in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: YA lit, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 149
Book: The Theory of Everything
Author: J.J. Johnson
Source: Review copy from the publisher specifically for the Cybils
Ever since her best friend Jamie died in a freak accident, Sarah's been on a downward skid. Her grades have slipped, her snark quotient has gotten cranked up to 11. All her other friends have drifted away, and even her ever-patient boyfriend, Stenn, is starting to get fed up. And her parents, well, they've waved the end of their rope bye-bye a long time ago.
Sarah knows she's got to get a handle on her life and her relationships before she ruins all of them, but every time she gets close to feeling good, she feels as if she's betraying Jamie's memory. She knows Jamie wouldn't have wanted her to be sad forever, but how can she possibly be happy without her best friend?
I openly admit, I hadn't heard of this book before it got a finalist slot in the Cybils. I read the author's first book (This Girl is Different
) and liked it, but oh, god, a girl grieving the death of her best friend? Pass the Kleenex, we're in for a long night. I prepared myself for Bad Behavior, Meaningful Conversations and/or Blinding Revelations, Deep Connections with others who've Been There, and possibly a New Love.
Then I started reading, and I realized that I was in more capable hands than that.
What I liked best was how Sarah took responsibility for her own recovery. She makes an effort not to be so snarky, she tries to reach out to other people instead of pushing them away, and she really works at being a better person. She even takes a job at a Christmas-tree farm to make amends, and she defies her parents to do so. She does this not because she has a Blinding Revelation or a Meaningful Conversation, but because she's been aware of her downward trend ever since it started. When she makes the reasoned decision, (quite early in the book, too!) that she needs to start dragging herself out of the pit, she works
at it. She isn't great at it, especially at first, but she tries and sometimes succeeds, and it's from that place that her life starts to get good again.
There is a Wise Old Mentor character, Sarah's boss. He's a little stock. But he's also one of the first adults in awhile that trusts Sarah to do things that are hard for her, and in a way, that's the theme of the whole book. Pulling herself out of the darkness and back into life again is the hardest thing Sarah has ever done. It may be the hardest thing she will ever have to do. But ultimately, she is the one who has to do it.
Author: Sherri L Smith
Published: March 7, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
After being socked with a series of devastating hurricanes and overtaken by a virulent illness called the Fever, the inhabitants of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been abandoned by the rest of the United States. Divided into tribes of blood types, Orleans (the “new” was dropped) has fallen into barbarism and savagery, where the people fight tooth and nail to survive just one more day.
Fen is one of those people. But she has a newborn baby, the child of her dead friend Lydia, on her hands and she swears that this baby will have a better life if she has to break every law of the Outer States and the Delta to do it.
Daniel is from the Outer States, a military scientist trying to cure the Fever, who has snuck into Orleans to gather data for his quest. They run into each other in a blood-hunter’s camp (which is exactly the kind of place it sounds like) and strike a deal--she’ll take him where he needs to go, and when he leaves, he’ll take the baby with him.
When I saw this book on Netgalley, I waffled over whether to request it or not. Another dystopia? Sigh. But I loved Smith’s first book, Flygirl, and finally I decided to give a whirl. I’m so glad I did.
Was it Fen? This tough and uncompromising girl’s quest to get Baby Girl to the Wall and a better life is certainly memorable. Was it Daniel? Though he has a doctorate, he has a lot to learn about life on the other side of the wall, and surprisingly rises to the challenge. Was it the end? I . . . I can’t say anything more about the end, except that while it was devastating, it was perfect.
These are all elements that I loved, but what jumped out at me was the setting, Orleans itself. Many times in dystopias, the physical and cultural surroundings are scary and dark things, utterly wtihout redemptive factors. But Orleans is the kind of place you fall in love with, as much as for its flaws as for its beauties.Yes, it’s scary and dark. Yes, it’s not exactly a place where you’d want to live. But like the real city, it teems with life, energy, and beauty.
One of the most touching moments in the book takes place on All Saint’s Night. Fen and Daniel, hiding out, see a Mardi-Gras-like parade of people from many tribes, tacitly truced for the night. They dance and sing, “Nous sommes ici!” We are here. No matter how far Orleans has fallen, the place and the people are still there.
Book: Also Known As
Author: Robin Benway
Published: February 26, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
The daughter of two spies and a gifted safecracker herself, Maggie has had a strange childhood, to say the least. She’s been all over the world but never attended school. She’s hobnobbed with the best spies in the world, but never had a best friend her own age.
Now Maggie’s facing her first solo assignment. She’s sure she can carry it off. She’s only been in training since she was three years old. Then she discovers that pretending to be someone you’re not is easy, until you meet the people that you really want to like you for yourself.
I thoroughly enjoyed Benway’s first two books, so I picked this one up and wasn’t disappointed. Was it believable? No. Was it cotton-candy fun on a silver platter? Oh, my, yes.
Watching Maggie try to apply her spy skills to fitting in at high school (even a posh New York City high school) is the kind of fish-out-of-water stuff I really enjoy. And it was no surprise to anyone but Maggie when Jesse, the boy she's assigned to crack like one of her safes, turned out to be sweet and cute and probably the best fictional boyfriend a girl could ask for.
Her other big find was Roux, a former mean girl, long toppled from her throne and now friendless until Maggie turns up. Roux was hi-larious. I had a little trouble believing that she could have been the mean girl, because she was so delightful. Then I realized that the things that made her delightful - loads of snark, well-hidden vulnerability, and a certain high-handedness - would have actually made her a really good Bitch Queen.
If you’re jonesing for more Gallagher Girls, this should help with that. Breezy, funny, and sweet, this confection of a novel is just right to put a smile on your face.
Book: Mind Games
Author: Kiersten White
Published: February 19, 2013
Source: ARC acquired at KidLitCon 12
It’s Fia’s job to take care of her sister Annie. Although she’s the younger of the two, Annie is blind, and Fia has always known that she is responsible for her. Even after their parents’ death, even after they were taken away to a secretive school for young psychics run by the malevolent Keane family, Fia has taken care of Annie.
Now, she’s become a teenaged errand girl, sent on all the nasty missions that Keane needs done. She’ll steal, she’ll maim, she’ll even kill, because if she doesn’t, Annie will suffer. Fia can feel her soul eroding, but she’d let it go entirely if it means Annie is safe.
But what she doesn’t realize is how far Annie is prepared to go for Fia’s safety.
Guys, you have no idea how afraid I was that this would be a love story about the damaged girl and the boy who saves her soul with the Powah of Lurve. The book opens with Fia deciding not to kill the boy that is her mark, and I went, “Oh, crap.”
