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There Is No There, There

The title is from a Gertrude Stein Quote: "When you get there, there is no there, there." Books are my favorite form of escapism and the book that can keep me up late at night against reason and sense is a rare and beautiful thing. I like reading because it is a peek into someone's inner life and inner monologue. Whether books want to or not, they are teaching us something about the author's view of what it means to be a woman or person or be in love or be alive. The books that are popular are a commentary on what we value as a society.

Review of Just One Day

Just One Day - Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman has yet to disappoint me. I find myself much less interested in what happens as whom it happens to. This author has a real gift for creating well-rounded, believable characters. In a short time, I get to know her characters really well. How long did we spend with Babs? Or Wren? Or Dee? And yet these minor characters are as vivid (sometimes more vivid) than main characters I've spent an entire series with. And this is because Gayle Forman writes characters, not vessels that the reader just injects themselves into. This technique makes it very frustrating when a character makes a decision I would not make. This character is supposed to be me, but I'm not that stupid! When Allyson frustrated me (or her mother, or Melanie, or Celine, etc.) I at least knew why she was choosing what she chose. Because she is her own character. Forman has given me enough background to understand Allyon's thought process and appreciate her feelings.

I'm also deeply impressed by Allyson's character evolution. I've read books where the author tries to show her character has evolved and changed based on her experiences, but it feels sudden; out of place; forced. I hate that. Nothing about Allyson felt forced. She still failed. She backed down. but we could sense her growing resistance and frustration, so when she finally spoke out against her mother (not, perhaps, in the most tactful way, but definitely in an understandable way) it felt so right. Her actions had been building over the course of the novel. Forman laid solid foundation for Allyon's evolution.

While I'm a sucker for romance, it made me so happy that the focus of the book was on self-discovery. Sure, the catalyst was that day in Paris with Willem, but Allyson was very aware throughout the novel that she was very much searching for Lulu; she was searching for herself. Maybe it's because that's the place I'm in my life. I have this really deep urge to get out, go away, see what's out there. I deeply desire to travel by myself and therefore have a deeper understanding of myself. I found that very satisfying in this novel. (Sidenote: in many ways this novel makes me think of The Alchemist- listening to the universe! You will fave adversity, but the universe will give you the signs and nudges and help to make your dreams come true! But you need to be willing to put in the effort and pay the consequences.)

I am so glad I read this book now and not a few months ago. I'm not sure I could wait that long for the sequel. As it is I am waiting impatiently for the library to present me with a borrowed copy! My guess: Willem had another run-in with the skinheads.

Review of the Iron King

The Iron King - Julie Kagawa

This is a novel I liked better as it progressed. I don’t think it’ll ever be a volume I return to time and again, but it was an entertaining read for my daily train ride (even if I did try to hide the cover a bit so my fellow commuters wouldn't judge me).

There were characters I thought were done well, and characters that lacked sparkle. Overall, I found Meghan to be disappointing and her dialogue unimaginative. I also didn’t like how inconsistent she was. Maybe it’s just part of being a teenager, but I didn’t appreciate how she wished for designer jeans, then bashed girls who did dress nicely, to later defy the court by wearing her human clothes only to feel self conscious and insignificant moments later. Make up your mind, girl! If you’re going to be defiant and comfortable in your skin, then do it! Stop recanting each time you see someone better dressed or more attractive than you!

My favorite characters were minor characters. The Packrats stole my heart, and I knew I would be entertained when Grimalkin was in a scene. The author must be a cat-owner, because she totally captured the attitude of a cat- independent and self-important; I loved it.

I really didn’t get into the plot until we learned about the Iron King. Before that, it felt really aimless and drifting. It felt like a series of misadventures without any real focus or direction. It was tiring to read about something dreadful happening, Meghan being rescued, something else dreadful happening. I also really hope we find out why Meghan is so special. The king doesn’t really seem to care one twit about her. And if she’s the undoing of an entire race of people, you’d think the Iron King would just send faeries to mate with humans and there’s a whole army of halflings.

That being said, I was impressed with the author’s handle on faerie mythology. It’s so not what I thought when I was a kid (Tinkerbell). It’s dark and sadistic. While I must admit I liked the dark stuff, it was really strange to me that the topics didn’t feel to fit the voice. This felt like it was written for a 14 or 15 year old. The voice felt very young, very accessible, very innocent, and then there’s casual discussion of gang rape (not once, but TWICE in the course of the novel) and the queen being “denied a consort.” Jeez. Those are some pretty adult things. It really bothered me that her near-gang-rape was brushed off so easily. Yes, she was saved, but that is a VERY traumatic experience. It also concerned me that she’s so wrapped up in Ash that she can recover from such an interaction. It felt unrealistic and disrespectful to me.

But that’s just one girl’s opinion.

SPOILER ALERT!

Reading Notes

The Elite - Kiera Cass

In a Nutshell: In the 2nd installment of the Selection Trilogy, America finds herself closer to the crown- as well as the two boys who share her heart- and finds herself questioning what she really wants.

