Posts tagged ‘Young Adult Fiction’

The Rithmatist

RithmatistTitle: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Illustrator: Ben McSweeney
Narrator: Michael Kramer
ISBN: 9781427237439 (audiobook), 9780765320322 (hardcover)
Pages: 378 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs, 10 hours
Publisher/Date: TOR Books, a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. c2013.

The door stopped rattling. All was still for just a moment, then the door burst open.
Lilly tried to scream, but found her voice caught in her throat. A figure stood framed in moonlight, a bowler hat on his head, a short cape covering his shoulders. He stood with his hand on a cane to his side.
She could not see his face, backlit as he was, but there was something horribly sinister about that slightly tipped head and those shadowed features. A hint of a nose and chin, reflecting moonlight. Eyes that watched her from within the inky blackness.
The things flooded into the room around him. Angry, squirming over floor, walls, ceiling. Their bone-white forms almost seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Each was as flat as a piece of paper.
Each was made of chalk.
They were each unique, tiny picture like monsters with fangs, claws. They made no noise at all as they flooded into the hallway, hundreds of them, shaking and vibrating silently as they came for her.
Lilly finally found her voice and screamed. (12-13)

Joel missed his chance to become a Rithmatist when he was younger, but he still gets to observe Rithmatists practice at school. His father was a master chalk maker, but died in an accident and now his mother works non-stop at school in order to pay his debts. Changes and challenges are in the air, as a new professor joins the staff and shakes up the school. When students start disappearing, Joel and a remedial Rithmatist student aid an aging professor in investigating where they went. With no way of protecting himself, Joel isn’t the only one who fears he is in over his head.

I was surprised by how well described the chalk drawings were on the audiobook, and thought the details had been added for listeners benefit. Turns out not only are there drawings, but also descriptions of what they look like and how they function included at the beginning of each chapter. The descriptions test your memory for geometry terms from way back when, but they still make sense. I was also grateful for the map at the beginning of the book that detailed where these places were on an altered map of the United States. What happened to the country, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full details of, but the names and placements of the communities make sense in an almost post-apocalyptic manner.

I also appreciated the turn of events that occur throughout the novel. The tension is drawn out (pardon the pun) slowly, with first one then multiple students going missing, and the trouble escalating. It’s similar to the trouble facing Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, as parents either pull their students from the university or are encouraged by the authorities to leave them there under the protection of the guards. But Joel is not the fated wizard who will save the world. In fact, he is powerless against the chalklings – creatures made of chalk that can attack both chalk defenses and living beings — instead using his analytic brain to overcome what he sees as a handicap. Melody is the loquacious, wise-cracking side-kick in this story, whose curiosity and optimism get the better of her and repeatedly put her in danger. But Joel needs her Rithmatist skills, however remedial, and their dynamics and budding friendship evolve and appear very naturally as they interact with increasing frequency through their studies with Professor Fitch. I also liked Professor Fitch, who seems best suited to mentor both Melody and Joel. As the principal of the school at one point tells Joel, “Professor Fitch likes to be bothered [...] particularly by students. He’s one of the few true teachers we have at this school.” (83) Professor Fitch emphasizes strategy over showmanship, and really encourages reason from the pair.

The problems that Joel and Melody encounter are neatly tied up by the end of the book, only to have author Brandon Sanderson throw a twist into the mix, so the last few chapters open a whole new can of worms. Readers will have to wait for the sequel to truly discover where Joel, Melody, and the person responsible for the disappearances are headed. And unfortunately, the sequel is not expected to see the light of day until 2015. Plenty of time for readers to practice their own rithmatist skills.

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.

Reboot

RebootTitle: Reboot
Series: Reboot #1
Author: Amy Tintera
ISBN: 9780062217073
Pages: 365 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.

A low growl woke me in the middle of the night. I rolled over on my mattress, blinking in the darkness. Ever stood over my bed.
I bolted up to a sitting position, my heart pounding furiously. Her growling stopped and her bright eyes bored into mine.
“Ever?” I whispered.
She lunged at me and I scrambled out of bed and across the room. She bared her teeth as she turned to look for me.
I pressed my back to the wall as she approached, my heart beating faster than the time twenty townspeople had chased after me with lit torches and various kitchen knives. I’d been stabbed multiple times before I managed to outrun them, but somehow a weaponless, growling Ever was scarier.
“Ever!” I said, louder this time, and I ducked below her arm as she lunged at me again. (55)

After being shot in the chest three times and coming back to life after almost three hours, Wren is now known as Wren 178, the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. The longer it takes a Reboot to come to life again, the less human characteristics each Reboot maintains. Stronger, faster, able to heal, and much less emotional, Wren 178 is given first choice at training new recruits to become government controlled super soldiers and track down law breakers. With her success rate in question, she chooses Callum 22, an almost human Reboot who asks questions, has emotional responses, and is one of the worst soldiers imaginable. Wren finds herself caring not just about his training results, but about his future when the humans in charge threaten to pull him from the program permanently unless he improves. Wren is forced to ask questions of her own when Callum and some of the lower numbered Reboots start acting strange. Are the humans tampering with her training, or is something more sinister afoot?

