real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: July 2013

dr. bird

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 320   Copyright: 2013

                  James Whitman always does his best to live in the style of his hero of the same last name, the poet Walt Whitman. He tries to start each day with a YAWP!, celebrate himself, and find beauty in everything and everyone. But it’s difficult. Ever since his sister Jorie was expelled from school and kicked out of the house by his less-than-tender parents, James has struggled with frequent anxiety attacks and an underlying depression. The story follows the ups and downs of his internal war between joy and sadness, tipped by good and bad events and changes in his life.

                 For me, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets was nice, but not earth-shattering. Its biggest strength by far was its main character, James. James was funny, sweet, relatable, and loveably vulnerable and innocent. His narration was very fresh and enjoyable—maybe a bit reminiscent of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with more sarcasm and poetry references. James’ infatuation with Walt Whitman was a nice framing for the story, and the thing that drew me to pick up the book in the first place. James’ chats with Dr. Bird, his imaginary therapist who happens to be a giant pigeon, also stood out to me. And the relationship between James and Jorie, as two siblings both struggling with depression, James always looking for help from Jorie and Jorie feeling unable to give it, was interesting, as was the evolution of James’ friendship with Derek, an older guy who seems at first like a very superficial friend, but begins to prove himself as more than that.

                As for the other aspects of the book, they were all solid enough, but I don’t think they’ll stick with me a few months from now. There just wasn’t much in the plot that gave it that extra sha-bam. I guess not that much officially happens; there aren’t a lot of big plot events to drive things forward and upward. In the end, it reads somewhat like a meditation on depression and anxiety disorders, which might be meaningful to some, but as for standing on its own as a novel, for more topical purposes, it falls a bit short. I’m not into judging books against each other, but I can’t help Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story coming to mind, since I love that book so much; and Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets ends up looking like that book’s younger brother, which hasn’t quite come of age yet.

                So all in all, I’d say this is a take-or-leaver. You won’t be wasting your time horribly by picking it up, but there are better options out there.


Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. This week the prompt is the top ten topics/words that make me NOT pick up a book. Here are my top 5.

1.) Vampires. The ship has sailed, people. Stop.

2.) Most other human-paranormal romances. It’s just getting tired for me.

3.) Scary medical conditions. I get freaked out very, very easily.

4.) Excessive vague, capitalized Terms at the very start of a book. This can be a great, cool device in dystopia stories, but recently I opened one in a bookstore, and the first page alone was a bombardment of weird Words that were unexplained, and it just felt contrived and impenetrable. I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that the Wardens took the Firsts to the BioSpace for the Process on the eleventh Launch Day of the Cycle. Slow down.

5.) If  a book is described as “haunting”, I’ll probably avoid it. I don’t want to be haunted. I prefer to keep my world light and happy for the most part, and I don’t want to take in a story that will mess with that.


There may be more, but those are the ones that came most readily to mind!

lost conspiracyEnjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts:  brain2brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2

  Pages: 576   Copyright: 2009

     The Lost Conspiracy is set on an island in a fantasy world in which certain people are born with the ability to send their five senses far away from their body, making them vital members of society as sources of news, warnings, and communication. These people are called the Lost. The story centers on Hathin, a young girl from a race that is distrusted and disliked by all their neighbors due to historical events. Hathin’s older sister Arilou’s status as a Lost is vital support for their struggling tribe. Hathin’s family has a secret, though: they’re not sure if Arilou is really Lost, or if she’s just mentally ill. All Lost are disconnected, childlike, and uncommunicative before they master their powers and learn to bring their senses back to their bodies, but Arilou has passed the age at which most show signs of improvement. Hathin is charged with caring for Arilou and working to keep up the charade. But when all the Lost on the island are suddenly found dead, leaving Arilou ostensibly the last one alive, the island’s hatred for Hathin’s people intensifies, and tragedy ensues, forcing her on a quest to uncover the mysteries behind the events and change the course of history, while meeting a variety of allies, and enemies, along the way.

                 The Lost Conspiracy is an amazing book. I think I remember it took a little while to get into, because the world is so complex you have to gradually grasp it all. But it was worth the mental output. The writing style was kind of unusual, which I liked. It was very artistic and visual, sort of like an ancient fable. The whole thing has an air of old wisdom about it, and a lot of well-done images of scenery. And the plot was so elaborate, the kind of thing where it starts out with so many threads, you don’t see how they could all possibly end up pulling together, but they do.

