Posts from the ‘Young Adult Literature’ Category

Alex + Ada

Series: Alex + Ada
Volumes 1, 2, and 3
Story by: Jonathan Luna and Sarah Veughn
ISBN: 9781632150066 (vol. 1), 9781632151957 (vol. 2), 9781632154040 (vol. 3)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Originally published in single magazine form by Image Comics, c2015

You might think about getting one.”
“Me? An android?”
“Sure. You could always put her in the basement when you find someone.”
“Do you know how sick that sounds? It might as well be a dungeon.”
“Kinky.”
“Grandma… I appreciate the idea. But, no– even if I had the money– I don’t want an android girlfriend. It’s just… weird.” […]
“Grandma, what were you thinking?
“‘Thank you’ would suffice.”
“When I gave you a spare key, it was for emergencies only! It is not okay for you to sneak into my house and drop off a robot! How did you even get it here?” (unpaged)

Alex is getting over a break-up and is tired of everyone offering him advice, from his coworkers to his friends. So when his grandmother sends him an artificially intelligent, realistic looking android, he is less than happy. Especially amidst speculation that the security features keeping them from being sentient are possibly malfunctioning. But Alex can’t shake the feeling that there is more to the robot named Ada, and pursuing those possibilities might lead him into deep trouble.

The premise reminded me of a more militarized version of the movie Bicentennial Man, and could definitely spark discussion about the current state of artificial intelligence, technological advances, and the ubiquitous nature of surveillance and information gathering. Different viewpoints are presented, and while obviously readers are meant to side with the main characters, both sides have valid arguments and neither one is victimized or demonized. For instance:

“Daniel would have so much potential if he was unlocked. He’d have a life.”
“But it would put him in danger.”
“Is it really all just about the danger.” […]
“I like the way things are. It was why I got Daniel in the first place. I didn’t want complications. But if he’s not sentient, then I don’t see an issue. What harm is there in keeping him as he is now?”
“It would be wrong to keep him locked just because he doesn’t know there’s more for him.”
“Or is it wrong to unlock him when the world isn’t prepared for it?”
“Plenty of people have done important things in history when the world wasn’t ready.” (Volume 2, unpaged)

I was admiring the ability of the artist to keep Ada straight-lipped throughout the series (since I’m assuming her robotic origins would limit mobility) but then realized that every character is drawn in that same manner. The pacing provided by wordless panels enhances the story, as it forces readers to consider reactions before they happen, slow down in the reading, and really look for the incremental differences in facial expressions and body language that provide cues of the character’s intentions and thoughts. While the predictable plot is enjoyable, it also prevents the series from standing out among the cliche of sentient robot stories.

Calamity

Calamity.jpgTitle: Calamity
Series: Reckoners #3
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781511311748 (audiobook) 9780385743600 (hardcover)
Pages: 421 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 12 hours
Publisher/Date: Audible Inc., and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio. c2015. (audiobook) Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 (by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC) (hardcover)

“I’m fine,” I said. “But they spotted me.”
“Get out.”
I hesitated.
“David?”
“There’s something in there, Mizzy. A room that was under lock and key, guarded by drones–I’ll bet they moved in there as soon as our original attack happened. Either that, or that room is always guarded. Which mean . . . ”
“Oh, Calamity. You’re going to be you, aren’t you?”
“You did just tell me to, and I quote, ’embrace my nature.'” I fired another salvo as I caught motion at the end of the corridor. “Let Abraham and the others know I’ve been spotted. Pull everyone out and be ready to retreat.”
“And you?”
“I’m going to find out what’s in that room.” I hesitated. “I might have to get shot to do it.” (27)

David is now the defacto leader of the Reckoners, or at least what is left of them. Their fight against Regalia in Babylon Restored did not go expected. Then again, when do David’s plans ever go as expected? After breaking into the Knighthawk Foundry to get supplies, they follow a lead to Ildithia, an ever shifting city made of salt. Their bare bones basic plan is to find out how to defeat Calamity while recovering one of their own team members. But the powers of the Epics are not what they seem, and as David fights to save people who were once allies, he may put in jeopardy the team members who have always stayed loyal.

