Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 288

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Summary: Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.
But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?
Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you and taking a stand against it.

I read Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King simply because I liked her first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs. I wasn't 100% thrilled with that novel, but overall I came down on the side of liking it (mostly). The cover got me immediately--the color scheme sticks to the simple, striking combination of black, white, and red. So really, it may have been the fact that I liked the cover that really pushed me to read this one. Originally, I wasn't so sure that I was going to be into this book. For some reason I have a mental block on all things Vietnam War-related (exempting Across the Universe, because that movie features Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, and the music of the Beatles), so I was slightly hesitant when I saw that part of the book would be taking place during a dream version of the War. Plus, magical realism isn't always my thing. I've read two other magical realism works, neither of which was a young adult book. Still, I was curious about how a young adult author would handle magical realism.
Lucky Linderman, the protagonist of the novel, is under the impression that he has a crap life. I wouldn't really want to be in his shoes, considering his family problems, his lack of self-confidence, and the attentions of a sociopathic bully named Nader. Usually Lucky deals with this by escaping in his dreams, in which he is attempting to rescue his grandfather who went MIA during the Vietnam War. But are they really dreams? Lucky always wakes up holding an item from the dream. However, that's not the most important thing. In his dreams, Lucky is able to feel confident in his abilities and his manhood. When Nader does some visible damage, shoving Lucky on the ground for helping out Charlotte Dent and earning Lucky one busted face, Lucky's mother finally takes some action and removes Lucky from the situation for a little while. She takes him to visit her brother, Dave, and his slightly crazy wife. While the trip at first seems like a terrible idea, Lucky quickly connects with his uncle through weight lifting and even meets an older girl to whom he feels a connection. The trip rebuilds him in a way, until he finally lets go of attempting to rescue his grandfather in his dream world.
The voice A.S. King gave Lucky Linderman was brilliant. He was so easy to read, and I immediately wanted things to get better for him. This wasn't your run-of-the-mill story about bullying. Lucky was fairly detached from the times he was bullied, especially one particularly nasty incident. The way he goes about explaining the pain he is going through is far more removed than would be expected. He simply explains what happens and claims that he isn't suicidal over and over. He doesn't often linger on his feelings, instead choosing to move on to a variety of topics.
A.S. King did a good job of demonstrating how important a good familial foundation is for a child that is being bullied. What was almost more damaging than Nader's horrific actions was the inaction of Lucky's parents. His father, never able to get over the fact that his father went missing in action before he could meet him, constantly chose his job and a cooking obsession over interacting with his family. His mother wasn't too much better, burying herself in swimming endless laps to cope with her failing family. His mother does ultimately see that everything is certainly not okay and removes Lucky from the situation. King doesn't make these parents another enemy, just people that made mistakes. It seems that each of the Lindermans is lost in the life they were given.
The thing that I liked most about this book (aside from Lucky's voice, which probably goes on the list of top young adult narrators for me) was the fact that Lucky didn't meet his uncle Dave and Ginny the pretty redhead and automatically become okay with his life. Dave actually becomes an even bigger disappointment than his dad ever was. Rather than have the new people become crutches for Lucky, King has the people in the story help Lucky understand that the world isn't black and white. This understanding, along with the weightlifting and talking to Ginny, gives Lucky enough confidence to stand on once he returns back to his life.
The magical realism aspects did not bother me at all. While I'm not saying I totally understand the whole thing with the ants, Lucky's quest to rescue his grandfather was a good demonstration of Lucky's frustration with his unsatisfactory family and school life. The ants were just amusing some of the time, other times they just seemed like very extreme versions of Lucky's thoughts.
A. S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants is magical realism done right. Lucky Linderman is a thoroughly engaging protagonist that easily brings readers through the real and the magically real. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 - really good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jinx by Meg Cabot

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 262

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Summary: The only thing Jean Honeychurch hates more than her boring name (not Jean Marie, or Jeanette, just . . . Jean) is her all-too-appropriate nickname, Jinx. Misfortune seems to follow her everywhere she goes—which is why she's thrilled to be moving in with her aunt and uncle in New York City. Maybe when she's halfway across the country, Jinx can finally outrun her bad luck. Or at least escape the havoc she's caused back in her small hometown. 
But trouble has definitely followed Jinx to New York. And it's causing big problems for her cousin Tory, who is not happy to have the family black sheep around. Beautiful, glamorous Tory is hiding a dangerous secret—one that she's sure Jinx is going to reveal. 
Jinx is beginning to realize it isn't just bad luck she's been running from. It's something far more sinister . . . and the curse Jinx has lived under since the day she was born might just be the only thing that can save her life. 

