Posts tagged ‘Romance’

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkTitle: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrators: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra
ISBN: 9780385368261 (book on cd), 9781250012579 (hardcover)
Pages: 328 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 hours, 7 CDs
Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, c2013. (audio from Listening Library)

“You can’t sit there. That’s Mikayla’s seat.” [...]
“I have to sit somewhere,” The girl said to Tina in a firm, calm voice.
“Not my problem,” Tina snapped. The bus lurched, and the girl rocked back to keep from falling. Park tried to turn the volume up on his Walkman, but it was already all the way up. He looked back at the girl; it looked like she was starting to cry.
Before he’d even decided to do it, Park scooted toward the window.
“Sit down,” he said. It cam out angrily. The girl turned to him, like she couldn’t tell whether he was another jerk or what. “Jesus-fuck,” Park said softly, nodding to the space next to him, “just sit down.”
The girl sat down. She didn’t say anything–thank God, she didn’t thank him–and she left six inches of space on the seat between them.
Park turned toward the Plexiglas window and waited for a world of suck to hit the fan. (8-9)

This is how Eleanor and Park meet. Eleanor, described by Park as “big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like. . . like she wanted people to look at her.” (8) Eleanor, when comparing Park to the other, meaner classmates on the bus, “couldn’t tell if the Asian kid who finally let her sit down was one of them, or whether he was just really stupid. (But not stupid-stupid- he was in two of Eleanor’s honors classes.)” (11) But then Park notices Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder, so he lends her some more. And he realizes that they like some of the same bands and music, so he lends her some cassette tapes. And then batteries. It’s when Park invites Eleanor home with him that they both realize two things: they are becoming more than just two teens who share the same bus seat, and their lives couldn’t be more different. It is those differences that ultimately put their relationship to the test, and Eleanor asks Park to give her something he truly doesn’t want to give up on.

What is it about books lately that are making me see the world so differently? Obviously books are supposed to make you view the world through a window or a light that isn’t your own. But I have never heard Eleanor’s analysis of Romeo and Juliet before, and I loved how contrary she was to the teacher. It’s also a little eye-opening and a little unnerving to have a historical fiction title that takes place during a time (1986) I was alive! Finally, after reading about the censorship scandal last September, I guess I should give fair warning that there are a multitude of swear words and some sexual content, although they don’t make it to home plate.

The relationship between Park and Eleanor I initially thought of as cliché, with two people who originally hate each other slowly falling in love. Really though, they didn’t hate each other in the beginning, they just had to get to know each other better and overcome this huge space between them. The bus seat and their body language while riding to and from school becomes symbolic of their feelings, as they start out avoiding each other, but then slowly migrate closer and closer, first ducking down so no one can see and then not caring what anyone on the bus thinks of them. Park starts off being this stereotypical Asian boy, smart, small, and silent, but then there’s that scene between him and Steve (if you have read the book, you KNOW which one I’m talking about), and it just smashes your entire opinion of Park. It also smashes your entire impression of Eleanor, as her response is just… wow.
Eleanor is getting teased by the kids on the bus. Park gets upset, and Eleanor tells him:

“It’s not worth it.”
“You are,” he said fiercely, looking at her. “You’re worth it.”
“This isn’t for me,” she said. She wanted to pull at him, but she didn’t feel like he was hers to hold back. “I don’t want this.”
“I’m tired of them embarrassing you.” [...]
“Embarrassing me?” she said. “Or embarrassing you?” (130)

You realize how mature she is and it’s sad that her abusive home life is what caused that maturity. Your heart hurts for Park that he gives so much and asks so little, but Eleanor isn’t really in a position to offer any more than she does, and she is forced to keep her guard up around everyone.

Speaking of families, Park’s is the polar opposite of Eleanor’s family. While yes we have the stereotypical absent and/or abusive parents in Eleanor’s case, we also have Park’s involved, loving, and caring parents. Park’s parents can empathize with the spot he finds himself, and while they are not perfect, they play off each other beautifully. They are willing to change when circumstances change, and they are overall some cool parents to have who support and mentor Park with his tough decisions.

Another opinion altering moment comes at the end. That is NOT how I expected this book to end. Not in a million years. But it works, and it makes sense. The book’s ending is so gut-wrenching yet hopeful, all at once, that you may just find yourself smiling even as a tear or two runs down your cheek. Whether you listen to the excellent audio or curl up next to the fire for a cover-to-cover binge reading, be prepared to have your heart stretched.

Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys KissingTitle: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
ISBN: 978030793190
Pages: 200 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, c2013.
Publication Date: August 27, 2013

A lot of thought has gone into the location of Craig and Harry’s kiss.
If convenience had been the deciding factor, the obvious choice would have been to do it in Harry’s house, or in his backyard. The Ramirezes would have been more okay with this, and would have made all the arrangements that needed to be made. But Craig and Harry didn’t want to hide it away. The meaning of this kiss would come from sharing it with other people. [...]
Once they start kissing, they will have to keep kissing for at least thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds. That is one second longer than the current world record for the longest-recorded kiss.
The reason they are all here is to break that record.
And the reason they want to break that record started with something that happened to Tariq. (31, 33)

Avery and Ryan are just starting their relationship, after having met at a gay prom. Peter and Neil have been a couple for a year now, and are still trying to navigate their lives together. Harry and Craig used to date and have since broken up. That’s not stopping their public attempt at breaking the world record for longest kiss. They were inspired by Tariq, who suffered a painful event due to his sexuality. Tariq isn’t the only one suffering though, as Connor flees his home out of fear of his family and questions who he can turn to in his time of need. All six of these young men and their stories reflect what a slice of life is like, and the struggles they face. Who will triumph, who will need to reach out for support, and who will be pushed to their limit?

I was struck by the presentation of this book. The stories are tied together not by overlapping characters or plots (although some of them do at the end) but by the observations of what could be called the ghosts of gays gone-by. It’s a unique technique, and their narration provides prospective. I was a little thrown by it at first, but then it started to grow on me. This reflective tone made me stop and think, and I found myself marking passages and pages, which I don’t normally do when reading fiction. So, please forgive my extensive quoting, but these are just three of the passages that made me stop and reflect, and I hope the readers of my blog can do the same.

Avery wonders why Ryan is looking at him out of the corner of his eye, why Ryan would rather watch him than watch the road. Even when friends look at Avery, a small part of him still worries they are looking for flaws, irregularities. In this Avery isn’t all that different from anyone else. We all worry that looking at is really looking for.
Finally, Avery can’t stand it. The look. Then a knowing smile. Then another look.
“What?” he asks.
This only makes Ryan smile more. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t usually like people. So when I do, part of me is really amused and the other part refuses to believe it’s happening.” (150)

It’s one of the secrets of strength: We’re so much more likely to find it in the service of others than we are to find it in service to ourselves. We have no idea why this is. It’s not just the mother who lifts the car to free her child, or the guy who shields his girlfriend when the gunman starts to fire. Those are extremes, brave extremes, which life rarely calls on us to offer. No, it is the less extreme strength-a strength that is not so much situational as it is constitutional-that we will find in order to give. [...] Some supposedly strong people in our lives showed that their strength was actually made of straw. But so many held us up in ways they would not have held themselves. They saw us through, even as their worlds crumbled through their fingers. They kept fighting, even after we were gone. Or especially because we were gone. They kept fighting for us. (153)

For the past year, Neil has assumed that love was like a liquid pouring into a vessel, and that the longer you loved, the more full the vessel became, until it was entirely full. The truth is that over time, the vessel expands as well. You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things. And that space isn’t empty as much as it’s filled by another element. Even though the liquid is easier to see, you have to learn to appreciate the air. (181)

Another scene that really made me stop and examine how I viewed the world was when one of the characters was confronting his family about his sexuality. His mother said “I don’t have to tell you that you have black hair, do I? I don’t have to tell you that you’re a boy. Why should I have to tell you this? We know, [name removed]. Is that what you want to hear? We know.” (134) I’ll be honest, I’ve always felt the same way as that mother. What does it matter if someone is gay or straight or bi or asexual, and why is it so important to acknowledge it publicly? I don’t go around announcing to the world my sexuality, so why do you need to?

Regardless of what the author’s intentions were, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people might still be struggling with accepting themselves and are looking for that confirmation and validation that being who they know they are is okay. I found myself expanding on that hair color reference. There is no right or wrong with hair color, and there shouldn’t be a right or wrong sexuality either. Some people still tell blonde jokes and the Nazis still preferred the blonde-haired blue-eyed Aryans over other races. But for the majority of the population, it doesn’t matter if you are brunette, red, blonde, or black, because they know that you have no control over what your natural hair color is. But sexuality is not seen as “natural” but rather a choice by a vocal group of people, and so I think that lends people to assert their sexuality with more vigor and volume, in order to ensure they are recognized as “natural”. Right now, some people see sexual orientations outside of heterosexual as other, similar to a bright pink or neon green hair dye. This character saw his mom reluctance to say his orientation aloud as proof that she didn’t accept him, and the author portrayed it in that manner, with the character responding to her question with “But you don’t mind about the other things–that I have dark hair, that I’m a boy. You mind that I’m gay. Which is why I need you to say it.” (134) I also saw it as confusion that her words could have such an impact on his opinion of his situation. Even though she didn’t say it aloud, I could almost hear her thinking “You don’t need me to tell you that you have black hair, or this color eyes, or that you’re so many feet tall, because you know it just as strongly as you know you are gay. I don’t understand why you think this is any different.” Just because we don’t acknowledge how we are different doesn’t mean we mind it.

