What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Time for some links to the things I’m thinking about this week.  I’m also pretty active on Tumblr for the time being, and I’m linking to and reblogging other stuff there.

Expectations for Girls in YA Fiction, Misleading Reviews, and Female Sexuality (Stacked)

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever stop linking to posts by Kelly Jensen, because she’s kind of my librarian hero, but she’s also writing some pretty amazing things right now.  This post about girls in YA fiction is thought-provoking, important, and touches on a lot of the things I think about all the time when it comes to YA fiction (and, I would argue fictional stories in general, whether they’re in books or movies or TV).

At any rate, Jensen talks about some reviews she’s read about the upcoming book The F-it List by Julie Halpern, and how concerning some of the language within those reviews was.

Although I could dive into the notion that Alex performs the items on the f-it list out of guilt — an idea I disagree with entirely, as Alex begins to really embrace this as a commitment to her relationship with Becca — what I find fascinating is this line: “Both girls have casual, unprotected sex with all of their boyfriends without any thoughts of taking precautions.”

Like me, Jensen has some pretty clear thoughts about this:

This line presumes a few things in it.  The first is that it’s the responsibility of the girls to think about and carry out the actions necessary for protection during sex. While print space is limited and words have to be carefully selected in a trade review, the way this particular line is phrased, in conjunction with the line before it, casts a judgment upon the female characters in the story. They’re crass, with limited vocabulary, and they’re not taking responsibility for their own actions. These are the kinds of girls you don’t want to be role models for readers, since they’re not being “good girls.” They don’t arouse sympathy because what happens to them is all a matter of consequences and choices they make. They weren’t smart enough or thinking through things enough to protect themselves.

But what is worse in this line is that it’s factually incorrect.

I could probably quote her entire article, because it’s that good, but the quoted stuff here is what’s so important.  Jensen takes issue with the review she read not only because the language is loaded and shows the reader’s bias, but because the review got factual information about the book wrong.  What’s so alarming here is that in a review that’s only a paragraph long, the reviewer felt it was important to mention the stuff about sex and consequences but didn’t even bother to get it right.

Jensen ends her post with this thought:

I can’t help wonder, too, whether books that do similar things as Halpern’s but feature a male main character undergo the same scrutiny and character judgment.

I’m Not a Feminist, But… (Beth Revis)

I tweeted out a link to this post very late last week, but I wanted to post it here and talk about it a little, too, because I think what Beth Revis writes about in her post is super important.  Capitalizing on the commonly used, “I’m not a feminist, but…” statement that many women (and some men) make, Revis breaks down exactly what’s wrong with that statement and the thinking that goes along with it:

First, it’s wrong for me to couch my opinions with a disclaimer. Saying something like, “I’m not a feminist, but I feel like women deserve the same rights as men,” belittles not just the idea of feminism, but also the idea that what I’m saying matters. I’m dismissing my own words before I even speak them. I’m giving an excuse for why I should be allowed to say the words following the phrase, as if the only reason I would say those words is if I had such an excuse.

The second thing wrong about that phrase is the fact that it exists.

Revis’s whole post is great and won’t take you more than a few minutes to read, but the takeaway is that the more we recognize that feminism is wanting equal treatment and respect, pure and simple, the closer we’ll get to the day where that’s possible.

The Quiet Radicalism of All That (The Atlantic)

Pretty much the best thing I read all week, this article talks about how radical–and awesome–Nickelodeon’s All That was when it was on TV in the 90s.  Take this, for example:

The original cast included four girls (Denberg and Reyes, with Angelique Bates and Katrina Johnson) and three boys (Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, and Josh Server); three white performers, and four performers of color. Compare that to the concurrently running Season 20 of Saturday Night Live (1994-95), which featured a cast of 17. Only four were women, and only two were of color….Furthermore, the kids of All That were refreshingly normal-looking. Some were traditionally attractive, sure. Others were still growing into their features. Absent were the hyperactive, over-costumed Disney Channel tweens (Lizzie Maguire, et al), or the pouty, brooding 26-year-olds playing 16 on The WB (like the weirdly grown-up high schoolers of Dawson’s Creek or Popular). The cast of All That reflected the nature of its audience: They were growing up—lanky limbs, zits, and all.

So, where is a show like that today?  Where?

