The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

After many, many weeks hiatus, another girly review to show the world I’m still alive and kicking (though unfortunately not reading all that much). I read this book a while ago, wrote a review, then promptly forgot to post it. Oh well, that goes to show how important it is for you dear readers to subscribe, doesn’t it?

It should surprise no one that I chose this book solely on the title. Still, it’s worth noting that this hilarious novel is also a Printz Award winner. Thankfully it lived up to my high expectations! It was every bit the girly, smart, and funny book I wanted it to be.

Virginia Shreves is our fifteen-year-old narrator, sadly characterized mostly by her weight. Virginia lives by her own “Fat Girl Code of Conduct”, which basically dictates how she interacts with the opposite sex (i.e. poorly). I felt sorry for Virginia in the first half of the book. It seems like everything in her life is working against her self-esteem: her best friend has moved away, her exercise-obsessed mom is unsupportive and undercutting, and her siblings are absent. Self-hatred saturates the first part of this book, and in such a real, believable way. The fact that it is the true inner voice of so many girls out there today is what made parts of this book really quite disturbing. There’s my warning.

The flip side of that, however, was Mackler’s ability to add wit and irreverent humour to every aspect of the story. While it touches on really serious subjects, it does so in the best way possible. It’s truthful, but it isn’t brutal.

Virginia’s real coming of age takes place through a shocking family event that rocks her world. Rather than watching it ruin her, the reader gets to see a journey toward self-actualization that is truly beautiful. I can’t say I was on the same page as Virginia the whole time – along with finding her voice and being able to stand up for herself she adopts somewhat of a silver tongue, for example – but I think that contributes to the realness of the novel. Teenagers are like that, and even the “nice girl” can’t always be super gracious.  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is a genuine portrait of teenaged girl-dom, and I really really liked it.

Not Suitable for Family Viewing, Vicki Grant

HarperTrophyCanada, 2009, 289 pages (soft cover)

I’d never heard of this book or its author, but it’s one of those random library picks that turned out to be an entertaining surprise. Not to mention it’s Canadian, and it made me LOL. I really love books that  literally make me laugh out loud.

Before I get to the meat and potatoes here, can we pause for a moment to communally groan at this cover? As a result I was forced to find creative ways to hold my book while reading on the bus….

That’s not really where the groans stopped for this book, either. The first-person present-tense story is told from the perspective of Robin, the oft-forgotten daughter of Oprah-like TV mega-personality, Mimi Schwartz. (Want to know the name of Mimi’s show? You, You, and Mimi. Groan.) In the shadow of her famous mother, Robin feels like a neglected, fat slob with no motivation to do anything. Then one day she finds a little clue to her mother’s pre-fame days, which is just intriguing enough for Robin to take off for a tiny po-dunk village to do some detective work. This is both where the real eye-rolling as well as nail biting started for me. Along her way Robin meets a guy, who slowly but surely (somehow) becomes a love interest [spoiler alert! highlight to read!] even after she punches him in the face upon their first meeting, and later proceeds to scream – yes, literally scream – every time she sees him thereafter. Obviously this leads to his finding her very quirky, funny, and sexy- sexy. Teeny-bopper romance aside – and I had to gag my way through plenty of that – there’s actually a pretty twisty mystery hidden in these pages. I didn’t realize how much red herring is strategically placed throughout the book, until I’d finished it and had it on my mind the next couple days. Coming off of Paper Townsthis one had a lot more to offer in terms of difficulty actually cracking the case.

I’m glad I was compelled enough to keep on through the first half of this book, because the second half proved well worth it. In the first half I wondered why it was an award winner; now I see why. Layered beneath the typical teen beach romance is actually a strong commentary about how appearances aren’t what they seem.

Paper Towns by John Green

Speak, 2009, 305 pages (hardcover)

Speak, 2009, 305 pages (hardcover)

In the John Green hierarchy of book awesomeness, it is with a heavy heart that I’m actually able to call Paper Towns my least favourite. I still give it a 3 out of 5, but I was expecting something between a 4 or a 5. Maybe my expectations were too high, as it took me a good two years to get my hands on a copy. Maybe it’s because I’ve read literally all of John Green’s books and this felt like (don’t shoot me) more of the same.

This time around, Margo Roth Spiegelman is the unattainable girl that our first-person-narrated hero loves from afar. And when she disappears (not unlike Alaska in Looking for Alaska) the hero spends two hundred pages learning she’s not this carefree manic pixie dreamgirl (not unlike Looking for Alaska). Turns out Margo is a real girl with real problems. Nearing the end of the book comes the philosophical discussion that indefinitely confronts our protagonists’ deep-seated need to make a lasting difference in the universe (not unlike any of Green’s novels).

