Friday, November 2, 2012

Every Day

Every Day
written by David Levithan

I have so many things to say about this book.  Let's just start off by saying that it is a unique premise and it is well worth your time to give this book a place on your YA bookshelf.  I think David Levithan finally succeeds in his idea of sculpting a book with a multitude of POVs.  Where his other books, mostly notably The Realm of Possibility with its 20 characters, had little tying all of the stories together cohesively, all of the lives here are tied together with A's soul.

A few thoughts.

While from the start, Levithan makes it pretty clear that A has reached a point of contentment with not knowing who or what he is, that still feels like a big mystery to me.  To uphold the realism of the story, it was necessary to leave it a mystery.  But unlike A, I'm a lot less comfortable with unknowns, and that's entirely a personal preference with no reflection on Levithan's writing, but I do wish we had gotten...something more.  Not necessarily a full-fledged supernatural explanation, but something.

Rhiannon is an interesting character to me.  I was glad that A got to experience life in her body, and it is her existence that binds the story together, but at the same time, what's so special about one teenaged girl?  Levithan makes it a point to say that we're all human, with much more similar than different, so what makes Rhiannon the first one A falls in love with?  Honestly, really looking at the story, she doesn't seem so remarkable, beyond A's interpretation of her, which I would argue strays into manic-pixie-dream-girl territory, where a female character isn't fully imagined as a complex human being.

As always, Levithan does what the few and the talented in the YA realm do--really bring the character's thoughts to life.  Teenagers are usually plagued by the big questions, spending plenty of time thinking and angsting and learning from all of it, and it's great to witness A's inner dialogue.  We also get to see brief glimpses into A's unstable childhood.  That bit of the story left me completely unsettled.  No soul escapes that kind of instability unscathed.  A is far too well put-together for someone who has literally lost loved ones (and yes, as a child, attachments are formed and they are formed fast) every single day.  For storytelling purposes, this makes sense.  For reality...not so much.

I'm also a bit unsettled by the fact that all of the teens A occupied were located so close to one another.  Again, for storytelling purposes, makes sense.  But not every 16 year old lives within a few hours of one another.  It would have been incredible to witness glimpses into the daily lives of teens all over the world through A's eyes.  That could have reached out to so many more readers.  I almost wish Rhiannon wasn't a character at all, leaving us with A's story, maybe just with Nathan as a complication to deal with.  What does Rhiannon's character ultimately accomplish?  Yeah, we get the tragic first love story and it drives the plot, but to me, it doesn't seem to have the resonance as A's own journey of self-discovery.  She could have still been a love interest, but with a significantly smaller role.  I'm not sure.  She's the story's glue, but I wish there had been a different brand of glue.

Ultimately, a strong story, one I will highly recommend to readers, but I think it could have been stronger.  It'll stand out in the realm of YA fiction, it'll be one of the better books, but in Levithan's hands, I truly believe it could have been better.

Also by David Levithan:
The Realm of Possibility
Wide Awake
Are We There Yet?
Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

reading next: Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Perfect You

Perfect You
written by Elizabeth Scott

I'd been waiting a very long time to read this book, and I'm sorry to say that I was underwhelmed.  Granted, it is one of Scott's earlier works, and she also has a history of being a hit-or-miss writer for me, but the summary sounded like it had the potential to be a cute, well-written book, and I was sad to see that it didn't deliver.  That isn't to say that there weren't good ideas.  There were.  The focus on the family and friendships outside of just your typical YA focus on a relationship were so good in theory...but ultimately also fell short.  It was mostly just frustrating to read.  Most of the problems, if not all, could have been solved with a dose of communication, and other than a particularly moving scene between old friends toward the very end of the book, when it didn't mean much, the characters just didn't spend enough time talking to each other, leading to overblown problems.  It's unfortunate that this does mirror what often happens in real life, but I read to escape real life, to find solutions, to see characters make mistakes I make, and see how they fix those mistakes or live with them.  The main character, Kate, ultimately did...neither of those things.  What a horribly passive character.  Characters have flaws, characters should have flaws, and Kate's drive for perfectionism was a great opportunity for exploration, but the surface was barely scratched.  Scott does a great job creating complex characters, but often doesn't seem to know what to do with all those complexities in the scheme of the story, other than in her incredible Living Dead Girl.  I keep waiting and wishing for another book by her as good as that one was, and I keep being let down.  Has the bar been set too high?  Another huge gripe that would be an oversight to ignore is the blatant moral at the end of the story, where the exact words the reader is told to emulate are "try to be happy".  Sure, optimism is a strong force, I will not deny that, but denying a teen readership the reality that oftentimes, human beings, particularly human beings in their teenage years, are in deep emotional pain is just offensive.  Depression and human hardship are real.  Don't let anyone tell you to just "try to be happy" as a coping mechanism.

