24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: February 2016

Abby Reads: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012, 368 pages
YA Fiction

I picked up The Mockingbirds after I saw it compared to The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which I had loved. While I saw some of the factual similarities during my time with The Mockingbirds, I found the writing, plot, characterization, and overall personality of the book couldn’t really compare with E. Lockhart’s novel. I won’t spend this review comparing the two — I don’t think that’s fair to either book. But, because the two are so frequently held up against one another (at least, they were on Goodreads, Novelist, Tumblr, and a handful of other bookish communities and resources), I thought it was important that I start there.

Now that that’s out of the way, The Mockingbirds deals with Alex, a student at the prestigious and private school, Themis Academy. Known for their lack of rules for students and dedication to what IMG_0314they call character-building through the allowance of an extremely self-governed student body, Themis Academy has a problem. Without the guidance of rules and enforcers, past students have taken it upon themselves to come up with a justice system, making the school truly theirs. The system, called the Mockingbirds, isn’t brought into the spotlight frequently, and operates without a lot of advertisement to the student body. They aren’t a secret society per se, but their lack of advertising leaves some students to believe the group is a myth.

Alex, however, soon knows better. After being date raped, she’s faced with the option to press charges through the Mockingbird’s system. With encouragement from others and support from others who have experienced sexual assault at the hands of her rapist, Alex moves forward with the charges while learning the ins-and-outs of the judicial society.

In the afterword, author Daisy Whitney discusses her own experience with sexual assault. Because of the due sensitivity of the topic, her perspective as an author is absolutely an appropriate one. She handles the topic with realism and grit, but with a gentle understanding as someone who has lived through something similar. This is what makes criticizing this book so difficult. However — overall, I did not feel grippingly compelled to read on. I did finish the book and it didn’t take me forever to do so, but this was not something I struggled to put down. The plot moved slowly, with Whitney’s focus primarily on explaining the process behind the Mockingbird’s system. The book does have a sequel, The Rivals, and I imagine now that the mechanics of The Mockingbirds are out of the way, The Rivals probably gets to more meat than did its parent novel. I haven’t read it, and can’t say that I absolutely plan on it, though, so I can’t say for sure.

While the overall realism of the story was unlike a lot of other YA fiction I’ve read, I found a lot of that realism to just make the book drag. I read, in large part, to escape the monotony of the day-to-day. You may not need a fantasy novel to achieve that, but the realism injected into this novel made it just more day-to-day, despite the horrific events of Alex’s time at school. Characters were equally mundane, except for one of Alex’s friends, whom the narrator reminded the readers was British again and again. Compared to the other characters, this one was over-the-top and felt out of sync with everything else, making relationships additionally awkward.

The writing itself wasn’t awful. It was sufficient, but again, not terribly compelling. In the end, The Mockingbirds was just mediocre to me. It tells an important story, and perhaps the importance of that story trumps the need for something necessarily entertaining or beautiful or anything else a novel is “supposed to be.” If you’re looking for fictional representations of sexual assault, particularly if you’re a student writing on the topic, this is a really great piece of evidence to work with. If you’re reading for pleasure, I’m not sure I’d recommend this one.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Astray by Amy Christine Parker

Astray by Amy Christine Parker
Ember, 2015, 352 pages
YA Psychological Thriller

Astray is the sequel to Amy Christine Parker’s Gated. Now that Pioneer’s community has been disbanded by local law enforcement, his trial approaches while Lyla tries to fit in at school and reconcile the life she had before with the life she has now. Parental members in Lyla’s former community cling to the life they had while outsiders begin to join them despite the larger community’s disdain for Pioneer’s followers. Lyla, meanwhile, is breaking down relationships with those still in the community, including her parents, while building up relationships with new people like Cody’s siFullSizeRender (1)ster and mother. Relationships of all kinds trouble Lyla, from her new therapist to her old friends. But at the center of it all is one relationship: Lyla and Pioneer.

Maybe I went into Astray with too high expectations, but I was admittedly disappointed by Gated‘s sequel. I read the two books about a year apart, so it’s possible my perception of the books had more to do with my personal growth or life or what have you than it had to do with the books themselves, but Gated would have probably been better off alone. The psychological intrigue and other aspects that made Gated special were absent in Astray. Where the subtle play of psychology influenced the events in Gated, a more heavy-handed approach made Astray feel less mature, less realistic, and less gripping than its parent.

I also struggled with Lyla. She came across as less likable and, while playing the new girl in school, became a cliché. In fact, she became, in many ways, a non-speculative-fiction version of Bella Swan, complete with the new frienemies, angst over dates, and difficulties with parents. And yes, these are all things that are often inherent in young adult novels. These are the things that real teens encounter on a daily basis. But with Gated‘s unique take on these challenges, Astray felt far too flimsy in comparison. Decisions Lyla made in Gated seemed, from my outsider perspective, generally sensible. Dangerous, perhaps, but still sensible in the bigger picture. Astray showed a side of Lyla that was far more willing to take risks for reasons that, from my perspective, simply weren’t worth those risks. So often the risk came down to death and, while this may have been an indication of Lyla’s delicate mental state, the logic didn’t follow.

