Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book 14 of '11 Liar by Justine Larabalestier

Dust Jacket Description:

"Meet the narrator who leaves readers reeling. Dare to believe her?Micah is a liar. That's the one thing she won't lie about. Over the years, she's duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents. But when her boyfriend Zach dies under brutal circumstances, Micah sets out to tell the truth. At first the truth comes easily-because it is a lie. Other truths are so unbelievable, so outside the realm of normal, they must be a lie. And the honest truth is buried so deep in Micah's mind even she doesn't know if it's real.

The ultimate unreliable narrator takes readers on a thrill ride in this highly acclaimed novel. Prepare to grasp for truth until the very last page."

Characters: Reading about Micah made me recall my own lying behavior. I ended up relating to Micah a bit more than what would be comfortable. She was a fascinating character to read about. There's nothing likable about her, but her psyche is what keeps a reader gripping the pages. There is so much ambiguity thanks to Micah, our unreliable narrator, it almost seems unfair to discuss the rest of the characters.

Even Micah's depiction of Zach, the boy she supposedly love, often varies. Sometimes she sees him with in a brutal, unrelenting light, and others she sees him as her savior in solitude. I wonder if this inconsistency was something Larbalestier added to make the reader speculate over Micah's reliability, or if it was one of the natural aspects of their odd romantic relationship. The same thing occurred with Micah's descriptions of her parents. I still don't know for sure about Micah's relationships- or even have any other proof for speculation of their falsehood - and that issue in a nutshell is why I was so disappointed with Larbalestier's approach with this book.

One very wonderful thing about Micah's personality is that the reader gets a very clear, brutal perspective of each one of the supporting characters. I enjoyed reading about Sarah specifically because of Micah's sharp, clear and mean perception of her.

As for Micah's family and her actual relationship with Zach, I am still groping for some understanding of what was true and false.

I enjoyed the side characters Larbalestier crafted and Micah is a brilliantly formed character. But I still don't feel like I even remotely understand Micah's compulsion for lying - and that's why I picked up the book in the first place. 4 flowers.

I honestly think this is the best book I have ever read where an author's narrative voice completely transformed into their protagonist's. I flipped to the back page frequently, wondering how Larbalestier could have created such a fully realized character in Micah. I'm more than pleased with Larbalestier's brilliance. 5 flowers.

My ultimate problem with Liar is how little insight the reader actual gets into Micah's psyche. The book - although I loved the physical structure, which had no chapters and there were a lot of intrusions about Micah telling you when she had in fact lied - consisted mostly of - and then this happened. And then I did this. And here is the back story. No where did I get to see why Micah lies . Maybe giving the reader some perspective by letting the reader see Micah unravel would have defeated the point of the concept of the novel. But while I adore intelligent reads, I'm not going to spin myself in circles unless I have insight into the protagonist's mind in the first place. 3 and a half flowers.

End: Larbalestier had me in her palm until the Big Reveal came about. When it happened, I felt scammed and disappointed. Yes, it could be genius. I was hungrily waiting from that point to the end to see Larbalestier give us context to Micah. But there is no little information to go on and Micah is always composed in her recollections that by the time I closed the novel, my mind hadn't been blown. It had only been frustrated into submission. 3 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
I actually love this description. 5 flowers.

I know all the whitewashing drama that came with Liar. But even with this properly African American model, she looks nothing like the Micah in my mind. 3 flowers.

There is absolutely no doubting that Larbalestier can write. The world she crafts here is filled with complexity and intelligence. But there is NOTHING in this book that provides solid evidence for ANYTHING, and that overwhelming instability left me disappointed. 3 and a half flowers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book 13 of '11 Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

Taken from Zest Books' Site:

"Written especially for LGBT teens, Queer takes you on an awesome and enlightening journey through the sometimes scary, sometimes silly, and always fabulous world that is queer life.

Queer includes advice on:
• coming out to friends and family
• navigating your social and dating life
• dealing with queerphobia
• standing up for your rights
• learning about safe sex
• and more!