                Another great thing about The Lost Conspiracy was its messages; the most central one being that hatred and revenge are always cyclical and futile. There were lots of well-rounded characters who all had their own intricacies and parts to play. Frances Hardinge seems like a very smart person. My overall impression of this book is that it’s a truly impressive work of literature— it deserves to be a classic. It’s a very ambitious story that was very successfully executed. I definitely recommend it.

Special Awards:

music notes Lyrical award for pretty writing.

lightbulb  Illuminator for thought-provocation and general braininess.

everything is illuminated

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp half gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain2brain2

Pages: 276   Copyright: 2002

           I couldn’t even begin to explain this book, so I’ll cheat and give you the jacket description: “With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man– also named Jonathan Safran Foer– sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

        As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather’s village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite fear, guilt, memory, and hope, the characters in Everything is Illuminated mine the black holes of history. As the search moves back in time, the fantastical hstory moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power.”

           Everything is Illuminated is as beautiful and entrancing as its title. Practically every sentence is meaningful and thought-provoking enough to sustain an hour-long meditation. It’s just stunning and so intelligent. And yet all that powerfulness is perfectly balanced with humor and levity. It never takes itself too seriously, even in the moments when it deals with utterly central issues of existence. It’s hard to believe it could be so funny and so powerful simultaneously, within the same scene, the same sentence.

            I was really blown away by this book. All the characters were wonderful. The juggling of the multiple storylines, across very separate timelines, was effortless. The writing was like nothing I’ve ever read before. I’m thinking Jonathan Safran Foer might be a little crazy, but in an inspired way. It took me a while to finish this book because it was so packed with punch that I couldn’t really just whip through lots of chapters at one sitting; you have to go in small doses. It’ll be plenty to chew on for the rest of the day.

            My only complaint was that there was a chapter with so much explicit sex that I personally thought it was rather gross; and it’s hard to keep the memory of that chapter away from the memory of all the other chapters. Which is a shame. But other than that, this was one of the best books I’ve ever read, like on the short list.  It’s downright weird, and there’s some stuff I totally didn’t get. But it’s beautiful.

Special Awards:

music notes Lyrical award for being beautifully and poetically written.

comedy mask ROFL award for excellent humor.

lightbulb  Illuminator Award for being very, very thought-provoking.

And the heretofore nonexistent adkjdbfff award for being just adkjdbfff.

Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. This week the prompt is Best/Worst Movie Adaptions. I have a few good ones, a few bad, and a few ambivalent. (I’m not including Harry Potter, because that’s obvious. In my mind, the Harry Potter movies are the standard for all movie adaptions to aim for.)

First, the good:

1.) THE HUNGER GAMES. The Hunger Games movie was the best adaption I’ve seen since Harry Potter. It was perfect, actually. There’s not a thing I would have changed about it!

2.) I know this will make a lot of lists today: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. That was a solid movie, and it had Logan Lerman in it, who I love.

3.) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I was in love with this movie long before I read the book, and it remains one of my favorites now that I’m a fan of the book, too. So good.

4.) A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s kind of a pity they only did the one movie, but at the same time, it’s worthy of respect in this world of endless sequels. And I think they did a good job of capturing the off-the-wall, indescribable spirit of the books.

Now some I’m ambivalent on:

1.) We in the Percy Jackson fandom struggle with the Lightning Thief movie. It took a lot of liberties with the plot, and I don’t really understand why they felt they had to do that. But at the same time, the heart was in the right place. And I love Logan Lerman as Percy. He’s got the attitude down for sure.

2.) This is kind of random, but it came to mind– Aquamarine. The book was kind of strange and uneventful, and the movie glitzed it up a lot, but maybe that was a good thing. I’m not sure what to think about that whole thing.

And ones I don’t like:

1.) The Tale of Desperaux. Of course, I was young when I read this, so I might have a warped view, but I remember it being a very sophisticated and elegant book. But the movie was a kid’s movie in the least enjoyable sense of the term, very juvenile. Good for little kids, I guess, but it was disappointing for me.

2.) I struggled with this one, because I know so many people, including myself, grew up with this movie/movies. But I just don’t think, as a huge fan of the books, that I can put the Princess Diaries  movies anywhere else on this list than in the disapprove section, because the original books are so not shiny Disney-movie material. Grandmere in the books is NOT Julie Andrews, and she would NOT slide down a slide on a mattress. Mia doesn’t get a magic makeover and turn into Anne Hathaway. Her hair is shaped like a yield sign. And just… meh. I understand they’re loveable movies, but it’s hard for me not to get worked up when I think about the books.

