Tag Archives: YA

19, 20, 21: Thursday Next, Destined, and Jane Austen Education

19. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

*****

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I truly think that there is no more brilliant writer working today than Jasper Fforde when it comes to the sheer magic, creativity and genius of building alternate worlds and dimensions and realities. (If that’s not high praise, tell me higher and I’ll use it.) That being said, I still haven’t made it all the way through the Thursday Next series (this is book #2 and this was the first time I’d read it). I think probably it’s because I know there is only so much Thursday Next in the world and I want to savor it all, and have the joy of anticipation in looking forward to reading more.

For those who don’t know about Thursday Next, she is a detective working for the SpecOps police force in an alternate dimension-type universe where there are such things as Literary Police, the Crimean War is still going strong (well, at the time of the books, which take place in the mid-1980s of this particular universe), people go to Rocky Horror Picture Show-type productions of Shakespeare plays (audience participation galore), and rogue Baconians go door-to-door to try and convince people that Francis Bacon was the REAL author of Shakespeare’s plays. Time travel is possible (there’s a whole police division called the Chronoguard) and with the right inventions you can actually step into the printed word and meet literary characters. This ability comes into play in this book as Thursday joins JurisFiction, the intra-literary police force (her mentor is Miss Havisham, yes that one), and starts learning the ropes to solve literary crimes.

To say this book and this series was completely lovely and brilliant and amazing just doesn’t quite cover it. Trust me, just start reading the Thursday Next books for yourself if you haven’t already done so (Book One is The Eyre Affair). Five stars.

 

20. Destined, by Aprilynne Pike

*****

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I started reading Aprilynne Pike’s Wings series last year, just as book three came out, in the mistaken belief that it was a trilogy and I wouldn’t have to wait months for the resolution of any evil cliff-hangers. Hah. It became clear to me about 5 pages from the end when things reeeeeeeaaaaalllly weren’t winding up fast enough that I’d been mistaken and yes, book three ended on one of the most evil cliffhangers I’ve seen since Catching Fire.

I’ve talked elsewhere about my feelings on Twilight, but I’ll sum up here by saying that, yes, I do love the Twilight books like I love cotton candy: it’s sweet, it’s fluffy, it reminds you of dates at the amusement park with your high school crush, and it’s not something you should eat all the time or you’ll get sick. Also, the main character bugged the crap out of me until book four when she finally became interesting to herself and therefore to me.

So when I say that the Wings series is kind of what Twilight would have been like if the main character were strong and assertive and solved problems and could take care of herself and had other things going on in her life besides an all-consuming love for a boy, that’s a compliment. Laurel is everything I wished Bella was and more. The mythology that Pike has created for this world is fascinating, the prose is fluid and clear, and yes, the boys in the inevitable YA love triangle are both amazing. (Although I really wish I could figure out how to pronounce “Tamani.”)

So much for the series as a whole. Destined was the best capstone to a series that I’ve read in a long, long time. I can’t imagine a more perfect way for this story to wrap up. The action of the book takes place mostly in a 24-hour period immediately following the evil cliffhanger from book 3 but never feels drawn-out or clunky; you’re turning pages as fast as possible to see what happens and how on earth can they possibly get out of this horrible mess? But everything works out just as it should. Nothing feels forced or contrived; nor does it feel like Pike wimped out or pulled any punches. And the epilogue, oh my goodness. I may cry gratuitously at movies and Taylor Swift songs (that’s a whole ‘nother story), but it takes a lot for a book to make me cry. So when I say that I cried at the epilogue—not ugly Bridge to Terebithia tears or wrenching middle-of-Hunger-Games tears, but cathartic tears and those tears you get when everything is just filled with a sense of rightness—that’s high praise.

Even if you think you’re sick of the whole YA paranormal romance type of series, I suggest you check out the Wings books. They’re a prime example of the genre done right. I’m looking forward to finding out what else Pike has up her sleeve in her career; this series is a most auspicious beginning. Five stars.

 

21. A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz

****

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I really enjoyed seeing Jane Austen from the perspective of a male grad student skeptic and how he came to learn to love Austen, as well as learning life lessons from her books. His takeaway lessons from the novels were not the same as mine in a lot of cases (and a few points he brought up I don’t think I quite agree with), but in some other cases he put something so brilliantly that it was what I hadn’t realized I’d been thinking all along. His comparison between the writing voices of Austen and Joyce, for example, nailed exactly what I’ve thought about the two styles for quite some time.

Deresiewicz’s writing style is friendly and comfortable but also very smart, and I thought the personal anecdotes and relations he made between his life and how he came to Austen were quite interesting. I don’t know if this book will convert any non-believers (which seems to be at least part of the point he’s writing from), but it’s worth picking up if you are even a casual appreciator of Jane Austen. Four stars.

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Year of 52 Books #12: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

****

Not too much to say about this one, since everyone has read it or seen the movie and I have little to add.

