Thursday, July 30, 2020
Be Not Far From Me, by Mindy McGinnis
I found the circumstances of her predicament utterly implausible. Childish jealousy drives her into the deep woods without any shoes and she manages -- without footwear and utterly intoxicated -- to wander so far away that in spite of being a trained woodsman she can't find her way back. She subsequently manages to stumble from Tennessee to Georgia on foot for fifteen days without running across any sign of human (no roads, trails, cabins, powerlines, etc.).
If you accept those strained premises for an adventure, you get an unusually gritty and intense adventure. If things like that are to your taste then read away. I personally don't know if scenes of self-amputation are my cup of tea, but don't let me stop you if you need that in your life. I admired Ashley's tough and complex personality, but she's not the type of character who is going to let you get too close. Authentic but the result was no one I really wanted to get to know. Well-written, but not a story I was ultimately drawn to.
Posted by Paul at 5:02 PM No comments:
Sunday, July 26, 2020
The How & the Why, by Cynthia Hand
This fairly long novel also includes largely unrelated stories of Cass's attempt to get into the college of her dreams, her adoptive mother's search for a replacement heart as her own is failing, and some interpersonal issues with her best friend (also adopted) and a new boy at school. These fit in, but largely don't add much to the story beyond feeding a very surprising (and slightly contrived) ending that pulls hearts strings but stretches credulity like a Bollywood romance.
There are plenty of novels out there about adoption and the vast majority of them split timelines to try to draw parallels between the lives of mother and daughter. I think this one is more successful for not overdoing the parallels and for respectfully avoiding a forced reunion. Also, never wavering from the conviction that adoptive parents are "real" parents seems truer to the experience and respectful to people who have been adopted. Finally, while I found the subplots peripheral and largely extraneous, I enjoyed them as well.
Posted by Paul at 4:17 PM No comments:
Friday, July 24, 2020
The Speed of Falling Objects, by Nancy Richardson Fischer
The trip ends up being more than anyone counts on when the plane they are flying into the jungle goes down in bad weather. Lost in the rain forest, Danny, Gus, Danny's father, and a few additional survivors have to make their way back to civilization. The jungle is full of dangers and the members of the party are gradually taken out one by one. For Danny, it is possibly the last chance she will have to figure her father out, figure out how they became estranged, and discover who she really is -- a quest nearly as difficult as the physical challenge of survival.
Edge of the seat action moves this story briskly along, but it is the emotional journey that Danny goes through that ultimately makes this not only entertaining but fulfilling. It's certainly not for the squeamish as there is stuff here to make just about anyone's stomach churn, but it is not overdone and the adventure feels real. The obvious romantic angle between Danny and Gus hangs over this plot like a poisonous snake, but is mostly deflected. Ultimately, the satisfaction of seeing Danny come to terms with the limitations of her parents and the recognition of her own weaknesses and strengths makes this novel enjoyable and worth reading.
Posted by Paul at 5:54 PM No comments:
Sunday, July 19, 2020
When the Stars Lead to You, by Ronni Davis
But some things have changed. Ashton is fighting serious inner demons and Devon risks being swept away by his battle with depression. And while family and friends on both sides try to intervene, in the end it comes down to Devon herself to make things right.
This is probably a book best avoided if you like your characters to behave rationally, because as much as one can understand the temptations that Devon is dealing with, her choice of a first love is pretty poor. Never mind his clinical depression, this boy is manipulative and controlling. He's really bad news. As book smart and well-adjusted as Devon is, it's painful to watch her going down a rabbit hole for hormones and romantic fantasy. But it's also painfully realistic and as much as we would all insist it would never happen, we all have either been there or know someone who has. In sum, uncomfortable reading and, if that is your idea of a good romance, pretty intoxicating stuff!
Posted by Paul at 11:46 AM No comments:
Friday, July 17, 2020
Rules for Being a Girl, by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno
At first, both of them try to ignore the incident, but as he starts retaliating against her in class, she decides in the end to make a public complaint. The results are devastating as the school administration circles the wagons, the student body turns against her, and suddenly her future looks to be in jeopardy. But refusing to step down, Marin fights for her dreams and her future, taking on the school and its entrenched prejudices.
Being a well-manufactured product of Allow Entertainment, this is slick storytelling and the story and its resolution is superbly satisfying. Surprisingly, it is also a disjointed mess in a way that only writing-by-committee can achieve. There's a second theme to the novel -- Marin's awakening as a feminist -- demonstrated through her founding of a feminist book club at school with the help of another sympathetic teacher. This would seem like a good complement to the #metoo story, as a bunch of highschoolers discover Audre Lorde and achieve enlightenment, but instead it breaks down into long discussions about POCs and other tensions between liberal and radical feminism that the average reader is going to glaze over. It never ends up having relevance to the story. And as for the eponymous rules, while they are striking and make a great back cover, they aren't really more than a tease, fitting into neither thread.
Posted by Paul at 5:43 PM No comments:
Monday, July 13, 2020
Scars Like Wings, by Erin Stewart
With a face that is heavily disfigured and a body covered with grafts, she is most people's worst nightmare and Ava finds it hard to imagine being back in high school. But with some support from another burn victim (the vivacious and over-the-top Piper) and Piper's friend Asad, Ava discovers that there is a life worth living. It's hardly a smooth journey though. Bullies and misunderstandings aside, both Ava and Piper have to learn that their worst enemy is themselves.
A satisfying and well-written story of overcoming adversity. What the story lacks in novelty or surprise it makes up for with strong and interesting characters and its two protagonists in particular. The complicated dynamic between the two girls and their run-ins with their shared nemesis mean-girl Kenzie provides a good pay-off. Asad, the helpless (and mildly hopeless) love interest and Ava's aunt and uncle are more disposable, but move the story forward. Overall, some trimming down would have helped but the book never truly drags and remains entertaining throughout.
