24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: 2.5 hearts

Abby Reads: Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland

Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland
Disney-Hyperion, 2017, 368 pages
Fiction

I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Hello, Sunshine will be available for purchase July 11, 2017.

In Leila Howland’s Hello, Sunshine, Becca Harrington has been rejected from every college she’s applied to. With dreams of becoming a star, she packs her things and makes a cross-country roadtrip from Boston to LA with her boyfriend, Alex, who has plans to attend Stanford. Things come crashing down when Alex breaks up with her at the end of their trip, leaving Becca feeling like an utter failure. Despite plans to live with her cousin, Becca finds an apartment of her own where she meets a new friend, Marisol, and a cute aspiring director, Raj. With a list of goals in hand (including finding an agent and getting paid acting work all while working a bummer job as a waitress), Becca sets out into the shiny world that is Los Angeles while learning to get out of her own way.

As a first-person narrator, Becca is hyper-everything. Much like the overexposed picture that makes up the cover to Hello, Sunshine, the narration style is fast and bright, as if living inside the head of an extravert (which Becca clearly is). While Becca uses a lot of words to tell her story, particularly toward the beginning, she doesn’t say a whole lot. In addition to a selection of sentence structure and vocabulary that makes Becca seem as if she’s talking a million miles a minute, the plot structure, too, moves at a rapid pace. While so many events happen to bring Becca to the end of this chapter in her life, Howland might have done better to focus on fewer things and committed to fewer false starts in Becca’s attempts at an acting career. While this may be an accurate representation of trying to get famous, it doesn’t work well for a narrative.

The choice of present-tense adds tension to the story — will Becca “make it” in Hollywood, or will she not? — but doesn’t leave Becca much time for reflection, which she sorely needs. As a character flaw, this is slightly resolved later on, but not convincingly. Meanwhile, Howland uses f-bombs and other profanity relatively liberally. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but doesn’t suit the reading level, prose style, or the book’s personality (or, frankly, Becca’s personality). Obviously not a piece of literary fiction, Hello, Sunshine’s writing style revolves around immaturity and a lack of sophistication. This does quite a bit to characterize Becca, but doesn’t make her particularly interesting and doesn’t serve to show the author’s skill, nor does it do the book as a whole many favors.

All said, Becca’s narration, though fast (and, wow, the last quarter of the book or so is like whiplash in terms of events), is matter-of-fact and not totally unlike eighteen-year-olds I’ve known.

Howland does bring the book to life with some interesting characters. Though she’s never mentioned, real-life Kesha seems a natural model for Marisol. Marisol’s background is far more interesting than any other character’s, Becca’s included. With an unexpected twist toward the end regarding Marisol which sends Becca running back to her cousin, Marisol’s personal story may be a little trite, but her characterization is the strongest. Meanwhile, the ever-present “juice man” has a predictable role toward the end of the novel. Main players in the book, Becca, Raj, Marisol, and even Becca’s mom and cousin, all are fairly well-developed. Even more-secondary characters, like Reed, are the stars of their own lives. Perhaps the one flaw in Howland’s character description is Becca noting Raj’s “coffee-colored skin,” which is borderline, if not straight-out problematic (I’ll leave that up to PoC to decide).

A fair amount of themes and symbolism seem present in the book, although I approached this as a leisure read and didn’t over-analyze things. One point that did come to my attention was Becca’s near-constant talk about stomach problems early on. It was so frequent it seemed like this would later become a plot point, like some kind of diagnosis that would interfere with her goals. Alas, it never returned and was just a case of some heavy-handed show-don’t-tell as readers learn that Becca is upset with her new single status. Hello, Sunshine is also solidly grounded in the modern world with mentions of Instagram and Ikea floating about. Whether or not this is included to color Becca’s world or provide fodder for symbolism (Ikea comes up multiple times as part of a running bit of wisdom; personally, I find mentions of specific establishments that exist in reality to be distracting and unnecessarily dates the book, but I feel similarly about made-up institutions meant to stand in for something well-known, like an author referring to a fast food restaurant as Burger Prince, but I digress), it makes the novel a touch more relevant for the right here, right now.