Also by Elizabeth Scott:
As I Wake
Between Here and Forever
Love You, Hate You, Miss You
Something, Maybe
The Unwritten Rule
Stealing Heaven
Living Dead Girl

I got this book from...PaperBackSwap
currently reading: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Talor

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Because It Is My Blood
written by Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin's intricate storytelling ability continues to amaze me.  Where the latest trend in YA fiction is to write serial fiction with cliffhangers and stories that are like puzzle pieces that make no sense without their companions, Zevin takes the time and effort to craft her stories into books that fit together, but do stand on their own two feet as well.  The self-contained nature of the story allows new readers to jump right in without necessarily having to read the predecessor, which tells me that Zevin cares more about the story than the additional revenue that comes from writing serialized books.  And as a reader, that matters to me.  But beyond all that, there's just the fact of the matter that this is a good story.  There are so many layers to everything that unfolds, but Zevin keeps it all at just the right amount of character development, settings, and plot points to keep it from getting confusing.  Such a great, suspenseful, well-woven read.

Rating: 5/5

Also by Gabrielle Zevin:

All These Things That I've Done

I got this book from...:BookMooch

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Claim to Fame

Claim to Fame
written by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Claim to Fame is a book with a pretty interesting concept but ultimately questionable execution.  Everything is wrapped up a little too neatly, a little too hastily.  With Haddix's popular Shadow Children series, the length of the story gave us the opportunity to really delve into the depths of her created world.  Here, she created a world but didn't seem to have enough time to fully explore it.  Some of the characters and plot points ultimately seemed entirely unnecessary upon the book's conclusion, and it just seemed like the story was trying to do too much.  It had some pretty cool plot twists, but fell flat overall.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
written by Ransom Riggs

Just another random person reiterating what an incredible book this is.  This was not at all the story I expected.  I thought, oh, a combination of text and old photographs, this is going to be some artsy wannabe pretending they're a hotshot professional photographer.  Guys, look closely at the cover.  She's hovering.  And that's just one of many incredible photographs contained within these pages, shaping a terrifying, suspenseful book that will actually leave you with chills.  There are so many incredible plot twists along the way.  I lost my love of the story a bit when time travel came into the picture, and the focus shifted from the incredible characters who I wanted to fully know to a less interesting, less bone-chilling plotline.  All of the props I have to offer to the characters, though.  Great book, really original, stays with you long after you're done.

Rating: 4.5/5


written by Meg Cabot

I've written on my dislike of the first book in the series, Abandon, so I was surprised to see that I liked Underworld slightly more than its predecessor.  It's still nowhere near the Meg Cabot I grew to love with The Princess Diaries and Mediator and all her other books, but it was a slight improvement.  We got to learn a bit more about John, which was nice, but he's still kind of a controlling boyfriend, and I'm still unsure how to feel about all that.  The novel is still slow-paced much like Abandon, but there was a decent amount of suspense to move it along.  Alex's storyline had very little appeal and didn't seem to add much to the story, despite pretty much being the main point of the book.  This book felt so forced.  I'm just not sure what happened to Meg's writing charm, but I wish she could find it again.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Remember that time I finally met Meg Cabot?

Late post is late, but I've been crazy busy, but hey, hey, remember that time I finally met Meg Cabot after a decade of reading her books?

