So I’ve finally made my way through this book. It took me a while because a) I keep failing at putting aside time to read and b) the book is MAMMOTH. I mean it’s just large, especially for a young adult book. But perhaps Harry Potter and Twilight set the trend for giant-ass YA books, as I’ve seen quite a few monsters out there.
Cover Girl: Before I dive in, I’d like to take a moment to complain. I put off buying and reading this book for the longest time because of the rather prominent endorsement by Cassie
Claire Clare. I dislike Clare on principle. Her fame is the result of blatant plagiarism and bullying people who state as much. She is a plagiarist. You can’t really erase the internet, Miss Clare. However, fandom seems to have selective memory on this and thus no one makes a big fuss over it. But people SHOULD make a big fuss over it, so I don’t understand why they don’t. I’m not going to support her, and I don’t quite get why others choose to, but their actions aren’t mine to control, so that’s that. Moving along.
Here we have an interesting twist on the whole “white girl goes to prom” theme that permeates young adult covers. She’s still in a fancy dress but–get this–she’s underwater! Eh? Ehhhh? *insert bad joke eel grin here* And there’s a dude holding her down! So it’s all mysterious, right? Kinda? Except she doesn’t appear to be struggling, and it really just looks like a super-artsy engagement photo or something.
The cover font is purdy, I’ll give them that. But I’m slightly irked by the fact that the F in “of” is so obscenely large. If it’s going to extend that far, I want it to connect to the R in “Mara,” not hang out just to the left of it. But this isn’t really anyone’s issue aside from my own weird compulsions, so no points deducted for that. Overall, I think the cover’s nice, I’m just not sure (again) what it has to do with the book.
Character Witness: Can we talk about Mara for a minute? Of course we can. Mara Dyer is weird. She is kind of neurotic, paranoid, not very trusting of people…She’s a real person. She’s a person affected by PTSD, and it shows. Despite my issues about her fast attachment to Perfect Love Interest (which I’ll bemoan later), I really didn’t mind her as a narrator. This is a pretty nice change of pace for me, since I keep finding books with narrators that I just want to hit in the face. Mara gets angry, she does irrational things, and it feels normal. Sometimes it seems like YA authors hesitate to make a main character that has emotions other than love/lust or blankness. Not quite the case with Michelle Hodkin. So hooray!
But, uh. Less hooray with Noah. Again with the Perfect Love Interest! Stop it, world! Noah is British, and rich, and beautiful, and almost immediately falls for Mara. SIGH. I just…I just don’t know. Noah has this distant weirdness that I don’t know if I like. But this is just my personal issue, and it’s not really about him as a character. It works, but mainly because it’s fairly consistent. I just get so bored with the whole playboy-except-for-the-main-character thing with these books that I don’t even know what to do with myself.
The rest of the people are fairly minor. Mara’s family has a good dynamic, and…well, that’s about it. She doesn’t have friends. Except for one guy who manages to be the token EVERYTHING. Oh, and the dead ones. Spoilers? (Kidding, it’s not a spoiler. It’s on the front flap.)
Plot Plot Fizz Fizz: Mara and her friends were involved in an accident, and Mara was the sole survivor. That’d mess with anybody’s head, right? So to lessen some of Mara’s anxiety, her family decides to move to Florida. At her new school, she meets Jamie, the token kid, and Noah. Meanwhile, she’s seeing things that she really shouldn’t be seeing, and she isn’t sure if it’s her PTSD or something fishy going on. Considering death keeps following her, it seems like the latter.
Initially, I wasn’t really sold on the plot. I didn’t know how it would really work, and how someone could toss romance into the mix and keep things interesting. I’ll eat my words, though, because I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit. The plot felt sort of clunky in some places, but on the whole, moved along at a steady pace, considering how huge the book is. Right, I keep mentioning that. Let me show you.
At 452 pages, it’s nearly double the size of most other young adult books. But unlike that behemoth Twilight, things actually happen in this book, and that made the pages (for the most part) fly by. A couple of plot points seemed irrelevant, but they’re a bit spoilery so I can’t quite get into them. Overall, though, I was invested in this plot, and I feel it holds up fairly well.
Aesop It To Me: There’s really not much by way of lessons to be found here. Which is good; if a lesson had been crammed in, it would’ve been overkill.