I suspect fans of Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone will enjoy Hello, Sunshine. Not only is the cover art strikingly similar, but the overall feel of the stories are about the same. Hello, Sunshine isn’t a literary masterpiece, but works as a palate cleanser or a quick weekend read. For two-and-a-half hearts, what you see is what you get.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 320 pages
Fantasy Play

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up in play format where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left us. Now an adult with three children, Harry Potter brings his offspring to Platform 9 ¾ to send them off to Hogwarts. For Albus Potter, Hogwarts brings a new set of pressures involving living up to his father’s legacy. Meanwhile, Scorpius Malfoy struggles with his own problems. The two find each other and develop a friendship before beginning a new adventure that changes the entire canon of Harry Potter as we previously knew it.

Look. I realize this is all Rowling-sanctioned, but this is absurd. Though the results of the series may remain, Albus and Scorpius, with the help of a time turner, completely alter the underlying events of what actually happened, particularly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The implications of these changes cast familiar characters in a whole new light, often in ways that don’t make sense. Additionally, *MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD*, the “change” in the fact that Voldemort had a child (with Bellatrix Lestrange, no less), is a lazy trope that leads me to believe the only reason this text exists is for the money its creators knew it would make. Ew.

Moving on. Many familiar characters make appearances throughout the play: Harry, of course, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Draco, and others show their faces — but that’s about all that is familiar about them. As any good Tumblr fan theory will tell you, Harry Potter is absolutely in the wrong profession. Although Harry obviously does a wonderful job bringing people to justice, he’s far better suited as a professor than as an auror. The characters, Harry included, are caricatures of themselves at best, hardly resembling the rich and complex beings they were as adolescents. It’s a disappointing switch that, though perhaps explained by the tragedy known as becoming an adult, doesn’t feel true to the characters we’ve known — much of the point of Harry Potter was that humans are capable of breaking the cycle. Cursed Child takes an enormous step backward in that respect, proving — at least in the world of Harry Potter — that everything the original series preached is false. Furthermore, the characters’ dialog was unsettling throughout. Unnatural to begin with, it’s never more uncomfortable than when Albus throws around SAT-grade words, even as an eleven-year-old.

Not all of the characters are a total disaster, however. There is one exception: Scorpius Malfoy, though perhaps a bit overdone in his shyness (okay, a bit overdone overall, like many of the others in the play — I’ll mark that up to it being a play which requires heightened emotions and characterizations for the sake of the actors playing them), is a new angle of human we haven’t yet seen in Harry Potter. I imagine him as a combination of Harry and Luna Lovegood in many ways — sarcastic and a bit dreamy, steadfast to his friends, and really rather innocent. It’s a fun exercise of imagination — how would the son of Draco Malfoy turn out? Many of us Potterheads hoped for a redemption for Draco. Rowling didn’t deliver — though there was a bit of a lean in that direction in Cursed Child — but Scorpius is a sort-of consolation prize.

Cursed Child also features some strange pacing, dabbling between moments of rapid action and crawling inaction. I imagined at many points throughout the book what it might be like to see this as a play (verdicts, from what I’ve seen, aren’t terribly favorable aside from the special effects). I could only picture myself being bored to death and in the throes of hysterical laughter when comedy was not the intent.

We all wanted a book eight, and we got it — but at what cost? Rowling apparently had limited input (my understanding is she essentially gave a stamp of approval but did not actually contribute to this essentially glorified fanfiction [that’s not a dig at fanfic, though — I love fanfic; don’t get me started]), and it shows. If you want the complete Potter experience and don’t mind having the original series essentially ruined, go for a read of this. Otherwise, you’re better off with the folks in the Epilogue, What Epilogue? corner. I’ll see you over there.