I have been a Meg Cabot fan since I was eleven years old and I first picked up a little pink book calledThe Princess Diaries. She's fun, her characters are usually full of pop culture references, and the stories fall on the lighter side without sacrificing quality. Jinx was next on the list to read because ever since my sister read it, she's been talking about how much she liked it and how I should read it. Also, I thought it was the only young adult Meg Cabot book I had yet to read. I was wrong, I still have to read How to Be Popular, but I own that and I was taking books out from the library, so Jinx it was.
One of the aspects of Meg Cabot books that I enjoy is that the locations seldom branch out from three places: New York City, Indiana, and Florida (an exception being the Mediator series, which takes place in California. But the main character, Suze, is from New York). Even if the book does not take place in one of these three places, the characters have something to do with one of the three places. They're all places that Cabot herself has lived. I like that she writes what she knows. In Jinx, the story centers around Jinx Honeychurch, a girl that moves from Indiana to New York City in the last month of her sophomore year in high school. There is a specific reason for this that is continually referred to but not elaborated on at first.
Jinx Honeychurch is a classic Meg Cabot heroine--strongly principled, can sometimes be the object of mockery at the hands of more "popular" kids, and quite unaware when it comes to the opposite sex. I loved that Jinx wasn't afraid to be herself--even if it meant being totally naive in front of a bunch of native New Yorkers. After tasting a Long Island iced tea for the first time and spitting it out all over an attractive boy, she is teased by her cousin. Rather than try to excuse what happened, Jinx merely exclaims, "I've never been to Long Island!" She isn't a native New Yorker, so she doesn't pretend to be. Jinx is completely genuine. Even with her own naivete and the tendency for her cousin to maliciously tease her, Jinx never backs down from her convictions. Even when it becomes a threat to her social life, and more importantly, her safety.
I think Jinx might have the darkest plot I've ever read in a Meg Cabot book, even considering the fact that it was still a very light read. I was surprised that Jinx's cousin Tory (or "Torrance" as she kept demanding to be called) actually attempted to kill her in order to take control of the powers that she thought she deserved. I thought the plot had been chugging along on the slightly-predictable-yet-still-totally-enjoyable track when suddenly that happened. Nice curve ball, Cabot.
The romantic aspect of the book was predictable. The way Zack and Jinx got together actually reminded me a bit of how Michael and Mia's relationship came to be in The Princess Diaries. Jinx thought he could never like her, it was clear that he did, he humored her ignorance for a little while, and eventually they ended up in a relationship. Pretty normal. I liked that the lead up to their relationship did not overtake the story; this is very clearly supposed to be a supernatural book, not just a love story with supernatural leanings. Their growing friendship/relationship was also one of the things that pushed Tory over the edge, so it wasn't completely on the side of the supernatural plot.
One thing that I did find slightly lacking was the whole thing where Jinx is supposed to be just that--jinxed. I didn't really see too much bad luck around her, which was a shame because the reasoning behind it was actually really cool--that she was creating her own bad luck by denying her true self. I just think it would have been more important if she had actually be surrounded by bad luck. The only thing I can recall is the fact that she almost got run over by a bike messenger, and that was in order to save Zack from a similar fate. I could have used more bad luck to justify the whole name thing. That being said, I absolutely loved that everyone called her Jinx. I thought that was a way better name than Jean. If I were her, I would have kept the nickname.
Overall, Jinx was a fun paranormal read with some twists that even I, avid Meg Cabot reader, did not expect. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: 4 - good.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Going Underground by Susan Vaught

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's

Pages: 336

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Del is a good kid who's been caught in horrible circumstances. At seventeen, he's trying to put his life together after an incident in his past that made him a social outcast-and a felon. As a result, he can't get into college; the only job he can find is digging graves; and when he finally meets a girl he might fall in love with, there's a sea of complications that threatens to bring the world crashing down around him again. But what has Del done? In flashbacks to Del's fourteenth year, we slowly learn the truth: his girlfriend texted him a revealing photo of herself, a teacher confiscated his phone, and soon the police were involved.
Basing her story on real-life cases of teens in trouble with the law for texting explicit photos, Susan Vaught has created a moving portrait of an immensely likable character caught in a highly controversial legal scenario.

