Tag Archives: YA fiction

‘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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Thursday Morning Thought: Is the Book Industry Championing Diversity in YA in the UK?

It’s all well and good to shout it from the rooftops that “we need more diversity” in Young Adult Lit. but it’s another thing entirely to DO SOMETHING about it. I’ve compiled a list of most of the most YA and Children’s book prizes (only one of these is aimed primarily at YA though the Waterstone’s Children Book Prize does include a “best book for teens” category):

  1. The YA Book Prize
  2. The Booktrust Best Book Award
  3. The CILIP Carnegie Medal
  4. The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
  5. The Red House Children’s Book Award
  6. The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  7. UKLA Book Awards
  8. Costa Children’s Book Award
  9. Blue Peter Book Awards
  10. National Children’s Book of the Year Award
  11. Waterstone’s Children Book Prize

While this list is non-exhaustive, I don’t think YA is fairly represented. The YA Book Prize is a fantastic achievement but it highlights a small selection of YA titles when, what I think we need, is a selection that promotes diversity. I’m not asking for an exclusive award for LGBT YA or the representation of African-American/Asian/Native American/Mixed Race (etc.) characters in literature. I want diversity in YA books to be championed; books that reach the twelve-year-old boy who’s being bullied for the color of his skin; books that will help the sixteen-year-old girl to understand that liking other girls is not a bad thing; books that will show children with dyslexia that the hero that saves the world might not be able to read and/or write but he can save the world just as well as any sparkle-in-the-sun, 6-pack vampire or the pretty blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Caucasian wonder. No, it’s not good enough to include diversity in the background and say “job done”. We desperately need new voices, untapped themes, developing and current social problems and illnesses that affect different teens. I’m not talking about niche publishing per se. It can still carry universal appeal. Teens that aren’t directly affected can help understand more about a classmate, a friend, a neighbor, a family member that has the illness. It’s simply about promoting diversity.

And for publishers, think of the endless opportunities; the new channels to market; the publicity that such a prize could generate. A story that touches on LGBT issues or race could be sold directly to schools, introduce talks at the Southbank Centre by the authors to tackle bullying in conjunction with schools. Publicity can be garnered from LGBT media, newspapers, social media accounts, newspapers, blogs, TV channels (etc.). Think global and as my Publishing MA lecturer once said: “think laterally”.

I’ve never announced this publicly, and I don’t know why I’m doing it now, but I have FAP – a form of genetic polyposis (FAP) that causes daily discomfort, pain amongst other, less attractive symptoms that I won’t remark on here. I had to have my large intestine completely removed when I was 13 to buy more time and a further two major surgeries when I was 17 and 18. I don’t want or expect a pity party. I’m all the stronger for it. I came out as “gay” when I was 19 and my illness has been a sore point, my illness obviously having a huge impact on my life. I would have liked to have discovered David Levithan’s work (and the work of similar authors) earlier when I was denying who I was on a daily basis. LGBT YA shouldn’t be placed in – what was once then – a very dusty, LGBT section (homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 in the Republic of Ireland and as a deeply Catholic country, not as progressive about sexuality). It would have helped me to understand myself better. There is no YA story that I’ve discovered about anyone that has gone through what I went through and I don’t blame them. With books like The Fault in Our Stars and Before I Die though, there are new perspectives and themes starting to emerge and who knows, maybe one day, maybe myself or another polyposis sufferer might write that book.

New forms.

New voices.

New stories.

We need all of these to broaden our sphere of diversity. As Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate 2013-15 said: “[i]If everyone is white or Caucasian, it is just not accurate and it’s a very odd thing to do when we live in a multi-cultural society.” And she didn’t just mean with regard to race. I heard her speak at the London Book Fair 2014 lat year and she’s certainly championing diversity and not simply race as some trolls have slated her for on Twitter.

The potential opportunities are only starting to be tapped in certain areas of certain areas but the book industry has a long way to go. Can we create about the adventures of an Indian child for example? Can we print it in dual languages and cater for two markets; a market that English-language publishers in the UK seem not to have investigated, perhaps because the Big 5 are known for avoiding what has come to be identified as avoidable risk.

