To be completely truthful, I would probably never have reviewed Zusak's The Book Thief if I had not considered giving it away for World Book Night. It...moreTo be completely truthful, I would probably never have reviewed Zusak's The Book Thief if I had not considered giving it away for World Book Night. It is the kind of book that can affect you deeply if you let it, but the reaction is just as deeply personal. And, at this point, its awards and accolades allow it to speak for itself. It is clearly a beautifully written, well constructed book. There are two things, though, that Zusak does so incredibly well that I feel I have to mention them: his use of language and foreshadowing.
As Death began his narration, the very first thing that struck me was the words. In a book that is all about the power and importance of words, that shouldn't come as a surprise, but it did. Zusak talks about things--familiar things--in a completely different way than I am accustomed, and it changed the way I saw them. I have heard of people 'carrying' a memory of someone. However, when Death described Liesel's mother carrying the memory of her brother like a Werner-shaped bag slung over her shoulder, and that she occasionally had to drop him limbs flinging to the platform of the Bahnhof before slinging him back over the other shoulder, Zusak made the cliche so much more visceral--he made it something new. We can feel the weight of that memory, how unwieldy a burden it must be, the sheer exhaustion her mother must feel while carrying it, but she cannot put it down or leave it behind. One has baggage for a reason. Just like when Liesel's crying for her brother is described as "a gang of tears;" or a draft is described as the breeze of the Third Reich gaining strength, or Europe breathing; or perhaps when two grey-eyed men, father and son, disagreeing across a dinner table are described as "metallic eyes" clashing "like tin cans in the kitchen;" each of these instances pack so much more into the words than what is on the surface. The words are like tightly folded little notes that you must open before you get the full message. We can see the violence and the multitude of Liesel's tears in the word "gang." We feel the coolness of the air, the fear in the room, the smallness and helplessness that the people feel as the draft whips by. And we feel the sharpness, the uncomfortably loud emotional clanging of two like things meeting in discord. In someone else's hands this 552 page book could have been so much longer, and still not have said everything Zusak was able to communicate. His words burn, even in their multitude.
I was also greatly struck by something Death says about half way through the book:
I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. (p 243)
Here Death is being very disingenuous, because he is actually quite good at creating a mystery. Sure, we are given a few very big pieces of the story; we know how some things are going to end. History tells us how many things are going to end! But, as Death says himself at the end of that quote, the ending isn't really what is important. It reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings":
The only authentic ending is the one provided here: John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.
So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it's the hardest to do anything with.
That's about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.
Now try How and Why.
The mystery, the beauty, of The Book Thief lies in the how and why. Even knowing some of the really big pieces, and picking up on the increasingly obvious foreshadowing, I was still left completely emotionally unprepared for how and why certain things occurred. Zusak is a true connoisseur.
The thing I think I most love about The Book Thief, though, comes back to language. Only this time it is Deutsch. It is almost impossible to get more than a couple of pages without a new German word or phrase being used or defined. Zusak never lets the reader forget that the characters about whom they are reading, for whom they now care, are Germans in Nazi Germany. He gives Germans back their voice, and, in doing so, fights a propaganda machine that has been chugging away continuously for over 100 years now with the same message: All Germans are bad. All Germans are bad. All Germans are bad. That is not to say that we don't occasionally get movies or books about the everyday Germans who were doing good things, being heroes in both little and big ways, but they are often Anglicized. Aside from character or place names, all Deutsch is removed from the text. And, unless they are Nazis or Evil Geniuses (or in the case of Indiana Jones movies, both) their accents are crisply British or smoothly American. (Hence the reason that an atrocity such as Tom Cruise playing Claus von Stauffenberg can occur!!! Breath, just breath.) We sometimes get so caught up in what the Nazis did, thought, were, etc., that we forget that to be German and to be a Nazi were vastly different things. Not all Nazis wore uniforms; and not everyone who wore a uniform was a Nazi--compulsory military service will do that. (And we get to see that with some of the characters.) I also love that Zusak says this of Max:
[H]e had walked out of that building a new man. In fact, he walked out German. Hang on a second, he was German. Or more to the point, he had been. (p 159)
Taking his lead from famous Jews who would have been contemporaries of Max such as Gertrud Kolmar, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein or Katja Behrens, he shows that, at least for them, it was never a choice: They were German and Jewish.
Despite its Literary bent or all of the Big Things, Important Topics, or Issues addressed within, at the end of the day The Book Thief is really just a beautifully written story. A story about a young girl who learns the power of words in a difficult time; that "books and words...mean not just something, but everything." And it can make you believe that, too, if you let it.(less)
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....moreI 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.
