Saturday, June 1, 2013

The GONE Series

"I want that reader to forget everything else going on around them and become completely engrossed."  This is what Michael Grant has posted on his website for this groundbreaking young adult series.  Why groundbreaking, you ask?  

Because it doesn't pull punches.  I am far from the first to compare it to Lord of the Flies, and even Battle Royale, but these comments are well deserved.
My first contact with Gone was made in the winter of 2006, as I packed brand new copies into cardboard boxes to be sent to middle grade classrooms all over the Seattle public school district.  To be honest, I hated the covers.  I had glanced over the back description and thought, "These kids look pretty well dressed and fed for being caught in the middle of an apocalypse."  I still feel that way, as would anyone who reads Hunger. Irritated by something as superficial as a cover, I disregarded the book entirely.

At the Whatcom Children's Literature Conference in February 2013, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Katherine Applegate for the first time.  Many of the teachers and librarians (of which I am neither and thus a minority at the con) were there for her newest children's book, The One and Only Ivan, which had just received the Newberry Award.  I was there for the Animorphs series, hoping desperately for a casual reference to Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Marco, Tobias, and Ax.  What I got was a confession and shocking realization - K.A. Applegate is the pen name of the Katherine Applegate/Michael Grant super writer team, and Animorphs was a fun departure from their romance novel career and a way to make some cash.  It was a little bit like Batman saving you from the clutches of the Joker and saying, "Sorry, kid.  Commissioner Gordon pays me for each person I save, so it's really no big deal."  Oh.  

But this did make me pay some extra attention to Michael Grant when he stood up to speak.  I had no idea that Katherine Applegate's husband (I'm sure he loves being thought of that way, like Stephen King's wife... wait, is Stephen King married?  I have no clue) was writer himself, and the co-writer of Animorphs no less.  I was discouraged.  But then, something amazing happened.  He had nothing but callous and self-deprecating things to say.  This is a man who goes into middle schools and tells the kids, "For the love of god, don't look up to me.  Don't admire me.  Don't ever want to be like me."  

This is a writer who claims no heroism, and I was completely and utterly smitten.  Michael Grant is kind of a jerk, and he knows it, and he owns it, thus becoming one of my very favorite kinds of people who walk this earth.  Like his bestselling bookseries, this man pulls no punches, and that is why the series succeeds.

It was reported back from the middle schools to whom I packed all those boxes of books for, that Gone was a hit.  It never stayed on the shelf for long, the copies got tons of love, and even reluctant readers (the favorite buzz word of the district's literacy coaches) couldn't put it down.

And after seeing Michael Grant talk, I wanted to give Gone a try.  Especially after he read  a particularly haunting passage regarding a boy named Hunter, a rope, and a lot of hungry kids.

One final preface:  I love horror.  Not gore for the sake of gore, mind you, but when the appropriate variables are taken into consideration and twisted just so, that the mind of the reader goes to a place that they were not prepared for.  That is what I love,

And that is what the Gone series delivers.

This six book series is cohesive, fast-paced, and never boring.  You can pick up the first one and read it in a day, if you're of a mind to.  I suggest having the next five handy, or otherwise living near a 24 hour bookstore.  I couldn't put them down.  Whether a reluctant reader or a young adult, if you enjoyed the action and darkness of The Hunger Games and Maze Runner series, you will definitely get into Gone.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy 2013 and a New Reading Challenge

Hello blogfriends!  Did you have a good New Year?  I rang it in with good friends, went home early, and got up early for work on the first.  Now that the holidays are good and done (not to hate on President's Day or anything) it's back to blogging!

First and foremost, one of my New Year's resolutions is to read some significant literary fiction in 2013.  This will probably result in a little change of pace on this blog, since I will be focusing less on young adult.  But never fear, my beloved YA community!  With each work of Literary Fiction, each Pulitzer Prize winner, each contender on the BBC Top 100 Books to Read Before You Die, I will be nosing around for connections to the genre that is most near and dear to my heart.