Rest assured, it’s not. While Fia’s decision sets the plot in motion, the boy she spares is never more than incidental. White keeps the focus on the two sisters, and their determination to protect each other. Unlike many books where it’s all about the Boy and the Lurve and the Destiny, Adam and his foil, James Keane, serve as backdrop to a story that unfolds in two timelines and two points of view. One story focuses on Annie’s slow realization over some years that the school is not the benevolent institution she thought it was. The other showcases Fia, trapped in her hitwoman role, finally breaking out.
So apparently, this is the first of a series. I'm not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, the book works nicely as a standalone. Though it came around very abruptly (I feel as if I missed a chapter showing how and why Fia made her decision), the end is satisfying enough. On the other, many things (the eeeeevil Mr. Keane and his shady plans, to be precise) are sketched in so lightly that I really wanted more expansion on them. Also, the girls are left at new beginnings, and I kinda want to see where those take them. So I'll read the sequel next year and report back on whether it holds up.
Book: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Source: Review copy from publisher specifically for the Cybils
Chubby, pasty, and socially awkward, Greg Gaines has spent most of his high school career trying not to make waves, and finding a fair amount of success. He prides himself on being accepted by every group without ever really being part of one. He stays off the radar and out of firing range in the war that is high school. Nobody knows about his secret hobby of filmmaking except for his (for lack of a better word) best friend and co-director, the undersized and perpetually furious Earl.
Then Greg's mother tells him that Rachel Kushner has leukemia, and she wants him to spend some time with her.
Who is Rachel Kushner? Nobody, really. A girl he once sort-of-maybe-but-not-really had a thing with, in eighth grade. Their parting was drawn out, awkward, and gratefully forgotten until now. Greg bows to the unstoppable force that is his mom's nagging and revives their friendship. He's just trying to make her laugh, but he finds himself opening up to her. And whether he likes it or not, Greg Gaines is about to make tsunami-size waves.
The book really isn't about Rachel, in spite of her presence in the title. As a character, she's actually rather thin (delete tasteless Greg-style joke about thinness and chemo patients). She doesn't do much. There's not even any hint of romance. But her illness forces Greg to be a friend for the first time in his life. He has to do things that are uncomfortable to him. He has to expose his own flaws, not only to her but to others. Near the end of the book, he gets suckered into making a film about Rachel. In the past, he and Earl have made one attempt at each film and went on to the next one. They were stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless. This time he makes . . .
A stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless film. Or rather, five of them. He keeps going. He keeps trying. And while the result is astonishingly bad (I cringed just reading the bits that we get), he still worked at it, for perhaps the first time in his life.
Like most guys, Earl and Greg show their feelings by talking around them, joking about them, and downright pretending they don't exist. You have to watch carefully to see the change in Greg from someone trying to stay invisible and unhurt to someone who is reluctantly, tremulously, openly vulnerable.
I feel like this book got overlooked a lot because of its overt similarity to the much more high-profile The Fault in Our Stars. (And trust me, there will be a review of that coming. Sometime. Soon. Ish.) But they're really not the same at all. Sure, they both talk about death in teens, and how it affects other teens, but in tone and approach they couldn't be more different. This is the death/cancer book for kids who will moan and roll their eyes all the way through The Fault in Our Stars. Myself, I loved them both.
Author: Megan Miranda
Published: February 5, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Things have been a little weird for Mallory ever since she killed her boyfriend, Brian, with a kitchen knife one summer night. She's ostracized by most of her friends, virtually ignored at home, and forced to take out a restraining order against Brian's grief stricken mother. It was self-defense . . . well, she's pretty sure it was self-defense. But however it happened, she's still suffering.
When her parents enroll her in boarding school, Mallory goes along with it, desperate to escape the constant reminders of what she did. But her guilt follows her to school, where bitchy classmates spread the tale of her past far and wide, and she constantly sees a green car whenever she leaves campus. Even worse, Brian himself seems to be haunting her. She keeps waking up with a painful red handprint on her shoulder, and the dreams just won't stop.
What really did happen that hot summer night? And when Mallory finally knows, what is she going to do about it?
So I'm calling it. The stealth trend of the last few years is Gothic. Some are the traditional Gothics (The Dark Unwinding, a Gothic with a steampunk cover), some are updated (Unspoken) and some go by the name "psychological thriller." But this is totally Gothic.
Girl in danger? Check. Possibly-paranormal-source-of-danger? Check. Girl being told that there is nothing wrong and it's all in her head? CHECK.
How did it work for me? Pretty well, when I was reading it. I got caught up in Mallory's gritty tale, especially since there were times when she wobbled at the edge of sanity. Few things are quite so neat as an unreliable narrator. While Mallory never got to that point, she definitely leaned in that direction. I also liked Reid, the childhood friend who turned out very cute and very sweet. And Colleen, her best friend from home, was ten pounds of awesome in a five pound bag.
After I put it down, I started thinking. Really, parents? Really?? This girl was traumatized, and there was no therapy. No counseling, court-ordered or otherwise. You just packed her off to boarding school and expected that to go well. There wasn't even a nod from school administration that their newest student might have some issues that needed tending to, although they clearly knew since the head of the jackass clique was the dean's son and the one who saw to it that the story got around. Reid was a little bit Ideal Boy for me, though it was good that he was there to balance out the total disdain from everyone else.
Maybe that's what made it most Gothic for me. Mallory has been abandoned by everyone (she's even cut off from Colleen for a short time) and she has to face down all her enemies, including her own mind, by herself.
Final verdict? I liked it, but decided not to think about it very hard.
Author: Liz Fichera
Published: January 29, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Fred has been picked for the golf team. Nothing new there, right? But you need a few details. Fred is really Fredrika, and this is the men’s golf team. And she’s a Native girl from an Arizona rez, plopped in the midst of spoiled rich white boys from Phoenix.
One of those is Ryan, who was the best player on the team before Fred came along, and whose best friend was bumped to make room for her. He has no reason to like her, but he just can't stop thinking about her or wanting to spend time with her.
There are so many reasons that being together would be problematic. But the only thing worse is being apart.
Guys, I'm awfully torn about this book.
The Good: I got hooked (hur-hur, see what I did there?) by Fred and Ryan. I really wanted them to be together, even when they made dumb decisions and then angsted about them. They genuinely liked and respected each other once they scratched the surface even the tiniest bit, so I was well able to believe that this was more than hornypants. They had a shot at a good thing, if they were able to take it.