So You’ve Decided to Go to Library School (The Toast)

This humorous and incredibly uncomfortably spot-on essay about what library school is like probably won’t work for you if you’re not connected to the field.  But it’s worth a look at, just because the site it’s on–The Toast–is pretty awesome, run by women (who don’t work for or answer to men), and is already profitable less than a year into its run.

At any rate, this hit close to home:

Librarians have to do something with their hands while they’re bingeing on pop culture, so you should probably develop a craft. Knitting and crochet are acceptable, but cross-stitch works too. But what do you eat while you’re watching all that tv? Hopefully you’ve baked some Sorting Hat cupcakes for your Harry Potter marathon. Baking is preferable, but home-brewing is an acceptable substitute. At the very least you should love to eat.

The absolute best thing about library school is your peers. You will all have a Leslie Knope-ian intensity about something. It may be Star Wars, hockey, astrophysics, or that damn rock wall, but everyone brings some kind of obsession to the table. There is sure to be someone who will be a little too into board games. People will regularly discuss Weasleycest and Tami Taylor’s hair at parties, because if there’s one thing librarians get, it’s an enthusiast. We are all punk-ass book jockeys, and we want you to read our favorite book. And then maybe we’ll break down the Library of Congress Subject Headings afterwards.

Yikes.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

 

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Lucy and Owen live in the same apartment building in the heart of New York City, but don’t meet until their elevator loses power in a city-wide blackout in the midst of a blisteringly hot summer.  After their rescue, they spend one perfect night together, sharing secrets and falling in love.  Reality sets in before long, and the two are separated.  After that, they mostly communicate through postcards and  a few emails until they finally have a chance to meet up in person again.  Will they be able to rediscover the magic of their first meeting?

In terms of the “meet-cute” trope, this book has it down pat.  Lucy and Owen are fated to meet because of the elevator, and the result of that is a magic, kismet evening in which they discover a mutual attraction for one another.  Readers looking for plausibility should look elsewhere, because Smith’s latest offering has much of what her previous books have: romance, angst, and the most unlikely of situations.  The problem is, that what felt incredibly fresh in her first, excellent The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is starting to feel more than a little stale in this one, her third offering in as many years.

An inability to connect to either character, both of whom take turns narrating this tale, makes this a bit of slog to get through.  Lucy’s incredibly wealthy and privileged, living in a swank apartment and spending the majority of her time unsupervised, as her parents are always out of the country.  Implausible but not out of the realm of probability, this still feels more like a plot point than an actual feature of Lucy’s character and situation.  Owen’s mother is dead and he grapples with an emotionally absent grieving father, but again, this feels like a plot point rather than a whole character.

Too often, it feels as though Smith is moving the pieces around on the page to keep her characters longing for each other in a way that never fully makes sense.  It would take an extraordinary love–one which this reader did not see on the page–to make these two characters work so hard to stay in touch after they move away from each other.  The base of that relationship is never established, making this feel like a flimsy premise at best.

That’s not to say that readers won’t like this one.  There’s plenty here for readers who like their YA romance chaste and full of longing.  Armchair travelers won’t get a ton out of this one, but there are enough geographical locations mentioned to at least pique the interest of some.  Still, this is one that never fully connects with the reader and fades fast from the memory as soon as it’s done.  Disappointing all around.

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith. Poppy: 2014. 

Things I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

As per usual, these are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  It’s YA-heavy this week, but that’s kind of where my passion is, so it is what it is.  Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Unplugging from John Green and Rob Thomas (Persnickety Snark)

vmI was so happy when Adele from Persnickety Snark started blogging again after a fairly long hiatus.  I love her posts and her thoughts about books and pop culture, and I was particularly struck by a recent post in which she talks about fatigue from being deluged by a creator’s updates about their process.  Because I agree.

Like Adele, I was a Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter Backer, and also like Adele, the updates from Rob Thomas got to the point where another one would appear in my inbox and I would think, “Seriously?”  She gets to the heart of it here:

At this point in time, Thomas has sent out 92 updates on his highly successful Kickstarter initiative to revisit the world of Neptune High.  92 updates, a media eclipse of content, a mediocre film and nowhere to run.  Even in unfollowing every cast member and creator, I was still inundated with information about the script, the casting, the production, the team working on it, the media appearances, Rob’s new VM related projects, the premiere, and now I am getting news on an unrelated Thomas driven project via the Kickstarter updates*.

I’m with her, and I’m also with her about the updates we’re now being subjected to about iZombie.  I can’t tell you how much I don’t care about iZombie.  Actually, I can.  I don’t even know what it is, apart from the fact that Thomas is working on it.  I can’t even be bothered to Google it, so irritated am I that I’m receiving updates about it.