I was somewhat surprised at how my book selections ended up, as I read this one so close to reading When We Wake which features similar themes of dead (or nearly-dead) teens being reawakened by governmental agencies for their own purposes. The zombie trend is alive and well it seems, although these teens don’t typically act like zombies. I really appreciated the blurb by Lissa Price on the back cover, who describes this book as “A bone-breaking heroine fights for her life, her love, and what remains of her humanity in this fresh take on a world gone wrong.” It’s almost like Graceling meets that movie Warm Bodies.

I thought the book was very well paced, as you see training happening between Callum and Wren, action scenes where they take down accused criminals, and servings of romance in between the more suspenseful mystery of what’s going on with the Reboots. As you can see by the above quote, the layers are introduced pretty quickly, and gives readers a variety of reasons to keep reading. Wren’s changes and progressions in behavior and attitude are a little predictable, but it’s easily forgiven as she grapples with alternative scenarios and information that contradicts everything she’s been previously led to believe. I also like Callum and Ever, who provide a nice counterpoint to Wren’s unemotional nature and an understandable catalyst for her change in beliefs. Squeamish readers need to be aware that these characters are essentially zombies mixed with Robocop, so by the end of the book there is a body count to consider as the fighting progresses. But while the book could end there, I have a feeling that there will be a sequel on the horizon sometime soon, and Goodreads confirms that sometime in May 2014 there will be a second book in the series. After all, what dystopian novel do you know of where saving themselves is enough and they really don’t need to bother saving the world…. yeah, that’s what I figured too.

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. [...]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

Sketchy

SketchyTitle: Sketchy
Series: The Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1
Author: Olivia Samms
ISBN: 9781477816509
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Amazon Publishing, c2013

A light floods my rearview mirror, shining bright in my eyes. What the . . . ? I adjust the mirror and see a car behind me. The lights barrel toward me, pulling up close.
“Shit,” I say out loud. “What’s their hurry?”
I speed up, thinking I’m driving too slowly. But the car speeds up with me and is now tailgating me–dangerously close.
My street is coming up ahead, on the right. I wait until the last second, without turning my blinker on, and pull the steering wheel hard to the right. My tires screech and fishtail as they follow my order. The car behind me turns and screeches along with me, speeding up, getting even closer. The bright lights shine and flicker in my eyes.
“OH MY GOD! It’s going to hit me!”
I abruptly turn left, careening into my driveway. I slam on my brakes with both feet, and the menacing car speeds off into the darkness.
Holy shit. I try to collect my breath.
My cell rings in my purse. My heart won’t stop racing.
I take a deep breath and answer. “Hello.” The phone wobbles in my shaky hands.
A slurred voice. “Monday, before school at seven. The antique barn on Lilac Lane. Meet me–”
“Willa? Is that you? Was that you following me?”
She hangs up. (78-79)

Seventeen-year-old Bea Washington is starting over at a new high school near Ann Arbor, MI after getting kicked out of Athena Day School for Girls. Just coming out of rehab, no one trusts her and she’s struggling to make friends while fighting the call of drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t help when she discovers a secret that could ruin Willa, the perfect head cheerleader and newly crowned homecoming queen. Maybe Willa knows more than she is telling police about the man who killed two women and left Willa for dead. Bea’s mysterious artistic ability could aid in the investigation, so long as it doesn’t first draw the killer’s attention. Whoops, too late.

Amazon has entered the publishing business. I guess it was only a matter of time before the retail giant started producing its own products. Big name author James Patterson provides a glowing recommendation on the cover, and is thanked in the acknowledgements (along with two other people) for “reading my pages, encouraging me to continue, and slipping them onto [agent] Lisa’s desk.” Maybe here are some previous connections at work, but a blurb from a big name is impressive for anyone’s first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect quality, suspense, or high-interest writing from what I though of initially as a self-publishing enterprise. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Bea is a likeable, flawed character who is desperately trying to get her life back on track. It was interesting to see a character attempting to recover from an addiction as opposed to spiraling into the habit. While we saw little of the rehab portion of Bea’s recovery, that wasn’t the focus of the book, and we do see symptoms such as taking up another habit (in this case smoking) to replace the drug and alcohol use, being tempted to relapse, and the use of AA meetings and incentives to stay clean and sober. The chapter headings are an account of how many months, days, and hours Bea has been sober. She faces temptation head on, tracking a suspect into a bar and almost giving it all up for a drink with a cute guy. But another very realistic aspect of recovery is finding out who your friends are, and Bea definitely finds a kindred spirit in Chris, who recognizes Bea from an art camp they both attended. Chris is supportive of Bea’s efforts to stay clean, isn’t freaked out by her unique ability, and is a purely plutonic friend due to his homosexual orientation. Oh, if we could all have a friend like Chris.

