Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dead Parents in YA

disclaimer: there are spoilers for Harry Potter series and Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

It's kind of a running... joke.. that so many YA parents are dead (well, or absent). It's to a point where we applaud the presence of parents, and we don't really think much of the orphan YA protagonist whose stolen our sympathy right from the start.

And this post isn't one to talk about how annoying the trend is or whatnot. It's to recognize these parents. These dead parents and dead adults who were once teenagers.

Because I think sometimes we forget that the all knowing adults were once people, living and breathing and living life and taking risks. We forget they were just kids once.

I'm rereading Harry Potter right now and I just finished the part in Order of the Phoenix with Snape's worst memory, just when James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew were all 15 year old students. They were arrogant, as Sirius put it. Idiots, as Harry put it. But they were just kids, and they were carefree.

And you don't understand how much it kills me that none of them are alive by the end of the seventh book. Moony. Wormtail. Padfoot. Prongs. These friends who took risks and chased girls and put it all on the line for each other. They lined up to serve the Order and fight against evil. The fact that Sirius spent 12 years in Azkaban and didn't live to see his name cleared. To know that Harry and Sirius only had a precious 2 years to get to know one another and that in a perfect world, Harry would have known his godfather all his life.

Remember the scene with the resurrection stone in the seventh book? James. Sirius. Remus. All there. All dead.

It was just that glimpse of the boys when they were 15 that brought out the fact that they were all best friends without a care in the world once. Not the absentee parents or adults, but people. And now they're dead and I'm heartbroken.


And I also wanted needed to mention Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. From the nature of the narration, we get both stories, the present time with Taylor and also the story of Narnie, Tate, Jude, Webb, and Fitz. The names that come with Hannah's manuscript that just gives a small glimpse into the friendship that blossomed from a tragedy.

Marchetta includes the details that really wrench my heart out and have committed to memory. Like when Taylor looks at a photograph of Webb for the first time. She says:
He is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen and it's not about his face, but the life force I can see in him. It's the smile and the pure promise of everything he has to offer. Like he's saying, 'Here I am world, are you ready for so much passion and beauty and goodness and love and every other word that should be in the dictionary under the word life?' Except this boy is dead, and the unnaturalness of it makes me want to pull my hair out with Tate and Narnie and Fitz and Jude's grief all combined. It makes me want to yell at the God that I wish I didn't believe in. For hogging him all to himself. I want to say, 'You greedy God. Give him back. I needed him here.
From the very first time I read the book and with each subsequent rereading, this quote has stuck out like it was flashing in neon lights.

Because we learn what has happend 17 years later, we learn the truth about Tate and Narnie and Jude, of Fitz and Webb. And it's not pretty, it's not bursting with life. It's sad and depressing and I can't help but think how people can fall so far and I can't help but resent a parent who doesn't take care of a child. But then I remember how she used to be a teenager. I remember how inseparable the friends were, starting territory wars for fun and writing the rules down a purple notebook. That they were kids. I don't even give a crap about how they were fictional, because they feel real to me.

And bad things happen to good people.
And I grieve like I’ve known them all my life.
It absolutely kills me that she could have. She could have.

I guess the lesson here is that dead parents weren't always dead parents and that makes me very sad.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

BR: The Disenchantments

by Nina LaCour

This is another mini-review! Mostly my immediate thought that I posted to goodreads after finishing the book.
I adored LaCour's debut, Hold Still, so she's been an author I've kept my eye on ever since.

Summary (goodreads)

Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev's band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she's abandoning their plans - and Colby - to start college in the fall.

But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while roadie- Colby struggles to deal with Bev's already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what's next?

My (short) thoughts:

The Disenchantments is kind of like Zooey Deschanel.

I like Zooey, I really do. She's pretty awesome. But sometimes I think she goes a bit overboard with the quirky, a bit too try-hard. But other than that, she's pretty cool.