 

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2004, 160 pages
Graphic Novel Memoir

I’ve never been one to really enjoy graphic novels. I see their value, I appreciate that others enjoy them, but it’s never been my thing. Once in a while, I find one that grabs me, but generally, I find I have a bias toward wanting more text. I read quickly and graphic novels flash by me. I probably, admittedly, do not pick up subtleties in the images that go along with the text. That’s my disclaimer for my review of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is, arguably, not a graphic novel. In fact, it’s a graphic autobiography. Marjane Satrapi tells the highs and lows of her time as child in Iran during the Islamic revolution. As she explores the various relationships she held, particularly of that with an uncle, Marjane Satrapi gives the circumstances surrounding these events and the events themselves something of a face – albeit one with parts obscured and with parts illuminated by hindsight. A brave and rebellious child with equally tenacious parents, Marjane Satrapi as a character provides a spunky girl in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Another disclaimer – I grew up going to school in the American public school system. It would seem, compared to many other countries’ systems, mine was lacking in the global awareness arena. Any formal historical education I had focused solely on American history and, even then, it was limited to pretty much the Revolutionary War except for maybe on semester where we covered the Civil War through part of World War II. All this to say, I had zero context for Persepolis. At twenty-four, I guess there’s an argument to be made that this is my fault, but frankly, there’s a whole lot of history to learn and no so much time to do it. So, while I’ve gotten to the edges of starting to learn some of what I missed, I’m factually and conceptually blind when it comes to the Islamic revolution and Iran.

I don’t want to put the burden of that education on the author. That would cover so many –isms, it would make your head spin. At the very least, it would potentially imply that my time is more valuable than Satrapi’s, which it certainly isn’t. So, this burden is on me. My lack of knowledge in this area, however, presented a fairly large disconnect with the content of Persepolis. I had no context for the events in Satrapi’s life. And, while for many readers this might mean a springboard to doing research on their own, I just felt lost. It was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know (also on me, I don’t deny that) and doing the bare minimum of checking Wikipedia when I really felt it necessary. So, I’m certain I’m missing out on a lot of Persepolis that I needn’t. I probably would have enjoyed it with more context, whether Satrapi had supplied it or not. And, to be fair, Satrapi did include quite a bit of explanation and background. In any case, for this particular topic I leave you with this: be aware that, if you’re not already well-versed in this piece of history, you’ll be lost. Don’t blame it on the author.

Next: Satrapi as a character. Perhaps this is a symptom of autobiography or autobiography in graphic format or who knows what, but I felt Satrapi as a character was always distant and two-dimensional. Perhaps, again, this was intentional – the story, after all, is more about events, circumstances, and people surrounding Satrapi than Satrapi herself. But I consistently felt as if Satrapi was revealing only very specific parts of herself in an attempt to string together a cohesive narrative (and don’t we all? But I found it ill-suiting here.)

Which brings me to the narrative structure. Again (and again), I’ll point out this was an autobiography. Is it fair that I ask it have a plot? I don’t know – I do believe a plot of some kind makes an autobiography more compelling. And while the Islamic revolution rages throughout the narrative, Satrapi’s coming-of-age did not feel particularly directional or with any arc. Each vignette included in the narrative adds up to her emerging as a young adult, but one does not follow the next naturally.

And, as a piece of personal preference (as if this entire review isn’t) – I was not a fan of the artistic style employed the in graphic portion of the graphic autobiography. The wood-block-like prints reinforced the two-dimensional feel I got from Satrapi-the-character.

I hate that I didn’t enjoy Persepolis; I feel down-right guilty about it. But there it is. Despite disliking it, I still think I’d recommend it to many. It’s a valuable piece of work and probably has more than I’m able to appreciate with my limited scope. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009, 320 pages
YA Fiction

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler had been on my radar for a while. It was published in 2009 and ever since, it’s floated around the various book blogs as the cover is intriguing and the title compelling. But what’s promised as either a cutesy summer read by the cover and title – and what’s promised as a serious and heartfelt look via the power of literature at the themes of love and loss aren’t fulfilled.

Quick summary – teenage Anna lives next door to her best friend, Frankie. Frankie’s family might as well be Anna’s family, except for Frankie’s brother Matt. At a birthday party for Anna, Anna and Matt come clean with their feelings for each other. Everything is going great, though Matt wants to wait to tell his sister about their relationship – until Matt dies. A year later, Anna and Frankie are still trying to heal and still keeping secrets from each other. The pair go to California in an attempt to renormalize Frankie’s family with their annual vacation with a mission to meet twenty boys in the time they have there.

