Tag Archives: friendship

‘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

19547856

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

my heart

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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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

Maybe One Day But Not Today, Or Tomorrow, Or Any Time In The Forseeable Future

Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

9780007544240

Plot: 5/20

The plot isn’t really a plot more than an idea. It’s the idea of a terminally-ill girl and her friend. There’s no real sense of progress towards anything really. The obstacles that Zoe faces don’t challenge or change her. She seems the same on page one and she does on page three-hundred. The last twenty pages are really well-written, with an emotional suckerpunch to the heart but this is a fraction of the novel and not a good indication of the beginning and middle sections of what is a less-than-average delivery.

Narration: 4/20

Zoe’s first-person perspective is off. She gets so consumed by clinical detailing that it becomes more about what everything looks like than dealing with the issues on any deep, or even emotive level. Cancer is the main theme of the story and it serves as a continual crutch in respect of character and plot. But the issue is never properly dealt with. Zoe takes everything in but she doesn’t interpret and process what’s happening. Her voice is generic, at best, a hollowed-out husk that has about as much personality as a bag of chips. Her shift between “Olivia”, “Livvie” and “Livs” is a bit strange too. It feels like the author is more worried about using the same word over and over (even if it is a name), rather than focusing on creating a voice the reader can either relate to, or enjoy.

Character: 4/20

What character? Calvin is initially introduced as a bit of a player/jock. He turns out to be a really sweet guy more because we are told than shown. Zoe shows very little emotional depth. She uses the same old stock habits. Crying. Laughter. It gets a bit mundane before you even get to the one-quarter mark. I felt nothing for Olivia. Kantor does a lousy job at making me empathize with her. I don’t believe she’s a real character. She reads like a caricature, as do all the characters. They’re American stereotypes that cannot process and emote what’s happening around them (particularly Zoe).

Quality of Writing: 3/20

The writing style is  shocking. It’s derivative, monotonous, full of clichés and lacking any memorable phrases. If you can’t make me feel sorry for, or become emotionally involved in the plot, about a terminal girl (with cancer) who’s afraid of dying, then you really have failed spectacularly.

There are some nice analogies that give a glimpse into what Zoe’s characters might be:

  • “I might as well try to cross the Atlantic Ocean on an empty refrigerator box.”
  • “Making out with Calvin Taylor was like one of those car ads: zero to ninety in sixty seconds.”

But these are usually tarnished by moments that are trivial and juvenile for the characterization or too damn long that they take you completely out of the moment and fail to draw you into the story:

  • “I put my hands on my hips and glared at him, and it was like all those times that I managed to contain my anger–all those annoying seat belts and bathroom locks and too-hot Frappucinos that I’d been tolerating for the past several weeks–just exploded.” This comes after Zoe finds out about Olivia’s leukaemia.
  • “”You look like a prom queen,” I told her. “I’m all ‘Take me to your leader.’’” I have big eyes, which I’d always known but which I hadn’t fully appreciated were quite so enormous until I got my pixie cut. I looked exactly like a cartoon drawing of an alien.”

Setting: 3/10

I knew where I was at all times but this is because the author provides pages and pages of scene-setting. It’s unnecessary and it demonstrates the lack of writing and creative ability and highlights a novice writer. The detail needed to be trimmed back and there needed to be more show and less tell.

Comparative Literature: 1/10

There’s nothing special about this story. It feels like any other story. Kantor focuses too much on description and clinical scene-setting that she loses her narrative voice and jeopardizes the emotional connection we have with the characters. John Green’s Hazel Grace, in The Fault in Our Stars, is likeable and we can form an emotional attachment unlike Zoe. Though there are plot holes big enough to walk through, it’s a more complete story. Jodi Picoult pulls on your heartstrings in a way that Kantor can only dream off in My Sister’s Keeper. The story is lost at sea; a story that adds nothing new or fresh to the genre and ultimately, fails in its aim as a tragic story.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Weak, one-dimensional characters
  • A  narrator who doesn’t feel consistent or relatable to a teenage audience
  • A tragic story that doesn’t exactly sadden you

Overall Score: 20/100

Books You May Also Like:

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – a heartbreaking story about cancer and what it does to the family unit

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – a funny and tragic story about a girl’s battle against cancer

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November 7, 2014 · 5:43 am

Truth or Lies in ‘We Were Liars’?

