This book thoroughly examines the life of a scientific giant through a uniquely faceted lens: specifically, how did Charles Darwin's marriage and famiThis book thoroughly examines the life of a scientific giant through a uniquely faceted lens: specifically, how did Charles Darwin's marriage and family life influence his career as a ground-breaking naturalist? This narrative of the enduring romantic relationship between Charles (whose "heretical" ideas about the transmutation of species continue to generate controversy even in the modern era) and Emma (a fervently religious Christian) becomes a biography not just of a man, but of a family. Published for young adults, Heiligman has taken great care to write with a light touch in a not especially technical style, but doesn't seem to have have skimped on her scholarship. Focused on primary sources, the book also contains respectable supplementary back-of-the-book materials, including detailed end notes and an index. I can see why it has been honored with the 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-fiction, but after reading it I still would only give it a qualified recommendation.
Although the book begins with a charming anecdote about the young Charles listing the pros and cons of finding a wife, overall I question the inherent interest level for most teens. Ultimately, this book is an extremely detailed account of upper class domestic life in the Victorian era with long passages dedicated to such scintillating subjects as the young engaged couple's house-hunting, the ups and downs of parenting ten children, and how doctors of that time treated patients for chronic stomach upset. Immersively educational, to be sure, but a tough sell for pleasure reading and probably not the sort of information that finds its way into a research paper on Darwin either. I feel like it would find a more engaged audience if it were targeted at adults who have already read Darwin biographies and are seeking a new angle on his life. In any case, it's not the type of non-fiction book that's going to convert fiction readers; I'd recommend it mainly to those who are already avid fans of the genre.
Even so, an interested teen might take away from Charles and Emma some valuable insights about the nature of compromise and the importance of tolerating others' beliefs. ...more
I felt like the resolution was clever, but that the first three quarters of the book were an abuse of foreshadowing. The author kept promising, "No, rI felt like the resolution was clever, but that the first three quarters of the book were an abuse of foreshadowing. The author kept promising, "No, really, eventually something will happen. And it will probably have something to do with time travel." In the meantime, bear witness to some lukewarm sixth grade interpersonal drama and some people practicing for a lame game show. Listening to the audiobook format probably didn't help; listening to a book can cause even fast-paced works to seem to drag out. ...more
The beginning struck me as promising enough. I felt genuinely gripped by the plight of a teen so radically disaffected from everyone in his life thatThe beginning struck me as promising enough. I felt genuinely gripped by the plight of a teen so radically disaffected from everyone in his life that he had no idea how to communicate to anyone that something terribly wrong was happening to his health. But the story was pretty much over for me by the time Cameron finally receives his diagnosis, and yet the vast majority of the book's length still stretched out before me. Unfortunately, there was plenty of time left for the whiny, self-involved protagonist and the too-clever-by-half author to take turns grating my nerves. Bray seemed so impressed with her Don Quixote references that it quickly starts to read like a "spot the allusion!" prose drinking game.
Lack of subtlety aside, hypochondriac little person Gonzo is a great character, a fantastic sidekick who deserved a better hero than Cameron. Also, some of Bray's description was evocative, especially when she was writing about music and/or New Orleans. But the high points can't disguise the fact that I was quite ready for this book to be over by about the halfway point. I struggled to finish it at all.
Ultimately I felt like anything this book had to say in regards to a metafictional tale of a slacker who embraces a mysterious destiny was done previously and done better in Zusak's I am the Messenger....more
**spoiler alert** This is not a review per se, but it is my chief reaction as I finish the book.
As much as I found Bliss charming and really wanted he**spoiler alert** This is not a review per se, but it is my chief reaction as I finish the book.
As much as I found Bliss charming and really wanted her to find happiness and acceptance, I can't express how much I was rooting for her boyfriend to turn out to be a heinous tool. And then he did! I was so weirdly thrilled when he actually did screw her over, and I'm not even sure why. Maybe along with Malice in Wonderland I have a heretofore undiscovered prejudice against boys in bands. Or maybe it just wouldn't have felt right to have this particular story wrap up perfectly in a pretty pink bow. ...more
It comes down to this: I hated the main character. I just couldn't stand her. I feel like that's a petty complaint to make when the characterization oIt comes down to this: I hated the main character. I just couldn't stand her. I feel like that's a petty complaint to make when the characterization of Jem was vivid, consistent and plausible with her back story at all times. The book as a whole is not poorly written (just a bit predictable). The narrative voice was strong and unique, and I respect that. But it took me a couple weeks to listen to all eight discs of the audiobook, and that was far too much time to have to put up with Jem's company. ...more