Sparks, it is hard to talk about this third book, the conclusion to the trilogy, without giving away anything that has happened in the first two books. So forgive my vagueness. Beginning about two months after the end of Firefight, David has truly evolved into a leader, running team missions and being looked to by other team members for guidance and instruction. His bad similes/metaphors are back, and they seem to have leaked into the rest of his team. While that may be true to real life (speech patterns evolving based on who you hang out with most), it was less amusing when more and more people started spewing bad similes. I still have two really great favorites. The first one is David trying to describe his nerdiness/obsession about Epics:

“I’d call him obsessed, but that doesn’t do it justice.” […]
“I’m like . . . well, I’m like a room-sized, steam-powered, robotic toenail-clipping machine.” […]
“I can basically do only one thing,” I explained, “but damn it, I’m going to do that one thing really, really well.” (57,61)

The fact that person actually allows him to finish his metaphor so many minutes/pages later proves how much they have grown on each other. You really see David’s romantic side in this next quote. I wish I had someone to describe me like this.

“You,” I said, tipping her chin up to look her in the eye, “are a sunrise.” […]
“I would watch the sun rise, and wish I could capture the moment. I never could. Pictures didn’t work–the sunrises never looked as spectacular on film. And eventually I realized, a sunrise isn’t a moment. It’s an event. You can’t capture a sunrise because it changes constantly–between eyeblinks the sun moves, the clouds swirl. It’s continually something new.
“We’re not moments [redacted]. We’re events. You say you might not be the same person you were a year ago? Well, who is? I’m sure not. We change, like swirling clouds and a rising sun. The cells in me have died, and new ones were born. My mind has changed, and I don’t feel the thrill of killing Epics I once did. I’m not the same David. Yet I am.”
“I met her eyes and shrugged. “I’m glad you’re not the same [redacted] I don’t want you to be the same. My [redacted] is a sunrise, always changing, but beautiful the entire time.” (137-138)

However, David also develops a distracted internal monologue as a result of his more pronounced love interest that proved unnecessary and seemed out of character, especially with these happening in the heat of battle.

“I imagined her cursing softly, sweating while she sighted at a passing drone, her aim perfect, her face . . .
. . . Uh, right. I should probably stay focused. (16)

One of the things I admired about this book was Sanderson’s handling of the fight scenes. The team does take damage. While with the technology existing in the book not everything they undergo in the sense of physical injuries is permanent, there is a character death that I didn’t see coming and that seriously affects the team, not only emotionally but also in their ability to run future missions. Other readers/reviewers have mentioned the drawn out nature of the planning and the fighting, but I’m glad that time passes. Fights aren’t won in an instant, wars take time, and the exhaustion that the characters suffer as a result is mentioned repeatedly. We also see the aftermath of a battle, with bodies lying around, and David actually considers taking action to prevent a repercussion of war, before being convinced otherwise by his team that it would be too risky. His world view has expanded to not just consider his own goals, but also what sort of implications the end result would have on the citizens of this new city, which his focused way of thinking in Newcago would have never considered.

The book also showed that people have their own weaknesses and motivations, regardless of whether they are an Epic or a regular human. By the end, we definitely see that some people will never change, while others, especially David, have evolved over the course of the series, sometimes out of necessity but other times due to their own inevitable growth.

It’s the last about 20% of the book where the plot starts to fall apart. Sanderson has backed himself into a corner, with Reckoners falling back, falling down, and falling out of the fight. There is an epic (pardon the pun) showdown between David and the book’s major Epic (who for…. reasons I can’t name). Several new Epics are introduced, and one resurfaces from a previous book. From the beginning I felt like there was more to one of the new Epics than meets the eye, and his role/reveal in the final fight felt VERY convenient. The team’s interactions with him felt out of character, and this is where things start to get muddled. Then David has a last minute Hail Mary opportunity (literally, the last 50 pages of a 400 page book) to take out Calamity, which was never the primary goal of the entire plot of the book even though the book is named after him.

I love how Jessica from Rabid Reads posted on Goodreads that the problem is solved “just like that”, which is literally the words Sanderson uses.I went back to check, page 411. REALLY? Less than 10 pages to the end of the book and “just like that” problem solved. There’s no other way to describe it, that’s just lame Sanderson. You spend three books setting up this epic battle and circuitous rationale behind the powers, the weaknesses… everything. And then you go and pull (really great turn of phrase omitted because of spoilers) fake-out on us and refuse to answer any of the questions that result. It’s the epitome of “and then they woke up, and realized it was all a dream”.

Regardless of my anger towards Sanderson over his inability to provide closure or a straight answer to close off this series, Macleod Andrews continues his phenomenal job at voicing the series. I found myself by the end of this third book comparing his voice for David to a young Michael J. Fox, overly ambitious but still cautious about what’s to come. Meanwhile, the altered Epic they face off against seemed like the newest incarnation of Batman, where the voice gets gravely when assuming his alter ego. Seriously, listen to the audiobooks for these, but be prepared to be scratching your head and throwing the discs across the room by the end.