It’s become the norm for me to read fiction with a feminist lens. It’s kind of impossible not to at this point. This was no different for Twenty Boy Summer which, as it turns out, has a plot that revolves largely around self-worth coming from the attention of boys and slut-shaming. There’s also this weird obsession with the value of virginity and I think it could be argued that the book leans toward old-fashioned and, frankly, oppressive ideas. Given that the primary, if superficial in various senses of the word, plot of the story is Frankie and Anna’s pursuit to have sex with (and then just kiss, and then just meet) twenty boys in a summer, it ends up feeling like the moral of the story is abstinence. Make of that what you will.

Though the story mostly revolves around Anna and her healing, Frankie and her parents make for far more interesting characters. Sadly, they’re underutilized. In brief moments, the parents’ pain over the loss of their son plays out in fascinating ways, flipping between giving Frankie free reign to do as she likes because life is short and holding Frankie to strict rules and conditions of family time because life is dangerous. A few tense passages show conflict between and within the parents, too – I wonder if this might have gone over better as a novel which focused on them. Frankie’s grief, too, plays out in engaging ways, but with Anna as the focal point, it’s impossible to tease out the intricacies and details of her methods of coping. Perhaps it’s the removal from and mystery of her grief that makes it so interesting, though I can’t help but wish it had been a greater piece of Twenty Boy Summer.

In general, setting tends to be a non-issue for me in that I don’t notice it all that much unless it’s specifically relevant to the plot. I did find Ockler’s choice of Northern California to be thought-provoking. While the themes of excess and promiscuity lend themselves better, in my mind, to Southern California (and I doubt many of you disagree), the more family-oriented Bay Area throws up a contrast to Anna and Frankie’s behavior. Perhaps take this with a grain of sea salt – my impressions of California and its culture are limited to a two-week visit a few summers ago and plenty of movies.

Twenty Boy Summer is just okay. It’s what comes to mind when I think of beach reads, though that may be because a good deal of it takes place on a beach. It’s less light-hearted than the cover suggests, less dark than the summary and blurbs suggest. My main concern comes from the “lesson” Ockler inserts, but for readers who can look past that, this might not be the worst way to spend a few hours.

 

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld
Speak, 2013, 288 pages
YA Thriller

I was lured into this book by its absolutely stunning cover. Gritty and ethereal, I thought the artwork would reflect the inner contents. I stand by judging a book by its cover — it actually and typically is a fairly good gauge when it comes to all kinds of information about a book — but, overall, in this case I was wrong. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone  by Kat Rosenfeld has quite a bit going for it in the prose department, but fails to present an engaging plot or character.amelia-anne

When an unidentified college-aged woman is found dead in new high school graduate Becca’s hometown, there’s no knowing who could have killed her. The close-knit town, despite its efforts, doesn’t seem interested enough in this mysterious murder and, with college approaching and the days with her on-again-off-again boyfriend numbered, Becca can’t help but turn her attention to the outward violence that has cast a shadow on her vacation town. As her obsession grows, readers are introduced to the unidentified woman: Amelia Anne. In a tumultuous relationship of her own, Amelia Anne is caught between a new love (theatre) and an old (her boyfriend).

In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate literary fiction more and more. It’s a hard thing to do and relies on character development over plot. I’d argue it’s especially less common in young adult fiction than it is in adult fiction. The likelihood, then, of finding a well-written work of young adult literary fiction is slim. Going into Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, I didn’t necessarily know I was getting into something more character-driven. It occurred to me, by the end, that was exactly what I had done. It didn’t sit well with me.

There’s a lot of transformative power in death, regardless of how close the person who has passed is to the central individual. With Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, the thematic weight of everything in transition in Becca’s life is heavy and made heavier by the presence of a dead girl. Coming to terms with graduation, a breakup, a loss of innocence, the verge of adulthood is all part of the traditional Bildungsroman. There’s the expectation that any Bildungsroman will have at least some literary fiction element as the primary focus is on the internal changes of the character from girl to woman, from boy to man, from child to adult. The problem with Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone is more that I didn’t get the sense Becca had really changed. She’d spent months being obsessed and accusatory and introspective, but she hadn’t grown up. She was not now entering the final weeks of her summer as more worldly: she was just traumatized.

