This is definitely one of the stranger books I've ever read, I'll say that. It's got an interesting enough premise. Mike (the author, telling his ownThis is definitely one of the stranger books I've ever read, I'll say that. It's got an interesting enough premise. Mike (the author, telling his own alleged story) after having been a long-distance relationship with Naomi for some time, finds that she's gone missing, and gets help from a mysterious man named Geppetto, who leads him to THE DOOR--a doorway to another world, which shapes itself to Mike's own situation. Okay, I can get next to that, and the book has some moments that are definitely very thinky, and that blur the lines between fantasy and reality, especially with the use of twitter, YouTube, and so on.
Still, for a book that started out with such a thinky idea, it turned pretty conventional pretty fast. In the end, it didn't end up being exactly what I was expecting, but I certainly can't fault it for that. It still told a decent story, one that pulled me in and kept me engaged until the very end. And there was enough interesting about it that I know it had the potential to be much better than it was with a little more focus. The plot kind of devolved into a video game scenario at the end, and it seemed like a lot of the promise in the earlier part of the novel wasn't really delivered.
Overall, I'm glad I read it, and it was worth getting lost in for a few hours, but that's really about it. It's an engaging story, and it definitely captures the emotion of a long distance relationship very well. (Having just ended the "long-distance" portion of my relationship a few months ago, that aspect of the novel really resonated with me.) But I feel like the story really loses its way in the last third or so. Like, I don't feel as though(view spoiler)[blowing up THE DOOR with a bomb was really the most intelligent climax this story could have had. (hide spoiler)] Not a bad story, but nothing life altering. If you read it, you'll probably get some enjoyment out of it.
I tend to like stories that have long narratives that cover a pretty lengthy period of time, which I think is probably why I like this book as much asI tend to like stories that have long narratives that cover a pretty lengthy period of time, which I think is probably why I like this book as much as I did. We meet Niobe, our protagonist and the woman who would become an aspect of Fate, when she is a young, headstrong woman of twenty-one, and we stay with her for several decades as she marries, is widowed, becomes an aspect of Fate, and then . . . well, actually, does the whole thing all over again.
But when you're telling a story about Fate, you almost have to cover a long period of time to see how one person's life plays out over the decades, and that exactly what we see here. Niobe is probably one of my favorite Anthony protagonists. She is given some very definite virtues and some very definite flaws, and we see her exhibit growth throughout the story, which is not always the case with Anthony's protagonists, particularly the female ones. That being said, though, Piers Anthony does have a very bad habit of putting a lot of focus on the appearance of his female characters, something he does frequently with Niobe, reminding us more than once of her exquisite beauty when she's young, and of the fact that she's not all that beautiful anymore when she's middle aged.
Anthony takes the Fate from classical mythology for this Incarnation, so Fate has three separate aspects--Clotho, the young, who spins the threads of life; Lachesis, the middle-aged, who measures and places the threads of life; and Atropos, the elder, who cuts the threads of life. So in this story, Fate is three separate mortal women sharing one body. And Fate, we find, actually wields a great deal of power, controlling the very threads of life, measuring out lifespans, deciding who will interact with whom, and how events will play out in the tapestry. So it makes a certain amount of sense that this book, more than the others, would be the most plot-driven and have the most to do with making connections with the overall story. This book starts a generation or two before the beginning of On a Pale Horse, and ends about year after that book ends. So we get to see the inception of a number of later events and the introduction of several characters from earlier and later in the series. Anthony will do this on occasion, take us back and show us a lengthy series of events he's already written about from a different perspective, and it works well here. This book might not stand alone quite as well as the others in the series because of this, but as a part of the overall story, it functions very well.
Still, despite this, the plot does meander here and there. There was maybe a little bit more detail than necessary in the Hall of the Mountain King and Hell Maze sequences. Anthony delights in showing off his own brilliance for puzzles by painstakingly walking us through every single one, though I did like how he approached the puzzles in the final chapter. And one chapter in particular just completely bored me, maybe not as much as some of the chapters from Bearing an Hourglass, but still quite a bit. Again, it basically just exists for Anthony to show us how much he knows, in this case about martial arts. If it factored into the story, I might find it interesting, but I didn't need to know the name of every single solitary move in that sequence.