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 fat...moreBeth, 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. (less)
Cryer's Cross opens with a mystery. Kendall Fletcher and Nico Cruz, her best friend and (he says) boyfriend, are part of the party searching for missi...moreCryer's Cross opens with a mystery. Kendall Fletcher and Nico Cruz, her best friend and (he says) boyfriend, are part of the party searching for missing teenager Tiffany Quinn. Even though Kendall doesn't really know Tiffany well, her disappearance at times consumes Kendall's thoughts; one of the many things about which Kendall obsesses. Shortly after school starts, Nico becomes the second missing teen, throwing Kendall completely off balance. Kendall desperately tries to hold herself together while coping with OCD, the loss of her best friend, and confusing feelings for the new boy in town.
There are so very many things to love about this book: 1) It is a horror book! For teens! McMann delivers the shivers and goose bumps. The danger to the characters feels ever-present and real. And when the "bad guy(s)" are revealed, they are truly bad. 2) The main character has OCD - a serious problem. It is nice to see a character have something going on other than angsting about who does or doesn't like her and where she's going to sit at lunch (socially, I mean). Kendall's OCD is often very believable. When it was shown, it felt authentic. (More on that later) 3)The families in Cryer's Cross are great. Kendall's parents are supportive and present in her life. Other YA authors should take note: parents do not have to be absent for creepy things/ adventure to happen. Kendall's mother especially is just wonderful. Likewise, Jacián's family feels very real. Things are obviously not perfect, but Jacián's interactions with his grandfather and sister feel spot on. They show the affection and the frustration. 4) The romance feels real for the characters. There is no isnta-love or stalker-love going on here. (view spoiler)[Which is wonderful considering Jacián is considered a suspect at the start of the book and could have very easily slipped into the whole bad-boy-insta-love trope. (hide spoiler)] Jacián has interests outside of Kendall, and it is through shared interests that they become interested in each other. And some of the scenes are downright uncomfortable in the way it seems only the beginning of a teen romance can be.
But I have some problems with it as well: 1) The deep, dark secret of the town seems to stay a little too deep for too long. I wish that the history had been fleshed out just a little more. Maybe a little earlier? And, possibly, through Kendall doing some digging rather than having another character info-dump. I wanted more information. I don't think that would have in any way detracted from the mystery or the scare factor - I think it would have made it more scary. 2) I wish we had a little more back story with Nico. I would have been less uncomfortable with how Kendall behaves at times, and how the story progressed at times, had we been able to see that Kendall and Nico were more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend, rather than having to be told that by Jacián. I also wish we had seen a little more of Jacián on his own. I want to know this character a little better. 3) I understand that with any disorder, it can be hard to accurately describe it without being patronizing or completely missing the boat. I think McMann was walking a fine line, and did neither of those things. BUT, her descriptions were at times a little too DMS. Show me, don't tell me. Kendall had way more thoughts about her OCD than OCD thoughts; we were often told her OCD kicked in, not shown. Also, I get that Nico and her mother would be very understanding and supportive of Kendall's behavior - they've been around her since birth. However, it was a bit of a stretch to have Jacián be so well versed about OCD from the get go. 4) This is more of a personal issue. (view spoiler)[I hated the last four sentences of the book. I get it. I really do. It is way more creepy if things are left a little open. That is why there are (how many?) tons of "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies. HOWEVER, it just feels cruel. Given the history of how this particular nightmare was created, I think a little peace is in order. I don't mind a little unhappiness in my endings. In fact, at times I like it. But we're talking about kids here. Kids who went through unspeakable horrors. Are we really going to keep them locked in unrest for some additional spook? After the initial goose bump rush, I closed the book and thought about it. Then it just kind of pissed me off. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, it was a great read. It took me two hours start to finish, and I enjoyed all of it. Most of the problems that I had with the book would have been solved if the book had been longer. I like McMann's writing, her ideas, her story. I just wish there had been more of it. I would easily recommend it. I think it is an excellent quick read for those looking for something a little different from the usual YA fare. I also think it would be a great book to pass along to teen boys reluctant to read YA. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
16 year old Maya Delaney lives in a very unique small town populated entirely by the families of people employed by the St. Cloud Corporation, a medic...more16 year old Maya Delaney lives in a very unique small town populated entirely by the families of people employed by the St. Cloud Corporation, a medical research company. Her father, who works as the Park Warden for the thousand acres of wilderness surrounding Salmon Creek, is the exception. When strangers from out of town come poking around for information on the St. Cloud Corporation, they stir up more than one secret. Maya is left questioning the death of her friend, Seri, the strange abilities that she and her friend Daniel seem to be acquiring, and the odd connection she seems to have with the new guy, Rafe.
The Gathering is my first experience with Kelley Armstrong, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it would be a welcome read for regular readers of paranormal YA while dispensing with many of the attributes of the subgenre that turn many readers away. No doormat heroine or absent parents here. Maya is tough, smart, and just as likely to do the rescuing as to be rescued. She is an equal partner of every relationship she is in. I love, absolutely love, the bond Maya has with her parents. It feels like a real, working family with everyday problems, big and small, that they deal with together. (And the teasing conversations between Maya and her father had me laughing out loud.)
