real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: September 2013

                 Hello, fellow judges! You may have noticed that it’s Saturday. And if you’re really tuned in, you may know that Saturdays are the day that I post a book review. Yep. Just like clockwork. One Saturday=one I’ll Be the Judge book review from Tova.

                If you’re really, really tuned in, you may have also noticed that this isn’t sounding very much like a book review. Hmm.

                The truth is that this week has been more hectic than a rhinoceros wedding party doing the Cupid Shuffle in a china shop, and amid the homework, tennis, musical rehearsal, etc., I didn’t get a chance to review a book. I was going to just somehow rush one out this morning, but I thought it might be more fun if I did a Book Chat, and chatted about some book-related thoughts that may pop into my mind.

                Currently, I’m about half way through The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. For those who don’t know, it’s about teens who are Shadowhunters, people with partial angel blood who hunt demons that come from other realms to cause trouble on earth. I had been planning to read the book when the movie came out, since I, like so many bibliophiles, believe strongly in reading the book first, but I didn’t get a chance (see above rhinoceros simile); and one weekend I decided to go ahead and see the movie anyway. I enjoyed the movie, but it was sort of confusing, and I got the sense that it was squeezing a whole lot of book into its comparably short runtime. So I knew I had to read the book and find out what I was missing.

               My suspicions were confirmed when I got the book and saw that it’s almost 500 pages long. And sure enough, I’m following the story a lot more clearly. I don’t think the movie even mentioned that Alec and Isabelle were siblings! My grandfather and I thought they were dating! Silliness. But anyhow, I’m really enjoying the book. All of the allusions to Christian themes make me a little nervous that it will turn uncomfortably preachy or heavy-handed, but it hasn’t so far. Occasionally it threatens to sound a tinge amateur for some reason, but overall, it’s well-written, gripping, and just fun. And um, Jace. Sign me up. He’s just as alluring in the book as he was on the screen. I haven’t fully formed opinions about the quality of the movie adaption yet, except that I think all the actors did at least a decent job portraying their characters.

               Completely shifting gears, the other bookish topic I had on my mind lately is novels written in verse. This is probably because I recently read a recommendation of a verse novel called The Weight of Water, by Sarah Crossnan, about a girl who immigrates with her mother from Poland to England. I’ve dabbled a lot in writing poetry, so I’m not one of those people who are automatically turned off by it. But I think verse novels have to be different from prose novels in more ways than the format. I think if you’re going to write a novel entirely in poetry, it will have to be more condensed than a prose one, because poetry doesn’t lend itself very well to mundanity. A prose novel will have a lot of minor content—the protagonist going to the grocery store or chatting with a friend, just going through their schedules. If you try to include these moments in a verse novel, you’ll have pages that are broken into weird line breaks for no clear reason, with either no musicality at all or a lot of forced bravado and floweriness. Poetry cuts to the heart of things; in a verse novel, it will be only the strong emotions that count. Or at least, that’s the way I see it. I’m a great authority, seeing as how it’s been years since I read a novel in verse. Hopefully I can change that soon, with The Weight of Water! Or… eventually.

                Thoughts on either City of Bones or novels in verse? And should I do more book chats in the future, either instead of reviews certain weeks or in addition to them? Talk to me in the comments.     



Enjoyability:     smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts:brain2brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 185  Copyright: 2003

               The official summary: “This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

               When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.”

                In case you’re new around here, let me fill you in: I love David Levithan. Love love love him. And this book is a great example of why.

                First of all, David writes characters who are gay, and he writes stories in which people are gay, but he doesn’t write Gay Characters or Gay Stories. In the world of David Levithan, that’s never the point. Which is how it should be.

                Second of all, David Levithan’s writing voice is just awesome. His style has a great deal in common with John Green’s (a similarity that really shows in the book they wrote together, Will Grayson, Will Grayson). It’s witty, slick, and full of highly quotable bits of poeticism. “His books are kept on freestanding shelves hung at different angles on a sea-green wall. They defy gravity, as good books should.” “Seeing Kyle always takes some of the volume out of my soundtrack.” “Because sometimes you just have to dance like a madman in the Self-Help section of your local bookstore.” If David Levithan wrote an Ikea dresser assembly manual, I would read it, because he would make it sound good.