So Meg was here in Pittsburgh on the 15th of July, where she did a talk, Q&A session, and signing at a local Barnes & Noble.   I might have arrived, oh, over two hours early, but that's OKAY, it gave me time to almost finish the new book right there, Size 12 and Ready to Rock.  You had to buy a copy to gain entry to the event, so I did.  There were some other people around talking about her books, and I wanted to join in, but that would have been awkward.  I also found someone who was carrying around The Fault in Our Stars, so I immediately asked if she was a nerdfighter.  She had no idea what I was talking about, but I promised her it was a great book, and told her to have tissues handy.  But anyways, wrong author!  It was so bizarre seeing her in person for the first time, but in a really cool way.  The talk and Q&A were the same old stuff that's plastered all over her website, so that was kind of annoying /hipster MC fan.

Just a few tidbits, though...

  • Her first story was called 'Benny the Puppy', written at age 7.
  • She grew up with a library within walking distance.  Yay, libraries!
  • Writing was kind of a therapeutic way of dealing with life for her.
  • In college, she was told at a party by a guy not to major in Creative Writing, as it would suck the love of writing out of her.
  • She later met that guy again, "thought he was kinda hot, so I married him."  
  • He later said "I was drunk!" re: the earlier party incident.
  • Meg's dad died really suddenly, which kind of brought about this awareness that life is short, and the worst thing that can happen is not trying.  The day after the funeral, she sent out copies of her books (which were subsequently rejected, but!)
  • Her mom started dating her teacher, which was the inspiration for Mr. Gianini and subsequently led to 16 books, but Disney turned it into a movie about a girl who finds out she's a princess, which is not what it's about at its core.  
  • Talked about her other books, celiac disease, clothes shopping, and more.
Q&A (I'm not even bothering with the typical questions on writing/publication, that's what Google is for):
  • Q: Did you use real-life rejection letters you got to help come up with the rejection letters Mia got?  
  • A: Yes!  
  • Q: Any more 1-800?
  • A: She always keeps it open, but the story was wrapped up pretty well.  There IS going to be a new Mediator book, though! (!!!!!!!!)  
  • Q: Will we see any more of the Boy series?
  • A: Yes!  Meg's working on another one in that series, as well as another book in the Heather Wells series.
  • Q: Which of your characters do you have a crush on?
  • A: All, but Cooper has a lot of traits of her husband.  Her husband does not read her books anymore, on Meg's request.  
  • Q: Does the "Disney-fication" bother you?
  • A: She loves the movies, she's glad they make people pick up her books, but she hasn't seen movie two and recognizes that they are set in two separate universes as their own entities (hers is the right one).  She recounted the story of getting a letter from a prison chaplain about the movies being shown to inmates, so they do make a difference.  She's mostly concerned about getting people to read (for instance, Allie Finkle was written as a response for younger children who wanted to read her books, but weren't quite ready for her YA yet.)  
  • Q: Do you still read a lot?
  • A: Yes.  Libraries!  Star Wars fanfic!  She really likes the Betsy-Tacey books, Anne McCafferty, A Little Princess, A Wrinkle in Time, mentioned a mystery novel, Witness the Night.
Then we moved on to the signing part.  By coincidence, I was the first person to get my book signed!  I quickly tried mentioning that I was a huge fan, was a part of MCBC when that was still a thing, I don't know if Meg really heard or anything, she was kind of in a rush, but I got my book signed and I got a picture taken with her, and I left totally shaking because ~feelings~.  To be completely honest, I think this event would have meant a lot more to middle-school-me, when Meg's books really were helping me navigate the world in a more direct way, and I was such a hardcore part of the fandom, but it still feels like my childhood self got to experience something incredible that day anyways.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Leaving Paradise & Return to Paradise

Leaving Paradise
written by Simone Elkeles

Easily one of the best books I've read this year, this original story is an instant YA classic about the transcending power of forgiveness.  It is the ultimate exercise in imagining complexly, but also so much just an amazing story.  Good writing is important, and Elkeles is capable of it, but having that unique, compelling concept to propel the storytelling is critical, and at that, Elkeles' book is perfection.  What a powerful book.  I feel that the main story was slightly cheapened by the last minute plot-twist, which is never explored as much as it could have been, but the underlying message of our shared humanity is still an important one.