Firefight

Firefight.jpgTitle: Firefight
Series: Reckoners #2
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781501278099 (audiobook), 9780385743587 (hardcover)
Pages: 416 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 CDs, 11 hours 41 minutes
Publisher/Date: Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC c2014. (Audible, Inc. and distributed by Audible, Inc. and Brilliance Audio)

I pass through the crowd and knelt beside the corpse. She’d been a rabid dog, as Prof had put it. Killing her had been a mercy.
She came for us, I thought. And this is the third one who avoided engaging Prof. Mitosis had come to the city while Prof had been away. Instabam had tried to lose Prof in the chase, gunning for Abraham. Now Sourcefield had captured Prof, then left him behind to chase me.
Prof was right. Something was going on. (31-32)

David and the Reckoners have fought off three new Epics successfully, but something isn’t adding up as to why they are making the effort to travel to Newcago and engage a team of Epic assassins. All clues point to Babylon Restored, formerly known as Manhattan but currently ruled by a mysterious High Epic named Regalia, who flooded the city in order to maintain control. David, Tia, and Prof leave the rest of the team behind and join up with a new team that has become entrenched in the city. Their plan involves taking out Regalia before she takes out them, but with Regalia seemingly one step ahead of them at every turn and secrets being kept on all sides, David’s famous improvisational skills may be put to the test.

If you enjoyed Steelheart, you’re going to love Firefight. MacLeod Andrews is back as narrator, and the one scene that swept me away was when David is getting choked to within an inch of his life by an Epic. You hear the distress, you hear the rasping, frantic breath leaving his body, and you hear the fear. We leave behind in Newcago Cody and Andrew, and get Mizzy, a manic pixie like character who is a new recruit training to be sniper and point who also does equipment repairs, operations leader Val who is just as close mouthed and serious as Jonathan, and Exel, an ex-mortician giant of a man who is half gregarious infiltrator/reconnaissance  and half big man of muscle. Each new character and Epic are given equally appropriate voices. Mizzy is delightful in terms of comic relief. In one of my favorite scenes early in the story, she is given “scribe duties” during a meeting, and her notes include:

Reckoner Super Plan for Killing Regalia at the top of the sheet. Each i was doted with a heart. […]
Really important, and we totally need to do it on the paper, with three big arrows pointing at the heading above. Then after a moment, she added Boy, it’s on now in smaller letters beside that one. […]
Regalia totally needs to get with the business. […]
Excel needs to pay better attention to his job […]
Step One: find Regalia, then totally explode her. Lots and lots. […]
Step Two: put Val on decaf. […]
Step Three: Mizzy gets a cookie. […] (131-135)

She plays off David extremely well, maybe because they are both the newest ones to their teams, or maybe because they are closest in age to each other.

“Well, trust me,” I said. “I’m more intense than I look. I’m intense like a lion is orange.”
“So, like . . . medium intense? Since a lion is kind of a tannish color?”
“No, they’re orange.” I frowned. “Aren’t they? I’ve never actually seen one.”
“I think tigers are the orange ones,” Mizzy said. “But they’re still only half orange, since they have black stripes. Maybe you should be intense like an orange is orange.”
“Too obvious,” I said. “I’m intense like a lion is tannish.” Did that work? Didn’t exactly slip off the tongue.
Mizzy cocked her head, looking at me. “You’re kinda weird.” (115)

And yes, David’s bad metaphors are back, but it seemed like they were less frequent than in the first book, which is okay by me. Although as someone determines near the end of the book “You’re not actually bad at metaphors […] because most the things you say are similes. Those are really what you’re bad at.” (414) It, among other things, shows David’s growth from the last book. The intensity of the Reckoners’ situation has also changed, as they fight not just one but two Epics that are intertwined in a long term goal that no one sees coming. David starts questioning what they are doing as more information about Epics comes to light and he starts to wonder what makes Epics go bad and if there is a way to prevent them from being consumed by their powers. We see David in true assassin mode, questioning his motives and beliefs as he tries, usually unsuccessfully, to come to grips with his feelings and hatred towards most Epics but with an ever growing list of exceptions.