I will be pulling titles from:
Pulitzer Prize Winners
Man Booker Prize for Fiction
National Book Award for Fiction
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Hemingway Foundation/Pen Award
The Modern Library: 100 Best Novels
BBC: Top 100 Reads
Time Magazine: Top 100 Novels

And countless Reader's Lists and Favorites to boot.  That's a lot of top fiction lists, but many of them overlap in titles, and my goal is not to read them all.  My goal is to supplement my reading with titles that have set a precedent and withstood the test of time.  I want to hold up some of my YA favorites and know that they are beyond a modern book trend; that their style and gumption can be boasted alongside novels continuously selected by readers since 1948.

I know, I know.  I am on a soapbox.  I just - I just love YA!!

As a heads up, I will be jumping around with authors, dates of publication, and awards.  It won't necessarily be cohesive, but I will always let you know what prizes the novel landed and try to shed some light on why the book was/is so significant.

And don't worry - there are some spectacular YA releases this year that I'm really looking forward to and I promise I will still be reviewing those.  Madness Underneath, anyone? :D :D :D

Sunday, October 21, 2012

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a lovely weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren to show the books that have found their way into our homes.  The whole mailbox thing makes sense if you order books online or have publishers sending you ARCs and other awesomeness.

As for me, I often get much use out of the public library. :D  Sometimes this means a bit of waiting after putting a book on hold, but it gets here eventually.  It also means a potential surprise every time I walk in - something on the shelf that I haven't run across before, or something new that the library just purchased.  If you've recently lost touch with the magic of your local library, I highly recommend that you go and get it back!

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (GR)
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (GR)
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (GR)
Angelfall by Susan Ee (GR)
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White (GR)

Just the other day I finally finished reading The Last Olympian, last of the books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  I'd been meaning to get to the series for a while, but once I started it I flew through the whole thing in about two weeks and fell completely in love.  I'm really excited to start Heroes of Olympus - no pressure, Rick Riordan.  From what I can tell, you just get more magical with every book.

Beauty Queens is another book that I just have taken too long to get around to, for which I really do feel a tremendous amount of guilt.  I am a huge fan of the Gemma Doyle series (foaming at the mouth comes to mind) and I'm interested to see how she handles the non-paranormal, or, dare I say, normal side of being a teenager (I don't know what I'm talking about - everyone knows that side doesn't exist).

 Out of all the books I picked up at the library this week, this was the only one that I had on hold.  The others I stumbled upon by chance and grabbed from the shelf before I could think about my other timely obligations like eating and sleeping.  I have waited a little over a month for this book to come in, and I am SO EXCITED FOR IT.  A few of my favorite reviewers on Goodreads had nothing but wonderful things to say about it (again with the mouth-foaming) and after Cynthia Hand's Unearthly trilogy I am loving angels this year.  I really, really hope that it lives up to the hype!

I had sort of forgotten that this series happened until last week, when a reviewer I follow posted about it.  After a big "Oh, right!" moment, I added it on Goodreads and resolved to place it on hold soon.  Turns out that was unnecessary.  It was already waiting for me in the teen section of my local branch!  I snapped it right up.  What intrigues me about this series is that it's not what some people might call a Mary Sue of the paranormal YA world - this isn't some teen who accidentally stumbles into a paranormal reality and is unable to disentangle herself (usually because of a smoking hot vampire/werewolf/devil/angel/faerie).  It's unapologetic full-force paranormal from the get go.  Hooray!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

NaNoWriMo Cometh Hence

So, the past ten years or so I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  This means that I try to write 50,000 words in exactly one month.  Except, this year, I’ve had so much other stuff going on that I kind of, um… forgot?

And I kind of feel like this:

And now I have to use these last eleven days to figure out what I’m going to write this time around.  As a result, my blog might suffer from some infrequent posting.

Because, well, you see, I get a little stressed out.

And I start to lose faith in myself, and my writing, and question who I even think I am trying to write novels and build a life off of that because only really super amazing people can actually succeed in that profession.

And I start to look like this:

But it will be okay.  I always come out of November for the better, with a heck of a lot more words than what I started with, even if I didn’t reach 50k.  For me, even just participating and giving it a shot is something worth celebrating.

Even if, by the end of the month, all I want to do is this:

But it’s okay.  I got this.

So, good luck to all of my fellow NaNo writers.  When I come back, we’ll celebrate.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Beware: Strong opinions ahead!  Not for the faint of heart!

From Goodreads:Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.

She’s wrong.

From the get-go, I quibbled with the reasoning of this book.

