Tag Archives: family

‘Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You’ – Or Is It?

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowy

mePlot: 8/20                                       

The story centers on Darren and his life; his parents’ divorce, his distanced relationship with his best friend and his brother moving away to Ann Arbor to study. My issue with this kind of story is that there aren’t enough plot points and obstacles to keep the reader reading. For such a long story, there isn’t anything compelling the reader to continue on past the first 100 pages. It becomes a battle to finish it rather than a pleasure. The story is an average, basic one.

Narration: 12/20

The narrative framework is something else though – a novel told in lists. The concept drew me in and once you get about ten or so pages into the story, you can lose yourself for a hundred pages or so. Many of the lists are tangential and while this gives the story an interesting quality, it also detracts from plot and character. It reads as more of an attempt to play with literary devices than an opportunity to tell a story. This kind of tangential referencing is fantastic for building character in certain instances but overall, it weakens the story. Realistically, it adds an additional and unnecessary 200 pages to a very long-winded novel.

Character: 7/20

Darren’s character comes through loud and clear and I actually kind of like him up until his Dad comes out and he completely loses it. I get it; he’s upset and confused and constantly questioning his parents and their marriage but at the same time, it’s over-exaggerated and I couldn’t invest any more of my time in him past this point. And it just got worse as the novel went on. Nate was interesting in the beginning but his character wavers so much that he reads like a different character in each scene. The parents are OK for the roles that they’re playing; except maybe the father who’s a bit like a Parenting-101 counselor. I like Zoey but again, there’s isn’t much different about her that I haven’t seen before.

Quality of Writing: 13/20

The writing is great because it’s episodic and Hasak-Lowy manages to infuse character into his lists which I give him credit for. If he had trimmed it back a bit, it would have worked a lot better. Sometimes, the lists run on too long and become chapters, making it difficult to remember what the respective list is about.

Setting: 7/10

The fact that Hasak-Lowy can anchor us in Ann Arbor and Chicago, while writing a novel in lists, is pretty incredible, and much to his merit. It would have worked a lot better if he cut back on some of the lists and let character, setting and the story flow rather than washing us in a muddled tidal wave of all three where we find it difficult to clearly identify where we are, who the key players are and what’s going on. I Google-mapped Ann Arbor and looked at how long the journey is from Chicago. It’s about five hours or thereabouts but what I find interesting, is how badly conveyed and unclear this is in the story.

Comparative Literature: 4/10

The most interesting aspect of the novel is the lists but this is much to the detriment of story and character. It doesn’t offer anything new, apart from what appears to be a gimmick. John Green’s Paper Towns gives us Margo Roth Spiegelman, a mysterious yet humorous character and while the story has its faults, Q’s reaction to her disappearance is appropriate. Darren’s reaction to his Dad coming out is INSANE. I actually cannot imagine anyone acting like that, regardless of the circumstances. It’s supposed to be a coming-of-age novel but when you compare it to its contemporaries, it doesn’t stack up. I’m the first to criticize John Green’s work but he gets you invested and interested in his characters. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has some character issues but overall, it’s a superior caliber of story.

Overall Score: 51/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Slate it: It’s too long-winded and tangential to really invest your time and develop an emphatic to Darren. The unique selling point of this novel is also the final nail in its metaphorical coffin.

Books You May Also Like:

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – a humorous, coming-of-age story that explores romance, sexuality and friendship

Paper Towns by John Green – a story of love, lies and mysteries

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – a profound story exploring sexuality, drugs, alcohol and depression

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‘Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda’ Flies The Flag For Diversity

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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Plot: 17/20                                              

On a microscopic level, it’s a story about a teenage boy “coming out”, not just to his friends and his family but to the world. When we zoom out, we see that it’s so much more than that. It’s about life and love; friendship and family; and ultimately, the unbreakable bonds that connect us as homo sapiens. The scene where Simon tells us that the story has very little to do with him and more to do with the people in his life really sums up the premise of the novel beautifully. When Simon is blackmailed by a classmate, he must help him if he wants to keep his sexuality a secret. Meanwhile, there’s Blue; a guy that Simon falls madly in love with and will do anything to protect. It’s a funny story, chronicling the ups and downs of everyday, teenage life. My only critique is that the author makes the identity of Blue all too predictable and so it takes some of the magic out of it for me. I think Albertalli could have also pushed the story a bit further in ways but overall, the plot is great and we’re finally starting to see the emergence of LGBT YA as a mainstream genre with universal appeal.

Narration: 18/20

Simon’s narration is generally spot-on. There are times when his perspective feels a bit stilted and generic, particularly at the beginning of the novel. Words like “freaking”/“fucking”/“fuckstorm”/“holy box of awkwardness”/“goober”/“goddamn”/“hell” make him come across as a bit of a caricature but luckily, he straddles the line so carefully that for the most part, it’s not an issue but when it is an issue, it’s like being hit by an eighty-miles-an-hour wind in December. Still, you can’t take away from the humorous narrative voice:

“So maybe it’s the winter air of maybe it’s soccer boy calves, but after everything that’s happened today, I’m actually in a pretty decent mood.”