That silly simile aside, I really liked the way LaCour tackled the themes in this book. There is nothing really unfamiliar in the subject matters dealt with in this novel, but the author really did exceed my expectations in the way she carefully explored these themes and depicted unexpected realities of growing up. About finding yourself and the vast unknowing thing of a "future", the feeling of doing the right thing or wanting to.. all very familiar feelings.

The characters were interesting, but I was fond of Colby's growth more than him as an individual. Bev was fascinating because I could both resent her for her decisions yet they made perfect sense in my head. The plot was alright (but sometimes overboard with aforementioned quirkiness and unlikely coincidences) and the writing was lovely. I also loved the fact that despite all the touring, the all girls band kind of sucked.
We all want to feel something, we want to be someone to one another.
Rating in HP Terms: Acceptable/Exceeds Expectations
Recommended for: road trip enthusiasts, contemp fans :)
Acknowledgements: loved! 5/5

8.3/10 - because while it hit all the right notes, it didn't really resonate with me. I thought the process of the book, the necessary stuff-- lovely writing, carefully plotted character development, quirky side characters, symbols-- was all there, but I was never head over heels (sadly). While it won't go down as the most memorable read, I'll happily say that The Disenchantments is a fantastic escapism novel that's perfect for summer.

source: library
author twitter / website

Thursday, August 9, 2012

BR: Girl of Nightmares

by Kendare Blake
Anna Dressed in Blood duology; book II

I'm uber-enthusiastic about Anna Dressed in Blood because it was so unique and interesting... I even went back and reread half of the book in preparation for the sequel. That's dedication.
Also, that cover. One of my favourites.

***The summary contains spoilers for book one***

Summary (goodreads)

It's been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can't move on.

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they're right, but in Cas's eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he's seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he's asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong...these aren't just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn't know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn't deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it's time for him to return the favor.

My Thoughts

I feel the need to reiterate the fact that Cas has a knife. And he’s a boy. And boys with knives are sexy*.

I’ve been anticipating this sequel for quite a while because there’s something I really adore about this series that I can’t fully understand, whether it is the killer covers (it probably is) or the fantastic packaging (the text is dark red!), but really, I think it’s just because it’s kind of different, and it’s presented as such.

Girl of Nightmares was very good; here were so many parts that had me excited but it wasn’t all a smooth road. I thought in general, the pacing was off because there is a lot of build up before action really starts happening. There’s nothing wrong with build up but there was a bit too much exposition and fact-finding in the first half and not enough ass kicking. I could have done with a few more plot twists, while you’re at it.

What kept me reading though, was Cas, who is still one of the most endearing (and smart-aleck-y) narrators (an odd word choice, but nevertheless spoken with genuineness). There’s something about that boy that I love; his voice is super conversational, I like that he swears, and that he’s haunted by the girl he loves who’s dead.. I find that oddly romantic. I liked that Thomas and Carmel (something akin to Ron and Hermione) got more development as well, which was a step up from the first book. That said, apart from the trio and maybe two or three others, the rest of the characters were quite one-dimensional, which could be due to lack of screen time.

Also, I really really love Anna for no particular reason. I just really do.

For the horror aspect, I wasn’t too creeped out but I thought Blake did do well with creating tense atmospheres and has a talent for gruesome descriptions. I know many readers loved that it’s a horror book, and I think it’s a great addition to a genre that’s less prevalent in YA. I’d also love to throw it into the action genre because I thought that the fight scenes were consistently exciting and well written (and I wanted more!)

Rating in HP Terms: Exceeds Expectations
Recommended for: horror fans! and well, fans of cool creepy books that are different
Acknowledgements: 3.5/5

8.7/10 – because while I think Girl of Nightmares has several flaws, I was still thoroughly entertained by Cas and the plot. It doesn’t exactly count as a horror, but I guess I’d categorize it as a horror-action-lite type thing, because it took its time to develop some creepiness. I thought the pacing could have been better but the endearing characters and solid writing kept me engaged. A fun (that might be slightly light-hearted), unique, and highly recommended sequel!