In my defense, I had no idea whatsoever that it was going to be paranormal on any level.  I don’t know how I missed that crucial piece of information, but I’d thought, for all intents and purposes, that this book was not supposed to go paranormal on any level.  Which resulted in a ton of confusion on my part until, uh, certain cats were let out of particular bags.

I convinced myself right away that Mara had killed her friends.  The author really makes it no secret that she is some kind of monster, so it really makes no sense that she spends the remainder of the book arguing that point with herself.  I understand that maybe she didn’t want to let go  of her humanity, blah, blah, blah, but the more she tried to ignore what was going on, the more havoc she wreaked.  Perhaps it is simply because Mara Dyer herself is not the brightest bulb.

What I will say for Hodkin’s writing is that the PTSD rubbed off on me a bit – at one point I go t so paranoid I thought that Mara’s whole family was in on a string of murders and were keeping her in the dark.  It was when the dog’s owner died that I started ruling out rage blackouts and Mara killing people with her bare hands.  I mean, as a teenage girl who doesn’t seem to have any athletic interests (or does much besides panicking and waking up in weird places) she has certain physical limiations.  So then I started getting an inkling of paranormal, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting from the book at all.  It really doesn’t advertise itself that way and doesn’t even really kick in until the very end.

Then there was the romance. Mara pretty much just blinks and then “belongs” to Noah.  I’ve never really like that “I am his” stuff, but Mara goes from pretty strong to pudding in 0.0002 seconds.  Leading up to the romance, I’d been starting to relish the idea of Mara as a killer, and was intrigued by the plot with her psychosis peppered in.  But when the romance happened in the book, it REALLY happened, and it felt like 100 pages of insubstantial mush that I wouldn’t have missed if it were left out.

I mean, there’s this line.  “His touch felt like home.”  Oh, god, no.  No, thank you.  The romance writing is pretty awful like that for most of the book, and really killed it for me.

Spoiler alert for the ending!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

“It feels good knowing someone understand what I’m listening to, what I’m going through.  Somehow, it makes it not as scary to keep listening.”

Hannah Baker never had this feeling.  She never told anyone, except the audiotapes, which is only as good as telling a mirror how you feel, or a wall.

From Goodreads:
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list.
The snowball effect of rumors and the events of life piling up are the core of this book, but so is the ripple effect, where one small action spreads and gets bigger and bigger until it covers the entire surface of things.  Every action and inaction effects everyone, on some level, and even if it starts small it can get huge and devastating.

I would throw this book up there with Speak.  The alternating voices of Hannah and Clay are captivating – we get to experience Clay’s reaction to everything Hannah says right as he first hears it, and we aren’t deprived of any of the content of the tapes – which we must admit we are terribly curious about.  If the book were just Hannah’s audiotapes, it would fall flat and fail to extract any empathy on the part of the reader for what happened to her.  But if it were just Clay without Hannah’s voice on the tapes, too much of the story would be missing and the reader would fail to make the connection between each of the thirteen reasons.

As I read, I kept flipping back to the map at the beginning.  Being able to track Clay’s progress on the map through what feels like all of Crestmont at night shows how an even can physically change the way you look at your neighborhood, where you go to school, even your own home.  Paired with the anticipation of hearing who and what are on the tapes, and where Clay goes and who he encounters throughout the night, the book reads almost like a page-turning thriller.  The devices used to tell this story are executed perfectly and are enthralling from start to finish.

My reaction to Hannah’s tapes sometimes resembled Clay’s, thinking that some of the things Hannah was saying was unfair.  At other times my heart was in my throat.  When she talked about writing poetry to try and figure out who she was and to love herself better, only to stop writing it because she’s come to hate herself so much that she can’t think about it anymore…  I was heartbroken.  I’ve read some reviews online that felt Hannah’s reasons were not substantial enough for a real person to commit suicide, but to me that sounds like when a normal person tries to tell someone with major depressive disorder to just stop being sad.  There are people who are emotionally predisposed to fragility, and it’s not up to people who are not to decide the exact gravity of their problems.  That being said, of course I understand that Hannah Baker is a fictional character and people are entitled to their opinions and everything.  It’s just some food for thought.

