real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: November 2013

fangirlEnjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 448   Copyright: 2013

                      The official synopsis: “Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . . But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”

               Rainbow Rowell’s most unique virtue is her ability to capture the unpredictability of real life. While reading Fangirl, I wasn’t sure for a long time who the love interest was going to be, or if Cath would even end up with anyone by the end. I wasn’t sure which problems would be resolved, or how, or what those problems would be in the first place. It was like watching an actual life, unwritten, being scripted as it goes. It was very authentic and fresh. It’s almost like Rainbow Rowell is from a world without novels, and her mind is clear of all the fiction trope ruts that the rest of us are unable to avoid following, striking off down brand-new paths.

                Along the same lines, Rowell’s characters are reasonable, and they don’t make weird, stupid decisions that any sane reader can see were mistakes. For instance, without spoiling anything, a character who seems to be friendly turns out to be no good; and as a reader, I’m always on the lookout for the antagonists of the story, so I’m not going to say I had no suspicions. But I could perfectly imagine myself, in Cath’s shoes, falling for the deception just like she did. I was almost as surprised as she was, and there was no “well, duh” moment. Cath’s problems had legitimate, believable reasons to be problems, even if that reason was just that she has anxiety and can’t deal with things. That’s skillful.

                Actually, everything about Fangirl followed that same theme. FRESH. The plot was fresh. I loved the focus on the world of fandoms and fan fiction! It made Cath so interesting and put such a good twist on the tired old nerdy-girl motif— yes, she was painfully shy and wore glasses and ponytails every day, but at the same time, online, she was a celebrity. How cool is that? And there are probably lots of books written about college freshmen, but I’ve read hardly any; and as a current high school senior, it was a very appealing subject to me. With all the bitter-sweetness of leaving high school, it’s nice to remember that I have something new about to begin, too. The cast of characters was fabulously fresh. I’m not sure there was a stereotype to be found, and everybody was complex and alive. Again, and I can’t hammer this enough: Rainbow Rowell doesn’t Write Fiction, she just tells stories that happen to not be factually true.

                Fangirl is well-written, cute and romantic, extremely relatable (I related to Cath in a lot of ways, and the fact that things good things happen to her despite her flaws was uplifting), totally original, and impossible to put down. I complained that Eleanor and Park made me sad; Fangirl did not make me sad, although it certainly had meaning and depth. Rainbow Rowell brings something to YA that nobody else does, and I look forward to reading more from her.

                 P.S., why are all her covers so cute! I love the art.

Special Awards:

sqee  Squee for romance 🙂

moon  All-Nighter for grippingness– I never wanted to stop turning pages.

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                Hello there! I’m in the middle of a bunch of books right now, so I thought rather than trying to dredge up an iffy review, I’d do another book chat. I’ve been thinking this is something I’ll do more regularly, partly to reduce stress and keep my posts consistent, and partly because it’s fun.

                Between the movie and the show, I’ve seen Les Misérables at least seven times; it’s my favorite musical. And yet, I have not read Victor Hugo’s original novel, a.k.a. Le Brick (It’s a little less than 1.5k pages). So it’s fortuitous that my mother just gave me the most lovely copy ever.

pictured above: classy elegant swag

pictured above: classy elegant swag

               I put Les Miz on my list of top six most intimidating books back in July, so although I’m excited to conquer it, the confidence lent to me by the style and class of the edition is appreciated. I’m really looking forward to delving deeper into the story I adore, and although I’m only on chapter seven, it’s already illuminating and deepening my understanding of the characters. Good stuff!

                Switching gears from a very old book to a very new movie, I’m going to see Catching Fire this evening!! I’ve been hearing such, such good things. And I thought the first one was flawless. True to the story, perfect actors for the parts, not oversensationalizing or action-hyping… I’m not expecting to be disappointed. Any opinions? Also related to movies, I finally succeeded at renting Say Anything, which I’ve been wanting to see for ages. As a cute romance lover, I guess I feel I won’t be complete until I’m solidly versed in the 80’s teen romance classic scene. I’ve seen Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, so this was the logical next step. Thanksgiving Break is coming up quickly, so I’ll have plenty of time to watch it!

                I’m a big multi-reader, and I’m currently most actively reading three books: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, House of Hades by Rick Riordan, and The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini. I’m loving the first two (not that it was a question for Percy Jackson), and feeling intensely skeptical about The Other Normals. I love Ned Vizzini, but this book is just super weird. However, I’ve seen almost all good reviews, and I’m not very far along. So the jury is still out. Expect reviews relatively forthcoming. Well, no, actually, I won’t be reviewing HoH, because Percy Jackson and the crew are far too close to my heart, and I have an unofficial policy against reviewing anything by Rick. But the other two, yes.

                Oh, and by the way, I’ve been training intensely, and I think my ability to roll a Spanish double-r may be showing signs of nascent existence. God as my witness, I WILL improve my terrible accent. And my listening skills. One day, I shall be fluent!

                So those are my random thoughts. I’d love to hear yours in the comments! What are you reading? Or watching? Or eating? Delicious food is always worth discussing…


matched

Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 400   Copyright: 2011

                 The blurb: “In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

                 Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.”

                  I wasn’t planning to talk about Matched today. But then in the car on the way home from school, I randomly started thinking about it, and feeling a lot of retrospective love for it. So I thought hey, why not.