These are just my thoughts. If you feel differently, if you feel that I am wrong, I welcome any and all to a healthy debate either here, or on Twitter.

Final note: I’m happy to see LGBT books starting to take centre-stage this year:

More Happy None of the Above Simon Vs Tiny Cooper UnspeakableHalf Wild

#WeNeedDiverseBooksUK

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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

Klepto Ghosts Are In And Shorts and Sandals Are Out

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

Plot: 11/20

Jeff moves to a new private high school where he meets Kimberlee Schaffer; resident ghost. Kimberlee is stuck and needs Jeff’s help to return everything she’s stolen if she’s to move on. Jeff, after disbelief and despite his reluctance, agrees. There are a number of plot holes. Would the American authorities be that lenient? I mean, I’m Irish and maybe they’d be like that in Dublin but I’ve never seen cops like these and I’ve been to the States six times. Secondly, the wrestling team don’t for a second question why they’re returning all of this stolen stuff. It strikes me as a bit weird. And lastly, Pike explains why Kimberlee was so horrible to Sera but I don’t buy it. How can you be so vicious for no real, solid reason? Fair enough if Sera beat her up but she never did anything to her. Interesting premise but poor execution.

Narration: 6/20

The narrative is blurred. Sometimes, you feel like the story is being told by Jeff and other times, most of the time actually, it comes across as a teenage girl. The language is melodramatic and he makes gestures and speaks in a way that emulates the female characters in the story.

Character: 7/20

Besides his melodramatic language and his hyper self-consciousness, there are other instances that make Jeff read as a girl:

  • Why of course, I love basketball. Go team!” (58)
  • He talks about the colour of Sera’s eyelashes under her mascara. At his age, I hadn’t a clue what mascara was. I can’t imagine many guys do, especially ones that don’t have sisters or close girlfriends.
  • He talks about things being “chic” repeatedly.
  • He kisses Sera and notes the vanilla taste of her lip gloss. Who – boy or girl – does this?

Jeff doesn’t read how he should but what about the other characters? Kimberlee is interesting at times but it comes across that she’s a vapid, calculating blonde and that’s about it. There’s no depth, no real emotion. I don’t buy her as a character though she is a breath of fresh air compared to the other characters and she brings a much needed sense of humor. Khail is a caricature jock. Officer Herrera is unlike any cop I’ve ever met. Sera is a funny one too. There’s something about her I just don’t trust. It feels like her character doesn’t come full circle by the end of the story. And don’t get me started on the housekeeper, Tina. When has an actual person ever sounded like this?

Quality of Writing: 8/20

Sometimes, I lost myself in the story and then I’d come to twenty or so pages that would pull me out of the world. It took me almost two weeks to read it. I was reading other books alongside it to try and maintain my interest. Poor word choices don’t help. On one occasion. Jeff slurs his words when he’s eating with Sera. Is he drunk? Because I associate someone slurring with drunkenness or someone having a stroke. Is Jeff having a stroke? Sadly, no. There’s another 200+ pages to work through.

Setting: 5/10

I believe the high school setting I’m in but I feel that the unintentional boy-girl narrative viewpoint takes away from it. I also would have liked Pike to have dramatized more of the detail and added something to make it more special and memorable and set it apart from the thousands of other novels that are set in high schools.

Comparative Literature: 4/10

It lacks the excitement of a paranormal story and as a high school tale of drama, secrets and crushes, it’s about as exciting and enticing as having to take out the garbage on a Monday morning when you’ve overslept and you’re running out the door to catch the bus for work. If you’re going to go down the route of paranormal twists, you need to commit and make the supernatural element read strong. Pike focuses too much on the ordinary and not enough on the extraordinary. Jeff focuses more on Sera then the resident ghost in his bedroom.

