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Archive for the ‘YA Stand Alone’ Category

From Penguin.com

From Penguin.com

 

It has been quite a long time since I have reviewed anything.  There have been big changes in my life – new house, baby on the way – but more than anything I realized that I am totally NOT a non-fiction person.  I’ve been trying to get through this amazing book (which will be reviewed once I finish it) for months now.  I don’t hate the book, but I just can’t seem to slog through it fast enough.  This was only amplified by the fact that I absolutely blew through The Future of Us in one night.  That’s right in about five hours I finished a YA novel the same length as the non-fiction book I’ve been trying to read for months.  To each his own I suppose…

I liked this book, and thusly shall not reveal any spoilers.  I’ve done this in the past for books that I enjoyed and feel it’s a great way to tease the book to anyone interested.  But because it has been so long, and I’m a bit rusty, I’m going to do this in a much quicker and easier format – lists.

 

Hook:

If you could be privy to your future Facebook account before Facebook existed would you tempt fate and try to alter your life based on your profile and status updates?

What I Liked:

*Very quick read

*Short chapters

*Alternating protagonist narrating the chapters (one chapter would be Emma the next Josh) ~ Very Percy Jackson and I loved it!

*Story was tight and contained without too much embellishment or immersion

*Both protagonists were flawed but likeable with redeeming qualities that made you feel invested in their futures

*Concept of characters seeing their future through Facebook was brilliant and explored with both humor and irony

*Writing style and narration was seamless between the joint authors – making authentic and individual voices for each of the main characters as well as the supporting cast.

What I Didn’t Like:

*Emma’s character was frustratingly blind to her own self-destructive nature at times and her epiphany was late coming and not all that convincing.

*Several different themes were introduced through the character of Emma but were not fully developed or explored.  While they were not the point of the story it still would have been nice to see these fleshed out a little bit more.

*Josh’s character arch was a little forced at times and somewhat confusing as to his motives but never enough to make me not like him.

*The hook of this story (seeing your future Facebook account) and the mythology created by it (basically the ‘butterfly effect’) was only minor to the love story/drama of the story.  I had thought this novel was going to develop this more so it was disappointing to find that this brilliant idea was just the catalyst for a pretty typical love story.

 

Final Score:  3.5 Stars

Reasoning: Quick, cute, and easy read that was enjoyable but not all that life changing.  Should some of the other plotlines have been developed or the hook of the story been explored a little further I would have bumped it to a four.  It wasn’t bad but I probably won’t read it again.

Recommended For: Anyone.  Good for men and women alike, boys and girls, could be a fun summer read.

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I never had a “horse phase” as a young girl. I know there is this ridiculous assumption that all girls love horses and want pony’s for their birthdays but that never happened to me. That being said I really should have researched a little more about what this book was going to be about before I bought it. Le sigh.

I also have realized that I am NEVER going to take the advice of someone on a book recommendation ever again. I finish reading The Hunger Games series and I’m looking for a new book and someone tells me, “If you liked The Hunger Games you should read this” and puts this ridiculous book in my hands: The Scorpio Races.

So already this book has two strikes against it – but sooo much more went wrong with it. So very much more. If you are interested in reading this book I would dissuade you from it…but should you not heed my warning don’t read anything after this paragraph just go to the breakdown at the bottom. Spoilers ahead!!

In the very shallow research I did on this book I found that the author is already kind of famous for writing some kind of fairy series and werewolf series. I don’t do fairies or werewolves (after Twilight) so I can’t speak to how good those are. But when you have several different reviewers saying that:

1) Her other books were better and

2) She blatantly ripped off some other book

It has me wondering if I was just wasting my time. Turns out I was. Now I never read this Misty of Chincoteague book. Like I said I’m not into horses, but any time someone can say that your book makes a striking resemblance to another well established, award winning book, there is going to be a problem.

