Archive for the ‘YA’ Category

Why We Broke Up

by Daniel Handler; illustrated by Maira Kalman

Little, Brown and Company, 2011

Printz Honor Book (2012)

Source: public library

Read it because . . . I love Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket and I wanted to see if I would love Daniel Handler as Daniel Handler

 

Note: I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was a bit disappointed by how this book ended. While I will talk about the ending in this review, have no fear – I will speak of it in the vaguest terms possible. If you still don’t want to know anything about the ending, though, you probably shouldn’t read this.

Why We Broke Up is a letter from Min to her ex-boyfriend Ed explaining just that: why they broke up. Accompanying the letter is a box of mementos from their relationship, and it is through Min’s explanation of each souvenir that the story of their relationship, from beginning to end, is told. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20, and as Min relates the stories behind the items she recognizes all the little flaws in the relationship that led to the break-up. She understands, too – with a clarity and wisdom beyond her years – why she and Ed stayed together in spite of the warning signs.

This book had me at “Dear Ed.” I love epistolary novels, so I was thrilled to pieces when I discovered that this entire novel is one long letter. I love it, too, when, rather than dump a ton of information in the first chapter, an author reveals their characters’ backstories bit by bit. (Wait, didn’t I just say the same thing a week ago in regards to Love Medicine? Hmm, I must really like this particular literary technique.) This novel is one long reveal that leads to the big reveal: why, precisely, Min and Ed broke up. Even as Min outlines all the little reasons why they broke up, it’s clear that there was some cataclysmic event that brought the relationship to a screeching halt. (It brought my relationship with the novel to a screeching halt, too, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

But above all, what I liked most about this novel is that, unlike many YA novels, it presents the idea that a relationship needs more than passion and love to survive. Ed and Min have very different personalities, they run in completely separate social circles, and they have few overlapping interests, hobbies, and core values. On the other hand, they’re strongly attracted to one another and genuinely care about the other person. When Ed tells Min that he loves her, I believe him (as much as I believe any teenage boy). But love and passion aren’t enough. I know all the romantics in the world are about to shoot me, but hold up! I’m not saying they’re not important, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be at the heart of every relationship. I’m saying there has to be more there if a relationship is going to survive.

At one point in her letter Min writes,

Ed, it was everything, those nights on the phone, everything we said until late became later and then later and very late and finally to go to bed with my ear warm and worn and red from holding the phone close close close so as not to miss a word of what it was, because who cared how tired I was in the humdrum slave drive of our days without each other. I’d ruin any day, all my days, for those long nights with you, and I did. But that’s why right there it was doomed. We couldn’t only have the magic nights buzzing through the wires. We had to have the days, too, the bright impatient days spoiling everything with their unavoidable schedules, their mandatory times that don’t overlap, their loyal friends who don’t get along, the unforgiven travesties torn from the wall no matter what promises are uttered past midnight, and that’s why we broke up. (85-86)

Why We Broke Up, this is why you and I broke up: because the cataclysmic event that ended Min and Ed’s relationship was such a clichéd ending I wanted to throw the book against a wall. I felt like it negated nearly everything Min said for the first 300 pages of the book. Part of it wasn’t a cliché, (the part alluded to in the above quote), and if you had just stuck with that you and I would still be together. (Well, except for the whole Al thing. I saw that coming a mile away.)

Did anyone have a different reaction to the book?

Other reviews: The Bluestocking Society, Books With Bite, Jenny’s Books, A Novel Source, YA Book Nerd

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green

Dutton Books, 2012

Source: purchased from Amazon.com

Read it because . . . see lengthy explanation below

I almost didn’t read this book.

First of all, I completely forgot that I had pre-ordered it. When I got an email from Amazon.com telling me that my order had shipped, I had a minor panic attack. Last June I had to get a new debit card because in the wee hours of the morning someone tried to use it in California and Michigan simultaneously. (I was not in either one of those places. I here, asleep.) So my first thought was, Oh, &$@%, not again! Then I saw John Green’s name and remembered that I had impulsively pre-ordered it when I learned he was autographing all advance purchase copies. Oh. Whew.

But before I could read it, before it even arrived on my doorstep, I saw the word “cancer” in connection with this book, and suddenly I wanted nothing to do with it. 2011 began and ended with cancer: in January two of the people I love were fighting breast cancer and in December someone else I care about was dealing with the return of her cancer. Read a book about cancer? No. Absolutely not. I had enough cancer grief on my shoulders. I didn’t want any more.

When the book arrived I did my best to ignore it, but in the end, I caved in. I felt like I had to read it, because not only had I purchased it new, (I rarely buy new books for myself), I had pre-ordered it. Plus it’s John Green and I maybe sorta have a tiny book crush on him. (Who doesn’t?) So I read it. Even though I knew it would break my heart.