Return to Paradise
written by Simone Elkeles

What a shame that a great book like Leaving Paradise got such a lackluster sequel.  If a follow-up story had to happen, which I don't feel it did, it should have at least focused on Leah's role in everything.  It is one of the most contrived, pointless books I've read in a while, which is a shame considering how powerful its predecessor is.  Forgiveness is a powerful central theme, and without Leah around to propel that same original story forward, this book falls flat on its face, and I almost wish it had been Caleb, so the story contained genuinely deep discussions on redemption.  I have trouble believing it's even the same author writing these two books, this was just so bad compared to Leaving Paradise.  I came for the deep, original, beautiful story, and ended up leaving with a pathetic romance novel.  I'm not impressed.  I'd like to pretend a sequel never happened.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Vicious Deep

The Vicious Deep
written by Zoraida Cordova

I haven't read any other mermaid YA novels, although I hear there's a relatively new-ish trend towards the mermaid trope.  After reading this one, I'm really not sure I want to seek out any more mermaid books.  I tried to be open-minded and read the whole book, but really, though, this was not a good book for me.  Just in terms of the writing style, basic sentence variation goes a long way to counter awkward writing.  It's something I personally struggle with, but then, I'm not looking to be a published writer either.  Beyond that though, the story itself...Tristan is the obnoxious popular kid you can't stand at school.  He's full of himself, you can't relate to him, despite his role as the main character, he's shallow, sexist, unlikable...the list of adjectives goes on.  He's a caricature of hotheaded teenage arrogance. Guys, the sentence "I'm not rippling with the muscles of the other bros, but I've got a pretty hot body" exists within these pages.  Honestly?  My favorite characters in this book were Tristan's parents.  That's probably not a great sign for a young adult novel.  People spend so much time and energy ripping apart novels like Twilight, and the criticisms are often merited, but I'd really like to hand those same people this book and see where that goes.  So on top of awkward writing and two-dimensional characters, the plot is convoluted, and I just could not bring myself to care.  If anyone has any good YA mermaid book recs, sure, I'd love to check them out with an open mind, but this was not a book for me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Black Mirror

Black Mirror
written by Nancy Werlin

Oh, Nancy Werlin, so hit or miss.  I've previously mentioned my feelings on many of her other books, but suffice it to say that her newer material is light years away in quality from her older stuff.  This one was okay, the supernatural elements were thankfully toned down (they work extremely well in Impossible and Extraordinary, can't say the same for the rest...), and it ends up being more of a story about a girl coping with her brother's death, and trying to figure out the complicated circumstances surrounding it, including finding an undercover drug smuggling ring at her school.  It's not a bad book, it's not a particularly well-written or original book either, but I've seen much worse.

Rating: Very 'meh'.  3/5

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour
written by Morgan Matson

With so many new debut YA novelists arriving on the scene lately, I've been getting lost and sticking to the familiar.  However, I had this book heavily recommended by a friend and went for it.  I'm so glad I did.  The book is written partially as a story, but has epistolary aspects to it, which I always enjoy.  Amy and Roger getting to literally revisit the scenes of their past results in a powerful journey for them and a powerful story for us.  Unlike many narratives, the idea of 'grief' is not isolated to death, although that does prominently feature, but extends itself out to other kinds of profound, irreversible losses that we all experience.  I'm not usually one to want for a sequel where a sequel is unnecessary, and I understand that things were meant to be left a little open ended, but storytelling-wise, I do think leaving Amy and Roger where they were was a little too open.  I wish we had gotten some more definitive answers on their future.  Regardless, it's a powerful story for anyone who has lost a loved one and had to move on, but be warned, you will want to go on a cross-country road trip once you're done!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wide Awake