The mystery isn’t really a mystery like I would think of one, although Bea does have to track down the suspect and the identity of the killer is unknown. It’s a surprisingly light mystery, with the suspense coming towards the end of the book and the crimes taking place primarily “off stage” and Bea learning about them afterwards. Bea is aided in the end by a surprisingly competent police force and caring parents who are not overbearing or apathetic, but care about her well-being and are struggling just like her to navigate the position and situation they’ve found themselves in. I’d like to read more books featuring Bea, and I would like to see further development of the sweet crush that is hinted at by the end of the book. Overall, a really well-written debut novel that proves me wrong about self-publications.

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.

The Raven Boys

Raven BoysTitle: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Will Patton
ISBN: 9780545465939
Pages: 409 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 9 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press (Scholastic Audiobooks), c2012.

He fell to his knees — a soundless gesture for a boy with no real body. One hand splayed in the dirt, fingers pressed to the ground. Blue saw the blackness of the church more clearly than the curved shape of his shoulder.
“Neeve,” Blue said. “Neeve, he’s — dying.”
Neeve had come to stand just behind her. She replied, “Not yet.”
Gansey was nearly gone now, fading into the church, or the church fading into him.
Blue’s voice was breathier than she would have liked. “Why — why can I see him?” [...]
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue. Either you’re his true love,” Neeve said, “or you killed him.” (15-16)

Blue Sargent has been told that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and therefore has sworn off men entirely. But when she sees a spirit in a graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, there’s only two reasons she would see him: either she’s his true love or she killed him. Neither bodes well for Blue, so when she runs into the boy, named Gansey, when he visits her psychic relatives, she’s curious about him. It turns out he and his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah have been searching for the hidden burial-place of an ancient king that will grant a wish to his discoverer. But little do they know that their group isn’t the only ones searching for the lost king, and their competition will stop at nothing to reach the tomb first.

Initial thoughts were that I didn’t enjoy this audiobook as much as I had hoped to. Loyal readers might remember that I was surprised by how much I found myself enjoying Shiver and raved about Scorpio Races. Looking back at my Waiting on Wednesday post when I had first heard The Raven Boys was being published, I expressed some confusion about the plot and characters. Unfortunately, my suspicions turned true, and I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this story. There were a lot of unexplained phenomenon that I’m assuming will be explained in the upcoming sequel, but I wish I we had been rewarded with some of those answers at the end of this book.

For people who like gothic mysteries, this might be a good book to try. There are lots of spooky descriptions, unexplained physic phenomenon, and brooding boys. The romance is a little gothic too, since I found myself comparing Adam to the guy from Corpse Bride, even though he and Blue are both very much alive. Blue starts off dating Adam, but is inexplicably “drawn” to Gansey, the leader of the pack of boys that also includes perpetually sullen Ronan and the perpetually silent Noah. I thought Adam was the most flushed out of all the boys, and we get a really good sense of his motivations and feelings, more so than anyone else. It’s got some mysticism too as Gansey’s obsession with finding lay lines and an ancient king who may (or may not) be buried nearby dominates his thoughts and actions.

But in order to get to the romance (which is a predictable love triangle unlike what we find in Scorpio Races) we have to slog through the first third of the book, which is a slow recount of back story after back story, first with Blue, than with they boys, then finally Gansey’s quest. The action is almost nonexsistent until the final chapters, where it then becomes so rushed (maybe making up for lost time?) that you have difficulty following what’s happening. It’s not so much that there are unexplained coincidences, but things are so intertwined that it’s difficult to accept that these five teens would get along with each other so well in real life. It’s Gansey’s search that holds them all together, but no one appears as interested in it as he is until the very end. We see very little of anyone’s life separate from each other, which makes me wonder if that’s why I found it so difficult to relate with them. I spoke with another librarian who also really liked Scorpio Races but couldn’t get into The Raven Boys so if you fall in this category I would probably say skip the inevitable let down and go reread Scorpio Races for the umpteenth time.

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