A dream is a wish your heart makes… Friday, Nov 14 2008 

Let me begin this post by saying that I read Lisa McMann’s Wake at the same time as I read Teen Idol by Meg Cabot, The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, Remember Me by Sophia Kinsella, and a biography of Emily Post by Laura Claridge.  That last one didn’t really affect my ability to fully process Wake, but the others all caused a bit of confusion.

I generally find myself reading four or five books at once, and I’m usually good at keeping them straight.  This situation was really no different, but I think the fact that I reading so many lighthearted books kept me from delving fully into the darker aspects of Wake.

I recently flipped through it a second time in order to refresh my memory and write this post.  In doing so, I found myself pulled into several of the plot elements a bit deeper than I had been before.

The basic story is a pretty unique idea.  Janie, a girl from the wrong side of town finds herself sucked into the dreams of anyone sleeping in her near vicinty.  Unable to dream on her own, she finds herself powerless when pulled from her waking life into people’s innermost subconscience.  That is, until a series of events have her searching frantically for control.  Control of the dreams and, perhaps more crucially, control of her own life.  With the help of Cabel, a boy she’s known most of her life, who has more dark secrets than even she, and some cryptic words from an elderly woman in the nursing home where she works, Janie finds her curiousity about herself growing as she starts to take control of her environment, sleeping and waking.

Blurb finished, let me lay out a few things:

  • Yes, there is sex, swearing and a profusion of illicit substances.  No, this book is not “bad” because of that.  But if you’re sensitive to such things, go into Wake with the knowledge that your innocence may be slightly tampered with.
  • I wasn’t a fan of the ending.  I don’t want to ruin the book for readers, so I won’t say WHY I wasn’t a fan of the ending.  Suffice it to say that most of my problems could be reseolved by the second and third installments of the book.  I feel Janie’s story is unfinished.  But that’s good, because it left me really wanting to read Fade, the sequel, due out February 10, 2009.

On to the real commentary…

nytwakeThis was a subtly dark book.  The characters were real enough that the reader could connect to them, despite the slightly supernatural element, but not so real that they were either boring or too complicated.  McMann wrote this book very skillfully.  It is not the least bit overwritten.  The dream sequences (a very difficult thing to write well) came out nicely, capturing the oddness of dreams, but not turning into a pure stream-of-consiousness muddle. 

Janie is a great character.  I love the combination of her determination to get out of her life and her realistic understanding of her options.  She knows she has to work hard to rise above her circumstances, but she’s not a  one-dimensional goody-two-shoes who never has any fun. 

I really like the cast of supporting characters as well, Carrie and Melinda especially.  I love the fact that everyone, no matter how seemingly one-dimensional on the surface, has a secret.  Janie’s ability to know the others’ secrets, without exploiting them provides a great level of subtext that is sometimes lacking from paranormal books.

Cabel, on the other hand, I still need to decide about.  I think I like him.  I liked him at first, but his character kind of confuses me right now.  I need to wait to make a decision about my overall feelings towards him.  Yet another reason to look forward to Fade.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, Lisa McMann is holding a competition for reviews of Wake, so if you haven’t read it, and your interest is at all piqued, I definitely say a) pick up the book and get started, because it’s a great read! and b) write a review to submit to the contest!  There are some great prizes being offered!

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When a Book Gets Inside You and Won’t Let You Go Tuesday, Sep 23 2008 

I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Scott.  In fact, Perfect You was one of my favorite girly books last spring.  She usually places her characters in slightly off-kilter situations (a girl who’se mom works as a thief, or dad has quit his job to sell vitamins). 

In many ways, her latest offering, Living Dead Girl falls in line with her previous work.  But the truth is, while it might conform in the most basic ways, it leaves her previous novels far behind.

One thing I enjoy about her work is her subtelty.  She pulls her readers into a story that is always much deeper than excpected.  Her characters tend to be, in some way, hiding.  In Perfect You, for example, Kate feels invisible, and while that can suck, she also uses that invisibilty as a comfort blanket of sorts.  She hides behind it.  In Stealing Heaven, Dani is forced to hide.  She’s always on the run with her mom, casing houses, robbing them, and sneaking away in the night.  They live on teh fringes of society, constantly observing, but rarely participating.

In Living Dead Girl, Alice too hides.  She hides from the neighbors, for fear that, if they learn the truth, she and her family will be killed.  She hides from Ray, trying to remain as small and quiet as possible, so as not to attract his attention, good or bad.  Most of all, she hides from herself.  She retreats so far away from her own feelings, trapping herself in layers of dirt, in Soap Operas and talk shows, in striving to fulfill Ray’s demads so that, if she’s lucky, he’ll move on with his new Alice and leave her behind.

