Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle
Kenilworth Castle, John of Gaunt's Hall

Monday, May 16, 2011

keeping pace

I've been on a YA-reading jag since the semester ended (with a detour to re-read the unbelievably great Kraken by the equally great China MiƩville). I've been adding them to my Goodreads library, giving them stars as they deserve them, but other than that, I've just read too much to break it all down in any more detail. A few deserve mention, though.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride.  Mainly because my loathing of Twilight is so strong, I've steered clear of Paranormal YA. But McBride's novel was suggested by a child_lit member, and since I was trying to read broadly and deeply in the YA world, I added it to my pile of books. I'm glad I did - it was quite terrific. I know it's even better than I thought while I read, because it's burrowed into my brain - I find myself thinking about it semi-frequently since I finished it, and I usually take that as a very good sign.  McBride gives narration to our necromancer protagonist, Sam, but alternates with third-person narration focalized around various other characters. There are werewolves, necromancers (good and evil), witches, various forms of post-dead spirits and undead, a couple of very good mortal human friends and some clever dialogue. Each chapter is titled with a song title (and the novel itself is a play on, of all things, a line from Elton John's song "Tiny Dancer" - "hold me closer tiny dancer"). It feels very contemporary without feeling forced; it was funny without being absurd. The intrusion of the paranormal/supernatural into Sam's "normal" world was handled very, very well - there was a good mix of "wtf?" reactions along with very nonchalantly blase reactions (sometimes from the same character). The novel's conclusion felt rushed, and a few chapters from the end, I felt VERY much like I was being set up for a sequel, but by that point, I was charmed enough with the book and its characters that having the prospect of a sequel dangled in front of me was very welcome. 

I don't like the romantic-comedy genre (except, of course, for My Most Excellent Year), but Gabrielle Williams' Beatle Meets Destiny was just enough of the quirky and angsty to break the veneer of ick that usually accompanies the rom-com. I liked Williams' writing style especially - it's self-referential but only occasionally; it's cinematic, in a way that felt intentionally amateurish - like a very skillful but totally amateur making his first documentary, maybe. The characters were all flawed as people, which made them better characters. One of the claims inside the jacket copy is that everyone in the book does the wrong thing, and that's about right: in some ways, it's a romantic-comedy of errors. Again, enough quirks in the characters, the plot and the style to keep it from shlock.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has been on my radar for awhile - we got an ARC of Sapphique at the bookstore when I still worked there, and I flipped through it a bit. A friend of mine mentioned it recently as one she's considering teaching in the fall, and so I decided to bite the bullet and read it. And frankly, I don't know what I think of it. I have Sapphique from the library as well, and I'll be reading that soon - perhaps it will help me organize my thoughts? I felt vaguely irritated as I read Incarceron - it had all the "right" elements of your basic dystopian fantasy, but it somehow didn't quite work. The beautiful, privileged girl who rebels against her fate! The guy with mysterious powers/knowledge/wisdom and an unknown background, who is able to see the chinks in the power structure! The roguish, unpredictable friend! People with names like Keiro and Attia!  One of the things about the current spate of YA dystopia that's irking me are the names: lots of Ks, lots of Ys, lots of unusual vowel arrangements for names that end up sounding mostly like names in current usage, but like they're spoken through a mouth of mush, or written phonetically by a child. I think Peeta is my worst and best example - though I love Collins' books - and the character - what kind of dumb name is Peeta? It's a snooty-British pronunciation of Peter (Peetah, as Wendy says in Disney's Peter Pan), or it's an alternate spelling of flatbread (Pita), and either way, it's goofy. 
But I read Incarceron through to its finish, and I'm curious enough to read the next book, so it can't have been all bad. 