Maya's relationships with her various classmates were also wonderfully executed. Her friendships have nuance and layers of intimacy that feel right for such a small and isolated group of teens. Even the "mean girl" is three dimensional, with an understandable, if not excusable, motivation for her nastiness toward Maya. I really appreciate that Maya has no interest in Rafe at all when he is a jerk but rather calls him on it. I also like that (view spoiler)[ she gets angry when she finds out why he pursued her rather than turning all mopey and blaming herself for losing him. (hide spoiler)] Armstrong also did an excellent job with the friendship between Daniel and Maya. (view spoiler)[ It does concern me a little that there may be a love triangle the future. However, if there is, it will at least feel plausible - and I don't see Maya cruelly stringing Daniel along as we see so often in other PYA triangles. (hide spoiler)]
I don't know if it is because the world has already been created in other novels, but I appreciate that there was never an info-dump moment. Rather, as a reader I was given the benefit of doubt and allowed to figure things out on my own. However, the book does end in an ABSOLUTE cliffhanger. So much of the story is left unsaid, I feel as if I only had part of the book. It reads like a book with one story arc divided into three parts, and this is the first. I would have liked to have a few more questions answered in this installment, even knowing there are two more to come. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
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...moreRating: 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.)
I must confess that I love Charlaine Harris with a very deep and loyal sort of love - a love that began long before Sookie started drawling her way in...moreI must confess that I love Charlaine Harris with a very deep and loyal sort of love - a love that began long before Sookie started drawling her way into the hearts of TrueBlood viewers (or even the hearts of Southern Vampires readers.) I love the Harris of Sweet and Deadly, A Secret Rage, and Shakespeare. Don't get me wrong, Sookie is great and all, but she's no Lily Bard or Nickie Callahan. I love Charlaine Harris because she was the first author I ever read who was willing to let her heroine get hurt; really, really hurt. Brutally so, in the most horrific of ways - as I had only ever seen victims be hurt before. What was so amazing about this, for me, was that she enabled these women who had been victimized to be what I had previously assumed to be the antithesis of the victim: the heroine. They don't wait on someone to sweep in and rescue them - they rescue themselves. They don't let one incident define who they are - they define themselves. I know that she was not the first author to do so (nor will she be the last), however, she was my first experience with this, and I love her for it. Harris creates strong, smart, savvy women that have qualities that any woman could aspire to possess; and she gives women who have been victimized heroines worthy of them - women who take control of their own story.
So, you may be asking yourself why I would start a review of a Kim Harrison novel waxing on about Charlaine Harris. The answer is pretty simple: Harris loves promoting other authors. She promotes people she likes on her blog, in her interviews, in her books; and Kim Harrison's name just keeps popping up. (Harris even wrote the author endorsement right there of the front cover!) Because of Harris' endorsement(s), I expected a strong, smart, savvy female lead, a little mystery, and some solid world building - and I was not disappointed!
Harrison's world building was a wonderful blend of the expected and unexpected, the ordinary and the absurd. Each of the different creatures had such fascinatingly different histories, and they were slowly unveiled (some more than others.) I thoroughly enjoyed Harrison's take on Pixies. And, I must say that the thing I will not name for spoilerly reasons which caused the humans to all die had me cracking up every time I thought about it. I really liked the way Harrison described the Hollows, and I think that a lot could be said about her use of neighborhoods in the novel and racial segregation by neighborhoods in the US.
Harrison's characters were, for the most part, really well crafted. I LOVED Jenks, and Rachel and Ivy were both intelligent, strong women willing to seize control of their own destiny - death threats be darned. Many of the lesser characters were intriguing enough to keep me reading - just to get a little more of them. And, wow, Trent is such a wonderful bad guy! (Or is he?) I also like that there is some ambiguity here. It is clear that Dead Witch Walking is the start of something much bigger, because, even though the primary mystery has been solved, there are so many other little ones left for another day.
I must say, though, that two things sort of threw a kink in my Harrison love: one small, one big. I really got tired of the clothing descriptions! All this skin-tight leather (girls) and flowing silk (guys) just really got old. But more distressing was the relationship between Rachel and Ivy. It starts off as a WONDERFUL potential love interest set up - the chemistry is fabulous. If Ivy had been a guy EVERY reader would have been shipping them by the end of the first chapter. However, despite writing the attraction in such a way that it feels two sided most of the time, Harrison repeatedly makes Rachel think/say some pretty awful things about/to Ivy - telling the reader it is all one sided despite showing us something completely different. It isn't very positive toward Ivy or lesbians (or members of the LGBTQ community in general), and I really wasn't sure what she was trying to say (especially considering the chemistry between the supposed love interest, Nick, was flatter than even Rachel's chemistry with Trent!) Or, put more accurately, I was constantly going between what I hoped she meant and what I thought she meant. I will hold judgment on this issue until I read further in the series, but if something doesn't change this will be a deal breaker.(less)