Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: White Chalk by Pavarti K Tyler

Hi all,
A few weeks ago I did a book spotlight for a book called White Chalk, published by a small indie press. I finished the book a week ago, and have cooked up a review for you.

White ChalkWhite Chalk by Pavarti K. Tyler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Received from publisher for review.

This book is...difficult to review. Instead of my usual thoughts-flowing review, I'm going to comment on different aspects of this book.

First and foremost: plot
As the reviews and synopsis reveal, this is an adult book. It goes include graphic/erotica-type sex scenes. I am not really into that genre, and I don't usually like to read books about the abuse or sexual assault of children. But, this book softened the blow some. It didn't describe things in that way that makes me feel nauseous for days after reading it/can't finish it. I felt for Chelle, even related to her at times, feeling like I'd experienced some of what she did (like being in love with an oblivious friend, some of the self-destructive behavior, etc). I liked all Chelle's friendships, though at times I wanted to shake her and tell her to appreciate the good things in her life.

Characters: I loved some of the supporting characters--actually, most of them. Except Mr. Harris, who was a total lech. Cat was awesome, Xiu, Troy (their friendship was the best thing about this book--I wish Chelle had been able to see him as he saw her, because he really did care for her and was a good friend to her). Sure, her parents were shamefully awful, but the people around her seemed to really care for her--even the one-night-stand guy was totally decent and I wished she'd reached out to him instead of pedo Harris. (view spoiler)

Writing: This book is proof that a book doesn't have to be perfectly edited and error free to be enjoyable. I must have found a few dozen missing punctuation marks, but I hardly noticed. They didn't effect my reading experience, because I was drawn in enough that they didn't jar me out of the story. Who cares about commas--I wanted to know what happened next!
Tyler is truly gifted with words. All the scenes where Chelle finds relief in cigarettes were awesome. Also, just loved how she poked fun at the instalove we see everywhere. Chelle falls in love the moment she sees Troy, but it's so cliche and obviously mocking the idea that it was comical. And where she describes how his hunched, narrow shoulders are so sexy, it totally cracked me up. And rings true--if you have a crush on someone (or are in soul-crushing love) even  his scrawny concave chest is hot. And Mr. Harris was obviously a fat gross old man, but she described it in such a way that it seemed completely normal to her, which made his ick-factor only skyrocket. Beyond all that, her descriptions of Chelle's inner life drew me in and made me believe the melodrama of her mind, the end-of-the-world pain she felt even in her eye-rolling teenage drama moments. I remember how that felt, when every pain was magnified, every snub excruciating.

I also loved Chelle's casual brutality. She'd be going on in her emo voice of depression, and suddenly she'd say something like "I wished I could kill her and leave her body in a ditch" or "It sucked so bad I wanted to shoot myself in the face." (not exact quotes) I had a friend who talked EXACTLY like that when I was in college, so it kind of cracked me up and made it ring true.

Overall: Tyler is absolutely a brilliant writer. This wasn't a quick read for me, but I never lost interest, even when I couldn't get to the book for a few days at a time. An engrossing, disturbing read that managed the perfect blend of darkness and comedy.

Content warning: explicit sex scenes, including those between a 14-year-old and an adult. Every objectionable word possible. Self-harm and violence of adults towards each other and children.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos

Dead End in NorveltDead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was just so weird I had to love it. It's quirky and clever, but not quite too much. It drives me nuts when authors try so hard to be quirky that it seems condescending, and I'm apt to give books terrible reviews when they fall into the trying-too-hard, quirky-for-the-sake-of-quirky category. But this one falls just short, which is a good thing.

Jack, our protagonist (and maybe author), is a nose-bleeding nut. But he's a lovable nut that you can't help but root for as he does his best to write obituaries, befriends an elderly lady and sets out to solve the mystery of who is killing off the town's elderly, who are dropping like flies. Or maybe it's not a mystery at all, but a case of natural selection. Or accidental rat poisoning. Or Hell's Angels...

This was a short book, easy to read and well worth it. I love the semi-autobiographical, comical aspect, and the rich sense of place. Atmosphere always does it for me, and this one had it.

