Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Reviews, Reading Round-Up Style

I'm sorry, loyal readers, I actually read too many books this weekend to adequately review them. Over the course of the weekend I finished four books and reviewing them in my typical style would be unfair, I feel, because the reading of one necessarily influenced the others in such sort succession. I will grade each of the books and post my thoughts, but this isn't the usual style. Hope you enjoy it, none the less.

Exit Here by Jason Myers. Read on Friday, July 17. I originally posted that I bought this book because the cover caught my eye with it's "indie film vibe," and the book had that same thing. This story of Travis Wayne who, after flunking out after his first year of college, returns home to his life of drugging, boozing, and women was pretty gritty. Okay, seriously, it was really, really gritty. Parts of it made me a little bit sick to my stomach (okay, seriously, really, really sick to my stomach), but I couldn't put it down because the book was so real. The truth about these lives and their consequences was hard to read, probably too much for a Young Adult book, in my opinion (unfortunately, it should maybe be read by some teens to prevent wasted lives like Travis's), but was worth reading. At the end of the book, late on Friday night, I went up to my room alone and thought about the pain of addiction as told in this book (not really knowing it personally beyong being addicted to food or other people's good opinions) and I started crying. Like crying really hard because I thought of all the lives that are lost to this darkness and destruction and I thought about how I'm so shallow that I get upset if somebody doesn't give me credit for a project at work or whatever. My problems are so small and how am I using my life? A book that can make you think those kinds of things has done something right, in my opinion. That being said, this is probably an average book (somewhere in the C+/B- range) because the author irritated me with a gimmick he did where the narrator's dialogue is never in quotes so you can't always tell if he's actually saying something or just thinking it, and it was too long. This book should have been trimmed by a good 60-80 pages.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Read on Saturday, July 18. After reading Exit Here, nearly anything would have been an upper, right? Except that this book is probably just as hard to read as the previous book, but for different reasons. This book, somewhat inspired by the life of Native American Alexie, tells what it's like to be an American Indian who goes off the reservation for school. Life on the rez is hard (that's putting it mildly) and life off the rez is no piece of cake either, but the protagonist of this story is plucky and resilient and makes the best of every situation in life. I liked the story, liked the characters, liked the peek inside the lives of contemporary Native Americans and this cultural learning experience. Some of the comments Alexie makes surprised me, like how the American Indians hate when the white people come on the reservation and talk about loving Indians. They hate that? Huh? Again this book had me thinking about some assumptions and ways I viewed the world. That is worth the cost of the book. Plus the book will make you laugh, the artwork added by Ellen Forney were spot-on and made the book somehow more tangible in understanding Arnold "Junior" Spirit. In regard to this book getting banned in schools, which is happening a lot, because of the references to masturbation (which I thought were funny because Arnold says he's quite proud of his ambidextrious grip) seemed ridiculous to me. If this book is offensive to you, say more offensive than the way Caucasian Americans have treated American Indians, then you probably should just take your kid out of public school and homeschool them. Please don't get this book banned, leave it for the rest of the kids to enjoy and learn from. This book was a four-star book for me. Really good, a fast read, funny, but Junior was a little one-dimensional in that he was always ringing with too much optimism. I needed a little more negativity in his character to make the stuff going on around him be as believable as it should have been.

Paper Towns by John Green. Read on Saturday, July 18. I've enjoyed John Green's previous two books a lot (4 and 5 Star Ratings), but this one wasn't successful at all in my book. Green tried to do something that's incredibly difficult, he tried to move away from his traditional "literary fiction" style of writing into more "speculative fiction" by weaving a mystery into this story, but it didn't work for me. Green does really good literary fiction (with tons of "navel-gazing" inner commentary) and good genre fiction (fast-paced action sequences and clues that are relatively hard to uncover until the end), but the mixing didn't work. Frankly, I've only seen one guy do it: Michael Chabon in The Yiddish Policemen's Union. This book didn't succeed in that regard and I found myself skipping though long sections of inner monologue because I wanted to get to the "story," a problem I didn't have with Green's earlier works because the inner monologue was pretty much the crux of the story. He was still witty and his characters still kind of interesting, but this seemed like recyled Looking for Alaska without being as good (too long-winded). Margo Roth Spiegelman was a lot like Alaska and Q/Quentin was a lot like Pudge who pined for Alaska. His writing relied very heavily on other works as a motif (fine with me), but some of what he wrote just seemed too derivative. It's probably not his fault, but I can't read a YA book about self-discovery described as feeling "infinte" without it seeming like a total rip-off of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I expected more from Green's third book, a building on and improving on his previous two books, but it didn't hit the mark for me. He did too much "telling," and not enough "showing," in this book. The ending was good, I had connected enough with Q that I "got it" when he said the decision he makes at the end of the book was one of the hardest he'd ever made in his life, but that came after being sufficiently bored. None the less, the message of this book was very true (and he hits you over the head with it, so you can't miss it) and worth the read... although I'd recommend waiting for the paperback version. That being said, let me wax philosophical: People are people and books are books and ne'er the twain shall meet; however, sometimes you'll get really lucky and you'll read a book that makes you think about people in a new way, and Paper Towns is one of those books.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Read on Sunday, July 19. This book which tells the story of how a female high school sophomore at a prestigious boarding school secretly infiltrates an all-male "social club" and sets things spinning, was very, very good. Interesting and richly-drawn characters, good plot with good pacing and a lot of showing rather than telling. Pretty much, a nice relief after finishing Paper Towns. I loved everything about this book, can't think of any real drawbacks, liked that the ending wasn't "cookie cutter" and think that E. Lockhart (who is a writing partner of John Green's) should have a little chit-chat with him where they can swap the spit about this book. Both were looking to be 2009 Pritz Medal contenders and, for my money, I was glad that Lockhart got the play. This book was really great, used a female protagonist in a strong and truly believable way, and was a great read all around.

1 comment:

Jess said...

Thanks for all the great reviews. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks sounds like a book I would enjoy -- thanks for the recommendation.