But aside from it being about horses, and apparently ripped off from another book, and not even in the same category as The Hunger Games, I read this entire book. Because – like the dutifully, loyal, idiot that I am I kept thinking that it HAD to get better. There HAD to be a reason this book was getting so much press. Turns out that’s all it is…press.

I’m starting to think that everyone – Television, Movies, Music, and Literature – is afraid to think of anything original. Either that or they are so worried they aren’t going to make any money that they just slap some kind of generic association to their product to another famous product in the hopes that it will gain popularity through osmosis. Because there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in this book that resembled The Hunger Games and yet it is being touted as the “next Hunger Games”. I have no idea how this association could happen.

Basically this story is about a girl that decides to enter a dangerous race on her home island called the Scorpio Races. Girls don’t enter; the horses they race on are some kind of sea demon sent up by Poseidon himself that have a taste for ANY kind of flesh. The girl has to win to save her house – and so she does. Does that sound like The Hunger Games to you? Didn’t sound like that to me either, so let me break it down a little further for you to illustrate my point:

Puck is NOT Katniss

-Being angry and rude to people does not make you spunky and cool.
-Being the first girl to compete in the Scorpio Races would be an accomplishment if you didn’t have the best competitor in the races for the last six years aiding your victory.
-Belittling your obviously handicapped brother and begging and pestering your other brother is not becoming.

Katniss was an amazing role model and female warrior because she used her own skills, brains, and heart to guide her on a difficult and terrifying mission. Throughout the entire series Puck is aided through the help of others, mostly men, to achieve her goal of winning the race. You can’t just assume because this girl wants to compete that she is the badass warrior that Katniss is – that’s just bad logic.

Sean is NOT Peeta or Gale

-Being reserved and clueless only makes a character seem dull. He might be a man of little words but even the few words he does say do not make him seem mysterious or intriguing.
-Staying with a mentally abusive ‘parent, slave owner, overlord’ because you love the horses so much makes a character seem stupid, selfish, and unwilling to take risks or change.
-Refusing to beat down the bully, even when there is obvious evidence and just cause, is infuriating to read.

Sean is made to be this kind of legend on the island because he has a way with the water horses unlike anyone else. BUT – that’s about all there is to Sean. Even when he has ample opportunities to develop his character by beating the crap out the stereotypical bully – he doesn’t. Even when Kate “Puck” is practically throwing herself at him his first concern are the water horses. If I didn’t know any better I would say the guy has some issues that only a therapist can work out when you are THAT in love with horses. He never gets past this obsession and thus remains a one-dimensional character.

Thisby is NOT Panem

-It’s an island that is inundated with flesh eating monsters ever November.
-The people of the island think it’s an awesome idea to ride them and be eaten by the monsters EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
-They invite people to come watch the spectacle, as it is the only source of income to their spit of awful land in the middle of an angry sea.

Granted there were three books to build up the evil of Panem during the Hunger Games series but from day one you got the general feeling. People were being forced into slavery in their districts, and were forced into sacrificing their children to compete in a fight to the death. Everyone on Thisby could just move away…and they could treat it like a leper island or something. People leaving the island is a HUGE plot point in the story.  Yet everyone stays!  Honestly – who wants to stick around on some terrifying rock that tries to kill you every year?! I just don’t get it.

Description vs. Immersion

I have made it very clear that I’m not a very big immersion person. I want to know the story not every color of a sunset. Perhaps that was the biggest problem I had with this book. I was skipping over pages of description because I knew it was always going to be about the same three things: how the air crusted their mouths with salt, how the surf smelled like awful garbage, or how delicious the food tasted. I always mark any book that takes time to write about how to make food, how it tastes, and memories of other food as a bad book. Why are you writing about FOOD? There are flesh eating horse monsters running all around your island! I don’t need to know how a sunset looked, or how the waves looked, or the ocean, how the sea smelled of garbage again, or have you explain again what color all the horses were. Just tell me the story. You have a very cool idea that is being buried under 300 pages of description. I just despise that.

