Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hold Still by Nina LaCour: A Review

Hold StillHold Still by Nina LaCour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a story about a particular kind of grief, set in the aftermath of a suicide. Pretty grim subject matter, I know. But LaCour's handling of it is deft. The novel is wonderfully raw and authentic, without ever becoming maudlin.

After Ingrid kills herself, her best friend, Caitlin, is left with a few precious (and dangerous) artifacts: a diary, and the photos that Ingrid, an aspiring photographer, left behind. And by studying these entries and images, Caitlin comes to understand everything she didn't know (and perhaps couldn't know) about her friend when she was alive. Over the course of the following year, Caitlin struggles to make sense of what has happened and to redefine herself in Ingrid's absence. The other characters in the book are complex, and their responses to Caitlin (and her nearly debilitating grief) are credible and heart-breaking.

There is both photography and a tree house, which is pretty much all it takes for me to love a book, but this is a good one. And I would recommend it to both teens and adults alike, particularly to anyone who has lost someone to suicide.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Schroder by Amity Gaige: A Review

SchroderSchroder by Amity Gaige
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens in a familiar way, "What follows is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance." For anyone who has read Lolita, the parallels (between this "confession," between these characters -- Humbert Humbert and Erik Schroder, between the two kidnappings) are obvious. However, Schroder is not a pedophile, but a desperate father who has abducted his own daughter. He is also a liar. His entire life a fiction. The novel, written in the epistolary form to his ex-wife, Laura, slowly unravels the elaborate construct of his life.

There was so much I loved about this novel. I think that Gaige has done an incredible job with the unreliable narrator. I found myself both captivated and disturbed by him. I longed to trust him, only to have that trust undermined. The writing is gorgeous, and the scenes vivid.

Shroder's "research" on pausology (or the power and nature of pauses and silence) was interesting, but I wonder if it might have resonated more near the end of the novel. (I kept waiting for his research to somehow come to fruition...but it didn't, for me anyway.)

As a native Vermonter, I would be remiss if I didn't point out a couple of glitches. 1. There are no billboards in Vermont. 2. The depiction of the "public academy" in St. Johnsbury (and the image of the bedraggled parents waiting to pick up their children) rang false. St. Johnsbury Academy is a private high school, with a huge population of dorm students, and I couldn't understand why a) parents of teens would be picking them up from school, this presumes the parents are not working b) there were so many "visibly pregnant" mothers...really? Women with teenage kids? Anyway...probably only fellow Vermonters would take issue with this.

I also wonder (and hoping someone might chime in here) about the shift from the epistolary form of the novel to a second person near the end (where Schroder appears to be speaking to himself)...and then the several pages of what seems to be an apology (I let you down.) Because of the earlier shift in who "you" is, I didn't know whether to read this as directed toward Laura or toward himself...or perhaps, this is intentional. Regardless, it was the only moment (other than the two moments mentioned above) where I felt pulled away from the fictional dream.

I definitely recommend this book. I really, really enjoyed it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander: A Review

Goblin SecretsGoblin Secrets by William Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this to my daughter's 3rd grade class, selecting it because of its NBA win. Though while the story was an interesting one (a child searching for his lost brother becomes involved with a troupe of performing goblins), I found it to be, in some ways inaccessible to the nine year old set (and sometimes, even to me). I never felt I had a full grasp on the rules of this world. It seemed I was always trying to process some new and strange detail about the fictional Zombay and its inhabitants (creatures made of gears, masks that replicate rivers and cities, pigeons inhabited by the cruel matriarch from whom Rownie has escaped). This took away from the genuine thrill of Rownie's search for his brother.

I don't typically read fantasy novels, so please take these comments with that in mind. This might prove to be just magical to some readers. (And certainly, some children in the class to seemed to enjoy it more than others.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: A Review

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eleanor & Park is a love story. Eleanor, a misfit girl from a ravaged family (with a dangerous step-dad, a broken mom, and too many siblings to count), and Park (half Asian and not quite popular) meet on the school bus when they are forced to sit together. And over the course of the school year, they fall desperately and wildly in love.

What a sweet, sweet book. Vivid, authentic characters. Heart-pounding, sweaty palms style teenage romance. Plus, it's set in the 80s, which allowed this not-so-young adult to feel right at home.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Y by Marjorie Celona: A Review

YY by Marjorie Celona
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is gorgeously written. It is told from the point of view of Shannon who, as an infant, is abandoned by her birth mother on the steps of a YMCA. But the narrative also explores the incidents leading up to this moment. It's a heart-breaking, aching sort of story in so many ways, but it also forces the reader to examine what makes a family and what defines "home." The final passages of the novel just about blew me away with their cruelty, honesty, and beauty.

The only complaint I have is that I felt a distance from Shannon. Despite the intimate first person voice which narrates both her own story and the story of her mother, she somehow remained elusive, which may very well have been intentional on Celona's part. Shannon is an unknowable creature...but I just wanted her to let me in...if even for only a moment.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Bodies of Water Cover Reveal!

Somehow getting the cover art for a novel makes it feel really, really real.


Coming September 24, 2013.