Alyxandra Harvey’s Haunting Violet takes a similar angle but Violet reacts appropriately to the ghosts she sees and it’s undoubtedly the focal point of the story. Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed focuses on Helen and Lucas, their love and their hatred for each other. It’s set in a typical high school, a school that’s not unlike hundreds, if not thousands of others, around the States. What makes the story different is the mystery and passion between the two main characters. Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You takes a simple high school location but hers is a school for spies. The setting sticks in your mind as strongly as the sense of character and the plot. Life After Theft achieves nothing short of failure or, at the very least, sub-standard results in most categories. Luckily, I got the book for free. I don’t think this book is worth the paper it’s printed on.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Weak characters that come off as flat caricatures
  • A setting that’s like every other high school in every other American YA story
  • A strong premise but weak delivery
  • A male narrator that reads as a teenage girl

Overall Score: 41/100

Books You May Also Like:

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini – if you’re looking for a paranormal element with a pacy narrative and a strong romantic element

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey – if you want to see how ghosts in YA should be done with a personable narrator and interesting, 3-Dimensional characters (I can’t recommend this book enough!!)

I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter – if you want a high school experience with a twist (and a bit of character!)

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Dorothy Must Die

DMD

Title: Dorothy Must Die

Author: Danielle Paige

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 452 

Plot:

Set in Kansas, Amy Gunn, is an outcast who gets transported during a freak tornado to Oz. But it isn’t the Oz that Amy’s seen in the movie. Nobody’s singing, the inhabitants are terrified and everyone is living under a new tyrannical leader: Dorothy. Aligning herself with the Order of the Wicked, Amy must take down Dorothy and her friends.

I enjoyed the story. I like how Paige lets us see Amy’s life; how miserable she is and her relationship with her depressed mother. There are enough obstacles to keep you reading and as well as going on a physical journey, Amy goes on an emotional one. I would like to point out that Dorothy had silver shoes in the book and not ruby heels. I know this is explained in the prequel novella but I, and I’m sure it will be the same for many readers, didn’t know about the prequel novella until I read the main novel. I also feel let down by the ending. I think most people will agree with this sentiment.

Layered with betrayals, buried in secrets, the story whisks you away to a very different Oz and demands your attention from the very first line:

“I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday – one day after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.”

13/20

Narration:

I love the narrative voice. Amy comes across loud and clear, funny and feisty but more poignant than both of these are the vulnerable moments when her thoughts drift to her mother. There are times when she focuses on Nox and it removes you from the danger she’s in and the difficulty of what she’ll eventually have to do. Also, the petty jealousy with Melindra and the somewhat clichéd girl-hating-girl-for-no-reason element is a little stale.

15/20

Character:

New and classic characters feature side by side in Paige’s dystopian Oz. To the classic, Danielle shows a darker edge and builds back-stories around them, their relationships and their motivations. The new characters come across with strong personalities that rival the darker, well-established characters from Baum’s original.

Paige builds up Amy’s character for the first line. The “Salvation Amy” taunt is a nice touch. It’s not overused but it keeps it fresh in our minds who Amy Gunn is at all times. It also refreshes her tumultuous relationship with her mother. Her weaponizations of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion are both horrific and imaginative.

Some of my favourite moments are:

  • “It wasn’t hot and it wasn’t cold. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before – including the time when I was little and I put my finger in a lightbulb socket to see what would happen.”

  • “‘Ugh! It would literally hurt! He has knives for fingers’, Dorothy complained.” (Loved Dorothy!)

  • Jellia: “‘Remember––it’s a thousand strokes. Not a thousand and one and not nine hundred and ninety-nine. Don’t lose count. Dorothy will know. She always does––we’ve lost more than one girl that way. If there’s one thing to say about Hannah, it’s that she certainly could count.’”

20/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing quality is set at a high standard though the cultural references to Star Wars and the like distract you from Oz. Assume that the reader will have the slightest knowledge of Oz and push forward with the darker aspects of the story and build on the new characters.

When Amy says that Dorothy’s lips were “shellacked in plasticky crimson”, it’s slightly confusing. I misread it as a typo and thought she meant shellac. Not sure if they have shellac nails in the US but I drew a comparison between nails and lips and found it jarring. I think saying “varnished” or “polished” would have ironed this out. Sometimes, Amy would almost spoon-feed the reader with descriptions, telling us what to think like when she describes what Dorothy is wearing but then tells us that she’s looks like a hooker. Give the reader some credit and let us work that out for ourselves.

