Monday, October 17, 2011

Mini Reviews

I have seen several book bloggers use mini reviews to quickly cover books that they didn't like or couldn't finish.  I will be writing mini reviews of several books here - for some that I didn't love - but for some that I loved so much that all I can say about them is YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK; IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!  Those two sentences I am screaming about one book in particular do not seem to warrant a full post, and it may liven up my "Debbie Downer" look at the other books reviewed in this post.  So without further ado, here is a brief history of what I have read over the past few months (I am saving the life-changing book for last to build suspense):

One Day by David Nicholls

I loved the premise of this book - it follows two friends verging on lovers for twenty years but only on the same day each year - September 15th - a sort of anniversary for this misfit couple.  As much as I wanted to love it though, I just couldn't.  The overall effect of the book was distant.  I never felt connected to the characters or their interactions.

Best matched with the British.   

Thirsty by M. T. Anderson

I have become a connoisseur of vampire literature ever since the phenomenon of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series swept the nation.  As an English teacher and self-proclaimed lover of young adult literature, I had to know what it was about vampires that had the general public so hot and bothered.  I have attempted to answer that question here (where it has been posed to students in my many ENG 111 courses as well), and my literary travels have taken me all the way from John Polidori's The Vampyre and Joseph Sheradin LeFanu's Carmilla to M. T. Anderson's ThirstyThirsty was published in 1997 before the insanity of Twilight, and it bears the hallmark of Bram Stoker's Dracula - vampires as bloodthirsty, uncontrollable, violent, and frightening.  It is markedly different in that the vampire in question is a teen boy.  Chris is not only struggling with puberty and high school, but somehow he has become a pawn in a game between good and evil, which leaves him with a desire to rip into the throats of his family and friends.  My trouble with Thirsty is that instead of tying up loose ends, the novel continues to unravel as it nears its conclusion.  I don't mind a cliffhanger, but Anderson's Thirsty had too many plot holes for me to feel satisfied with its ending. 

Best matched with the violence and angst of adolescence.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

This is my first true graphic novel, and I must commend Thompson on his beautiful, intricate, and compelling illustrations (see left).  But however arresting the graphics were, I found myself at times focusing on the word bubbles and ignoring the drawings altogether.  I had to force myself to slow down and take in the whole picture in front of me.  At a hefty 582 pages, Thompson's Blankets seems daunting, but the story - part autobiography - is relatable and easy to follow.  I sped through it in a day or two, but what began as a cohesive story about the relationship between siblings and first loves became disjointed and lost its focus towards the end.  I think Thompson got caught up in two different stories - first of his relationship with his brother Phil - and second the intoxication of his first love Raina, and although they appear in the same book, they really have little else in common.

Best matched with artists. 

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

If there was a book in this line-up that I would like to scream about, this book would be it, but I just. can't. seem. to. make. myself.  I am a huge fan of Ellen Hopkins.  She is a fearless writer, which shows in her medium - verse - and her subject matter - anything uncomfortable, unnerving, or just plain upsetting.  Here is a quick run-down of some of her books' plots: meth addiction, teen prostitution, molestation, suicide, self-mutilation, and the list goes on.  Hopkins is the master, though, at finding hope in the dark, gritty corners of the world.  In addition to her engaging, activist writing style, her books are aesthetically pleasing.  The covers are phenomenal, and Perfect has one of the best (see above).  Hopkins is one of those authors that I have grown up with, but I find myself growing too old (gasp!) to find the teen drama relatable.  All of her novels move me, but Perfect more often annoyed me with its lofty, idyllic prose at the beginning of each section.  This was an unexpected emotion for me because Perfect is the sequel to my favorite novel by Hopkins, ImpulseImpulse is one of Hopkins' first experiments with multiple narrators.  The story is told through the perspective of three troubled teens who all tried to take their own lives and end up in the same rehabilitation center.  Perfect picks up their story several months before Impulse concludes but from the perspective of four different teens linked genetically or peripherally to the characters in Impulse.  Like all of Hopkins' characters before them, the voices narrating Perfect have issues ranging from eating disorders to roid rage.  Although I was not completely captivated by Hopkins' newest novel, I do continue to recommend them to my students - Hopkins' characters and their experiences really resonate with them, which is the purpose of good literature.  It can be life-changing.  It can make a difference, and although Perfect might not have shaken my world, it can certainly do so for the right reader.  I am looking forward to Hopkins' foray into "adult" literature with her newest novel Triangle, set to drop on October 18th.  I am hoping to be recaptured by Hopkins' magic in a novel whose plot is more aligned with my current life choices and expectations.

Best matched with solace seekers.

How it Ends by Laura Wiess

Here it is.  We have arrived.  THIS is the book I was shouting about at the beginning of this blog post.  THIS is the book that YOU MUST READ.  IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.  Laura Wiess' novel, How it Ends, is narrated from the perspective of "Grandma" Helen and fifteen year old Hanna.  Under the surface of mundane high school dating fiascoes and canning capers runs an undercurrent of ageism - or the attempt to understand the differences between the young and old.  Wiess also employs a technique used by my favorite author, Nicole Krauss, in my favorite novel, The History of Love, which is a book within a book.  Helen writes an autobiography - conveniently titled How it Ends - for Hanna.  This book is an extremely intimate look at the life of the young and old and the places they overlap.  It is uncomfortable and unsettling at times, but it is worth reading for the raw poignancy of its storytelling alone.  I never ever saw the conclusion coming, and to think about it now almost reduces me to tears, but Wiess skillfully has me considering the choices one makes at the end of one's life in a a way I never have before.  I won't say more because there is nothing else to say.  I loved this book.  Read it.  It could change your life.

Best matched with anyone who has ever been young or worries about getting old.

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