Queer also includes personal stories from the authors, as well as facts about landmark events in queer history. Sassy, engaging, and honest, Queer is a must-have for all teens who think they might be queer—or know someone who is."

I received a review copy from Zest Books.

QUEER was such a thorough guide to the LGBT world that I found myself really impressed. And I'm a girl who is regularly immersed in LGBTQ culture. The book was organized in fun, concise parts about everything from how to find your queer posse to how to find a gal/guy you want to date. It even covered every remote parental scenario I can think of in the coming out section, which is an unheard of feat. I found the comic segments to be really enjoyable. Kathy and Marke's mini stories surrounding the current sub-topic made the book more fun. I loved how they addressed creating a positive queer community around you and how to break up with someone and handle being dumped smoothly - which is something I don't usually see in ANY book for teens . They did a great job of not isolating the trans community in this book as well.

A lot of times with YA non-fiction written by adults, the tone feels too preachy and lacks the realism to help teens handle real situations. QUEER - while very conscious of its responsibility to give teens healthy advice - is realistic in its approach with sex and coming out. That's something so rare in the YA non-fiction shelves at my library that it's worth mentioning.

My only complaints would be how Belge and Bieschke constantly seemed to be using gay and lesbian stereotypes as points of reference with the LGBT community. I suppose this is helpful for questioning teens with little access or understanding of/to the queer world, but I found it insulting after one too many times of stereotyping. While LGBT cliches might be rooted in one reality, it is not how all gay and trans people act, and I wish more of an emphasis was put on that.

I also wish that the topic of labeling had been discussed more. Belge and Bieschke do a good job on introducing new labels like genderqueer and asexual into the "queer" mix, but I wish there had been a couple of words near the beginning about how the label you put on your sexuality can adapt and evolve and how that is totally okay. Labels seem to be a big issue in the queer community, and I felt like that topic wasn't addressed as much as I would have liked.

Beyond that, QUEER is the best guide to teen sexuality I've read in ages. Zest Books is one of those publishers where every book is exceptionally well made, with not only just great content, but wonderful design and paper quality. It's one of those books I'm proud to own. And if I come across any teens who are in a questioning crisis, it'll be the first book I recommend. With thorough, comprehensive content and a fun to read design, how can you go wrong? 4 and a half flowers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book 12 of '11 Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Dust Jacket Description:

makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents must pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they search for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

Characters: Harmony had a very strong personality from the beginning of Bumped. It's rare that I delight in reading about a naive narrator, but Harmony's vigor, determination and intelligence made me come to enjoy her character. I did not like how selfish she became closer to the end of the novel. I had a hard time understanding why she couldn't empathize with Melody at this point in the book when she had been able to before. We'll see in the sequel if I'm able to forgive her. However, Harmony's tender, honest love for God, as well as seeing her come more into her own, was wonderful to see.

Melody had less of a vocal presence in the book. Which makes sense due to how her parents conditioned her to be perfect. I like Melody, it just took me the entirety of the book to figure out where I stood with her. Her presence was more to show the reader the world of bumping than to get a sense of her character in Bumped. I hope to see that change in the next book.

As for the rest of the characters, I loved the satirical edge of the book. In parts, I laughed and wondered if I should be, and I think that shows how wonderful this piece of satire is. I'm still not sure what to make of Jon Doe. I have a feeling I'll enjoy trying to figure him out in future books. I didn't enjoy how much focus on put on his morals, though. I loved Zen. He had the kind of personality a lot of YA authors strive for in their best friend love interests and falter with, but McCafferty didn't.

Harmony is by far the most fleshed out character in this ensemble. I hope Melody's evolves further. 4 flowers.

Writing: I loved the language McCafferty used to get the message of the book across. The casual nature surrounding teen sex - exclusively procreation, not for pleasure - made my skin crawl. It's very easy to imagine a world like Bumped occurring in the near future. 4 and a half flowers.