This aside, there were some beautiful phrases:

  • “There was a pause I could drive a truck through.”

  • “Dorothy’s boobs were out to here, her legs up to there.”

  • “The Tin Woodman’s forehead crumpled like aluminium foil, then smoothed itself out again as he considered the idea.”

16/20

Setting:

I like how Paige portrays Oz and draws it back to Amy’s knowledge of it. I felt that we maybe could have seen more of the world though. A large portion of the story takes place with the Order of the Wicked and this might have been an opportunity to either show or tell us more about Oz.

7/10

Comparative Literature:

When you turn a utopic world into a dystopia by changing one character, a lot can wrong. The world must reflect the shift in power, the cast of characters change but the characters must show a range of qualities. The second challenge lies in that some of the original characters in Baum’s original were somewhat one-dimensional or rather, they had one motivation. The Scarecrow wanted a brain and to help Dorothy. Dorothy wanted to go home. The Wicked Witch of the West wanted Dorothy’s shoes. They all had one true desire. And while each character in Paige’s retelling has one true desire, they show a myriad of emotions and motives; a rich layering of the complexities of human nature. Paige uses the popularity and reader’s familiarity with Oz as a springboard to accelerate her story and push it into new, darker territory. The story piques the reader’s curiosity and forces us to keep reading in an attempt to find answers to the questions that are presented similar to Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed. The world is dark and the characters memorable like Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series. Both stories incorporate myths and more established stories – Kagawa’s, of the fey in (Sir Orfeo) and Angelini’s, of Helen of Troy – and use them as a base for their story but do not rely on that. Rather, they push the story further and Paige’s Dorothy Must Die is no different.

10/10

Overall Score:

81/100

Books You May Also Like:

No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige – to get answers to some of your questions like, how did Dorothy become evil? What happened to her aunt and uncle?

The Iron Fey series by Julia Kagawa – for a story about fairy lore with a creative twist

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August 7, 2014 · 10:58 am

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & Park

Title: Eleanor and Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Publisher: Orion Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Standalone

Pages: 325

Plot:

The plot has the makings of a John Green hit. I wondered for a moment if it could be the next The Fault in Our Stars; a story dealing with real issues in a non-paranormal world. So, does it hold a light to John Green? No. The story has the potential to really push the domestic abuse to the limit but I kind of feel like Rowell just glosses over it. It’s always hovering in the background but it’s never tackled head-on. The love story motif isn’t enough to carry the plot. Eleanor’s and Park’s initial meeting is sweet but there needs to be another element or the domestic abuse needs to be dealt with because the plot is flat. I was satisfied with the ending but I felt like Rowell could have worked harder in the beginning and middle parts to make me empathise with her characters.

8/20

Narration:

The narration is third-person but focuses in on Eleanor and Park. It’s extremely clinical to the point where I don’t warm to either character. Each voice should be distinctive but instead, there’s nothing to distinguish them. They read the exact same. For dual voices to work, both characters need to have different lexicons, different ways of seeing things and different thought processes. I don’t get that here and a lot of the time, Rowell uses words that undercut the language associated with each character. A perfect example is when Eleanor can’t help but look at Park with “gooey eyes”.

6/20

Character:

The characters are as flat as my Mam’s (for Americans = Mom’s and for Brits = Mum’s) pancakes. Mr. Stessman is an inconsistent character. Park’s Mom comes off a bit stereotypical and one-dimensional at times. I like Eleanor. She’s the only character where I feel like the reader might almost connect to.

7/20

Quality of Writing:

While I think the writing quality is average, there are some things I like such as the comic book back-drop and references (Mr. Fantasic/The Invisible Woman/The Hulk) throughout the story. It reinforces and reminds you of their common interest and always draws it back to how they started out. Having said that, there’s nothing spectacular about the writing. Rowell has a tendency to tell us everything. The control of information needs to be more gradual as the reader won’t read on if they feel like they know everything about the book in the first few chapters.

10/20

Setting:

There’s enough detail for me to get a picture of where I am but it lacks that personal touch that the author usually bring to the world they create.