Hidden Talents and True Talents by David Lubar, also recommended via child_lit. My editions were in a typeface, and with cover designs, that reminded me strongly of the YA books I pilfered from my sister when I was a kid - so mid-to-late 80s aesthetic. It made me feel like I was reading much older books than I was, which was weird.  I quite liked Hidden Talents, actually - I liked it a lot. True Talents disappointed - I think taking the characters out of the school was a mistake. It scattered their identities too broadly, or something - it made them less of a team. Because of the 80s look of the books, it threw me everytime computers and the internet were referenced, or iPods; this was a good lesson in the importance of typography and design - and why physical books convey a different experience than e-books.

And finally, Natalie Standiford's Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters. I LOVED How to Say Goodbye in Robot - really, one of the best YAs I've read in the last year or two - so I was keen to read more from Standiford. Sullivan Sisters was good, but very different from Robot - if I'd never read the latter, I probably would have like Sullivan Sisters even more. The novel is three letters from the three sisters, "confessing" to their behavior/actions of the last couple of months, which - they believe - is why their family has been suddenly disinherited by their (still-living) grandmother, the incredibly wealthy, snobby and imperious Almighty. The three sisters are interesting, and different from each other in lots of ways. Most interesting, maybe, is that their stories overlap, narrating essentially the same span of time but from their three different perspectives. Things Norrie never mentions are central to Sassy's confession; Jane goes into detail about things Norrie brushes off as insignificant; Sassy offers new perspective on both girls' representations of Almighty. It was very well-crafted, and the characters - and family - Standiford created were very appealing to me - so much so that I wish there were more Sullivan books (there are six children in the family, in age from 21-year-old philosopher-poet St. John to six-year-old Takey). My one big quarrel with the book is Norrie's relationship with Robbie: Norrie is a 17-year-old high school senior. She meets Robbie in an extension education class on Speed Reading at Johns Jopkins. He turns out to be a 25-year-old grad student.
Now, the college boy who dates the high school girl is a fairly regular trope in YA, and baffles me then - my own experiences as a college undergrad was that high schoolers lost all interest as anything but objects for the boys to ogle (if even that); the few guys I knew in college who were still dating their old high-school-aged girlfriends got massively teased for it. Querying my undergrad students this spring, they mostly seemed disdainful, uneasy or outright contemptuous at the idea of college students actively pursuing high schoolers. 
Now ramp that up another notch: a grad student? pursuing a 17-year-old? REALLY? No. I just can't buy it, even if the inability to buy it is a plot point. Norrie's interactions with Robbie's grad-school friends is awkward - they clearly are contemptuous and disdainful and laugh at Robbie, calling him cradle-robber in front of Norrie - but it's eased when Norrie reveals herself to be much more cool and intelligent than expected. But still. There was never a moment when I really believed in Robbie's interest in Norrie. Any 25-year-old grad student guy who wants to pursue a high schooler, even a very smart and pretty high schooler, is a HUGE red flag to RUN THE OTHER WAY. 
This may make me an appalling snob, but there it is. At the very least, a 25-year-old guy should have more sense than to go after a girl who is still just 17. Most of the 25-year-old guys I have known would be lustfully regretful if presented with their own version of Norrie - but they wouldn't ask her out, or pursue a relationship with her, if only because of fear of 1) jailbait and 2) social recriminations from their friends.

But other than this, Standiford does a great job with all of her characters - as I say, she makes them so interesting and vivid that I am left wanting more.

I'm working on another stack from the library - currently about to give up on Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens, because it's actually just too creepy for me to read. I rarely - almost never - have this happen, but I've tried several times today to read it, and each time I feel excessively disturbed by the book. Maybe another time, because I can see that it's good and smart and doing very interesting things. 

But I have a number of books left that shouldn't give me profound heebie-jeebies, so that should hold me for the rest of the week. Besides, I requested a ton of books via the public library's interlibrary loan system, and I just got notified that Moon Over Manifest has come in for me.


1 comment:

Library Diva said...

Speaking of Twilight, this "Not Always Right" made me think of you, for some reason. http://notalwaysright.com/the-twilight-of-our-literacy-part-4/11821