Character: 18/20

There’s a lively cast of characters and even better, there’s tension and chemistry between them. The Leah-Abby-Nick triangle affects the other characters. Nick is great as the quiet musician. We see different sides to Marty; both vulnerability and a funnier, goofier side. We see the evolution of Simon’s character from start to finish. I particularly liked Simon’s sisters, Norah and Alice and the scene where Simon is grounded and, wanting to speak to Leah, he makes a deal with his Mom to allow her supervised access to his Facebook account. Seriously? They’re freaking hilarious! Simon has some really clever, witty lines too:

“‘The blondest circle of hell.’”

Quality of Writing: 20/20

Albertalli’s writing lulls you into the story with her easy, understated style. She demonstrates a powerful grasp of the English language while still staying true to what her character would do and say:

  • “So when the school day ends, and nothing extraordinary has happened, it’s a tiny heartbreak. It’s like eleven o’clock on the night of your birthday, when you realize no one’s throwing you a surprise party after all.”
  • “A couple of the girls put some junk in my hair to make it messy, which is basically like putting high heels on a giraffe.”
  • “And cranking Sufjan Stevens at top volume doesn’t solve anything, why is probably why people don’t crank Sufjan Stevens. My stomach is apparently on a spin cycle.”

Setting: 10/10

The story is set in Shady Creek and most of the action takes places at Creekwater High. Albertalli captures the physical settings perfectly but she adds another layer in her references to pop music (Tegan and Sara and Justin Bieber), specific locations (Chick-Fil-A) and gaming (Assassin’s Creed). Furthermore, the e-mails intrigue the reader and these, along with the Tumblr, lends the story a credible modernity.

Comparative Literature: 9/10

The writing is very reminiscent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Is it an original story? Not necessarily but Albertalli infuses the story with a modernity that Alex Sanchez’s and much of David Levithan’s works seem to lack. It’s s standout in its genre and something that will have universal appeal; it’s a story that will reach out to many teens, regardless of sexuality. Personally, I give Albertalli two-thumbs-up for managing for making something that could have been extremely niche, so universal.

Overall Score: 92/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: The words are the wrapping paper, the characters are the gift and somewhere in between lie the kernels of truth of the everyday life.

Books You May Also Like:

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – for an LGBT story infused with character and humor

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger – a funny LGBT story that explores the sexuality and the social minefield

Rainbow Boys by David Sanchez – a coming-of-age story about three boys, their secrets and betrayals

The Perks of Being a Wallflower for that same easy readability

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – for a story about two different Will Graysons that encompasses hope, serendipity and love

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April 10, 2015 · 7:53 am

‘The Humans’ Is A Work of Vonnadorian Art

The Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans

Plot: 20/20 

Our hero, Professor Andrew Martin, is dead before the book even begins. As it turns out, though, he wasn’t a very nice man – as the alien imposter who now occupies his body discovers. Sent to Earth to destroy evidence that Andrew had solved a major mathematical problem – and the people who know about it,, the alien soon finds himself learning more about the professor, his family, and “the humans” than he ever expected. When he begins to fall for his own wife and son – who have no idea he’s not the real Andrew – the alien must choose between completing his mission and returning home or finding a new home right here on Earth.

The story is fantastic, interwoven with the impostor Andrew Martin’s voice who is challenged by the simplest, everyday tasks. Everything is a discovery and the journey is gradual. There’s tension, laughs and tragedy. It grips you from page one right to the end.

Narrative: 20/20

The narrative voice is sharp and consistent throughout. Everything about the new world is a new and tangible experience. The reader is in on the joke but the Vonnadorian doesn’t understand the culture in which he has been immersed. The gradual development of independent thought and emotion change the narrative voice, making it more intimate and vulnerable.

Character: 20/20

I love the impostor. Everything that comes out of his mouth his hilarious. Haig makes it difficult to immediately like him. The deceased Andrew’s wife and son, Gulliver, are great and the chemistry that’s created between the impostor and Andrew’s family adds another element to the journey, especially since we get to see his transformative power on the family unit. Vonnadorian humour:

  • “He was also quite rotund, as if he didn’t want to watch football but become one.”
  • “The lack of geometric imagination was startling. There was not as much as a decagon in sight. Though I didn notice that some of the buildings were larger and – relatively speaking – more ornately designed than others. Temples to the orgasm, I imagined.”

Quality of Writing: 20/20 

The writing, though told by an alien, is very human and touching. It’s funny as he comes to terms with the human race and the differences between species; tragic, at times; and ultimately, touching when we realize how much he has come to love the very people that he was tasked with killing:

“’Now,’ she said, ‘I would like to start by asking you something very simple. I’ve been wondering if you’ve been under any pressure recently?’ I was confused. What kind of pressure? Gravitational? Atmospheric? ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A lot. Everywhere, there is some kind of pressure.’ It seemed like the right answer.”