8/10

Comparative Literature:

I’ve read some pretty great love stories – both paranormal and non-paranormal. Eleanor and Park ranks at the lower end of the scale. It contributes nothing new to the genre and to love stories in YA. John Green in The Fault in Our Stars shows us a terminally ill girl and how everyone can love and be loved. Will Grayson, Will Grayson shows us two very different Will’s and everything thereafter is somewhat serendipitous. Eleanor and Park, on the other hand, left me with a sense of triumph when I turned the last page because I wanted to give up at pretty much the end of each chapter.

3/10

Overall Score:

42/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • Shoddy narration
  • A half-baked love story
  • Bland characters
  • Reveal-it-all release of information

Books You May Also Like:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – if you want to see how love stories should be done

Looking For Alaska by John Green – if you want a love story with a wildcard thrown into the mix

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green – if you want to see how dual narration should be done with two contrasting narrators

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – you might want to give this a read if you’re interested in the mother-daughter dynamic between Eleanor and her Mom (also just an all-round, great story)

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July 26, 2014 · 9:45 am

Don’t Even Think About It

Think

Title: Don’t Even Think About It

Author: Sarah Mlynowski

Publisher: Orchard Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 299

Plot:

The plot is pretty straightforward. The 10b Homeroom class  acquire telepathy through botched flu shots. I was never on the edge of my seat reading this. It took me almost a week to read because I kept putting it down and picking it up. I don’t buy the “scientific” explanation for the telepathy. It strikes me as more of a cop-out than an explanation. There’s no real sense of plot either. Just an event and the after-effects more than a story. The characters all have their own personal dramas but none of it feels real or relatable. And it’s predictable to the point where it starts to feel like one, big cliché. Also, Brinn tells everyone to skip donuts, at one point, in case they’ve been spiked with the antidote but if that’s the case and it can be ingested, then why are they getting injections?

6/20

Narration:

The narration confused me at first. I like the idea that everyone is telling the narrative. I like those moments, in particular, where we’re reminded of it:

  • “We think her best jeans were actually the ones with the frayed bottoms.” (75)
  • “He tried to avoid us when he could. He couldn’t stand our sympathy.” (197)
  • “We all thought it at the same time – Renée.” (183)

But overall, it kinda annoys me and it feels far to clinical. I don’t feel like the narrative style was altogether thought through. I didn’t buy the characters’ telepathic thoughts either. Would teenagers actually think so mechanically? I’m only 23 but I still should be able to relate to the teenagers on some level or at least coming away thinking, “yep, sounds like sixteen-year-old me” or “yep, sounds like something my sister might think”.

8/20

Character:

The characters are about as flat as the tyres on my bike –  there’s no air in them. They all feel kind of one-dimensional and by the end, I wasn’t sure who was who (and not because I can’t keep track – I’ve read The Bone Season for crying out loud!) and the girls all felt the same. There were no distinguishing characteristics. I had high hopes for Pi since she was so different but by the end of the book, I didn’t even buy her evolution. The only character I sort of believed was Cooper’s sister – Ashley. Here’s an image that sums up the characters in this book:

tt

3/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing made me feel like I was being spoon-fed. I wondered if I needed to know every little detail; if it was all relevant. I would have preferred to have had the information sliced in instead of being overloaded with scene-setting and backstory that takes me out of the scene, like when we hear all about Pi’s choices to try and achieve a higher IQ. I mean, why do I need to know ALL of that and even if it is important, could it not be condensed? If it’s supposed to support her character, I should be able to tell what sort of person she is by her actions and reactions. Not to pages upon pages telling me about the things she does to boost her IQ.

5/20

Setting:

The story is set in and around Tribeca and centred mostly at BHS (Bloomberg High School) but it feels like it could be anywhere. There’s no anchoring details, nothing to support this or give it an air of authenticity unlike the works of other YA authors such as Tanya Byrne or Cat Clarke. It could be set in any part of the States and I wouldn’t know the difference.

2/10

Comparative Literature:

The concluding explanation feels disingenuous and doesn’t feel credible. When you look at Michael Grant’s FAYZ series, you get a sense of character, place, narrative, world and an explanation that matches up to how grand the events are in each book of the six-part series. I get none of that from Mlynowski’s novel. I give her a four for trying to do something a bit different and trying to bring something extraordinary to the ordinary but I won’t give any more based on the fact that the book is a bit of a snooze and offers practically nothing new to the genre. Props for experimenting with narrative though it wasn’t properly thought through and it wasn’t pushed as far it could have been.

