends serve to bring out new and interesting facets of her personality while being three dimensional themselves. Like everything I have read by Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye brought out a strong emotional reaction from me. However, for the first time, it was mostly negative.
I should start by saying that I find no fault with the writing, characterization, etc. My problem, instead, is with the character of some of these well fleshed out people, but most specifically Mclean's mother. Dave's parents are really controlling and, though it is clearly coming from a place of really caring, I would have liked to see him stand up for himself a little more. On the other hand, Mclean's dad needs to be paying a little more attention to what is going on with her. They seem to have a really great relationship, but there are too many things left unsaid. There are some perfectly healthy parent/child relationships out there where the kids take over a lot of the household responsibilities. What makes this one cross the line into unhealthy is that her dad doesn't notice how emotionally wreaked the divorce has left Mclean, despite the fact that he lives with her. I can see him not paying attention to the small details of house, but only if he IS seeing the details of his daughter's life. He should notice that she completely changes personality every 6 months.
However, Mclean's mother just makes me angry. Hands shaking, teeth clenching, I-wish-she-were-real-so-I-could-call-her-and-tell-her-just-what-I-think-of-her angry. Over and over again she just barrages Mclean with what she wants, how she feels, what she thinks, what she needs - but NEVER LISTENS to Mclean in turn. I lost count of the conversations between the two that were endless diatribe from the mother punctuated by "mom," "mom," "mom," from Mclean. Twice Mclean thinks what I wish she would have said, "It's not about you" (p 84) and "My mother was still talking - God, she was always talking" (p 111). when Mclean asks her mother for space, she calls her five times in one day. However, when her mom needs space, Mclean has to talk to her stepfather.
So much of this book, like most Dessen books, is about having to grow up and accept yourself, to take responsibility for your own actions. I feel like Mclean does that really well, especially considering the fact that she clearly does not have an example of any adults in her life actually doing that. Mclean's mother stalks her and threatens to drag her to court every time her feelings get hurt, all the time saying it is because she is worried about Mclean, yet it is obviously about no one but her. She blackmails her with threats of lawyers and court dates. Her mother is selfish, childish, and Mclean is right when she says, "I can blame you for the divorce and for the way things are between us now. You did this. At least own it." (p228) The whole "What happens in a marriage is between the two people in it" crap that her mother tries to pull throughout the entire book is just that: crap. When you are just two people in a marriage, sure. But when you have kids, when you become a family, that changes. When what you have done inside (or outside, as it were) of that marriage affects the whole family, it is now about them as well. So here is the crux of why this book just left me feeling bitter: the only person in her family that has to grow up, accept responsibility, make compromises, or apologize is Mclean. Never once do we hear her mom say she is sorry. For anything. Not the affair, the stalking, the emotional blackmail, anything! Mclean's mom only lets her stay in Lakeview (in my opinion) because she knows just how hypocritical she will look if she makes Mclean leave again. What does this book say to all those teens going through terrible divorces? They have no power or voice? That they, as children, will be held accountable for their poor choices, but the adults get a pass? I'm sorry, but when you become a parent, IT. IS. NOT. ABOUT. YOU. ANYMORE. And the parents in this book really need to learn that.
This book, purely for craft, would get a five from me. However, the message it sends to teens who are already hurting and confused, to me, really detracts from that. Hence the loss of a star. ...more
Kirsten Hubbard's Wanderlove completely blew me away. I started reading it late one night, thinking I would get in a few chapters before bed. At 5:30Kirsten Hubbard's Wanderlove completely blew me away. I started reading it late one night, thinking I would get in a few chapters before bed. At 5:30 am the next morning, I sat stunned by how much I loved this book. I must confess, I was a little afraid to try it at first. I somehow got the impression that this might be a sort of Eat, Pray, Love for teens - but I was very, very wrong.
It is easy to get caught up in the trite descriptions of what Wanderlove is: a coming of age novel, a travel book, a summer romance. It is all of these things, but so much more. Hubbard's writing possesses something that is hard to describe or define but is felt soul deep almost instantly. You feel what her characters feel, see what they see; the words disappear from the page as you find yourself transported into her world.
I love that each character has a voice that is authentically their own. I love that you are forced to get to know them on their own terms. I love that there is always a defined sense of place with each setting. I love that each place is allowed the same nuance that Hubbard affords her characters. I love that countries are not used as cheep backdrops for some privileged person's self discovery, but rather places full of people who actually live there. I love that Bria and Rowan are trying to escape themselves, but are not allowed to do so. I love that they learn to know each other before they start to like each other, much less love each other. I love that Hubbard never takes the easy way out of anything. I love that she surprises me. I love the way passion and art and purpose are all treated in the book. I love Hubbard's illustrations.
In Wanderlove, Hubbard does in one book something that many authors try and fail to do in trilogies or sprawling series: she allows her characters to bridge the gap between child and adult. Her characters go from externalizing blame to accepting responsibility for their actions. They accept that they have sabotaged themselves, but must forgive themselves as well. They learn that they must make things happen for themselves, rather than waiting for someone else; that "sometimes, what you love the most is what you have to fight the hardest to keep." I don't know what else to say but, 'read it'. You won't regret it.
I will start of by making a number of confessions: 1) I tossed this book on top of my library stack at the last minute (after having spent quite someI will start of by making a number of confessions: 1) I tossed this book on top of my library stack at the last minute (after having spent quite some time wrangling my three year old away from the puzzles and forcing my seven year old to narrow his book pile down to something he could actually carry himself) - which is to say, I didn't read the book description and so knew nothing about it but that I thought the cover interesting. 2) I have never before read anything by Harlan Coben, therefore naturally know nothing about his Myron Bolitar series. 3) Had I known that Harlan Coben writes bestselling adult thrillers, I would not have come NEAR this book. After the condescending, lazy tripe being offered to the YA market by other adult-gone-ya authors (James Patterson's Maximum Ride series and John Grisham's Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer both immediately come to mind), I'd have to have some pretty compelling reasons to purposely give another such book a shot. (Or do so by accident. Ahem.)