This is one of those books where I would love a chance to interview the author and ask about their personal experience with the book’s reception. Jay Asher’s note at the very end really piqued my interest.  I’m sure that he anticipated every reaction to Thirteen Reasons Why, and I want him to do something like Laurie Halse Anderson’s response to all of the letters she’s gotten about Speak over the years.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

“Look at me, Colie,” she said, gesturing down at her big yellow shirt and leggings, her little purple high-tops.  “I’ve always known who I am.  I might not work perfectly, or be like them, but that’s okay.  I know I work in my own way.”

Colie’s summer begins moving in with her aunt Mira, who is the sort of eccentric person in the neighborhood that everyone knows and smiles at, but is also horrified by how many pairs of rainbow socks she seems to own.  Some of them make fun of her outright.  But Mira continues on in the way that she always have, comfortable with who she is.  Colie is the opposite of this.  One stab at her self-esteem and she deflates like a balloon on a dart board, just waiting to get hit.  When she gets a job at the Last Chance CafĂ©, she meets Morgan and Isabel – two roommates who have a strong relationship reminiscent of that between flint and gunpowder.  While Morgan is empathetic, Isabel can’t find any sympathy for a girl who can’t figure out how to love herself, and in the process they bring forth the real Colie, and realize her true potential.

I am sort of a lukewarm fan of Sarah Dessen.  There are a couple of her books that contain elements that I love – this one, actually, and Just Listen.  With many of her other novels I sometimes feel like I’m reading the same book over and over where the protagonist gets her happy ending and P.S. she was only in emotional turmoil because she’s had a perfect, skinny body all along.  Sure, Colie (the main character in Keeping the Moon) used to be fat, but Dessen crams it down your throat that those extra 45 pounds are IN THE PAST.  One of the most redeeming qualities of Just Listen is that it follows a toothpick of a girl who models, but it’s not about her body at all.  Truth be told, Dessen really seems to only like skinny girls, and I find myself sometimes unable to relate to her protagonists, their size zero jeans, and their size zero problems.

THAT BEING SAID.  I’m getting off my soapbox labeled “Sarah Dessen” now.  Here is why Keeping the Moon is a book that stands apart from the others.

Readers will be inclined to hate Isabel pretty much from the very start – I know I did.  She’s so annoyed by Colie and seems like a total bully, until that dissolves into a “tough love” reality of her character – a girl after my own heart, really.  In this capacity, Isabel is perfect.  Who better to confront Colie about her total lack of self-esteem?  But Dessen has written her so that initially she’s an antagonist – a good choice because otherwise the way in which she helps Colie would be too perfect.  Too Disney, if you will.  

I frequently compare the books I read to Disney, and if I’m drawing parallels, well… Don’t read that book.  Don't get me wrong, I love Disney, but I don't always find it, uh, realistic.

Dessen also takes on the “bully” issue in this book.  Someone told me once that bullies are something that kids suffer from, and when you’re an adult, it’s just called life.  Take that as you will, but I’m inclined to agree, and I think Mira would agree with me as well.  As tough as it is, bullies are almost a self-invention, and we can stop them any time we want with the right tools.  When you’re a kid, you may not realize you’ve got those tools at your disposal and you genuinely need help.  But as an adult, you've learned from experience (hopefully) and you're not going to let someone keep pushing you around.

Anyway.  Dessen has written about bullies from several aspects in Keeping the Moon.  There is, of course, Colie’s past history with being obese and mean girls spreading rumors that she’s a slut.  But there’s also the conservative country clubbers unable to accept Mira’s eccentricity, Norman’s father unable to accept that he won’t join the used car empire like his brothers did, and Morgan’s fiancĂ©, Mark, who makes excuses on why he’s too busy to see her or spend time with her other than when they sleep together.  Doing this brings so much more dimension to the issue and can help readers understand that there are different kinds of bullies out there – sometimes you can pick them out in a crowd, no problem.  But sometimes they’re the people you trusted most.  These somewhat “basic” issues of high school are a common topic for Dessen’s novels, and she is very adept at showing their various dimensions and how they can extend much further than that if we allow them to do so.

So.  If  you’ve read other Dessen novels that were a little too low-fat low-cal cookie cutter for you, I still recommend that you give this one a shot.  It may surprise you!  And read it for Isabel’s jabs, if nothing else.

Favorite (and spoiler-y) quotes after the break!