Books that the kids I teach are talking about get bumped to the top of the YA reading list, and I hadn't actually heard much about this one before I s...moreBooks that the kids I teach are talking about get bumped to the top of the YA reading list, and I hadn't actually heard much about this one before I started reading it. After, I read a bunch of reviews to see if it was just me, and my faith in the world is restored a bit in seeing that no, it's not just me.
See, Beauty and the Beast is an archetype. And I GET it, I really do. Beauty and the Beast-type stories are my favourite, and the darker you start off the hero, the more dramatic his change at the end. I get it. But there are ways to do that well (Black Jewels, off the top of my head), and there are ways to do that badly. And this book does it very, very badly.
First off, the "hero" is abusive. He sexually harasses and stalks the heroine, to the point of chasing her around a car in an underground parking garage. AND SHE'S STILL ATTRACTED TO HIM. As it turns out later, he was actually intending to either sexually assault or kill her (sometimes both), but because he didn't follow through on that, it's somehow okay that she was attracted to him while being afraid of him. And yes, I know that in the real world, women can be attracted to men who are abusing them. But those situations DON'T HAVE HAPPY ENDINGS.
Let's say for a moment that I can forgive all that. The "hero" undergoes his moral shift and saves the heroine and they all live happily ever after. In a good Beauty-and-the-Beast-type story, the "beast" character falls in love with Beauty not just because of the physical, but because Beauty has proved to be an exceptional human being. But Nora... is just bland. And kind of stupid. She does all the "don't go down there" things that a bad horror-movie heroine does, and though she's supposed to be an exemplary student with a job on the school e-paper, we don't actually see her DOING any of that, except for some Googling that passes as "research" (YA authors, seriously. You can't crack the great fantastical mysteries of the world by googling "weird stuff" and having "here's why weird stuff is happening in your town" be the first hit) and asking really clumsy and awkward questions to try to figure out whether guys who are creepy and mean and threatening toward her are actually bad seeds.
And the supporting characters are even worse. If you go to a real best friend and say "this guy is making me feel really uncomfortable and threatened," a good best friend helps you figure out how to get away from him and figure out whether or not you need to involve the authorities. She doesn't say "awww, but why don't you come camping alone in the woods with him and another guy who also makes you feel creepy and threatened, it'll be fun!" And as a teacher, the biology teacher in the novel makes me want to break something. Not only is he a crap biology teacher ("Okay kids, you have an assignment on what you look for in a mate"??? Seriously?), but if one of your female students comes to you and tells you she's feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with her male lab partner, your response is NOT "oh, then I'll give you extra time alone with him by making you tutor him." WTF? Maybe the author was trying to show that he is a really bad teacher, but his bad decision making is on par with the decision-making skills of everyone else in this book, so it's hard to tell if that's the case.
I've read the author's blog post on being nice to others in the industry, and really, I'm sure she's a very nice person. Criticism of themes in an author's work is not criticism of the person. But when a book takes all the "abusive relationships are sexy" aspects of Twilight that I hated (down to "girl meets dark scary guy in Biology class"), dials them up to 11, and presents them as desirable? I'm going to object. This is NOT sexy. Yes, he ultimately changed at the end. But in the real world, you do NOT stick around that long in hopes that your abusive boyfriend will turn out to be a super-sexy hot guy with wings and NOT want to rape/kill you after all. You get the hell out of there and get a restraining order. And if you absolutely HAVE to put this kind of relationship in a book, you have to include reasons WHY the heroine sticks around. "He's sexy with his shirt off" is not a good enough reason. Yes, he does turn out to be an angel and changes his mind about killing the heroine (...seriously, did I just write that?), but there is absolutely NO reason why Nora should have been in there long enough to find out. It should have been more of a "Hell yeah, Mom! Let's sell the house and move to Iceland!" (less)
The Dark Crystal was one of the formative creative works of my childhood, and is, I believe, directly responsible for shaping the way my imagination w...moreThe Dark Crystal was one of the formative creative works of my childhood, and is, I believe, directly responsible for shaping the way my imagination works, so I may be predisposed to love this. Nevertheless, it always seemed like what was captured in the movie only scratched the surface of the depths of worldbuilding done for The Dark Crystal, and these stories finally give us the chance to explore everything else. I'm looking forward to the next one.(less)
There are certain books I come across every so often that change the way I think about the language of story. The first that I can remember was THE LA...moreThere are certain books I come across every so often that change the way I think about the language of story. The first that I can remember was THE LAST UNICORN.
The latest is ABOVE.
This is one of those all-too-rare books where the way in which the story is told is as much a part of the story as the characters themselves, and it is stunning. The story is told in the first person; our narrator is Matthew, and his words ring true as those of someone born in this world yet apart from it, and trained from childhood to be a storyteller.
The story is not an easy read, both for the subject matter and for the manner in which it is told, but these are the aspect that make it all the more worth reading. It is beautiful, and cruel (often at the same time), and very real. And perhaps what I love best is that it doesn't sound like anything else I've read. The voice is uniquely Matthew's, and it is what makes the world of ABOVE both immediate and very real.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It had some pacing issues, and the worldbuilding is a bit shaky (I'm sorry, but if you have a fictional countries but a Chr...moreI enjoyed this book a lot. It had some pacing issues, and the worldbuilding is a bit shaky (I'm sorry, but if you have a fictional countries but a Christmas, I'm going to get hung up on that), but it was on the whole an enjoyable read. The best part, to me, was the second half of the book, which is more about a father trying to build a relationship with daughters to whom he has never been close, and rebuilding the family after the death of his beloved wife.
I'm a sucker for fairy tale retellings, and I'm glad I stumbled across this one.(less)
This book is right at the top of the list of comfort books on my shelf. I loved it from the moment I first read it in high school. It went with me whe...moreThis book is right at the top of the list of comfort books on my shelf. I loved it from the moment I first read it in high school. It went with me when I moved to university, it crossed the ocean with me when I moved to England, and it was one of the first things out of my bag when I came back home to Canada. This book came with me when I moved to an island for a week to finish my novel, and I love it enough that I ordered an additional copy in hardcover, as my original copy is starting to fall apart from wear.
Though some of why I love this book so much may be that I'm viewing it through nostalgia goggles, I still really love that the heroine is a person with a temper and flaws (which was repressing in the sea of Mary Sues I was swimming in when I first read it), that the setting and society are not simply rehashes of standard Fantasy tropes, and I especially love that though the author sets up a believable love triangle, she also establishes that there are more options available to our heroine than "end up with guy X or guy Y". (less)
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The immersive setting in Prague was refreshing as it's one not often seen, and the characters are diverse and engagin...moreI enjoyed this book quite a lot. The immersive setting in Prague was refreshing as it's one not often seen, and the characters are diverse and engaging.
My major quibble with the book is largely a personal one, in that I've lost my taste for "Oh hi, nice to meet you, I'm in love with you now", which occurs twice in the book. The second time does explain the first time, but you're still left with at least one case of Instant!Love, and the heavy dump of flashback scenes at the end of the book made it feel somewhat lopsided.
That said, I do recommend this book as a solid and page-turny read, and I'll certainly read the next one.(less)