By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Oct 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: When high-school senior Noah Gallagher and his adopted teenage sister, Lo, go to live with their grandmother in her island cottage for the summer, they don’t expect much in the way of adventure. Noah has landed a marine biology internship, and Lo wants to draw and paint, perhaps even to vanquish her struggles with bulimia. But then things take a dramatic turn for them both when Noah mistakenly tries to save a mysterious girl from drowning. This dreamlike, suspenseful story—deftly told from multiple points of view—dives deeply into selkie folklore while examining the fluid nature of love and family.
I am the kind of person who can pretty much find any book enjoyable. Well, at least any YA book. It’s very, very rare that I put a book down and leave it unfinished, even the ones I don’t enjoy. Case in point, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl really irritated me, but I finished it. I promptly wanted my time back, but I finished it.
I know as a librarian I can’t read all the books in a collection or read all the new books that come out, but it’s still important to read a selection. I also know that not everyone shares my ability to like most books and that it’s important to find the right book for the right person.
For that reason I don’t like to give negative reviews. What I like about a book is so subjective. And many of the faults I find with it may not be things that even register with another reader. Or topics that are triggers for some may not be at all with others. On the other hand, because we can’t all read everything, it’s important to give an honest assessment of the books you read. That way another librarian reading your review (or another reader for that matter) can use it to gauge whether a book is right for them or their collection.
All of this is a roundabout way for me to get at the most recent book I started reading, Tides. I put it down and returned it to the library without finishing it. And guess what? The world didn’t end! I thought it might, but it didn’t.
The premise sounded really interesting and I love when books incorporate mythology/legends into them, so I thought it would be a sure thing. While I think plenty of people could like this book, I didn’t. I think first and foremost there was just way way too much going on in this story.
*(kind of) SPOILER ALERT* The grandmother is gay and there’s a whole backstory there with an older selkie, Maebh. One of the grandkids has an eating disorder. Noah, the other grandchild, has a summer internship. Noah meets a selkie, Mara, and there’s a romance budding there. There are sibling relationship issues and baggage. There’s parental baggage. And then there’s more. It just kept building up. Problem was, the book is a little under 300 pages. There just wasn’t enough time to really explore anything.This in turn made the pacing feel off and too rushed. I couldn’t feel the attraction between Mara and Noah. Relationships and stories felt very rushed or they really dragged.
All of this was compounded scads of narrators. Noah, Lo, the grandmother, Mara, Maebh (the older selkie), and Ronan (Mara’s brother) all narrate. And I think later on at least one or two other narrators get thrown into the mix. As soon as you got something of one person’s story, it was off to another. Noah met Mara and was thinking about her and suddenly we’re on to Lo and the grandmother and Maebh. Then back to Noah where it picks up weeks later where it felt difficult to pick up the threads of his story and his feelings.
My final thought about it was that it felt (and looks) very middle grade, but some of the issues are way more YA. There wasn’t any sex, at least not that I got to by about halfway through, or even any questionable language. Still the eating disorder and the grandmother’s plot felt older to me while other plots felt younger and more simplistic. I would hesitate to offer it to either group just because it felt so hit-or-miss for me.
I really tried to get into the book, but I just couldn’t. Maybe someone with a higher tolerance for this kind of busy book and more of an interest in selkies could love it, but that person wasn’t me.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Oct 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
You only think you know this story. In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer—the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper—seared himself into the American consciousness. To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, “Jeff” was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides.
In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling against the morbid urges emanating from the deep recesses of his psyche—a shy kid, a teenage alcoholic, and a goofball who never quite fit in with his classmates. With profound insight, what emerges is a Jeffrey Dahmer that few ever really knew, and one readers will never forget.
I don’t have a lot to say about this book except that I should never read about serial killers and for some reason I forget that from time to time. I was so throughly creeped out by this book that I didn’t sleep for a week. But the description above is correct, it is a sympathetic portrait of Dahmer. As Backderf says, what Dahmer did was unforgivable, but you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy in some ways too. He needed help and never got it for a lot of reasons. Mostly because all the adults in his life sucked. My Friend Dahmer was an interesting look at a story many people are familiar with.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.
Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories–Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures–weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.
I am ready to go live in a museum. Actually I have been ready since I read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (what kid wasn’t ready after that book), but Wonderstruck made me remember that desire. In Wonderstruck, Ben’s mother has recently died and while poking through some of her things he finds a few clues to who his father may have been. Using the clues, Ben runs away to New York City. He ends up at the natural history museum where he is befriended by one of the curators sons who hides him in an old storeroom that just so happens to be connected to his mysterious father. Toward the end of the story Ben visits a miniature model of the city that was originally an exhibit at the World’s Fair.