It’s because this character needed confirmation that his family saw it that same way. This character thinks people mind, and I think that might be why so many gay pride parades and speeches happen. Until they know that sexual orientation becomes another common place descriptor such as eye color, that doesn’t mean anything, then they have to keep confirming that their sexuality won’t make a difference in how people view them. They feel like they are hiding it, when really, I think a good half of the population just get tired of hearing about it.

It’s these and other thought-provoking passages that really drew me into the story and I realize I’ve barely touched upon the other parts of the book while I mulled introspectively over select scenes. I loved the different characters and the different types of relationships that we witness, many of whom were inspired by true events. An author’s note reveals he talked to one of the participants of the longest continuous kiss, which was gay couple back in 2010, and we get those details that everyone would probably be asking themselves if they thought about it, like musical motivation, exhaustion, dehydration, and bodily functions (I’d be afraid to sneeze!). The observers from generations past take some getting used to, but they provide great perspective to the multitude of emotions that are portrayed with each person. Levithan made a smart choice in presenting the stories over the course of a single weekend, because it kept the pacing and suspense tightly wound and contained. We can cheer on all the characters and hope for happy endings, but even with possibilities in tact, the book came to a satisfying conclusion. With one final quote, I’ll end this post the same way Levithan ended the book.

There is the sudden. There is the eventual.
And in between, there is the living.
We do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust.
That’s all we ask of you. Make more than dust. (196)

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your LifeTitle: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales
ISBN: 9780374351380
Pages: 276 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, c2013.

You think it’s so easy to change yourself.
You think it’s so easy, but it’s not.
What do you think it takes to reinvent yourself as an all-new person, a person who makes sense, who belongs? Do you change your clothes, your hair, your face? Go on, then. Do it. Pierce your ears, trim your bangs, buy a new purse. They will still see past that, see you, the girl who is still too scared, still too smart for her own good, still a beat behind, still, always, wrong. Change all you want; you can’t change that.
I know because I tried. […]
I had worked so hard, wished so hard, for things to get better. But it hadn’t happened, and it wasn’t going to happen. I could buy new jeans, I could put on or take off a headband, but this was who I was. You think it’s so easy to change yourself, but it’s impossible.
So I decided on the next logical step: to kill myself. (3, 21)

Elise spent an entire summer hoping to change herself and become popular, and it failed miserably. Overwhelmed by the futility of it all, she attempted to kill herself, but then chickened out and called for help. Now back at school, she spends her nights roaming the streets, listening to her iPod and relishing the silence and the solitude. Until one night, she stumbles across an underground dance club and finds people who don’t know her past and notice her, especially the DJ Char. But sneaking out of the house does not go unnoticed, especially when classmates and parents suspect Elise is going to try to kill herself again. When pressures mount at school, at home, and at the club, will Elise be pushed to the breaking point and do what everyone expects of the lonely outsider? Or will she finally dance to music she’s been using to drown out everyone else?

First off, the supporting cast of characters is great. From Elise’s lunch table mates who are united with each other due to their outcast status, to Elise’s stepfather worrying about her influence on “his children”, they all are struggling just as much as Elise to figure out what to do. I can’t imagine the aftermath, and Sales saves herself from portraying that difficult time by beginning the story several months after Elise’s suicide attempt. I found myself unintentionally finishing the book in one day because I just couldn’t stop reading.

Elise is very different from me, since we don’t have the same taste in music, I have never been to an underground night club, and I have no idea how to DJ. Yet I found myself admiring her and relating to her, especially through her love of music and her use of music to escape. We all have a time in our life when we wonder what we could do differently or what we could have changed. After her suicide attempt, Elise recognizes that sometimes there is nothing you can change about the way other people feel about you.

I had always thought that if I just did something extraordinary enough, then people would like me. But that wasn’t true. You will drive away everyone by being extraordinary. [spoiler omitted] But you, you never learn your lesson. The world embraces ordinary. The world will never embrace you. […]
No one can mold me. I know because I’ve tried. (211)

You’ll notice that quote mimics and echoes the first paragraphs of the book, and that theme of acceptance of yourself runs through the entire book. But while in the beginning there is depression about this lack of conformity, by the end I think Elise has once more found the pride in being extraordinary. In the end I wanted to be Elise, who struggles with conformity and lack of friends and doesn’t want to change herself, but still recognizes her desires and a need to be who she is and do what she enjoys. This book leaves me wanting to find an underground night club, learn how to DJ, make a copy of the list of songs included in the back of the book and listen to every one of them. But I think more importantly, it also leaves me wanting to find my own soundtrack and make my own impressions on people. And that says a lot about a book when it is able to accomplish that and not feel didactic or overly sentimental.

The Originals

OriginalsTitle: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
ISBN: 9780316219433
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.

“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take the first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” (14)

Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best are identical, but they are not triplets. Instead, they are clones, in hiding with their scientist mother from companies and the government who would want to prove their existence and study them. Taking turns going to school and sharing one life as Elizabeth Best, they have never really complained about their situation due to the knowledge that they could be found out and taken away at any moment. But as senior year progresses, the three girls start to question who they really are and what sort of life they are really living. Lizzie starts to fall for Sean Kelly, who opens her eyes to possibilities that she knows she can never fully partake in with their current agreement. Looking for answers and their independence, Lizzie and her “sisters” realize that their mother might not have been as truthful as they originally thought, and the lies might spell trouble for their seemingly happy family.