 The story itself, one of kidnapping, abuse, pedophilia, crazies, has been told.  But I don’t think I’ve ever heard it told like this.  Alice is not the typical charicature of a victim.  She does not find bravery within herself, or learn to deal with the pain through memories of her home and the hope that someday she’ll return.  She knows life as she knew it has ended, and the only thing she has to look forward to is death.  Yet she can’t bring herself to die, hard as she sometimes tries.  Because, as much as she represses it, refuses to admit its existence, hope is there, very deeply stored.

And though she’s been tortured into something not quite human, a “living dead girl,” in the end, she proves there’s something, some vestige of humanity, that remains.  Though the ending is left vague, both hope and compassion come through in unexpected ways, without the sentimentality or contrivance of a joyful homecoming, or a completely recovery.

 This is a dark book, and incredibly intense.  Many of the reviews have commented on the fact that it’s impossible to read it straight through.  You have to put it down, take a break, from time to time.  But when you pick it back up, you’re immediately sucked back into Alice’s cruel, empty world. 

On top of the difficult topic and gruesome characters, Scott takes genre and twists it on its head, mixing verse and prose, and creating a voice that is at once detached from the situation and highly real. 

Younger teens might have difficulty with both the subject matter and the intense description.  But for those who are drawn to the book, who are interested in reading it, I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

How to Skin a Teenager Friday, Sep 5 2008 

Of all the ARCs I picked up at this year’s ALA Annual Convention, one of those I was most looking forward to reading was Skinned by Robin Wasserman.  Unfortunately, in my usual scatterbrained way, I completely forgot where I put the book when I unpacked one of my many boxes.

I finally found it on the bottom shelf of my bookshelf behind the couch.  (Not a good place for a bookshelf, in case you’re wondering.) 

I finished it this week and it was not what I expected.  Having recently read Meg Cabot’s Airhead, (also a pretty good read) I was expecting a similar story with a darker and more futuristic tone. 

Oh My God, I was wrong.

If you’ve read  Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake you might recognize some similar dystopian elements, but in general, I felt like Wasserman really created something unsuaul and unique in her post-apocolyptic society.  In a world where everyone is Linked-in night and day; where people don’t age, they rejuvenate; and where cities are frightening places where energy is regulated to a tiny trickle so the rich can maintain their lifestyles of tech-clothes, music players that change songs based on the mood of the listener, self-driving cars, and contact lenses that connect the wearer to the network with the blink of an eye.

After the nuclear wars have destroyed the ozone, as well as turbulent zones like the Middle East, religion is considered out of style and bordering on crazy.  No one thinks twice about genetically modifying embryoes, even paying extra to ensure low BMI’s and high IQ’s.  But when Lia Kahn, the richest of the rich, dies, the latest life-giving technology proves too much for her society to handle.

I don’t want to give away too much plot, but let me just say that I was fully caught up in the turbulence of the novel.  By the end, despite my sympathies for Lia, I still found myself questioning her right to life.  Or, more accurately, her right to identity.  Wasserman’s newest book does what all great dystopian books should: it makes you question yourself and your world.  It makes you wonder if that which you think of as normal life could really be the seeds of a bleak and frightening future.

The book comes out on September 9 (that’s not too far away), and is a must-read!  The first book in a planned trilogy, I’m definitely looking forward to the next two installments!

Check out additional reviews here: Jen Robinson’ Book Page 

How punk rock is that? Saturday, Feb 23 2008 

Have you ever read a book that you enjoy so much it takes you over?  You’re sad when you turn the last page.  So you pick up the next book on your list, or shelf or pile, and it should be excellent.  You’ve been looking forward to reading it.  But you’re sitting on the couch while your boyfriend plays Jelly Car on his XBox 360, reading An Abundance of Katherines and all you can think is “I should be reading Fat Kid Rules the World.”

Because I should.  Because I would have been perfectly content to fall into that book and never resurface.  It is my heroin of choice.  And now everything else just feels like Methadone.

fat-kid.jpg

I’ll spare plot details, and just share a few thoughts on the story.

 First of all, I am in love with Ollie, the drummer from the Smash Metal Puppets.  He’s so cool and steady.  He doesn’t get caught up in the BS.  He just takes the world as it comes and provides a steady beat.  And even when the red spray paint coloring his mohawk is dripping down his face, he has a serenity about him.  He’s a genuine character.

Secondly, can I just say “That moment when you see past the bullshit.  That’s punk rock.”  not to mention the erruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the twinkie and ravioli explosion that rocked the Dump.   That’s truly punk rock. 

And finally, the ending, while it’s hanging nature is probably one of the main reasons for my inability to move on with my life, is so quiet.  You don’t know how the show goes.  You don’t know if Curt gets better.  You don’t know if Troy gets cool.  You just know that something has changed.  It has to have changed.  But no one died or overcame hardship through the love of family and friends.  There was no miracle moment.  Just conversation.  And a change of perspective.

 In one way or another I felt an affinity with every character, no matter how small.  A beautifully written portrait of teenage life, that avoids sentamentality despite the main characters and their varied problems.  It is a portrait, not a message.  And the reader can decide for his or herself how to take eveything it offers.