Saturday, March 31, 2012

There's always another side to the story


A book written in first person can be tricky—if I don’t trust what the narrator says happens then the story never really sucks me in.  Despite all the rave reviews, that’s how I felt about Gayle Forman’s If I Stay .  The narrator is Mia, a 17-year-old very talented cellist, whose life is ripped apart after a horrific accident. Her family's car is struck, and her mother, father, and only sibling, her younger brother, are killed. She finds herself standing outside of her body trying desperately to comprehend what happened. She is in a coma, suspended between life and death. As her body lies mangled in the hospital and her extended family and friends rally to her side, she reviews her life and comes to realize that it's up to her to choose whether to stay or leave.

In Where She Went, Forman decides to do what I often wish authors would do—she tells the rest of the story (overlapping with the first) and this time, we have Mia’s boyfriend Adam as narrator.  His story picks up three years later and Adam’s life has both hit the big time and fallen completely to ruins. After the car accident that nearly killed Mia and the choices she made upon recovery (life=yes, Adam=no), he has poured all his heartbreak into songwriting, gotten the fame he always wanted, and become a pill-popping, angst-ridden shadow of his former self. The emotion in his story seems so much more genuine, rawer and angry, yet he still can look at himself and laugh. Ironically enough, from his perspective I learned to like and understand Mia more as well. He is in New York, waiting for his band’s first big tour or Europe, when he sees an advertisement for Mia's recital and decides to go, just so he can see her one more time.  I think I’ve given you enough spoilers for one post, so you will just have to read what Adam and Mia go through in the next twenty four hours yourself!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A blueprint for dystopias.

Nazi Germany is the quintessential example of a society gone terribly wrong.  In The Auslander by Paul Dowswell, we get to see how a twisted philosophy can dominate a culture down to the fabric of a family.  Piotr is from Poland but of German heritage.  After the Nazis take over Poland and Piotr finds himself an orphan, he is offered an opportunity to be adopted by a "good" German family by virtue of his prized Nordic features.  At first Piotr, who has his name changed to Peter, is happy to a have a home and a family once again. He is amused by the family's devotion to Hitler and bewildered by their hatred of the "lesser" races. Then he meets beautiful and intriguing Anna and gradually his heart and mind are opened to the ugliness of his new family's racial beliefs and the repressive society that he is now a part of.  The story takes a thrilling turn as Peter secretly rebels and then faces consequences.  This story brings this era in history alive and is a reminder, like in so many of the current novels set in a dystopia, that it takes individuals with integrity and courage to thwart a repressive system.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gods and Goddesses Behaving Badly

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney tells the story of a Anaxander in ancient Greece. Taken at age six she is forced to live on an island. As time goes by the island is attacked. She pretends to be Medusa to ward off evil doers. When she is rescued by a King she decides to take on the identity of a princess and of course is treated royally - this girl is a survivor! She meets Helen of Troy and life becomes even more complicated.
You may recognize the author Caroline B. Cooney who wrote the The Face on the Milk Carton series a modern story.
If you want more tales about mythology and ancient Greece try Troy and Ithaka by Adele Geras. You may also want to read Noboby's Princess by Esther Friesner or Quiver by Stephanie Spinner you can be sure the gods and goddesses will stir things up just for their own entertainment.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Calling all time travelers

Looking back at what I have read recently, I noticed a trend.  Time travel to be exact.  I didn't realize it at first because each book has a unique take on time travel.  In Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, the time traveling ability is passed through very specific genetics.  Everyone expected Gwen's cousin to manifest the ability.  Instead Gwen ends up being the very unprepared time travler.

In Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Emerson is afraid she is going crazy because she sees visions of the past.  It turns out that it's because she can travel into the past.  She may be able to use her ability to prevent someone's death. 

In Tempest by Julie Cross, Jackson's time traveling trips never affect the present.  Then he gets stuck two years in the past and becomes determined to change the tragedy that sent him there. 

Have any of your books taken you to the past or the future recently?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Anagrams, Footnotes, and the Mathematical Theorem of Love

Colin Singleton has had nineteen (by his reckoning) relationships.  Of those 19 relationships, they all had one thing in common.  They all involved a girl named Katherine.

Having just been dumped by Katherine the Ninteenth, Colin finds himself on a road trip with his best friend, Hassan.  Ending in Gutshot, TN, the two explore the gravesite of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, meet a girl named Lindsey, and Colin spends the summer trying to find a mathematical theorem of love and relationships.

What my description isn't capturing is both the realness of the characters and the humor of the storytelling.  An Abundance of Katherines by John Green is full of weird facts and trivia, odd anagrams, and an entire appendix devoted to the mathematical functions described in the book.  It is unspeakably nerdy, in the best kind of way.  But what can I say?  I have a soft spot for footnotes in novels. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Death: What Comes Next?

Have you ever used those funny-looking binocular machines on an observation deck, maybe on top of a mountain or bridge, where you can put in a quarter and peek at the landscape below? Well, imagine a sad teenage girl standing on an observation deck, a girl who will never get her driver's license, or go to prom, or college. Instead, she keeps peering through that machine to look down at the world she left behind when she died. She might be dead, but her life's not really over. In fact, it's just about the opposite of what you might expect. Meet that girl, Liz, and follow her to the end of a surprisingly uplifting story in Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Speed Reading

You know what I hate? Lengthy tomes that actually take the full three weeks to read. I'll admit to having the general attention span of a sugar-high chipmunk & I want books that are either 1) so interesting & awesome that I finish it in a week or 2) so short it would be impossible to NOT finish it in a week. Stickman Odyssey, an Epic Doodle: Book One, Chopsticks," & Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary all took an hour each to read. No joke. Three books in three hours. Why are they such quick reads? Cause thanks to the brilliance of creative authors these books mix multimedia, drawings, comics, poetry, and photography to tell a story rather than just words

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Chances are, you have never heard of William Henry Harrison.  And if you do happen to know anything about our ninth President, you probably do not know much more than that he gave the longest inaugural address in the history of the American Presidency (at least, so far: over two hours), and that he served the shortest term of any American President (again, at least so far: 31 days).

Why read an entire book on a President whose most notable achievement is being long-winded and who died before he was able to accomplish anything?  Why would you be the least bit interested in someone whose life and death have so little bearing upon your own?  After all, when Harrison was elected, my ancestors were still in Europe and Arizona was still part of Mexico.  What does Harrison have to do with me? 

Actually, I can think of two main reasons to read this book (well, three if you include the fact that it is really short):