                Thirdly, David Levithan’s characters! Are fabulous. They are so rich and quirky and diverse. And his romance is the sweetest thing ever. The progression of Paul and Noah’s relationship is so realistic and natural, and so lovely. And Paul as a narrator is extremely relatable. I think each of us is Paul, at least some of the time.

                The style of this book is fabulous. The content of this book is fabulous. The author of this book is fabulous. It’s short, but it does so much in its space. Read it. Yes. Case closed. Goodnight.  

Special Awards:

music notes Lyrical Award for musical writing.

sqee Squee. Vair romantical.

eagle  I think the Soaring Eagle award is a reasonable accolade for excellent LGBTQ representation. Because even though it shouldn’t be impressive for a writer to write gay characters, it’s still worthy of praise when it’s done this well.

the stat

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 236 Copyright: 2012

     When Hadley misses her flight from her Connecticut hometown to London, she’s convinced it’s the dismal cherry on top of a dismal sundae of circumstances. She never wanted to be in an airport after a fight with her mom; she didn’t want to be getting on a claustrophobia-aggravating, stale-aired airplane; and she definitely didn’t want to be heading to her father’s wedding with a woman she’s never met, the last nail in the coffin of her parents’ divorce and the end of her family as she loved it. But when she meets Oliver, the charming British boy who will be joining her on the next plane, she begins to believe that fate works in mysterious ways. In the long, nighttime flight that follows, Hadley and Oliver enter a space outside of time and reality, and connect in a way that they couldn’t have under any other circumstances. But when they come back down to earth and the spell is broken, and they part ways to face their separate demons, their future together– or lack thereof– is again put into the hands of fate.

     This is a good, good book. You know how sometimes you read the first page of a book and just sort of smile and settle deeper into your chair, because you can already tell it’s going to be good? I had that with this. I find it hard in some ways to explain what I loved about it. The plot was simple enough– although it did have the bonus of feeling unpredictable in an organic way: it’s not that it was full of dramatic twists, but rather than being formulaic and contrived, it moved in the curvy path of real life. The characters were realistic, multifaceted, and loveable, and their motivations and subsequent actions had the same organic quality that the plot did. But really, the magic is in the details of the writing. The descriptions, the sentence flow, the pacing. It had that polish, that sparkle.

     The book is written in third-person present tense, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, ever. It was a little startling, and there were a few slip-ups with it here and there, but I’d say it was successful overall.

     Oh, and by the way, I love the title– and how gorgeous is the cover?! Perfection. That typography is fabulous. Oh, I love it.

     Jennifer E. Smith has clearly done her homework, and I’m eager to read more of her work. This book is just a big cup of cocoa with marshmallows. It was sweet and meaningful, and just fun. I really enjoyed discovering each twist and turn, and gathering the kernels of wisdom it offered. 

Whoops! I almost forgot the Special Awards!

sqee Squeaky Squee. Oliver is marriable. And they make a perfect pair. Their witty banter was spot-on.

bean trees

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 232  Copyright: 1989

              I’ll be lazy today and use the Goodreads summary: “Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.”

               The Bean Trees deftly deals with an impressively wide variety of issues, heartwarming and chock-full of meaning while still maintaining a sense of levity and humor. I loved all of the characters. They were very diverse and relatable, each bringing something extra to the story. Taylor and Lou Ann’s friendship and the way they balanced each other out was especially a highlight. Above all, what I think of when I think of The Bean Trees is the many wonderfully eccentric elements that I won’t soon forget— for example, Taylor’s phobia of tires, developed after an exploding one launched a man in her town into the air, and the fact that she ends up working at an auto shop specializing in tires— where she’s cured of her fear by the owner, the authoritative Mattie, who ends up becoming an important maternal figure to her.

            The Bean Trees would have to rank pretty high on my list of favorite books. It’s insightful, loveable, and entertaining to boot. The whole novel has an intensely genuine quality that makes it impossible not to feel a connection to the story. This is coming out to be a pretty short review (maybe owing to the fact that it’s been a few years since I read it), but basically, it’s fabulous.   

Special Awards:

music notes Lyrical Award for beauty both of style and of content.

lightbulb  Illuminator Award for thought-provocation and general smartness.