And with good reason. The most interesting part of the novel is the twist. I don’t feel it’s handled particularly well and it feels so out of place in this book, but there’s something chilling-but-commonplace about the twist that really grounds the rest of the book, which is already so far grounded in reality so as to make it almost boring. The twist grounds the book with a swivel of the heel into the dirt while the rest of the day-to-day content drops a shapely rock onto the earth’s surface. The tension — and the way I looked at humanity and people for a brief moment — was shifted into something not extraordinary, but certainly odd.

This heightened the interest in one character who did not get the page time they deserved, honestly. Pages were allocated for other characters who were uninteresting and clearly placed as intentions to distract the reader from the reality of things. This wasn’t necessary, though — the reader doesn’t have enough clues to piece together what really happened to Amelia Anne until it’s revealed. There are parallels that suggest things throughout and you find yourself thinking, “Oh yes, I see how this happened.” And you’re probably right, to some extent — but I can almost guarantee you haven’t figured the whole thing out, even if you’ve trained yourself to ignore the superfluous characters and their explosive violence.

This book is, by the way, explosively violent. It’s unsettling in some passages and, while it’s not a gore-fest, it’s not for those who like pretty depictions left and right. In any event, I finished Amelia Anne decidedly unsatisfied. The effort didn’t pay off, despite the promises I felt Rosenfeld was making. She’s lauded for her poetic ability throughout reviews for Amelia Anne but without enough direction, the book doesn’t amount to much.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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 ❤❤❤❤❤

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: Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks

Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, 262 pages
YA Historical Fantasy

Before I read Selkie Girl, I took a look at some of the reviews on Goodreads. While I tend not to put a lot of stock in what other readers are saying about a book, particularly on a platform which lends itself to brief, spur-of-the-moment

photo (1)_minireviews, I noticed that there was a common complaint: the cover was not at all reflective of the book. This is accurate. While the cover of the edition I read suggested mermaids (other than the title), if you do not know what a selkie is prior to reading the novel, you might believe that a “selkie” is another word for mermaid. This is true to some extent — selkies are typically defined as a mythical creature that can live in the physical form of a seal or human. But the cover also suggests a modern take on the selkie myth.

Brooks’ YA novel takes place in an unspecified time, though it’s easy to imagine the protagonist, sixteen-year-old Elin Jean, mucking about in late-1700s Scotland. A loner in her hometown, Elin Jean fears the taunting and cruelty of her peers. Her webbed fingers keep her from making friends and developing a sense of self-esteem, leaving her to befriend the selkies that come ashore and shed their seal skins on Midsummer’s Eve.  Elin Jean’s limited human contact consists mainly of her family: Mither, Fither, and Grandfather. But they are keeping a secret from her — one that affects them all.

Like many bildungsromans, Selkie Girl focuses largely on what it means to “be yourself” and “know yourself.” Elin Jean’s understanding of herself is severely stunted as a result of her isolation and low self-esteem. She has no sense purpose other than a great desire to interact with the selkies and struggles to identify what characteristics are strictly Elin Jean.  While Tam McCodron, Elin Jean’s love/hate interest, seems to have a pretty good grip on himself, he, too, learns much through the pages of the novel.

Admittedly, the plot takes some unexpected turns. In some instances, it relies too heavily on life-threatening drama. Elin Jean experiences a number of events which have the potential to kill her. While this works a few times, it eventually becomes an overused hook in the novel, leaving the reader to wonder, “Can Elin Jean really be so careless?” Unfortunately, while there were many plot points that were unpredictable, the main twist was blatantly obvious. Dealing mainly with the theme and a particular relationship in the novel, the revelation of this twist can leave the reader disappointed as it seems like such the obvious choice.

The writing style wavers in strength throughout the story. It is the antiquated style (and lack of technology) in the novel which clues the reader into an era, but it takes Brooks some pages before it reads naturally. After settling into the style, it becomes a sort of lulling lyric, until a large plot shift occurs about two-thirds through, and the speech patterns and vocabulary feel unnatural again. Overall, the writing style needed some more work and might have benefited from some modernization and paring down.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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