Still, overall, while it has a few issues here and there, this book left me satisfied, and I found myself enjoying it all the same. If nothing else, it's a welcome respite after the travesty of the last novel. A few bumps, but overall, worth a read if you're going through the series.
Book two in the Incarnations of Immortality series is about the Incarnation of Time. Now, if you know me, you know that I love stories about time andBook two in the Incarnations of Immortality series is about the Incarnation of Time. Now, if you know me, you know that I love stories about time and time travel. My favorite book is The Time Traveler’s Wife, my favorite movie is Back to the Future. This storytelling idea holds a great deal of fascination for me. Bearing an Hourglass features the Incarnation of Time, someone who can travel to any point in time, can bend time to his will, and who freaking lives backwards. This should be a book of endless fascination, one of my favorites in the whole series.
This book bored the ever-loving snot out of me.
Even as a kid, when I first read these books, this one was my least favorite. 1, 6, and 7 were favorite, I liked 3 and 5, 4 was okay, and 2 I read because it was part of the series and I felt like I had to. Many series suffer from what I like to call “Second Book Syndrome,” where the first book sets expectations so high that the second book is just a complete disappointment, either because the first book was just too good, or because after achieving the publishing success he needed with the first book, the author doesn’t feel the need to try as hard on the second book. And I’ll admit that the expectations set by On a Pale Horse do factor into my opinion of Bearing an Hourglass.
On a Pale Horse used the personification of Death to give us a deep, multi-faceted, and unique look at the concept of death and dying, helping us see it in ways that we, perhaps, hadn’t considered before. Anthony’s intentions at the time, stated pretty early on, was to do a book for each of the five incarnations (Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature), so my expectation was that this would be another idea-driven book like the first one, this one exploring the nature of time, the perceived passage of time, cause and effect, and many of the other things that are usually pretty deeply explored in time travel stories like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Back to the Future. Unfortunately, the only things that were really explored were the technical details of how the hourglass--Time’s magical artifact which allowed him to travel--worked, which were mind-numbingly boring, and the fact that Time, or Chronos, lives backwards, which Anthony tried to explain so often and so thoroughly that not only did it leave nothing to the imagination, but it ended up making the idea way more confusing than it needed to be. In short, rather than exploring time from a philosophical perspective, Anthony just explained and explained and explained and (my God, shut up already!) EXPLAINED! how time worked in his own particular universe.
In lieu of an idea-driven story, I would have settled for a character-driven one. Those I will always accept. But if Anthony’s writing has one weakness (and it doesn’t. It has several. But this is one of them) it’s his characterization. He has one male protagonist and one female protagonist that he writes about constantly. Yeah, he’ll change the names and appearances (kind of) and maybe add a few personality quirks, but that’s all they: quirks. Fundamentally, they’re the same. And Norton, the man who becomes the Incarnation of Time, is no different. He’s bland, boring, and absolutely forgettable as a character. Yeah, he has this tragic romance at the beginning that he has to come to terms with, but even that’s just glanced over, just this little side story that doesn’t really go anywhere. None of the characters left any impression on me whatsoever. Even the office of Time itself is uninteresting, which is really something coming from me. The first book gave us quite a bit of detail on what exactly the Incarnation of Death does, how he does it, and why it’s important. But even after reading this book at least twice, I have no idea why the Incarnation of Time is even needed or what exactly he does, aside from travel through time and sleep with Fate.
Finally, given what an interesting story Anthony set up in the first novel with the war between God and Satan, and given that this story is taking place twenty years after the first, when some major blow is supposed to be struck against Satan, I would have been perfectly fine with a purely plot-driven story. But even though I can tell that Norton defeated Satan and won the day, it really feels like absolutely nothing was accomplished. So little happens in this story, because when it comes right down to, there IS NO PLOT. There are a bunch of little subplots, but absolutely no main plot. There are whole chapters in this book that contain nothing but pure distraction, offering only minimal connection to the story. In fact, the story in this book offers only minimal connection to the overall story of the series. There is no reason why you can’t completely skip this book. You would lose nothing in the overall story.