This part of her post also stuck out to me, because it’s exactly how I feel about it:

But in a world where we are becoming increasingly interlinked, escape is becoming less probable.  I want some mystery back.  I love hearing about the process, and the creators’ emotional journey etc after the end result.  If the process is intensely detailed as it’s happening – I need to disengage.  I don’t want to be over the book/film before it has even made its way to the public.  I am then robbing myself of some great storytelling with the added benefit of surprise.

Just something to think about.

Why the Eleanor and Park Movie is so Important (BookRiot)

If you follow YA news at all, you probably already heard that Rainbow Rowell’s excellent (seriously, seriously excellent) Eleanor & Park has been optioned by Dreamworks.  Although it’s a long road to actually becoming a film, because of the book’s intensely vocal (and wide-ranging) fanbase, it seems pretty likely to do so.  Of course, this movie news is influenced by the recent surge of other realistic YA novels being optioned for film.  But this one feels particularly important in a way that other YA lit movie news doesn’t.

For one, it doesn’t include Shailene Woodley in the lead role (is she in everything, or is she in everything?) This Book Riot post gets to the heart of it pretty quickly:

But when it comes to casting, it’s not a surprise that we’re seeing the same faces over and over again…by using the same actors over and over again are telling movie audiences: “These are people whose stories are worth telling. If you look like this person, your story is worth telling. If you don’t…um… it’s like… I don’t know what to tell you, dude.”

The argument here, of course, is that this won’t work with Eleanor & Park, because Park is half-Korean and Eleanor is not a waif.  This means, if the movie hews closely to the book, casting directors are going to have to go outside of their comfort zone, at least a little.  Maybe?

No One Wants to Discover New Music? Ridiculous. (Salon)

Books might be my first love, but music is a pretty close second.  I’m an audiophile, and I’m obsessed with discovering new music and tracking what’s being released when.  Most of my music discoveries happen through music blogs, but I definitely use things like Pandora to help discover new stuff, especially when I’m hanging out with people and we want background noise.

This article appeared at Salon this week, and takes issue with another article (linked at the site and not here, because I kind of feel like the original article is troll-y click bait) that purports that streaming services like Pandora and Spotify are fighting an uphill battle that they will never win.  Essentially: music listeners don’t want to discover new music, because they are comfortable with what they know they like.

Which, what?  This is true of some music listeners, sure.  It’s impossible to make a blanket statement one way or the other, but the original article attempts just that.  And it’s super ridiculous.  The article from Salon agrees:

What’s so astonishing is that, now, more than ever before, it simply doesn’t have to be that way. When I was an impressionable teenager it was logistically difficult to get exposed to new music outside of the narrow confines of Top 40. It required money and transport (or, at the very least, a good FM DJ). But today it’s the easiest thing in the world. For the last week or so, I’ve been occasionally listening to a Pandora station seeded by the Broken Bells, and I’m continually amazed at just how much creative, interesting music is out there that I’ve never heard of.

So maybe for casual music fans, there’s a certain truth to the original argument.  But for people who actually love music and are interested in discovering new bands and sounds?  Streaming sites like Pandora are a mecca.

The Hazards of Book to Film Adaptation: Further Thoughts on Attempted Rape in Divergent Divergent  (Stacked)

I finally got around to seeing the Divergent movie last week and was surprised that there was a divergentscene in which Four attempts to rape Tris during one of her fear simulations.  I didn’t remember it from the book, but I sort of brushed it off because I read the book years ago and the details of the plot are hazy at best.  But then I started reading articles on the internet, and I realized that I hadn’t forgotten the scene–it had been added.

Which is disturbing for a lot of reasons.  But this piece by Kimberly Francisco at Stacked gets to a lot of what makes that decision so uncomfortable.  She wonders why the filmmakers decided to fundamentally alter Tris’s fear landscape to include an attempted rape:

The kindest answer to my question may be that the filmmakers thought it would be too difficult to communicate Tris’ fear of sexual intimacy – or just affection in general – on the big screen.

So if that’s the case–and I agree with Francisco, that’s likely what propelled the decision to change the scene from one in which Tris is afraid of sex because of how scary sex is when you’re a teenager to one in which the fear is of actual rape–it sends a completely different message to viewers:

Perhaps they did not intend to explicitly tell readers and viewers that they felt Tris’ fear of sexual intimacy was equivalent to fear of rape, but by making the choice to exclude the book’s scene and create the attempted rape scene, that’s exactly what they have done. 

