It won the Nobel Prize! And yet I only heard about it through Haley, though once I was looking, I found a copy in our church library and encountered a coworker at the library who’d read (and loved) the book as a teenager.
It was funny to read this just after the Anne books — a wholly unfamiliar book coming after a nearly memorized one, Catholic following Protestant, unflinching and melancholy after “light, and bright, and sparkling,” although both focused on motherhood (after all, my honors thesis carried the title, “Motherhood and Nurturing in Anne of Green Gables”). I’m not sure I’d say I liked Kristin Lavransdatter exactly —or at least that I liked Kristin herself — but I was totally absorbed and I’m still thinking about it. Medieval Norway is so unfamiliar it might as well be fantasy, yet Kristin’s deeply held Catholicism — even when she’s violating those beliefs — means Kristin and I have more in common than I share with many latter-day protagonists. And the book’s sometimes uncomfortable meditations about marriage and motherhood, as Kristin learns again and again that she cannot find perfect peace and redemption in those she loves, come at just the right time for me.
Nicholas Drayson, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa: A Novel
[one of the two books I nabbed with astonishing restraint at the Friends of the Library book sale earlier this month]
from my current 2011 forerunner in the competition for most embarrassing book to read at the reception desk, The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortenberg
[Still, it’s really very good, and I’m grateful to the Baptists for making our growth group read it this Lent.]
Nailer is a teen living on the post-apocalyptic Gulf Coast, stripping oil ships in a bleak imagined future ravaged by climate change. Or that’s his life until a hurricane washes up the rich girl who could change everything.
Ship Breaker was a tough read, emotionally. I struggled to really figure out who the intended readership was. I’m a fan of darkly envisioned futures, but this one was too dark even for me. I guess what I like best about post-apocalyptic scenarios is not the despair but the hope. I’m Alas, Babylon, not On the Beach. I like the idea of the world starting over, people maybe doing things a little better this time. And Bacigalupi doesn’t show much mercy: for his characters, there doesn’t seem to be a way out.
But that was good, too, if difficult. Nailer and his friends live desperate lives scavenging the beach, working where they can, trying to escape abuse and exploitation, drugs and prostitution, hearing only rumors of a better world, a world of inconceivable security and luxury. And that’s really us, right? Nailer’s world is imagined, but it’s not that imagined; there are certainly teenagers elsewhere in our world who live existences Nailer could easily recognize. So even when Ship Breaker turned into a seafaring adventure story (ugh.), I stuck with it. I’m not sure what kind of teen I’d recommend Ship Breaker to, but it’s worth reading, to get caught up in the horror of Nailer’s world, and to see our own reflected.
Stupid cover, seems to get mixed reviews from YA themselves, but for what it’s worth, I loved it. Unreservedly.
Romance that was secondary to revelations about self and community! Danger and conflict that didn’t lead to endless, gory hand-to-hand combat! A love triangle to rival Katniss’s in its shades of gray, dearth of mushy mooning, and close relationship to the heroine’s own definition of self.
In addition to a silly cover, the premise seems lame: Cassia Reyes lives in the Society, where everything is determined for you: where you work, when you die, who you love. The story opens on the day of her Matching, when her future husband is revealed. And that’s when the cracks begin to appear in the Society’s flawless facade.
There are definite Giver echoes, but Condie really takes a similar scenario and goes in new directions. The language is literary, without, I think, being off-putting (but then, I was an English major). For me, the plot was compelling, and while some of the rules of the world seemed a little arbitrary, it looks like we’ll have at least one sequel to see how they hold up.
And I’ll definitely be there to read it.
I almost quit this one, despite breezing through Graceling, because the inside flap boasts “an entirely new cast of characters, save one” and within a few pages, I knew who that one was, and didn’t really want to read any further. I worried the book would be a Seven Kingdoms version of Lord Voldemort: The Early Years.
But then perspective shifted from Baby Bad Guy to Fire, last of the human monsters (and yes, Cashore’s penchant for really stupid naming continues with the frequently bandied “monster,” as in, for instance, “mouse monster,” and the handle, ”Lord Mydogg”). Compared to Graceling, I thought Fire’s romance was less fun, and its meditations better. Enemies are on all sides, allowing for characters to discuss naturally evil and the ethics of killing and nature itself (Baby Bad Guy argues chillingly to Fire, whose monstrosity means incredible beauty and power, “[Y]our unnatural beauty is natural. Nature is horrifying”).
I could see it being another empowering romance for teen girls drawn to that sort of thing, but circumstances make me less sympathetic to this one. Before Graceling, it’d been a pretty long time since I’d had to endure loving descriptions of eye color and embraces, and when, before reviewing Fire, I followed up with a misbegotten attempt at The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, I think I seriously overdosed.
So, in short, Fire: a book for girls who like Graceling.
And descriptions of longing glances from gray eyes.
I know a lot of people love Neil Gaiman desperately, but I’m going to go ahead and be unpopular: I’m pretty sure I don’t.