I really feel like this was a book that Piers Anthony felt obligated to write, but he had no idea what to do with it. I think this really illustrates that Anthony’s strength lies in fantasy, not science fiction. The sci-fi elements he does have in here are either poorly explained or overexplained . . . or in many cases, both. There is nothing driving this book, not ideas, not characters, not plot, and it really shows. I’m willing to admit that my expectations were set pretty high by the first book, but it really feels like Anthony wasn’t even trying on this one. It’s just a bad book, plain and simple.
I think many, if not most, readers have that one author who they really, really enjoy reading, or enjoyed reading at one time, but looking at him objeI think many, if not most, readers have that one author who they really, really enjoy reading, or enjoyed reading at one time, but looking at him objectively, realize that he's a very problematic author. For me, that author is Piers Anthony. He can be an incredibly imaginative writer when he wants to be. Some of the worlds he’s created and some of the ideas he’s written about in his novels are just brilliant. He can also write the most meandering, dull, preachy, and nonsensical stories ever put on paper. And he’s so caught up in his own brilliance he doesn’t even realize when he’s writing pure crap.
Regardless, the Incarnations of Immortality series is definitely one of his more fascinating ideas, taking us into a world where magic and technology exist alongside each other, where every myth and story that’s ever been written about Christianity turns out to be true in a very literal sense, and where Death, Time, and other aspects of life are offices held by ordinary people like you and me. He also tells a compelling story about the nature of good and evil, told from seven distinct points of view.
This first and quite possibly best of the series focuses on the incarnation of Death and introduces us to the world of our story, a world where Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are all literal places and aspects of life like Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature are all literal people. It’s also a world set far into the future, at a point in time when not only has technology advanced, but the world has rediscovered magic. Anthony really likes putting both sci-fi and fantasy elements into a lot of his stories, as we’ll also see when we review the Apprentice Adept series. Just like Rick Riordan, Anthony assumes that the supernatural, immortal elements of Christian myth will have advanced in technology along with the rest of the world. So Purgatory makes use of a computer system, Death uses all sorts of hi-tech devices to locate his clients, and his pale horse can turn into a rather fancy car.
But Death isn’t a person, in this story. It’s an office. The book opens with a young man named Zane who has lost everything, and has decided that life isn’t worth living anymore. So he decides to kill himself, but just as he is getting ready to pull the trigger, he sees Death coming for him out of the corner of his eye, and at the last second, turns the gun on him instead, killing Death. And because Zane has killed Death--or rather the previous officeholder--he now assumes his office, becoming the new Death. So Zane has to deal with the often heartbreaking and stupid ways in which people die. He must collect their souls, and decide whether the person in question goes to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, based on the balance of good and evil in their souls. And because he can’t possibly attend to everyone, he only attends to people whose souls are almost perfectly in balance between good and evil. So often times, he encounters good people dying before their time, and he finds the the rules governing “good” and “evil” are still very medieval in nature.
Eventually, Death gets caught up in the plot of the overall story, which we’re basically in the middle of at this point, though we don’t know that, but that doesn’t happen until a few chapters into the story, as Death has to spend time getting acclimatized to his new job. And while that would bother normally, it’s kind of refreshing to see a book that is driven, not by plot or even much by character, but by an idea. This book actually does what I feel fantasy novels should do: takes a very familiar idea, and look at it from a fantastic perspective. This story looks at the idea of death in many, many different facets as Zane deals with the many different facets of the job he’s trying to perform. The issue of euthanasia is explored pretty thoroughly here, as are issues of suicide, atheism, and the general nature of what’s good and what’s evil and how and why we define them that way. Zane grapples with many of the moral implications of death, being the overseer of it, and it’s fascinating to grapple with these issues right along with him.
