Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

If you know that Feed is a dystopic novel, then the first thirty pages seem rather typical of such novels: the male protagonist is completely immersed and involved in the dystopic culture until he meets a mysterious girl around his age who doesn’t believe in what the world is peddling. At this point it seems clear that the boy will follow the girl into some sort of revolution against the government, wherein they will overthrow the corrupt leaders and help shepherd the world into a new dawn or whatever.

That’s honestly where I thought this book was going after about the first fifty pages. Imagine my delight when the action remained on a personal level, concentrating more on how the dystopia of this futuristic America destroys individual lives. There was no plot to undermine the corporate government, just fun pranks played on the “feeds” that everyone has–chips inserted and interfaced with the brain that send a person constant advertisements for anything and everything and all tailored just for you!

Published in 2002, it’s rather creepy how prescient Anderson turned out to be in some aspects–our online advertisements are more and more tailored to our individual interests culled from our Facebook profiles or our Google search history or our Amazon shopping history. We live in an age where the highest court in the country has decided that corporations are people, a sentiment echoed by an actual presidential candidate. We’ve yet to reach the point where the government stops funding schools so the corporations can run School(TM), but sometimes I wonder how close we are.

Given how resonant the novel is today, a full ten years after it’s publication, it’s certainly a testament to Anderson’s skill. The future America he crafts seems strangely plausible in so many aspects, from the corporate tentacles discussed above to the slang used by the kids and their parents alike. Titus, the main character and narrator, is immersed in the culture of consumerism the corporations has created, but the same time he can see outside it, realizing just how ridiculous he and his friends can be sometimes, and stopping to appreciate moments of beauty when he can with his girlfriend, Violet. I appreciate Violet for her depth and nuance especially; she could have been the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that is typical of such stories, but instead she’s a girl who is more thoughtful than most, and who most of the time wants nothing more than to fit in with everyone else.

I think most of all I appreciate Anderson for subverting the dystopic tropes that are so common in these stories today. Feed isn’t a novel about overthrowing the government and creating a world of free choice, etc., though there are protest groups to that effect mentioned at different points in the novel. It’s about about a person who slowly comes to realize that the world he thought was pretty great isn’t that wonderful after all, and that in the end, there isn’t much he can do about it. Brief cuts to something in between chapters imply that America’s halcyon days are over, and by the end of the novel it’s become clearer and clearer that the feeds or something else connected to the corporate culture are severely and negatively impacting the populace. It’s so strange, in the first fifty pages, to see the teenaged characters talking about their lesions but never explaining where they come from–and the truth is, none of them know. On the whole, reading Anderson’s treatment of the dystopic landscape after books like The Hunger Games and Matched, which (to me, at least) are all about overthrowing and subverting the government, etc., is refreshing and something I wouldn’t mind finding more of. (I don’t mind THG so much, but I couldn’t bring myself to carry on with the Matched series because I couldn’t get over the fact that the main character’s insurrection basically revolved around which boy she loved more.)



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Both of these books really make me want to travel to Europe.  The farthest abroad I’ve ever been is Niagara Falls in Canada.  I don’t have a passport, and my social anxiety makes traveling in the US kind of nightmarish.  And yet, these two books have enticed me to think about traveling to Europe.

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes (by Maureen Johnson) is about Ginny, a 17-year-old American who finds herself traveling abroad after receiving a package from her recently-deceased aunt containing a backpack and a list of instructions to make her way to a New York City noodle shop.  It is there that she receives the titular envelopes, which send her on a whirlwind journey around Europe, starting in London and winding all the way around the Continent, following the instructions her aunt has left for her in each envelope, which will presumably lead her European adventure to some great and interesting end.

One of the things I really loved about this book was how relatable Ginny was as a character.  A lot of her initial awkwardness in her travels seemed to mirror almost perfectly how I would probably feel in that situation, and even as I was sometimes closing the book to get away from the secondhand embarrassment, I could understand where Ginny was coming from.  Seeing another person (even if they’re a fictional person) deal with the problems you fear facing in the real world is kind of cathartic, I suppose, and for all her occasional awkwardness, she is a very sweet and interesting main character.