It says in the back jacket author’s biography that author Cat Patrick is the mother of twin daughters, very likely serving as inspiration for this book. Rather than narrating the story solely from Lizzie’s perspective, I wish the girls had taken turns narrating so that all three would have received the same amount of focus and distinction from one another. Lizzie’s voice was well-developed, but her sisters were unfortunately interchangeable throughout the story. Poor Betsey seemed to have very few opinions of her own, and I feel sorry that she got the short end of the stick being locked in the house all day long and then working in the evenings for spending money that all three girls used.

The story requires some suspension of belief that the three “sisters” willingly went along with this plan for so many years without complaint, interest in friendship or relationships, or any confusion. I liked the thought that was put into having one girl do a third of the day, as opposed to each girl doing every third day, but there are still missing links in the chain. It sounds like they’ve been living there for a while, and no one has seemingly caught on or made attempts at friendship until now. The changing of identities back and forth is originally portrayed as a “you’ve got to be joking” unbelievable suggestion, but then it’s later revealed that they’ve done this before in the instances of illness or injury. I would think physical activities like the cheerleading team would be out of the question, number one due to unavoidable differences in physical abilities and number two due to the possibility of an injury taking place in front of someone else and then the other two having to fake it.

The romance aspect develops slowly, but like Lizzie’s sisters Sean is never really fully developed and seems more a contrived impetus for Lizzie’s sudden rebellion as opposed to his own person. Readers are never fully enlightened as to why Sean is able to recognize that there is a difference between Lizzie and Ella and what sparks his interest in her. And the betrayal at the end involving someone Lizzie knows seems equally contrived and unexplainable.

I’m realizing as I wrap up this review that I’ve been talking about all the implausible plot points that stretch credulity and credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in only a few hours and readers might find themselves entertained as much as I was regardless of the various plot holes. As summer winds down, it might make a nice thing to stash in your beach bag for one last jaunt to soak up some sun, although the weather here has taken a decided and marked turn towards fall temperatures, so maybe you’ll instead be curling up in front of a fire. Lizzie at least is likeable, and you won’t regret spending the time to get to know her and her unique situation or her struggles to be seen as her own person.

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke UpTitle: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
Illustrator: Maira Kalman
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
ISBN: 9781611132960 (hardcover: 9780316127257)
Pages: 354 pages
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs (5 narration, 1 of illustrations), 6.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Hachette Audio, Little, Brown and Company, c2011.
Awards: Printz Honor Book (2012)

The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. [...] Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb. I’m dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me. I’m dumping this box on your porch, Ed, but it is you, Ed, who is getting dumped. (3-4)

They came from different cliques; Ed was the co-captain of the basketball team with ex-girlfriends at every turn while Min was the film aficionado, whom everyone called arty but she denied vehemently. Everyone questioned what they saw in each other, but they thought it would last, they thought it was different. And it was, until just over a month into their quick flare up of a relationship, when it no longer was enough, and they separated. Now, after some reflection, Min is returning Ed’s stuff. Not just the stuff he gave her, or he left behind, but all the little mementos that meant so much when they were tied to someone she loved. Told in flashbacks, this is the story of why they broke up.

I listened to this story after a break up (of sorts) of my own, and found it extremely cathartic. Khristine Hvam’s narration, provides an emotionally driven reading of this emotionally driven story. Her inflections are spot on, as Min vacillates from outrage and hurt to tender reminisces of the time they spent together, regardless of how brief it was. You might lose one or two details with the items that warrant a shorter description and go unnamed, but a disc is included for your benefit with PDFs of the illustrations. I grabbed a physical copy of the book instead, and the drawings are bright, bold, and beautiful, although the book is heavier than I anticipated it to be. Is it symbolic? Are they commenting on the weight of someone’s feelings, or did they just want it to clunk when you set it down like so many of the objects do when dropped in the box? One will never know.

Told entirely from Min’s perspective as she spills her soul in a letter to Ed that will accompany the box of stuff, Ed realistically comes across as a mystery to readers although he does have his moments. (The “I’m sorry” scene pulled at my heart-strings just a little, even though I questioned his sincerity through the whole thing.) I wanted to hug Min throughout the entire book, as she experienced heartache for the first time.

I loved the realism of the relationships, not just Min and Ed, but Min with her friends, who at first claim “no opinion” of Ed but then she learns they do in fact have their own opinions of this outsider joining their group. I’m reminded for some reason of Katy Perry’s song Hot n’ Cold, and if I made a soundtrack for this book I’d probably include it as we witness Min and Ed at all stages of their boyfriend/girlfriend status. With no mention of social media (at least not that I can remember), that little fact distorts how realistic this might seem, but without it this book might just stand the test of time. The other distorted fact is how LONG it would have really taken someone to hand write all 300+ pages of the story of their relationship, but it’s something that you really don’t dwell on. Give it to anyone suffering a broken heart and is either past or trying to get past the weepy stage. Also good for anyone who is fed up with the Nicholas Spark and Nora Roberts love stories. Bravo!