Which is, of course, completely alarming.  Francisco is not the only person who takes issue with this choice in the movie.  Melissa Montovani at YA Bookshelf has some great pieces about this movie and how it fits into rape culture, and I encourage you to take a look at them.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking about this since I saw the movie, and I think I’ll be thinking about it for a good long while still.

What got you thinking this week?

 

Book Review: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

Hannah and Zoe are the best of friends, and completely inseparable.  They’ve always been there for one another, so when Zoe tells Hannah that it’s time to leave their po-dunk New Jersey town and see the world, the two embark on a crazy road trip adventure.  Along the way, Zoe tries to teach Hannah about the intangible things in life: like insouciance, audacity, and happiness.

Wendy Wunder’s sophomore novel has high aims and delivers on many of them.  This novel has much of what many readers of contemporary YA look for in their books: romance, independence, self-discovery, and a great deal of wit.  The result is a mixed bag, and while it will work for many readers, it didn’t completely gel for this one.

Because Zoe’s bi-polar disorder plays such a prominent role in the novel, it’s impossible to discuss the novel’s limitations without also touching on that.  Zoe has relied on Hannah to help her down from her episodes, and while it has worked in the past, the two girls find that it is harder and harder to self-medicate when it comes to Zoe’s increasing mania.  Therein lies the biggest issue for this reader when it comes to this book.

Without disputing the fact that bi-polar disorder is a very real thing that some teens face, there was something about the portrayal in this novel that didn’t sit right with this reader.  Too often, Zoe felt like a manic pixie dream girl, and while Wunder did try to showcase the other side of that coin, it felt oddly hollow.  Hannah shoulders a great deal of her best friend’s burden, but something about the story didn’t feel authentic.  Zoe has a support system in place at home, so it seemed odd that that support system would just allow the two girls to go off gallivanting.

So much time and energy is spent on describing Zoe’s zaniness and illness that it feels as though Hannah gets the short shrift often.  Unfortunately, this reader never connected to either character, making this harder to get through.  Lacking that connection to these girls made the stakes feel very low, even though that was clearly not Wunder’s intent.

That being said, the novel is–like her previous work–incredibly well-written.  There are some real gems of insight here, and there is a certain segment of the reading population that will love this one.  Wit and a certain rawness are present throughout the novel.  It just wasn’t enough to sustain the novel to its inevitable (and predictable) conclusion.

Also, the sudden veering into magical realism near the end felt like a way to add some safety netting to the conclusion, which harmed the emotional impact.  Not all readers will feel that way, though.

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder. Razorbill: 2014. 

Waiting on Wednesday: Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Expected Release Date: May 27, 2014

We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first “real world” apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.

Hard-hitting and compassionate, Girls Like Us is a story about growing up in a world that can be cruel, and finding the strength — and the support — to carry on.

(summary via Goodreads)

Being put out by Candlewick this May, Gail Giles’s novel is about a couple of teens in special education.  There are a lot of things that I love about this novel already: it’s literature of inclusion featuring characters that are virtually invisible in most YA lit these days; it takes place at the older end of the YA spectrum (my favorite range), and it’s being published by one of the companies that I think is taking some of the greatest risks with YA.

I can’t wait to read this one.  Can’t wait.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Alice is diagnosed with leukemia and finally accepts the fact that she’s not going to live a long life.  She convinces her best friend Harvey, who has been in love with her forever, to help her fulfill a bunch of her bucket-list items.  These include things such as revenge on an ex-boyfriend, random acts of kindness, and a bunch of other important life stuff.  But just when she feels like she’s ready to peace out, she gets startling news: she’s in remission.  Her parents are thrilled; Harvey is overjoyed and cautiously hopeful that they can finally be together.  But Alice is at a loss at how to start living like she isn’t dying.  Can she repair the damage she’s done to those around her, and can she even allow herself to be the kind of vulnerable she’ll need to be in order to be with Harvey?

Julie Murphy’s just the latest author to offer readers a book about a teen with cancer, but she takes that trope and turns it on its ear.  Instead of having Alice lament the fact that she’s dying, Murphy jumps forward, for the most part, to where Alice has accepted it and is making peace with her time that’s left.  The result is a prickly, acerbic heroine who isn’t always the most likable of protagonists.  But it works, because Murphy is firmly in control of her characters and the narrative.