And there is a plot, of course, and it factors into the plot of the series, but this book can easily stand on its own. And even the plot deals with the morality of death, and the association of death with evil. And what I found while rereading this is that many of Anthony’s trademark flaws in his writing are very much downplayed in this story. He can occasionally get preachy, but this story seems to allow for a more two-sided debate than does others. The story meanders a bit, but that’s sort of the idea with an idea-driven story, and the story doesn’t meander away from that idea. And the story contains some gratuitous naughty bits and borderline sexism, but again, these elements are downplayed, the story was written in a different time, and actually, the prominent female characters in this story are pretty kick-ass for the most part. Even the characterization is pretty decent as Zane grapples with his feelings about death and his relationship with it. On its own, this book achieves a decent balance between idea, plot, and character, and as far as Anthony novels go, it’s definitely one of his better ones.
This book requires a bit of open-mindedness. It requires you to acknowledge that there are many different ways to tell a story like this. It requiresThis book requires a bit of open-mindedness. It requires you to acknowledge that there are many different ways to tell a story like this. It requires you to suspend your disbelief, abandon the pretense of reality, and fully acknowledge that this is a story. Personally, I find that we are WAY too wrapped up in the desire for realism in a story. We don't WANT to be aware that we're reading a story. And to be honest, it was kind of refreshing to read a book--especially a dystopian novel--that completely went against that.
Fearless is written in a very classical style, a textbook faerie tale with everything coming in threes, names being reduced to descriptions of character traits, a prophet, supernatural elements, events repeating themselves in many ways, an ambiguous setting, a suspension from reality, and even somewhat stilted dialogue. And yet the atmosphere is very gritty and dark, and very much rooted in a world we can relate to and elements we can find familiar. I found that once I stopped trying to read this as a real-life events and started reading it as a faerie tale, I got much more immersed in the story. Because once you acknowledge that this is a modern faerie tale, of the kind that would be written today if authors cared more about ideas and less about plot, you start looking at it in a completely different way.
Because yes, elements of it are derivative and contrived. Yes, the plot twists are predictable. Yes, the characters are somewhat flat and reduced to character traits rather than actual people. Yes, the dialogue is very stilted and not how people actually speak. But guess what? That's not the point. While I love a good original, character-and-plot-twist-driven story with witty dialogue as much as the next guy, that's not what this story was ever supposed to be, and it open acknowledges that. Like all faerie tales, the story is just a vehicle for the ideas, ideas that young people truly need to hear: that they matter; that they have worth; that though society might push them to be like everyone else, there is value to being different; that standing up for yourself is one of the bravest things you can do; and that the most devastating thing a person can believe is that they don't matter.
Tim Lott has a lot of guts for writing the story in this way, because a lot of people will not accept it. But I do. I found the story incredibly compelling, more so because of the structure. And I want people to read it, but to read it as a faerie tale. Recognize that this is a story, a suspension from reality, and it will work for you.
I would give this book 1.5 stars if I could, because while I don't feel like this book is good enough to merit two stars, it did redeem itself just slI would give this book 1.5 stars if I could, because while I don't feel like this book is good enough to merit two stars, it did redeem itself just slightly in a few of the chapters. Not a ringing endorsement, I know, but I feel like there was a decent idea here that was executed VERY poorly.
It's been said in several reviews already: the inaccuracies are off the chart. But it's not even the inaccuracies that I mind so much. I recognize that when you're telling a fictional story in a historical setting, you have the right to take a few liberties. What bothers me here is this: if you're going to take liberties, why in the name of all that is holy would you take THESE liberties? These inaccuracies aren't just things that scholars would notice. About five minutes of Google research and a little bit of common sense would have been all the author would have needed to see that aspects of his story were very, VERY wrong. And the truly irritating thing is that if he HAD taken the trouble to fix some of these problems, he would have ended up with a vastly better story.
The main character of Bruno is supposed to be nine at the beginning of the story, probably ten at the end of it. Any nine or ten-year-old German boy living in that time, especially the son of a clearly favored Nazi official, would have known full well who the Fuhrer was, would certainly have been able to pronounce his title correctly, and would have been taught about the "inferiority" of the Jews from a very young age. But even removing all of that, this supposedly nine-year-old boy reads more like a three-year-old. Nine-year-olds have WAY more presence of mind than this kid. If Boyne had been writing a much younger character, or even a character with some sort of cognitive delay that his parents were trying to hide, that might have made for an interesting story. But that's not what we have here. Boyne was going for innocent and he ended up with stupid. The character exhibited only token character growth in the last few chapters, and spent almost the entire first half of the book just whining and complaining about how he wanted to go back to Berlin.
