Sunday, March 30, 2014
The Tragedy Paper, by Elizabeth Loban
The story is told a year after the facts through the artifice of a senior named Duncan, who moves into the former room of the tragic student and finds a series of CDs with the former inhabitant's confessions on them. And it is the tragic figure, Tim who tells his story so that Duncan can both (a) avoid the same errors; and (b) get some juicy material for the "Tragedy Paper" (a senior thesis on the meaning of tragedy) that the students must write.
This is no Looking for Alaska or Dead Poets Society, but it is an interesting and sophisticated take. Early on, we are introduced to Tim's and Duncan's love interests and it would be obvious to assume that they play a role in the tragedy, but the story is more ambitious than that. Even Tim's unusual characteristic of being albino is a bit of a red herring. Instead, the ending is a genuine (but well foreshadowed) surprise.
The story, with its series of CDs, reminded me of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, but Tim is a much less whiny narrator. I cared less for the other characters, who were thinly drawn. And then, there's the matter of Tim's monomania -- a hallmark of tragedy, as the book points out -- which I found as annoying as I find it in Shakespeare (but that's my problem with the entire genre, not this book in particular).
Posted by Paul at 11:23 AM No comments:
Firecracker, by David Iserson
After she is kicked out of her elite private school for cheating, her parents decide to teach her a lesson by sending her to public school. Being used to buying whatever she wants, public school is a bit of a shock. Worse is her new therapist who wants her to practice being nice. At first she tries to buy nice deeds as well, but when that doesn't work, she eventually figures out a way to complete her odious assignment. Meanwhile, she is hot in pursuit of the person who ratted on her in the first place and got her thrown out of private school.
The result is a story that is long on snarkiness (lots of "whatever" and "I stopped listening") and short on heart. It's funny for the first 20-30 pages but quickly wears thin. If it had been more rich girl finds her heart of gold by slumming it (instead of nasty person stays nasty for most of the book but eventually makes points sacrifice), I would have been more taken by the story. Instead, I simply failed to engage with the characters. What was intended to be humorous just seemed tacky by the end.
Posted by Paul at 8:38 AM No comments:
Friday, March 28, 2014
How I Lost You, by Janet Gurtler
But as they are approach realizing their dreams, Kya starts to go off the rails -- ending up in risky situations involving alcohol, drugs, and boys. Her behavior becomes more and more erratic and threatens not only her safety, but both of their plans. People tell Grace that she needs to jettison her relationship with Kya, and that continuing to defend her friend is going to drag her down. But it's hard for Grace to let go. Grace believes in her heart that she has to have Kya's back - on and off the field - and she can't bear to break her pledge.
A satisfying story of friendship lost and the pain that goes along with letting go. It's a little hard to truly understand the depth of Grace's loyalty from what we can witness in the book (some flashbacks on the girls' past would have helped to fill in why the girls are so bound to each other). Also, the conflict between the girls in the present grows tiresome, and their fights become repetitive and fail to advance the plot. But in terms of showing the complicated dynamics of a long-term friendship coming apart, the story achieves its mission.
Posted by Paul at 9:40 PM No comments:
The Chaos of Stars, by Kiersten White
Once out of Egypt, she makes some friends, meets a boy who looks good enough to be a god (but to the best of Isadora's knowledge is a mere mortal), and helps to supervise the set up of a small exhibit of some priceless odds and ends that her parents have lying around. There's some danger afoot but Isadora is worried most of all about Mom finding out that her new boyfriend is Greek (for understandable reason, Ancient Egyptian deities don't like the Greeks!).
It is all beautifully absurd and hilarious, and has a nice undercurrent about intergenerational understanding. The first half works spectacularly well as comedy (mostly based on the premise that modern dysfunctional families share a great deal in common with Egyptian gods) and is lively and fun. The second half is a decent adventure and mystery, but lacks the originality of the first part. That could be a mood killer, but overall there is that nice poignant familial reconciliation stuff that gets me all weepy. It's funny and ultimately uplifting, with a pleasant romantic coating. Overall, reminiscent of a better-than-average Meg Cabot novel like Avalon High.
Posted by Paul at 9:26 PM No comments:
Saturday, March 22, 2014
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, by Susin Nielsen
Since that tragedy, Henry's family has fallen apart. Mom has moved back in with her parents and been in and out of institutions. Dad and Henry have moved to a new town and are struggling to rebuild their lives, come to grips with grief and anger, and keep their past a secret. Why couldn't life be more like the professional wrestling matches that Henry loves -- where good and evil are well-defined and the good guys usually come out on top in the end?
In all, a pretty sweet book for a story that ought to be difficult and traumatic to tell. It ends on a saccharine sweet note (which is probably demanded by the young target audience of the book), but Nielsen is restrained and avoids tying too many things up. This leads me to the book's strongest suit: the complexity of the characters. From the non-romance of Henry and his classmate Alberta, to the strained relationship of his parents, the awkwardness of Henry and his best friend Farley, and the great lightening impact of the neighbors bickering, there are some wonderful characters and great interactions. It's quirky, but very endearing.