Shelter and I just didn't mesh for so very many reasons. I would like to say that it was just not a book for me - that I came into it expecting not to like it so didn't - but I just don't think that is the case. There are so many things going on in Shelter that it is hard to sort it all out. Coben seems to have some 'life lessons' he feels need to be learned, and some Important History to tell, oh, and also a plot line or two that don't necessarily have to have anything to do with each other or anything else and defied plausibility at every turn. I will try to sort out some of what was going on, and my reactions.
I am all about letting teens read about the real world. I think it is important that kids know what is going on around them, what life may be like for people unlike themselves. But there is a matter of perspective and voice - two things that were often on my mind while reading Shelter. I am sorry, but there is no way I buy Mickey as a fifteen year old teen. Mikey never reads as fifteen, but rather, what a grown man may have wished he was at fifteen. It isn't a matter of intelligence or maturity, it is so far beyond that. Mickey is strong - really, really strong. And amazing at martial arts. And really tall. And super hot - but really nice and kind, too. He is romantically interested in two different super hot girls - but only because they are also super nice. He's really smart and wise. He's the absolute best at basketball, but so humble that he doesn't need to tell everyone at his own school. And so magnanimous and open minded, too. I mean, he befriends fat kids and geeks and plays basketball with black kids! Isn't he so wonderful? I know I am laying the sarcasm on pretty thick there, but 6 pages in and Mikey had already ticked me off. He's that guy that thinks it's okay to make racist jokes because he's 'got black friends' - like that somehow makes it all okay. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:
"Another girl in my group, an incoming freshman dressed all in black, was on the fat side. I know I should call her something other than fat, something more politically correct, but I'm not sure what without sounding condescending. Large? Chubby? Heavy? I say that without judgement, the same way I might say small, bony, or skinny." (p 6)
He should have risked 'condescending', maybe then he would have avoided 'like a jerk'.
"A kid who would definitely fit into the geek camp came up to me with a tray in his hand. His pant cuffs were set at flood level. His sneakers were pure white with no logo. He pushed up his Harry Potter glasses and lifted his tray in my direction." (p 17
Mikey goes on to basically ignore everything this 'geek' says, and doesn't even bother to learn his name, calling him Spoon for the rest of the book, because that is the first thing the kid talked to him about.
"The well-to-do grassy environs of Kasselton were only seven miles from the gritty streets of Newark, but the two cities seemed to be from different planets. I'm told that Newark is on the mend and while I see pockets of it, I mostly see the old decay. Poverty is still prevalent, but I go where the best basketball is and while you could talk prejudice or racial profiling, I'm still one of the very few white guys down here after school." (p 89)
Never mind that the main kid he plays with is well-off, with an awesome and involved dad who has a great job. Let's just pretend all African Americans live in poverty but rock at basketball compared to their well off white counterparts (Mikey excepted, of course.) It is in this way that three of what will be the four most helpful 'friends' Mikey has are introduced. For someone who is supposedly so nonjudgmental, he spends a lot of time labeling his friends. Would that entire tangent about the political correctness of adjectives even have been used if a thin girl had walked up? I think not; and it is disingenuous to say that it was not judgmental. Most of the characters were quintessential stereotypes: the jocks were jerks, Mikey's 'nerdy' friends naturally were whizzes at computers, technology, and obscure historical and literary references. Mikey's (and, for that matter his Uncle Myron's) primary competitor at sports is blindly a douche, purely out of jealousy, of course! The strippers, and every one else who worked at the club were nasty and stupid. His junky mom falls off the bandwagon the first chance she gets. The bad guys were evil through and through with no obvious motivation. The 'good guys' act morally superior while practicing a revoltingly snobbish form of vigilantism.
I think the thing that bothered me the most about all of this is the way in which it is employed. There are (very good) examples in the book of how I am wrong about each and every one of the things I have said. The Abeona Society base their vigilantism on the actions of a (fictional) holocaust survivor. But there is a nuance here that Coben is missing - what is acceptable in the lawlessness of a genocidal war, and what is acceptable when there are legal means in place are very different. In the end, the Abeona's are still murderers themselves. But Coben calls on the Holocaust to protect their actions from scrutiny. The Holocaust should NEVER be reduced to a plot device. There is one redeemable stripper; so it is okay that all the rest aren't. One of the cheerleaders turns up nice; so it is okay that everyone else who is 'popular' is cruel and deserving of contempt. To revive my former analogy, there is always the one black friend used to excuse the racist joke. And it just ticks me off.
Even with all these problems, there were times when I truly found the book to be an enjoyable read. Coben really is a good writer. But here is where we come back to perspective - had the main character of this story been an adult rather than a teen, some of it would have been more believable. I could then buy him having spent enough years to become deadly at martial arts or a enough experience to slip in and out of the seedy underworld of human trafficking mostly unscathed. Or how Mikey could have acquired the skills and experience necessary to attract the interest of a secret vigilante justice society. I appreciate that Coben doesn't condescend to his YA audience, I just don't think he ever provided a truly YA hero. I may still try some of Coben's adult novels, but I think this is it for his YA.
Retellings are so hit or miss for me; I LOVE them when they are done well, and nothing gets under my skin faster than one poorly executed. RetellingsRetellings are so hit or miss for me; I LOVE them when they are done well, and nothing gets under my skin faster than one poorly executed. Retellings have to have a certain amount of respect of and appreciation for the original work, but also the ability to bring in something new or different. If the author of a retelling venerates the original work too much the retelling is incapable of being anything more than a mediocre copy of the original. If the new author has too little respect for the original it often comes off as an insulting imitation. (Parodies not included in this assessment; they are something completely different!) I think that Paige Harbison struck just the perfect note between the two with New Girl. In fact, I would go so far as to say this retelling is better than the original.