Recommended for: Everyone (ages 8 and up) who needs a light read.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Book Cover Trends in Contemporary YA

While surveying a list of upcoming contemporary YA  releases, I noticed some interesting trends. Gone are the girls with hair across the face (so 2013 y’all).  Since I’ve yet to read even a single contemporary YA released in 2014, I can’t tell you the popular topics (except romance, always). 

But here are some trends I gleaned while scrolling through hundreds of book covers. 

  1. Maps, maps, maps. Whether we’re trying to go somewhere, or to leave somewhere, we need a map. I’m guessing we’ll see some road trip books.
  2. Hearts. Maybe this never went away. But a ton of contemporary YA features hearts this year. Love.
  3. Stars. Not the kindergarten-drawing type, but the glinting ones with purple galaxies around them (see Across the Universe if you don't know what I mean). This is a trend in YA lately, not just book covers. Books about space and aliens seem to be gaining popularity lately. Seems to be popular for titles too (The Fault in Our Stars, etc)
  4.  Kisses. Yowza, it looked like the romance novel section of the library where I was embarrassed to go with my older sister when I was that age. Now, it’s all over YA covers. Most are a tad more tasteful than romance novel covers. (Found more than a few upside down kisses, too…thanks, Spiderman).
  5. Threesomes. Not that kind, you perv. I’m hoping this isn’t indicative of a surge in love triangles, since I’m sick to death of those. But lots of YA covers this year have moved from the single face, to the kiss, and beyond. Crossing my fingers it signals an increase in friendship novels.
  6. Cursive. Titles (whole or single words within the title) are turning to cursive just as schools are turning away. Will young people be able to read this strange new font? Lol…  
  7.  Last but not least…there is always a random object that seems to pop up on covers, even when it has little to do with the book. And…this year’s random-object winner is…the dandelion! I know, it’s nothing new. But its popularity has only grown this year. Look for lots of dandelion fluff on covers this year.

Have you spotted any trends I failed to mention? Feel free to share!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: Nothing, by Janne Teller

NothingNothing by Janne Teller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

Note: If you read the spoilers, they do give away EVERYTHING, including the ending.

It seems every review of this has 1 star or 5 stars, so I guess you'd call it a 'love it or hate it' book. I loved it. It was reminiscent of Lord of the Flies for me. In Nothing, a group of kids go to further and further lengths to prove to a classmate that life does indeed have meaning. It's like a modern-day existential Lord of the Flies, where they aren't fighting for dominance and survival, but for meaning, for proof that life isn't just a fraud, for survival not of their physical selves but of their entire belief system.

The group of twelve to thirteen-year-olds begins by giving up little things that have meaning for them to show that something in life does have meaning. The author does a wonderful job of making each request seem unfair as they escalate, so that at first, you think it's unfair for a girl to give up a pair of green sandals, and by the end, you can't believe how petty it was that she only had to give up her shoes and complained about it. As the book progresses, you are dragged along at a steady pace, more and more shocked and horrified by each request as the group members push each other to new and cruel limits to see how far they can go, to make the next person give up more than the person before had to. There were a few times when I guessed what was coming. (view spoiler)
Everyone is saying this is a book about the meaning of life, but that wasn't the real message I took from it. If anything, this book was more about bullying and conformity and peer pressure. A few reviews have argued that Agnes is a weak and unlikeabale main character, but I didn't find her to be so. The book needed a point of view, so the author chose a random participant. She wasn't the best or the worst. She was just anyone, which fit perfectly with the story. That it could be just anyone, average in every way. She speaks up sometimes, but no more than anyone else. She's no better or worse than the others. She has qualms about the escalating events, but still goes along with the group, scared of speaking out, not only because she might get beaten up like some of the others, but because they might turn on her. I found the book gripping, horrifying, and possibly a bit damaging to my psyche. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good, deep read that doesn't drag on, but make sure you can handle a little grit in your peaches and cream.

The only part of the book that let me down was the ending, which was a bit abrupt for me, or just didn't feel really complete. (view spoiler)

The translation is not always smooth, and can be awkward at times, but the writing was still lovely. When I picked up the audiobook, I didn't realize it was a translation, and listening to it, I thought it might have been written in verse. When I found out it was a translation, the strange style made more sense.

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