All the characterization is off in this book. Characters are either completely unlikable or written so flatly or so briefly that you never have a chance to really get to know them. Maria had some good scenes early on, but then we never see her again after the first few chapters. Kotler, too, is dropped from the narrative as soon as his character starts to get mildly interesting. Even Shmuel doesn't really have a personality outside of "generic suffering boy."
And so much of the story is written in a "cutesy" style that the reality of what's actually happening never really hits home. I mean, I guess that's kind of the point: Bruno is so naive that he never really understands what's going on. But if you're going to take on the task of writing about the Holocaust to children, you HAVE to be explicit. Go all the way, or don't go there at all. I felt like Boyne was consistently skirting the cruelty, never showing more than he thought kids could handle. Boyne seems hyper-aware throughout this whole book that he's writing for children, and the story loses its impact as a result. (As I write this, I'm actually not one hundred percent sure this book was intended for children, but it sure as hell wasn't intended for adults.) The story doesn't even really get going until halfway through the book. Seriously, it takes half the book before we even get the scene where the two boys meet. Up until then, it's just Bruno being a whiny little brat, with a few side plots that go absolutely no where once the real plot gets going.
Like I said, I feel like, somewhere beneath all the insipid cutesy-ness, there's a good story here. As it stands, however, I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. If you want to read a good story about a child growing up during the Holocaust in a Nazi-occupied country, I'd recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, or Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, the latter of which is probably aimed for the same age group as this book, but approaches the issue with some degree of thought and maturity while still maintaining the innocence that Boyne was trying for. I'll admit, I do feel sort of bad giving this book such a low rating, because I can tell what he's TRYING to do. But this story just does not work for me on any level, and I can't recommend it.
This book came to me highly and widely recommended for a long time, and upon finishing it, I was reminded of the scene in Mary Poppins where the BurtThis book came to me highly and widely recommended for a long time, and upon finishing it, I was reminded of the scene in Mary Poppins where the Burt character attempts to take Jane and Michael into the chalk drawing. He has the wink and blink and then takes their hands and prepares to jump into the painting, and it seems like something truly magical is going to happen. Then they jump, land with a dull thump on top of the drawing, look around for a beat, and then Jane turns to Burt and asks, "Is something supposed to happen?"
I kind of felt like Jane at the end of this book. I found myself asking what exactly was accomplished. The book had a great deal of really well-written build up, and I was really enjoying it . . . for the first eight chapters or so. The world it created was interesting, the atmosphere was rich and engaging, the writing style was amusing, and the two main characters had a lot of potential, with Sophie as a strong female lead with an impulsive nature, and Howl as a seeming cad with few redeemable qualities. I was ready to get some really interesting exploration of this world, these characters, and the story behind them all.
With three chapters to go in the book, I was still waiting. And even when things did happen, they were observed so passively that I couldn't feel any sort of investment in them. It was almost as if the story is trying its hardest not to be plot-driven. But the world that Jones set up so beautifully is never really explored or defined very well. Sophie is set up as an interesting character, but she never has any sort of growth. She could have done a lot with her belief that eldest children never amount to anything, having her realize that when you're born doesn't define your destiny, but it never happened. And Howl, similarly, got only very rushed development and exploration, and I never got a chance to get to know him, or even like him.
So, it's not character-driven or world-driven. Plot is all it has. And the events are there, I guess, but they're so down played that I'm barely aware of them. By the end, Sophie can use magic, but she never has the moment of realization where she discovers this ability. Howl and Sophie seem like they're going to get together, but we never witnessed any real chemistry between them. There's a big fight with the bad guys, but it happens so quickly that we only barely have time to realize that the climax is even happening. It's one of the rare times when I found a story to be TOO subtle.
