24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: March 2016

Abby Reads: Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2014, 528 pages
YA Fantasy

It had been quite a while since I read the book leading up to the final installment of The Lumatere ChroniclesFroi of the Exiles. So, when I picked up Quintana of Charyn, I knew I was getting into somewhat complicated politics (especially for a YA novel) and I was likely to be lost. That ended up being exactly what happened. I say this because I feel like my review of the book is “tainted” because of it. Givenimage1 (5) that the first two novels combined well-surpass nine hundred pages, I was reluctant to reread them in preparation for Quintana of Charyn. Plus, I was really looking forward to Quintana despite the lack of memory I had regarding Froi. Anyway, all this to say the book is probably at least a little better than how I’m going to describe it, especially if you read it together with the first two rather than waiting seven months to finally get around to it.

Oh, and there will be spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles because, you know, that’s the nature of sequels.

Onward!

Quintana picks up not long after Froi ends. Now pregnant with Froi’s child (which is a Big Deal because of the curse), Quintana is left to defend for herself, having spent her entire life within the walls of the palace. Meanwhile, Finnikin continues to struggle with Isaboe’s relationship with Froi and his relationship – both as husband and advisor. Plus, the women of the valley are wondering how Quintana got to them and why she’s there. Froi is working to track down Quintana, still struggling to manage the guilt he feels about, well, everything.

Quintana just didn’t do it for me. It felt long and meandering and mostly aimless. While Froi and some combination of Finnikin and Froi’s parents and maybe some other friends romped around the continent, the back-and-forth of travel didn’t have the same excitement as in Finnikin of the Rock or even Froi of the Exiles. Characters who became big players in Froi still hadn’t gripped me by the heartstrings (though I knew they should have), so I skimmed through their scenes, even though those scenes were some of the most interesting.

Isaboe becomes almost completely unlikable by the third book of The Lumatere Chronicles, and perhaps never more so than in the climax of the novel, in which she takes great action but in a way that came across as begrudging. This was especially jarring given that this is such a huge difference from when we knew her as Evangeline. Up until this point, Marchetta excels at creating strong women as characters. In Quintana, she seems to forget that women need not take on macho characteristics to be considered strong. Instead, she masculinizes the actions, sentiments, and language of her women, tearing them away from what made them so great in the first place. The odd part of this is, so much of this novel is rooted in inherently female experiences: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and oppression in a male-dominated world.

The characters I referred to as recently-made-big-players deserve their own book or even spin-off series. I never felt Marchetta introduced them well enough in Froi and, despite their rather large arc in Quintana, they still felt secondary to the now-dislikable main cast (that is, Finnikin, Isaboe, Froi, and Quintana). It further occurs to me, now that I’ve listed these main characters, that while the entire series is, at its heart, about Isaboe, Isaboe is the only character of the four who doesn’t get a book title. There’s no Isaboe of the Throne, for example, to Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn. My understanding is, this is it. There’s a short story to accompany it all on Marchetta’s website, but no plans for a fourth book. And frankly, I don’t think there needs to be in terms of plot. But I still feel, particularly for an arguably-feminist series, Isaboe was cheated.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: You Are SO Cursed! by Naomi Nash

You Are SO Cursed! by Naomi Nash
Smooch, 2004, 198 pages
YA Fiction

I remember once being told that if someone is giving you criticism, it is because they are invested and want you to improve. This usually means you see some poteimage1 (4)ntial there. For these reasons, my review for You Are So Cursed! will be short.

The saving grace of You Are So Cursed! was its length. Like this review, the book, too, was brief. And that’s really all I can say about that. I try not to be too harsh, but I couldn’t think of a single thing that I actually liked about this book. The characters were poorly developed, the plot was not intriguing, the writing was dry, the concept was trite, and there were multiple instances of slut-shaming or general misogyny. The book also felt incredibly dated – I could tell I was reading something that might have appealed (at least in clichéd content) to early-2000s teens (or, you know, middle school me). But today? Definitely not quality literature.