I was pleasantly surprised by much of what Harbison has done in New Girl. I feel like she played the conventions of the gothic-mystery/romance/suspense genre to a tee while simultaneously subverting them. New Girl, like Rebecca, has that sort of stiflingly closed setting, and that slightly jumpy, tightly wound, anticipatory tone. 'New Girl', like Mrs. de Winter, remains nameless and placeless to the other characters in the story except in her relationship to Rebecca. They both, at least on the surface, are easily moved and swayed by the actions and decisions of others. Max, like Maxim, is bullied by Becca and frustratingly silent on his true feelings for 'new girl' or Becca for entirely too long. Dana, like Mrs. Danvers, is nutty in her devotion to Becca. And Becca, like Rebecca, is cruel, manipulative and toxic to everyone around her. There is a costume ball where the same dress is worn, there is infidelity, there are threats of an impending pregnancy, and there is a boat at the bottom of murky waters. Here, though, is where the similarities end.
In her 1993 biography of Daphne du Maurier, Margaret Forster said that du Maurier was disappointed that so many people missed what Rebecca was really all about: the relationship between a man who was powerful and a woman who was not. I guess I missed her point as well, because I never really got that from Rebecca. Yes, Mrs. de Winter is utterly powerless, but I think she gave up a lot of her power. She tossed it away to others by refusing to communicate in any real way with her husband and by accepting at face value things she ought to have questioned. I certainly never thought Maxim had any power - that all went to Rebecca or Mrs. Danvers. Which leads me to what I loved so much about New Girl: the upending of the conventions. I think that, unlike du Maurier, Harbison makes quite a few excellent points, and does so with complex, nuanced, entertaining characters.
At first New Girl comes across as incredibly passive in her decision to go to Manderly - so much so that the plot is almost unbelievable for a modern girl - it took the gothic tone to suspend my disbelief. However, the further I read the more it looked like unreliable narration. She really wanted out of the rut she was in while in Florida, but was scared to leave her comfort zone. It was easier to blame it on her parents, taking the choice out of her hands. She concedes a lot to Dana, but it is out of compassion, not fear. She does form a romantic attachment to Max, but it doesn't become the center of her life. By the end of the book, she earns her name by no longer passively ceding her power to others - she is no longer a Mrs. de Winter.
Becca, likewise, is no Rebecca. She was vile and cruel, manipulative and scary, and sick. It is, oh, so clear that she is mentally ill and really needs some help. After being in Becca's head, I understand why she acted the way she did, even if I could not excuse it. I didn't like her but I believed her. Dana is even more amazing - I both like and believe her. The cardboard character of Mrs. Danvers is torn to pieces as Dana's story is revealed. Max is the only character with whom I was not completely satisfied. He let Becca just steamroll him, and he really should have done something about it. I never really found a believable reason for why he didn't stop her.
I had a few minor problems, such as weird pop culture references (Wow, can someone please tell me why Titantic is so popular with YA writers?!?!) and an inconsistent portrayal of a residential high school - sometimes realistic and sometimes inconceivably off. (Trust me on this, there is NO WAY the kids didn't already know how to sneak out of the building pre-Becca. Just not possible.) However, New Girl was just such a strong story overall that they sort of faded away while reading. I enjoyed it as a retelling of Rebecca, but I enjoyed it even more as its own story.
Thanks to HarlequinTeen and NetGalley for the ARC.
I just finished reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for the third time, so, according to Gordy, I suppose I should know it by now.I just finished reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for the third time, so, according to Gordy, I suppose I should know it by now. However, I feel just as inadequate to the task of writing a review for it as I did the first time I finished it. You see, every time I have read it, I have come away from a different book. It would be reallyeasy to justgo onand onabouthowoftenPart-Time Indian is banned, and why that is wrong or absurd, and never have to say something personal. (And yes, each of those words is its own link.) However, though I lack his humor, I will try for Arnold's honesty and explain why I think this book is so very special.
My first time to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was not long after it had been published. My life was full of change, and much of that change was a result of death. I didn't really know anything about Part-Time Indian, or I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Thank goodness I did! Even while reading things that resonated so deeply that I thought I would shatter all over again, Alexie made me laugh. Laugh! Because Alexie is right, "I know death is never added to death; it multiplies." (p 212) But it is also true that, "When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing." (p 166) After finishing, my love of Part-Time Indian was something that was just too personal to share.
My second reading of Part-Time Indian brought shame. Not a general sort of shame, but the very specific sort that comes from recognizing privilege you have previously ignored. I live near reservations. I have friends who are Native American. I know the very unsavory statistics of life on reservations. I thought of myself as a knowledgeable, understanding sort of ally. I could be quick to jump into a conversation with historical facts or statistics. But what a place of privilege! I could think about it or not as I chose--I don't have to live it. And a verbal 'victory' at a dinner table does precisely nothing for the people who do have to live it. I was one of those "liberal, white, vegetarian do-gooders" or "white missionary saviors" or "yet another white guy who showed up on the rez because he loved Indian people SOOOOOOOO much." You see, it took reading Part-Time Indian to realize that just 'caring' wasn't enough. Just trying to 'fix' things within the reservations isn't enough, because the problems come from outside as well. Until the Arnold's of this world are wrong when they say, "Almost all of the rich and famous brown people are artists," then we are still doing something i>wrong as a society. (p 6) I just love what Sherman Alexie said in an interview with the Progressive when he was included in the banned curriculum of the Mexican American Studies Program in Arizona:
"You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world. In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now."