Time Between Us

Time Between UsTitle: Time Between Us
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Narrator: Amy Rubinate
ISBN: 9780307967862 (hardcover 9781423159568)
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperiod, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2012.

And while the thief is distracted by the contents of the safe, three things happen, so fast and overlapping that they seem to take place simultaneously. Bennet disappears completely, and suddenly he’s kneeling next to me on the floor. He grabs my hands and closes his eyes, and I must follow suit, because when I open them, the store is gone. The robber and his knife are gone. And Bennett and I are in the exact same positions–him kneeling, me sitting, still holding each other’s hands–only now we’re next to a tree in the park around the corner, the wind throwing snow violently around us. (99)

Anna sees a teenage boy she’s never met watching her as she does her morning run. Upon meeting her observer at school and identifying him as new student Bennett, she confronts him and he denies the incident. Against the advice of her friends and her gut instincts she is attracted to Bennett, but Anna can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right about Bennett. During a robbery attempt, Bennett finally reveals that he is hiding a huge secret and is actually a time traveler from 17 years in the future. Pulled inexplicably to each other, Anna relishes the opportunity to fulfill her life long dreams of travel. But as their relationship prompts them to continually break rules that Bennett has established, Bennett’s prolonged presence might be causing consequences that he cannot fix.

More mild-romance than mind-bender or mystery, if you combine Twilight with The Time Traveler’s Wife, you get this book, but in both cases I would go to those other books first. While this book also has a time traveling couple, The Time Traveler’s Wife had depth and substance and emotional draw that this book seems to lack. However, you still having the brooding teenage girl in a relationship that everyone cautions her against yet she feels that unexplainable and instantaneous attraction/attention towards him. I guess that’s actually the problem, because while we see the relationship in Time Traveler’s Wife grow and evolve, I didn’t get that sense here. It feels like their relationship grows out of intrigue rather than love, with all of the long, lingering looks and none of the emotional sparks that are supposed to materialize.

Anna’s friendships, including her relationship with Bennett, are less than appealing. It seems like she’s using Bennett because of the promise of travel opportunities, which she absolutely is intent on taking advantage of. Bennett himself strikes me and Anna’s friends as slightly creepy, what with his popping in and out of Anna’s life. Anna’s friend Justin, whom she has known since she was five, plays a very minor part in the book, and also seems to be used by Anna for music, whether in the form of personalized mixes she can run to or tickets to the hottest concerts. His possible attraction to her is mentioned ever so slightly and then ignored for most of the rest of the story, only to be thrust in our face suddenly towards the end. Even her friend Emma doesn’t seem fully fleshed out, playing the role of comedic side-kick more than a true friend. When the characters fight, which they do sporadically, they all seem to solve their problems by ignoring each other until one or the other gives in for no reason.

This is especially true when applied to Bennett’s rules regarding time travel, which he broke once with disastrous consequences yet that doesn’t stop him from considering breaking the rules for Anna, a girl he’s just met. The time travel portion of the plot is also marginally explained. While Bennett subconsciously/inexplicably realizes that he can’t travel to a time before he was born or into his future, the ending climatic separation between Bennett and Anna has no explanation. I don’t want to reveal too much here, but I wonder if answers will be more readily available in October with the upcoming sequel, which will be told from Bennett’s perspective. Also, as a reviewer pointed out on Goodreads, at one point in the story there are three Bennett’s in the same time line, which was loosely explained as possible because they weren’t “within range of our other selves” and therefore won’t “disappear”, which seems like a flimsy reason.

And don’t get me started on the ending, which I’m sure to spoil for readers who get that far. Let’s say the problem is solved but with no satisfactory explanation to decipher what caused the problem or how it was solved. I honestly wish it had ended differently. Amy Rubinate did a passible job at narrating the material she was given, but the plot left a lot to be desired in my opinion. Goodreads reviews are full of star-struck readers swooning over what I see is a lackluster love story. Maybe it just wasn’t meant for me.

