Hey, remember that time I had an amazing three weeks free from all responsibilities, and I read like a machine? Yeah, those were good times. I’m sad that they are basically over now that I’ve been back at work a week and grad school starts tomorrow. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Here’s what I read and what I thought about it.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley This YA book is a Printz Award winner, which I’ve learned along the way to be skeptical of. With the exception of perhaps Looking for Alaska, they tend to disappoint. Overall, though, this book did not disappoint me. It’s quirky and interesting and at times felt like a hat tip to Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee. I enjoyed the mystery and alternate storyline, and overall felt like it dealt with “deep issues” in a non-corny way, which is a plus for a Printz winner in my opinion.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell This may have been the highlight of my winter break reading! I am becoming a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell, and this book only solidified that even more! Where do I even start? Part of the reason I loved this book was that it brought back so many funny memories of that often awkward freshman year of college. I loved all of the bits regarding the actual art and process of writing, and the fanfiction within the book was as much fun to read as the book itself! I’ve decided that one thing I love about Rowell is that her male protagonists/love interests are such decent, wholesome, farm-fed, boys-next-door, and I just adore that, particularly in a market which is fraught with bad boys and vampires.
Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick We probably all know Matthew Quick’s name from The Silver Linings Playbook (which I read several years before the movie came out and highly recommend), but I’ve recently discovered that he has written several YA books. This one sounded fairly interesting, so I picked it up. While it is not the most amazing book I’ve ever read, as far as a YA read it is fairly solid. The actual narration of Amber Appleton started to wear on me, but to Quick’s credit he does give her a distinct and believable voice, even if it is grating at times. I really like how Quick is able to write about people on the fringes of society and give them their little victories by the novel’s end.
The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman Last year, I discovered that I really do have a thing for post-apocalyptic literature. I also learned that my graduate professor at the time sometimes teaches an entire course devoted to post-apocalyptic literature, so I asked her for the reading list. This was one of the books. On the one hand, it is really nothing new at all as far as dystopian-type teen fiction, however it is far more weather-related than those books tend to get which both sets it apart and annoyed me all at once. On the plus side, the book was an enjoyable read and is a stand-alone novel, not some full investment in a series, which is nice these days. On the negative side, though, this book is really, really political in a very obvious way, which I simply found frustrating. I read for fun, not to have a political agenda forced upon me, no matter if I agree with it or not. I do realize that from what I can piece together the author wrote this book as part of a project/grant/something, so I think the goal was to be political, but still, I prefer more subtlety.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent This book seems to be popping up everywhere these days, so I had to read it. It is apparently a creative retelling of a loosely historical account of Iceland’s last public hanging. It’s big on character and not on plot, which means it’s not my favorite, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I really enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the bleak Icelandic setting and what an effect that seemed to have on everything and everyone in the story.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani Biggest disappointment of my winter break reading! I had heard SO much buzz about this book that I simply could not wait to read it, so that made it even worse when it turned out to be awful. Here’s what I already know and should have anticipated: when a book’s description continuously uses the phrase “coming-of-age novel” you know it is going to entail overkill on discussions of menstruation and sex with older/off-limits men. And that was just the tip of the awful iceberg in this book. Here’s the thing: this book simply felt like it was trying too hard to be provocative, and that really bothered me. If DiSclafani had approached it as a novel seeking to portray the limited and suffocating upper-class lifestyle Theta finds herself in, particularly as a woman in the 1930s, then it could have worked, it could have even been good! But that wasn’t the emphasis. Or, if it had been a full-blown age inappropriate romance in which each party’s intentions and motivations were clear then that also could have been interesting. But the ball was dropped on all counts. None of the characters’ motivations were at all clear, most of what the main character did made no sense at all, and then horses were just kind of thrown in there too to add some class and bad metaphors. All of this is a major problem.
