Monday, August 9, 2010
Looking for Alaska (John Green)
Tiny Synopsis: Pudge is the new kid at Prep School. A kid with no friends to speak of at home, he quickly falls in with a band of merry pranksters. His new friends include the Colonel and the moody Alaska, who Pudge falls for. For this group of friends, every week is an opportunity to break the rules and to create the perfect prank. When tragedy strikes, the friends have to figure out how to move on without losing each other.
Well, I get what all the buzz is about. This was a well-written book with a captivating plot. It reminded me a little of Dead Poet’s Society (prep school + death, I guess). The author seems so thorough—every element, even the chapter titles, gives you a sense of impending doom. Then, when the worst happens, you have to watch the remaining friends try to piece together an explanation that can allow them to move on. I hate death. Everybody does. Senseless death is difficult to see unfold. Especially when you’re powerless to prevent it. The author builds a lot of tension as he weaves the story, and as he resolves the character arcs of the students. It was a sad book, but I enjoyed it.
As I review more and more books on this site I realize what a softie I am. Reviews are at their essence just opinions. Especially a review from me. I have expertise in some areas, but not in anything that has anything to do with writing. As I think about my reviews I realize I prefer the happy endings. And this book’s ending has some high points, but it wasn’t happy. It was just not that kind of book. I liked it, but I might need more time before reading another book by the author.
How to Ruin Your Boyfriend’s Reputation (Simone Elkeles)
Tiny synopsis: Amy Nelson-Barak signs up for an Israeli Army Boot Camp Program for American teens, because she wants to sneak a visit with her boyfriend Avi, who is serving in the Israeli Army.
Okay, I’m dumb because I didn’t realize this was a series—so I picked up number three from the library while skipping right over number two.
I beeline to the Simone Elkeles section of the library EVERY TIME because I desperately want to read Perfect Chemistry and/or the Rules of Attraction. Unfortunately they are never there. I liked HTR Your Summer Vacation, and I also like HTR Your Boyfriend’s Reputation.
I must admit, though, I liked the first book better. I thought Amy’s shenanigans were a little less amusing this time. It seems like a ridiculous idea to “visit” your Israeli army boyfriend by signing up for BOOT CAMP, especially if you’re kind of on the prissy end of the spectrum. I guess I wanted Amy to be more mature this time—but maybe that’s just me.
Avi was just as stunning as last time, and the author again tried to touch on some of the politics of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, but I’m not sure it was as effective in this book. One soldier talks about it for a split second, but then says she’s not allowed to discuss politics while wearing the uniform. I wanted more from the political end of the issue. But I’m a political scientist. And this is a romance. So maybe I should just get over it. I raced through the book, and I enjoyed it—but just a bit less than the first one.
Dirty Little Secrets (CJ Omololu)
Tiny synopsis: Lucy has a secret. One she protects as if her life depends on it. Lucy’s mom is a hoarder, and Lucy will do anything to keep the world from finding out. Even if it means shutting everyone else out of her life.
Quick read. Fascinating book. I have a dirty little secret, and it’s that hoarders captivate my imagination. I find those programs, where they uncover hoarders, really intriguing. I’m also fascinated because it seems like such an American problem—or maybe it’s a consumer-society problem, or a first-world country problem—but you know what I mean. I think it’s interesting to think about mental illness (does that sound weird?)—and how this kind of thing gets out of control. Enough about my dirty hoarder fascination.
This book was really SO good. Lucy’s interactions with her mom are heartbreaking. You feel for a kid growing up in this environment. Especially because her older siblings get out, leave her, and never look back. The author also takes pains to depict Lucy’s mom, who seems really mentally ill, as a whole person—a person who is only partly defined by her hoarding behavior. Her mom is a person with a complicated past, a difficult marriage, and some issues, yes—but also a person who is a loving caregiver (though maybe not to Lucy) and is good at her job. It’s just mind-boggling, and really illuminated this type of mental illness for me.
The book takes place over little more than a 24-hour period. I really liked that presentation, and found the story completely riveting. Though I have some doubts about whether the story is completely plausible (not the hoarding part, I mean some of Lucy’s actions, but I don’t want to give anything away…). I was on the edge of NOT being able to suspend my disbelief. I’ll have to stop there or I will SPOIL it. I’ll end by saying I recommend this book.
The Highest Tide (Jim Lynch).
I have to admit. I was a little scared of this book. Not in my usual “Eek, I don’t like horror!” kind of way. It’s not horror or suspense. I was scared of this book because on the WriteOn.Com forums a couple of people likened it to a query I’d posted “in a good way”. So I checked it out. And then I let it sit by my bed for a while. It sat so long I had to renew my checkout online. I bit the bullet and dove in, hoping that reading this book would not make me feel completely inadequate.
Tiny synopsis: Miles O’Malley is captivated by the inlet where he lives near Puget Sound. He watches the tides and the wildlife, collecting specimens to sell to aquariums. Then he starts to notice strange happenings on the flats: a giant squid, a legion of invasive crabs, an oarfish. The media get involved, and then a local cult believes Miles is picking up on things the rest of us are missing. They believe he may be a prophet. Miles has little interest in any of that—he is busy enough, focusing on his parent’s split, pining over his next door neighbor, and trying to help care for an elderly friend. Then the tide comes in.
Great coming of age sort of story. INCREDIBLE depictions of the natural world. Anyone who can find a way to quote Rachel Carson in a book for teenagers has my loyalty for life.
Miles is such a great character. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s vulnerable, and tries to be tough as he deals with his problems. His friends, family, and neighbors are an amazing group of people—all crystal clear, holistic characters that jump off the page.
It is not new to me to read a book that I wish I’d written. It IS new to me to read that kind of book, and have it actually be like my own manuscripts in some way. I am dealing with quite different things, of course—but a young protagonist who loves the outdoor world and can find solace in it—that is what my book is about in a big way.
Did this book make me feel inadequate?
Am I going to use these feelings of inadequacy to create the best novel I can create?
A resounding yes!