And there's not really a denouement to this story either. The climax happens, and then it's done. We're never given an explanation as to what all has happened, and with a plot as convoluted as this one, that explanation needs to be there. You can piece everything together, I guess, but I was left feeling very confused at the end of the book. It didn't help that whenever they talked about Lettie, I never knew which Lettie they were talking about. (Lettie changed places with her sister at the beginning, you see.) The plot was confusing, and yet I didn't even feel invested enough in the story to care. Sophie is such a passive observer to everything, and if she doesn't seem to care what's happening, why should I?
I feel like I've bashed this book pretty badly, and so I will say that I did enjoy reading it. Like I said, the writing style is very enjoyable, and I like the things that were set up, even if there wasn't really a follow through. But ultimately, I found this book utterly underwhelming and forgettable. Obviously, so many people have hailed it as a brilliant fantasy novel that I know it ISN'T forgettable, but it sure didn't do anything for me. There's enough good here that I can see why so many people like the book, but I can't honestly recommend it based on my own disappointing experience.
This book comes highly recommended by the Nerdfighter community. John Green gave it very high praise, so naturally, I wanted to read it myself. I'd heThis book comes highly recommended by the Nerdfighter community. John Green gave it very high praise, so naturally, I wanted to read it myself. I'd heard fairly mixed reviews of the book, with some praising its style, characters, story, and approach to the subject matter, while others dismissed it as a typical high school love story.
What I discovered upon reading, however, was that both these perceptions are, to a certain extent, true. In many ways, this follows the pattern of a typical light, fluffy, high school love story, with our two love interests mooning over each other, liking each other but not being able to express it for fear of ruining the friendship, going through a period of hating each other after an avoidable misunderstanding, etc. Which isn't to say that it's bad. It's well written, the characters are interesting and likable enough, and the love story is very engaging.
But Perkins takes this particular love story a step further, and really digs into some of the real issues with falling in love at a time in your life when you haven't quite figured out what it means to be in love, to be in a relationship, and to really give yourself to another person. We see pretty clearly that being in a relationship with someone is pretty difficult when you're still trying to get a handle on who YOU are. St. Clair and Anna do this infuriating dance around each other to the point where you just want to smack their heads and say, "For the love of God, just get together already!"
But unlike the myriad other stories where this is true, this story actually explores WHY they don't get together sooner, and it's very simply because both Anna and St. Clair are two people are, in some way, lost, and they're so busy trying to fight their own inner battles, they barely have room for each other.
We see young love in many different forms in this novel, from the point of view of two people basically experiencing it for the first time. We see infatuation, compassion, lust, obsession, jealousy . . . basically every single emotion that could ever be associated with the emotion. It tells us that love is hard. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it's incredibly painful. It takes us on incredible highs and incredible lows. And only from the point of view of a very young person can we see this in its rawest form.
I'll admit I'm generally not a fan of overly dramatic situations, and this book is chock full of them, but given that it's high school students, that's kind of par for the course. And I did feel like things wrapped up a little too neatly, and I would have been interested to see the ending take a slightly different direction. But ultimately, I liked the story, I thought it was very well-written, and I think it's a great exploration of the ups and downs of being in love. If you come across it at your local library or used book store, it's definitely worth a read.
I'm learning, through this novel, that Libba Bray has a very dark sense of humor. The premise of this story is that a plane crashes on a deserted islaI'm learning, through this novel, that Libba Bray has a very dark sense of humor. The premise of this story is that a plane crashes on a deserted island with only fourteen survivors, all teenage girls. On the surface, there's really nothing terribly funny about that. However, here's the twist: they're all beauty pageant contestants. Suddenly, as we get the beauty pageant "OMG" stereotypes, the situation becomes surprisingly funny. Plus, we know from the beginning that this whole story is satirical. Bray pushes the bounds of reality to their extremes in this story. There's never any doubt that this is a fantasy, a farce. (I mean, one of the girls has a tray imbedded in her skull for the entirety of the story.)
And you might think, "Oh, so we shouldn't take this too seriously." Well, that's the thing. Like any satire, you shouldn't take it too LITERALLY, but you should take it seriously, because there is something very important being said here. Though the situations surrounding the story are satirical and pushed to the more ridiculous borders of surreality, there is an underlying truth to the corporate corruption, the obsession with sexually driven reality television, the way we marginalize not only women, but homosexuals, transsexuals, juvenile delinquents, people of different ethnicities and races, people with disabilities, and people who simply don't catch on to things as quickly as others. Every girl trapped on the island is marginalized in some way, and throughout the story, they cease to be beauty queen stereotypes and become real people, characters who are fleshed out (no pun intended) and fascinating in their own way.