The concept of this book really intrigued me. Susan Vaught's Going Underground tells the story of Del, a seventeen year old grave digger coping with the ruin of his future after becoming a sex offender at the tender age of fourteen. Del isn't a sex offender in the traditional sense, however--there was absolutely no malicious behavior or harm done to anyone else. He and his girlfriend were simply the wrong ages. Rather than have sex at such a young age, the two thought they would do the responsible thing and keep their sexual activity at the curiosity level. This responsible thing ended up branding Del a rapist and a child pornographer all before his freshman year of high school.
I don't think I've ever felt more sympathy for a character before. Cain Delano "Del" Hartwick got an unbelievably raw deal in life. His story was absolutely devastating. Del was a good kid with ambitions to go to a great school and go on to the medical profession. He absolutely adored his girlfriend Cory, who very obviously returned his feelings with just as much innocent enthusiasm. Their relationship ended up wrecking much of Del's adolescent life.
This book could have easily devolved into a cautionary tail designed to tell teens all about the dangers inherent in sexting, but due to Vaught's skill was able to be so much more than that. Vaught is never preachy about telling Del's story, rather she let the story speak for itself. The story is more about how Del finally stops hiding in music and grave-digging and reconnects with the world around him. Del manages to see the point of everything again, in spite of a waning relationship with his best friend, a lack of college prospects, and the stress of trying to stay out of trouble.
While there was a romantic relationship in this novel, I would not credit Del's involvement with Livia to the changes he makes in his life, which I thought was impressive of Vaught. She could have easily rested on that relationship and made Livia a crutch for Del, but she does not. Making the changes come from within Del himself rather than as a result of his new girlfriend made them seem deeper and more lasting. Through this, she managed to convey a great internal struggle that makes Del a stronger character that can stand on his own at the end of the novel.
I loved the connection Vaught forged between music and Del's problems When Del was fourteen (pre-sexual predator status) he hated music and claimed it interrupted his thinking. During his stint in juvie and the following years, music became a safe haven, something in which to hide from the rest of the world. With such a crappy situation, who could blame Del for hiding? Once he realized he wanted to become an active participant in his life again, he halts listening to music. He chooses to no longer hide behind playlists and deal with people head on. (Side note: I also love that Vaught used song titles in chapter titles up until this point). Del's connection and reliance on music made him all the more relatable.
Susan Vaught's Going Underground was a fantastic story that explored the legal implications of underage sexting and the psychological implications on those that are punished to the full extent for it. Through Del, the tale becomes more human, never preachy. I will certainly be reading more of Susan Vaught after reading this one.