Setting: 10/10 

Haig sets the scene in Cambridge and we get a real sense of where we are through what what we see and hear. It’s not so much this that intrigues me as the other world – Vonnadoria. The comparisons to the other world pique our curiosity and tease it out without ever saying exactly what it is. Haig is able to conjure up an image of the impostor’s world with parameters and a new lexicon without us ever having to visit it in the story:

  • “I must say it was kind of a relief – given the dimensions of the room – to realise they knew what a circle was.”
  • “The sound was very melancholy somehow, like the bass rumble of a sleepy Bazadean.”
  • “’We’ve established that,’ the officer said, who kept his eyebrows low and close, like doona-birds in mating season.”
  • “I ate the vegetable stir-fry. It smelt like Bazadean body waste.”

Comparative Literature: 10/10

In a market flooded with vampires other paranormals, it’s nice to see an author tackle aliens thorough a playful lens. The closest comparison I can make is to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I’m sure many people will have read. If you enjoyed that, then The Humans is right up your alley. Haig’s writing has carved him a deserving space on the YA shelves.

Overall Score: 100/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: This book is sharp and witty with a story that will play hockey with your emotions.

Books You May Also Like:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – if you liked the mix of humor with science fiction

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April 2, 2015 · 12:04 pm

‘My Heart and Other Black Holes’ Sucks You In

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

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Plot: 20/20 

I think this is one of the most interesting takes that we can expect this year from YA. My Heart is a stunning debut that deals with suicide and depression and unlike many other books in the genre, it opens up a can of worms that actually spends time developing and giving the reader a sense of resolution and conclusion. It tells the story of a boy, Roman, and a girl, Aysel, who, both for very different reasons, are planning to commit suicide together but as Aysel and Roman share more of their broken lives with each other, Aysel starts to realize the gravity of her decision.  Can she sway Roman to her side or is he fated to die? The idea is dark and edgy and that’s actually what drew me to it. It’s definitely NOT for the faint-hearted.

Narration: 17/20

The narrative style is spot-on with Aysel describing her situation and capturing the essence of depression perfectly. I will say that it’s a bit inconsistent at times. We get lots of character-infused commentary but it comes in sparks:

The woman running the booth holds up one thin finger to indicate he scored a point. Thanks for that. We can count one. We’re suicidal, not innumerate.

I’d like to have seen it pushed a little bit more.

Character: 18/20

I like Aysel and I can understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. I don’t agree with it but I can understand her thinking. I want to shout at her and tell her to stop so I guess, Warga has done her job in getting me to connect to her protagonist and building an emphatic link, which is key to the subject matter. There’s a handful of characters to remember and recognise, making it easier to retain information and focus on Aysel and Roman. I like that the chemistry builds slowly between Aysel and Roman and it never gets overly clichéd. Roman’s reactions towards the end seem a bit forced when he’s with her. I’m not sure I buy into it or the language he uses but overall, no major character flaws.

Quality of Writing: 20/20 

Not much needs to be said. It’s written beautifully but if you need evidence:

  • “Sometimes I wonder if my heart is a black hole it’s so dense that there’s no room for light, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t suck me in.”
  • “I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention. Maybe that’s what love really boils down to – having someone who cares enough to pay attention so that you’re encouraged to travel and transfer, to make your potential energy spark into kinetic energy. Maybe all anyone ever needs is for someone to notice them, to observe them. And I notice Roman.
  • “Something inside me clicks. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life fiddling with a complicated combination only to discover I was toying with the wrong lock. And now, the vault inside of me that contains all of my secrets is swinging open and I feel this rush of blood swell in my chest.
  • “Something inside me sways like a rocking chair in an empty room – it’s both lonely and comfortable.”
  • “We both know a letter, a story, is inside, but right now neither one of us is brave enough to break the seal.”

Warga selects metaphors that are simple to grasp but reinforce Aysel’s characters; her black hole reference above perfectly sums up the way that she’s feeling and makes it easier for the reader to understand what Aysel is struggling with.

Setting: 10/10 

Warga’s language is sensory; she sets the scene through community, geographically and through the smells and tastes of her town:

  • “My car glides down Willis’ main drag. It’s full of painted Victorian-style houses that have been transformed into cutesy businesses – the Creamy Whip, an ice cream shop; the Fried Egg, a breakfast diner; Suds and Bubbles, a Laundromat.
  • “On certain days, you smell bourbon in the air, the sweet rye coming from a distillery that’s a few miles away, but today, I only smell mud and damp grass.”

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

For me, the best book on the theme of suicide is Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. It’s beautifully dark and tragically haunting. You can almost hear Hannah’s ghostly voice ringing in your ears. Warga’s My Heart rivals this. She takes a different angle on the subject and plots it out perfectly. It adds something new to the genre and as readers, that’s exactly what we want.

Overall Score: 95/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: Dark, tragic and gripping –  one of the stand-out YA debuts of 2015.

