Tuesday, December 30, 2014
I liked Deriso's great sense of family dynamics and her ear for language in complex scenes. I was less thrilled by her taste for melodrama and piling on crisis upon crisis. This story features a rape, an attempted sexual assault, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, an abusive mother, alcoholism, and even a death. Deriso doesn't have much patience for storytelling, so rather than focus on her strengths in character building she resorts to action and violence. This ultimately makes the book exhausting and thin, and wastes some lovely and interesting characters.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
The story is sweet but a little hard to believe. What parent would let their teen daughter waltz off for an unsupervised summer at a Ren Faire (sheer luck and some attentive grown-ups seem to save Ro from bigger trouble that probably would have come her way). And everyone is just a little too sweet and friendly for words (even the bad guys are a bit comic and harmless). To me, this made the book seem like it was pitched for a pretty young audience, but with underage drinking and multiple veiled allusions to sex, I'm not really sure. I couldn't tell if this was for middle readers, YA, or NA (one review I read claimed it was for "all ages" -- but perhaps it was really for none?).
Saturday, December 20, 2014
But then, the price goes up unannounced. When Gabe goes to complain, he discovers something even more shocking: the proceeds from the machine have been diverted to a new program for the cheerleaders. Summer band camp has been cancelled and the entire band program is in jeopardy. In response, Gabe rallies the other band "geekers" to make a stand and defend the music program and their own self-respect.
A strange and fairly random story that delights in the sort of coarse razzing language that YA writers believe belong in "boy" books (and which always does a nice job of driving me towards the books with pink covers instead!). There's plenty of frenetic activity and little troubling character development to interfere with it. That would be fine, but most of the action is recounted by Gabe after the fact in the form of a one-sided interrogation. This device drags things out and artificially builds up the suspense as important plot points are conveniently omitted until later to extend the story. In sum, a pretty annoying read with a silly plot.
It is therefore something of a godsend that she discovers cross-country running around this time. Having never done it before, a New Year's resolution to start doesn't go terribly well. But Alice is persistent and determined to find something she can excel at, even if she really isn't sure what she wants.
I went through a lot of opinions about this book as I read it. At times, I found it unfocused. I wasn't really sure what it was supposed to be about (love for a rat, reconciling with mother, a search for meaning, etc.). The story seemed to change more than the character. Unhelpfully, Alice can be a terribly inconsistent character. For such an insightful and intelligent narrator, she seemed far too capable of being clueless and boneheaded. It's a character flaw that's supposed to be endearing, but it just seemed implausible and more like a lazy bit of writing. But by the end, it seemed to hit its stride and it goes out on a high note, so I'll give it a qualified endorsement.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Afterwards, they move on -- Owen and his father move out west, while Lucy and her parents relocate to Edinburgh and then to London. Long distance relationships are hard (especially when you're not really sure what the nature of the relationship is in the first place), but the friendship born that night survives and they stay in touch through postcards and occasional emails.
I loved the characters (so full of hope and anxiety). I loved the settings (so many familiar places from New York to Seattle to Edinburgh, and just enough detail to make them seem authentic without overdoing things). But most of all, I loved the sheer beauty of the story -- a simple romance to be sure, but a captivating one based on honesty and believability. I might have gotten a bit annoyed towards the end when Smith drags everything out a bit more, but I forgave her as soon as I got to the pay-off.
However, the truth is a slippery thing. As four of Alice's peers recount their stories and admit their small contributions and omissions, a somewhat simpler yet more damning story is revealed. And it is all the more shocking for its plausibility.
A well-written and ultimately icky story about bullying and the role that adolescent insecurity plays in it. It's a story that is calculated to make you mad. While there are acts of courage and decency in the story, the overall message is of how pride, vanity, and arrogance will trump the truth. Mathieu makes no attempt to whitewash and the result is an ugly (but very honest) story about the near destruction of a human being a mob. Almost certainly the book is on its way to becoming a book discussion subject!
Written in the heart-aching pleas of an extended letter directly to her older sister, Nell's story early on sets a high expectation of tragedy and heartbreak. Unfortunately, this particular expedition into pathos didn't gel as well for me as her earlier fraternal take, The Things A Brother Knows. It hurts that the material is not all that original and that the storyline is cluttered with subplots. The story felt more like a novella that Reinhardt has stretched out with other stories that were peripheral at best.
Yet, there is no denying the strength and beauty of Reinhardt's writing. Her ability to drop emotional bombshells with seeming ease makes this a pleasure to read. And while I very rarely quote from the books I read, I can't help but quote a passage (from page 184) that knocked the wind out of me for its amazing insight into the pain of adolescent transition:
"It's suited Mom and Dad best to think of us as smart and mature young women with good sense who make good choices so that they could wrap themselves up in their own lives and fall asleep a little on the job of being our parents. All these years, Layla, we've tried to make things easy on them. We go back and forth, back and forth, smart and mature, building a bridge between two lives and crossing it over and over again. You know I've always hated being called a baby, but I started to wish it were true. The baby of whom nothing is asked or expected.
"I wanted to go to them, to tell them, to put them in charge, but I didn't know how. I was afraid to cause that earthquake."
Saturday, December 06, 2014
For a story about language and communication, it is a good thing that McCahan excels with dialogue in this rather chatty book. Unfortunately, she is less successful with telling her story. There are some pretty obvious directions that the story will go (reconciliation being the obvious consistent solution in all cases), but there isn't much in the first 200 pages of the book to give any indication of where McCahan intends to go.
It didn't help that I failed to gain much sympathy for Josie or Kate. For much of the book, they were just plain mean to each other. And, while I know full well how siblings can be, it's hard for me to believe that the parents wouldn't have more effectively stepped in. Finally, there's that silly infatuation that Josie has over Denis DeYoung -- excuse me?! Gag!
Then an accident injures her, leading to the amputation of one of her feet. Her once-supportive dance instructor tells her that her career is over, but she refuses to give up. Instead, she focuses on rebuilding her strength and learning to use a prosthetic foot and picks up a new teacher. From this new teacher and the inspiration of another dancer, she discovers an entirely different approach to dance which is focused more on spirituality than form.
A beautiful story that sheds light on an unfamiliar world of Indian dance and spirituality. Veda is a great ambassador for the reader, providing us with a sympathetic heroine with a heart of gold. She is both strong and virtuous and, in Venkatraman's gentle hand, she both rewards us and is rewarded.
I was less taken by the writing itself. Venkatraman chose to write the novel in a pithy broken form that claims to be free verse, but which felt more like half-finished ideas. The writing lacks the coherency of prose or the beauty of poetry, leaving us with words that seek to be poignant in their minimalism but that just look sketchy and rough.
Beautifully written, Cantor delights (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically at times) in contrasting the innocent life on Island with Sky and River's existence in California -- all a little Gods Must Be Crazy (but without the laughs) Those contrasts and the process these two young people go through in acclimatizing to their new world could make for a stellar book on its own, but Cantor is not content to tell that tale. Instead, she throws in a lot of back story about Sky and River's parents belonging to a cult and a mass murder that implicates River -- all of which ultimately seems unnecessary. Thankfully, this extra stuff is more of a distraction than something to ruin this otherwise nice story of innocence lost.