A Peck is not a Kiss

There was supposed to be a romance brewing in this book but I couldn’t find it. Apparently Sean and Kate “Puck” were sharing some kind of romance but when all Sean loves is horses and all Kate cares about is winning, and all they do is fight with each other or spend days in silence next to each other (and I mean several instances of days of silence)…how is that a building romance? And then within the last 50 pages or so they kiss each other a couple of times and I’m to be satisfied by this? I guess you could never really expect much from two characters that aren’t even really interested in each other – but damn…give me something other than a few pecks and Sean weeping over his horse at the end of the novel. I mean Kate is right there! You could have wept on her shoulder or something but instead he’s just standing in the water crying about his horse. WTF is that?!

Weak Sauce

When all the characters are one-dimensional, the setting is repeated over and over again, the motivation of the characters is weak, and the antagonists doesn’t die in a horrible way or get a satisfying comeuppance you don’t have much – in my opinion. And that’s all there is to this book. It seemed like the author wanted to write about cliffs and the smell of sea garbage more than she wanted to write about the mythology of her novel. The author’s note in the back says that she’s been trying to write this novel for years and years…It still feel unfinished to me. There was such amazing potential in this book, but all that I could pull from it was sea garbage and flashes of Equus. Perhaps I’m wrong but I’d rather be wrong than fall in goosestep with the masses that sing this books praises.

Apparently all that happens on Thisby

 

Final Score: One Star

Reasoning: Under developed characters, weak plot, no romance, gross repetition of description, no comeuppance for the antagonist, and complete misuse of an awesome idea.

Recommended For: No one. Don’t believe the hype people. This book was a waste of my time.

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I’m just going to start out by saying this – what a heartbreaking story.  I have to admit that I had hesitation about even reading this because of the dark material being covered, but this book was just so different I knew I had to suck it up and read.  There are doodles and artwork throughout, with journal entries that look handwritten; it was mesmerizing and fresh to me, after reading a couple of YA duds, to see a book willing to be different.  I probably should have known that I would be tackling dark material in a creative way because this is the same publishing company as Looking for Alaska.  Yet, I felt compelled to complete and review this book and here are the reasons why:

1) The presence and importance of Ingrid.  I’m not spoiling anything here – it says it on the back cover – but we start right at the moment our main character, Caitlin, is dealing with the aftermath of her best friend’s suicide.  They are not pulling any punches in this book.  I had read that it was raw and real and started immediately at the messy, depressing beginning and that is exactly what happened.  Caitlin is despondent, distant, troubled and zombie-esk; all things that you would expect.  She also refuses to even think about her friend in these first few pages.  It isn’t until she finds Ingrid’s journal that the character of Ingrid goes from background to forefront and stays there the rest of the story.

 

As the story progresses you realize the absolute shadow that Caitlin thought she was living in from Ingrid’s presence.  But, you also learn slowly and in some of the most painful and beautiful ways that Ingrid felt the same way about Caitlin.  I will say that I got a sort of weird vibe from their relationship but I think it had more to do with the very unhealthy relationships that can form with chemically unbalanced people and not more from a bi-curious standpoint, though I did have that thought often.  This really was a story about two very close friends and the betrayal that Caitlin has to come to grips with as she filters through the stages of grief from Ingrid’s suicide.  Ingrid is felt in every page, in every picture, in every encounter, and thankfully and fantastically in every victory toward the end of the novel.  Ingrid never really leaves the story and I felt that was one of the most accurate portrayals of the death of a loved one that I’ve read in a long time.  Because, I feel, in the end they never leave you they just become a touchstone to ground you as you continue to live your own life.

 

2) High school without the overdone drama.  This book actually transported me right back to high school – exactly how I remembered it.  Not the overdone clichés of Mean Girls, not the absolute insanity that was Twilight, and nowhere near Gossip Girl and whatever other ridiculousness they try to pass off for high school these days.  It was perfect.  Of course there was drama but for the most part it was mild and sparingly throughout the novel.  Caitlin isn’t always nice and she isn’t always pleasant to be around and she pays for those choices in a very normal and healthy way.   I felt that by allowing the characters to interact in an actual high school environment lent to very realistic writing and storytelling.