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jas Asher – for another gripping story that will leave you in tears

Undone by Cat Clarke – a powerful story of revenge and suicide that will have you at the edge of your seat

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Me and Mr. J

Me and Mr. J by Rachel McIntyre

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Plot: 20/20 

Lara, an upbeat girl, is a social outcast at school. Her only friend has deserted her, the bullying is getting worse and between this and family drama, Lara fixates on Mr. J – the only beacon of hope in her life.

I read twenty pages of this and I honestly thought, Holly Smale’s Geek Girl. I loved Smale’s Harriet Manners, that her story was infused with humour and a roller-coaster adventure of self-discovery. But when Lara’s iPod gets smashed, that changes everything. She’s spat on, she suffers verbal and physical abuse and somehow, she manages to find a glimmer of hope. The story is a realistic one that a lot of bullied kids will relate to; a story that’s equal parts dark and light with laughs and love. I can’t fault the plot. The idea isn’t original but the execution is fantastic.  

Narration: 20/20 

The narrative style is a diary format. It’s personal and the emotion flows of the pages and sucker punches you in the face. The intimate style makes the weight of the emotions and the emphatic connection (to Lara) makes it that much easier to laugh at the humour and persevere through the hideous bullying and all-round isolation both in her school and home life.

 Character: 20/20 

Lara is an incredibly likeable character who’s observations heightens the characters of those in her life. Take her Gran, for example. Lara makes her five a day and makes a follow-up quip about it being about her gin units rather than fruit and veg. Lara, herself, is fascinating. When Lara imagines her dream life with Emma, she paints an ideal picture but with some cracks – the windows rattle with the wind. It’s a further demonstration of Lara’s hopeful make-lemonade-with-lemons, make-the-best-o-what-you-have attitude. She dreams about a successful life in which she’ll repair her parent’s marriage and so on.

Here’s some of my favourite moments:

  • “My internal monologue went like this: Firstly, I don’t have any friends, not even Chloe. And secondly, FYI, Mum, Molly is a ‘nice girl’ in the same way Hitler was a ‘real sweetie’.”
  • “But then instead of staying quiet and walking off (sensible option), I carried on not alone digging my own grave, but picking the flowers, talking to the vicar and writing the eulogy (metaphorically speaking).”
  • “Bet Molly hasn’t told him she gets mega-minging cold sores though. (Cue advert voice: Herpes – the Valentine’s gift he’ll keep forever.)
  • “Molly whispering to a few of her fellow Slytherins.”
  • “Seriously, it’s the equivalent of trying to put a bonfire out with petrol.”
  • “Successfully disguising my own personal animosity, I pointed the fat bastard up the stairs.”
  • “Where do they recruit bus drivers? Jobs4knobs.com?”
  • “Mikaela is so dumb, her brain couldn’t find the right answer if you gave it a compass and a fifteen-minute head start.”

Quality of Writing: 20/20 

Lara’s witticisms are sharp and funny. McIntyre’s dramatisation of detail constantly  and consistently reflects Lara’s character (which few YA writers can manage):

“She was sitting behind a desk the size of Belgium.”

Setting: 10/10 

The story is set in Huddersfield. I’ve never been though it’s set up nicely. The detail is dramatized in the story. It’s easy to pick up the information and it’s reinforced subtly throughout with pound shop references and the like:

“This is Huddesfield, not Hollywood. You can’t wave a mascara wand and abracadabra, Lara’s the Prom Princess.”

Lara’s reference to the things she’ll be able to do when she turns sixteen firmly sets the story in the 2010s:

“And (according to the Gospel of Wikpedia) sell scrap metal. (Er, fab).”

Comparative Literature: 10/10

As I’ve already said, the story reminds me of Holly Smale’s Geek Girl. Smale’s character is arguably stronger, as much of a social outcast and we root for her because of the way she’s treated. The story is, as funny if not funnier but, and there is a huge BUT, McIntyre weaves a darker story that she lightens with moments of hope and laughter. Me and Mr. J matches the humour of Smale’s Geek Girl and the heart and hopefulness of Maya in Popular.

Overall Score: 100/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: A dark and sometimes difficult read, told by a character that demands your attention. A fantastic YA debut.

Books You May Also Like:

Geek Girl by Holly Smale – for another story of a social-misfit-turned-model with love and laughs along the way 

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen – for an honest, brave memoir delving into the meaning of popularity

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March 20, 2015 · 6:02 pm

Paper Towns: Paper or Plastic?

Paper Towns by John Green

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Plot: 12/20

Quentin – Q – a teenage boy agrees, to help his childhood crush, Margo Roth Spiegelman, on an all-night road trip of revenge. Along the way, old feelings arise but in the morning, Margo has disappeared and in her wake, she’s left a breadcrumb trail of clues for Q to follow.

The plot is simple, like most of Green’s novels but here, it works. I love the revenge road-trip and how the events let the chemistry build between Q and Margo. I like the “paper towns” idea, how Green weaves it into his fictional story and gives the plot more depth and summed up perfectly by Margo:

“It’s a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm… All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too.”