Neverwhere had a lot of components that I thought would add up to a fun read: an engaging prologue, a London/fantasy setting, a goofy, floppy, well-meaning hero. That almost makes it worse, because it’s like Gaiman took a book I could’ve liked and made it…Gaimany.
Reading Gaiman is a bit like reading the writing of a giant, boisterous dog, a labrador perhaps, a bit like Roald Dahl for grownups, and a bit his own very distinctive style, which I guess accounts for his legion of diehard fans. There were really lovely bits, as when Richard, the protagonist, touches down, after hundreds of pages of grimy London sewers, in the pristine beauty of London
“as it had been perhaps three thousand years ago, or more, before ever the first stone of the first human habitation was laid upon a stone.”
And there were bits that I found quite funny:
“There was hysteria in there, certainly, but there was also the exhaustion of someone who had managed, somehow, to believe several dozen impossible things in the last twenty-four hours, without ever getting a proper breakfast.”
Fun, right? Sly Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland allusion and all. And maybe that was part of the problem — even as a kid, the adventures of Alice, and of Dorothy, that whole trapped-in-an-alternate-landscape riff, always troubled me more than entertained me. J plans to read it eventually, and I’ll have to see how he fares as a Gaiman veteran.
This was not an easy one for me to get into. I was sitting, jittery, at the Hartford Airport, waiting for my first solo flight, and Graceling felt like something I ought to read. Plot-driven YA can distract me and help me focus on something else when I’m not wired to concentrate on anything else, and the day before, I’d gotten the email about the YA librarian interview, so reading YA seemed like a good use of time. I’d also heard Graceling, often, in the same breath as The Hunger Games, one of the best books I read last year. So I knew I really ought to give it a try.
But the name Katsa sounded too much like Katniss (even now I have to think before typing), and I felt self-conscious the slightly lurid cover, with its swords and beautiful dangerous eyes all over and, well. Plus, I haven’t read high fantasy since forever. So I kept getting distracted by silly names (Po? A hero named Po?!) and having to skim over geography (never a strong suit of mine, and forever hampering my appreciation of Lord of the Rings).
But Graceling was the book at hand, the book I gripped numbly as I shuffled onto the first plane, and the book I was halfway through by the time I got to Tallahassee. And I’m still thinking about it. Graceling is fluff, I guess, but pretty compelling fluff, and fluff that (to my limited experience, anyway), seems to test the boundaries and conventions of fantasy in interesting ways, especially in terms of romance and reproductive rights (though I thought passages there got a bit didactic at times). So, even if I’m not sure what I thought of Graceling, I’m mostly through Cashore’s Fire now.
So, awhile back, when I was reading Love Walked In, a couple people mentioned Belong to Me, the sort-of sequel. I’d read it once before, and I had it lying around, and I was still sick, so even though I remembered not particularly liking it when I read it a couple years after the first one, I thought I’d give it another try. A friend on spring break, who’d read BTM but not LWI read them both that weekend and we discussed it.
And by “discussed,” I mean, squawked indignantly. See, I still didn’t like it.
Like LWI, Belong to Me has a lovely cover, sections narrated by Cornelia, and, instead of Clare, another young protagonist. But it doesn’t maintain much continuity at all with the previous book, and I can’t help getting the feeling that somehow, de los Santos wasn’t writing the book she wanted to write. It’s kind of like those books by L.M. Montgomery you read as a little girl when you’ve exhausted all the Anne series, the books which are basically a bunch of short stories with cameos from Anne and her friends, and you can’t help feeling gipped. Parts of Belong to Me are just as good, but they’re often parts without Cornelia, the parts most tenuously connected to the rest of the story. Piper, a picture perfect, thoroughly grating suburban mom, ended up comprising the bits I loved most. And in a way I would have believed impossible after reading Love Walked In, I resented Cornelia and her family dramz, which I won’t go into in case you persist in your intention to read the book.
But if you do, tell me, so then I can rant to you.
Ah, my first re-read of 2011. This one has become a sick day go-to for me, for the days when I need light, quick fiction and I need it bad.
After goggling it occasionally on dates to Borders over several years (what? what did your courtship look like?), I finally found a cheap copy of Love Walked In at the Bibb County Friends of the Library book sale one year (an event I continue to miss now that I’m gone from Mercer). I was, and am, sort of cautious with contemporary fiction, especially stuff with a blurb on the back cover from Sarah Jessica Parker.
But it’s sweet and makes me cry a bit but not overmuch and the characters feel real and Clare, the eleven-year-old protagonist, loves all the books I loved as a child and love still (and also vie for pride of place on sick day binge reading): Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden. The other narrator, Cornelia, alludes to Shakespeare and throws in uncited references to the likes of Whitman. So while their story chugs sweetly along and I sip my tea, Clare and Cornelia let me bridge that gap between fluff and tough stuff, and, engulfed in my second cold of 2011, I’m very grateful.