I want our world to change. But, yet again, what a personal response! Who really wants to write a review revealing just how ignorant they have been of their own privilege?
With this last reading, though, things changed. I realized that it wasn't the comfort it brought the first time I read it or the self awareness it provided with the second reading that brings me back again and again. It is simply this: Arnold. His frank, funny, painful, humiliating, triumphant, honest story. The way Alexie can bring you from the greatest of emotional heights to the most painful moments of sadness or shame with a single sentence--and you want to stay along for the rest of the ride because you're invested. Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a compelling story of a young boy's coming of age; it is not an issue book, but a character-driven story about a boy with a lot of issues. It is a story about finding hope when you think all hope is lost. It is about making your own hope. It is a story of learning to expect more for and from yourself than what others expect for and from you. It is about learning that where you come from does not have to define where you are going. It is about seeing the good and bad of each situation; that love can be expressed in a lot of different ways and still be real. It is about realizing that we are all a part of many different tribes, be they the tribe of poverty, small-town kids, funeral-goers, tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers, or chronic masturbators. It is about learning that "the world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know." (p 97) So maybe Gordy is right, maybe I do know Part-Time Indian, at least a little better than I did the first time. But that doesn't mean I won't be back again. I think there are still some things I don't know in this small part of the world, and I enjoy it here.
I want to start by saying that the last fourth, perhaps even third, of the book was pretty good. If I were reviewing a novel that had started out the I want to start by saying that the last fourth, perhaps even third, of the book was pretty good. If I were reviewing a novel that had started out the way it ended, I would probably be saying something completely different. However, That is not how Article 5 began. Article 5 begins with some seriously flawed world building that not only creates a bad novel, but also encourages some very bad political ideas and behaviors.
The premise of Article 5 is that a totalitarian theocracy controls what amounts to a dystopic contemporary America as a result of a war - The War. The War apparently included some bombing of major US cities, but left other areas almost completely untouched. It was severe enough to warrant the re-establishment of the draft and wiped out our basic media infrastructure. However, at least as far as can be inferred from the novel, it did not affect Mexico or Canada. Also, it lasted less than three years. There is very little information about the War provided, but what is provided is conflicting in nature. The physical effects of the war imply an external 'other' - that this war is with a nation that is geographically independent of the US. However, the socio-political effects do not match up with this sort of war.
American voters are, in actuality, on a spectrum. We have Liberals and Conservatives on each extreme jockeying for control, hoping to sway the Moderate Independents in the middle to their side each election. The result, therefore, is that, on really polar issues, the country is often divided into fairly equal, diametrically opposed sides with a huge mass of not-as-concerned people in the middle. That is part of why our politics tend to take a pendulum-type pattern - it takes something extreme to move the middle. In order to have such an extreme Neo-Conservative government take power, we would have had to have experienced a civil war, or a long, sustained war with an external 'other.' Neither of these options are even remotely possible with the way the war is described. (Seriously. Bush barely pulled 50.7% of the popular vote against a weak opponent three years after 9/11 while fighting two ongoing wars!!!)
Therefore, a contemporary America that could be interchanged for Nazi Germany, with a Morality Militia reminiscent of the Iranian militias and the Republican Guard, is really implausible based on Simmons' premise. On this shaky ground she then proceeds to build every Liberal's worst nightmare of America. Each flash-point is pulled directly from our current headlines, divided perfectly down the R/D line. However, most of what Simmons shows in the early part of the novel, while frustratingly offensive to most liberals, would have the average conservative saying, "yeah, and?"
This is where I have to ask myself who, precisely, Simmons intended as her audience. I mean, I get that she anticipates them to be teenagers - hence the young adult label. However, no age group has uniformly similar beliefs. There are conservative teenagers, liberal teenagers, and those who could really care less. Her portrayal of the 'liberal' characters is just sympathetic enough, and the 'conservatives' just offensive enough, to alienate most conservative readers. If she was trying to change anyone's political beliefs by showing some of the hazier implications of conservative ideology (which she admittedly does later in the novel), she fails by alienating her conservative readers early on. I doubt they even finish it. The worst part? If they do, it only reaffirms the often held belief of the religious conservative that all liberals are out to malign them as evil, simply for being religious and conservative.
More dangerously, though, is what I feel this book does to the liberal reader. The further the book progresses, the worse it gets. Article 5 is perfectly calibrated to push every liberal hot button. It makes your blood boil. It makes you angry. You feel frustrated rage and what those conservatives are doing to our country!!!......in a book. It is, in short, fear and hate mongering! Yes, these issues echo our current newspapers. BUT we are still working on it! There are equal and opposite reactions from the other side as well.
The only way to make a democracy work, without tearing ourselves apart, is to encourage discourse. When we are busy whipping ourselves up into a fervor over imagined slights, it discourages discourse in a serious way. America has real problems right now. Women's rights are seriously in danger. Religious freedom is daily being called into question. The LGBTQ community is still systematically disenfranchised. Racial equality has not yet been obtained. We have problems, but books like this - books that encourage righteous anger but offer no answers - contribute to the problem, not the solution. This is why, in my opinion, if you want to tackle serious issues in current events through fiction, it is best to create artificial distance by making the characters aliens or dragons, creating a futuristic or fantastical setting. Books like this are too personal. You can't get people to listen to you if they are busy defending themselves.
Add to these problems a heroine who is truly too stupid to live - and who is UTTERLY CLUELESS about basic world history if she believes all she professes to through the book. She also had to basically have lived in a box during the war to treat Chase the way she did when he had to become physically violent to protect her. (Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I eventually thought of Ember as an allegorical representation of how the politically active often view the 'clueless' mass of moderates in the middle. I can't even count how many times I have seen people on both sides of the fence nearly scream in frustration, 'how do they not see what is going on?!' I was definitely screaming that at Ember.)
