Category Archives: Young Adult Fiction

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

coldest girl in coldtownVampires in books are still alive and kicking and biting, even in the post-Twilight era, and we have Holly Black to thank for a unique spin on the old legend. Coldest Girl in Coldtown is the story of Tana, a teenager who awakes after an all-night party and notices that her friends are now corpses. All except her ex-boyfriend Aidan, who is alive but bitten, or, in the book’s terminology, Cold. Continue reading

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My Love/Hate Relationship With Red-Haired Heroines

redhair3My childhood was filled with books; therefore, it was filled with pages upon pages of red-haired heroines. From Anne of Green Gables to Aerin of The Hero and The Crown to Alanna of Tamora Pierce’s books, I voraciously read books about women who were different from the crowd. These weren’t swooning ladies looking for a rescue. They were misunderstood and often fiery. Like their hair.

And how I longed for red hair. Red hair would mark me as different, yet lovely. A beautiful force to be reckoned with. Red haired protagonists are teased about their hair, but everyone knows they’re actually beautiful and special.

I wish life were more like that. Kids would only be teased for qualities that are actually assets, and everyone would have beautiful red hair.  Continue reading

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Why I Didn’t Finish the Fifth Wave

5thwaveI was excited about the Fifth Wave. After all, before publication I was primed with marketing materials (first few chapters snagged at a conference), and I eagerly devoured them. I even had the classic, “I wish I had written this” yearning after reading those intro pages. All good signs.

And when I re-read those first chapters after publication, I felt even more confident I would blaze through this book and finish at 2AM, with a guilty, satisfied smile. The beginning of the book was paced decently, the protagonist, Cassie, was sassy and interesting, and the terrifying state of post-apocalyptic Earth fit with what would really happen if ultra-advanced aliens set their sights on our planet. (less E.T. and more Half-Life 2)

Alas.

Let me back up and give the synopsis. The Fifth Wave is about Cassie, one of the last survivors of the first four waves of mysterious alien attacks that have wiped out billions of humans. Humanity is teetering near extinction, but Cassie is determined to survive. She camps in the woods alone, kills, feels guilty, interacts with interesting family members, tries to figure out who is an enemy and who is a friend, etc. The story is told in first-person from her point of view, and I liked that approach. She’s also a book-lover and lugs around some favorite tomes–limited backpack space and alien apocalypse be damned.

The whole first third of the book is tinged with a gritty, desperate air of mass extinction and survival at all costs. Like The Walking Dead, but better.

[some spoilers below ]

The book goes downhill, fast, when the author (Rick Yancey), decides to jump POV to Cassie’s little brother, Sammy. Then he jumps to a mysterious stranger dude, Evan, who saves Cassie and starts a creepy, awkward relationship with her. Then another guy, Ben, who is important to Cassie and is part of the brainwashing military compound.

Basically, once Evan entered the picture and gave Cassie a weird bath, I was done. I just didn’t know I was done for a few more chapters. All the head-switching was difficult to follow, and all the characters but Cassie either annoyed me or creeped me out.

Plus, even though I didn’t read to the end, I could see the plot coming a mile away. Who is mysterious Evan? You’ll figure it out many moons before the author thinks you will. And that’s no fun.

At the very least, forbidden love should feel tingly and dangerous, not creepy and squirmy. So, I ended the book on my own terms. And I feel confident in saying Cassie wouldn’t have chosen this book to tote around in her apocalypse backpack either.

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Book Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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After a spate of disappointing YA books, I ditched the genre for almost a year. Then I read this book.

Now, I don’t want to oversell it or anything. Let’s put it this way–These Broken Stars didn’t change my life, but it did keep me sitting in a bagel shop well past the socially acceptable time to sit in a bagel shop when your bagel is gone.

You may have heard that this book is “the Titanic in space.” That’s a fairly accurate tagline, IMO. The story starts when the aptly named Icarus, the galaxy’s foremost luxury cruiser, falls out of hyperspace and crashes onto an unknown, terraformed planet. 

Our two plucky survivors are Tarver (the Leonardo DiCaprio character with an earnest heart and empty pockets), and Lilac, the spoiled daughter of the richest man in the galaxy. The chapters alternate between Tarver and Lilac’s point of view.