Say Something Nice: Everything I’ve said is nice! I really should be exempt from this when I’ve spent the entire time being positive. You know what? Instead, I’ll just share a bit of the book.
“Welcome to the private collection of Noah Shaw,” he said.
I stared at all of the titles. “You have not read all of these.”
I cracked a smile. “So it’s a tail-chasing tactic.”
“Pardon?” I could hear the amusement in his voice.
“Vanity books,” I said without looking at him. “You don’t actually read them, they’re just here to impress your…guests.”
“You’re a mean girl, Mara Dye,” he said, standing in the middle of his room. I felt his eyes on me, and I liked it.
“I’m wrong?” I asked.
“You are wrong.”
“All right,” I said, and pulled a random book from the shelf. “Maurice, by E.M. Forster. What’s it about? Go.”
Noah told me about the gay protagonist who attended Cambridge in turn-of-the-century Britain. I didn’t believe him, but I hadn’t read it so I moved on.
“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?”
Noah belly-flopped on to his bed, affecting a bored tone as he rattled off another synopsis. My eyes followed the thousand-mile stretch of his back and my feet itched with the confusing impulse to walk over and join him. Instead. I pulled another book without reading the spine first.
“Ulysses,” I called out.
Noah shook his head, his face buried in the pillow.
Satisfied, I smiled to myself, put the book back on the shelf and reached for another. The dust jacket was missing, so I read the title from the cover. “The Joy of…crap.” I read the rest of the full title of the thick, nondescript volume to myself and felt myself redden.
Noah turned over on to his side and said with mock seriousness, “I have never read The Joy of Crap. Sounds disgusting.” I blushed deeper. “I have, however, read The Joy of Sex,” he continued, a mischievous smile transforming his face. “Not in a while, but I think it’s one of those classics you can come back to again…and again.”
“I don’t like this game anymore,” I said as I placed the book back on its shelf.
Final Verdict: Mara Dyer is well-written, easy to follow, and rather entertaining to boot. It’s the first in a series, apparently, as the ending indicates that this is volume one. So, hopefully the next volumes arrive quickly, as I’m rather curious to follow what Mara and Noah will get up to next. 7/10 – go forth and read it! ‘Tis fun.
Do I really even need to write the rest of this post? The title says it all, really. Currently, there’s a small debate in place about whether or not young adult books need to have a rating system in place. This system would be something akin to movie or video game ratings in order to shield young eyes from the terrors of words like “hell” or “shit.” According to an article from USA Today, only 5 books out of dozens studied taken from the top 40 bestselling children’s books between June 22 and July 6, 2008 lacked any kind of questionable language.
Sarah Coyne, lead researcher of the study and a professor in Brigham Young University’s department of family life, checked for profanity in five different categories: George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words,” sexual words, excretory words, ‘strong others’ (bastard, bitch) and ‘mild others’ (hell, damn). All but five books, including many targeted to kids as young as 9, had at least one instance of profanity.
I suppose we’re meant to be surprised by this, but let’s face it–kids see, hear and say much, much worse on a daily basis. And there’s a good chance that that comes from the parents themselves. Kids aren’t dumb, and by and large they don’t need people telling them what words are appropriate for them. From the same article, Beth Yoke sums this up fairly well:
“Books can be a safe way for young people to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics, and they provide parents the opportunity to help their teens grow and understand these kinds of sensitive issues,” says Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, an offshoot of the American Library Association. “ALA’s interpretation on any rating system for books is that it’s censorship.”
Censorship. Plain and simple. Banned books are a ridiculous notion, and YA book ratings are equally ludicrous. Imagine the great works–great being highly subjective, obviously, and could be great from an entertainment standpoint or literary–that a child could miss out on because said child’s parent or guardian decided the word “damn” was too saucy for their precious baby to handle. Imagine what that could do to sales in an already somewhat struggling book industry. To impose ratings would essentially stifle everything that’s amazing about the world of young adult literature.