Okay, so I’m really poking fun here. Every author has a niche, and all I’m saying is I’m on to Green. I still think he’s the greatest living young adult author out there, because his writing is that good, and his humour is without fail. Sometimes I feel like his characters’ horniness-to-intelligence ratio is whack (in that they always seem to score pretty high on both) – but then I really know nothing about what it’s like to be a teenage boy. Paper Towns lost me in its last few pages, when [spoiler alert! highlight to read!] the romantic end felt more obligatory than necessary.

Still, for a light-hearted mystery, this fit the bill for a summer read.

AND NOW…

The John Green Hierarchy of Book Awesomeness (In My Humble Opinion)*:

1. The Fault in Our Stars (6 out of 5 stars and I can never read it again or the lack of newness will drop this score to a mere 5)

2. An Abundance of Katherines (4 out of 5 stars)

3. Looking for Alaska (4 out of 5 stars)

4. Will Greyson, Will Greyson (4 out of 5 stars)

5. Paper Towns (3 out of 5 stars, which is still a pass)

*I haven’t read Let it Snow or Zombicorns, neither of which I’d count as a true novel anyway….

Any thoughts? Agree, disagree? What does your list look like? Sound off below!

If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Dutton Juvenile, 2009, 201 pages (hardcover)

It’s a regular Monday night and I’m just wising up to the fact that I still run a blog. Sorry if it hasn’t felt that way – life can sometimes change in an instant, for better or for worse. Priorities tend to shift in those moments. Which is a good lead-in for this latest review!

If I Stay follows an intriguing premise. A shy, cello-playing seventeen-year-old named Mia has just barely survived a car crash. One second she’s riding along with her family, and the next, she’s watching the wreckage from across the street. What follows are her lengthy out-of-body observations en route to and inside the hospital, while her body remains in its coma.

While I like the concept and appreciated a truly unique first-person perspective, I’ve concluded that this novel is overrated. Hand it to an eleven-year-old girl with a romantic streak and she’ll probably say it’s the saddest book ever. Truth is, while it’s got its definitive sad moments (those come with the territory), the plot for me actually wore a little thin. The bulk of the novel is shaped from flashbacks to happier times. Sure, this is about the only way to lengthen any book with a comatose protagonist, but I actually thought a lot of the dialogue and exchanges between Mia and her boyfriend Adam, and Mia and her parents felt unrealistic. I also felt the author overselling the irony of it all. The foreshadowing was too obvious and as a result took on this “see how profound this is?” quality that I didn’t love.

All this said, I think Forman has a talent for keeping her readers turning pages, and I’d happily read the follow-up novel (Where She Went) if it were to fall in my hands. I’m also pretty excited to see the movie, which is supposedly slated for this December. I have a feeling a lot of what this book is will work better on screen.

Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

For your enjoyment, I’ve lovingly split this topic into two Top Fives!

Top Five Popular Authors I’ve Never Read…And Don’t Intend To:

  1. Stephenie Meyer, for two reasons. 1) I’ve never understood the romantic appeal of vampires (or invading alien species), and 2) I just can’t spell her name. I had to look it up in order to post it here. Which is irksome.
  2. Leo Tolstoy…and pretty much all the classic Russian authors. Because if things like difficult spellings deter me, multiple family trees with complicated Russian names spanning years and hundreds of pages doesn’t sound like the ideal book for me. I would, however, venture into Nikolai Gogol’s short stories. But no promises.
  3. Stieg Larsson. I have no desire to read The Millenium Trilogy, and I’m okay with that. Really people, I can live without it.
  4. Stephen King. I get the heebie-jeebies when a piece of paper sitting on the edge of my desk flutters to the ground for no reason. This is not the author for me.
  5. Dan Brown. I’m 99% sure I’d like his books once I got into them, but aside from theological implications I’m not much excited to explore, they plumb don’t interest me.

Top Five Popular Authors I’ve Never Read…And Super-Duper Can’t Wait to Try!:

  1. Kurt Vonnegut. Somehow made it out of high school without having to read any one of his novels, and now I feel deprived. I think there’s only one way to find out whether I actually am….
  2. Margaret Atwood. As a Canadian I think this is a bit shocking, and probably plain rude. As I foray into more sci-fi, this may have to be one direction I travel.
  3. Also without a doubt, Ursula K. Le Guin. I have no clue where to start, but she’s always been intriguing to me.
  4. Robert Galbraith. Tee-hee! It’s sort of a cheat, but technically I have yet to get to “Robert”‘s first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling.
  5. Markus Zusak. Who knows what he wrote besides The Book Thief, but still! Slouch authors don’t win awards.

Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

It’s been a while since we’ve done a Top Ten! I’ve kinda missed it…have you? I was especially excited to see that this week’s was a “rewind”: choose whatever topic you like from the past. And because I like complaining, I naturally chose my Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves.

  1. Old book smell. You know that musty scent library books are famous for? I can handle a whiff, but when the whole thing reeks of dust and neglect, it kinda makes me question why I’m not watching TV instead.
  2. Continuing on the subject of library books: sticky pages. Don’t eat while you’re reading. Just don’t. And please refrain from using any public-use books as your personal tissue.
  3. Dog-eared pages. Chances are there are about five options for bookmark alternatives in your immediate vicinity, at any time. Unless it’s a text book you’ll never use again outside the final, keeping your place by the permanent defacing of the book is just lazy.
  4. The movie poster cover. This is awful for two reasons. 1) Because it means the book is being re-marketed based on creative liberties taken by the film’s creators, and not the author’s original creation. And, 2) Because half the time the people cast in the book look different and that’s just step one of not being able to imagine things for yourself.
  5. Generic titles. Lately for me this means one of the following: “Girl in [fillintheblank]” and “The [fillintheblank]’s Wife”.
  6. Weird character names. I like it when there are one or two unusual names, but when everyone has a name like Bonnet, Shoehorn or Trapdoor, with no rhyme or reason or symbolism, it gets real annoying real fast. Same with the opposite: a book with only Janes, Johns and Marys is probably an indication how bland it is.
  7. Out-of-control punctuation. Some writers are comma addicts. Some rely too heavily on parentheses. One just wishes those types of things might be tightened up and taken out during the editing phase.
  8. Inversely, Writers who use 100 words to say what they could in ten. Nothing is worse than a rambling novel, when the idea alone would’ve made a great novella (or even a short story).
  9. 500-pagers in hardcover. I like fat books until they fall on my face while I doze off in bed. Those are the times I really wish there was some sort of lighter invention I could use to read books. Oh, wait…they’re called electronic readers. But that leads me to my latest, greatest pet peeve….
  10. Wait lists for e-books. I would like all those libraries with a cyber component to know: there is no reason for this! What is the age of technology for, if not instant gratification?!

Don’t forget to share your biggest book hang-ups below. Now’s our chance to commiserate together!

The Friday 56: Ender’s Game

the-friday-56Hosted by Freda’s Voice, The Friday 56 follows these simple rules:

  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
  • Find any sentence (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  • Post it.

Described by some as Harry Potter in space (but not really), here’s a teaser from Orson Scott Card’s classic Science Fiction, Ender’s Game.

Tor Science Fiction, 2013, 324 pages (paperback)

Tor Science Fiction, 2013, 324 pages (paperback)

Maybe you’ll break down under the pressure, maybe it’ll ruin your life, maybe you’ll hate me for coming here to your house today. But if there’s a chance that because you’re in the fleet, mankind might survive and the buggers might leave us alone forever – then I’m going to ask you to do it. To come with me.

I’m still new to Sci-Fi, but boy oh boy am I fast becoming a fan. This one had all the classic elements I’d normally make fun of – space, alien invasions, no-gravity combat with high tech machines, a last-chance boy-hero – but I enjoyed it despite all that. If that makes me a nerd, I’m proud to wear the badge. Look out for my full review soon!

-Deborah

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013, 310 pages (hardcover)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was that book I saw everywhere. I became curious, enough to read the synopsis. It was annoyingly vague. I knew I was in for some sort of family drama (possibly involving monkeys?) but – hoping it’d be nothing like When God was a Rabbit – this was enough for me to take the plunge. In this case, it was worth it! I was delivered all the heartfelt, realistic and zany family dynamics I’m always in the market for, plus I acquired a new favourite author!

I would explain Completely Beside Ourselves as Rosemary Cooke’s journey toward self-actualization. What we know about her from the beginning is that she used to talk incessantly. She also used to be part of a well-oiled and functioning household, alive with trouble-making siblings, an active mom, and a clever psychologist father. Fast forward several years and something has happened to upend all of it. Rosemary’s mom is lackluster, her dad an amorphous presence on the sidelines of her life, her brother a rogue domestic terrorist wanted by the government, and she, at the centre of it all, has gone silent. What the novel does is suspensefully walk us through events preceding and following the mysterious event – we quickly learn it has something to do with her sister, Fern – that changed everything. Clues are dropped here and there, but nothing will prepare the reader for what’s coming.