I don’t buy the whole, Margo-leaves-and-the-school-goes-to-hell scenario. It makes it sound like she’s the glue that holds everything together and she’s not. She’s not even missed when she’s missing. Jasper Hanson suddenly turns into a bully with her disappearance – WTF? In the countdown hours of their road trip, Q documents that he’s sleeping (“I sleep”) but how could you do this if you’re asleep. I’m splitting hairs but it doesn’t make sense. Overall, the story is building towards something but it never really gets there. The conclusion deflates the tension and the mystery and completely punctures the story.

Narration: 13/20

The first-person narrative style is intimate. I prefer it to third-person in these sorts of stories that encompass social issues like depression, suicide, alcoholism, sexuality, racism and so on. The narrative voice works well in all of Green’s stories though I feel at times that the voice breaks down in parts and reminds me of someone much older rather than a teenage boy that’s a bit mature for his age. With the company he keeps, we still have to believe he’s a teenage boy at heart and not a man in his late-twenties. The voice is also inconsistent, particularly in the middle and concluding parts.

Character: 8/20

The most defining characteristic of Ben is his use of the word “honeybunnies” which grates on your nerves every few pages. The most memorable part of Radar’s character is his name. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters in the story, with the excpetion of Margo (and maybe Q but only for the initial part of the story when he’s with Margo) I love Margo. Again, she’s like Alaska in Looking for Alaska. She’s like the Sun and the other characters are planets and minor stars orbiting around. She is sharp and funny, cute but cunning:

  • “”[B]ut with the Vaseline, you want the one that’s bigger than your fist. There’s like a Baby  Vaseline, then there’s a Mommy Vaseline, and then there’s a big fat  Daddy of a Vaseline, and that’s the one you want. If they don’t have that, then, get like, three of the Mommies.””
  • “”We’re not going to break anything. Don’t think of it as breaking into SeaWorld. Think of it as visiting SeaWorld in the middle of the night for free.””
  • “”Ninjas don’t splash other ninjas,” Margo complained.

             “The true ninja doesn’t make a splash at all.”

             “Ooh, touché.”

A wildcard through and through though it has to be said, she’s a clone of Alaska in Looking for Alaska. She’s the driving force of the story and her involvement raises the stakes, the risk and ultimately, the excitement for the reader. The other characters are fine, all a bit same-same both in the story and in Green’s other novels. Margo is the measure for characterization. Compared to her, the other characters seem a bit flat and one-dimensional:

  • “I wrote on the corner of my notebook: Compared to those freshmen, I spent the  morning in a field of rainbows frolicking with puppies.
  • “Radar nudged me with one of the beer cups. “Look at our Ben! He’s some sort of autistic savant when it comes to keg stands.”” Apparently, the characters are as eloquent when they’re drunk as when they’re stone cold sober. Interesting.

Q could easily be replaced by Looking for Alaska‘s Miles or An Abundance of Katherines‘ Colin. Green does clone-characterization like no other.

Quality of Writing: 10/20

I like the writing and the quips aren’t all cringe-tastic. It annoys me that the contractions that are used (it’s, instead of it is; I’d, instead of I would) aren’t carried the whole way through the story. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not but it raises the question of consistency. The language is a bit OTT in places. Some of the phrases are questionable and Green has a tendency to spoon-feed the reader. Information overkill.

Setting: 10/10

Green’s dramatization of detail and scene-setting is incredible and what’s more, it doesn’t take us out of the moment. I’ve been to Orlando five times and the descriptions of Sea World and International Drive and the references to alligators are spot-on, anchoring the story in a particular place.

Comparative Literature: 5/10

The story is an improvement on Looking for Alaska and I much prefer Margo to Alaska. I do feel as though Green can’t write different characters in the way other authors can. His ideas differ but essentially, his characters all fall under the same, small umbrella. Gayle Forman demonstrates versatility and evolution of character between If I Stay (Mia) and I Was Here (Cody). Green shares similar problems to Stephen Chbosky’s Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Where Charlie reads as being much younger (due to his spontaneous crying), Q reads as being considerably older. The Orlando setting is concrete and the dramatization of scenic and communal detail cannot be faulted much like Forman’s Washington setting in I Was Here.

Overall Score: 58/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: Despite the sameness between Green’s titles, Margo is the element of “dark play” that increase the risk and raises the stakes. If you haven’t read any of Green’s titles before, I would suggest this one as a starting and finishing point.

Books You May Also Like:

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – delves deeper into the suicide theme and delivers on story and character

Looking for Alaska by John Green – though not as executed as well as Paper Towns, this story is a good read and the narrative-countdown technique piques the reader’s interest

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – an interesting story with themes of abuse and mental health delivered more subtly than the two, previous recommended reads

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March 12, 2015 · 8:23 am

‘The Age Of Miracles’ Is Upon Us

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

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Plot: 12/20

An ordinary girl. An ordinary boy. An invisible catastrophe.