 

3) By the end Caitlin is better but not perfect.  I can’t stress this point enough.  Often enough we want to see the neat little package at the end of the novel.  Everyone is happy, everyone is paired up, and everyone is smiling in their Abercrombie and texting on their cell phones by a pool.  This story does have a happy ending but it is by no means a perfect ending.  I honestly feel you can’t have a perfect ending after an event like the one that happens in this book.  You are changed and that is something that takes more than a year to come to terms with.  Once you move past all the grief, the betrayal, and the acceptance you have to grapple with the fact that you will now never be the same again.  There will always be the memory of that time, of the loved one you lost, the person they were before and now the memory of them after.  It’s so much processing for someone to go though that I honestly sometimes think that even I’m not over some of the horrible moments of my life.  Hold Still addresses this wonderfully and for that reason alone I think it should be suggested for teens to read.

What I didn’t like:

Without giving away any spoilers – a certain event that Ingrid writes about.  I thought it was completely unnecessary.  The reasons for her suicide were still valid without that event and it was more shocking and distracting than helpful in moving the story along as well as the character progression.

 

The amount of journal entries.  I actually got the impression that there were more, and even though the story is told from Caitlin’s POV I felt there were far too few entries in there.  Perhaps this was supposed to be Ingrid’s suicide journal or something like that but honestly the shared entries were few and far between.  I’m not saying they weren’t effective but I would have liked to see more.  Perhaps I’m just being selfish and slightly morbid, the story really is about Caitlin, but I wanted to see more.

 

Final Vote:  4 Stars

Reasoning:  Beautiful story, excellent writing, but entirely too depressing and hard to read at parts.  I’m not saying that made it bad – quite the contrary – but I’m not really one to depress myself with the literature I’m reading so that’s why it’s not five stars.  Not quite my cup of dramatic tea but still deliciously angsty.

Suggested For:  Any fans of YA, people who gravitate toward darker/harder material, teens that are coming to terms with a traumatic event like a friend’s suicide.

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 I have to admit – right off bat – this book took me forever to finish.  I started it way back in February or March of this year and I just could not slog through it.  I’ve read 5 other books since I started this one and I still think I made the right choice.  It’s not that this book was bad, it was just so horribly slow and repetitive that I thought I was going to sprain my eyeballs from all the eye rolling I was doing.  It shouldn’t take two-thirds of your book to set up something as simple as the concept of this novel.  The last third was executed quite well, incorporating all the plotlines and wrapping it up into a nice neat little packaged ending, but to get there was work.  And I don’t like working when I’m reading.

 Because I actually liked this book, for the most part, I’m not going to give away any spoilers here but there still are quite a few things to comment on and not in a gushing way.  First of all the book starts out good; gripping, confusing and slightly scandalized because we start right at the aftermath of the date-rape.  But from that point on the story starts to unravel into endless paragraphs of the narrator having flashbacks and avoiding her life at all costs.

 Now, I’m not saying that this isn’t real behavior, I’m not saying that I didn’t believe that most women and girls experience exactly what Alex goes through: the flashbacks from simple things, the fear, the anti-social behavior, the desire to keep quiet about it, etc.  But what I am saying is that it took the author an entire novel for the character to stop being a victim and start fighting for her rights.  AGAIN – I know that some women never do this.  Some women never stop being a victim because they cannot work past the wrong that was forced upon them – but we don’t read fiction to be reminded of things that happen in our lives.  We read fiction for inspiration and to have written examples of how we can better ourselves and our communities.  Alex does make that journey from victim to hero by the end of the novel, but it shouldn’t have taken 332 pages for her to do it.  It becomes all the more annoying when you think she’s about to turn the corner and then regresses back because of her flashbacks and uncertainty.  Not saying that isn’t realistic just saying that there could have been better execution on her character in regards to character growth.