Yes, admittedly, the volume of books currently is overwhelmed by supernatural love triangles, and that might be more mature than some kids are able to handle. But here’s the thing–most kids will just stop reading if they don’t feel comfortable with the subject matter. On top of that, kids cannot, I repeat CANNOT, be shielded from everything all the time forever. I don’t know why this seems to be a trend, but barring kids of a certain age from reading a specific book will not bar that child from encountering or understanding said words within the book. In a similar vein, kids all develop at a different pace. At 8, I was reading high school level books with very little problem, and I’d say I grew up alright. Slapping an age label on a book is just too broad. The cons far outweigh the pros.
Speaking of books with saucy content, take a look at this bad boy! Courtesy of lovely Beth.
I’ve had this book for a few months now, and I didn’t really pick it up to read until fairly recently. It took me a while to slough through it, and it’s taken even longer to get through a review. It…I…Hm. Let’s just get to the review.
Cover Girl: The cover is gorgeous. Not even gonna lie. It’s incredibly attention-grabbing, and I have to admit, it’s a big part of why I bought the book. The font used for the title is just great (and I’m sure Anna will tell me the name of it) and the tag line? Very intriguing.
This has not a single damn thing to do with this book. Why is there a random girl preparing for prom on the cover? There’s only one scene that this could possibly fit, but it doesn’t even fit that. So what is this? I’ll tell you. It’s something of an epidemic among YA books geared toward girls. Rows and rows of girls preparing for prom. I don’t know how or why it started, but it’s a thing now, so I guess I have to accept it.
Still. The cover’s purdy.
Character Witness: I hate the MC. No, that’s too strong a word. I really cannot stand the MC. She is annoying, and I’m fairly certain that if I knew her in real life, she would be that weird friend of a friend that I secretly disliked but smiled around anyway because people insisted on inviting her to things out of pity. Juliette is bland. She could be fierce and amazing and so very Katniss-awesome, and instead, she feels very passive and just…I don’t like her. There wasn’t a single instance in which I felt sympathetic to her. The most I ever felt for Juliette was a brief thought of, “Huh, that’s unfortunate.”
As for the romantic interest, I’m ambivalent. His name is Adam or Jim or something, I dunno. And he’s bland as a bowl of plain oatmeal. Adam’s little brother is in the story but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I assume to give Adam some compassion? It didn’t work for me. I didn’t care about the brother, didn’t care about Adam, and certainly didn’t care about their dynamic.
Then there’s The Villain. Something is clearly wrong with me, because 9 times out of 10, I prefer The Villain to the MC. In this case, I would’ve preferred watching Warner clip his toenails than another chapter of Juliette and her
Romeo Adam. (Please be mindful of the strikethrough. I am going to get ALL UP IN THAT in a moment.) Warner has depth. He has my attention. He’s weird an creepy and oddly sympathetic at the same time. I loved him. His characterization let me know that Tahereh Mafi does, in fact, have massive amounts of talent. She just needs the right story/characters/everything.
Plot Plot Fizz Fizz: I’m not sure I want to write this.
I know I don’t want to write this. It pretty much boils down to my thinking that the plot is just kind of blase. Juliette has powers. She touches people, and they die they get injured. She hates it, and it’s lead to her being isolated in a room forever for quite some time, until the powers that be shove Romeo Adonis Adam into her room with her. Honestly, I liked the beginning, and I liked their first meeting. But I did feel like things escalated far too quickly and conveniently, they’ve met before. The plot clips along at a nice pace, but I’m not entirely sure how much I cared about it.
Also. The strikethroughs. You know how annoying it was just reading the minimal amount of strikethroughs that I just used? Imagine that, turned up to 11. All strike everything, as Jay-Z would say. It. Is. ANNOYING. Luckily, Mafi chills with the strikethroughs about half of the way through the book, but I seriously contemplated not even reading further because of it. It took me out of the story so often that it was hard to care. And honestly, that’s probably why I don’t give a crap about Juliette.
Aesop It To Me: This book doesn’t really have a lesson to teach. Although, perhaps less obviously, it’s a commentary on the current trajectory towards a police state?
Say Something Nice: Mafi is great at dialogue. And action. And getting all up inside a character’s head. She’s truly talented.
Final Verdict: I’m so sorry. I feel so bad. I really wanted to love this book because Mafi seems like such a sweet person, and the writing is good and I can tell she’s got talent, but…I just didn’t connect with the characters at all. I’m going to read any follow-up books just because I like supporting nice people with talent, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about 70% of this book. The bits I did enjoy, though, did sort of counterbalance things nicely. 5/10 – Check it out for yourself. There’s a good chance you’ll feel completely differently about it.