When the Earth’s rotation starts to slow, longer days and nights are the least of the world’s worries as the Earth, as they know it, irrevocably changes. In the chaos, Julia and Seth find their very own unknown. I should start by saying that I generally hate end-of-the-world/apocalypse/eco-disaster books. I read the synopsis and dread the thoughts of reading them but this one surprised me. Cleverly crafted, the Earth’s rotation might be the driving force of the book but it’s the effects it has on Julia and her community that are foregrounded. The “slowing” feels unnecessary though and the ending is unsatisfying. The story focuses on the breakdown of relationships and coming together (in other instances) but the ending does not deal with the can of worms it opens. Furthermore, I feel as though an explanation of why scientists didn’t see this coming might have given the premise more weight.

Narration: 16/20

Julia narrates the story, framing it in an adolescent’s viewpoint, describing everything in poetic detail and relaying the events proceeding the first news broadcast. I love her observations and perception of her changing world:

  • “I heard the click and creak of the liquor cabinet, the clinking of ice in a glass.”
  • “Bouquets of fine wrinkles fanned out from her eyes.”

She exhibits flashes of humour:

  • “There was a lot to learn about the care of hair and skin. There was a proper way to hold a cigarette. A girl wasn’t born knowing how to give a handjob.”

She can ratchet up the tension:

  • “We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue.”

Despite all of these good points, I feel as though Julia could have demonstrated more of her character in her observations. In a crowded market, the narration is sharp but with a character infusion, it could have really set it apart from the competition.

Character: 14/20

I like the cast of characters. Julia’s voice, like many of the others, definitely could have been pushed even further. She’s an observer; something of a fly-on-the-wall but I feel as though she could be much more. I find the mother and father believable. I’m particularly intrigued by the father. He seems to be one thing one minute, but he changes dramatically when the “slowing” occurs.

Quality of Writing: 18/20

The writing is beautiful and evocative. There’s not much more to say except maybe give a few examples:

  • “I missed Hanna like a phantom limb.”
  • “Every morning officials announced the minutes gained overnight, like raindrops collected in pans.”

Setting: 10/10

Set in a suburb in California, it’s the subtle ways that Walker shows this that make it an easy read:

“A familiar breeze was blowing in from the direction of the sea… The eucalyptus trees were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind…”

And how Walker weaves the evolution of Julia’s world into the everyday relationships and happenings of her community. We get an image of the fairgrounds and in particular, the description of the Ferris wheel stands out, its last remaining bucket likened to the last red leave before autumn.

Comparative Literature: 6/10

It’s difficult to compare this to other YA books as it’s a more subtle story, combining a dystopian element with romance, relationships and human nature. The dystopian element is simplistic but it works for this story that it comes across as wholly unnecessary. It lacks the complexity of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. The dystopian elements of these stories are pivotal to their plots. That’s not really the case with The Age of Miracles. It’s the breakdown of relations and the exploration of human behaviour that fascinates me and the “slowing” serves as nothing more than a backdrop that is never properly dealt with.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Funny and gripping observations that ratchet up the tension
  • An interesting dystopian concept though one that does not deal with the can of worms that it opens
  • An coming-of-age story that contrasts the coming together of family with the breakdown of relationships

Overall Score: 76/100

Books You May Also Like:

Wonder by R. J. Palacio – a heart-warming story with memorable characters that will resonate with a universal audience

Gone by Michael Grant – the disappearance of adults and development of supernatural powers sets the backdrop for this story about struggle, loyalty and friendship

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – a story about community and the struggles and secrets that threaten it

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January 28, 2015 · 12:37 pm

Gayle Forman Strikes Gold With ‘I Was Here’

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Plot: 20/20

When Cody’s best friend, Meg, takes her own life, Cody is left with a hole that she’s unable to fill. She is consumed by her friend’s death. In a nutshell: the beginning hooks you; the middle won’t let you go and the ending will have you waiting with bated breath to see how it all goes down. The plot is P-E-R-F-E-C-T-I-O-N.

Narration: 20/20

Cody narrates the story, feeding us little bits about Meg and her life while simultaneously chronicling her own grief and how she processes it. I love the personality we get with Cody’s voice and what’s more, I feel like I’m reading a journal, something so real and tangible like I was there when it unfolded. It’s nothing short of a beautiful, authentic narrative and here’s one of my favourite moments:

“I used to spend so much time at Meg’s house that I could tell what kind of mood Sue was in by what I smelled when I walked through the door. Butter meant baking, which meant she was melancholy and needed cheering. Spicy meant she was happy and making hot Mexican food, for Joe, even though it hurt her stomach. Popcorn meant that she was in bed, in the dark, not cooking anything, and Meg and Scottie were left to their own devices…”

Character: 20/20

Cody carries the story and that’s OK. Her voice is so strong and it sticks with you long after you read it. Ben is spot-on as the romantic element though he doesn’t come off as unnecessary. He feels like a central part of the story. Alice, Stoner Richard, Scottie, the Garcias – Forman knows how to craft and create characters that fit in perfectly with her world.