The book alternates between narration from Alice and her best friend Harvey.  Both voices work and are distinct enough that readers shouldn’t confuse the two.  However, the narrative demands extra attention because the two of them switch back and forth between the “then” and the “now” of the story, forcing readers to keep two different timelines in their heads.  Because Murphy is a strong enough reader, this largely works.  The fact that the characters are very real and authentic versions of themselves helps further this device.

Alice is a complex character, which is why she works on the page.  If Alice were only a revenge-seeking superbrat, readers would grow tired of her antics very quickly.  She’s not the nicest person, and she recognizes it fully. Her ability to be completely honest with herself elevates her characterization.  She’s kind of the worst, and she knows it–but she’s also dealing with the very real, very looming threat of the cancer coming back at any moment.  This makes everything about her situation all the more raw, moving, and honest.

This one is a stand-out in the cancer book genre (is that a thing?).  Murphy is a talented writer who has crafted very real teens with a narrative worth telling.  Readers will be glued to the book’s hopeful end, wondering what will come next for these incredibly well-rendered characters.  Recommended.

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. Harper Collins/Balzer + Bray: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

I took an unintentional hiatus last week because I took a few days off work (and subsequently from blogging), but I’m back this week with the things I’ve read this week that made me think.

The F Word: Inside Amy Schumer, the Most Sneakily Feminist Show on TV (Slate)

I actually saw Amy Schumer last week when she was in the Twin Cities for her stand-up tour, and she was amazing.  She’s definitely got the gross-out humor thing going for her, but there’s also something really subversive about her comedy.  I loved every second she was on stage (although the gentleman behind us didn’t much care for her abortion jokes, which made me wonder why, exactly, he was at an Amy Schumer show), and I love her show.  I’m so glad that the show was renewed for a second season, which just started.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, I encourage you to do so (the show airs on Comedy Central, you can watch clips on their website or Youtube, and the first season is streaming on Amazon Prime).

This sums up Schumer’s subversion pretty well:

Schumer hides her intellect in artifice and lip gloss—that’s how she performs femininity. By wrapping her ideas in a ditzy, sexy, slutty, self-hating shtick, her message goes down easy—and only then, like the alien, sticks its opinionated teeth in you.

And this stuck out:

The best sketch of the new season has Schumer playing a video game not unlike Call of Duty with a male friend. Schumer picks a female avatar—the friend grimaces at this—who, in the game, is raped by her superior. The guy Schumer is playing with doesn’t believe that it happened. Schumer must have “done something wrong.” Meanwhile, the game starts bullying her—“You were just assaulted by a fellow solider. Do you wish to report?” “Yes.” “Are you sure? Did you know he has a family? Does that change your mind about reporting?”—before sending her to Level 25, which is all paperwork.

You can’t argue that what she’s doing isn’t important or smart, because it is.  I love her, unabashedly so.

A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction (Book Riot)

I’ve actually been sitting on this link for a while, but I had to include it because I think Kelly Jensen writes such smart, interesting stuff about YA and librarianship and gender politics.  Everything in this article is great–S.E. Hinton paving the way for YA literature but doing it with only her initials because she would be dismissed by male critics if they knew she was a woman, the fact that the books most challenged are written by women, etc.–and it’s well worth your time.

Jensen writes:

Call them by any name you want, but these challenges stem from fears about girls’ stories coming to the front and being told. Men have their novels challenged, too, but less frequently and, more likely than not, for reasons similar to why women’s novels are: the fear of something different (anything outside the “mainstream” white, straight male standard). Blume has more titles on the most-challenged list than any other author — even Robert Cormier could only muster three — because being female and writing about issues girls face are challenge- and ban- worthy actions indeed.

She also makes this point, which is something that’s been talked about a lot recently:

Men write universal stories. Women write stories for girls. Men write Literature. Women write chick lit. Even in a world where women do publish in heavier numbers than men do, they are underscored, underseen, and undervalued. Twilight is and will remain a crucial part of YA’s history — YA’s female-driven history — despite or in spite of the fact it doesn’t garner the same praises that those held up as idols within the community do. Men like John Green become symbols of YA’s forward progress and Seriousness as a category, whereas Stephenie Meyer gets to be a punchline.

Anyway, read it.  Be incensed.  Think about the larger issues at play.

