Saturday, June 30, 2012
Saving June, by Hannah Harrington
As a HarlequinTeen novel (yes, it truly is!), I expected a lot more romance (and implied sex) than I got. Instead, the book is really a fairly typical YA book. That makes it better than the heaving bosoms I was expecting, but maybe a bit dull. We have teens dealing with grief, copious references to classic rock, explorations of the US on the back roads (does anyone take boring Interstates in road-trip novels?), and falling in love with people they claim to hate. It was a fine book (decently written, well-developed characters, fine dialog), but it was just like so many other books. There's little new ground here.
Posted by Paul at 1:34 PM No comments:
Friday, June 29, 2012
Awkward, by Marni Bates
It's (of course) an entirely silly and overblown fantasy -- definitely in the vein of a Meg Cabot story. The rich and famous people are entirely too nice. The kids are all blissfully unsupervised (can't have any pesky adults get in the way of the fun!). And the most important thing of all is whether the boy will kiss you (symbolic references to academics and career aside). A cameo from Ellen DeGeneres towards the end takes the story into surreal territory.
Of course, picking away at the unrealistic story elements or worrying if it makes sense is really besides the point. This book doesn't exist to send a message or make a literary impact, it's simply fun! Mackenzie is likeable enough, but none of the characters really have any depth. Interesting subplots (like the father who abandoned her and the travails of popularity) get buried and left underdeveloped because they don't move the story forward (and are largely cliches anyway). Their inclusion seems more distracting in the end, so perhaps it is better that we focus instead on parties, clothes, and boys.
Posted by Paul at 10:28 AM No comments:
Friday, June 22, 2012
Mice, by Gordon Reece
The novel is a surprising mix of emotional intimacy and raw brutality. The first half of the book provides a look at the politics of bullying and how perpetrator, victim, and witnesses collude with each other to make it possible. The second half takes a sharp turn into nihilism and cynical violence. That mix is powerful but will scare off many readers (as the type that like the former are rarely the type that enjoy the latter -- and vice versa). But if you have the stomach for the mushy and the nasty bits, the novel pays off handsomely.
Shelley is very well developed. Her victimization is shown to be a complicated combination of modeling and context. I personally related to her "mouse"-like qualities and found her voice insightful (if maybe a bit too precocious at times). Her transition to a more cold-blooded person worked for me as well, as Reece took the time to show her faltering adoption of the role. The violence, while gory, was believable and her struggle with it made it palatable for me. There was real regret in place and acts of violence were clearly shown to have consequences.
Posted by Paul at 12:46 PM No comments:
The Year We Were Famous, by Carole Estby Dagg
It's a historical drama, with some smooth character development. It was particularly nice how Clara really grew to understand her mother better during the trek and -- in the process -- crossed over the threshold to an adult-adult relationship with her. On its face, this is a predictable dramatic development in a story like this, but it is handled so naturally, that it never felt contrived. Best of all, there's plenty of interesting trivia to pick up along the way (ranging from the fact that many Western states granted women suffrage long before the nation as a whole, to the mannerisms of the people of the time). I learned a lot in a fairly painless way. Finally, I liked the ending, which strikes a perfect balance between happy and sad.
Posted by Paul at 12:28 PM No comments:
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Love & Leftovers, by Sarah Tregay
There's a lot going on in Marcie's life and verse may not be the best way to express it. While verse novels can be powerful, complexities and subplots tend to get buried in the quest to produce poignant lines. There are some lovely literary devices (the simultaneous monologues -- where two characters speak at the same time and which pepper the book -- are particularly effective), but often the format becomes distracting.
Despite the limitations of the approach, Marcie stands out as a memorably strong character. I really liked the mixture of apprehension and bravery that she expresses. There's something realistic and vulnerable about having her be able to admit her fear of intimacy but yet boldly declare her demand for passion. This combination of anxious child and proto-adult worked in making Marcie one of the more sympathetic characters I have read in some time. Big kudos to Tregay for that accomplishment!
Posted by Paul at 2:53 PM No comments:
Losing Elizabeth, by Tanya J. Peterson
At only 147 pages, Peterson's novel is a brisk treatment of the subject of abusive relationships between teens. The obvious comparison is with Sarah Dessen's cerebral novel Dreamland, but the two are quite different. While Dessen's novel explains how a mind in love can easily become a mind in denial, Losing Elizabeth is a more just-the-facts-ma'am treatment of the subject. This can lead it to come off as a bit pedantic, like an Afterschool Special, complete with stilted dialogue and bad guys whose evil intentions are crystal clear by page 33. Peterson's focus is on how small warning signs can grow subtly into full-blown abuse and on how abusers control their victims with calculated alterations of praise and criticism. It's spot-on. And if reading a story like this helps a young woman avoid becoming a victim, then it will have more than served its purpose. But as literature, it's a bit heavy handed. Given how big of a creep Brad appears to us, it is hard to see him through Elizabeth's eyes. Why does she keep forgiving him? We learn that she does, but we don't really understand why. To make this work, I wanted more of that inner dialogue.