Interestingly, the two authors (Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner) alternated chapters. Amie wrote the Tarver chapters and Meagan wrote the Lilac ones. To their credit, the chapters were written in the distinct voices of the characters, but the overall novel felt seamless.

Also on the positive side, the book moves along at a fast clip but, for the most part, doesn’t feel rushed. The setting of a terraformed planet is plenty intriguing, as are the mysterious, Lost-style happenings that plague the characters as they slog across the planet.

It’s not a perfect book though. If you’re super annoyed by the archetype of the poor boy and the rich girl, be warned – yes, these characters fit the archetypes. If you have a low tolerance for bratty types, be warned that Lilac teeters on the edge of completely unlikeable for about a third of the book. 

Fortunately, Lilac learns her lessons and becomes way more likeable as the story progresses.

Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t fulfill the potential of the wonderful beginning. Let’s just say there was a strange plot twist that didn’t actually seem necessary and made for a confusing, rushed resolution. The plot twist would have been great if it’d been the main point of an entirely separate story or of a philosophy course, but it felt tacked-on and awkward in this one.

But to the book’s credit, I kept reading to the end, and the world and the characters lingered with me. 

Bottom line. You’ll probably like These Broken Stars if you liked Beth Revis’ Across the Universe and if you don’t mind the downsides I mentioned. And speaking of bottoms, the wooden chair in the bagel shop was really hard after two hours…

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Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

If I were choosing a book to read just by browsing cover-jacket summaries, I probably wouldn’t have picked up Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson’s latest YA book about Lia, a (barely) living anorexic girl and her former best friend Cassie, a bulimic girl who is now deceased and haunting Lia. Typically, I don’t gravitate toward gritty realism for the sake of gritty realism, so upon picking up the book, my warning sensors were screaming “Egads! Anorexia AND bulimia! Holy after-school special!”

But, Anderson is no cookie-cutter author, which I knew from reading Speak, her most famous book, so I decided I would trust in her writerly abilities and give Wintergirls a shot. I’m glad I did.

Anderson’s writing reminds me of poetry. As a writer, I know it’s tough to use metaphor and simile skillfully, but Anderson’s sentences work, creating connections that stick, vividly, in your head: (pg 223) “Fat drops of blood splash on the counter, ripe red seeds.” or (pg 84) “Dark chords from the organ slip into the night, turning our shoes into concrete blocks and pulling down our faces until we look like trees drooping with black leaves.”

Anderson also plays with language, often jamming two words together to form new words, or adding crossed out lines, or hyphens, or smaller text. For the most part, I felt the word-coining and language improvisation added depth to the story, although I found the crossed out lines distracting by the end.

When Lia eats something, there are parenthesis after the food indicating the calories, and that small addition worked best for me, a shorthand allowing the reader to jump in Lia’s head and understand how she thinks–pg 7 “I pour too much cereal (150) in the bowl, splash on the two-percent milk (125).”

Overall, Wintergirls is a strong book with a compelling story that sucks you in. The writing is superior, the characters well-developed, and the story and pacing engaging. Sure, anorexia and bulimia aren’t things that I’d list among my normal reading interests, but after reading Wintergirls I felt like I understood Lia’s thought process. Kudos to Anderson for writing a real story and not a lesson plan.

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Common Werewolf Names, From Shiver to Twilight to True Blood

In the past year, I’ve read/watched more vampire/werewolf stories than ever before. And I’ve noticed that the werewolf stories share something common beyond the whole sloughing off your human skin thing. When I read Shiver it hit me for certain: werewolves are often named Sam.

From my own limited experience (I can’t pretend to have read THAT many werewolf books), I know there’s a Sam in the Twilight pack of wolves. That suspiciously shaggy looking guy who owns the bar in True Blood was named Sam, and, sure enough, he shapeshifted into a dog. (For my scientific purposes here, shapeshifting into a dog still counts.) Shiver’s main character is the endearingly poetic werewolf Sam. So that makes three werewolf Sams. Coincidence?