We get way more information about the creation of Epics then I ever expected. All the pieces of the puzzle start coming together, and the ending simultaneously wraps up the problems found and creates whole new ones that we need to face in the recently published third and final book in the trilogy. We may have lost some friends in the process (shhhh, no spoilers here), but knowing David, he’ll figure something out, and being in a tight spot just makes him try harder to succeed.

Steelheart

SteelheartTitle: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners #1
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
ISBN: 9781480569133 (audiobook), 9780385743563 (hardcover)
Pages: 386 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 20 minutes
Publication: Brilliance Audio, c2013. (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. c2013.)

Eventually the Reckoners led me around a corner that looked like every other one–only this time it led to a small room cut into the steel. There were a lot of these places in the catacombs. […]
I took a hesitant step backward, realizing I was cornered. I’d begun to think that I was on my way toward being accepted into their team. But looking into Prof’s eyes, I realized that was not the case. He saw me as a threat. I hadn’t been brought along because I’d been helpful; I’d been brought along because he hadn’t wanted me wandering free.
I was a captive. And this deep in the steel catacombs, nobody would notice a scream or a gunshot. (48-49)

Ever since his father was killed by the Epic Steelheart, David has been spending the last decade studying these super powered people who inevitably battle each other for control over the cities and populations of the dystopian United States. They all have a weakness, and David knows he holds the key to Steelheart’s, if he could only figure it out. David’s not the only one fighting the Epics, and he’s been following the Reckoner’s efforts for years. After intentionally stumbling into an assassination attempt and helping (sort of) he’s able to convince the team of Reckoners to let him join them on their quest. But convincing them to go up against the most powerful Epic ever is going to take a lot more than hunches and guesswork. It’s going to take stealth and strategy, neither of which David is particularly good at imbuing.

Think of the X-Men world, but only with the Magneto team and not Professor Xavier’s humanity; then add Superman’s obscure weakness, only it’s different for every Epic, and you’ll have a good approximation of the world Brandon Sanderson has created for his Reckoners series. And what a world it is, with adaptations to the culture while still maintaining enough recognizable references to modern day to orient readers. It’s a bloody existence being a Reckoner, surrounded by war and death. The opening scene of David’s father’s death is also gritty and gruesome in it’s realism, which might turn off some more sensitive readers. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t see more of the day-to-day life during an Epic’s reign, but what we do glimpse is impressive. With only one or two chapters of info-dumping back story, readers are submerged into David’s internal monologue.

David’s life after his father’s death is like those of kids during the Industrial Revolution, working grunt jobs due to his size and ability to be exploited, although he doesn’t mind as it guarantees him a roof and food. Much has been said about David’s horrible yet humorous metaphors, and they definitely are memorable and add to his personality.

I tried not to stare, but that was like trying not to blink. Only . . . well, kind of the opposite. (48)
Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through . . . well, anything, I guess. I mean, eyes can’t normally drill holes through things, so the metaphor works regardless, right? Megan’s eyes could have drilled holes through butter. (103)
“It’s like . . . a banana farm for guns.”(142)
They looked so dangerous, like alligators. Really fast alligators wearing black. Ninja alligators. (149)

But there is also depth and incredible insight from David. He objects to being called a nerd because not only does he make a distinction between smarts and persistence, but he also realized that the smartest students lost their freedoms by being scrutinized and under surveillance working for an Epic. He recognizes he’s been living a life motivated by revenge and death, but isn’t quite sure how to focus on anything else.

Not just David, but all the characters are multidimensional, and readers focus on what little information they can gleam from the narrative about everyone. MacLeod Andrews has been added to my list of top narrators. David’s youthful and playful but committed demeanor, Cody and Abraham’s back-and-forth banter, the more serious and solemn tones of Prof, the skeptical and scholarly Tia, and Megan’s sarcastic quips are all captured with precision and excellence. Cody is the spot of humor, with his southern accent, Scottish vocabulary, and intentionally insane side-comments. He throws you off guard leaving both readers and David wondering just how much of this is an act and how much of what Cody says does he actually believe, but rest assured he is much more than the village idiot. Abraham is a mystery, with Andrews alluding to a James Bond character with his clipped accent, but Abraham’s personality is probably the most predictable and stable out of all of them. Megan is the stereotypical unrequited love interest for David, who hasn’t had much past experience with girls. But Megan is anything but stereotypical, as David realizes when she turns out to be an extremely capable point-man with an astonishing knowledge of weapons. She challenges him, which is good for both of them. Rounding out the team is Tia, the typical brains of the bunch who holds information and her cards close to her chest, and the esoteric and reclusive leader Prof, who leads with equal parts discipline and democracy. The whole cast is memorable, not just because of Sanderson’s writing but Andrews’ portrayal of them.