I also loved the sense of place. This was very clearly an Arizona book, and it brought out the majesty and desolation of the desert that I love. It also touched on the racial tensions that, unfortunately, my state is known for. (Yay us. Sarcasm flag.) I even got a happy thrill when Tucson or the U of A were mentioned. What can I say? My state just doesn't get that much literary recognition.
And . . . the Bad: See above, about the bad decisions. There were times I wanted to yell at the book: "Fred! Stop messing around with the old friend who wants to be more. You know that never ends well. Ryan! Jettison the clingy bitchy girlfriend and the jerkwad best friend. You know that never ends well. Are you two listening to me?"
Second is a SPOILER. Jump down to the last paragraph if you don't want to be SPOILED.
Good now? Okay. So, what bugged me, more and more deeply the more I think about it, is that Fred never resolved her conflict with Seth, the boy who was bumped from the team to make room for her. From the beginning, she feels out of place. Seth goes out of his way to reinforce that feeling, in hopes of bullying her right off the team so that things are the way they’re supposed to be. Is it because she’s a girl? Because she’s an Indian? Both of those things, but mostly because she replaced him.
I was waiting for the moment where she said to him, “Yknow what? Put on your big boy Underoos and deal. I deserve to be here. I deserve to play. I’m good, and you got cut because you weren’t.” But she never did. She apologized for having stepped on his toes, in fact, right up to, and throughout, the climactic scene. I felt cheated by that. It’s her conflict, and she didn’t resolve it. Instead, Ryan beat Seth to a pulp. Which, well done, because Ryan was a bit of a milquetoast about that situation for most of the book, but that shouldn’t have been the climax to her story, especially since Ryan had already made his allegiance clear in an earlier scene. In the three conflicts that this encompasses - Native vs. white, girl vs. boy, athlete vs athlete - this was unsatisfying for all three of them. And that made me unhappy because it started out so promising.
Still, I have a hard time resisting good swoon. Even with my doubts, I’ll recommend it to fans of the Perfect Chemistry series, and I'll read the next book in the series, about Ryan’s sister and Fred’s friend. But I want a more satisfying climax to both journeys.
Book: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Source: ARC from colleague
Katharine, a poor relation, is used to doing her aunt’s dirty work for her. Sent off to the country in order to prove her uncle mad so that her aunt (not his wife; his sister-in-law) can gain control of all his lovely money for her spoilt son, she accepts it as another dirty job she has to do in order to keep a roof over her head.
But in the country, she discovers a ramshackle country house, a fascinating and childlike uncle who makes mechanical works of genius, and maybe a home. Something strange is happening to her, however. She’s sleepwalking, hearing things, and nobody will believe her that she isn’t doing any of it on purpose.
Is she going mad?
Book: The Twin’s Daughter
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Source: purchased from BetterWorldBooks.com
The day she answered the door, Lucy’s life took a sharp right turn. For the person at the door looked exactly like her mother--and yet, was not. It was her mother’s twin sister, Helen. Separated at birth and raised in very different circumstances, Helen wants nothing more than to meet her sister. Lucy's mother, for her part, greets her unexpected sister with apparently open arms. Helen gets adopted into the family, educated, dressed, and presented to society.
As her aunt begins to more and more closely resemble Lucy’s mother, it becomes harder and harder for Lucy to tell them apart. Then tragedy strikes. One of the twins dies, the apparent victim of a murderous housebreaker, and one lives. The living one is Lucy’s mother . . . or is she?
I ran across both these books in a span of about two weeks, and their Gothic nature was a surprise to me. I was expecting The Dark Unwinding to be a steampunk, mostly on the basis of the cover, and The Twin’s Daughter to be a historical mystery.
They both had elements of the genres I first assigned them to. What, then, made them particularly Gothic? I have a little better awareness of this genre and all its tropes after reading Sarah Rees Brennan’s blog, which had a strong focus on Gothic novels leading up the publication of Unspoken, her own updated Gothic. There were all sorts of things, but what it came down to was girls facing down peril alone. She had a very neat post talking about how this reflected girls’ and women’s real positions before they had the right to vote, control their own money, or own property. They really were in peril much of the time, and around the world, many women still are.
Simply to be in peril does not make you a Gothic heroine. You have to be the only one that recognizes or acknowledges it, your concerns are derided or ignored, and you have to fight it on your own. You can have a few allies, but it's really all you, and that's what makes it so compelling.
Both these books drew their power from this girl-against-the-forces-of-evil tension. They weren't perfect novels by any means, but they kept me flipping pages. That is also the great fun of Gothic novels, and why they've been in and out of fashion in popular literature for at least two hundred years.
Book: Mostly Good Girls
Author: Leila Sales
Source: Local Library
Violet is the most conscientious scholar at the exclusive Westfield school, the hardest worker, the long-suffering editor of the world’s most ludicrous lit magazine. Her life revolves around getting into a good college, with all the attendent studying and standardized-test-taking stress that entails.
What saves her sanity is her best friend Katie. They pass snarky notes in class, mock their classmates ferociously, and take on silly projects together. Violet can’t imagine life without her. But things are changing. Katie’s changing, and if Violet wants to keep her best friend, she’s going to have to learn to let go.
The format of this book is an interesting one. Each chapter is almost like a short story or a vignette in itself. They rarely build on the chapter immediately preceding, and they seem to be in the order they are largely due to chronology. But through the course of these cobbled-together bits, you see the slow change in Violet and Katie’s relationship. Which of course is how these things happen, right? The change happens, the crisis or the break or even the separation, and you go, “Where did that come from?!” Then you look back over the last few months or years and go, “Oh. Yeah. There. And there. And I think there too.”
Okay, so this all sounds very Literary and Important and Somber and Meaningful. But I would be doing you a disservice if I let you think that was the book I read, because the book I read was hilarious. Katie and Violet are best friends because they are both whip-smart and utterly irreverent (mostly inside her head in Violet’s case). Their phone conversations alone are masterful in their kookiness.
Poignant and funny, this book has ensured that Leila Sales makes it onto my auto-read list.
Author: Eishes Chayil
Source: Local Library
Gittel is seventeen, approaching high school graduation and hoping to be married soon after, like all the other girls in her small Hassidic sect. But as adulthood looms, she starts dreaming of her best friend, Devory, who killed herself at the age of nine.
Gittel knew something terrible was happening to Devory, something she could only escape through suicide, but she wasn’t able to understand or confront it, until now. Now, she knows that Devory was being sexually abused by a family member. But this abuse isn’t the only reason she killed herself. Because what happened to Devory is not nearly so bad as what happened when she tried to tell.