I hit up the Google for some explanation, and I found an interview with Shiver author Maggie Stiefvater where she acknowledges the problem. Apparently her publishers noticed the werewolf Sam in Twilight too, and asked her to change the Shiver main character’s name. But she liked the name Sam, and other names just didn’t fit. Then she had a bright idea. Instead of arguing that the Twilight name overlap was a fluke, she made a list of ALL the werewolves named Sam in literature, making a case that the werewolf Sam thing is so common that one more Sam in Shiver doesn’t matter. So apparently there are more Sams out there that I haven’t discovered. Sam is like the John or Michael of werewolves–no one can accuse you of copying.

No promises if you name your werewolf Colton or Skyler.

Anyway, Stiefvater’s editors bought her argument, and werewolf Sam remained in Shiver. I agree with Stiefvater’s decision to defend the name. Maybe I’ve been subconsciously brainwashed to view all Sams as shaggy, vulnerable, and prone to shapeshifting, but the name works, especially for the main character in Shiver.

Oddly enough, a few days after reading Shiver, I spotted this story in Fantasy magazine. No werewolf Sam, but… wait for it… there’s a Grace in the story! Grace being the human girl love interest in Shiver. The trend continues.

EDIT: I am all surprised and thrilled that Maggie Stiefvater, the author of Shiver, saw this post and tweeted it! Thanks to everyone who stopped by via her page, and thank you Maggie for the shout-out.

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Book Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver takes a new twist on werewolf mythology, and it works. Really well. Much better than sparkly vampires.

In Stiefvater’s world, humans become wolves in the Wisconsin winter, in response to the cooler temperatures. The transformed wolves aren’t slathering monsters with ripped-shirt biceps–they’re simply, literally wolves. The one distinguishing characteristic of these wolves is their eyes, which remain exactly the same as their human eyes once were.

Sam, the wolf guy in the story, has pure yellow eyes. Grace, a pragmatic girl who mysteriously survived a wolf bite unscathed, notices these eyes on “her” wolf, the one who saved her from becoming wolf-chow in a childhood attack. She spends years mooning over “her” wolf from the window of her house.

When Sam is unexpectedly shot, he morphs into human form right before the start of the winter, meets Grace, and promptly falls in love. Unfortunately, Sam realizes this will be his last year to take human form at all. As wolves age, they turn human later and later in the summer, eventually living out their (shortened) lives as wolves, with wolf intellect and no real knowledge of their humanity.

The plot revolves around keeping Sam warm and human, while also determining the whereabouts of dangerous new wolf. Each chapter begins with the temperature noted, which helps to build tension. Grace and Sam narrate alternate, first-person chapters, and Stiefvater pulls off this unconventional narrative device perfectly. As a reader, I often find that books with split narrators have a “good” narrator and a boring one. I’m usually tempted to skim right over the boring narrator sections in such books, but Shiver captivated me the whole way through.

The characters of Shiver held my interest too. Sam and Grace are well-developed and likeable. The chemistry between them absolutely sizzles, and the book succeeds at wringing an emotional response from the reader. Grace kicks butt and proves that strong female narrators can still carry swoon-worthy stories. The secondary characters are fleshed-out too, with no real cardboard sidekick types in this book.

Another plus to Shiver :the writing, the prose that Stiefvater composes, is a lyrical treat. I found myself reading passages again just because they’re enjoyable and vivid.

I think Stiefvater’s twist on werewolves is even more chilling, perhaps, than the original conception of half-human monsters tied to the moon’s cycles. At least a conventional werewolf only remains a wolf for a brief, predictable period, spending most of his time as human. I suppose the horror comes from the savagery the wolf unleashes, the loss of humanity in an angry rage.

Stiefvater’s wolves cut out most of the savagery part, other than the normal danger of normal wolves. But I think Shiver better captures the unnerving, and scary sense, of gradually losing one’s humanity. These wolves spend half the year as wolves, and they can’t pinpoint the moment they’ll change as precisely as the moon’s patterns. And, to up the tension, they lose time as humans every year until they eventually their humanity slips away forever.

Regular werewolves evoke the visceral fear of losing control in anger, but Stiefvater’s wolves touch a much deeper horror. I liken the process to someone getting Alzheimers, losing a little of oneself at a time, until only the eyes are recognizable and humanity is lost forever. It’s not as bloody an end, but I think the chill is universal.

At any rate, I highly recommend Shiver to anyone who likes a good love story with an original werewolf twist, fully realized characters, and kick-ass writing.

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