4/10

Overall Score:

28/100

Summary:

It’s a Just-Ham kinda book. It’s got nothing on a BLT.

Books You May Also Like:

Think

Title: Don’t Even Think About It

Author: Sarah Mlynowski

Publisher: Orchard Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 299

Plot:

The plot is pretty straightforward. The 10b Homeroom class  acquire telepathy through botched flu shots. I was never on the edge of my seat reading this. It took me almost a week to read because I kept putting it down and picking it up. I don’t buy the “scientific” explanation for the telepathy. It strikes me as more of a cop-out than an explanation. There’s no real sense of plot either. Just an event and the after-effects more than a story. The characters all have their own personal dramas but none of it feels real or relatable. And it’s predictable to the point where it starts to feel like one, big cliché. Also, Brinn tells everyone to skip donuts, at one point, in case they’ve been spiked with the antidote but if that’s the case and it can be ingested, then why are they getting injections?

6/20

Narration:

The narration confused me at first. I like the idea that everyone is telling the narrative. I like those moments, in particular, where we’re reminded of it:

  • “We think her best jeans were actually the ones with the frayed bottoms.” (75)
  • “He tried to avoid us when he could. He couldn’t stand our sympathy.” (197)
  • “We all thought it at the same time – Renée.” (183)

But overall, it kinda annoys me and it feels far to clinical. I don’t feel like the narrative style was altogether thought through. I didn’t buy the characters’ telepathic thoughts either. Would teenagers actually think so mechanically? I’m only 23 but I still should be able to relate to the teenagers on some level or at least coming away thinking, “yep, sounds like sixteen-year-old me” or “yep, sounds like something my sister might think”.

8/20

Character:

The characters are about as flat as the tyres on my bike –  there’s no air in them. They all feel kind of one-dimensional and by the end, I wasn’t sure who was who (and not because I can’t keep track – I’ve read The Bone Season for crying out loud!) and the girls all felt the same. There were no distinguishing characteristics. I had high hopes for Pi since she was so different but by the end of the book, I didn’t even buy her evolution. The only character I sort of believed was Cooper’s sister – Ashley. Here’s an image that sums up the characters in this book:

tt

3/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing made me feel like I was being spoon-fed. I wondered if I needed to know every little detail; if it was all relevant. I would have preferred to have had the information sliced in instead of being overloaded with scene-setting and backstory that takes me out of the scene, like when we hear all about Pi’s choices to try and achieve a higher IQ. I mean, why do I need to know ALL of that and even if it is important, could it not be condensed? If it’s supposed to support her character, I should be able to tell what sort of person she is by her actions and reactions. Not to pages upon pages telling me about the things she does to boost her IQ.

5/20

Setting:

The story is set in and around Tribeca and centred mostly at BHS (Bloomberg High School) but it feels like it could be anywhere. There’s no anchoring details, nothing to support this or give it an air of authenticity unlike the works of other YA authors such as Tanya Byrne or Cat Clarke. It could be set in any part of the States and I wouldn’t know the difference.

2/10

Comparative Literature:

The concluding explanation feels disingenuous and doesn’t feel credible. When you look at Michael Grant’s FAYZ series, you get a sense of character, place, narrative, world and an explanation that matches up to how grand the events are in each book of the six-part series. I get none of that from Mlynowski’s novel. I give her a four for trying to do something a bit different and trying to bring something extraordinary to the ordinary but I won’t give any more based on the fact that the book is a bit of a snooze and offers practically nothing new to the genre. Props for experimenting with narrative though it wasn’t properly thought through and it wasn’t pushed as far it could have been.

4/10

Overall Score:

28/100

Summary:

It’s a Just-Ham kinda book. It’s got nothing on a BLT.