Remember how SUPER EXCITED I was to read this book? Clearly, my extremely delayed review will make it seem like I loathed reading it. But fear not! Because that’s not the case. I just…y’know…failed at reviewing it. But I’m remedying that right now!
Cover Girl: Sooooo I love this cover. I mean, I LOVE THIS COVER. I saw it from a mile away practically, and the text just whacked me in the face and yelled, “HEY PLEASE PICK ME UP AND READ ME!” Aside from the screaming yellow title, the image is kind of a nice touch. However! A few tiny nagging points. Point the first – I have no idea what this girl has to do with the story. It’s just kind of a random girl with random gum. Point the second – the main character is meant to be fat. The girl on the cover does have a rounder face, but the text and the shadows almost seem designed to make you not notice that. Why hide the fat, guys? Other than that, Tracy Shaw gets thumbs up from me for this.
Character Witness: Our heroine, Bianca, has a couple of girlfriends named Jessica and Casey. For the most part, I felt her friends were well-written, well-rounded characters. They felt like real people and not awkward stand-ins meant to serve as a sounding board for the MC. I’ve had friends like these. I totally felt that their friendships were genuine, and that’s awesome. Then there’s Wesley, the romantic interest. Wesley is a dick. I’m not even sure what else there is to say. I suppose he has a few good points, but I just get so tired of jerky RIs that have a ~secret soft side~ that I couldn’t really get behind their relationship. I wanted to, really, but I just…Sigh. However, despite that fact, their dynamic definitely does feel realistic, and I know that this kind of love-hate thing happens a lot. It just gets so tiresome.
Bianca herself is a very good lead in that she isn’t super pure and she isn’t battling morality half the time. She’s a real kid with real kid problems and handles them in a way that I think most of us probably would. Her worries and insecurities ring all too true for someone that was, in fact, the designated ugly fat friend of her group. I could relate to her on levels that I’m not entirely comfortable with – except for the whole bagging a hot dude part. Lucky bitch.
Plot Plot Fizz Fizz: Girl meets boy. Boy insults the shit outta girl. Girl…winds up sleeping with boy. A lot. Alright, so that’s simplifying things to an absurd degree, but that’s kind of the gist of it. Obviously, there’s more to it, but let’s be perfectly honest – I can’t remember a lot of the nuances of the plot because I read this half a year ago. What I do recall is the main plot, and I recall it being rather annoying. Maybe it’s one part jealousy to two parts eye-rolling, but why why why must the Super Hot RI be a jerk all the time? And why must the MC consistently fall for his shenanigans?
[Sidebar - I totally realize how hypocritical this particular complaint is, given my track record with douchebags and having All The Feelings for said douchebags. Perhaps it's a sickness.]
Even though I don’t particularly care for this type of relationship dynamic 75% of the time, I did enjoy the book. The pacing of the plot never made me side-eye the book, and I never once had to pause and yell at the wall because a character did something too unbelievable.
Aesop It To Me: There’s premarital sex in this book. The book has no morals. None! Just kidding, this is a pretty good lesson in having confidence in yourself. So. Y’know. Confidence and all.
Say Something Nice: Do I really need to say something nice? I didn’t say anything mean! Okay, okay. I really like the cover. Yay? Instead of saying something nice, since I’ve already said enough nice things, have an excerpt!
I practically sprinted out to my car, and I tried very, very hard not to speed when I pulled onto the highway. I was not getting my first ticket because of Wesley Rush. The line had to be drawn somewhere.
Then again, I’d crossed several lines already.
But what exactly was I doing? I’d always mocked girls who screwed Wesley, and yet, here I was, becoming one of them. I told myself there was a difference. Those girls thought they had a shot with Wesley; they found him sexy and appealing–which, in a twisted way, I guess he was. They believed he was a good guy they could tame, but I knew he was a jackass. I only wanted his body. No strings. No feelings. I only wanted the high.
Did that make me a junkie and a slut?
Final Verdict: It’s an easy read with believable characters and well-written dialogue. There’s really not much more you can ask for from a book. Keplinger produced a rather solid piece with this, despite my complaints about the whole romance thing. 7/10