Okay, I’m a latecomer to this book. A couple of years ago, it was all anybody was talking about. I dutifully added it to my list and went about my business. When it turned up as my next read, I picked it up and was absolutely floored by the power and sadness in this story.
Like the adults and teens reading, Gittel is looking at a defenseless child, being victimized and then being told that she is a terrible person for trying to speak out about it. Those kinds of things don’t happen here, people say to Devory, and then later to Gittel. Those are things the goyim (non-Jews) do. You are making it up. You are trying to cause trouble for a good person.
Written by a Hassidic Jewish woman and based on something that happened in her real life, the book doesn’t attempt to demonise or defend Gittel's world. It simply is. She is surrounded by a loving community, but one blind to its own faults. Chayil portrays both the love and the faults honestly, and that makes the story more powerful. It’s one thing to be a repressive cult that systematically abuses certain members. This gets portrayed quite a lot in fiction. It’s quite another to be a group of honest, faithful, imperfect human beings who are too afraid to look at the darkness in their protected bubble, who strap on their blinders and say, “This doesn’t happen here, so that means it didn’t happen.”
It’s not an easy process for Gittel to speak out. It almost destroys her own fledgling marriage. Yet all her life, she has been held to the standard of an Eishes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, who is devout and strong. Now, she knows that to be a true Eishes Chayil, she must rise and speak.
P.S. And then, right after I finished writing this review, this came out in the paper.
Book Review: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Source: Local library
In the future, a New Victorian society has arisen, hearkening back to the old Victorian ways of manners, social strata, and rigid morality. In the middle of this is Nora Dearly, a girl of middling-high social rank, who still isn't quite over her father's death a year ago. As if that weren't bad enough, she's abruptly kidnapped and taken away to a military base infested with the undead.
The soldiers of Z Company are not, however, the mindless beasts of song and story. As she gets to know them, especially the handsome young captain, Bram Griswold, Nora begins to realize that undead people are still people. They walk, they talk, they laugh and eat and dance and enjoy taking the piss out of their friends, and they can still, she learns, fall in love.
Then she gets another bombshell. Her father is still alive. After a fashion. But he's missing, and the work he's been doing on a zombie vaccine is missing with him. Meanwhile, back in New London, there's a mysterious plague that nobody wants to admit is even happening. And Z Company's living leader, Captain Wolfe, has a secret agenda of his own.
It's going to take strong stuff to avert the zombie apocalypse and rescue her father. Nora may be a New Victorian girl, but she's not that prim, she's decidedly improper, and she's up for the challenge.
When zombies started to be "the next big thing," I decided that it was going to be a hard job to get me to fall for a zombie romance. They're not exactly objects of lust. I mean, things fall off. Possibly important things. Just sayin'.
Well, I'm eating my words. Nora and Bram's romance was convincing and sweet, mostly because both Nora and Bram were strong and active characters in their own right. Nora has a dear friend back in New Victoria that she's trying to reach. Bram leads a company of soldiers and is devoted to Dr. Dearly. There's stuff going on in their lives, and more than that, there's no insta-love. Initial attraction, yes, but it was Bram's treatment of Nora as a rational human being who deserved to be told what was going on that really won her, and myself, over
Okay, so that's the good stuff. Now for the things I didn't love so much. For a zombie/steampunk adventure, the pacing dragged a lot harder than it had any right to do, and this is directly related to my other point: the whole thing is written in first person, even though there had multiple POV characters and plotlines. This means that there were five first-person narrators. This was . . . a lot. I got used to it, but I still found myself floundering when the POV switched, especially when it was between two characters in the same scene.
Overall, I enjoyed this wickedly fun, wickedly funny take on zombie/steampunk adventure. As long as the pacing problem and the POV problem get fixed, I'm ready to pick up the next one.
Book: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Author: Morgan Matson
Source: Local Library
It was supposed to be a simple road trip. A cross-country trek for the purpose of getting the family car from California to Connecticut, carefully charted out by Amy's mother for maximum speed. Still numb from her father's recent death and the sudden changes in her life, Amy doesn't make a peep of protest, even when she's saddled with an unwelcome co-pilot in the person of her mom's friend's college-age son. Fine. Whatever. Someone else to do the driving.
Then Roger suggests a detour. Which turns into a bigger detour. Then they're off the map entirely, and journeying through all the dark places in their own hearts, with nothing to hold on to but each other.
So, this book was not what I was expecting. (I say that a lot in this blog. I like the books that surprise me.) I thought it would be a cute road-trip romp, with hijinks, and maybe wildlife, and definitely smooching. I didn't expect this quiet, reflective book, shimmering with pain, which gets worse before it gets better. (Okay, fine, there was smooching, too, and more. Just in case you were wondering.)
The road-trip-as-emotional-journey metaphor is a classic for a reason. You get out of your rut, you see new things, and of course, you change yourself, so that by the time you get back to your regular life you're able to see it more clearly. While the title references both Amy and Roger, this is really Amy's book. Roger has his own arc--a relationship that ended badly, some closure sorely needed--but Amy is front and center. We see her almost catatonic at the beginning, unable to muster up the energy to care about anything. As they trek on, encountering places and things that were special to her dad, we're treated to flashbacks that slowly assemble themselves into a picture of how Amy's dad died and why she's laboring under so much guilt. We also see her come back to life, learning to enjoy it again and also to accept what happened.
I couldn't decide whether I was disappointed or not by the source of Amy's guilt. On the one hand, she wasn't directly responsible for his death. A car ran a red light and slammed into the car she was driving, with her dad in the passenger seat. In some ways, it felt as if she was blowing it up far too big. On the other, that's precisely what she needed to realize. It was one of those horrible, awful things that happen sometimes. Living, really living, isn't a betrayal of the person you loved--it's a tribute.
I really, really wanted to go on a road trip after reading this book, and also download pretty much the entire soundtrack (chapters are punctuated by mixes assembled by the characters).
Book: Sorta Like a Rock Star
Author: Matthew Quick
Source: Local Library
Amber Appleton is the self-proclaimed Princess of Hope. She considers it her God-given mission to spread joy and optimism to those that need it. From spending time with a haiku-writing Vietnam vet to teaching English to Korean immigrants using R-and-B lyrics to weekly debates with a nihilistic octogenarian for the entertainment of lonely nursing-home residents, Amber does her best to let her little light shine on everyone else's life.