It did break my heart, but not in the typical tugging-on-the-old-heartstrings-YA-issue-novel sort of way. And not because it was a Book About Cancer and Cancer is Sad, or because it reminded me that while lots of amazing, wonderful things happened in 2011, it was also a year punctuated with grief. It broke my heart because the dialogue was sharp and smart, the characters quirky and flawed, the emotion raw and honest. It broke my heart because it was funny. It broke my heart because it was just a story about love and all that is amazing and beautiful in this world and all that makes life worth living and because it wasn’t trying to do all that, it just did.

And so. So because I am now a weepy mess I have to stop.  But before I do I just want to say thank you, John Green, for writing this.

Other reviews: books i done read, Book Monkey, The Bluestocking Society, Capricious Reader, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, things mean a lot

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

Additional John Green reviews on The Alcove: An Abundance of Katherines

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The Sweet Far Thing (review)

by Libba Bray
Random House, 2007
Source: OverDrive ebook
A few weeks ago I was trolling through my library’s OverDrive collection when I spotted A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.  I vaguely remembered hearing positive reviews about the series so I impulsively downloaded the book.  Not only did I tear through the book in a matter of days, I stayed up ridiculously late one night (a work night, of course) to finish it.  The second book, Rebel Angels, got a similar treatment.  The third, The Sweet Far Thing, however, did not.
Overall, the series is pretty good.  I’m not a historian, so I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but the setting (Victorian England) felt genuine.  The heroine, Gemma Doyle, is smart, witty, flawed, and not above thinking snarky thoughts about her snotty classmates.  Some of the characters – like the snotty classmates – are rather one-dimensional, but I was willing to let that slide and just enjoy the story (the better-developed characters aren’t exactly complex, either).  The paranormal element (surprised there is a paranormal element? allow me to introduce you to contemporary YA fiction) is just unique enough to keep it from sounding like every other book containing magic and mythological creatures, but it doesn’t beat the reader over the head with its uniqueness (“Look at me!  Look how clever and creative I am!  No, really, I’m clever and creative!”).  
My biggest beef with the series as a whole (aside from a few complaints here and there) are the covers and titles of the books.  The covers didn’t bug me as much as the titles, but that’s probably because I didn’t have to look at them very often since I was reading the books in ebook form.  The titles just don’t seem to match the books very well.
Anyway, The Sweet Far Thing.  While I read A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels in just a few days each, it took me a week and a half to get through this one.  This.  Book.  D.R.A.G.G.E.D.  And the thing is, I don’t mind long books.  I don’t mind books that aren’t action-packed.  But I got a third of the way through this book and I started seriously doubting that I would ever finish it.  If it had been the first book and not the third, I probably would not have bothered.  I really hate to say it, but it’s true.
My recommendation would be to read at least the first book.  It’s better than a lot of the paranormal books saturating the YA market, and Libba Bray is an entertaining writer.  The Sweet Far Thing may not have been as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it hasn’t scared me away from Bray’s other work, either.  I may take a little YA break, though.

Other reviews:

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Did I miss your review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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An Abundance of Katherines
by John Green
Dutton Books, 2006
Source: public library

It was after reading the second review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson (first Birdbrain(ed) Booksreview and then Ana and Renay’s joint review on Subverting the Text) that I decided to stop wondering who this John Green guy was (and why every mention of him was accompanied by gushing) and read one of his books already.  The sample of Will Grayson, Will Grayson I read failed to captivate me so I went an earlier work, An Abundance of Katherines.

I understand the gushing now.

An Abundance of Katherines stars Colin Singleton, the biggest nerd on the planet.  (And I mean that in the nicest way possible.)  He has strange quirks, like his ability to anagram everything and his inability to whisper, and is a cornucopia of random information.  He’s also dated, and been dumped by, nineteen Katherines.

What I loved about the book (in no particular order):

  • Colin’s never-ending supply of facts (which meant I learned lots of useless information that promptly went in one ear and out the other).
  • the footnotes.  After reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I fell in love with footnotes in fiction.  When I saw that An Abundance of Katherines contained footnotes – and that they were just as entertaining and wonderful as Susanna Clarke’s – I wanted to hug John Green. 
  • Colin’s best friend, Hassan.  That guy is fugging hilarious.  He’s not just an amusing sidekick, though, which I really loved.  There’s more depth to Hassan’s character than you see in most best-friend-to-the-main-character characters.
  • Colin’s declaration that love is graphable.  I nearly fell off the bed, I was laughing so hard.  This declaration was followed by pages upon pages of him attempting to graph, and create a formula for, all of his Katherine relationships.  (And yes, the graphs and formulas were included in the novel.)
  • the dialogue.  Green’s dialogue not only sounded realistic, but revealed more about his characters’ personalities than pages of description and back history ever could.
In short: better than I expected.  It’s definitely one I would read again, if only to re-experience the dialogue and graphs.  So tell me, John Green fans, how do his other books measure up?

Other reviews:

Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

things mean a lot

Did I miss your review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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Howl’s Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
Harper Trophy, 1986
Source: public library

Many moons ago I found out that Jenny at Jenny’s Books was hosting a Diana Wynne Jones Week the first week of August. This excited me a great deal, and I figured it would be the perfect introduction to an author I had been meaning to read for awhile. I made a mental note to myself to check out a few of her books in mid-July so I would be all ready to go when August hit.

