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review 2016-06-23 08:33
Set your sights lower for "We All Looked Up"
We All Looked Up - Tommy Wallach

"We All Looked Up" gives end-of-the-world premise like you see in the movie "Melancholia" or in the YA series "Life As We Knew It" about a catastrophe event that makes characters reevaluate their lives in the wake of a possible and sudden end. Only this "Breakfast Club" meets a giant meteor book lacks that sort of harrowing tone you read in stories and ends up with a lot of plots dropped for stupid love triangles and a really dismal portrayal of the three female characters in particular.


Anita's once regimented life leads her to abandoning her control freak parents and pursue life as a musician...except it's eclipsed by her feelings for resident slacker and asshole accomplice. Her storyline about finding purpose is resolved by them sleeping together.


Eliza's life was ruined by one kiss with someone else's boyfriend, leading her to be ostracized and then claim the "slut" label as a way to empower herself (yeah, if you're rolling your eyes at this, join the club). Her photographs and blog were super popular at showing how society was coming apart at the seam, her dad is dying of cancer and their house actually gets burned down and she doesn't know if he's alive or dead...but really she just wants to cuddle with the guy who actually was responsible for the whole kissing fiasco in the first place, so whatever it's true love.


Misery a.k.a. Samantha really doesn't even get enough of a backstory or motivation to explain how she is the way she is except she likes the resident bad boy "Bobo" and is plot motivation for a really dumb conflict that gets one of them killed. She's mostly dropped off at the end.


It took me forever to finish this mostly because the back second half became such a drag but people who prefer their end of the world stories not so depressing as "The Road" and like teenage relationship drama, complete with lying/misunderstandings keeping characters apart could find something to enjoy about it. But if this was the last book I'd have time to read, I'd definitely skip it.

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review 2015-05-08 05:40
I'll Give You a Two Out of Five
I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson

When I heard how Jandy Nelson's "I'll Give You the Sun" won the Printz, a lot of the reviews boiled down to the story's surrealist narration. Those who liked it, loved the book. Those who didn't found it tedious.


I found it okay, but mostly a brightly colored varnish because, without the surrealistic blue barf and quirky superstitions of their characters, this novel doesn't hold together very well in any test of grounding it by characterizations, situations, or relationships. And magical realism or surrealism works best when it becomes a distortion from the foundations of the world we see.


The way Nelson wove the two halves of the story in past and present was very well planned out, but the manner in getting them around often resorted to destined instant love, strained conflicts arising from rom-com levels of not bothering to have simple conversations, and secondary characters acting as mouthpieces for the twins' validation.and struggles rather than actual human beings. The worst cases being Oscar, a walking bundle of English bad boy cliches, and Heather, Noah's best friend who is never given a personality beyond "once liked Noah and found out he was gay."


While it's not a bad book, I'm still very surprised to see so many people think it worthy of the Printz. Its moments of artistic poignancy were well done, but a lot of the book felt like strained symbolism or random digressions involving orgasmic donuts. I like my surrealism to transcend, not resort to cliches so frequently.




P.S. I'm also surprised it got a Stonewall honor. It's good that we've gotten to the point where our gay protagonists can be complete shits (and Noah is definitely a jealous and possessive jerk toward his love interest), but the resolution for their conflict is taken care of off screen a few pages from the end, and in a manner that's way too tidy for something as egregious as outing the person you loved right after they explained how they were afraid for their safety and scholarship if it came out. Surely there were more LGBTQ fiction stories published this year that are worthier?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-06-29 04:52
"Some Girls Are" by Courtney Summers
Some Girls Are - Courtney Summers

Some Girls Are has that cliffhanger title that lets a reader complete the thought. And if what you said was suggestive of something less kind than sugar and spice and everything nice, then this book has given you the appropriate tone.


Regina Afton is a Regina George of Mean Girls dethroned by her fellow alpha bitch "friends" after a misunderstanding and forced to become the new school pariah. And the best quality of Summers's book is that she doesn't cover or shy away from the fact that Regina is, in fact, a pretty awful person. Most bullying YA has us instantly empathize with our protagonist because we see their torment is undeserved and often are victims because they lack a certain ruthlessness to keep that kind of cruelty at bay. We side with them because they are wronged but also because we like them.


Summers tells us that Regina does deserve hatred for what she did to others. At the same time there are critical differences, that some things nobody deserves, and the novel presents it with a cruel and lean prose that doesn't offer any moralizing. The first 4/5ths of the novel are brisk, tense and constantly making the reader horrified with what happens to Regina but also what she does to strike back at her tormenters.


I could not bear to put it down and didn't imagine how things would escalate. Whatever weaknesses usually found in bullying fiction, such as the almost criminally widespread ignorance of any authority figures, were outweighed by the authenticity of the feelings involved by the characters.


The last fifty or so pages take a major stumble in quality though, opting to drop the more difficult plot of Regina continuing her toxic payback for a romance. One that I really feel is unearned, which is a shame because Summers did a great job making Michael's struggles to forgive Regina for her bullying a truly built up to the moment in being friends, but it immediately goes from "I don't hate you" to kissing and then abandons all the more complicated relationships. That leaves the plot threads of Regina and Kara's mutual hatred and lack of forgiveness, or Liz's hatred for what Regina did to her conflicting with her attempts to be a better person, left unresolved.


And the resolution where the girls promise to stop bullying Regina because someone is finally willing to go to the principal with proof of it seems outrageous considering this has been widespread for years and is so endemic there's no way they wouldn't have been tattled on before. Especially with the principal turning a blind eye to the whole spray painting whore on a locker incident right in the beginning of the book. The happy ending is unearned, and it is more disappointed considering how well the story navigated its dark path in the beginning.


In summation, Some Girls Are complicated, and some girls are not. Sometimes those complications can't be adequately addressed in a novel under 250 pages. This is a worthwhile story for those who want to read a story that does deal with a very real problem in our society. It is compelling and doesn't flinch at the darker subjects. However, be warned of the ending becoming a little too neat for such a messy concept.

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