My take:
Not as enjoyable as the first. I found America frustrating as she waffled between Aspen and Maxon. No sooner had she made promises or encouragements to one than she was back in the arms of the other. Sure, a girl can be confused and not know what she wants, but maybe she needs to do less kissing and flirting and more soul searching.

I also couldn't stand how many times she broke into tears. Hold it together, woman!

America... is kind of a "taker." She takes from the girls (like getting what she wants to know from Kriss), she takes from the boys (begs their presence, their attention, their comfort, their gifts), she takes from her maids (she always clumps them into "the girls" and even though the author wants to express that America is progressive, she does NOT treat them equally and can be so dismissing and condescending) and I never really see her giving anything back.

My complaint from the first book stands- the author states facts about America, but we never see them in action (and I can't stand the random paragraphs about history- they feel so forced). "I'm a FIVE afterall," etc. but she ACTS so privileged, so dismissive, so condescending (see note about how she treats her maids). She is not a strong strike out on her own character, she is always begging for help from others. Even with her philanthropy project, she's stumped and tries to get her ideas from Maxon and Aspen. No! Sit! Think! Do this ONE THING ALL BY YOURSELF!

And yet... yes, I will be tuning in to see the conclusion. I feel oddly compelled to know how things end for Maxon. He's the one character keeping me reading.

Review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Ellen Forney, Sherman Alexie

Mad But Magic Blog

Review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, or, How a 14 Hour Car Drive Can Influence Your Reading Choices

I’ll be candid- I wasn’t going to finish this book. It’s a difficult read; there are some shockingly violent passages: (character burned to death: check; character shot in the face: check; character killed by a drunk driver: check; etc. etc.). If it weren’t for the fact that it was the only book I brought with me on a 14hour car drive, I probably would have set it down & never finished it. But circumstances being what they were, I did finish, and although it unsettled me, I found it profoundly moving and refreshing.

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes, by Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
As a 14-year-old boy with a pretty serious medical history growing up in an alcohol- and poverty-plagued community in Washington state’s Spokane Indian reservation, Arthur-called-Junior’s formative years are about as different from mine as I could imagine. The plot centers around Junior’s dual identity after he transfers to a wealthy “white” school off the reservation. To his white classmates and teachers, Indian = Invisible. To his fellow Spokane Indians, including his one and only friend and protector, Junior is a traitor to his culture and community. While Junior struggles with finding his place on the totem pole (see that? culturally insensitive idioms pervade our language!), I love that he never becomes truly adrift in his identity. Junior is surprisingly confident, resilient, and centered.

“Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”
Identity is in part Who am apart from these people? and Who am I among these people? While Junior knows who he is, he struggles to assert his individuality and pursue his personal dreams without betraying his community. This struggles comes to a head during a critical basketball game where Junior finds himself playing against his old teammates- the same kids that bullied him and daily rejected him. Having found acceptance on his new team and at his new school, Junior feels the need to defend himself and justify his choice to transfer off the reservation, and in fighting his personal battle, loses sight of the battle for pride and recognition that his community is daily waging against the wealthy, the privileged, the White.

“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”
For a short book, it sure packs a lot of punch. Along with addressing cultural identity, this book also takes an honest look at poverty, racism, death, alcoholism, loss and bullying. While it isn’t necessarily enjoyable to read about violence, rejection and misery, I am deeply impressed with the author’s ability to discuss these issues with honesty brevity, and a lack of romanticization that was on the opposite end of the spectrum from “after-school special.” For enjoyment, this book gets 3 stars (like I said- a hard read) for cultural competency and being a bold voice, 5 stars. We’ll compromise with 4 stars.

“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That's right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that's kind of perverted or maybe it's just romantic and highly intelligent.”

SPOILER ALERT!

Review of Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

I really enjoyed it. A LOT happened, which is a nice change from a book series that takes its time because the author knows there's going to be 3 more books following the same person and they need to leave some room for growth. It's not the case with this book- it's a full-on sprint the entire way through.

I also like that this is not a love story. The romance is a sub-plot. Center stage is this young-adult political intrigue. Well done, Kristin Cashore! At last a book about something other than "I love him/but we can't be together/I'll be moody for 300 pages."

That said, I agree with the perspective of other reviewers that there's some uncertainty in what the author is saying about feminism. You don't need to hate dresses and long hair and marriage to be a feminist. There is some danger in that of Female Chauvinist Pig-ism that idealizes all things man and puts down women who enjoy "girly" things. I don't think that this is what Kristin Cashore is doing, though. She's telling one girl's story, and in this story, she doesn't like all those things; all the girly things that are expected of her. Katsa is no less of a woman for wanting pants and short hair.

I'm conflicted with the ideas of marriage put forth in the book. In this medieval-ish time period, marriage was very much arranged, very much subjugating a woman to her husband. Though if we're going with the historical context, it should be noted that women didn't take lovers without significant social repercussions.