In Simmons' defense, once she quite pushing her political agenda the book really did get quite enjoyable. I really liked Chase, and the action was fast paced and engrossing. I just really didn't like how Simmons got there. I don't think I will be recommending this book....more
Actual Rating 4.5. I hate anguishing cliff-hanger endings...especially when the next book doesn't even have a title or a publication date! Review to coActual Rating 4.5. I hate anguishing cliff-hanger endings...especially when the next book doesn't even have a title or a publication date! Review to come a little closer to publication.
The first time I read Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken, I began it a little after I put the kids to bed. I thought I would get in a few chapters before turning in myself. Instead, I fell right into Sorry-in-the-Vale, only truly emerging as I blearily realized that, indeed, it was 4:00am and yes, in fact, that was the last page. No matter how many times I flicked the screen to the left, the page stayed stubbornly put. I had to wait for over a YEAR for the rest?!?! Deliciously frustrating, agonizingly wonderful torture. Sarah Rees Brennan, I love/hate/love you.
Since I had so kindly been provided my copy from the publisher, I sat down the next day to write a review (while ignoring the complaints of my disgruntled husband, who had been kept awake the night before by my constant laughing out loud.) Sadly, all I could really get out was something along the lines of:
You know, a very mature reviewer-like response. I decided the first reading was for me, and a second more thorough reading with notebook in hand was in order. I started earlier this time with every intention of reading it in segments taking careful notes along the way. I surfaced at midnight with a freshly sharpened pencil, a blank notebook page, a burning need for the next book, and even more intense fan-girl feelings. This was not good.
Sarah Rees Brennan has done something truly amazing with Unspoken -- it is like she carefully crafted one stereotype, cliche, or trope after another (for genres and people alike) and then systematically shattered them. Nothing is what it seems; it is all much more complex and beautiful than that. A wonderfully supportive and loving family that still has very real and hurtful flaws. Dependable, staunchly supportive best friends with deeply held secrets. I would love to catalogue them all, but what a way to spoil SRB's excellently crafted story. I love her characters; I love their relationships; I love how real they feel in their confidence and insecurity and bravery and fear.
However, one of the best parts of Unspoken is what SRB has done for the gothic genre. I adore reading, with an unapologetic obsession, all things Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels, Madeleine Brent, and -- of course -- Mary Stewart. I have no fewer than two huge under-the-bed plastic tubs full of nothing but paperbacks of these four authors collected from thrift stores and yard sales over the years. With this unabashed love, however, must also come the honest admission that, whatever strengths each writer possesses, complexity and/or originality of plot is not one of them. Put plainly, the old gothic romances tend to suffer for being overly formulaic, and one only comes back because one likes the formula. (After my fourth Victoria Holt I would have been ashamed of myself if I hadn't guessed who was the bad guy and who was the true love by the third or fourth chapter.) SRB takes on the mantle of these wonderful storytellers before her, inserts the formulas into her book, and then bends or breaks them into something entirely new.* There is a comfortable, sleepy town with deep dark secrets lurking under the surface. And, yes, Kami is quick to stumble into trouble and overly curious, but she isn't nearly as helpless or clueless as her predecessors. Yes, she has two (or more) potential suitors, who are also both potential suspects, one dark and one light. However, she doesn't fall into insta-love with either, and remains stubbornly and wonderfully self sufficient around both. There is, of course, the usual cast of sternly disapproving member of the older generation, an affable, avuncular type relative, and a dreamy-eyed, child-like woman -- all of whom are also possible suspects. Yet SRB brings complexity and nuance to these characters that makes them into something entirely different from their tropes.
Another delightfully new talent SRB brings to the gothic genre is her humor. I don't know how she does it, but Unspoken maintains its gothic aesthetic while being truly laugh out loud funny. Laugh out loud over and over and OVER again funny (no matter how many times I've read it.**) Kami's friends are a wonderful break from the tradition of isolating the young heroine, and they are each unique takes of young adult stereotypes themselves.
I feel as if I could go on and on for ages about why Unspoken is a perfect book, despite its gut wrenching cliff-hanger ending. So I'll leave you with this: If you like gothic novels or romantic suspense -- read it. If you are ready for some paranormal YA that takes you by surprise -- read it. If you like...what am I saying? Just read it anyway. It's that good.
*And I love the shades of Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat that are present -- the twins, the name Ash, the boy in her head, but all made entirely new!
**I think it is around six times now. And I still try to flip to the next phantom page each time!! Untold cannot get here fast enough!***
****You can also get some wonderful prequel short stories about both Jared The Spring Before I Met You (found here) and Kami The Summer Before I Met You (found here). They are both excellent looks at the main characters from an entirely outside perspective. And they manage to be awesome at adding to your understanding of the characters without being at all spoilery. Very cool.
I was completely blindsided by how much I love Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. I had an inkling that it would be good after reading positive reviews on I was completely blindsided by how much I love Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. I had an inkling that it would be good after reading positive reviews on The Midnight Garden and The Readventurer, but there was no way for me to know just how good. I Hunt Killers is the type of book that makes me wish I were more articulate, that I could communicate with the written word more effectively than I can.
I Hunt Killers captures the reader quickly; less than five pages in and I was hooked. It is a fast paced read, one with a complex plot, plenty of action and adventure. Yet, I would still call it a character driven novel, for it is Lyga's characters that make this story. Lyga is also a master with voice and tone. For a novel with such gritty, graphic, candid depictions of violence, it is surprisingly devoid of gratuitous shock value. It is darkly humorous and lacking in pretensions, but still manages to examine some serious issues.