 

 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

liars

Plot: 20/20

The plot centres around Cadence and her accident on Beechwood Island. She has trouble remembering what occurred and the doctors and her mother refuse to help her, telling her that she must remember in her own time. Nothing is quite what it seems. You’ll fall into her world, trying to sort fact from fiction (in a world of fiction – meta-fiction?) and you’ll arrive at an ending that will leave you breathless and completely stunned.

Narration: 20/20

Cadence has a really poetic way of describing things that imbues the narrative with a sort of fluid consistency. The contrast between long and shorter sentences (even sentence fragments) makes it easy to absorb the information. As the unreliable narrator, she adds another dimension to the story. She keeps you on your toes. She forces you to question everything you hear and the story itself will be a completely different experience for each reader.

Character: 20/20

I was fascinated by Cadence. As a character, I warmed to her instantly. I love how Lockhart personifies her emotion throughout the story. The side characters – Johnny, Mirren, Gat, Mummy – are fine. They serve their purpose and I like them and Cadence’s interactions with them but she’s the star. Her fairytale analogies are interesting and relate back to her character but more importantly, they allow us to understand what is happening on another, more emotional level and also allow Cadence to make sense of everything around her.

Quality of Writing: 20/20

The writing style is simple but beautiful. The fairy-tale analogy is one that I have never seen used in a (YA) first-person narrative in a such a way that it is fused to such a distinct, narrative voice. Usually, sentence fragments tend to annoy me but here, and in the only other exception I can think of, Sally Green’s Half-Bad, they work. The nouns-as-adjectives style works well because it’s consistent:

“He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.”

This style of writing literally reflects Cadence’s accident and her ability to recall events.

Some other excerpts that I loved:

  • There is not even a Scrabble word for how bad I feel.”
  • “We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.”
  • “She is sugar, curiosity, and rain.”
  • “I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools.”

Setting: 10/10

Beechwood Island is a fantastic, vivid setting. There’s a map before you read the story though you won’t need it. Lockhart captures the detail of the family home in sharp, succinct detail. Though Cadence contradicts herself with other detailing, Lockhart manages to bring the island to life from her perspective which is truly a remarkable feat.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

I’ve never read a book with an unreliable narrator but it is not this alone that makes this book stand out. It’s a single element and it’s this, mixed with the sentence structures, the unique descriptions, the poetic snapshots of the scenes and Cadence’s world and her relationship with the Liars. It’s a story about family and friendship; one of greed and money; lies and truth; love and loss.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Poetic writing style
  • An interesting slant on traditional narration
  • A story that will touch your heart
  • A character that you can’t help but empathize with (though you might find your empathy will be strained at times)

Overall Score: 100/100

Books You May Also Like:

Half-Bad by Sally Green – though the content is world’s apart (literally), the story-telling ability and narrative structures are quite similar

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – I include this here because the connection I had with Cadence, is similar to the one I had with Forman’s narrator, Cody. Also, behind the story, lies a sort-of-mystery, much like Lockart’s tale (***Publishes in January 2015***)

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The Year of the Rat Will Make you Laugh, Cry and Everything Between

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

The Year of the Rat

Plot: 16/20

The plot is linear. It follows Pearl, chronicling her mother’s death as a result of her sister’s birth, whom she nicknames “The Rat”. It’s a story of loss and acceptance; how Pearl processes what’s happened and gets past it. Furniss really gets inside Pearl’s head and delivers a poignant, tragic journey with humor sparingly-sprinkled throughout. The cathartic lead-up to the conclusion is somewhat clichéd though for the most part, it’s a worthwhile read.

Narration: 16/20

I like Pearl as a character but at times, her narrative voice drilled holes into my head. I wanted to shake her. I recognize that she’s in pain but her hatred towards her sister, which is then turned onto her stepfather and his mother, dissolves into a drawn-out, me-against-the-world narrative. It pulled me out of the emotive world, that bubble of pain and grief, more so than the story world. I understand that Pearl is grieving but there’s only so much I can take before it’s pushed too far. Pearl’s switch between the before and after adds another layer to the story and shows a side to the characters that we might not have otherwise seen.