Pandemonium

Title: Pandemonium
Series: sequel to Delirium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Narrator: Sarah Drew
ISBN: 9780061978067
Pages: 375 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs; 10 hours, 34 minutes
Publisher/Date:

The next day, the sky is a pale blue, the sun high and amazingly warm, breaking through the trees and turning the ice to rivulets of flowing water. The snow brought silence with it, but now the woods are alive again, full of dripping and twittering and cracking. It is as though the Wilds have been released from a muzzle.
We are all in a good mood–everyone but Raven, who does her daily scan of the sky and only mutters, “It won’t last.”
On my way to the nests, stamping through the snow, I’m so warm I have to take off my jacket and tie it around my waist. The nests will be green today, I can sense it. They’ll be green, and the supplies will come, and the scouts will return, and we’ll all flow south together. [...]
Red. Red. Red.
Dozens of [birds]: black feathers coated thickly with crimson-colored paint, fluttering among the branches.
Red means run. (126-127)

Lena has escaped from the “civilized society,” but has lost her love and savior Alex in the process. Now she’s living with Raven and Tack, two people she met after escaping, trying to portray an obedient life while helping the resistance from the inside. Through flashbacks to “Then”, we see her being rescued from certain death by a company of resistance fighters, hiding in the Wilds, surviving on what little they can scrounge and preparing for the coming winter and move south. But Lena, Raven, and Tack have to push their harrowing journey behind them if they are to stay hidden from prying eyes. In her task to get close to and watch a young man named Julian who serves as figurehead of the movement insisting upon “the Cure” for all, she finds herself kidnapped with Julian and held with nothing but an umbrella and a tube of lipstick at her disposal. Can she turn Julian into an ally without exposing her own secret, or will they be unable to bridge the gap that separates them?

If you remember, I fell in love (pardon the pun) with Delirium upon my first reading. This sequel made me question what I loved about the first one. I started listening to it as an audiobook, and could NOT get into it. It might have been the narrator, but Lena sounded whiney, overly brooding, and just melodramatic. The writing, which I’m sure was trying to be poetic and descriptive, just seemed to languish. Everything seems to take her breath away or amaze her with either its beauty or its horror. She feels everything and internalized the minutest of details, and Oliver takes the time to explain everything. For instance:

Alex is the only boy I’ve ever known or really spoke to. I don’t like to think of all those male strangers, just on the other side of the stone wall, with their baritone voices and their snorts of laughter. Before I met Alex, I lived almost eighteen years believing fully in the system, believing 100 percent that love was a disease, that we must protect ourselves, that girls and boys must stay rigorously separate to prevent contagion. Looks, glances, touches, hugs–all of it carried the risk of contamination. And even though being with Alex changed me, you don’t shake loose the fear all at once. You can’t.
I close my eyes, breathe deeply, again try and force myself down through the layers of consciousness, to let myself be carried away by sleep. (16-17)

Who thinks like this?! Okay, we get it, you can’t sleep. We got that with the previous, unquoted (is that a word?), paragraph where you talk about the noises you hear. We as readers don’t need to have everything spelled out for us so completely.

Once I got the printed book from the library, I gave up on the audiobook. It went a lot faster, but now I had the narrator’s voice stuck in my head. And I couldn’t get it out. They really need a new narrator for this series, because I know I would have liked it more if I hadn’t been so focused on all the times that Lena went reflective. Even when she’s getting attacked, about halfway through the book, she’s much more reflective in her descriptions than matter of fact. “I am striking without looking, struggling to breathe, and everything is bodies–hardness and enclosure, no way to run, no way to break free–and the slashing of my knife.” Maybe the book should have been written as a novel in verse.

I also struggled with the jumping back and forth between “Then” and “Now”. The timeline of events got confused in my brain, and readers still don’t witness how Lena, Raven, and Tack actually infiltrated the “real” world, which I was most curious about since it seems like people rarely move between cities in this new society. I would have liked it much better if the story had started and finished with Then, and proceeded to Now chronologically.

I have to admit though that Oliver knows how to write the action sequences, even with the overly descriptive passages. Lana is a warrior similar to Katniss from The Hunger Games and she readily adapts and acquires her survival instincts. She fights with the best of them, and is not about to get taken, captured, or killed, especially after Alex tried so hard to get her out and avoid the cure. The ending is a doozy. On the one hand, it is cliche and predictable and groan-enducing that we now have to wait for book three, but I still wanted to stand up and applaud her for her execution as red-herrings were thrown at us from the beginning and had thoroughly convinced me it wasn’t going to happen, ESPECIALLY not on the last page. And the plot twist regarding the kidnapping was also something I did NOT see coming.

Be prepared to read this as opposed to listening to it, and you’ll be able to avoid the overly dramatic whine that permeates my reading now and you’ll enjoy the action much more.

Forever

In celebration of Banned Book Week’s 30th Anniversary, I’m spending the entire week reviewing books that have been challenged for one reason or another. While yesterday’s Robopocalypse was a new release, today’s book of choice has been around for a long time but one I’d never read until now.

Title: Forever
Author: Judy Blume
ISBN: 9781416934004
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c1975 (renewed c2003)

It occurred to me in the middle of the night that Michael asked if I was a virgin to find out what I expected of him. If I hadn’t been one then he probably would have made love to me. What scares me is I’m not sure how I feel about that. (20)

Katherine and Michael’s first meeting is innocent enough, the exchange of a few words at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. But they’re both intrigued by each other, and have their first date the very next day. It’s a great way to start off the New Year as their relationship blooms and advances from hand holding to declaring their love for each other. Their parents caution them about first loves, but Katherine and Michael are adamant that this is going to work out. With everyone saying “take it slow” and “this won’t last”, Katherine and Michael have big decisions to make as they finish their senior year, decisions that will affect their lives and relationship.