The book’s far reaching plot is also a source of great interest, thanks to Johnson painting Ginny’s myriad destinations as both tourist-filled lands and actual Places in their own right.  The various people Ginny meets along the way also seem to show the reader different ways of traveling–ranging from itinerary-packed outings that leave no time for enjoying the sights to spur of the moment decisions that send the travelers flying (or sailing) off to destinations at the last moment.  All in all, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes is a fun read, thanks to Johnson’s memorable characters and humor-infused narration.

The other book I’ve read that gives me a hankering for world travel is Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, which is about a high school senior, Anna, who has been sent to Paris for the last year of her education by her Nicholas Sparks-esque father.  While there, she meets St. Clair, an utterly charming and rather handsome fellow student whom she develops feelings for almost immediately.  There’s just one problem: St. Clair has a girlfriend, and one of Anna’s new friends has feelings for him, too.

Of course, that’s a summary of the book that really doesn’t do it justice.  The book doesn’t completely revolve around romance, but also pays a lot of attention to Anna’s growth in her final year of high school, as her friends help her out of her shell and help her feel more at home in Paris.  Anna is a great main character and narrator, bringing humor and passion to the book’s proceedings.  I also rather liked her because she’s a big movie fan, and while I loved Min from Why We Broke Up, her obsession with obscure avante garde films (that technically only existed within the book’s universe, curse you Daniel Handler) was a bit distancing, whereas I really found Anna’s cinephilia to be more in line with my own.  She loves movies, she runs her own movie review site.  Her favorite director is Sofia Coppola.  She has a copy of Roger Ebert’s Your Movie Sucks, for crying out loud!  So that was a wonderful aspect of her character that I found not only relatable but also well-grounded and believable.

The part Paris plays in the novel is rather brilliant as well, giving the reader a view of one of the most romantic cities in the world that is truly romantic itself.  While Anna has some difficulties at first, the way she adapts to the city (and particularly to its many, many movie theaters) helps the reader grow accustomed to it as well.

Anna and the French Kiss is a wonderful book, and even though the romance plot gets a bit involved in the way romance plots are wont to do (i.e., no one tells anyone anything), it ultimately doesn’t detract from what is a rather delightful and romantic (in the more traditional sense) book.

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I was originally going to try and write separate book reviews for a few of these titles, but it seems to me that it might be easier to simply do a quick rundown of what I’ve read so far and provide brief reviews of each book.  I’ve even managed to keep track of the dates I finished each books, so you get the benefit of that as well. (more…)

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Over spring break, I had the opportunity to go to a Borders bookstore near my town that was closing due the fact that Borders is mostly bankrupt.  (I am very upset that this particular Borders is closed, because getting to the Barnes and Noble in the same town is a nightmare, at least for a driving-phobic person like me.)  At any rate, everything was, of course, on clearance, so I beelined for the Young Adult section, which was by this point mostly picked over, and just walked along the shelves, picking out books that I’d heard of but never read, or that looked interesting.

Among my spoils that day were two long-titled books: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Book I: The Pox Party (M.T. Anderson), and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart).  I didn’t end up reading the two books until a couple of weeks ago, but the speed with which I read the two volumes should definitely speak to their overall quality. (more…)

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As you may or may not recall, I mentioned last week that I’d started reading Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson.  I finally finished it last night, and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely.

I’m not really sure how to summarize Suite Scarlett, but I will at least explain the basic premise of the novel: Scarlett Martin is a fifteen-year-old girl who lives in a New York City Art Deco hotel run by her family.  She is of course expected to help out around the hotel, and a good portion of the novel’s plot deals with her encounters with Mrs. Amberson, one of the hotel’s guests who staying in the suite that Scarlett has been assigned to manage.  There are some other subplots that intersect with this main one–Scarlett’s older brother is trying to break into acting, and Scarlett finds herself crushing on one of his co-stars–but that is the basic gist of the novel as a whole.