Okay, so the mental note got lost. By the time I remembered* it was already Monday, Day 2 of Diana Wynne Jones Week, and by the time Howl’s Moving Castle arrived at the library it was Saturday, Day 7 of Diana Wynne Jones Week.

But I read it anyway. In one day (Tuesday). In fact, even though I had been awake since 5 AM, (for the second day in a row; ugh), I stayed up until 11:30 PM to finish it. (I tried to stop reading. Really, I did. But the book was glued to my hand.) Even now I can’t seem to write this post because I keep picking it up and rereading it. Let’s see, if I just toss it to the other end of the couch . . . ahhh, better. (For now.)

So. On to Howl’s Moving Castle. First of all, I loved the fairy tale elements. (I’m a sucker for a well-told fairy tale.) More than that, I loved that Jones made her characters aware of those elements. The opening paragraph reads:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
Sidenote: I almost stopped reading at this point so I could call my younger brothers and share this tidbit with them. “Great news, guys! You can go out and seek your fortunes worry-free! I’m the one who’s going to fail!” Unfortunately for them, though, I’m not the eldest of three, I’m the eldest of four, and four’s not a particularly significant number. Oh! But I’m the eldest with three brothers! Wonder if that means anything?
I also loved Sophie. Loved her tantrum involving the weed-killer, loved how she went around talking life into things for forever before she realized could do it, loved her cranky old lady side. I recognized a piece of myself in her, too, although not an especially flattering piece. Before Howl pointed it out to Sophie, I had suspected for some time that she was preventing herself from escaping the spell she was under and was using it as a shield. It was during this exchange, however, that I realized that I would have behaved the exact same way. Drat. I really hate self-awareness sometimes.
So sign me up: I am officially a Diana Wynne Jones fan. And as soon as I’m less sleep-deprived I’m consulting Jenny’s lists (here and here) to see which book I should read next. Oh, hurray for discovering great authors after they’ve written a zillion books! I now have lots of reading ahead of me. Bliss, bliss, bliss.
Another sidenote: I feel I should take this moment to say that Diana Wynne Jones Week is how I came to read Jenny’s blog in the first place. Nymeth at things mean a lot mentioned it on her blog, so I clicked on over and got totally hooked on Jenny’s blog. Which, by the way, is exactly how I had come to things mean a lot: Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Books had mentioned one of Nymeth’s posts, so over I went and hooked I got. For the life of me, though, I can’t remember how I found Birdbrain(ed) Books. (And yes, I realize I just totally set myself up there. See if you can resist calling me a birdbrain. My three delightful younger brothers wouldn’t!)
Okay, I’m off to hide Howl’s Moving Castle before I stay up reading it again.  And maybe now I’ll go to bed.  Because clearly I need sleep.
*And yes, I am well aware that Jenny has a giant DWJ Week button on her blog. I saw (and admired) it every time I stopped by. In my defense: I have toast for brains.

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The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Viking, 2002
Source: public library

Troll’s Eye View inspired me to look into other short story collections edited by Datlow and Windling. When I found this at the library I thought I had struck gold. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

It’s not that the book was bad. It was just . . . blah. (Impressive vocabulary, I know. You should see me when I play Upwords!) Windling’s introduction was interesting enough, but the stories completely fell flat for me. I felt like there was a chasm between the writer and her/his story; like they were trying to write a compelling, mysterious story about the natural world while sitting in a windowless room on a distant, lifeless planet. My thoughts kept returning to an essay I read recently in The Ecocriticism Reader. In “Speaking a Word for Nature,” Scott Russell Sanders discusses the growing distance, literal and figurative, between people and the natural world and how this distance has manifested itself in contemporary fiction. He writes:

All fiction is a drawing of charmed circles, since we can write about only a piece of the world. Within that circle, language shines meaning onto every whisper, every gesture and object. All the while, beyond that circle, the universe cycles on. Much contemporary fiction seems to me barren in part because it draws such tiny, cautious circles, in part because it pretends that nothing lies beyond its timid boundaries . . . What is missing from much recent fiction, I feel, is any sense of nature, any acknowledgment of a nonhuman context. (183)

Later he says, “For most of us, most of the time, nature appears framed in a window or a video screen or inside the borders of a photograph. We do not feel the organic web passing through our guts, as it truly does. While our theories of nature have become wiser, our experience of nature has become shallower” (194).  Most of these stories fit right into Sanders’ theory about contemporary fiction, which is unfortunate, given the theme of the collection.  I don’t blame the writers. I think they put forth a good effort. Taken out of context, (i.e. not part of a collection entitled The Green Man), some of the stories were quite good. (My favorites include “Fee, Fie, Foe, et Cetera” by Gregory Maguire and “Joshua Tree” by Emma Bull.) I just wish I didn’t have to view the stories out of context to appreciate them.

Did I miss your review?  Let me know and I’ll make a list!

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