                For some reason, I’m feeling an unshakable urge to start this with defensive disclaimers. I guess I feel like some people might accuse Matched of being melodramatic or overly flowery. And maybe there were moments where it could have chilled a little. But I’m a flowery girl. And I loved that about it. To each their own, right?

                Matched, being a YA dystopian, would most likely get lumped together in bookstores with The Hunger Games and Divergent and so forth. But it’s not Hunger Games. Nor is it Twilight, despite having, yes, a love triangle, and having shades of the same, well, lovey-dovey tone. It is a solid dystopia, with a well-built dysfunctional world and a compelling revolution storyline. But rather than revolving around flag-waving action, it takes a more contemplative track, resting its weight on highly poetic prose and romance. Ultimately, I would classify Matched as a love story. Maybe that was obvious from the blurb, maybe not.

                I was in love with Cassia, Ky, and Cassia&Ky. Tough, sassy heroines are fabulous, but after too long a march of them without interruption, they can come to feel formulaic. Cassia is definitely not from that formula. She slowly discovers and falls in love with poetry (literally— the Society has banned all but 100 approved poems, but throughout the story, Cassia finds, is given, or trades for old contraband ones), and the poeticness of the prose came across very effectively as her voice, not awkward affectation that the author was putting in her mouth. Cassia is gentle and artistic, yet full of incredible strength, but it’s a quiet strength that stems not from anger or bitterness, but from love, and the desire to fight for those she loves. I also think she had very strong character development throughout the trilogy, going from a blindly obedient girl to a smart, self-reliant young woman. As for Ky, well, I talked about him on my list of Top Ten Fictional Crushes (he was the runner-up! Although I really need to rethink some of those entries… hrmm. But not him.) But wow. I’m trying not to say “swoon” because I don’t want to objectify him. But what a life he’s had. And in response, he’s gotten jaded and independent, but is still able to let people in if they deserve to be let in. Watching them discover each other and change each other was just so enjoyable for me. Ky teaches Cassia to dare to create new thoughts and images, and Cassia, for Ky, is something worthy to inspire art, which he wasn’t sure existed anymore.

                For me, Matched was a beautiful, meditative take on the dystopian gambit, and it’s really stuck with me. I love the way it incorporated real poems into the story— “Do not go gentle into that good night/ …Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”  The melody of this book drifts into my head at random times, and it’s always welcome.

Special Awards:

sqee Squee! For ROMANCE!

music notes Lyrical Award for lovely writing.

moon  All-Nighter award because it kept me turning the pages.


           lfaEnjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp half graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 221  Copyright: 2006

                  Miles Halter’s life has always been fine; but that’s not enough anymore. As an aficionado of famous last words, he knows that the life he’s living is unlikely to be very memorable. He’s seeking the “Great Perhaps” that François Rabelais spoke of on his deathbed. So he moves from Florida to Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama. And he finds what he was looking for.

                Culver Creek is a world apart. It’s a world of social class rivalries, elaborate pranks, and a new group of friends that revolutionize Miles entirely (and rename him Pudge). They are edgy, intelligent, and maybe a little out of control. And then there’s Alaska Young, who is more alive, more beautiful, and more intoxicating than anyone he’s ever known. But things that burn too hot and fast can’t sustain themselves forever. When Pudge learns that really engaging with life means being vulnerable to great pain as well as great joy, he is faced with spiritual dilemmas that have captivated generations of thinkers.

                This was my serious attempt to climb onto the John Green train that I missed when he became the king of everything. Am I on the train? I don’t know, so I guess not, because I don’t think there’d be a question if I was. Did I like the book? Ultimately, yes.

                It all comes down to this: I do. Not. Like. Sad. Books. I just do not.

                And there was a period in Looking for Alaska where it was a sad book. And I understood why, but I didn’t like it. And that’s not a value judgment at all, it’s just me. But then it came out of the dark space, and it started to make sense of the sadness, and I, along with the characters, was able to step back and appreciate the story again. And ultimately, I was left feeling uplifted, in that cathartic way. The ending of the book and the main character’s final soliloquy had me filled with awe for life and the universe and such. I read it for a class, and I think I would have felt more negative and unable to deal with it if that hadn’t been the case. The assignment aspect helped me get to the detached place.

                John Green has a way of making things important. He’s one of those authors with characters that you want to listen to. He is also the master of the quirky character gambit. Each of the characters in LFA are full of color in their own way. I enjoyed, for example, hearing the various noteworthy last words of famous people that Pudge has memorized. I also liked that supporting characters who were originally presented as flat and unimportant came to reassert themselves as round human beings with their own desires and problems. They seemed to be written that way to intentionally send a message: we view most of the people in our lives as cardboard scenery in our life stories, but every single person that we see has an entire world and existence just as complete as ours.

                I thought this book was very deep, and very genuine. I believed in the characters, and was gripped by the story, and it gives a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas that would be great to have a discussion about. It certainly made me feel something, or a lot of things. If there’s one thing I’m willing to say definitively about John Green, it’s that he has writing talent. Also, I think I liked this one better than Paper Towns. But it might take a reread to say for sure.

                 In case anyone was wondering, I still refuse to read The Fault in our Stars.