Books You May Also Like:

Eve and Adam by Michael Grant – for better world-building, a story about the limits of science and humorous and varied narrative perspectives

FAYZ series by Michael Grant – for better world-building and a similar journey of teenagers getting paranormal abilities (from ordinary to extraordinary)

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July 17, 2014 · 9:01 am

Undone

undone

Author: Cat Clarke

Publisher: Quercus

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Standalone

Pages: 352

Plot:

The plot is something else. I read this line – “Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she’s learning to live with it.” – and I thought:

mean girls 1

Then I read on – “Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online …and he kills himself. Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down.” And then I was like:

mean girls 2 A

But seriously:

mean girls 2

And 100 pages in:

mean girls 3

I was roped in. It was something different and I feel like 2014-2015 will be the year where the spotlight will be on realistic YA books by which I mean that illness, suicide, pregnancy, teenage angst (etc.) will be prevalent over paranormal stories. Not to say that paranormal stories don’t deal with these issues. I just feel like The Fault in Our Stars, Trouble and 13 Reasons Why and similar books have opened up the door for stories that teenagers (and wannabe teenagers like me) can relate to. I love the plot. It moved along nicely. There’s no swordfights or explosions if that’s what you’re expecting but it’s a beautifully, dark story and I loved every minute of it. The only thing that bugged me was Bugs’ revenge. It felt too much like a frat-party prank rather than revenge. It didn’t have the power and effect that Lucas’ and Stu’s revenge carried. If Lucas had an equal part in the act in Jem’s eyes, which she believes  he does, then something more crushing needs to happen to Bugs.

17/20

Narration:

I loved the narration though I feel as though Clarke could have reinforced the fact that it was a letter throughout the novel in the same way Stephen Chbosky does in The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Annabel Pitcher in Ketchup Clouds. Clarke straddles the line between a dark Jem and a flippant Jem at times and while I think she succeeds, there are times where we tend to forget how disturbed and dark she is; how determined she is to die. Kai’s letters are uplifting and show how Jem, even as she decides she wants to die, mimics her best friend’s letter-writing – if maybe only to be closer to him.

16/20

Character:

I like Jem. I don’t find her whiny. I understand her pain and in the last 30 or so pages, I found it difficult to breathe. That’s right, Cat Clarke. If you’re reading this, you very nearly killed a reader. Disclaimer much? I felt every moment of Jem’s pain, every second of Kai’s pain in his letters. But Kai’s voice in the letters really gives you something to look forward to and tugs at your heart strings. I would like to know more about who Jem is rather than knowing things about her like how she looked and that. I mean, in the first scene, we get a sense of a younger Jem but for the rest of the novel, she’s losing herself – who she is – but the “self” hasn’t been fully established. I liked the rest of the cast but Jem (and Kai from the grave) really do rule the show.

16/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing is powerful but rather than go on and on, I’ll pick out some examples:

  • “Everyone thought that things were getting back to normal. They had no idea that normal didn’t exist for me any more. Normal had been smashed on the rocks beneath the bridge.”
  • “I know people think suicide is selfish, and maybe sometimes it really is. But what happened to Kai was beyond what anyone should have to cope with. I didn’t blame him, not really. It just broke my heart that I wasn’t enough to keep him here.”

20/20

Setting:

I had no issues with the setting. I knew where I was. There was adequate description without being overloaded with pages of tedious scene-setting.

Comparative Literature:

I quite enjoyed the voice and the premise though the narration could have been more distinct. I think Jay Asher nails it in 13 Reasons Why when he uses the tapes to get Hannah’s voice across and we get to see how Clay was and how he is as the tapes start to affect him. I think both books have pros and cons but Undone is a story worth reading and raises awareness about an important issue while also telling us a plot-driven story of revenge. Chbosky and Pitcher, as I’ve already said, have stronger narrative structures with the letter format. And yes, while Clarke’s characters aren’t the strongest characters I’ve ever read about in a YA novel, they serve their purpose and when you read, you can look over certain details once the story is good. And baby, is it good!

8/10

Overall Score:

87/100

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – deals with suicide and the story is told in part, through tapes, which give it and eerily creative effect

Looking for Alaska by John Green – for another story that raises the question of suicide and explores a character who suffers from depression

Torn by Cat Clarke – for another story with guilt, lies and revenge

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