24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: July 2016

Abby Reads: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray, 2015, 352 pages
YA Fiction

For a while now, in all of the book blogs I follow, I’ve seen an explosion of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. This review is not about Dumplin‘, but about another of Murphy’s books, Side Effects May Vary. In this novel, high school student Alice discovers a secret her truth-obsessed mother has been keeping just before Alice is diagnosed with cancer. With the uncertainty of her illness, Alice decides this is a great time to get back at her bullies and adversaries through humiliation tactics. Not counting on getting well again, Alice has to handle the consequences of her actions when she is declared healthy by her doctor.

Maybe I wasn’t paying close attention to Side Effects May Vary, but the book just wasn’t that memorable for me. Though the characters were really refreshing for young adult fiction (more on that later), and the plot was relatively original (despite blurbs insisting fans of The Fault in Our Stars would love this one), there have been multiple times since I’ve read it where I had to go, “Oh, yeah — I forgot I read that. What was it called? What was it about?” Part of the problem of not really remembering much about it is not really knowing what it was that made it so bland. As I’ve mentioned both characters and plot were interesting, I suspect it was the prose, though I don’t recall it being bad — it was just there. It conveyed a story, it did its job, and that was it.

But for all that, the book is full of great moments that, as a whole, are not greater than their individual parts. Murphy places her characters in really interesting places that felt new and untouched, despite other books that have scenes in similar locations — doctor’s offices, school gyms, beach houses. They’re not terribly common in fiction, but they’re not exactly uncommon, either. Despite this, each place felt fresh and each place enhanced the moments which took place in them. This seems paradoxical — bland prose that somehow makes the settings present and bitingly real? Maybe it’s the mundane style of the language that grounds the rest of the novel making it almost hyper-real. I realize the vagueness of this review isn’t very helpful, but the vagueness is the best representation of the book.

Right — so, characters. If you’re looking for a book which allows you to fall in love and cheer for the main character, this isn’t it. Alice is incredibly unlikable to the very last page. This makes an interesting point about fiction and literature — does a character have to change and learn after they’ve experienced the conflict of their novel in order to make the work worthwhile? Certainly other pieces of literature have taken on this topic (more adeptly, no doubt), but Murphy does it well enough to make it evident. Alice is vengeful, mean, manipulative, uncommunicative, and spiteful. This is the case even prior to her diagnosis, but it’s especially true after (and, okay, we can attribute that special degree of meanness to her fears and the “screw it” attitude that can come with impending death). But it’s so different from the timid, bookish, painfully nice girls you see in young adult fiction over and over again. And, while I don’t know that it works especially well here, I appreciate the attempt all the same (and humbly request authors write more unlikable protagonists).

Another central character, Harvey, serves as Alice’s best friend/love interest. He’s got a lot of interesting things going on, too, despite his trope-y nice-guy persona. While being a nice guy, Harvey isn’t too afraid to stand up to Alice when she’s being awful (you know, often), and he’s complemented nicely by two other tertiary characters who play greater roles than just place-holders, thankfully.

The primary issues I have with Alice and Harvey are, interestingly enough, one of the places they overlap significantly. Alice, a former ballet dancer, has given up dancing due to a seeming lack of interest, though her teacher (Harvey’s mom) remarks how wonderful a dancer she is. Meanwhile, Harvey feels similarly about piano, which he has agreed to play for his mother’s ballet classes. I’m frustrated at this cliché of having a hobby and being a borderline-prodigy at it but not finding it fulfilling. I don’t think it serves much of a purpose and it never really has.

This final disappointing plot point aside, Side Effects May Vary isn’t bad, it’s just not terribly memorable. If you’re looking for something a little different and some quick escapism, this might be an option for you and, with the right level of expectation, you’ll enjoy it.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Audiobooks

Welcome to a new category of posts — Show Off! Show Off will feature book/material displays designed and stocked by yours truly. While I’ve done several before, I’ve admittedly done a less-than-stellar job documenting them. But no more!

Audiobooks are pretty ideal for summer. With long road trips likely for many, audiobooks can keep the whole family occupied. This particular “category” of materials is also a good choice for small collections. Unlike more specific topics of choice such as First Ladies, butterfly breeding, or English castles, audiobooks provides a supply less likely to run out unless you have an especially small audiobook collection. With the ability to replenish materials as customers check them out, audiobooks are a great piece of your collection to feature during the summer months.

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It’s easy to put out a mix of audiobooks that appeal to various ages by including adult and children’s materials (and YA!). Picking audiobooks with colorful covers and mixing those colors together can help make the display more attractive and interesting to those passing by. Within the few minutes between me finishing the display and taking these pictures, one audiobook had already been snatched up. I replaced it, and left the display as a full set.

Remember you can include nonfiction as well as fiction. While some road trippers may wish to be strictly entertained during their journeys, others may prefer to also learn during their trip. Items regarding historical happenings may be especially pertinent as people travel toward historical landmarks and aim to learn more about them on the way.