 I also was not a fan of how secretive the Mockingbirds were and how at first Alex had no desire to learn anything about them despite her older sister having started the group in the first place and then later couldn’t seem to understand all the clues they were dropping.  Not saying that I didn’t giggle with glee about a group of students that dealt out justice amongst their peers – that was fantastic.  The concept of the Mockingbirds was what really drives the book and kept me reading.  But having to wait for Alex to piece it all together was horribly frustrating and while I do have a full sense of what they are now – again – I felt like it shouldn’t have taken 332 pages to get there. 

 What complicates my general attitude about the Mockingbirds is that the adults of this prestigious campus are made to look like complete and utter morons.  Really?  Not a single teacher has figured this out?  Not a single administrator has put two and two together?  You do realize you have to be the best of the best to teach there?  So are the students that smarter than the teachers??  The level of believability was frustratingly low in that aspect, but it didn’t distract too much from the story.  Perhaps she was trying to make commentary on the general attitude of institutions that ignore the problem instead of trying to facilitate it – but something like that doesn’t work in a high school setting, even if it’s a prep school.  Just saying…

 Overall I feel this book has an excellent message that needs to be spread more in YA fiction.  We don’t need to be writing about vampires and ghosts and shit.  It’s fun and all but in the constantly shifting and technological world we live in teenagers are having to face real and detrimental life decisions and circumstances that most adults would have a hard time dealing with.  Teenagers are being bullied into suicide.  Teenagers are being assaulted for their sexual preference.  Teenagers are being raped.  This needs to be talked about, it needs to be written about and it needs to be held to a higher standard in YA fiction.  In my opinion there are two tiers of YA fiction – books like Twilight and then books like The Mockingbirds.  We need more Mockingbirds… 

 Final Vote:  3 Stars 

 Reasoning:  Excellent topic, wonderful idea, but horrible execution of the first two-thirds of the book.  Worth reading but if this is going to be turned into a series I think I’m just going to stick with this first one.

 Suggested For:  All YA fans.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

I’m not going to lie – I read this book because I saw that Emma Watson had signed on to be in the movie adaptation coming out next year. I know – I know – we should read books on their merit alone, and I had heard of this book for a while, but no one was really giving me a reason to read it. Emma Watson did. LOL. Incidentally, the writer of the novel is the script writer and director for the movie, and I am on the fence about that. It could either mean one of the most authentic adaptations of book to movie, or it could be the most boring adaptation of book to movie. We’ll see.

Reviewing this book without revealing some spoilers I think might be impossible, so if you don’t want to be spoiled you might just want to jump to the end right now. Because, honestly, I don’t think you can have an intellectual conversation about this book without revealing the major spoiler and how horribly it was used – but more on that later.

First things first – what is a wallflower? Usually I think of climbing vines of some kind, latching onto the wall and using it to grow bigger and stronger and produce lovely flowers or foliage. You think that kind of definition would be used more often in describing people that are wallflowers, that the use of a solid prop turns them into a better person, but no. Typically a wallflower is someone that just fades into the background and has no problem existing on the fringes of society.

That kid that was always hunched over and didn’t make eye contact – wallflower.

That girl that let her hair hang in her face and talked in a whisper – wallflower.

When you’d see someone at a party, nursing a single red cup the whole night and not moving off the couch, even as people hooked up on top of them – wallflower.