Rating: 5 - fantastic.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 384

Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 in the Shades of London series
Summary: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888. 
Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police now believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Maureen Johnson is quite the skilled writer. With both Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star, I wasn't sure how I felt about the books at the time I was reading them. However, once I hit the end of each novel, I realized I had been sucked into the story without realizing it. I wanted to read the next one in each series right away. Unfortunately for me, the second Shades of London book doesn't come out for quite some time. Probably like a year. As goes my entire reading life.
The Name of the Star was another missed galley for me at Book Expo. I’ve only recently started reading Maureen Johnson’s books (this past summer I read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope) and I liked what I saw, so I decided that I wanted to read all of the books she has written (you know that problem I have with wanting to finish all the books in a series? Sometimes I have a similar problem in wanting to read an author's entire bibliography). I was especially intrigued by the newest addition to Johnson’s works, considering it involves London, a bit of history, some ghosts, and a mysterious mass murderer.
The author and the setting were the major draws for me. The book is set in London, to which the New Orleans born-and-raised Rory has recently moved. I’ve never been there, I really want to go, and due to a lack of funds, I am going to be stuck stateside for the time being. Reading about the city is as close as I’m going to get for now.
Johnson’s characters, in my limited experience, have a nice subtlety to them. They have their quirks but are not totally defined by them. They are teenagers that don’t completely devote themselves to overreacting to everything or shifting into overly strong emotions without the slightest cause. This continued to be the case in The Name of the Star. Rory Deveaux is a Southern girl that isn’t an over-stereotyped hick that has no idea what life is like in London. I liked that she did research into English life before moving, but didn’t know every little thing about London. Rory was immediately intriguing to me due to her Louisiana roots. Once again, that’s a place I want to visit one day, so reading little bits and pieces about Rory’s life there was a welcome addition to the England-based book for me. She had a fairly easygoing, daring nature that was very different from what I've been seeing lately. One thing that I wasn’t as impressed with was Rory’s willingness to lie or stretch the truth before the paranormal aspects kicked in and made it necessary. I understood after the whole ghost thing came about, but beforehand it seemed kind of bitchy to me, especially since she had the tendency to lie to Jazza simply because Jerome told her to.
My favorite characters were the Shades, the people Rory encountered that could also see the ghosts wandering London and devoted their lives to ridding the city of the more dangerous ones. Boo, Callum, and Stephen were a good team together. They were given just enough back-story into their abilities to be interesting but still mysterious, especially Stephen. I hope that Johnson explores each of them a bit more in the ensuing two books in the series.
Stop right there: I know, I know. Series. They're grating on everyone's nerves. Luckily, Johnson wrote something akin to an Agatha Christie mystery with a bit more of a pull to read the next one. The main conflict in this book is actually wrapped up within the first book (WOAH) but she pulls something at the end that made me immediately want to read the next one that of course, is not out yet. However, it's nice that I won't have to remember every detail about the first Rory Deveaux conflict when it eventually does come out. Nice one, MJ.
I’m noticing a recent trend in certain books in the young adult paranormal tradition: good ghost stories in which the ghost is either a threat or a helping hand to the main character, not an eternal one-dimensional love interest. I am one hundred percent behind this trend. It’s a refreshing change to see supernatural beings in their more traditional roles, as spiritual helpers or sources of evil rather than boring, sappy, love interests. I hope more authors start seeing how well this is going over (for examples see this book and Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore).
Johnson executed the supernatural aspect of her book perfectly. The explanation of Rory’s ability to see ghosts is just that—an explanation. Not a declaration of its existence, which is what I’ve seen in a lot of paranormal books recently. I demand explanations, damn it! I'm not just going to accept that it's just the way things are, and I'm going to judge characters who do just accept such things. Thankfully, there's none of that here.
Rory is also adequately freaked out by both her ability and its explanation. She doesn’t cry and run away pathetically, but she also doesn’t calmly accept it. She is understandably uncomfortable with this new development in her life and shows it. I dislike when protagonists are like, “Oh, gotcha. That’s why that’s happening? Oh obviously, let me just go hone this power and be on my way.” Rory’s reaction was realistic in someone facing what she previously did not consider to be a possibility, and I commend Johnson’s ability in providing an adequate response and explanation for paranormal activity.
The Name of the Star was one of those books that snuck up on me. One moment I was like, “Hmm, I’m not sure I’m going to be quite as into this one” and all of the sudden I was trying to sneak glances at the pages while I was supposed to be working. That's not an easy thing to subtly accomplish. I am very interested in what Rory’s next adventure is going to take her. Also, whether she tells Jazza about what is going on in her life. And whether she’s going to get to return to her school. And whether or not we’re going to discover more about Boo, Callum, and Stephen. Okay Johnson, you fooled me with that beginning. I’m entirely sucked in. Now when does the next book in the Shades of London series come out? I’m going to need to know.