💔  out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010, 432 pages
YA Fiction

From a psychological and human interest perspective, I’m fascinated by extreme violence – serial killers, terrorism, school shootings. (Let me emphasize, though, that I do not condone this violence or anything of the sort.) I read a lot of web articles about these topics, have read through the Wikipedia articles for Columbine and Virginia Tech (among others) several times, and have even scrolled through fan pages for these events and their perpetrators on Tumblr (yes, these exist; they can have very graphic and disturbing content, though, so if you choose to seek them out, proceed with caution!) because the mentality of not just the murderers, but of their “fans” (and some truly are fans and sympathizers) is almost as interesting to me.

I’ve hedged, however, at fiction on these topics. I haven’t read a whole lot of it because I don’t often feel fiction can do it justice, or the author will have some ulterior motive and message (either on one side or the other), or it’ll just be too campy given the dire seriousness of these subjects. Despite this, I grabbed Hate List from one of my public library’s ebook collections and breezed through it in a few days. Hate List isn’t a perfect book, but it does have a lot of great stuff in it. Before I get into that, here’s a quick rundown of the plot –

Valerie, a high school student, is left entering school again after a long break that extended beyond just the summer months. Just before school let out for summer, her boyfriend, Nick, brought guns to school and killed and injured classmates and teachers. Stuck with feelings of guilt for a variety of reasons, and wondering what she could have done to stop it, Valerie thinks this might not have happened if it weren’t for the “hate list” she started with Nick. Now that she’s heading back to school, she’ll have to figure out who is willing to say “hello,” to her – forget about who even wants to be image1 (2)friends. Meanwhile, her family is falling apart and her therapist sometimes feels like the only person on her side.

Ultimately, Hate List was kind of campy. I won’t dance around that. Brown’s prose reads in such a way that suggests she doesn’t think her readers are ready for true realism. She does describe some of the violence that occurred through sections of flashbacks and newspaper articles written by a fictitious journalist, but it’s all very PG. And I don’t necessarily know that it has to be graphic and visceral to be less campy – in fact, a lot of that campiness came from the relationships and characters that, despite Brown’s apparent efforts (such as presenting characters who have personalities that conflict with the main character’s perception of those characters), are one-dimensional. The characters are, largely, what you would expect to see in a run-of-the-mill family comedy. The troubled father. The overly-emotional mother. The annoying-but-cute little brother. The angsty teen. The preps. The jocks. The popular kids. The outcasts. It’s all so predictable. In drawing her characters this way, I think Brown did something that’s actually a bit dangerous: she made an assumption about what a school shooter looks like and what the motive and the victims “causing” that motive look like.

This isn’t an academic paper, so I’m not going to bore you all (read: make the effort) to say why this is a problem. I’ll just say that I think Brown is perpetuating some pre-existing stereotypes around school shooters and school shootings that are harmful. By making the assumption that the outcast is going to take up a gun and kill the preps and jocks, not only is that trite and kind of lazy, it’s setting us up to fear people who are different. And I think we do quite enough of that as it is.

But moving on. Despite all of the stereotyping, I really appreciated Brown’s commitment to showing Nick as a full human being with more than one side. Yes, he killed and injured his classmates. But leading up to that, Valerie liked him for a reason. For the most part, he’s a likable kid. He’s a person. And rather than just designing him as a cold-blooded killer, Brown lets her readers sympathize with Valerie, which is the important thing. At the same time, the story becomes more believable because even those who are heartless, emotionless, cold murderers, history shows, blend in pretty well up until they get caught or are responsible for a major event. If you look at descriptions of famous serial killers, you’ll find many who knew them describe these people as charming, if maybe a little off. It all depends on the psychological diagnosis, and I want to stay away from making any generalizations or pretending I’m expert, so I’ll stop here – but ultimately, I felt Brown’s characterization of Nick was both important and at least semi-successful.

Hate List, at least for me, was a really quick read. I got through it in a few days, even though it’s a bit bulky in terms of page numbers. The plot is so-so and I felt there were some major things missing, like a place where a complete list of the victims are compiled (I think that would have had a much bigger impact; despite the obituaries and articles and other pieces of the novel, I never really had a good sense of how many people Nick had killed or injured – obviously one at all is horrendous, but the number of people, their class years, are important pieces to understanding subtext and a climate that isn’t stated explicitly). And, yeah, the book had a very ‘90s-teen-movie feel to it. But it wasn’t bad. It was enjoyable.