The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls This is the first work of fiction from Jeannette Walls which I’ve ever read, and while it was fine, good, enjoyable, etc., because my only frame of reference is the amazingly awesome The Glass Castle I just felt like it simply could not measure up. In many ways, this book is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird with the sleepy southern town and the child seeing through the corruption which adults choose to ignore. But through it all I kept pining for some Rex Walls (so weird to say) and just couldn’t fully commit to fiction instead of the true story of the crazy Walls family and their mentally-ill shenanigans.
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr I’ve heard really good things about Sara Zarr and decided it was finally time to read something. How to Save a Life would have been my first choice since it has rave reviews, but it wasn’t available from the library, so this was the next best thing. Because I know Zarr is a Christian and this book centers around a pastor’s daughter, I was particularly interested in how this would all shake out. When I think about YA literature as a whole, I think this is about as good as it gets as far as a full compromise between reader/parent/author. What I mean by that is this: I work for a Christian school and we’ve recently been having a lot of controversy and discussion regarding what should and should not be on our library shelves. To me, this book is an example of something which is a win for everyone. It tackles very real and valid questions and issues which teens will face, but does so in a mature and appropriate way. I really liked this book more than I thought I would, and as a teacher of 16 year-0lds would gladly recommend it to any of them.
Dollhouse by Anya Allyn It’s confession time: I have this serious problem with hoarding any ebook I find which looks halfway interesting and is free. I told myself that the second half of my break would be spent just reading some of these books. Well, that is easier said than done since I discovered that most of them are horribly written and quite difficult to read (shocker!). After starting and giving up on about half a dozen in a two or three hour time period, I finally stuck with Dollhouse because it was just weird and creepy enough to hold my interest…or so I thought until I was about halfway through. Then this book got flat-out ridiculous. The author pulled out every stereotypical horror-story trope that there is, and since I’m not one for horror I was completely freaked out and felt totally stupid since this has to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read. As if that were not enough, this is the first in a series and was one of those basically-written-to-bait-you-so-you-have-to-read-the-rest type of books. I’m not falling for it, though. I’m kind of embarrassed to even admit I read this trash, much less continue with it!
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell Well, this book is amazing, but I already knew I’d be saying that even before I picked it up. I saw the movie last year and was captivated by it. In my foolishness, I didn’t expect the book to be that much better, but it totally was. I cannot quit thinking about it, particularly how skilled Woodrell is as a writer. I mean this book is barely over 200 pages, but what a punch it packs! I wish I could just study under his tutelage for a year. I am beginning to give serious thought to the topic of my graduate thesis, and it’s probably safe to say that Winter’s Bone will be one of the texts I use.
The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp I’d never heard of this book until earlier this year when the movie came out. I still haven’t seen the movie, but the book was pretty good. I mean, yeah, again, as far as YA it’s nothing new and nothing original, really, but I will say that as far as the snarky YA teen narrator goes, Sutter Keely seems to take it to a bit of a darker more cynical place than I’m used to reading. This felt like more of a nod to Catcher in the Rye than your typical John Green, etc., so that was different. Also, the ending is a bit un-YA in its bleakness and lack of hope. That’s kind of a downer. It’s easy to see how this was made into a movie, though, because it definitely has a bit of a She’s All That vibe about it, which everyone enjoys.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler When I was a sophomore in high school, our big research project at the end of the year was to research an author and his/her works, and then write an essay explaining how his/her life is reflected in these works. After being blown away by The Great Gatsby, I naturally had to choose Fitzgerald. All of the research I did at that time convinced me that Zelda be crazy, yo, and totally destroyed Fitzgerald’s life and career. Sooooo that’s what I knew going into Z. Very interesting to read another take on all of this. According to the author’s note at the end of the book, there is a bit of a Team Scott and Team Zelda thing going on among literary historians, and who really knows which is correct in all of this, but Z is a bit more on the Team Zelda side. I found it fascinating, really, to think of Scott being so destructive to this relationship, and how sad, really, to think that Zelda never really was able to be an artist in her own right. This is a highly creative and admirable endeavor on the part of Fowler, and I loved getting to “hear” Zelda’s voice, since there truly is no way we will ever be able to really hear her side of this story.