Rating: 4 – good.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

He's So Not Worth It by Kieran Scott

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Source: Library


I read Kieran Scott’s He’s So Not Worth It because I had already started the She’s So/He’s So series. See my review for the first one, She’s So Dead to Us here. This was the one that I had actually wanted to read initially after finding it on the library's new young adult shelf. Thankfully my sister stopped me and informed me that it was part of a series before I cracked it.
He’s So Not Worth It continues the stories of Ally, Jake, and the rest of the Cresties and Norms introduced in the first volume. It picks up exactly where the previous novel left off, with Ally seeing her estranged father for the first time in several years after being publicly humiliated at Shannen Moore’s birthday party. The book explains the ensuing summer, once again splitting a first person point of view between the main characters, Ally and Jake. Ally spends her summer running away from her problems (namely the above estranged father and former almost-boyfriend Jake) down the shore, whereas Jake is being forced to remain in North Jersey, studying for the SATs, taking a college course, and maintaining a job under the management of Ally’s father at the local coffee shop. Ally begins hanging out with the locals shore kids, drinking and hooking up with a monster tool named Cooper (should I be slightly less intense about my distaste for him? Because as soon as he was introduced I didn’t like him. And it’s not like I’m so invested in Ally and Jake’s relationship that I couldn’t see her with anyone else, this guy was just that much of a tool). Jake takes on these new responsibilities with a lackluster attitude and little success until he decides to let go of Ally a bit and instead starts hanging out with fellow Crestie Chloe. He enrolls in the college-level course with her, as she too is attempting to avoid her problems.
Kieran Scott continues her tradition of thoroughly entertaining serial realistic fiction. While the story suffers slightly from what I call Beverly Hills 90210 syndrome—meaning the couples kind of shuffle around and incestuously date one another within a group—it does not harm the plot in any way. The mixing up of the couples isn’t entirely obvious, considering it seems that most of the characters seem to fall in love with, date, or hook up with the two main characters. It's a low level example of the syndrome, though I'd like to know exactly what is so magical about the two of them.
One of Scott’s strengths that I’ve noticed throughout the course of this series is her development of the faults and mistakes her characters make. They are always believably created and explored. Ally doesn’t just snap and start partying all the time and fighting with her mother, she gradually builds up frustration with her life that leads to her screw-it-all attitude and tendency to do things that only lead her to regret later. Jake does sit by and wait patiently for a girl who seems to have totally moved on—he eventually gives in to the temptation of hooking up with an available and gorgeous girl. It’s such a teenage boy thing to do. I was happy that Scott allowed her characters to screw up rather than make them be perfect martyrs that sat idly back and allowed everything in their life to happen as it did. That would certainly be boring.
Another good part of these books is that Scott allows other characters, like Shannen and Chloe, to lose their shit and still come back from going off the deep end. In the Private series (Scott’s prep school series under the pen name Kate Brian), the people that go crazy are usually legitimately crazy and a threat to the safety of those around them. This is not the case in these novels. These girls act out in different ways, for instance, going way too far in order to embarrass someone.  People just go crazy sometimes and can come back totally normal once it has gotten out of their system. The characters manage to see the light of what they are doing and dial it back, recognizing what they’ve done and trying to repent for some of their actions. They aren’t evil, just momentarily crazy. And really, high school is made up of the collection of these crazy people moments. Scott certainly has that part right.
For the series part, I thought Scott created a good cliffhanger that wasn’t entirely over the top (I’m looking at the season finales of One Tree Hill over there), but dramatic enough to once again regret reading books in a series before all of them were out.
Scott continued her She’s So/He’s So series along the same realistic, not over-the-top way she started it in She’s So Dead to Us. Ally’s and Jake’s second installment of stories was not spent pining for each other (thankfully), rather trying new things, both good and bad. Jake, for instance tried studying hard for the first time in school and working a job for the first time in his life. Ally attempted to run away from her problems with douchey boys and alcohol, which, while not the best thing for her, was something she had to do in order to see how she should deal with the problems in her life, be it her defunct relationship with Jake or the feelings of abandonment she has from her father’s departure in the years prior. A good second book in a series. I hope that Scott continues in this vein and creates a satisfying conclusion to the series with This is So Not Happening, due out in May of 2012.

Rating: 4 – good.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Source: Library

Summary: Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.
When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