*that is, if they’re not controlling, possessive, emotionally abusive

source: publisher
author twitter / livejournal / website

Monday, August 6, 2012

BR: Something Like Normal

by Trish Doller

I don't think I can pinpoint exactly how long ago I started lusting for this book (oh man, did I lust) but it's been on my radar for SO LONG. Before its title change and cover... yep.

Summary (goodreads)

When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

My Thoughts

Male POV, new adult, some romance, drama, and lots of feels. Are you convinced yet? I had such high expectations and hopes for this novel that I've been dying to read for the longest time and I was not disappointed.

Firstly, I thought Travis' voice was absolutely perfect and Doller really, really nailed that part. Every thought, emotion, action.. it all felt very raw and never as if the character is hiding behind words.

Actually, everything about this novel makes it a wonderful read—it is so different from the stuff that is saturating this market and it’s also not only “out of the box”, it’s also so well executed. There is absolutely nothing sloppy about Doller’s debut, everything feels meticulously realistic and I was very impressed with how much I got out of a book that’s quite tiny.

I loved the family dynamics of this book, and holy hell do I love Travis’ mom. I don’t really want to go more into detail but she is one badass amazing mother. Travis’s home life is far from ideal but each interaction felt authentic.

And that’s the real gem of this book—the authenticity. Travis' PTSD was very well portrayed, as was his complex relationship with war, his past, and even his relationship with Charlie. I thought the love interest Harper was interesting in her own right, though I did sometimes wish she had more dialogue. Many people felt the ending was cut short but I really liked it. While sure, I wouldn’t have minded another 500 pages of Travis, I thought Doller left the book at the absolute perfect place.

I wish I could be a bit more eloquent and give Something Like Normal the review it deserves, but I’m a bit rusty at this* and I’m only here to spread my love for this book. It started out as a mini-review but honestly, it deserved its own post. It’s a refreshing, realistic, and beautiful book filled with compelling characters that demand your attention, and you should read it because I think you’ll like it.

Rating in HP Terms: Exceeds Expectations
Recommended for: everyone! Especially fans of contemporary and new adult fiction!
Acknowledgements: awh 4.5/5

8.8/10 because I really really liked it. The characters were the best parts and I thought Travis’ voice was so compelling. The romance was done delicately and very well, and I was instantly sucked into the story. I went into Something Like Normal with exceedingly high expectations and I came away very satisfied. I’ll read anything by Doller at this point, no matter the cover.

*this being the whole review thing

source: bought
author website / tumblr (LOVE her tumblr!) / twitter

Saturday, August 4, 2012

an ode to FINN

I wanted to dedicate this post to the brothers in YA novels named Finn who never fail to be awesome. Oh hi, your name is Finn? Here's a ticket to my heart. Not even kidding.

Finn from Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

I feel like my keyboard will break from the number of less-than-threes I want to type, he's supportive and just a superb younger brother. I loved that he would always help out Piper and that sometimes he was a brat and troublemaker but has a heart of gold.

Finn from In Honor by Jessi Kirby

I mean, he's dead (not a spoiler). But I still ended up loving him because of the love he extended to Rusty and how much he cared about Honor. He was thrown with so much responsibility at a young age but never backed down, and he spent his life making sure Honor could have the best one. It's just... asdkjf;alksdjf;ajl

Finn from Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Come on, what a hero (albeit not exactly a brother). He's older and wiser beyond his years from all the stuff he's had to endure through the years, traveling and learning the history of his land. He is the one who's trying to piece his kingdom back together and he's just a freaking teenager. He's basically awesome.

Finn from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Perhaps my favourite Finn. I can't even name the number of reasons he just steals my heart, from the fact that he'll fight with Puck and he'll fight for her. He'll try and do what's best for his family and his sneaky side where he'll scam a few more November Cakes for himself. I love how Stiefvater gave him such personality and depth even when he wasn't the main character, and well, he stole some scenes for me. Love this Finn.
"One of the lines in Finn's code is that you're not to say anything about Finn being attractive to the opposite sex. I'm not sure which exact statue governs this, but it's closely related to the one that won't let you thank him. 
Something about compliments and Finn don't work."