Don't get me wrong, this is a very funny book. I found myself laughing out loud at a lot of it. But what I really took away from this story was the way the beauty queens grew as people, how they formed close friendships with each other, and how they each managed to overcome their own personal demons and dilemmas in their own ways. We see so much of the superficial in the media, and this story reminds us that behind the superficial, there is something deeper and more meaningful that we can stand to learn about. In the end, the girls don't really change the world drastically, but we see that the lives of fourteen girls have changed for the better, and that's not nothing.
I'm struggling to find words to adequately express my feelings for this novel other than, "GAAAAAHHHSOGOOOOOOD!" which isn't even a word. Libba Bray hI'm struggling to find words to adequately express my feelings for this novel other than, "GAAAAAHHHSOGOOOOOOD!" which isn't even a word. Libba Bray has packed so much stuff into this novel that it's hard to even describe it. Think Don Quixote meets Schrodinger's cat meets all the most complicated aspects of every sci-fi story ever written meets the most bizarre road trip of all time, and you've got a pretty good idea what we've got here. The story, very basically, is about a high school kid named Cameron Smith who is an absolute douche nozzle. Seriously, you want to smack him in the early portions of the novel, because he's that kid in high school who accomplished nothing, cared about nothing, and yet was incredibly judgmental of the people who WERE accomplishing things and DID care about things. Then, Cameron discovers he has Mad Cow disease, and not in the same way that Denny Crane from Boston Legal had it. Cameron has just a few weeks to live. And as he is dying, he realizes that the universe is in very serious danger and that he must go save it, with the assistance of a dwarf called Gonzo, a yard gnome Viking called Balder, and a pink-haired Angel called Dulcie.
But see, even THAT doesn't adequately describe this novel, because to talk about too much of what's in the novel is to spoil a lot of aspects of it, which I kind of don't want to do here. Don Quixote is referenced quite often, sometimes obviously and often subtly, and it really makes me want to read Don Quixote now to find out just how much she paralleled. Don Quixote, at the end of his life, becomes convinced that he has to save the world, and in the process, discovers that he enjoys actually living in the world, which is pretty much what happens to Cameron. The book contains a lot of haphazard and seemingly random events, like a really tripped out road trip, but in the end, Cameron looks back on all the things he's done and discovers that he lived more while he was dying than he did while he was fully alive.
The character of Cameron goes through more growth than perhaps any other character I've encountered. I started out really, really not liking this guy, and then I got to watch him, slowly but surely, actually turn into a person. Gonzo goes through a similar transformation. The characters and stories are exceptionally entertaining, it's funny and interesting and very, very smart writing, and the ending gives you a LOT to think about. But the one thing I personally took away from this story is that we truly do get to choose what sort of life we want to live, and those choices have a profound effect on our lives, even if we're not aware of them. This book was my introduction to Libba Bray, and I couldn't have asked for a better one. It's worth a read if you have the time and you don't mind having your world turned completely upside down.
There are few things in this world sadder than Jack Grammar’s love life. Though he’s cute, smart, and funny--three qualities that should equal “chickThere are few things in this world sadder than Jack Grammar’s love life. Though he’s cute, smart, and funny--three qualities that should equal “chick magnet,”--he’s also hopelessly awkward and geeky. Now it’s his senior prom, something he’s dreamed about since his sisters dressed up and made him play “prom” with them, and he wants a date. So his friends Percy and Natalie try to help him out by putting out a personal ad in the school newspaper. Soon, he has nearly 150 responses to the ad. So one week before prom, Jack must go on twenty-four dates and make his decision. There’s also the question of who the mysterious email writer FancyPants is. And can Jack possibly find the girl who’s right for him?