I picked up Lola and the Boy Next Door because of just how good Stephanie Perkins's debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss, was. Not to mention that I found it on the library's new bookshelves and found it entirely unfortunate that it was checked in despite being brand new for only a week. It was that I'm-grateful-that-it's-here-but-what-kind-of-town-do-I-live-in-where-this-is-actually-in thing that Lorelai from Gilmore Girls describes in regards to the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I started Lola as soon as I was finished reading Anna, though I hesitated a bit. My first thought was that after Lola, there wasn't going to be another Stephanie Perkins novel for me to read until Isla and the Happily Ever After comes out next December. My second thought was what if Lola isn't as good as Anna? I didn't want to wreck my brand new love for Stephanie Perkins with a lackluster second novel. I somehow managed to shove this disgusting display of overthinking aside and just read the damn thing.
GOOD NEWS: Lola and the Boy Next Door is just as good as Anna and the French Kiss. All of the overthinking was for nothing. Lola and the Boy Next Door tells the tale of Lola Nolan and Cricket Bell, the boy next door that she grew up with. They courted one another a few years prior, but through a misunderstanding caused by his sister, Calliope, and the Bell family’s tendency to move, they were never able to explore a real relationship. Lola, who considered her life pre-Bell family return to be perfect, with her angry rock star boyfriend and plans to create an outlandish Marie Antoinette-inspired gown for the prom, resents this rocking of the proverbial boat. Cricket is no longer the quiet, always-adjustable brother in his sister’s shadow; instead he is attending college a year early and knows what he wants: Lola. He is never pushy about this, just painstakingly honest about his feelings. His feelings cause Lola to question everything and make some much needed changes in her life—changes to her relationship with her boyfriend, changes to her relationship with Cricket, even changes to her relationships with her two fathers and her birth mother.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like Lola as much as I liked Anna. Anna was incredibly down to Earth and it didn’t quite seem like Lola was the same way. Lola Nolan was truly devoted to costumes, committing to not wear the same thing twice. She seemed like she wanted to grow up too fast—she had a relationship with an older guy, seemed to have rushed into losing her virginity with him to prove that she was old enough to, and wanted to be done with high school so she could focus on her “real” life. In a work by another author, maybe these facts would have deterred me from sympathizing with a character, but not in anything by Stephanie Perkins. Lola was just as lovable as Anna, even though the two were incredibly different people. Lola’s theatricality was simply part of her bright spirit—it never seemed forced to me. She was a thoroughly unique character without her quirks being shoved down the readers’ throats. I suppose that is what makes Perkins different from many other contemporary writers—her characters are memorable and quirky, but believably so. She doesn’t make them too over-the-top. This is saying something, considering at the moment I’m writing about a girl who wears brightly colored wigs and dresses made out from picnic blankets and a boy named Cricket that is widely known in the space of the book as a budding inventor.
Speaking of Cricket Bell, what a perfect male lead. And once again, as I’ve written before, perfect male leads to me lack perfection. Cricket Bell was unswervingly honest about his devotion to Lola, in spite of the fact that he had every reason to hide it. She had a (douchey) boyfriend and had rebuffed him in his declaration of love and attempts to be friends in the past. He never holds anything against her. But in the past, Cricket Bell lacked courage. He didn’t stand up to his pushy sister, Calliope, leading to the misunderstanding that hurt both himself and Lola for quite some time. Also, it was nice to see the fantastic male lead be a science-oriented inventor rather than a rock star. Don’t get me wrong, I love guys in bands (in real life), but this was something totally different to me in the world of young adult. It wasn’t exactly the geek gets the girl either, nothing about Cricket screamed “geek” to me. The characters are fully themselves, rather than an easy label/stereotype.
In writing previous characters into Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins did a brilliant thing: she wrote Anna and St. Clair into the story, rather than having them make simple cameos. Anna and St. Clair were Lola’s co-workers and friends at the movie theater in which they all worked. St. Clair was also Cricket’s friend, as they lived in the same building at the college they attended. St. Clair and Anna do what they can to make Lola see that her boyfriend is not right for her and that Cricket does in fact care for her, but they are not overbearing. They were in the story just the right amount to make it known that the books were connected, but not so much as to overtake the story of Lola and Cricket. I hope Perkins finds a way to do a similar thing with Isla and the Happily Ever After.
Of course, the book is not completely about Lola and Cricket’s impending relationship. They both have complicated family dynamics to worry about throughout the course of the novel—Cricket has his family’s obsession with his sister’s ice skating career to contend with, while Lola has a returning alcoholic (and sometimes drug addicted) birth mother and the fact that she broke her fathers' trust with which to deal. Lola’s father, Nathan, adopted her with his life partner Andy when his sister became pregnant and did not want to get an abortion. While Lola’s birth mother managed to kick the drug habit and her sketchy boyfriend, she never quite got her shit together and has a tendency to get kicked out of apartments. Perkins did quite well to demonstrate how complicated and straining family dynamics can prove to be. She also demonstrated that while people may not fit into the roles they are titled for, there are other ways for the characters to fit into one another’s lives that they previously did not consider.
Once again, Stephanie Perkins delivers a flawless contemporary work. With its vibrant, unique fashion designing/invention-prone/ice skating characters, Lola and the Boy Next Door provides a story about the return of a first love that could not disappoint if it tried. Highly recommended.

And now, to wait for Isla and the Happily Ever After

Rating: 5 – shelf of favorites status. BRILLIANT.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fury by Elizabeth Miles

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Source: Library

Summary: It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But all is not as it seems...
Em is thrilled that the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend. And on the other side of town, Chase’s social life is unraveling and the stress of his home life is starting to take its toll. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel....And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.
In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. There are three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—to choose who will pay. Em and Chase have been chosen.