If Katsa's view on marriage is the author's, (which she is totally allowed to have & I don't disrespect her for it) it makes me sad that she sees being a wife likened to being a barnacle. I certainly hope my marriage is an equal partnership. And I would imagine that Po and Kat have a good equal partnership thing worked out. And personally (though again, the author can feel however she wishes to feel) I think there is a beauty in monogamy & commitment. While maybe it is selfish to want someone to commit only to me, I think commitment and fidelity are an integral part of any relationship and I don't think it would be wrong or make her any less of an individual to want that in her life.

While this is what I want, it's clearly not what Katsa wants. Her work comes first, her love life comes second. From that perspective, she really shouldn't get married unless she can commit. Good for her for knowing her priorities and not settling. Love does't mean marriage, and marriage doesn't mean love. It's refreshing to read a YA novel that doesn't end in settling down & starting a family. Katsa's got bigger goals, bigger dreams than just finding a man & having babies. She can find love and have love along the way, and I think that's a better message than these books that want female characters to be weak and at the beck and call of their male lovers.

Review of All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

All Our Yesterdays - Cristin Terrill

This review can also be read (with pictures!) on Mad But Magic YA Blog

All Our Yesterdays is an exciting, page-turning inaugural novel by Cristin Terrill. We switch perspectives between Marina, a pettish, snobby teenager, and the older version of herself, Em, who travels back in time to save the world- and herself- from the dangers and misuse of time travel. Sounds like a paradox, right?Each time she makes the journey with her cell neighbor and friend, Finn, she tries a different method of stopping the future and leaves instructions for the next version of herself.

In previous reviews I have expressed my frustration with time travel novels, but Terrill skirted many of my common complaints and either explained away inconsistencies satisfactorily, or provided such a rich sub-plot that I wasn't concerned with how she chose to make time travel work. The only time I felt myself really perplexed was at the end when some actions held, and some were reversed (SPOILER: when James's suicide remained true, but Finn's murder and Marina's memory of that day were erased). I guess we can chalk that up to Terrill's earlier explanation that time tries to correct itself?

All Our Yesterdays had a lot going for it: solid dialogue, strong, self-aware female character, gradual and realistic romance, reasonable character evolution, insightful flashbacks. I was quickly sucked into Terrill's world and wanted to read it again immediately after finishing the final page. And yes, I checked to see if there was any fanfiction written on it yet (there's not. *sad face* Friends, you all need to join this fandom and write me some good fanfics).

While there is a lot to enjoy in this packed novel, I knew it was love when Finn took James and Marina (and us!) home for the first time. This is not a lengthy scene, but what we learn about Finn and his family life moved me and resonated with me on a personal level. Finn's nervous about sharing his home life with his friends and at first glance, it's because of his family's relative poverty compared to the lifestyles of James and Marina. When we hear his mother's voice for the first time, calling to Finn to help her in the other room, I felt like I was hearing an echo from my own life. We come to learn that his mother has Multiple Sclerosis.

I have been waiting for a character like Finn Abbott for a long time. I was very pleased to see a parent with a mental illness represented in Fangirl, and I've been waiting for an author to tackle the circumstance of having a parent with a physical illness. These family dynamics are underrepresented in YA fiction, despite knowing a lot of people in my life who have been affected by a parent with an illness. I have seen so much of Finn reflected in my friends and in myself and Terrill really grasped the personality nuances that come with growing up with a sick parent. I was very impressed.

If you're looking for a well-rounded, action-packed novel that understands complicated friendships, family dynamics and character evolution, look no further! All Our Yesterdays has it all!

Reading Note

Breakable - Tammara Webber

Frankly, I want to give this 4 stars, but it would embarrass me to rate it so highly when this purely a self-indulgent romance read.

Review of Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Pushing the Limits - Katie McGarry

I'll admit- my enjoyment of this book was closer to a 5, but some issues with specifics won't allow me to give this book that rating. For one, the over-usage of my least favorite term of endearment, "baby." Just not my thing. Secondly, Noah, while having many many admirable qualities (his loyalty, his strength, his confidence, his determination, his devotion, his sexiness... probably shouldn't have listed that last one, but couldn't resist... etc.) he sounded a little controlling at times. Just shades of it. Like he relies on intimidation. Which, in a way, is fine considering his past and that he's just 18. He's got enough good qualities, good sense, to grow out of that macho-man, I-take-care-of-MY-girl-and-yes-she-is-MINE stage and into someone who can be a bit more INTERdependent. Also, he really does need a better vocabulary. And yet again, on the other hand, that's how some teenagers speak! In the end, I'm glad Katie McGarry wasn't afraid to throw around a lot of bad language.

 

But yes it drew me in, yes I had trouble putting it down, yes I got sucked into their world, and yes I really really enjoyed their chemistry. This book is exactly what I wanted it to be. I didn't care about Beth or Lila, but I liked Isaiah a WHOLE lot and want to read about him in his own book. I liked Noah & Echo's relationship and I reveled in their chemistry. It was a bit of wish-fulfillment-y and what you'd expect from a teen novel, but it also dealt with some real issues (other than I have no personality and my boyfriend is a vampire omg). Lastly, yay for teen books that recognize there's more than kissing then sex. There's a beautiful and expansive area in between to enjoy :^)