Plot: It's great when an author writes with the assumption that their audience is intelligent. It isn't great when an author assumes a reader will know everything about their world that they know. I found myself feeling through the dark a couple of unnecessary times with Bumped and its world. Info dumping is not a good tool, but I like to know the basics of a dystopian world after reading 100 pages. I wish McCafferty had spent more time informing her audience.

The plot paced quite well, and I was never bored. I'm only interested in what will happen in the next book. 4 flowers.

End: A little fed up with the cliffhanger ending, but I liked the literary writing loop. 3 and a half flowers.

Dust Jacket Description: I find this description to be very thorough, which is rare. 5 flowers.

Cover: I like the semi sinister look this cover has when you look at it for a little while. It's too simplistic for me, though. 4 flowers.

Overall: If you like dystopian but want a fluffier, padded edge to your next read, try this one! 4 flowers.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book 10 of '11 Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Dust Jacket Description:

"'Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.' Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she's been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power and the courage to fight her own inner demons?"

Characters: Hunger is such a short book, it's very difficult to get a real inkling of Lisa's personality. As it often seems to happen with "issue" books, I found myself acknowledging Lisa as more of a vessel of the writer's message more than anything. Lisa's friends and family life gives us little to no indicator of why Lisa is having so many problems with her eating. In fact, we never actually find out any reasons why Lisa is struggling with food. This made the book lose a certain amount of legitimacy for me.

Lisa's perspective on her friend Tammy was my favourite aspect of this novel. It's here that I felt I really got to see the narrative of a person with anorexia and their thoughts surrounding their idols. I saw Lisa's opinion of Tammy change, and that section of the novel was the time where I felt I understood who Lisa was and her behavior surrounding food. Kessler also does the best job I've seen in any book surrounding eating disorders in legitimatizing the denial in the anorexic. I haven't seen an author give a better explanation for why someone with an eating disorder would think they don't have one.

Death's character was my favourite part of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse aspect of the book - which was disappointingly understated. His sarcastic, clever nature made me love his personality. I really wished I could have seen more of the dynamics between the four horsemen in the first place. 3 and a half flowers.

Some of Kessler's descriptions were quite gritty and beautiful. But her dialogue failed to illustrate the amount of tension between Lisa and her friends and family. The feel of the book is more along the lines of a short story. 3 and a half flowers.

Plot: The great premise of this story let me down. I wish Kessler had done more with the four horsemen premise. The cultures that Kessler could have very easily contrasted - Lisa's experiences with third world hunger forced upon generations and her own society's drive to look malnourished - were never touched upon. All the points that could have provided a new narrative about anorexia were lost. 2 flowers.

Incredibly abrupt. Hunger needed about a hundred more pages to tie everything up. 2 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
It's a little too cliche, but it makes the necessary point. 4 flowers.

Gorgeous now that I understand its meaning. 4 and a half flowers.

This fantastic premise really fell short. But I might try Rage, the sequel to Hunger, to see if Kessler can improve. If you want a book that has a fantastic depiction of mental illness, read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. 3 flowers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Interview with Melissa Kantor

I met the lovely Melissa Kantor at Teen Author Carnival last year, and she was probably the sweetest author I met in NYC. She was so kind as to offer to do an interview with me about The Darlings Are Forever. Here is the Q and A that followed. You can read all about Melissa here.

1. What inspired you to write The Darlings Are Forever?

I really wanted to write a book where friendship was CENTRAL. A long time ago I got a wonderful fan letter from a reader who said that my first book, Confessions of a Not It Girl, seems to be about whether the main character will get together with her crush but it's really about whether or not she and her best friend will work out their problems. That was a powerful reading of the book for me. I often make the mistake of thinking of best friends as being the background of life, but really they're the most important thing!