I love that I Hunt Killers is written from Jazz's point of view in a way that actually reads like a teenage boy, but is assessable to a female reader. His feelings of alienation and isolation, his questioning of his values and sense of place in the world, are universally relatable. It is part of the human experience to manipulate, to be selfish, to feel isolated, to wish someone away, to desire someone or something unattainable. Where the line between normal and sociopath lies, then, is an interesting question. Many of us do things that Jazz worries about; but, because of his upbringing, Jazz is hyper-aware of when he does things that brush that line. He has a bit more excuse than the average teenager to feel so angsty. This is where I feel the genius of Lyga's writing lies: "normal" is a spectrum, and the spectrum of Jazz's behavior is best shown in his relationships with the other characters.
Jazz is at his most human with Howie. I love the way this friendship, this unconditional love between two teenage boys, is expressed. (view spoiler)[Howie having tattoos on Jazz's body is one of the most touching things I think I have ever read. That alone should convince Jazz of his humanity. (hide spoiler)] I also love his relationship with Connie. She is smart, independent, and completely uninterested in taking his crap. I love that she calls Jazz out when he starts taking himself too seriously, that she won't allow him to wallow. She forces him to face his self-indulgences and get over himself. I also love that Lyga has shown such a healthy and happy interracial relationship (without glossing over the external problems such a couple might face.) It is with Connie and Howie that we see Jazz at his most human--see him as he may one day be.
With Melissa, G. William, and his teachers, Jazz is much more reserved, more calculating. You can see that he still cares, but also that he is much more willing to manipulate them. I really like that Lyga didn't perpetuate the stupid/inept adult motif: Melissa is actually a competent social worker--and she is shown to be one. Likewise, G. William is a smart, resourceful cop. He neither dumbly bumbles along while Jazz solves everything, nor does G. William blindly hold Jazz accountable for his father's mistakes. Jazz's involvement with the police, while still fairly implausible, takes nothing away from the abilities of the adults. In fact, much of the procedural parts of the novel are almost anticlimactic in their authenticity--no CSI rush jobs of forensic results here. Most of the adults in Jasper's life are good people who actually want the best for him--and he knows that, even if he disagrees with them.
One would assume that Jasper would be at his worst when with his father (who, despite only actually appearing once is almost omnipresent in the novel). However, it is with his Grandmother--whom he clearly loves--that the scariest bits of Jasper's personality come out. Jazz recognizes what he is doing wrong with everyone else in his life; he sees when he is following bad advice from his father. However, it is the chilling things he does to his grandma that are the most frightening, because he is completely oblivious to just how wrong they are. It leads to some rather harrowing moments late in the book.
I Hunt Killers is undoubtedly a really good, thrillingly suspenseful mystery. And fans of the genre--adult and teen alike--couldn't go wrong reading it. But I would also say that, if one could get past the gore, the readership for I Hunt Killers is much larger than that. (I just don't know who precisely that readership would be.) I do know, however, that I Hunt Killers is now one of my favorite books, Barry Lyga has become an auto-buy, and I cannot wait for more from Jasper Dent.
I am having a hard time deciding if I would recommend reading "Career Day" before or after I Hunt Killers; no matter what, though, I would recommend rI am having a hard time deciding if I would recommend reading "Career Day" before or after I Hunt Killers; no matter what, though, I would recommend reading it. Chronologically speaking, it comes first. However, I think knowing the characters before seeing this glimpse of them could greatly add to the appreciation. (I read I Hunt Killers first.)
In 3,000 words Lyga manages to create characters that are better actualized than are often found in full length novels. In fact, I think "Career Day" fleshed the character of Howie out quite a bit--he just didn't have that much time to be so relaxed and charming in I Hunt Killers.
Also, "Career Day" answers quite a few of the little questions I had--or would have had if I had really though about it--about Jazz, Connie, and Howie. How Jasper got his nickname. How he and Connie started dating. Things like that. "Career Day" also showed a very poignant vulnerable moment for Jazz. We get flashes of that in I Hunt Killers as well, but in "Career Day" it seemed more pronounced because he had no purpose to fall back on as he did in I Hunt Killers.
If I had to pick one word to describe Gemma Halliday's Deadly Cool, it would be smooth. It is a book of subtlety and deception--and I am not even talkIf I had to pick one word to describe Gemma Halliday's Deadly Cool, it would be smooth. It is a book of subtlety and deception--and I am not even talking about the murder mystery yet! On the surface it is a funny, fast read full of pop-culture references and modern technology with a dash of mystery. From beginning to end the read is effortless and enjoyable. Yet there are some really cool things being done under all that surface fun and frippery.
Hartley is an ideal feminist character. She is undaunted by a challenge; quick-thinking and curious. She can admit the hurt that goes along with her boyfriend cheating, but reacts accordingly--she dumps him. However, she can move past that to still be a friend (and only a friend) to him when he need her. She has healthy and fun relationships with both guys and girls; and is still open to the idea of romance after her break-up but doesn't need it. I also loved Chase's character. He was a great love interest/partner-in-detection without being a douche OR perfect. He had enough quirks and failings to make him interesting, while still being a really decent guy.
The mystery was a little predictable (though all the ins and outs of it were certainly not!), but still had me wondering if I had it right, just a little. Deadly Cool is the type of book that asks very little of you and promises you a good time -- which it delivers! The surprising part for me was the way the characters stuck with me after I left the book behind. Hartley isn't just a character I didn't mind reading about for a few hours; she's a girl I would like and admire if I knew her. (Plus, the ending is just swoony enough to make the list of books to read in between now and Social Suicide seem entirely too long!)
I really enjoyed reading the first book in Gemma Halliday's Deadly Cool series, and couldn't wait to start this one. Halliday's writing isRating: 3.5
I really enjoyed reading the first book in Gemma Halliday's Deadly Cool series, and couldn't wait to start this one. Halliday's writing is fun and fast paced and her characters are smart and engaging. There is just enough depth to her books to be taken seriously, but they are quirky and light-hearted enough to be good "junk-food" reading. Social Suicide came through for me on all of those points.