This is, I think, one of the most underrated pieces of young adult literature. I happened upon the book by chance two years ago at my local library, and that’s the only place I’ve ever seen it. I had to order it off Amazon to get it again. If you look at the premise, you think that this is just a completely ordinary quirky young adult romance, and indeed for the first half of the book, it pretty much follows that plot line. You’ve got a nerdy, awkward, but ultimately nice guy trying to find a girl, his friends help him out, and he goes looking for a girl for all the wrong reasons, until he finds his true love at the end, blah, blah, blah.
But this book seems to be all about taking preconceived expectations and smashing them to bits. There are a number of moments throughout the book where Jack is convinced that he’s got everything figured out, that all the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly, and he’s found his girl and his happy ending. And . . . it never ends up being that way. He thinks he’s destined to be with his best friend . . . and he’s not. He thinks he’s destined to be with the girl of his dreams . . . and he’s not. He thinks he’s going to find the girl of his dreams at prom . . . and he doesn’t. In fact, of the three questions that come up during the course of this story--who is Jack going to pick for prom, who is FancyPants, and who is he going to end up with?--the answer is completely unexpected. (Though I did correctly guess who FancyPants was when I first read it. But I still liked it.)
Other young adult romances seem to have the lead character making some kind of growth or change, and as a result, he or she gets the object of his or affection and they live happily ever after. Jack Grammar goes through character growth as well, but the result is not the same as other young adult romances. He sees both his prom date and FancyPants as answers to his love life problems, and in the end, they aren’t, at least not directly, but he’s still very happy with the results. The final part of this story is considerably more touching than any other young adult novel I’ve read, even though Jack doesn’t end up with someone. He gets a prom date, he finds out who FancyPants is, and he hooks up with someone, but there’s no promise of a happily ever after.
The girls on the list vary greatly, they’re all well-developed and interesting (even the horrible ones), and there isn’t one that is wholly right for Jack. He likes several of them, just like guys in high school tend to like several girls. Most people don’t find their soulmate in high school, if they do at all. We see this very romanticized vision of high school, much like we see in a lot of young adult romances, but in the end, we find that this vision is a lie. But it’s in acknowledging and accepting that it is a lie that Jack is able to find the beauty that others see in their high school prom. Jack does make a character change, but it’s not a change that wins him a girl, but rather a change that gives him the power and confidence to seek out his own way, which is a much more compelling message than we usually see with these types of stories. It says that high school is not ideal, but that it doesn’t need to be to still be a memorable experience. More people, especially of that age group, really need to read this story and take in all that it has to offer.
I read this book with really no knowledge of its contents whatsoever. I knew it had recently been made into a movie, so I thought it would be a good BI read this book with really no knowledge of its contents whatsoever. I knew it had recently been made into a movie, so I thought it would be a good Books vs. Movies opportunity. (I have not, as of yet, seen the movie.) It seems that some of the best books I've read are ones that I stumbled upon by accident, and this one is certainly no exception.
The book tells the story of young boy, on the cusp of adolescence, named Oskar. Oskar sees the world differently from other people. He's inquisitive and intelligent, but also socially awkward and very literal-minded. About two years before the story begins, he lost his father in the 9/11 disaster. The book is also the story, albeit told in the form of letters, of his grandparents, both of whom lost loved ones in another disaster, the firebombing of Dresden. His grandfather lost the ability to speak, and his grandmother is simply trying to get through each day.
So, this book is pretty well packed. 9/11, disaster survival, emotional trauma, disabilities, death . . . it's all here. It's a heavy, heavy book, but you won't want to stop reading. Oskar seeks answers in everything he does. He believes things should be definite, he gets upset when things aren't, and he would like to simplify things to the point where he could, like his grandfather, simply tattoo "YES" on one hand and "NO" on the other to answer most of the questions the world throws at him. At times he's irritating and even unlikable, but we understand and relate to his need for answers following the tragedy, and we even understand, to a certain extent, his inability to fit in with the social order.
This is one of those books I could do a whole analysis on, and probably will, as I'm adding it to my Ultimate Recommendation list. It is loaded. It contains a lot of questions, but very few answers, or at least not the answers that we, or Oskar, are looking for. It's a book that makes us think of our own mortality, how we view the world around us, and how we are all, in some way, connected to each other. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is absolutely a must read....more