Since the recent boom in young adult paranormal literature started, I've been waiting for a young adult author to tackle the concept of Furies. Mythological beings devoted to delivering brutal justice to wrongdoers? That concept is always going to be relevant, due to the fact that wrongdoers are always going to be around. I was happy to see the cover of this book for the sheer fact that it was something different on the paranormal side of things. You won't find lovesick vampires, werewolves, or fairies in Miles's book. You also won't be finding any everlasting love for these furies (thankfully, that would have been a true bastardization of the myth). Instead, all you'll find is cold, hard vengeance.
Fury follows two main characters: Emily (known often as "Em") and Chase. These two run in the same social circle, but have little to do with one another at the beginning of the story. Em's dirty little secret is that she's in love with her best friend's boyfriend--and doesn't seem to be overly concerned about how it will affect this best friend. In fact, she seems to think that she and this boyfriend are truly in love, making it okay enough to sneak around behind Gabby's back. Chase's primary secret is his obsession with keeping up appearances. Living in a trailer doesn't fit into his perfect popular world, so he does everything he can in order to keep up a good front. Worse than that, he takes out his past humiliation on a former friend, pushing her over the edge and gaining the attentions of the Furies. When these Furies strike, they are not merciful in the slightest. These Furies believe apologetically in the concept, "An eye for an eye."
The number one thing that stuck with me about this book was the fact that Miles didn't pull back or sugar coat the situations at all. Furies are known for being merciless and harsh, and that's exactly what they were. There was no sappy love story in which a Fury tamed her vindictive sadism in order to be in some desperate relationship with a mortal (I'll repeat my "thankfully" again). So many paranormal books rely on making a supernatural being fall in love with another supernatural being or a human. It gets really repetitive. This one stood on its own, using supernatural beings to affect a sleepy Maine town's inhabitants without making one of the Furies a slave to passion. Their behavior results in horrific consequences, especially in Chase's experience. Not only was Miles able to stand out from the usual paranormal books with a new concept to re-imagine, but she was as ruthless as the Furies to her characters. There wasn't a perfectly wrapped-up ending to see in this one. This is going to be a trilogy, so I suppose I'll have to wait to see what the true ending is, but for now the reader is left with a feeling of unease for the characters in the story--at least the ones that are left.
Originally my issue with this book was the main characters. I did not find either of them particularly likable at all. Characterization is incredibly important to me, so due to my lack of care for both Em and Chase, I had a bit of a problem getting involved in this story at first. Em especially did not endear herself to me at all, as she was so willing to betray her best friend in favor of some guy that clearly was not actually in love with her. She seemed sort of desperate and annoying. Her behavior towards JD was almost as bad. She took advantage of his feelings for her all the time, but was too self-focused to realize what she was doing was wrong. Chase was not much better. His obsession with being popular and the elusive  just came off as pathetic to me. I had trouble sympathizing with either of them, making it difficult for me to be interested in their fates. The other mortal characters are not much better. Gabby comes off as naive and superficial, whereas her boyfriend is an entitled jerk who is far too used to getting what he wants. I only liked one character (this being Drea) and she was a secondary character that only had one or two actual scenes in the scope of the novel in order to explain the idea of Furies to Em. This completely annoyed me at first. I thought I was just going to toss this one aside and not think about it until the next book in the series came out (because of course, this is a trilogy, one that JUST STARTED, which also did not endear me to the book).
I was wrong. I continued to think about it, far more than I ever thought I would. It takes a good writer to keep me involved in the story even when I dislike the characters. Elizabeth Miles pulled this off. This is what I realized: the thing about these characters? They're incredibly real. Teenagers (and everyone else, but since we're specifically speaking about young adult fiction, teenagers it is) tend to screw up a lot. They're not always likable. They're selfish and can be cruel to others, only able to see things from their point of view. Chase and Em are the embodiment of the negative characteristics of teenagers, which would probably explain why I had such difficulty sympathizing with them. However, after their behavior earns them the attentions of the Furies, they become more deserving of a bit of sympathy. They go through serious pressure, humiliation, and pain as a result of the Furies. 
If you're looking for a young adult Greek myth re-imagining that can hold its own against the usual tide paranormal romance books, look for Elizabeth Miles's Fury.  I'll definitely be reading numbers two and three in the trilogy, whenever they make themselves known.