2. Have you ever had a social circle similar to the the Darlings?

When I was in my twenties, I had a group of friends and we used to meet for dinner once a week. We were all single and living in Manhattan and we had cool jobs and fun apartments and reasonably exciting lives. It was the closest thing my life ever came to being a Sex and the City episode. I wanted to capture the fun of those dinners, the way best friends are a place where you can let your hair down and just be yourself.

3. Did you have to do any research for Victoria's character of a up and coming politician's daughter?

One of my very best friends in the entire world is a politician's daughter--her father was once a presidential candidate. She was tremendously helpful to me as I wrote The Darlings Are Forever. It was she who explained to me how to have Victoria's dad, a total political unknown, become a frontrunner in a major campaign.

4. What do you think is the most important value in a friendship?

I think a really good friend sees your faults generously. It's not that she thinks you're perfect (imagine the pressure of that!), it's that she sees the best in you. Like if you're bossy, your best friend would describe you as having leadership skills. I don't think you want a best friend who's naive about you ("I don't think you're bossy!"). I think you want a best friend who's defensive about you and who isn't looking for you to fail.

5. If you had to recommend one place in NYC for tourists to go, what would it be?

It's a seasonal recommendation, so if you're in NYC in the winter, it won't work, but if you're in NYC during the warmer months, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a rooftop garden, and I'd highly recommend going up there at around sunset and looking out over Central Park and the New York City skyline. I can't think of a more perfect, romantic New York spot. Also, if you've got the time and the energy, take the subway to Brooklyn and then turn around and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to Chinatown for lunch or dinner. Best views of Manhattan ever!

Thank you so much for chatting with me about your book, Melissa!

My review of The Darlings Are Forever can be found here.

Book 9 of 11' The Darlings Are Forever by Melissa Kantor

Dust Jacket Description:

"Jane, Victoria, and Natalya. Together, they are the Darlings. Best friends forever. They have matching necklaces, their own table at Ga Ga Noodle, and even a shared motto: May you always do what you’re afraid of doing.

When the friends begin freshman year at three different high schools in distant corners of New York City, they promise to live by their motto and stay as close as ever. The Darlings know they can get through anything as long as they have each other. But doing scary new things is a lot easier with your friends beside you. And now that the girls aren’t spending all their time together, everything they took for granted about their friendship starts to feel less certain. They can’t help but wonder, will they really be the Darlings forever?"

Characters: I really loved the relationship between all three of the girls. I feel like I haven't seen a really tight knit group of girls where each girl is equally represented. That equality in narratives really made this book feel fresh, despite the typical premise.

Each girl had a really distinct voice. Jane's bubbly passion made me instantly enjoy her character. Natalya's struggle with her culture and to fit in with the popular girls didn't feel cliched. I suspect this had to do with the backdrop of NYC to make the posh expectations of Natayla's boarding school seem real. But I think it was Victoria's father's political campaign - the real center of the action - that gave this MG/YA crossover its appeal.

The side characters were realistic and enjoyable. I thought Kantor did a great job with each girl's family and romantic issues alike. This book really encompasses the fourteen year old girl experience in a way I would want my female tween cousin to read about. 4 and a half flowers.

Writing: It's so rare to hear three very distinct voices in one book. The Darlings' third person writing style really helped sculpt each girl's narrative. 5 flowers.

Plot: I thought there was a great mix of plot and character focus. Each girl had a lot of conflict in their lives, so as a reader I was never bored. My one qualm would be that the big plot changer didn't make as much sense as I wanted it to. If it had been in another setting, it would have been a lot more logical. 4 flowers.

End: Not surprising, but satisfying. I only wish Natalya's romantic problems had been resolved. 4 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description: This description sums up the premise perfectly, but I wish it gave more of an insight into what each girl is actually like. 3 and a half flowers.

Cover: Usually covers with girls on them annoy me, but I think this will appeal to the target audience. I wish it was flashier, though. 3 and a half flowers.

Overall: If you want a smart, light, friendship themed book to give to a girl between 11-14 that you know, you have to pick this up. 4 flowers.