Quality of Writing: 20/20

I devoured this book. It’s a compulsive read. I loved everything about this book but especially, that the sentences Forman strings together are quotable and memorable:

Setting: 10/10

Forman anchors the reader in physical places like Tacoma, Washington but also manages to infuse them with personality and captures a communal atmosphere that it resonates with this reader

Comparative Literature: 10/10

When I first read the synopsis, I wondered if it was just another author jumping on the suicide bandwagon (much like what’s happened to dystopian fiction in recent years). But I was wrong. This is an emotional and striking story about the search for redemption. Cody is as strong (if not, a stronger,) narrator than John Green’s Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars. The plot is a lot more sound too. It grips you and takes you on Cody’s rollercoaster journey in the way Jay Asher does in 13 Reasons Why. It goes beyond just being a story of suicide, instead looking at redemption, much in the way Cat Clarke’s Undone does, with revenge. I Was Here is poignant and tragic. It will make you laugh and possibly make you cry but one thing’s for sure, this story will stick with you. Having recently read If I Stay and Where She Went, this might be Forman’s best work; a sheer master class in storytelling. A must-read for 2015.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Cody brings the story to life, building on the present and telling us about her past with a dry, sarcastic personality
  • An expertly-woven world with a real sense of community
  • A story with layers that does not focus solely on suicide and deals with this issue instead of dismissing it like so many other YA novels

Overall Score: 100/100

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – a haunting story of a young girl’s suicide, told through tapes to the thirteen people that led her to her fate

If I Stay by Gayle Forman – a good read though it’s easier to gel with Cody as a narrator than with Mia

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – the story of a terminal, cancer patient and her newfound lease on life

Undone by Cat Clarke – a tragic story of a teenager’s suicide and his friend’s quest for vengeance against those who caused it

 

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January 16, 2015 · 12:11 pm

Tape Needs To Be Taped Over

Tape by Steven Camden

Tape

Plot: 9/20

Tape is a story of past and present; of love and loss; of friendship and family. It holds such promise but the pages don’t contain very much and it becomes one of those books that you just want to finish and get to the end rather than savour the story and enjoy each scene. The idea of a cassette tape connecting two different generations is great but it feels like the story hinges on this and as a result, it dissolves into a very basic and boring plot. There was nothing compelling me to read to the end. The chapter endings and actual conclusion is clichéd. It’s not strong enough to compete in the YA market as a love story. It becomes a sort of novel idea and less of a story.

Narration: 10/20

The third-person narration is very basic. I would have liked to see first-person narration from Ameliah’s and Ryan’s points of view. The story would have felt more personal and maybe then, we would have felt more character coming through in the narrative voice. It’s not bad and it’s not good. It’s middle-of-the-road and undercuts the characterization.

Character: 8/20

I struggled with the characters. There wasn’t one character I felt like I could relate to or like. There was something missing – a spark of life – from each of the characters that prevented them from leaping off the page and coming to life. Ameliah was bland. Ryan was very vanilla – much like his daughter. I guess the real issue was that they all felt like caricatures; characters that were all cut from the same mould.

Quality of Writing: 7/20

There was nothing spectacular about the writing. It was average with nothing memorable to hold on to. I wanted something personal or poetic and what I got instead was a sort of formulaic writing style that bored me five pages in. The over-reliance on sight didn’t help and a change-up in the sensory detail would have been a welcome breath of fresh air.

Setting: 3/10

There were little clues to locations but I wanted more detail filtered into the story, anchoring us in a finite place. At times, it felt like we could have been anywhere. Ryan’s and Eve’s back gardens are supposed to be these special places but there was nothing that really made them special. It would have been nice to see or smell something that linked the places together and reminded him of Eve.

Comparative Literature: 3/10

Apart from the cassette tape, there is nothing new here. The characters are flat. The story is dull. The narration is basic. It doesn’t compare to other YA romances. Marie Lu’s Prodigy trilogy puts a twist on the romance element by pitting her two characters together (June falling in love with, and hunting down her brother’s killer, Day). Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series demonstrates first-rate world-building and a rollercoaster romance that oscillates between taboo and temptation. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars delivers an emotional suckerpunch as his story deals with the realities of cancer and romance between two funny and relatable characters.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Characters that felt like they’d been brought to life with cake cutters
  • Locations that felt like they could have been anywhere in England
  • A nice idea but impossible to lose yourself in the story

Overall Score: 40/100

Books You May Also Like:

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg – if you want a story about finding love in the most unexpected of places

The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne – if you’re after that creative twist that Tape teases

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss – an emotional story of past and present; of coming to terms with maternal loss and moving forwards

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December 12, 2014 · 4:46 pm

‘Made For You’ Needs To Be Treated As A Hit-And-Run

Made For You by Melissa Marr

Made For You

Plot: 5/20

Eva wakes up in hospital after becoming the victim of a hit-and-run. After her release, she gets visions of her friends being murdered. And then, the visions play out and the body count rises in the sleepy town of Jessup. Nate, an old friend, offers to help but the killer will stop at nothing to get to Eva.