The turn of events in Astray was not as believable as Gated, either. Where Gated was more a book of the mind, Astray falls more into the category of physical violence. Pioneer attacks less with psychological warfare — though he does that, too — but imagery of physiological harm shows up again and again: a broken toy owl, illness, torture, shrapnel. This jarring difference positions the books to appeal to different audiences. I absolutely support authors playing with audience intentions by series, but within a series, doing so can make books in a series feel disjointed.

On its own Astray might not be bad. It’s not bad as it is. It just can’t stand up to Gated.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
HarperCollins, 2007, 290 pages
Nonfiction

I vaguely remember being introduced to Annie Dillard in my tenth grade English class. Long after having forgotten her – and Dylan Thomas, who I read around the same time and often wondered was being confused with Dillard (Dylan, Dillard, it was all the same to me) – and her story about snowballs and being one of the boys, I sent in my acceptance form to Hollins University which was, little did I know, Dillard’s alma mater. I walked the same paths as she, sat in the same classrooms, even shared a teacher or two. I have yet, sadly, to become the sensation she has been, but I hold out hope. But I’m digressing.tumblr_nxofghFTcT1qe4vfco1_1280

I finally got around to reading Dillard’s best known work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this past fall. While I had felt guilty about not having read it as a student at Hollins, reading it post-Hollins was probably for the best. Pilgrim’s look at Roanoke, Virginia, though its focus generally sits outside of the Hollins’ campus walls, made me feel as if I was visiting home again. Dillard’s grip on exploring her surroundings in every sensory permutation possible brings the environment to life.

I also want to admit that I went into Pilgrim expecting to dislike it. Also in high school, I’d been introduced to Thoreau and Emerson. Despite the pair’s ties to Louisa May Alcott (who I love), I hadn’t been impressed. In fact, the magnified look at ants one of them described – to be honest, I can’t remember which of the two existentialists wrote about the ants, I hated them both so much at the time – bored me to death. I expected Pilgrim to be much the same, as it had been advertised. The guilt pulled me into it, however, and since I was determined to read collections of essays throughout November, I couldn’t think of a better time to get it over with.

The only word that comes to mind here is, indeed. Indeed, indeed. I savored it. In either the foreword or the afterword, Dillard explains that Pilgrim is not so much a collection of essays as so many critics described it at and since its publication, but a narrative of an environment throughout the seasons. And that much is true, though it’s a winding and unfocused narrative that you may not be aware of until the thing is through and that narrative structure has been explicitly pointed out for you, as it was for me. Dillard works through the metaphysical and philosophical in indirect, meandering ways. It’s not until her inevitable punch that you realize all of the minute description leading up to it had not just been for the aesthetics, but for the thesis that the chapter led up to. With a theme for each chapter, Dillard sprinkles in other poignant lines between comments on squirrels, cicadas, and other creatures of the Roanoke Valley.

I’m often hesitant to read NYT Bestsellers or Pulitzer Prize Winners and whatnot simply because the topic of the book isn’t in my realm of interests. I imagine I’ll dislike it because I’ve read others that appear to be similar and hadn’t liked those. But each time I do, I’m surprised. This was the case with Pilgrim and others I’ve read. Even if natural observance isn’t your thing, give Pilgrim at Tinker Creek a chance – slow in some parts as it may be – and go on a journey of your own.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman

I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman
Mariner Books, 2014, 176 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

Elinor Lipman’s collection of essays is not a new set of material. Instead, it is truly a collection of her essays – pieces she’d published in journals, magazines, newspapers, and one or two fresh pieces. Despite the age of some of the essays, Lipman’s commentary on life in general remains pertinent to more modern times. Lipman’s main focus rests on her family – a husband and son. Family life frequently intersects with her Jewish heritage while Lipman muses on relationships, blunders, and gratefulness.IMG_0193

I recall one of the blurbs on the book comparing Lipman to a modern-day Jane Austen in the light of social observations. While I agree that Lipman is observant and often amusingly so, I wouldn’t go as far as to say she’s the Austen of the Twenty-First Century. That said, I enjoyed Lipman’s tamer take on the humorous essay. Where other, younger writers come across as having something to prove (often with crass humor that has its place but can become tiresome), Lipman’s age is reflected in her wisdom and her desire to prove something, if it ever existed, has gone long ago. At the same time, Lipman’s prose is that of an old friend’s. That is to say, while Lipman’s maturity is evident in both her content and style, this was not my grandmother writing. Lipman is friendly and engaging, reaching out to women in particular but offering something for everyone.

As different essays are pulled from different sources, I did find the lack of chronological order somewhat disjointing. While Lipman discusses her husband at length, one essay reveals his death shortly before other essays speak of him as a living person (which, of course, he was at the time of their original publication). The organization of essays as it currently is doesn’t add anything particularly compelling to the book as a whole. A chronological set, in fact, might have provided more as Lipman’s opinions change and grow over the years. This “character development” would have been more evident and therefore more interesting if the essays appeared in order.

The words I’d use to describe I Can’t Complain are all pretty bland: nice, pleasant, enjoyable – but don’t let that deter you from picking it up. It’s a fast read. Reading I Can’t Complain will be like spending a few hours with your mother in her most candid state on all topics, but most of all, on life.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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