Rating: 4 - good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott

I suppose there are a few reasons I read this book. I used to be a fan of Kieran Scott's books written under the pen name Kate Brian (Private series, Privilege series), at least until she decided to throw one of the characters on an abandoned island and then introduce magic a few books later (I stand by it, you can't just introduce magic in a series TWELVE BOOKS IN). Regardless, I'm still of the impression that Scott/Brian can pen a good story. I'm still reading the Private books, despite my issues with them, am I not? (also see: my issues with not completing series)
Another reason I ended up reading this one is that it is the start of a trilogy. I know. That actually sounds like a reason to NOT read it at this point. My best friend and I went on a rant the other day about how it drives us crazy that you can no longer tell what's going to be a trilogy or not. The books aren't marked and sound like stand alone titles. Plus, I inevitably pick up the first one as soon as it comes out or even before it hits stores (see: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, my experience reading Catching Fire), meaning I have to wait years between the first and third books if the author works at a reasonable pace. By the time I read the second, I have no idea what happened in the first. And you can forget about the third. I already have plans to reread the entire Mortal Instruments series before the sixth one comes out in the distant future. I'm going to cut off this rant here. Anyway, I picked up He's So Not Worth It from the new shelf at the library. When my sister saw the book loot that threatens to take over my room each month, she was like, "Uh, I think that's part of a series. Also, I'm pretty sure it's the second one." At this point, I still just assumed there were two of them. I got She's So Dead to Us from the library. After I started it the other night, I did a little interwebs searching and found that it was in fact a trilogy--one that wouldn't be complete until May of 2012. Ack. At that point, I was already committed to reading this book. I decided just to deal. I'm better at picking up the past storylines in realistic fiction anyway.
Congratulations if you read that chunk of nonsense and actually stuck around for the review, I commend your efforts. She's So Dead to Us tells the story of Ally Ryan and Jake Graydon, two people from opposite sides of town brought together by a house--Ally's old one and Jake's current. Ally's attempting to reintegrate herself into the life she left behind eighteen months ago due to the unfortunate financial handlings of her now missing father, with little success to show for it. Jake is firmly involved with Ally's old friends, the ones who are keeping the pitchforks sharp and torches lit against Ally. At first too cowardly to stand up for her, Jake hangs back and lets his best friends screw with her life. However, Ally doesn't just hang back. One of the things I liked best about this story was Ally's character. She was, at a basic level, dealing with the same situation Marissa Cooper did in the way beginning of The O.C., except she actually dealt with it instead of drowning her sorrow in tears and alcohol. She was a strong girl who wasn't afraid to face her former friends head on, both for herself and her mother's sake. She also isn't afraid to admit that she does miss the friends who are tormenting her, which I thought made her very believable. Eventually, inspired by Ally's fierceness and recognition that his friends are being world-class jerks, Jake mans up and begins to date Ally publicly (spoiler alert. whatever, it's going to be obvious. in a good way.) 
I also liked Jake's character, though I wish he had more separate characterization. I felt as if the only reason we knew things about him was because we saw him through Ally's eyes or he talked about her. I did enjoy that he wasn't perfect or incredibly mysterious. Listen, don't get me wrong, mysterious brooding bad boys are all good for certain stories, but reading about them all the time can get boring. Jake was a straight up high school guy. Not a saint. Not a demon. He made mistakes and let his best friend Shannen intimidate him sometimes. He eventually broke the rules, becoming a "Crestie" (rich person) that was dating a "Norm" (lowly heathens, AKA those without endless means). Every once in awhile there is nothing better than reading about a character that you could easily know in real life.
The commentary on high school hierarchy and cliques was incredibly well perceived in Scott's work. So often people act the way they do in high school in order to meet the expectations of their friends in possession of slightly stronger personalities. Only about two of Ally's former friends had an agenda against her, the rest were simply going with the flow in order to not get in their way (this was true in both Chloe and Hammond's cases, also in Jake's). Scott showed that sometimes friendships are only as strong as the people in them are. Unfortunately for Ally, many of the people she was friends with didn't have the strength to go against Shannen and Faith.
The only drawback I can think of to this book was pacing. I thought that it took a little while for the story to move along. After Ally and Jake met, i felt there were like 50-75 pages that didn't really push the plot. This includes Ally's time spent dating David, who she ends up hurting with her feelings for Jake. This relationship didn't really do much to push the plot along, nor did David's hurt feelings seem to have a deep, lasting effect on Ally's friendships. Maybe I'm just jumping to conclusions here, being as there are two more books' worth of story to go.
Told in the alternating voices of Ally and Jake, She's So Dead to Us explores what happens when what's left of a family chooses to return to an unwelcoming crowd and break the rules of the social strata surrounding them. Scott introduced strong, relatable characters that kept me interested enough in a normal high school story to want to complete the series, even if I can't fully finish the series until May. Sigh.

Rating: 4 - good.