I re-read this book in preparation for the movie, as it had been about two years since the first time I’d read it. I was impressed again by the urgency of the writing, how the pace keeps moving the reader along, as if by staying in one spot too long the reader, too, will get attacked by giant flying fireballs. As before, I cried for Rue (even though I cry at the drop of the hat where movies are concerned—it’s ridiculous, really—it takes a lot for a book to make me cry, so this is fairly high praise). Katniss frustrates me some of the time because it seems like she switches back and forth very quickly at times from competent kick-ace huntress to “wait, what, you actually like like me?” and the contrast seems choppy and uncharacteristic. But that’s probably just me. All in all I still really liked it. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to unpack my boxes of books and re-read the rest of the trilogy. Four stars.

If you’ll indulge my other nerdy obsession, I would like to take a moment here and move away from books to comment briefly on the movie. I thought it was well done—the visuals (when they weren’t obscured by shaky cam) were spot-on; the actors were well-cast, and I loved the adaptation choices they made to help move the story out of Katniss’ head and onto the screen by showing the games control room and the commentary by Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith (see, e.g., the tracker jacker scene). That last bit may have to do with my personal opinion that anything which introduces more Stanley Tucci into a situation is a good thing, though.

I had issues with the overuse of the shaky cam. To clarify, I have absolutely no complaints with the use of shaky cam during the actual games portion of the movie. It lends a good sense of realism to the situation, fits with the emotion of the scene, and also keeps me from having to see too many gory details (and, let’s be honest, kept it a PG-13 rather than an R so more of the books’ target audience could see the movie). HOWEVER. There is no need whatsoever to use the shaky cam while showing opening expository shots of miners walking home from work. If you’re giving your audience a miner-induced headache from immediate shaky cam two minutes into the movie, you’ve got a problem.

Shaky cam aside, though, I liked the movie, but was slightly disappointed in it. It seemed like with all the positives they had going for it—the right cast, right director, right adaptation, right visuals, etc.—they still somehow missed giving it that elusive element called “heart.” I enjoyed the film but it rang a little bit hollow for me. I never truly connected with it. I don’t think I would have sponsored any of the Tributes except possibly Rue, and even then I didn’t cry half so hard for her in the movie as I did in the book. And if you know how ridiculous my crying-at-movies level has gotten, that’s the best example I can give. I enjoyed the movie, but it didn’t grab me by the shoulders and make me care like the book did.

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Year of 52 Books #5: Wintergirls

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

*****

How do I write a review of this book?

A week later, I’m still shaken by it.

I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak last year and loved it. I cried when I finished it—beautiful and cathartic tears. It hit me in a way that a lot of books don’t. It was definitely a five-star read for me.

I’ve decided that Wintergirls is a five-star read, too, but it took me a long time to make that decision.

Wintergirls is no less powerful than Speak. In fact, I’d say it packs an even stronger punch, although I hate to use such a cliché for such a book, even though I can only think of clichés to describe it. Kick in the gut, brick to the face, hit by a train, knock the wind out of you, rip you open—pick your own description here, that’s what this book did to me emotionally. I couldn’t put it down even though it was, simply put, terrifying.

The book begins with Lia, a high school senior, being told by her stepmother that Lia’s best friend Cassie was found dead in a motel room. Cassie and Lia haven’t spoken for six months, which is why Lia didn’t answer her phone over the weekend when Cassie tried calling her thirty-three times, and now Lia is haunted by the idea that somehow she is responsible for Cassie’s death.

Which sounds simple enough, and rough enough for a book premise.

But.

The reason Cassie and Lia haven’t been close is because Cassie’s parents made her stop talking to Lia after Lia’s second stint in rehab for anorexia. The first stint happened after Lia blacked out while driving Cassie’s car because she didn’t have enough food in her system and when the paramedics got there her blood pressure and body temperature were only just this side above dead, and Lia’s secret was out. Cassie wasn’t even scratched and so her secret eating disorder, bulimia, stayed secret and she stayed popular and cut off Lia as “a bad influence.”

Until Cassie winds up dead in a motel room.

Honestly, I have never read a book this intense, where the heroine seems absolutely determined to destroy herself slowly and systematically. Nearly every time a food is mentioned, Lia tacks on the number of calories in parentheses. She often speaks in strikethrough font, so you can see the war between her body and her mind as she slowly and determinedly tries to starve herself down to 99, 95, 90, 85 pounds and lower, all while hiding that fact from her family so they won’t send her back to the hospital. “I take the cup [of orange juice] from her. My throat wants it my brain wants it my blood wants it my hand does not want this my mouth does not want this.”

I had no idea until the very end whether Lia was going to make it or not, and it was a sick-making kind of feeling to watch her spiral downward out of control and not be able to shake her awake, or wave my arms in front of her parents’ faces and say “How are you not seeing this?” or heavens, just shove a cupcake down her throat or do something, anything to get her or anyone to see the madness and stop it. It was not a comfortable book to read.

And yet I couldn’t put it down. I read it straight through and felt absolutely depressed for most of the rest of the day as I processed it. Anderson’s writing style is gripping and immediate and visceral, and you really do feel like you’re living through the experience yourself, which, as I said, is not a comfortable thing. But there is no doubt it is well written.

I don’t know if I liked this book or not. I do know I won’t forget it any time soon.

And I think that I’m going to have to recommend it to people to read. Not like Speak, which I think everyone should read, period, no exceptions. But I think that some people should take the opportunity to read Wintergirls because even though it’s not a comfortable experience, it is a powerful experience, and one that will change you.

(And if you do read it, I’d love to discuss it with you.)

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