The mystery was just as twisty and fun this time as it was in Deadly Cool. Hartley was just as tenacious and smart-mouthed, and Chase was even more adorable. Sadly, though, this book didn't satisfy quite as much as the first. Deadly Cool felt fresh, whereas Social Suicide was occasionally a little too Deadly-Cool-Take-Two. It made sense in the context of the story for Hartley to keep secrets from Raley in Deadly Cool -- what with trying to clear Josh's name and all -- but it just made bad situations worse for absolutely no reason in Social Suicide. It was also reasonable to keep Chase at a distance in the first book; not so much here. I don't understand why he wasn't a little more involved. It all too often felt like a rehashing of ground already covered; and the plot and characters both suffered by not being allowed to move forward. Also, the references to pop culture and modern technology that were so seamlessly woven into the first book felt a bit more clumsy this go around -- more like loaded name dropping than casual references.
Even though it didn't quite live up to my expectations, I still had a great time reading Social Suicide. I will keep the series in mind for those times I want a light, fun read with a smart protagonist and a good who-dun-it. (Which I actually want quite often.)
Shana Burg's Laugh with the Moon is such a complex yet simple book that packs a hefty emotional punch. (I cried while reading the last fourth of the bShana Burg's Laugh with the Moon is such a complex yet simple book that packs a hefty emotional punch. (I cried while reading the last fourth of the book; and, a month later, I still get emotional just thinking about writing this review.) Before I write what may sound like criticisms (but are not!) I want to put what I will say into context. Have you ever had someone tell you a story about a "friend?" A story about something so bad or sad or hard that the insulation of the "friend" was required, even though you both knew the story was really about them? Laugh with the Moon is a little like that story. You see, it isn't really fiction at all. Burg tackles some very harsh realities about Malawi. She spent years learning about these realities, and then even more crafting a story in which she could communicate them. Burg has some very specific issues that she wants to discuss, and it leaves her characters feeling less like actual people and more like symbolic representations of groups of people. She manipulates them to tell her story, but they never feel like puppets; she uses them to speak with her voice, but they never become her megaphone. They have nuance even while feeling a little flat. The insulation was needed to tell this story in a middle grade novel. (I am a 28 year old woman and I needed it!)
Laugh with the Moon deals with death, dying, illness, and grief, but it is always full of life. Burg not only shows how different cultures celebrate life and death, but also how people within those cultures deal with it differently. It is a frank look at loss, but it remains ever hopeful. (I didn't read the Author's Note until I finished, which just elevated my already very high opinion of her. Three different people who were her friends and helped make this book possible died before it was published; also before they were 40 years old. Shana Burg is an amazingly hopeful and optimistic woman.)
Burg also very subtly but effectively takes on the idea of privilege. Laugh with the Moon begins with Clare donning her mantle of privilege as carelessly and obliviously as one slips into flip-flops on the beach: Throwing an anti-Malaria pill away because it has fell to the floor, regularly chugging bottled water in front of people who have only had it once or twice in their lives, or causally using - then giving away - pens in front of students who have never had formal school supplies. As the story progresses, though, she becomes more aware of her privilege, and how unjust that privilege really is. Each one of her friends is instrumental in different ways to her achievement of this awareness. I particularly like how Burg uses Memory and Agnes as foils - the extremes of how Malawians might react to an American such as Clare. Memory loves and accepts Clare as she is, overlooking Clare's thoughtless acts because she knows they are unintentional. Agnes, however, calls her out at every turn - forces her to face it. It would be easy - and is often done - to make Agnes the 'mean' or 'bad' character, but she isn't. Agnes, too, becomes a friend, once Clare sees why Agnes treats her the way she does. Innocent shows her the value of the pills she so casually took; a child who dies for lack of a medicine that costs .28 USD per pediatric dose* or a mosquito net that costs $3.00 USD.** Saidi shows her the value of the education she took for granted; he cannot move into high school for lack of the less than $1.00 USD*** a year it would cost, and leaves primary school early because he cannot afford a suitable uniform.
These two issues, then, are the soul of why Shana Burg wrote Laugh with the Moon: access to adequate medical attention and access to an adequate education. It is hard to pull these issues out of the book because they are so deeply woven into the fabric of every single scene. The reality of what Malawians face is right there under the surface of the story; the fabric on which it is constructed. And, much like her characters Memory and Agnes, Burg by turns coaxes the reader and forces the reader to confront our privilege. The stark contrast between the private schools that children of white missionaries and doctors attend from that of the local village children is heartbreaking. The unutterable decadence of the fully equipped hospital Clare receives treatment in compared to the hot cave of a room that Innocent dies in is tragic. It is impossible to read Laugh with the Moon and remain unmoved. But it is a movement into action; a feeling of hope rather than despair. We can, and should, do something to change this.
For a list of ways you can help stop Malaria, check out the review on my blog Chronicles of a Book Evangelist; a review copy was provided by the publisher. ________________________________________________________________
Anne Cassidy's Dead Time has been an odd sort of beast for me to review. I had a lot of different problems with it -- a few were a matter of taste, soAnne Cassidy's Dead Time has been an odd sort of beast for me to review. I had a lot of different problems with it -- a few were a matter of taste, some are writing-style, others are problems with plot...suffice it to say they are many and varied. However, I read it ages ago and still occasionally think about the mystery and what is going to come next. Obviously, it wasn't all bad. Since I've been struggled for so long with this review, I'm going to do it in lists:
- I get that the book is written by a British woman, and that we are two nations divided by a common language and all that. I know that different slang words are used, that we phrase things differently, that we have different names for the same things, and that we sometimes use the same words to mean different things. I get that, and read quite a few British books with absolutely no problem (google is your friend). With that in mind...nearly every single conversation in this book had me scratching my head in confusion at least once. I straight-up didn't get what the dialog meant at times, and the conversations almost always felt awkward and forced. I think this is an issue with the writing and not an American/British thing.