Posted by Paul at 11:49 AM No comments:
Friday, June 15, 2012
Double, by Jenny Valentine
A clever thriller that unravels its mysteries at a good pace, keeping us guessing for just the right amount of time. The ending is a bit abrupt and some of the plot twists are contrived, but its still a good story. Characters are not its strength and no one ever develops all that much, but I liked to read about them nonetheless.
Posted by Paul at 6:53 PM No comments:
Mad Love, by Suzanne Selfors
And yet, there are even more immediate problems to address: a young stranger who thinks he's actually Cupid, a jealous girl who tries to extort Alice (in order to get her new horror novel - "Death Cat" - published), and a crush on a local skateboarder. Never mind the unusual heatwave that's hit the city of Seattle!
This rather crazy combination of elements (and a similarly odd assortment of memorable characters) actually work pretty well. The story can become a bit absurd at points, but that's the point of a book that truly finds love to be a bit "mad." The result is an entertaining book, even if the storyline is not the most coherent one out there. I think it all could have benefited from a few less subplots, but I liked it. Of course, I personally enjoyed the many gratuitous Seattle references (which include even a shout-out to Swedish!).
Posted by Paul at 6:37 PM No comments:
Saturday, June 09, 2012
Babe in Boyland, by Jody Gehrman
The premise is cute and hard to take seriously, but the story's appeal to an adolescent audience is obvious enough. While implausible (it's a little hard to believe that Natalie is able to successfully pass herself off as "Nat" for an entire week) but the story is entertaining. This isn't very heavy stuff (and the conclusion tries too hard to tie everything up with a happy ending), but good points are made in the quest to demystify the opposite gender. In this particular subgenre, I think E. Lockhart's Fly on the Wall really does a better job of explaining boys to girls, but Gehrman's novel is sweet and pretty digestible. The editorial intervention towards the end (when Natalie tells the readers what she's learned) will be helpful, even if it seems artificial and forced.
Posted by Paul at 9:01 PM No comments:
Vote for Larry, by Janet Tashjian
The pace is brisk, the story is humorous and light. Even with the agenda, the book stays light on the sermons. It's an enjoyable read. But I have a hard time giving this a ringing endorsement. It may be missing the point, but the details bother me. From the logical inconsistencies (Larry somehow only ages a year in two years) to the factual ones (newscasts in Larry's world apparently hold off on calling the results of an election until 99% of the vote has been counted), the book suffers from its lack of credibility. While it is wonderful to imagine that Larry could wrought significant transformations in society and reverse youth apathy, it simply isn't plausible. That message (you have to participate to make things change) is wonderful enough, but how can you buy it when Tashjian gets so many elementary things wrong? Somehow, shooting a little lower would have been more inspiring to me (maybe he should have just gone out for a local election?).
Posted by Paul at 8:43 PM No comments:
Friday, June 08, 2012
There Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff
In Rosoff's latest novel, she takes a turn to the silly, diving into territory probably most memorably explored by Douglas Adams. Imagining God as a petulant, self-centered, moping boy is an amusing concept, but it's also a joke that wears thin quickly. Rosoff apparently doesn't care much for adolescent boys (and holds them in pretty low esteem). As a result, Bob isn't a very interesting character. He's incapable of growth or depth. Rather, the humor of the story pretty much depends upon his character having no personal growth at all!
It's a literary dead end and thus the story stagnates. To move at all, Rosoff relies upon ever-increasing levels of absurdity, which left me wondering what the point of the story was. What do we really learn from finding out that fish can fly?
Posted by Paul at 7:39 PM No comments:
The Butterfly Clues, by Kate Ellison
A quirky and original thriller which showcases Ellison's strong writing. The book starts off in a rather oblique style and I was honestly afraid that I'd have to shelve the book as unreadable. By the end, however, the narrative becomes much normal (and even a bit mundane). For those who like literary pretensions, this is a step down. For me, it saved the story. I suspect that we'll come back with mixed reviews on this one!
OCD can be hard to depict sympathetically. Truth be told, I found myself frequently as frustrated with her personality quirks as Lo's father is depicted as being. It's hard to relate to someone who continually complains about being unable to control their behavior. Yet, I have to admit that Lo's depiction was compelling and you gradually become accustomed to it. Ellison's skill with characters doesn't stop there. The supporting roles (Flynt and the other street people, Lo's parents, etc.) are also well drawn. No one is particularly likeable (the book overall is quite gloomy), but they are memorable and well-developed.
Posted by Paul at 7:19 PM No comments:
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