Like the movie Saving Private Ryan, team members share only the basics about their life in an effort to avoiding tipping off the Epics if one of them ever gets captured. Prof actually asks David how old he is and if he would have anyone who would come looking for him if he were to disappear. By the end of the book, we’ve realized not everyone is as they appear, and it’s questionable where and how the story will continue. We know more about all the members of the team then we did when we started, but there is one big question that needs answering, and hopefully will be resolved in the sequel.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Sleeper and the Spindle.jpgTitle: The Sleeper and the Spindle
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
ISBN: 9780062398246
Pages: 69 pages
Publisher/Date: first published in Rag & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, published in 2013 by Little, Brown. c2013, Illustrations c2014. Originally published in the U.K. in 2014 by Bloomsbury. Published in U.S. by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

The smallest dwarf tipped his head to one side. “So, there’s a sleeping woman in a castle, and perhaps a witch or fairy there with her. Why is there also a plague?”
“Over the last year,” said the fat-faced man. “It started in the north, beyond the capital. I heard about if first from travelers coming from Stede, which is near the Forest of Acaire.”
“People fall asleep in the towns,” said the pot-girl. […]
“They fall asleep whatever they are doing, and they do not wake up,” said the sot. “Look at us. We fled the towns to come here. We have brothers and sisters, wives and children, sleeping now in their houses or cowsheds, at their workbenches. All of us.”
“It is moving faster and faster,” […] “Now it covers a mile, perhaps two miles, each day.” (18)

Three dwarfs tunnel under the mountain range in search of a wedding gift for their queen, returning with news of a horrible sleeping sickness plaguing the neighboring lands and heading closer every day. The queen, having previously faced her own sleep spell, postpones the wedding and attempts to break the spell and save both kingdoms. Although this might sound familiar, Neil Gaiman’s twist ending flips the story, and you question who is really being held captive. The queen’s confidence is obvious in both narration and illustration, and is the most welcome adaptation to the traditional tale. Two illustrations specifically catch my eye, the first has the queen standing with the dwarfs ready to embark, and the second is the full-spread gorgeously rendered drawing of the kiss. It doesn’t seem enough though to warrant publishing a previous short story as its own book, but U.S. fans will enjoy Gaiman’s newest import.

Slade House

Warning: This review contains things that some may consider minor spoilers.

Slade House.jpgTitle: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Narrators: Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues
ISBN: 9781101923672 (audiobook), 9780812998689 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 7 hours
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class pub, along a narrow brick alley, you just might find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who’s different or lonely; a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside? For those who find out, it’s already too late… (back cover)

I don’t think I could have more efficiently summarized the plot or the tone of this novel which is why I quoted the back cover rather than reveal any of the details that are slowly spooled out. David Mitchell’s story is masterful and I need to add him to authors that I need to read more often. The suspense and intrigue are palatable, as readers slowly gain knowledge of how Slade House works. In the first chapter, we meet Nathan Bishop and his mother, and every subsequent story builds on the first. That I think is the first mistake, as the connections between the events every nine years spiral outward.

Narrators Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues invoke an appropriately eerie mood and captures the unique personalities with equal skill. Judd’s younger Nathan Bishop has the naiveté of a young man, possibly with Asperger’s, who doesn’t understand social cues and probably makes him the most humorous character:

“The next three windows have net curtain, but then I see a TV with wrestling […] Eight house later I see Godzilla on BBC2. He knocks down a pylon just by blundering into it and a Japanese fireman with a sweaty face is shouting into a radio. Now Godzilla’s picked up a train, which makes no sense because amphibians don’t have thumbs. Maybe Godzilla’s thumb’s like a panda’s so-called thumb, which is really an evolved claw.” (5)

Detective Inspector Gordon Edmunds is the stereotypical English “copper”, with clipped, no-nonsense, jaded sarcasm who takes his job seriously, even if it’s just to avoid his boss. Chloe Chetwynd’s voice is also appropriately whispery and tentative. Rodrigues’ is tasked to provide not only the majority of the book, but also has her voice slightly modulated to provide voice to electronic recordings. Between Sally’s confusion, Freya’s trepidation, and the cautious professionalism of Marinus, she showcases an impressive range. The shift in narrators for each chapter is understandable but the choice in narrator for the last chapter is jarring and questionable until the chapter progresses, and especially when you get to the last page and fresh goosebumps arise at the ending’s implications.