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You’ll of course want a sign that describes the display. I find it’s especially important to communicate to customers that these items are available for checkout. Before I went into libraries as a career, when I was a timid teen patron, I generally assumed books on displays were not only not available for checkout, but also not to be touched. Why would I want to destroy someone’s clearly thoughtful and hard work? Well — it’s high time to change that attitude; and I’m sure it still exists. This particular sign encouraged customers to grab an audiobook as a part of their packing plans for their road trip. This particular display is also in the unique position to point customers to the eCollection. Although the eCollection cannot so easily be displayed here (unless printouts of covers were made to post), customers are reminded of the availability of eAudiobooks and encouraged to speak wit a staff member for more information.

Material displays can very easily broaden customers’ understanding, perception, and use of the library. It’s the perfect way to show customers that the library has things customers did not know they wanted or needed. This display, simple and requiring little thought, is perfect for the busy season that not only involves vacations for many customers, but the nonstop work that comes with summer reading programs! Make it easy on you and your customers with an audiobook display!

Thanks to the Cherrydale Branch in the Arlington Public Library system for giving me the opportunity to feature a part of their collection!

Abby Reads: Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
Ember, 2012, 192 pages
YA Fiction

In Jenny Hubbard’s Paper Covers Rock, Alex returns to his private boarding school only to watch his close friend drunkenly dive off a rock in the woods and die. Convinced that revealing the truth of the alcohol use would expose him to the potential of being expelled, Alex keeps this secret along with others as the administration works out the details of the tragedy. Glenn doesn’t help, either, as he uses Alex to get close to a teacher they believe might have seen what actually happened. In a school full of boys, terrified by the sexuality of themselves and others, Alex and Glenn commit themselves to a series of self-serving acts while dealing with their own grief and conflict.

Remember how I said I love stories about privileged white boys in boarding schools doing awful things? Boy, does this book cover it. Not only is the writing style striking, moving, heavily characterizing, and thought-provoking, but the subtle movement of the plot makes this book a great piece of young adult literary fiction — a rare find, in my experience. In many ways, if you wished there was a watered down version of The Secret History, I’d be wholly tempted to hand you this novel. Set in the eighties (I suspect, largely, to avoid the problem of having a cell phone that could solve 99% of the problems in the book — such is a writer’s life), the novel takes hints from the great ones before it and even includes the text in some of those, including Moby Dick. The novel is absolutely ripe with opportunities for literary analysis (hint, hint, high school students) and a gorgeous reminder of the importance of literature around us.

So, yeah, maybe it’s a bit narcissistic, but I’d argue the same is true of Dead Poets Society and who doesn’t love a good self-pat on the back? It’s probably safe to assume many or most people reading a book appreciate content about books and literature, anyway. Being extra familiar with the materials referred to in the book (especially Emily Dickinson and the aforementioned Moby Dick) will significantly enhance the reading experience when it comes to Paper Covers Rock. Many of the scenes take place in Alex’s English class, taught by the recent Yale graduate, Ms. Dovecott, on whom Alex has a major crush. In one scene, you get to play along with the class as Ms. Dovecott pulls an explication of a Dickinson poem from the class.

Alex’s universe feels rather small in the novel. Even within the school, only a few select characters have a presence large enough to indicate that Alex is not alone. Although he’s in school, other students play relatively small parts in his story and the world outside the school is all but non-existent. This, perhaps, is an accurate portrayal of a teenage boys’ world — or, at least, Alex’s world, especially as Alex is so introverted and introspective — but I think a little farther reach could have done a lot for Paper Covers Rock.

One of the most interesting things about this novel is its discussion of homosexuality, especially as homosexuality in the 1980s. I’m hesitant to say much more in the spirit of avoiding spoilers, but, even as most of its presence throughout the book is subtle, the concept within Alex’s world makes for an especially interesting read and look at human (and, more specifically, teenage boy) nature.

I really can’t say enough good things about Hubbard’s writing style. She pulls off a lot of bold strategies and it works to serve the book and its main character. It is, largely, her writing that makes me eager to read her other work. Alex’s characterization comes so much from his first-person narrative that I want to see how she approaches other characters. There are authors out there who have an incredibly distinct voice for a character and it works phenomenally — until you discover that’s their one trick and that voice appears again and again in the rest of their work. Though I can’t say for certain, I have a feeling that’s not the case for Hubbard. This is mainly because even in their speaking voices, other characters in the book are distinct.

Hubbard bring together all the best elements of one of my favorite genres — angst, some peripheral character narration, an unreliable narrator, wealth, philosophy, and literature. There are so many little things that you can pull out of this book and look at in a million different lights. It’s a cerebral experience, but a relaxing and enjoyable one — definitely a book not to be missed.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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