- I am so sick of step-sibling forbidden romances being set up to create tension. It isn't biologically incest, and when the characters weren't in a true brother/sister situation (a.k.a. they did not spend most of their lives in the same household with the same parents living every day as brother and sister), it doesn't even emotionally feel like incest. It's a fake taboo meant to manufacture drama and it is getting old. (This trend is your fault, isn't it Forbidden?)
- How old do you have to be to become a cop in the UK? How old is Henry? Because every single interaction between Henry and Rose is just creepy on so many levels. Is he really close to her age, and are they quasi-asking each other out on dates? Or is he older and trying to be a sort of big brother/mentor and just really missing the mark with how? What is this?!?! I am so confused about this character.
- Why is Skeggie helping them anyway? Especially considering he started his sleuthing before Joshua knew Rose was involved. Another character whose behaviour just doesn't make sense to me. (Nor is his genius particularly believable, but that is an entirely different issue.)
- I am all for teenage crime-solvers; they make for fun mysteries. However, these kids go beyond looking for clues the grown-ups have missed into full blown willfully hiding events and clues from police who are actually doing a good job. I know this will make me sound crotchety and all, but I can't even count how many times I said to myself while reading, "For the love of...just call the cops already, will ya, kids?" Then, after the cops get there, they lie. A lot. Very big lies.
- Just how many clues can be magically given to them anyway? I like my amateur detectives to be smart and work for their answers, not have them handed (or emailed) to them.
- None of the characters feel fully formed -- they are all flat as paper.
- Cassidy set up a complex system of inter-related characters with different means, motive, and opportunity to have killed Ricky. I genuinely wondered who would pan out as the murderer.
- I like that the murder mystery from the start of the book was neatly wrapped up and solved while the overarching series mystery/conspiracy involving their parents was just set up with lots of open questions. (I like at least a little resolution within my mysteries!)
- The unanswered questions were interesting. I care about the answers.
Why I Will Still Read The Next Book:
- As I said, I read it a month ago and I am still occasionally thinking about it. I want to know what happens next.
Before I start the more serious portion of this review, can we just take a minute to talk about voice? Barry Lyga rocks at voice. Even when I don't paBefore I start the more serious portion of this review, can we just take a minute to talk about voice? Barry Lyga rocks at voice. Even when I don't particularly like his characters or what they are doing/saying/thinking; even if I don't want to understand where they are coming from, I do empathize and understand. They are surprisingly authentic. I can feel what they feel, I can see things from their perspective. I am allowed into their heads. I, a 28 year old woman, am emotionally turned into an angsty 15 year old boy -- that takes skill.
I would also like to take a moment to thank Barry Lyga for using real comic book/graphic novel heroes/heroines and their creators for his novel rather than making people up. It made for a great shout-out to some wonderful works, and a great spring-board into the genre for anyone interested. (Even if it did make me want to go read Gaiman's Sandman immediately following the book.)
Now to actually review the book. At the risk of revealing way more than I mean to or want to, reading The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl was very uncomfortable. It reminded me what it was like to be 13/14/15 year old me. It reminded me what is was like to be systematically bullied and picked on and treated cruelly by students and adults alike. It reminded me of teachers who should have stuck up for me but instead laughed along with the cheerleaders they sponsored or the boys they coached; of principles who didn't need to hear my side of the story. If I was right, someone couldn't play in the game that Thursday; if I was wrong, no one got hurt but me. It was a time of hurt, anger and frustration -- of impotent rage. There were no "It gets Better" Campaigns back then, and I probably wouldn't have believed them if there had been. It is not a fun time or mental space to remember. But it was real.
There were a lot of times while reading The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl that those old feelings (that I have since dealt with in more responsible ways) just welled up and all of that original hurt was felt all over again. You see, I had a list. But I don't think I am alone in that. A lot of us had lists. High School (well, school in a small town, period) was crap for me, it was terrible, it sucked, it felt like it would never end. But it did. It ended and life eventually got better and I learned that I was not alone. Many of those old "tormentors" were dealing with serious things of their own; some are even now friends, real friends. The problem with learning all that later, though, is that finding out later is a little too late for some. In amongst all of this "early intervention" and watching for the "warning signs" for the next school shooter or teen suicide, a lot of teenagers going through normal emotions are made to feel even more weird, even more alone. It is normal to want the people who daily make your life terrible to go away -- even violently. We humans think about and fantasize a lot of things that we would never really act on; that is part of what makes us human. But the teenager sitting at the lunch table, asking themselves how much further the guys at Columbine or guy at Virginia Tech had been pushed before they crossed the line, don't realize that. And it doesn't help that the very teachers and parents who should be helping that teen understand that they are normal, not alone, are often instead looking at the kid's black nail-polish and Misfits shirt and asking themselves the same question -- how long before they snap?
Here enters Barry Lyga's The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. It does a great job of walking that fine line between letting kids know they are not alone and condoning violence against others. It says, you aren't the only one. It is a spot of hope before the "it gets better." I didn't really like it as present day me. There was a little too much angst. I didn't agree with everything it said. There were way too many cut and dried stereotypes. I will probably never reread it. BUT 15 year old Michelle would have loved it. Everything she ever felt or thought would have been validated. She wouldn't have felt so alone in a sea of people who didn't understand her. This book isn't for me, it is for her -- and the millions of other kids out there thinking they are going through a rough time all alone.