A refreshingly honest portrayal of first romance and love that still rings true after all these years (and I really didn’t realize how many years it has been). Unlike today’s books where we see instant sparks and love at first sight, Katherine and Michael’s love for each other starts off slow and builds. They attend different schools, so they only see each other mostly on the weekends and some nights. I think this adds to their evolution together, as they aren’t available for hand-holding, walking each other to classes, eating lunch together or stealing kisses in the hallway.

The story is almost timeless, with just one mention of records at the very beginning and a lack of cell phones being the only glaring difference between now and when the book was written more than 35 YEARS(!) ago. It’s older than Banned Book Week, which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year. I actually don’t recall reading a whole lot of Judy Blume when I was younger except the Fudge series, although I acutely remember writing a paper on her because years later I found the same book I used to write the report in my library (I recognized the cover photo) so she must have made some impact.

I’m presenting this book during Banned Book Week and I can understand why parents might still object to it all these years later (it was number #16 of top 100 books banned from 2000-2009). While not explicit or overly graphic, it does portray the characters having sex. Katherine is intent on waiting, and although it’s not a very long time (about three months) before they’re seriously considering sex, it’s nice to see a guy who’s respectful of that choice and doesn’t pressure her (much). While everything is told from Katherine’s perspective, we do witness a little bit of what the guy goes through, as Michael complains about pain, there’s premature ejaculation, and also a time when things just aren’t happening. (I’m afraid including these details is going to give me a lot more traffic from people not looking for book reviews, but there’s no other way to describe it. *laughing*) The othering refreshing aspect of the book is it portrays different points of view, with the novel bringing up topics of pregnancy and sex out of wedlock, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, and questioning sexuality.

Katherine’s family is just as upfront about it as Blume is in her descriptions. Her mother and grandmother (who if you think about it would have been born sometime in the 40s at the latest!) are surprisingly frank but also hands off about their advice, giving Katherine articles about sex and referring her to Planned Parenthood. They do answer her questions when she approaches them, but they let Katherine make her own decisions about when it’s the right time to talk. Katherine’s father is understandably more straight-forward about the discussion. He sits down with her and flatly tells her that he doesn’t “want to see her tied down” and that she’s “too young to make lifetime decisions.” (74) The Planned Parenthood scene is portrayed as very clinical, sterile, and professional, presenting her options and describing the process with again very minimal details.

My physical consisted of weight and blood pressure, a routine breast exam, with the doctor explaining how I should check my breasts each month, then my first pelvic examination. I tried to act as if I was used to it, but I didn’t fool the doctor, who said “Try to relax, Katherine. This isn’t going to hurt.” And it didn’t either, but it was uncomfortable for a minute, like when he pushed with one hand from inside and with the other from the outside.
Then he slipped this cold thing into my vagina and explained, “This is a vaginal speculum. It holds the walls of the vagina open so that the inside is easily seen.” […]
“I’m almost done now, Katherine . . . just a Pap smear . . . there,” he said, passing a long Q-tip kind of thing to his assistant. “And the gonorrhea culture . . . okay . . . that does it.” He took off his rubber glove. (119-120)

Quite obviously meant for teens, I would recommend it to any girl who considered herself in a serious relationship or was thinking about having sex. Katherine and her friends show times of insight that every reader could benefit from. While the challenges are correct that it does portray sex between teenagers, masturbation, and birth control, these are all things that teens should be informed about before reaching college. Katherine shows responsibility, restraint and forward planning, all things that readers are encouraged to emulate, and something that parents should be relieved is being portrayed to their children in a positive and nonjudgmental manner.

The Scorpio Races

Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Steve West and Fiona Hardingham
ISBN: 9780545224901
Pages: 409 pages
Dics/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 7 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Inc., c2011.

“It’s the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

When Sean Kendrick was ten, his father was killed by a cappal uisce during the annual Scorpio Races on the beach of their tiny island. Ever since, Sean has been taming the cappal uisce for the Malvern family, one of the biggest names in horse breeding. A quiet, brooding young man, Sean trusts his secrets to no one, not even the cappal uisce named Corr who has helped him win the Races several times and who Sean has set his heart on owning one day. Sean’s life is changed when he encounters Puck Connolly, an ambitious young girl who’s terrified of the cappal uisce after they killed both her parents and left her and her two brothers orphans. The only way to keep her older brother from abandoning their family for the mainland is to enter the race, but is she strong enough to overcome her fear?