Even though many of the plot elements are slightly predictable, one of the reasons I found Suite Scarlett so enjoyable to read was because of the characters.  They are all fairly well-drawn, and they seem to rise above what one might expect them to be.  For example, I thought, early on, that Mrs. Amberson might be similar to Sunset Blvd.‘s Norma Desmond, but as the novel went on, Mrs. Amberson turned out to be almost nothing like Norma Desmond at all.  In fact, Mrs. Amberson is probably my favorite character in the book, mostly because of the way she can apparently walk into a room and instantly get everyone to do exactly what she wants with almost no effort on her part.

Another reason that I really don’t think this book’s somewhat predictable plot is a problem is because of Johnson’s winning and hilarious prose.  She writes in a very matter-of-fact way that is easy and fun to read, and she keeps the plot moving at such a brisk pace that it’s extremely difficult to get bored.  (The only reason I took so  long reading this book was because I was busy with a million other things; otherwise, I probably would have finished it in a couple of days.)  Overall, Suite Scarlett is just plain fun, and I’m already anxious to get my hands on the sequel, Scarlett Fever.

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I found out about Maggie Steifvater’s novel Shiver last September, when the the movie rights to the book and its two sequels were purchased.  Since supernatural romances are on the rise in Hollywood these days, thanks in no small part to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the news made it to the front page of a film blog I read.  I read the news, rolled my eyes at yet another teen romances with vampires/werewolves/whathaveyou, and left it at that.

A few weeks later, while at the bookstore in town with my brother, I saw Shiver sitting on one of those end-of-shelf displays.  Curious to see what exactly the fuss (however small) about this book was, I opened it up and read the first paragraph, which begins with the following sentence:

I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

I was instantly hooked.  I didn’t buy the book right then and there – I’m a college student and therefore constantly in need of money, or at least in a financial state where I can’t buy $20 books on a whim – but I did put it on my Christmas list, and I got it as a gift a few months later.  I proceeded to devour it in all its lyrical beauty, and I loved it primarily for not being like Twilight.

The books are certainly similar in concept: teenage girl falls in love with supernatural creature.  In Twilight, it’s a vampire; in Shiver, it’s a werewolf.  Like Meyer, Stiefvater makes some changes to the traditional werewolf mythology: rather than turning into wolves by the light of the moon, her werewolves become wolves as the world shifts into winter.  There, however, most of the similarities to Twilight end.  While I will own that Twilight is enjoyable in a candy-floss, not good for you kind of way (Cleolinda’s Twinkie metaphor is apt), I still find certain aspects of the book annoying, such as Bella and Edward’s constant melodrama (especially in the later books), and the way the pair don’t seem to act like normal teenagers in any way (Edward has an excuse, but Bella certainly doesn’t).

One of the things Stiefvater does masterfully in Shiver is make you believe in her characters.  Grace and Sam are very real people to me as a reader: I have no problem believing they are teenagers, because they actually act like teenagers.  I also find their relationship very believable and real: their moments together are sweet, smile-making things.  Stiefvater’s lyrical prose certainly helps in that regard, but in all honesty, it’s a very difficult thing to articulate.  It’s the alchemy of creation: even through all the strange things that happen to Grace and Sam, you (I) believe they are real.

Another thing I loved about Shiver (and its sequel, Linger) was the consequences Stiefvater rained down on her characters.  Being a werewolf is not a great marvelous thing in this world; the werewolves soon stop becoming human at all, and eventually die as wolves, never remembering their human selves.  In Linger, Grace must face the consequences of some of her actions with her parents (whose constant absenteeism in her life has its own consequences).  Bad things happen to the characters.  They hurt; they cry; they are human beings above all, and they each  must deal with the things that life throws at them.

I realize this isn’t so much a book review as it is a discussion of the book (especially as compared to Twilight, which has certainly held the corner on teen supernatural romance for the last few years) and an effusion of praise, but I suppose it will have to do.  The books certainly do have their faults – for instance, Stiefvater uses a rotating first-person narrator, and though the sections are labeled, it’s sometimes too easy to get character mixed up – but they are for the most part very enjoyable, and very beautifully written.  I am eagerly awaiting the third book of the trilogy, Forever, which is due out next July.

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