Do you know how long it took me to read this? As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to check it out. But being as I’m incredibly behind with reading, well, everything, it sort of fell by the wayside. Then I finally bought it and started reading….and it fell by the wayside yet again. And now, I’ve finally finished, and I’m a bit mad at myself that it took so absurdly long. But I’m done! And now I’m going to talk about it!
First, though, I have to say – this is the first young adult book I’ve read that was written by a guy since my days of devouring Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine by the armful. I don’t know why that is. Maybe there are fewer guys in YA nowadays? I don’t know. But I do know that I really need to make it a point to read more male-written books. And also probably more books with a male protagonist. Anywho, the review!
Cover Girl: Yeah, so I love this cover. I don’t even really have any other sentences to add. Fantastic job done by Doogie Horner. Also, that name’s pretty great too.
Character Witness: Jacob, our protagonist, cannot possibly get more average as a sixteen-year-old. In some parts, it feels like he’s plain in order to be easier to identify with. I, personally, get bored with that kind of setup. I don’t really want to read things to identify; I read to put on someone else’s pants for a bit. However, I understand and actually enjoy the fact that Jacob is so plain for reasons that I can’t divulge. Sorry, read the book!
His family is kind of an afterthought, aside from his father and grandfather. His father fits the neurotic overprotective parent bill in a way that isn’t irritating, simply realistic. And his grandfather is hardly there, but still manages to be well-characterized. You easily get the sense of the grandfather’s heroic nature even without him around to do said acts in person. It feels very much like someone fondly recalling a lost family member years down the road.
And then there are the Peculiars. There are several of them, and I enjoyed nearly all of them, but the two that stand out most for me were Emma and Millard. Emma is the…uh…love interest? I don’t know how to really describe this. Emma is there, and she’s a girl, and there are feelings. She’s a bit of a firecracker (pun semi-intended) and plays well against Jacob’s straight man persona. She gets him to act and react, and that’s always nice. Plus, their interactions don’t feel forced. Maybe a bit rushed…
Millard, though, just amuses me with his old guy mannerisms. For some reason, while reading, I read every one of his lines in a voice similar to Martin Prince. If you haven’t read the book yet–you’re welcome.
Plot Plot Fizz Fizz: Following the mysterious death of his grandfather, Jacob finds himself under the care of a psychiatrist thanks to his insistence that his grandfather was killed by a monster. His parents are, understandably, worried about him, and Jacob’s worried about himself. However, he decides that to ease his own mind, he needs to see about an island his grandfather mentioned before dying, and things just get weird from there.
The plot moves a bit slowly for my liking. There’s a lot of build. A LOT of build. And then, wham!, action near the end. Plenty of books and movies operate this way, but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I just don’t have the patience–or rather, the attention span–for this. And for that reason, it took me some time to get through this. I’m glad that I stuck with it, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Despite not much action, it’s full to bursting with descriptions. Ransom Riggs could probably make a description of a cup of yogurt seem whimsical and enthralling. Also, there are pictures:
Now, it’s not a picture book, mind you. It’s a book, with pictures. The pictures weave into the plot, and they weave fairly well. But (and of course I must find something to gripe about) my tiny nitpick here is that often times, I find that having the pictures provided to me kind of detracts from the story. The fantastic descriptions of the Peculiars could stand well on their own without the showcase of photos to go along with them. I felt, in a way, that the book was telling me what to imagine, and being a stubborn lady, I disliked that a bit. Independently, though, I loved the photos and have always had an interest in weird photos like that. I just kind of wish they had been included in the back and not sprinkled throughout the book.
Aesop It To Me: There’s a lot to be said about the ordinary and the extraordinary in this book. But I kind of just want to focus on this tiny bit with regards to Jacob’s father.
I knew exactly what was about to happen. It was part of this pathetic cycle my dad was caught in. He’d get really passionate about some project, talk about it nonstop for months. Then, inevitably, some tiny problem would crop up and throw sand in the gears, and instead of dealing with it he’d let it completely overwhelm him. The next thing you knew, the project would be off and he’d be on to the next one, and the cycle would start again. He got discouraged too easily. It was the reason why he had a dozen unfinished manuscripts locked in his desk, and why the bird store he tried to open with Aunt Susie never got off the ground, and why he had a bachelor’s degree in Asian languages but had never been to Asia. He was forty-six years old and still trying to find himself, still trying to prove he didn’t need my mother’s money.
Um. Too close! TOO CLOSE! My heart fell a bit reading that paragraph because it’s so like me, and so like several people I know, that it was almost disheartening. But after taking a reading break and mulling over my existence and that paragraph, I realized it probably wasn’t meant to be discouraging, but something of a wakeup call. Or maybe I’m just reading my own agenda into it.