If, however, you’re looking for a really fast school-shooting read, one I read back in middle school (so, make of the distance since I’ve read it what you will) has stuck in my mind ever since: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser. At the time I read it, I was so moved that I wrote the superintendent and asked that they make it assigned reading for all middle school students. I still feel it’s an important book, if perhaps a little dated now, and definitely worth a few hours of your and your loved ones’ time.

Meanwhile, check out other books on this topic here.

❤❤❤💔  out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Square Fish, 2009, 304 pages
YA Fiction

 

In Gabrielle Zevin’s Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, co-editor of the yearbook and high school student Naomi might as well have been born yesterday. After falling down the stairs of her school, Naomi has lost all of her memories. Dealing not only with the stress of typical high school drama, Naomi has to rebuild her life from nothing. Whether or not she’ll get her memories back is up in the air. She focuses, instead, on creating new memories. With a few shocks along the way, Naomi discovers her boyfriend Ace, her best friend Will, and the guy whose past is as murky as Naomi’s feelings for him, James.

 memoirsMemoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac simply wasn’t all that memorable. Granted, I did read it a while ago, but I had to look up quite a bit about what this book actually was about. Details came floating back the more I read, but overall, this book didn’t really stand out. It’s strange, perhaps, because the book was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and, generally, I find books that receive awards or other professional recognition (New York Times Bestsellers and iterations thereof aside) tend to be pretty good. I trudged through Memoirs because, even now, I’m reluctant to truly give up on a book. But despite the intrigue of the title and the publisher-approved summary, Memoirs just didn’t wow me.

Zevin packs a lot into Memoirs. There’s Naomi’s amnesia, of course, Will’s “Nice Guy” persona (some of you know exactly what I’m talking about), the oddly-fitting jock stereotype that is Ace, James’s uncomfortable history and mental health,  Naomi’s family situation, and certainly a few other things I’m forgetting about. All of this in just three-hundred-four pages. With so many tragedies occurring, each on a different level than the others, the book, from a conflict-load perspective, should have been two books with two different stories, preferably with different sets of characters. It’s possible Zevin was attempting to convey the same sense of overwhelm Naomi felt at the loss of her memory; but the number of conflicts in the narrative didn’t overwhelm so much as just make the book feel weighed down with material, despite how relatively short it actually was.

Naomi, as a character, did little to help. As she’s figuring out who, exactly, Naomi is, the reader gets little sense of who Naomi is. She spends so much of her time asking, “Who am I?” that the reader can’t invest in her much and come to care about the outcome of her problems. Zevin kicks it up with supporting characters, who are sometimes too colorful, such as Naomi’s step-mom-to-be, who just seems unreal, and Will, who, even as the “Nice Guy,” walks around like, not some sort of exaggeration, but more like a cartoon. James is the most interesting character of the bunch. Frankly, I’m surprised Zevin hasn’t (to my knowledge) written a spin-off novel about him. While James has some cliché features as far as YA novels go, he does seem the most real of all the characters and that sense of reality gives him an edge that similar characters in other novels don’t have as much as. This is especially evident toward the end of the novel.

It’s hard to pin down Memoirs. One moment, it’s light-and-fluffy; the next, for a briefer moment, it’s heavy and intriguing. Sometimes the “heavy” is done well and other times, it’s obvious that this is a book written with words about people who don’t exist. Personally, I like to forget that I’m reading when I’m reading. If that’s what you’re looking for, too, you won’t find it here in Memoirs.

 

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Vintage Contemporaries, 2003, 226 pages
Fiction

I generally dislike reviewing books that have seen huge success or are New York Times Bestsellers or award winners or what have you. Anything that could be said of such a book has probably already been said and multiple times. I can’t promise this review will be any different, but I can say that I knew nothing about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time before I read it, other than it was a Big Deal.

Written by Mark Haddon, the novel is told from the perspective of Christopher, a fifteen-year-old with autism. When he finds his neighbor’s dog dead of a gardening tool to the torso, Christopher feels compelled to discover who killed the dog. Interviewing his neighbors, thinking through the events and the facts, and fighting his father all along, Christopher eventually comes to a realization that shakes his world. Now, his mother dead for some years, has found a way back into his life in a way Christopher can hardly believe.IMG_0344

The pace of The Curious Incident makes for an interesting novel. With Christopher’s straight and matter-of-fact narration style, the book reads more like a series of events than a traditional novel. Haddon masterfully weaves in his character’s personality and traits through the narration style, such as Christopher’s decision to number the chapters using only prime numbers. It is this level of detail as Haddon brings his readers into Christopher’s mind that makes this such a success.

Christopher’s reliance on objective detail helps to paint vivid imagery. Sounds, tastes, smells, and textures are shot out, round after round, to give the reader a full picture of Christopher’s world. When anxiety builds for Christopher, it builds for the reader, too. Haddon handles these sensory details so adeptly that they convey more than just the surroundings, but Christopher’s mental and emotional states. This is never truer than when Christopher tries to take a train and encounters the overwhelming aspects of buying a ticket, finding the right train, being on the train, and the volume of people in both trains and stations.

What made this book all the more interesting is that it is set in England. The cultural differences become especially apparent with Christopher as a more objective observer of cultural nuances. As Christopher inhabits a world seemingly designed against his preferences, he asks why over and over, leading the reader to ask whythemselves. Haddon achieves this without appearing overly philosophical or pretentious, which makes The Curious Incident so popular and successful.

For all its high-literary features, The Curious Incident is a very readable book. Its language is simple and offers a variety of topics that will likely reach out to its readers in one way or another. Though perhaps a bit unrealistic, the plot falls through Christopher’s eyes, making the novel a unique journey.

 

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013, 448 pages
YA Fiction

If you’ve been anywhere near young adult lit in the past two years or so, you’ve probably at least heard of Rainbow Rowell and either Eleanor & Park or Fangirl. I finally got around to reading Fangirl recently. As someone who is very much a fangirl, I went into the book expecting to find a character very much like myself in Cath. And I did.

Cath and her twin sister, Wren, are heading to college for the first time. While they’ve decided to attend the same school, Wren is ready to branch out and doesn’t want to be Cath’s roommate. Shy and socially anxious, Cath is paired with Reagan, an older student whose comfort in her own skin is a stark contrast to Cath’s cardigan-wrapped personality. Cath gets two-for-one when Reagan’s boyfriend, Levi, spends most of his time either in Cath and Reagan’s room or working at Starbucks – that is, when he isn’t studying agriculture on campus. Unwilling to leave her room for anything other than class and worrying about her sister whose introduction to college involves heavy partying and a general lack of communication with Cath, Cath struggles to adjust. All the while, she’s IMG_0338dealing with the reentry of her estranged mother into her life and the creeping feeling that maybe she likes the barnacle that is Levi.

So, you may have guessed that I picked up Fangirl with fairly high expectations. You’d be correct. And overall, I think the book did pretty well in the face of those expectations. One of its greatest strengths is its ability to pull the mundane day-to-day into a cohesive and relatively compelling story. The conflict embedded in Cath’s story isn’t terribly pressing. The inability to seamlessly integrate into college life is standard. Thousands of people experience it every year. Even Cath’s social anxiety, while obviously a strong if faceless antagonist in the book, is commonplace. It’s unusual to find a book about just life that doesn’t bore the reader into pitching the book across the room. That’s what makes Fangirl so unusual.

Part of what made the book feel so lifelike was the intersection of details. The problem with this is so many details become overwhelming, so many details are irrelevant to the core plot, and so many details make for a slow read. Fangirl didn’t take forever, but, despite how I liked it in other ways, it felt like it took a long time to get through.

On the other hand, Rowell creates fairly multi-dimensional and realistic characters. Without a true personified antagonist, Rowell is free to design characters that are not evil for the sake of providing a “bad guy” for Cath’s “good guy.” Each character is full of personality, including Cath. Many readers might disagree with this assessment, particularly in regard to Cath because she will be so similar to so many readers. As a (previous) member of this audience – the socially anxious teenage girl obsessed with a specific fandom and dying to write while falling for the boys she’ll never have – a lot of readers will identify with her. I worry this will lead to people describing Cath, then, as a sort-of Mary-Sue. I just don’t feel that’s the case. A character that represents the largest demographic in a population of readers is not, automatically, devoid of character. She’s simply a representative.

Rowell has an excellent grip on what college students are like today. Without being condescending or unrealistic, she tells the story of one college student many readers will see themselves in. With a true-to-life ending full of hope, she leaves her readers reminded of how even the mundane can be extraordinary and even the extraordinary can be normal.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

© 2017 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