What nobody knows is that her own life is hardly hopeful. She's living with her mom in a school bus, barely scraping by. Amber's determined not to let anybody know, either. She's doing just fine, after all. Then a horrifying event brings Amber's world crashing down around her. She can no longer spread her message of hope. She doesn't have enough for herself.
But she's forgotten something very basic about hope and joy: they're infectious. They spread. And when you catch it, you want to spread it back, even if the person who needs it most is the person who gave it to you in the first place.
In case you haven't figured it out from that first paragraph, Amber's one wobbly step away from being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Her first-person narration overflows with verbal gymnastics. Full of optimism, running over with energy, and somehow able to make everybody and I do mean everybody love her, she's almost more quirk than character. What saves her from this fate is the very real darkness and self-doubt that permeate her quieter moments. Even before her mother dies, you have a strong sense that she is putting up a good front, sparkling as hard as she can just so nobody guesses that the darkness and the doubt are there.
I have to also mention the role of faith in this novel. Amber is openly Christian, but not in the evangelical sense. She talks about Jesus as if he's a personal friend. Not one who'll fix all her problems (so often my problem with evangelical Christianity), but someone who's on her side. Her faith doesn't pull her out of the dark, but it does hold her up for awhile as she goes through it.
Somewhere between Weetzie Bat and Pollyanna, this girl may not be terribly realistic, but she could spread a little hope into your heart too.
Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Source: Local Library
At Oregrove High School, the football players are gods. It's the accepted social order. But Danny and the rest of the men's gymnastics team have decided they're not going to take it anymore. Pranks and bullying escalate until the three football co-captains viciously gang-rape a freshman gymnast, and their victim kills himself.
Besides the gymnastics captain, the only witnesses to the crime were Danny and Kurt, the incredibly talented new fullback that Danny has been building a tentative and unlikely friendship with. They know that they should speak out, but it seems as if the kings of the school hold all the power against them. Can they defeat their personal demons and show the world that everybody, even an athletic god, has to answer for their actions?
In many ways this was an incredibly disturbing book. Given the topic, I knew it would be, but I was unprepared for how intense it was. At one point, I had to set the book down and go do other things for awhile. Not during the rape, as you might think, but shortly afterward, when the football coach is spewing all manner of idiotic filth about the suicide of Ronnie Gunderson, painting him as a weakling who couldn't handle everyday life and his football players as the upstanding young men who will heal the community via football victory. You get a glimpse into how these narcissistic young men have come to believe that they can do whatever they want without consequences, because the adults in their life have taught them that athletic prowess equals moral superiority, which equals untouchability.
For me, one of the finest parts of the book lay in the believability of Danny and Kurt's friendship. After some initial wariness, they enjoy and respect each other for their differences and their similarities.
There's something almost cartoonish about the final showdown, which ends with the three rapists and the coaches who enabled their behavior being literally booed off the field by an entire field full of football fans, but I have yet to decide whether that's good or bad. On one hand, arrests all around might have better fit the serious and terrible nature of the act that was committed. On the other, the depth of that humiliation, in the place where they were so recently gods, might have been the strongest punishment that fate could dole out.
That quibble aside, this was an intense, unsettling, thought-provoking book.
Author: Gina Linko
Published: October 23, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Every so often, Emery enters what she calls a loop. Her mind travels to somewhere else. The future, the past, places she's never been in real life. She meets people both familiar and strange. The loops are beautiful, peaceful, and soothing.
Except that while her mind is journeying, her body is having seizures. And after a lifetime of these, Emery's body is starting to fall apart. She's in the hospital 24/7, being studied like a guinea pig by a team of doctors who examine her brain so closely that they can't see her heart. That team includes her own father, who thinks of her as an experiment first and a daughter second. Emery knows that she'll spend the rest of her life here, however long that might be, if she doesn't get herself out.
So she bolts, using a few thin clues to find the places in real life that she's visited in her loops. She finds herself in Esperanza Beach, Michigan, a little town in the Upper Peninsula, and there she meets Ash, a boy a couple of years older that feels awfully familiar somehow. What does he have to do with her loops? Why was she drawn here? Why is she having them? Can she hide from her father as he hunts her down?
Most importantly: can she learn to control her loops--or will they kill her first?
So, this book didn't go quite where I expected. To be honest, I didn't have a good idea where I expected it to go. Aliens? Vampires? Angels? Alien vampire angels? None of those, although I kind of want to read the alien vampire angels book now. (Libba Bray could totally pull that off. Or Sarah Rees Brennan. I'm not picky.) Nope, it's about something entirely different.
Emery is dying. She makes this much clear to us, and also makes it clear that she understands and accepts it. Her body is falling apart, and she feels as if she's wasting what little time she has left. After the escape from the hospital, a strong theme in the novel is Emery trying to live each day as it comes, with a sense of purpose and agency for the first time in her life. She is feeding herself, she's caring for herself, she's seeking out information on a situation that directly impacts her. You can see how this nourishes a soul that's been starved for years.
Ash and Emery's relationship isn't insta-lurve, though they're clearly attracted to each other and just as clearly trying to fight that attraction, for different reasons. Their relationship builds quietly, its pieces set in place as they cautiously open up to each other.
I do have one major quibble, and that's this: Emery's dad is painted as this terrible and ruthless parent who has godlike powers (including heavy pull with national agencies that go by acronyms) and could find her at any time. Really? I had a hard time believing that a teenager's seizures would be a matter of national security, no matter how medically unusual. I found myself believing the much more likely scenario that he was a single father, very worried about his terminally ill daughter, perhaps unable to communicate that worry, and just trying to find her.
That wasn't a huge part of the story, however, and I was able to dive into the rest of it without letting that bug me so much. Was it perfect? No, partly for the dad thing, and partly because the ending seemed a little too perfect and preordained. However, with its themes of life and death and its sweet and understated love story, this book does stand out from the current crop of YA, and for that reason, you should give it a try.
Book: Princess of Glass
Author: Jessica Day George
Source: Local Library
After a childhood spent dancing every night away with her eleven sisters as part of a wicked enchantment, Princess Poppy never wants to so much as curtsey to a partner ever again. It makes life a little challenging when she pays a visit to neighboring kingdom of Breton, but she finds ways to entertain herself at balls and parties, especially when she gets to spend time with friendly and fun Prince Christian of Danelaw.
Then comes the night of the royal ball. Christian, along with most of the men in the room, is strangely ensnared by the mysterious Lady Ella. Only Poppy seems to recognize housemaid and disgraced gentlewoman Eleanora. Only she seems to understand that there's something very wicked going on, and Eleanora may be as much of a victim as the prince. In order to defeat the real foe, and rescue both Christian and Eleanora, Poppy's going to have to face her deepest fears, both on the dance floor and off.