With those kinds of generalized and overused examples I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what this book was going to be about. Boy was I wrong. I came to this story thinking it’s going to be a lovely coming of age novel about a boy that breaks out of his shell to form a better life – instead it was a book about molestation…awesome. *sarcastic eye roll*

Let’s get one thing straight here – I don’t mind stories where the main characters all have checkered and horrible pasts. I do have a problem when EVERY character has a checkered and horrible past. My dad is from Pittsburgh and things get a little heavy back there but for the most part I don’t think every single parent is beating the ever living crap out of their kids in some drunken stupor. Or that all the relatives and neighbors and boyfriends of Pittsburgh are hell bent on molesting and raping the kids. There is so much rape and molestation going on in this novel that it made me scared for humanity. Rape and molestation is wrong, even once, even thinking about it, there is no reason and no excuse. Yet this book brings it up and brushes it off like it’s an everyday occurrence. “Oh you haven’t been molested or raped? ”

This idea is only escalated by the fact that in the beginning of the story we think Charlie is a wallflower because that’s just who he is – and yet by the end of the novel it turns out that being a wallflower is his coping mechanism for being molested by his aunt. If you just did a double take, you read that right, and I’m still just as confused as you. In the last 10 or so pages of the novel it is suddenly revealed that he was molested and then brushed over.

What?! Why?! How does that have anything to do with the 200+ pages that we just read? There are only hints of it as you get toward the end. You’re lead to believe that he is distraught and a wallflower because he blames himself for his aunt’s death – nope she molested him. It’s so left field that I almost didn’t believe it. Not even that – he had a girlfriend for a brief moment and there were doing all sorts of messing around on the top half, but the second his love interest takes his pants off suddenly he remembers his aunt. Was it that deeply buried? I felt cheated and confused all at the same time. Literally in the last ten or so pages he has his pants taken off, tells the girl to stop, starts to have a mental breakdown, and then we’re told he spent two months in the hospital because it turns out his aunt had molested him.

I still don’t know what to make of that. I didn’t mind the letter formatting. I didn’t even mind that I had absolutely no idea who he was writing to. I spent hours reading about the trials and tribulations of all his friends and what they are suffering through because of the broken homes they come from. There isn’t a single supporting character that doesn’t have some horrible back story that is linked to some sexual experience coupled with an abundance of drugs and alcohol. Charlie seemed to be the only normal person of the group, except for the fact that he cried all the time. All. The. Time. He has these moments of overwhelming emotion that make him cry at the slightest things, and his infinitely patient friends and family seem to think it’s okay for him to be crying all the time. If that was supposed to be some kind of foreshadowing for his apparent molestation it was poorly done. I’m not trying to belittle Charlie here – he’s been through a lot and he goes through a lot in this novel, but there comes a point when, as a reader, you shouldn’t want to slap the kid and tell him to suck it up. I thought it was going to be an open ended novel that just comments on that time in your life and the people that you meet and how they change you but apparently not.

I’d like to think that if I watched my sister get smacked in the face by her boyfriend and then secretly date him after she was forbidden to and then subsequently have to get an abortion from this slimebag because he refused to acknowledge it was his – if I didn’t kill the boyfriend I would have a least tried to get my sister help. All Charlie does is take the information and sit there. That’s not a wallflower – it’s a coma. That’s how he spends the majority of the novel, in this half-coma of observation that is mistaken for brilliance by everyone around him. Only for us to get to the end of the novel and told that his “wallflower” attitude was actually his coping mechanism for the horrible acts forced on him when he was a child by his favorite aunt. It belittled the entire novel in my opinion.

There was real and actual commentary happening in this novel about depression, anxiety, friendship and finding yourself in one of the more difficult times we all have – high school. There were meaningful and poignant passages in this novel about being a spectator to your life and what it means to be a real friend. There were even heartwarming and hilarious passages about family and the nature of secrets. Yet all of these fantastic elements were discarded like empty beer bottles by the last ten pages of this novel and I find that incredibly depressing.

If this was a book about being a wallflower – I honestly don’t see many perks to it.

Final Vote: 2.5 Stars

Reasoning: What could have possibly been a refreshing and meaningful observation about high school and the troubles we all face quickly and suddenly banked into the mountain to explode all over the hillside.

Suggested For: Hipsters. Or maybe people that don’t mind having the plot suddenly do a 180 at the end of the novel. I’m not saying this book was bad, the majority of it was wonderful, but the ending left a very bitter taste in my mouth.

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