Wide Awake
written by David Levithan

I adore political young adult novels.  I just love them.  Despite many falling in the 'young adult' category not yet being able to vote, we are people and we are passionate about the world we live in.  It is so great to hear voices of fictional teens who feel the same.  Wide Awake is the stuff of a beautiful liberal idealistic heaven, and has to be one of the best books I've had the pleasure of reading.  And he does it so great, too, with his typical mindblowing writing combining with perfection of a plot. He could have easily used the political victory as the ending, but instead took the hard and ultimately more rewarding road of tackling the end at the beginning.  While some of the made up historical events seem a little hokey, once they're explained, it's totally believable, albeit idealistic.  And while this may be deemed a 'political YA', more than anything this novel is about finding who you are and reconciling your identity with society's dissenting opinions on who you "should" be, whether dictated through social, cultural, or religious "rules".  The "Jesus Revolution" mentioned in this book is a beautiful concept and I could only dream of such a thing happening in my lifetime, the idea of religion going back to its roots of love and kindness for all.  Stein is kind of a simple character, and elements of the story seem simple, but there are so many amazing qualities found in this book.  Religion could easily have been written off as a force of evil and hate.  Instead, Levithan takes the effort to imagine people complexly and recognize that religion itself is not inherently good or bad, but a force for potential action in either direction, often both directions, in complicated, tangled up ways.  This book is political, but it is about so much more than that.  The personal doesn't automatically have to be political, but man, can the political be personal.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keep Holding On

Keep Holding On
written by Susane Colasanti

This is the YA novel about bullying that the world's been waiting for.  So many books addressing bullying take on a preachy stance, ignoring the realities that this bullying consumes a teen's life with shame, making it so difficult for bullying to be addressed.  Colasanti knows what she's talking about.  We are getting the raw, real story here.  I really love that the reader doesn't have to dig deep to find the morsels of meaning, the depth is all there, laid out, ready to be applied to the bullied lives of actual teens.  I have a lot of things I could say here.  I wish, and don't we all, I could one day have a one-on-one conversation with Colasanti about her books and her life, but for now, I'll revel in knowing that I am not alone, and neither are you.  The one adjustment I would have loved would have been either a sequel or an expansion of the story beyond the ending, because as with most endings, the ending was just a beginning.  Unlike many of those beginnings, though, it's one that's rarely written about, and if there's anyone I'd like to see writing that unwritten story, it's SC.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Dreamhunter Duet

written by Elizabeth Knox

I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did.  I thought it would be just another one of those fantasy novels written by a wanna-be fantasy writer, full of weird names with too many consonants and desperate clumsy attempts at world-building.  Wow, was I in for a surprise.  Yes, there are new names and you're immersed in a totally new world, but you're learning right beside the main character, rather than being plunged into a pre-existing confusing universe.  The novel explores a subject not explored much in YA books (with the possible exception of Lisa McMann's Wake series), the world of dreams.  There are some passages that drag a bit, but once the story gets going, you are immersed in an intricately developed universe where dreams are the basis for society's continued productivity.  All of the questions, the set-up, everything is addressed and if it isn't resolved in this novel, it is rapidly picked up in its sequel.  You are going to want to have the second book handy as you finish the first.

Rating: 5/5

written by Elizabeth Knox

Starting things off to tie up loose ends left by the predecessor, Dreamquake takes the characters we grew to know and love and intensifies everything.  Now that the universe has been set up, the characters and story can fully be explored.  We get to know more of the 'why' behind the world, since the 'what' has been answered.  The characters really grow into their own skins through the course of the story, getting more and more comfortable with who they are and where they fit.  This could have been a trilogy.  This could have been one of those lengthy sci-fi series, dragged out into dozens and dozens of volumes.  Instead, Knox builds a world and wraps a story up in two books, but fits decades of mythology in such a compact duet.  The story may take place in an alternate world, but the undertones resonate with contemporary readers, and the plot's intricate twists and turns will take each and every one who sticks it out for the ride of their lives.  I have not seen a world as well-developed in a YA novel since Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and it's truly a pity that this series isn't as well-known as it should be.  What a story.  Bravo, Elizabeth Knox, you really know what you're doing.

Rating: 5/5