Say Something Nice: No. You can’t make me. Besides, this was all nice.
Final Verdict: Cutting straight to the chase, 8/10. It’s a great read, even greater for people who actually have attention spans long enough to not give up on the book repeatedly. Everything about this book is carefully crafted and it paid off. Please please read it if you haven’t already!
Stop it. No, not whatever you’re doing now. I’m asking writers of YA fiction to kindly stop with the whole Bad Boy But Really a Secret Teddy Bear thing. It’s just not cool. Okay that’s a lie, it is kind of cool, but in small, manageable doses. When this theme pops up in every single book? It becomes grating.
Okay, yes, I know it’s not every YA book. But you must admit, it’s a damned lot of them. It’s in a similar vein to the abundance of
Katherines supernatural love triangles within YA. The state of the market seems to be: supernatural element + aloof bad boy = PROFIT!
Let’s just look at three books I’ve reviewed, shall we? These books being Just for funsies, see if you can tell which passage comes from which book!**
[Perfect Romantic Interest] then took a step toward me, and a deviant smile teased the corner of his mouth. Damn. “I don’t have a type.”
“That’s even worse,” I said, and I swear I tried to sound mean when I said it. “You’re as indiscriminate as they say.”
But I wanted him closer.
“I’ve been slandered.” His voice was barely above a whisper. He took another step, so close that I felt the warm aura of his chest. He looked down at me, all sincere and open and with that chaos hair in his eyes and I wanted and didn’t want and I had to say something.
“I doubt it” was the best I could do. His face was inches from mine. I was going to kiss him, and I was going to regret it.
But at that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to care.
I watched as the character [Perfect Romantic Interest] had been operating moved across the screen, doing some sort of odd victory dance. “Not fair,” I muttered. “Your sword was bigger than mine.”
“My sword is bigger than everyone’s.”
I lobbed my controller at his head, but of course he ducked and made me miss. Damn it. “Perv.”
“Oh, come on,” he laughed. “You walked right into that one, [MC].”
I scowled at him for a moment, but I could feel the aggravation slipping away. Finally, I just shook my head…and smiled. “Okay, you’re right. I did leave that one wide open. But you know, boys that talk big never are.”
[PRI] frowned. “We both know that isn’t true. I’ve proved it to you plenty of times.” He smirked, then leaned against me, letting his lips brush against my ear. “But I can prove it again if you want me to…and you know you want me to.”
“I…I don’t think that’s necessary,” I managed. His lips were moving down my neck, sending an electric current up my spine.
“Oh,” he growled playfully. “I do.”
I laughed as he shoved me to the floor, one of his hands perfectly catching the space above my left hip where I was most ticklish. He’d discovered that spot a couple of weeks ago, and I was furious with myself for letting him use it against me. Now he could make me squirm and laugh uncontrollably whenever he wanted, and I could tell that he totally got off on it. Jerk.
My eyes open to 2 eyes 2 lips 2 ears 2 eyebrows.
I stifle my scream my urgency to run the crippling horror gripping my limbs.
“You’re a b-b-b-b–”
“And you’re a girl.” He cocks an eyebrow. He leans away from my face. He grins but he’s not smiling and I want to cry, my eyes desperate, terrified, darting toward the door I’d tried to open so many times I’d lost count. They locked me up with a boy. A boy.
They’re trying to kill me.
They’ve done it on purpose.
To torture me, to torment me, to keep me from sleeping through the night ever again. His arms are tatted up, half sleeves to his elbows. His eyebrow is missing a ring they must’ve confiscated. Dark blue eyes dark brown hair sharp jawline trong lean frame.
GorgeousDangerous. Terrifying. Horrible.
So, let’s play PRI bingo! We know that for a romantic interest to be of any merit in a YA novel, he must be at least 3 of the following:
- Absurdly good-looking
- Kind of a jerk
- Inexplicably, immediately drawn to MC
- Very ridiculously wealthy
- A playboy
- Non-threateningly foreign
Bonus points go to the PRIs that manage to cram ALL THE THINGS together (hello, Noah! from Mara Dyer!).
Aggravating hotties isn’t something new, really. It’s a longstanding archetype, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the more irritating fellas, regardless of medium. Jordan Catalano.
I understand the draw. I really do. And I’m not even pointing these things out to be mean. On the contrary, I’m pointing it out more as a note to myself. I’ve got so many PRIs that it’s a little absurd, and I need to mix things up a bit.
But you know, maybe I shouldn’t mess with a proven popular device, eh?
**For those playing along: Excerpt one is from Michelle Hodkin’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, two is Kody Keplinger’s The Duff, and three is Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.
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.