[insert smooth conclusion statement]

chicks with sticks Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 247    Copyright: 2005

    Scottie Shearer, a sophomore in high school, is not impressed when her great Aunt starts teaching her to knit at her Aunt Roz’s funeral. Aunt Roz was the one person who understood her, especially now that her once-best-friend Amanda has turned popular and abandoned her. But much as she scorns knitting, that night she finds herself unable to put it down. Before she knows it, she’s hooked. And when she, Amanda, and two other wildly different girls from their school meet by various chance circumstances at KnitWit, a friendly neighborhood knitting shop, a pact begins to form that will change each of their lives for the better.

     I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed it. On the re-read, unfortunately, I’ve become aware of a lot of flaws; but it still has a place in my heart, so I don’t want to write it off entirely.

     I think the deal is that the story is really good, but the writing technique is rough. There are just some irritating devices that could have been edited out:

     -Excessive laughter. It seemed like every other sentence was somebody “throwing their head back and guffawing” or “cracking up into mischevious giggles and snorts”. I think a lot of times, if a character says something genuinely funny, it can just be assumed that their friends laughed. It doesn’t need to be documented play-by-play.

     -It’s written in the third person, and a lot of times the author used “Scottie thought” sentences to comment on the action when it could have just been stated, with the fact that it’s a thought of Scottie’s being implied. For example, instead of “Well, she thought irritably, looks like For a Grieving Teen was about as helpful as a can of redbull”, she could have just written “It looked like For a Grieving Teen was about as helpful as a can of redbull”.

     -Sometimes it was too bubbly, and it got exhausting. There were exclamation marks that could have just been periods, and some of the dialogue or narrations sounded a little too much like quotes from Cosmo or something. Just kind of affected, not quite natural.

     -This is a little nitpicky, but there were too many synonyms for “said”. Just say “said”.

     But the story itself keeps me loyal. The whole knitting angle is pretty unique. The four main characters, Scottie, Amanda, Bella, and Tay, are all very loveable, and their friendship is very sweet. And I was interested and eager to see how the various dramas would play out. It held my attention. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed reading Chicks with Sticks, even though I spent a lot of time yelling at it (“Stop laughing! For the love of god, stop laughing!”) If you’re looking for a cozy book to snuggle up in bed with, especially on a snowy winter day, or maybe on the beach or by the pool, give it a try. And if you like it, there are two sequels, Knit Two Together and Knitwise. 

Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. This week the prompt is Top Ten Most Intimidating Books (for whatever reason). Here are my top six, in countdown format.

6.) Dreamland by Sarah Dessen was intimidating before I read it because everyone said it was so wrenchingly intense. But when I finally read it, it wasn’t that bad.

5.) For a little while I struggled with reading Going Bovine by Libba Bray, for similar reasons to Dreamland— I knew it was about a boy with a fatal illness, and I don’t usually like to read books that are so centered around death like that. But I’m so glad I did read it because it was incredible and actually not depressing at all, really.

4.) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I got pretty far in it, but it wasn’t an easy read for me, and I haven’t finished it. Pretty dense, and way too many semicolons, even though I love semicolons.

3.) Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. My friends keep telling me I have to read this book, and they’re probably right, but I guess I’m kind of intimidated by John Green in general because everyone I know loves him so much, but I read Paper Towns and thought it was just okay. And I’m just worried that if I read something else by him, it’ll be the same experience. I feel kind of alienated for not being a John Green fan, and yet I’m also afraid to take steps towards becoming one, in case it doesn’t work. But I know I love David Levithan, so maybe this book would be a good gateway to John Green.

2.) Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell/ Brave New World by Aldous Huxley/ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, as a group. The trifecta of classic dystopians, or at least that’s how I see them. I consider myself an avid dystopia reader, and I feel like reading one or all of these books would give me a new edge of legitimacy as such. But at the same time, I don’t feel sophisticated or intellectual enough to read them. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

1.) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I bet a lot of people are going to say this same thing today: I love the musical, so there’s a part of me that really wants to read it, but on the other hand, there’s a reason people call it The Brick. The thing is like a dictionary.

I should probably get over it and read most of these some day, if not all of them. But we’ll see what happens.