5 Biblical Films That Sparked a Religious Backlash (Alternet)  

To be completely honest, I don’t have any interest in the Noah movie.  I’m not a religious person.  I think that biblical epics like this one, featuring a bunch of white people, are totally ridiculous.  The reviews on this one have been pretty mixed (with many critics coming down on the “It’s a trash heap” side of things), and I honestly thought that it was supposed to be a movie pandering to the fundies.  But apparently not? Because they’re actually sort of up in arms about it?  In a hilarious way?

This article talks a little bit about the Noah film, but it also lists a few other films that have been super controversial for the Christian right.  It’s worth a look, I guess.

 

Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

What begins as an assignment for English class spirals into something much more for Laurel.  She was supposed to write a letter to a dad person, and she ends up writing a ton of letters to a bunch of dead people.  She starts with Kurt Cobain, because her sister May loved him so much.  And they both died young, so it felt symmetrical.  But then Laurel starts writing to other people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Heath Ledger.  As she writes these letters, she spills her secrets, long kept to herself, about what happened the night May died.

An eye-catching cover, intriguing title, and interesting premise can’t save this book from its overwritten, uneven execution.  Epistolary novels are always difficult because they’re inherently one-sided.  An epistolary novel where the letter recipients can’t even write back because they are dead is decidedly even more one-sided.  While there is some good here: Laurel is an introspective girl who makes for a mostly-authentic narrator, the book gets bogged down in its own telling, making for a slog of a read.

The result is kind of boring, as much as it pains me to say it.  There’s something gimmicky about the execution of the book, too, although it’s hard to place what it is, exactly, that makes it feel this way.  Perhaps its the feeling of nostalgia that winds its way through the narrative?  It feels disingenuous?  Not all readers will pick up on this, but more will find themselves frustrated by how slowly Laurel reveals herself.

That is a large part of the book’s problem, too: Laurel is so slow to give readers a glimpse into her tragic past that by the time she arrives at the night May died, the ending of the book feels rushed.  It makes for a jarring end to a novel that is otherwise incredibly slow and deliberate.  Tighter editing would have helped with this; the book feels overly long at just over 300 pages.

Perhaps the most distracting aspect of this novel is how similar in tone and execution it is to Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  This is compounded by the fact that Chbosky blurbed this one.  It might find some readers who don’t mind the slow-as-molasses pace, but this is definitely not a stand-out.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Expected Release Date: May 15, 2014

A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author of Hold Still.

A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.

Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

(Summary via Goodreads)

I didn’t love LaCour’s The Disenchantments, but I definitely understood the appeal and thought that LaCour had that something.  So there was never any doubt that I’d come back to her work at some point.  This offering looks like the perfect place for me to revisit LaCour as an author, because it’s right up my alley: film, Hollywood, coming-of-age.  Sold.  This looks like it has the potential to be a great GLBT novel for the YA world, and will likely have some crossover appeal, too.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Emily Beam’s high school boyfriend shot himself in front of her in their high school library.  Reeling in the aftermath, Emily’s parents ship her off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts.  There, she starts to rebuild her life through reading and writing poetry like her idol, Emily Dickinson.  Over the course of the next few months, Emily lets herself heal with the help of the ghost of Dickinson, as well as some very real friends.

Darker in tone and much more contemplative than it first appears, Jenny Hubbard’s thoughtful, memorable book weaves together Emily’s past and present worlds as she seeks answers and peace from the traumatic events that haunt her.  Lyrical, moving, and full of lush poetry, this is a case where the poems in the book add strength to the narrative and its characters as opposed to taking away from those elements.

Hubbard chooses to alternate between Emily’s present at the boarding school and her past with her boyfriend, Paul.  The flashbacks to the past help add dimension to Emily’s current state, and her poetry, written in the present environment, add meaning as she finds new perspective on her life.  This is a layered story, and the texture is complex.  This is going to work better for sophisticated readers than it is for reluctant or struggling ones.

One minor nitpick: Hubbard chooses to set her story in 1995, which wouldn’t be an issue at all if the reader wasn’t constantly confronted with the date.  While it seems as though Hubbard picked this date because it’s close enough to present day to relate to most teens but far back enough to not deal with cell phones and the internet, something about it stuck in my craw.  I kept finding myself distracted by the chosen date, which takes away from how absolutely beautiful the novel is.

Although it will have limited appeal, it should still find an audience.  This is smart, thoughtful, YA, and it doesn’t offer its readers any easy outs.  Recommended.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. Delacorte Press: 2014. Library copy.