So, I’m not the biggest fan of the mixed graphic novel and written novel mediums, but Selznick’s stories are so good that it ends up not mattering. There is just something so cozy about the story and it’s settings. It might have to do with the scenes or the model of the city Ben visits, but I fell in love with this book. Plus Ben is such a neat kid. He’s got pluck and courage and curiosity. Just an all around great story about family and living in museums. 🙂
As a post script, I highly suggest reading the Author’s Note at the back where Selznick talks about how he got the inspiration for this story, it is so interesting. I could also see it being pretty inspiring for aspiring writers because his inspiration came from something serendipitous and mundane (he was given a behind the scenes tour of the NYC Natural History Museum and happened to catch a documentary on deaf culture and how the move from silent films to talkies impacted it).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.
Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.
Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?
I don’t usually have a hard time enjoying the books I read to keep up with YA/MG publishing, but there are times when I go out of my way to finish a series or read the latest from an author I really like. Sarah Dessen is one of those authors that I choose to keep up with.
I wish these books had been out when I was in high school and that I had been aware of them. As much as I loved this story, I think I can generalize about Sarah Dessen’s books a bit in my reviews. She does such a good job of showing characters that aren’t perfect and are human. They think about boys and sex and clothes, but they also think about school and jobs and college and eating and driving and awkwardness. They also tend to deal with less than perfect families. We all struggled with being a teen (must be an echo in here, I just said that in my last review too) and Dessen gives teens a way to see that it’s all normal. Plus her writing is just so good; it’s so easy to fall into the story and hope it will never end.
I think The Moon and More was particularly wonderful because it’s about that last summer between high school and college (or whatever is coming next). I remember that summer. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Emaline’s summer really throws her for a loop. She was so sure about what was coming and it all changes, a disorienting experience we all share.
In reflecting back on my teen years, I always feel like I didn’t deal well with the confusion and hormones and relationships, everything that came with those years. Even though Dessen’s girls aren’t perfect they do tend to have a certain togetherness that I wish I had had as a model for how to deal with situations. Emaline is no exception to this and it made me love the book that much more.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life-which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job-Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy.
At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn’t brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping-until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
I have to admit I only found out about this book because it was a movie. That we watched. Before I read the book. It was a totally fabulous movie too. Which is why I picked up the book.
I talked a bit before about books-into-movies and I have to say this falls into the category of the book and movie were equally good. Since the book came first it deserves credit for the great characters and their development, but the movie really brought a few key scenes to life for me. Plus it had a great soundtrack.
That being said I really loved this book. You get into Craig’s head in a way you can’t in a movie and his struggles are so relatable. He’s got more intense anxiety than most people, but we’ve all been teens and I think what Craig goes through isn’t all that far removed from what we all experienced. The doubt about ourselves. The pressure to fit in, to do well, to seem like we have our sh*t together.
Craig’s a good guy though and so are the people he meets. They’re all suffering but Craig sees them for the people they are not just their neuroses. They also act as a catalyst for Craig to crawl his way out of his depression and anxiety. A lot of the people there won’t get better. Ever. And Craig recognizes this and decides he doesn’t want that or himself. All in all, a great story about self-discovery and choosing the light over the darkness in all of us.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
I have to admit I am a sucker for books written by Nigerian authors and/or set in Nigeria and that is the reason I picked up Akata Witch. I suppose if I had to booktalk this in a few seconds I would call it a Harry Potter read alike. But I feel kind of like I’m copping out comparing this book to Harry Potter.
It definitely shares a number of similarities. The four kids are wizards and witches. Sunny, the main character, was unaware of her abilities/ties to the magical community. There is a lot of learning about the power within yourself and your own inner strengths. There is also some good friendship material. It even kind of dragged in the same way I felt the first Harry Potter book did toward the beginning. But for some reason I just preferred these kids and this magical community to the Harry Potter one. Probably because I’m a sucker for Nigerian books.
All that aside this was a fun read. The story was pretty compelling and exciting. I loved that it felt very grounded in Nigerian culture and especially its traditional magic. I cannot speak to how closely it mirrors Nigerian magic, but it certainly feels authentic. Really this is what made Akata Witch stand out to me more than any other wizarding book (I’m looking at you again, Harry Potter). The depth of the culture really made the story more vibrant. And there was the added conflict of Sunny and Sasha feeling torn between being American and Nigerian. That just made the book feel more mature to me than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Sunny is a likable girl and she’s a pretty quick study so I never felt like shouting at her to stop being so naive or dense (I had that experience with a number of other books I read this summer). The other kids are fun too and possess enough sass and cheek to make them interesting, believable, but not exasperating.
All in all a fun book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.
I liked this one as much as Ship Breaker. It was a bit of the same and a bit different in terms of the story arc. The characters were all deeply flawed but likable. There was plenty of action but also heart. I love love love Tool. He’s a “good guy” but not a good guy and I love the ambiguity of it all. It makes it very real.
Okay, that’s done. Can we talk about the paperback cover for Ship Breaker and the cover for The Drowned Cities. Oh my god they suck. I’m not the type of person who is embarrassed to be seen with a book because it’s cover it terrible and I wouldn’t be embarrassed by this one. But let me tell you, if I hadn’t loved Ship Breaker I would not have picked this one up.
The eyes are just weird. The font is pretty ho-hum. The scratchy effect layered over the picture kinda works, but the hardback cover for Ship Breaker was perfect. It looked like the title was carved into one of the ships on the beach. It worked with the story and it didn’t tell you how to picture anything. Now I can’t get those eyes out of my head while I read these books. Also, I didn’t know what city was the Drowned City. Not for quite some time and it was pretty cool to try and pin it down. But if I hadn’t read the ebook version (or had looked more closely at that crappy cover, something I avoided doing) I wouldn’t have had that pleasure.
So please ignore the cover and read this book. It’s so worth the time.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
First Impressions: All right, this one has been sitting on my TBR pile for years now and based on what the person who recommended it said and the blurb here, I was expecting a bit more of a plot twist/reveal at the end. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed to predict the ending to some extent, but my expectations set me up to be really wowed and I wasn’t especially.
That Being Said: Sometimes I think graphic novels can be a bit light on story and character development and you can breeze through them. American Born Chinese was neither, and although it was a quick read, it was still thought provoking.
On the surface the novel deals with the struggles of Jin Wang, Danny, and the Monkey King. All of them are in denial about who they are. They all also share the burden of straddling two cultures and feeling the need or desire to choose one over the other. But I think it goes beyond the conflict of Chinese and American, monkey and god. It’s a story about finding who you are and embracing that person, something that is a universal struggle for, well, everyone. You don’t need to be grappling with feeling like an outsider because of your culture or race or citizenship to appreciate the characters. To me, the power of the story was in its message that it’s okay to be different and uncomfortable with that and that it’s okay to come to terms with your differences, be they cultural or otherwise.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Love is awkward, Amelia should know.
From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.
Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?
I wasn’t totally bowled over by this book, but I really enjoyed it. I guess it wasn’t as swoony as I thought it would be, but I think because it wasn’t it felt more authentic.
What I found really fascinating about this book was the fact that it felt like both a YA novel and a NA novel. Amelia is definitely young and in love and her story is very much the story of a young adult. But the book alternates between Amelia’s narration and Chris’s journals. Chris is struggling with much more “adult” problems.
Personally, I connected more with his story than with Amelia which speaks to my getting older, not the quality or appeal of the book. Chris just had his heart broken. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. His friends are growing up and getting jobs, houses, moving in with their significant others. He and Amelia are clearly good for each other and, age aside, would make a great couple, but they are in such different places in their lives. I think these struggles are pretty universal for 20 somethings, at least they have been in my circle of friends, including age differences making relationships difficult (although not quite to this extent!).
Even though I am not the target audience, I can see this story connecting with my high school self. I wasn’t especially interested in boys my age, like Amelia, and would have found someone as fun and interesting as Chris very appealing. Being naive and inexperienced as Amelia is, I also would have not understood how problematic a relationship would have been. All in all, a fun and interesting read even if it wasn’t my favorite I’ve read for The Hub Challenge. This would make a fabulous summer read.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 29, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.
One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand–and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.
I almost put this one down at the beginning. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and yet so tragic. Ever since I became a mother, and I’m sure this is true for many women, I have a really difficult time reading about atrocities that befall children. Never Fall Down is full of those atrocities. However, I feel it’s really important to know that these things do happen so that we can prevent them from happening again (although I don’t think we, as humans, do a very good job of that).
One thing I really dislike about my high school education was that the history I learned didn’t focus enough on other cultures or on modern times (post-WWII). A lot of really awful things (and interesting and important events) have happened in the past 50-60 years and yet I had no idea until I stumbled upon them on my own (Cambodia’s civil war, the Biafran War, etc.). I think having read about them earlier would have made me more humble, more sensitive, more grateful for what I had, and better rounded. I also think I would have engaged more with current events. Never Fall Down gave me a much greater appreciation for Cambodia knowing that they have emerged from such an oppressive and cruel regime.
I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an important book. Arn’s story is absolutely heart breaking and shouldn’t be lost. It’s also a very powerful story of the ability of someone so young to survive and come through things that it would seem you can’t live through. And his power to accept and forgive and find beauty and purpose after such a unimaginable horror is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.