Which basically concludes I really should name my kid Finn, eh? And of course, please mention any other Finns I have forgotten and deserve to be on the list :)

[edit] HOW COULD I FORGET FINNICK ODAIR HOWWWW <3 (thanks elena for the reminder!)

Friday, August 3, 2012

BR: In Honor

by Jessi Kirby

This is a mini review! I take mini reviews very seriously.

Summary (goodreads)

Hours after her brother’s military funeral, Honor opens the last letter Finn ever sent. In her grief, she interprets his note as a final request and spontaneously decides to go to California to fulfill it.

Honor gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen Rusty in ages, but it’s obvious he is as arrogant and stubborn as ever—not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Despite Honor’s better judgment, the two set off together on a voyage from Texas to California. Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn’s memory—but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?

My (short) Thoughts

Damn, I have wanted to read this book for ages. And I feel like Jessi Kirby just fast-tracked into my heart as it is filled with Supernatural references and love for dresses + boots (is there a more perfect combination?)  But seriously, if the 1967 Chevy Impala doesn't win you over... just wait till they start singing Carry On My Wayward Son.

I thought it was a very "YA" novel (despite me throwing it into New Adult) as it dealt with serious emotions yet also embraced more lighthearted, adventurous moments. I loved the road trip and Honor and Rusty and completely adored the ending. And I was able to fall in love with Finn (can I just mention how brother's named Finn are always the best*?). Overall I thought that it didn't really surprise me or blow me away, but I undeniably enjoyed it. Definitely recommended.


*seriously, THE BEST

source: bought
author twitter / website / blog

Thursday, August 2, 2012

BR: Perfect Escape

by Jennifer Brown

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Brown since her debut, Hate List, blew me away. I think she has a way with handling tough issues with honesty, and I expected the same from her latest book.

Summary (goodreads)

Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation.

Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past.

With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.

My Thoughts

Perfect Escape is a road trip book, but it is far from your typical Epic Detour road trip. It took its time to explore the complex relationship between siblings, which makes up the core of the novel. I really liked the twist on this type of "road trip" used more to isolate and bring the characters to the forefront with nowhere to hide.

Kendra, our narrator, is involved with a cheating scandal at her school which causes her to take off across the country with her older brother who has OCD. While I thought that she built up her mistake too much, I can understand perfectly where she’s coming from--which was a detail I think Brown understands as well. She perfectly narrows down the focus and shows she understands how something that might seem like an insignificant event to a reader would just feel like the apocalypse to a perfectionist like Kendra living in the shadow of her brother.

With pretty much only two main characters (plus the random lady and her baby, which I did think was interesting but very sub-plot-y) the range and depth of these two should have impressed me. The rocky dynamics between Kendra and Grayson far exceeded the strength of the characters as individuals (particularly Grayson) though. Brown uses the metaphor of shadows later on in the book, and I think it has to be my favourite aspect of Perfect Escape. It was simple, yet completely realistic because I felt the same thing with my older brother.

I liked how Brown didn’t try and do too much with the book, she doesn’t throw in random issues for the sake of issues, but it is also a weaker aspect. There isn’t much to distract the reader when things start feeling slightly repetitive. The thing with this book is that while there are many admirable qualities, it fails to “stay” with me after finishing. While Perfect Escape does a great job with what it aims to do, it is ultimately kind of forgettable.

Rating in HP Terms: Acceptable
Recommended for: contemporary fans, people interested in a book about OCD
Acknowledgements: 4/5

8/10 – because while I find it hard to recall characters’ names a week later, I still remember enjoying this read. It doesn’t feel as much as an “issue book” as it does a book that deals with the intricacies of family and familial bonds. I wish there was a bit more to the plot but I liked the strong depiction of Kendra and Grayson’s history and strained interactions. I though Kendra was an extremely believable character in particular, but unfortunately she couldn’t carry the book on her own.

source: publisher
author website