Character: 14/20

Some notes on character:

  • When Pearl’s Mom looks at their soon-to-be house, she imagines polished floorboards, oriental rugs and their cat, Soot, perched by the fire, dreaming of mice. To which her husband retorts: “‘Dreaming of them? I bet the whole bloody space is invested with them.’” (31) It helps in developing not only character, but adds a touch of humor and dramatizes the setting in speech, allowing us to picture the state of the house;
  • When Pearl clears a square in the condensation of the bus window with her fingers, it reminds me of when I did that as a child and teenager. It’s a universal action that makes Pearl feel more real and less fictional;
  • Pearl asks her mother, when she discovers she’s pregnant, if she can have her leather jacket, remarking that she’ll be “too fat for it soon” (51);
  • “Granny’s going on and on, telling me how concerned they are about me, and how Dad’s got enough to be worried about without me, and how they want to help, but they can’t if I won’t help myself, all interspersed with the whole ‘Here comes the little aeroplane’ bit with The Rat.” These moments, and there are many of them, are golden;
  • She dubs her father’s wife the “Fish-Finger Burner”.

Pearl’s drinking experience, her running away from home, her behaviour at school and her treatment of her family are all natural, given her grief and with her mother still in her life, she finds it hard to process and accept her death. Her stepfather’s reaction is captured brilliantly and while you understand where Pearl is coming from, you can’t help but feel sorry for, and side with, him. The only downside with character is Finn. He feels a bit clichéd compared to the other characters and I’m unsure how necessary he is to the story. He’s a distraction in the story of grief that does not require a love interest and he kind of disappears towards the end.

Quality of Writing: 15/20

“The world may tip at any moment.” I love this line.

Furniss can, no doubt, write and write beautiful words that stick with you, long after you finish the story and sentences that will make you laugh but there are a couple of issues that take away from this.Pearl describes her neighbour as “the old dear next door” (34). This obscures the narrative voice as it sounds like something Pearl’s mother might say. Some of the word choices are a bit odd for a teenager, especially given the kind of teenager Pearl is being painted as, like “laden” (34).

Setting: 10/10

Furniss dramatizes detail and blends it together with character, demonstrating the writing ability of a well-seasoned writer. The scene-setting is at its peak at Ravi’s house. Describing its contents, Pearl adds that it has a “Hello! magazine” (175) effect. It’s sharp and as well as establishing setting, it tells us more about Pearl’s character.

Comparative Literature: 6/10

Death seems to be an increasingly-popular topic in YA lit. Whether it’s suicide, as in Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s I Was Here or the death of another as in John Green’s Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, death is universal and the way in which these authors deal with death makes it accessible and appealing to readers.

Furniss has a strong plot, with none of the plot holes that TFIOS shares (seriously, what airline, or doctor, for that matter, authorize Hazel to fly when she’s TERMINAL?!) but at the same time, it doesn’t offer us anything terribly new. The mother as a lingering presence/spirit/ghost is a nice touch though not extraordinarily original. I do admire her portrayal though. It’s evident that she was flawed, and as a ghost, still is, though her love for her husband and daughters is clear. Jess Rothenberg’s The Catastrophic History of You and Me takes a unique perspective in telling the story, from the perspective of the girl who has died. Admittedly, the broken heart aspect is questionable but the premise is intriguing. Jay Asher offers a haunting story of a teenager’s suicide, told through a series of tapes. Furniss’ characters are fully-realized people though; people that resemble some that I know in my own life. Though my mother hasn’t died, I can relate to aspects of the story and empathize and engage with the characters. Where the love interest feels like a necessary element in Rothenberg’s narrative, it feels more like an appendix in The Year of the Rat.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • A strong and humorous narrator
  • A gripping story of death, acceptance and family
  • Beautifully-written with funny laugh-out-loud observations and quip
  • Characters that you can identify and engage with

Overall Score: 77/100

Books You May Also Like:

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – for a beautifully-written tale of friendship, secrets and loss. It chronicles Cody’s journey in discovering what drove her best friend, Meg, to commit suicide. Publishes January 2015

Looking for Alaska by John Green – Green’s debut offers a wildcard, chaotic character, Alaska and a story about love and guilt

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg if you want a twist on the death/dying theme and a love story, infused with humor and heartbreak

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