This is a book that so easily could have had the wrong heroine. I spent a great deal of it going, "Oh for Crissakes, Eleanora, grow up." Though she is the Cinderella in this story, she's also whiny, self-pitying, and tends to depend on others to rescue her. It's our good luck that our heroine is Poppy, who is practical, capable, and brave. Having come through one evil plot, she's adept at recognizing the signs and knows that it's going to take more than a pure heart to win the day.
Though marriage and courtship feature largely in the story, I'd characterize this as a tween/young teen title, especially since the relationship between Poppy and Christian isn't so much passionate as cute and sweet. While it's not the best I've ever read, it's an entertaining, fast-paced example of the retold fairy tale trope that I particularly enjoy, with an intrepid heroine.
Book: Froi of the Exiles
Author: Melina Marchetta
Source: Local Library
Froi would do anything for his queen, so when she asks him to travel to nearby Charyn and assassinate their king, he agrees without a second thought. But it's not going to be as easy as slipping in with a dagger in the dead of night. Froi has to pose as a young nobleman who's come to the palace to impregnate the princess, the last in a long string of unsuccessful attempts. Only when she's conceived a child will the curse of infertility that's lain on the country for eighteen years be broken.
Froi finds himself drawn into this drama, because the princess is irresistible. Oh, not for her beauty or her charm, because she has neither, but her ferocity, her secrets, and her strength under an unbearable situation. As Froi fights his way through the thickets of schemes and danger in the Charynite palace, every answer just seems to lead to more questrions. How did the curse come about? Why is the princess's mother locked away? Who exactly is Gargarin, his prickly companion?
And most importantly, what does Froi himself have to do with it all?
This was a behemoth of a book, weighing in at nearly 600 pages, and not light ones either. It's a complex tapestry of a novel, with multiple plotlines, secrets, and schemes to follow. I stuck with it for the characters. Froi, impulsive, hot-tempered, and unexpectedly sweet. Quintana, both damaged and powerful in ways that keep being discovered. Gargarin, Arjuro, Lirah, the older generation who are inextricably entwined in Charyn's curse.
It's also an examination of love, family, politics, and power, and how they're forever intertwined. Each is affected by the other, and very often in ways you can't predict.
While Froi's story is the central plot, there are two threads back at home in Lumatere that didn't work quite as well for me. As individual stories, yes, but I couldn't work out until near the end what they had to do with Charyn or the central plot, and I suspect that I'll have to wait for the third book, Quintana of Charyn, to really understand all the ins and outs.
I'd shelve this next to the Attolia series for the complexity of politics, the fate of countries and the fate of individual hearts.
Book: One Moment
Author: Kristina McBride
Published: June 26, 2012
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley
It happened in a moment. Maggie was finally taking the dare to jump off the cliffs into the swimming hole, helped (prodded?) by her beloved boyfriend Joey. She was all ready to do it. But then . . . only Joey took the jump, leaving Maggie alone on the cliff. And Joey jumped wrong, bashed his head on the way down, and died before the paramedics arrived.
Maggie is immediately sucked into a quagmire of grief. The close circle of friends that she and Joey shared are barely able to help her, lost as they are in their own sorrow. But as Maggie begins to surface, questions arise with her. Why didn't she jump? Why did Joey? Why does it seem as if he had secrets that so many of their friends knew and she didn't? And why can't she remember the last few moments before Joey took his fatal dive?
Basically, this is a grief novel. It doesn't break any particular ground, though I do like the realism of Maggie's grief, the waves and troughs of it, as well as the slow implosion of the friend group that has suddenly had its center ripped out. I also liked the amnesia aspect, when Maggie's broken heart protected her from the full onslaught of the truth until she was ready to handle it. We all know what really happened before Maggie does, but she needs to come to it gradually. No argument there.
Why I'm writing this review . . . Go away, spoilerphobic. There are spoilers here.
I'm starting to realize that endings are actually pretty darn important. Well, I always knew they were important, but the capacity of an ending that doesn't quite work to ruin the whole book is mind-boggling. I was really liking this book, until the end. Because what happens is that Maggie discovers the Big Secret: that Joey had been cheating on her for a long time with their friend Shannon, and their other friend Adam knew all about it. This is not itself a horrible thing, as far as the story is concerned. Clearly as far as Maggie is concerned, it's pretty bad. It's also unfortunate for this group of friends, which falls apart under the strain (and gets unrealistically patched up at the end), but what follows is what drove me nuts.
One of the themes of the book is that Joey wasn't perfect. He was a fun, engaging kid, but he was so far from perfect. And yet Maggie loved him. A lot of people loved him. To me, that was a good place to leave it. That was a great place to leave it. Nobody's perfect, after all, and part of your first love story is coming to terms with that, in one way or the other.
Except it didn't end there. At the end (the real one) we find out that everything that was ever good about Maggie's relationship with Joey was false. Everything. He stole it all from somebody else. Specifically, from Adam, who has had feelings for Maggie for a long time.
So the end of this book is not about coming to terms with Joey's flaws. It's not about Maggie understanding that she had loved an imperfect boy, one who made mistakes but died before he could grow up and make them right. It's not about learning to forgive somebody who's not around anymore.
Instead, Maggie simply writes Joey off as unworthy and transfers all her love to Adam. This is the boy who kept secrets in order to spare her (which anybody knows makes it much worse in the end), who constantly pushed her away when she tried to reach out to him, who chickened out on ever expressing his feelings, and yet he is held up as the worthy one. I think he even used the words "I deserve you," which set off my ranty feminist a-girl-is-not-a-prize rage.
The worst part is how completely unredeemable Joey becomes. By the end, he has no positive qualities whatsoever. You can't figure out why Maggie loved him, why Shannon (the Other Girl) loved him, or even why Adam cared enough to kee
Author: Rachel Hartman
Published: July 10, 2012
Source: review copy from publisher, via NetGalley
A treaty may have ended the devastating human/dragon wars, but it didn't end the enmity between the two species, just forced it beneath the surface. As the fiftieth anniversary of the treaty's signing approaches, a royal prince is murdered, apparently by dragons, and a peace that was fragile to begin with threatens to shatter under the strain.
In the middle of all this is Seraphina Dombegh, the court composer's assistant. She struggles to keep her head down and avoid notice, because anonymity is her only safeguard against the revelation of a devastating secret: she is half-dragon, half-human, and an abomination to both species. Against her best efforts, she keeps finding herself in position and places where she gets noticed, particularly by the good-hearted Princess Glisselda, heir to the throne, and her bastard cousin, Prince Lucian Kiggs, the sharp-eyed and quick-witted head of royal security.