Posted by Paul at 12:51 PM No comments:
Friday, March 21, 2014
Allegra, by Shelley Hrdlitschka
It's a good story and I enjoyed reading it in spite of two systemic problems. The first is the challenge of describing a musical composition in prose. Without being able to hear the beauty of it, we are stuck with the author's descriptions (and there are only so many times one can read how incredible the music is before the assertions fall flat). The other issue is the plotting of the story. The core of the story (Allegra's relationship with her teacher) builds in tension but never resolves, ending in a bit of a literary whimper. Similarly, the subplots (her dancing career, tensions with friends, a might-be romance with a classmate, and the pending separation of her parents) all peter out without resolution. This left me at the end with a sense that the story was unfinished.
Posted by Paul at 3:32 PM No comments:
Pieces, by Chris Lynch
The book starts out with an interesting premise but after a few moments of wonderment about what it means to have parts of your brother inside of strangers, the story starts to unravel. By the end, it has become a disorganized mess of ideas and characters that largely failed to capture my interest. I don't think Lynch really knew what to do with the story. No character really develops and the original premise merely serves as an excuse for these disparate characters to interact. The highlight of the book is actually a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese, but that could have been spun off as an amusing short story, as it has nothing to do with the story.
Posted by Paul at 3:14 PM No comments:
Saturday, March 15, 2014
OCD Love Story, by Corey Ann Haydu
Bea's illness manifests itself through obsessions with tracking other people. Constantly afraid that the objects of her concern are in danger, she needs to "check up" on them. Given the repetitive nature of her anxiety, the behavior is easily misconstrued as stalking, and it lands her in all sorts of legal problems. Beck's obsession lies with hygiene and fitness. He literally works out at the gym to the point of exhaustion and then rubs his skin clean off trying to wash up afterwards.
To the extent that it is possible between these two colorful young people, the romance follows the traditional pattern of acquaintance, misunderstanding, and forgiveness. What is different is how their disorders affect their everyday lives and how they complicate each other's already-complex routines.
At times, this is a hard book to get through. The nature of the disorder is exhausting in itself and one is tempted to simply wring some necks, but overall impression I found the book fascinating. Haydu's accomplishment is creating a sympathetic and nuanced portrait of such unusual young people, and bringing them truly to life. Mental illness is hard to get right in a book and she does an impressive job here.
Posted by Paul at 4:10 PM No comments:
Samphire Song, by Jill Hucklesby
It would be hard to find the justification for yet another horse book for girls as it's already a pretty crowded field. Unfortunately, this one doesn't break new ground. It has plenty of appealing elements and, if you like the genre, the authentic details, some adventure, a loving family, and a brave girl, then you can't really go wrong with it, but it doesn't stand out in any particularly unique way.
There is one super-distracting element of the book. Originally published in the UK, someone made the editorial decision to Americanize the story. This is a half-hearted affair where "Pounds" are changed to "Dollars" and "County" is (inconsistently) changed to "State." Even so, there are plenty of Anglicisms slipping in (for example, a "pub landlord") that seems sloppy. Honestly, it would have been better to leave it alone. Girls who love horses, also love horses in the UK just as much (if not more) than horses in the US.
Posted by Paul at 3:52 PM No comments:
Sunday, March 09, 2014
If You Find Me, by Emily Murdoch
As you can imagine, it's a heartwrenching story with plenty of opportunity to shock the reader. I'd be cold-hearted (and lying) to claim that it didn't move me. However, a few days later as I write this review, the impact of the reading has faded surprisingly quickly. The culprit in my mind is the roughness of the writing (a narrative that is paced irregularly - skipping forward and sometimes unnecessarily repeating). The characters also are thinly drawn (with the adults either entirely evil or unbelievably virtuous and self-sacrificing). Some attempt to draw out the mother and father (and even the step mother) a bit more would have made the situation more interesting. As is, only the children have any sort of depth. I get that Murdoch wants to keep the focus on the kids and they certainly have an interesting story to tell, but in the vacuum of capricious and mysterious adults, they are merely pawns for events that the reader wants to understand better.
Posted by Paul at 10:42 AM No comments:
Saturday, March 01, 2014
Burning Blue, by Paul Griffin
The book is billed as "a tender, haunting look at life after beauty." It isn't really. Instead, it's really a very complicated whodunit with an extremely sloppy wrap-up (for about 240-odd pages, the story slowly rolls out, but something lit a fire under Griffin and the last fifty pages just become a messy unveiling of the real story with little-to-no effort to have it make sense). Some heartstring-pulling at the end winds this mess up (probably that "tender" stuff in the blurb), but the characters feel neglected and unresolved. It doesn't help that the cast of characters is vast and the story is unfocused. Basically, it's a mess!
Posted by Paul at 5:28 PM No comments:
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