Friday, April 20, 2018
While an interesting story, the retelling was a too melodramatic for my tastes. Dana spends an awful lot of time upset, crying, or fighting with the other characters. Ultimatums are brandied about that never get fulfilled (after a while, I got tired of characters saying that they would "never" so something since the word obviously carries a different meaning for them). This is a story that would have benefited from trimming and some mellowing. I was a bit surprised by the ending, but mostly for the way it plunges into a rosy happy ending where none was really even needed.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Martin, largely educated in a special school, gets to experience a summer in a mainstream school. Not only is it a "general-ed" school, but it is in a foreign country. Being overseas actually proves to be a mitigating factor for Martin's assimilation -- he finds it easier to relate to others through translation.
Martin's mother is a movie director and she is spending the summer in Provence working on a film. She brings Martin along with her and, to help him pass the time, suggests that he try attending the local lycée. He does so and has mixed success making friends and fitting in. When he discovers that the kids he thinks are his friends are actually only being nice to him because they want Martin to get them access to his mother's movie, he is heartbroken. However, he makes an unexpected decision that surprises everyone.
As I noted from the onset, what makes this story is the insightful portrayal of Martin. While we get a pretty good idea of how Martin presents himself externally, we also get far more about what is going on in Martin's head. Admittedly, his thought prcess is described in a way that Martin's character could not realistically do (i.e., through the words of a non-autistic author) but it is done with great sensitivity. At times, Reyl goes overboard in bringing up jargon and catchphrases from therapy, or in over intellectualizing behavior, but the detail is really helpful in following along with what might otherwise be hard to follow. Moreover, it gives the reader an unusually detailed understanding of autism making Martin much more sympathetic.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Harrowing reading with a very unsavory set of parents. Hadley is an opinionated character and strong in a way. She has a single-minded determination to work through problems her own way, but an arrogance about her capabilities (probably nurtured inadvertently by her father) that ultimately proves tragic and provides the novel a good deal of its mileage.
It is extremely ironic that the author in an afterword speaks strongly in praise of getting outside help, since this is the one thing that Hadley's character repeatedly refuses to do. And while Giles is willing to cut her character some slack, I actually want to take the author to task for the decision. Because it is pretty obvious what the correct and strong decision would be and it is strikingly against character for Hadley to be so stubborn throughout the novel. The only purpose that such stubbornness really ends up serving is to drag out the story. I have a hard time accepting that the behavior is plausible and, to those of you who argue that it is, then an even harder time seeing Hadley as any sort of heroine. In sum, child endangerment as entertainment always strikes me as a bit sick, especially in this case where the solution is a deus ex machina conclusion, reinforcing the passive an oddly ineffectual actions of the main character.
Friday, April 13, 2018
It's a very intimate portrayal of adolescent romance and sexuality that reads like a diary and follows all the rules of YA relationships (from the entirely too-perfect boyfriend to the gossipy BFFs that Janey shares everything from petty jealousy to sex secrets with). That said, it shares the fundamental flaw of Judy Blume books: it's a far too perfect portrayal of the world and the book has a mission to sell a philosophy rather than actually tell a story.
As a novel that will encourage young women to relax and enjoy sex for its positive elements, it's a pretty successful and readable novel. As a story about real people in real relationships, it's about as far away as it could possibly be. Janey is astute and extremely well-spoken and has a voice that alternates wildly between the immaturity of a pre-teen and the wise thoughtfulness of a middle aged woman. What she doesn't do, however, is sound like a seventeen year-old. And Luke? Well, he's just a fantasy creation (endlessly patient and kind, always saying the right thing, never has any interest beyond making Janey happy, etc.). I liked the Janey's mother most of all, but I assume that was basically Hopper's voice, and I didn't buy the calm reasoned discussions between mother and daughter about sex and longing.
And yes, the sex scenes are a little too numerous and a little too explicit. But if that's what you are looking for, I can give you some much better recommendations!
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
It's a particularly traumatic time for Maya, whose parents are separating, but even Joaquin has issues as a survivor of the foster system (he was never actually adopted). The three children's reunion serves as a catalyst for many hidden and suppressed problems to surface.
Billed as a story about the meaning of family, the novel is actually a bit more focused, looking at the emotional tie of adoption and what it means to bring in a child to the family unit without a blood tie. That idea (and the exploration of it) will likely make adoptees and adoptive families uncomfortable, but Benway touches on it with great sensitivity.
That doesn't mean that this is light reading. Particularly towards the end, this story becomes pretty traumatic reading as all sorts of heartstrings are pulled. It ends as well as one could expect, but there's a lot of pain to explore and catharsis to be endured. If you're like me, that makes this a great book. If you prefer lighter reading, I'd suggest giving this a pass.
Thursday, April 05, 2018
But then, tragedy strikes at a party where some bad choices are made and Lena finds herself the sole survivor of a car crash. Of her friends, three are now dead. Lena herself, while alive, has to face serious injuries and a difficult readjustment. And then come to grips with the loss and her grief. Ironically, it is Sebastian who will become her means to reconnect with her life, as he becomes far more than a crush.
While this certainly contains the sort of meaty material that could drive a good book and is well-written by an experienced YA novelist, the novel is a strangely lifeless affair. Lena is a decent enough character but there's just not much depth here. And the writing, while pretty good, doesn't really stretch beyond competent storytelling. Death and grieving stories have been told before and this one doesn't add much in new insights or present the story in an aesthetically interesting way. It's not a bad read, but it doesn't stand out in any particular way.
Monday, April 02, 2018
The novel is burdened by a number of YA cliches and a heroine who partially struggles from self-inflicted woes (I grow tired of characters who know that they are the cause of all the world's woes, since every reader can guess that the character will be proved wrong and their problems will then magically disappear!). But there is a lot more to love in this debut novel than hate. The toxic relationship between Kiko and her mother is as authentic as it is heartbreaking. As depicted, it captures so insightfully the dependency of mother and daughter and how the child is so unable to break free. I wondered at times where Kiko found her strength to break the cycle, but I was inspired by it. I also loved the subjects of each of her drawings (a literary device used to close almost every chapter).
Now, if someone could please explain why the cover features a jellyfish?