Balanced precariously between her logical dragon side and her emotional human one, Seraphina soon comes to realize that she alone may be the key to keeping this peace . . . or to starting a war.
I read this one way back, and I'm so excited that it's finally being released so I can squeal, "OMYGAW THIS BOOK!" at all my blog readers. I'm not entirely sure I can talk coherently about this book, because there's so much I want to gush over. Seraphina, first. So you know how the Forever Young Adult girls award their BFF charms? I will give all my BFF charms to Seraphina. All of them. Awkward and unsteady in her own skin, yet endlessly practical. Quick on her feet, quick with her wits. I want this girl on my side.
It's quite a trick to write such a fascinating and complex person, much less a second. Lucky for us, Hartman's managed it with Lucian Kiggs. A royal bastard, he's caught inescapably between two worlds, just as Seraphina is, so he has special insight into what makes her tick. While he's occasionally not sure what to make of her, he'll back her up in a split second. Faster. Is there romaaaance? In a bumpy, sneaky, when-did-that-happen kind of way that completely works for these characters, and I'll take that over sparkly-eyed swoons of destiny any day.
I like this one for twisty-turny political fantasy fans, the ones who've finished all of Megan Whalen Turner's books and are begging for more. Beware, though. Give this to them and they will be back within a day, begging for more of Seraphina.
Book: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Source: Review Copy from publisher via NetGalley
German-occupied France, 1943. A young British woman has been captured by the Gestapo, and after three weeks of torture finally agrees to give up everything she knows. But she does this by relating the story of her friendship with another young British woman, the woman who flew her into France, crash-landed their plane, and apparently died in the wreckage.
Polar opposites on the outside: Julie educated at boarding schools, born into the nobility, reading at Oxford before the war, versed in literature of various languages, can lie her head off while looking you in the eye, versus Maddie, working-class mechanic who fell in love with airplanes when she saw the engine taken apart, who can’t speak a word of anything except English and who is frankly rubbish at anything smacking of subterfuge. But under the skin they’re the same--brave, tough, funny young women, doing their jobs in wartime for the love of their country, family, and friends.
Like Scheherazade, the captured woman spins out her story knowing that when she finishes, her death lies at the end. But how much of her story is true, and how much has this trained British interrogator and spy made up on the spot?
At its heart, this book is a love story. Not in the romantic sense of the word, but in the pure and powerful connection between two friends that goes deeper than mere hearts and flowers and into a place where one friend can ask anything--literally, anything--of the other. It's also a shining example of how a really good unreliable narrator can suck you in. It's very hard to talk about this book without giving away spoilers, but I'll say this: when you realize just how thoroughly the young spy has suckered you, she is so real and vital a girl that you understand why and you're actually sort of proud of how she did it.
I'm writing about this book relatively calmly, but that's because I took a few weeks. When reading, I was completely caught up in it. At one point, I laid it down, buried my face in my pillow, and sobbed uncontrollably, and for the better part of a day I would still get teary-eyed thinking about it. Maddie and Julie became that real to me. This book tore out my heart, stomped on it, then sat down next to me and offered me a cigarette and a very strong drink.
Harrowing and powerful, this is a book you won't forget in a hurry.
Book: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Source: Local Library
When the plane holding all fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant goes down on a tropical island, the odds are most definitely stacked against the survivors. No water, no food, no shelter, and you just can't get a good facial anywhere.
But Miss Teen Dream contestants never say die (well, except for the ones who already did). After a few missteps, they're taking their survival into their own hands, creating shelter, catching food, and battling island wildlife, all while working on their tans and keeping their pageant skills sharp.
But there's more coming down the pike. The beauty queens are about to face off with reality-show pirates, the evil corporation, the megalomaniac dictator with an Elvis fetish, and the weapons system whose override is PowerPoint. You know. Just in case you thought this was going to make any sense at all.
I've been looking forward to this book on the strength of Bray's wild and powerful Printz award winner, Going Bovine, and I wasn't disappointed. It was the same mix of hilarious and heartfelt. She expertly juggles about six or seven viewpoint characters, all with their own individual character arcs. She often does this by pairing them up, playing two against each other to how their differences peel away the glossy pageant personae and find the messy, scaly, warty real girl underneath. To questions on ethnicity to sexuality to conformity to feminism--very often in the same character--the answer comes out the same: nobody fits a category, but they're all extraordinary just the way they're made, and their power comes when they own it.
If you're a plot person, don't read this. If you're into strict realism, don't read this. But if you love wicked satire with just enough silliness to keep you laughing, feminism with some teeth, stories about love and friendship and identity and courage . . .Well, this is the book for you.
Book: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Published: August 28, 2012
Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Have you ever wished you could step into somebody else’s life? This is what A does, every day. Every morning, a new body, a new family, a new life. He could be a boy or a girl, tall or short, fat or thin, beautiful or ugly, black or white, popular or ignored. But none of these lives truly belong to him. He’s just passing through.
With no body or family of his own, he’s made an art form of not affecting other people’s lives. He tries to live the day he spends in their bodies as they would have lived them. He doesn’t take anything for himself, because he knows the life and relationships aren’t really his--just on loan.
Then he meets Rhiannon and falls in love. For the first time, A is willing to upend his hosts’ lives, just to be with her for a few hours. Then it’s not enough, and A wants to be with Rhiannon for longer. But is it even possible to build a relationship when one lover is a permanent guest?
This has been getting a lot of love, partly because it’s David Levithan, much beloved of the blogosphere. But it’s also because it’s a genuinely good book, a unique premise executed well. As he tells A's story, Levithan takes the chance to reflect on different topics of empathy, gender, and how your outside affects how the world reacts to you, and how you react to the world
A is in a unique position. Because he has been so many different things, carving out his own identity is largely a matter of his moral choices. He has no inborn characteristics that shape his personality. What makes him A is largely his determination to tread lightly on the world and on his hosts' lives. Unfortunately, this also means that all his actions and choices are dependent on what other people think or do--a feeling that many teens, attempting to fit a mold, will empathize with.
His relationship with Rhiannon is an interesting one. After hiding in someone else his whole life, he finally meets someone who seems to see the real A, and he doesn't want to let go of that. (Whether she really does is something you could argue about for awhile.) It comes in conflict with his first rule, but isn't that what everybody wants? For someone to see you?