The only quibble I have is that the nature of Slade House necessitates huge revelations of information in the guise of investigations, by both amateurs and professionals. It’s like watching a spider weave its web around the prey, and then gloating about how easy it was to catch the fly in the sprung trap. The reason these summaries don’t grow boring is that new information is always provided, leading readers to a nesting dolls affect where each layer is unveiled. Readers are yelling at the victims the entire time to get out, watch out, and just when you think you have it figured out, the next layer is revealed. While I was slightly disappointed by how that last chapter progressed and the new information that explained everything seemed slightly contrived, that previously mentioned last page almost makes up for the easy out. When you get to the end, you realize just how much foreshadowing has been sprinkled like breadcrumbs through the entire novel, and you want to go back and identify the clues. I predict this might end up on Adult Books for Teen Readers lists. There’s definitely appeal for those intrigued by the mysterious, spooky, and unexplained horror found in the plot.

All the Bright Places

All the Bright PlacesTitle: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne and Ariadne Meyer
ISBN: 9780553552195 (audiobook), 978038575587 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 9 CDs, 11 hours
Pages: 388 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2015. (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2015.)

”Ladies and gentlemen,” I shout, “I would like to welcome you to my death!” You might expect me to say “life,” having just woken up and all, but it’s only when I’m awake that I think about dying. I am shouting in an old-school-preacher way, all jerking head and words that twitch at ends, and I almost lose my balance. I hold on behind me, happy no one seems to have noticed, because, let’s face it, it’s hard to look fearless when you’re clutching the railing like a chicken.
“I, Theodore Finch, being of unsound mind, do hereby bequeath all my earthly possessions to Charlie Donahue, Brenda Shank-Kravitz, and my sisters.” […]
Then his head turns away from me and points at the sky. At first I think he’s pointing at me, but it’s at that moment I see her, the girl. (4-5)

It just so happens that Theodore Finch and Violet Markey have chosen the same day in January to climb the bell tower at their school and contemplate suicide. Finch, aka “Freak” to all his classmates, has caused trouble before, has a violent school history, and sees the counselor on a regular basis, coming from a home where his father has left him, his two sisters, and his mother, for a new family. Violet’s family isn’t much better, as she is still trying to recover from the death of her older sister in a car accident less than a year ago. Not minding casting Violet in the hero role, as if she was only up there to save his sorry life, Finch in fact wants to prolong this instant connection he feels, and volunteers himself to be her partner in a geography project. A reluctant Violet slowly starts to open up to Finch as their relationship evolves, but Finch has difficulty expressing his deepest thoughts to even Violet. Does the world ever offer enough to live for?

It was a good choice to alternate narrators between the characters/chapters. Kirby Heyborne has an appropriately anxious and gravelly voice for Finch, and Ariadne Meyers has a youthful sounding voice filled with trepidation. Niven includes a heartbreaking author’s note discussing the inspiration for the story, and it’s after hearing her story that you realize why certain aspects of the end sound so realistic. The highlights of the novel are the scenes where she focuses in on the emotions and the little details, and the dialogue is both relatable but also disconcerting. For example, Finch’s interaction with his counselor has the counselor asking him “Do I need to call your mother?” and his response is “’No. And again no.’ And again: no no no. ‘Look it was a stupid thing to do. I just wanted to see what it felt like to stand there and look down. I would never jump from the bell tower.” (14) Finch’s nickname for Violet, the Facebook messages back and forth, the endearing flowers scene and the Purina Tower expedition all lead credibility to the relationship and make him so endearing to Violet and to readers, encouraging hope for the best.

In the beginning though I wasn’t thrilled with how the relationship with Finch and Violet evolved. He struck me as similar to Edward Cullen in Twilight. He obsessed over Violet, who originally has no interest in hanging out with him, investigating her Facebook page and website. While eventually the changes he forces upon her are good for her growth and recovery from her sister’s death, the way he went about it grated on my nerves. He did have his moments though, especially his patience and protectiveness of Violet. He knows how to project charm and respect, but as we get to see him both when he is and isn’t with Violet, we’re left asking the same questions he asks himself about his own authenticity and that of her feelings toward him. I thought he was too assertive, too sure of himself, too brash and too phony, although this was probably the author’s intent. He reminds me of a modern-day Holden Caufield, with his attempts to remake himself with a complete disinterest about how anyone else feels about him, except Violet. His dependency on her scared me, and those fears were ultimately validated.

%d bloggers like this: