Thursday, September 29, 2011

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini

ISBN: 978-0-7868-0996-7

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Source: Borders clearance rack, many moons ago

Summary: Jeremy Heere is your average high-school dork. Day after day, he stares at beautiful Christine, the girl he can never have, and dryly notes small defeats that come his way...until he gets a "squip."
A supercomputer in pill form, the squip communicates directly with your brain to make you Cool. By instructing Jeremy on what to wear, how to talk, and who to ignore, the squip transforms Jeremy from a complete geek into a member of the social elite. Soon he is friends with his former tormentors and has the attention of the Hottest Girls in School.
But Jeremy discovers that there is a dark side to handing over control of your life--and it can have disastrous consequences.

I read this book because I was told back in high school that I absolutely had to read it, that it was fantastic, blah, blah, blah. Of course, I never did. Then the book club at the library I work in read it. I still didn't read it. When I heard that the book had come up on their schedule again, I decided now was the time. If I didn't read it, it would be spoiled for me. I was going to read it.
Of course, I mixed up the dates, so I didn't end up reading it before the book club, but directly after. It's okay though, because it's a high school book club and most of the time the kids never get around to reading the book anyway.
I'm going to be honest: I have absolutely no idea how I feel about this book. I'm hoping that I'll figuring out through rambling in a public forum. Jeremy is the typical nerdy teenage boy looking to climb the social ladder in order to get on the radar of Christine, one of the angelically beautiful popular girls. To do so he gets the squip, a computer that collects information, tells Jeremy what to say and do, and speaks in the voice of Keanu Reeves. The squip's voice was very well done, I really felt like I could hear it talking in Jeremy's ear when it spoke. Eventually the squip fails him in his big attempt to ask out Christine and the computer and its host part ways.
The concept of this book was pretty different. A tiny computer directing a geek to popularity? Pretty cool. One of the problems I had with this book was its conception of popularity. Drugs, drinking, and sex are all major parts of the "popular" crowds in high school. But having Eminem be a major way for Jeremy to break into the popular ranks? A tad unbelievable. I couldn't stop picturing Jamie Kennedy in Kickin' It Old Skool. Jeremy's popular self seemed to being far too much of a tool for me to believe that he ended up popular. I understand that the over-exaggeration was probably intentional, but it just didn't work for me.
Is it odd that I found a book about a micro-computer that could read someone's every thought and practically download the content of the internet a bit simplistic? That's the only feeling I can come up with. I just don't think I meshed well with the style of writing.
One thing I loved about this book was the activation/deactivation sequences of the squip.

Rating: 3 - fair.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Inconvenient by Margie Gelbwasser

ISBN: 978-0-7387-2148-4

Publisher: Flux

Source: Barnes and Noble, bought at an author signing

Summary: In fifteen-year-old Alyssa Bondar's Russian-Jewish culture, having a few drinks is as traditional as blinchiki and piroshki. So when her mom's midday cocktails turn into an all-day happy hour, it seems like Alyssa's the only one who notices--or cares. Her dad is steeped in the nightly news--and denial--and her best friend Lana is too busy trashing their shared Russian heritage so she can be popular.
Alyssa would rather focus on cross-country meets and her first kiss with her running partner, Keith, but someone has to clean up her mom's mess. But who will be there to catch Alyssa when her mom's next fall off the wagon threatens to drag Alyssa down, too?

I feel like it's been forever since I read a young adult contemporary issues book. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this one. I was judging the book based on its cover, and there's a butterfly on the cover. I dislike butterflies, hate on me, I don't even care. I don't like flowers either, just to get that out of the way.
I was pleasantly surprised by Inconvenient. The book tells the story of Alyssa Bondar, the picture of a normal teenage girl. She's smart, runs track, and doesn't quite fit in at her high school. When her mother's drinking begins to get out of control, Alyssa at first avoids the problem. When she can't any longer, she tries unsuccessfully to bring attention to her mother's alcoholism. Only after her mother publicly humiliates her does anyone listen to Alyssa.
I found Alyssa's character, while not anyone that would stand out to me, to be incredibly believable and well-written. She doesn't have a one track mind; she manages to worry simultaneously about her mother's well-being and the status of her sort-of relationship with Keith, her running partner. She also endures mixed feelings about her friendship with Lana, who seems to be disintegrating their friendship in order to gain the attentions of the popular crowd. Gelbwasser's portrayal of Alyssa, her relationships, and her various problems is, for lack of a better explanation, incredibly real.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the fact that all is not sunshine and roses at the end of the story. Gelbwasser's story is marketed to fans of Sarah Dessen. I love Dessen's works, but I must say they generally end up with everyone being okay. I assumed that this book would turn out the same way: Alyssa's mother would go off on her bender, then steadily going to AA meetings, turning her and her family's lives entirely around and everyone would be all happy again.
This, however, was not the case. I thought the ending of this story was perfect. I'm a fan of non-traditional endings. I support the Doctor Who theory of "Sad is happy for deep people." So the book ending on a less-than-ideal-but-room-for-hope note? Definitely a plus. I give Gelbwasser a lot of credit for not simply tying the story up with a nice alcoholism-curing bow and calling it a day. This also made the story more real. I'd recommend it.