And of course, the first time he breaks his own rule, he puts himself in ongoing danger of discovery, as a host becomes aware that somebody else was controlling him for a day and starts to hunt him down.
Sweet and thought-provoking, this is a book that will linger in your mind. You'll look around at other people and wonder: What does it feel like from the inside?
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: September 11, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Kami has an imaginary friend. Which is okay when you're four, a little weird when you're seven, and utterly crazeballs when you're sixteen. Unfortunately, Kami is sixteen. She's learned to keep her conversations with Jared on the inside of her head, but despite all sorts of good reasons, she's never been willing to banish him completely.
Then the Lynburn family returns to their brooding mansion on the hill, and the town of Sorry-in-the-Vale gives out a chorus of "DOOOOOOOOOOOM!" The Lynburns were once the feudal lords of the manor, and still have more money and land than any of you, and don't you forget it. But more than land or money, they seem to have some dark power over the town, one that nobody will explain to Kami. Then she meets the ne'er-do-well, juvenile-delinquent Lynburn, who may have killed his own father . . . whose name happens to be Jared.
Kami's imaginary friend is suddenly not so imaginary . . . and maybe not so much her friend.
So you know how when there's an author that you totally fangirl for their first series, and when they start a second one with all-new world and all-new characters and everything, you're a little, "Erp!" because you truly don't know whether it was the premise or the author you were fangirling? Lay down your fears, people, because it's official: I'm fangirling the author in this case.
And I'm fangirling the author for almost the exact same reason: her characters. Kami, of course, the fast-talking, whip-smart girl reporter, and Jared, the brooding, sarcastic, possibly-evil-maybe-not black sheep. Then there's Kami's dad (I particularly liked his deeply affectionate insults), her bone-lazy best friend Angela, her new sexpot gal pal Holly, all people that you'd willingly spend a lot of time with, just to hear the repartee. The "good cousin," Ash, the villains and the daaaark mystery were all pretty stock, but that's not really what I was there for.
One of the most interesting little side threads, and one I hope continues throughout the series, is the maybe-maybe-not sexual tension between Kami and Jared. Kami has firmly friend-zoned Jared, while he seems to have a passionate crush on her, and both of these feelings stem from the same source: their close mental link. They've shared everything with each other, since birth, until lines between them have blurred. How can you trust your feelings for somebody who's in your head? Brennan wraps this up with a devastating but weirdly satisfying choice at the end, and ensures that I'm slavering for the next book in the proposed trilogy.
Bouncing merrily between a BBC village soap, a Gothic psychodrama, a Nancy Drew mystery on steroids, and a Cary Grant flick (because Kami at her best was straight out of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday), Unspoken was exactly what I was hoping for from the next Sarah Rees Brennan book.
Book: The City's Son
Author: Tom Pollock
Published: September 8, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Beth Bradley loves London. She runs the streets of her city at night, spreading her artwork with her faithful best friend Pen. But there's another London underneath the one she knows, one where the statues and lightbulbs and the very rubbish of the streets are alive, and powerful.
One night after a terrible betrayal, Beth runs headlong into the magic of her city, in the form of a boy. Not just any boy, mind you. This is Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets, whose mother is the incarnation of the city itself. But the Goddess is lost and gone, and her mortal enemy, Reach, is gaining power.
Beth gets sucked into a power struggle between Filius and Reach. In the process, she discovers the beauty, and the danger, of the city she's always loved.
A lot of books claim to be urban fantasy, and really just mean "chick in leather fighting vampires." This is truly urban fantasy, where the city itself is as wild and weird a landscape as any that George R.R. Martin ever dreamed up. Is there anybody who's ever lived in a city and not believed that it was alive? Not just because of the people in it, but the city itself. Pollock has harnessed that instinctive fantasy, brought it to life, and thrown it into political turmoil as pitched and white-hot as any human war.
The reason I kept picking up my e-reader to finish this book was the atmosphere. Sure, there's a pulse-pounding plot, and yes, Beth is pretty awesome, and true, there's a compelling subplot about her best friend. But truly, it was Pollock's imagination at work, sucking me in. There's something downright magical in his descriptions of sentient lightbulb spirits made of glass, coldly efficient chemical beings, and statues that house living, unwillingly immortal souls.
Not only is every detail of the city imbued with its own animus, there are complex politics at work, making every character or group of creatures a wild card in Filius and Beth's struggle against Reach. For my part, I can't wait to see how everything plays out in the rest of this proposed trilogy.
View Next 25 Posts
Book: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
On Rollrock Island, there are no girls, and the women are beautiful, eerie, sad creatures.There's a good reason for that, as they're not women at all, but selkies, stolen from the sea to be the wives of the Rollrock men.
It wasn't always like this. Once there were human women, and human girls too, on Rollrock. Then the witch Misskaella conjured the first sea-wife from a seal-skin, and gradually all the human women left in protest as their men turned to beautiful,
This book furnishes a lot to think about. Clearly it's saying a lot to a feminist viewpoint. The men pick a seal almost at random, the witch produces a girl from it, and they give her a name, put clothes on her, and take her home. There's no element of choice, and very little acknowledgement that this might be an undesirable situation for anybody. Yet the men know their wives have no real ties to their land-life, because they lock away the seal-skins that would allow the selkies to return to the sea that is their real home. It's easy to demonize them.
On the other hand, they're ensnared by the promise of easy love and the illusion of owning something mysterious and otherworldly. A selkie imprints on the man who takes her from the sea, totally trusting and dependent. As hideous as this is for the women, you can see how beguiling it is for the men. Human relationships are tricky, thorny things. How many of us would really (now be honest) turn down the promise of a spouse who loves and pledges to you at first sight?
Not to mention, this is a situation that feeds on itself like a snake eating its own tail. Girls born of the sea-wives can't survive on land, so they're given back to the sea (to be seals, not to drown, lest this be an even darker book). With the human women leaving in disgust and protest, this means that there is no option for a wife and family unless you turn to the witch and ask her for one. Within a generation, this becomes the way things are, and that's much harder to change than an individual outrage.
This is a book that doesn't really have one central character. You could rightly argue that the main character is the community of Potshead itself. It produced the scorned and spiteful Misskaella, who knows what she is doing to the community and keeps doing it anyway because it is her power and her revenge. Yet it also produces Daniel Mallett, the half-selkie boy who becomes aware of the monstrosity of the island tradition and vows to do something about it.
Like Lanagan's previous book, Tender Morsels, this book is full of complexities and terrible human emotions, and no easy answers anywhere. It won't be for everyone, but those who do pick it up and stick with it will find much to think about.