Posted by Paul at 7:58 PM No comments:
Sunday, July 12, 2020
The Arrival of Someday, by Jen Malone
Eighteen year-old Amelia has a rare liver condition, but she's learned how to make a good life by not letting it define her existence. Active on local roller derby circuit in Cambridge, ready to start at UMass Amherst in the fall, and making a mark for herself as an artist, hardly anyone knows what she's dealing with because she ignores the disease (and the condition itself stays conveniently in remission). So, when she finds herself in the middle of a roller derby match coughing up blood on the floor, everyone is taken by surprise.
Her condition has turned for the worse and it has become imperative for her to receive a liver transplant. There are plenty of tests at the hospital, good days and bad days, and struggles as she finds herself sometimes unable to do the things she used to do. But Amelia has always been a fighter. Just as she demolishes her opponents on the skate track, she goes after her disease with gusto. The last thing she wants is for people to treat her as "the dying girl." But as her condition worsens, she has to come to terms with the way that her health doesn't just affect her. It also involves her friends and her family, finding its way into all of her social interactions and eventually into her own mental health. Is she really as fearless as she's always imagined? Or is her bravery simply false bravado?
In sum, a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a young woman dealing with an extraordinary health challenge. That, in itself, is nothing notable, but this work stands out for the time it spends on Amelia's family and friends. Amelia's entire family is in this together and the way that this is portrayed is both realistic and makes the story more compelling. One could draw fault with the messy ending and the sheer number of loose ends that Malone leaves us with, but I was impressed with the complexity of the human interactions portrayed and the messiness of the ending is perhaps the most realistic part of all.
Posted by Paul at 11:07 AM No comments:
Tuesday, July 07, 2020
A Constellation of Roses, by Miranda Asebedo
She never knew her father and, as far as Trix has known before now, he had no living family. But they exist and they are willing to take her in as long as she agrees to stay out of trouble and finish high school.
The McCabes turn out to be an eccentric matriarchy that run's their small town's pie bakery and tea room. And like Trix, each of them has their own special talent: her great aunt can tell fortunes, her cousin reads people's darkest secrets on touch, and her aunt bakes magical pies that heal emotional wounds.
Trix has lots of wounds to heal. But can she open herself to trust this family she never knew? Or will she fall back into bad habits and return to life on the streets?
It's a familiar story, but well-told this time. The characters are vivid and break free of the usual stereotypes. The writing is beautiful, especially as Asebedo waxes poetically on family and identity. And while everyone seems entirely too forgiving and the hardships a little too easily overcome, it is still an enjoyable and uplifting read.
Posted by Paul at 7:01 PM No comments:
Sunday, July 05, 2020
Here We Are Now, by Jasmine Warga
The reason is simple enough (his father is dying and he thinks that Tal should meet her grandfather before it is too late) but it leaves her with lots of questions: Why now? And how will his family treat her?
The homecoming is predictably awkward and messy, but Tal is surprised to find how welcome she is and how comfortable she feels with this family that she never knew. And through some pressure, she gets her father and mother to tell the true story of how they met and why they separated and kept her in the dark about her father's identity.
Warga does well-developed characters and good dialogue and that makes this otherwise forgettable story compelling enough to read. Some of the fault lies in Warga's focus on the parents' story. It's interesting but don't get to know Tal and really appreciate how these discoveries help her grow. Her own issues with trust are introduced but not developed. A tangent (a budding romance with a neighbor) that could have tested Tal's trust issues is left hanging.
Posted by Paul at 3:06 PM No comments:
Saturday, July 04, 2020
That's What Friends Do, by Cathleen Barnhart
Meanwhile, Sammie is considering switching from baseball to softball. She's the only girl on the team, but she's a good player and her father wants her to continue playing on the team. But as she watches the other girls playing on the softball team, she realizes that it would be much more fun to be on their team than trying to prove that she can play with the boys. Convincing her father to let her do so, however, proves difficult as he feels that switching from a "real" sport to softball would waste her talent.
An unexpected surprise of a book about sexual harassment, sexism, and the nature of consent in seventh grade. Barnhart spins a terrifyingly plausible chain of events that plunge its protagonists into social situations that they are entirely unprepared to deal with. The target middle school audience can learn a great deal from reading the story (and perhaps discussing with an understanding adult), but actually the book seems more beneficial to adult readers who can watch events unfold and better understand why things go as wrong as they do. The side story about Sammie's rediscovery of the need for feminine companionship is perhaps not so integral to the main story, but fits in nicely. In sum, a great age-appropriate contribution to discussions about sexual harassment and consent.
Posted by Paul at 3:26 PM No comments:
Friday, July 03, 2020
Beau & Bett, by Kathryn Berla
And it's while he's working there that he gets to meet this troublemaking daughter, Bettina. She's got a reputation at school of being this horrible person which has earned her the nickname "the Beast." Beau finds out, however, that she's not like that at all. And the more he gets to know her, the closer he feels towards her.
Allegedly a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the resemblance is slight. Working off a debt, a misunderstood "beast," and eventually learning to love someone we found initially repulsive are three similarities, but they are hardly unique. Trying to call that a retelling is a stretch and a distraction. Rather, the book's strength is really the dynamic between its two characters. Earnest Beau is no match for Bett's social ineptitude, and the sparks that fly between them are unexpectedly hilarious. The resulting love story is short and sweet.
Posted by Paul at 2:00 PM No comments:
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