Rating: 4 - the book was good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Abandon by Meg Cabot

ISBN: 978-0-5452-8410-3

Publisher: Point, an imprint of Scholastic

Source: Library

Summary: New from #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot, a dark, fantastical story about this world . . . and the underworld.

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.
But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.
Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.
But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

The reason I picked up Abandon is the exact same reason I've picked up all the other Meg Cabot books I've read, sparing the first Princess Diaries book: it was written by Meg Cabot (the first Princess Diaries book was the first Meg Cabot book I read, and I'm pretty sure I picked that one up because it was given to me as a Christmas gift at the age of ten). I figure at this point I'm just going to read everything she's written because I've read almost all of her stuff anyway and I have a strange desire to complete things like that.
Abandon is a "dark twist" on the Persephone myth that follows Pierce Oliviera, a girl who has moved to her mother's childhood home in Florida after her parents' divorce. Pierce isn't a normal girl however; she died two years prior to the book's beginning and spent a hot second in the Underworld with a sort-of gatekeeper figure named John. He chose her as his companion/love, gave her a necklace that detected evil, and subsequently received a hot tea bath when Pierce threw her cup in his face and escaped. Throughout the story, Pierce reveals exposition, fights to deal with her relationship with John, and discovers the existence of Furies, supernatural creatures devoted to torturing John.
This definitely wasn't my favorite Meg Cabot book. I like the concept, what with the new take on the Persephone myth, but I feel like Abandon spent too much time on exposition. It took a long time for Pierce to reveal to the reader the occurrences of the past and I got the feeling that the entirety of this book was an effort to prepare a backstory for the second book (this is going to be a trilogy, I believe). I don't think it had a strong enough story considering it was the first book in the series.
I did like Pierce's character. I thought she was pretty different from the rest of the Meg Cabot heroines and that she had a good amount of attitude. She still had the classic Cabot character annoyance at most popular people, but she was definitely her own person. She didn't make me think of Mia (The Princess Diaries) or Suze (The Mediator) at all. Her friend Kayla and her cousin Alex were cool as well, being unpopular but not pathetically so.
I'd like to know more about John's character. His relationship with Pierce seemed very rushed, but I suppose that is the supernatural aspect coming out in the story.
All and all, not my favorite work of Meg Cabot's due to the overwhelming amount of exposition. Even though there was an overabundance of exposition, it was well done exposition and I plan on reading the next book. I'm interested to see where Pierce's story goes from here.

Rating: 3 - fair.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Between by Jessica Warman

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2182-2

Publisher: Walker Children's

Source: Library

Summary: Elizabeth Valchar-pretty, popular, and perfect-wakes up the morning after her eighteenth birthday party on her family's yacht, where she'd been celebrating with her six closest friends. A persistent thumping noise has roused her. When she goes to investigate, what she finds will change everything she thought she knew about her life, her friends, and everything in between. As Liz begins to unravel the circumstances surrounding her birthday night, she will find that no one around her, least of all Liz herself, was perfect-or innocent. Critically acclaimed author Jessica Warman brings readers along on a roller-coaster ride of a mystery, one that is also a heartbreaking character study, a touching romance, and ultimately a hopeful tale of redemption, love, and letting go.

When I first heard about Between, I had very little desire to read it. After the hype and ensuing disappointment that was The Lovely Bones (I'm sure it's well written, it just was not for me), I was hesitant to read another girl-dies-and-looks-on-from-the-hereafter. Upon reading a few reviews of Warman's book, I discovered this tale from beyond the grave was actually a mystery story, not just a weird, cloudy account of a dead girl's observations of life without her. I changed my mind and picked it up.
I am so happy that I changed my mind.
Between tells the story of Elizabeth Valchar, a girl that wakes up after her 18th birthday to her own dead body and the task of figuring out who killed her. She is joined by Alex Berg, a slightly younger guy from her school who had died two years prior. Elizabeth and Alex take a tour through the living room and their own memories in order to discover the secrets of their deaths.
Between ended up being one of the best young adult mysteries I have ever read. Warman withheld a significant amount of information about Elizabeth's and Alex's stories, dealing out bits and pieces in each chapter and causing a strong desire within me to read continuously (which explains why I read the entire book in a day).
One of the best parts of the entire book was its cast of characters. Elizabeth Valchar is a well-rounded, likeable protagonist. Memories of her mother, her father, and her feelings for Richie created a good deal of sympathy for a character that could have easily come off as a one-dimensional spoiled brat. Alex is not simply an omniscient spirit guide for Elizabeth, rather he has his own personality and memories. Most importantly, he is still a teenage boy and acts like one. The rest of Elizabeth's friends are all given a depth that I definitely did not expect, especially her friend Caroline.
I'll say it again: Between is one of the best teen mysteries I have ever read. Elizabeth's journey through her life and afterlife is both gripping and saddening due to Warman's crafty and mysterious storytelling. A must read!

Rating: 4.5 - awesome