Boy's Life came out back in 1991, so I realize it might be old news to some of you, but I came across it recently due to a sale that was running on KiBoy's Life came out back in 1991, so I realize it might be old news to some of you, but I came across it recently due to a sale that was running on Kindle. As usual, I jaunted over to Goodreads to check out the reviews, and this one just seemed like a home run, so I bought it. Finally got around to reading it, and I absolutely adored it. The best comparison I can think of is that it's a light horror version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I realize that's setting this book up against one of the most beloved American novels of the last ever, but I don't think that's too big of a stretch.
It follows a year in the life of a 12 year-old boy in Alabama in 1964. The big plot arc is focused on a murder that happens at the start of the book, as the boy wonders who did it and why something like that would happen in his small hometown. But interspersed throughout all the murder mystery are slice-of-life elements about school, work, small town life, and growing up. McCammon does a fantastic job with his prose, describing it all in a way that's both beautiful and engrossing. (Two things that don't always pair up in books.)
Despite the POV of the main character, it's important to note this is definitely not a YA book. Not that the content in it would be bad for kids, but the style is much more mature. Think of it as the literary equivalent of the Christmas Story movie. It's told by the main character when he's already much older, looking back on the events from that year of his childhood. As a result, there's much more reflection and idealization of the plot, and McCammon definitely indulges in many asides and mini soap boxes. Some have objected to that, but once I got used to the device, I didn't mind it. The point of view is so consistent, those asides ended up only making it richer, in my opinion.
Additionally, the extra space away from those events makes it so the narrator can add context to what was happening historically. Having written my fair share of first person novels, it can be hard sometimes to hold back from going on side tangents--but you have to, because those are tangents a 16-year-old would make. Having an adult looking back on it makes some things strong and some weaker. It's less immediate, but this isn't that sort of a book. I really enjoyed seeing how much life could change in that one year, as the narrator went from being a boy to a young man, the nation wrestled with racial tensions and changing technologies, and the town struggled to stay relevant in a world that was already beginning to leave little towns behind.
In the end, it's a lovely book. Well-written, accessible, engrossing, and just plain fun to read. I'm really glad I finally had a chance to get to it, and if you haven't read it, I encourage you to give it a shot. 10/10...more
I just finished this retelling of the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," and it made me think of a number of things that I wanted to go into I just finished this retelling of the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," and it made me think of a number of things that I wanted to go into a longer discussion of. It was an interesting read for a number of reasons. On the one hand, I really dig creepy gothic horror, and Craig does a fantastic job of upping the creep factor throughout the book. But at the same time, I really dislike romance subplots. I know this is probably a weakness of mine, not those plots. I mean, as an author, I realize there are many many people out there who love romance, so it would probably be in my best interest to throw some more passion into my books.
But I just can't bring myself to do it, or at least, I haven't been able to so far. The simple truth is that almost any book with a heavy romance plot is going to fall somewhat flat for me. So the fact that I'm still giving House of Salt and Sorrows four stars should tell you just how much I loved the creepy.
Writing a good creepy scene, in my opinion, takes a number of elements to pull off. First, you need to be quite present in the scene itself. You have to take the time as an author to dwell on the details, and you have to take the time to think about just why those details would be so off-putting. There's a scene in this book where the main character confronts an animal's corpse. She feels terrible for it, but then she notices that it's still moving. That's pretty terrible to imagine: something that's so hurt it looks like it's dead, but it hasn't passed yet?
And then Craig shows why the critter is still moving: it's almost bursting with maggots. When they all explode, raining down the corpse . . . that's an image that's going to stick with you for a while. Yes, I realize to some of you that just sounds disgusting and makes you want to never read the book, but I was seriously impressed, especially because in-scene it's much, much better executed.
The book has so many scenes like that, and Craig deftly weaves in the other necessity to make something really creepy: give the scene time to unfold. I suppose that goes hand in hand with providing plenty of details, but I think it's more than that. A scene can move as quickly or as slowly as an author wants. Imagine a scene where a character goes into a room for the first time. It could be fast: she goes in, glances around, and leaves. Or it could be slow: she goes in and is awed by the parquet flooring and the crystal chandeliers. She sits down at the piano in the room and plinks out a few notes, noticing it's out of tune. She can stay in that room for hours, if the author really wanted her to. There are all sorts of actions a character can take that prolong the action of the scene.
Details don't do that. You can inundate a reader with tons of detail, spending four pages to describe the piano and its history. While that might take a while to read, it doesn't do much (in my opinion) to extend the scene itself. It just stops the action while you take a long digression.
So to be really creepy, a scene has to have enough action to justify its length, and enough detail to hit home. It's a balance you need to walk, and I was seriously impressed with how well Craig did it.
In any case, if you love romance and creep, then do I have the book for you. If you just love romance and not creep, then I'd steer clear. If you just love creep and not romance, then you'll still have a great time with this one. 8/10 ...more