Fowler takes a really distinct approach to words that I quite enjoy. Her observations about life are either poignant or droll, and often both. She excels at holding off important information until the moment it will have maximum emotional impact. Probably because her own father was a psychologist who studied learning behaviours in animals, that’s something I found this book did really well in exploring. It boasts a lot of psychology, raising important questions about animal rights, our human relationships with animals, and the myriad implications. All I can do is highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in animals or behaviorism. That, and get my hands on another Fowler novel ASAP.

The Friday 56: The Jane Austen Book Club

the-friday-56

Hosted by Freda’s Voice, The Friday 56 follows these simple rules:

  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
  • Find any sentence (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  • Post it.

It’s not often I’ll feel compelled to read a book after having watched the movie, but Karen Joy Fowler is quickly taking her place among my favourite authors! It feels appropriate that probably her most popular novel is about a book club, because so far I find her novels very book club-worthy.

Plume, 2005, 228 pages (paperback)

Sense and Sensibility features one of Austen’s favorite characters – the handsome debaucher,” Jocelyn said. “She’s very suspicious of good-looking men, I think. Her heroes tend to be actively nondescript.” …

“Except for Darcy,” Prudie said.

“We haven’t gotten to Darcy yet.” There was a warning in Jocelyn’s voice. Prudie took it no further.

Things are heating up!

-Deborah

 

The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp

Directed by James Ponsoldt.

This book has got a lot of hype thanks to the movie version, which came out on DVD last week. Before saying anything about the film, however, I’m going to first tackle the novel.

I enjoyed reading The Spectacular Now. Party boy Sutter Keely offers some of the most interesting and believable narration I’ve read from a first-person teen novel in a while. The book starts with Sutter’s girlfriend, Cassidy, breaking up with him, to which his response is a new goal to win her back. Somewhere along the way, however, he crosses paths with Aimee, a sweet but naive and (let’s admit it) somewhat dorky classmate. Pretty soon it’s as if they’re dating, and after a while it’s official. 

Before I go further into plot, I need to explain a thing or two about Sutter. He drinks – a lot. And then he goes driving. Often he drinks while driving. He’s also clearly hung up on Cassidy for a good half of the book, a crush that overlaps well into his relationship with Aimee. While it can’t be said that Sutter treats her badly, his opinion of Aimee is rarely romantic. He leads her on quite a bit, and for a time it seems as though he’s only dating her out of pity.

Yet here’s the thing: on top of all this, Sutter comes out likeable. I would never want my [nonexistent] daughter to hang out with him, but yeah, the boy’s got charisma. That said, a lot of people will disagree with me. My friend Annie wrote the following:

This is like the modern Catcher in the Rye, which, from me, is not a compliment. Sutter and Holden share the same unlikeableness, arrogance, and ultimate stagnancy that was pretty horrifying to read.

The arc of this book was frustrating. For a book of this caliber (not top) and because of the hype and the forthcoming movie adaptation, I was assuming…that there would be closure of some sort at the end. There wasn’t. I was frustrated. I only kept reading because I thought some comeuppance was coming to Sutter, but it didn’t (not really, not satisfactorily).

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008, 294 (hardcover)

Strangely, it seems the very things some people don’t like about The Spectacular Now are what I loved about it.  While it’s easy to think him an idiot for driving drunk most of the book, it’s also easy to feel worried for him. Sutter is neither hero nor villain, because he rides the line between them. The end of the book is frustrating, but I thought it ended the most likely way it could have. And realism is what the movie is currently being praised for. Everything from the script, to the actors’ performances, to the quality of their adolescent skin is beautifully and shockingly real. Slight changes were made to the end of the story, which might placate those who were angered by the book. Not only does the movie allude to a more satisfying end, it also shows the definite beginning of Sutter’s self-improvement.

While this novel lots of mature content, it’s a great exploration of an everyday, middle-class, non-future-dystopian-society teen, with problems that are relevant to every teen of that description. I recognized every character as someone I myself went to high school with, and I think there’s something special about that. Like The Catcher in the Rye, I believe The Spectacular Now has the sort of timeless quality of a novel that will still be pertinent fifty years from now.