It has the makings of a page-turner, no?

Great idea but poor execution. The pivotal moments are drawn-out and the tension is undercut by a shoddy storytelling technique. The synopsis sets up a standard that the writing doesn’t live up to. Eva takes so many risks towards the conclusion that I wonder if they’re even plausible. Would the police – would her family – allow her to race after her murderer? Would they not be following her? Would her house not be monitored? Are Marr’s fictional police force so stereotypically incompetent that they allow another girl to be kidnapped? Minimum marks for (wasted) potential.

Narration: 4/20

The narration is car-crash bad. The story is told by three narrators: Eva, her friend, Grace, and Judge, the one who wants her dead. Let me break it down:

  • Eva is a bland narrator and without an infusion of personality, it’s hard to care either about the story or her, as a character.
  • Grace reads exactly like Eva and I have no idea what she brings to the table. She doesn’t sound different from Eva’s voice and her narration doesn’t give us any vital insight that justifies her point of view in the story.
  • I’m not quite sure why Judge’s voice is included. Filler, maybe? Including his point of view further undercuts the tension of the plot. His voice is weird and creepy although I’m not sure it’s in the way Marr intended. It’s plain difficult to read. And his motive, which drives the story, is a bit out there.

Character: 2/20

Some American YA authors have this really lazy attitude when it comes to characterization that the idea and the story will carry them through and Marr is no exception. I’m not going to go into too much detail here but finding character in Made For You is like trying to find Atlantis.

Quality of Writing: 2/20

It feels like Marr wrote the book in several parts and different stages of her life. There’s no sense of continuity in the words and the whole thing feels contrived. There’s no sense of transition in and out of Eva’s premonitions. They’re clunky and jarred me out of the story:

“She reaches out to brush my cheek, and that’s all it takes. I fall into what looks like a continuation of the same hallucination of Grace I had before.”

Marr’s attempts at humour and character are weak and cringe-worthy:

“He looks aghast, as if I’d just suggested his father was a closeted Democrat.”

When I read a YA book, I expect more from it than Adult Fiction. The word choice was monotonous, overused and dull. With every page, I wanted it to end. I fell asleep reading it because the language induces sleep. I wanted at least one memorable line that would stick with me (like Marie Lu’s Legend, Veronica Roth’s Divergent or E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars) but each word is like someone twisting a knife into my side:

“I feel a wash of happiness at her praise. I am doing well. I’ll be ready when I’m allowed to go home. My parents are here to be tomorrow, and they’ll see that I’m coping fine. I told them as much, and although I know I sounded connvincing, they still suggested we hire a temporary companion for me. I know that this is there way of trying to help, but I haven’t had a sitter since I was eleven. I’m almost eighteen now and I’m very accustomed to being on my own. They’ve never quite known what to do with me. They work hard and succeed, and when they think of it, they stop to say hello to me.”

Marr proves her writing ability to be as repetitious and dull as English weather:

“My mouth feels like it’s filled with something hot and sour.”

It was a painful read and undoubtedly one of the worst YA books I’ve ever read.

Setting: 1/10

The locations – Eva’s bedroom, the hospital (etc.) – feel generic. Jessup is the sort of place I feel like I’ve read about in twenty other YA books. Nothing new. Nothing special. In direct contrast to Marr’s inability to create setting for her scenes, is Gayle Forman’s I Was Here. The dramatization of scene-setting is subtle and sharp but it gives you enough to ground you within Cody’s community.

Comparative Literature: 1/10

Where do I start?

If you’re going to try and experiment with narration, you need to push it. Judge could have been pushed further. If you cover the names, you should be able to tell from the writing who is speaking but that’s near impossible since Eva’s and Grace’s voices both sound as dull and devoid of personality as each other. E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars introduces the unreliable narrator and achieves a result that compels you to listen to Cadence’s story.

If you’re going to do a murder-mystery/thriller, then it really shouldn’t be obvious one hundred pages in, who the killer is. And there should be suspense but Judge’s voice sucks the tension out of the story. Alyxandra Harvey creates atmosphere, earths her story in a particular time and setting that’s easy to grasp and creates a mystery that isn’t so easy to uncover in Haunting Violet.

Though not in the same category per se (and leaning more towards dystopian fiction), James Dashner offers a master-class in suspense and mystery in The Maze Runner. He keeps you on your toes, page after page, right up until the end.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Stereotypical characters that have as much personality as a Big Mac has nutrition
  • Narrators who sound the same and in no way relate to their audience
  • A story would potential but one where the execution could put you to sleep

Overall Score: 15/100

Books You May Also Like:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – a narrator that will keep you on your toes, a story worth investing your time in and an ending that you won’t see coming

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey – a sharp and humorous narrator telling a murder mystery the way it should be told

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November 21, 2014 · 2:33 pm