The story is mainly told from Puck’s point of view, and Fiona Hardingham’s bubbly representation of Puck seems almost effortless. Puck does have her moments of depression, but she is usually able to lift herself out of those depths, if only for the sole reason that she doesn’t want her younger brother to see her so despondent. I think I would get along with her well. Sean, as I said in my summary, is the strong and silent type whose narration counter balances Puck’s effervescent personality. Steve West conveys his reserved nature very cleanly, and voices not just Sean but all the men with clarity and precision. He slips very neatly from Sean’s accent to the horse purchaser George Holly’s American one, with no hesitation or hiccups that I could hear.

This is somewhat different from Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which focused on the more well-known werewolf mythology. Here she’s in her own element, bringing to life the little known legend of the water horses, which she says in her author’s note are named various things depending on the country of origin. I’ve never heard of this myth, as I thought Kelpies were simply water horses as opposed to flesh-eating beasts, more “My Little Pony” meets “The Little Mermaid” than vampiric Black Beauty.

But Stiefvater brings more to the table than that just admittedly simplistic description. Through her writings, readers witness the majesty and fascination that Sean feels for these wild animals, as well as the revulsion that Puck feels for these killer beasts. In presenting both sides, readers can draw their own conclusions, and can debate what they would do and how they would feel if placed in the same situation.

The action and adventure sequences leave readers not only picturing the scene, but reeling from it as the horses strike and death courts the characters at every corner. Her writing is cinematic in nature, especially at the very end when you can visualize the panoramic views and the tight close-ups of faces, reactions, and feelings. Those feelings, and especially the relationship that develops between Puck and Sean, are natural and not rushed. They recognize that they are competitors, with each of them needing to beat the other one in order to win the prize money that they both so desperately need. They’re hesitant to act on what starts as admiration and quickly grows in each of them as something more, and their trepidation just adds to the climatic ending.

A Printz Award Honor 2012 for teen literature and Odyssey Honor Award 2012 for Best Audio Production, along with being named to countless Best Books of 2011 lists, this book is a must read for any fantasy fan, and a must listen for all audiobook listeners.

Back When You Were Easier to Love

Title: Back When You Were Easier to Love
Author: Emily Wing Smith
ISBN: 9780525421993
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2011.

“I never got it, those magazine articles I read when I was thirteen and anticipating romance. Never understood why they went on and on about finding a guy you could be yourself around. I could be me all by myself. I was already me. I wanted a boyfriend to make me more than me.
Zan was that guy. Zan was that guy, and more. I wasn’t myself with him, I was better than myself–Joy 2.0. When I was with Zan my jokes were funnier, my mind was sharper, my vanilla perfume smelled better. I was better read–quotes from books jumped into my memory during conversations with him. [...]
Without him, the world is smaller. Without him, I am smaller. Without him a place like Haven, a place that was small before, shrinks to the size of a fingernail clipping–something so small, something no one needed anyway.
I am not Haven. I shrink without Zan. But with him, I am not insignificant. (26-27)

Joy is a newcomer in the Mormon community Haven. She wasn’t entirely happy with her mid-semester move until she met Zan. Zan becoming her boyfriend made life better, but Zan can’t think of anything except getting out. After finishing high school early, Zan moves to the college at Joy’s old hometown and cuts ties to everything to his old life. Joy doesn’t understand what happened, and maintains to her friends that she needs closure. When a long weekend presents the opportunity, she and Zan’s friend Noah take off on a road trip across the desert intent to find Zan and give Joy that closure. But is Joy really ready for what she’s going to find when she gets there or along the way?

I first posted about this book with my first Waiting on Wednesday almost a year ago, and I finally made it to this book. This is another example of the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The cover shows a couple sharing a library stool surrounded by books (how cute is that), and I was expecting the library to take center stage in the story. But besides Joy’s love of books and the time she spends in the library at school, there really isn’t a whole lot of emphasis on the library. I was expecting a story about a library love, and that wasn’t what I got.

Not that the story that was told was bad, it was just hard to wrap my brain around when I realized how wrong I was. I liked the story for a couple of reasons. First, this is a story about a Mormon relationship and a Mormon community, but it didn’t really stress religion. Instead, the attention was placed squarely on Joy’s feelings and her relationship with Zan. It never got preachy, which is appreciated. Second, can I just gush over Noah? The things you find out about the kind of guy he is just impresses me so much and it’s so admirable the things he does to help Joy. Noah is the real keeper and it gives readers hope that there are guys out there like Noah. Other bloggers talk about their literary crushes… I think I can safely claim Noah’s as mine. Comparing Noah to Zan, readers have a hard time figuring out why Joy is so hung up on Zan, but it’s easy to reflect on that with the hindsight of Zan’s disappearance. Readers also get exposed to Joy and the feelings she enjoyed when with Zan, and that to me solidifies the relationship she had and why she is devastated and so intent to hold onto it when it falls apart. While her fascination with Barry Manilow seems out dated to me, I guess it’s comparable to the fascination that other girls have with other singers today. For me, she’s all the more relatable when she reveals her complete cluelessness to cars, something I suffer from as well.

Overall, it was a cute, clean love story that shatters the stereotype that your first love is the one.

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